Saturday, February 26, 2011

Disappointing demo

On Thursday I went to a sleepout to raise awareness about destitute asylum seekers. Unfortunately I decided to leave before too long. It wasn't because I'm not brave enough to face sleeping on the streets on a bitterly cold winter's night. (I'm not, but it wasn't that cold.) It was because the event was poorly organised. Now, there's a difference between an event being disorganised and poorly organised. And this sleepout was the latter. There had obviously been a meeting sometime before to discuss the sleepout, in some office somewhere. There was undoubtedly a brainstorming session, and a person with a dry-wipe pen poised to write ideas down on flipchart paper.

But it seems they came up with great ideas like having a piece of absurdist theatre to highlight the plight of asylum seekers.

Now, I'm all for getting together and holding hands and telling each other how great we are because we care, but I don't think it's particularly productive if the aim was to raise awareness about destitute asylum seekers. Most of us there were just standing around doing nothing. We could have been handing out leaflets, or holding banners, or making some noise, or something. Instead we were standing around like lemons.

Another problem is that the people there didn't seem that well informed about the issue either (not that I am particularly), so the few discussions which did take place seemed to go like this:

Demonstrator: Having asylum seekers in destitution is bad.
Member of public: Why?
Demonstrator: Because it is.
Member of public: How many destitute asylum seekers are there?
Demonstrator: Lots.

So, just in case you were wondering, here are some facts about asylum seekers.

  • There are an estimated 280,000 failed asylum seekers living in the UK without any access to public funds.
  • Around 80% of these come from eight countries: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, the DRC and another country which I've forgot.
  • Between 2006 and this year, the High Court decided it was illegal to forcefully deport people to Zimbabwe because it was too dangerous for them. However, during this period, the Home Office still rejected 10,000 asylum claims from Zimbabweans because it felt it was safe enough to return home. These thousands of people have been living in the UK without any access to public funds.
  • The Red Cross has labelled the treatment of failed asylum seekers in the UK as a 'humanitarian crisis'.

And here's a good video about the issue:

Still Human Still Here - Refused asylum seekers in the UK. from panos pictures on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Red Cross

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've started volunteering for the Red Cross. As a part of this, I've had to do several sessions of training. As of this week, I've finished. Hooray!

I must admit, some of the training sessions were more interesting than others. Unfortunately, there was also a bit of a problem with one or two other people on the course. In particular, there was one who achieved to slow down the entire proceedings by repeatedly asking unnecessary questions, debating Red Cross policy, and otherwise giving her opinion when it wasn't asked for. My patience was definitely tested.

I've also done a few sessions of actually volunteering. And it's been really good, although it's been quite emotionally draining. I work in the refugee unit helping refugees and asylum seekers, and some of the stories are very sad. Unfortunately, I'm a person who is liable to get a bit emotional. I cry when reading sad books. I cry when watching sad films. When I was a child, I cried watching Bambi. And The Lion King. I even got teary eyed at Casper the CGI whiney voiced ghost.

So when I have people telling me about the terrible things that have happened in their lives, or I read a case file about someone with a tragic past, or I see injustice in the way a case gets handled, I've been finding myself getting a little emotional. But I think that's good in a way. It motivates me to do more. It's difficult when I know I can't do something to help someone, but it also means I feel satisfaction from small things which help people, and relief from a little bit of good news. And that's not such a bad thing.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Today is my birthday! And, because it was my birthday, I've had a very exciting weekend. Of course, all my weekends are exciting.

My exciting life

I've actually had quite a nice day. Relaxing and quiet. I've also eaten lots of birthday related food.

A balanced diet...

My lovely flatmates bought me a cake and some chocolate, so I blame them for my unhealthy diet today. But actually, I've had quite a busy week. I went to the opera for the first time on Monday. I was worried I was going to be bored to tears.

But, it was really enjoyable, and I would definitely go again. It was such a nice experience overall. I felt very posh.

That's all for now, just a few quick questions.

  1. What would be your perfect birthday?
  2. Have you done anything recently for the first time recently?
  3. What sort of posh things do you do?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bad mood

Usually I'm a very happy person. That's mainly because I'm blissfully oblivious to the world around me.

That was one crazy afternoon.

But I must confess that today I was in a bit of a grump. There wasn't any reason why I was in such a bad mood. But that just makes it worse, because I get annoyed with myself for being grumpy for no reason, and it becomes a vicious cycle of murderous rage.

So before long, I become a miserable misanthropist who finds even the kindest gesture an insult to humanity.

Someone started chatting to me on Facebook, and I resented this person for no reason whatsoever. I was on Facebook, and online, so I had no right to be annoyed with anyone for talking to me. But I was. So if you're reading this and thinking, yes, I was being a bit of a moron today, I apologise.

But, I ate some chocolate and spoke to my brother so I am now happy again. Plus, my friend sent me this video, which made my heart smile. Unless it was angina.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Which picture best represents your life?

At Christian Union yesterday, we did an activity where you answered a questionnaire using a set of pictures instead of using words. So you'd have a question like, How do you feel about your life at the moment? and a set of generic pictures like:

It was surprisingly interesting and thought-provoking. It's the sort of thing that counsellors ask clients to do to think about their lives. My brother and I were talking about the sort of pictures we would use if we were counsellors. We decided we'd use pictures which were subtly (or not so subtly) negative, so that we could effectively cater for our market. Pictures like:

And if any clients expressed surprise about the choice of pictures, we'd just reply, 'You're at a counsellor's office, what did you expect?' Or, alternatively, 'And how does that make you feel?'

Quick Questions

  1. Which picture best describes your life at the moment?
  2. Do you think I'd make a good counsellor?
  3. How does that make you feel?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Surviving a First Aid course

I went on a first aid course this week. I will confess that I was somewhat nervous. There were three reasons for this:

#1 Responsibility scares me

I find it difficult remembering my own name* and anything else which is remotely connected to real life. Once a friend asked me for my telephone number, which I duly gave her. But the number wasn't mine: it was another friend's. I'm sure my friends thought I was trying to matchmake. It didn't work out either way. I also forget my brother's birthday even though we're twins. Having responsibility for someone else's life is terrifying.

This conversation actually happened. It really didn't help.

#2 I have an aversion to exercise

The idea of doing five minutes of chest compressions disturbs me. If I ever have to do it to someone in real life, I'll be expecting at least a thank you card. A box of chocolates wouldn't go amiss either.

#3 I faint

I have an ability to faint at a moment's notice. I faint at injections. I faint in hot classrooms. I faint when treading on something sharp in the garden. In other words, I faint. This and first aid don't go well together. In fact, at the last first aid course I went to, I passed out. They showed this video about heart attacks, and I fainted. Way to go, British Heart Foundation.

Ironically, nobody noticed me slouched unconscious in my chair. Or if they did, they obviously decided (quite rightly) that I'd prefer to possibly choke on my tongue and die than face the embarrassment of being pointed out at a first aid meeting.

So all in all, I was pretty nervous. But, thankfully, it went quite well. I didn't pass out even though they showed a video of someone who nearly drowned, which was a plus. And not only did I do about 10 minutes of chest compressions, I also got to do some abdominal thrusts, and got to use a defibrillator. I'd love to use one in real life, just so I can shout, 'Clear!' in my most melodramatic voice. Yes, I take human life very seriously.

*Someone once asked me, 'Is your name John?' to which I replied, 'yes'.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

My eggcellent year so far

I hope you've had a great 2011 so far, and what a year it's predicted to be. So far I...

  • have had no running water for three consecutive days.
  • opened my new 'hi-techpoint' gel pens, to much excitement.
  • Spent hours staring at Arabic vocabulary I'm meant to already know.
  • had a fight with a teflon coated saucepan. Teflon is my number #2 mortal enemy after clingfilm.

Me and clingfilm don't go together well.

I also went to McDonalds. This was a mistake. I ordered my Happy Meal Big Mac Meal, but because there weren't any chips, the person said he'd bring it over. Except he forgot. Story of my life.

But, it did give me time to peruse the local newspaper, the Islington Gazette. I love local newspapers, they always have such interesting news. Today's edition included the stories:

  • Ice skating rink which has been closed since June remains closed.*
  • Theives in Tesco have been swapping organic eggs with value eggs.
How eggciting. Surprisingly, the guy who got stabbed only made it to the last few pages. But that's probably because that happened in Holloway, and this is Islington. But, I did get a free apple pie because the McDonalds Man** forgot. It wasn't very big, but yet contained one fifth of my recommended daily fat intake. That information made it all the more satisfying.

On the way out a homeless man asked me if I had any change for food. I said I didn't. I should have given him the apple pie, which was in my pocket at the time.*** But I didn't think of that, because I suffer from concrete thinking. Like the time my girlfriend asked whether she could use my computer to check her emails. She asked whether there was a password to log on. I said no, forgetting you needed a password to access the internet.

So that's my start for 2011. And to finish off, here are some quick questions:

  1. How's your 2011 going so far?
  2. What are your plans for the year?
  3. Can you think of any more terrible egg-related puns?

*Ironically the ice skating rink was closed because the ice wouldn't freeze. For the last month, I don't know why they didn't just open the doors.
**His name was George, but I prefer to think of him as Ronald. I think I'm now going to call every cashier at McDonalds 'Ronald'.
***Doesn't that sound like a crude euphemism? Is that an apple pie in your pocket, or...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Why I'm destined for a life of poverty

For Christmas, some of my relatives gave me money instead of a present, because I've told everyone I know how desperately poor I am and how I've only enough money to eat extra value pasta and free samples from the cheese counter (if you donate just £2 a week...). Some of them gave me the money in cheque form. Unfortunately, cheques require going to the bank. This is where my problems started.

It began well. I looked up my nearest branch on the internet, and I set off with the cheques. When I got to the bank, I was a bit confused. Unlike a normal branch with the cash desks where you get to speak to a human being, there was one desk and lots of computers. After standing in two different queues for different types of computers, I finally found the queue for the podiums for paying in cheques. The large 'pay in cheques' sign on the wall above them was a bit of a give away, even if it took me ten minutes to notice it.

But things got worse. The instructions on the screen were rather vague.

I knew I needed to fill in one of those paying in slips. But in the process of trying to follow the instructions on the screen and the thought 'I need to fill in a paying in slip', I ended up putting my cheques and a blank paying in slip into the machine. Obviously, somewhere in my mind, the thought, 'I need to fill in a paying in slip' morphed into 'I've filled in a paying in slip'.*

I had to go to the one desk and queue for ages, just to say to some poor lady, "I'm a complete moron." When I explained my predicament she looked at me as if I was insane (what could have ever led her to think that?) but that if she didn't remain calm, I would visciously attack her with my bare hands.
However, after some computer wizardry, she said that she'd sorted the problem. All's well that ends well. Unless the cheques bounce.

*The technical term for making up memories is confabulation. However, in this case, stupidity is a better explanation.