No such thing as Champagne Socialism


The other day, Charlotte Church took part in a local anti-Tory, anti-austerity march. She was passionate, spoke clearly and intelligently about her feelings on the matter, and was generally very sussed and very charming.

Inevitably, the press jumped on photos of her chanting and marching with glee. K***e H****ns (people quite as horrible as her don’t deserve yet more Google hits) lashed out at Charlotte’s activism as “Champagne Socialism”, whilst in an unsurprisingly chauvinist moment a Tory MP actually dared to describe her behaviour as “unbecoming”. You know what is unbecoming, actually? Making out that it is in any way anything other than responsible and conscientious to stand up for what you believe in.

Obviously all of this was annoying for a number of reasons. But most particularly, it is the idea that people who are well off cannot be socialists. That capitalism and socialism have to exist in completely separate universes. Call me an optimist, but I believe the very opposite.

Socialism is defined as “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole”. In short, the country should be owned by the people in it, rather than by big business or banking. The Labour version of socialism moves away from its communist “share everything” mentality, and is instead based on the idea of looking after everyone in our country, helping to keep people safe from harm and to make the most of their lives – regardless of where they started. In essence, it’s about being kind to people, no matter how naive people may think that is.

Socialism in these terms is actually inextricably linked to aspects of capitalism. The idea is that everyone can lead a happy, productive and rewarding life. Sure, part of that is providing a benefits, healthcare and public services package that works for people from all walks of life (not just the rich), but it’s also about empowering people to be able to have jobs, to achieve their potential without having to be one of the few people with the exceptional drive to achieve in the face of absolute adversity.

And of course money has to be a part of this. We need people to earn money so they can grow, evolve and achieve. We need people to have the money to pay taxes so that the people who don’t have as much don’t suffer like dogs at the bottom of the social pile. We also need a strong economy to provide jobs, to offer flexibility, and to help the country to perform on a global level.

As a household, we are well off. We earn enough to cover our mortgage, and savings, and a decent bit of fun here and there. I believe strongly that people should be looked after – being kind to people, even if that means creating a system that is occasionally abused. I’d rather a small percentage of money went to the wrong people if it could mean the difference between destitution and progress in someone else’s life. I do not EVER think that someone should have an advantage (or a disadvantage) purely because of where they had the good luck of bad fortune to be born in the existing scheme of things.

Technically, if such a thing actually existed, I suppose I am a champagne socialist. I benefit from the NHS, but I don’t need any benefits. Under the new government our household is, grotesquely, actually better off. Imagine – I’ve told you we are comfortable for money, easily able to survive well within our means, and the newly elected government are letting us have more money. I wanted someone to take a bit more from us, not hand it back and pat us on the backs for being successful.

As people at the bottom struggle, vast swathes of people voted for the Tory’s because it would mean that they are a bit better off. People sacrificed the bottom echelons of society to hard lives, unpleasant lives, lives filled with food-banks and dodgy second-rate healthcare, just so they could have a bit more cash.

What we really need, actually, is to embrace the “champagne socialist”. People with money, who want to help, to give, to contribute properly to make a system that works more evenly, for the 99 and not just the 1%. Socialism, and Labour, are about far more than just the working class at the bottom of the pile – they are about teamwork, shared goals, a sense of responsibility and generosity that isn’t defined by what class you are, by what job you do. Anyone should be celebrated for caring – and maybe, just maybe, that will bring the end of the selfish voting.

I prefer prosecco anyway.

Getting Political – Bringing this blog back, but different


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you all know the outcome of the general election.

A surprise Tory majority largely created by “Shy Tories” (a throw-back from the Thatcher years) swept to power, obliterating all the pre-election polls and perplexing the nation. Three political leaders quit, and one un-quit. Anti-Tory marches have happened in London, Cardiff and other cities around the country, and major anti-austerity protests are now planned for the 20th June. Various people and political parties, buoyed by the surge in their votes, are campaigning for proportional representation or constituency re-distribution. There are rumours of a free vote to reinstate fox-hunting being among the first Tory actions, the Snoopers Charter might now actually happen, and TTIP negotiations are pushing forward (despite explicit acknowledgement that the deal will actually cause further unemployment across Europe).

I was gutted by the result. Shocked, and gutted. I spent the whole day pouring over news feeds and articles, gritting my teeth as the results got more and more right wing. I realised that people had voted Tory even if they weren’t willing to admit to it, despite the fact that if you feel the need to hide your party of choice from anonymous political polls then you’re probably voting for the bad guy.

I also felt a growing annoyance at Labour. As a marketeer it was clear to me from the off that Ed Milliband could not win an election. He politics matched mine, I agreed with what he said, but it was all done wrong.

Firstly, being seen to sneak into the position via a combination of uneasy Union votes and awkward competition with your brother sticks in people’s minds. Regardless of the actual situation, regardless of the lack of “backstabbing”, it wasn’t nicely done. It seemed power-hungry. It made a bad impression.

Secondly, he doesn’t have charisma. The vast majority of the voting public make snap judgements – that’s just a human thing. It shouldn’t be the case, ethically it shouldn’t matter at all, but what you look like, how you compose yourself – it all makes a huge impact on people’s impression of you – and by default, of the party you represent. I hate myself for writing this – but it’s true. A crack PR team made a big difference in the final weeks – but first impressions are the ones that mattered the most.

Thirdly is a problem with the Labour party as a whole. They don’t know what to do with themselves. They at once pander t the leftish-Conservatives and fight against them, they um and ah about key issues. Despite the frequent claims that being too left or too right is a negative, being seem not to have clear aims rings the biggest death knoll of all.

But enough wining. Now is the time for change, and the Labour party have an opportunity to re-define their mission statement, work out how to not be seen as anti-business, and to choose a moral, upstanding, electable leader. And I’ve realised that I can’t just sit passively by, hoping for people to choose to be nice and to put self-interest second.

So, I’m getting political. I hope it lasts. I joined the Labour Party again on election day, and I think I’m going to try and blog some of my opinions as I go. I hope to volunteer, to protest, and to maybe be a little part of making people realise that being left doesn’t have to be negative. I also have a vague goal to try and de-jargon political chatter – I think one thing I’ve learnt from this election is that everything is cloak and dagger, and we need more clarity, simplicity and transparency.

Hopefully, a few of you might choose to listen to what I have to say – and maybe even to fight back and challenge. Any form of political involvement is better than apathy.

So, I never wanted to get married…


Those of you who know me will probably know that as a child, teenager and for a good period of being an adult, I had little-to-no interest in getting married.

I didn’t so much have any problem with people choosing to marry, but more that I didn’t see why it would make a difference in a loving and mutual relationship. My own parents have never been married and are still happily together, so marriage was never a central part of their relationship. I grew up knowing very little about marriage, and I was happy that way. Actually, I still believe that being married neither solidifies or legitimises your relationship.

Some of you already know, but I got engaged a couple of weeks ago. Most interestingly, I actually wanted to propose a few months ago, but it meant significantly more to Andy to do the honours so I was happy to leave it up to him. After all, the proposal, engagement and even the wedding weren’t really high up my list of life priorities.

But somewhere along the line, being married to someone didn’t seem such a negative. In fact, I found myself moving from not giving any sort of a shit, to actually quite liking the idea of saying to someone that you love them enough to want to try spend your life with them. I’m a realist at heart, but I think trying to commit to someone is the key, even if we never know what life will bring!

This transition happened over the last year, and it’s very Andy-specific. It’s hard to express something like this without it sounding horrendously soppy, but it was him specifically I wanted to marry. I’ve got drunk and scared in previous relationships and thought maybe marriage is an solution people choose as a band aid, and it wasn’t until now that I began to see it’s just an expression of love. With maybe some tax benefits thrown in… and a discount on my car insurance. *wink*

So, I’m choosing to marry Andy because I love him. A logical decision for most of you I’m sure, but one that my strong anti-marriage stance required that I explain a little!

I also come at marriage from a very feminist point of view – I won’t become anyone’s property, nor will I change my identity just because I am married. I will switch from Miss, to Ms. I will keep my own name, and I don’t resent those who choose to change it (for instance, the name Lauren Bower would sound awesome so I could understand people choosing it!) – though I do resent any one who expects me to change it. My name, after all, is who I’ve been all my life (and is my mum’s surname, as it happens). I’d feel strange not being that person any more. Andy feels the same about his, so isn’t changing it to Cooke – it all seems fair enough to me! This all links in with the reason Andy was instructed NOT to ask my dad for my hand – I make all my own decisions!

So, there you go, Probably unnecessarily, but just a little explanation for anyone who was wondering about the about change. If you need any more reasons, here you go: CAKE!


Miss, Ms, Mrs and More


The other day, I made a comment on Facebook about how forms rarely seem to include the option “Miss” any more, instead displaying only “Ms” and “Mrs”. I got a few comments on the post, a few left wing, a few right wing, and I thought it was worth trying to put down a little of my position on the topic.

I grew up in quite a forward-thinking family. My parents aren’t married and have happily been together for 30-odd years, and during that time my mother has always been a “Ms”. Personally I never really planned to marry growing up, and if I were to do so I think I’d certainly lean towards keeping my own name. Incidentally, my surname, Cooke, is my mother’s surname. My father’s surname is my middle name, and it would have been the other way round were I boy – just as a way of making the decision objectively!

Growing up, I always felt that “Ms” was the “safest” of the titular options for a woman. You couldn’t tell from it whether the woman was or wasn’t married, and therefore a woman couldn’t be judged accordingly. That goes in each direction – it is just as bad to be treated one way only because you are married as it is to be treated another way just because you aren’t.

However, whilst “Ms” is my preferred word tactically, I hate the way it sounds. It certainly isn’t a clear sound, with that lack of vowel noises – it has never rolled off my tongue easily.

At the same time, I like the word “Miss”. It’s always been how I think of myself, ever since I’ve been young – and I suppose in my head, despite nearing my thirties, I still thinking of myself as relatively youthful – even if I do never get ID’d any more!

Whilst trying to work out if I should, as a strong, powerful and independent feminist, start calling myself “Ms”, I wandered on to thinking about why women even have to change their title any way. Men, with the death of the “Master” title, are called “Mr” right from the beginning – unless you’re very upper-class middle-England, I suppose! Why do women have to change their name as they get older – it’s far too much effort, surely, and seems to be to be connected to outdated traditions? Can’t we pick one and stick with it? No new name to indicate you’re married (what difference does it make anyway?), no needing to disguise things, no different name for the young and the older.

What do you think? Which name do you use and which do you prefer? And why?

Making the mundane seem beautiful

Light shining through our plastic sheeting for DIY Home decoration and painting

Doesn’t it look pretty?

I simply couldn’t resist sharing what I thought was a lovely shot, taken as we covered most of the house in plastic sheeting so we could paint our doors inside…

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’re very very slowly doing up our house. It’s completely liveable as it is, but we’re modernising it, updating previous poor botch jobs (I never knew how many people cut corners with DIY!) and generally improving the house in a number of ways.

At the moment, it’s the bedroom – which is nearly done. It’s only been 6 months in the making! We’re at the stage now of painting the floor and doors, putting the skirting on and then (most importantly) sorting out the internals of our built in wardrobe.

After all, I haven’t seen most of my clothes and my shoes for nigh on half a year – I’m desperate to find out what exactly is stored in all those boxes…

Not depressed any longer


Let’s start with the miserable bit shall we?

From the age of about 16, I’m been pretty much constantly depressed. It first appeared when hormones truly kicked in, and ever since it has been a constant presence. I’ve always described that constant feeling as an undercurrent of “meh”. Not outright misery, but sad-feeling nonetheless.

I suppose the best description I’ve come up with so far is that for me, depression was like the water table. Under the earth, at various levels, sits a ribbon of watery depression – the general “meh, why bother?” feeling. Sometimes the level of the earth would dip under the level of the water table, and the water would bubble out and sit on the surface. Sometimes it would drain away quickly, other times it would stay flooded for months at a time.

Medication helped me, which makes sense – it was clear my depression  was wrapped up in brain chemistry and hormones from the start, and even when feeling “meh” I could generally see the positives in life and keep going. I could laugh. For me, there certainly wasn’t many a tidal wave that kept me completely pinned down, which I know was pretty lucky.

The point is that even when I wasn’t clinically depressed and on medication, I was still a depressed person – like an addict who’s never really not addicted to her drug of choice. It was always there, no matter how happy I was or what happened. It wasn’t perhaps as debilitating as this sounds, but it certainly wasn’t pleasant.

Except, some time in the past year, I’ve stopped being depressed. I didn’t really notice it happen, but now when I look for it the undercurrent is gone. It simply isn’t there. In a chicken vs. egg scenario (no matter how scientifically flawed THAT argument is) I’ve also become more active, more social, and more productive. I suspect that as my brain chemistry has finally settled I’ve become more able to do things like that – and that in doing some stuff I’ve equipped myself with the ability to do more. I’ve even joined a gym this week, suddenly finding myself faced with an urge to get fit and increasingly my spriteliness.

Anyway, I know this isn’t a particularly active blog, but a few people still read it and many of you have been with me from the start. So I thought it might be good to let you know that I seem to be “better” – and long may it continue.

Balancing productivity with enjoying life


A few years ago, if I’d told you that I liked to achieve stuff with my day, you’d have laughed. I was a pretty lazy person really – happy to just watch TV or read, to float through every day in a haze of, well, sluggishness. On the other hand, Andy has always been about doing stuff. He’s an engineer, and one of that group’s general characteristics is a leaning towards practicality, towards achieving things. Thankfully they’ve got a few “flawed” characteristics too, otherwise I’d always feel like a poor sibling!

As time has gone on we’ve started to pick up some of each other’s tendencies. Thankfully we haven’t started looking like each other, like people do with their dogs – but there is a certain amount of osmosis going on!

Andy has now grasped the concept of relaxation. How sitting in the sun, watching the world go by with a glass of wine and a shoulder to lean on can be equally as important as ticking off another box on the endless to-do list. In the opposite direction, his permanent enthusiasm for his hobbies and achievements means that I find myself wanting to do stuff. Learn stuff. See and do things I wouldn’t from my sofa. Ye gods, I keep waking up at 7:30 AM on weekends, eager to get up and get doing. Fun stuff, generally, but still stuff that needs energy.

One of the harder areas when balancing the urge to be productive with the need to relax and give ourselves time to just have fun with life, is the fact that we’re (very slowly) doing up the rooms in our house. We moved in in January, and in 6 months we’re only now drawing to a close with the first room. The bedroom may have been stripped and de-carpeted, and plastered, and the chimney stripped and re-pointed, and everything painted, but even so that’s still a long time not to have a wardrobe proper bedroom for. I can’t even remember some of my clothes. (Who am I kidding – I couldn’t remember them all before!)

So, it’s taken us ages, and that’s mainly because we’re not willing to sacrifice the fun for the function. Sunny weekend? We’ll do a bit on the house, but then go for a drive in the Capri, or walk around town. We’ll treat ourselves to breakfast, or I’ll work in the garden. The one item that really needs “achieving” is the one area where we’re being a bit reticent. But, even so, life seems good, and happy, and fun. Surely a slow decoration process is a worthy price to pay?

How do you balance productivity and fun?

Clearing out more garden room…


So, the other weekend I decided it was time to clear up the other end of the (absurdly deep) garden border. I hadn’t been looking forward to this. Firstly the whole thing is full to the brim with everybody’s best friend, the lovable Bindweed, and secondly it is also packed with bulbs – and tulip bulbs in this garden seem to be REALLY deep.

What the garden was like originally...

What the garden was like originally…

This was what I was contending with. It probably doesn’t look all that bad…

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Clearing the garden – plenty of nasty weeds!

But as you can see it took a full wheelie bin AND an incredibly overloaded wheelbarrow to get it cleared. Then, once I’d laboured (in the rain, I might add) for three hours, I had to follow up the next day with prepping the soil.

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Prepping the soil involved two things. Firstly, I had to turn over the soil and check each forkful for bindweed roots. It’s an imperfect art, but basically any bindweed roots left in the soil, even a teeny-tiny chunk, will spawn new plants. There’s plenty left in there, but I did get a seriously large amount out. It was messy work! Once that was done I sprinkled fish/bone feed, vermiculite, and compost over the soil, and then turned that into the ground too, breaking up any big clumps.

As you can imagine, it’s back breaking work, but there’s something oddly satisfying about it. I get a tan, and despite the near-constant cake eating I appear to be toning up a little bit too.

As for the bulbs, well as many as I didn’t damage with the fork (I’m a tad over-enthusiastic) were pulled from the ground. I’d laid them out to dry out and will soon be putting them into paper bags for the winter. I’m not too bothered if they survive, as most are tulips, my least favourite flower – but they do add a nice touch of colours so I will be replanting at the appropriate time!

A few months ago I would never have imagined voluntarily gardening in the rain, so it can’t be too horrendous. I must (gasp) actually be enjoying it. As always, mothers are always right – she’s advocated for a creative and physical outlet all my life, most particularly when I was depressed. Turns out she knew what she was on about. Don’t tell her I said that…

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The little wild strawberry patch

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And our first wild strawberry, almost ready to eat…


In other news, our little wild strawberry plants have almost doubled in size. I didn’t notice until I saw the above photo – that entire straw-y space is full now! And they’re starting to produce delicious sweet offspring, only a couple of days away from picking. And devouring eating politely.

If you haven’t had them before, wild strawberries are delicious – concentrated version of the big cultivated variety. I’ll let you know what these ones taste like…

The accidental gardener…

bringing plants back from the brink of death

Once upon a time, writing was my hobby. But I kinda of sucked at keeping up with that, and that meant that, as my posts got further and further apart, I spent just a couple of hours a month occupied with my “hobby”. To put this in perspective, Andy spends at least 2 nights and Friday afternoon down the barn working on his cars, and he’d stay longer if it wasn’t for me hanging around and wanting attention. (Who’s that callin’ me an attention whore?!)

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Living to work and working to live


I was thinking today about that question that you bump into occasionally throughout your working life. Do you live to work, or work to live? In essence, are you a workaholic with nothing more important to do than fill in spreadsheets and notch up the hours, or are you a lazy layabout good time Charlie who doesn’t understand the fulfillment of a real career?!

Whilst musing about this question earlier today, I tried to work out what I am. On the one hand, it is important to me to like my job, and to try to be good at it. After all, I spend the majority of my waking life in work – I’ve been miserable in a job before and it simply isn’t worth the pain. I also gain satisfaction from a job well done, and from being considered successful. On the other hand, however, there’s a bit of me that full admits to the necessity of some form of work in this money driven society. In order to do the things that give me true satisfaction, to experience the perks of a holiday or the silly life comforts I’ve become accustomed to, I need to work. I will also never let work take too much away from my ‘real’ life. An occasional late evening or stressful week, perhaps – but if I’m not getting to make memories and have experiences and just enjoy life then its probably not the job for me.

So, once again, I fall in the middle ground. Both work and play are a major part of my life, and whilst there are days when I fantasise about packing it all in and starting a new life goat herding up a mountain (I’m surpringly nimble on my feet), there are also many days when I come home from work bubbling over with satisfaction or excitement over the things I’ve achieved. I’m not performing lifesaving operations or changing the world, but it’s enough for me. After all, I live for life, both in and out of the office.

Do you work to live, or live to work?

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