Sunday, September 28, 2014

standing up to be counted

Well it has been a disappointing time for me in politics lately. Firstly the Scottish Referendum delivered a 'No' vote, quite possibly on the back of probably illegal and most definitely unethical last minute 'Devo Max' offers from the combined Westminster parties (there were to be no new offers from any side less than 28 days from the vote according to the Edinburgh Agreement - the Electoral Commission agrees that what happened was against the spirit if not the letter of the law. There's a petition here that sets out the full explanation. It isn't calling to question the referendum results but the cavalier attitude with which the law was disregarded).

Then to run salt into a wound a couple of days later we ended up with a third term Tory government in Aotearoa NZ despite some pretty grim revelations about their modus operandi. Yet in some ways it wasn't that much of a surprise; the Labour party has been in a mess for the last couple of years with in-fighting over leadership, and after putting his not inconsiderable money behind the left wing Internet-Mana alliance, Kim Dotcom didn't have the sense to leave the politics to the far more credible politicians he was funding. So basically the left was in a mess. The Greens hung in there but found themselves once again without a viable coalition partner to get into government. 

Things were not looking particularly bright, especially with Tony Abbott over the ditch running Australia into the ground and assorted Western powers deciding yet again to get involved with a conflict situation that no doubt will turn round and bite back later...

The one bright spot for me is the response in Scotland post-referendum of the 'Yes' campaigners. I know many No voters are feeling pretty fed up and are thinking 'we voted No, get over it and shut up', but really? After 307 very long years do you really think the pro-independence lobby is going to shut up a few days after coming so close to success??? Quite. And if the boot was on the other foot I doubt if they'd be keeping quiet either. The bright spot I mentioned was that apathy and despondency didn't kick in as it very well could've done - had they really 'come all that way for this' yet again? But the determination that saw the birth of the vigil on Carlton Hill in 1992 has been seen in action again but magnified a hundredfold as thousands, literally thousands, have joined the SNP and the Scottish Greens (who also campaigned for Yes) in the last ten days. I don't think either party has seen such numbers before, and last I heard the SNP have become larger than Scottish Labour and are on track to become the third largest political party in the UK, let alone Scotland! [Update: They already are! Over 40,000 new members in less than two weeks! Plus the Greens now have a waiting list to attend their next party conference :) ]The Westminster elections next year have suddenly become a lot more interesting than they have been for a long long time. 

Many of those joining up, according to reports, are those who were involved with non-partisan Yes campaign groups, like Commonweal and Radical Indy, who've not been members of any party before, a lot of others are disillusioned Scottish Labour members from both yes and no campaigns who feel let down by both their own leadership and that of the UK Labour Party as the promised goods of Devo-Max have (unsurprisingly, some might add) failed to materialise. Given that Scotland is a nation that has had crying into her beer down to a fine art in recent decades (but never into her whisky, that would spoil the taste!) this mass pro-active response and determination not to lie down quietly and be trampled on yet again is testimony to the power the referendum debate has had in mobilising and engaging the entire nation. No matter whether you were a yes, no or maybe until the day, it was a topic everyone seemed to have an opinion on and was more than happy to share it with friends, neighbours, the postie and just about anyone else in the street, and of course on Facebook.

Given that almost a million people who could've voted in our general election a week ago didn't bother, that level of engagement is mind blowing. How on earth could we replicate that here? What would it take to get up to 100% voter turnout at some polling stations? In Te Tai Tokerau electorate (the Māori seat for north of Auckland) there were 47 polling stations where fewer than 6 people voted! Okay so we actually had two weeks in which we could vote early and usually that was at separately counted polling stations, and there isn't necessarily much of Māori roll anyway in some of those areas, but even so. 

Having taken great delight in seeing yet more status updates on Facebook about friends of mine joining SNP/Greens, whether or not they agreed with every one of their policies but feeling that there was a principle at stake here, I realised that had I been there I'd be doing the same. So if there, why not here? 

So for the first time in my life I'm a member of a political party. Having studied psephology (voting behaviour) as part of A Level Sociology I've ended up being a tactical voter for the last 26yrs. It seemed the most effective way to use my vote, especially in a first past the post system. There were always some policies I wasn't comfortable having my name against, so keeping out the worst of options (where relevant) rather than voting for the best of a bad bunch seemed a fairly logical choice. On the odd occasion in the UK where I was in a safe seat I didn't mind the outcome of then I'd vote Green to show they did have support when so often they were written off as irrelevant, plus they got my party vote for the Scottish Parliament - quite possibly the only time in the UK someone I'd voted for had actually got in! 

In the two general elections I've been eligible to vote in here the Greens have got my party vote, and the constituency one has gone to whoever had the best chance of beating National (ie our Tory party)... which realistically wasn't anyone, but Labour came closest. Given the mess both Labour and Mana are in, it wasn't rocket science, or even much psephology, to figure out that if I was going to join a party now it had to be the Greens. I still don't agree with all of their policies, but at least now I get a chance to have a say in them. 

The more of us that pro-actively join in the debate, the more we'll be able to engage those who for whatever reason feel they have no voice or chose not to use it. As long as we don't put them off first that is anyway...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

to do...

As I've no doubt mentioned in the past I've gotten into the habit over the last 15yrs or so of keeping a 'to do' list book when I've needed to. I started doing it when I had four part-time jobs and it was the only way I could keep track of what I had to do for where by when on top of what needed to be done for home and various Quaker committees I was on. Since then I've drifted in and out of using it, but generally finding that unless I'm in really good form it is the only way I can keep on top of things. Generally speaking I have to be really ill or extremely well not to require it to keep track of what I need to do, and whilst I've never yet gone back to juggling that many different forms of employment I seem to make up for that with voluntary work!

I have to admit I've been known to write things down once I've done them just so I get the satisfaction of crossing them off the list and proving to myself that I have got something done today, honest. But I will also carry things forward time after time for over a year in some cases to make sure I don't lose sight of things I mean to do eventually. The trick though is keeping enough easily achievable things on the list so I don't end up with two pages of carried forward tasks which are for whatever reason well and truly in the 'too hard basket'.

This year, when energy levels and brain functionality have been challengingly low at times there have been weeks where I've not even opened the book, either to add anything in nor cross anything off. But when I get a good day or even better a run of good days I find my response to the 'carried forwards' is a good indication of just how good (or not!) I'm feeling! If my heart sinks I just move on, find something else to do that is easier. But days where I've had a reasonable run and several of the easy things have been satisfactorily ticked off I make a point trying to find something that has been sitting there for a while to tackle.

One of the tasks had involved making a phonecall I wasn't looking forward to. I've been finding phonecalls hard to make this year, much preferring email/facebook which are much more manageable in terms of energy. But a week ago I decided that well I'd just grit my teeth and do it. And surprise surprise the person was out! Gah.... a whole month of psyching myself up to call and then I get nowhere. Oh well, it has waited a month, what's a bit longer?! But although I didn't get the information I needed to finish off one task, being ready to tackle it meant I did manage to complete a similar task that has been waiting just as long to be finished. I still haven't had another go at making that phonecall though...

The 'active' pages in the book had stretched out to four or five, generally I try to keep it to two, or the most three. So I carried forward various tasks and tidied up my list. Admittedly the carried forward lists is longer than the recently added by a long chalk, but once I'd got them all written down together rather than spread over several pages the list didn't look anything like as daunting. The thing is this week we've had some lovely spring days and the garden has been way too tempting to ignore. So whilst that is definitely looking better for some extra care and attention; and Joanne and I tackled to woodshed yesterday and apparently got it looking the best it has in the 30 or so years since it was built; my list has been carefully left to one side...

So today I am concentrating on celebrating the fact that I have had energy 'to do' quite a lot this week, more than I've done in months in fact. Tomorrow I'll go back to the list in the book though and see what I can clear off the the 'to do' list.... well they are forecasting rain after all!

Friday, September 12, 2014


I've been catching up with some photo uploading on to Flickr. Some people use their Flickr accounts to showcase their best photography, others like me use it for several purposes: to share photos, a back-up, and a record of progress - be it the life of a child, renovation of a boat or in my case the gradual development of a garden.

Many's the time I've looked back and wished I'd taken photos of all the spots that used to be over-grown and thriving on neglect. Unfortunately the plants that tend to thrive through neglect aren't usually the ones you want to have an abundance of, if any of it. But it didn't occur to to me back then to photograph the unlovely and unwanted, it was only after the transformation began in earnest did I think to start taking 'before' pictures as well as 'after' ones.

Looking back through the album of garden updates I see certain areas of the garden cleared of weeds and then gradually slip back to a more overgrown state again, never quite as bad, and much more easily cleared again. Sometimes the offending plants aren't ones that would normally be classed as weeds but over enthusiastic garden plants who don't want to be contained. A weed, after all, is simply a plant in the wrong place.

Something I've got into the habit of photographing is the rather unlovely green waste pile, partly because it is incredibly satisfying to take a couple of trailer loads to the tip and see the pile shrink. But it all too quickly grows again hence the need for a reminder! This pile is made up of the stuff that won't compost easily and any invasives we really don't want to put back in the garden. Next to it is the pile of stuff to be mulched and re-used on the paths, or if big enough chopped up for firewood. Being able to look back on old photos and remind myself of just how much has been dealt with and disposed of over time is quite satisfying.

As part of the treatment for my health problems I've been going to counselling for the last few months. When giving my counselor an overview of my life to date early on in the piece I pointed out I'd been to counselling before, after my marriage break up, and I'd dealt with a lot of stuff then. 'When was that?' she asked. 'Oh from sometime in 1998, through to about the end of 2000 I think' I replied suddenly realising that actually I wasn't entirely sure, but I knew I'd just stopped going by the time Colette died, but which year was that??? I was busy drifting off in my own little world trying to figure out just 'when' it had been, when I was broken out of my reverie by it being pointed out that I'd lived through 14yrs of life since then, and not exactly an uneventful 14yrs either.


Those bits of garden you weed and get them looking all lovely and then they suffer again when you neglect them whilst you focus on something else? Yup. Those bits.

The good news is that as with gardening the hard work you put in earlier does pay off and sorting out the mess is a lot quicker the second time.

I wonder if this is why I like to look back at those piles of garden waste as a measure of progress. Seeing the 'problems' all lumped together rather than spread out around the place makes you appreciate better just how much crap there is to deal with even though a quick glance around doesn't reveal anything like the depth of the issue. (Those convovulous roots are a right pain to get out, and they grow back if you leave so much as an inch and turn your back on them.) Seeing the pile grow and shrink over time proves to me that a lot of work has been done, even when it doesn't look like it at times. It is also a reminder that life isn't static, and just because you've dealt with something once doesn't mean you won't have to do it again. To be quite honest I'm getting sick of pulling out canna lilies but if I don't keep doing it they'll take over and smother everything else in their path, except the convovulous of course!

I remember thinking back whenever-it-was that having gone to counselling and found it really useful I wouldn't shy away from going back again in the future and I'd be really positive about it as a tool for coping with life if anyone asked me. Yet when it was suggested again this year all my old reluctance had slipped back when I wasn't looking. However I do know it is helping, I am seeing patterns in my life that I'd never quite joined the dots up about before. So in theory I can either avoid certain things happening again, or at least go into a situation better prepared for it. In theory anyway, there's a huge part of me that is thinking up 'Yeah, right...' Tui ads in response to that idea, but hey who knows, it might just work!

There are times when the only way to tidy a cupboard is to empty everything out and start again, or clear a patch of land and replant it. We can't dispose of the clutter of life experience quite so easily, but we can take things out and have a good look at them from a different angle; and that is so often when the connections and patterns start to show; when the things that really don't need to be right in front of you all the time shaping your responses to the world can be acknowledged, dusted off, and put somewhere out of the way to make room for more positive influences to grow. Unfortunately large scale clear-outs require energy, and when you've got less to spare is usually when the clear-out is needed most. 

Energy can't move when life is too cluttered, and it might not just be cluttered with material 'stuff' or doing too much. I thought that last year where life was much simpler than it had been and I had space to focus on some of the things I wanted to be doing in life, it would be what I needed to find a new direction. But whilst I was busy adding things in to life, I wasn't doing anything about clearing out the 'clutter' inside of me as I was too busy literally clearing out the clutter in the house and garage and getting on top of the weeds in the garden! It took getting really quite ill to get me to stop and take stock of life on a different level.

It is harder to document piles of emotional clutter than it is piles of green waste in a way that can be looked back on to appreciate progress later, or to bolster you on those days when it feels like no matter how hard you work at it you feel like you're getting nowhere. So this post is as much a reminder to myself as anything that yes, progress is being made, but also that I need to keep working on these things otherwise life gets out of hand again.