Tag Archives: UK

Power is about to shift…

3 Mar

As I write this, 70 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly Election for 2017 have been announced. And it makes for an interesting glimpse into a changing country. Sinn Féin hold the largest number of seats with 24, and the SDLP have 9. The DUP have 18 and UUP 9. Taking Aliance out of the proceedings that gives a nationalists a five seat lead.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Disappointingly the country appears to have shunned the opportunity to usher in a change in our country’s leadership – the embittered, stubborn, starkly green and orange parties Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party are still on top. And its hard to see how anything is going to change while that remains the case. Northern Ireland is a shared country whether you like it or not. And the only way to move forward is through mediation and negotiation and compromise.

But then I’m a broadly liberal leftist long lapsed from a background of unionism, so its easy for me to say. I don’t hate my fellow citizens because of their religion or their politics or what language they wish to converse in or what way they define their national identity. But it matters to many others out there.

Without a change, I can’t help but wonder if the assembly will not just be brought down again? And if it does, then surely direct rule from Westminster is inevitable? And to do that would be foolhardy, because that will give many militant republicans the excuse they need to reactivate a campaign of violence against the perceived British threat in the country, and take us all back to pre-1997 times. Its not as if the leaders of the two biggest parties actually give a toss about the Northern Irish people anyway, and our democratic views. The DUP backed Brexit in spite of the majority of Northern Ireland voting to stay IN Europe, and Sinn Féin still refuse to sit in Westminster for ideological reasons, which means they aren’t actually helping to represent the people either. A right golden shower the lot of them.

And I’m sitting here thinking about something that I haven’t actually heard voiced yet. But what happens if Sinn Féin come away from this election as the largest political party in Northern Ireland? Ignoring their catalogue of cover-ups (notably with regards sex abuse cases) and their power-hungry control of republican ideology in Northern Ireland (there’s as many kinds of republicans as their are unionists), we’ve never had a republican party as the largest in NI. The balance has always (by design more often than democracy) lain in the hands of the unionist parties, and for decades the unionists and loyalists have been happy because they’ve benefitted in things like employment, funding, rights etc. The republican voice has been silenced (once upon a time, literally), oppressed, which in turn has only helped to stir up support.

Right now we’re at loggerheads, with both sides bashing each other where possible, positioning themselves as ‘us’ and ‘them’. They put down propositions made by the others because of the potential for small victories. They turn simple things into massive issues. They allow prejudice to dictate policy and propaganda does the rest.

Whats scares unionists is what will happen when the power finally switches. It seems rather improbable that a republican dominated political arena is going to sit back and allow loyalism to continue its triumphant marches and shouting and brow-busting. That call for a referendum on a united Ireland can’t be far away now, and that scares the unionists because it might actually go through. Most of us don’t want to leave the EU, and joining up with Ireland is a sure way to ensure we don’t. Britain doesn’t actually care about Northern Ireland. We’re a population of 1.8million out of some 64 million across the islands. We’re a massive drain on resources, particularly bearing in mind our habit of fighting on a regular basis, incurring vast policing costs etc, every time we have a “celebration”. Will the republican brothers and sisters treat the unionists with open arms, and remind them that Ireland has already embraced Protestant culture as symbolised in the orange on the Tricolour? Sadly, probably not. Instead, the sort of hostility that has been shown to many of them is likely to be returned. Its the way of the wild. Captive turns captor. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, not actually how you were treated…

I’m slightly scared for people like me. Those of us who sit somewhere between the ideologies. Not necessarily undecided, but who are aware of our backgrounds, and the complex web that we were born into without say. Northern Ireland is occupied – the politicians decided to remain as part of the UK, not the people themselves, and so a border poll would be interesting, to finally give all of us a say. We aren’t all going to get our way though, and as Brexit has most recently reminded us (and indeed the US elections), when voting is split, things can get nasty. I don’t want to return to violence. I don’t want to be scared of visiting friends across sectarian divides, or to be picked out because I don’t see eye to eye with official lines of whatever persuasion.

Its time to stop being complacent. Time to learn to moderate, to co-operate, and to stop wallowing in the past. Think about the people.


Waiting on a tip that never comes…

10 Aug
Galley on the tanker 'Aluco' - from Flickr Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/16104487498

Galley on the tanker ‘Aluco’ – from Flickr Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/16104487498

There’s a mild furore right now over the revelation that restaurant chain Pizza Express takes an 8% charge on any tips that are made by credit/debit card. Leaving 92% of the tips with the waiting staff. Sure, it is cheeky that the profitable chain should be ‘creaming’ off money that isn’t for the food, but does it really merit the outpouring of sympathy of waiting staff that the press is giving us?

But it goes further. According to the BBC, most restaurants use a “tronc” system “where all the tips are collected together and distributed evenly through the staff, usually with around 70% going to the waiters, and the rest given to kitchen and other workers”. Hmm. I’m not a mathematician, but that isn’t an even distribution of tips – 70% for waiters, 30% for chefs, dish washers, kitchen porters and their ilk? ie. those that do the bulk of the hard work in a restaurant business.

My first proper paying job was as a kitchen porter. I worked for a certain 5* hotel near Cultra in County Down named after a Scottish battlefield. Often we were in before the waiting staff, and we were still there hours after they went home, clearing up the shit that everyone else had left. And in all my time there what was the sum total of tips that was offered to me? Zero. Zippo. Zilch.

We worked our asses off on minimum wage, running round the kitchens clearing, cleaning, and trying to avoid the high-tension-led grief that easily spread from all quarters. Meanwhile the waiting staff swanned in, picked up their dishes and walked the short distance to their customers, all the while dressed in nice suits.

For this I am meant to feel sympathy for the waiting staff? They’re on minimum wage – boo hoo.  Its a relatively easy job, and they expect to get tips on top of that for simply smiling? My heart bleeds.

There’s nothing that upsets this former KP more than hearing a waiter complain about a tricky customer on table 3 while they waffle on about the 60 quid in tips they’ve received that evening while you’re actually on minimum wage and unlikely to be home before 3am, after you’ve scrubbed the gutters and degreased the fryer, and lost the will to live.

KPs are the lifeblood of any restaurant business. They ensure there are clean surfaces and utensils to work with; they’ll have them scrubbed and ready for re-use every five minutes if they have to, and they’ll not complain about Chef being too fast or slow. They keep your restaurants clean so you don’t fail your health inspections, and they make sure the food is ready for the waiters to deliver, and clean up again when everything’s returned. We do the bins so you don’t have to.

So seriously, stop whining you ungrateful gits.


All Men All Women

25 May

The murderous rampage by Elliott Rodger in the US over the weekend, said to be in response to his constant rejection by women, has stirred up an emotive response from commentators on social networking sites, not least through the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter.

In essence the campaign is making a stance against those who feel that Rodger was justified in his actions, and more generally against the continued misogynist attitude perceived to be held by many (of if some of the commentators are to be believed, ALL) men.

As a man my views on this will be unwelcome to some. Certainly, I cannot completely empathise with women on this. I don’t generally face the same daily sexist attitudes where my personage is reduced to a physical entity and that physicality reduced to a sexual object – although I have had a little experience of those attitudes. There aren’t the same ‘jokes’ made about raping men, for example, as are made about carrying out the same act on women. The #everydaysexism campaign is predominantly about male attitudes towards women for a good reason.

However, there is within some of the comments I have read a worrying tendency to tar all of the heterosexual male gender with the same brush – a sweeping generalisation which I suspect is as sexist as the attitudes we as men are accused of having.

It must ultimately boil down to personal experience – but men are not the only ones I have heard make lewd comments about the opposite sex in the street, not the only ones to treat the opposite sex as a sex object, and aren’t the only ones to talk about and enact in revenge when rejected (have we forgotten that adage Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…).

I saw the same generalisations being made when Clare’s Law was announced back in November last year and introduced across the UK in March of this year. The majority of the news headlines in November, and many of those in March emphasised the fact that the new legislation would serve to help women know about the previous violent history of their male partners. The implication clearly being that a) this was a right being given exclusively to women and b) that women were not capable of being domestically violent.

Fortunately the coverage improved and the law applies to both sexes. But the demonisation of men continues to be a problem. It is little wonder that the statistics around incidents of domestic abuse on men by women are so low – with many unwilling to report it because of fear of disbelief. In the UK it is thought that some 40% of domestic abuse incidents are against men.

Not every man holds a derogatory view of women. Not every spurned male will go out and plot a homicidal revenge, or indeed any form of revenge at all. Not every person with a penis is determined to penetrate every person without.

I’m 33. I lost my virginity fairly late compared to my peers (though not as late as Rodger). I’ve had long periods of celibacy (not necessarily through choice). I’ve been rejected many a time. I’ve also had some mental health issues. But that doesn’t mean for an instant that if I make a pass at you and you say no, that I’m going to become enraged and try to murder you! This #YesAllWomen response is understandable, but is in danger of making men seem threatening in a way which the vast majority are not.

I don’t want to be left scared to talk to someone because they’re already sizing me up as a looser or a psycho because of one individual. I don’t want women and girls to be left scared because of one person either. The messages are mixed and menacing. Further than that, I don’t think it helpful that the entire response seems to make an assumption that a woman wouldn’t go out and do the same thing if she was continually rebutted.

One of the posts within the BBC article states that women use psychological attacks because they cannot use physical ones. Worryingly this sounds like comments from someone who is both uninformed and has perhaps been on the receiving end of rebuttals himself. Women are perfectly capable of being physical as well as psychological in their responses. Just as capable as men in fact.

There is an equality issue at stake here. Simply that both sexes are as guilty as each other of taking too much for granted and throwing back stereotyped assumptions which leave them vulnerable. All Women and All Men are responsible for their own actions.