29 August 2014

Capturing Cambodia: The land of lotus and lemongrass

*all photography is my own, unless my iPhone photos were too dire to use - in which case my dad and sister's "real" cameras step up to the plate… nonetheless, these are surpidingly few and far between; I do think I managed to remove some of the prejudices associated with my camera of choice, by the end of the holiday! Don't knock the phone of many faculties. 

This seemed a suitably traditional image to open with

Siem Reap, Cambodia. The first of three destinations in our Asian Adventure. This was my second ever 'multi-centre' holiday - and my first knowing what multi-centre actually means! It does mean living out of a suitcase for the large part, but this actually didn't bother me. For one, I hate unpacking. Secondly, I hate packing. So it was a win-win situation really.

That's a lotta lotus
and lemongrass...
At the start, however, it seemed the choice would not even have been there, thanks to our luggage being left in Ho Chi Minh airport, from where we had taken the connection flight into Cambodia. Turns out my dad's prophecy of lost luggage proved correct; although, to be fair, Swissport weren't to blame! Charlotte panics over her shoes and nice clothes, I lament over the prospect of lost medication and nature valley bars... Thankfully, I always pack around half of my supplies in my rucksack, at the risk of becoming a pack mule. Nonetheless, it meant that we were there in 30+ degree heat, in day old clothing, unable to even take a shower!

Permission to steal the the
lotus leaf plate? 
Entering the Tara Angkor hotel to a quite hypnotic lemongrass aroma - plus a serving of lemongrass tea (you will notice a theme develop…) on arrival - your luggage-less frazzled mind was put slightly at ease; however, relief only puts it light to describe our emotions when the cases eventually arrived later that evening; with a shower and a song we could truly start recapturing the holiday spirit.

In addition to lemongrass, Cambodia's other abundant offering was lotus flowers. They used them for decoration, served it as tea - for the higher quality teas, I learnt that it can take up to one thousand lotus flowers per kilogram to make! It is done by either filling lotus flowers with green tea leaves, or baking the green tea leaves with the entire stamen of the flower (credit to wikipedia for giving me the second piece of information…!) It is a lovely tea; a slightly more floral aroma than green tea, and slightly sweeter too. It is probably more comparable to jasmine tea.

Before this holiday, I had never really drunk iced tea, but it became my drink of choice! I am still a bit tentative with fruit juice based drinks, due to the headache that would be trying to guess the insulin dose needed; a combination of the heat and exercise meant that my blood sugars were yo-yoing slightly more as it was. However, I want to use my next year of uni to do a bit of trial and error testing with drinks, as I am long overdue a cocktail! Sometimes, with diabetes, it is a case of going with your gut, taking a little leap of faith, and it will work itself out in the end.
Iced lotus tea time 
Dad and Watermelon juice, aka elixir
of the devil… I can't stand melon!

That evening we began our foray into the local cuisine! I've never been much of an asian food girl; having a dislike for rice is probably not the ideal scenario for visiting two countries that have it as their staple! However, there was one food that was another staple, which made me very happy… seafood! I love it, and on this holiday my seafood cravings were most definitely satiated. 

wine isn't a thing in Asia… much to my disappointment!
First night in Cambodia and I went for something… Japanese! Hey, I stayed in the Asia vicinity. It was a seafood and soba noodle soup, and it looked (and tasted) lovely. The bowl was like a cauldron; it even came a lid on top so looked very sophisticated indeed, when the waiter *dramatically* lifted it up to reveal what was under the sea. Okay, officially singing Ariel in my head now… 

Here's another capture of the lotus flower modelling - I have to say, outside the photo these did not stay on for long! We accumulated quite a collection, as they used to serve them in all your cocktails/iced tea. As i mentioned earlier, I drank a lot of iced tea… and coffee! I am a bit of a coffee fiend, and one thing I had heard, before coming to this part of the world, was about the 'famous' coffee and teas. I experienced a moment probably familiar to all t1 diabetics, where you sip the drink and you detect a sweetness that is not down to artificial stevia! Charlotte ordered an "iced latte", me an "iced cappuccino". Turns out that, with the cappuccino, they took the liberty of adding the sugar syrup in for you! Being the lovely girl my sister is, she agreed to swap with me. As I mentioned earlier - drinks are a pesky business; the couple of occasions on which I did order a cocktail at uni, it was with me practically falling into the bar because I was straining my neck, trying to see if any weird and wonderful (but diabetes woeful) syrup was added!
photo credit: tumblr
diabetes memes can be a much
needed source of comic relief!
Our stay in Cambodia was definitely enhanced by being in a lovely hotel such as Tara Angkor. It took us roughly 10-20 minutes to get to the temples, and the facilities themselves were brilliant. Charlotte and I got a double bed each, which saved the "you're stealing all the duvet!" arguments. Not that you would exactly have been sad about this, given the 30+ degree heat! The restaurant, as demonstrated above, was just lovely. Really high quality food, seving both Eastern and Western dishes. The highlight was possibly the pool at night; it had lights all round, so looked quite beautiful when the sun was down. Sadly we were always too tired to take a nighttime swim, but on the walk back to our room after dinner, we were still able to appreciate its aesthetic appeal!

All in all, for the purpose of our trip - temple touring - it more than exceeded expectations, and I would strongly recommend it if you ever want to visit Angkor Wat. 


26 August 2014

The start of an adventure: selfies, celebrities and spaniel eyes

This August my dad, mum, sister and I embarked on what is, potentially, our final real holiday together as a family. Historically, we go West. To us, Greece is East. However, mum and Charlotte wanted to take a leap of faith… East. So that's where we headed; no longer would our experience of Asia be confined to the Epcot globe, as delicious as the Disney honey chicken may be. With my dad sold on the first leg of our trip - three days in Cambodia, to see the Temples of Angkor Wat, the other two destinations on our journey we decided on were Vietnam capital Hanoi, followed by a week by the beach in Hoi An. Quite the adventure; one I plan to recount, relive and re-love all over again right here.  If you do choose to experience these wonderful worlds through my words, I hope my tales provide some entertainment, my ramblings offer some endearment, and I promise I will endeavour to work on the art of staying on point! 

Spot the diabetic...
Holidays are always the anomaly in early morning starts; groans are replaced with grins (seriously... I woke up and could feel the cheshire cat expression on my face), and upon hearing about the oh so typical British descent into storms the following week, you can't help but feel a little smug. Just a little - we're not completely soulless.

Introducing Charlotte… and the art
of the airplane 'sister selfie'. 
Charlotte conveniently lives in Reading now, so this allowed us to break up the journey and stay there overnight, before driving to Gatwick in the morning. Well, I say we stayed there - I did, while mum and dad headed to what was a highly unsatisfactory stay in Premier Inn. The woman at the desk didn't seem to twig on that announcing the rooms had no air-con, in the same breath as pledging PI's guarantee of a "Great Night's Sleep", was a tad contradictory. Suffice to say, the prospect of a pre-flight Starbucks never looked so appealing. Charlotte, on the other hand, had even purchased Weetabix for breakfast. Quite the hostess.

That is a hard face to leave...
Airports are a story of two halves; at least in our family. The bit before security always seems frantic, my dad in particular has a very "purposeful" stride that sees hobbits one and two - Charlotte seemed to get the better cards in this particular genetic hand - doing a slightly awkward half-run to keep up! Part of this is a form of distraction, which arises from the more recent wrench we have found ourselves faced with - leaving our dog Millie. This is something we did not think through when choosing to get a spaniel cross! The eyes… Fortunately for her she gets the 5* treatment, being looked after in her own home by a couple who positively dote on her - although no one can quite match us in this. It's no wonder one of her many nicknames is Mariah, she has turned into quite the little Diva. Oh, and as for the 'k' word - it is spoken in our household with the same denotations as prison!  

Our airport adventures of the holiday brought some drama, with a couple of oh so delightful run-ins with security. On a serious note, one was an issue taken with my medication on the final flight back, which sent me into a momentary panic. It actually made me quite angry when the security lady did not even understand the word "diabetic"; in my eyes, it should be a logical term for someone in their position to know? I always have a medical card and doctor's letter on me, which I did not end up needing to use; however, I question how effective it would have been, given the struggle with communication over that one simple word! It did shake me, but I stayed as calm as possible and am glad my mum was there to help me out! 

For the love of cashews...
Iced perfection
On the more entertaining note (one of those 'laugh about it later' incidents), Dad was stopped by the security team, where his bag was opened to reveal a bat and ball. How he didn't realise it was in his bag, I do not know - maybe the countless Saving Mr Banks reruns on the main airplane screen had some supernatural impact, turning his rucksack into a Mary Poppins bag? All I know is that the daughter with the vials of liquid and needles waltzed through, because what Kim and Gru are really up against is the middle-aged man with a bright orange beach bat… Nonetheless, we survived the ordeal and settled down to the standard (but in fact rather luxurious) coffee…. and vacuum packed cashew nuts. Yup, vacuum packed. Walk into the "Mini mart" and you can get anything from fruit to pho, all vacuum packed and ready to go… if you have strong dentures! 

Being the Harrison family's first time travelling to Asia, it was thus our inaugural flight with Vietnam Airlines. With the recent airplane tragedies, my flight nerves throughout the holiday were discernibly higher. A few comments that dad had made about our flight path being over a "danger zone" didn't exactly help; sadly nor did the well-intentioned, but badly timed, attempt to reassure me by discussing the higher likelihood of road deaths, on the drive to the airport! 

I am an anxious individual by nature, but am usually quite calm with flying. Of course, the incident with Volcanic Ash-gate a few years ago altered this somewhat; in the first of eventually four flights to get us back to London, from New York, our propellor plane was struck by lightening and we subsequently spent a few minutes with the plane dropping/believing we were falling to our death. Well, Mum, Dad and Charlotte did. Even at the age of fourteen I was still very much in the "what dad says is always true" mindset, so his words of reassurance meant that I sat there rather nonchalantly, wondering why the other passengers were looking quite so petrified…  

Nonetheless, it has given me a lifelong aversion to any propeller plane, which provided embarrassing Sophie comment number 5275423 of the holiday: looking out of the shuttle bus window "I will not get on this plane if it doesn't have an engine!" *Cue looks from passengers standing next to us*. Apparently a propeller counts as an engine… who knew?     

Now onto the flight itself, which I am glad to report did not get struck by lightening, and was never a propeller engine. Our twelve hours up in the air can be surmised by this one little golden nugget of a scene, from the film Bridesmaids:

photo credit: tumblr
A pause for Megan appreciation… (and to youtube "best Megan moments" for rainy day comic relief). In our family we like to adopt little holiday 'games' to keep our easily entertained minds on top form. A standard for us is "Celebrity Lookalike", which is pretty self-explanatory; however, our destination on this trip posed an unfamiliar stumbling block, namely the lack of Western travellers meaning that we were confined to trying to find the perfect Lily from Modern Family (update on our success to come in a later post!) 

Air marshal candidate A
photo credit: wikia
Almost as soon as we got on the plane, Charlotte and I hit on a new game: Spot the Air Marshal. We had our theories quite quickly. Charlotte's was exhibit A. Sadly, not the real Gru - my excitement would have been akin to a Minion seeing a banana (which funnily enough did happen during our travels…) Rather, it was a man sitting in the seat in front of us (and next to mum and dad), who neared an uncanny resemblance to my new favourite byronic hero - sorry Mr Rochester. One celebrity point to the youngest Harrison; on second thoughts, I think it was Charlotte. 

Air marshal candidate B
photo credit: wikia
Candidate B was our row companion, a cambodian lady who we learned had a penchant for using hand cream and reapplying her make-up, and for some reason reminded me of the granny from Madagascar. My mind does have a peculiar way of working… don't worry, I already know, and family/friends have all confirmed (Henry the hedge - a little shout-out especially for Robyn and Dari).  

As MG - was on the aisle, I felt it wise to take the opportunity to escape my window barracks, whenever she vacated her seat; this subsequently led to me standing for around fifteen minutes outside the airplane toilets, with nothing to amuse myself but the asian cartoon on a 3 year old's iPad… Viewers of the Liam Neeson film Non-Stop will have learnt that this is a certain red-light in air marshal territory, so MG's credentials were certainly going up. Through the course of the flight Charlotte later gave her the moniker of Kim, which for me instantly conjured two possibilities: 

Kim Kardashian
photo credit: daily mail
Kim Jong Un
photo credit: Telegraph
For her sake I hope it's the latter; it's possibly the first time Kim has succeeded in the category of both looks and intellect. Her skincare rituals would make me inclined to go with Ms West, but the idea of the North Korean dictator fulfilling air marshal criteria makes for a quite fascinating debate… Thankfully, unlike Non-Stop no air marshal  assistance was needed, although this did mean we never discovered if Kim or Gru were any more than innocent passengers going along their daily routine. 
For Kim, this also included eating a Pot Noodle - its characteristically hypnotic aromas were impossible for Charlotte to resist, while I preferred to opt for the equally exotic brand that is nature valley. We won't go there with the inflight food, but let's just say Charlotte and I got A for effort, I nearly gagged when I thought melon was mango (the melon dramas will be explored at a later date!) and apparently curry is the asian breakfast of choice. Airplane food always makes me think of the open letter that was sent by a Virgin Atlantic passenger, to Richard Branson; it makes you appreciate what you have! 

For Gru, his prime activity of choice was falling to sleep, viewing my mum's seat next to his as part of the premium economy "extra inches". Fortunately the empty seat next to her on the long-haul flight back compensated somewhat for this less than idyllic outbound situation. But alas, that is for another day!

For now… touchdown. Next step in the adventure? Capturing Cambodia. 

Photo credit: Pinterest


20 August 2014

Let the elephant speak

At the risk of making a blog entirely about mental health, I wanted to do a post on this before pursuing the feat of chronicling my Asian Adventure of the last two weeks… but then, maybe the sentence I just wrote is all the more reason to do this? Simply by opening with "at the risk", I have made a veiled apology for a topic that should never necessitate one. I have bought into the very belief I criticise - that mental health should be wrapped up, buried away; as if it is something unsightly. 

Then again, ultimately it is. Depression is not beautiful. Eating disorders are not glamorous. Panic attacks don't draw covetous looks. Suicide is not a word we ever want to hear uttered on the news, or splashed across a front page. Mental health hurts. Just as cancer kills, heart disease destroys, chronic illness elicits a lifetime of challenges, big and small. Mental health hurts -  this is why it needs to be spoken about. The elephant in the room is not going away. Trivialising it, vilifying it, at worst ignoring it - this won't make its presence any smaller. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Photo credit: pinterest

To be "depressed" is a verb that is thrown around in day-to-day life, often with little passing thought. Post-holiday blues, bad day at school/work, relationship turmoil, and the word may slip off the tongue. If we were to give a penny for the number of times the phrase "so depressed" was used on Facebook, we could probably build a skyscraper - or, on second thoughts, put much needed funding into charities such as Mind and Time to Change, in order to raise awareness of what is a serious illness, and the resources to help treat it. I can understand, for people who haven't experienced it themselves, why it might be hard to comprehend. Unlike other illnesses, you cannot pinpoint an exact cause, or treat it with conventional medicine. However, this does not mean that it is some figment of a selfish, attention-seeking imagination.

Stan Collymore alludes to Alan Brazil's
insensitive comments on TalkSPORT.
Just this morning, I was reading a 2011 article by the footballer Stan Collymore (he is now a pundit for TalkSPORT, and spoke out against Alan Brazil's deplorable comments last week) on his own struggle with depression. It was a very moving and erudite piece, yet almost predictably some of the classic Daily Mail rottweilers emerged in the comments section: "snap out of it lad"… yes, and while we're at it, should I "snap out" of diabetes? Would he have told Robin Williams to "snap out" of PD? Hopefully not. But of course, they are illnesses. Well, here is some news for the 'snap out of it' people: so is depression. One of the tweets on the right, with someone believing that it is "embarrassing" to say they might struggle with depression, shows the crux of the issue. The shame, and consequent denial, that people find themselves in.

This oversight, of what is a serious illness, is detrimental. As Collymore described it in a 2011 interview, "it takes a massive leap of faith to know that this time next week, life could be running again, smiling, my world big and my brain back as it should be. So what do some do? They don't take the leap of faith". The latter sentence, alluding to suicide, is quite pertinent given Robin Williams' tragic death a week ago. I cannot begin to fathom the devastation it leaves behind; I would never in a million years overlook this. However, I can equally say that my blood boiled whenever I saw the word "selfish" crop up in the print media, on social media, or on the radio in the past week. 

Depression is an illness woven by paradox. This echoes what I wrote back in february; how an eating disorder's power lies in distortion. Many people have the concept of the "selfish" sufferer of depression; on the contrary, many of the thoughts that arise in a depressive state are rooted in wanting to protect others. In the past, I have acted in the intended interest of those I love, only to later learn that I was ultimately doing the opposite. My delay in opening up to my family about my eating struggles, for example, was as much a fear of hurting them, as it was any self-interest. To this day, I admit that I still find myself teetering above the trap of believing that speaking out hurts more than staying quiet. Time and time again, I am reminded that this is almost never the case - but it is a continuous learning curve.

Depression upends your internal world. For loved ones to witness, this is naturally highly distressing. To experience? It is terrifying. Having experience of both a physical and mental illness, there is a palpable difference for me. With diabetes, it is something external. Yes, it affects my body, debilitates my body - but it is external. With mental illness? It is inside your head. Experiencing your mind - the very thing that governs your entire existence -  seemingly fight your efforts to simply live; the realisation allow is difficult to comprehend. How, at its most powerful, it can even convince you to abandon the fundamental strategies for survival: alcohol, drugs, starvation, self-harm, the intentional ending of life itself - mental health hurts.

It is like a plant being deprived of water, and you can feel yourself wilting, searching blindly for that sunlight but all you can see is darkness. You admonish yourself for feeling this way. You tell yourself a hundred times over to 'snap out of it' - why other people saying those words is, in reality, futile. We've been there, received the dozen postcards from self-deprecation Station. I am not good enough. I do not deserve this. I am not worthy. Do any of those things sound like the words of a "selfish" person? Or rather, are they words spoken from a cloud of self-doubt, self-criticism…. never the blame game, unless directed inwards. So dismissing this illness as selfishness, or trivialising it as choice, does not change the situation; on the contrary, it causes the cloud to wrap even more tightly round. 

What can help lift it? Patience. Small acts of self-care, which can often benefit from support - the paradox again. The love and care that treatment necessitates, is the very thing your mind tells you that you do not warrant. Again, patience - compassion. Not ignorance, or anger. Depression is a selfish illness, but the sufferer is not. And, when you stop to think about it, is this any different from other illnesses? Diabetes is certainly a selfish illness - I cannot count the number of times it has placed both physical burdens on my family (staying up through the night to test my blood sugar, panicking over a 'failed battery' warning, rearranging plans because diabetes is a truly awkward tyrant), and mental burdens: high blood sugars, to be blunt, turn me into a miserable scrooge. Cancer is a selfish illness - I saw three children have their mother taken away by this monstrous disease, have watched it hurt people I care so deeply about, who never asked for it.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Taken from one of my favourite books, this quote perfectly  surmises the final misconception I want to address: discrimination. Depression does not discriminate. Some of the discussion surrounding Robin Williams' death and battle with depression, is incredulity over why he suffered. What does he have to be 'depressed' over? Hollywood star, Oscar winner, loving family - he seemingly 'had it all'. Except he didn't. He, through no fault of his own, had an illness that made all of these things pale into insignificance. This is not selfishness - it is the condition. On the darker days, no amount of finance or fame, adulation or awards, can penetrate that black cloud which can make the simple task of getting out of bed a near impossible feat.

Christmas 2012
I look at past events in my own life, where I am horrified that I could not simply "snap out of it". The family holiday we took to Disney, for my 18th birthday, still fills me with intense guilt two years on - I was a misery. In the "happiest place on earth", I was miserable. The first few months of my puppy Millie's life, I did not give her anywhere near the attention or love the rest of my family did. I did not build a real connection with her until she was almost a year old - I hope I have made up for it since! In this period around two years ago, my lowered mood was connected to the physical side effect of undernourishment; however, I can recall the crippling effect of the 'black cloud' all too acutely in various periods of my life. It is ruthless; it can drop without warning and, like diabetes, I have also discovered that it is particularly awkward with timings.

On the subject of diabetes, this is another thing that I want to highlight; I know people with diabetes will, perchance, read this post. According to NICE, people who are diagnosed with diabetes (or another chronic health condition) are up to three times more likely to struggle with depression, than those without. Hearing in the news that Robin Williams' death, or worsening depression, may have been linked to his diagnosis of Parkinson's, really shook me - this should have been known. There should have been more support and awareness.

The impact of a chronic health condition, coming to terms with it and living with it, destabilises so much in your world. The connection to mental health completely does make sense - the same way that the correlation between diabetes and the development of an eating disorder is clear to understand (but is still being missed by health professionals). You are suddenly faced with a condition that places you on a lifelong roller coaster - no matter how much you love a ride, at some point you will want to get off. With a chronic health condition, you simply can't. It does not have an 'off' day. I have periods where it is simply impossible to manage, despite my best efforts; being a perfectionist by nature, it isn't the best combination. I have also discovered that high blood sugars significantly impact my mood, and catalyse the black cloud descent. I try to work through it as best as I can, but if someone told (or tells) me to "snap out of it", I would very quickly pull out the piercing Professor McGonagall eyes that say "don't go there".

Support. That is what is needed. For some people, this can come through therapy. Something else with a stigma attached to it; goodness knows I was hesitant. However, I have done therapy, and I feel no shame in saying that. Recently, I have actually discovered that the children's department I used to be part of now has a psychologist, and my team agrees with me that the availability of therapy, to diabetics, should play a key part in overall treatment. Coming to terms with a chronic health condition is necessitates it, but many of the resources just aren't there. After writing my article in February, I heard from people - fellow T1 diabetics - who said they struggled with depression and anxiety, but never spoke about it. Growing up, I recall being given advice on alcohol and teen pregnancy, not to mention how to "eat healthy" (bye bye banana…!. What was never mentioned? Mental health, namely depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Oh the irony.

Me and my main minion
With depression, you have good days and you have days where your duvet seems the safest place. One of the comments I have read about the 'solution' to depression was: "just be happy". It's not that simple. I think the "keep smiling" approach is far more accurate. I have days where I laugh and smile with no consequence. I also have days where no amount of disney movie watching, reading, poetry writing or Millie cuddles can penetrate the cloud. Usually, diabetes is the cause; other times there is no discernible one.

Is this logical? No. Do people have it much worse than me? Yes. Should I be able to "snap out of it"? Yes. Nonetheless, simply put - sometimes you can't. That's the nature of the beast, you have days where you cannot just "be happy" - and no one should demand this of you. However, you can keep smiling.  You can go through the motions for that moment in time - take that "leap of faith" - because at some point the cloud will lift and you will be able to breathe again. It is from this very idea that my blog title stems: Writing Possibility. Possibility. To make this a reality, however, you need to take the personal responsibility and communicate your struggle. Keep talking. Be honest with those around you, and with yourself.

Nevertheless, the reason many people remain in this cloud is because the stigma attached - the elephant in the room - means that they are feel unable to speak. They are scared. Sometimes, all that is wanted - that is needed - is a voice of confirmation that their struggle is valid. All too often misconception creeps into society like a parasite, wrapping depression in ignorance and allowing the myths to fester. It is time to change. Depression is being misunderstood by media, public figures, and society as a whole. They place the elephant in a circus; reduce depression to a selfish choice. Mental illness is a reality, and it isn't going away. By burying our heads in the ground, the problem will only grow.

When talking about the "elephant", my mind subconsciously pictures the media controversy over elephants in captivity; mistreated - forced to perform and degrade themselves. It provokes such outrage. Now, substitute the elephant for a person suffering from a mental illness... is the painting really so different? I have the same horrified reaction when I hear stories of mental health stigmatisation - every word of ignorance locks up those with this illness. Sees them wear the smile to shroud the sadness. Emit the laugh to mask a crippling loneliness, which is not seen as 'valid' within a superficial society. They are essentially made to perform, through fear that no one could ever understand. The comments regarding "choice" and "selfishness" - they are degrading. They are a shot in the heart to every mind that has to battle continually with an illness that does not discriminate, does not relent - that society does not even grant a voice.

Stop imprisoning a conversation that, in this day and age, is unfathomable not to have taken place already. Talk about mental health. Let the elephant speak.

photo credit: pinterest

18 August 2014

The Vexed Generation

This is a blog post that I did for Independent Education Today during my work experience placement at Wildfire Comms. It is based on a survey carried out by the National Children's Bureau and IPSOS Mori. Looking at 'Generation Next', which is the ther wise named Millenial Generation, I used the findings to argue that the problem with youth apathy to politics does nt lie in disengagement, but disenchantment. When I was shown this survey in my second week, and told I had "free reign" to write what I wanted, I was overjoyed! The topic could have. Been written for me; my article on politicians and social media in Exepose alone could  prove this! I thought I would put it up on here, with a link back to the original, as I am poud of it and it was possibly the highlight of what was an incredible two weeks at Wildfire.

 In a new report illustrating “Generation Next”, compiled by the National Children’s Bureau and Ipsos Mori, the portrait that emerges is quite startling. Far from the picture of apathetic adolescence, embroiled in a vacuous digital age, it displays minds that are mature, insightful and informed.
This is a group that recognises the personal and public challenges presented now and in the future. However, from acknowledgment comes realisation, which provokes anxieties, then fears, before culminating in tragic disillusionment; the very detachment misconstrued as apathy.

With an imploding technological landscape, the world is a far cry from that of previous generations. Nevertheless, for all its advancement, young people are faced with a job market that is bleak and an economy still battered, while politicians remain quite blind to the voice of a generation vexed.
Possibly the most concerning revelation of this survey is that less than two in five expect life to be better for them than it was for their parents, with 25% believing it could be even worse. The independent insight into their present - and prophetic - position is to be noted. Countering the image of hedonistic youth drinking, selfie taking and digital dependency, statistics show that their general anxieties are quite void of superficiality.

Photo credit: The Guardian
Rather than daily despairs being concentrated primarily on image (44%) and keeping to date with trends (23%), far more pressing are concern for future job opportunities (63%) and obtaining the qualifications to pursue them (69%). This awareness is a refreshing departure from media stereotype; however, it does not alter the facts. For Generation Next, hard times ahead ring more true than great expectations.
The tripling of tuition fees means that, by default, a constructive degree will be accompanied by crippling debt. There is an irony that, in trying to widen the road of opportunities, students are paving the way for decades of loan repayment. Prospects turned from bright to bleak in the blink of a signature. An insincere signature at that, for this is the other great crux - complete loss of confidence in the administration. It was not purely the action itself, notwithstanding its repercussions. It was the betrayal that lay behind it; Nick Clegg’s backtrack was the pinnacle of broken trust between governance and society’s grassroots.

When young people express a seeming disinterest in politics, it is not a ‘politics’ synonymous with actual policy, ideology or philosophy. Their politics is the tragic reality of a passive governing body. Politics is the expenses scandal, the bankers’ bonuses, and the lack of opportunities - despite insistence from both sides of the despatch box that things will change. The survey reveals that, within Generation Next, 71% have no allegiance to any political party and only 14% of young people think the Government will do a good job for the country over the next year.

The difference between adult and youth voting turnouts has escalated in recent times. At the last election, Ipsos Mori statistics showed that 76% of over-65s were still voting, while only 44% aged 18-24 were doing so. In the space of a few decades, the point gap between the generations has doubled. Nevertheless, perhaps the mirroring of this tangible gap, with the “gap between promise and practice in politics” (Dr Maria Grasso, Professor of Politics at the University of Sheffield) is no coincidence.
In light of such disenchantment, one more surprising revelation is that one fourth would call for the voting age to be lowered. This is also contrary to an apparent conservatism within this generation. The media sensationalises with reports of child pregnancies, youth binge drinking and social disorder; perversely, the data reveals that Generation Next would see the ages for alcohol and cigarette purchasing, gambling, and marriage among other things raised. The quite conspicuous variation in this trend? The vote.

We then turn to issues of policy, and there is further rationality. In terms of prioritisation, one fifth feel that the government should focus its spending on the NHS, while education (15%) and poverty (11%) are other high priorities. What would the media likely presume? Something far removed from this – it would portray Generation Next as far more impractical, illogical and irresponsible.

Moreover, local issues provide a quite refreshing rebuttal of the typecast teen image. Cast light onto them, and the landscape is refreshingly clear from clouds of ignorance, or exclusively green pastures. Far from self-serving prioritisations such as improvements in facilities for education and recreation – this stands at less than 25% - Generation Next are instead placing an emphasis on lower crime levels and clean streets (35%) - societal concerns. Moreover, the desire for more affordable housing (34%) demonstrates a forward outlook – young people are not passive, na├»ve to the future.

What does the overall picture depict? That Generation Next is responsible, practical, and insightful. They are aware of the issues on an individual, local, and national scale. Where does the problem lie? They are not being heard. As Ben Bowman, a political researcher at the University of Bath, succinctly put it, “distrust and dissatisfaction are denounced as self-centred truancy”. The media and government underestimate and overlook. This generation is not apathetic; they are antipathetic. They are angry, prematurely hardened by lack of results and loss of respect.

Photo credit: BBC
Bullingdon Club: Spot the mayor..  spot the PM
The government does not help itself. Firstly, there is the unfortunate prevalence of Old Etonians In the Cabinet, at a time when young people are identifying wealth as the primary barrier to future prospects. Comments such as those by former Education Secretary Michael Gove, that “it’s ridiculous. I don’t know where you can find a similar situation in any other developed economy”, comes in the midst of evidence that two fifths of young people believe an affluent background makes it is easier to get a well-paid job. Moreover, a further 27% deem a private school education as synonymous with higher career prospects. Having experienced private education myself, I have some concern for the projection of negative connotations surrounding backgrounds. Looking at the facts offers some perspective; in 2014-15 20 Russell Group universities will spend nearly £200 million on scholarships and bursaries, aimed at the most disadvantaged. Moreover, 15 of these Universities are also part of the “Realising Opportunities” scheme - these include Exeter, Bristol, Manchester and King’s College, London – offering a range of courses and experiences to raise their HE prospects.

I do not believe it is so much the presence of background in government, however, that Generation Next recoil most from. It is the projection – how politicians act. Twelve-year-old Stella Gardner hit the headlines recently, after her comment on the Newsround website - “how can we [respect our elders] if they are acting like five-year-olds by calling each other names?” – saw her invited to Parliament and given an audience with Speaker John Burcow. A grand gesture - but is it any more than that? In my eyes, their actions here only highlighted the irony in who the true 'grown up' of the situation was. 

When trying to engage young voters – believing they “get it”, to use Ed Miliband’s memorable phrase – politicians become woefully out of touch. The survey acknowledged how Generation Next are the “technology age”, but this has been adopted by parliament with questionable results. Notable recent PR blunders include David Cameron using his twitter page to tweet a picture of him on the phone to Obama, discussing the Ukraine Crisis. You couldn’t make it up. It spectacularly backfired, producing an array of comical spoofs. Nevertheless, behind the outward mockery, there is again something more unsettling. The Ukraine situation is real. It isn’t a social media tool, or game. Just as tuition fees, and low job prospects, are all real issues impacting real people. There was also the infamous selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral; what would the reaction be if schoolchildren pulled out their camera phones at the funeral of a teacher?
Photo credit: The Independent
Michelle's face says it all...
Hypocrisy in social etiquette is rife in government. Last month, Labour posted a mocking video of Clegg the “uncredibly shrinking man”. It wasn’t funny; it was crass. The same bullying that is exhibited in the Playground of the House of Commons each Wednesday, which saw a twelve-year-old call on the people leading her country to, in no uncertain terms, grow up. The irony is quite tragic.

Nick Clegg, last election the voice of the young generation, still seems to be living in the long-faded cloud of Clegg-Mania. Commenting on the “assumption of the two bigger parties that they somehow have a right to run things”, he argued earlier this year that the most democratic thing would be for Lib Dems to continue in government, with him as Deputy PM until 2020. The irrationality of this statement screams; however, while the young generation listens and despairs, politicians remain deaf. Clegg does not “get it” either. None of them do.

If someone does, perhaps we need look no further than Generation Next. If the survey can deduce one thing it is that, just maybe, the next generation are the ones who do get it. Who do see clearly, and are vexed by this realisation that those in power do not. On one side of the fence sit Generation Next; opinionated and educated, they have a voice. As Labour MP Sadiq Khan commented, earlier this year, the millions of young people “involved in campaign groups and charities put political parties to shame, and shows the appetite for involvement is out there". The issue arises when they cast their eye over the fence, and see a pandemic of sheep flu. Politicians, who hesitate on decisions, pander for votes, embellish ineptitude and skirt the true issues. Leading the flock for students are no-fees Nick – and their own Prime Minister.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
No introduction needed
The term ‘broken society’ – coined by David Cameron – is a paradox. The media portrays a vacuous and narcissistic youth. We’re not the only ones taking a selfie, Mr Cameron. If we are a broken society, the very people who denote its existence provoked it. If we are irrevocably broken, the fractures that make this so are rooted in the heart of Westminster. In the square outside, you can see the statues of leaders - Atlee, Lloyd George, Churchill and Thatcher – that lead previous generations. They offered something.

We are not the apathetic Next Generation. The survey evidences that, contrary to media projections, we are engaged with long-term issues, empathetic to societal concerns, and engrained with principles that exhibit a striking maturity. We are not estranged from the issues, but the implementers: the politicians who make promises as paper-thin as the ballot paper we are supposed to stamp our loyalties onto.
Do I therefore decide my cross will not go inside a box, but instead span the width of this paper that tries to cover all cracks? Where politicians make promises that cannot be kept, and Generation Next know this. Do I, at the age of 20, resign myself to an imminent future of spoilt ballots? I will never join the worrying number that won’t make the walk to the polling booth, but I am not entirely unsympathetic to their plight.

The next generation have powerful tools; they need to be given something to build, and for society to trust that they can.
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