It’s Not Norwich

It’s Not Norwich

 

 

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much beautiful mystery you can offer, no-one wants to be an ambassador for your brand.

Lowestoft, the coastal town in Suffolk that I’ve called home for the past three years, is one such brand that no one wants to support. The locals rarely have a good word to say about it, and the rest of the country treats it as something of a joke.

When you’re faced with a brand like Lowestoft, you have to use negative marketing – you have to take the complaints, and make them  sell your brand.

The two main complaints about Lowestoft, from locals, are:

. “It’s not Norwich” (the sentiment, if not the actual words. Norwich is our nearest city, 30 miles away. If you don’t have a lot of spare cash, it’s not that great.)

. “There’s nothing to do”

Below is an example of a marketing plan using both of the above complaints, for “brand Lowestoft”:

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“In Norwich, you can’t watch the sun play over the ocean at the most Easterly point in the UK.  In Norwich, you can’t enjoy a pint and a some crisp, golden chips looking out over the open sea, the wind ruffling your hair, the sun warm against your face. In Norwich, you can’t enjoy an ice cream in the middle of lazily-playing fountains, or watch a shoal of goldfish gleaming through the ripples of a pond in front of a restaurant in a public park.

In Norwich, there are no shadowy scores that speak of smugglers and secrets, and the main shopping thoroughfares don’t feature quality independent shops and well-known chains sat side-by-side, a bright parade of potential purchases, and an ideal, intriguing way to while away a Sunday afternoon – perhaps as you walk off an early lunch at a seafront pub, or as you head down for a final seaside drink?

Nowhere in Norwich can you walk around the last fishing trawler of its kind to be built in the town, and see how her crew used to live and work.  Norwich’s museums don’t sit on the wild, rugged coast, or in public parks, offering a day out for everyone, not just the history buffs.

Norwich music doesn’t come complete with a sea view, and a restaurant right next door to the gig venue.

In Norwich, there’s very little opportunity to do nothing, very few places to just sit, or stand, and  simply be. Norwich doesn’t encourage loitering. To Norwich, buildings and parks, rivers and architecture, are just insignificant backdrops, rather than something that should be placed centre-stage, and spot lit.

There’s nothing to do in Lowestoft but step out of the rat race for a while, relaxing in the shade of Sparrow’s Nest, taking in sun, sea and sand on South Beach, or remembering bygone travels just outside the town proper at the Transport Museum in Carlton Colville. There’s nothing to do but walk along London Road North, perhaps calling in to Beales for homewares or stylish fashion, Waterstones for the latest best-seller, or Annatar’s for quirky, independent alternative gifts, and then head into the historic High Street, where the streets are still narrow, and the shadowy scores run steeply down to the sea.  Before you go any further, though, why not stop off at Coffee Heart, and enjoy a selection of cakes, sandwiches, and hot and cold drinks, including gluten free offerings, while your children explore the range of retro toys on offer? In Lowestoft, there’s nothing to do but head to South Beach, with its vast expanse of golden sand that’s just perfect for a game of Frisbee, and just a short walk from the independent shopping district of Kirkley, where you needn’t be shy of entering the Coconut Loft, which  offers excellent refreshment, a selection of art from local artists, and a delightful boutique deli.  

And if, after all that, you still want to visit Norwich, it’s less than an hour by train, which runs direct from Lowestoft, with the station in the centre of town, with trains running every hour to Norwich, Ipswich, and London, as well as Beccles, Woodbridge, and Halesworth.

Lowestoft: it’s not Norwich, but it’s close enough.”

 

Why We SHOULD Ask “Why Haven’t You Killed Yourself Yet?”

Why We SHOULD Ask “Why Haven’t You Killed Yourself Yet?”

Recently, there has been a wave of fury over the fact that PIP (Personal Independence Payments – a welfare allowance sometimes made in addition to basic UK disability support payments) assessors, who are NOT doctors, have been asking claimants “Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?” Disability News Service report.

It’s interesting, for a start, that the mainstream media hasn’t covered this. Perhaps they’re aware, as the social justice and alternative news sources seem not to be, that some questions, however unpleasant and upsetting, do need to be asked, and have a right to be asked.

“Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?” is creative negativity in action.  It asks a negative question in order to find a creative answer, one that can be worked with. When you haven’t killed yourself yet, even though you’re struggling, even though you can’t imagine things ever getting better, there’s a reason for that. You’re not still alive simply because you hadn’t got round to ending it all. Something is keeping you here – and, once it’s been established what that is, you can take that and run with it, working it into a sense of purpose that will help you work towards achieving whatever you want from life.

If you don’t know why you’re here, it’s very difficult to succeed – I know. I’ve been in that place, feeling that there was no point to my existence. Trying to kill myself. Failing. Turning up for work the day after.

I haven’t tried to kill myself recently, not because things are wonderful and I have no problems, but because, right now, even though the depression is still with me, even though I’m struggling to make self-employment financially viable, even though I’m trying to support my wife, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, with no help from anyone, and on very little money, even though I can’t afford to fix either the toilet or the boiler, I can – just about – cope. And if I can cope, I have no right to walk away and leave others to pick up the pieces.

My reason, my purpose, is that I believe in being responsible. Which means that my purpose is to find a position in which I have responsibility, and fulfil that responsibility as best as I am able.

When I’ve attempted suicide previously, the reasons haven’t been to do with there being no end to my troubles. The reasons have usually been that I could see how to resolve a situation, but I couldn’t afford to take the necessary action.

Poverty can kill – and we mustn’t pretend that’s not the case.

Nor must we leave people without a vital tool of self-knowledge by being afraid to ask difficult questions.

I’ve always had too much anxiety to manage submitting a PIP claim, so I’ve never been asked this question by an assessor. My wife, who was refused PIP, wasn’t asked it either. I’m not sure how many people are asked it, but I’m willing to bet those who do get asked are those who seem to lack a sense of purpose and direction.

No, the PIP system isn’t great – I personally object to the fact that people who are in full time employment can claim PIP: we have a national minimum wage that applies to disabled workers, too. You do what everyone else has to, and make a fully informed decision about whether you can afford to take a particular job or not. If you decide you can, then you live within the means of your wages, the way everyone else has to. I feel similarly about Working Tax Credits – if these options for didn’t exist, wages would go up, or prices would fall. People used to manage to have modestly decent standards of living before the national minimum wage, before Working Tax Credits. On the whole, these “benefits” are a salve, a way to stop the lowest-paid kicking up too much of a fuss about the tax cuts for the wealthiest.

In the 1950s – which the rose-tinted-spectacles-and-bigotry brigade believe was the best period in our history – the top rate of income tax was 90% or more. The wealthiest paid nearly all their earnings in taxation, which then ensured the rest of the country could be adequately maintained and improved.

Now, top-rate taxation is under 50%, and people are relying on top-up payments and food banks. Unemployment, insecure employment, and unpaid employment has skyrocketed. Prices are going up all the time. Public transport is either non-existent or unaffordable.

Why haven’t I killed myself yet? Because part of the responsibility I have is to be a voice in the desert of refusal to fully engage, the shelter and the storm against the pointless rage of social justice warriors, and the bigots they mimic whilst claiming to oppose.

Creative negativity is a vital and necessary skill to have – and I will gladly accept the responsibility of ensuring as many people have it as possible.

So – what’s your purpose and focus? Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?

Successful Illusion

Successful Illusion

Millennial men are earning less than any generation before them – to the tune of £12,500 (around $15,600) a year. Over £1,000 a month less than men before them, by the time they’re 30.

Meanwhile, we keep hearing that “the economy is rallying – house prices are up!”

Whoever decided to use house prices as a measure of a successful economy was either a consummate shyster, or completely naive, to the extent that they should be nowhere near any kind of role which involves making important decisions and announcements.

For a start, it isn’t “house prices” that are being used – although this is what we’re told – but rather the mortgage market.

In short, we measure the “health” of an economy by the inherently unhealthy habit of debt.

This illusion of success is portrayed as: “More people are being approved for loans, therefore people are earning more, which proves the economy is flourishing.”

No.

The reason more people are approved for loans is because people have more loans – try getting even a small, short-term loan, or a catalogue, when you have never previously borrowed money. It’s nearly impossible. Yet, once you have a history of borrowing money, people will fall over themselves to lend you more. It’s the same mentality that has friends more willing to lend money to their well-off companions who’re “in a spot of bother” , for something those friends could easily do without, than to their unemployed friends who need that money for essentials.  If you have money, people will give you more. If you have debt, people will give you more.

If you have nothing – that’s your life, now and forever, unless you get exceptionally lucky.

When you run an economy – or a business, or your personal life – on someone else’s money, any success you have is only ever an illusion. However impressive, it can never be more than a glittering image, because it has been built on inherently unstable foundations.

Success that is built on what you have, and not a penny more, is less impressive, less spectacular, less far reaching. It rarely makes the headlines of even your local paper, let alone attracting national or international attention, yet it is more enduring.

Your duty, first and foremost, whether you’re leading your family or running a company, is to be enduring.

Debt is not enduring, and neither are the illusions it helps create.  Borrowed money means borrowed time. When you use only what money you have, however, you have all the time in the world to create something that will last. Something enduring.

Creative negativity is enduring. The things that go wrong for people tend to be repeating patterns, and tend to happen because of inherent flaws or inabilities in those individuals . Therefore, when you use your failures as the foundation of future success, you’re more likely to create an enduring, if not particularly spectacular, result, because, rather than trying to construct something entirely from scratch, you’re simply adding on to a strong, set pattern that’s already there, and changing its composition very slightly.

The illusion we have come to call success starts with the premise that “of course I’ll need to borrow money.”

Creative negativity starts with the thought of “If I use what I have, I will only ever lose that which, over time, I can regain.” Starting with nothing forces you to be both creative and  negative – you can’t afford dreams and ideals. You just have to get something, anything, done, with whatever you have to hand. You work around problems that other people use money to solve, and therefore gain more skills – and skills are what people may, one day, pay you for.

Creative Negativity and “In Solvency”

Creative Negativity and “In Solvency”

Is there worse to come?

The above is an article from today’s Eastern Daily Press, from one of Norwich’s leading insolvency firms, and warns that 2017 is likely to see a rise in insolvencies across the East of England.

I used to work in insolvency – albeit as a lowly admin – and I’ve heard, first hand, on the end of a phone I sincerely wished I hadn’t had to pick up, the pain and rage of people who take the impact of the punch to the gut that is a business going under.  Newsflash: those people are rarely the business owners. In most cases, they seem to dust themselves off and move on fairly quickly. Donald Trump isn’t an exception. He got his eventual success, in the form of becoming President of the USA. Most business owners who declare insolvency will go on to achieve success with another venture. Not all of them, of course, but enough to make you sigh and roll your eyes, wondering whether they’ve actually learned their lessons at all. Wondering if they are aware there were lessons to be learned.

The people who suffer most are those who had the least to do with the business failing. The shop floor staff. The admin crew. The cleaners. The people who had to hear me tell them they’d get £800 redundancy, after years – decades, in one case – of turning up day in, day out.

Those people, their pain, their rage, were the reason I wasn’t sorry to leave insolvency. The managers at the company I worked for (not McTear Williams Wood) made it clear that “those people” didn’t matter. We were there to help the directors and company owners get back on their feet.

But, of course, there will be business owners who are devastated by entering insolvency. People who’d poured their heart and soul, their hopes and dreams, and no small amount of time and money, into a goal, only to see it snatched away from them.

I’ve never gone into insolvency, but I’ve had to close a business, and cancel an event, because I literally didn’t have the money to continue. Both times, the loss triggered a bout of clinical depression. Both times, in the run up and the immediate aftermath, I felt suicidal.  I can well believe there are others, who do end up declaring insolvency, who feel likewise.

This is for all of them, all of you.

I now work in the sphere of creative negativity, which seems oxymoronic in the context of business insolvency. What possible roses could there be behind those thorns? And how can you be creative about insolvency, unless it takes the form of “creative accounting“, which is somewhat frowned upon?

Let’s break the word “insolvency” up, to start with.

“In” – belonging to, within, inside, bordered by, etc. A five year old child knows what “in” means.  So: we are in a position of being bordered by, for the sake of argument.

“Solvency” – the ability to pay one’s just and lawful debts. (The “just and lawful” is important. Remember it.)

So, when we face insolvency, which sounds like a failure, the first creative thinking we can apply is to break up the word, so that, instead of being “unable to meet just and lawful debts”, we are, in fact “bordered by the ability to pay (our) just and lawful debts.”

That puts a new spin on it. We are able to pay our just and lawful debts firstly by identifying which, in fact, are just and lawful – and which are the result of people taking advantage of us.

When I was preparing insolvency cases, the number of times overcharging on the part of suppliers or landlords, or inappropriately charged fees by banks, would only come to light at the point of insolvency was depressing. Businesses seem to love taking advantage of one another, viewing it as some sort of harmless game. (Of course, when the person you’ve been overcharging for goods you supply to them goes bust, odds are your business won’t be far behind… The game doesn’t seem quite so harmless now, does it?) Those were the debts that the insolvency firm refused to honour – they may have been lawful, but they were not deemed just.

There are many ways of “paying for” things, beyond the obvious, financial method. I’m sure we’ve all been told, at one time or another, that “you’ll pay for that” – it usually involved some sort of physical violence.

But we also “pay attention” – and that’s the ability to pay our just and lawful debts that insolvency gives us.

When you declare insolvency, you begin the final stages of running a business. You may be able to keep things ticking over, usually with the help of the insolvency firm who’re representing you, but you can’t do much else. Your main focus, perhaps for the first time, is your debts. You have been given the unique ability to genuinely pay attention to the ways in which you spend money.

We live, as a nation and society, in an era where credit is seen as an automatic and inalienable right. It is considered odd if someone doesn’t have a credit card, or at the very least an overdraft. Almost everyone has used “payday lenders”, some on a regular basis. We have store cards, catalogue payment plans. We see nothing wrong in asking our friends to lend us a tenner every now and then, and even less wrong in asking our families to lend us money to pursue our dreams.  Even the Jobcentre will offer “crisis loans“, to people who will never have money of their own to repay them. Businesses run in constant debt to their employees – when you work for someone else, you are paid in arrears, for time you have already given. This becomes manifestly true when you are paid hourly, which often results in people working through illness, because they can’t afford the loss of pay that would result in taking a day off.

Because credit – and therefore debt – is seen as part of the normal functioning of a stable society, we never really think about the debts we’re accruing. We don’t pay attention to the ways in which we spend money. Not until a crisis hits, and forces us to pay attention.

This – the point of paying attention to our debts – is where creative negativity comes in.

Look at your debts.

Pick up two felt tips – one green, one red.

Look at your debts again.

With the red felt tip, mark every debt you had been paying without really thinking about it. Maybe it had been paid by direct debit, or you simply tossed it onto some admin’s desk with a brief “Give them a call and pay that off, would you?” Maybe you even paid them yourself, cheerily greeting whoever answered the phone, not a moment’s pause as you rattled off payment details.  In terms of personal debt – because personal insolvency is a fact – perhaps you even smiled while you were paying that debt, remembering the pleasure the goods the debt had bought you gave you.

With the green felt tip, mark the debts you were actively aware of paying. The ones, perhaps, that weren’t always easy to pay.  The debts you invariably paid late – or had your admin team make excuses for your not paying. The debts you paid with debt – paying them off on a credit card, for instance.

Now look at the debts you’ve marked in red. What do they represent? What did that credit buy you? Write it all down, every last detail of it.

Do the same with the debts marked in green.

Do you see any patterns?

In my personal life, before my self-employment began to stabilise, it was fairly common for me to pay my water rates late. Not by much – a week at most, ten days, once.  The bills I paid without thinking were mobile phone top ups, the monthly direct debits for the internet, and for my pension.

The pattern? I didn’t think about things I’d chosen to have, and that fulfilled intellectual and emotional “necessities” – communication, and security. Those things were so important to me that of course I would pay for them promptly.

Having clean water readily accessible, however… (I justify this to myself by pointing out that, at the time, and still, my toilet is blocked and my boiler broken: things aren’t financially stable enough, without credit cards or loans, which are outside my ability to procure, to attend to these things. I have water, but it’s not hot water.)

When you don’t have a lot of money, you end up thinking about every debt. But there are some you resent paying, and others you don’t. Everyone moans about the price of bread: no one complains at the cost of champagne.

What patterns have you identified? The debts you pay without too much thought or pain, that you pay on time, are the things that are important to you.

Knowing what those things are will tell you what you need to focus on in your next business venture, your next job.

For me, the important things, the areas of my focus, are communication, and security.

I communicate by writing, in ideas and words.  As to security? When I look at the things I’m regularly paid for, I realise I’m being paid for providing others with the security of reliable, high-quality results. I’m offering the security of a new way of looking at personal and business problems, and, with that, the security of knowing you can get through them.

When you’re facing insolvency, you’re bordered by the ability to pay attention to your just and lawful debts. To take a look at them through the lens of creative negativity, and see the patterns that are creating the tapestry of your life. The threads of endings, and of beginnings.

What’s your focus? And what are you doing, what are you going to do, to follow it?

The Benefits of Everything You Don’t Want.

The Benefits of Everything You Don’t Want.

Donald Trump – liar, racist, misogynist, several-times bankrupt: President of the United States of America.

A lot of people are angry. A lot more are justifiably afraid. It’s the UK’s “Brexit” vote all over again – times at least a hundred.

Yesterday saw the day a lot of people rose up against what they’d never wanted, what they’d vociferously stood and shouted against from the beginning.

In the coming days, weeks, months, a lot more people may well come to realise that the thing they thought they wanted, or thought they weren’t bothered about one way or the other, is something they really  don’t want.

And yet, yesterday, the poet Andrea Gibson said “Today, I will go to sleep. And tomorrow I will wake up 1oo times more queer than I am now. And I will keep doing that, every day, for the next four years.”

Yesterday, the streets of Washington D.C., and the servers supporting those computers hosting “virtual marches” for the geographically isolated, the disabled, those with care responsibilities, those without the resources to get to Washington in person, were thronged with people who, though afraid, were not intimidated.

The thing about our nightmares is, they clarify what our dreams are.

If our nightmares centre around monsters, what we want, desire, and should be working towards is safety. If they centre around running out of resources, what we want, desire, and should be working towards is material plenty, and the proper stewardship of such resources as come our way. If they centre around isolation, what we want, desire, and should be working towards is community. If they centre around running away, what we want, desire, and should be working towards is a future where our personhood, space, and time are respected, and others keep their distance without being asked, and approach us openly, and with respect, rather than pursuing us in desperate need. If they centre around being falsely accused, we should ensure that our words and deeds are always open, honest, upright, and true.

And if our nightmare is an egotistical, rich white man given ultimate power – we need to start working towards a world where the quiet, the humble, the poor, the ethnic minorities, the women, are welcomed and enabled to share power as equals. Not “instead of” wealthy white men who are also compassionate and respectful, not to “take” power from the current majority. But to genuinely share it, the way a couple who are deeply in love will share a meal out at a restaurant: each will get what they want, food and drink suited to their tastes, dietary requirements, and preferences, but they will also feed each other titbits from their meals. There will be requests to “try a little bit of yours, please?” that are joyfully and willingly granted. And they will talk – while they wait for their meals, during the meal, afterwards, and once they’re home, tucked up together in bed, or, if they don’t yet live together, in their own separate homes, perhaps on the phone, or online. They won’t always agree – sometimes they will have truly terrifying arguments, blazing rows that seem almost certain to end the relationship – but they will always seek to reconcile, rebuild, and find a place where they, and their differences, can live harmoniously together.

And yet the same people who claim to dislike “globalisation” and “multiculturalism”, who fear the loss of their own identity to the rising tide of diversity, often talk eloquently about the beauty and the “rightness” of marriage, even if their definition is very traditional. But a marriage is a kind of multiculturalism, a kind of diversity. Even if someone marries the boy-or-girl next door, someone who shares their views and upbringing and outlook, two distinct personalities are still being brought together, and forged into a stronger, single unit. When we fall in love, explore that love, commit to that love, and unite that love in a marriage, we clash, collide, derail and explode. We lose parts of ourselves, and gain traits that were never ours. And we always, inevitably, emerge as greater than the sum of the parts that were thrown together when we decided “You’re the one.”

Multiculturalism, diversity, love, marriage. They’re all a process, and, like all processes, they’ll have teething problems. Some of them will fail, as some processes do. Others will be messy, but enduring. And some will stand out as bright beacons of hope for the future, lighthouses for those who will come after them.

My wife and I often joke about how we’re “actually the same person” – and it’s true, we’re scarily alike in so many ways. And yet even with us, a seemingly perfect match, there are little bits of grit. These bits of grit may become blisters, or pearls  – but they cannot, and should not, be ignored.

Marriage, and multiculturalism, goes wrong when the bits of grit, the edges that keep slamming into one another, are ignored, or covered over with something bright and cheerful.

We need to acknowledge the pain associated with any kind of change, especially change for the better. We need to talk about those rough edges, those bits of grit. And we need to allow them to exist.

One day, soon, go to a beach that is mostly pebble, or look up images of pebble beaches. Notice how there are many different sizes, shapes, and colours of pebbles, but it’s all the same beach, running down to the same sea.

And yes; some of the pebbles are lost in the overall scene. You can’t see them clearly. But that doesn’t mean they’re not there. It doesn’t mean they haven’t travelled to arrive on that beach, at that moment. And almost all the pebbles you see will have signs of wear. Places where the current was too strong, or they were knocked one too many times. Yet here they all still are, existing, together.

As human beings, our sleep holds both dreams and nightmares. We need to accept and listen to them both – because our nightmares will tell us what our waking dreams should be.

The Decline of Risk

The Decline of Risk

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings,

And risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about the loss…”

(Rudyard Kipling, “If”.)

Risk has always been big business. Risk drove the housing market into the stratosphere. Risk is what fuels consumer credit. Risk built an entire sector – the financial sector. Risk is what makes sports exciting, why we play the lottery, why kids love arcade games.

Risk is what keeps us alive, and, ultimately, what kills us. We live because we take risks – the risk of being excluded from a group we want to join, the risk of being turned down for our dream job, the risk of being mocked by the person we fancy, the risk of a pregnancy not working out, the risk of going bankrupt buying a house or starting a business, the risk of regretting the decision to jack in our job a few years early and go travelling – and we die when the “turn of pitch and toss” doesn’t go our way. When risk bites back.

We will die because of risk, but we will also die if we don’t take risks.

Society has been slaughtered by risk run amok, risk that was released from any kind of supervision or control. Risk made without judgement.

But now, we stand in real danger of society dying because of an increasing unwillingness to take any kind of risk.

High Street book shops are stagnating because mainstream publishers refuse to take risks on unknown, exciting, genre-free authors, and haven’t caught up with the fact that the book buying public isn’t going to buy another 400 pages of the same story in a different place, with different people.

The arts are dying because governments aren’t funding them, and artists have become too used to being funded by the Establishment, and won’t risk trying something new, trying other ways to get the show on the road.

The economy is dying, because employers are unwilling to risk accepting the paradigm shift that’s needed, to embrace ways of working that don’t involve expensive offices and close supervision.

Intelligence is dying, because teachers daren’t risk standing up against a rising tide of government meddling, and actually exposing children and young people to the lessons they need to learn, the sources that will light the individual sparks in all those children, and set a blazing love of learning, and of knowledge.

Manners and compassion are dying, because no one will risk disciplining people when they fall short.

Society is dying, because no one will risk a “Hello” to a stranger.

People are dying, because no one will risk radical care, medicine that is more than medication, support that is more than just keeping difficult people out of sight.

The decline in risk is a fear-fuelled response to the death toll of ungoverned risk, which came in the form of mortgage defaults and corporate collapse, evictions and dismissals.

But the thing is, that risk was only culling the old and the sick. Those institutions, lifestyles, and people were already dying.

The reaction to it, the decline in risk taking across the board, is attacking the healthy, the vital, the necessary. It is killing everything that keeps us alive.

The world needs you to take a risk – now, today, forever.

What will your risk be?

I Hate Christmas

I Hate Christmas

I hate the crass commercialisation of it, that sees people get into debt to buy their kids toys that will be ignored, forgotten, or broken within three months, to buy family members, spouses, partners as many gifts as possible, using bright paper and financial exhaustion to say what should be said with gentle laughter, in a kiss, in the holding back of hair as someone suffers from infection or over-indulgence, in the small things we see in the charity shop, at the market, on our everyday travels, that make us think of those who hold the centre of our heart, in the jobs we do even though we’d rather be doing something else, in the quiet and eternal support of ambitions and dreams, in the celebrating of achievements, however big or small, and in the silent comfort offered in the aftermath of rejection or failure.

I hate the inevitable rows over “whose festival is it, anyway?”, the anger, hatred, ridicule and intolerance hurled from all sides, at anyone whose beliefs or philosophies dare to differ from one’s own.

I hate the habit of giving money, because “I don’t know what you want” (mainly because you never asked.)

I hate the consuming of quantities of food that are not needed, just “because we can”, while more than half the world starves.

I hate the way we’re forced into extended communion with people who have ignored us, as we’ve ignored them, for the past twelve months.

I hate the way the people in whose lives we are most involved are rarely around – forced to spend the holiday with people who are not involved in their lives, or who feel obliged to spend the holiday with people whose lives they’d rather not be involved in – I hate the way friendship is trivialised, made “less important” than blood, or romantic love.

I hate the endless arguments between so-called family, and the way no one will ever have the grace to say “I think it’s best if I go home now – I’ll call you when I’ve had a chance to calm down a little.” I hate this grim determination to “be a family at Christmas”, when we’ve not been one the rest of the year, not been one when it mattered – when a member was unemployed, struggling financially, homeless, lonely, when they wanted someone to be proud of something they’d achieved, when they wanted someone to share their sorrows and fears with.

I hate the focus on “What am I getting?” from people who already have more than they need.

I hate the way children are indulged, rather than taught that you live within your means, and are grateful for small pleasures.

I hate the way simplicity, and the joy a simple meal, simple companionship, simple gifts, can bring are dismissed as “a poverty mindset”, and “not entering into the spirit of things.”

It’s not about who you celebrate – which deity, pantheon, or force – but who you care for. Do you do what you can for those whom society has forgotten? Those without homes, without family, without friends, without the money to celebrate in even a small way? Those who are ill or alone?

It’s not about what you celebrate, but why you celebrate – are you celebrating and honouring the relationships that have sustained you through another year of triumphs and disasters, are you celebrating the steady, reliable presence of the earth, nature, and their provision for you, are you celebrating love, friendship, and genuine joy – or are you just celebrating the fact that you’ve got more “stuff”, a week off work, the chance to parade your religious beliefs around, to mass approval?

No one has to do everything – there are no superheroes, no single individual, or even small group of individuals, who can “save the world” – but we can all do something.

Before we unwrap the new “stuff” others have bought us, we can donate some of our old “stuff” to charity shops, and to services that support the most vulnerable in our society.

Before we tuck in to our feast, we can donate a bag of groceries to a local food bank appeal.

Before we splash the cash on food, drink, friends, family, presents and decorations, we can make a small donation to organisations who work tirelessly, year round, to improve the human condition, and to help leave the world a little better than they found it.

Before we set out on journeys to visit distant relations, we can journey within ourselves, and identify the work we need to do in the coming twelve months to become a little better as human beings – the things we need to leave behind, the things we need to embrace, the attitudes that don’t serve us, and the talents that do.

I hate Christmas – but I love the other things we can do, celebrate, give, and focus on at this time of year.