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Getting to The Heart of Homelessness

So today I want to talk about something which I’ve witnessed more and more of since moving to London. Something we are all very much aware of, but often turn a blind eye to.

That something is homelessness.

I know it’s a rather grim topic and isn’t really in keeping with my usual light hearted or ranty pieces. But it’s important. And I feel like we need to keep the conversation going, at the very least. The last three months in this city have really opened my eyes. Behind the twinkling lights and the bustling excitement of London city life are real people on the streets. People without a home. People nobody cares about.

I suppose airing from rural Ireland, it’s something I was never really faced with on a daily basis. Sure I’d hear about the “poor homeless people” on the news.

But I never really witnessed their situation for myself. Only the odd time when I’d find myself in the country’s capital, and even then it was usually just the drug dealing chancers harassing me at the Luas stop. I made the mistake once of giving one of them a couple of euro for a “sleeping bag” only to see him a mere half an hour later sauntering around Abbey Street again, a pack of Malboro Lights in tow.

So how do you tell the genuine from the chancers? How do you distinguish between those who are desparate for food or shelter, and those who are just looking to con you out of a few bob? For me I suppose it comes down to gut instinct. I think the majority of us have enough cop on to recognise when someone is really in need and not just looking for a quick score.

 With that being said, It really angers me when I hear people say things like “sure it’s their own fault” “they are druggies” “they deserve to be homeless”. No. No one deserves to be homeless. Sure some people may have made some bad decisions, but haven’t we all?

When you think about it we are all only one step away from homelessness. All it takes is the loss of a job, the inability to pay rent, or a mortgage. Some of us are lucky. We have excellent support systems, loving families who will take us in at the drop of a hat if anything ever goes wrong. But not everyone in this world has that. Some people literally depend on only themselves.

Last Sunday I was walking through Liverpool Street with my boyfriend when another couple approached us. They didn’t look much older than us. In a perfect world you could say we were just two happy couples in love out enjoying a Sunday stroll in sleepy London. Only the other couples reality was far different from ours. They were homeless, and clearly starving. The guy politely interrupted us, apologised for what he was about to ask, and then went on to explain that he and his girlfriend were homeless.

He told us he’s been looking for work for a number of months, but can’t find a job. He asked us whether we had any change at all to spare so that they might be able to get some food or a place to stay for the night. I turned and looked at the girlfriend who was holding her hands to her face and my heart honestly tore in two. I couldn’t help but think how different our situations were. How did they end up in this situation? What if that was us? We didn’t have much cash on us, I could only give them £2.50 and my boyfriend only had change in Euro, but they gladly accepted this anyway. The guy then tried to give us one of the lighters that he was selling but we told him to hang on to it. I couldn’t stop thinking about them afterwards.

I am met with this sad reality every morning on my commute. Many homeless people sit outside at the top of the tube stations, thousands rushing past them, ignoring their existence. We are all guilty of it though. We have more important places to be. We don’t have time. It’s not our problem. They got themselves into this mess, they can get themselves out. Oh if the shoe was on the other foot.

Lately though, I’ve been noticing more and more people stop to talk to the homeless, or buy them food, or offer them some small token or gesture of kindness. Yesterday evening I saw a blonde woman give a homeless man a bottle of coke and a sandwich. He couldn’t stop saying thank you.

This morning at Old Street a man in a suit stopped to talk to guy and his dog sitting on a tattered sleeping bag. “Alright mate” , he said, before saying he couldn’t chat long this morning, but he would see him later. It’s truly heartwarming to see these little moments of kindness in the face of such destitution.

A couple of weeks ago I saw this on my Twitter timeline and teared up.

It would be great instead of shaking our heads and thinking “oh how awful” that we actually took action and did something for these people. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but something as small as a sandwich or a coffee is honestly so appreciated. If you find yourself on a serious budget (like myself), even a smile, a hello or a quick chat could really make all the difference. I know I’m starting to sound like one of those pushy charity workers you find yourself running away from on the street, but it’s just something I really wanted to talk about today. So if you’ve had a particularly shitty Tuesday like I have, be thankful in the knowledge that you have a warm house to go home to, food on your table, and a pillow to rest your head on.

There will be some very cold and lonely people out there tonight.

~J x

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Asking for it a Review: Social Media, Slut Shaming and The Issue of Consent

*Contains Spoilers*

I don’t normally do book reviews, but after recently finishing Louise O’Neill’s asking for it, I almost feel compelled. In fact I think it’s something I’ll start doing a lot more of. Since finishing college It’s great to finally have the freedom to read what I want to read again! So lets get down to it.

I picked up this wonderful gem whilst browsing Waterstones on a lazy afternoon last Saturday.
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The story follows Emma O’Donovan an 18 year old girl from a small town in Ireland.

It was one of those books I found myself wincing the entire way through. It invoked every single emotion in me, and some I didn’t even realise I had.

On the surface Emma seems to have it all, she’s popular, is surrounded by a group of friends and is incredibly beautiful. If I’m honest at first I found her character a little annoying. She’s selfish, inconsiderate, and obsessed with material things. She’s not a good friend and to be quite blunt about it, she’s a bitch.

However, I soon came to realise how important these elements of Emma’s character were for the development of O’Neill’s plot. She doesn’t create the stereotypical ‘good girl fall from grace’. Emma is desperate to prove herself. She does things she knows are reckless to test people’s perceptions of her. She constantly repeats the mantra ‘I am Emma Donovan I am Emma Donovan’, in an attempt to reassure herself that she knows who she is, she is confident and in control, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Deep down Emma is struggling with her sense of identity, placing all of her self worth on her physical attributes. It’s almost as if she views sex as a form of acceptance. She ends up being raped at a party by 4 boys she thought were here friends. The narrative that ensues as a result can only be described as heart breaking.

On the night in question Emma flirts with boys, wears a revealing dress, and even takes drugs. All actions which are used against her afterwards in an attempt to claim she deserved what happened to her, that ‘she was asking for it’. Pictures of Emma passed out on a bed with the boys taking advantage of her are uploaded to a Facebook page called ‘Easy Emma’. In one picture one of the boys is seen vomiting over her, while another urinates on her head, evoking a vile comment on the page saying ‘she deserves to be pissed on’. Emma is completely unresponsive in the pictures, but don’t worry ‘she was asking for it’.

The rest of the novel deals with Emma’s struggle to come to terms with what happened. The saddest part of it all is that like many victims of rape, she blames herself. She didn’t want to report the boys. She wanted to protect them. She even tries to apologise to them after  a school teacher contacts the guards. She lies and tries to pass it off by saying she was pretending to be asleep. It’s her fault her mother has taken to drinking and her father can’t look her in the eye or socialise with his friends. It’s her fault her brother has lost his girlfriend. It’s her fault her friends aren’t really her friends any more. It’s her fault the lives of the ‘Good Boys’ are ruined.

Only it’s not. It’s not her fault at all. And that’s the point O’Neill is cleverly hammering home. Emma gains national notoriety as ‘Ballinatoom Girl’, and it’s an all too familiar narrative. We’ve seen it with Ireland’s own ‘Slane Girl’, where photos of a young girl performing oral sex  at an Eminem concert surfaced on the internet. Of course she was the slut. She was the whore. She was the irresponsible one. No mention of the boys on the receiving end. Or the person who photographed it and circulated for the world to see.

‘Ballinatoom girl’ is not just a work of fiction. She is a representation of every woman who has fallen victim to harassment, assault, slut-shaming, and rape. She is someone’s daughter, sister and friend. She should not be dismissed. We need to talk more about consent and rape culture.

O’neill’s novel is forcing society to take a long hard look at itself. Why are we vilifying young girls for virtually everything they do? So what if they wear short skirts, drink vodka and post selfies. Does that mean they deserve to get raped? I just don’t understand why we are so quick to pardon the guilty and punish the innocent.

The shocking reality is this novel is everywhere. It’s real. It’s happening here in Ireland, and it’s happening all over the world. Take the recent Brock Turner case in the US. It honestly makes me sick to my stomach. A rapist serves 3 months of a pitiful 6 month sentence for the rape of a girl at a college party. But it’s okay. It wasn’t his fault. His life was ruined. Dreams of becoming a professional swimmer slashed as a result of what was it his dad put it? ’20 minutes of action’.

It was all her fault of course. The girl who’s name we don’t even know. The girl who was attacked. The girl who’s body was laid bare behind a dumpster for all to see. The girl who cried rape. The girl who can’t remember. The girl who was drunk.

It’s just not good enough. I am so grateful to Louise O’Neill and the many other talented and brave authors who are writing about this subject. Lets not give in to this ‘keep it quiet’ attitude that Ireland has long grown accustomed to. Let’s give our ‘Ballinatoom girls’ and our ‘Slane girls’ a voice. It’s the least they deserve.
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Repeal The 8th- Without the hate!

This is probably going to be one of my more controversial posts, of which there are few, but I feel I can’t stay quiet on the issue for much longer. It seems as if everyone and anyone is giving their two cents worth on social media these days, so I thought why not give mine. People are going to jump down your throat either way.

Repeal the 8th. Lets talk.

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Firstly let me make clear that personally I am pro-choice. I have always been pro-choice. I believe that every single woman should have the right to choose. But for goodness sake ladies what happened to respecting one another’s views, morals and beliefs? The fact of the matter is both sides of this campaign need to stop vilifying one another. The funny thing is, (and I did not expect this) but most of it seems to be coming from the pro-choicers. Which not only makes me sad, but ashamed of the turn this campaign has taken.

Over the last number of weeks I have been appalled at the amount of people I’ve seen shot down, shouted over, and dismissed simply because they are not pro-choice. What happened to engaging in mature debate?

Girls; I understand you’re passionate. I understand your drive for change, and believe me I understand you’re angry. But the way some (not all) of the campaigners are handling it is just largely counter-productive. Telling Sally she is a “backward bitch” because she is a strong advocate for pro-life isn’t strengthening your cause. That is something I’ve actually seen. A long with “old fashioned views” “catholic propaganda” and so on and so forth.

We need to be able to participate in dynamic discussions with people to make a real change. Oh and another thing? (you’re all going to hate me for this), But men matter too. Yep. They have an opinion on this too, and just because they don’t have ovaries does not mean they should be treated with any less respect. It takes two to tango, so why shouldn’t a man be able to have an opinion when it comes to the issue of abortion? It’s not as simple as a women’s bodily rights. Scream at me all you want, but it isn’t.

Sure it’s the woman’s physical body, and she absolutely 100% deserves to have full control over what happens to it. But the life inside of her doesn’t belong to just her. So forgive me when it makes my blood boil to see other women dismissing men whenever they try to engage in this issue.

There are so, so many elements of it to consider that are just continuously being overlooked (by both sides), to suit their own agendas. The mob mentality is growing on social media and it needs to stop. I have many friends, that for their own reasons are very much pro-life, but I would never dream of jumping down their throats in the manner in which I’ve seen.  Myself and my friends have had a number of discussions on the matter, in which everyone’s points were listened to and taken on board. You’d be surprised at how much you could learn by just shutting your gob for ten minutes and respecting what someone else has to say.

You don’t have to agree with it, but you have to accept that this is an extremely complex and sensitive issue, you aren’t going to convince everyone. Stop belittling those that are just as passionate about something as you are. Change isn’t going to happen via condescension.

Yes I would love nothing more than to #RepealThe8th, but in a manner which is considerate of the beliefs of my opponents.

Rant over.

 

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Pondering Perception..

Sometimes worrying about what other people think about you can really stop you from just being you.

No matter how hard one might try to convince themselves that they don’t care about what people think, the truth is they do. We all do. If we truly didn’t care then we wouldn’t make such a point of saying it in the first place. Well, that’s just my opinion. 

Unfortunately society has made perception, well, everything. I think it’s extremely sad that so many people are afraid to be themselves for fear of being judged or branded “weird” or “different”.

Society has created labels and categories for us to “fit in to” and the funny thing is, even if you’re brave enough to defy the norms, you’re still actually labelled as a “misfit”, “outsider,” “hipster” etc. If you’re someone who hates labels and prides yourself on being different, well I’m sorry to tell you, you’re still part of yet another group of “non-labelers”.

It’s unavoidable really. We’re just not allowed to be who we are without someone or something pointing the finger of judgement. People form opinions of you based on everything, and you can’t please everyone. No matter how much you would like to.Image

It doesn’t matter if you’re the most down to earth, honest, straightforward, nicest person, you might even be second to Mother Theresa, someone will still find something wrong with you, someway to put you down, bitch about you, make you second guess yourself.

I mean the fact that we are in the 21st century and there are still some people who are so vehemently anti-gay. Society and attitudes are definitely changing, but it’s just another primary example of how perception dominates.

It saddens me to think about how many men and women are out there pretending to  be something they’re not, because they are afraid of what their mother, father, sister, brother or best friend may think based on what’s “accepted”.

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I mean who decided on what is or isn’t accepted in the first place?

Why is it that thin is considered attractive? Yet fat is ugly and undesirable..

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Why is it that being straight is normal? Yet being gay is disgusting or a sin..

Why is it that one skin colour is seen as superior over another?

Imagine if everything was turned on it’s head. Imagine if you were straight in a crooked world. Imagine if you were the skinny girl dying to be fat. Imagine if you were the rich kid wishing you were poor, or the white man wanting darker skin. Seems pretty inconceivable doesn’t it?

That’s because we’re just so used to how things are, how they’ve always been. Society might never change, but we can. We can by being confident in ourselves and our abilities, by straying from the herd and just daring to be different every now and again. Different in the sense that we’re not afraid to have an opinion that’s slightly out there, or to stand up for something we believe in, even if not everyone agrees.

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TV talent shows-the good, the bad and the ugly!

So,living in the 21st century in an age where reality TV is prevalent among us, It’s impossible not to be familiar with the various talent shows knocking about!

For those of you that don’t know, don’t care, or prefer a state of indifference, i’ll remind you of some of the most popular shows anyway!

There is The X Factor, The XFactorUSA The XFactorAu (you get this jist.. basically the xfactor is taking over the world),Got to dance, Dancing on Ice,The Voice, American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent America’s Got Talent, Zimbabwe’s Got Talent, The moon’s Got Talent .. Your Dog has got talent (With all the pet entries in these shows, this one wouldn’t surprise me)

Much of these shows follow the same format. There is a judging panel,usually consisting of Simon Cowell, some other random celebrities or people claiming to have talent, who are in search of “the next big thing”. Sounds delightful doesn’t it?

However, more often than not the audience is shown a series of “bad” auditions to incorporate shock and entertainment value, which ultimately serves to raise the ratings making for a very happy production company.

It sounds harmless really doesn’t it? The audience gets a laugh, the TV network makes money, all at the expense of some unassuming fool. But does anyone really stop to think about the self esteem of these acts? No. Not really. All they are is a two minute source of entertainment for the public. They are pointed at,laughed at and usually booed off the stage.

Now I’ll admit, most of these “fools” enter shows like these willingly, purely for the laugh, to make a mockery, to get their 15 minutes of fame. But what about those who have been led to believe that they genuinely have talent?They have had their hopes built up..only to be shattered in front of millions on national television. They are fed to the dogs, promised fame, and assured of their talent, when in reality, they are just another sinister aspect of a much larger, corporate money grabbing scheme.

3 or 4 years ago TV talent shows were hit with a slap in the face, when a 47 year old overweight, Scottish woman by the name of Susan Boyle strode on to the Britain’s Got Talent stage.

In the VT leading up to her performance the shaggy haired Susan, (dressed in an old fashioned, floral smock) explained how she lived alone, enjoyed the company of her cats, and had never been kissed. Straight away everyone was gearing up for an awful performance, expecting a good laugh, some harsh comments and then poor Susan would be sent on her way. The Judges were the first ones to jump on the preconceived, bandwagon.

So can you imagine the sheer disbelief when this unassuming women opened her mouth to sing, and out came a stunning, spine chilling rendition of “I dreamed a dream”. Susan was a belter, with the voice of an Angel, yet she was judged by her appearance and lifestyle.

Tv talent shows learned a valuable lesson that day. Never judge a book by it’s cover. Don’t exploit vulnerable people.

Whether we are aware of the exploitative nature of these shows or not, the reality is most of us still watch them. So what exactly is the appeal? Is it the shock value? Is it the cringe worthy acts? Or is it the genuine talent that’s showcased? or perhaps it’s a mix of it all.

Despite everything these shows can provide a great platform for people. For instance tonight I watched the first episode in the returning series of Britain’s got talent. The show never fails to provide the weird, the wacky and the wonderful and well, tonight I witnessed the wonderful, in the form of a group of shadow dancers named “Attraction”. The dancers transcended an incredibly moving story, through beautiful, fluid and graceful movement.

It was honestly unlike anything I have ever seen. The performance was so emotional that it reduced the audience and some of the judges to tears. It is moments like these that I am somewhat thankful for these shows. Without them, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see some of these incredibly ordinary, yet talented people. To me the main problem arises when agents, Record companies and the likes, try to make these people into the generic acts they’re not.

So I guess you could say I have mixed emotions about these shows. I think it depends on the mood I’m in when I’m watching. It depends whether or not I choose to be critical of these issues, or just sit back and be entertained.