The day I changed school trips forever

It was several years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday… This morning I was on LBC talking to Nick Ferrari about a press release that the Association of Teachers and Lecturers released yesterday, saying schools are banning British bulldog and conkers, and that school trips are on the decline. He wanted to get the views of three generations, and I was the youngest alongside Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall and Rachel Johnson.

The report is quite interesting. It suggests that due to injuries and worries about health and safety that conkers, British Bulldog and all those kind of ‘rough’ games you play as a kid are being seen less and less. And that due to bureaucracy, school trips are on the decline. Truth is, I know teachers are under a lot of pressure these days. I know so many teachers who would love to take kids out for small trips – trips that would benefit them far more than sitting in a classroom would – but it’s a headache to organise all the paperwork for it, and sometimes it’s just too much hassle.

I do however, feel partly responsible.

LBC with Nick Ferrari

So, the full story, then. When I was in sixth form I studied history at A Level, and every year the teachers arranged a school trip to Berlin, to help get a better understanding of what we were studying. We were there for three days. As a treat, and because we were old enough and had argued the case for it, one night we went out ‘clubbing’ (teachers in tow). We got the train there, and everyone had a good night. On the way back, I asked how long it’d take to walk home, as I wanted to get the train back – and I was told it’d be a long walk back to the hostel. I asked around but no one could tell me if the train lines were closed or not. There was a crowd of sixty people walking along the street in the same direction and I quickly ran to the front so I couldn’t lose them – “How hard is it going to be to find a group of sixty people?” I thought. I ducked out of the crowd and went to the station. Closed. Came back up and there was no one to be seen. I looked along the road and saw no one. I can’t have been gone more than 2 minutes. And yet all was silent.

So I panicked. I was approached by 3 young German men, who circled me and started saying things to me in German. Terrified, I ignored them, carried on, and then realised I had no idea where the hostel was, had no contact numbers for the teachers on the trip and didn’t have my mobile with me. It took me a fair while to find someone who was willing to give me their mobile to ring England, but in the end two German girls let me use their phone, and stayed with me until I was found. I had to ring my parents, who then rang the headmaster, who then rang the teachers that were in Germany. Unsurprisingly, my parents were distraught. After a lot of phonecalls back and forth, one teacher eventually picked me up in a cab and took me back to the hostel, telling me how unimpressed they all were. When I got back, I was greeted by one of my favourite teachers who was propped up at a bar, drunk. “THERE you are Sophie! We thought we’d lost you!” – he pulled me in for a hug. I’ve never seen anyone look so relieved to see me before!

Self-identity in a digital world – work & play

Alone in the Dark 1992 screenshot

Terrifying triangular zombie attack - Alone In The Dark, 1992

Some personal history. I genuinely can’t remember not ever having access to a computer in my life. My dad has worked in IT for years, and we always had computers and gadgets around. One of my earliest memories of technology is my sister making me watch her play Alone In The Dark (the first one, made in 1992, when I was 4) and me having nightmares about it(!) I can’t have been older than 6 or 7.

I don’t remember when I first used the internet, but I distinctly remember how frustrating the cumbersome dial-up internet was, before all this newfangled broadband stuff turned up. I remember accidentally racking up a gigantic bill and being banned from using it until after 6pm. I also recall nagging my parents for months to switch to broadband, which, I’m happy to say, they did. Eventually.

Around that time I developed friendships with people online over a love of a London-based band. We met up, and I had a relatively bizarre social life at the age of 13/14 – going out to gig venues in London and getting drunk, hanging out with 20-something year old guys in bands. I then became a key member of another online community when I was 15 in 2003 – a project that ended in 2009 – but something that everyone involved looks back on with misty-eyed fondness. When I say ‘key member’ – I mean that my participation in it waxed and waned, but there were always people there who knew who I was, liked what I had to say and enjoyed my being around. I made amazing friends, and I made hated enemies. Such was my presence that I later found out that some of the biggest arguments between administrators was over whether or not I should be banned or left to stew in my own juices when things got rough and I pushed them too far. I’ve always been like marmite, it seems.

When you’re being judged on everything you say at such a young age, you learn to grow up quickly. So – my point to all this background is I suppose you could say I am a true child of the “digital generation“, and I absolutely 100% know what I’m talking about when I talk about online identity. It’s been something I’ve struggled with for the best part of the last decade.

Employers and the Internet

Employers are now starting to use the internet to suss out people before they go to interviews. Have an unsavoury Facebook photo? No interview. One of my biggest concerns now is that as someone who has left all kinds of remnants of my life over the internet, spread far and wide, will employers judge me over this? To frame it another way – in an age of open social media and where people are easily Google-able – must we all tread so carefully, lest we be judged by people who may employ us? And to weave an entirely different argument in – is it fair for employers to expect that potential employees either don’t have social lives, or is it fair for them to judge candidates on photos from social nights out, or Facebook statuses generally intended for friends?

In my view, of course it’s not. Yet some employers have started demanding access to Facebook accounts. Whereas before the internet you could do whatever you want, wherever you want, without it being likely you will be caught – now social media almost acts as some kind of digital CCTV watching your every move; tagged photos are a sign of where you’ve been, who you’ve been with, and what you’ve been up to. Tweets, meant as transient thoughts or observations, can be misconstrued or frame people in a negative light if the context isn’t understood.

Where’s the line between personal and professional personas?

Now, there rarely is one. It’s incredibly difficult to compartmentalise your life online. Trust me, I have tried it. People intent on finding you will always find you, and for my part, I’m easily Google-able. I don’t think that what you find is so inherently abominable that no one will employ me, but I find it odd practice that employers can judge potential employees based on information online. For the following reasons:

1) Time relevance. I don’t think that it’s fair or even remotely sensible to judge young people (I say young people particularly, as they have grown up with freer access to the internet) based on their online personas. Is there really going to be any worth in judging someone based on, for example, old forum posts from five years ago? People change a lot, especially in the years between young teenager and young adult. People’s beliefs and attitudes can change dramatically. Judging an old post, or old account, is worthless to an employer anyway.

2) Confusion with names. Luckily for me, there’s not a lot that comes up on a Google search for me that isn’t actually me. But there is actually someone else in the UK with my name, who isn’t me, who I don’t know. I don’t have any control over this. What if a potential employer judges me on the things she says on Facebook (as her profile is open and findable)? Is that fair on either of us? Not at all. We should be judged as we are as people in real life, not based on whatever kind of lifestyle or persona we have built for ourselves online.

3) Pot, kettle, black. Find me a boss who never makes a mistake, and you’ll find a liar. I don’t think it’s right to be judged on things that, essentially, every person has done, or does. Of course everyone is bound to have said stupid things, had unflattering photos taken or done something stupid whilst drunk. It’s basically a given. So I don’t think it fair for bosses to penalise others for things they themselves would do.

4) No relevance to professionalism. Very often social networks are literally just that – a harmless network of friends, a place to share photos and swap stories. In other words, an entirely different context to actually working. I could understand if there were perhaps conflicts of interests but mostly what employers will find on Facebook et al is banter between friends (that can appear worse to an outsider), or dodgy photos. What’s more, what relevance is the information on social media, to how well they can do the job? Some of the hardest working people I know are also the hardest partiers, who swear the most and can drink everyone else under the table. But they have a great work ethic in a professional environment. That is what matters.

What’s more – people have different personas for different contexts. Or at least I do. More about that later. I will leave it there for the moment. The idea of self-identity and how that works with online networks really intrigues me. How do we integrate our online lives with our real ones? I’ll try and keep an eye on developments with regards to employers but somehow I think it will only get worse. Ironic that social media – which is supposed to free us from the constraints of expressing oneself in real life – is now being used to penalise people.

The John Snow Pub Kiss-in Protest

A gay couple were kicked out of a pub in Soho for kissing a couple of days ago, and this sparked a ‘gay kiss-in’ protest today. I just caught the Sky News report. Towards the end the reporter says “Although in the heart of Soho, the John Snow ISN’T a gay pub…”

I have an issue with this wording. I totally understand the need for there to be ‘gay’ pubs or ‘gay’ areas, where queer men and women can meet others, away from prejudice in society – but I take issue with the representation of this pub as specifically NOT ‘gay’. It appears to gives credence to the view that I’m sure some people will have – that they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Because by not being a ‘gay pub’, it’s implicitly therefore a ‘straight’ one.

I don’t see why it is necessary for the report to state that it was or wasn’t a gay pub. If it was in a gay pub, it would be unacceptable. If it’s in a non-gay pub, it’s unacceptable. I honestly don’t see the difference or the need to clarify whether it is specifically ‘gay’ or not. That treatment shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, regardless of sexuality or gender, and regardless of whether it’s in a ‘gay’ pub, a ‘gay’ area, or one that ISN’T specifically ‘gay’.

I realise some people don’t see the problem with this. I do. If it was a gay pub that they got kicked out of, would it have been stated that it was such? Or is it such an incredibly shocking idea that two gay men should want to go into a ‘non-gay’ pub and kiss? It propagates homophobia but in an incredibly subtle way; creates a divide between ‘gay’ pubs and ‘not-gay’ ones. The truth is there should be no divide whatsoever – on a basic level their treatment is ridiculous, and breaks equality laws. Gay pub or not.

Electoral Reform

There’s already a plethora of discussion around the AV referendum in May.  The No to AV campaigners are using ridiculous ultimatum adverts, and Yes to AV are using Nick Griffin as an argument to vote yes. I’ll leave it up to you to decide – but I think there are other ways in which we need reform too.

One of the main problems with elections is that there is such a low turnout. The last election in 2010 saw 65.1% turn out to vote – not a great number by any means, but the highest since 2001. It could be argued that low turnout is a threat to democracy – where everyone has their say. Why do people not vote? What should we be looking to do to increase it?

Why do I vote?

This is an odd one. I vote because I feel like it’s my responsibility as a citizen. I know that people have died for my right to vote in the past, and I know that people across the world are still fighting for their voting rights now. It’s the one ‘official’ opportunity that I see, for people to have a say in what goes on. Of course, you can protest – and that may have consequences later – but the only ‘acceptable’ way to genuinely, democratically engage with the government is to use your vote.

Why wouldn’t you vote..?

1. Apolitical people. British culture has been dumbing down for years – are people actually aware of political issues, or do they know to what extent politics affects their lives? A really great example of this recently was in Jamie Oliver’s Dream School, where Alistair Campbell – faced with a class full of apolitical youngsters – asked them what kind of things they worried about. They talked about immigration, unemployment and benefits, and realised that perhaps they weren’t so apolitical or apathetic after all!

2. Voting seems pointless. Some people consciously choose to not vote because they don’t feel that their vote means anything. Defeatist thinking, but also pretty logical under the current first-past-the-post system. It’s another string to the bow of the Yes to AV camp.

3. Politics is boring. Political issues are often complex and there may be little benefit from understanding them. Politicians are seen as out of touch, talking about a world which they aren’t really seen to inhabit.

How can we encourage people to vote?

1. Voting has to be seen as a worthwhile effort. People aren’t going to waste their time voting if they feel like their vote means nothing, they aren’t being heard, or that nothing will change regardless of who is in charge. (And they have good reasons for thinking so!)

2. Make politics easier to understand/get rid of the jargon. Politicians should be striving to make it easy for the electorate to understand how politics affects them, how the system works, and who will be best placed to help them. I sometimes think that the political system in this country was so designed to be completely alienating to the general populace; what people don’t understand, they can’t engage, argue or debate with.

3. Make it easier to engage with. Last year’s election saw the launch of several ‘vote matching’ quizzes, to match up parties to views. It saves people reading through manifesto’s and trying to gauge where they stand. And in America, even Facebook took on a great role in American elections, by reminding people to vote and informing them where they can go. Embedding politics within social media seems like a fantastic way to go. Will this happen in the UK in the future?

4. Make it lively. Meetings are boring. Watching debates in the House of Commons is tedious. We need a way to make political issues lively and interesting. 10 o clock live has tried to do that. Has it succeeded? I don’t know; I stopped watching after the first show. I’ve heard it’s getting better, but I think the problem with shows like this is that sometimes the important issues in politics are sacrificed in the quest for laughs. We need to find a balance.

5. Compulsory voting? A high turnout is guaranteed. I’m not an advocate, but it’s an idea.

6. Make it easier to actually vote. I suspect some people simply ‘can’t be bothered’ to go down to the polling station and vote. Is it so entirely unthinkable that in the future we will have the opportunity to vote online? Some people say it costs too much – perhaps I’m being naive but I fail to see how. Post people their details (like normal) with a ‘code’ that has to be scratched off – to validate that it’s them. Of course, there should still be opportunities for people to vote as we do currently, but additional methods should be investigated.

Do you vote? Why? What do you think would make a difference to voting turnout?

Some SocMed Updates

Just to let you know, if you missed my tweets, I’ve now got my survey about Twitter finished to a point that I’m happy with. The link is here. Please pass it on to anyone you think may be interested – people who use Twitter or consume news regularly, would be preferable. I am looking to get 100-200 responses so I’d be really grateful if you could help me out.

In semi-related news, one of my tutors at University led a study, ‘Unplugged’ – where students were asked to participate in a ‘media blackout’ (no phones, ipods, computers etc) – and here are some of the results. I find it particularly interesting that there appears to be no differentiation in young people between a genuine news outlet like the BBC and, for example, a blog or something written on Facebook. So news is becoming more and more integrated into our lives without us really acknowledging consciously that it is news. We see it, we hear it, we live it. And we don’t really think too much about where it’s coming from – which leads me to believe there’s a potential danger here, of taking everything at face value.

The other point I wanted to pick up on – though not to do with news – is the idea of being ‘digital natives’. My generation have grown up around technology, and with the evolution of the internet and connectivity, there is no sense of geographical boundaries in day-to-day life. I have friends in Australia, America, Ireland… Some I’ve never met, some I never will – but there’s rarely any sense of them being ‘far away’. I know what they’re doing and I don’t feel like there is a huge distance between us; in fact, there’s a (perhaps false?) sense of closeness that comes from being freely contactable 24/7 through social media, email, etc. And where we generally regarded other continents like Africa or Asia – countries we would consider 2nd or 3rd world countries – to be ‘far behind’ technologically; to be ‘offline’ or out of the loop – they really aren’t. In fact, in their developments they have often skipped over really important phases that we went through to get where we are now.

The best example I can think of is mobile banking in Africa, because I know more about it – whereas we consider mobile banking to be in the sense that you ring up and organise your finances on the phone, theirs is different. From what I understand, the idea of mobile banking in Africa – which is rapidly taking off and will no doubt be huge soon – is that instead of walking to your local bank, which may be miles away, you can do your banking through your local newsagent in the village, through your phone. Almost like phone credit. You can transfer phone credit to your bank and get credit out etc, all through one person in your village. I’m not sure if I’ve understood it entirely but that’s what I see to be the case. It’s an amazing idea, and all the phone companies over there are beginning to adopt that now. We have nothing like that here – they totally leapfrogged our developments in phone lines etc and created entirely new ways of dealing with their problems.

Thanks to the internet and other technology that we can’t bear to be parted with, the world is well and truly a “global village”. We’re no longer ‘British’ – we are global citizens.

BBC Question Time (Drinking) Game Rules

Who doesn’t love BBC Question Time, I ask you? Crazy kids, that’s who! (If you want a non-drinking game, I suggest DimbleBingo)

Best played with gin. To declare you’re taking part in the Question Time drinking game, tweet the hashtag #QTDrinkingGame … And follow our account, @QTDrinkingGame

1 finger

1. Every time a panelist raises their voice above an acceptable level

2. Any time Dimbleby gives a panelist a time frame of less than 15 seconds to answer

3. Mass audience approval/disapproval

2 Fingers

4. Every time the camera pans across to a young woman strategically placed in the front row

5. “People misunderstand what we’re trying to do here” (or similar)

6. “We’re going to move on cos we’ll come to that question later on”

7. “The last government left us in this mess” (or similar)

3 Fingers

8. Whenever anyone in the coalition says “difficult decisions”

9. “We have time for just one more”

Buzz Words & Phrases! (All one shot each)

10. “Postcode lottery”

11. “Big Society”

12. “There is no mandate”

13. “Hard-working taxpayer”

14. “The key issue here”

15. “The main thing to remember”

16. “Can I just answer that?”

17. “There are actually two issues here”

18. “Answer the question!”

Down your drink when..

19. …An audience member starts blaming *insert minority here* for our problems

20. …An audience member says “It’s political correctness gone mad!” (Everyone in the room shout “MAD!” – last to do it has to down another)

21. …Dimbleby makes a joke

22. …Dimbleby says “Man in the back row…. sorry, woman” Or vice versa.

23. …Dimbleby says “I’m sorry, that’s all we’ve got time for this week”

Additions to the list welcomed. Tweet me!

Contributors so far: @mycrippledeagle, @kay_ran, @emma_in_edin, @alferis, @microwavedrama, @rattlecans, @danielnobody, @adamvanner, @Tanners77

BBC Question Time is on every Thursday at 10.35pm. Don’t have a TV? Watch it here (have to sign up) or here. Find out who is on the panel this week here. And to get the most out of it, I recommend you follow DIMBELBOT on Twitter.

PS Don’t forget to dance at the beginning. Dunno how to dance? Some inspiration. Oh, and use the hashtag #BBCQT!

Analysis of the March for the Alternative

It’s been just over a week since 200-500 thousand people marched across London. What kind of response have we had, and why? Are these even accurate or viable views to be held in light of what happened?

Media response to the march

From what I’ve seen the general response to it was ‘the march was ok – but look at these broken windows and be horrified’. I personally spoke to Julia Hartley-Brewer, a presenter from LBC 97.3 on Monday, when she was asking about what anarchism means, etc. I’m probably the worst person to ask this kind of thing – I’m not an anarchist and although I know people who are, I don’t really believe myself to be in such a position as to explain their motives to somebody. For the record, I don’t think I can speak for a whole range of people. So I clarified I wasn’t an anarchist; that I merely ended up with the black bloc by accident at the protest – which is true – and then gave my explanation to all of these issues and arguments which is: Ultimately, we are all individuals and are responsible for our own actions – it shouldn’t worry us what Joe Bloggs next door is doing. Whether we choose to do things in groups or not – you can’t legimately say that because they were in the same place at the same time that they automatically must believe in the same things. And in fact this is one of the problems with the black bloc – anyone can turn up dressed in black. Perhaps on Saturday there were people who turned up who weren’t anarchists at all. We don’t know, and it’s something that can’t be controlled.

Another question was – and in hindsight, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – “You were there – why didn’t you try and stop them? Why didn’t you shout at them to stop throwing things?” – I’m not even sure I answered it because I was totally stunned. I’m 22; a young woman with no weapons, no scarf to protect my identity, and no authority. Firstly, why would I want to tell them to stop? I don’t care what other people do at the protests because as far as I’ve seen it has very little impact on me – and until I see the black bloc actually hitting peaceful protesters then I will continue to think so. The impression people get is that at protests people just start fights and that’s absolutely not the case – the only reason people get hurt is if there is a fight between individuals, or when the police get involved and inflame the situation. Secondly, why should I tell them to stop? I’m not the only person witnessing this. There are dozens of photographers, reporters and other members of the public milling around, who are far bigger, older, and stronger than I am. It is telling that not a single person shouted at them to stop or attempted to intervene, out of a watchful crowd of a hundred. The police didn’t even turn up until it was too late, moving in to protect HSBC when protesters had already started moving on.

I wasn’t really allowed to finish what I was saying, and I kind of understand why. Firstly, they ran out of time and needed to go to the adverts. And secondly, I don’t think anyone listening to LBC actually wants to know about what really went on, from the view of someone who was ‘involved’ (in quotes, as I wasn’t actually involved in any vandalism that day, but happened to be in the area). Their audience doesn’t much care for the ins and outs of anarchism either – not that I was the right person to explain it. Julia was asking for anarchists to ring in and explain what they wanted – but similarly, what anarchist would listen to LBC?! I wouldn’t have thought many true anarchists do. Moreover, who would be willing to bother wasting their time trying to explain themselves – the listeners have already made their minds up; the presenters have made their minds up, and a cut-off explanation of things isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. So I feel a little disappointed (in terms of feeling that I wasn’t really given that much of a chance) but I completely understand why and frankly I don’t blame them. The listeners need someone to shout at on the radio; someone who challenges their long-held beliefs and makes them grumble about ‘the bloody state of this country’ or whatever. And that person was me last Monday. I get it – I understand how the media panders to their audience and treats people who disagree with the same contempt that their audience would, if at all. I don’t hold any grudges either.

The main frustration with the media narrative of good protester/bad protester is that it is so prevalent, and the left can’t even begin to counteract that when pretty much all of the mainstream media is right-wing or right-leaning. How can we get our message out there that the black bloc isn’t mindlessly destructive? That police were the ones hitting protesters with little or no reason, and not holding back? Even a brilliant eyewitness piece in the Independent was derided as fiction by readers.

Police tactics and attitude

Like I said in my write-up of 26th March, there was pretty much one occasion where I thought the way the police (attempted to) handle the situation was laudable. That was outside Fortnum and Mason. The officers there didn’t push back, didn’t hit anyone and only spoke loudly to tell people to move back. Of course, they were too weak to hold it against the crowd that was pushing back – but the point is they didn’t do anything unnecessary. At other times during the day – and the worst example I can think of this is at Trafalgar Square – police acted in an antagonistic way towards protesters, pushing them back and kettling them when there was nothing going on. This kind of treatment is highly inflammatory – is it any wonder that those who were having a nice evening with their friends, stood by a fire, or dancing to music took exception to being moved out of the area in such an aggressive way?

Basically, the police need to stick to one tactic and run with it the entire day. My suggestion would be more hands-off like they were at Fortnum and Mason, ie watch the situation as it unfolds and go in if and when necessary. If they do need to go in and people are getting upset, explain to them exactly why they are being contained. Don’t use words like ‘sterile area’ because that’s nonsense and we all know it. The problem with protests is that everybody gets caught up in the moment – the kid who threw the fire extinguisher, I would propose, would never in a million years just pick up a fire extinguisher and throw it off a roof for kicks. Not saying he was encouraged to, but that people in crowds do immensely irrational things. And the same is true of the police – if only the Met would stop kidding themselves that every single police officer acts in a professional way. It’s understandable. We’re all human. We all get carried away. But in the same way the police, and the public at large, want protesters to condemn each other’s tactics (which I refuse to do), the police should actually condemn some of their colleagues for acting the way they did. Does this seem like a reasonable response to you? Of course protesters get carried away but the differences are: a) protesters are (usually!) not paid to be at protests; they go because they believe in a cause, rightly or wrongly; b) police have a duty to be professional at all times when working with the public – and ‘hitting people with batons’ doesn’t fit into my definition of professionalism; c) police are supposed to neutralise situations, not inflame them by intimidating people.

Regarding condemning of those involved in vandalism, I don’t think infighting is the answer, and I don’t think violence is the answer either. But I do honestly think that if the cuts are going to be affecting people as badly as it is believed they are, then broken windows will not be enough to put them off protesting. When people are pushed too much; when they have nothing left to lose, they will start protesting.

In the aftermath of the TUC march we need to be open and honest with each other – not judgemental; not condeming… For what’s done is done. What we need to do is move on from this and learn some lessons. We could probably start with understanding of what solidarity is, and adopt St Paul principles, or some form of. We can start with the third: “Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.”

As the great saying goes: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

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