Saturday, 20 May 2017

Before you vote

Very occasionally I post political content here. Not often.

I’m aware that friends who visit and chat here enjoy the courtesy and peace, and some feel apprehensive that airing political views can lead to disharmony and trouble.

So I’ve thought carefully about whether to say anything at all about the coming UK election, and decided that if I do not my conscience will not let me rest.

I don’t want to advise/tell you how to vote – you know how I will be voting from my previous two posts. There are just three things I want to draw to your attention, because I think before you vote on June 8th it is essential to have thought about them. Monday 22nd is the deadline to register, by the way.

The first thing is this. Our present government is making no secret about where it would like to take our National Health Service. Talks have already begun with US politicians with a view to following a similar healthcare model to the American one. The process of dismantling the NHS by removing funds and gradual privatization is well under way, and the destination in sight is private health care.

I am not against private health care in and of itself. I believe in taking responsibility for my own health, and I’m not a big fan of mainstream medicine. I tend to look for alternative therapies and avoid standard regimes. So I personally have no big drum to bang for the NHS.

But I do know that in America the average cost of health insurance is $400 per person per month. My US friends with significant health problems have to find $1000 a month. Each. And of course those with the most fragile health and chronic disease or disability become uninsurable.

Not so much for myself, but for the many who live with chronic sickness and disability, I would prefer we do not take this route in the UK. That’s the first reason I will be voting Labour.

The second issue is this. Our present government has announced plans to require elderly people to pay for their own social care, where that is needed. That would be things like help with washing and dressing, fetching groceries and medical prescriptions, house-cleaning, making sure medicines are put in the pill boxes and have been taken, etc etc. These are life-saving essentials for frail or confused elderly people living in their own homes. The alternative is residential care – which is also social care. The costs of this can be astronomical; nursing home residence in my area costs £500-£800 per week. A visiting carer is about £10 an hour.

Our government has announced that the funds for this care will be sourced from the equity of the elderly person’s home, where that home is worth above £100k. Where I live, the average home is worth about £242k. When the elderly person dies, all but £100k of the home will then belong to the government – and will be payable at that point; ie the house will have to be sold.

If the elderly person’s family is made up of people launched in the world and settled in their own homes, there’s no big problem with that, in my view. But if the elderly person lives together with an adult son or daughter, who may be the parent’s primary carer, there is a problem. When the parent dies, the carer will have been unable to save because s/he has been occupied as his/her parent’s carer, and will now have to sell his/her home. Presumably this is also true if two frail old people live together, needing help with care, and then one of them dies.

House prices have risen so steeply in my lifetime that a significant proportion of the children of my contemporaries cannot afford to begin buying a home. They remain in the family home and rely on inheriting it for their accommodation. The sourcing of social care from equity will therefore render large numbers of middle-aged people homeless.

One might argue that these adults living at home with elderly parents should be the source of the social care required. But to provide care for a demented elderly person they might have to give up their job – and then what would they live on?

The problems that will proceed from adopting such a course will be profound and widespread, and cause real misery and anxiety – maybe including severe neglect, unsafe home situations (eg locking in a demented elderly person while going out to work) and even suicides.  

Ben Harris-Quinney, Chairman of the Conservative think-tank Bow Group, said (see article here):
"These proposals will mean that the majority of property owning citizens could be transferring the bulk of their assets to the government upon death for care they have already paid a lifetime of taxes to receive.

It is a tax on death and on inheritance. It will mean that in the end, the government will have taken the lion’s share of a lifetime earnings in taxes. If enacted, it is likely to represent the biggest stealth tax in history and when people understand that they will be leaving most of their estate to the government, rather than their families, the Conservative Party will experience a dramatic loss of support."  

For this reason, even if I normally voted Conservative, this time I would vote Labour.

The third thing I want to draw to your attention is that the BBC, on which we have traditionally relied for impartial news broadcasting, has become a propaganda arm for the government. If you rely on the BBC to keep up with the UK political scene, you will have been consistently fed a right-wing bias – not slightly but extremely so.

This time round, you absolutely must take the trouble to read from a wide variety of sources, to read for yourself the party manifestos, and to educate yourself about exactly what you are voting for.

I have other reasons to vote Labour. Our present government has taken us into frighteningly deep debt, has turned away refugees – even breaking the promise to take in the children, and shutting out sick and disabled people – has resolved to frack all over England, with or without local permission, and is enthusiastic for war as a commercial opportunity. I am also deeply opposed to fox-hunting, and I am in favour of fuel payments to old people and school lunches for little children.

Did you know, for example, that in their manifesto the Conservative party has announced their intention to drop the ban on elephant ivory? Did you know that they plan to remove the vote from people who do not have a passport or a driving licence (my mother, like many elderly people, now has neither)?

But I accept that, unlike me, you may not object to war, may not welcome refugees, may be in favour of fracking and against foxes, school dinners and old people’s heating.

So for the three reasons I have outlined:
  • the intended instigation of private healthcare instead of a National Health Service
  • the announced plan to pay for elderly social care with equity from the recipient’s home, regardless of who else lives there
  • the right-wing bias that now characterizes BBC broadcasting

I urge you – even beg you – to consider very, very carefully before you cast your vote.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Does a minimalist need a coat?

I have a minimalist wardrobe question.

Does a person really need a coat?

As you know if you read here often, because I have hyper-mobility issues my body doesn’t fight back easily. If I have heavy or constricting clothes in woven not stretchy fabric, I quickly grow tired and uncomfortable. All my garments have to be light, soft and unconstricting.

I have a very small wardrobe too – as in the item of furniture, I mean, rather than the clothes in it. This is it. 

Coats tend to be bulky, and grab a generous percentage of space.

I get cold (like everyone) but if I get hot I can’t think, and feel suffocated. In general, I’d rather be too cold than too hot. In chilly weather, stores and churches and people’s homes usually have the heating on – we often don’t, we just layer up – so when I go indoors on a cold day I often feel stiflingly hot.

I can decide my own schedule. I don’t have to fit in with any kind of fixed timetable. So if it rains I can decide to go out later. I often take the car to pick up household members at their workplace at the end of the day if it’s raining – but I personally don’t get wet. It’s just a quick dash to the car parked at the roadside near our house. I keep an umbrella in the car in case it's pouring outside and I'm caught unawares – but you know, I never bother using it because here on the coast if it rains it's usually windy too, making a complete nightmare out of fighting an umbrella.

So I don’t see why I need a coat. If I have a warm woolly sweater, I can increase the layers under it, adding a scarf and mittens if it’s really cold.

I do have a cagoule, but I was thinking of getting rid of it because I hate it. I don’t like how it rustles and has tight grippy elasticated wrists. I don’t usually wear it even if it’s raining because frankly I’d rather get wet. But as it packs down very small it seems incautious to pass it on.

I tried looking at advice on the websites of other minimalists, and was rather surprised by what I read. One said “I have a ton of coats,” and went on to describe them. What? How is it minimalist to have a ton of anything, especially coats which are bulky and take up lots of room? All the ones I read thought a coat is absolutely imperative, but don’t really say why.

What do you think? Does a person really need a coat?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Cutting of losses

There’s an aspect to minimalism I think doesn’t always sit easy with people committed to simplicity – the whole business of cutting your losses.

Say I’m looking for a jacket.

It must be the right weight. If it’s for occasions like officiating at funerals, preaching and public speaking, I’ll probably choose something less warm than I otherwise might, because public buildings are usually overheated and I find it harder to deal with being hot than cold.

It has to fit – and that includes being long enough to cover my derrière; because if, wearing trousers, I have to process in past people or go up to the sanctuary to fetch an offering plate, it’s always the rear view that takes people’s mind off the occasion and refocuses them onto contemplating the lamentable error of my sartorial choices.  So why not wear a skirt? Because then I either have to own two jackets (as shorter jackets suit skirts and longer  will suit trousers) or wear skirts all the time – then you get into tights and slips and the complications of shoes that don’t look tragic with skirts but are still good for walking, etc., etc..

It has to be black, as it’ll be worn at formal occasions including funerals.

And – now this is the spanner in the works – it has to be cheap. The way to get high quality clothes for very little money is to buy at auction from private sellers on eBay. And generally speaking private sellers don’t accept returns.

I ask for measurements and scrutinize photos. I stick to brands I know, because they are made for different imaginary women. For example, Per Una clothes are designed for women with short backs and small frames, so the larger sizes are for plump, busty women with short backs and small frames – but thin arms. More your Italian type of woman. I need clothes made for another kind of woman altogether – with broad shoulders, a long back, long arms, and altogether hefty. More your Germanic type of woman. So I don’t buy Per Una.

I make sure to buy in stretchy fabrics because woven (rather than knit) fabrics feel like straitjackets to me. And I don’t want to do any ironing. As in ‘ever’.

Even with all this thought and caution, the purchase often doesn’t work out. What might seem an obvious preferable alternative would be to save up for a high quality shop purchase so I could return it. Except that it usually takes me 2 or 3 months and several times of wearing a garment before I reluctantly conclude I don’t like it. So an expensive purchase would simply mean a bigger mistake.

It’s important to me to like my clothes. In my jacket I’ll be on public display, but not at an event which is about me (if you see what I mean). My work isn’t like a TV presenter or actor – it points beyond myself; I need to be effaced, and concentrating entirely on something else. I need to be able to forget myself utterly when I’m preaching, or leading a quiet day or a funeral. I’ve watched preachers who aren’t easy in their clothes, tugging at this and tweaking at that, watched them readjust in alarm as their bra straps emerge from their too-generous necklines – no no no; that’s not for me.
So if I take hours of care and thought and select a second-hand high quality jacket and it arrives and I think it’ll do fine, and I wear it a time or two but have to conclude it makes me look lumpy and frumpy and I feel miserable in it – then what?

Two options; soldier on or try again. If I try again – ie buy a different jacket – this is the point where the minimalism/simplicity conflict kicks in.

Simplicity is humble and lowly, thrifty and responsibly and not wasteful. Simplicity is satisfied with what it has and doesn’t throw things away.

Minimalism runs a tight ship and travels light, so throws things away very readily.

In my particular case, I’ve opted more for the minimalism. If something doesn’t work out, I pass it on. It goes to a charity shop and earns them good money.  I have noticed that with a minimalist wardrobe, what I like and what works becomes clearer to me. If I don’t have loads of clothes, I don’t get confused about what’s going on. The garments that aren’t working stand out very quickly.  If I have loads of clothes and none of them are all that great, I don’t easily notice what doesn’t work because I don’t feel all that good in any of them.

And other questions begin to emerge. For example, I keep one skirt (that I don’t especially like but it’s the best quality/style/weight/fit/length I could find) to wear on formal occasions when a skirt is expected. But I now find myself asking, why is it expected? Do I even want to be at occasions where dressing in skirts is more important than being the person I am? Do I really want to spend time at events where style outweighs substance? Where what I can offer is outweighed by what I’m wearing? Probably not.

But I don’t think those questions would ever have come up for me if I hadn’t been aiming for a minimalist wardrobe – I’d just have a pile of skirts and trousers and dresses and not stopped to ask myself, ‘why have I got this garment at all?’

And the thing is, once the minimalism has helped me identify the styles and fabrics and colours I really want to wear, then the simplicity comes into its own – because at that point I need make fewer and fewer purchases. I’m happy with what I have.