Saturday, 20 August 2016

The British Vegan

The British Vegan

... and where to find food

This post is to set out some helpful advice for being vegan in the UK. Tips on where to buy products what to look out for and what we can and can't have on a vegan diet.
A lot of the advice about veganism online is on US websites. Whilst a lot of what is posted on US vegan sites is perfectly valid it is worth keeping in mind that we have a different food culture in the UK.
That's not to disparage or look down on US food culture or veganism, but simply to say that some of the things that we see as "normal" are going to be different. This can range from the names of products to what type of shops we have available and what our supermarkets commonly sell. There do appear to be some broad ideological differences between US and UK veganism, but that's the subject of another blog post and is a much broader issue. I'll be touching on it a little here but largely I will be avoiding any moral, cultural or ethical judgements.

Off-limit foods and strange ingredients

Sugar

Many US recipes will call for some sort of sugar substitute such as palm sugar, unrefined or raw sugar or even agave nectar. Now each of these may be used because they have a distinct taste and property (agave nectar is a thin syrup for example), but the reason these sugar alternatives show up so frequently in American vegan recipes is due to how sugar is made.
One of the methods of refining sugar involves the use of bone char. The use of an animal product in its production means it is not vegan and so substitutes are needed.
In the UK most refined sugar, that includes granulated, brown sugar, demerara, caster and icing sugar as well as golden syrup, is not refined using bone char and so is vegan.
If a recipe calls for some unusual sugar, where a non-vegan recipe would just use ordinary sugar, you don't need to go hunting down a special and possibly expensive product. Feel free to use the sugar you can buy from the local shop.

Cooking Oil and Coconut Oil

Many recipes call for coconut oil as their fat. In some cases, for example baking, this is as an alternative to butter. It can be a good butter substitute due to the temperature at which it melts being similar to butter but it isn't an absolute must. Also, in America, coconut oil is often sold as a liquid, where as here in the UK it is often a solid. One of the reasons coconut oil may be so popular in American blogs could be availability of other non-animal oils and fats. However in the UK there are several brands of non-dairy margarine available including Vitalite and Flora non-dairy which are available in most supermarkets. These work perfectly well in cakes, biscuits and pastry.
A lot of blogs will also specify rapeseed oil for frying. Rapeseed oil is commonly referred to as vegetable oil in the UK. You probably have a bottle in the kitchen already. The standard vegetable or sunflower oil found in any supermarket will work perfectly well.

Of course if you want to try a speciality rapseed or other oil you can, but don't feel you need to.

Liquid Amino Acids

These add a lot of umami or savoury flavour to a dish as well as being an excellent non-animal source of amino acids and B vitamins. They aren't readily available in the UK except for in some health food and specialist shops or online. You may want to purchase a bottle to keep in cupboard for recipes that call for it but, if you don't have any or it isn't available for you you may want to try Marmite.
Marmite is far thicker and stickier than liquid aminos but a small dollop in a stew or sauce will quickly mix in or you can dilute it with a drop of hot water. Your meal won't taste of Marmite so don't worry if you aren't a fan of the taste normally. It just blends in with other flavours.
Being a source of B12 Marmite is a good one to have in your cupboard.

Nutritional Yeast

This is an item I sadly can't find any real alternative for for the savoury slightly cheesy flavour. I'm not sure it is particularly an American thing so much as a Vegan thing. It's not generally available in supermarkets so you have to look in health food shops or online for it. I highly recommend getting a tub or two to sprinkle on top of dishes or mix in as well as for using in recipes. Get the variety fortified with B12 for a good source of the essential vitamin.

Coconut milk and other non-dairy milks

Many recipes will specify a type of milk to use for example coconut soy, almond etc. Read the recipe carefully to ascertain why this type of milk has been specified - there are some instances when a particualr milk type is preferable, but often they are interchangeable.
Coconut milk is often asked for when a recipe needs something with a thick consistency or high fat content. In these cases a tinned coconut milk is usually best (personally I find the cheaper brands work best). These are often found on the shelves near other Asian or Indian food stuffs in your typical supermarket. Cartons of coconut milk often have a lower fat content and are a thinner more pourable consistency (good for tea and on cereal). Keep in mind that brands differ on how coconutty they taste.
Recipes for cakes and other baked goods often call for the milk to be mixed with an acid like vinegar or lemon juice. This curdles the milk (producing something similar to buttermilk) and helps produce CO2 which makes your cake or batter raise or light and fluffy. I have found that almond and soy milk are best for this technique. Coconut (from a carton) works but needs more vinegar/lemon juice. Rice milk won't work for this technique. This gives you more flexibility and allows you to use the non-dairy milk you have to hand.

Kosher Salt

This isn't restricted to vegan recipes but still often causes confusion. Though the term kosher specifically refers to things which are in accordance with Jewish regulations in the US "kosher salt" has become the common name for coarse salt. It has no special properties. Yo can use any coarse salt, such as a sea salt or salt flakes.

Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar has become hugely popular in recent years and is a common feature in a number of recipes. A large part of its popularity is to do with its supposed health benefits. The validity of these claims is dubious at best but, due to the large crossover between healthy blogs and vegan blogs it is a common feature in recipes. It may also be more commonly available in the US than in the UK.
Generally, when used in small quantities Apple Cider Vinegar can be substituted with any other non-malt vinegar, though even white malt vinegar will work if that's what you have available. The function is usually to add acidity to a dish or, as described in the section on milks, to help produce CO2. Because such a small amount is used, flavour isn't a big concern.
When flavour does come in to it, for example in a marinade or dressing, then white wine vinegar is a good alternative or even lemon juice. The aim is for a slightly sweet, tangy acidic flavour.



Where to buy ingredients?

Your usual supermarket will be able to cater to a vast portion of your diet, especially if you have access to online shopping or a large supermarket.
It is worth keeping in mind that a product doesn't have to be labelled "vegan" to be vegan. You don't have to be limited to free-from sections in the supermarket. Be sure to check the ingredients for hidden animal products such as whey, lactose, and honey (a common alternative sweetener to sugar). Conveniently, many budget brands and shops own-brand products can be vegan as they don't contain the "real butter" and "real cream" and other ingredients that go in to luxury brands.

Below is a sample list of the vegan suitable things you can buy in a supermarket. Items in bold are of particular interest to a vegan diet as sources of protein or B12.

Fresh fruit and veg
Frozen veg
Brown rice (1)(2)
Tinned chickpeas, beans and pulses
Dried chickpeas, beans and pulses (1)(2)
Tofu (1)(2)
Falafel
Hummus
Peanut butter(1)
Marmite
Non-dairy milk (UHT and chilled)
Soy Sauce (2)
A variety of breakfast cereals
A variety of breads and bread products
Dairy-free butter
Dried fruit (1)
Flours and baking ingredients
Sugar 
Cooking Oil
Pasta
Frozen or refrigerated meat free sausages, patties, burgers and so on
Multivitamins
Some cruelty free toiletries (1)
Non-dairy ice-cream (becoming more common)
Wines and beers (check the labels or check online first)

This is of course, not an exhaustive list but you can see how many options are open to you even in a normal supermarket. Smaller supermarkets and "express" type stores will have a smaller range which can be a limiting factor, but do consider online shopping if you don't have a large store nearby. However, if you are restricted to a smaller shop, you may have some other options available.

(1) You may be able to find these products at better value, in larger quantities or more varieties in a health food shop.
(2) You may be able to find these products at better value, in larger quantities or more varieties in an Asian supermarket.

The Asian or Indian Supermarket

Many larger towns and cities will have at least one, if not multiple Asian supermarket. These are an excellent resource for vegans even if you aren't cooking Chinese, Thai or Korean food. They often have items in bulk which means savings if you can get the larger products home and have the storage.

Tofu (multiple varieties normally available)
Tempeh
Semolina (especially in Indian or Pakistani shops)
Gram flour (chickpea flour) (especially in Indian or Pakistani shops)
Tinned Jackfruit
a variety of dried and fresh mushrooms
Vegetarian miso
Nori and seaweed
Vegetarian fish-sauce
Soy sauce 
Rice
Dried pulses
Tinned ready made seitan such as mock duck, mock pork etc
Coconut milk (tinned)
Mochi (I just really like mochi) 

The specialist health food or whole shop

These shops are often found in city and town centres. You usually wouldn't be able to find a full load of groceries there but you can get many specialist items. The prices can vary a lot with some items being more expensive than your supermarket whilst others are better value.

Pulses and grains (especially less usual grains like bulgar wheat)
Biscuits, cakes, sweets
non-dairy butter/margarine
Non-dairy milk
non-dairy yoghurt
Non-dairy icecream
Vegan cheese
Tofu and tofu products such as sausages
Meat free patties
Seitan (steaks, sausages etc)
Seitan powder / wheat gluten
liquid smoke
Peanut and other nut butters
Nuts and seeds
Vegetarian fish-sauce
Dried fruits
Nutritional yeast
Cruelty free toiletries and household items
Wines and beers

Other places

Of course you aren't restricted to these shops. Nearly anywhere that sells food will have some vegan items. 
Eastern European shops are often good places to find good value pulses, rice and oats, as well as nutritionally dense breads alongside other groceries.
Budget food shops that specialise in stock clearance often have vegan suitable snack bars and non-dairy milk at very good prices.
Your local market. Many towns have an indoor market. There is often a dried goods stall which will sell grains, pulses, nuts and dried fruits by weight and can be excellent value.
Online shopping, other than supermarkets, allows us to access food items that may not be available locally or at a better price. I especially buy nutritional yeast and seitan online.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2016

So! let's talk about Nine Worlds.
As you may know I was there representing Access:LARP as well as as a regular con goer. I was giving the Access:LARP presentation on the Friday morning, so once that was done, I had the rest of the weekend to relax, go to sessions and enjoy the experience of Nine Worlds.
I think it's safe to say that I enjoyed it. It was a place I felt at home in. As cons go there are a few different ways that they can be done, largely down to what their focus is.
Geek cons like Comic Con have a real focus on the finished product, about showing off cosplay, artwork and games. The expo and trade hall is central, cosplay is high profile and virtually an exhibit itself, and people are there for the icons, the shiny and new and the merchandise. Not that they are without panels and talks but they often seem secondary to what is on display.

Q-Con the Belfast based geek con I've been to is a smaller, homegrown version of Comic Con with a strong emphasis on gaming. It's fun, but it is loud and brash in how it displays its wares. It's not without enjoyment but it doesn't really suit me and my personality. I always came away from it feeling overwhelmed, tired and a little confused as to what had really happened.

I've talked about Thought Bubble before on this blog, so you probably know I am fond of the little Leeds based comic focussed convention. Though Thought Bubble places a lot of emphasis on the traders hall and the expo the atmosphere is more relaxed than the likes of Q-Con and Comic Con. The space is set up so you can meet the people behind the comics and really get in to what you love in a delightfully geeky and niche manner. There is also a lot of love and support for small publishers and indie comics, a move that again changes the tone; we're not looking at the big names here, we're looking at what makes you tick. It's exciting and lively but with a distinctly more knowledge hungry crowd.

And then there was Nine Worlds. At Nine Worlds the sessions, panels and talks take centre stage. There was a small expo hall and a variety of talented and clever cosplay but what people were really there for was the opportunity to discuss, listen share and learn about all things geek from sci-fi to comics, from fan-fic to game worlds, it was all covered. What rooted it all together was a real interest in the how and why of things. How is this done? Why do we do it like this? How can we make it better? Why is it changing? It wasn't all dry academia though, panels were presented with wit love and passion. The sessions and panels were often punctuated with laughter and applause and throughout the event were social events that brought people together in their love of geekiness The Wheedon Sing-along, the Pirate Knitting and of course the Bifrost Cabaret.

Nine Worlds: the inclusive fan culture convention
So let's take a look at the things that stood out, what I liked and where there could be improvement.

As already noted Nine Worlds had an approach and style that was content driven as opposed to exhibit driven. This suited me. There is only so much excitement I can muster for a new artwork or a limited edition figure and I don't spend much time with computer games. I like talking and listening though, after all I write a blog. Whether it was this build or the pushes for inclusivity (which I'll go into more detail of next) it made the place feel welcoming and comfortable to be in, indeed I felt rather at home. I'd found my people.

Nine Worlds makes it very clear on their website that they are inclusive of all comers and will not discriminate against or tolerate discriminations based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, disability or neurodiversity. Stating this so clearly and honestly is itself a big deal. I'd heard, from people who had attended in previous years, that they stick by it too. It's refreshing and welcoming. Even before the con, a brief look at the guests and sessions is enough to tell you that the content will be diverse and will be, in some cases, challenging prejudice head on. Over all topics there are a range of people of different genders, races, ethnicities and sexualities and that diversity isn't confined to sessions specifically dealing with diversity and culture. This is across all content streams. That shouldn't be a pleasant surprise but it was. It's difficult to express how welcome this was. To be in a session and not feel like an outsider was superb because this diversity in the con program was reflected in the attendees. Everybody was represented from old to young, fat and thin, able bodied and disabled, neurodivergent and neurotypical, all shades of skin, different religions, different languages and an array of different genders. It made me happy.

The organisers had also taken this diversity in to consideration with their logistics. The con was spread over several floors and several rooms of a hotel. However, all floors had step free access and all floors had some sort of seating area. They had designated several areas as priority seating and several areas as quiet areas, for those who needed less excitable social spaces. The session rooms had priority seating, wheelchair space and areas for those who prefer sitting on the floor. There were colour overlays for your name badge to show if you were comfortable be talked to or not (though I understand there may have been some issues of clarity with these). People could add stickers saying they had access needs as well as their preferred pronouns (and it wasn't just trans and NB people stating their pronouns, which I always think is a good move). Staff were helpful and informative. There were sign interpreters available for sessions as well as large print hand outs.
Plus, there was a quiet room for those who needed a complete break! It had beanbags and soft things, a little bed area and eye masks, colouring books and pencils. It had low light and was of course, quiet. When my fatigue hit badly on the Friday and again on the Saturday and I was awash with neuro symptoms, I don't think I could have got through the day without being able to have a lie down and switch off in the quiet room.

Xuiting Christing Ni
But what of the actual panels and content I hear you ask?
Overall, they were good. One or two were perhaps not quite what I was expecting but that doesn't mean they were bad. Stand outs to me were the Exploring Chinese Science Fiction panel in which Yen Ooi, Michael Rowley and Xueting Christine Ni talked about the differences between Western and Chinese sci-fi, why it is becoming so popular here, difficulties in translation and the roots and history of Chinese sci-fi. The panellists were knowledgeable: Xueting Ni bringing the perspective of a Chinese author, Yen Ooi an academic who has looked at the subject in depth and Michael Rowley who works for a publisher and offered the context of Chinese sci-fi in a UK market. Very well balanced and thought out and considered answers from all which made me even more interested in the genre.
Building Better Dreams and Nightmares had a full panel of authors: Mark de Jager, Alex Lamb, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Maria Lewis, Angela Slatter, Jamie Sawyer. Between them they dissected why we love old monsters and what goes in to making new monsters and beings for a modern audience. It was particularly entertaining to listen to proponents of new terrors, Alex Lamb and Adrian Tchaikovsky, debate and exchange ideas with fans of reinventing and subverting traditional beasts, Angela Slatter and Maria Lewis. On top of that Maria Lewis gave me some new ideas for how to think about werewolves. I also came away from that talk with a list of books I want to read.
Alex Lamb made another appearance in his talk on Psychohistory. It was one of the most engaging and excitable talks I have ever seen, with Alex getting the whole audience involved and caught up in his passion for the subject. He raced through the material, no small task for the sign interpreter, but through his demos and examples I think I learned something and became even more a fan of statistics and mathematics in world building than previously. My brain did feel a little like it was dribbling out of my ears by the end though.
My last session of the weekend was "Mathematics: The big game behind the little tricks" given by Marta Maria Castti. Now this was one of the sessions that wasn't quite what I expected. I went in expecting something about the exciting way mathematics can be used but what I got instead was a delightful introduction to mathematics and logic for those of us who have in the past struggled with maths and on occasion baulk at sums. I know I've said I like statistics, but in reality I find a lot of maths very difficult and I had a horrendous time of it in school with teachers who wanted to force feed algebra without any context or reason. Marta instead shared with us her love and passion for the subject, took us through some of the history, shared her favourite quotes and then, with even more enthusiasm took us through a logic problem and encouraged us to think mathematically. All this was suffused with the ways maths relates to the world and therefore of course how it relates to the made up worlds we enjoy. I've never found a maths teacher to be so lovely and strangely calming as Marta Casetti was. Honestly, if you have the opportunity to talk to her about mathematics, then you absolutely should.

There were other panels that I attended and enjoyed but I could be here all day writing about them. These are just a selection of what stood out.

I briefly mentioned earlier cosplaying. As a LARPer it is no surprise that I enjoy costumes however, I've never really cosplayed before nor has it been something I've particularly got as a form. I'm not going to lie, whilst I love seeing some of the amazing and stunningly detailed costumes that people make I've always found cosplaying at cons a little off-putting. It almost creates an “us vs them” situation, especially in places with the really big pro cosplays and hoards of photographers. Whilst some people are at a con to see the exhibits, others are there to be seen. They are the exhibits, and it creates a barrier between them and their surroundings. Worse (and this is certainly something that is more in my mind that what is actually going on) there is a fear that those who are not cosplaying are somehow lesser or less important than those in costume. Those in costume are elevated to “special”. So Nine Worlds was interesting for two reasons. First of all, I actually took part and donned a costume. A low key, fairly basic and pretty obscure cosplay sure, but still, I put a wig on. Secondly, the cosplay atmosphere was markedly different than I have experienced elsewhere, even at  the relaxed Thought Bubble. There was a genuine feeling of people cosplaying for the love of cosplaying. Due to being a smaller con that doesn't attract much in the way of photographers or day trippers there was little of the standing for posed photographs. Standing for pics happened of course, but it was always with a measure of friendliness and respect. The cosplayers mingled with the non-cosplayers easily with no boundary or exclusion. Nine Worlds also had a lovely system of giving tokens of appreciation to cosplays we like. All attendees were given five blue tokens they could hand to a cosplay they appreciated over the course of the weekend. Any cosplay that collected 15 tokens could trade them in for a badge. It was a low stress, low impact way of interacting, but actively encouraged interaction. I found it utterly charming.
If you are curious, nobody handed me a token. But Kieron Gillen did recognise me as Klem from the comic Fuse and took my picture to show to the comic's author. That was as good as 15 tokens to me!

me in cosplay as Klem Ristovich

No event is without room for improvement. I am aware that some con-goers who had been to previous Nine Worlds events noted changes to how it was run and particularly the location: this year was a hotel in London's Zone 2 were as previous years had been at a larger venue near Heathrow. I However, can't make those comparisons so am going purely off my own experience.
To start with the venue, I'm not convinced it worked. I'm not sure it was a flop – I actually liked being spread out over different floors and rooms as it avoids the cattle-shed feeling of larger more homogeneous spaces. On the other hand, it was difficult to forget that we were in a hotel and thus sharing the space with non-con-goers. The main social area, near the registration desk, was in and around the bar area and foyer of the hotel. There were always confused hotel guests nearby and I was conscious at least of not making their stay horrendous and simultaneously, not wanting to feel restricted by their presence. The organisers may have intended for the main social space to be elsewhere, but given the layout of the the con, I think this was inevitable.

Also a let down with regard to the hotel was the food. We were assured (as I am sure the con organisers were) that the various catering options within the hotel would be able to provide for all diets and tastes and would be affordable. This was a necessity as the hotel did not allow people to bring in outside food. It also proved not to hold up to testing. The bar food was reasonably priced, but was limited and of course, could only be ordered and eaten in the busy and often full bar (I should not that there was also a more formal restaurant available as well). Vegan, dairy free and gluten free options were limited, not always advertised and again often expensive. There were additional issues with staff not always knowing what was available, so one person may be turned away from the Expo hall cafe because there are no vegan options, while half an hour later somebody manages to wrangle a baked potato and beans out of them. It was frustrating as the busy session timetable and mobility issues meant nipping out to find somewhere else to eat wasn't always possible.
People who needed food due to health reasons were allowed to bring food in, but in reality that means carrying snacks, not bringing in a whole meal. People really did struggle here and it's an area I expect the organisers to be looking at for next year.

Though the focus of this con was the sessions, there was actually and expo/traders hall as well as the Nine Dice Lounge – the board and card games room. The expo felt too small for the space it was in and was a little underwhelming. This may just be because Nine Worlds isn't well known on the traders circuit so there wasn't enough take up, or perhaps the broad scope of what the con covers didn't draw in enough traders. Either way, it felt a little hastily done. I'm glad it wasn't the shiny, polished corporate sales floor of comic con, and I'm glad it wasn't heaving with gamerbois and reps, but a little bit more oomph wouldn't have hurt.
As for the Nine Dice Lounge, well I can't comment. I never made it in there. It just seemed too out of the way and with not enough time between sessions I couldn't make it there. Was it underused? Was it integrated in to the con enough? I'm not sure. Perhaps having some scheduled demos or games would entice people up there, and add an extra dimension to the con.

NB: 26/08 since writing this I have noted several people enjoying the games lounge and seen photographs of people enjoying it. It would seem that any fault there is down to my own lack of attention or ability!

And that's about it. Maybe reorganise the schedule but scheduling is a dark art and there is often only so much that can be done. There really wasn't a lot to complain about from my point of view.

Now I admit, my convention attending pedigree isn't long. I've more or less covered it in my opening paragraphs. However, Nine Worlds would appear to occupy a space all by itself on the geek culture con roster. It's focus is different. It's set up is different. It's atmosphere is different.
The result was something I enjoyed immensely, am eager to get back to and have already jotted down ideas for future sessions.

If you want a con that is a but more cerebral, celebrates differences and really wants you to be a part of it, I can't recommend it enough.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

An Open Letter to the Henry Moore Insitute

On Saturday I visited the Henry Moore Institute gallery in Leeds. I was drawn to its current feature exhibit The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics. Being both disabled and a former student of palaeopathology, as well as an art lover, an exhibition that promised that it "explores how sculpture and medical science have augmented the analogue human figure..." was of course an appealing prospect.

It was inevitable that the subject matter would be challenging, and may at times have struck a personal chord but that is, to be honest what I was looking for. The pieces themselves - a mixture of sculpture, lithographs, installation and extant examples of prosthetics were very interesting. They fulfilled the brief of examining how prosthesis and the disabilities that require them alter are perception of the human form.
However, the way it was presented was very voyeuristic. Some of the pieces were clearly to do with the relationship between people and their prosthetics but there was no discussion of this, no deeper exploration of the pieces on display. Instead it came across as some sort of modern minimalist freakshow. Curious contraptions and inventive creations presented on a stark white background inside the modernist cube of the building. The feeling was distinctly "othering" to anybody with a disability, and especially of those with prosthesis. Disability put on display to ogle at and the attention and praise reserved for the "clever" designs and interpretations of accessibility and prosthetics.

Additionally, the responses of other people in the gallery were at times repellent. I heard words like "heartwarming", "provocative" and of course "inspirational". This was a clear response to how the material was presented, divorced from the reality of life with those prosthesis and the real and lived experiences of disabilities. The exhibition gave no guidance for deeper consideration or empathy and instead directed visitors toward cool detachment and marvelling at "those poor cripples". 



To top it off, the accessibility of the gallery was poor. Though the gallery has a well signposted wheelchair friendly entrance, it is off to one side and doesn't take you to the main foyer - a quirk of many designs that physically separates disabled people from the able bodied population. Since I can use steps I chose the more direct main entrance and found that the automatic swing doors were faulty, stopping only half way so I had to shove them open with my hip.
Inner doors were not automatic and were also heavy, requiring very careful shoving, propping and manoeuvring to get through. One was so heavy, I actually knocked and asked somebody in the room to let me in!

There was one bench in the main gallery, off to one side perfectly positioned to view the room at a distance without being able to get close to the art. Another bench in a small sub-gallery. Nowhere for a disabled person, in this gallery of the disabled, to rest easily while they view the pieces. I discovered ,as I was leaving, that there were small folding stools available tucked at the side of the reception desk but you only see this on the way out, and it means being able to carry them around with you and through the heavy doors. Not actually that useful.

The approach to displaying the art is minimal (as is the trend in many galleries) and the big blocks of text explaining the exhibition on white walls were difficult to read and separate from the main exhibit. Yet another barrier not only to any visitors with cognitive impairment but between visitors and an understanding of the material on display.


I was really disappointed. They could have done so much with that exhibition but instead it bordered on offensive and was a disservice to disabled visitors and the exhibits themselves. For it to be barely accessible to disabled people truly was the pièce de résistance. What is most infuriating was that it needn't have been that way. It would have taken only a little though and some consultation for the curators to have provided a sensitive and accessible display that reflected both the importance of the work and the aesthetic of the gallery.
Ensuring that doors opened or were open of course would have been a fitting start. Considering what greets visitors who do use the step free access should go without saying. Including sensitive and compassionate language in information panels to guide the tone of the gallery and visitors. More discussion of each piece, why it was chosen and what it represents. Staff who are alert to disabilist language from visitors and are able to offer critique in context instead of standing talking about their rota. Considering that many of the extant artefacts were on loan from the Thakrey Medical Museum who have an excellent record with regards to inclusiveness, it would not have been difficult to develop language and presentation that was sensitive and appropriate for the subject.

Prosthesis and augmentation do play a big part in our cultural history but more than that they play a big part in the everyday lives of many people who use and rely on them. Disability is not something that happens to other people. Disabled people are not another species or an interesting foot note in our anthropology. We exist, we live, we breathe and we visit art galleries.

The Body Extended should be beautiful, provocative, enlightening and inclusive. Instead you have created something that dehumanises and erases a part of human existence.

I am deeply disappointed and I am hurt.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Accessible Activism

It was bound to happen: a post where I combine politics and accessibility.

Some people are political and social activists all the time however, many are only now putting on the mantle of activist in response to the current political climate in the UK and USA. Activism can come in many forms from blogging a tweeting, to going to rallies, to attending meetings.
But is your activism accessible, and are your expectations about activism inclusive of disabled people?
Often the very people who benefit most from activism are excluded from taking part because of the very things they are concerned about. This post will focus primarily on accessibility for people who are disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent however, you may wish to consider accessibility in terms of socio-economic status, age and language. Can young people take part, and are you reaching out to the elderly? Is your campaign material available in the languages commonly spoken in your city? Do you have an intellectual bias which may exclude poor communities with lower levels of education? Keep in mind who you activism is for and make sure you include the people who need it most.

Now on to the topic of disability access in your activism. I'll break it down by types of activism, though many groups use combinations of two or more. The following is not a list of things that you should always do in all circumstances, but they are things you may want to keep in mind and be prepared to do if people require it. Much of this information is good practice anyway, and can benefit non-disabled people just as much.
In general:

  • Make sure you language is sensitive and not disabilist 
  • Think about how information is distributed and be prepared to have alternative formats
  • Consult with specific disability rights groups to make sure you are representing them accurately
  • Listen to and value what disabled people have to say on how your issue effects them and their community
  • Be aware that encouraging people to "get out and do" can be isolating as many disabled people can not do this. 
    • Do not berate or shame people for not doing a particular form of activism.
    • Suggest alternatives that may be more suitable for them.
  • If you run an activist group or event, create an equality and diversity statement that includes disability and mental illness. 
  • Remember that people's abilities will differ from your own. That does not make their activism less valuable.
Printed Media and the Written Word
This activism mainly uses blog posts, text based websites flyers, leaflets and posters in order to disseminate information and garner attention. The focus is on sharing information, news and advice on your chosen subject.
  • Summarise key information clearly, preferably using bullet points or similar.
    • Some people struggle to read long paragraphs, a summaries help get the important information across. 
  • Use clear fonts and colours to print any text. Avoid changing colour and font too frequently.
  • Consider producing or making available flyers in different formats i.e. large print or even Braille.
  • Keep your language simple or include a glossary of any unusual or specialised terms.
  • Print on off-white paper. Pale blue, cream and pale yellow are advised for accessibility for people with dyslexia and migraines and similar.
  • On websites, avoid using frames and make sure any info graphics, cartoons or videos also have a full text transcript.
  • Have offline versions of flyers and documents available for people who need to print out or to format for a text reader.
  • Avoid using red and green in combination due to colour-blindness. 
  • If your campaign focusses on letter writing/emailing then consider alternative means for people to get involved.
Example:
Jerry has Downs Syndrome and is not confident writing a formal letter to his MP. He talks to the campaign organiser who pairs him with another letter writer who is able to transcribe what Jerry says in to a letter. Jerry reads the final version and is happy their voice has been made clear before sending the letter.

Rallies, Protests and Marches
Getting people out on the street is a great way of garnering attention and showing showing support for an issue. Rallies and Protests can be organised by small grass roots groups as well as larger formal organisations (think about your City Pride events for example). They can be difficult for many disabled people to get involved in though.
  • If you event is in a static location, provide an area and clear access for wheelchairs and scooters.
    • Level access also helps people with other mobility difficulties.
  •  Arrange for seating - folding camp chairs can be a good idea
  • If you are arranging a march or moving protest, publish your route in advance so that people can join up at a suitable point.
  • Move at a slow steady pace so that people can keep up, consider arranging for people in wheelchairs or with mobility issues to go as a group near the front to avoid getting crowded and to set the pace.
  • Consider the location of your event. Being near to parking and public transport links makes getting there easier.
    • If your location is not near public transport consider organising a car pool system or pickup from a central location.  
  • Avoid march routes that go along hills - up and down can be problematic.
  • If possible arrange for shelter. A person using a walking frame may not be able to hold an umbrella.
  • Use the best amplification you can get so everybody can hear.
  • If you are providing placards, provide a variety of sizes and shapes so that there is something for everybody.
  • Consider wording and language on placards carefully, avoid disabled more mental illness slurs. 
  • Consider the duration of events. Some people can not stand, walk or be out for long periods.
    • If you are running concurrent events i.e. a meeting after a rally, consider a break for rest and refreshment between them.
Example:
Rosemary has POTS and can not stand for long periods. She is relieved that the rally she is attending as a cluster of reserved seating so that she cat sit for the duration.

The Spoken Word
Whether at a rally or protest, as part of a conference or at a local meeting spoken word is a big part of how activists can spread their message, garner interest and raise enthusiasm.
  • When arranging for speakers make sure to include people with different disabilities, chronic illnesses and mental health needs.
    • Their input doesn't have to be confined to those topics. Representation is important.
  • Provide water and seating for any speakers, ask them if they would prefer to speak first or last.
    • Fatigue, anxiety, pain etc, may mean some people need to speak earlier.
  •  Hire a BSL interpreter and make sure they are positioned clearly for the audience.
    • For conferences you may have to assign an interpreter based on attendees needs.
    • Give any prepared material to your interpreter in advance.
  • Ask speakers what their needs may be in advance.
    • this may include seating, level access, shelter if outside or an interpreter. 
  • Use the best sound system you can for your situation. Good clear amplification is important.
  • Use visual aids like PowerPoint or Live Closed Captioning or provide written transcripts, notes or flyers covering the key points of what is said.
  • If you are producing a video make sure to include accurate closed captioning. 
  • Speak clearly and at a steady (not slow) pace. 
    • Avoid using any colloquialisms or unusual abbreviations.
  • Be tolerant of mobile phones: they can have accessibility apps or may be recording so that the person can access the speech at a later point or with specialist software. 
    • Some people with conditions like ADHD actually concentrate better when they are doing two things at once. What may look like a distraction may be an aid.
  • Make sure that any sound effects or music do not obscure the speaker. 
    • Avoid use of loud or sudden sound effects like bangs.
Example: 
Marja has PTSD triggered by angry shouting. She is relieved that the speakers at the demo all speak clearly without resorting to shouting angry slogans.

Picking a Venue
This is partially covered in the previous sections but does require some of its own notes. Your venue can be a big factor in if people can take part in your activism. This can apply whether it is a rally for a thousand people or a meeting for a dozen
  • When deciding on a location or venue for your event keep accessibility in mind.
  • Look for level access to all main areas.
    • Where possible this should not be a service entrance. 
  •  If possible choose venues with hearing loop systems. 
    • Find out the specifics in advance and let your attendees know.
  • Make sure there is space to manoeuvrer mobility aids through doors, around tables or down aisles.  
  • Try and choose a venue that is near to public transport or car parking.
  • For conferences and large events, having a "quiet room" can be beneficial for those who need a break.
  • Find out if food and refreshment is available or if people can bring their own.
    • Consider different dietary requirements.
  • If possible find out if you can control lighting and temperature as some people have sensitivities.
    • Strong fluorescent lighting or flickering lighting can be particularly problematic.
Example:
Vic wants to attend meeting of a local lobby group but hasn't been able to because the group use the upstairs room of a pub which they can not access. They talk to the lobby group who agree to change venue to a downstairs location so that Vic can attend.

As stated this at the start this isn't a definitive list of things that activist groups should be doing however it should assist you in thinking of what things can be done. More than that it should help to foster an attitude of inclusiveness toward disabled activists that will help make sure your aren't inadvertently excluding people.

Of course, there are also plenty of things that disabled activists can do themselves to make access easier (making sure to manage our pacing for example) but the weight of making sure disabled people can access your activism shouldn't and can't solely be their responsibility.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Your leave vote was racist

I have seen several people now, people personally known to me, saying the following:

"People are saying I support racism because I voted Leave but I'm not a racist."

And I need to address that as clearly as I can.

There were of course, a number of legitimate reasons to consider voting Leave which weren't associated with racism or xenophobia. Many hard left groups initially advocated for a Leave vote due to socialist, economic ideology. They made a pretty good case for it which of course was labelled "Lexit" (Left exit). There were also other arguments to do with exactly how people were governed, systems of power and rule and so on. Some people called this "Sovereignty"* and whilst many of those arguments were based on inaccurate information, in no small part due to the appalling campaign strategies, people honestly believed and supported them.

A flyer from TUSC one of the groups that supported the so called "Lexit"
 So I can understand why some people may have initially chosen to support leave. When the referendum was first announced and it sounded like we might have an opportunity for honest open discourse and a chance to democratically share out views on the EU people of course embraced the discourse. So if you were one of those people AND (and I can not stress this enough) you voted by post or proxy early, no you are not a racist nor did you support racism.

However, for the vast majority of voters who voted on the day or later in the campaign then yes, you are a racist or you supported racism.

The Leave campaign adopted a strategy of arguing on a base of Immigration, Patriotism and Sovereignty very early on. It was not long before that was the main focus that was pasted across every front page, down the side of buses, on poorly identified propaganda through our doors and in every speech and statement the campaign made. This was about immigration. It was about ethnicity. It was about xenophobia. It was about pitting us against them. Yes there were other so called arguments thrown in to the mix, things like economic stability, deficits, and trade agreements. Things that were routinely and thoroughly put down and debunked repeatedly by experts in the field.

If you chose to ignore the expert reports, the concerns and warning raised by economists, business tycoons and world leaders and still felt that Leave had a valid economic case that you supported, you could in no way ignore the cacophony of racism coming from their camp. There was literally no way to avoid it. There was no way to deny that racism and xenophobia were a core part of the campaign.
There was no way to ignore a rising wave of so called nationalism and fear mongering about "them".
You knew it was there.

Let me pause to give you a brief analogy.
If you buy and read the Daily Mail and say "I only get it for the sports.", you are still supporting them. Your money goes in to their account, your purchase or online view goes in to their statistics. You give them money each day to conintue operating and you give them your support to say "the widest read paper" or "our readership has increased by...". Notice how they don't break it down in to "The widest read newspaper except for them who only get it for the sport.". No, sports only or full paper, you are one of their readership, you have given them legitimacy.

Well, if you voted Leave but aren't a racist that is exactly what you did with the Leave campaign. You gave them legitimacy. You threw your vote, your support, behind a campaign that was racist. You supported racism. You may not believe yourself to be racist, and maybe in your day to day life you are not, but when you cast that vote and supported a racist campaign, you supported racism.

just one of many pictures found on twitter following the result

In the days, hours in fact, following the referendum results there was a massive upswing in the amount of visible and obvious racism and xenophobia. Cards being put through doors and handed out outside schools. Slogans and stickers appearing in cities. Slurs being shouted, people being berated. And so many of them directly referencing the referendum.
"We voted Leave, now fuck off".

These are people, racists, who are emboldened by the support the Leave campaign received. They are supported by the Leave campaign and by the Leave victory and that victory was supported by the people who voted for it. If you voted Leave you support racists.

So there are two options here, either you are so shockingly naive that you somehow missed entirely that racism and xenophobia that was tied up in and weaved through the campaign or you knew it was there and you voted anyway.

As I said I don't think anybody was that naive unless they voted very early before the extent of he situation was so apparent.

That leaves the second option. You saw the racist campaign. You saw that it was a campaign shored up on xenophobia and that relied on stirring up a culture that pitted "Us" against "Them" and you chose to vote anyway. You can tell yourself you have as many good reasons as you want: economic, so called sovereignty, a concern about international trade but, you still chose to ignore all that racism. You chose.
You made the conscious decision that whatever your reasons were, they were more important than racism. That they were more important than people facing xenophobia. That a culture of racism and hatred was worth enduring so long as you got the benefit you had fixated on.
You put your own needs before those of millions of people because you decided racism was an acceptable price to pay for the chance of a little bit of economic stability or the chance of a better house price.

That is racist.
Your act was racist.
You are racist.

You may not be handing out those cards, or shouting insults in the street but don't think that doesn't make you racist. Racism goes far beyond simple slogans and is a form of systemic oppression against minority races and ethnicities. It is the pitting of the majority against the minority so that the majority can maintain a feeling of superiority. It is saying "my needs outweigh the right of people to not be oppressed or treated differently based on their skin colour or ethnicity.".
Due to its long history the UK already favours the white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant, over everybody else. It's built into the very core of our legal system. It developed over centuries and has yet to be undone.
To vote Leave because you feel that the small chance of bettering yourself is more important than stopping more inequality for people who are not white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant is to actively and knowingly take part in and support that systemic racism.

Every single one of us who is white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant** benefits from systemic racism. We just do. However we have a responsibility to do what we can to offset that, to fight against that and to not make it any worse. Some would argue that doing nothing is a form of racism. That's a tricky one.
However, if you actively take part in something that perpetuates that inequality and that actively encourages racism and xenophobia and actively supports xenophobic attacks, then yes you are racist.

You had a choice and you made it.

Now I want to finish up with something verging on positivity.
Maybe you voted Leave. Maybe you can now recognise that what you did was racist. But it's ok. People make mistakes. Trying to justify your actions is normal. However, rather than fervently deny that your vote was racist and maybe you didn't examine your own motivation enough or recognise some inherent or systemic racism , you can accept it.

You can say "yes I did, and yes I was wrong.". You can say "You are right and I will learn from this". You can listen to people's concerns, you can listen to their fears. You can recognise where you went wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again. You can find out what changes you can make.
You can remember that those of us who are in a position of white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant do need to take time to think about our actions now and then and do need to make an effort to not perpetuate or support racism.

This time you were racist. Next time, you don't have to be.

Addendum: I want to add that this does not mean that there are not individuals who voted remain who racist. There certainly are. I also know that there is systemic racism within the EU (as a population and as a political body) that desperately needs to be dealt with. However, the campaign was not built on and did not deliberately encourage racism.

*I believe that the word Sovereignty in this campaign has been used in such a way that it is indistinguishable from "Nationalism" it is a polite way of saying "mine not yours" and of saying "I want the power to keep people I don't like the look of, out".

** I include myself in this as a bisexual, genderqueer, disabled person. My minority status in those areas does not remove the privilege I experience as somebody who is white, British born, English-as-a-first-language, nominally-Protestant (i.e. I don't practice another religion which doesn't have the same protected rights as being Protestant).

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Access All Areas vs "but you don't look sick"

Today I want to explain to you why I use accessible toilets and changing rooms.
Now let me make it clear, nobody who uses a disabled or accessible facility owes you an explanation. They don't have to give you proof.
However, I do think that explaining to people, in this manner, from the safety of my own blog instead of when I just need to pee, helps people understand and perhaps make the world a little more accessible for the people who need it.

For those of you new to my blog or who don't know me in real life, a quick run down of my disability and chronic illness.
I have a diagnosis of Chronic Lyme Disease Syndrome. This is also sometimes called Chronic Lyme Disease, or Post Lyme Disease Syndrome. It's a confusing and ever shifting array of names simply because it is an illness still being studied, that isn't fully understood and the exact parameters aren't clear. More commonly I say I have moderate to severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME (two names for the same thing) as that is what it presents as and is something people are more familiar with. In a nutshell I experience full body fatigue following little or no exertion, that is disproportionate to the exertion and is not relieved by rest. I also get joint, muscle and nerve pain in various parts of my body, bouts of vertigo and frequent migraines.

That description alone may be enough to explain why I use accessible toilets, changing rooms and other facilities but, I'm going to break it down further.



Accessible facilities are often closer to a main entrance or to the main spaces. This means that I don't have to walk as far to get to them. You may not think that walking an extra 20m to get to the main toilets would be much of an issue but to somebody with CFS/ME (and many other conditions) it actually makes an impact. On a bad day that extra 20m can make a big impact and feel more like running a marathon. On a good day I can probably manage it, but every little bit of energy used up adds up over the course of a day and can result in severe fatigue later on. It's all about careful energy management. Really when it comes down to it do you want to use your energy on going to the loo or, if you can, save that energy to do interesting things?

If the accessible changing room or toilet is managed correctly, there is usually not a queue for it. In busy places or at times when there is a rush to the loo (like an intermission at a play) you'll often find a queue for the main toilets. I've just used up precious energy to get to the toilets, and now I have to use more energy to stand and shuffle forward for 5minutes. Not only does that increase fatigue but it is likely to increase pain levels as well.
The accessible toilet however will usually, at worse, have one person in it and one person waiting. That is much easier for me to cope with physically.

Accessible toilets and changing rooms are often larger and have more coat hooks and surfaces in them. Most of you have probably experienced the frustration of being in a small cubical and having to manoeuvrer to take off a coat, put down a bag or two (without getting it covered in pee), use the toilet and then have to do the whole thing in reverse. It's even more difficult in places like swimming pool changing cubicles where you don't want anything to get wet and have to do a full clothes change. Now image trying to do that while in pain across several locations of your body, with reduced movement in your limbs and trying to conserve energy.
Larger spaces with the opportunity to arrange your belongings conveniently help to reduce or at least not increase pain, and use less energy. Simple thing like being able to put a bag on  waist high shelf mean that I don't have to bend down and hoist it up again. It really makes a significant impact on my symptoms.

Finally, when fighting with increasing fatigue and constant pain, I often find my anxiety rising. I can reach a point of sensory overload because so much of my concentration is on managing my symptoms and trying to keep going when I'm out of the house. The world becomes a confusing place that is difficult to process and interact with. And then I need to find a toilet.
Luckily, disabled toilets as mentioned above are often more conveniently and obviously located. They are often clearly signposted and I don't have to navigate a network of corridors and doorways. Just one door and I'm in. That takes the pressure off and stops symptoms getting worse and allows me to function.

I've mainly focussed on toilets here, but the same applies to seating in public places and on transport as well as any other facility which is designated as a priority for disabled people. It may not be immediately apparent why we need these things to be available, but we really do benefit from them.

Now for the tricky part. If I didn't have my stick, most of the time you'd have no idea I was disabled or chronically ill. I don't show it much. Even with the stick some people look sceptical. But just because you can't see my disability doesn't mean my need for accessible facilities isn't there. You don't get to challenge, you don't get to question, you don't get to be the one who decides if I am disabled "enough" to use something. You just have to accept that I know what I am doing.
If you aren't disabled you also shouldn't be using those accessible facilities. If you are able bodied and using a disabled toilet then that means somebody who needs it is having to wait longer, possibly at a detriment to their health. But, when we see you come out of the cubicle, we have to show you the same respect that we want to be given. We don't have a right to challenge, because how do we know if you are disabled or not. The responsibility therefore lies with the able bodied person to do the right thing. To give up a seat on the bus when somebody asks, even if you don't think they look disabled.
To realise that your "tired" is significantly different from my fatigued and that maybe you can manage the extra 20m to the normal toilets and let me use the accessible loos. To not stare when I get out of a swimming pool without use of a mobility aid, but then walk in to an accessible changing room.

We have to trust you and we need you to trust us.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Britain, you have hurt me

Yesterday I found myself posting twice to Tumblr about how my country had disappointed and hurt me. Twice, in one day, about two separate incidents.

The first:
Two rival political factions battling on the Thames with water hoses should have filled me with glee yesterday. Instead I found myself avoiding all mention of it and actually becoming increasingly angry.
They have already undermined an incredibly nuanced complex and far reaching political issue by turning it in to a populist issue so then to have official representatives of the campaigns literally turn it in to a water fight was beyond distasteful.
This is an issue that could have a huge impact on the lives of thousands of people. It could have huge lasting ramifications on how the country is run and the legal safe guarding of some of societies more vulnerable people. and they turned it in to a water fight.
They are making a mockery of the democratic process in this country. They are making a joke out of a serious issue. By making it in to a farce and a game they are taking power away from the voting public.
To quote a friend
“ Fucking millionaires playing games while the people of the U.K. suffer the ill effects - perfect illustration of politics in the UK too often these days. “
And the second:
I am hurting today.
I was already hurting following the Pulse shooting. I was hurting following the mockery of democracy and our population by prominent politicians.
Now I am hurting because here, in the county I live in, a politician by the name of Jo Cox, was murdered. She wasn’t just murdered. She was assassinated in an act of domestic terrorism.
They were shot by somebody shouting Britain First. Whether it had the backing of that hate group or not doesn’t matter. She was shot because that man believed that he should and should do so because of his Britain First aligned views.
That makes it domestic terrorism.
A woman was killed because of hatred and xenophobia and bigotry.
Even if if this was one idiot acting alone his actions have come from a place that is deliberately trying to divide the nation stir up “patriotism” and has encouraged xenophobia and right wing nationalism. It is shameful. I am ashamed that my passport says British just like that murder’s and just like the people, the politicians, who have encouraged an environment where that sort of murderous hatred can thrive.
Now, let's set things straight, these aren't the first time I have felt let down and hurt by my country. When government proposed and voted on cutting ESA payments yet again, that hurt me. When the government proposed a wage cap on non-EU immigrants, that hurt me. Every time a newspaper printed false information about the number of "cheating" benefit claimants, that hurt me. When doctors pleaded not to have a dangerous and inhumane contract forced through and were ignored and belittled, that hurt me. When in May last year, on my birthday no less, the country voted in a government who had continuously torn apart the country, taken money from people who needed it, grown fat for the suffering of others and who had repeatedly told me and thousands like me that I just wasn't trying hard enough, I was hurt.

So what was different yesterday? They say that people with addiction have to hit rock bottom before they can better, and that when you think they have hit that low point they will always find one more thing that is even lower. Well yesterday was my rock bottom. I thought we had hit it so many times before, but yesterday was just that little bit more.


On June 15th as two flotillas of boats representing official government campaigns, hosting well known politicians, met on the Thames to blare music and engage in a water fight we were shown the utter contempt that our government shows for the population and our democratic process. Until now they had at least hidden behind official language, gone through the proper motions of dressing their idiocy up as official business. They had at least maintained the pretence of acting democratically and allowing the population to take part in a democratic government, had at least pretended that the informed view of the people was relevant and that they didn't just do as they pleased.
But, as they turned a serious referendum into a pantomime, they showed that their only concern is to keep the population entertained and sated, like docile infants, whilst they focus on their own concerns. They sneered at us. They showed us contempt.

Then on June 16th, MP Jo Cox was murdered by a man claimed to be shouting "Britain First" the name of a violent, racist bigoted far right group. Jo Cox was infamous in parliament for being fiercely in favour of supporting refugees and migrants. She was a staunch supporter of ethnic diversity in the UK as well as being pro EU. Whilst Britain First have of course denounced the murder in official statements, a cursory look at their online groups and forums, as well as subsidiary groups and other far right groups on FB will show that there are many who are vocally celebrating her death, who are congratulating the murder on his work and saying that this is what "needed to be done".

This wasn't a murder carried out in isolation. This wasn't a "mad man". This was a murder, an assassination, that had an increasingly right wing, xenophobic, hate-filled culture to thrive in.
That's why these two incidents aren't entirely separate. A water fight on the Thames and a brutal murder are both born of the same political climate.
We have a government that actively encourages dividing the nation on moral and ideological ground. We have a government that actively encourages and perpetuates racism and xenophobia through falsehoods and misinformation as a part of their political campaigns. We have a government that supports and benefits from a right wing press and that stands by and allows without repercussion , lies and blatant racist slurs to be published. We have a government that actively fear mongers, and reduces complex issues to single inflammatory stories so that they can distract attention away from country crippling policy. We have a government that does not want to public honestly engaged in politics for fear that their power would be undone. We have a government that ignores expert reports, consultation and inquiry when they feel it doesn't fit some mythical "bigger picture". They make villains out of ordinary people and those in dire need so that they can line their pockets with ill gotten profit and then blame the straw-man they have created.

I have been let down by a government that reduces serious debate to a floating pantomime and creates a culture that encourages the murder of an innocent woman, all in the name of their so called democracy.

So shameless in their pursuit of profit and power they do not care for the figurative death of democracy and the literal death of an MP.