Evening! I feel like I haven’t spoken to you guys since… last decade…
How are the roaring twenties treating you? I’ve got a cold and my Hugely Cool Christmas Present Boots gave me blisters of legendary proportions on one twenty-minute walk, so it’s been a pretty standard January in that respect. In the spirit of looking on the bright side – and providing some much-needed balance to the apocalypse that is the evening news – I thought I’d do a quick bullet point list of good things I’ve encountered so far this year:
There’s this cool quiz you can take to learn about your clothing-related carbon footprint. Sounds depressing (was a bit of an eye-opener) BUT it suggests loads of things you can do to improve it, and they don’t all involve you eschewing nice things for table cloth dresses. I don’t want to just hear how hellish the world is, I want to know how to make things less hellish so more, please
I couldn’t find my old school certificates and was so sure they were hiding in my bedroom that I accidentally Marie Kondo-d every cupboard, shelf and folder I own. I cannot believe how much paperwork I thought was an acceptable amount of paperwork
The certificates turned up in my mum’s shed
TV is actually really good in January, it’s like they know we’re all indoors
My friend Robyn got a new job
Little Women is still showing. Even if you’re not a film nerd/classical book person/raging feminist, Little Women is a banger. The costumes! The beautiful settings! Meryl Streep roasting the entire cinema with an eyebrow! Highly recommend it for soul-warming purposes.
I think I need to go and stick my head in a bowl of steam if I’m going to stay awake long enough to watch Silent Witness. Nothing warms me more than a murder mystery and a nice bit of gruesome forensics.
I quite enjoyed making this – I might do another one in February? Or next week if I have to look at more footage of fires/impeachments/the inside of one of my bloody cupboards…
I just read an article about vagina steaming and I cannot unread it, so here you go. I understand the theory – I am a big fan of sticking my face over a bowl of hot water when I’ve got a cold – but I feel like a lot of people need to have a conversation with themselves about differing areas of skin on the human body. As in, one of those things is not like the other so don’t fucking steam it.
I had something to actually write about earlier, and I can’t even remember what it was. Climate change, I think. But I can’t form coherent thoughts any more because what on earth possesses people to steam their vaginas???
I have to think about something else. Um. I have an mild infection in one of my wisdom teeth. If left alone, I imagine the infected tooth probably looks a lot like a scalded vagina. GOD I CAN’T STOP.
It’s now been 15 minutes.
I mean how do you even go to A&E with that sort of complaint? ‘Um yeah hi I decided to indulge in alternative medicine and I appear to have caused such severe damage I couldn’t sit down properly to drive here.’ ‘Yes ma’am don’t worry, take a seat.’ ‘No I really can’t.’
It’s been several weeks since I shared good news and as it’s the first day of spring, I thought I’d share a few headlines that have cheered me up lately.
More than 100 cities get most of their energy from renewable sources
I don’t think I’ve seen a news segment that doesn’t involve plastic, the Paris Agreement or plastic and the Paris Agreement since last year, but it’s not 100% bad news for the environment (just, er, 99.9%). According to the latest statistics, 101 cities now get over 70% of their energy from renewable sources – that’s more than double the number of cities in 2015. What’s more, 40 cities are operating on 100% renewable electricity. None of those cities are in Britain, but it’s a start.
Girl eats cotton candy and the world is transfixed
No, seriously, watch it, she deserves to be on Newsnight discussing her skills.
This has been in the works since the referendum results, when even my most right-leaning family members started to ask why Nigel Farage was still on TV, but UKIP as a party might be about to implode due to bankruptcy. The party owes £175,000 in legal fees after it was sued by three Labour MPs over a libellous speech, so this could be the actual end of UKIP as opposed to the spiritual end. HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SPRING YOU GUYS!
See, there is good news out there if you look for it. I want to try to do one of these every month or so, so send me good news as you see it!
I feel like Calamity Jane this week. Is Calamity Jane the one who’s really clumsy? I might be thinking of someone else. Calamity Jane’s the one in the musical? Anyway, the watchword is ‘calamity’. I burnt my wrist on a oven tray last Friday and it bubbled up into one of those blisters that you really want to touch, then I wore a pair of Doc Martens that I’ve only half worn in and shredded the backs of my ankles. We’ve been moving things in and out of different rooms because we’re getting new carpets, so everything I own is in the wrong place, and every time I tread on a cushion or a stray CD, I think I’ve trodden on a dog. I have also trodden on a dog.
So, Calamity Jane. I test-drove a new car the other day (well, an old car. And old new car) and I haven’t driven in weeks and everything felt different and god that’s reverse gear please don’t let me hit a curb or a person. I can’t remember if I’ve ever told the Saga of Me Learning to Drive – it’s going to take an entire blog and possibly a gin and tonic – but the long and short of it is, I recently decided that I required a vehicular fresh start. I probably also require CBT, but that’s for the Saga. In the way these things usually go, I went from ‘casually looking at cars that would suit me’ last week to ‘signing off on a car I think suits me’ yesterday. It took me approximately six weeks to decide to go to Asia, and three months to settle on which hair colour I wanted, so I feel slightly shell shocked. What if I didn’t ask all the questions I should have at the dealer? What if I didn’t need a new car and just needed CBT? Where do you get CBT? Why is this all happening before I have a guaranteed annual income?
Realistically I could be interning for the next six months, so that last question is more a philosophical one I ponder in the shower. I’m also really fortunate that I have time to look for a car and move things out of different rooms and nurse my bubbly blister – if I had to be out of the house by eight am every weekday, I wouldn’t even have been cooking something that required an oven tray. All I have to do to get the most out of my unemployment is not look at my bank balance. Or leave the house for any activity that might result in a change to my bank balance.
I really ought to get on with something on my to do list… options include writing a bunch of emails, organising everything that’s currently in a desk and will have to be in a box, sorting out car insurance and checking my social media plan for Etsy.
Oh, and ‘not engaging with idiots on Facebook who keep posting passive aggressive anti-Islam bullshit next to a bad graphic of a poppy’. I need to be out of the house by eight am every day if I’m ever going to be exhausted enough to completely ignore those fuckers.
Today I spent four hours in a virtual queue waiting for tickets for The Cursed Child, only to spend my allotted twenty minutes of browsing time searching fruitlessly for the right number of tickets on the right number of days in the correct type of seats.
So ‘miffed’ doesn’t really cover it.
Anyway, the good news: I made some things to help you survive – and, dare I say it, thrive – during the upcoming general election.
Here’s something to encourage the youth in your family to vote:
Here’s something to help you all decide how to vote:
My constituency hasn’t announced its candidates yet (something tells me the Conservatives will win) but I’m considering the Women’s Independence Party. Or signing up for that Mars mission. You can buy and print those designs here if you want (actual prints are coming this week, hopefully) so you can spread the democracy and all that. I suppose if someone decides to vote after seeing them, or if the shop makes some money on them, the current state of British politics won’t be entirely a waste of human intelligence…
I was going to merge this post with another, because I’m terribly behind on sharing what we’ve been up to (I’m writing this from Hue, central Vietnam, which I think is our fourth place since leaving Saigon) but on reflection it deserves its own title.
Dedicated almost entirely to the Vietnam War, the War Remnants Museum isn’t quite as horrific as anything Cambodia has to offer, largely because you’re walking around a pleasantly air conditioned building with snacks available on every floor, but I still don’t recommend going if you dislike a) criticism of the American government, b) graphic photographs of the effects of chemical weapons or c) communism. The museum’s information plaques are verging on pro-Vietnamese propaganda, but once you’ve seen a few photographs, there’s not a lot of room to disagree.
SOME HISTORY: in 1955, communist North Vietnam, its South Vietnam-based allies the Viet Cong and various communist states, went to war against capitalist South Vietnam and its main ally, America, plus a bunch of other anti-communist countries. The North won and Vietnam was reunified as one country in 1975, but not before eight million people were killed and thousands worldwide protested against the US military’s heavy involvement (which as far as I can tell, benefited precisely no one except for chemical weapons companies).
The ground level of the museum is given over to war memorabilia like protest signs (I had no idea just how many people from so many countries marched to show their opposition to American policy… sound familiar?). Outside are a couple of helicopters and the remains of a prison block which I think was used by either the US, or the French during their occupation. Torture methods included confining prisoners to tiny cages and pulling out teeth, etc. So if you were depressed by my post on Tuol Sleng, don’t despair – gruesome torture is an international phenomenon!
The next two floors are altogether grimmer. One gallery is dedicated to the work of war photographers, most of whom were Westerners and many of whom seem to have been killed before their work made it to print. I suppose the magazine spreads look a bit antiquated compared to the the live-Tweeting that’s been going on in Aleppo, but the images themselves are spectacular – and look way better in print than on a little screen.
The second gallery of doom is dedicated to the victims of napalm and Agent Orange. SOME HISTORY: organisations and individuals on both sides committed horrific war crimes (rape, torture, civilian massacres) but the USA arguably takes the biscuit with its liberal use of napalm (the burning one) and Agent Orange (the chemical defoliant one) against the Vietnamese people.
I only took a few photos and I won’t share them here because they are horrible. I had seen burn victims before, but napalm sort of peels the skin from the body until the person resembles a zombie’s self portrait. The photographs of the herbicide victims reminded me of a hall of mirrors. Victims still look like people, but only just. Effects of the toxins include about four types of cancer, cleft palate, Parkinsons, water on the brain, developmental disabilities and spina bifida. And that’s just a few names I got from a list. I didn’t know that the chemicals stay in the environment for years, and can worm their way into people’s genetics, so people are still being born with the effects of a warfare programme that ended in 1971. Victims – which include Vietnamese people but also war veterans and their families – have sued various chemical companies in the years since, but I’m not sure what’s actually come of it. If you want to see real-life victims, by the way, come to Vietnam in 2017! Once you notice the hunchback and the lady crawling on her hands because her legs don’t work and the Agent Orange victims’ charities, you don’t really stop noticing them.
This post isn’t about South East Asia! Anyway so in case you’ve been living under a rock (great idea, by the way), there’s a petition asking the government to downgrade President Dickhead’s state visit to a regular one. I haven’t signed it, because although a state visit for a US president during their first year in office is unprecedented, and despite the opportunities it gives Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage to spout more self-aggrandising bile than we thought possible, I think a Trump administration state visit actually holds a wealth of opportunity for us all. No really bear with me:
The Queen will have to meet him
She might not be able to comment on politics, but she can publicly make subtly scathing conversation without raising an eyebrow. Various aides will have to murmur behind napkins ‘you certainly have done a lot’ does not mean she agrees with you on the Muslim ban, it means she can’t believe you haven’t been impeached yet. Yes, she really is offering you another biscuit.
Prince Phillip will have to meet him
Less subtle and witty. More like ‘the trifle is gorgeous today, isn’t it? So are you planning to start World War III with China or with Iran?’
There will be loud, intrusive protests everywhere the delegation goes
The British tradition of just not mentioning unpleasant smells won’t be enough for officials to avoid bringing up how angry people are about the US administration’s desire to defecate over everything it sees, and the UK government’s desire to hold the toilet paper as long as it puts us in good stead come Brexit. Because how do you avoid bringing up signs like these?
Petition for Ian McKellen to get another knighthood.
Boris Johnson will almost definitely insult Trump to his face
Using words like ‘piffle’ and ‘codswallop’. For the first time in Boris’s political career everyone will be pleased about it. I guess this would also happen on a regular visit, but if it’s during a state visit he might be wearing a black tie and tails and the memes alone will be glorious.
Banning a man who’s spent his presidency banning things is too much like playing his game, and the British game is so much more fun
A lot of people just want him barred from entering UK airspace and although any type of Trump visit will be detrimental to our air pollution goals, I just don’t think a ban is particularly British. I think what is British is satire, sarcasm and a succinct declaration that we are quite cross.
Remember Je Suis Charlie? Now’s your chance to make good on the free speech and satire quotations you retweeted then. When Trump visits – and he will, at some point – every mildly eloquent, satirical or artistic person with access to the Internet gets to let loose. Whether it’s Have I Got News for You or The Last Leg or some bloke named Steve live Tweeting a press conference, the message will will be unambiguous: we will not hold the fucking toilet paper while you shit on our values. Columnists will crack their knuckles; cartoonists will sharpen their pencils; protesters will take their signs, chants and sit-ins to acidic new levels; Banksy will decorate a high rise. Small children will ask ‘why does my mum break china when he’s on TV?’ to the point where schools will hold assemblies explaining civil unrest. Alt-right neo Nazi scum will look at one another and gulp. Republican higher-ups will blink and realise that the special relationship isn’t about the Prime Minister’s Brexit negotiations. It’s about neighbours looking out for one another even after the odd failed invasion of the Middle East and dodgy extradition attempt. We will invite you in for a cup of tea, Mr Trump, but we reserve the right to spit in it.
I can’t believe I’m 21 and just made a toilet paper analogy. Yes, I can. Anyway what are your thoughts on the state visit? Do you have any ideas for protest signs? Tell me. (Next post we go back to regularly scheduled chat about Cambodian beaches.)
We only really went to Phnom Penh for two places, and those places are horrible. But I’d be a terrible person if I didn’t talk about it, so…
SOME HISTORY: in 1975 a radical communist group, the Khmer Rouge, seized power of Cambodia’s government with a vision to turn Cambodia into a ‘communist agrarian utopia’, aka a nation full of rice farmers. Their methods included forcing everyone out of cities into the farmlands, whether they knew how to grow rice or not, and killing anyone who might disagree, like intellectuals and spies (they identified intellectuals by whether or not a person had glasses, soft hands or spoke a foreign language, and spies by whether or not they looked fishy). SPOILER ALERT: it failed. People can’t grow rice having eaten two spoonfuls of gruel in a day. Murdering a quarter of your population demoralises the troops. Communism is a fucking terrible way to run a country. By 1979 the regime had collapsed (it didn’t help that senior members kept offing one another in paranoia) and the Khmer Rouge were overthrown by rebels and the Vietnamese; what was left of the government fled to Thailand. Because Vietnam was involved, the United Nations actually continued to recognise the Khmer Rouge as Cambodia’s rightful government for years – they received aid and sent representatives to UN meetings. One day I will write about western countries ignoring genocide and send the manuscript to the Trump administration… Today is not that day but if you want to read more about the Khmer Rouge, go here. Anyway the Khmer people are very open about their past and are preserving and sharing it nationwide (unlike Nazi Germany, no one’s going to get away with denying this shit happened). The two biggest and most heartbreaking museums are both in or near Phnom Penh.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
There are killing fields all over Cambodia, but the largest is at Choeung Ek, which used to be a Chinese graveyard and orchard a few miles from Phnom Pehn. We visited there first and just arriving was odd, because the road goes through what is now basically a suburb – it felt a bit like having a war memorial at a corner in central Southend. Once you’re in, though, Choeung Ek feels more like a nature reserve than a genocide spot. There’s an audio tour that takes you to various points, and they’ve let a lot of the space grow naturally back into an orchard. There’s even a pond, although if I remember correctly there are still a lot of bodies under it. Speaking of bodies…
Because the Khmer Rouge wanted to save bullets, they had people killed using what was lying about instead. Think farming equipment, knives, tyre irons and the like. As a result, the corpses uncovered since aren’t exactly intact; every now and then bits of bone and skull and clothes work their way up to the surface and museum staff take care of them. What they have found has been examined and organised neatly in a memorial stupa, which is simultaneously very beautiful and very creepy.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
After lunch we headed to Tuol Sleng in central Phnom Penh, also known as Security Prison 21. For what it’s worth I found the museum harder to deal with than the Killing Fields, and I’d recommend doing Choeung Ek second. There’s more fresh air, less graphic photos and more space to sit by yourself while you try to process what you’ve just seen – the building was originally a school, so it’s quite compact and overbearing. There’s an audio tour for the museum as well so you can do it at your own pace, but I still wanted to inhale a bottle of gin by the time I was a third of the way around.
They request you don’t take photos of the inside rooms, which was fine by me. Just, imagine a tiled room that used to be a classroom, with a rusting iron bed in the middle. In its heyday, it would have been a nice bed. The iron is wrought into patterns. It was an interrogation room, so add rusting iron shackles and perhaps an iron bar. Finally, turn to one wall and add a large black and white photograph of that very room. Attached to the bed is what used to be a person. It’s an old photograph, taken straight after the prison was discovered, but you can still tell that that used to be someone’s head and that was someone’s stomach, and that is where their stomach ended up. Then multiply the room by four or five because when the regime fell, the prison staff knew they had very little time to flee. They stopped torturing that day’s suspects and killed them to avoid future identification – but they couldn’t risk gunshots being heard, so they hacked their prisoners to death then skedaddled.
That’s just the first part of the museum.
There are several rooms full of photographs of prisoners and several pieces of torture equipment, including one which was originally used as gymnastic equipment for the school. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous about records, but they destroyed a lot toward the end; what’s left is quite enough to put you off believing in any sort of benevolent deity. Most pictures are just of people when they arrive, but there’s a few of prisoners mid-captivity. There were only seven people found alive when the prison was liberated, and one was an artist who went on to paint what he saw, so there are also canvases of torture and general death in glorious technicolour. An estimated 20,000 people were held at S-21 during the regime. Seven were found alive.
We ended up rushing a little toward the end of the tour – well, I did. Maxim finished way quicker and was impatient to leave because we needed to get bus tickets for Shianoukville. Part of me was irritated for skipping the exit, because two of the surviving prisoners were there signing books, but part of me was very relieved to be given a reason to leave. I could easily go back and spend a day making notes, listening to every extra on the audio tour and piecing together everything that’s there (with a break for lunch and the gin) but I could also quite happily never set foot in Phnom Penh again. It’s not that the city – and Cambodia in general – isn’t vibrant and bustling and very ready to be more than just four years in its history. It’s that in my head, once I’d seen Choeung Ek and S-21, it was hard to see anything else. I kept thinking ‘that building’s definitely been built since the seventies’, ‘that building hasn’t’, ‘this guy looks old enough to have lived through the genocide’. Anecdotally, there are no old people in Cambodia; statistically, one in four people died under the Khmer Rouge either from malnutrition, disease or execution.
It feels very relevant that I’m writing this the day after Holocaust Memorial Day, and the day after the Trump administration signed an order banning Syrian refugees from entering the US. Incidentally one of the factors in the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power is that America dropped more bombs on Cambodia during the Vietnam War than it did during the entirety of World War II; the resulting poverty and civil unrest stoked support for the party. I could keep drawing parallels between Pol Pot’s Cambodia and Nazi Germany, and parallels between them and the rhetoric Trump and his supporters are spewing, but if you’re reading this you’re probably smart enough to draw them yourselves.