Monday, December 31, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers (& Friends)

On the last day of 2012 all I can say is PHEW, THANK GOD I MADE IT. Well, I have as of 10.58 in the morning. I hate to sound like Eeyore or Neil from 'The Young Ones' but I don't take anything for granted anymore.

It looked dark there for a while, especially on that day in early summer when I was rolling around on my bed in the worst pain I've ever experienced, unable to breathe and simultaneously feeling like I'd been shot in the guts with an assault rifle. But I got through, thanks in no small part to the insistence of my partner Michelle that I go to hospital when she came home from work that night and found me walking all bent over, sweating like a man wearing a camel hair onesie in canopy jungle. And my hospital adventure would have been a hell of a lot harder without regular visits from Geoff and Jackie Lovesy, and Ian and Wendy Askew. They brought me food, they listened to my drug-induced ramblings, and they helped Michelle get back and forth to see me when I was transferred to Leicester. I'll never forget how grateful I am that they gave of their time and their energy like that.

The year was strange even before I fell ill, given my exhausting and impotent battle with the university over their relationship with the Chinese Communists, and the fact that I had had the first seizure in over a year - brought on, I think, by a previously undetected (because I hadn't done it until then) inability to stare at the tiny screen of my cheap flip top phone for too long without making my brain go haywire. I did the same thing, stupidly, the day before my birthday and went down in the street in Semilong, just around the corner from my house. Woke up being ministered to by a nurse who happened to be passing.

That latter detail shows the good luck I have had, in amongst the discouraging little tangles with ill health and death. Why a nurse, of all people? And what would have happened if my partner had been away for the weekend that day when it was really bad? My lung had collapsed. The nurses in Leicester told me that if I'd left it much longer I would have been heading for the worm farm.

I'm not one to look for explanations in fate, or divine protection. I don't deserve to be looked after by anyone; I'm just another guy who's trying to be a decent man and leave the world better than he found it. Luck will do, as an answer to why I'm still here plaguing my few remaining friends and readers with my pontificating and my bad poetry. I can deal with the possibility that life or death are decided by whether you choose to turn right or left at the end of the next road. It's frightening, but it gives life a glorious clarity.

I can also deal with the possibility that there's more than a little kindness in most people, and that sometimes our lives just get in the way of us showing it.

Which is a useful thought to hold onto on the day that the Office for National Statistics publishes data showing that the wealth gap between the country’s rich and poor is twice as wide as any EU member state. I get very depressed about such things sometimes, wondering if we'll ever have the fair and generous Britain that I long for. But when my own experience with other people shows me, generally, exceptional kindness, how can I give up hope?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Step Away From Them

Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollack. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?*

RAVI SHANKAR, virtuouso sitar player, whose death aged 92 was announced yesterday. He is pictured here many years ago with his student and friend George Harrison. How bare the world sometimes seems when great men and women leave it.

Incidentally, can we stop, for a moment, referring to Ravi as the father of (S)Norah Jones? I think his achievements were significant enough to be considered in their own right.

*Frank O'Hara "A Step Away From Them".

Thursday, November 29, 2012

You're Danger-What? Dangermouse, Did You Say?

These musings have not appeared in a scholarly journal and they have not been peer reviewed.

I keep hearing that people are dangerous when they're educated. Despite the fact that I am now, nearly, educated, I have to say something about this apparently widespread belief before steam comes out of my ears.

It's bollocks. And more to the point, it's snobby, class-ist bollocks, since even before the massive hike in student loans the number of students at university who'd come straight off the estates seemed pretty damn small. Now it will probably be smaller than the number of university bureaucrats who gave a shit when I talked to them about their relationship with China.

Every office of every politician in the land is filled with educated people; and not one of them is doing anything to change the world for the better. All they're doing is helping to keep a cruel, cancerous system running that benefits them and screws over the poor, the weak, the sick and the disabled.

You have to be educated to work in most businesses if you're not going to wear overalls or an ugly uniform with a name tag on it. And your only purpose in business is to make money to buy a nice house and keep the boss warm in his swimming pool, unless you're part of something that's producing really innovative technology that helps humanity in some way. The number of companies doing that in Britain these days must be very small indeed

You have to be educated to work in book publishing too, in the mainstream. And no one in the mainstream has published anything dangerous for years.

I have enjoyed my time at university, although I must admit it's mostly been fun because of the people I've met. But it has struck me over and over again that this education I was receiving was teaching me (unsuccessfully) how to say what they wanted me to say in the style that they wanted me to say it. University to me seems like a fancy intellectual cookie cutter designed to turn out thousands of people every year who are the same mental shape.

Perhaps - and I don't really think it's so - but perhaps a person who was dangerous already is more dangerous with an education. But what really threatens power and corruption is intellectual independence and a well-developed personal conscience, and you can find that just as frequently, if not more often actually, behind cash registers, in care home car parks on cigarette breaks, and outside on the wall at the Job Centre.

Saying that the educated are dangerous implies that the uneducated are easily duped by political parties with bad intentions. Sometimes that's so; sometimes it isn't. But who voted for David Cameron? Who, perhaps more germainely, couldn't see what a complete bullshitter Nick Clegg was and voted for the Liberal Democrats, who are supporting some of the most iniquitous policies carried out against the vulnerable in this country for 100 years? And who keeps re-electing their puppets in the local councils?

It certainly wasn't anyone from round my way.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cooking the Books, or How We Stopped Mithering and Jumped Up the League Table

As followers of this blog will know, I have been at university since 2010. I'm doing a degree in English. I didn't plan on doing one, but at the beginning of that year I walked out on my job, burned out after 15 years and pissed off with the persecution I was receiving from my manager because I didn't know how to kiss ass like some of the others. I had to do something or keep signing on indefinitely, there being very few jobs around at the time for 44 year old epileptics with left wing sympathies, a bad disciplinary record and no reference. So I chose university. It wasn't signing on or a job, after all; I got money for it too.

I'm coming to the end of my degree soon. I have six or seven months to put in and then I can retire from Academia. But before I leave I'm obliged, apparently, to fill in something called the National Student Survey. It's a nationwide customer satisfaction survey of higher education which (I think) somebody or other consults when drawing up the university league tables for the following year. "You must do this," two lecturers told us, while giving separate presentations on the subject. "If you don't we will call you at home and write you letters."

Which is fair enough. It isn't too hard to fob off lecturers, ignore phone calls and tear up letters. But telling us, as they did, that it is in our interest to portray the university in a positive light in the survey isn't fair enough.When I heard this I almost choked; although nobody else in either room where I heard it seemed to mind one way or the other. The argument of the two English professors who made this outrageous statement was that if we made the uni look good, our degree would be more respectable and we would all get better jobs. So, blackmailing impressionable people is acceptable now in the sterling-driven world of education?

The real reason these men want us to gloss over the problems at my university is so that we can bump it out of the relegation zone in the academic league table; and probably give their careers more weight so that they'll make it onto the shortlist the next time they apply for a job somewhere. And the irony is, there's nothing much wrong with the English Department, although for me there weren't enough options and the syllabus was much too narrow. The lecturers themselves are pretty damn good (with one obvious poetasting exception).

But there are problems; big problems. And if we don't bring them to the attention of the people who can do something about it, kids coming in paying twice as much as we did (and then some) for the same education are going to have to deal with the same things, and by then the problems will have become more entrenched.

Why didn't I raise any of the issues I obviously have internally, you might ask. I did. With person after person, at level after level. I used the complaints procedure. I even used the internal student questionnaire. And you know what? I didn't get a single answer, from anyone, all year. The only time I've ever even seen the Vice Chancellor, who I wrote to more than once about the university's close relationship with China, is when he's escorting business people around the building telling them what a fabulous student experience they provide.

The mantra at my university is, "Keep your mouth shut and get a good degree." I was advised to do that in the first year by an American Literature professor (I couldn't) and I've heard it since from student after student. What an appalling legacy to hand down to the next generation of consumers. Or maybe it's a good one and I've got the wrong end of the stick completely. I come from another time, after all; I was raised by a person who believed that you should stand up to power and live for more than two holidays a year and that next big promotion.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stage Fright

Tomorrow night there's another open mic at the newly-branded "Legendary Labour Club" in Northampton. The primarily spoken word Raising the Awen event. I've been there to read for the last two months but after the debacle of my brief slot in October, when I suffered some sort of psychological meltdown, I won't be attending this time. I'm going to my friend's house for the evening instead. Maybe dying my long grey hair purple at the roots.

Performance poetry is an art, and a very different one from writing poetry down. In the best poets the two arts cross over (Allen Ginsberg, Ron Whitehead, Jimtom Keith Thomas James). Some who write imperfect poetry can convince you they are wonderful because of the strength of their personality when they stand at the mic. That doesn't apply to me. I don't have the personality for standing up in front of a crowd and making them like me, or engage with anything I'm saying that's controversial or difficult. I don't want people to like me. I'm too afraid of them for that. I hate them too much for that. I don't want them to listen to me either because I know I'm full of shit. I just want my art to be a metaphorical sword that cuts off their heads and uses them for jack o'lanterns. I just want them to give me all their money and leave me the fuck alone. I want to bring the grave into the club without paying extra for the drinks.

People tell me to keep doing it until the confidence comes. There's probably some wisdom in that too. You can learn to do most things if you keep going at it for long enough. But why put myself through the pain when there's nothing to be gained from it? The last time I stood up there I felt like I'd been flayed alive. I sat in the darkness after my slot was finished hating myself for not making an impact and wishing fire and pestilence on everything and everyone around me (not fair maybe, but true). It didn't help that someone who was trying to be helpful stood at the mic and made a joke about the uncontrollable trembling of my hands. They shake like that because of the medication I'm on; and when I'm nervous they shake more. It makes me feel like a freak and I try to hide it - something you can't do on a stage with 20 or 30 people watching. When he joked about it an embarrassed man became a humiliated and angry man. If I could have exited from the club at that moment without making even more of a spectacle of myself I would have done it.

As it was I stayed until the end, behaving in a curiously apologetic, self-justifying manner as I slunk out of the door and into the night. When I woke up in the morning and thought about my catastrophic performance and obsequious behaviour at closing time, I didn't think I'd ever go out of the house again.

Well, I've done that. I'm here in the university now writing this. But when I'll be returning to the spoken word mic is another thing entirely. Certainly it won't be any time soon, not that I want anyone to think this is a problem for me.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

When Death Came Knocking

It's such a long time since I sat down to write a post for S.P. I really ought to rebrand the blog as S.P. Volume 2 (or 3, or 6). But it wasn't just my habitual laziness keeping me away from blogging duties (I promise). In the immortal words of Kettering's J.L.Carr, "It's been a summer" - one I still haven't quite worked out the meaning of.

I nearly died in late June. From somewhere I caught pneumonia, which made my lung fill up with gunk. I also had something growing on the outside of my lung. I don't remember what the doctors said it was, but I do remember the description of it as thicker than four orange peels. The combination of the gunk on my lung and the gunk in my lung made it collapse one frightening night and within a week (I left it because I thought I'd got food poisoning!) I was in the worst pain I'd ever experienced. I'd also lost all control of my bladder.

After I was admitted to hospital things improved. I did get an infection of some sort in my left hand, which swelled up to twice its normal size, after a junior doctor messed up an injection (I have veins that are hard to locate apparently), but the huge amount of drugs they put me on got rid of all my pain and from that point on it was just a matter of enjoying the drug hallucinations and waiting for my op. (I saw all four of the Beatles in a stuffed red pepper. Morphine is great.)

Have you ever signed a form in which you acknowledge that before the day is out the surgery you're facing might kill you? I have and it's pretty scary. I did that just after I'd finally agreed to have an epidural, which I'd resisted furiously because I knew that if I had an epidural I'd also have to have a catheter. I'd seen those things inserted in my days as a care worker and I'd always sworn I'd rather die than have one.Unfortunately I'd reached the point where that was probably the choice.

As it turned out, having a catheter was oddly pleasant. It was great not getting up three or four times during the night to go to the toilet the way I normally do. And because I was still tranked up to the gills I didn't really feel it when it was taken out either. Thank you, Nurse Whoever-You-Are, for your gentle hands and for letting me keep my shorts on.

The operation itself was a success. It left me with a motherf**ker of a scar (see photo), but I also came back into the conscious world with a reinflated gunk-free lung. Getting rid of the pneumonia took a little longer, but the antibiotics finally drove that away too, and I have now been restored to my previous peak physical condition.

Psychologically, though, the impact of nearly dying has been severe. I was afraid to go out for a while because I saw omens of death in everything. Then I went to the other extreme and developed a kind of mania for going out. I had to do everything it was possible to do on my tiny student budget. Life was short and death was long: no more afternoons listening to Five Live and eating biscuits.

And now I'm wary of excessive sociability. I was always a man who appreciated his own company. I worked best, as a writer, when there were fewer people around. I have pushed myself so far into a social sphere I might not belong in I feel mentally naked, exposed, raw; I fear I may have lost the balance that is so precious to me as a Buddhist, and a borderline nutcase. But I'm not sure, either, that that feeling is honest or that balance is what I really need.

See what I mean about how death doesn't have to take you to mess your mind up? There is still quite a lot to work out here, clearly.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I've been writing about the old days recently for my next unpublishable book, My Hometown. Don't do it. Even when you don't get into anything too personal, as I haven't - not about anybody else anyway - too much reflection can be a horrendous experience. And what good is it, really, looking back on a lifetime of bad moves, relationships burned, friendships lost? You can look for justifications and explanations but everything you say will be from the perspective of the person you are today. And it won't change a bloody thing either.

I have been a shiftless, parasitical, pretentious, passive-aggressive, selfish, lying shit for the better part of my life. I have tried to change the world, castigating everything around me, but inside I've been as rotten as the last fruit at the bottom of the drawer, and as deranged as a hermit in a moth-eaten dressing gown crouched at my letter box shouting curses at the children playing football in the street. I don't like to think of myself that way. I would rather have been a hero that the world could admire. I wasn't; and now I've got to do something about it. Untangling that ball of wire should keep me busy for a decade.

But I can say one thing to get me started, and it's probably the most important on the list: Happy Father's Day, Martin Hodder, writer, editor, publisher, and dad. You deserved more credit, more respect, than I ever gave you then, even though I used your achievements to make me feel big and your money to feed and clothe me when anyone with dignity would have been out working. Well, here's a little credit back - too little, yes, too late, of course. I still stand in your long, long shadow, though I pretended otherwise for years;  I see now that it's as good a place as I could ask to be.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Ads and Making Money

I don't know why I have ads on here. I thought I cancelled them long ago, after getting what the counter reported as several thousands of hits and making no money on them at all. Being a techno-dunce, however, I probably pushed the wrong button and doubled the number of them or something.

Now times are tough I should probably work out a way of making this page really attractive to readers so thousands join. Then I should slant the posts in such a way that they generate ads (it functions on some sort of key word principle) that people are going to want to click on. [By the way, butter; lamborghini; tennis.]

Yeah, right. I wouldn't know how to create a commercial product the best day I ever lived.

5 Becomes 4

To have only 5 members and then to lose one of them is quite an achievement, don't you think? I don't know what happened, but they haven't made the person yet that I couldn't offend without even trying.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Email to Richard Sanders. Unanswered.

Dear Professor Sanders,

As a mature student at Northampton preparing for a dissertation on postcolonial studies, I was most interested to read about the work that the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Enterprise and Governance has done with the Chinese Government.

I'm not sure if it's something I will be able to use in my dissertation yet, but I am particularly keen to find out what sort of ethical considerations a body like yours brings to bear on its dealings with a government colonising another country, as China is colonising Tibet.

As you will know hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, including those who've taken the tragic decision to self-immolate - the exact number of these is not known, but most calculations put it at around 30 since 2008.

Does your centre address these issues with its Chinese partners? Are concerns passed to the appropriate bodies before British expertise is shared? Or are these issues considered outside of the remit of the CEEG?

I'd also be interested to know if money is made for the CEEG or for Northampton University as a result of its partnership with the Chinese.

I hope you will be able to give these questions your attention as I think they are genuinely important in our understanding of how colonialism takes root and perpetuates itself, especially in the absence of a stratum of the indigenous population co-operating with the occupying force, which is normally the case in these situations but appears to be largely absent in Tibet.

Thank you for your time.


Bruce Hodder.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

For Those Who Need To See It


Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Help That Never Came

Since the lecturers' union rep completely ignored my appeal to them for help re: the University stonewalling me on China, here's a slightly edited version of the email I sent him.

Dear       ,

I am a mature student (no. 10341251) at Northampton in the second year of an English degree. I have been advised to contact you about some concerns I have with regard to the university and its involvement with the Chinese Government.

In Tibet, approximately 30 people have self-immolated since 2009 to protest the continuing Chinese presence there; arrests and disappearances are commonplace; dissenters are sent for "re-education"; monks are made to denounce the Dalai Lama; the diminishing number of monasteries is subject to Government monitoring; Chinese citizens (Tibet is used as a population overspill for China) are paid to report on the activities of Tibetans; Chinese language textbooks are replacing Tibetan books in schoolrooms; and the rich natural resources are being scavenged by Chinese companies, ruining the livelihoods of indigenous people.There were unconfirmed reports of forced sterilization of young women too, when China was still attempting to establish a dominant population in the country.

Watching the situation deteriorate in Tibet has grieved me as a Buddhist and a human being for a long time. And one thing that gave me hope in the past year was the participation of the Borough Council in the "Shine a Light" ceremony in early March, when the Mayor attended a gathering of supporters of the Tibetan cause and helped raise the Tibetan flag at the Guildhall. I was present at that ceremony; and as the organizer correctly said, raising a Tibetan flag in Tibet would have got us all arrested.

The Chinese Embassy had tried to stop the ceremony from going ahead. When it did go ahead, with messages of support from the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Embassy formally complained about the presence of the Mayor.

A week later Minister Counsellor Zhou Xiaoming from the very same Embassy appeared by invitation at Northampton University to speak as part of "Engineering Week". Given the situation in Tibet, not to mention the dreadful abuses of human rights in China - which have been the subject of recent reports by the United Nations and the American Government, among others - I thought it was incredibly inappropriate, and morally rather repugnant, to invite Mr. Xiaoming to Northampton. So acting on the advice of the Student Union, I wrote to the Vice-Chancellor to express my serious concerns. If he didn't mind the Chinese Embassy trying to interfere with local democracy, I thought, he wouldn't object to one of his students using local democracy to raise objections about a visit by a Chinese Embassy representative to the uni.

Disappointingly, the Vice-Chancellor ignored my email completely. I wrote twice to the University's Facebook page after that, which was probably a rather impotent gesture, and I heard nothing at all from them either. In fact, my only recent communication from the university was an email inviting me to come and meet people from Graduates2China next week, which was so annoying I can't even begin to explain it.

I didn't expect the Vice-Chancellor to withdraw the invitation to Zhou Xiaoming on my say-so or for the university to change its apparent policy of engagement with China. I presume there would be financial implications to a decision of that sort. But the uni makes money from my presence here as well - quite a bit - and from the presence of all the other students who would have objected to the hosting of a Chinese minister if the uni had publicised it properly, and if they were made fully aware of what was happening in China and Tibet.

The deafening silence that greeted my efforts to raise this subject sent the unfortunate message that the opinions of students don't matter if they run counter to the policies of the university. It also threw into question the whole purpose of the English department continuing to run its Post-Colonial Literature module. Superb lecturers are telling students every week about the traumatic pan-generational impact of Britain's colonisation of half the world when the university is getting into bed with the world's leading contemporary coloniser.

At the very least if the uni is going to pursue a policy of "constructive engagement" with dictators (I place the term in inverted commas because it is such a misnomer), it should create a parallel space in which human rights can be debated freely and openly. A representative of the Tibetan government-in-exile should be invited to address students the next time someone from the Chinese government visits. Either that or students must be allowed to present ministers with petitions and other documents of objection and grill them on their policies in the Chinese homeland and in Tibet. If something of that sort doesn't happen the university is positioning itself in a very worrying ethical place.

I don't know what you can do with any of the aforementioned ramblings, but as I mentioned, your name was recommended to me as someone on the staff who might be interested in hearing what I had to say. Thank you very much for your patience and feel free to use what I've shared here if it's helpful.


Bruce Hodder.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rude Notes in a Den of Whores: The Truth About Northampton and China

Another week has gone by since I posted about a mysterious 'new lead' in my long quest to have someone at Northampton University engage with me over China and Tibet, and not surprisingly, I haven't heard a thing from him. Clearly, nobody in this place is going to talk to me, not even the lecturers' union - you know, those people who were supposed to care about these things.

In the meantime, on Thursday last week, the local paper - who wouldn't publish a letter from me on the subject either - announced that the University was expected to have the sixth largest fall in the number of enrollments for 2012/ 13 in the whole country. Which works out, apparently, at roughly 350 fewer students.

Of course, this had nothing to do with increased tuition fees, according to someone from the University, and was "in line with their predictions" (they used some management-speak phrase like that). And the Uni wasn't concerned because they were seeing a concomitant rise in students from overseas, who don't register on the same enrollment list. So the edifice wasn't about to fall down around their ears or anything.

Just think about that for a moment, gentle reader. Overseas students. How much do you want to bet a large number of those are from China?

The closeness of the University's relationship with China is truly staggering. I did a little research today and found out that the CEEG, or the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Enterprise and Governance, based at Northampton, has what it calls "international partners" in Shaoguan and Beijing, and a partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, set up in 2010. Since 2011 the centre has included the China, Transitional and Developing Economies Group.

"The work of Professor Richard Sanders," I quote from the university's own website, "has influenced Chinese government policy towards the management and funding of rural business development." All of which is fine and dandy. Shame it hasn't done anything to prevent the thirty+ deaths by self-immolation in Tibet since 2009, not to mention the shootings, beatings,disappearances and persecution of anyone
trying to practise their religion in peace.

Funny how what Mr. Sanders and Nick Petford and Bruce Hodder (just about, although I have no money) enjoy in England - the freedom to live our own lives without undue molestation or the presence of an occupying army on our streets - isn't supposed to matter to other people. Not when it gets in the way of a good profit anyway.

I almost wish I hadn't found these things out because now I feel as if I'm studying in a den of whores. Northampton University should be thoroughly ashamed of itself for associating with those murdering CCP bastards but it won't see anything even vaguely wrong with what it's doing; and if any of the people I've tried to talk to over this spent even sixty seconds thinking about my emails before they pressed the delete button I know I'll be the one who's dismissed as a crank.

Better to be a crank than a realist, I say, if realism is doing business with killers.

But now I'm stuck in a University I've lost every ounce of respect for with one year of my degree left to do and a dissertation on postcolonial literature,of all fucking things, to write. Yes, these people teach that invading other countries, brutally suppressing the native population, destroying their culture and stealing all their natural resources is wrong.

I love some of the people I've met since I started at the Uni, but the more I think about the institution itself, the more I have to hold my nose just to get through the door.

Mark Twain:

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes”

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

My "Tibet Thing": The Leads Keep Tumbling

I have a powerful feeling I'm heading for another disappointment with what even I have come to think of as "my Tibet thing" and Northampton University. I've been given another lead. Another chance to make my point. To get my voice heard. But it seems to be going the same way as all the others.

I've been stonewalled by the powers that be here for so long now I wondered for a while if my emails were even getting out. You look for reasons. Rational, if paranoid, explanations that might justify the total lack of engagement by anybody in authority with your complaint.

Here's a simple one: they don't give a shit. There's just too much money involved in the university having a high profile in the business community for it to risk being viewed as (excuse the expression) ethical. And there's too little money being made from my presence as a student here for my dissenting view to matter. Students aren't even supposed to have a dissenting view. People aren't supposed to have a dissenting view. The world that the hierarchy at the university is preparing its students for is one in which we are all obedient cogs in the capitalist machine. As that great philosopher Puff Daddy once said, "It's all about the Benjamins" and university is teaching you how to get more of them than people who didn't have your privileges.

As another great philosopher, Hunter S. Thompson, once said, "Shit on that." (See what a vast storehouse of quotable knowledge I have after two years at university?)

My "lead" is a member of staff. He/ she is supposed to be the go-to person when it comes to disputes. I won't name them here or mention who told me about them. But I did feel a cautious sense that I was making some progress when I was advised to contact them. They, I was assured, would speak out not only for me, but for all the lecturers who didn't know Zhou Xiaoming was coming and would not have been thrilled about it if they'd been informed. They, I was led to believe, would take up the cudgels without hesitation and get things sorted. I had acted alone for long enough.

And they still might, I suppose. I don't want to give up hope too quickly. But I wrote to them nine days ago now and I've been met with the same silence I got twice from Nick Petford. I hope they don't turn out to be another person who cares until it really matters.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Shouting in an Empty Room: How Northampton Deals with Dissent

My email to the careers officer was, predictably, ignored. It seems to be the way Northampton University deals with dissent. I've just had a whole load more 'meet the employer' emails from the university delivered to my inbox.

I did have what looked like another chance to raise the issue of Tibet last week. Every year at the university - it's probably the same everywhere - they send out 'student satisfaction' surveys and these go back directly to the office of Nick Petford, the Vice-Chancellor. I'd had mine lying in my inbox for a few days and I'd done nothing about it. I don't, for the most part, believe these things are a legitimate exercise in improving the student experience. But when Mr. Petford failed to answer my email and the university's Facebook page also ignored me, I realised the survey might be a golden opportunity to get somebody to acknowledge my concerns. How naive could an old man be.

With all my usual flaming indignation I filled out the survey online, adding a long paragraph in the optional section at the end about how disturbing it was not only to see my university hosting visits from representatives of a brutal dictatorship, but also to be treated with disdain by the university hierarchy because I dared to protest about it.

When I clicked the 'send' button on the computer I felt good. For some reason, despite my scepticism about the student surveys, I felt as if I'd finally made my point. Someone, at least, would read what I'd written, searching the way they probably do for quotable plaudits to go into the next promotional brochure. At the very least I would create that moment of seething annoyance when they realised I hadn't shut up yet.


The next day, opening my email looking for something else, what did I find but an invitation from the university to fill out one of their annual student satisfaction surveys. Receipt of my previous one had been acknowledged by the automated system, but somehow it had vanished into the ether with all my other attempts to raise a lone voice of protest about the university's love affair with China.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Email to Robert Owen, Northampton University, Careers

After being antagonized almost beyond the point of human endurance by Northampton Uni's refusal to engage with me on the ethical problems raised by Zhou Xiaoming's visit on the 15th, I received an email the other day from Robert Owen, the University's "Careers and Employability" man, inviting me to come and meet representatives from Graduates2China when they visit on Thursday. Apparently, if I'm lucky, I could come away with the beginnings of a plan to teach English to students in Chinese schools for a year. Very good for my cv, etc. etc. etc.

You might as well have thrown an aerosol can on a fire as send me that, especially in the wake of my arrogant treatment by the University hierarchy. Does capitalism have no morals at all?

Here's my reply:

Thanks Robert, but until China stops abusing the human rights of its own citizens and ceases the genocide against Tibet I don't think it's moral either for me to think about this or for the university to be lending its facilities to those who offer it.The number of people who have self-immolated in Tibet since 2009 to protest against the Chinese occupation of their country has now reached 30, and that's too high a price to pay for my selfish advancement.



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Zhou Xiaoming: The Silence is Deafening

Shame, shame and shame again on Northampton Uni, who have ignored for six days the email I sent to them complaining about their decision to invite Chinese Embassy Minister Zhou Xiaoming to the University today. Does my opinion only matter if the University hierarchy can use it in some way to further their business profile or their position in the league tables? The bodies may be burning far away from England, ladies and gentlemen, but they are still burning.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Email to Nick Petford, Vice-Chancellor of Northampton University

on learning that Minister Counsellor Zhou Xiaoming will be visiting the University next week


Dear Mr. Petford,

As a mature student at the University, I was extremely surprised and disappointed to learn, from the newspaper rather than from the University itself, of the visit this coming Thursday of Minister Counsellor Zhou Xiaoming from the Chinese Embassy.

As you are undoubtedly aware, Mr. Xiaoming represents a Government whose record on human rights has been consistently condemned by other Governments and independent bodies around the world. In Tibet, which China has occupied illegitimately for several  decades, religious freedoms are severely restricted, the native language is being erased and as fundamental a freedom (from a fortunate Western perspective) as flying the Tibetan national flag will result in your arrest. (Mr. Xiaoming's Embassy even had the temerity to complain to the Borough Council because the Mayor was present at a ceremony in which the Tibetan flag was raised in Northampton.)

Hundreds of thousands have been beaten, imprisoned, tortured, maimed and killed by the occupying Chinese army during the long years of the Tibetan struggle for independence. Since 2009 alone, approximately 26 monks, nuns and lay people have been driven to self-immolate by the desperateness of the situation there. Most call for the liberation of their country and the return of their spiritual leader, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, while their bodies burn.

These are not wild exaggerations or the product of my fanciful imagination, but solid, provable facts. In the light of the above, and the campaigns around the world to end the Tibetan genocide by boycotting Chinese goods and services, I believe the University should not make its facilities available to representatives of the Chinese Government, either by direct invitation or indirectly, by hosting conferences or seminars to which these representatives are invited.

I know that the University is a business, but business has a duty to be moral as well as profitable, especially when a large area of its focus is the education of the next generation of adults; surely it would be better not to send them the message, however unintentionally, that genocide is less important than money. Or if more visits like Mr. Xiaoming's are to be arranged (I appreciate it is probably too late to withdraw his invitation now), perhaps you should consider dropping the "Empire and After" module from the BA English degree. I take that module - it is mandatory, actually - and we are told in it, consistently, and rightly of course, that invasion and colonisation of other countries by military force, followed by the subjection of the native population, is a crime against humanity which all civilised people should condemn.

I found it a rather bitter irony to come home yesterday, after my Empire and After lecture, to find that the University is playing host to a representative of the largest and most brutal colonial oppressor on Earth.


Bruce Hodder
BA English, Second Year.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spirituality Vs Religion: A Holy War For The Secular Age

I've been hearing quite a bit lately - from friends and university lecturers - that spirituality is okay but organised religion isn't. We can have our own view on God, or Allah, or Krsna, or Buddha, so this logic goes, but when we align ourselves with any sort of group that shares the same views, we automatically become a crackpot.

I think people reject organised religion partly because they see it as angry and bigoted. They see Christians and Muslims telling us homosexuals are going to Hell, a woman's place is three feet behind her man's with her face covered and not in the church as a fully ordained minister. And those who look a little closer see ingrained inequality in Buddhism too (I don't know enough about Hinduism to comment).

On that score - the score of anger and bigotry - I sympathise with the sceptics. There is no place in a civilised society for the denigration of any of its citizens. But the bigotry just represents a direction that a particular religion has been pushed in by certain scholars. Or it reflects the interference of business and politics (see the United States). Often it's just the view being expounded by the person with the biggest mouth.

I think there's another reason why people separate sprituality and religion and allow legitimacy for one but not the other. Spirituality is a feeling, an inner glow, a warm buzz, and more often than not it's separated from the ritual associated with organized religion. One can feel God without bending a knee towards Him. Worship, in our secular age, is equated with a kind of voluntary subservience, and that's not acceptable.

I don't see it that way. Religion/ faith/ spirituality without ritual is fine, as far as I'm concerned, but I don't make myself unequal or a lesser being by cleaning my Buddhas in the morning, lighting incense next to them, sitting on a cushion in front of them to meditate. I am paying my respects to the highly evolved being who showed the way to our emancipation from suffering.

Besides, I'm not so special. It doesn't hurt me to bow before anybody, or to work for anybody. And how am I any more gullible sitting in a church or a mosque listening to a religious teacher than I am sitting in a university lecture being told by another institutional authority that the practise of religion is misguided?