Nottingham Semester 2

I’ve been here six months now in Nottingham. The fastest 5 months of my life for sure. Has been quite incredible. Essays written. Exams merited. Gigs attended. Bars found. Friends made. Plays attended. Articles written. House parties caroused. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Now I am part of the furniture. A known face. Its quite hilarious. I wish it wouldn’t end.

Well it hasn’t yet but things are changing. I’m moving house this week. Into Lenton, a poor attempt at a studentland but nevertheless, the best they have here. The weather has picked up and its now t-shirt time :). Next its flipflops and sunnies. Jesus, summer is on its way.

I am broke financially and so off to work asap. Got 3 more essays to write followed by one exam. Then its chilled out time before Oxford. I am mulling over the next phase. Simply depends on money, people and whether I get this scholarship to Indonesia. So its either a September or Janaury Uni start in the UK or Netherlands, a research project about Bosnia all followed by a PhD attempt. Lets see 🙂

Where is the Love? The Big Society

Leaving Bargain Booze on Lenton Boulevard last week with my stash for the party, I witnessed a University sport member hurled a pint glass into the air and shattering across the street. His two mates laughed like nerdy hyenas as cars slowed down to skirt around the glass. It was only 10pm. Maybe this is what David Cameron is thinking when he talks of ‘Broken Britain’ and promotes his Big Society policy. But I doubt it. Our fellow student merely forgot his social responsibility, the kind of role his parents hoped he’d know by now.    

Cameron has been telling us society is broken with too much marginalisation, disenfranchised hoodies, poor trust within neighbourhoods and a pervading sense of the country’s going to the dogs. His solution is ‘The Big Society’, a curious oxymoron of laissez-faire interventionism. It’s almost socialist in concept, yet with that neo-liberal focus on individualism and the bottom line. The proposed mantra is to empower communities to control of their own destiny, an idea that seems rather at odds with Cameron’s latest speech over the perceived failure of British multiculturalism. Any sociologist will tell you the notion of a ‘community’ is vague and therefore who should ‘run’ it is contentious. The idea that every village or town might be run by empowered local volunteers only brings back memories of Hot Fuzz.

But the argument is that localism will allow money to be tailored to the needs of the community sounds simplistic. The monetary gain of volunteerism could easily be lost by worthy yet unspecialised application. After all, local communities will now have to deal with global phenomenons such as migration and transnationalism.  A brief look through Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs section hardly heralds the case for greater local autonomy.  The National Bank will provide loans which have to be paid back. In sum, making a profit is a necessity.

With the present worries over unemployment, interest rates about to rise, putting pressure on mortgage repayments and the standard pressures facing the longest workers in Europe, the question is who has the time for such altruism. It’s likely to fall on the willing and the retired.  Your local swimming pool or library could soon be run by the Women’s Institute or various retired members of the community. So rather than a nanny state, we’ll have a ‘grandmammy state!’

The suspicion is the Big Society is merely a ruse to drastically cut the bloated government budget. Devolving responsibility in an era of uncertainty makes you wonder what the role of the state is, if not to protect the most vulnerable. Social and education programs require investment to provide opportunities, not just good will.  How these cuts are implemented is vital. Charities will continue to run their services and possibly fill some of the gaps but not all. The present slashing of council budgets and closing of social infrastructure is highly damaging to cohesive society.

So where is the inspiration for such a program. Sweden? New Zealand? Bhutan? Curiously it comes from the US, a society with enormous economical disparities. Yet the US does have greater rates of volunteerism than most of Europe and deep-rooted spirit of philanthropy especially in education and health on a scale the UK could never match. When was the last time you saw the Duke of Westminster handing out grants. US civil society is vibrant and there is an intense pride in being American. Meet an American and you’ll know about his childhood, family history and failed marriages by the end of the first drink. Us Europeans are disappointingly reticent, the English especially.

However the greatest empowerment is hope and real opportunity. Provide training and education opportunities and the belief there will be a job at the end of it, gives a man a stake in society and he’ll encourage everyone else around him to play along. But how is all this is going to work when even the library down the road is closing. All these ideas take investment in people.  We should be paying teachers teach and encourage self-esteem and responsibility in kids while maintaining parks and school playing fields to facilitate team activity. 

Alternatively we’ll see different sections of the community battle for grants under the auspices of knowing what is best for ‘their community,’ a return of the very identity politics Cameron has deemed failed. Within this, there’s the danger of a return to conservatism within communities if the older (usually male) members of communities are able to secure the grants/loans.

I’ve no doubt social capital, the trust, responsibility and unity in society has waned over the past 20-30 years. The failure of 1970s corporatist management and the succeeding decades of individualism has engendered a more competitive ‘dog eat dog’ Britain. But it’s not just migrants and hoodies who are marginalised in Britain. We all watch the same TV programs, yet rarely together. While mobile phones, gaming and the internet have encouraged different forms of communication, they are no replacement for a face-to-face interaction.

Its possible community interaction will increase over time as groups deem it is in their best interest to work together. Or we may consider ‘enough is enough.’ Protests have a bad name in the present media but we are talking about a watershed moment. We need to decide what kind of society we want. The planned protest on the 26th of March could imitate the present civil uprising in Wisconsin over job losses. A sleeping spirit may awake.

Our society might have its problems but lets not call it broken. The idiot who threw his glass in the street is not ‘us’.  The fact it angers people indicates we know we can do more. The solutions can be on the macro and micro-level through government investment in education, responsible parenting, greater social unity and an optimistic notion of our destiny. With a change in the rhetoric and mindset alongside a feeling of inclusiveness, altruism and volunteerism will come naturally. Volunteerism also takes diverse and often simple forms. Concern for others, encouragement and a sympathetic ear might be all some need. I’ve always though a good hug stays with you all day. But they are free David. Everything costs money.

Update

I’ll keep it short. I’m trying to correct an essay, watch the Japanese film Norwegian Wood based on the Murakami book, get some sleep and think over three pieces I’m trying to write for the magazine. They concern a page about working/volunteering abroad, a double page on music around the world sung in English and a feature article about Love. I put Love in capitals deliberately as its important. To me and everyone else. After long discussions about relationships and love with various friends around the world and some awesome new ones I’ve made in Nottingham, I came to some conclusions, started writing on the bus and and its coming together. I’ll let you know more as I write it.

I’m also moving house. The girls are moving to a nearby flat and I am checking into the spare room at a mate’s place in Lenton. I need to find some work too as I’ve blown all my cash on good times. And they have been really good. I feel totally at home right now and love my days at uni, the endless meetings, chat and teas I consume. Even the essays (I have four) are coming along nicely. Want to get 2/3 done before the start of April.

Had a scrumptious roast lunch today with girls from my course. Its all flowed nicely. The parties and people. Like it always does. Its travelling without moving. Travelling-lite. Easy peasy.

More to say about Japan, thoughts on uni, summer plans and everything else but thats for soon.
x

Impact Discusses… Escaping the Tourist Trail

Published on 8th March 2011 in Travel.

With more and more people being able to afford to travel, the unknown world is becoming less so every year. Every country nowadays seems to have a major attractions checklist in the trusty Lonely Planet guide and these tourist trails are only becoming more popular. The beaten track may be saturated with tourists, which means you might end up meeting more fellow travellers than locals, but should you always seek to avoid it?

The Euro Railer

Let’s face it… Europe’s been done. Grad trips, field trips, Euro-railing… everyone does it nowadays. And if you haven’t, it’s on your List-of-Things-To-Do-When-I-Get-Around-to-Them. In Berlin, there are two paths that can be taken, each of which has been beaten solid. The first is marked by sightseeing stalwarts, like the iconic Brandenburg Gate. The second is the nightlife – the many clubs, pubs, and eateries. We chose the former, arguably geekier path. With our Eyewitness Guide to Berlin in hand, we stuck to the book’s recommended course like glue. The Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Jewish Museum, currywurst stands… so much to do, so little time. Thank God for the checklist of “Places You Must See While in Berlin for 72 hours”.

In the past three years, I’ve returned to the international hubbub that is the German capital, each time with different people and each time taking a different path. Shopping: the glittering Kaufhaus des Westens (that’s the “KaDeWe” for all of you up to date on your German slang), the Alex Platz, and simply wandering down the Friedrichstrasse – all tips courtesy of the Eyewitness Guide and suggestions from friends who have previously visited or lived there. Clubbing and nightlife: what can I say? The city is alive all night, every night – but, without a guide, beware of potentially spending your night wandering the streets searching for ‘the perfect club’. So, the next time your friend is getting all excited about Euro-railing and you want to roll your eyes, think about it – maybe it’s a good thing that everyone’s been there and done that. It’s safer, easier, and chances are you won’t lose time seeking out the perfect club or landmark for yourself.

Marlene Herman

The Gold Coast Cruiser

I’m someone who rarely strays from the beaten track; in fact I take credit for beating it further. Sure I’ve been diverted from time to time; it can be fun and it’s nice to see somewhere that hasn’t been so affected by tourism. It can be lonely, however – especially if you go alone.

East coast Australia is as much of a beaten track as you will ever find – generally everyone does the same activities and most people you meet are tourists, but that’s why I loved it. You never know who you’re going to meet or what stories they’re going to have and you can get contacts (aka places to stay) all around the world. Touring around Fraser Island was my favourite thing to do. We spent three days in a truck with five random people, driving on beaches and through the rainforest. We cooked, attempted to build tents, explored, sat around a campfire and drank goon. We also had to work together to push our truck out when we got stuck, literally, on the beaten track! When we later made it up to Cairns, which is where everyone ends up, we’d be walking down the street and find ourselves greeting every other person because we’d already met them up at the coast. That’s why I love the beaten track – because you get to know so many people that after a while, it starts feeling like home.

Ellis Schindler

The Lone Hitcher

One of the best ways to get off the beaten track is hitch-hiking. I’ve done it in Canada, New Zealand, Honduras, East Timor, Malaysia and Indonesia – and have learnt a great deal. It does take guts. You’re taking a risk here; you may have a bad time, but far more likely, in countries with a stronger sense of community, hitching will be a fantastic way to mix with the locals.

You may find yourself cramped into the back seat between Maori women, answering questions about why you are so thin, or riding in an Australian army Land Rover in Tior, asking the sergeant about his deployment, or even standing in the back of a pick-up in Honduras, speaking bad Spanish and trying to avoid marriage proposals. These are some of my fondest travelling memories.

These days you can even “hitch a bed” through websites like couchsurfing.com. I’ve done it a few times and my results have been mixed. A Colombian friend and I stayed with a couple in Estonia, who were lovely if a bit dry. I did feel like I was imposing, despite everyone trying his or her best. On another occasion in Sweden, I had an awesome time. Picking the right person is key. I still get calls and emails from Stockholm asking when I’ll be back.

Meeting people is often the easy part when travelling. It can be done on the infamous Kon Tiki (STDs included!) buses around Europe. But learning something from the locals at the same time…. now that is travelling.

Dan Adams

The Shabby Adventurer

As I wandered down a dusty coastal road in Kupang on the island of Timor, I heard a chorus of children’s voices, screaming “Bule! Bule!” and a battered pick-up truck struggled past, the kids in the back shouting and pointing at me. This was the colloquial term for “Westerners”, and it was a word constantly screamed at me from afar, before I was suddenly surrounded by smiling locals wanting to shake my hand. It was a far cry from the touristy confines of Bali, and a strange yet welcome experience.

Few tourists make it to the far south of Indonesia. Each day my friend and I would find ourselves being offered lunch and palm wine by residents eager to show us their city. The week culminated with lunch and whiskey at the East Timorese embassy, courtesy of the ambassador of Indonesia. Bedraggled, with long hair and stubbly beards, we were made to feel welcome by this powerful, suited man; he’d spent ten years waging guerrilla warfare against Indonesia and a further ten years in a Jakartan jail for his actions. We soon began adventuring into the surrounding islands, learning the language on long ferry rides over bowls of noodles, exploring out of the way towns on the back of an old motorbike and seeing natural wonders without another soul in sight.

There surely comes a point on every traveller’s journey when the throngs of tourists and persistent clamours get too much. Getting off the beaten track is a welcome relief, an adventurous challenge and a greatly rewarding experience.

Richard Collett

The Sanctuary Seeker

When planning a trip abroad, will you follow the well-established tourist track leading to the “must sees” and “must dos”, or will you opt for the less-frequented route, devoid of tourists? Take India, a destination increasingly on the traveller itinerary, its hotspots including the iconic Taj Mahal, countless forts from the Mughal and British Empires, and the palm-fringed beaches of Goa for the more party-minded. Having visited all of the above, I learned that the real treasures lie away from India’s “Golden Triangle” of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. On my visit, we hired a driver to take us through Rajasthan and found ourselves in one of the most beautiful towns in the state: Mandawa, packed with hundreds of intricately decorated forts and havelis. With only a handful of hotels in the small town, we were taken to what looked more like a palace than the grotty hostels we were used to.

Having come from the dirt and dishonesty of Delhi, the comparably quiet dirt roads of Mandawa were blissful, with only heads turning (something inescapable in India) instead of the hands-on heckling encountered elsewhere. We were treated less as an economic resource to exploit and more as a pool of knowledge from which they wanted to fish. During our two-week journey across the North Western state of Rajasthan, we enjoyed eating rotis by the roadside and basking on woven beds, sipping chai without a single tourist in sight. This was the real Rajasthan. In my opinion, there’s definite merit in staying away from the well-established tourist routes.

Claudia Baxter

Album Review: Destroyer – ‘Kaputt’

Published on 8th March 2011 in Albums, Music.

Much as Animal Collective’s ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ marked the start of 2009, ‘Kaputt’ could well be the first great album of 2011. It rivals it in timing, wealth of ideas and sheer listen-ability.

So what is it? It’s very difficult to place, stretching across many disparate genres. It is an indie album in the truest sense of the word. Stark piano, serious floor tapping bass, acid jazz and the odd flute all come at you from all angles. 80s’ Bowie is the closest one could get, but it’s far more diverse. A personal favourite is the opener ‘Chinatown’, setting the rhythm and involving a love-torn duet with Sibel Thrasher; ‘You can’t walk away. I can’t walk away’.

Bejar’s lyrics are obtuse and yet endearing; initially difficult to grasp but as an ensemble, it all falls into place. Essentially, this is a calming album that simultaneously draws you in – never overwhelming in volume, yet totally immersing.

5/5

Dan Adams

…Dan has been listening to:
Destroyer – ‘Chinatown’…

Indonesia: The Funeral Rites Of Tana Toraja

Published on 8th March 2011 in Travel.

Little is generally known about Indonesia in the West. With 17,000 islands, 240 million people and over 400 languages or dialects, it’s a land of amazing diversity and culture. I could write about Bali or the Gili islands, the amazing surf and dive spots or the orang-utans and Komodo dragons, but you can find that out for yourself.

However, understanding places like Maluku, Borneo and Sumatra requires some real investigation. I headed to Sulawesi – that weirdly shaped island east of Borneo. The flight was near empty and the passengers gave the pilot a hearty round of applause on landing (What else was he meant to do?). I was in Sulawesi to witness the famous funeral ceremonies of the Torajan people, usually held in summer so that families can save up money and prepare intricate costumes to honour their dead. The ride to my destination wasn’t a good one — uncomfortable and windy, full of patchy sleep, but I got there. Arriving in Rantepao, I was surrounded by curious houses called tongkonan. The roofs rear up at both ends in the shape of the boats thought to have brought them to this land, and the higher the roof, the greater the family status. I’d never seen anything like them. I waited for a large funeral, playing football and taking pictures. I was given a room in a tongkonan and was entertained by the Van Damme films that were endlessly on TV.

The funeral day finally arrived. With my guide Anton, we took local transport through the paddy fields, picking up mourners as we went. The husband of the deceased woman greeted me and invited me to sit with his family. The grieving family were relatively rich and had built a family shrine consisting of large viewing bays surrounding the coffin, which was housed in a portable tongkonan.

After solemn prayers and dedications, the celebration of the deceased woman’s life began. Around 30 local men with Jackie Chan haircuts picked up the coffin and excitedly carried it down the road to the other villages hopping, skipping and cheering. Eighteen buffalos walked alongside, including a prized albino bull, with women following behind carrying a red satin train above their heads. The younger girls and boys were dressed in beautiful black satin, with elaborate bead necklaces and colourful headbands. Once back in the family shrine, the coffin was carried up a steep rampart to rest for the remainder of the 8 day long ceremony.

We then came to the most famous part of the ceremony. After a long sermon from a local animist leader and then a Catholic priest, a female buffalo tied to the stake (you might want to close your eyes right now) quickly had her throat cut by a professional slaughterer. The buffalo bucked and jumped as blood poured from her neck onto the soon matted earth. She collapsed, but took a further two minutes to die, lifting her head in final death throes before passing on. I watched it all with a fixed stare – it was pretty horrendous.

The Toraja believe their animals must follow them into heaven as well as some of their possessions, like the ancient Egyptians or my aunt with her handbag. The number of sacrifices depends on the wealth of the family (and, I guess, how much you like the family member). Other relatives also bring along their own animals to be slaughtered as a sign of respect for the deceased. It took the men 16 minutes to totally decapitate and divide up the buffalo. I was timing it. I heard 18 buffalo and lots of pigs would be eaten over the 8 days. And we complain about turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day!

For the rest of the afternoon, I watched male buffalo wrestling. The local men cheered, whooped and made bets. When one buffalo got the upper hand, the other made a run for it followed by the stronger bull. The crowd ran for it too. The buffalo had poor eye-sight and ran in blind panic. Only once did we get a great battle. Two evenly matched bulls fought for 30 minutes, one getting underneath and flipping the other over. They fought on, the testosterone burning until they both fell down a steep bank into the river. I left soon after that. My flippers and feet were literally covered in bullshit. One more Van Damme film later (Double Impact and boy, did it feel like it), I left Tana Toraja. The night bus took me from the island of Sulawesi, onto the rest of the ever-surprising country of Indonesia.

Dan Adams

Live Review: Cloud Nothings at Spanky Van Dykes – 23/02/11

Will put up some articles from the Uni magazine I’ve written over the past few weeks. Have a gander at the link as well for the website. Cheers!

Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Cloud Nothings are touring their second album in two years and as a result, rolled into Spanky Van Dyke‘s small upstairs room last week. A smallish but enthusiastic crowd greeted them, and we were soon privileged to a frenetic hour set from the boys.

I say ‘boys’, because singer-songwriter Dylan Baldi is only 19; yet, he is sure to be one of the next big things of our generation. Happily joking with the crowd throughout the set, his three-minute lo-fi tunes are simple yet very effective, helped by his repeating, chanting choruses.

The set rollicked along with emphatic tunes such as ‘Understand At All’, ‘Not Important’ and ‘Should Have’, all reflecting Baldi’s never-ending obsession with teen angst and belief. With two acclaimed albums under his belt already, Baldi’s sound and popularity will surely broaden as he enters his third decade. This gig at Spanky’s only confirmed that belief.

4/5

Dan Adams

…Dan has been listening to: Datarock – ‘Give It Up’