Playpens

If you could do with a bit of dramaturgy in the foreseeable future, then take a look at David Lane’s Playpens scheme. I’m not affiliated to him in any way but might well badger him to buy me a pint if I drive people his way. Questions you might want to ask at this point;

  • Who is David Lane?
  • Is he any good?
  • Can he help me?
  • What the effing chuck is a dramaturg anyway?

David is a playwright, dramaturg and educator, ridiculously intelligent but ridiculously nice along with it. He’s put in a crazy amount of effort on a voluntary basis to support other writers over the years, including running the Theatre Writing South West network. He’s given me incredibly valuable feedback on my plays in the past and is excellent at nudging writers into a deeper understanding of just what the heck it is that you’re actually trying to write. I won a decent amount of script development with him for the very first play I wrote, through the Dialogue competition at Salisbury Playhouse – I went into those sessions a complete newbie, knowing nothing about playwriting other than that I’d like to have a go at it. I came out knowing a bit more. Okay, a lot more. Alright, in the interests of full disclosure, David has managed to teach me a shitload about playwriting. And if he can help me, he can help you. Trust me on that.

Sometimes when you’re writing a script, it feels as if you’re lost in the forest and can’t see the wood for the trees. Sorry for the tired metaphor, but that’s how it is, plus it’s almost midnight as I’m writing this, so what do you expect? Working with David felt as if I was being lifted up out of the forest so that I could look down and actually start to see what was going on beneath me. I’ll drop the metaphor at this point before I start talking about squirrels and pixies and how I actually fell in love with a Silver Birch this one time. Anyhoo. There’s a lot of guff talked about script development, with development being spat out with the same amount of distaste that people lend to the phrase political correctness. Here’s the thing; if you can remember the blatant racism and sexism of primetime TV and famous comedians of the 1970s and 80s, you’ll know that political correctness was entirely necessary to start putting things right. And if you could see your script with an entirely objective eye, you’d definitely dig out your Paypal password and get Lane on the case so that you could Put Things Right. Or just Make Things Better. Or perhaps Make Your Play Shithot in a Less Shit and More Hot Kind of Way. All of those plays that make it into the theatre? They had development. Trust me; your play is unlikely to meet the requisite standard without it. Working with someone like David means that he’ll help you to write the play that you actually want to write, rather than pushing you into writing what he would write/wants you to write/thinks you should write etc.

And as for what a dramaturg actually is, well it’s a… it’s one of those – you know, like one of those things, only with plays. A bit like that attachment that came with your hoover. But in theatre. Glad to have cleared that up for everyone.

He’s good. Hire him.

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Tiny Sacred Chapels

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…I think of how we all at some age, come to have knowings now of tiny sacred chapels, often placed into our hearts when we had even the most brief exchange of words and kindness from souls who are daily practicing their consecrations – not only their vows – but their longings and understandings of the sacred light that illuminates everything.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes – Untie the Strong Woman

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Dandelion Eyes

So I was tired. Bone-weary. After falling asleep over my laptop several times, I gave in. Nothing was going to be achieved today: not the computer stuff, not the house stuff, zilch.

Take a walk.

When you’re bone-weary tired, taking a walk seems counter-intuitive – slumping on the sofa feels more appropriate. But this was a Soul-Whisper. One of those prompts from the deepest, wisest part of your being; the part of you that hesitates over purchasing the giant-sized bar of Galaxy Caramel as you tell yourself that you’ll make it last all month so at that price it’s daft not to. Yeah right, whispers your Wise Being, knowing that you’ll likely have troughed through a good three quarters of it before bedtime. Put it down and buy some kale, you know it makes sense.

A Soul-Whisper, then, from a Soul shaken by the events of the week. So – sod it – I went for a walk along the river.

Back in the Autumn, on the course at Schumacher College, we discussed the difference between Wilderness and Wildness. Wilderness, we were told, is in short supply to most of us in the UK. Wildness, however, is everywhere – don’t be size-ist about it. Try to develop a relationship with a patch of wildness in your area, it helps.

Secret garden in a car park/waste ground.

Secret garden in a car park/waste ground.

My daughter hates the curtains that were hung in her bedroom a couple of months ago, without prior consultation (hint: it wasn’t me.)

“I want dandelion yellow curtains,” she tells me, “so the sun will shine through and glow all golden.” She also described the new, beige curtains as being “fucking fucked up” in a way that I’m sure as her mother I should have reprimanded her for, if I hadn’t been too busy laughing.

Dandelion yellow. I’ve since discovered that it’s evidently not an “in” colour in the home furnishing world – you can buy ready-made curtains in pretty much any colour except yellow. Still, I was suddenly granted a different view of the weeds growing abundantly throughout my garden; that if you stop thinking weed, dandelions are beautiful. Seen through my daughter’s eyes, their fiery golden petals were dazzling in their sunlit gorgeousness. The plant radiates joy. And as for the graceful globes of their delicate seedheads; exquisite. See this display in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s What is Luxury exhibition for further proof.

Fragile Futures Concrete Chandelier by Studio Drift

Fragile Futures Concrete Chandelier by Studio Drift

Yet when we see dandelions we write them off as an ugly weed, trained as we are to see them as a sign of neglect, someone slacking off on the gardening front. What if instead we saw them as an incredibly enthusiastic wildflower? Something so brimming with joy that it can’t keep it all to itself and just has to burst forth all over the place? The Bonnie Langford of the plant world? The floral equivalent of Mad Lizzie, I’m guessing.

I know, there’s so much about joy and enthusiasm that’s incredibly unBritish, we’re far more comfortable with wry deprecation or even downright snideyness, but try to go with it. It’s summer, after all.

This, from Daniel Deardorff;

 From the perspective of civil-society, that which is not proper or normal, or accepted is deemed to evince a social or moral “disfigurement, ugliness, or crookedness.” Plants become weeds, animals become vermin, ideas become heresy and treason, and people become infidel, outcast, misbegotten. This deeming and damning perspective seems immoveable, yet many of the old stories speak to a magical shift: the loathsome beastly shape transformed by a “blessing kiss” – an act of fidelity, love and valor…

…Yet one must ask, is this magical shift a transformation of form or of perception? And is it possible that perception alone can alter form?

(Deardorff, The Other Within.)

 A blessing kiss, a child’s eyes, beginner’s mind, a fresh outlook, a walk. The power of words. What else in our world have we written off by categorising it in this way, attaching a label which falls short of the whole? (There is perhaps room here for a discussion of labelling within Special Needs, but that my friends would warrant an entire post of its own, if not an entire series.)

Not sure where the quote is from, but it's resonating deeply.

Not sure where the quote is from, but it’s resonating deeply.

As artists, as creators, as people, how can we ensure that we keep our eyes open, experiencing the world without the blinkered filters that we don’t even realise we’re wearing?

I returned from my walk out of breath, but energized. Listen to that wise voice within. Keep your eyes open. Walk. Create. See the world through dandelion eyes.

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Home, safe.

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Camden. I am not worthy.

Up at 6.30am to get everyone ready and out of the house at 8. First child dropped off at Early Club at school, then the twenty mile round trip to drop off T’Other One, my eyes darting to the clock on the dashboard, aware that my train is at 9.07. The relief when I’m standing on the platform, not only on time for the train but with just enough minutes left over to buy myself a cup of tea before I board. The little details that go into making a day’s work, the arrangements and negotiations. Tickets prepaid, pre-collected to save precious minutes on the day. Oyster card. Emergency map. Making sure the kids will be picked up from school. Remembering to leave extra food out for the cats. Small bottle of water and a biscuit bar. I know there’s a book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, but really? The Small Stuff is what life is chiefly made up of.

Thinking I might just have time to catch the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A for an hour before sprinting up to Camden for the auditions. Seeing that the queue for timed tickets was probably an hour long in itself and realising that my optimism catches me out at times. Optimism or over-active imagination, given that I’d pictured the hallowed halls of the esteemed museum to be empty and echoing at 11am? Tough one to call.

Camden; full on. Busy, loud, colourful, crowded. A bit too much after the open space of Dartmoor at the weekend. I’m evidently not cool enough for Camden. The auditions were at Cecil Sharp House, which sits very close to what might be Primrose Hill. I’m not rich enough for Primrose Hill. I’m generally a fish out of water wherever I land, which is perhaps why I love my sofa so very much. Also trees – they don’t tend to judge.

Of the auditions, perhaps more later. An awareness that it’s quite a daunting task – to walk into a room and face a panel of five, play the piano and perform extracts from two entirely different plays. I’m really rather glad that I’m not an actor. An awareness too, that there was a complete dearth of actresses within the desired age range, say 35-45. Younger, yes, older, yes, but a void when it came to this middle range. I’m having a lot of conversations at the moment about the impossibility of combining theatre and childcare; clearly this is something that is hitting women across the board – writers, directors and actors. We spoke of it between the auditions, acknowledging the different attitude that seems to exist when a man insists that a particular job fits in with his childcare arrangements (Ahh, what a hero, what a good father) and when a woman does it (It’s so unprofessional for her to expect everyone else to fit in with her kids.) Admitting to the team that right now I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to manage rehearsals around my kids.

As my knowledge of London is so poor, I’ve been trying to walk more whenever I’m there, so headed off confidently in the direction of Warren St when it was time to go back to Paddington. Of course, I was going in completely the wrong direction and almost at Chalk Farm before I realised. With hindsight, I chose the nicest direction, or at least the most interesting. Not quite sure if I’d left enough time to make it back to Paddington, certainly not with enough time to pick up a cuppa before getting on board. Telling myself that there should be a buffet on the train is merely another symptom of my imagination working overtime again. Passing a sign as I went from Tube to National Rail services, informing me that due to someone falling under a train, all services from Paddington had been cancelled. Thinking surely not? just as everyone else was thinking the same thing – the terminal was full of people staring at blank departures screens, queuing for information, or clutching phones to their ears as they tried to make other plans. Overhearing a member of staff ask a traveller Do you have anywhere you could stay tonight, and thinking That doesn’t sound good.

Two people died yesterday, under a train as it passed through Ealing, in front of the rush-hour commuters. As yet, no one knows exactly what happened, only that they were mother and daughter. While there are reports that staff at Ealing had to prevent commuters from taking photographs, the mood at Paddington was sombre, one of quiet acceptance. Perhaps hints that a child had died were enough to prevent any histrionics. People wrote down the suggestions of the First Great Western staff as to alternative routes, or called friends to ask for a bed for the night, or found a spot to just sit and wait until the line reopened. People sitting on the floor, against railings and walls, just calmly waiting. While the official status is that FGW trains were delayed by up to 90 minutes, which doesn’t sound too bad, hundreds of us were diverted off on journeys which took hours before reaching the intended destination – you want to go back to Marylebone, then up to Banbury, down to Oxford, over to Didcot Parkway, then Swindon, then get a train up to Gloucester or Cheltenham, the man with the ginger beard told me, not even having to look it up, such was his encyclopaedic knowledge of the UK rail system. So that’s what I did, making it home long after midnight instead of 9.30pm, and telling myself it was an adventure. But then I made it home. Two other women didn’t, and grief hangs in the air today.

Today; exhausted. Drained. My play has an actor and I’m happy with the choice. I’m falling asleep over my laptop, managing an entire paragraph that just read kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk. Dreading the school pick-up, and the fact that Scouts tonight is miles away, a 20 min drive each way rather than five minutes up the road – I’d like to be in bed by then. Is it even worth driving home in between times, or shall I sit in the pub with a strong coffee and try to stay awake? I haven’t managed the Very Important Phone Call I need to make about my Benefits; it will have to wait until tomorrow as I know I won’t be able to speak any sense. I’m about to be seen in public wearing sweatpants and no make up – it’s that kind of a day. Tonight there will be a ready-meal rather than home cooking, and the plates may well be left until tomorrow morning before reaching any washing-up liquid. But I’m alive. And if you’re reading this, then so are you.

As Mary Oliver asks, Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Fingers poised above the keyboard, not sure of where to start.

Don’t give away the treasure too soon.

My second weekend in Dartmoor at the School of Myth. A weekend that has stood like a beacon, a steady light through the recent chaos, guiding me in.

Midsummer. Which of course isn’t Midsummer at all, we’re barely out of Spring but for some reason, perhaps the Solstice, the 21st is deemed to be exactly that. From now on the light begins to dim towards the Winter and yet Summer itself still stretches out before us. June is the time when Nature seems at her best, roses, peonies, poppies coming into bloom, the trees wearing their freshest green and life bursting out of the hedgerows whether in a veil of Queen Anne’s lace or the growing lambs, the fledgling chicks that mark another turn around the wheel of the year. A time of revelation. A time of magic and dreams, as Shakespeare’s play attests.

Time spent sitting in solitude up on the Moor itself. A landscape so stunning and unfamiliar to me, the unsettling experience of literally not being able to trust the ground beneath my feet as grass oozes water and my boots sink into the bog. Standing scared, scanning the ground, trying to work out where to step next, where might be safe and where I will sink – an experience which in retrospect seems a fairly accurate metaphor for my life right now (and for anyone who hasn’t yet signed up against our government’s eagerness to once again punish the poorest members of society, this time by removing Child Tax Credits, the petition is here.) Large twisted oaks that seem to grow out of the ancient granite boulders, the vibrancy of the unfurling bracken, a sky that changes from blue to grey within seconds, rain followed by sun, the breeze which rustles the leaves, the constancy of the stream splashing past. Fingers stroking the luxuriant moss that cushions the thick bark, sensual, like caressing a man’s chest.

Most of us do not spend enough time outdoors.

Even during my reverie I find myself wishing that our leaders spent more time sitting under great trees, simply listening, observing. Beholding. There has been much talk at the School of sorcery, of hearts buried beneath the ice, of what happens when power is separated from heart. There are a lot of sorcerers in Westminster, I think.

Saturday evening – the beauty of a meal that I haven’t had to plan and cook, a meal spent deep in conversation, ideas flowing around the table. The joy of this being a group which understands the importance of pudding. Tables and chairs shifted out of the way while fellow students came forward to tell stories and sing songs, some confident, some willing to share their nervousness in a way which felt like a generous gift.

Communion.

Then, when it should be over, the door opened to reveal the Green Man – two green men, bedecked in ivy and branches, unrecognisable, leading us outside. Grabbing glasses and coats we made our way outside, where the path was lined with flickering tealights, the campfire blazing and – most wondrous – the rough outdoor shelter hung with drapes and a sequinned backdrop which glittered in the candlelight like a thousand stars, a magical theatre for this one night. Two lanterns hung centre stage, more tealights grouped like footlights in the grass below, ready for Titania and Bottom to make their appearance, for a few of us primed beforehand to emerge, clutching love poems to read to the waiting audience while the tabla and flute played alongside us. If I live to be a hundred, I doubt I will experience anything quite so magical again. I wish I had a picture to show for it, but magic is notoriously difficult to photograph, and mobile phones and selfies completely out of place for such events. It was the perfect Midsummer celebration, the kind of thing your heart secretly longs for, glimpsed occasionally in novels and films and beautiful set design.

Fire. Wine. Whisky. Good company. Celebration. Whatever else might be going on, there is always something to celebrate. Always something to appreciate, to give thanks for.

It was apparently 3am by the time I got to my bed. As I showered this morning, I could smell the woodsmoke being rinsed out of my hair. The return can be hard.

Perhaps you celebrated the Solstice, or Midsummer itself. Perhaps not. But let’s not get too hung up about calendar dates here, or whether we’ve missed it. There’s always time. This weekend I’m determined to have friends around; food, wine, a bonfire if it’s not raining. I don’t do formal dinner parties, have no interest in trying to impress my guests with canapes and souffle or my ability to match the perfect wine with each course. Simple and tasty is fine; this is about gathering together with people you love. Or even just getting to know your neighbours a little better. Make an agreement that on this night, the shit will be left at the garden gate – this is not a night to argue over politics or complain about your Ex; bring a handful of poems if needs be, just to make sure. Make it a night of delight. There’s enough in life that’s hard, that’s stressful, enough time needed to be set aside for grieving, for struggling, for just-about-coping. Choose one night, soon, the sooner the better and dedicate it to pleasure, to magic, to love. To life.

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Easy

The Circus this weekend. Not easy at all.

The Circus this weekend. Not easy at all.

The Beeb repeated The Most Beautiful Man in the World last month, I had no idea until I received an email from a complete stranger praising it. Which means I presumably have to do something about chasing up the repeat fees, I guess. Anyway, the link is here if you haven’t heard it and want to catch it – next 5 days only.

I’ve just read the same story (read? performed?) myself for the first time at the weekend, at the Stories for Grown Ups event at No.23 Bistro, in Stroud. It’s a new idea being tried out by Alex, the bistro’s owner, holding a short story evening every couple of months; two writers reading a few stories, a guest spot for a member of the audience, food, drink and general conviviality. I had a lush time, anyway, and that’s without drinking. Unfortunately my child-minding plans fell through on the day, resulting in having to bring my 10 year old along. It could have been tricky, given that the evening was supposedly for Grown Ups, but she behaved impeccably and seemed to even enjoy it. She enjoyed tucking into my free meal, anyway. The food was gorgeous – that might be enough to tempt me along next time, never mind the stories. Philip Douch is hosting the events, next writer up is John Holland, the Stroud Short Stories organizer, on the 9th August.

I’d been giving myself considerable angst about writing a couple of new stories for the event, before finally admitting to myself that it wasn’t going to happen in time, and turning up with what I’d already got. Even then I changed my setlist midway through, more to feel rock and roll than anything else. I rock. I’ll read what I want. Still, another valuable lesson in going with the flow and not stressing out too much beforehand. Sometimes we start repeating the story in our heads – must write new stuff for relatively small local event, must write new stuff – without stopping to question whether that story is in fact true, or just you know, a nice idea, a guilt complex, rampant perfectionism etc etc. Reading what I already had worked just fine. More than fine. Worked out pretty damn good. A few useful questions to ask;

  • Do I really need to do this?
  • Is there an easier way?
  • How can I make life easier for myself?
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Bruntwoodalong; the autopsy

When all else fails, Google pictures of cats.

When all else fails, Google pictures of cats.

Well, I entered a play. Alongside about 99,000 other people – go take a look at the website if you want to know the exact figure. Not the play that I wanted to submit; that one tripped over miles ago and is currently lying by the wayside, crying for attention. I’ve got my fingers in my ears at the moment, whistling loudly and singing Nah nah nah, I can’t hear you.

Life kinda took over. In a way which meant that there was just no portion of my brain left for things like narrative, character, structure and the like. Frustrating, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. The downside of being a creative type – creativity is often the first thing to go when you’re under pressure. It becomes a Maslov-type hierarchy; creativity tends to sit higher up the pyramid than things like food, warmth, shelter. And you know what? Sometimes that’s okay.

I’m a huge believer in creativity; each one of us needs a way of expressing ourselves and marking our place in the world. The trouble is when creativity becomes too intrinsically linked to other concepts such as money, time, competition, success. When creativity becomes a pressure rather than an instinctive response, then we might just have a problem, Houston. When life gets too demanding, creativity needs to not become just another demand in a list of many; I must get this written, I must edit this, I must submit this, I must get started on the next idea and while I’m at it I should probably whack out another grant application. By this point, the creative spirit has packed its suitcase and slunk off back to the forest, tail between its legs.

It’s not likely that I’ll be submitting anything to the Verity Bargate or the Bristol Old Vic Open Sessions this time around either. My thoughts are on over things right now, things which must take precedence over the dream that is playwriting. My kids will always be my priority and they need me right now. My creativity needs to be lured back from the forest in a quiet, humble way – the promise of writing with no particular aim in mind, of picking up some knitting needles, getting some sewing done, pottering in the garden, walks and scribbles. Stories, for sure, whether writing, reading or telling, but without the constant financial pressure attached. Otherwise my health is going to suffer. Going to might be a bit superfluous in that sentence, and I’m not much use to anyone if I go under.

We beat ourselves up about so much in life. Create, but do it when you can. Accept that there are times in life when your creativity may be limited to working out what to do with the three mushrooms and stale block of cheese that currently constitute the only valid ingredients for tonight’s dinner that you can find in the entire house, back of the sofa included. There will be times when you nail that deadline and times when you miss it by a mile. There will be times when the pressures are crowding in so thick and fast that you jerk awake in the night, heart pounding so fast that you think you’re dying. Times when your kids insist on crawling into your bed, not theirs, and cling to you with the intensity of a toddler at the first day of Nursery. Times when you spend the whole fucking day on hold to the various agencies you need to speak to in order to build a liferaft from the wreckage, only to end up with an adviser who will not deviate from the script and tells you less than you already found out on the website. During those times, it is unlikely that you will be capable of writing something that will win the Bruntwood prize. In fact, it’s unlikely that you will manage to write out a shopping list without forgetting half of the ingredients, what the hell it was you were planning on cooking and very probably your own name too. Beating yourself up at these points is not going to help any.

Go easy.

Do what you can with what you’ve got. Do what you can to make sure that things will be better tomorrow. If not better, do what you can to make them easier.

The rest can wait.

photo credit: Easy like Sunday… via photopin (license)

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Me. Live. Now. Or at least Sunday.

In the interests of flagrant self-promotion I should probably say something about the fact that I’ll be reading some of my stories this Sunday at No.23 Bistro in Stroud, alongside local writer Philip Douch. And apparently a random member of the audience too, although only if they’ve actually brought a story, otherwise that wouldn’t work out at all.

There. Job done. More info and how to book here. I should definitely go and do something about preparing some stories, realistically. Maybe even writing a couple given that mine aren’t the right length. Oh God. I’m worrying about the size of my stories. That’s performance anxiety, right?!

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Fuck you, Erudio. Fuck you.

3591571001_b2d6e316e2I have a Student Loan. I’m not alone in this. I’m fairly sure there’s a pun in there somewhere, but let’s not dwell on it. My Student Loan is ancient, going way back to the early years of the Student Loan Company, brought in as the then-Tory government phased out student grants and started turning education into a massive profit-making exercise updating the face of education to truly reflect the world we live in. Anyway, there goes my Student Loan, like a wheezy granny shuffling down the road with her zimmer frame, modest, necessary and nothing like the big, brash, demanding R&B stars of a loan that students have to take out nowadays. Nowadays. Christ, I’m old.

So my Student Loan sat there, unpaid because I have never ever had a job that paid me anything like a decent amount of money, given that the minimum wage had yet to be invented. It accrued interest over the years, what seemed like pennies at first but which is now apparently multiplying at an alarming rate. I’m still not making enough money to pay it off. Which means that every year I have the joy of the Deferment form to fill out. The Deferment form basically asks you to prove that you’re too poor to repay your loan, so it’s generally not exactly an uplifting experience, more of a look how shit my life has turned out kind of experience. An experience I’ve been putting myself through for twenty years now.

For the majority of those years, I’ve been a full-time stay at home mother. There is no box on the form for full-time stay at home mother. Instead, you have to state that you’re receiving third party support and – get this – ask the person who is supporting you to write them a letter. So year after year, any full-time stay at home parent has to ask their spouse/significant other to write a letter to the Student Loan Company, stating that they give them weekly pocket money but not enough to have to pay back the loan. Which isn’t humiliating at all, obvs. I’ve never quite understood why the letter from the spouse/significant other has apparently more weight than the applicant themselves just being able to tick a box on the form and state the amount – does the fact that we have a debt make us less trustworthy? Perhaps there are still relationships in which one partner puts down an amount of housekeeping money on the table and tells you to buy something pretty, but I don’t know of any. The lines are generally more blurred than that; joint accounts with wages, child benefit, mortgage payments and direct debits flying in and out with no sense of this money being mine and this money being his, which makes a mockery of the whole thing. Or -if I were married to a millionaire and wanted to cheat the system, do they not think I’m capable of forging a letter from my significant other claiming to only pay out £50 a week?

Several times when I’ve filled out the form to prove that I’m poor, they write back demanding further evidence because they don’t believe that I’m that poor. Perhaps if I took a more Christlike, Blessed are the Poor view of the world, I might find that flattering, but I don’t. I just find it really annoying as I hate filling out forms, so having to do them twice is an absolute bugger. It generates a ridiculous amount of admin, for myself and also for them, which given that they’re not getting any money from me, seems pointless. Why go through this every year? Why not once every five years, or a box to tick that just says “my circumstances have not significantly changed during the last 12 months so I still don’t need to pay anything” – job done.

This time around, I filled in the form, copied and printed whatever else I needed to and sent it all off. This time I got three different letters back, all saying different things but basically amounting to “we’ve not received sufficient information to accept your application.” Phoning up – again, an annual event – oh joy, oh rapture, oh person who barely speaks English repeating the same sentence back at you over and over “it says on the system that it hasn’t been submitted, so there’s nothing I can do. Yes I understand but it says on the system that it hasn’t been submitted.” Hanging up, I want to scream. I’ve been doing this for twenty years now – why can’t they just accept that I don’t have the money to pay it back? Why go through this time-consuming farce every single fucking year? The most stupid thing – it costs them more than it costs me. It costs them money to process my application every year, print and send out letters, staff the phonelines. If there was a big red button to press online stating “I’m eligible for deferment” then it would save us all a lot of time and money, but hey – throw in a five yearly audit, or send the full form to a few people at random each year to test whether the honour system is working, just for the cynics. Given that apparently 40% of these older loans are being defaulted on, the current system evidently isn’t working anyway, so why stick to it?

It boils down to this; I hate dealing with them. Hate them. Which is a very negative state to be in, and not at all zen or enlightened of me, and probably if I could meditate on it and send them my love then I’d have a much more positive experience with them. Whatever. The difficulty is – I can remember education being free. There are people barely a generation above me who not only received full student grants – at a sum that actually covered the cost of living – but were also entitled to housing benefit and able to sign on during the holidays. So yes, there’s a chip on my shoulder that believes that I shouldn’t even have had to take out the bloody loan in the first place – my Uni cohorts were the last to receive any kind of grant, the first to enter this lousy Brave New World of debt-based education. God help my kids if they decide to go to Uni – it seems as if selling off several of your vital organs is the only way to navigate the path to a degree without accruing massive debt. That, or moving to Scotland.

Perhaps my hated seems unreasonable. But maybe take a look at this. Yes, you read that right. The government sold off my loan and others like it – £890m worth of loans to be exact – to Erudio Student Loan company. For £160m.

Eh?

I will put my hand up at this point and admit that I don’t fully understand the numbers, or how any of this works. Because it seems that the government, back in 2013, basically wrote off most of our debt in order to sell it on to a private firm. That’s over £700m of debt which should go back into the public purse, but which the government has written off. Which means that the £700m now gets paid back to a private company, for profit.

National Union of Students president Toni Pearce said the move was “extremely concerning” as it would see “the public subsidising a private company making a profit from public debt”.

“The impact of this sale won’t only affect borrowers, but will affect everybody.

“The simple fact is that having these loans on the public books would be better off for the government in the long run.

“Selling off the loan book at a discount to secure a cash lump sum now doesn’t make economic sense.”

Well no, Toni, and well put. It doesn’t make economic sense. It also – bear with me here – doesn’t seem very fair. My question is – and forgive me for my inherent naivety – if the government could write off over £700m in order to sell the books to Erudio, why couldn’t they have just wiped off the equivalent from our loans? If they wanted to raise a lump sum, why not send a letter out; we’re a bit short of cash so we’re doing something drastic. if you pay your loan off in full, right now, we’ll write off 50% of it. A half-price sale, if you will. Which potentially could have raised over £400m for the public purse, rather than the £160m. And would have left people like me feeling much happier- I’d have run to get my cheque book, just to get the bastards off my back. It’s been happening with the Occupy movement, after all. So why can’t the government get on board? Because they’d far rather see their cronies making a profit out of us?

No, really – rather than making life easier for ordinary people – people who evidently aren’t going to make it into the top income brackets – the government would rather perpetuate a corporation that exists solely to make a profit out of debt. A profit out of poverty. The figures involved make a mockery out of the whole endeavour, as is made clear by Occupy;

The Rolling Jubilee Fund, an initiative of the Occupy movement, has been accepting donations and buying up student loan debt for pennies on the dollar from debt collectors, and then forgiving the loans altogether. The group has spent about $107,000 to purchase $3.9 million in debt, organizers said.

I’m overworking the dough here, I know (another bad pun in there somewhere, I think) but let’s make this straight; if you’re a private company, you can buy up a student loan for less than the face value of the loan and make a profit from it. If you’re the student, you can’t ask the government, or the company, to allow you to pay off your loan according to those same terms. Try asking the government to write off the equivalent percentage from your loan – “Can I pay it off according to the pennies on the dollar rate?” Try phoning up Erudio and asking to pay them off according to what they actually paid out for your loan – it won’t get you very far.

It’s just been announced that Osborne is going to do it again; (links to Daily Mail, sorry) sell off more student loans to a private firm. The entire thing feels cynical and corrupt. Why not let debt-ridden students pay back their loan at a reduced rate instead? Let people be the ones who profit here, rather than corporations. I’m getting ridiculously angry just thinking about it and it’s only Tuesday. I can’t use up an entire week’s quota of justified rage on a Tuesday.

So excuse me, I have to go apply for deferment. Again. Because I don’t think that scrawling Can’t Pay Won’t Pay across the letter they sent me, or Fuck You Capitalist Scum over the envelope will be accepted as proof of entitlement. Pity.

photo credit: graduation hats via photopin (license)

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Re-inspire

A barrel. With laughs in. Coz I think we could all do with some of that. Or at least a very large glass of wine.

A barrel. With laughs in. Coz I think we could all do with some of that. Or at least a very large glass of wine.

Probably a relatively short one this time around, mostly because a) turns out that divorce is a fairly time-consuming and difficult process rather than the entertaining barrel of laughs I was hoping for (who knew?) and b) if I had any spare time it’s been instantly negated by the number of online petitions doing the rounds to stop the Tories from scrapping the Human Rights Act in order to bring in their own version. Seems to me that as humans, with rights, it might be a good idea to get behind this one. The thought of the Tories re-interpreting it fills me with dread. It’s like discovering that One Direction are going to cover your favourite song, only with rather more serious consequences. Your favourite album, then. At which point all copies of all of your favourite songs will forcibly disappear and you’ll be forced to put up with the One Direction version forever. Only with Katie Price singing along too.

There will apparently be a new threshold introduced, below which the Act will no longer apply. Eh? I’m a bit stumped as to how this works. Do some humans count for less than other humans, some being more equal than others? Will there be some kind of points system introduced, target quota to obtain before any of us are deemed human? I’m guessing that you lose points for being say, a Labour voter, or an immigrant, or a Muslim. Or perhaps if you’re gay, or work for the BBC. Or Scottish. Disabled people evidently won’t be counted as human at all, judging by the Tories previous form (and remember, they were still being hog-tied by the Lib Dems at that point.) Prove your humanity, WordPress demands when I log in, but the little box is too small to type in I didn’t vote Tory.

Let’s be clear about this. The Tories are the Masters of Darkness. We do not want them tinkering with our basic Human Rights any more than we’d want One Direction tackling Stairway to Heaven. So. It’s our civic duty to do what we can to stop them. Get on it. Useful links are here, here and here (and yes, I am waving my arms around like an air hostess as I type this. Also, with that last link it’s worth clicking on “Convince Me” to read of cases where the Human Rights Act has been used in a good way, rather than the this pernicious act stops us from executing terrorists bullshit that the papers are so fond of.)

I don’t know if signing petitions achieves much. But at least it’s better than nothing – and it makes you feel as if you’re doing something. There is perhaps a false sense of security in that, or activist smugness whereas nothing has been achieved. Still – better signing than not signing, under the circumstances. It’s important to give yourself hope. Re-inspire yourself.

Writing-wise the lovely Tim X Atack sent me a link after reading this. Here it is. You should read it. Especially, as he pointed out, the third sentence of the thirteenth paragraph.

Like I said, re-inspire yourself.

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