Thursday, 22 May 2008

Nomadic Torture

(picture: my cat, Mkya Ntini, who has no problem staying still whatsoever)

After writing about what nomads do best (move about, that is) I have discovered in the past few days what nomads do worst. Fellow nomad, Rebecca Campbell wrote in the Telegraph today about revisiting her homeland in the Australian outback. She said going home was the toughest test for her nomadic adventure. Not so Rebecca, so long as the immovable object continues its impetus, you will be forever nomadic.

But move, I did not. Here is how it happened. After a bout of heavy surfing on the blogcatalogue discussion boards (in which I was becoming more and more facetious) my gut clenched into a tight ball which bought a tear to mine eye, and my grey haired doctor scribbling an illegible note to the surgical admissions team at the local hospital. In pain, but still moving, I was more or less content to be travelling in my friends convertible Renault (ambulance shmambulance). The trouble began when I was asked to take a seat in the hospital waiting area. As a hyper active, peripatetic nomad (GO on, look it up, I know you won’t), with the nickname “momentum girl”, the very idea of sitting still on a blue plastic chair for a couple of hours was crippling enough. Even my intriguing surroundings – footballers with legs bent out of shape, a woman carrying her finger in a bloody towel and severely overweight nursing staff (which begged many a question) did not entertain me sufficiently and I was soon feeling cornered and nervously checking out windows and doors for potential escape routes.

Before long my upper lip had lost all stiffness, and I was, dare I say it, asking for pain relief (in a very polite British fashion). It got worse. When I was eventually seen, the staff at the hospital trapped me in my bed by cunningly sticking a needle in my arm and attaching a tube and a bag full of saline drip to the other end. I couldn’t even slightly shuffle. Worse still, there was but a paper thin curtain separating my ear from my neighbours mouth. The Cambridge accent has never been my favourite (the REAL Cambridge accent, not the plumy one). She even irked the capable SHO, who I could hear suggesting to her that unprotected sex could cause infections that would bring on stomach pains like hers. I noted that he had made no such suggestion to me and wondered whether to be offended or not.

A few hours later, unlike the brave Ted Kennedy, I shuffled out of Addenbrokes tanked up on Codine and muttering to myself. And thankfully also unlike Ted, I had no diagnosis of malignancy, instead, I had…erm…just NO diagnoses. But the recommended treatment may prove fatal. “Just rest, do nothing, eat nothing for 24 hours, take it easy”. My cool friend in her Renault smiled slyly at my groan – she knows me well. And since then everyone I know has called to offer the same recommendation. It’s almost as if they KNOW I burn candles at both ends and in the middle. Were I able to ignore the advice I have no doubt that I would, but although the gut now lies flat and lifeless, so do the legs. And the head is spinning and my mouth has that poo taste bought on by nothing having passed my lips. Worse - I am doing something I NEVER do – watching daytime television. Endless shows about antiques, decorating and buying houses fill my brain, reminding me that tomorrow morning I have to shift mine into the back of a van and move it. Groan. I am just about able to raise my fingers to this keyboard despite this whirring laptop weighing heavy and hot and sweaty on my legs…..

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Nomadic Justice

"The great social nomad....prowls on the confines of a docile, frightened order" - Michel Foucault

I am about to do what a nomad does best – move on. NOT from this blog, silly (although I AM a flitting discussion board whore, it has to be said). I am moving from my current rented retro-bungalow on to another place which apparently is far more likely to attract my teenage daughter’s friends over to hang out (is this a good thing?) So next week I shall nonchalantly climb aboard my fully loaded (and beloved) Landrover and cross the mile long open stretch of green pasture that is the no mans land between Litlington and Bassingbourn and relocate.

I jokingly gave myself the name Nomadic as I figured I have moved about a bit over the years. Friends kept complaining that their B page in their address book was becoming a mess. I even changed my name to help this, but now the J’s are a problem. ‘Tis true, and rather sadly for a Saturday night I just worked it out, I have moved house 43 times in my lifetime (yeah and that IS more than once a year). And the pace is increasing – 10 times in the past 5 years. I have been “of no fixed abode” for three full years of my adult life and moved countries 12 times, dragging kids and ex-husband along and providing my mum with a fascinating set of holiday destinations.

It all sounds very unsettling, but I am simply a modern nomad. An űber-nomad. An “executive” nomad even. A genuine global citizen. Andreas Kluth wrote in the
Economist in April about the new urban nomadic lifestyles and the trappings of wireless communications, but I think it was more of a plug for a groovy café in California with wi-fi. He argues that although nomadism and travel can coincide, they need not. Erm….I beg to differ. My take on a nomad is someone who physically moves from one place to another rather than settling down. It is not about someone who checks his email on the train on the way to work or is able to text his girlfriend whilst in the bath (not recommended whilst on charge). One thing Kluth did get right was that nomadism is an addiction that can be likened to gambling. “There is a random pattern of awards, you never know when it pays out, so you keep going”. Maybe I can start a Nomads Anonymous Group for sufferers – but, hey, who would ever turn up?

So I think I have found a solution to my habit. I am about to become what is fashionable called a “two centre household” with my new place in good old Blighty and a beautiful set of four stone walls (with scope) in France. OK, so it has a roof as well as scope and an incredible man turning it into a proper home. It means I can hop on a budget airline (I KNOW I KNOW global handprints pretty bad right now, but I make sure my bananas are grown in Bassingbourn) and as I board the plane I can turn to the camera and say “My work is done here!” and so long as I have a Landrover at both ends of the journey, it may satisfy the craving. Consider it like a patch. I’ll keep you all posted. And if there is a gap in the discussion board postings, it means I have moved to a far away not-spot.

Monday, 12 May 2008

One thing you would change?

I wrote this essay for the FT essay writing competition last year. OK, so it wasn’t very well thought out – “to make everyone just a little bit nicer” is so very British and not at all cutting edge. Not surprising I didn’t even get an acknowledgment of receipt. So, prompted by a Blogcatalogue discussion, I share it with you now.

American poet Maya Angelou writes that she takes responsibility for the very air she breathes and the space she takes up. Like Angelou, most people have some sense of responsibility. Maybe we have a subconscious list detailing what falls into our own areas of responsibility and more importantly what our own level of responsibility is. If I could the change anything I would raise the level of responsibility felt by each individual on this planet.

As an example, our own children learning to walk may score a 10 out of 10 on the responsibility-ometer, and an elderly parent needing some support at home maybe an 8. Someone in our community (but not personally known to us) who has suffered a loss may only score a 1 and be seen largely as someone else’s responsibility.

These ratings are personal and have tended to vary according to our own involvement - having a sense of responsibility for local drug addicts leaving syringes in the kids play area, will often depend on whether we have kids ourselves. If it directly affects us, we care. We act.

But we are being asked to change this. As global citizens we can be asked to give to earth quake victims in far flung places, and lobby our MPs on the threat of rising sea levels. Although we might not see the benefit from buying local fruit as opposed to bananas flown in from thousands of miles away, we are beginning to see that our choices have a ripple affect often far beyond our own experience.

On this wider level we are readjusting our sense of responsibility, but this needs to be in effect right across our lives. Everything matters. Over recent decades our species has looked more seriously at issues such as equality, rights, prejudice and the human affect on planet earth. But in tandem with this has been a sense that someone else will take overall responsibility, and as individuals we are not accountable. Perhaps we have become too disconnected with our actions to realise that everything we do, say (and buy) will have an impact on someone (sometimes someone picking bananas on the other side of the planet).

Martin Dickson says in his article that kicked off this competition that he would change the negativity of people towards media and quite persuasively argues that the media are but a mirror on society. However if the media where to tweak the dial on it’s responsibility gauge it would see that just giving the customer what it wants can in some circumstances propagate a wrong.

If our sense of internal responsibility were increased we might dig further into our pockets to give to the homeless, but we would also feed our children well and not blame the TV for promoting unhealthy options. We might buy products with less packaging and not blame local councils for their recycling policies.

And responsibility needn’t be a chore. As Kissinger said, “People think responsibility is hard to bear. It's not. I think that sometimes it is the absence of responsibility that is harder to bear. You have a great feeling of impotence”.

Britain is the No.1 nation for giving to charity. We can be proud of our generosity, but it doesn’t half make us feel good. How will we feel when local businesses thrive instead of fold? When our kids excel because of our input, when we live in a society run by people we have bothered to vote into government. In a society where low self esteem is rife, there is a lot in it for us. And because we cannot escape the consequences of our choices in everything that we do, there will be a greater feeling of being part of the whole.

If I could the change anything I would raise the level of responsibility felt by each individual on this planet. What I seek is to up the levels. Raise the stakes. So whilst some will diligently separate their tins from their glass, some will consider carefully the affect their job, actions and even words will have on others. Perhaps a generic raise in responsibility levels wouldn’t bring many of us up to Angelou’s level. But whilst a minor global lift in feeling may not see people sensing the responsibility for the air they breathe and the space they take up, it may help them be better parents, friends, lovers, employees and ultimately happier.

I can quite see why my entry wasn't considered, but there you have it. Let's all be a bit nicer.

Love from a True Brit x

Friday, 9 May 2008

"Rice urges Arabs to support the Palestinians" - should she?

OK so it is not just the celebrities doing the patronising finger wagging. You would think Condi Rice would be better versed in public diplomacy (it was pretty public, right? She didn’t take “the Arabs” aside and have a quiet word in their shell likes?) Did anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable this week when the great lady herself sent a “strong message” to the Arab world on increasing their support to the Palestinians? If the objective of the statement was to show folk’s back home that the US are “doing something” then I guess a few voters might have been convinced. As with my Clooney rant (below) I am not convinced that this form of pressure is going to inspire the honouring of financial pledges – in fact I think it will damage US-Middle Eastern relations further (No! How so?)

I can’t help thinking that the US should be removed entirely from the whole brokering peace in the middle east thing. As Morgan Spurlock has found out lately, Americans are not exactly popular round them parts (no shit, Sherlock). They are hardly viewed as impartial - last week Rice stressed that "America's commitment to Israel is unwavering" and it has been for 60 years. And the whole 60 year thing is something that should send Britain’s crusading Mr Blair scurrying for cover - yes remember them terrorist Irgun what bombed the King David Hotel? (OK pedants I know that was 62 years ago), let alone delving deeper to Balfour’s was him what started it wasn't it? Just a polite suggestion – like Rice, perhaps Blair isn’t the best man for the job?

Is this causing anyone else to cringe….? Someone give them some effective public diplomacy advice, please.