Let’s talk about the Red Poppy

The red poppy is a symbol that we are all familiar with. From political figures to almost anyone that appears on British television, the red poppy has become part of the unwritten November uniform rule. For the general public, that’s me and you, it hasn’t quite got to the point of ‘poppy fascism’ like it has in the media in that we aren’t (often) criticised or even abused for not wearing one (more on this later). We have a choice, the majority respect that choice, and those that I encounter choose to wear a red poppy for a variety of reasons.

The red poppy (or ‘Remembrance poppy’) came about after the First World War and has been worn at the relevant time each year to this day in commemoration of the British military that have died in action. As I was taught from a very early age, the wearing of a poppy was inspired by the resilient flowers that continued to grow on the battlefield despite the bombs and destruction that had taken place there. Starting with the famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, the poppy production grew from a small independent business to what we know today as the ‘Poppy Appeal’.

A red poppy can be purchased via The Royal British Legion’s ‘Poppy Appeal’ website with an open donation. The RBL website states that: “we help members of the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force, Reservists, veterans and their families all year round. We also campaign to improve their lives, organise the Poppy Appeal and remember the fallen.” The money raised through the red poppy donations supports all current and former British military personnel. To read more about the RBL, click here.

Like many others, I choose not to wear a red poppy in November. I have thought a lot about writing this blog post for many years, creating drafts that are never published in fear of saying the wrong thing. In the past, I did not consider that in the First World War, soldiers were conscripted to battle. I did not understand that there are a variety of complex sociological reasons why a person may choose to join the army beyond wanting to kill. I did not reflect on how my words hurt others when trying to explain my reasoning. I was never very good at that sort of thing. I remember being in my form room in secondary school when a group of classmates were collecting donations for red poppies. When they arrived at my table with hands held out expectantly, I looked up from my book and quite simply said “no thank you”.poppy2

The girls responded with: “what do you mean, no thank you? You have to buy a poppy! We are all wearing one.”

I remember my face going bright red (as it often did when talking to ‘popular’ and intimidating peers who were usually in charge of this sort of thing) and squeaking out something along the lines of: “I don’t support war, I’m a pacifist”.

I don’t think I was much older than 14. I hadn’t thought about the whole thing in too much detail and probably didn’t understand the reasoning beyond repeating the arguments I’d heard from other people. I think many of us thought we were a ‘pacifist’ when we were younger, that there was always an alternative to war and death. Nowadays, with everything that’s going on in the world, I’m not so sure. Despite this, I’m proud of my younger self for having the confidence to stand up for what I believed in. Looking back, however, it probably wasn’t worth the backlash I received from my class (which again probably had no deeper meaning beyond supporting what they had heard was the ‘right’ thing to do, i.e. wearing a red poppy). In retrospect, I could have just pretended I didn’t have any money on me.

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A lot of people say to me: “how is wearing a red poppy supporting the war? I wear the red poppy in remembrance of our soldiers who fought and died for us.

The message of remembrance behind the red poppy cannot be questioned. The thought of these people being murdered and the families and friends who mourn the sudden loss breaks my heart. This is only intensified with my frustration surrounding war; the battles our armies fight today are avoidable and gratuitous, just like the countless deaths.

In my opinion, the red poppy does not hold the same meaning as after the First World War – the pain people felt was raw and debilitating and there was hope that no one would ever have to suffer in the same way again. The symbol has frequently been manipulated and misappropriated to become one of justification rather than hope. Despite my belief that the majority of lay people continue to wear the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance, a corrupt few have taken the symbol and used it as a way to push their own agendas – ultimately associating the red poppy with other UK conflicts.

harry
WW2 RAF veteran who has not worn a poppy since 2013

For me, it is important to remember not only those who died holding a gun, but to give thought to the thousands of defenceless, innocent people that have been caught up in the most pitiful acts of humanity. The civilians that have suffered through the savagery of war outweigh the soldiers that have fallen tenfold. No where on the RBL website do I see mention of the opposing soldiers of other countries and the suffering of the vulnerable and powerless. I worry about the message I would be giving in wearing a red poppy. That some are worth remembering more than others? We mourn the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives for us and our country and the rest who had no say are nameless, faceless, nothings?

racism

It is almost as if there is a hierarchy of suffering and this mindset contributes towards the acceptance of continuous war today. The most important message that I wish to portray is my despair surrounding the evil that is war and the pain it inflicts on us all. If the red poppy does not above all symbolise this, I cannot wear one. I shouldn’t have to try and ‘find’ a mention of such a significant aspect of war beyond ‘our’ soldiers and ‘our’ people. I didn’t come across anything mentioning ‘the others’. When do we ever hear about ‘the others’? And amidst all the sorrow when looking back is there ever regret? Does the red poppy acknowledge the disgraceful truth of war?

poppy8Another reason I have chosen not to wear a red poppy is due to the ‘poppy fascism‘ that I mentioned earlier. Jon Snow coined the phrase in his blog post back in 2006 in response to the public backlash in him choosing not to wear a red poppy during broadcasting. This outrage has appeared in news time and time again in recent years, with Barbara Windsor famously claiming that those who choose not to wear a poppy can “sod off” for all she cares. To me, this sort of ridiculous comment paired with countless public figures who choose not to wear a poppy being shunned will only coerce people into wearing the red poppy as a “me-too” badge out of fear for the response they may get from doing otherwise. I believe that a true mark of respect depends solely on its authenticity. People should feel free to remember and mourn in a way that is true to them. Not everyone will do this publicly or through political symbols and gimmicks. Although I am very much questioning the use of the red poppy in this blog post, I do not think that people should not wear one if it genuinely means something to them.

FA

I can almost accept the wearing of a red poppy as a symbol of everything I have expressed disdain for thus far over wearing it because you think you ‘should’. For my generation, I believe most people wear the red poppy because they have seen others doing so, conclude that it is just ‘what we do’, or are told it is the ‘right thing to do’, and haven’t really thought to question it. For some, the red poppy becomes a strong, family tradition due to personal connections to war. For others, there aren’t really strong feelings about it one way or another.

As the years go by I can see why people may start to get desensitised towards the whole thing; war has been made to feel like a normal part of life. It’s unfortunate that something that originally had a positive message is being dished out in bulk to organisations like the BBC to be pinned on to jackets and worn by people as a nationally recognised symbol of respect, despite it not necessarily being their choice. As John Walsh wrote for The Independent in 2014: “Are these subtle and affecting displays of feeling? Or has Remembrance Day now turned into a variant of Red Nose Day, when everyone is encouraged to ‘Do something funny for money,’ and those who don’t join in are deemed to be tightwads and spoilsports?” Just look at the obscene and expensive variations of the red poppy that are now on offer, ranging from 100% organic wool to diamante-encrusted pieces (of which it is unclear where the profits are ending up).

For me, it is important to wear something rather than nothing, although I respect all those that choose not to wear a poppy in the confidence that it does not define their beliefs. I’m a statement sort of person, donning t-shirts with phrases such as “Godless Commie Scum” and “LEAVE HER TITS ALONE” (which is a vegan message referring to cow udders, in case you were wondering). If there is ever an opportunity for me to make a political statement I will jump at the chance. Alongside activities such as blogging, it’s a way to get my voice heard. I want people to know that I think and care deeply about these things, that I will stand up for what I think is right and fight injustice. And so for these reasons, I wear an alternative.

I choose to wear a white poppy in November and have done so for as long as I can remember. These alternative symbols were created by the Co-operative Women’s Guild and supported by the Peace Pledge Union in 1934 as a message of anti-war. The white poppy has gained momentum recently, often being worn alongside or instead of the red poppy (which has caused a fair amount of controversy). The PPU website states that:

Members of the youth section of the No More War Movement
© Peace Pledge Union Archive

“White poppies recall all victims of all wars, including victims of wars that are still being fought. This includes people of all nationalities. It includes both civilians and members of armed forces. Today, over 90% of people killed in warfare are civilians. In wearing white poppies, we remember all those killed in war, all those wounded in body or mind, the millions who have been made sick or homeless by war and the families and communities torn apart. We also remember those killed or imprisoned for refusing to fight and resisting war. We want to remember British military dead, but they are not the only victims of war. We also remember, for example, civilians killed in the bombings of London, Coventry and Belfast, and in the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, Baghdad and Kabul. From economic reliance on arms sales to renewing and updating all types of weapons, the UK government contributes significantly to international instability. The outcome of recent military adventures highlights their ineffectiveness and grim consequences.”

I wear my white poppy as a call for peace and in remembrance of all the soldiers and noncombatants who have suffered by the orders of the rich and powerful, safe in their ivory towers as they pull only the metaphorical triggers of war. The red poppy has come to represent a glorification or justification of war for many people, as well as failing to represent remembrance of the countless victims that have suffered without guns, without choices. In the end, what you wear or do not wear should come down to a meaningful decision you have made in consideration of the political message each colour poppy represents, which is quite simply unavoidable. Whatever poppy we wear or do not wear, our enemy in the fight against injustice and suffering is not one another.

If you would like to donate to purchase your own white poppy, click here.

Or to read more about the PPU, click here.

Long time, no blog.

Well hello there strangers! It has been almost 2 years since we last spoke. Let me fill you in on where I’m at since my last few blog posts.

I have finished my undergraduate degree in Education, Psychology and Counselling with a 2:1 which I am partly majorly disappointed in (as a 2:1 is not the best I could have got, and if it is not the best IT IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH) but mostly ecstatic with, as (in no particular order):

  1. Whatever the grade, I have a degree – which after dropping out of 2 universities before starting at Sheffield Hallam is something I and my family never thought I’d achieve;
  2. The 2:1 has enabled me to receive an unconditional offer to study for a MA in Education, which I start this week;
  3. The logical part of my brain is aware that the grade I have received is actually the most insignificant part of finishing my degree, as I have loved the learning process and grown and developed as a person throughout studying in ways I could never have imagined, and;
  4. I know deep-down that I deserved that 2:1, which is a very respectable degree that I really am proud of. There are a million cogs in the learning wheel beyond your academic capabilities and I did my best with the hand I was dealt. Maybe my ‘best’ IS something that isn’t quite perfection. And maybe that’s ok.

As I mentioned, I enrol on to my Masters degree this week and I couldn’t be happier. People keep asking me what my plan is and to be honest, I still do not have one. No, I am not studying to be a teacher or for any other particular profession. I want to study a MA in Education because I adore learning and am intensely passionate about educational opportunity and social justice. If I could go on to do a PhD I probably would. I hope to study for as long as I possibly can and feel I will have to eventually be dragged out of university kicking and screaming at the age of 82.

I have been social media-free and vegan for over 2 years… and trust me – no one is more surprised at that than myself. Both are up there with the best decisions of my life and I can’t see myself ever again spending an evening scrolling aimlessly through Facebook while munching away on a big, greasy cheeseburger.

Do I miss social media? Not one bit. Once in a while I think about all the acquaintances and old friends that I have not been able to contact (or at least stay up-to-date with based on their online posts) and wonder how they are getting on. Are they happy in life? Are they doing what they said they wanted to do all those years ago? Do they ever think about me too? But that’s ok. My social circle has massively decreased in numbers but increased in quality. Those that really wanted to stay in contact with me have done so. My mental health and wellbeing has skyrocketed (which I do not put solely down to deleting social media, but I believe it has a big part to play). I don’t take 713 painful ‘selfies’ anymore before narrowing it down to one picture that I hate a little less than all the others and posting it online with a candid caption hoping for likes and comments and the subsequent pleasure that boosts my self-esteem for 0.1 seconds before it plummets back down lower than ever before. I haven’t wasted time worrying about how I come across to others, whether people like me, whether I am interesting or intelligent or funny enough compared to all these other individuals. I no longer suffer the stresses of playing the ‘game’ in the online ‘society’ that these sites have cleverly created to keep users active online.

Oh, it’s so-and-so’s birthday today. 46 people have posted on their Facebook wall so far. Should I post happy birthday? I haven’t spoken to them since school. But they DID say happy birthday on MY wall last time. So I suppose I have to post something, really, or how would it look? They would notice, wouldn’t they? So would everybody else. If I don’t post happy birthday on their wall they won’t post happy birthday on my wall next year. And then that is one less person posting happy birthday on my wall, and I have hardly any people posting happy birthday on my wall compared to so-and-so as it is. People will think I have no friends. We can’t have that. I’ll post happy birthday on so-and-so’s wall. It is the courteous thing to do, now that I have been notified of the date by Facebook. I can’t un-know this information and carry on life guilt-free with not posting happy birthday. Now…what exactly do I say in this post? Just a simple: ‘happy birthday so-and-so!’? No, that clearly isn’t enough effort. We used to sit together in the library for god’s sake. I need a few more hours to contemplate the best way to go about this.

Since no longer being able to blurt out my raw thoughts and feelings in a Facebook status and removing my social media ‘voice’, I have allowed myself time to think about what I want to say and how best to say it. Yes, some things ARE best left unsaid. Everything is so much more peaceful and simpler now that all I have to worry about it what is going on in the real world – meaningful things that actually, directly affect me. I can’t even fathom how I used to have the time to use social media and now spend my days having real conversations and doing productive things. Honestly, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders in more ways than those mentioned. I would encourage anyone who relates to my social media experience to try and give it a break, although I am aware most people are capable of using it in a positive and healthy way. Despite being genuinely happy with my life and who I am for the first time, I know I will always have those niggling feelings of not being good enough deep down inside because that’s what I was brought up to know. I have to be careful who and what I surround myself with – social media is unfortunately one of those things that triggers all that negativity for me.

Do I miss non-vegan food? Fuck yes, constantly. I am not disgusted by or outraged with the smell of meat cooking which I assumed would happen eventually. I crave dairy products almost every day. My decision to be vegan is a moral one (I think it is the ‘right’ thing to do ethically) and in a way it is still difficult to prioritise that over those unexplainable ‘wants’. However, veganism is simple in that it has now become part of my lifestyle and everyday routine. I know what I will and won’t eat and I know what I like and where to get it from. With the countless vegan options available nowadays I rarely feel like I am ‘missing out’ on anything and can stuff my face to my heart’s content as I always have done. And trust me, I do.

Sometimes I think about how easy it would be to just grab anything from a supermarket or shop and not have to consider the ingredients or processes involved – which is something I definitely used to take for granted. Being alert in this way to what goes on with my food, clothing, toiletries and so on has enabled me to develop a sort of ‘mindfulness’ across all aspects of my life. I exercise (somewhere between occasionally and as often as I can), I wake up early and spend time doing things I gain something positive from, I try to challenge or expand on my own views with books and YouTube videos and documentaries. I am often researching what I can do next to reduce my environmental footprint, help those in need or do whatever small thing I can for this earth that we are rapidly destroying. Because if you aren’t striving to be better or make things better, aren’t you simply using up resources and basically just… existing?

Anyway, this blog post has ended up a lot longer than intended. I had forgotten what it feels like to just sit in my pyjamas and spill my thoughts out onto a page (satisfying, rewarding, therapeutic). I do have some actual interesting blog ideas lined up but I thought it would be weird to just jump right in and post about something else when I have been M.I.A for the past 2 years. So yeah – this is me. Where are you guys at? Leave me a comment, or email me at: ciretta.paone@hotmail.co.uk. I would love to catch up with you all despite my non-social-media-ness.

Until next time.

3 months vegan & why I’m sorry

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I don’t want to start this blog post by saying “I have been vegan for 3 months”. I ate almost a whole bag of prawn crackers that came free with an (otherwise vegan) Chinese takeaway in a moment of madness during my October time-of-the-month. That is just one of a few slip-ups. Although I am researching and investing in cruelty-free products, I am still using the make-up I own from Benefit Cosmetics (who test on animals, click here to check whether your brands do too) and wearing old, woollen jumpers (although not ‘harmed’ in the shearing process, sheep are bred and enslaved to provide products for humans and then sent to the slaughter). There are some ridiculous ingredients like Acetylated Lanolin Ricinoleate, Desamidocollagen and many more that come from animals and mean nothing to me when I check the back of food packages (I’ve just googled them to make my point). Who knows how close I actually am to actually achieving veganism.

vegan definition

As I explained in a previous blog post, I chose the vegan lifestyle for health reasons first, the social and environmental implications of the meat & dairy industries second, and for the support of animal rights third. The more that I read and learn, the more these intertwine in my head in to one, impenetrable reason to continue with this change. If anyone would like me to write in more detail about these 3 reasons to go vegan, please let me know. I understand that the majority of people that choose these lifestyles are doing so to support animal rights beyond anything else, which I totally support and am starting to open up to more over time. Anyway, back to my point.

My god, it’s tiring. And do you know what makes the whole thing so much more difficult? People casting their judgement on you and your lifestyle and making you feel like you aren’t a ‘real’ [insert lifestyle choice here]. This is something that I am massively guilty of in the past. There was a girl I used to be friends with before I decided to ‘go vegan’ who called herself a vegetarian in that she chose not to eat meat or fish. She was extremely educated and passionate about her lifestyle and would get quite riled up when expressing her point if we were to ever talk about animal rights. However, she openly admitted to eating gelatine (found in lots of sweets and cakes) despite being aware that it is a protein obtained through the boiling of skin, tendons, ligaments or bones from cattle. She had no argument for this and expressed her admiration for the vegan lifestyle often, explaining that it would be “too difficult” for her to give up dairy products such as cheese and milk, regardless of what the farm animals were put through to produce it. In an unrelated argument that ended our friendship, I sent an awful text to this girl telling her that she was a hypocrite who couldn’t possibly stand for animal rights, and was simply trying to come across as compassionate in order to boost her ego.

label8I regret that text for so many reasons, but mainly because I have realised that a change in lifestyle is about intention rather than perfection. If a person wants to make a stand for animal rights based on their own values and beliefs, a change in diet for example is a step in the right direction for them. At least this girl was doing something, you know? And that is admirable, I realise this now. It is very difficult to give up meat in a western society where it is constantly promoted. So kudos to her, and all the other vegetarians that I have most likely offended in the past. You are all making positive change. It’s very similar to the pacifism or communism argument people have. “Well it’s a nice idea in theory, but it won’t actually happen and I can’t make a difference“. If we all have the attitude that our contribution to change, however small, won’t mean anything, then of course we won’t move forward as a society! Anyone that has made an active choice to change something about their lifestyle, be it choosing not to purchase products from Nestlé (click here to read why) or having a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic ones (click here to read why) is making a positive change. If you want to stand for what is right for you, do something, ANYTHING to take action! (This does not mean that I condone Hitler’s fascism and mass-murder, father. Honestly, the shit I get).

I suppose this blog post is a sort of tail-between-my-legs apology. The girl I mentioned isn’t the only person who I have attacked for their beliefs. I remember being steaming drunk one night recently and lecturing a random vegetarian guy I had met about 10 minutes before with something along the lines of: “I don’t get vegetarians. If you care about animals, why would you consume dairy products that are produced by putting animals through absolute torture? An animal being slaughtered and served in a supermarket isn’t the only way it can be exploited. You’re just as bad as a meat-eater…” blah blah blah, drink a-sloshing and digging a continuously deeper hole for myself. The poor guy was actually very nice about the whole thing; clearly he was in a place where he was comfortable in his choice.

label6My opinion has changed so drastically in the last few weeks and I think it’s important for me to share this in the hope that it will give people something to think about – especially those like me who have been quick to critique others who are contributing in any way towards making the world a better place. Could it have been denial? Jealousy? I don’t know. The girl I mentioned before is doing a great thing in her vegetarianism, but she, myself and all the others in whatever lifestyle they lead, have to stop judging and comparing others. To me, in that situation a few months ago, the vegetarian girl wasn’t doing ‘enough’. To an elderly vegan who hasn’t been near an animal product in food or otherwise since the womb, I might not be doing ‘enough’. 100% vegan is almost like the holy grail of lifestyle choices to me. It is so pure and so intense that it is very difficult to achieve, especially if you have been brought up in a family of meat and dairy eaters and are surrounded by ambiguous products containing these 6-syllable ingredients that make no sense.

vegan not real

Am I a vegan, or am I ‘transitioning’ to the vegan lifestyle? Is it right for me to call myself a vegan when I knowingly am still using my leftover non-vegan beauty products, or when I had that minor blip and ate the prawn crackers? Can anyone and does anyone ever avoid all animal products in a Western society? Definitely something to think about.

Any person who is doing whatever they can to move towards change should be applauded, and that is something I am working on. Any person who has the right intentions, be it veganism, another lifestyle choice or just generally, is a good person in my eyes. The key thing for me and my readers to take away from this is the focus on INTENTION, not perfection. There are no perfect people in the world and everyone has their own shit going on that we’ll never understand. As an all-or-nothing person, I went from cheeseburger-loving, milk-guzzling maniac to upholding quite a strict vegan diet. 6 months ago I would have bowed down to the holy entities that managed to have enough self-control to give up bacon butties on hangover day. I have made a huge step forward and I should feel proud of myself. I shouldn’t be made to feel embarrassed or struggle with whether to use the label ‘vegan’ or not in case I’m not good enough. And I shouldn’t be inflicting any of that on anyone else, either.

For me, veganism is the attempt to move away from as many animal-derived products as possible. I will take a medicine prescribed to me to help me survive whether it contains animal ingredients or not. I’m not going to walk around in wooden-soled shoes or never use a computer again (rubber and plastics potentially contain animal by-products) but in accepting that maybe it isn’t possible to be ‘100% vegan’ I’m not going to let that get me down. The less of a product we purchase, the less it will be produced – that is simple supply and demand. I truly believe that I and many others are making a difference towards the end of cruel and systematic factory-farming and disgusting animal testing practices in the purchasing of cruelty-free alternatives.

I don’t eat meat, eggs, fish or dairy products 99.9% of the time, and to my knowledge. One day I hope to be there 100%. I own items that include animal products or have used animal testing, but am replacing everything with cruelty-free substitutions at my own pace and with the limited budget I have. Sometimes I sit and have intense and almost sexual thoughts about eating a massive bowl of spaghetti carbonara. I consider myself to be a vegan and I feel a million times better than I ever have before. We should all support one another in the positive lifestyle choices we make, and I am sorry to anyone that I have made to feel like their journey is not important.label5

Let’s talk about Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn standing for Labour leader at Open, Norwich
Corbyn standing for Labour leader at Open, Norwich

“Who even is this Jeremy Corbyn? Where has he come from?” As usual, it was on a very drunken night out in Sheffield that I found myself discussing politics with an eclectic mix of people after another unnecessary round of ‘shit bombs’. It can go either way as to whether I will devote my whole evening to pontificating or be incapable of holding a conversation at all. This night was the former and it really got me thinking about why people are so apprehensive to accept Corbyn in to the Labour ranks. I am basing this post around the conversations I’ve had with people who have asked the very questions above; I am by no means an expert on Corbyn but felt I did an OK job at the time despite my inebriation and will attempt to do the same for you now. Maybe with a little less drink-sloshing.

Jeremy Corbyn made his first political appearance about 40 years ago, so let’s set the scene. It was 1970’s Britain: a time of economic downfall and increasing political awareness. Harold Wilson was in his second term as prime minister of a minority Labour government, breaking the Conservative winning spell at that time. Wilson wanted more opportunity for the working class and for the first time in British history, more money was allocated to education than defence. Wilson was said to be part of the “soft left” in that he was not exactly revolutionary in terms of left-wing politics – very much like the Labour leaders to follow him.

Corbyn speaking to journalists outside the Commons after the historic ruling by the House of Lords against the appeal of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.
Corbyn speaking to journalists outside the Commons after the historic ruling by the House of Lords against the appeal of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

Corbyn was first elected as Labour MP for Islington North in 1983. Soon after he became a part of the Socialist Campaign Group as well as writing for socialist newspaper The Morning Star (click here to find out more about the newspaper) for which Corbyn is still contributing today (click here to read his latest column). Now obviously I wasn’t around at the beginning of Corbyn’s political career, but people that were remember him as someone relatively obscure in terms of media attention, if at all. He was never the type to try and ‘fight his way to the top’ and seemed content with the support of his constituency and the positive work he was doing in spreading the socialist message.

Results of the 2015 general election in the UK
Results of the 2015 general election in the UK

Fast-forward to June of this year, a month after Ed Miliband had resigned as Labour leader after suffering huge losses to the Scottish National Party (click here to read more about the SNP) in the 2015 general election. The opinion polls had greatly underestimated the conservative vote and David Cameron came out with a victory (as I hate to remind you) of 36.9% of the vote. I voted for the Green Party (click here to read more about the Greens) as they were the only party that really seemed to represent my own beliefs. A lot of the Labour voters seemed disenchanted with Miliband and his on-the-fence policies. Coming from a proud left-wing family it was surprising to me when I began researching the party manifestos in the run-up to the election and felt I couldn’t even consider voting for and supporting Labour policies at all. Did anyone else decide not to to vote for the ‘lesser of two evils’ in order to keep the tories out and instead backed someone they truly supported? Let me know in the comments.

Corbyn delivers speech on ditching nuclear weapons that 'destroy your neighbour' to mark Hiroshima bombing
Corbyn delivers speech on ditching nuclear weapons that ‘destroy your neighbour’ to mark Hiroshima bombing

So, things looked a little bleak for Labour after the election. Everyone was disappointed and angry. The position of the next Labour leader was something you wouldn’t want to touch with a bargepole. Who was going to stand as the opposition to David Cameron? Enter: Jeremy Corbyn for the ritual slaughter, because “someone had to do it”. Corbyn had absolutely zero support from the media and even the MPs who were backing him . He was practically a joke, with the odds on at the bookies at 100-1. After scraping up enough nominees to get him on the ballot, with some MPs claiming it was a ‘gesture of goodwill’, Corbyn gathered a small campaign team and began his fight. Nobody expected his landslide victory of over 50% of the vote in the 1st round, knocking out favourite-to-win Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

I know that Corbyn is a controversial character, but I think he’s a real cool guy. Before going in to what I have to say, I’ll leave a few things here for you to start forming your own opinion about what made him so popular with the 60,000 new members, registered supporters, and affiliated trade unionists:

Corbyn's 'About Me' page, go to http://jeremycorbyn.org.uk/about/ to read more
Corbyn’s ‘About Me’ page, go to http://jeremycorbyn.org.uk/about/ to read more

“Where Jeremy stands” (http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/why_i_m_standing)

  • Economy
    An economy which works for all, rejects austerity and places wealth and opportunity in the hands of the millions and not simply the millionaires.
  • Politics
    Democratic collective action is needed to secure a better country. Government should not be the property of a closed elite circle.
  • Environment
    Our world is under threat as never before. This means we must act in the long term interest of the planet rather than the short-term interests of corporate profits.
  • International
    Britain needs to redefine its place in the world. We stand up against injustice wherever we find it, looking to build a more peaceful world through dialogue, cooperation and democracy.
  • The Labour movement
    Our party must become a rejuvenated, democratic mass social movement again dedicated to bringing about real change.

As you can see with the images below, the media don’t tend to favour Corbyn (even with me purposefully overlooking every Daily Mail article) and have contributed towards all the doubts surrounding his mission. Whether we like it or not, we get a lot of our opinions from what we see on the news or read in the papers. And why wouldn’t we? Unless you go digging for yourself, that’s all you know. I could go in to a huge rant about the evil of the mass-media, but that’s a whole other blog post. My point is that he’s quite the likeable ol’ chap if you see past the headlines and stop to think about the actual important stuff, like, um… I don’t know… what he’s planning to do as a leader to create change?

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A popular argument now that the initial buzz has died down after his success is that Corbyn is going to ‘destroy’ Labour and their chances of ever gaining enough votes to surpass the Conservatives. And I suppose your stance on that will depend on what Labour means to you. If Labour to you means New Labour (something similar to Ed Miliband’s fence-sitting policies and represented by a man who could not at all connect with what he’d had written for him beyond all the speech choreography he had to remember) then yes, I can understand why you may think Corbyn will ‘destroy’ Labour. The ‘Labour’ that is Miliband and Kendall and Blair. For those of us that truly believe in the fundamental ideology of left-wing politics, social equality, we should await the extinction of New Labour with breath that is baited.

Corbyn speaking at Prime Minister's Questions
Corbyn speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions

Corbyn is not at all like the churned out Oxbridge, suit-and-tie wearing politicians with millionaire families and obvious personal agendas. Why are people scared of a real man standing up to represent real people? For me, Jeremy Corbyn wants to do the right thing for not just this country, but all the people of the world. He has returned as a true representation of Labour. I support the MP who is the country’s lowest expenses claimer, who wears knitted jumpers made by his mum, who answers the questions he is given and who has not once strayed from his core beliefs for the sake of his own popularity.

If the brief overview I have given you has sparked some interest then please go and do some research on what more he has to say. Hopefully this post has at least cleared up a few questions people tend to have around him. I could have gone on for hours writing about everything he stands for, but I don’t know enough to do him justice. I’d like to finish with something that Jeremy Corbyn himself once said, which links very much with my previous blog post: “when is it ever a waste of time to put forward a view you believe in?

I had a go.

Veganism?

I’ve been researching the vegan lifestyle recently and it’s becoming increasingly interesting to me. To say that my ‘normal’ diet consists of bacon butties, cheeseburgers and carbonara, I’m not sure how I expect to live as a thoroughly pure vegan, or if I even want to. All I know is after many hours of reading blog posts and articles, watching hundreds of YouTube videos and scrolling down page after page of heated debates on message boards, I’ve completely changed my opinion on what I want to eat.

My blog’s ‘About Me’ page mentions my love of food several times (which I blame entirely on my Italian blood) and I don’t think that will ever change. I’ve learnt that you can love good food, and enjoy eating it just as much and maybe for different reasons. There’s something so satisfying about filling your body with good stuff. Yes, I’m aware of the obvious cue I just created there for an ejaculate joke, (semen is actually said to be good for you, so not entirely irrelevant…) but let’s move on.

When I was a young girl of around 6 or 7 I chose to be a vegetarian. Now I can sit here and pretend that I was wise beyond my years and had a very grown-up outlook on the world with a sensitivity towards animals, but I was simply a fussy eater who would spend almost an hour at the dinner table if I was ever presented with chicken. I mean obviously the idea of animals being kept in horrific conditions and then slaughtered by the thousands upset me, but never enough to put me off eating meat. Basically I’d gotten away with not eating foods I disliked by giving myself this controversial label for someone so young, and I felt good being a bit of an outcast. I don’t think this phase lasted more than a year and I can’t really remember why I started eating meat again. It was more than likely the constant “you need meat for protein and iron” argument I was getting from my mum, who I guess was just trying to look out for me.

I was brought up on a good, healthy diet for a growing child both before, during and after my vegetarian ‘phase’. I was definitely the ‘bag-of-carrots’ kid at my school and gazed in adoration at the packets of crisps and chocolate bars everyone else had in their packed lunches. As I got older and had opportunities to have more of a say in what I was eating, I rebelled and started to pig out on junk food. I think this combined with working in pubs until 4am and then dragging myself to school the next day had a detrimental effect on not only my physical health, but my state of mind. I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression in my late teens and struggled with even getting through everyday tasks for about 2 years. It is only in retrospect that I can see a correlation between these negative feelings and all the crap I was putting in to my body.

It’s probably been about a year that I have started thinking about changing to a healthier lifestyle, and not even a month that I’ve been slowly putting some ideas in to practice. It has been constantly feeling lethargic and coming down with all sorts of illness and some noticeable weight gain that made something click in my head and want to stop relying on this empty food for fuel. And although I realise that 22 is still young, I’m aware that it’s only downhill from here in terms of metabolism and what I can get away with eating (or not eating).

I’ve known I’ve wanted to make a change for a while, but my research on a vegan diet only started in the last few weeks. Never did I ever think I would be considering cutting out all the foods I loved, and I actually found people who proclaimed to be vegan extremely annoying and self-righteous in the past. Awful, I know. There isn’t anything wrong with being passionate about something and living your life the way you feel is best. And nowadays I wouldn’t blame anyone for being proud of their vegan lifestyle and wanting to share it with the world. I suppose in a way I was jealous of people who could take control of their lives, be so strong and live so pure. It sounds dramatic, but cutting out meat, eggs, fish and all dairy products must be difficult, especially if like me you love your food and have spent years gorging yourself with these products from the multi-billion pound meat, egg and dairy industries.

I feel like I want to move towards a vegan diet to benefit my own health rather than for ethical reasons. I’m not some soulless monster that is unaffected by the images of battery hens crammed in to tiny cages or geese having tubes forced down their throats and pumped with fat to prepare their livers to be cooked and served as ‘foie gras’ (not that I’d ever eat something stupid like that anyway, but you know). I support vegetarians and vegans in their choice to make a stand for animal rights, but for me it’s more the new-found knowledge of what’s in the food I’m eating every day and therefore what is being put in to my body. Our bodies are our machines that we use to live each day; we need to respect them in order for us to live a long and fulfilling life. And for me personally, I know that what I eat can greatly affect my mind just as much as my body.

This isn’t going to be an over-night change, especially since I am jumping from a full-on ravenous carnivore to a more vegan-inspired diet without properly trying vegetarianism first (which seems to be the usual path people take to a vegan lifestyle). I’m definitely an all-or-nothing person and am motivated more by drastic change rather than something more slow and gradual. My research on the vegan lifestyle has inspired me and what I want to change within my diet and has massively put me off certain foods and food groups. I will go in to more detail of my ideas and how this progresses in later blog posts, but I just thought I’d give a bit of background to my diet to begin with.

Hopefully the journey towards a vegan-inspired diet might be interesting to some readers from this perspective that might be considered a little different. And for anybody that wants more information from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, click here and find out more about veganism.

Why I am deleting Facebook

Everyone has at least once threatened to delete Facebook. I am guilty of this many a time; I’d probably add a few embarrassing screenshots of the status updates I’ve made in the past claiming I’ll be gone for good if I hadn’t deleted them upon my begrudging return to cover my tracks each time. I don’t have Instagram or Snapchat and my Twitter account was set up by a friend of mine as another platform for plugging my blog posts which I don’t even think I remember the password for and could never get my head around using. If I did eventually delete Facebook, that’d be it for me and social media. And my god, isn’t it hard to cut all ties like that in this modern networking world?

Social media is as close to literally as grammar will allow me the air we breathe. It’s the thing we turn to when we’re waiting for a bus, or are bored in a lecture, or simply just as something to do when we aren’t doing anything else. The mind-numbing scrolling of news-feeds becomes almost addictive and it’s now normal to see groups of people on a night out all stood in a circle on their phones in the middle of the dance floor, side-stepping or bobbing their heads to keep themselves from being completely sucked in to this alternate online universe. You can’t really have a conversation with someone without them checking their phone, which is linked up to and synced with every social media app under the sun. I don’t know if I’m using the correct terminology here as even being an avid Facebook user I’m still a bit behind with all the other shit people use right now, but you know what I mean.

So why am I deleting Facebook? There are so many reasons. There has to be for it to cross everyone’s mind at least once in their social media career. As I said before there’s been so many times when I’ve threatened this break-up and as predicted I’ve always come crawling back – the main reason for the last few years being the connection to a vast amount of people for sharing my blog posts, keeping up to date with who is getting married or having a baby or buying a house (yep, adulthood is certainly looming) and generally being a nosy bitch.

Which leads me on to my first reason for wanting to delete Facebook: it’s the most pointless waste-of-time that distracts me from doing things that are actually important or meaningful. For example: face-to-face human interaction. Updating my blog, as I love to write. Working on assignments that have looming deadlines. Doing absolutely anything productive in general and living actual life. The list is endless, and we all know it. I update my Facebook status constantly with my itchy wannabe-writer fingers and it generally just seems to annoy those that don’t try have a presence within the social media platform. Of course, it isn’t only negative feedback that I receive on my updates but I certainly have had a backlash on a number of occasions. I have realised that there is an unspoken ‘right way to be’ on social media and unfortunately I have never fit in to that.

And so the people are my next reason for wanting to delete Facebook. There are so many within my online community that use social media to make sure they’re up to date with what everyone else is doing and then going and having a big ol’ (private) discussion about it. It seems that the only way you will not get judged on Facebook is if you do not post on it. I like to call these individuals ‘Facebook Snakes’, slinking around in the undergrowth knowing everything about anything but never really coming to the surface and making themselves known for everyone else to see. When a juicy scoop comes in you can bet they’ll all be having a bitch about it at the next pre-drinks, but when they’re next online, back they slink. Clearly I am referring to personal experience here. Is this just a student thing? Anyway, I don’t want to be associated with all of that. I am a self-admitted ‘over-sharer’ and try to be open and honest about the things I think and feel.

As I’m sure is the case for all of us, I cannot deny that I haven’t spent many an hour doing what has been affectionately labelled as ‘Facebook-stalking’ people. Sometimes your self-esteem is so low that you can dedicate a whole day to lying in bed in your pyjamas, clicking through people’s pictures and sighing at how wonderful their lives and/or faces are. Facebook use inadvertently involves judging and being judged – although everything we post is ‘fake’ anyway. We post what we want people to know and allude to what we want people to think. Everything you see on Facebook, for those reasons, are like the filters people use on their pictures. We post what we want people to see about ourselves, and the rest is obsolete.

This doesn’t even begin to cover the fact that people don’t care about the things you care about; all too often it appears to be too much effort for people to support you by doing something as simple as ‘liking’ a project you’re involved in and passionate about. If this is what we are using Facebook for and not to encourage and help our friends, what is the point? This constant cycle of judgement is my last reason (mentioned in this post, there are so many more that I won’t go in to) for wanting to delete Facebook. Why would I purposefully associate myself with everything that brings me down? And can I please stress that they bring ME down. I am sure there are people who can use social media in a positive and healthy way.

Right now, I’m trying to back up all my pictures and people I don’t want to lose contact with – then I can finally shut my profile down. It’ll be interesting to see how long I stay off Facebook for this time. We as a culture rely on social media so much, but it’d be nice to actually hang out with people more often or speak over the phone and engage in real, interesting conversation that goes beyond how big someone’s lips are. It’ll be especially difficult for me seeing as I like to write down everything that crosses my mind but hopefully I’ll just be updating my blog more often.

Either way, this is for the best for me for now. If you would like to keep up to date with my blog, please subscribe to The Very Hungry Cirettapillar via email using the ‘follow’ button to the right of this post.

Let’s talk about Politics

Before I get in to this blog post I just need to make one thing very clear: I am not, and do not think I am, an expert in politics. I have studied political party manifestos for the upcoming election, watched “Cameron & Miliband Live: The Battle for Number 10″ and the ITV/BBC Leaders Debates (click the links to catch up on these) and follow party leaders on social networking sites to keep up to date with any news in the run up to the election in May, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t really know much. Politics very much interest me and I have definitely formed my own opinion based on the information I’ve accessed. So that’s basically what you’re reading here.

Politics don’t have to be this scary, unknown territory that we aren’t qualified enough to have an opinion on. I can’t decide what the bigger shame is: that people are scared to talk about politics or back a party that interests them in case they say something or think something ‘wrong’, or that people have no interest in the subject whatsoever. I’m aware that the whole thing is designed to confuse normal people in order to keep us from having a real say in anything that goes on around us – but that’s a whole other blog post. There are ways to access information that pretty much translate the scripted rubbish politicians come out with and break it down in to something a bit more informal and easier to understand.

The only question you need to ask yourself is: what do you want for you and the country you live in? If you can answer that, your voice matters. And every vote counts. The people that don’t think they can answer that question are the exact reason why I am blogging today. Statistics show that only 44% of 18-24 year olds in the UK voted in the last general election. The chart below shows just how close the number of voters are between the two ‘biggies’ – Labour and Conservative.

The Guardian, 20 April 2015 – “Tories still ahead of Labour in latest Guardian/ICM poll”

The latest opinion polls are not going to be completely accurate representations of the party people vote for on the day, but it does give us some idea of what people are thinking. Based on this, the 56% of young people that did not vote in the last election have the power to determine the results in this one. The 6.8 million of us under 25 really do have a say in what happens. We are basically Batman.

The typical things I hear from people when I have this conversation with them are:

  1. “My vote won’t change anything anyway.”
  2. “I’m just not interested in politics, it doesn’t affect me.”
  3. “I don’t understand what any of them are on about.”
  4. “I’m not voting because they’re all a bunch of corrupt d**kheads.” (An excuse that I myself am guilty of saying about a year ago).

First of all, the numbers above make it clear just how much potential influence the under 25 year olds (and in fact any of the age groups, as none of them have 100% of people voting) have right now on the outcome of this election. The Green Party are currently favoured by about 5% of people, but those 56% of young people and the others that aren’t planning on voting could have them steaming ahead of the familiar faces of Cameron and Miliband. We should all be evil-cackling at what we could do here.

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Secondly, how can you ‘not be interested’ in what happens to the organisations and services (schools, hospitals, the beloved NHS etc.) that affect you, your loved ones and everyone around you every single day?! Before the year of 1918 women were not considered worthy to vote, and after all the relentless campaigning for equality only 64% of women voted in the 2010 general election. Only 66% of men did the same. As I mentioned before I am aware that the political jargon can be very confusing and intimidating, but there are ways round it to help you understand. If any of my readers want me to do a blog series on each of the ‘big 7’ political party manifestos and what they really mean (to my understanding), let me know in the comments below.

‘Vote For Policies’ is a fantastic site that lets you ‘compare policies from each party in their own words, and make an informed decision about who to vote for at the 2015 general election’. You don’t know who any of the policies belong to until the end, when you are given your results in percentages and can see which party best suits your ideas and beliefs. This is a great way to overcome your preconceptions of each party based on the person standing as party leader. The whole idea is to promote voting for the policies, not the personalities or faces of each party. If you’d like to have a go at the survey, click here.

Number 4 was my way of thinking for a very long time. When you see the corruption and lies that go on constantly in the world of politics, it’s hard to have any faith in the system. I do understand that. This time last year I was adamant that I would not be voting in the 2015 general election. How could I vote for and support a person that I did not trust?  How could I back a party that I don’t completely agree with? Could I ever live with myself for going against everything I believe in?

In the end I realised that I had been dragged in to a trap way of thinking that was exactly what the political leaders had planned for and wanted. It’s so easy for us to be controlled if we let ourselves, and the more we distance ourselves from our positions of potential power, the easier it is for someone to be leading our country in a way the majority disagree with. We need to stand up and let our voices be heard – and with fresh faces such as Natalie Bennett (Greens) and Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) snatching voters from the bigger parties that have let us down time and time again, NOW is the best time to think about making a vote for what could possibly be a real change.

To register to vote, click here.