Let’s reform Valentine’s Day

With a capitalist society like ours it is very difficult to maintain the line between what is important to us, and what marketing departments want us to think is important. This is how Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day etc, have become vile spectacles of consumerism. I do not think it is possible, or wise to get rid of deeply entrenched cultural traditions that don’t actually do anyone any harm (you can’t exactly make buying a red heart-shaped cushion illegal, or organise a protest against Easter eggs, can you). What I think we can do though, is change them for the better.

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These consumer-driven festivities obviously didn’t start out that way. The first iterations of many festivals were Celtic celebrations of seasons changing. They were rooted in the environment, focused on celebrating life and the world. When Christians invaded Celtic lands the religions were combined, creating the festivals we celebrate today like Christmas and Easter. During the industrial revolution, these religious festivals morphed again to encompass the concept of ‘wanting stuff’. And with the subsequent invention of marketing, they developed again thanks to this new method of ‘making you want stuff’. And here we are. As for Valentine’s Day, it began as a feast celebrating a Saint, and then morphed (I think because of his martyrdom?) into a celebration of love, and then into the plastic-wrapped red-rose travesty we endure today.

I find it deeply upsetting to think about the way our society revolves around wanting and getting stuff. It’s bleakly shallow, meaningless and unsustainable. However, I’m also very lucky. I was raised by people who find mindless consumerism revolting, and in our house we wouldn’t really celebrate any festival apart from Christmas (which I think my parents realised they couldn’t ignore without making me a total weirdo at school). However they taught me that it was about sharing a day with your favourite people – having a relaxed, cosy time with people you genuinely like. Gifts were always thoughtful and nothing was bought ‘for the sake of it’. As a result, I don’t have a super negative attitude towards Christmas. I see Christmas as a time to spend with my loved ones, show them how much I care with thoughtful gifts, and eat good food that we all helped to cook. Christmas is never going to go away, and it is therefore better to reform it into something sustainable and meaningful than just to try and avoid it all together – because that way lies bitterness, anger and loneliness.

This has also made me more open to other festivals. Valentine’s Day is one in particular. Consumerism has made it into a fucking horrible celebration. Red hearts everywhere, shitty force-grown roses shipped in from somewhere that definitely doesn’t have ethical labour laws. Novelty chocolate flavours. The horrendous cis-heteronormativity of it all. All manner of gendered shite. I completely understand why people get so bitter about the whole thing – I think these things are utterly revolting. It should be noted that if you only hate Valentine’s Day because you’re single and not because of all that shit I just mentioned, you need to get a grip. I was single for 25 years and I never had a problem with people in relationships celebrating their love, don’t be so selfish.

ANYWAY. I guess maybe I could have cut out those 700 words and just got straight to the point, but the Philosophy student in me will never be able to make an argument without fully explaining it, so well done if you got this far. It’s time to rethink our approach to celebrating our love. What is Valentine’s Day about? Here are five ways you can help make Valentine’s Day something we can be proud to celebrate:

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Here are the gifts my partner and I got each other this year. We were both so excited about what we’d bought the other that we ended up giving them as soon as they arrived, which is actually what inspired this post! Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay available here (non-Amazon link), the Choose Love Help Refugees t-shirt available here

Do something with your friends if you’re all single. You love your friends, right? Lesley Knope it up and do something together! Get each other gifts! Have fun!

If you’re if you’re the only one who isn’t single (I’ve been there) then spend the day fucking the bejeezus out of yourself. Masturbation is an act of self-love, reclaim the it for yourself and make V-Day 100% about you. Or alternatively, have a bubble bath, put on your favourite film and ENJOY an evening alone. You shouldn’t feel obligated to go to some cringe singles event, or find someone on Tinder to spend the night with because the idea of being ‘alone on Valentines’ freaks you out. Own it. Your relationship status is not a measure of your worth as a human being.

Don’t buy the tacky shit from the shops. Get your partner something that will be meaningful for them, and them alone. Even better if you can make it something that will do good – a charity donation or a purchase from a charitable organisation, ethical chocolate, you get the idea. Brands are watching you, and if you demonstrate that you are 100% uninterested in their nonsense, they will stop making it. Trust me, I work in the consumer goods sector, I haven’t just seen it done, I’ve done it. Don’t click on the ‘Gifts for Her’ links – we notice.

If your partner loves flowers, go for it. But DO NOT get them those shit supermarket red roses. They are unethical, unsustainable and unimaginative. Get them a plant, or find their favourite blooms. The most important part? If you’re buying a bunch of flowers, always get them from an independent, small florist like Rebel Rebel.

Talk about it!! Tell people what you’re doing for Valentine’s. You can inspire others to make more positive decisions about the way they spend the day without tearing down their own choices or writing a 1k word blog post about it (sorry). All you really need to do is plant the seed in people’s minds and for many, it will grow into and idea for their own wonderful way of expressing love and affection.

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How to do something for the world (instead of just feeling bad about it)

The world is in terrible state right now and it’s frightening to sit and watch it happen. It’s easy to feel powerless when we look at the awful things that are happening to people at home and abroad. I’ve participated in my fair share of volunteering and activism over the years, so I thought I would share a few ideas on ways that you can help. This isn’t about being a ‘saviour’, this is about the fact that people reading this almost certainly have a far more comfortable existence than a lot of people in the world. We have a moral duty to do something with our personal resources. Sharing posts on Facebook, by the way, isn’t on this list. Sorry, but it isn’t enough just to ‘care’ anymore. I’ve split these suggestions into sections – things everyone can do, things you can do with money, things you can do with your time, things you can do with yourself. I hope you find something helpful! It’s not exhaustive by any means, but if I’ve missed something you think is vital, please let me know.

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Things everyone can do

These are just a few little ideas that you can adopt into your life to help your everyday life make a more positive impact on the world.

Reduce meat consumption or cut it out entirely. The meat industry contributes to global warming more than almost anything else, so the less of it you can eat, the better. If you feel you have to, stick to poultry. The dairy industry is also linked to this of course, so reduce that too if you can.

Buy ethically. Sounds daunting but it’s really not! Shop in Lidl, Aldi, the Co-op, M&S or Whole Foods. Make leftover food into lunches. Use The Guardian’s ethical fashion directory for clothes, or buy on second hand apps like Depop. Get clothes, homeware items and cosmetics from independently owned companies or creators. Donate your old clothes to charity. If you have enough money to be looking for a car, get a hybrid. Let your license fee lapse (the BBC promotes fascism, sorry). Consider boycotting some of these. Bank with Nationwide or the Co-op, if you have a choice of energy supplier get an ethical one like Ovo Energy. Buy cosmetics and household products that are as natural as possible, and buy recycled toilet paper. Basically whenever you hand over money for something, think to yourself ‘is this doing damage, is it fairly neutral, or is it doing good?’

Do what you can to make your home more energy efficient. From double lining your curtains to making sure nothing gets left on standby, from timing your showers to only flushing the loo when you have to.

Join a political party (you don’t have to have any money OR time to do this), and vote in every election you can, even if you think it’s meaningless. There’s no such thing. Not sure who you should join? Take the Political Matchmaker!

Things you can do with money

There are thousands of worthy charities in the world – you can commit to one and donate just to them, or dot your donation around different ones. Either way, if you have disposable income this is the best way to use it if you want to help people. 

Donate to Syria. There are specific Syrian charities such as Syria Relief that you can donate money too, or you can donate to UNICEF, UNHCR, Oxfam or Save the Children.

Donate to environmental charities. While humans may be pretty preoccupied with killing each other right now, the war on the environment rages on in the background. Deforestation, waste, the depletion of resources such as rare earth elements, fossil fuels and water is still happening, as it global warming. Pollution is through the roof, in the UK especially. Crops are fucked. The World Land Trust, WWF and Rainforest Alliance are solid choices.

Donate to human rights/wellbeing charities. Mental health care in the UK is in disarray at the moment, and it’s clear that huge groups of people are suffering massively from mental health problems. You can donate to Mind to help with this. Or how about Amnesty International, to help end female genital mutilation, to help hold war criminals to account, to protect refugees and to protect human rights worldwide. If you’re particularly concerned about women, perhaps you could donate to Womankind, a charity that supports female entrepreneurship in developing countries. Or Women’s Aid, a UK charity that helps female and child victims of domestic violence. What about water availability? Wateraid works to provide safe drinking water around the world. Poverty in the UK is rising fast. Why not donate to Shelter or Barnardos?

Donate to your chosen political party. This will help them to fight the rising altneo-rightnazis which as we can all clearly see, is growing problem that we really fucking need to do something about. Donating to the party that you believe is the best for the job will help them to eradicate white extremism.

Things you can do with your time

Not all of us have spare time, but if you do, these are great ways to spend it.

Take the UNICEF free online course on Social Change. This is a wonderful thing for anyone who wants to be a better citizen, activist or campaigner. The course looks at the distinctions between societal norms and societal conventions, before moving on to social change, and the tools that can be used to enact it.

Do volunteer work for political parties or charities. Small charities and parties in the run up to elections are often desperate for tech savvy people to do a bit of SEO, HTML, Photoshop or photography for them. During the last general election I volunteered on Natalie Bennett’s campaign and learned photoshop so I could produce digital campaign communications as well as doing some social media. Unfortunately I was in the middle of moving jobs and I had to stop, which is why it’s very important to work out if time is something you have to give. Just like some people don’t have money to give, others don’t have time.

Work for a helpline. I put this in ‘time’ but it depends. Sometimes helplines that offer online or social support will let you do it from home, and I’ve heard about helplines doing the same, but more commonly you will have to go to their office. Samaritans, LGBT+ Switchboard, Refuge and SANE all offer volunteer positions.

Sign petitions and write to your MP. A while ago I campaigned against funding cuts that were being made to the research teams at Kew Gardens – I attended some advisory meetings and learned a lot about how to put weight behind a cause. Making ‘noise’ is one of the best ways to do this, and can be done by writing to your MP about an issue you are concerned about, whether it’s sending aid to Syria, poverty in the UK or violence against women For lots of campaigns, especially ones that have a petition attached to them, you will be able to send a pre-written letter to your MP that you personalise as well.

Things you can do with your self

Some of these are very big commitments indeed, but I thought I’d put them in because if you’re in a position to do something big, why not? 

Sign up to the UN Volunteers Database. I joined this recently. Basically you go on their website, fill in all necessary details about yourself and your skills, as well as the level of commitment you can offer. If anything comes up that’s suitable for you, they get in touch.

Do VSO. Voluntary Services Overseas is an organisation that sends skilled people to other countries to help the community using their skills. I know someone who helped with tourism infrastructure in Sri Lanka because she had lots of business knowledge, but there are positions for loads of different areas of expertise including accountancy, education and agriculture. The great thing about this particular organisation over others is that you are required to have skills that a community can benefit from before you can be placed somewhere. You aren’t just buying a trip to ‘Africa’ to ruin the lives of some children play with orphans.

Join MSF. Médecins Sans Frontières is one of the most important critical aid charities in the world. They are at the forefront of every health crisis, be it conflicts, epidemics or natural disasters and their teams are fearless. They don’t just need healthcare professionals though – HR managers, pharmacists, technical engineers, supply chain management, finance, communication and admin coordinators are all needed. This is a very big choice. I’m not suggesting you join MSF after reading one blog post by an irrelevant woman in London. But it’s worth being aware of, no?

Do some community volunteering. Something less perilous and much closer to home! There are always local groups looking for help maintaining a nature reserve, painting a school, being a friend to an isolated person or working in museums. I can’t link to this obviously, but here’s the website for my area, hopefully it will give you a clue as to how to search for yours.

Canvas for a political party. I’ll never forget how cold I got handing out leaflets at 7am for the Green Party in February 2015. But it was important, so I did it. You can do house calls, leafleting or phonecalls for your chosen party, depending on what you prefer.

Join a protest. Numbers make an impact. If a protest for something you believe in takes place, stand up and be counted if you can. Protest marches have been effective many times before. Often they aren’t, but it is one of the purest expressions of our democratic rights and you can’t deny its importance.

Fundraising! Everyone loves a sponsored half marathon, coffee morning or whatever else you fancy doing. Not only does fundraising generate more funds than you might be able to give yourself, you also raise awareness of the cause you’re helping. Plus, it’s usually pretty fun, especially if you’re an outgoing sort of person with lots of friends.

And one final thing that everyone, everyone who doesn’t have to use them should do? Donate food to your nearest foodbank. 3.8 million workers in the UK are now living in poverty – and that’s just people in work, let alone people out of work. If you can afford to feed yourself, you can afford to buy a little bit of food for someone else.  

Kew in the Summer

I think by now my love for Kew Gardens is pretty well documented. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I went again recently!

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It was beautifully hot, and absolutely magical. They have a patch of eucalyptus trees which we walked through, and I’ve never smelt anything so wonderful in my life – they don’t smell the way you’d expect, its spicy, dry and wonderful. I didn’t get a photo of them because they just looked like dry leaves but next time you go, look out for them. But I thought this flower was rather lovely too.

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I explored lots of different places this time, and this bridge over a lake was one of my favourite parts. It was so serene, with ducks and dragonflies everywhere. It’s easy to forget as you walk around this idyllic place, that Kew is still in trouble, that below the surface they’re having to cut jobs. Parliament isn’t in session at the moment, and with the recent changes to the cabinet it’s difficult to tell what will happen. But the Early Day Motion MPs were asked to sign did really well, so that means Parliament supports preserving this wonderful place!

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We went up the brilliant Treetop Walkway, an 18 metre high, 200 metre long platform that you walk around, and gives you absolutely stunning views, as well as the rare chance to see trees from canopy level. I’ve recently learned that I’m funny with heights (why this didn’t occur to me before I don’t know, as I’ve had MASSIVE freak outs on both the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, and when climbing an emergent tree in the rainforest). Anyway, this was taken near the end, when I actually managed to slow down from dragging my friend round at the speed of light. It was really cool though, you should definitely try it!

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And of course, no visit to Kew would be complete without a visit to the Palm House. Check out this awesome plant! I don’t know what it is but it looks like a lily?

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Did you know that Kew is a finalist in the Google Impact Challenge Award? They’re developing a device that will allow them to map disease carrying mosquitoes – a device that would be worn as a wristband or downloaded as a phone app! So cool. It’s this kind of innovation that I love about Kew, yes they do lots of quietly sensible research, but at the same time they’re so creative.

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Here’s a wonderful video about Kew’s archives and the development of our understanding of the plant world. I can’t work out how to embed it, but you must watch it because it’s beautiful, and fascinating.

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If you’re in London this summer, make a point of visiting Kew. They have so many incredible things going on at the moment, and the whole place looks great. Both times I’ve been I’ve discovered something new and fascinating, this time I think my favourite was the Marianne North Gallery. North was an artist in the 19th century, who travelled the world painting the most incredibly vivid nature scenes. Most were tropical scenes that will transport you to a warmer place when you look at them, or if you’ve already been, bring back memories of the sights and sounds you experienced. It’s amazing to look at these small colourful paintings in their dark air conditioned gallery and feel as though you’re back in the jungle (Speaking of feeling like you’re back in the jungle…look at those leaves!)

My new face oil – Rio Rosa Mosqueta Rosehip Seed Oil

So after my Jurlique Balancing Facial Oil did its job sorting out my face, I needed something to take care of my remaining issues – scars left over from a tonne of teenage (and not so teenage) spots, and horrendous dry patches. Rosehip seed oil seemed the perfect choice as people literally rave about it, so I thought it had to be amazing. Of course there’s one brand in particular that people are especially drawn to, but I I decided not to go with them because of the price and the fact that they hide their eco-light under an enormous bushel, which I really don’t agree with. Rio Rosa Mosqueta was the least expensive rosehip seed oil I’d seen, and I actually thought it looked really good!

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