December 12th

These blog posts are thinning out to say the least, partly because I'm busy, and partly because I've already said a lot of things I wanted to. Which is better, repeating yourself endlessly, or staying silent once you've said your piece?

Quote of the Week

  • "This house has been far out at sea all night, |The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, |Winds stampeding the fields under the window |Floundering black astride and blinding wet |Till day rose; then under an orange sky |The hills had new places, and wind wielded |Blade-light, luminous black and emerald, |Flexing like the lens of a mad eye." - Ted Hughes, Wind

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A New Stand [Updated]

Ladies and gents, apologies for the nonexistent post which I promised you last weekend, I am working on it and will (very very likely) update this by Wednesday.

Being very quick:

On Tuesday, I joined a hundred-strong protest against a white-supremacist party meeting in Nottingham.

We shut down the meeting.

Updates soon.


UPDATED THURDSAY 25th OCTOBER:


Precursor:

I joined the Socialist Student's Society on week one of the course and thought nothing of it. I even missed the first meeting (not a very good start).

Then I got a text (we call them SMS) from one of the members - they were having a protest in Nottingham against a BNP meeting, and wanted me to come along.

When I came here, I had told myself that I wouldn't get involved in British politics, simply because I thought I had enough to deal with in Malaysia already. But I wanted also to learn about anything that could help Malaysia - and after the Burmese Monks' protest, as well as the Lawyers' March and the Batu Burok incident back home, I thought the biggest thing we needed was a damn good show of people power.

With that in mind, I packed up my stuff, and hopped on the bus to the Uni. Let me be honest: I did not know a thing about what was going on, except that there would be a protest in Nottingham, it was against the "British National Party" (I knew nothing about it) and that the bus leaves from the Students' Union at 5pm on Tuesday. I wondered if we would be back in time for a game of pool.

I plodded in the evening rain to the Union, where I met a few other like-minded students - Owain, a fellow 1st-year Medic; Andrew Zignani (Ziggy), a 2nd-year Historian; and Vicky, a 3rd-year English student and one of the brains behind the Socialist Students' Society. The man behind the entire thing was Steve, in his 40's.

We piled in the van and drove around for a bit to pick up some others - I was surprised that 8 others turned up, all in their 40s-50s. Due to bad traffic, we did not make it out of Leicester until around 6pm. We had some idle conversation, I learned that the BNP were basically an extreme right-wing party who wanted Indians, Muslims, Jews and non-whites in general kicked out of the country. They were meeting to plan their election move in Nottingham. Somehow in the middle of it, I managed to fall asleep. By the time we reached Nottingham it was 8pm, black as night, very cold, and rainy. There was some confusion as to where the meeting place was, and we drove aimlessly for a bit. I was wondering if this was such a good idea after all when we pulled into a car park.

Before stepping out, Steve told everyone to write down their names and telephone numbers - in case we were arrested. Then it hit me: this was serious.

We walked to the meeting place in the rain. I was already shivering because of the cold. I don't know what I was expecting as we walked into a little street. A gaggle of police were ready to greet us as we walked in. I nearly had a heart attack when one of them asked me to take off my hood.

The Protest:

The BNP meeting was being held in an otherwise unremarkable little building along a small street, but the first thing I saw as the dozen of us got closer was the crowd of protestors. They seemed to grow, so that when there were only around twenty from a distance, a hundred had materialised out of the night by the time we were face to face. Most of these weren't kids, they were in their 30s and 40s. Some were even balding.

We crossed the street to join the main group of protestors, right in front of the hall. A few BNP members skulked within, trying to stay hidden. The majority of them had not yet arrived for their meeting. The police were there too - four big fellows were standing in the garden, looking down at us. Another dozen or so moved along the street, checking for violence and trying to pinpoint potential troublemakers.

It's hard to describe, but when you realise that these people had family, had to go to work tomorrow, had to go home to cook dinner, had to take care of not catching cold, you feel strangely reassured, despite the rain and wind, the cold, the chanting, the frowns of BNP members, the police with their truncheons... These people all could have been doing other things - sipping a cup of tea, watching the latest football rerun, doing their ironing, filling out their mortgage forms... - but they were here instead.

I felt as if I was standing among giants.

Besides us and the police, the hooligans were out too, looking for a fight. They weren’t BNP, or protestors – they were locals with nothing to do, and nothing to stand for. They were content to shout obscenities at us from a distance, but to their credit the police cleared them away. I felt remarkably safe, considering that I was in the middle of a protest with police around me.

An elderly couple appeared down the street, and everything changed. The protestors started to jeer. Cries of “Nazi scum!” and “Racists!” filled the night. Some protestors tried forcibly to block the entrance, while the police formed a column and allowed the couple into the hall. A violent scuffle ensued. Threats were made and returned. As the couple disappeared into the building, one particularly violent protestor was hit in the head with a truncheon and arrested.

After calm was restored, we stood around in the rain again, feeling rather stupid, and made some attempts at conversation as we shivered underneath our rain jackets. I take my hat off to Vicky – she is a capable leader and is willing to stand for what she believes is right. I must say I am impressed by her commitment, and that of Owain, Ziggy, Steve, and the rest of the protestors who were with me that night. By then, it was 9pm. We were getting very cold, and hungry as well.

A few other BNP members showed up, trying to get into the hall, and we gave them the same treatment as we did the first few. The police finally decided not to force their way in, for the safety of both parties. A few suits tried to show up as well – and they weren’t too pleased that we were blocking their way. But they had no choice save to stay on their side of the street.

We had to stay put to make sure the meeting wasn’t going to work – and so we did. By the time we left it was 11pm. My bed appeared before me at midnight, and I collapsed after a long day.

Close

That night, I won a personal victory for myself. But that’s not the end of it. The BNP are just a small right-wing party among a whole lot of larger right-wing parties out there, sowing hatred and dividing countries against each other. I may have played my part in evicting the BNP from Nottingham, but there are larger fish to fry as well.

But one thing I did learn is that the downfall of these parties lies not in the hands of the politicians, but in the hands of the men and women on the street, the ones who came out in force that night. To be completely honest, none of them would be out that night if someone else would do it for them. One of them told me “nobody else is doing it, that’s why I’m here.”

And that’s the other thing I learned: being concerned doesn’t mean you protest when everyone else protests, or speak about Earth’s problems but do nothing about them. It means you’re out there when you’re most needed, even if you don’t want to be. Which fool would want to stand in the rain for three hours if they had a choice? The answer: not a fool, but a hero would.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Not So Review

Blood Diamond by Edward Zwick (Movie)

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah (Book)


Again a very late one on my part, but one that I was compelled to write. To those who have neither watched the movie (probably impossible) nor read the book (likely all of you), please get them both, right now. Come back to me after you’ve thoroughly digested them.

There are a million different topics I could raise from both of these at the same time, but I think I’ll settle for the ‘big picture’ and leave aside the details for a bit.

The movie will have hammered home the fact that wars are being fought over diamonds, as well as ivory, gold, oil and the rest of the big ones, and that millions take part in the war without ever seeing the big picture. What the movie didn’t really explain in detail was what that big picture actually is.

Bluntly put, the big picture is that some people are greedy bastards. They will do anything and everything to earn your admiration, trust and respect, or more likely, your money. And they aren’t too bothered if what they do kills someone, or more than one someone.

Take all the smart badass characters from the movie and you’ll see that they generally know what’s going on – and they don’t give a damn what happens to anyone else in the way. They will throw people in the line of fire to get that piece of your money. They will champion causes that they themselves don't believe. They will start wars. They will turn son against father, tribe against tribe, nation against nation. They will use children, drug them with cocaine and marijuana, arm them to the teeth, and send them to die, simply to make sure they have an uninterrupted supply of goods.

Now once these people have gotten their diamonds/petrol/ivory or whatever, they will find a way for you to buy them. And given that they are willing to have entire countries destroyed for their trade, do you think they’d be too bothered about lying to you to make you buy them? Doubt it, mate. Blood diamonds, clean diamonds – they’re all diamonds, they all can be sold.

If I told you that behaviour control is so ingrained in humans as to be taken for granted, you may laugh. But think again, Newsweek ran a report (from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20427857/site/newsweek/) stating that big companies put lots of money into behaviour control marketing schemes – read the article and decide for yourself if you’re being manipulated. My point is, that if a cereal company, trading a completely clean item, is using behaviour control strategies to increase sales, what do you think diamond companies that traffic in blood diamonds are willing to do to make profits increase?

That, ladies and gentleman, is the big picture – people at all ends of the spectrum are being fooled into perpetuating a vicious cycle which benefits the ruthless and deprives the poor. If you bought a diamond – ask yourself whether someone could have been killed for it. Ask if an entire village was wiped out so that diamonds just like the one you want to buy could be sent off to be processed and labelled and you’ll see it doesn’t matter if that diamond specifically was a blood diamond. The entire trade has been corrupted by people who are willing to exploit, steal, kill.

The bigger picture? It’s not just diamonds that have spilt blood...Almost every trade in the world has backstabbing, murder and deciet written into it. All I'm asking you is to question your belief in society and its workings. It's up to you what you want to do with that knowledge.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Uni updates in detail.

Spent first 4 days getting used to the weather with my parents, then went to the Medics Freshers' Week - something Edmond will enjoy. If you want to know the details, I got in Sunday, went to a pub/club that evening, went to lectures in the day, slept Monday night, visited 10 pubs and a club on Tuesday, went for a Comedy Night (think the Brit version of Jay Leno) Wednesday, bowling Thursday, Formal Dinner, drinking games and finally clubbed to exhaustion on Friday. Stayed in recovering after developing a nasty sore throat Saturday and Sunday, lectures started Monday-Friday, and since then I've decided to stay in until my throat clears up. I've been watching TV reruns and visiting town over my spare time. The only time I got tipsy (that's before you get drunk) was on Tuesday for the bar crawl, and I have to say it wasn't too bad (danced the alcohol away before I slept).

I am absolutely not used to the weather here, it's great to be able to go out at noon without melting, but it sucks when the tiolet seat freezes my arse off at midnight. Food is okay but I'm already starting to miss our own char koay teow and if anyone can get durians through customs please send some for me.

People are great here, the medics are very smart and very driven, and they party as hard as they can. All of the fresher's week was spent on drink, dance and the rest, and after a few drinks everybody becomes your friend/techno dance partner for the night.

There is only one thing cheaper in the UK than it is in Malaysia, and that's tequila, vodka and bacardi. Sandwiches cost 2 ponds, shots cost 1.50. Drinking is normal, people drink more days than they don't, and the drinking boat was just insane. The committee (in charge of fresher's week) challenged the freshers (that's me) to drink faster than they could, each team lines up in a line and drinks down the line, whichever line finishes first wins. Whomever loses strips naked and runs around the field.

Guess what? We won. The committee takes off their clothes, the freshers take out their cameras. Heh heh heh.

Getting tipsy is not getting drunk (but a good sign that you will soon), it's when gravity starts to disagree with you. You lean to the left, and gravity makes you go waaaay to the left. That's when you stop drinking and start dancing.

Work-wise, they are starting to turn up the heat already, one poor girl collapsed in the dissecting room before they brought the body out, it was fine generally except when they lifted the chest out and bits fell out of it... I'll have to get used to that soon...

Am currently being treated for tonsilitis (sore throat) and am having a blood test for glandular fever (don't ask me, I'm not a doctor yet), so I'm laying off the parties for a bit. Socialism works very well here, As a student under 19 I get free medical treatment here. Wonder what it's like under the surface though.

Saw some pretty interesting moves from my breakdancing and streetdancing classes, but now I have a bad back after trying to repeat them. Will liekly get better after next week.

Anyways here are the links to our farewell party and my Leicester misadventures.

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=23421&l=e2ffc&id=617416275
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=23417&l=4de05&id=617416275