Profound Bullsh*t

Snippets of Profound Bullshit:

After an operation the best course of action for a swift recovery is to eat good food.

Affer an operation the worst course of action for a swift recovery is to eat hospital food.

Like every other human being he thought too much about the past and worried too much about the future.

No matter how fast you run you cannot outrun life itself.

A warm room in the begining and a cold grave at the end, life inbetween is just a waiting room.

Your next punch is always the hardest.

 

A Bite of Blogging

I was nervous at first at daring to enter the world of blogging.  What did I have to contribute?  What could I bring to the table?  Why would people look at anything that I produced?  These were a few of the questions that went around my head as I debated internally whether to start a blog or not.  Even if I did how would I decide to go about it and what would it be about, and why?

Of course the very fact that I knew I wanted to start one was propelled by the fact that I thought I had something to add, something to say, something different to put across.  I looked at a few of my favourite blogs, studied their style and format, and decided on the blogging provider that would give me the most freedom to design and host my own writings.  Of course there were little things that I couldn’t change, parts of the blog design that annoyed me at first but has since become more endearing to me.  So I naively entered the blogging world with a site focused on something close and dear to my heart.  I stuck, largely, to my guns and slowly the style of the blog became my own: I ‘discovered’ my voice in the blogging world by taking an active part in it.

Even as I focused my attention on the small ecological niche of the blogging world that I inhabited I couldn’t help but notice that there was a whole different blogging world out there, one that veered wildly from post to post, site to site.  I was, in a way, captivated by what I read and by what I saw.  I liked the daring-ness of it all, the sheer bloody mindedness of the numerous authors in persevering in engaging the audience and by the continuous posting of their work online, free for all the world to see, engage with and to enjoy.  I’ve been extremely impressed by the creativity of each and every blogger that I have come across, whether they have kept to their own chosen artistic medium or whether they have danced between them, twisting and turning between photography, fictional explorations, nonfiction comment, sculpture, fashion design, painting and all things in-between.  In short it has been inspirational, an educational tour de force into the brief glimpses of lives of people who I’ll never likely meet.

Still we, as the audience, can engage the individuals behind the work.  We can leave a message of thanks, we highlight what in particular grabbed us about this or that blog entry, we can help spread the word of their work, of their art forms that have helped us think anew.  What we can do, as bloggers, as writers, as artists, as the audience, is engage on a meaningful level, to swap ideas and views and to make aware that we both appreciate others and ourselves.

So even as I continued blogging at my specialist site I kept seeing these amazing artistic and informative blogs daily on the WordPress reader.  I was inspired, I wanted to be creative again and I wanted the public to see it, even if I was embarrassed by what I had produced.  Nothing is forever and nothing is really ever finished – everything is up for evaluation and interpretation.  As such I wanted to take part in the great online experiment of emotion that I saw spreading daily across the screen.  I knew that the blog I wrote currently had to be kept separate, as I wanted that site to stand by itself in a field that is fairly academic, serious and worthy of reaching a mass audience.  In short it was not the place to put my own doodlings of poetry, photography, music reviews or fictional writings.  Thus this blog was born as an aside to my original blogging self.  I try to keep it active, indeed it is probably more active than my main site but that is due to the differing nature of them both.  I can write freely here.

Blogging isn’t easy but it doesn’t have to be hard either.  It can be time-consuming.  I personally find that it can take many hours writing an individual blog post (perhaps more so on my academic site than here), and that editing your own writing can be quite difficult as you skip over mistakes again and again.  The joy is in the trying though, in the communication, in the differences and the similarities between your views and others.  Blogging is perhaps the greatest creative output currently on the web, a medium in itself that helps to show the best of humanity’s artistic side.  It can be anything and everything that you want, both as a writer of a blog and as a reader of blogs.

It would be hypocritical of me to conclude this post without at least highlighting some of the posts that have both moved me and influenced me.  So without further ado here are 6 blogs that are simply awesome!

Reveal Illusions: A fantastic site by Elin Borg which focuses on her artistic outputs.  This includes her sublime paintings, photography, illustrations and sculptures amongst other strands of art work.

Electric Puppet: A rather delightful site that largely focuses on archaeology, history and literature.  I love, and look forward to, the reviews of the books that the blogger has recently read and the round-up of recent literature purchases.

Markovich Universe: One of the blogs that I first came across is this delightful photograph and short story site where daily life in Russia is often highlighted by Alex Markovich.  A real nice touch is Alex’s Postcards from Russia project, take a look here.

Benjamin Studebaker:  Studebaker’s site is one that always engrosses me and challenges my own thinking on a number of different topics.  This aspiring political philosophical  offers essays on a range of different international topics and whether you agree or disagree with his views, it will force you to think differently on important challenges in the world today.

Retiree Diary: A lovely little photography blog based in Hong Kong.  I particularly love the fact that the photographer is new to blogging, is highlighting daily life in China, and is engaging with his audience.  It just goes to show that retiring means you can start a whole new chapter of your life.

And This Is Why I Will Die Alone Surrounded By Cats: The artwork on this blog is by Sarah Elizabeth Orchard, who has quite clearly defined her own unique style.  The blog posts are worth reading alone for their hilarity, but the artwork is simply fantastic and I am sure she will go on to be an artist of some renown.

The above are just a few examples of some of the blogs that I love (although there is, of course, a WordPress bias), but I heavily recommend you also search out your because you never know what you may find.  And, if you fancy, why not start your own?

Spring Hill

I could see Jackie crying at the edge of the road as I was carted into the back of the ambulance.  I was annoyed as I was going to fuck her tonight at Tom’s party.  She had the cutest smile and a small peachy bum, but her scrunched up tear ridden face disgusted me now.

The day at school had been long and boring, English followed Math followed French.  I filled my notebooks with drawings in each class and managed to avoid any real work, focused as I was on going to Tom’s house on the night to get high and drink beer.  In each class I thought of Jackie.  She was the sort of girl you could see in a suit and high heels working in a boring business job in the future, her co-workers slavering after her as she pounded the corridors of power.  Fuck, I wanted her so bad that day.

At dinner I’d gone to meet Jake and Mike round the back of the main block where the rusting gates and bins stood guard.  Jake had managed to grow his first crop of weed and this was his inaugural toke, one fat joint between three.  We each took three off and joked around.

“You gonna get into Jackie tonight?”

“If that douchebag Paul keeps his fucking distance”, I snarled in reply to Mike.

I’d noticed that Jackie and Paul had been getting closer over the past few days, teaming up together in woodwork to make some stupid box or some shit.  It annoyed me the way she’d seek his protection when they used the tools.  I’d see him leering over her, his eyes meeting mine as his hips would get closer to hers, cajoling me to punch him right in the face the smug bastard.

“Ah fuck that prick man, this shit is pretty good eh?” bragged Jake, though it was damn fine.

“Yeah yeah, you are quite the farmer! Why don’t you quit and go and grow some vegetables amigo!” joked Mike.

After dinner I was high but not too high.  Physical exercise could go fuck itself I though and I got some food from the nearby cafe and nodded off briefly.  The owners knew us and didn’t mind us, as long as we didn’t make a scene in the cafe we were welcome to frequent it whenever.  I think it was because they knew we would get high and come and eat and drink almost non-stop for a period or so that they put up with us.  Mike was starting to get a fat little pork belly due to his munchies habit but me and Jake were still stick thin, even after stuffing our faces.

I got to home economics on time.  It was the class I’d elected to take because Jackie was there, it was full of girls and there were barely any boys in it.  Mrs Finkle, who led the class, was something of a bore who smelled bad.  Like a jumper that had been soaked in the rain and put away into a draw before it had dried properly.  At any moment I expected to see Mrs Finkle’s top to be crawling in moths.

The weed had taken away the screech of her voice and I was relaxed enough to droop my eyelids.  No one noticed or cared.  I could see the shimmer of Jackie’s beautiful face on the edge of my vision and I sunk into a revere of kissing those plump lips.

Out in the car park after school I saw Paul by himself next to his kick bike.  The weed made me feel a bit invincible but I really needed the whiskey to make me really feel it.  Regardless Paul was smaller than me so I went over.

“Hey Paul, stay away from Jackie right” I barked into his face.

“What the hell you on about?” Paul replied, his voice bruised by shame.

“I’ve seen you both, seen you creeping up to her in woodwork, trying to touch her.  Keep the fuck away from her you creep”.

To re-enforce the message I jabbed him in his kidneys and he instantly curled up like sad sack of meaningless flesh.

I walked home, taking in the sun and the last wave of lightness that the weed brought.  I could see Jackie walking up ahead on her own, her hips sashaying as she went, hypnotizing me.  So much so I didn’t hear the car pull up next to me nor the click of the car door opening.

It took one punch from Martin, Paul’s older brother, to get me on the floor and a few more before I felt a rib or two break.  Through the tears and the dribbles of blood into my eye I could see Jackie walk on in the distance, oblivious at first to my pain.

Only when Martin finished pounding my body and I started to come to did I see her turn around, drop her books and come running.  I heard Martin get back into his car, I looked up and saw Paul looking down at me from the passenger seat, a rictus grin plastered across his face as the car sped off.

 

UK Government Effectively Cuts DSA from 15/16

Something that I wrote and posted elsewhere that needs further sharing:

There are some quietly dramatic changes ongoing in higher education in the UK currently but there is one issue that is particularly close to my heart that, as I scanned newspapers and current affairs magazines over the past few weeks, seems to have received scant media coverage or attention.

On the 7th of April David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, released a ministerial statement on future changes to the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) that will affect students from the 15/16 academic year on-wards.  The Disabled Student Allowance are non-repayable grants, available to both part-time and full-time undergraduate or postgraduate students, that assist with additional costs that a disabled student incurs in relation to their study in higher education, such as when a disabled individual may need a note taker during lectures, a library helper to find and handle books, or when they require specialist equipment for studying and for producing written work.  Those disabled students who are currently enrolled and agreed DSA will not be affected by the new changes, but students who start in 15/16 academic year will be affected.

The aim, Willetts declares in the statement, is to modernise Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) by reviewing the £125 million-a-year support given to thousands of disabled students in the UK.  Essentially the Student Loans Company, the not-for-profit company that provides student loans and DSA in the UK, will be limiting the support types and equipment allocation that they currently fund for disabled students who attend higher education.  Willetts states that he would expect the higher education institutions (HEI’s) to pick up the slack, and provide and pay for the more general support types needed by individual students with disabilities.  Thus the limited public funds available for DSA will support and supply disabled students applying for higher education with a core allocation for certain complex types of support (such as specialised software), whilst hoping that the individual institutions will have the frameworks in place for providing more generalised support types for disabled students in conjunction with support suppliers.

The only mainstream magazine that I have seen mention or discuss the announcement is the ever reliable Private Eye magazine (current edition No. 1364, page 9), and online independent bloggers such as Assist Tech.  Private Eye quote the fact that the National Association of Disability Practitioners (the providers of support that invoice the Student Loan Company for support given) have stated that the move as described by Willetts would create an enormous disincentive for universities to recruit disabled students because of the costs involved.

The value of having a centralised loan company that can collect information, review procedures and investigate providers of equipment and support will surely be lost if individual HEI’s have to rely on a  binary system of dealing with both the Student Loans Company and the individual practitioners, during the providing of support for disabled individuals in higher education.

Following the ministerial statement by Willetts, Paul Higgs, as a part of the Higher Education Student Funding Policy in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, also released a more in-depth Student Support Information Note in April 2014 (SSIN, fully accessible here).  In it the nuts and bolts of the modernisation program is highlighted, and it makes for depressing reading:

  • The bulk of the non-specialist non-medical helpers (NMH) support that is currently funded by DSA will no longer be funded by the Student Loan Company.  This includes library or laboratory assistants, note takers, personal helpers, mentors or specialist helpers.
  • The majority of the equipment that is currently funded by DSA will no longer be funded from 15/16 on-wards, only specialist equipment that is specifically needed by the student will be funded.
  • No assistive technology support or related non-medical helper support is expected to be funded either.
  • Funding will no longer be provided for consumable items (paper, ink etc).
  • No funding will be given for additional costs regarding accommodation changes where the accommodation is funded by the HEI, if this is to be a problem the HEI itself is expected to meet the cost.

There is, of course, core funding that will remain in place and accessible for disabled students from The Student Loans Company itself in complex situations (although complexicity in this instance is not defined further).  The HEI should hopefully have core support ring-fenced from its own allocation of funding and have such frameworks in place for the support of disabled students from the 15/16 academic year on-wards.  The aim of the statement and intended proposals from Willetts and Higgs is to ensure that the DSA is up to date, consummate with the use of public funds and its spending, and to make sure that HEI’s are abiding by the 2010 Equality Act, which ensures that disabled individuals have an equal playing field, in both academia and in employment compared to the average non-disabled individual.  This is an honourable view certainly.

Yet I retain deep reservations about this latest move by the government.  Yes it has only just been announced and yes it is not currently in practice, but I worry for disabled students access to higher education and to academia generally.  This move will force a greater financial burden onto educational institutions throughout the country.  The economic worth of study, and of the place of academia within a national economy generally, is not in dispute, but the availability of access to academia by every sector of society is.  The move is also slowly breaking down the great vision that study is worth it for its own sake as limitations are further placed on the value of access to education.  Furthermore it is another demoralising move towards eroding the individual freedom of disabled people by dismantling core government support, and fanning it out instead to a variety of organisations and companies.

Dr Sarah Lewthwaite, who is a post doctoral research associate in student experience at King’s College London, argues in a critical and perceptive article for The Guardian‘s Higher Education Network that the latest publicly available records state that the DSA annual spending statistics are actually down compared to previous years (12/13 academic year compared to previous academic years).  Further to this, she also questions the areas that are being proposed to be cut by central funding from The Student Loans Company, highlighting that the

Proposed changes to DSA funding may fundamentally redefine disability in higher education. Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADD/ADHD, have been singled out for the largest cuts, and there is a real danger that their needs become invisible.

Willetts has chosen to restrict focus to more “complex” SpLDs and those requiring “most specialist” support. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between a medical diagnosis and the support requirements that students may have. Indeed, it is ironic that the one group singled out for cuts to academic support are those whose disability explicitly affects learning.

It is worth reading Lewthwaite’s full article as it exposes some of the concerns from the academic sector itself, as well as highlighting issues that will affect disabled students and their access to education.

Patoss, the professional association of teachers of students with special learning difficulties, has also raised its concerned with the changes proposed by Willetts.  In a statement, mentioned on their post on the proposals, Paddy Turner has stated that “the size and the scale of these cuts is unprecedented and represents a retrogressive step in equality for disabled people“.  

Needless to say I will be interested to see the development and implementation of the modernisation of DSA in the upcoming years ahead.  I will also keep an eye out for further information as and when it becomes available.

Note

A thank you goes to Chris Morley, who highlighted in the comments section below several invaluable articles that helped improve this post.

Further Information

  • The ministerial statement by Rt Hon. David Willetts, MP for Universities and Science, can be read here.
  • Paul Higgs SSIN statement on the changes in DSA for 15/16 can be found here.
  • Read Sarah Lewthwaite’s perceptive article in the Guardian’s Higher Education Network section here.
  • Have a read of Assist Tech’s personal view and much more detailed response to Willett’s and Higgs’s statement here.  Worth noting is where the ministerial statement found the statistics it uses on the access to a laptop question.  It is misleading at best.
  • The National Union of Students has blasted the decision by Willets in this article here.
  • Read the legislation for the Equality Act 2010 here.

The Conference

The conference, everyone agreed, was a massive success.  Ground breaking research and novel ideas were exchanged, numbers noted and contacts made.  The only problem was that no-one could remember the exact details of the lectures or posters presented after the 3 day extravaganza.  Sure there was a round-about idea noted for each talk and each project, but there was no concrete theory or material proof.  It was a conference for, and of, lost souls, of ideas and theories never quite fully formulated or realised in the labs and departments.

Over time the conference gained a certain note of notoriety for the lack of details.  Researchers who had attended joshed with other researchers amid the miasma of forgetfulness, departments struggled to bury the conference notes among the piles of departmental paper output and tenured professors disregarded thoughts of the sessions attended.  However it niggled the attendees as much as they tried to forget it, leaving a certain feeling of unease and worry buried in their minds to pop out at the most importune moments, during lectures, in PhD vivas or during tense talks with funding bodies, but the feelings themselves were never discussed openly, each organisation fearing ridicule and each researcher fearing discredit in their field.  It was agreed then that the conference was a success as communication after the event heralded it, but it was never alluded to after that and the papers were never published in a conference volume.

In time it became an academic legend of the lost, little white lies grew of the value of the research presented, of the wonderful new ideas aired and theories expounded.  It was spoke of in hushed airs in quiet academic pubs, across clusters of pint glasses and gnarled clothing.  A certain ghastly smile became associated with the mentioning of the ghost conference, a knowing look of horror at the loss of hard-earned and shabbily funded research evaporating in a mist of forgetfulness, a wrought slumped feeling of the heart penetrated PhD researchers and tenured professors alike when the conference was alluded to.  By words for it became keywords became little uttered but dreaded words on the lips of academia.

Many years later a new wave of researchers examined the paper trail for the build up to the conference, gathering numerous amounts of data, of research published pertaining to, and referencing, the conference.  The data was examined and added to a growing database for analysis.  Yet upon each and every view key intrinsic details were missing, blurred, it seemed, with a magic marker.  No sense could be made of the notes as a body of work, yet no paper could be understood by itself.  Try as they might the researchers could not contact or find any surviving attendees to interview for cross-examination.  It remained an academic malaise, causing unfiltered discomfort in the ranks of the current crop of researchers who had not dared think that knowledge could be lost, could be cast aside, or could be forgotten.

A Home is Not a House, it is a Person

A scene I never finished…..

The cold winter nights were reaching their apex as the days withdrew inside themselves when she came down to the city to visit for the weekend.  Outside the train station, where the water cascaded down alongside the ramp and pooled to meet the large glass doors, he sat and waited for her to appear.  The clouds above had formed a grey mattress, hugging the city in its cold tight grip.  The warm, moist air, breathed out of those fast pumping lungs, turned to vapour as soon as it had left his warm lips.  He was nervous, as he twisted and turned, sat and squirmed.  He looked up and out over the city, sprawled out upon the hills above.  The station sat nestled in-between the rising hills, coupled by those flanking built up city banks.  The tallest tower loomed in the most metropolitan part, not more than a stones throw away.  It did not look warm or inviting, as a place to relax and to enjoy a few days grace, but rather smooth, cold and self-effacing, helping to echo his feelings for this city.

He shivered and checked his phone.  On it there was one message from her that stated that she would soon be arriving.

It was Friday night, and he noticed that the station was bustling with commuters as he wandered in to wait in the warmth.  Other people were lingering too, scanning each face that alighted from the waiting trains in the hope of looking for signs of their loved ones; here a man waiting expectantly, a phone clutched tight in his hand as he tapped his foot, and there a woman checking the electronic train times methodically, a nervous smile playing upon her face.  The coffee aroma from the nearby stall mixed openly with the smell of the travelers sweat in the station proper.  The odd pigeon could be seen dawdling, one foot gamely placed in front of the other, waddling in the search for food and warmth.

And suddenly, out of the mass of anonymous faces, she appeared.  Face beaming with a smile playing wide across her face, she took determined footsteps towards him.  Joy, tempered with relief, filled his soul.  A tight hug followed the smiles and kisses as they embraced.

The taxi ride back to the flat was one of warm glances, laughter, and tightly held hands as the misdirection’s flew between the driver and the passengers.  He was still amazed that the majority of taxi drivers of this city didn’t know where one of the most crowded student flats were located, but he could not have been happier.  It was to be a weekend of love, of shared showers, kisses and hugs of affection, sprinkled with orgasms between two shared passionate bodies.

The Friday night was one of sharing food, news and hugs, making up for lost time in the physical realm.  ‘I missed you’, she whispered into his ear as they hugged on the dilapidated bed, ‘I missed you too’.  A leg entwined here and a hand holding tight there, lips that met in the dark rosy glow of a renewed romance.

It was as if the academic world did not matter anymore, he was on a break from that self-contained way of life and he was here now to enjoy himself fully, to embrace the earthly, instead of esoteric, pleasures.  One look between the eyes was all that was needed, and all that was granted.

The lingering goodbye on the cold rain filled Monday morning was one of tender heartbreak.

Till the next time, till the last time.