General Election 2017: An 11th-hour plea to vote

Caveat: The following has been written last-minute and as such is low on external sources and high on anecdotal evidence (though please don’t discount the latter, as the people I spoke to were speaking from their own experience). So, take it at face value or with a pinch of salt, but please don’t dismiss it out of hand – and if you really think I’ve got something wrong, please comment and I’ll address it. Thank you.



I have never been one for tactical voting. You should always vote for your local candidate, not the party or its leader. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Give your support to the person in your local area who best represents you and who you think will be most likely to get done the things that you think need doing. Tactical voting as a concept has always left a bad taste – if you vote tactically, you aren’t doing it right. In one of many recent heated debates with friends, one said that she couldn’t bring herself to vote tactically as it would mean not supporting the person she saw as her best local candidate. Normally, I would be agreeing wholeheartedly with her approach.


Sadly, for this general election, I am compelled to act against everything I’ve ever said, and vote tactically in a bid to prevent the Tories from doing further damage to the country I call home. It has been suggested that I’m not voting with my heart by doing this, and up until last night I would have to admit this was true. But when I thought about why I was intending to vote – not to get one particular candidate in, but to oust another because of which party they represent – I realised that my motivation was to defend issues close to me. Tomorrow, 8th June, I will be voting with my heart.


Under a Tory government, vital public services have been compromised. Whole sectors have been damaged, and good, worthy careers have been trashed. Funding for education continues to be cut, putting pressure on teachers and students alike. I was shocked to learn that my old high school (an old-fashioned grammar of the kind so beloved by the current PM) is so strapped for cash that it can no longer offer certain subjects at A-level. Even asking the parents for donations couldn’t patch the shortfall sufficiently – could this be because earnings have effectively decreased over the last few years thanks to pay freezes and higher living costs? Could it be that not every grammar school kid has rich parents after all? I know I didn’t. But I digress. This, of course, is just one school amongst thousands.


We need our schools to be well funded. We trust these institutions to educate our children and turn out the next generation of thinking, functioning young adults who can support themselves and their society. Childhood is the easiest time to learn, and the Tories are endangering the UK’s future by cutting educational funding. Educated people tend to be higher earners and therefore pay more tax, which pays for public services such as health and social care. With our aging population, we need to be investing in our youth if for no other reason than to be able to afford to pay for our elderly.


Which brings me to my next bugbear. The NHS has been hit by both funding cuts and privatisation, as various services are farmed out to inefficient private sector companies whose raison d’être is shareholder profit, not public healthcare. The NHS, never the most efficient admittedly, but more importantly never a profit-making enterprise, has borne the brunt of the public’s frustration with long waiting-lists and overstretched services, when half* the time these services are being delivered by private companies. Under the Tories, the NHS has become a scapegoat for private sector failings, blamed for mistakes even as the money it could be using to fix them is withdrawn. We cannot allow it to be further strained until the only seemingly ‘logical’ outcome is total privatisation of healthcare services and consequential individual health insurance for all. Many people can’t afford that. Take a look at America if you want to see how much worse off we’d be without a national health service. The NHS keeps our operations and medications cheap by comparison without compromising on quality. It attracts staff from all over the world. We need to look after it.


[*Not literally 50%. Turn of phrase.]


Most of us will be old someday. Most of us, at some point, will need the State to pick us up when we have fallen, when we are in need due to misfortune or illness. At its most selfish, we pay into a system when we can, so that there is support for us when we can’t. Put less selfishly, we pay in to help others because it’s the decent thing to do. Society as a whole functions better when we look after each other. Cuts made to social care by the current government, along with chronically ill people being called upon time and again to prove their legitimate need for assistance, show that the Tory vision for the UK is only applicable to those who are able to live independently. This ignores a significant proportion of the population. Our government is supposed to work for all of us.


Education and the NHS are just two issues that are close to my heart; two reasons why I don’t want the Tories to continue to be in power. They have shown themselves to be incompetent (increasing the national debt as a percentage of GDP through austerity measures), callous (work and pensions, transport, and local government have been the most heavily cut areas since 2010) and short-sighted, preferring to maintain the UK as one of the largest arms dealers in the world whilst wilfully ignoring that this is a contributing factor to terrorism, and instead using recent attacks in the UK as an excuse to push forward with their plans to grossly restrict our use of the internet – and here I quote from the Tory manifesto: “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree.” If that isn’t a precursor to totalitarianism, I don’t know what is. Add to that their hard-on for a hard Brexit, lusting after the so-called glory days of Empire whilst seeking to cut us off from our neighbours, and George Orwell’s Airstrip One scenario seems perilously close.


I know this can be overwhelming; I know it seems that all the various party leaders do is insult each other. Perhaps you’re tired of it all and you just want to keep your head down and deal with your own shit – but we all have a responsibility, to ourselves and to each other, to have a say in what the UK does next. So please vote tomorrow. The current state of the UK economy and the knock-on effect on its citizens, plus the prospect of a hard Brexit under the leadership of an incompetent Tory government, should be enough to galvanise even the most weary individual. I strongly urge you to judge the Tories on their record (as they themselves have suggested you do) and decide whether or not you want them to continue in this manner – taking from those who have no more to give, risking our future, and cosying up to America’s racist granddad of a president rather than working with the rest of Europe. If you want change, please vote tactically to deprive your local Conservative MP of their seat. The UK can do better than this. We deserve it.

Europe expecting wave of UK immigrants following May 7 ‘debacle’

Thousands of Brits who vowed to leave the UK if the Tories won the General Election are now packing their bags. Nearside countries including France and Belgium are braced for an onslaught of sobbing liberals, while further afield the Spanish Prime Minister has voiced concerns that Spain cannot cope with any additional influx of British culture.

“What will they do when they get here – get drunk and open another ‘Only Fools and Horses’ themed cafe-bar? Spain will not stand for it,” he said.

Outside the Houses of Parliament this morning there was much beating of breasts and tearing of hair as the awful reality hit home. Whilst some were ready to joke their way past the trauma, others were clearly still reeling.

“Fuck this blue and unpleasant land,” said one crusty individual, flicking his blonde dreadlocks smugly over his shoulders.

“I just can’t believe we’re stuck with Katie bloody Hopkins for another five years,” wailed another bystander, falling to her sensibly tweeded knees.

Meanwhile, over in Amsterdam, Dutch police are on high alert after British holidaymakers were seen hurling themselves into the city’s many beautiful canals. The Mayor was sorrowful but firm in his comments:

“This is a bad business, but it is also bad for business. Amsterdam attracts visitors from all over the world with its lax drug policy and plethora of hookers. People are going to be really bummed out when they have to pedal-boat around bloated British corpses.”

In short, Europe is unsympathetic to the UK’s current crisis, which is perhaps why many are instead heading for the new SNP stronghold of Scotland. Once over Hadrian’s Wall, asylum seekers can expect to be greeted with a woad-daubing ceremony before being handed their free NHS prescription card and commemoratory haggis. However, they will not be allowed farther north than the Firth of Forth until they can recite the collective works of Rabbie Burns from memory.

There Now Follows An Independent Political Diatribe. Read It. Watch The Cartoon At The End Too. And Then Go Fuckin’ Vote.

The Rude Brick says: Vote, fuckers!

You heard the Brick.

There’s been a huge amount of talk about the upcoming General Election over the past few weeks. And so there should be – after the pain and chaos of the last few years under the coalition (unless you were already financially well set when it came in, in which case I’m sure your wallet is sore from all that stroking), every major party knows that there is everything to play for this year. Even leaflets from local candidates are pushing the party spiel and barely mentioning what they personally plan to do for their constituency. Media outlets – indeed, the entire frickin’ internet – are awash with opinion pieces, opinion poll results, scaremongering, cajoling, hyperbole, embarrassing slips from party leaders…

I’ve almost been enjoying it. Almost.

Because it isn’t a game, people. It’s the future of the UK and its place in the wider world. Once we’ve all had a laugh at suited idiots accusing debate audiences of being rigged or accidentally telling the public how good a vote for their party would be for their career (just plucking two examples out of the air, you understand), the thing to remember is that we need to vote for policies, not personalities. If it just came down to choosing between party leaders, I wouldn’t be voting at all. But fortunately it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a Who-Has-The-Nicest-Smile contest.

A selection of the many numpties eager to run your country

A selection of the many numpties eager to run your country and represent you on the global stage.

If you aren’t up on which policies are whose, the internet has plenty of fun ways to help you out, such as Vote For Policies, where a few minutes’ button-clicking will pretty much tell you who to vote for. Seriously, the internet is putting the fun back into (and taking most of the effort out of) decision-making for the average voter. If you haven’t made a decision yet, I recommend taking a small amount of time out of your day to make use of online resources like this one.

Unfortunately, not all such websites provoke optimism. Take for example Voter Power, which shows you “how powerful your vote is”. If you’re (as I am) in a safe seat, the result makes for pretty depressing reading. In my constituency, which is larger than average and has very little likelihood of changing hands, my “voter power” is equivalent to only 0.111 votes. Not particularly encouraging, and indeed the bandying about of this link on social media has elicited a grumpy “why the hell should I bother voting then” from a number of people.

The Voter Power Index is a useful tool to galvanise people in marginal seats, but it’s a force for apathy in safe seats. Unless, of course, you’re either a complete contrarian or you were planning on voting anyway and nothing short of a heart attack or a zombie apocalypse is going to stop you. In which case, go you! And don’t forget to take your primary weapon with you.

But, honestly, so what if your vote is only worth one tenth of a vote in terms of efficacy? If you don’t vote at all, then your vote is worth precisely 0 (or 0.000, if that helps get the point across).

Every vote counts, regardless of its perceived strength. Exercise your right to say how you want your country to be run. Vote for the policies you judge to be worthy of your support. And slap anyone who doesn’t ‘do’ voting but complains about how the country is going – they threw away their right to complain when they threw away their ballot paper.

Thursday 7th May 2015. It’s only two days away. Polling stations are open from early in the morning until late into the evening, so get yourself along to one.

Now, here’s that cartoon I promised you:

Father of 6 shot dead in London – it’s okay though, he probably deserved it

Don't Forget To Leave A Comment!

The Rude Brick Says…

Well, it’s been several weeks (sorry about that), but something’s finally got me angry enough to write. Many thanks, Yahoo – whether it’s the news or just your slapdash approach to copyediting, you always know how to get me riled up. Although in this case it’s the reactions of some of your over-zealous readers. I’ve been warned repeatedly to ignore “the lower half of the internet” when reading articles online, and time and again I fail to heed the warning.

I suppose I should explain what’s pissed me off so much.

“Murdered Preacher Spoke Out Against Terror” screams the headline. It refers to the death of Abdul Hadi Arwani, a Muslim preacher who was found dead in his car in Wembley a few days ago. A post-mortem is underway, but initial reports have stated that he suffered a gunshot wound to the chest. Not a pleasant way to go out, that. I mean, Wembley’s a dump.

Inevitably the press is milking this for all it’s worth, as always happens when a story ticks a few Controversy boxes (in this case those boxes were “Murder”, “Syrian-born Muslim cleric” and “An-Noor Mosque”, which has a number of links to radical beliefs and terrorism). I’m not blaming them for that. In fact, the article that’s drawn a response from me focuses on the deceased as a peaceful man who spoke out against extremism and advocated freedom for all. He hasn’t even preached at An-Noor since 2011.

No, the article didn’t piss me off. The lower half of the internet did. The comments section (which I promise I’ll never read again, and even as I type that I know it to be a lie) contained some real fucking gems this time. Here are just some of my favourites:

     “…this Syrian-born preacher who is supposedly so innocent, I’d be willing to bet he was involved in something sinister ; it will come to light eventually, I’m patient.”

“Any Muslim will tell you there [sic] against Terrorism the thing is do you believe them.”

“The mussies have to speak out against everything as they fear there [sic] benefits will be stopped otherwise.”

“Muslims are all the same, they are violent, lying toe rags who need to be sorted out.”

“These Muslims will try and portray that they are a peaceful people but evidence shows that what they say is clearly different to what they do. Trust a Muslim…NEVER”

“It seems to me that he was a troublemaker and somebody decided he needed putting down!

Now he is dead I suppose his Family will be returned to where they came from?”

“Note 6 Children. Brits take note they are out breeding us by an average of 4-1 so prepare for your grandchildren to be converted to Muslims and face Sharia Laws”

I’ll stop now before Dave Gorman comes a’knockin’ for his royalties, though I wasn’t actually intending to turn the above examples into a hilarious (?) spoken word performance:

But back to those lovely comments. He’s a Muslim preacher so he must be evil; the Muslims are coming over here for our benefits; you can’t trust the Muslims; they’re all the same; they’re violent and at war with the West; our ideals are under threat and our country will be under Islamic law within two generations.

And that’s STILL not what angered me (well, it did, but I’ve been angry at all that before). What angered me was the number of people ready to step forward and say that this man deserved to be killed.

What the fuck do they know? Not one of them started their comment with “I knew him personally, so…”. Plenty of them judged him to be guilty – the kind of “guilty” deserving of the death penalty – just because he was Muslim. What kind of people are you? Can you all just take a step back from this circlejerk and consider what you’re saying?

Because what you’re saying is: a man was shot dead, and I approve of this because he might have said some things I disagree with.

Setting aside the fact that his death might have been nothing to do with his beliefs (I hear that some Muslims now have hobbies outside of reading the Koran and praying, amazing), how the fuck can you be cool with the idea that someone could be shot dead just for saying something? That is not how we do things in the UK these days. We have things like a police force, and rules we’ve all agreed to stick to, y’know? I don’t care if the guy was inciting terrorism, we have the police and our laws because society doesn’t function too well with free-flowing vigilantism. Just because you happen to think that someone deserves to die doesn’t mean it’s okay for someone else to go shoot them.

What if someone decides your views are too extreme to allow you to continue living? (For example, because you think it’s justifiable to shoot suspected extremists. I’d at least give you a hefty slap for that one.) I take it you’re cool with fearing for your life, yeah? Didn’t think so.

I’m not going to pick over all the other problems that rear their ugly heads in those comments. They are, of course, part of the problem. But above all else it does not sit comfortably with me that I share this island with the kind of people who can look at the murder of a stranger in their capital city, and just shrug and say, well, no doubt he deserved to die. You callous, dehumanising bastards.

PS. If any of the comments I’ve cited belong to you, please do come and say hi.

Fluffy Notions of “Human Dignity” Trumped by Refreshing Show of Compassion in Politics

A few weeks ago, MPs voted in favour of ‘three-parent IVF’ – or, for those of us who can do without the sensationalism, Mitochondrial (mtDNA) Replacement Therapy. This was swiftly followed by the inevitable backlash from some other political and religious types (y’know, “it’s unnatural”, “you’re playing God”, and so forth), and in particular a sternly worded protest letter from several dozen MEPs. According to them, ‘three-parent IVF’ is unethical, illegal, and moreover has dealt human dignity a swift kick to the nether regions (never a good thing when you’re trying to conceive).

I’ll just pause very briefly to consider what the hell they meant when they said that the proposals “violate the fundamental standards of human dignity”… Nope, no idea. Probably just sounded good at the time. Moving on.

There is an ethical dilemma here, but it isn’t the one that these MEPs are yelling about. This isn’t a move toward creating ‘designer babies’, it’s a move toward giving couples the chance to have a child who won’t suffer serious illness and possibly an early death. The ethical dilemma here surely centres on whether or not it is right to withhold such life-improving treatment when it exists. The question we should be asking is: should we prolong the suffering of would-be parents and risk the suffering of as yet unborn children when we have the means to do something about it?

The MEPs claim that the UK is transgressing EU law by approving these treatments. On first reading this seems conclusive. Article 9 of the EU’s clinical trials directive clearly states that “No gene therapy trials may be carried out which result in modifications to the subject’s germ line genetic identity.” So, regardless of the fact that mitochondrial replacement would take place prior to fertilisation, the therapy would result in changes that would be passed down to future generations, and thus directly contravenes this directive.

However, for the purposes of this particular directive, “the subject” is defined as “an individual who participates in a clinical trial as either a recipient of the investigational medicinal product or a control”. In order for the therapy to contravene the directive, therefore, would it not have to alter the mother’s genetic identity, as she is the recipient? The potential baby’s genetic identity is irrelevant at this stage, as it is not the subject of the therapy (more the ‘object’). It could hardly be said to be participating in a trial, as it isn’t even present at the start of it. Maybe I’ve misunderstood. Any geneticists out there who feel like taking the time to explain it, please do so in the comments.

One way to avoid the problem of such heritable modifications would be to only allow for the creation of male children using mtDNA replacement therapy, as only females are equipped to pass on mitochondrial DNA (it’s in the egg, not the sperm). Gender selection is an idea that won’t sit comfortably with some (I feel a bit weird typing it myself, though I appreciate the reasoning behind it), but it’s one that was raised by the US FDA last year during its own discussions of mitochondrial manipulation technologies (I haven’t been able to find out what the outcome was; please post in the comments if you know). However, as sex selection is already legal in the UK for medical reasons, perhaps the thought shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

The proposed procedures do risk falling foul of the EU charter of fundamental rights and freedoms, which prohibits eugenic practices. Although the therapy aims to assist a very small number of people to produce healthy children who might otherwise have been born with defective mitochondria and all the problems that come with that, it could be argued that one outcome would be improvement of the genetic quality of the human population as a whole. I personally don’t see that as a bad thing (how could anyone object to the eradication of genetic diseases?), but I’ll save my diatribe regarding eugenics for another time.

This is all pretty irrelevant now, anyway, given that the House of Lords approved the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 earlier this week, and now it remains only for the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA: the UK’s fertility sector regulator) to develop licensing rules and gather the last bits of information on the safety of the procedures.

It did puzzle me that the majority was disinclined to delay the decision until final evidence of compliance with EU law and the safety of the proposed procedures was available. However, as The Wellcome Trust explained in its response to the HFEA’s consultation on mitochondria replacement, putting the legal framework in place to allow such procedures means that such treatment can be offered as soon as the supporting evidence for its safety is available. The treatment will, of course, not be licensed unless it is safe.

It therefore seems to have been an ethical decision based at least in part on reducing the waiting-time for eligible patients, which improves the chances of success by being able to start treatment sooner. A small blow dealt to the biological clock, if you will.

Britain is the first country in the world to legislate for this type of therapy, but it certainly isn’t the first to have made use of the techniques. An estimated 30-50 people worldwide are the result of assisted reproduction using mitochondria from a donor. This interesting article about one of them also highlights the similarities between the initial reaction to IVF treatment back in the 1970s, and the current debate regarding mtDNA replacement therapy. Critics of IVF feared it would lead down the classic “slippery slope”, toward so-called designer babies altered for traits as trivial as hair or eye colour. But it didn’t. Given that mitochondria replacement is being proposed only to help couples at high risk of passing on a mitochondrial disease, such fears would seem to have even less foundation.

Regardless of whether or not the approval of this legislation breaches EU law, it seems clear to me that the House of Lords’ decision was an ethical one made in the best interests of potential patients. We can’t say for sure what the long-term effects of these procedures might be, but that’s true in the case of many other treatments that society takes for granted – IVF, for example, which underwent far less scrutiny before being licensed than has mitochondrial donation. The potential positives to come out of such treatment are numerous and, for the most part, well evidenced. At any rate, humanity would never get anywhere if it allowed fear of the unknown to override confidence in the known.


A 10m-wide crater has opened up in a street in suburban Naples, prompting fears that aliens have launched an attack upon the Earth.

The damage was initially thought to have been caused by heavy rainfall, until a series of clips was submitted to a UK newspaper, one of which seems to show an extra-terrestrial war machine emerging from the hole.

Dr Paolo Ingegno, a scientist at Mediterranean Tech (Naples Campus), said: “I’ve been waiting for this to happen. It happened before in Surrey [England] in 1897 but the Tories covered it up. Then in 1938 they invaded New Jersey, USA – the Martians, not the Conservatives – and again in 1953, this time targeting southern California. Now it is happening again, and once more the authorities are trying to bury the truth. They say the damage is due to a burst water pipe, but I know differently!”

This terrifying footage, obtained by The Telegraph early this morning, clearly shows two Neapolitan firefighters’ brave attempts to defeat a Martian tripod by decapitating it with an angle grinder, before the fighting-machine swings wildly round to attack them. The film cuts off before the firefighters and the cameraman were tragically vaporised by the machine’s Heat-Ray.

Renting in London doesn’t have to be shit

Yes, renting in London is tough and overpriced. But you don’t have to accept it.

Looking for somewhere to live in London is fucking depressing. Online searches, courtesy of Zoopla, Right Move and the like, seem to offer either overpriced shitholes or even more expensive regular places. Space is at a premium thanks to the greediness of landlords and the many perks of living in London.

Take an average from online searches for a 2-bed flat and you’re looking at a minimum of £1,000pcm (excluding bills) for a flat featuring one small double, one single that you can only fit a bed in if you don’t mind not being able to shut the door, and a kitchenette either stuck on to the living room as an afterthought or so small that you can only get half a person in there at a time. (I’m not exaggerating; these are actually descriptions of some of the flats I viewed when looking for a 2-bed with my partner. The place with the single room as above was described as a “good-sized two-bedroom apartment”. After that, we didn’t bother with anything termed “cosy”.)

Go into an estate agents and tell them you’ve got an upper rent limit of £1,000pcm and three things will happen:

  1. They’ll pull that “ooh, that’s gonna be tough” expression – that wince you normally only used to see on a plumber’s face when you asked him how much it’d cost to fix your blocked sink.
  1. They’ll tell you how rare 2-beds in that price range are, and ask you if you could manage with a 1-bed instead.
  1. When you tell them it has to be a 2-bed, they’ll keep sending you to view flats that are c.£50-100pcm over your budget, despite what you’ve said at the start, and they won’t tell you the exact price until after you’ve looked round.

You can do two things at this point:

  1. Admit defeat – it’s pricey, pricey London, after all – and struggle to cough up the extra dough month after month, sacrificing things like having fun, eating right, and being warm in winter.

A grubby little estate agent touching your money

A grubby little estate agent touching your money

What I’m about to tell you goes against the vast majority of rental experience in London. Yes, renting property in London is competitive and grossly overpriced. Yes, many landlords are greedy arseholes who know what they can get away with (and will try it on even with the stuff they can’t get away with). Yes, you aren’t just paying to live in the property, you’re paying for the perks that come with where it’s located. And it’s worse for couples. Generally speaking, you get a much better deal if you share as a group of three or more. I guess wanting to live with your partner comes under the heading of “perks” for which landlords can justify pushing up the rent.

Nevertheless, your number one policy when looking for property to rent in London must be that of non-acceptance. Do not accept that you are asking too much to find a 2-bed flat and keep it under £1,000pcm. Do not accept that your rooms will have to be poky, or unfurnished, or that to get a good deal you will have to live in a terrible area with sod-all transport links into town. There are good places out there (with good landlords) – you just have to expand your search.

Start early. If you know when you’re going to be moving, start searching a couple of months in advance. Yes, I know most places will want you to move in either immediately or with no more than a month’s notice. But starting early gets you a feel for the current market, along with contacts and a sense of what estate agents mean when they use certain phrases. It also gives you time to sign up to agents in the areas you want to live in and get an idea of which ones are fairest in terms of fees etc.

Get your name on some lists. Go visit some estate agents. Discuss what you’re after and don’t budge from your budget. If you have an upper limit, you’d be screwing yourself and your landlord to exceed it. Badger them regularly and go view some places, even if they’re available now. It’s all good practice and all good information and experience.

Talk to people. You never know which of your Facebook friends might have connections to a friendly landlord with a property due to become available around the time you’re looking to move. I know that sounds a bit far-fetched, but that’s exactly how I came to be living where I am currently. “Dealing direct” allows you more flexibility in negotiating things like monthly rent and what might be included in that – landlords are more willing to offer you a reasonable rate because they aren’t staring into the giddying maw of agency fees, which are often substantial for both parties. Also, they are dealing with “real people”, rather than renting through a middle-man to total strangers – it builds a degree of trust, which can also encourage a landlord’s generosity.

Be a bit flexible with your requirements. The place you move to doesn’t have to be a palace – you can make it what you want once you’re in. Make it your home – if it needs a bit of work (fresh paint job, for example), be prepared to roll your sleeves up. The result: you’ll get it looking the way you want it, and the landlord doesn’t have to shell out on decorators (making him or her less likely to increase your rent when review time comes around). The cheapest way to get your hands on some decent quality paint is by visiting a paint reuse project like The Paint Place, where you can buy surplus/reclaimed paint from as little as £1 per litre.

Yes, I know it's beautiful - but you'll only have to clean the damn thing...

Yes, I know it’s beautiful – but you’ll only have to clean the damn thing…

Many landlords justify charging obscene rents because they’ve just had the place done up to look really good. Well, that’s great for them, isn’t it, but it’s no business of yours if they want to put in a deluxe shower or marble tiles shipped in from bloody Rome. They should be giving the place a rudimentary smartening-up – a lick of neutral paint, replacement white goods if they’re knackered, and so forth – and ensuring that it functions as a place to live, not throwing a ton of glitter at it and then charging you extra. You’re looking for somewhere to call home, not a polished turd that you don’t dare step in.

Hoof it. Your dream pad doesn’t have to be situated right on top of a Tube or train station. So what if you have to walk for five or ten minutes to get on to the network – GPs recommend 20 minutes of walking per day to gain a whole host of health benefits (including warding off cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer). So, move somewhere a bit cheaper that requires you to walk to and from the nearest station. You’ll be healthier, and you’ll have more money. Oh, and all that free exercise means you won’t have to pay out for that gym membership. There, that’s saved you even more money per month. You’re welcome.

Look further out. Okay, no one’s going to insist you live in deepest darkest Cheshunt or [crosses self] Luton – apart from anything else, even places this far out are now costing too much thanks to their “excellent transport links” (that’ll be an overpriced journey by train into the capital every day, which would eat up any savings you’d make by renting that far out).

Empty Tube Train

Start your journey from farther out, and you too could get your pick of the seats! There’s often a view out of the window, too.

Anyway, the point is that, if you’re within walking-distance of a Tube station, even one in zone 5 or 6, you really aren’t that far away from Central. Travelling within zones 1-3 can often take far longer than it should due to the higher population density. If you’re going to lose some of your precious time on a packed train platform or a bus at a standstill, you might as well just start from further out – at least you’ll get a seat.

And it won’t necessarily be more expensive – take my old journey to work, for example. I used to live in Oakwood (zone 5 Piccadilly line) and travel to Old Street (zone 1 Northern line) every day. You can either do this by getting the Piccadilly line to Kings Cross and then changing to the Northern line (takes around an hour), or you can take the Piccadilly line to Manor House (zone 3) and get a 141, which, er, takes about an hour.

The difference is that the first journey will cost you a zones 1-5 travelcard, but you can do the second journey with a zones 3-5 travelcard, which comes with an all-zones bus pass thrown in (because, unlike the Tube network, buses don’t have travel zones). A zones 3-5 weekly travelcard is approximately half the price of a zones 1-5 weekly travelcard. Which should hopefully go some way towards mitigating the agony of having to use public transport a bit more than your financially-crippled, Central-London-dwelling colleagues.

So – I can’t give you any guarantees, of course, but the above will increase your chance of not getting royally screwed for rent in the capital. It’s a ballache, I admit, but pressing on instead of accepting what estate agents and online searches tell you is “the average” can really pan out. It can mean the difference between you paying £350pp, pcm in a three-bed sharer two minutes’ walk from a Zone 5 tube station, or £650pp in a five-bed sharer in Zone 3. Given the choice, I think I’d rather keep that extra £300 a month and spend it on getting myself out of London altogether every once in a while. But that’s just me. I’ve met people who love London so much, they move into Zone 2 and never go on holiday. This article probably isn’t for them.

Sustainability: What’s in it for me? How we owe it to ourselves to be better consumers

My waste composition analysis adventure (see last post for all the grisly details) certainly highlighted a couple of things for me. First, it seems the UK throws a shitload of stuff away every week. Second, a lot of what’s thrown away is still usable, whether it be materials for reuse or recycling, or food that could’ve been eaten.

In various conversations over the years, I’ve noticed a certain minority attitude to waste in general, and recycling in particular, that I find both counterintuitive and counterproductive. It’s a sort of suspicious, harassed, borderline-paranoid opinion, which views the council/government (for they are one and the same in such conversations) as The Enemy, throwing around red tape willy-nilly, choppin’ and changin’ the rules, with the sole intention of making life difficult for The Working Man. The common question from such people, when confronted with any request to change household waste disposal habits (particularly with regard to recycling), is “Why should I?” All usual arguments against this aside, my very brief and essentially selfish answer is that “it will cost you less money!”

Sod the environment for a sec – not wasting resources is beneficial to you, the consumer. Let’s start by exploring the part of this topic that makes me saddest: food waste.

If you throw away food, you’ll have to buy more of it, which will cost you more money.

This is a complete and utter no-brainer. Okay, so the pros and cons of recycling are a dark and mysterious beast, with so-called experts arguing about whether it’s actually worth recycling, politicians using contradictory stratagems for point-scoring, and journalists scaremongering and getting it wrong half the time, I mean, I understand why some people just ignore it…

But food? If you buy food, and then don’t eat it, you have wasted your money as well as wasting the food. That’s it, really. Yes, I know that supermarkets make those oh so tempting offers – the multibuys, the BOGOFs – but consider this: the more we buy (and often waste, because we’ve gone and bought more than we can eat before it starts smelling funny), the more has to be produced. That means more land, more people to grow or raise the raw materials, more storage facilities, increased transport and storage costs… Who do you think those extra costs get passed on to? Stand up and take a bow, it’s you.

I Need One Red Pepper.

I know that supermarkets teach us, through their advertising, that we are ‘losing out’ if we don’t go for the best value option. Take the following example, using prices from a major UK supermarket chain. One red pepper costs 60p, but a mixed pack of three costs £1. The supermarket is telling you that, selling them three at a time, peppers only actually cost 33p, but to buy them singly will cost you almost twice as much. It’s tempting to go for the three-pack, as it’s better value. But you only need one pepper. What are you going to do with three times the amount of peppers you came in for? Yup, it's one red pepper

If you can think of a way to use the other two peppers before they go wrinkly and horrible, I commend you. However, I know from personal experience that often these extra, unwanted items end up languishing in the fridge drawer until they are good for nothing but the bin. To be responsible consumers – only buying what we need rather than falsely inflating demand, pushing up prices and adding to landfill – we need to just buy the one pepper.

And, logically, isn’t it better to spend 60p on something you need than £1 on something you don’t? If you only end up using the one pepper you originally went in for, but you bought three, you haven’t just wasted two peppers (and all the energy that went into growing, transporting, storing and packaging them), you’ve also wasted 40p. That 40p could have gone on something else you actually needed. It’s only “better value” if you are going to use it all.

Here’s a few little food-saving points to consider next time you’re standing poised over the bin, unopened packet of veg or whatever in hand:

The “best before” (or even “use by”) date is not some magical deadline – the carrots aren’t going to turn to mulch in the fridge come the stroke of midnight, the milk isn’t going to curdle, the eggs won’t have metamorphosed into black slime in their shells once their date has passed. Use your common sense (and your other senses, while you’re at it). I’ve found that many items are fine past their date if they’ve remained sealed, due to that good old “protective atmosphere” they were packed in. Have a look, give it a sniff, but please don’t rely wholly on the date. It’s a guideline to be paired with common sense, not an absolute to blindly obey.

The Cow Says: my tits hurt, stop wasting the milk!

The Cow Says: my tits hurt, stop wasting the milk!

If it’s in date, it’s in date – I observed some strange behaviour in a previous job a few years ago. Due to a communications error, the staff kitchen ended up receiving two deliveries of milk. One of my colleagues, having checked the dates on the cartons, opted to open the one that had the furthest date on it. The cartons delivered earlier in the week were still in date, but only by a couple of days. She dismissed the option of using these because the second delivery had provided her with the opportunity of using milk that was “even fresher!” Never mind that the carton in the first delivery wasn’t even open. PLEASE DON’T DO THIS. If you use the milk that’s likely to go off first, you won’t end up wasting a load of milk.

Impulse buys – if you’ve bought something cheap because it’s got only a day or two until its use by date, and you’re not sure when you’re going to use it, stick it in the freezer. I mean, check it’s something that can be frozen (preferably before you buy it), but most things can be. Then you can just retrieve it when you’re ready to eat it. Easy.

Fruit and veg – it is so saddening – nay, maddening – to see fresh produce binned, especially given that the West is apparently in the grip of an ‘obesity epidemic’ and we could all do with a more balanced diet to help stave off things like diabetes and heart disease (and constipation, flatulence, bad breath, not to mention that sluggish no-energy feeling that follows a sugar crash). FRUIT AND VEGETABLES CAN BE FROZEN, either with the minimum of preparation e.g. chopping up and then boiling for a couple of minutes, or just thrown raw into a Ziploc bag and bunged straight in the freezer. Have a quick look online, all the information you need is there.

Bread – oh, but there are SO MANY WAYS to use up excess bread. I’m not a fan of the thin pre-sliced stuff myself, but even this can be made to last longer by sticking it straight in the freezer (you can toast it from frozen, or give it a few seconds in the microwave for sandwiches). If on the other hand you’re faced with the last third of an uncut, rapidly drying loaf (and you aren’t in the mood for French toast), you can chop it up into breadcrumbs, which can be bagged and frozen for later use in a variety of recipes (again, plenty of ideas online). Or just tear it up and put it out for the local wildlife. At least then it’ll get eaten, rather than going to rot in landfill. Personally, I reckon this Apple Charlotte recipe is the best way to use up leftover bread (if using frozen breadcrumbs for this, don’t defrost them first).

And Now For The Inedibles

Here’s another no-brainer for you: the more material we recycle/reuse, the less we have to create from scratch, and the less we have to store in landfill. We have this little thing here in the UK called Landfill Tax, which is exactly as it sounds: we get taxed on the stuff we send to landfill. It’s in place to discourage us from sticking everything in a big hole in the ground, because the quicker we fill that hole, the sooner we have to either enlarge it or dig a new one (a process that is patently untenable in the long term, unless we start moving that shit up to the Moon. No, we are not doing that).

At its most basic level, why the hell are we putting perfectly good resources into a large hole in the ground? If we can use this stuff for another purpose, we should. When I buy a new pair of jeans I don’t take the old pair out to the park and bury them. That would be bloody weird.

This is another example of how we as consumers have a duty to acknowledge – and be responsible for – where our goods come from, and where they go when we’re done with them. Here are some points to think about:

Digging for jeans

Bob Evans of Conwy Vale, having realised he should never have bought skinny jeans, searches in vain for his buried flares.

Don’t you want that? Someone else might – So your toddler’s grown out of that ridiculous plastic chair thingy with the squeaky bits on it. It’s still usable, you’ve just run out of appropriately-aged people to use it. Fine. Stick it on Freecycle, or Preloved, or Gumtree, or a Facebook group for selling/giving away stuff in your local area. There are tons of ways to get unwanted crap out of your house without condemning it to a stinking hole in the ground (where it will stay, uselessly using up a portion of Planet Earth that we could’ve used for something fun, for many years to come, because plastic never goes away – it doesn’t biodegrade, it just breaks down into lots of tiny pieces that get all over everything[1]). And this goes for loads of stuff: toys, clothes, books, CDs… Sell them, give them away, drop them off at a charity shop – but make sure that, if they’re still usable, someone else gets to use them.

“Recycling is a waste of my time” – Er, no it isn’t. It barely even takes any time. You just don’t want to have to make a change. Admit it: you just can’t be bothered. True, it does take a tiny bit more effort to stick an empty jar in the sink and run the hot tap into it for a minute than to just drop the jar into the bin… But then it takes a tiny bit more effort to drop that jar in the bin than it does to just leave it on the kitchen worktop for someone else to tidy up, and we all learned how to cope with that monumental change when we moved out of our parents’ place, right?

Recycling isn’t gross – I know some people don’t recycle some of their cans and bottles because they can’t bear to wash the last sticky bits out of the bottom of them. How the hell can you be too grossed out to wash the last remaining bits of food out of a container, having just eaten the rest of its contents? What, you’ll put it in your mouth but you won’t get it on your hands? That’s just weird. As for the empty tins from dog or cat food, well, it doesn’t smell that great, I’ll agree, but it’s still just leftover bits of food. It isn’t going to hurt you.

Recycling isn’t difficult – Ok, so some councils aren’t exactly clear in their explanations of what can and can’t be put out for recycling. A recent WRAP study[2] revealed that confusion and a lack of confidence about “the recycling rules” are still causing a significant number of UK residents to put recyclables into general waste rather than risk getting it wrong. Fortunately, many manufacturers are now writing helpful things on the side of their packaging, detailing the main materials and whether or not they are widely recycled. And, as ever, there’s plenty of information available online. My local council website, for example, has a lovely long list of recyclable materials, including examples of common items and clarification regarding what to do with mixed-material items. Check your own council’s site; there’s probably a proper explanation available that they just couldn’t fit on their leaflets. The Rubbish Diet is also a good source of helpful advice and encouragement for those wishing to give “bin-slimming” a try.

I admit it: recycling, finding new homes for our unwanted items, and being a bit more organised in order to reduce food waste, all take a bit more effort than we’re perhaps willing to put in, given our hectic lives. But even one small change can make so much difference.

However, if I haven’t tempted you to at least think about it, by pointing out the benefits to your health and your wallet, as well as that whole personal-social-environmental responsibility lark, then perhaps you’ll never be convinced, and in that case I shall leave you in peace with your weird, money-wasting, couldn’t-give-a-fuck lifestyle. I’ll just go talk to someone more willing to try making a little change. Just a teeny tiny little change or two. Y’know, for their own benefit.

Okay, I’m going now.

[1] See these two examples of where plastic “goes”: and


The Waste Composition Analysis Adventure and the Importance of Being Responsible Shoppers

A couple of months ago I signed up for one of the weirder jobs I’ve done in my life: waste composition analysis. To remove the euphemistic title: sorting through the rather ripe contents of black bin bags to see what people throw away. It’s a good way for councils to gauge how effective they’ve been at encouraging communities to recycle, as well as providing data on food wastage. I feel it necessary to mention at this point that it is completely legal for council employees to go rootling through household waste in this way as, once the council has collected your rubbish, it belongs to them (you’ve the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to thank for that, which helps to ensure that your household waste is disposed of safely rather than being left to rot in a river).

Some waste, to get you in the mood

Some waste, to get you in the mood (this stuff looks a lot cleaner than what I had to dig through)

But back to my disgusting work experience. I’m one of a group of half a dozen, all eager for the dubious opportunity to get elbow-deep in a random selection of municipal solid waste collected in the North of England. We don hooded coveralls, hardhats, steel toe-cap boots and two sets of gloves (a thick pair to guard against sudden sharp objects, and latex gloves underneath to prevent ‘bin juice’ from seeping through to our lovely clean skin). A brief safety induction from a site manager to the tune of “here are the emergency meeting points, try not to run under a dump-truck”, and we march off into the bowels of the HWRC (Household Waste Recycling Centre), ready to do battle with waste.

The smells of the job come in stages. As we enter our designated area of an immense warehouse, it really isn’t that bad – as it turns out, being in an enclosed space with many tonnes of waste is fine, as long as that waste isn’t being churned up. But then our first load for sorting arrives: the truck disgorges a small mountain of black bags, kicking up a nasal chorus reminiscent of bin-day at home, but more intense by a factor of approximately 100. The huge pile glistens wetly, shifting here and there as it settles. I resist the urge to dive in headfirst.

Tearing open the bags and unleashing a positive rainbow of aromas, we sort the contents into 48 categories, including drinks cans (ferrous and non-ferrous), food cans, dense plastic packaging, cardboard packaging, compostable food waste, non-compostable food waste, and so on. Presumably fearful that we might run out of awfulness to sort through, the truck returns later in the day to top up the pile.

Maggots. Mmm, look at 'em glisten

Maggots. Mmm, look at ’em glisten. Don’t say I never give yer nuffin.

Top finds of the day include a Furby Baby, its once soft fur entirely matted with the grey slime of far-gone food waste; a dead pheasant, in perfect condition but for the fact that someone had neatly removed its head; and an unidentifiable dead thing, which very nearly induced vomiting in one of my colleagues. These items are segregated for their humour/disgust value. We also uncover a healthy colony of maggots, which do not get their own category.

It’s only a cross-section of waste disposal habits in one area of the UK, of course, but I find it depressing to see the amount of recyclable material headed for landfill. Even worse is the level of food waste, from unopened yoghurts and packets of meat (still in date, even when they get to us) to still-sealed bags of fruit and vegetables. Why, in the current economic climate, with food prices rocketing but bank balances plummeting, are people throwing away perfectly edible food?

I can’t answer for them, of course, and can only highlight that buying and then binning food is by no definition a good thing. It’s money wasted, it’s energy wasted, it’s landfill space needlessly used up. When you’re out shopping for food, chances are you’re not thinking about how that food came to be in the supermarket, and chances are also that you aren’t thinking about where the stuff you throw away will end up, right?

However, as consumers, it’s our duty to recognise our part in the cycle. The more food we buy, the more needs to be created for us to buy. That puts pressure on the systems providing it, which pushes up prices. Those increased costs will be passed on to us, because no private company is going to shoulder that burden at the expense of its shareholders.


I’ll be going into this in a bit more depth, as well as giving some advice on the little changes we can all make, in my next post…