I had forgotten other people read national newspapers. When I wrote the Observer bit, I didn’t think about other people reading it. I realised yesterday on the way back from class that there was a good chance my tutors and some of my classmates may have seen it. Nobody (save for one friend) at my college knows I have any mental health problems. It’s likely some of them do now. Oh well! Hello anyone from Birkbeck who may have found me! I hope you liked it!
Edit: Heh, my sister was on the phone and commented on the, “sad and darkly funny life” tagline saying, “But you’re happy! You’ve always been happy! Even when you tried to top yourself, you were like, “It’s alright! Nothing to do with you lot! Just a bit mental right now!”
I am really enjoying studying, though. It’s only a part time course, but I feel a little like it’s making up for the fact that I was a GCSE drop-out. As much as I used to triumphantly declare that you don’t need to be educated to be smart, I feel a bit, well, smarter being educated. My brain was atrophying a bit, considering all I was reading was Take a Break and Chat (and it’s THURSDAY! Best day of the week! I get my fix today. I will finally stop the shakes).
I like to moan about the workload, but it’s in the same affectionate way parents moan about their children (when they’re not exalting them as the world’s most interesting demi-gods on Facebook). It takes me completely out of my comfort zone. My module is on physiology at the moment. I had no idea what hormones actually did apart from make me force down the doors of KFCs at 3am bawling, “PLEASE, I NEED CHICKEN!!!” every month or so. Now I know! A bit! I even managed to give a presentation on it and sounded almost like I knew what I was talking about! (And got to say the word, “vagina” while pointing at a diagram, thus pleasing my giggling six year old self). I like how stupid it makes me feel. It’s a bizarre type of masochism- I actively enjoy being confronted with my own dumbarsey. The mathematics in particular totally baffle me. When we have maths questions in our tests I just stare at the paper, hoping a genie will pop out of the page and maybe perform an enlightening little rap for me.
I like coming home and having new things to talk about, things to explain- to struggle to explain. I like standing outside having a fag and hearing people discuss what they’re learning. But there’s a snobbery that irks me. My classes are in SOAS right now, and there’s a lot of students doing High Brow subjects. My modules are geared towards nursing and health, and by buggery, I am finding out how stupid people think anyone who wants to be a nurse is. I’ve talked to some students from other courses and I see the lights begin to dim once I mention what I’m doing. They’re doing more, “academic” subjects- they think I spend my time reading about the methodology of arse-wiping rather than writing essays on how and why poor housing affects health and mortality. When I say I want to be a mental health nurse, I peer into their eyes and they’ve by then vacated the building. I’m also finding out- to, quite frankly, my terror- there are some less than lovely people who want to be nurses for reasons I can’t fathom. There are people who shouldn’t be nurses (I’m not specifically talking about my course here) and I hope they fail, and sink without a trace. But that’s another tale!
There’s something else I wanted to write but worried about it in case I sounded racist, but ah well. I was a bit racist at one point.
Plymouth- something about it made me feel uncomfortable. It isn’t just that it’s not a place for pleasure. Its seaside status is a fraud. It’s not the same kind of seaside as Whitstable or Broadstairs. It’s a naval town and the naval grey is everywhere- in the sky, on the ground, in the water. It has a few interesting streets, some little cafés. But it’s artifice. They may as well have been ripped from London and plonked down there.
On my last jaunt to Plymouth (my boyfriend used to live there), I realised what it was that was making me uncomfortable. It was the same thing that niggles at me if I venture to Hampstead, even when I return home, to the place that I was born.
It’s that everybody is white. They all speak the same, plain English. I don’t feel like I belong there, even though I am white, too. Whiter than white. I have the milky white Irish complexion. I don’t speak any other language than plain English myself.
I’m from Belfast, a city that is homogenous, though now less so. There are only two types of people in Belfast- Catholic and Protestant. You cannot identify as c) other. I’m an atheist, but it’s not an oxymoron to say I’m a Catholic atheist. Religion is more than faith- it is cultural, and in Northern Ireland, the cultural differences are marked. I was raised by fairly liberal Republican parents. I wasn’t taught to hate Protestants- just the English. Still, they didn’t mind when I first introduced them to my English boyfriend, in 2000, the same one that I wandered around Plymouth’s desperate streets with.
Robert- the English boyfriend- looks, to the untrained (i.e Northern Irish) eye, as though he is Asian. He has somewhat Asiastic eyelids and that lean, angular appearance of a Manga character, which was as far as my cultural nous went in those days. Despite being nothing but English, he was regular catcalled with, ”Chinky” by the Belfast locals. That’s how often we saw Chinese people in the city- we had to imagine them instead. As much as I’d love to call the chinky-baiters racist bastards, I used the “nigger” term as a child, when I wasn’t sure what it meant but knew it was a bad word. Knowing it was a bad word put me a little ahead of my peers.
I had always viewed people of different races as, “other”. Because their skin colour was different than mine, I thought we couldn’t share experience. I did view black people as somehow, “slower” than me. After all, they didn’t speak English, did they? Oh wait, they did, but I didn’t know that. I did think I was better than them. It was fourteen years before I met a black person in real life. I’m pretty sure I asked if I could touch his hair. There was one non-white person in my school. Her name was Niamh- Niamh Chakavardy. She was a friend of my sister’s, and the first time I ever spoke to her, I was astounded at the strong Belfast accent she had. She-like the black twins at my baby sister’s school- was a curiousity to me. She was beautiful- not, “exotic” in the sense of modelling casting agencies who hire ethnic models to promote “exotic” goods-which made her even more curious to me.
When I was fifteen, I acquired an Australian penpal. We met on a PJ Harvey forum. I had no idea for a while that she was a Muslim. I had never thought to ask, assuming that a PJ Harvey fan would be white, because it was, “white” music. We’ve been friends for a decade now, and I can’t quite believe I ever thought that way.
When I moved to London, I rang my friend from the office of my first job at the Royal Mail. ”Oh wow!”, she exclaimed. ”I can hear all these different accents in the background!” Then I started college in Romford. And I was the only white girl there. There were no other white people for me to club together with just because they were white, thus we must have loads in common. I was forced to interact with people from different races and at first, it made me deeply uncomfortable. I stuck out so much. People whispered about me. Some of the girls laughed at me. Now I was the Other- a white Irish girl in an all-black class. I hated it.
Then I signed up for a temp agency. I was asked, rather bluntly, by the agent dealing with me if I’d consider changing my name to something more , “normal”.
“None of our clients know how to pronounce your name”, she said. “I can’t pronounce it. Is it Seamus or something like that?”
I was stunned. In a multicultural society, I’d have thought my name would be easier than most to pronounce. But it wasn’t, and nor was understanding my accent easy. For a year or two, until London living softened the barbed edges of my West Belfast braw, people spoke to me veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery slowly. As though I were stupid.
Almost every time somebody talked to me- taxi drivers, people in clubs- and clocked that I was Irish, they’d hoot, “OOH! Do you like Guinness? LUCKY CHARMS!” or some other stupid, thick-headed stereotypical shit. I usually smiled politely. I think I’ve only once bellowed back, “OH HA FUCKING HA HA HA HA YEAH I’M FUCKING IRISH YOU FUCKING CUNT WELL DONE!” and then I scalped them and sent it back to the MOTHER COUNTRY.
This constant reference to my nationality made me shrink back, at first. And then, naturally, I became more nationalistic than I had ever been in Belfast. In defiance. YES I AM FUCKING IRISH ALRIGHT?
There are always things that mark you out as different, because everybody is, in fact, different. Out of all the people I know, I probably win the, “Most Deprived Background” award, a dubious honour indeed. There have been times I’ve wanted to hide the fact, and times I’ve realised my own prejudices on it. I am genuinely stunned when I hear of people being funded by their parents, just because the concept is utterly alien to me. My mum is more likely to nick my money than give me money (many suspiciously opened birthday cards from granny attested to that, as does the fact that in school I stopped doing fundraisers because she’d just steal what I had collected. I should have just walked round with a bucket, knocked on doors and said that my mum needed money).
I have- and I’m not proud of it- an instinctual distrust and dislike of rich people, particularly posh rich people. I met a guy who is a fucking Earl and was involved, heavily, in the student protests. He was spouting off about socialism- saying, at some points- sensible things. But I didn’t trust or care what he had to say because he was wearing a fashionably grungy top that had cost into the hundreds of pounds and was a fucking Earl! I just wanted to smack him and tell him to shut up about socialism. While he was buggering off on posh holidays, my family were having our food money spent on the cheapest of cheap piss alcohol and dodging rats in the breadbin when trying to make toast, which we practically lived on for most days of the month. (The beginning of the month was a Feast, when daddy got paid and the Big Shop was done- the rest of the month there was nothing to eat). What’s £9,000 a year going to be to his family compared to families who don’t have Earls in them? Why should he, and people like him, become the faces of protests when they’re the ones less likely to lose out?
But that’s not right. Does it really matter who’s drawing attention to a subject? And, of course, rich kids, rich people, posh people, famous people, tend to have more influence, tend to be noticed more, and if they use it for a good cause, why not? With some subjects, I think it matters. But hey, students have a reputation for being middle class anyway, and that’s why lots of people who weren’t students didn’t care about the fees hike. They don’t think about poor people or understand how they would be discouraged from applying to university. They don’t think about poor people and education at all- if they did, there would have been more of an outcry when the Education Maintainance Allowance was scrapped, which helped poor children like my brother afford to be in education. That £30 would cover getting there and food for the week. It was a disgrace it was scrapped, but education itself has a reputation for being something for the middle classes, just like supposedly “high” culture, just like supposedly, “high brow” degree subjects that make people believe that those taking, “low brow” vocational degrees like nursing are stupid arse-wipers who can’t handle real academia. ”Oh yeah, my dad’s a doctor”.
But how would I/do I feel if people judged me unworthy of speaking on some topics because of my background, my race or my gender, which are things I can’t help? I hated in when at Romford nobody talked to me, I hated it when people called me Paddy and assumed I was thick because of my accent. When I was rejected by King’s, I did wonder if it was partly because I had dropped out of school and didn’t have expensive schooling. There were a lot of privately educated people there, and I did feel quite unworthy. How could I compete with people from public schools with good accents, good education and the self confidence such things bring? (Badly, it transpired!) But that’s equally bullshit- if I put every failing down to snobbery on the parts of others, then I wouldn’t ever address the issues of why I actually failed. I’d shrug it off, or try to, as it might be difficult with such an enormous chip on my shoulder. That’s not helpful to me, or anybody else. And I understand why people are privately educated- if you have the money, you want to give your kids the best possible. Same way that parents with mentally ill children will send them for private treatment if they can afford it.
That said, when I do go home, I am accused of being posh! My accent has changed a little bit since I moved to England. People assume I’m from the posh end of Belfast rather than from Poleglass. Like with my nationality, I think I defiantly overstate my class, too, despite the fact I live in London and own an espresso machine (it was a gift, and I am unemployed, but such things are bizarre markers of class).
It took me a few weeks to realise that I’m one of two white people in my class now. I have no feelings on it either way. I would hate to live somewhere that wasn’t multicultural. I feel like part of the multi-cultural because as an Irish person, my culture is different from someone who is English. I no longer feel at home in Belfast because it’s too white. On the whole, it’s kind of a racist place. My uncle freely uses the word nigger and told me to stop being uptight when I said it was offensive. The shops are all the same, selling the same things. Last time I was there, Robert made a gumbo and the only okra he could find was in a fecking delicatessen. IT’S OKRA! And such a small thing is a little indicator as to how Belfast still views people, foods and cultures other than its own- as a delicacy. As different and deserving of different treatment. And while it’s a probably tokenistic thing to say, I love the fact that in London, my local newsagent stocks stuff from around the world. On the estate on which I live, the smells drifting through my windows, the accents I can hear, the different music, is all thrilling to me because I feel part of a bigger society, a less insular one. It has made me aware of my own privilege as a white person, which has also made me aware of where my own prejudices and faults lie, and thus, I can address those. I’m going to be working in a profession full of people from around the world- the staff, the patients. It makes it more exciting. There are different cultures to consider, different perspectives. A huge part of the reason I wanted to go to King’s is because they do overseas electives- I am absolutely fascinated by how mental illness is viewed and treated within different cultures, and I was dying to go to somewhere like Zambia and see what it was like. (Wipes away more tears of rejection!)
I don’t understand the mentality of people who want an all-white, all-British society. Not only would it be unnatural (migration and immigration is completely natural), it would be desperately boring. There are some ethnically homogenous countries like Japan out there- but their homogeneity is utterly different as to what a White British homogenous society would be like. Some have been citing Japan’s homogenousity as a reason as to why there isn’t looting at the moment, compared to say, New Orleans- the implicit racism in that statement is very ugly. Japan’s culture is very, well, Japanese. They have strong etiquette there. I can’t say why I think it’s nothing to do with race with much knowledge, but I suspect in Japan being seen as a looter would be incredibly shameful.
So I’m less racist these days, in that it’s a non-issue to me. Now I need to get over my distrust of rich people, because I’ll meet them, too and will have to not punch them in their posh faces.
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