A Curious Girl

The musings of a girl who is curious in both senses of the word. Life, God, and York. Oh, did I say York? I meant Bradford!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

My 2p on the prison system

The state of the prison/justice system has got me quite upset.

For instance, on the buses around Bradford there is a sign saying "turn in a tagger", telling you that there is a £2000 fine or possibly prison for tagging. A tagger is a graffiti artist (or "street artist" if you're a proper lefty :)). Tagging is scribbling your alias on public property. Exactly the sort of dangerous criminals who should be behind bars. Especially when prison numbers are at an all time high.

In related news, two young graffiti artists have been sent to prison for 15 months and 12 months respectively.

Call me stupid, but isn't this precisely the sort of non-violent, non-dangerous crime to which a community service sentence would be appropriate? Cleaning up graffiti, picking up litter, tending public gardens, that sort of thing. Perhaps with also with a fine to cover the cost of the damage.

But something that produced an even greater score on my WTF? scale, has to be this charming story.
Young offenders are being forcibly strip searched according to a report by prison inspectors.

On one occasion at Werrington Youth Offenders' Institution, Staffs, an inmate had his clothing cut off during a search, the inspectors said.

...In particular Ms Owers said inspectors were concerned about the forcible strip search of an agitated inmate, involving three officers holding him down while his clothing was cut off, despite the fact he was willing to comply.

"Werrington had been through a trying period as a result of the population crisis," she said.

"Though it had continued to improve in a number of areas, the weaknesses we identified in safety were serious and required urgent management attention.

"Werrington is still some distance from its stated ambition of being a safe and effective 'secure college'."

Phil Wheatley, Director General of the Prison Service, said generally it was a good report, and said officers had acted "correctly" during the search of the inmate in question.

"As to the incident involving the strip search of the young person, I have seen the video and reviewed the matter in great detail," he said.

"I am convinced that at no point in the process was he compliant and the staff involved dealt with the incident correctly in the circumstances, when faced by a difficult and disturbed young man."

It is such a disturbing image... the idea that officers are apparently acting correctly by holding down and ripping the clothes from an inmate. It is far beyond the firm discipline that could help someone change... it's a simple act of humiliation.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Employed. Yay?

All right, I keep meaning to blog, thinking of interesting and insightful things to blog, but always being too far away from the computer. And then when I get to my computer, my brain has zombified...

So I am working as a dinner lady.

OK, the job was sold to me as "kitchen assistant" but everyone knows there is only one term for a female kitchen assistant who works in a school, and that is dinner lady.

It is mostly quite boring, edging on mind-numbing. The advantage is that it requires little concentration - they got me doing boring things on my year in industry but they actually required brain power, whereas stacking plates and bowls and sorting cutlery requires only the most vestigial effort from my brain. Meaning I can think about other things. The people are nice and unlike in my last boring job, they don't insist on talking about work all the time. After work I often go and sit in the park near the school, to think and write and watch the birds. Last week I ended up getting in a conversation with a young boy who noticed we had the same phone and persuaded me into swapping music with him. He gave me a UB40 track, I gave him "Next 100 years" by Bon Jovi. I feel quite jealous of his powers of persuading complete strangers to do things. I have to wonder if the reason many adults are scared of children is that children usually aren't scared at all. It doesn't terrify them what people will think if they strike up a conversation or, in the case of some teenagers on the bus today, they don't give a crap what people think when they play their music really loudly in a public place (in the case of the latter morons, I wish I'd had the nerve to threaten them with Gilbert and Sullivan).

In the mean time, taking up my free days, I've managed to get a little support work.

Support work is different to care work mainly I think in the actual amount of work you do and the need of the people you do it for. For instance I did some support work for three women with learning disabilities who basically just get on with life and need someone around to help with things like cooking and ironing. It was cool, actually - the whole setting is very natural and it's nice to feel like I'm helping without having to be "in charge" or "in control" all the time - allowing the three of them to live fairly normal, autonomous lives, which is as it should be.

And I had an interview today for a lab position.

Oh Chemistry.

The interview went fairly well - I wasn't perfect but there were no real howlers (I went for an interview at GSK for my year in industry... the very first question was "Describe an HPLC experiment" and I couldn't think of anything... finally I said, "I think we did something with amino acids?" and the interviewer said, "that sounds plausible..."). As is the nature when you have a meagre degree like mine, the job doesn't sound particularly hard, and there are ways to progress.

I'm not sure I want it.

There are great advantages to taking such a job - the full time hours which will stay put on weekdays and leave all my evenings free, the pay is bound to be pretty good, and I could probably do a bit of care/support work at weekends and get some regular volunteering, which I've been meaning to do for, oh, the past four years.

But on the other hand, I don't want to progress in science. I love science's logic and beauty, but I don't love the thought of routinely making products that I don't really care about because it's a regular wage and I get weekends free. It's so... shallow.

Of course, if I was sensible, I could save the money up for things I've been wanting to do, and it'll come in handy if I do that Masters in Social Work I've been itching to apply for - which would start in January. Money isn't all evil, St. Paul made tents and Lydia sold purple cloth. Jesus made a coin appear in a fish's mouth. I shouldn't be so sanctimonious.

If I get this job I don't have to be a dinner lady any more, but then I can't really be a carer either. I don't want to be complacent, I hate the thought that I will settle for being comfortable when I have found a calling that I love and that benefits other people... I know that working in science can benefit other people, but I doubt I shall be making an enormous difference to anyone if I get this job. I feel it would be silly to turn it down but perhaps more foolish to accept it... I'm semi-hoping I don't get it, just so I don't have to agonise!

Living in Bradford is good though. I'm feeling very fond of this lovely city, though slightly miffed that I'll be at work for most of Fresher's Fair tomorrow (I'm sending Sophie as my proxy :) ). Thanks to my work in various places, I've toured the outskirts by bus. The countryside around here is beautiful. And the house seems to be having a pleasant minimum of house angst at the moment (alas, I feel it cannot last)... Feeling rather fond of all of my housemates. What's more, we've taken to playing Dungeons and Dragons.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

I found out about Mother Teresa's Very Long Dark Night of the Soul on a charming Christian website where the commenters remarked that her spiritual darkness was due to her not being a proper Christian, probably because she was a Roman Catholic.

Personally, I want to get extremely mad on Mother Teresa's behalf - no, not at the commenters, I don't care what they think - but at God.

It's a bit presumptuous of me, I'm sure. She struggled tirelessly with the silence, letting only a few know about her feelings, believing it was right to continue. I can't decide for her what it is right for God to do, but it just seems so unfair that as she gave her life for the poor, giving up so many luxuries, the one thing there should have been infinite supply of - God - was not available to her.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

May I learn from her example.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007


I've decided I'm never going to make a housewife. Heh, I said that to Sophie yesterday and she joked that she would be my wife, I could be the breadwinner and she could stay home, look after the children (though where the children would come from I'm not sure) and make things for the house.

I've started dreaming about jobs. It's been a pain getting into care work in Bradford - I've signed up for three agencies and only one has asked me to do anything so far, once on my Dad's birthday and once during Greenbelt. Of course I've called up and told them I'm available pretty much indefinitely from Greenbelt but they don't seem to be interested. What a pain! A science recruitment agency want me to come in for an interview Tuesday, which is something, at least, although not what I ultimately want to do. Which reminds me, I must go to the Bradford Uni campus and prod the admissions tutor for Social Work.

Maybe all this is the ideal opportunity to become a penniless writer? I've been trying to do constructive things to fill in the gaps. Knitting is disturbingly enjoyable. And I've sewn myself a cushion, or will have done when I get around to stuffing it. I blame Sophie for all this :) I will have to try and do some writing, and hope the little writer's block monsters don't get me.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

After Greenbelt

Hi folks. Greenbelt was brilliant, as it usually is. Being a "contributor" (I sang in my church's service) I got to go for free and only had the ridiculously expensive festival food stalls to contend with.

The highlights for me were taking part, obviously, in our service, but also in the "Scratch Panto", in which random Greenbelters could star in Aladdin. so many people turned up that most roles were shared - I was a Genie! It was very funny and great to see such a talented bunch of loonies at work, including several dames and a variety of Aladdins. Also, seeing Peterson Toscano was cool. He's a performer who does one man plays - he's gay and has spent about 17 years of his life involved in "ex-gay" programs, only to discover that he was still homosexual and end up putting on plays like "Doin' time in the Homo No Mo' Halfway House", which my old housemate (the male Quaker Vegan) had on DVD. I love how he can be both hilarious and tender, sometimes at the same time - but then I guess the whole "ex-gay" thing is both comic and tragic. I queued for ages to get to see "The Re-education of George Bush" on Saturday night, thus both missing Beer and Hymns and being rather frustrated when we were then turned away because the venue was full. Luckily, Greenbelt saw sense and got him to do an extra show on the Monday afternoon, in which he did highlights from several shows. His new show, Transfigurations, sounds brilliant.

I also went to Folk club this year, but only once, alas, mainly because I just didn't have time to cram it in with everything else I wanted to go to. The Iona community did a number of things so there was no shortage of singing for me to do - they did some beautiful African/African American spirituals, the kind that make me grin manically when I'm feeling happy or burst into tears if I'm feeling down. There was a very moving service about Israel and Palestine on the Sunday night.

My housemate Sophie has written a book. It's in Proost's pocket liturgies series - she's written some beautiful poetic liturgies, as well as some poems and stories for the book. I am, of course, really jealous. Especially since her name was mentioned in the Greenbelt programme. Annoyingly, the book wasn't on sale at Greenbelt otherwise I might have got a signed copy. She says all her friends will get sarcastic comments. Still, I have a mention in the dedication :) and she got Rachel and me to do some readings on the Sunday - we also listened to Proost's other "unusual suspects".

And I met Dave Walker and other Wibsiters when I gatecrashed the Wibmeet. It was fun. I think I might have scared him a bit. It was nice to meet a community of bloggers, leaving me rather tempted of switching my blog (shock horror!) to a wiblog. I could start a separate blog but I find it hard enough maintaining this one.

On the Monday night, I went to see Delirious. Or "Delirious?". I find that question mark rather irritating. It was an odd experience, and I didn't stay the full time, annoyingly missing History Maker, because Sophie and I ended up at the chocolate fountain (then the beer tent. Then seeing Steve Tomkins, whom I embarrassed myself in front of last year when I failed to recognise him whilst enthusing about his alter-ego Rev Gerald Ambulance). I felt strangely warmed by Delirious, that mixture of nostalgia and longing for genuine faith... A feeling I'd had all weekend, partly not believing and partly believing. Reminds me of a time I spent apologising to God for not believing in him. But I don't feel that I can honestly abandon my questions and place all my trust in God when I'm not sure there is one. And the other problem is that I do so want to believe in God... But I know full well that wanting to believe is not the same as believing, and it's not really a reason to believe. The really compelling thing about the theory of a Godless universe is that it doesn't need to give an explanation for anything... I can appeal to God - "This doesn't make sense!" but if I appeal to the universe "This doesn't make sense!" its silence replies "It doesn't have to."

There are little signs. About a month ago I dragged the last of my things from York to Bradford, found I had too much stuff and it seemed that no one wanted to help. I prayed that that someone, anyone, would help me with my heavy bags, but no one did... And at Greenbelt, I saw a girl struggling with her bags, and of course no one was helping, so I offered to help and we got chatting, and I helped her put her tent up... and I wondered if the whole point of leaving me to struggle with insanely heavy bags was so that I'd understand when someone else was struggling. Or maybe it was just a coincidence.

It's funny but I get mad at God sometimes when he answers my prayers. I wonder why he hasn't cured AIDS, I wonder why I should ask for him to help me at all when there must be hundreds of families who've prayed desperately for help and not got it.... Sophie wrote a piece in her book called "Life in all its fullness" about how Jesus never said it would be easy, but promised life in all its fullness, with all of the joys and pains. It's something I found rather helpful. I find Jesus very compelling - I often can't help but think of what Jesus might say or do in any particular situation, and that combination of loving acceptance of the poor and anger at the religious authorities is very inspiring...

I don't know. My housemate G (Hiya!) wants to go church-hunting soon (no, in an entirely benign way :) ) so I will probably go with him and see what happens.

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