Ten Hours in Middle-Earth

So I’ve finally completed a long-held ambition and watched all three Lord of the Rings films in one sitting. Moreover, that one sitting was in an IMAX cinema. Not 3D, thank God, but still, big screen, big sound. I was more destabilised than I had expected by it being the theatrical edition and not the extended – having been watching the EEs for close to ten years now, it’s perhaps no surprise that I didn’t recognise the film I was shown last night. However, I found some of the ways they sidestepped scenes interesting. Definitely prefer the extended editions, but last night, to be honest, I was quite relieved that it was the slimlined version – any more Treebeard scenes would have killed me.

Oh, did I mention? It was an all-nighter – midnight to eleven in the morning, what with the clock-change. To my eternal shame, I didn’t stay awake. It’s difficult to tell, since I “missed” scenes that just weren’t there, but I think I stayed awake through all of Fellowship, only had a few micro-sleeps in Towers, and slept through basically all of Dunharrow and the parting of Sam and Frodo in Return. Which, on balance, I can cope with.

Something that I don’t think becomes really clear without the massive cinema sound system is how much the film relies on the “swelling orchestral music-drop music-crunchy battle noises” pattern – to fantastic effect. I was looking forward to the Ride of the Rohirrim more than anything and I was not disappointed.

The other thing I was half-looking forward to was hearing the soundtrack on loud speakers. Only half because so much of it can make me cry and I wasn’t keen on that. In the event, I was a tad disappointed – having gotten used to hearing it on its own, I had slightly forgotten how low it was in the mix sometimes. But I didn’t cry, so there’s that.

I also ingested about 1.375L of Blue Bolt (so like, all of the energy, and, for whatever reason, Vitamin B) and copious amounts of black coffee, which didn’t stop me falling asleep then but has kept me awake most of the day.

That’s cool, right? Spending a Saturday night in a cinema watching Lord of the Rings?

As if I cared.

Unbearably Crass

There is something very unpleasant about the media reaction to tragedy. And I don’t just mean the tasteless close-ups of celebrities’ bodies being wheeled out of their homes, or the harassment of victims and their families for headlines.

Today, I’m angry at people making political capital out of tragedy. In this regard, it was unfortunate that France was in election season, as politicians are all the more eager to make cheap points. In election season, I doubt any candidate could afford not to exploit the situation. However, I don’t doubt we’d have heard the same arguments at any point in the cycle – and it’s a disgrace.

Political points were being made before the killer was even apprehended – or as it turned out, killed. The bodies had barely even reached Israel when they were being used to beat the “left” or the “right” over the head for their various failings. It’s disgusting and needs to stop. The cynicism of remarks like “For Sarkozy, the shootings could mark a return to his old image of Supercop, France’s one-time tough-talking interior minister and head of police” is deeply disheartening. (Guardian, 21/03). It’s gotten to the point where I wonder if, in a few months, Sarkozy will be sitting in the Elysée (or not) and thanking his lucky stars that those children got brutally murdered.

This isn’t to pull a conservative, and argue that this just a tragedy caused by a madman, and we shouldn’t discuss it and its implications, and try and resolve the root causes of the situation. It’s just an appeal – have some respect. Let the dust settle. Stop trying to get one over on the “other side” for just a bit. Stop being so crass, political class.

A lifetime in six months: looking back

But not really. I still haven’t decided whether the past six months have flown by, or if it’s been a lifetime. But lifetime sounds cooler. And a lot has happened.

Six months ago, you see, I got on a plane. I kissed my girlfriend goodbye for the last time, looked out at the mountains on the horizon, and said goodbye to Geneva. A couple of hours later, standing on the Gatwick Express, I blinked back the tears for a moment, and it hit me. I wasn’t on holiday, in a train full of almost-foreigners. This was home.

Not in the way London has always kind of been home. I spent seven years living in France, and loved it there, but I was always a sort-of Londoner,  far more up-to-date on UK politics and culture (through the liberal London lens of the Guardian, and later, Twitter) than French. I visited London at least twice a year, usually closer to four times, making me the only person in the world, probably, to take holidays in Sutton. Still, saying goodbye to my actual home, the one on the ground floor of an apartment block in Ferney-Voltaire, kind of dispelled any illusions I had about feeling like any sort of exile. London, like Brasil, was a place I identified with, was a part of me, my roots, but it wasn’t home.

On that train, I realised that like it or not, it was now.

It wasn’t exactly a homecoming. I wasn’t going back to Zone 3, back to Sutton and the suburbs. I mean, I was temporarily, going to Dad’s in Catford and all, but now I was going to be living in Camden. NW1. A place I had only ever visited. To me, Central London.

This isn’t going to be a retrospective diary of a Fresher though. This is just a record of something I’ve been doing almost daily for the past six months. At Freshers’ we got given a wall calendar of the year. At first, I thought I’d use it to be super-organised for work and stuff. Then I started pinning things to it. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve got a poor memory, and it’s easy to forget how incredibly lucky I am to be in this fantastic city with all these opportunities just waiting there for me to grab them.

This year, I’ve met David Harvey and Caitlin Moran.

I’ve seen David Harvey, Tariq Ali, Tony Benn, Richard Seymour and Ken Livingstone (more times than is healthy) speak.

I’ve been to several stand-up performances, from UCLU nights, to comedy clubs, to seeing Stewart Lee at the Leicester Square theatre.

I’ve seen a Guns guitarist and Ben L’Oncle Soul play within twenty minutes’ walk of my home.

I’ve performed a ten-minute stand-up set in front of upwards of fifty strangers and about a dozen friends, without completely failing.

I’ve gone to a greyhound race.

I’ve been inside the Houses of Parliament twice, and not just the public galleries. I’ve drunk the House of Lords’ special wine.

I’ve been elected to society committees

I’ve been on marches, demos, I’ve been canvassing. I’ve stayed up to the late hours debating feminism and class politics with a friend, I’ve spent hours in the kitchen discussing the state of the UK and the world with my flatmates.

I drink white wine and whisky. Not together, natch, but I never would have touched them before. Indeed, I generally drink far more than I had ever thought I would. I can think of three nights this year that I don’t remember bits of. I’ve woken up in hospital. I’ve learnt what it is to be truly, devastatingly hungover, and I’ve gone to class and a family lunch in that state. I’ve been served free Grey Goose vodka at a Westminster nightclub, and downed £1.50 “Don’t Want to Know” vodka in Soho. I’ve walked home in the early hours of the morning like a badass motherfucker. I’ve narrowly avoided getting into a fight in a club by virtue of somehow bluffing the other guy into walking away.

I feed myself competently, reasonably healthily, and at times, downright opulently. I have dinner parties.

I’ve been to the gym and stopped going to the gym.

I’ve stayed up until the birds start singing with regularity, including one night where I only managed half an hour of sleep.

I’ve written two fifteen hundred word literature essays in Spanish and been praised on both for the clarity and lucidity of my writing, which, coming after a year in which my Spanish felt like the biggest obstacle to me getting to UCL, was a big boost.

I’ve gotten a job, gone to a job, gotten paycheques, paid taxes, and lost that job.

I’ve spent literally days playing various videogames – seriously, I’m talking 200+ hours here.

I’ve spent an afternoon watching Batman cartoons over Skype with my best friend.

I’ve been to Manchester and Bristol for the first time.

They say university is a place where you grow up, where you become an adult. This close to the fact, I don’t know if I have grown up, per se. What I do know, is that I’ve lived. In these six months, despite a low-intensity struggle with what has felt a lot like depression at times, I’ve lived more intensely, and more actively, than I have my entire life. For the past three weeks, I haven’t even had an evening off.

Ultimately, that’s enough for me. I look around me, I look at popular culture, I look at certain people in my life (or, really, out of it at this point) that I envy, I see a life that isn’t my own, and get myself into a feedback loop of depression. And to get out of it? I look at my wall-planner. I look at my wall-planner and the forest of flyers and tickets pinned to it, and I remember that though these six months haven’t been what I expected, though they don’t really resonate with what I read about university life elsewhere, they’ve been my six months. And for the most part?

It’s been fucking awesome.

KONY2012 and why I give up on not being cynical

You’ve inevitably heard of it. The KONY 2012 video is one of the biggest viral campaigns I’ve seen in a while, which is especially surprising as the material is almost half an hour long. And I saw it, at about 1AM, and thought “Hm.”. I’ve had plenty of discussions with friends in the past over online advocacy networks, and have been reading about humanitarianism more generally, as well as civil wars for an essay, so my thoughts are up in the air on the topic. And I saw the video, and remembered having heard of the LRA before and having been sickened. And of course, the video only intensified those sentiments. So I thought: this’ll be the one. I’ll throw myself into this campaign, with all the idealistic open-mindedness I can muster. I’ll believe in the power of protest to bring change. I’ll forget sitting on Westminster bridge to “Block the Bill” which proceeded to pass. I’ll forget my disaffection with representative democracy. In fact, I’ll even write to MPs. I’ll put my cynic hat on the shelf for a while.

Then, inevitably, came the backlash. Within hours, criticisms had been raised of the video and the organisation behind it, Invisible Children. The video itself is quite questionable – very much the White Man coming to save Africa, with what I felt was an intrusively long shot of the boy crying for his lost brother, and an oversimplification of the situation in Uganda.  But the paternalist side of charity advertising, as well as the removal of the beneficiaries’ dignity, and the over-simplification, are issues that are widespread. The cause still seemed good.

The organisation, on the other hand, doesn’t. Their spending looks distinctly skewed, with around a third of their money actually getting to projects. The very name, Invisible Children, says it all – as has been pointed out, just because we don’t know about these children, does that make them invisible to their families, friends, and all the Ugandans working to help them already?

So my position became one of endorsing the campaign without endorsing its backers. But then even that is unsteady. The campaign calls for the arrest of Joseph Kony. Good. But he is already at the top of the ICC’s warrant list, and Obama has declared his arrest to be a US national security interest. Campaigning for his arrest would only make sense if people didn’t want to arrest him. That is not the case. Therefore, I can only assume that the campaign is for Western governments to facilitate his arrest. Which makes me uncomfortable. I need to straighten out my thoughts on the issue of humanitarian intervention – that is one of my key objectives for, if not the year, graduation. Despite all the completely compelling arguments against, there is a part of me that wouldn’t mind sending out the SAS to bundle Kony onto a helicopter to The Hague. This isn’t what KONY 2012 are advocating from what I can tell. Probably thankfully. As if governments needed another excuse to start a war, massive twitter-led public pressure in a big election year would be unhelpful.

That leaves the campaign without a clear objective – are they just trying to maintain pressure on the US government to keep the military advisors in Uganda? Good, I guess. But even then, the US involvement Vietnam War started with military advisors too. Not to mention that indirectly, this approach backs the Ugandan government by reinforcing its military strength, which seems fairly undesirable when you consider the pretty hideous nature of the regime itself (I would be interested to know how many gay people are backing the campaign…)

Now, obviously, it would be very trite for me to end this blog with the sobering moral that nothing is black and white, and that we must always scrutinise these issues further before proclaiming them, and oh, isn’t it awful that the Internet makes us all commit so quickly.

But seriously, right. Would it cost the world to just once present an issue to me on a silver platter? I tried to be open and idealistic and student activist, and look what happens?

*retrieves cynic hat from shelf*

*sighs*

*puts it back on*

PSEDIT: Thought of a great witticism while talking to a friend.

I don’t do one-night stands, but I suspect I feel about KONY2012 like I would waking up the morning after.

NB: If I wasn’t feeling lazy, I would include plenty of links here. If people want reading material on this, I’ve spent the afternoon avoiding work with it and have plenty to offer.

How these bastards can then claim to be the most “feminist government” ever is beyond me. Despicable.

Left at the Lights

Refuge, the single largest provider of safe havens and support to survivors of domestic abuse is facing closure due to a 50% cut in funding. Local authorities have slashed their contribution to services for women at risk of domestic and sexual abuse by over £2 million. The organisation have already shut down two of their culturally sensitive projects providing support to women from ethnic minorities, specialist services that cannot be replaced, placing the most vulnerable women in our society at even greater risk of abuse and/or homicide. My heart is pounding as I write this.

I have worked for Refuge and various other schemes. They provide the backbone to many other services, leading the way with their specialist in-house training and the national 24hr domestic violence helpline. They have helped implement a framework which ensures equality and good practice across the board. Putting it mildly, without Refuge, many women would…

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