Saturday, 20 August 2016

Proudest of proud mummies

As I'm sure you're aware, Thursday was A-Level results day, and like many families, we were waiting eagerly for Nelly's results.  I'm pleased to say she did brilliantly and has accepted her unconditional offer to Gloucester uni to study English literature and creative writing!

So Thursday was an emotional day!  I am of course full of pride for my clever and lovely girlie who has done so amazingly well in her exams, but the thought that she will be leaving me to go to university in less than a month is very traumatising!

Nelly's achievement is so much greater than her exam results.  She has autism and works incredibly hard to overcome the challenges that presents.  In particular, she obsesses about studying and places so much pressure on herself that ultimately the pressure is the thing that has in the past prevented her from being academically successful.  There was a time a few years ago when entering an exam hall could make Nelly feel suicidal, and I honestly thought we may never see a day like today.  But thanks to her hard work to overcome her difficulties, she has made it through her exams and is now able to move into this new and exciting phase of life.

To celebrate her success we had a lovely meal at Nando's and spent a night in a swishy hotel in Southampton followed by some retail therapy at West Quay shopping mall on Friday! Today I am feeling utterly exhausted and plan to spend the day in my pyjamas and dozing on the sofa!

Congratulations Nelly, you clever bean! I love you to the moon and back, you make me so happy and proud because you are the loveliest person I know xxx

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A long post about the Commuters Society at Winchester Uni

Okay, so here's the thing.  This morning, I received this letter in the post:

I am totally stunned and feel incredibly honoured and very embarrassed!  This really is quite a big deal - I looked up the Vice-Chancellor's Leadership Award on our uni website and here's what it says:

Leadership throughout the University of Winchester is a key ingredient for our success. The University would like to recognise the achievements of those who demonstrate leadership in any way and at every level through an annual award which will be presented each year at Graduation.
Aims  To recognise the achievements of those who demonstrate leadership in any way and at every level.
Eligibility  All staff and students.
Criteria  The University will recognise leaders who have made an outstanding contribution to the University through one or more of:
· Developing the mission and objectives of the University
· Driving forward improvement of the University’s management systems and performance
· Demonstrating leadership in their engagement with the local, regional or international community Reinforcing a culture of Excellence within the University
· Effectively leading and managing change
· Demonstrating innovation in the development of one or more of the Universities six values (intellectual freedom, social justice, diversity, spirituality, individuals matter, creativity)
Nomination  Nominations may be made by students/staff/ governors of the University of Winchester. All nominations must be seconded by two others. Nominations should clearly state how the nominee has contributed to the University (one of the six categories above) and include a short supporting statement of no more than two paragraphs.
Selection  The nominations will be received by SMT who will decide on the strength of the nomination to award the individual.
Awards  The recipient will receive a letter from the Vice- Chancellor to congratulate them on being awarded and recognised for having made an important contribtion to the University. The recipient will then be invited to attend a Graduation service of their choosing to receive an award of £1000 for their chosen project grant, and they will be invited to attend lunch at the service.

  Well, I wanted to share what it's all about, so here's the long story! I began my uni life as an outsider on two key levels, firstly as a mature student and secondly as a commuting student.  I’m not going to lie – it was hard.  I’d imagined fist thumping debates with other first years, followed by choruses of ‘let’s agree to disagree and have a couple of beers’!  I absolutely had not anticipated the glass wall that would leave me feeling isolated, disconnected and outcast. With the glorious gift of hindsight I am able to see that this situation came about because practically every student goes to uni feeling nervous, wanting desperately to fit in and to make friends and being utterly terrified that that won’t happen.  So what do they do?  They arrive, they meet their new flatmates, and they cling to each other with all that they have.  They create an impenetrable glass wall around this new friendship group – it means everything – no one leaves, no one enters.  Uni really is like a real life Hunger Games!!

For me, as a commuting student, I found it to be a really lonely time.  I couldn’t make friends, and it’s not like I’m afraid to chat to people.  I often joke that I would talk to a lamp post if there was nobody else around.   There were a huge number of practical issues that I faced that made it really hard to get stuck in to uni life.  For example, whilst the accommodated students could roll out of bed ten minutes before a lecture, and arrive on time yielding their textbook, a piece of paper and a pen, I had to plan my day (which, with a two hour commute to uni begins at 5.30 in the morning) with military precision.  I had to bring books for all my lectures, which I would then have to carry around with me for the whole day.  On days when I had a long gap between lectures, I’d want to work on my most pressing assignment, so I would need all the books and materials I was using for that piece of work.  I either had to prepare and carry my lunch, flask of coffee and water bottle, or I would have to spend a fortune buying all my food and drink on campus.  And then there was the issue of where to go between lectures.  Even if I was lucky enough to break through the invisible glass wall and make some friends, a trip into town for a coffee or beer after lectures wasn’t an option when I was carrying three bags of books, a laptop, a lunch bag and a flask.  So I would  find a space, pitch up, and the reality is that that’s where I would spend most of my day when I wasn’t in lectures.

But these practical and social issues weren’t going to stop me!  I’d go into our Learning caf├ęs or the student bar and scan the room for other people sitting on their own, then I’d sidle up to them in a slightly creepy and desperate way, and just start chatting.  These people were usually a captive audience because they too were surrounded by bags and couldn’t make a quick get-away!  But most of the time, they didn’t want to make a quick get-away.  Most of the time they were really happy to have made a new friend, to have somebody to chat to, to have a giggle with, and to compare experiences.  And that was when I started to see a pattern evolving.  They were almost always commuters.  They too were struggling to break through the invisible wall.  They too were bound to their spot by the impracticalities of commuting student life.  Time and time again, I met people whose experiences of uni echoed mine.  They were miserable, lonely, they were beginning to feel that coming to uni had been a big mistake and they were considering their options.   I really felt that something needed to be done.  We needed to find a way to bring these people together, so that they could make friends with other students who understood the difficulties they faced as commuters, and we needed to find a way to ease the practical challenges of being a commuting student.

While all this was going on in the periphery of my student life, I was continuing with my studies. Whilst stood at the photocopier one day I noticed a poster advertising a programme called the Student Fellows Scheme. The poster said, “The Student Fellows Scheme is an attempt to both increase the level of student engagement with teaching and learning at The University of Winchester and to empower students to address varied issues, problems or barriers to a satisfying teaching, learning and social experience.”  As the words registered, I began to see that here might be an opportunity to put the plight of the commuting students on the map.

And so I began to put a plan together.    It seemed to me that the primary advantage for local students was their ability to go home between lectures, study in a comfortable environment, to make themselves lunch and dinner, coffees, and sometimes to put their books down and just go for a walk, or go and meet a friend, or even to go and join in with one of the vast numbers of events and activities that are going on at uni at any given time.   We needed to find a way, as the poster had put it, to remove the barriers to a satisfying learning and social experience for commuting students.

By the time I went to my Student Fellows interview, I was armed with a full-scale plan for commuter fightback!  Winchester has a fabulous Student Union with huge numbers of societies and clubs, and I decided that a good starting point would be a Commuters Society, giving these students the chance to socialise and make new friends, and to give them a platform for sharing their experiences.  I wanted a commuter common area, which needed to include comfy sofas and chairs for students to relax and read during long gaps between lectures, but also so they could chat and socialise with their fellow commuters.  I wanted a microwave and fridge, so that commuters had a choice about whether to buy, carry or make their own food, and a kettle, so that a few of cups of coffee over the course of a day wouldn’t break the bank.  And above all else, we needed lockers, somewhere for commuters to store their bags so they could actually go and involve themselves in university life, by joining other clubs and societies and simply by interacting with other students.
At that interview, I could tell that that the programme leader really liked my idea, and that he could see the amazing benefits if we could get this project off the ground.  I could also tell that he was sceptical about whether that could ever happen.  Even at that early stage, he mentioned that space on the university campus was pretty much the biggest issue the uni faced, and that requests for additional space for things was at a premium!

Through the Student Fellows Scheme I was introduced to a huge number of people who might be able to help to get our commuter common area off the ground.  I had founded the Commuter Society quite early on, and by Christmas we had nearly 100 members and by Easter we had nearly 200.  That meant I had a direct channel to talk to lots of commuters about their experiences which meant I could begin to really evidence the need for the provisions I was requesting.  But still I was struggling to find success and each time, I would go back to the Fellows team and they would give me the name of a new person to try.  Often when those people couldn’t help me, they’d give me the name of someone else to speak to.  Eventually I was down to the last name on what had been an exhaustive list of uni staff members who may have been able to help!  So I emailed my last person… and I heard nothing back.  After a week I emailed again, and I received a reply.  “I am dealing with it.”  On the one hand I wanted to be really incensed by the curt tone of the email.  On the other hand, this was an open door. Somebody was looking at my project and they weren’t saying no!  I waited.  Nothing.  Another week gone by.  Nothing.  I was literally at the point of defeat when I received an email from a chap who said his line manager had asked him to speak to me – he thought it was about commuting – and would I like to meet!

By this time, I was well versed in arguing my case!  When I met with the chaps from the Environment team, they – like every other person I’d spoken to since my project began – had lots of counter points to make, but I had an answer for everything.  They had allowed 30 minutes for the meeting, but it went on for two hours, and ended with us literally walking around the uni looking at suitable areas so they could get an idea of exactly what I wanted.  It was an exciting moment and let me promise you, that meeting more than made up for a curt email!  From that day, the project went from strength to strength, and within three weeks, a temporary Commuter area opened up in a staff office block.  I was told the trial would go up to the end of term, and that if it wasn’t well used it would close in the summer and that would be the end of the matter, but that if I could evidence its use and need, we would be given a permanent space for the new school year.

Well.  I was like a woman possessed!  If I could get a notice somewhere I did!  When you turned on the uni intranet, there we were – Commuter student area opening!  On the Student union website – Commuter student area opening!  The freshers, page, the photocopying rooms, the notice boards – the fence panels in the car park (target audience, right?!) there we were – Commuter student area opening!  And of course, by now we had over 200 society members to get out there and spread the word too!  The response was phenomenal – often there was standing room only in our temporary area.  People were literally sitting on the carpets!  It was an amazing and exciting experience, and the very best thing was that the commuters were now feeling that they had somewhere of their own in the uni, they had a sense of belonging and they were able to make friends.  I left a guest book in the temporary room and invited people to leave their feedback – and it was resoundingly positive.  Within just a couple of weeks, I found myself in a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of the uni and our guest book, appealing for a permanent commuter space and by the time our meeting was over, she had agreed.

As we speak, the Commuter Society has gone from strength to strength. In its first year the society won two Student Union awards at Winchester.  Last September, as I began my second year at uni, members of our society donned our very own Commuter Society t-shirts, and went out across the uni to meet and greet new freshers.  We were able to tell them that Winchester really welcomes and considers its commuting students, and we were able to invite them along to our brand new – and permanent Commuter Lounge.  Oh but it’s not just a lounge!  It’s a home from home for commuting students, with sofas and comfy chairs to chill or to read, with a kitchen area and a dining table and chairs, with lockers, with a quiet study room with desktop pcs  and a printer, all linked into the network, spaces for laptops, with a shower for cyclists or for commuters who are braving a night out at the Student Union nightclub, and all accessed only by commuters with a special access card!  People use it for all sorts of things and you only have to see it in use to know that the commuters really do feel they have a home on campus.  And to see all the new students getting to know people, and settling in without experiencing those feelings of isolation that we experienced, well that was worth every single door shutting, or rejection email.  It’s an amazing feeling to know that my project has had that kind of impact.

Here are some pictures of our wonderful Commuters Louge:


The project has also opened numerous doors for me at uni.  Aside from the obvious opportunities to meet new friends and be totally immersed in uni life, I was invited to sit on the steering group for an amazing national, government funded project called REACT which is all about creating a model for improving student engagement for students who might otherwise tend not to get involved in uni life.  It's such an important project, and I'm truly proud to be involved with it and proud of their work.

I was also invited to give a speech at a student engagement conference at Westminster University, where I was able (I hope) to inspire students to become involved with their university on a higher level.  Representing Winchester was a great experience and meant a great deal to me.

I'm so pleased with all these successes, and receiving the Leadership Award is proof that there has been a genuine culture change for commuting students at the university, which is something with which I guess I can feel immensely proud.  I'm not looking forward to having to stand on stage at the graduation ceremony while my nominators say nice things about me to 1500 people, but I do recognise that it's a moment of great personal achievement too.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Shooting stars!

Wow, wow, wow!!!

Last night, Nelly and I blew up a paddling pool and filled it with blankets and cushions so that we could spend a night out under the stars.  Local news reports said there would be an amazing meteor storm, called the Perseid Shower, and it would be at its best over night last night.

I still cannot believe how fantastic it was!  We were literally seeing three or four amazing shooting stars every minute.  It was the most incredible thing I have ever seen and I am quite old!  Apparently every year the earth revolves into the tail path of a comet, and so we see the effects of that in the form of a meteor shower.  However, this year Jupiter's gravity pulled the debris from the comet directly into our path, creating this spectacular show which Nelly and I (and little Archie who slept with us) were able to enjoy.  And I know that sleeping in a paddling pool under the stars might not sound like the smartest idea but actually we were surprisingly warm and comfortable all night and we didn't wake until about 9 this morning, so I thoroughly recommend it!

None of my photos were very good at all, but I searched Google and found this one in the Mail Online. It was taken at Durdle Dor in Dorset:

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Tough time for our little man

Things took quite a turn last week after my last post telling you what a wonderful time Nelly and I were having in Wales.  Our poor little Kiko gave a big squeal in the camper-van during the night, and it seemed that he had done something to his leg.  We settled him back to sleep for the night, but in the morning he was in a bad way, crossing his little legs over at the back as he walked, and he was clearly in pain.  I called my vets in our Dorset hometown to make an appointment for as soon as we arrived back home, but their advice was far more urgent than we could have expected.  She told us that what we had described sounded like a spinal injury which would need treatment straight away, plus they would not be equipped to deal with it.  They gave us the number of some where nearer to where we were, a place called Langport.

By then of course, Nelly and I were in a blind panic.  When someone tells you your little baby has a spinal injury, that is not a happy moment.  Nelly was brilliant.  She held Kiko in the van and did all the calling for us while I drove.  This is a much bigger thing than it sounds, her ASD means she really struggles with telephone conversations - even I don't like speaking to her on the telephone!  But she was great, and phoned Langport straight away.  

To our dismay, the reaction at Langport was not what we expected.  The lady we spoke to, whilst lovely, said they were a referral hospital and therefore people couldn't just arrive there with poorly animals.  However, understanding the urgency of Kiko's situation and our difficulty as we were travelling, she took our own vets number and said she would call them and find out what was going on.

When that same lovely lady called us back about fifteen minutes later, she had everything under control, thank goodness!  She had registered us with a local veterinary surgery at Langford, who were waiting for us to arrive and would send Kiko straight to them at the hospital.  She gave us the details for how to get there and was so calm and reassuring - she is somebody whose kindness I will never forget.  

Well, we arrived, and Kiko was seen straight away by their lead vet.  It transpired that Langford is part of the campus of Bristol University because it is a veterinary training hospital.  The staff were amazing.  To begin with the vet felt that Kiko had had a stroke, because it was clear that both his neck and legs were affected.  The neurologist came from the hospital to see him and agreed that was likely, and that was that - our poor little Kiko was whisked off to doggy intensive care, where he would remain for the next three days.

At this point, I'm going to depart from telling you about Kiko, to throw in a little pearl of wisdom which I hope is taken seriously by anyone who ever sat on the fence on this issue - please, please, please, always make sure you have pet insurance.  And don't just take out the cheapest one, either.  Go for the best policy you can afford.  The policy may never be needed by you, and I truly hope it isn't, but I promise you that if there does ever come a time when your little furry friend needs treatment, you do not ever want to have to think, 'I can't help them because I can't afford the treatment.'  I have never been so grateful that I insure all my pets.  I always have.  I'm in my mid forties and I've been a pet owner since I was 18, and I've never needed a policy before.  I'll admit that I have resented signing up for new policies before now, and considered going for the cheapest policy available, but oh my, I am so happy I didn't, because being able to tell those vets, 'do everything you need to' was such a comfort.  Right, that's it, lecture over!  

Well, after an MRI, xrays and every test you could imagine, it transpired that our poor little Bright Prince had fractured his top two vertebrae.  We have no idea how and we will almost certainly never know.  Their little bones are so tiny that the vets say it's a common injury.  But of course, with that news came the worry of whether they would want to operate, a terribly risky procedure on a doggie so little.  But I'm thankful - oh so thankful - to report that they have made the decision to let him heal naturally, and will monitor his progress to see how he gets on.  

So now our poor little Kiko has eight weeks of crate rest ahead of him.  He's allowed out only for cuddles, food and piddle stops.  But he has been home with us now for three days and though he is clearly still in pain, I do think he looks brighter already.  What a terrible time it has been for all of us, especially my poor mummy for although Kiko is a family pet, he is her little baby.  We have nothing but gratitude for the kindness shown to us and our boy during his time at Langford.  As you can see from the picture, Kiko was also full of love for his neurology consultant!

Thank you Langford Animal Hospital, and here's hoping our little man makes a full and speedy recovery.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Wonderful Wales

I thought I'd make a short post because Nelly and I are away in Wales having a truly wonderful time.  Although mum and I come here quite often, as we bring our two doggies Archie and Kiko to be groomed in Caerphilly by an international dog championship judge, Nelly has not been to Wales since she was quite small.  I know it sounds like a long way to travel for a doggie haircut, but Kiko is a rare breed and we can never find anyone local who really knows how to groom him correctly.  Our groomer Martin does a great job and the boys love him, and of course it's a nice excuse to visit beautiful Wales often!   

Anyway, Nelly and I are camping in a village called Caerleon, and it really is beautiful.  Yesterday we had a lovely walk around the countryside and visited the stunning Roman ampitheatre.  Apparently Caerleon hosted the Ryder Cup a few years ago and our campsite looks out over the gorgeous golf course.  

Today we went into Cardiff and spent the day enjoying the beautiful Cardiff Bay.  As I said, this is the first time in quite a few years that Nelly has visited Wales and it has changed dramatically since her last visit.  We paid our respects at Ianto's Shrine (a must for Dr Who and Torchwood fans like Nelly) and had lunch at Eddie's diner, sitting in the booth next to the one where Dr Who (Matt Smith) sat during filming!  We also had a tour of the Welsh Assembly which was fascinating - they are so high-tech compared to England! It was a lovely visit, and we were sorry we didn't have longer, but we had to take the boys to Caerphilly for their haircut!

Our campsite is really lovely, small, quiet site, very well cared for with just the right facilities to be everything we need but not too much, and the owners of the site are really lovely.  

Monday, 1 August 2016

Cards for boys!

As you may have read on my previous posts, I've had great fun catching up with some card-making recently, and after yesterday's fabulous finds during the The Great Clearout, I decided to make a birthday card that would be suitable for a chap.  I always find boys cards tricky, because I want to cover everything in butterflies and shabby chic!  Using lots of black card (I found a lifetime's supply in the Clearout!) and the Typeset designer paper series from Stampin' Up, along with their Traveler stamp set, I created the cards below, having been inspired by something similar on the amazing Pinterest!  I do have a 'Things I've Made' board on Pinterest, if you would like to have a peek, use the link on the right under 'Check me out'.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Happy days are here again!

We have just come home from a really lovely five day break at Butlins, Minehead.  Mum, Nelly and I have holidayed every year since Nelly was four years old, and it has become one of her 'happy places'.  We didn't go last year - Nelly was seventeen and (mum and I thought) a bit too old for Butlins, so instead we had a nice break away in Devon.  However it became apparent that Nelly was sad not to have had her Butlins holiday, so we decided we would have one last break there this year so we could all say a proper goodbye. 

Well, instead, we all decided we would continue to visit Butlins every year, as we had missed it terribly and had a really lovely time!

Our apartment was lovely, our meals out were lovely, the entertainment was great and Nelly took part in all the activities she could find!  We all did family archery and target shooting, Nelly and I went swimming and roller-skating (the less said about that experience, the better, as far as I'm concerned!) and we all enjoyed the shows, including the panto, the silent cinema (watching Big Hero 6) and the wrestling.  Not too sure I will ever get over seeing my mum shouting 'BREAK HIS ARM' as she punched the air!!!

As always the redcoats were lovely and looked after us all really well.  What a lovely time. 

Monday, 27 June 2016

Third year of uni, here I come!

I'm not able to spend too much time blogging today as I am still stuck in a field of mud in a little village in Somerset (I'll be posting on that in a few days when (if!) I make it home, but I just wanted to make this celebratory post to announce that I received a letter today informing me that I had done well enough in my second year to 'progress to the third year of study'!

I have passed my second year with a very high 2:1 - I had a 2:1 in every module and was only a couple of marks off a first overall and I am so very happy with that - in truth I'm just relieved to have passed at all!

So well done me, and if I survive my last day of Glastonbury, then I'll be able to start looking forward to my third year, and working on prep for my dissertation!

Peace xx

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Sharing some thoughts on the representation of the Vietnam War during the 1980s

As you may by now know, as part of my American Studies degree, we are asked to make blog posts for a module called Researching America during the 1980s and I have been publishing my posts on this blog.  This week we were asked to post on reactions to the Vietnam War in the 1980s, focusing on topics such as Missing in Action soldiers, the Vietnam Memorial, symbols such as the helicopter and representations of the war in fiction and film.  

When the conflicts between North and South Vietnam began in the mid-1950s, anti-Communist rhetoric was at its peak in the US and the American psyche was engulfed by fear. President Eisenhower was keen to prevent communism spreading to South Vietnam, but so soon after the First World War and the Korean War, he felt he would have had trouble generating support for another war from the American people. Consequently publicity around America’s efforts in Vietnam was kept to a minimum for some time and really, it was not until the late 1950s that America’s involvement in Vietnam started to be widely known. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon each inherited a deepening conflict, sending more troops and counting more casualties than the previous president had seen. By 1967 some 250,000 American troops were fighting in the Vietnam War, and as Eisenhower had feared over a decade before, dissent among the American people quickly spread, and anti-Vietnam war rhetoric began to replace the patriotic voice of the post First World War era.

The anti-war attitude bled into popular culture throughout the late 1960s and the early 1970s, with regular demonstrations and protests taking place across America. Numerous anti-war organisations and societies began and young adults (in particular, students and black Americans) were angry at what they viewed as the needless loss of life in a war which they felt America should not be fighting. With celebrities from across the music, art, film and television and the political spectrum weighing in to add to the pressure being placed on the US government, America’s efforts in Vietnam began to slow. In 1975, President Ford announced that America would be pulling out of Vietnam and that the Vietnam War was over "for America".

Post-war consideration and assessment had by the 1980s led to two main schools of thought. On the one hand the war was seen as a foolish, costly and tragic error on the part of the US government, and on the other hand it was seen as a capitalist necessity which the US government could not avoid.  However, whilst there were many people who felt the US had taken appropriate and necessary action during the Vietnam war, the depth of anger and resentment by so many people in the US at that time, and the absolute loss of faith in the government, seems to have led to a muting of support for the war and it seems that by far, it is the anti-war rhetoric which dominated during the 1980s and continues to do so.

Two popular documentaries emerged during the 1980s, which I watched in full for the purpose of this blog. These were Vietnam: A Television History (1983) and Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam (1987).

From its opening line, it is fairly easy to discern the angle that Vietnam: A Television History is going to take. George Ball, Under Secretary of State from 1961 to 1966, is shown saying, “I think Vietnam was probably the greatest single error that America has made in its national history.” This is a grand statement when one considers some of America's 'errors' in history such as the ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans, and the slave trade. As you might expect from a documentary of this title, it is filled with footage from the Vietnam War, and relies heavily on the use of images that have become representative of the world’s view of what the Vietnam war was about. The first images seen are very emblematic, such as helicopters flying over the American Embassy in Vietnam and communist leaders followed by images of Vietnamese refugees, tanks driving through the streets, and these images are intercut with many images of US soldiers in their camps or with their troops.

This documentary takes a strong anti-war stance and focuses on the legacy of the Vietnam war, examining how war veterans found themselves unable to talk about their experiences because of the cold reception they received from their fellow Americans. This perspective is perhaps understandable given that documentary was made in 1983. The war had been over for less than a decade, the terrible effects of the war including the deaths of some 60,000 American servicemen, over 150,000 injured, and over 1500 soldiers missing in action, meant that America was experiencing a collective bereavement.

At the end of the documentary, it features a full five minutes of footage of veterans and their families, and the families of those American soldiers who died in Vietnam or were still missing, visiting the Vietnam War Memorial, a 75m long wall engraved with the names of the Vietnam servicemen, which was opened in November 1982.  Playing over this footage are the voices of many veterans talking about what the unveiling of the memorial, and their post-Vietnam experiences, had meant to them. In watching this documentary one is left with the clear message that the veterans were deserted by the country for whom they fought, in some cases for nearly 30 years.

Vietnam: A Television History ends with the narrator’s comment, “America’s Vietnam war is over but it lives on in all those who experienced it. This and all future generations will have to turn to this long dark and hard chapter of history to define the meaning and determine the lessons of Vietnam.”  This sums up the negatively questioning nature of this 1983 documentary.

Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam is one of the most emotional documentaries I’ve ever watched. The premise of this documentary is to tell the story of the Vietnam war in the words of the American servicemen through the letters they sent home while they were fighting in Vietnam, separated by real footage and news reports from the time. With actors such as Martin Sheen, Robert De Niro, Judd Nelson, Ellen Berstyn, Willem Defoe, Matt Dillon, Kathleen Turner, Sean Penn, Harvey Keitel, Robert Downey Jr, Tom Beringer, Randy Quaid, Elizabeth McGovern, Michael J Fox and Robin Williams all featuring in the documentary, reading the letters of the veterans, this film certainly attracted attention following its release in 1987 and its anti-war stance would likely have been very persuasive for the audience. Many of those actors who have contributed to this documentary were already very well known for their left-wing anti-war views.

The documentary begins with images of young men surfing and having good fun at the beach.  These images are playing to a soundtrack of Beach Boys music, but suddenly the images change to graphically abhorrent pictures of young US soldiers fighting in the Vietnam war. The images are of helicopters, tanks, bombs, injuries and death. Compared to Vietnam: A Television History, this documentary is graphic and edgy right from the start, and it is absolutely apparent that this documentary is not only taking an anti-war stance, but it is pulling no punches - the intention is to offer a non-sanitised representation of the war.

The soundtrack to this documentary is full of pop music from the time which really helps to create a sense of the contrast between what was happening in America at the time versus what was happening in Vietnam at the same time, and it really does give an impression of two very different worlds.

The film walks the audience through the Vietnam War year by year, beginning by showing the young American soldiers as they sign up and are measured up for their new uniforms and ending with footage of families at the Memorial wall, images of bodies being repatriated, and the letter of a mother to her dead son. It is an in-depth and truly tragic depiction of the war. I consider its message is distinctly anti-Vietnam.

For this exercise I also watched many excerpts from online documentaries in an attempt to find a documentary that presented the war from a different perspective. I hoped to find a documentary that celebrated the capitalist successes of the Vietnam war and presented a pro-war stance.  Instead, and in spite of knowing that there are many people who support this view, I found I was unable to locate any documentary from the 1980s that took an openly pro-Vietnam position.  I feel this in itself sums up how the Vietnam war was being viewed during the 1980s - such was the level of resentment and anger that even the war's supporters were not prepared to take too great a public stand in defense of the actions of the US during that time.

Vietnam: A Television History (1983),
Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam (1987)
Boat People (1987).

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Some thoughts on the representation of race in music videos

We had an interesting blog topic in my American Studies module this week:  discuss a video of music from the 1980s which you consider represents the issue of race during the period AND a video from today which you consider will represent the contemporary thirty years from now.  Here are my selected videos...

James Brown, Living in America, 1985
This 1985 track by James Brown is an obvious choice to represent eighties American culture through music videos. The song certainly appears to be a celebration of all that America was at that time, as indicated by the very first image we see in the music video – a full three seconds of huge fireworks designed to show us that living in America appears to be one big celebration.
At the start of the song Brown references the notion that America is a place where anything is possible, the place where dreams can come true, ‘there’s no destination too far’, he sings metaphorically about the superhighways, and the place where self-discovery is possible, almost without even trying, ‘somewhere on the way you might find out who you are.’  Whilst hearing these lyrics we see a selection of images that are clearly chosen to represent America’s greatness; the first image is the New York skyline with the WTC buildings standing tall in the centre of the screen.  Next we see an extensive farmland with two shiny grain silos, cleverly offering an agrarian reflection of the NYC skyline and its two tall shiny towers. The video then shows a series of images which are cut into each other at super-speed, giving a real sense of life whizzing by. These images include day and night stills of American cities, and the depiction of the busy-ness of everyday life.  To really emphasise the intensity and speed, Brown uses sped-up films of people going about their everyday lives, for example, using the subway, eating in diners and driving on super-highways.  In amongst these shots are intermittent cuts to Brown’s band and dancers, and because the song featured in the movie, Rocky IV, the video also includes cuts to scenes from the movie.
As this video progresses, the sped-up scenes begin to include increasingly repetitive aspects of daily life such as people clocking into and out of a factory, a massive IT suite with very many white collar workers, several production lines and workers in the stock market, again all broken up by images of very shiny American cities.
The movie, Rocky IV is a deeply patriotic tale of boxer Rocky Balboa’s heroic finding of himself through his love of America and disdain for USSR and Brown’s lyrics and video certainly walk us through a whistle-stop tour of all that is great about the super shiny ‘Promised Land’. However, underneath the glitzy veneer is a country where, to use Brown’s own lyrics, ‘you might have to walk a fine line’ because ‘everybody’s working overtime’.  The suggestion here is that America may not be the Promised Land that it appears on the surface.  Brown even alludes to the eighties trend of using drugs to manage the long working hours and heavy demands of eighties culture, referring to ‘the hard roll’ and ‘the hard line’.  The super-fast speed of the video is perhaps also designed to invoke a sense of the effect of drug use.
It is interesting that the vast majority of Brown’s performers are black. Somehow this only serves to make the erroneous nature of this representation of America even more apparent, and it would seem that this has been deliberate on Brown’s part as throughout the whole video, only one of the scenes depicting daily life features a single black person. Given the history of blacks in America and the systemic racism that exists even now, and which was entirely more overt in the 1980s, it could be presumed that Brown was making a statement about the colour line through this depiction of ‘white’ America which is ultimately linked to progression and the growth of industry and the city, versus ‘black’ America, which has music in its soul and is therefore somehow more real and truthful, indeed, more soulful.
The live performance by James Brown which forms the last part of the video in particular, is a spectacularly glitzy and patriotic show of American greatness that is clearly designed (as indicated by the presence of a boxing ring complete with Russian boxer) to speak to the Rocky movie.  Every inch of the massive stage is covered either by red, white and blue, or by gold, and the Star Spangled Banner is draped across a backdrop of gold lights that form the presidential seal.  Vast numbers of dancers in flag-based costumes adorn the stage and the overall effect is really one big party.
In spite of the seemingly celebratory nature of this song, Brown is really making some wounding comments about America, which are beautifully reflected by the use of the 1980s image of New York. Somehow, the fact that the twin towers have been used in this video to illustrate America’s greatness truly highlights the degree to which this is a distorted representation of what America was during the 1980s.  Watching the video post 9/11 the audience is acutely aware that the beautiful NYC skyline can be brought crumbling to its knees in less than an hour, showing just how vulnerable America really is, and that with little penetration beyond the initial veneer, the notions and ideas we might have about America’s greatness will literally collapse.

Beyonce, Formation, 2016
Systemic racism in western culture is so deeply embedded in the foundations of our existence that I believe it is highly unlikely that it will have been even fully addressed let alone eradicated by 2046.  When a student of 2046 is asked to identify a video which represents American life thirty years ago, it is likely that Beyonce’s Formation video will be used as a depiction of how, in 2016, celebrity was working hard to take a stand against institutionalised racism and police brutality.
Indeed, despite the very contemporary style of her video, Beyonce is drawing on many historical influences including the female Black Panthers, a group which exitsted throughout the 1970s and early 1980s to take a stand against police brutality and promote black liberation, and the female sex workers of Storyville, a district of New Orleans that legalised prostitution during the early 1900s and where women of all races were employed.  Both of these influences are clearly apparent through Beyonce’s choice of costumes for herself and her dancers.
The video begins with Beyonce standing on the roof of a police vehicle which is slowly being submerged under water during severe floods, while the lyrics tell us that this action is happening in New Orleans.  And while Beyonce celebrates her black heritage with lyrics which might be described as both assertive and proud, she also calls upon her fellow black women to ‘get in formation’ and presumably to follow her as she ‘slays’ white supremacy.  Meanwhile, as she dances on the police car roof, the vehicle sinks under the water, and one would hope, taking institutionalised racism and police brutality with it.
I would expect that the student of the future will also want to consider the implications of Beyonce releasing this video on Superbowl weekend 2016, and her performance of the song during half time, and to debate whether in performing her song at such an event, a song that so clearly addresses other women, was an implied statement to women to take a stand against sexism also.  There are other significant discussions to be had around Beyonce’s choice of release for this song.  Known for her support of a social justice group called Black Lives Matter, Beyonce performance also coincided with what would have been the 21st birthday of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in 2012.  The killer was acquitted in 2013.
I hope that thirty years from now this video represents the idea that ‘the past as foreign country, they do things differently there.’
Finally, to enjoy a serious point being made in a comedic way, the future student might like to watch this...

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Discussing Brett Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero

This novel was the subject of our blog this week, so here are my thoughts on this cult status novel from the 1980s

Less Than Zero is a novel in the ‘bildungsroman’ genre, a novel about the so-called ‘blank generation’. The term blank generation was coined by Richard Hell who released an album in 1977 called blank generation. Richard Hell described its meaning thusly, ‘it’s the idea that you have the option of making yourself anything you want, filling in the blank... It’s saying, ‘I entirely reject your standards for judging my behaviour’’. In literary terms, blank fiction refers to a ‘bratpack’ style group of writers whose subject matter - drugs, violence, commodities and youth culture - is presented using detached or disengaged rhetoric. Of these writers, Bret Easton Ellis is one of the most well-known and his debut novel, Less Than Zero, is considered a cornerstone in this genre of literature.

The novel is told using the narrative voice of Clay, a young man in his late teenage years or early twenties, who returns home from college and finds himself quickly re-immersed in the angry, disaffected, disengaged lifestyle of his high school friends whose prolific drug use and the associated lifestyle begins to pull Clay into a downward spiralling vortex of confused desperation.

In 2008, Ashley Minix Donnelly wrote her graduate thesis, Blank Power: The Social and Political Criticism of Blank Fiction and Cinema, focussing on ‘blank generation’ literature. Within that thesis which is published online, Minix Donnelly explores Bret Easton Ellis’ novel Less Than Zero.

This blog post will examine Minix Donnelly’s assessment of Less Than Zero, focusing in particular on her understanding of the novel’s representation of commodification, drug use and youth culture in relation to ‘the blank generation’, i.e., the wealthy generation of 1980's youths (those in their late teens and early twenties,) growing up in LA.

Minix Donnelly makes the point that often ‘blank literature’ is ‘intended to motivate a complacent audience and ignite passion in American readers against the injustice faced by their fellow citizens’.  This idea can certainly be applied to Less Than Zero. If a society has a dominant set of ideas and values that are seen to be shared by the majority of members within that society (organic culture), then examination of Less Than Zero provides an excellent opportunity to counter such a perspective. Less Than Zero offers what one might describe as an anti-culture perspective, that of a group within society whose ideas and values are in direct conflict with the dominant values of the culture within which they exist.

In addition, Minix Donnelly suggests that the debauchery that is often found in ‘blank fiction acts as a cautionary tale that serves to promote the current values of society by showing the malfunction of society if people deviate from those values. She agrees with James Annersley’s view in Blank Fictions: Consumerism, Culture, and the Contemporary American Novel, referring to his suggestion that ‘the violent, destructive and decadent’ nature of this genre is intended to represent ‘the apocalypse culture’ of the late 20th century’.  Minix Donnelly suggests that the ‘overwhelming sense of hopelessness’ that is prevalent in the genre is to be explained in this way, and it is certainly my belief that her theory can be applied to Less Than Zero, when one considers the political and ideological backdrop against which the novel is set.

In the U.S. during the 1980s the dominant culture was bred by the embracing of right-wing politics (those of the Reagan administration), which included the celebrated era of consumerism, of which the Yuppie is perhaps the most easily recognised symbol.  This new and exciting era was especially well received given that the US was only just beginning to rise from the ashes of ‘Cold War Culture’, a period prior to the era of commodification when a sense of responsibility and seriousness was the dominant ideology.  However, the era of consumerism was not regarded as the answer to a progressive society by all Americans.  Whilst ‘Cold War Culture’ had been countered by the rise of the 1960's and 1970’s angry youth in what has come to be known as the punk era, the 1980s dominant culture was countered by the ‘blank generation’, the 1980s angry youth who set out to buck against what they perceived as ‘mainstream’ ideologies that they felt did not represent who they truly were.  (It is fairly ironic that it would in fact be this generation who would, in just a decade or so, feed into the idea of commodification more than any generation before them, through their total immersion in – and subservience to – the information age.)

This doesn’t mean that Less Than Zero is not a valuable work of literature or that it does not give an accurate reflection of life for some of America’s youth at that time.  I would indeed argue to the contrary:  Danny Bonaduce, a college student at the time of Less Than Zero’s publication, was very clear in his autobiography that he and some of his fellow students felt that they were the characters about whom Ellis was writing. Less Than Zero offers one perspective, which is particularly easy to recognise due to the first-person narrative that acts as a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ of the protagonist, Clay, one of LA’s angry youth.  What we must recognise however, is that it is only representing this section of society, and however small or large that group is, the book cannot be considered to represent the very many of sections of society whose views, or ideologies differ from – and in many cases directly oppose – those represented in Ellis’ novel.  This does not mean that the novel is unworthy of critical reflection, which  is a view that Minix argues is often taken by critics who struggle to separate the content of blank fiction literature from its context and thus consider work in this genre as ‘superficial works of popular culture’. Indeed Less Than Zero continues to be regarded as an edgy, stark piece of literature and one worthy of respect in its field.

However, in some ways Less Than Zero is in fact offering the same kind of mainstream approach as, for example, the movies of John Hughes.  Hughes’ films are very often seen as ‘the voice of a generation’, and it is certainly true that for some of that generation that is exactly what they were.  However, it is utterly false to suggest that any of Hughes films completely represent every member of that generation, or that they represent any one person’s entire ideology, viewpoint, or values.  Rather, his movies reflect one or some aspects of life in some parts of America for some people who predominantly belong to a particular generation. In the same way, Less Than Zero can be seen in this light regardless of its dark and at times uncomfortable content, and therefore, whilst I appreciate the novel for its representation of one aspect of 1980s culture, and whilst I hold it in high regard for its literary value, I do not see Less Than Zero as the voice of a generation, instead I consider it to be an enjoyably dark, yet still rather mainstream, ‘coming of age’ novel.
Bonaduce, D., Random Acts of Badness: My Story (U.S., 2001), p.62
Annersley, J., Blank Fictions: Consumerism, Culture, and the Contemporary American Novel (London, 1998) p.108

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

As part of my American Studies degree, I am taking a module called Researching America in the 1980s.  Each week we are asked to make a blog post on a particular subject, and I thought it would be quite cool to post those blog posts here so that visitors to my blog can get a sense of what I'm doing. This week we were asked to post on a representation of an identity issue related to race from the 1980s and comment on its meaning at the time and its legacy today.  Here is my post on this subject...

Civil Rights became one of the pivotal aspects of American culture during the 1960s following the implementation of the Civil Rights Act 1964.  It continued as a key issue throughout the 1970s. As the 1980s loomed, many hoped that the new age of racial equality had dawned, and racial injustices such as the principal of ‘separate but equal’ in American law were past.  In reality, the 1980s saw riots, serial murders, muggings, kidnappings, rapes and murders as constant examples of the continuing racial tensions across a divided America.
  Whilst racism was rife throughout the whole of America, in Miami, a city with a high percentage of black people of whom many already lived in poverty stricken circumstances, two episodes of civil unrest as a result of perceived racial inequality served as bookends to the decade and highlight the little progress towards true equality that was made during the period.
  In April and May 1980, six white police officers were acquitted by an all-white jury in a case of horrific brutality that resulted in the death of Arthur McDuffie, a black father of two who was riding a motorcycle with a suspended licence. Four of the officers had chased and then beaten McDuffie into a coma whilst he was handcuffed and on the ground, and subsequently lied and falsified evidence, with the assistance of two other police officers.  Their acquittal was seen as evidence of institutionalised racism and Miami became the backdrop to some of the worst rioting American had witnessed since the Civil Rights movement had taken hold in the 1960s.  Over the course of four days, eighteen people were killed, three hundred and fifty were seriously injured, and eight hundred arrests had been made, as well as damage and destruction to the city amounting to $100 million.  Many parts of the city had literally been burnt to the ground, and the levels of destruction and violence during the rioting were such that they are still shocking today, for example, with instances of people being deliberately locked into burning cars.
  Miami never really recovered.  Three thousand jobs were lost as a direct result of the riots.  Whilst federal financial assistance was given, it was nowhere near enough for the city to rebuild.  Miami spiralled into decline, and thousands of its citizens moved away, adding to the difficulties the city already faced in trying to start afresh.
  In January, 1989, just as the city was preparing to host the Superbowl, an event which was to signal new beginnings and draw a line under its difficult past, the city saw yet another spate of rioting which began following an eery reflection of the events of 1980.  On this occasion, it was the death of two young black men, 34 year old motorcyclist, Clement Lloyd and his passenger, Allan Blanchard, at the hands of an Hispanic Miami police officer, William Lozano, who was following Lloyd because of an alleged traffic violation, which served as the catalyst to rioting throughout the city.  With many press agencies already in town in preparation for the Superbowl, the event quickly made national and international news, and yet again the world woke to images of Miami with burning press vehicles and buildings serving as a backdrop to yet more pictures of looting and violence. Following the deaths, a federal Civil Rights investigation was launched to answer the question of why a black man had been shot dead for speeding, and manslaughter charges were brought against Lozano.  In this first trial, Lozano was convicted of the men's manslaughter, however the FBI's efforts were short-lived because the conviction was overturned on appeal with Lozano having served no time in prison.
  The Lozano case also left a very significant legacy which would almost certainly impact on the future of American justice in such cases, and perhaps speaks to the question of why, in the twenty-seven years since the Lloyd and Blanchard deaths no prosecutions have ever been brought against white or Hispanic officers whose actions have resulted in the deaths of black people.  Following Lozano’s acquittal, Judge Fernandez- Rundle declared that prosecutors would no longer be allowed to inform jurors of information around police procedures and training.  This precedent has essentially acted as a carte blanche for officers to use ‘deadly force’ if they believed that they or someone else ‘might’ be at risk from a suspect, with little fear of consequence.
There have been numerous occasions in the nearly three decades since that have reflected the injustices of these cases, but without a doubt, these two events, occurring as they did in the same city under such similar circumstances and marking the beginning and end of the 1980s, highlight the difficulties that existed in the fight for equality throughout the period.

Arthur McDuffie

Clement Lloyd

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

We rescued a hedgehog!

For the last few days the boys (our dogs, Archie and Kiko) have been going bonkers every time they go in the garden, so yesterday evening my mum went to investigate and discovered that there was a little hedgehog trapped under our garden gate. We were a bit scared for a while as he didn't seem to be moving, but eventually we realised that he was alive so it was all action stations as, based on the dogs' behaviour we suspect he had been stuck there since the middle of last week.

After we freed him we mashed up half a pouch of Pedigree Chum and gave him a bowl of water.  Well the little piglet got stuck in and devoured the lot, so we gave him the other half of the pouch!  We then snuggled him into a little safe space for the night, leaving him with a box and lots of leaves in case he wanted to build himself a little shelter, and the plan was that this morning I would take him over to the fields behind our house.  

I am happy to report that this morning he was snuggly nestled into the box, and hardly visible under all the leaves!  I was so pleased.  I feel like we saved the little fella!  

Here's a little video I took last night of Piglet having some food.  I'm afraid it's not a very good film but you can see (and hear) that he's tucking in nicely to his doggy food dinner...

After all the excitement, we said our goodbyes and then Nelly and I took him (still nestled into his little nest-box) to the local nature reserve and released him.  We went back about an hour later and his box stood empty, hopefully this is a sign that he was happy to head off into the wilderness, and we keep our fingers crossed that he will do well and have a happy little life.

Monday, 4 April 2016

This might be a good time to introduce you to my brood.  My very small house is quite a busy little house and I like to think of it as the Centre of the Universe!  It is occupied by one granny (my mum), one mummy (me), one stinky teenager (my daughter, Nelly), a hamster called Cornelius, a Pomerhuahua called Archie, a Japanese Chin called Akihiko (Japanese for bright prince - we call him Kiko), and a cat called Billie (she's a girl, named after Billie Piper)!  It's relatively mayhemish at all times, but I love it!  

Nelly has an ASD diagnosis which brings a lot of laughter into the house, and occasionally a little stress!  She's obsessed with Harry Potter and Autism!  She does incredibly well at coping with ASD and with the world, and she brings a great deal of joy into many, many people's lives.  My mum is a type one diabetic, she's not in great health physically but she is always on form mentally - she is smart and funny and sharp as a tack.  She is also the most contrary person I have ever known and has an instinctive inability to ever do anything she's told! Archie the ginger pomerhuahua came from a rescue centre when he was one and although he was only a pup he had suffered very badly, which means he is a total bag of issues and drives us all crazy!  The cat is of the opinion that she runs the household, the hamster thinks he's Houdini and Kiko our black and white chin just can't quite believe he lives in this squashed madhouse - he's certain he belongs in a temple in Japan!

Saturday, 2 April 2016

A lovely day

Since 2003 I have worked every year at Glastonbury festival as a campsite steward. I am part of an amazing team of friends and the festival is my happy place - yep, even when it rains!  However this year the excitement level has been upped as my lovely daughter, having turned eighteen, has been invited to join our team, so I will get to share the experience with her and I cannot wait!

Today we drove to Street in Somerset so Nelly could do her first Glastonbury training session, and for me it was obviously a refresher, but in fact it was the best training we've had because it was run by such a lovely chap.  

It was so nice because lots of our team were there to do the training, so Nelly was introduced to some new faces and we had a nice chance to catch up before the festival - and to hear some exciting baby news for one of our Glastonbury friends, too.  

After the training we called in to visit our team leader who lives nearby, and again, had a lovely chance to catch up on the gossip and start building the excitement and anticipation for Glastonbury 2016.

As well as all this Glastonbury excitement, I also experienced  a Frankie and Benny's restaurant for the first time - and will definitely be going back - not sure how this has managed to elude me for all these years!  

All in all, a really lovely day...  Glastonbury baby!!! 

Friday, 1 April 2016

I made a card today!

I know that doesn't really sound all that exciting but it is months since I had an opportunity to sit down and design a new card.  I was propelled into action because a friend moved house, and I wanted to deliver a nice card and some nice bubbly (she's a Prosecco fan!) for her to enjoy once she had moved in. It was especially important to me to make a really personal 'new home' card, as this move was not really her choice and so she was feeling very emotional about it.  I wanted to make something that would give her a sense of belonging to her new place. This was the end result...

It was so nice to be crafting again, and especially nice to dig out some of my Tim Holtz crafting tools.  My mum is a Stampin' Up! demonstrator, and I just love the SU! stamps and tools, so these days I tend to stick with their products, but I am a massive Tim Holtz fan too!  

I have lots of essays to do over the next few weeks, but once they are out of the way my plan is to spend my summer doing lots of card-making and lots of reading.  Happy times ahead - and hopefully for my newly moved friend, too! 

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Welcome to my blog!

Hello there!  My name is Clairaloulah.

There is a huge amount I could tell you about myself, but for now, I'm just going to give you a little bit of an idea of the purpose of my blog, and I will introduce myself gradually over the course of time.

I'm a student of American Studies and English Literature, and I'm just at the end of my second year.  I ended up at uni a couple of years ago after an epiphany moment when I realised that all those hopes and dreams I had when I was younger had come to nothing.   I decided to make some big changes in my life and to work hard to have the life I have always really wanted.  This blog is my way of recording my successes and my failures throughout this journey.  I know it won't be easy.  I suffer from periods of poor mental health which is a challenge in itself, but it will also be a challenge (although hopefully a nice one) working out what my dreams really are!  And I've spent 40 plus years cultivating some really bad habits, so it's going to be hard to break them, but we have to start somewhere; maybe this is the time in my life when magic is in the air and I will really, truly be able to turn my dreams into reality.

I hope you'll come back to see how I'm doing, and mostly, I hope that if you, like me, are fed up with not having the life you want, you will take the decision to make the right changes so that you can look forward to a bright future.

Here's to good decisions and not being afraid of change!