Claustrophobia

I’m eighteen and I can vote. If you’d asked me last year what I was more excited about, the alcohol or the polling station, I’d have voted the latter. Now, I’d rather drown myself in whiskey and set myself alight than face that piece of paper: Conservative, Labour, or Lib Dem.

 

We’re living in a dictatorship, trapped by a voting system that could have saved even Hitler if only he’d had the sense to pretend. To pretend there was a hope for his people; to pretend they could choose. To quote John Locke on human freedom: ‘Suppose a man be carried, whilst fast asleep, into a room where is a person he longs to see and speak with; and be there locked fast in, beyond his power to get out: he awakes, and is glad to find himself in so desirable company, which he stays willingly in, i.e. prefers his stay to going away. I ask, is not this stay voluntary? I think nobody will doubt it: and yet, being locked fast in, it is evident he is not at liberty not to stay, he has not freedom to be gone.’ We, the electorate, have the illusion of choice. We believe that a vote for the Tories is a vote for the upper classes and a vote for Labour, the lower classes. We evidence this assertion with clichés and statistics: 200,000 children forced into poverty by benefit cuts whilst the wealthiest 2% receive a £3bn tax cut (that’s a Tory policy, by the way, identifiable by key words such as ‘wealth’, ‘tax cut’ and ‘child poverty’.)

 

Yet is there a palpable difference between the two? Had we access to a parallel universe in which Labour won the 2010 election, perhaps there would be evidence of their promised living wage and tax cuts (a couple more key terms for you there- you may recognise the latter from somewhere…) But we don’t. All we see is crisis after crisis, created and fixed by interchangeable parties, arbitrarily cheered and booed and defended by their respective voters. I hate the Tories because I’ve been taught to, but neither am I enthralled by Labour’s push for a flexible fiscal policy which seems like just another phrase for Osbourne’s ‘rolling target for the deficit.’

 

So what does it mean- this disillusionment? Is it an awakening? The beginning of change?  

 

Well no, actually. Because as a sixth form student faced with long figures and long words that I don’t understand, I have two options. The first is to decipher what they mean. Yet it will be difficult to do so without first accepting that they do mean something, after all. Politics is not like philosophy, where one can understand the attributes of God without believing in him. Politics is politics. To enter is to be within God himself; you must have faith to explore. You have to choose, you have to declare yourself: ‘I’m a Tory’ or ‘I’m a Communist’ or ‘I vote Green.’ You have to swallow the theory and fall on a side. A Wittgensteinian Language Game, politics exists on its own terms and these terms have meaning only within the game.

 

The other option is to oppose it. To attack it as meaningless; a fideist science. Yet to do so would be seen as ignorance: ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ It would be to rid oneself of all credibility.

 

It would be no more constructive than giving up. 

Smashing things up? 
 
That’s how I keep from killing you. 
 
From slitting a knife down the parting in your hair
like a cut-here line, 
and taking a hammer to your skull
and then looking down into the bloody mess that is your brain,
wires arranged all wrong, their ends frayed with static. 
 
I’d take out all the bad bits, reconnect and snip. Make normal. 
 
Would the face in your grave be the same? A shame, if not saved, because I’d like to do that for you. 
 
Instead,
an egg 
and a diary, a past torn to pieces.
Then a mirror. 

Nine- Shadow Syndicate

This month, Buxton’s Festival Fringe (4th-22nd July) has taken hold of the town and I went along to review a show.

Shadow Syndicate’s ‘Nine’ couldn’t feel fresher, with its exploration of the current Syrian conflict lending a streak of individualism to the recent news reports on the region. Also refreshing is its unfamiliar focus: the play avoids the exhaustively-covered cities of Homs and Damascus, instead taking us down into uncharted cellars, where British journalists lie captive.

As I entered the Orchestra Pit, I felt immediately uncomfortable. A dark stage, void of any decoration, loomed with all the reassurance of a lone magpie, perched on a wedding cake. Acting to heighten the ominous atmosphere, Laura Turner and Jessica Millott held (for an extraordinarily long time) frozen postures of resignation as we became seated.

And the tension only mounted. Both actresses displayed remarkable characterisation in their raw presentation of the effects that torture can have. Their depiction of the psychological and physical traumas suffered by captives in Syria was performed to such a convincing degree that I was left recoiling in horror.

Fuelled by the human instinct of self-preservation, each battled with the internal dichotomy of friendship versus independence, as demonstrated by the deceptively-harsh, rehearsed words of concern used by each to assess the physical harm suffered by the other: ‘Show me your hand…wriggle…bend.’ Yet in spite of this need for companionship, it was disturbingly easy to empathise with the concept of sacrificing another to save oneself; it is testament to the ability of both actresses that they were able to draw such repulsive and suppressed notions from their audience, such that would only truly manifest under the strain of torture.

The theatre was utilised to its greatest potential, juxtaposing a clamouring claustrophobia (induced by the dim lighting and tight performance space) with the concept of sanctuary (created by the horrific sound effects which came from the outside world.) Not only were the characters desperate to get out, they were also desperate to remain in their chains, with the alternative being torture. Thus, the audience was kept in an impossible state of fraught discomfort; an astounding feat, considering the entire play rested on only two actresses. And so, for several minutes after ‘Nine’ had drawn to a close, the audience remained silently stationary, contemplating what they had just witnessed.

Although it is needless to highlight the ages of Turner and Millott, I shall do so for precisely that reason. Reviewers of youth productions habitually comment on how remarkable young performers are… ‘for their age’ (just so you know, we find that very patronising.) In this case, both actresses (aged 17) performed to such a high level that they were simply remarkable, full stop.

‘Don’t need money, don’t need fame, I just want to make a change’

Taken from Marina and the Diamonds’ early single Oh No!, these lyrics now ring hollow as the band finishes its Electra Heart UK tour. Having frankly admitted her frustration with the response to her debut album The Family Jewels,  Marina last year declared ‘I want everyone to love me.’  To what sacrifice, though? Marina and the Diamonds’ second album has certainly succeeded in gaining her a larger audience, reaching Number 1 in the UK official chart, whilst her first peaked at a disappointing Number 5. And yet, Electra Heart is all that her debut scorned, simmering with Hollywood-infected lyrics and pulsating with abused house beats. Were it not for the deep cynical quirk still present in her vocals, Marina’s latest album would lounge unobtrusively amongst the swathes of production-line music currently dominating the charts.
Admittedly, the theme perpetuated by both albums is fairly consistent: each deals with a thirst for success. However, their approaches are markedly different. The Family Jewels explores Marina’s craving for the extraordinary in an almost therapeutic way, acknowledging, and sometimes mocking, the neuroticism which accompanies any pursuit of greatness. It retains a refreshing uniqueness, not only in its honesty, but in its nonconforming sound, making it one of my most-played albums. For Electra Heart, though, Marina seems to have dissected what it is to sell big, rearranged the components and created a disc which fits snugly into the Top 40 conveyor belt.
And so it seems that Marina has achieved both money and fame. However, with repetitive, meaningless lyrics about radioactive humans (although it is possible that she is prophesying a nuclear disaster due to Tory idiocy, in which case, I take my hat off to the lass), she shan’t be changing much anytime soon.
 

‘I don’t mind’

Mum: I’ll bring Chloe home when they’ve finished playing.
Chrissie: Oh no, no. Don’t worry about it- I’ll pick her up.
Mum:  You can’t do that! You brought her down; I’ll bring her home.
Chrissie: Honestly, it’s no trouble.
Mum: Awh, are you sure? (Chastises self) No, no, no, I’ll bring her…

As a child, I was often witness to the Wimbledon-esque barrage of platitudes which seem intrinsic to adulthood. I would shake my head despairingly as my mother battled with friends’ parents over travel arrangements and money. It seemed all wrong; each was desperately grappling for the short straw: what are you doing Mother?! She’s offering you a tenner, you massive idiot! Take it! Take it and run!

And so, with crossed arms and a self-assured feeling of superiority, I vowed never to become the confused creatures before me.

A decade on and I am fast becoming one of the worst culprits. I forever ‘don’t mind’ and, with a passivity of which the parents would be proud, I seek to know the preferences of others before expressing my own (which unerringly reaffirm theirs’.)

Conversing with similarly-stunted humans can be tricky. As the hours tick by, with no conclusion to the discussion yet met, nonchalant smiles battle against a tirade of thoughts: Just say it you bastard! I know you want to go and see Avengers so why don’t you just fucking say it? Never once do you think to mention that actually Snow White and the Huntsman looks quite good and, anyway, you’ve heard Chris Hemsworth is fitter than Robert Downey Jr.

What is there to fear? It most certainly isn’t challenge; anything is better than the endless smiling silence, saturated with unspoken frustration. Instead, there is a fear that your equally-inhibited friend will now be subjected to two hours of Chris Hemsworth whilst she was really hoping for Robert Downey Jr. Whilst it may seem admirable to put others before oneself, the self-sacrifice of the Appeaser is, in fact, annoying, especially when the cinema is now shut and you still haven’t decided what film to see.

Thus I reiterate the vow of my youth: you shall never catch me groveling to pay for my child’s ice cream in the face of a competitive investor.

A night in the life of an A-Level student

A-Level (n.): a protracted method of twisting that which is beautiful into a cage of tedium.

Exam season has arrived, drawing swathes of once-vibrant youths to the limit, as they battle to jump through the cast-iron hoops of their examiners. Myself included.

Months of revision, months of dogma, months of pep-talks: we have been led to believe that our entire lives hinge on this one week. We have decided on our favourite university, our favourite course; we know what is needed to get us there.

And so the day before that all-important history exam arrives. You’ve done all the revision you can so you have a break, take it easy…
8.30pm Have a relaxing bath.
9.00pm Go to bed early, read a couple of chapters of Breaking Dawn.
9.30pm Lamp off, eyes closed, think of anything but tomorrow.
10.00pm It’s hailing.
10.30pm Still hailing.
11.00pm Ok, this is ridiculous. Move into spare bedroom.
11.10pm There’s no way I’ll get eight hours sleep now… It doesn’t matter. You can still get seven- what difference can an hour make?
12.00am Need a glass of water… Don’t think about it.
12.15am But I’m so thirsty…
12.30am Right, I’m getting some water.
12.45am Seven hours isn’t going to happen… Six will be fine.
1.00am Toilet.
1.30am I literally can’t sleep… Shut up and put a relaxation CD on.
2.00am ‘Feel your whole body settling into the ground… your whole body…’
2.30am ‘your whole-‘ CD player finds itself hurled across the bedroom floor.
3.00am I am literally never going to sleep. What if I don’t sleep?… Well if you keep thinking about not sleeping then you’re on your way to finding out.
3.30am Counting sheep.
4.00am Stopped hailing- I’ll go back in my own bed.
4.30am Oh my God: I cannot remember how to sleep! What do you even do? Is there a special way? Is it just close-your-eyes-and-hope-for-the-best?
5.00am May as well not go in tomorrow. Have essentially failed anyway… Stop being immature.
6.00am Just manage one hour- one hour of sleep, please!
6.30am What am I going to do? I have an exam in less than three hours.
6.45am Maybe if I pretend I have the onset of some awful disease…
7.00am *Alarm*
……………
……….
11.00am Throw university prospectuses out of bedroom window.