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21 Ways to Forever Retain Your Inner Child

This article was originally published in Impact Magazine in June 2011. See it at http://www.impactnottingham.com/2011/06/21-ways-to-retain-your-inner-child/

I turn 21 today, like many have done, and I am confronted with the fact that I will be officially entering adultdom. There is no turning back. I have witnessed the years gradually speeding past me, through the wonder-years of being a teenager and then the twilight years of nineteen and ‘twenteen’. Now, I will have to face up to my responsibilities. However, I do feel that student life presents a sort of limbo between childhood and adulthood, between responsibility and carefree joy, between the real world and the world of blissful abandon. Students and children have a remarkable amount of things in common, and students seem to do well at embracing their borrowed time in childhood. Whatever your age, here are my ways in which students never lose their inner child.

Making a den:
This is the protocol for students living together for the first time. Take some sheets and blankets. Drape them across the chairs and tables; crawl underneath and voilà, you have your den. NB. you must eat/play/sleep in the den for at least a couple of days in order to appreciate its full beauty. An entry password is also recommended.

Having a food fight/ water fight/ snowball fightComplete with team tactics, ‘base-points’, shelters and an HQ.

Eating nothing but sweets and chocolate all day, every day
Just because you can

Getting naked as much as possible
Fairly self-explanatory.

Soiling yourself
Students tend to achieve this without actually trying to, surprisingly.

 Forever enjoying playgrounds, and rushing to be the first one on the slide, roundabout and swings
(even if your feet drag on the floor).

Still enjoying Smilies, fish-fingers and alphabet-spaghetti
(though this may be the extent of some student’s cooking repertoire anyway).

Crying/throwing a tantrum
The reasons for this may have changed from bodily responses such as hunger to drunkenly losing your eyelash-curlers in a club.

Drinking out of a bottle
Not really recommended, although some ‘classy-birds’ out there swapped their milk for Lambrini many moons ago.

Wearing a onesie
Enough said.

Deploying the almighty mattress-slide
The mattress-slide is the paragon of student childishness. Simply take a mattress (or two, depending on how long your staircase is) and place it over the stairs, creating a super-slide. If you want to create a proper assault-course out of your home, tie a rope/dressing-gown cord to the top of the banister and use it to ‘climb’ up and slide down again. May also be used in conjunction with the den. NB. Impact will not accept the responsibility for any part of your house breaking as a result of this activity.

‘Decorating’ your house/flat
Some students are mature and have refined tastes; some have ogres for landlords, and some wreak havoc on their homes, so your mileage on the definition of ‘decorating’ may vary. Choices of ‘decor’ include graffiti and outlandish murals.

Sleeping all day and being awake all night
For a reason, insert all nighter/intoxication/laziness here.

Getting excited about the smallest thing
Whether it’s finally learning to tie your own shoelaces or finally managing to take your shoes off after a night out.

Dancing on the sofa and jumping on the bed
(like no one is watching)

Watching Disney videos/ Nickelodeon/CBBC
because your alcohol-saturated brain can’t take anything more mentally strenuous.

Still needing a cuddle, a pat on the head, or being ‘tucked in’ to bed every now and again
It just feels nice…

Dressing up in fancy-dress
Students appear to have superseded children in the fancy-dress stakes, dressing up for any occasion, whether this be a bar-crawl or your mate’s sister’s cousin’s flat-mate’s work do.

Playing endless games of hide and seek, tag and spin-the-bottle
There seems to be no shame in playing these games, and if the hide-and-seek was instigated by your dribblingly drunken friend and the spin-the-bottle then leads to a highly regrettable one-night-stand, well, then so be it.

Happily indulging in parties which feature jelly, balloons and musical bumps
Admittedly, some student’s parties feature vodka jelly, ‘noz’ balloons and the musical ‘bumps’ of people falling over, but other students engage quite happily in the more wholesome variety. So there you go.

Camping in the garden
The novelty never dies. Except when, after a few beers, your super-cool ‘roof sunbathing’ ends in tears.

The Age of Revolution

This article was originally published in Impact Magazine in May 2011. Visit http://www.impactnottingham.com for more details.

On 17th December 2010, in the small rural town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, a street vendor set fire to himself. It was an act of defiance and despair at his poverty, his government’s corruption, his humiliation at the hands of the municipal police and his daily struggle in life, and was to become the catalyst for what is already known as the Arab Revolution. After generations of oppressive and autocratic governments in the Middle East and beyond, and years of apathy and helpless cynicism at the Recession and incompetent governments in the West, we are finally entering a new era: an age of revolution.
 After Bouazizi’s act, protests erupted all over Tunisia, and after weeks of unrest and pressure, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country with his family on 14th January 2011, after 23 years in power. The Tunisians rejoiced and the world was stunned: the people had fought the government, and the people had won. Elsewhere in North Africa, other nations under despotic governments were stirred and inspired, while the despots themselves shifted warily in their thrones. In Egypt, dissent was growing at the President of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, as well as at the high rate of unemployment, lack of freedom of speech, corruption, inflation, police brutality and countless other social and political problems. Protests organized through Facebook and Twitter snowballed into revolts, and on 11th February, Mubarak officially stepped down.

Suddenly, in a matter of weeks, the Arab world was ablaze with revolution and its people were fighting for democracy. World leaders, media organizations and ordinary people from all four corners of the globe watched on in wonder at the progression of events that unfolded daily. The people’s revolution spread almost virally, from Jordan, whose King Abdullah II has sworn in a new cabinet and replaced his prime minister after violent clashes between protesters on 18th Feb, to Yemen, whose President of 32 years Ali Abdullah Saleh announced on 2nd February that he would not seek another term in office, after violent protests and deaths. There have also been protests in countries right across the Middle East and North Africa including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Oman, Bahrain and Algeria, and there is no indication of when they will abate.

Libya’s protests have so far been the most bloody because its infamous dictator, Col. Gaddafi, refuses to step down, despite international pressure, and says he will “fight to the last man and woman”. At the time of writing, there are over a thousand dead and countless injured since the protests began on 16th February, after Gaddafi has used troops, tanks, bombs and even air strikes on his own people. Nevertheless, whatever the outcome of the Libya Revolt, the people have achieved the unachievable, and Dr. Adam Morton, from the University’s School of Politics and IR, notes that ‘the so-called “state of the masses”, or al-Jamahiriya, as Libya has been eulogistically termed under Colonel Gaddafi’s rule is now, after 40 years, experiencing a social uprising by the Libyan people over whom the state once ruled with no regard for human rights’.

                The Arab Revolts are clearly historical, but how have they been so successful and why have they arisen now? All of the aforementioned country’s rulers, regardless of their individual political ideologies, are inherently corrupt, and nepotism is rife. These leaders are all harming their citizens in various ways and in varying degrees, whether economically, through greed, as in Tunisia; whether through lack of free speech in the heavy censuring of media as in Saudi Arabia, or through violence and torture to create a ‘barrier of fear’ as in Libya.

This ‘barrier of fear’ is what the Arabic despots relied on for so long to keep their people in check: if the public are scared, then they will never collectively be able to rise up against oppression. Ignorance of the public also plays a critical role in a despot’s power, controlled through insufficient education, a state-run media and minimal contact with the rest of the world. The reason why the revolutions are occurring now is because of the seismic shift in the demographics of the Arab world, which has completely transformed both the barrier of fear and the ignorance of a nation.

The Arab Human Development Report of 2009 (a UN project) reports that out of the 360 million Arabs in the world, the median age is 22, nearly 60% live in urban areas and 65m Arabs live below the poverty line( >$2 a day). However, the literacy rate in the majority of the countries experiencing unrest is in the 70-90% bracket, with some countries, such as Jordan, boasting a 92% literacy rating. What we have here then is a generation of people across the North Africa and Middle East region who are young, urbanized, poor and intelligent, and as their despots grow older and richer, the public are getting younger, more numerous, poorer, more globalized and more angry, which is surely what created this ticking  time-bomb of revolution.

Obviously, in the U.K., thanks to the democratic society in which we live, we don’t have the need to oust entire governments through marches and revolutions, but I do, however, feel that the 2010 student protests against the tuition-fee rise was revolutionary because it marked an end to student apathy and a new era of activism.

The 10/11/10 protests in which 50,000 people marched through London was the largest student protest since 1998, and marked the beginning of a series of protests, rallies and occupations held throughout the rest of 2010 in various locations around the country. Throughout Europe there has been growing dissent and protests about government’s austerity measures, especially in countries such as Ireland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Portugal and notoriously France, which ground to a halt after a series of strikes and protests about pension reform. Just as Tunisia’s revolution had a domino effect throughout its region, in Europe, various nationalities are emulating one another in protesting for change.

None of the recent protests would have occurred had it not been for the very real and literal technological revolution of the past two decades. The Egyptian, Tunisian, and British student protests and many others were all organized on Facebook and other social networking sites, and the internet has ‘revolutionized the revolution’. Social media has made the organization and mobilization of large groups of people infinitely easier than in the pre-internet era, and real-time media such as Twitter sustains momentum and media attention. This new technological revolution has already seen power shift from conventional authorities to individual people who possess technological knowledge, the most relevant example being the Wikileaks exposure of the U.S. government cables.

Does protesting work? Obviously, the answers are yes and no. Here in the UK, the politicians did not meet the demands of the tuition-fee rise opposition (of which students are bitterly aware), but the protesters were exercising their freedom of speech, and ultimately, the once-apathetic and disenchanted generation has finally found its voice. In the Middle East and North Africa, however, the protests have led to land-mark revolutions and a new era of democracy.

We are in an unprecedented age where, for the first time, the ‘little guys’ can take the power, whether this be a few internet whizzes debilitating a whole government, students putting immense pressure on their leaders for political reform, or citizens of whole nations breaking a long-imposed barrier of fear. The underdogs are striking out, and David is trumping Goliath. This age of revolution is a result of a new, globalized, technologically savvy generation of people- people who care about the world in which they live and believe they can change it.

Why the Tuition Fee Increase is a Positive Change (…By a Student)

I’ll cut to the chase. Tuition fees will nearly triple from 2012, from £3,375 to between £6,000 and £9,000 per year. This is obviously not a positive change, not least because funding cuts in other public spending pale in comparison to the 80% of cuts to university funding. The fee increase puts students from a wealthier background in a better position compared to their less advantaged counterparts, and obstructs those bright students who aren’t prepared to immerse themselves in so much debt. The myriad disadvantages of the cuts to university funding notwithstanding, I feel that the tuition fee hike will bring about a crucial change in the British university culture, then leading to a societal change in general.

The classic student stereotype of students spending their entire maintenance loan in one go, drinking every night and sleeping through lectures is, unfortunately, not unfounded. This behaviour is especially commonplace in first year, when freshers will eagerly remind one another “first year doesn’t count!”, doing the bare minimum they can to pass the year, and while most students will pull their socks up upon entering second year, a large percentage of the student body continue their time at University in perennial ‘fresher mode’.

Although, one must ask, why wouldn’t they? Most students entering University are viewed as wide-eyed and breathless eighteen year olds, fresh from their A-Levels and the confines of the parental home- and in many senses they are- but they are also adults: adults savvy and mature enough to know how jammy their position is and to recognise that they’ve landed on their feet. They’ve been handed by the government a Get Out of Jail Free card for the next three years, as well as winning £100 in the crossword competition and collecting £10 from each player for their birthdays, and they are -quite literally- laughing all the way to the bank. In a nutshell, for three years students are given the chance to spend their money in any way they choose, living a life where every day is a weekend and early mornings don’t exist, before scraping a 2:1 at the end of it all and presto: here’s your degree and guaranteed starting salary, Mr. Graduate.

In addition to this there is another, albeit less extreme, type of student who is at university for the wrong reasons. I have personally experienced fellow students confessing to “hating their course”, and there are many who just don’t feel academically inclined after a certain period. These students remain in limbo, resenting their studies and the debt they accumulate for them yet continuing in the hope of obtaining the coveted degree. Obviously, some people  genuinely end up on the wrong course but many students chose university simply because they feel that there is no other real option. University has been seen by many college students as the natural ‘next step’- as natural as the transfer from junior school to senior school, and from senior school to college. Except of course, that the tuition fee debt is not taken into account, and is very much a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’, not only when choosing whether to enter university but all the way throughout. College leavers are not given enough information about what other career options are available after A-Levels, and so will go with the majority, some of whom are, unfortunately, just following each other over the cliff.

Furthermore, both the feckless-boozer-type student and the misguided, no longer academic student have seen the rise of the ‘Perpetual Student’, those minority few who drop out and start again, only to drop out and start again, either to fuel a 36 month long Fresher’s year (they do exist!) or to desperately find the course and/or institution that’s right for them. Now, however, because the tuition fees are being raised to such astronomically high levels, students and their parents will be actively seeking out every conceivable option to make an informed decision about the future, not just taking the automatic ‘next step’, and those who are at university will certainly be much more likely to make their money worthwhile, thus eliminating both the freeloaders and the wanderers. To employ yet another stereotype, one notable category of hard workers is that of the international students, which is unsurprising considering that their tuition fees are four or five times the current national undergraduate tuition fee.

I’ll get the article disclaimer out of the way now: of course there are thousands and thousands of students who get to university, appreciate the position they’re in and work very, very hard. And of course the difference between the party animal and the high achiever is never black and white.   But already, even without the Recession, graduate jobs are few and far between because degrees are worth ten-a-penny. The once prestigous degree has now been diluted so much because every Tom, Dick and Harry can get some form of a degree, with 83 graduate applicants for every graduate job.

Admittedly, I’m playing Devil’s advocate slighty, because what’s good for society isn’t neccessarily beneficial to individuals, and just as I believe the tuition fee rise will change the existing University culture for the better, it’s still affecting me personally. My painfully bright younger sister, who would have been among the first batch of students paying the increased fee, is now taking a year out to decide if she can commit to so much debt (a heady decison for any seventeen year old to make), and she leaves another, equally bright sibling in her wake. It seems so unfair that what was laid out on a plate for me will literally be about three times harder for them, yet this is the scenario being played out up and down the country.

The tuition fee increase will undoubtedly scupper the academic hopes of thousands, but in the longer term will transform the culture of those university students riding the wave of little work and all play for maximum gain , and make those who are at university ensure that their buck goes farther, while allowing those who chose other career options to find one that actually suits them. Degrees need to be made meaningful again, not just to employers but to students themselves.

From Blogrolls to Sphinn Apps

As I make my first tentative foray into the world of blogging, I know what I’m up against, and the odds aren’t stacked in my favour. As of 16th February 2011, there were over 156 million public blogs in existence, so as I start out, this blog from little old me is just a drop in the ocean. Secondly, several studies show that most blogs are abandoned after they’re created (some 60%-80%, according to various internet sources) and that few are regularly updated. In fact, the ‘blogosphere’ is often referred to as an iceberg: several popular blogs which are updated regularly and viewed by thousands, and then millions more which are dead or dormant. I’m in the largest demographic of bloggers (53.3% are aged between 21-35) but as a UK blogger I am dwarfed by those in America: 29.22% of the blogosphere is composed of US bloggers compared to  the 6.75% British (followed by a measly 4.88% in Japan and 4.19% in Brazil).

 

So, there’s an overcrowded platform, a high failure rate, extensive peer competition and I’m in a minority global demographic…it doesn’t exactly scream ‘Success!’. Still, it’s not all bad news. Blogging has single-handedly changed the face of journalism and the media, and has allowed grassroots journalism to flourish, giving people anywhere a vehicle to express an opinion and showcase their writing. New Media has had print journalism quaking in its boots for a good few years now, and has forced it to innovate, progress, and generally keep up with the pace, but before the old Fleet Street hacks hang up their hats, one indelible fact remains: the good thing about blogging is that anyone can be a journalist; the bad thing about blogging is that anyone can be a journalist.

 
There are far too many blogs out there which feature posts such as ‘One day I decided to feed my cat’ or ‘It rained for a bit so I took out my umbrella’; in short, those millions of blogs which lurk in the murky depths beneath the tip of the iceberg. I intend with this blog to be the latter part of the blogging iceberg, but only the incorrigible number of website hits will be the judge of that.

 
I must confess a further impediment to my success as a blogger: I am literally the least computer-  and technology-literate person ever, with most of the middle-aged population putting me to shame. I’ve only just really grasped what ‘streaming’ and ‘buffering’ are, I’m still amazed at the print-screen function on a computer, I don’t know the keyboard shortcut for copy+paste and I need supervision and guided assistance when downloading anything. In short, when faced with a technological issue, I panic and go running to the nearest friend for help with “this computer thing”, so entering this fast-paced and high-tech arena is for me like being a baby chick who’s just emerged from her shell, blinking and fragile and unused to the world around her.

 
In my defence, the lexicon of the internet and today’s technology is enough to send even the most foolhardy of prospective techies running for cover. I’ve had to get my head around widgets and gadgets, around Digg, Sphinn and Blogspot, around avatars and Androids and wifis and wikis. Then there’s blogs, blogrolls and the blogosphere and Twitter, tweeting and the Twitterverse, along with Tumblr and Flickr (what happened to the humble ‘e’?). Finally there’s feeds, podcasts and hashtags, not forgetting all the countless logs, tags, apps and any number of seemingly gobbledygook words that confirm that yes, tech-speak and the technological word is as intimidating as we had first feared.

 
Incidentally, what on earth was the hashtag even for for about twenty years? It used to be that defunct and useless button I’d mistakenly press on my Nokia keypad instead of ‘wxyz’, and now all of a sudden it’s had this nouveau resurgence in the twenty-first century, hustling its way into the Twitter glossary as an integral part of its functioning, and as such, making itself a household name.

 
So reader, I’ll cut to the chase: what will this blog be about? Time magazine, in its 25 Best Blogs of 2011, states that “a basic fact about blogging: the best way to show you love a topic isn’t to write it a love letter but to treat it in an uncompromising manner”. So, no more odes to blogging, but what I do love is writing, so this is what this blog will be: a well written divulgence of up to date news and uncompromising views, of insightful features and informative analysis, of anecdotal tales and investigative journalism.
This blog is the new hashtag. So watch this cyberspace.