The Third American Part One: The Sunday Column

The Third American I met: Part One.

I didn’t decide to go to University to become a better person. I was happy with who I was; an overweight girl from Shropshire who waiting on tables to afford a car to get the hell out of Shropshire.

My parents didn’t go to University. None of my family did. Studying literature and creative writing would be perfect as it’s broadness can lead to a multitude of career prospects I read to my parents from a website. Mum thought I was the cleverest person in the world; Dad wanted me to go to college and learn a productive trade, be a hairdresser or something. But I liked reading books and enjoyed writing fiction, and my grades told me that I was pretty good at it. ‘You didn’t get it from either of us’ she’d say.

Mum cried when they left me in a little room with too many boxes, 50 miles away from home. Dad sniffed and said he’d call me later on. There was a whole new distance between us now; his daughter wasn’t just growing up, but growing further away. 50 miles would become 5000 and the capacity of those boxes would shrink to the size of a 50lb suitcase. It would take another 5 years and a one way flight to Los Angeles before he’d tell me that he loved me.

I remember googling what a seminar was before I attended one. Was I to take notes? My college books was riddled with coloured pens, post it notes and lightly penciled diagrams. Was my pink highlighter unwelcome within the four walls of mahogany book shelves, uncomfortable plastic chairs and handouts in Times New Roman size 10 print? A year later a therapist would tell me that my opt for bright clothing and accessories was a cry for to be loved and for attention from my father. Maybe I just really like those colours? I’d explain.

“So, where’s that exactly?” A guy called Sean asked between the tutor’s pause to catch a breath.
“Oh, um, the Physics building” she replied, caught off guard. “There aren’t enough lecture halls in the English department for all students to be taught in”, she shuffled some papers and looked back at her inquisitive student. His name was Sean because his name tag told me so. Other people in the class sharpied a smiley face next to their names, or even braved a “!”
“Isn’t that what our tuition fees are to pay for?” the guy questioned, staring without a blink. I clenched my notepad further into my chest; comforting myself from the already uncomfortable environment. His accent was different, a little nasal. American? His beaten pair of vans, a megadeath t-shirt, his blue and black striped hoody; weren’t the kind of students who challenged authorities people who carried briefcases and wore brogues?A girl to my left waved her arm in the air and exclaimed she couldn’t attend that lecture because of religious reasons. A guy on the other side of the room asked whether the department preferred the Harvard referencing system. Did the pending American only ask questions? I put my notepad back into my rucksack. I won’t be making any friends today.
Sometime into the seminar our tutor lumped the student closest to her a clump of paper to pass around. “Here’s the groups of people you’ll be working with for your first assignment” our tutor exclaimed. “Put a name to a face quickly. You’ll need to get to know each other pretty well soon.” I selected a sheet of paper and passed it along. Group C- Rebecca Birch: I was used to being at the top of lists, alphabetically. “When are you free for coffee?” a voice said as I glanced over the remaining 5 names: Group C- Sean.

To be continued.

Bec O’Neal

Leave a comment

Filed under Musings

Federalism Is Not a Dirty Word – Politics Column

Not even Alex Salmond will mention the ‘F’ word in public these days. No the expletive I used earlier to day at work when I stubbed my toe on a protruding piece of furniture this morning but federalism. Federalsim has been getting a bad reputation in the past few weeks, often used as a pejorative towards the new EU president of the commission Jean Claude-Junker. Used by back bench Eurosceptic Tories to imagine a world of complete homogeneity, in a United States of Europe where no national borders exist any more and we all speak a new language that has used been morphed out of EU jargon like ‘Horizon 2020′, and we sing Ode to Joy every morning. It is at this point that I should point out that I am Federalist, but it the vain of the former that I have just described which could quite easily sit in a sketch show, not a great idea in trying to form the largest groupings of countries on the planet.

To me federalism is a kin to local-ism, and devolution, where local people make local decisions about local issues. Federalism is the best and only way of combating nationalism within Wales and Scotland and also challenging the power of London as a cultural, political and especially economic hub of the country with the periphery reviving less funding and leaving many areas of the country relying on call centre and barista jobs. Federalism has to be taken hand in hand with economic growth for the whole country not just for London and the south eastern home counties. federalism has to go further than just pots of money ‘ring-fenced’ for local councils, it has to be proper powers given to local elected politicians who are will to use these powers to better their communities. This is not a Scotland, Wales, England, and Northern Island debate this is one that goes even more local than that, this means cities given more power, more powers of building houses, regional banks only able to loan to regions, more powers over tax rates, more powers for infrastructure borrowing, and more powers over health and educational services in their areas. This can only happen through strategic partnerships between civil society, the market/business and the public purse. The private sector has the capacity to innovate and offer risk taking backed up by a willing state that can give the market the space to have risk, but this must always be based on public consent and democratic oversight by local people elected by local people that think the local councils have the power to change and improve their lives.

For too long all parties that have been in power over the last three decades have only paid lip service to localism, and to local agendas leaving areas outside of London lacking in economic growth with high unemployment. In an age of austerity, London being ever more powerful in the political, economic and cultural areas of our lives. These are structural, strategic and big beasts of problems to shift in the coming future but only then will we ever reinvigorate areas that have been neglected by politicians for decades. Federalism is about giving power away, its about empowering regions and giving them the structures to run themselves best for local people. I will say one final thing though, it will take a brave, politician after spending decades reaching one of the most powerful positions in the country to give all that power away again. Can you think of any one who would do that?

Sam Murphy

Editor @HouseboundCanoe



Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Re-Imagining Work

Why do we commute? Why do we go into work? Can you re-imagine your work?

Tweet us your pics of how you are revolutionizing where you work?


Leave a comment

Filed under Musings, Uncategorized

The Sunday Column – Meeting Americans

The second time I met an American.

Mrs McKay lifted a wet tampon from a coffee cup and let it drip it’s impregnated tap water. Nine, 11-year-old children looked up in horror. The School Nurse sharpened the words ‘blood’ and ‘vagina’ and as she merrily explained in her risible, American accent that ‘soon you’ll understand’. Stacey Lewinski said she was going to be sick.

Year 6 was the best year at primary school; you’re the eldest, you get to sit on a chair in assembly while other kids got crossed leg cramp and everybody knew you got the sex chat- or so Polly Handcock’s brother Joe had told us. Joe was the Supreme Being of secondary school to the year 6 boys; he gelled his hair, had made the ‘A’ group football team and a girlfriend called Natalie Harrison who wore a padded bra. “She’s called Mrs McKay and she just comes in and takes all of you into the staff room, locks the door and tells you ev-er-y-thing”. The year 6 boys’ leaned closer, soaking in every word with both eyes and ears. “Like how to kiss without clashing your teeth and teaches the girls how to shave their legs”. I ran a finger up my shin and felt the bristles pinging back. “She’s really brash like that because she’s from America. She doesn’t get embarrassed or nuffin’, she just keeping saying ‘ass’ instead of ‘bum’ and it’s really funny.”

There were only 9 of us in Year 6. 5 boys and 4 girls. There used to be 10, but Nigel Hayward got expelled for persistently spitting at teachers when told to do something like, read a book. The nine of us were close without really liking each other. We had to be because we had no choice. You’re friends were decided through a correlation of your parents having sex within the same 11 month window, in the same 10 mile radius  and with the same, sort of, Christian-based belief [10 years later and we have no mutual friends on Facebook]. Except for Stacey and Alex who were further segregated into the Special Needs corner, and who we would only be able to talk to at break times.  

But as Mrs McKay mixed a teaspoon of flour with a dash of water, presented it in a cup and called it ‘semen’, two things became inevitable; none of the boys and girls of Year 6 would ever be able to look at one another in the eye again EVER, and Joe Handcock was a liar. No beauty, sex or kissing tips, just an uncomfortable, shameful hour being told that our childhood was pretty much over: soon we’d all have body issues and have to start wearing deodorant.

A year later and Polly Handcock would run home from school crying that boys in her class make rude hand suggestions when learning her last name. Claire Birch would be the last girl to transition from crop top to bra, Stacey Lewinski would be pregnant by 15 and I’ll be still shaving my legs.

Bec O’Neal


Leave a comment

Filed under Musings

The Sunday Column – American

I was four years old when I first met an American.

You put stuff in it Dad says, look here in this little pouch. Like what I ask. An-y-thing it’s like a treasure chest. Well I need some treasure and click it around my waist. Dad bought me this bumbag for sitting nicely at dinner; it is a cat’s face a white one and it’s smiling. It has some whiskers and an eye patch just like a pirate, so we called it Pirate Cat. I’m gonna take it on holiday and then I have to do a promise not to lose it.

I’m not really sure what to put in the Pirate Cat in Tunisia because the people who run the shops keep saying to me stop touching things. I pick up the little sweets and they shout don’t touch and give Dad a look like how Mum looks when Dad buys naughty papers. But Dad is great and knows that the best thing to go into the Pirate Cat is jam because it’s my favourite. You can get jam from the hotel at breakfast if you are sneaky he said and that if I was good at it I could fit about four in there. In the morning Dad watches me come back from the breakfast table with a cat full of jam. What did you get he whispered and I whispered back two strawberry a raspberry and a blackcurrant of course. What about apricot he says, apricot is the most horrible I say and he did a belly laugh. We go back to the hotel room and I unzip the Pirate Cat and let the jams fall out on the floor. Mum does that funny look at Dad but I think it’s because she did not go to breakfast so must be very hungry. I ask her if she would like one but she says she is being healthy. Strawberry is my favourite so open that one first and mix my finger in it. Dad calls me a little thief and does another laugh from his belly. I tell him I am not a thief because nobody told me to stop touching the jam.

After lots of morning of putting jams in the Pirate Cat I ask Dad if I could get maybe two jams and a bread piece so I could make a little jam sandwich. He says he doesn’t see why not but I will need to be extra sneaky because the bread is over by the cereal. I say okay i’ll be extra sneaky and think how I can do that. I pick my two favorite jams but there is a man by the bread and he is taking for-ev-er choosing the white bread or the brown bread which isn’t difficult I think because white bread is the best. He is tall but not taller than Dad and he sees me looking at him thinking and says that he likes my fanny pack and keeps smiling. I don’t know what he means and keep quiet because I’m trying to be sneaky. He said it again in his funny voice and think maybe he is a spy and knows about Dad getting the balls out of the pool table with no money. I sneak back to Dad and tell him I don’t want a jam sandwich anymore.

Years later in an English class I will realize I was four years old when I first met an American, not a indecisive bread-choosing pedophile. I do a belly laugh.

Beci O’Neal


Leave a comment

Filed under Musings


This blog will be expanding soon, with more people than just me posting onto this blog. The blog will continue to post about politics, literature and other cultural activity. We will have a new weekly column by the end of the week, and continue to grow from there to ensure that this blog helps to form a debate around literature, politics and culture in general. If anyone is interested in contributing to this blog please get in touch at sxm305 {at} bham {dot} ac {dot} UK, by sending over any articles and I will be in touch as soon as possible.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Is Immigration really the theme of politics today?

Earlier today I received a text from my dad, a life long Labour supporter, that read ‘Immigration is the theme’, at first I thought my dad was talking about the new theme song for a Tv show he had just watch possibly on the Syfy channel. However as much as I wanted this to be true he was talking about the European and Local elections in Britain and the rise of Ukip as a political force in this country which has accelerated in lat year and peaked in the European count in Sunday’s count. I want to challenge my fathers analysis of the political landscapes that we find ourselves in. I  would argue that the theme of these elections is a complete dissatisfaction and alienation from the whole of Westminster politics no matter what colour the party is. None of the three main parties have reached the heights of 40% in the polls that would be normal at this point in the election cycle, and Ukip is a very powerful vehicle for that anti-politics feeling across the country. Even in Ukip voters themselves the polling shows that the EU is very low down the priorities of these voters.
Ukip is a political force and this cannot be doubted after the European election results which saw for the first time in recent political history the opposition party not winning the european election outright in this country. Lots have been said about ways to tackle this lack of interest in politics and the most comprehensive of this that I have seen can be seen in Polly Toynbee’s article here.  What I want to focus on is the actions that the unfashionable pro-european and pro-immigration groups should do to combat the negativity of UKIP. Firstly each of their councillors, and members of the European parliament should be scrutinised with every effort of local constituents and people in organisations across the country. One of the biggest problems for Nigel Farage and Ukip is their lack of a proper vetting process for candidates, this needs to be highlighted, they cannot be allowed to get away with saying platitudes and obviously misleading statistics like their poster campaign throughout the election build up.
Secondly and this one is less practical but philosophical there needs to be a reclamation of what community is, what Englishness means and what values we all share when we live in England (Ukip is a mainly English force despite the Scottish results on Sunday). For far too long, those in the middle of the political spectrum have neglected the the space that has been fragmented by Globalisation, mass immigration, mass unemployment and an hour glass economy. This space has now been taken up firstly by the BNP, which imploded on itself, then the EDL which in my mind is a bigger threat to social cohesion and politics in this country than Ukip and Ukip itself. Englishness has now been defined by the far right and we find it hard to imagine it in any other form. The ‘Golden Age’ of England that Ukip seem to conjure up out of Enid Blighton novels and the some kind of surrey house hold from the middle to late fifties. This is a myth. This needs to be challenged. The left needs to establish the English identify which is rooted in communities across the country. It needs those 60% of voters who didn’t vote last Thursday to talk to their neighbour, hand out a Hope not Hate leaflet, go to a Mosque, and learn the name, shake the hand, hug the person living in the house opposite you, using the same shop as you, taking their kid to the same school as your kid, taking the same 29a bus to work everyday, and most important of all living on the same planet as you.
Thirdly a populist message of the positives that immigration and the EU has done for this country need to be hammered home by all the Pro-European parties. Nick Clegg can’t take this fight alone, he has used up all the political capital in taking his party into government. This can’t be done by using stats, like what Clegg did in the televised debate against Farage. This can’t be done by trying to challenge every untruth, and lie that Ukip present across the country. This has to be broader, this has to be an overarching message that is fit for the 21st century not relying on the old it has brought peace to Europe over the last fifty years, which does not identify with voters under the age of 65. This has to be about people living in Britain as a citizen of the world and a citizen of Europe. A message that your local shopping centre, library and probably your bank had some contribution to their existence from the EU.
For too long the left has pandered to the right wing press on immigration, and for too long has the debate in this country around Europe, Englishness and immigration been mired by fancy, exaggeration and vilification. There has to be a change.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized