Feeling anxious? Try this breathing gif

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Edited to show Giphy as the source of the graphic.

You got a new Echo, now what?

The Amazon Echo (also Dot) has been available in the US for only two years and it’s even newer to the UK.  Maybe you got one for Christmas and you’re wondering where to start with it – the instructions in the box are a bit sparse, it must be said. Listed below are some links and tips born of adopting a small Echo zoo when they arrived in the UK in October/November.

  1. It’s interactive, you speak to it and it responds. Mostly it does what’s expected but sometimes it doesn’t, much like your cat. You won’t go far wrong if you think of it as slightly more domestic pet than gadget.
  2. Its repertoire is expanding all the time so keep checking up on its skills.
  3. Skills? What skills?! Ok, we’ll come back to these.
  4. First things first – did you download the Alexa app? Good, that’s how you get connected and it’s also where you set your location so it knows your time zone and all sorts of other things relevant to the information it can give you such as the weather, travel, and – ahem – the time.
  5. You can find a bigger version of the app on your computer. Go to alexa.amazon.co.uk and locate your device, you can run or adjust a lot of things from there.
  6. You probably have an Amazon account if you bought the device for yourself, but what if it was a gift? The recipient – you or the person you gave it to –  needs one or the device won’t connect to anything. It doesn’t have to be a paid account, it’s a place where data from the device is stored.
  7. So now you have your Echo connected and it knows where it lives. Run through the list in your app or on-screen and get to know it, then go looking for skills. They’re still a bit US oriented but they’re mostly free and they add depth to what your Echo can do. Choose news sources to add to your Flash Briefing, link your Spotify account if you have one, ditto Audible thecho app clipen you can fall asleep while Alexa reads to you or works through your favourite playlist. You can set a sleep timer so it doesn’t play all night; just say ‘Alexa (or Echo or Amazon, whatever you’ve named it – sadly Mrs Shufflebottom isn’t available) set sleep timer for 20 minutes‘ and you’ll hear either, ‘Ok, I’ll stop playing in 20 minutes’, or ‘Sleep timer set for 20 minutes’.
  8. Radio stations are accessed via TuneIn which is the free default skill for that purpose. All the main BBC stations and many of the local ones are listed although it can be tricky getting the Echo to recognise some of them. TuneIn seems apt to drop its feed occasionally too which means the station suddenly stops playing even if your device is still connected to the internet via your wifi. If that happens, do remember to give it the ‘Stop’ instruction or you risk having the bejabbers scared out of you when it comes back on some hours later. The Stop command also lets you try restarting the station straightaway, usually successfully.
  9. Your diary: Echo uses Google calendar. It won’t integrate with an iOS calendar so if you want to ask about your forthcoming appointments, you’ll need to sign up with the Big G. It’s painless unless you’re someone who breaks out in a rash at the very idea of Google knowing what you’re up to.
  10. Sometimes it won’t hear you, sometimes it will hear its name, or something that sounds similar in the middle of a TV programme and try to respond. Coughing can trigger a device named Echo and ‘electric fence’ woke up one of my Alexas. Quite what gave rise to the response, ‘I haven’t got any money‘ is anyone’s guess.
  11. Talk to it. ‘Good Morning‘ gets you a good morning back and often a daily factoid; request a Knock-Knock joke or a haiku or just something funny; challenge its ancestry or place in the AI hierarchy with Who is your master? Where do you live? Do you know Siri? Teenage boys will no doubt find many other questions to ask. The software is sassy but prim and it can handle itself, but do remind its interrogators that their remarks will be stored on your Amazon account where you will review it in time for next Christmas.
  12. Ok, links:
  • The unofficial Amazon Echo user forum  Largely helpful although some of the most knowledgeable can also be the most, erm, problematic. T’was ever thus.
  • Love My Echo More of a newsletter and often contains tips and tricks, including nerdy interactions rooted in Star Wars and Star Trek. Try ‘Alexa, beam me up‘ or maybe ‘Alexa, start the self destruct sequence’.
  • Your manual. Read it so that when someone on a forum thread gets antsy, you can advise them that, yes, you have RTFM and the FM didn’t help which is why you’re here.
  • C|NET’s list of commands, including Dad jokes because obviously …
  • Easter eggs – little hidden gems the software builders put there for programmer types to find and the rest of us to pretend we found after we read the list.
  • A discussion of data storage – where does all that stuff your kids (or your gran) yelled at it actually end up and who can see/hear it?
  • Some problems and fixes from C|NET.
  • More Easter eggs via the Business Insider. See how quickly we’ve moved on from how can I make this work to how silly can I be with it even though I’m a proper business type?

Finally, Serious Face now, there’s a great deal of potential in this device for use as assistive technology and a good many people seem to have bought them for elderly parents and people with failing vision or other disabilities that limit screen or touch use. Be aware of the data storage issue – if you’re running the app you’ll see (or hear) whatever your gran puts into it. If that’s her shopping or To Do list and you’re the one actioning those, well great, but she needs to know it ALL goes on there.

If you can manage that, or if it’s you operating the system on your own behalf, there are two skills you might want to consider. Ask My Buddy keeps a list of contacts that can be alerted by the user if they need help. Saying, ‘Alexa ask my buddy to contact X’ will trigger an email/text/phone call to that person while , ‘Alexa ask my buddy to send help‘ will result in alerts being sent to all the contacts. Obviously it’s not a substitute for emergency services but may be handy if the user is unable to get to a phone but is within shouting distance of an Echo device. It’s free for a limited number of contacts.

The other skill is called Debby Onsite and it’s geared to giving reminders about where you put something. It can also, if you’re up to a string such as, ‘Alexa, tell Debby onsite the timer means let the dog in‘, tell you what the alarm or the timer that’s just going off is supposed to indicate. Just say, ‘Alexa, ask Debby onsite about the alarm,’ and the response is something like, ‘You’ll probably find the alarm means let the dog in’.

These are early days, this device isn’t Mia but nor is it HAL (that said, if you ask it to open the pod bay doors …). It has a long way to go, but its capabilities even now are very promising and it can only become easier and more useful as the software and skills ranges develop. Meanwhile, chat to it, let it read to you, play music, cheer you up; set timers and alarms without getting it covered in flour or cat litter, expect the unexpected. Say ‘please’ and I swear it blushes. And if you’re into IFTTT, start writing your own skills for those of us who aren’t 🙂

 

Disclaimer: these are my own discoveries made through recent ownership of Echo devices and trawling of support forums. It’s a non-exhaustive, non-technical intro to the sorts of things I’d like to have known when I first set mine up, and it’s likely to be time sensitive in that much may change in the coming months. Please use the links to follow up on technical issues because you really really don’t want that from me!

The Recovery Letters

The Recovery Letters is an online project started by James Withey who invited anyone who had experienced depression to write a letter that might help others. In his words:

The Recovery Letters are all written with the intention to try and alleviate some of the pain of depression, to make the loneliness slightly more bearable and above all to give hope that you can recover. We see recovery as self defined but can include living alongside symptoms or being symptom free, being stable on medication or medication free but most of all living a life with some meaning. [They] are written from people recovering from depression, addressed to those currently suffering.

Depression doesn’t discriminate. It’s not interested in who or what you are, how much you earn, or your professional successes. We know this, or we should, from the numbers of high profile sports and TV personalities beginning to disclose their struggles with the condition, although people still express disbelief – what could he possibly have to worry about? or she’s such a strong person, you’d never think that could happen. It does though, because depression often comes from nowhere and drains all those achievements of value, making them worthless and turning the person who achieved them into a fraud – a burden to everyone around them.

These letters are real; they’re not fictional and they’re not all easy to read. My former boss, past chief executive of a large mental health trust, has a letter there, and so have ISome of them will be coming out in a print book next year, published by Jessica Kingsley. A companion maybe for people still finding their way through; a primer for those wanting to know more so they can try to understand or help someone who may be drowning while wearing the bravest of faces.

James asks that visitors to the site please read the About page  for context before going on to read the letters.

An exploration of the value of computer-based virtual environments in the management of visible disfigurement

avatar face with disfigurementSummary

We asked three participants to inhabit an avatar in Second Life, first without and then with an overlay mimicking a facial burn. We reviewed comments about the virtual world, the impact of the scar, and responses to facial disfigurement questionnaires.

First published by Ether Books, October 2013.

 

Second Life

We used Second Life (SL), a widely accessible online virtual environment (VE) (Au, 2008), the utility of which has been described elsewhere (Hall, Conboy-Hill, and Taylor 2011). The validity of VEs to model human behaviour is underpinned by extensive research by Bailenson and his team (see  Blascovich & Bailenson, 2011). We felt the environment would be suitable for this study because it would balance field versus laboratory (control v realism) issues, and eliminate the need to recruit people with facial disfigurement (FD) or ask participants to wear a prosthetic.

 

Presence

‘Presence’ is an important VE concept reflecting a user’s sense of being in a VE. The Proteus Effect (Yee & Bailenson, 2007) is a phenomenon whereby changes to a user’s avatar impacts on both in-world and real life behaviours. This impact is described as transformational and underpins much of the theoretical and empirical structures informing VE research. For VEs to be effective as a clinical or research tools, ‘presence’ and transformational capability seem essential.

 

 

Disfigurement

The experience of disfigurement is generally negative, and so people tend to avoid social situations (Kent 2000). Hence, there is likely to be a demand for interventions and support online for socially or geographically isolated people but FaceIT, (Bessell, Clarke, Harcourt, Moss & Rumsey, 2010) is the only one currently available.

Virtual reality is increasingly being used for a variety of other psychological difficulties (Parsons & Mitchell 2002; Parsons, Leonard & Mitchell 2006; Price and Anderson 2006; Inan 2008). This study is a small scale exploration of the feasibility of a VE for FD research and support.

 

Design

In a case study design, we asked three people without FD to use SL with a facial burn attached to their avatar. We explored a priori themes via semi-structured interviews based on existing research on VE immersion and disfigurement. These were:

  • Identification with the avatar and SL ‘presence’ prior to the FD being attached.
  • Participants’ reactions to the change to their avatar’s face
  • Social interactions in SL before and after the FD is attached.

 

Method

Participants

The three participants (2 male: P1 & P3; 1 female: P2) were aged 22-23, and had no visible disfigurement in real life. Two were Sussex University students, whilst the third was in full time employment. They were paid £15 on completion of two separate one hour sessions.

 

Materials

The latest version of Second Life Viewer was installed on a desktop computer that had a broadband internet connection and an ATI Radeon HD 4800 graphics card installed. There was an on-screen inventory that permitted a guided exploration of options available to participants in SL. The sessions where the FD was attached began in a VE area that was sparsely populated.

 

We used a generic, customisable avatar that could appear as either gender, and dressed it in the wardrobe described by SL as ‘student’. It was labelled ‘RD1’.

 

The FD was a bitmap representing a radiation burn which earlier feedback had suggested was realistic. It could be applied easily by the researcher (Corrie Neilson – CN) by clicking on it in the avatar’s inventory.

 

Interviews were recorded on a digital voice recorder, and notes made as a contemporaneous record of people’s responses. After the second session, we asked participants to complete a Body Image Coping Strategies Inventory (BICSI – Cash 2005) which measures cognitive and behavioural coping strategies adopted by people to deal with body image challenges.

 

Measures

These were the 29 items of the BICSI. They identify three main coping styles: appearance fixing, positive personal acceptance, and avoidance. We adapted the wording to reflect the hypothetical nature of the questions so that “what do you do?” became “what would you do?”.

 

Procedure

The sessions were designed to facilitate open discussion in a semi-structured context. Prior to each first session, we modified the gender of the avatar to mirror that of the participant, although they could change this if they wished.

 

Session One

The main focus of this session was familiarisation with SL. Participants could explore the VE with guidance (CN), e.g. editing the look of their avatar and navigating the interface. During this session, participants were asked about their impressions of SL through an ongoing semi-structured interview.

 

Session Two

Where possible, we edited each avatar to look as it had at the end of each participant’s first session. If the interval between sessions exceeded two days, we gave people a little time to re-acquaint themselves with SL.

 

Once re-familiarised, participants left the room while we attached the FD. They had not been aware that a disfiguring scar would be attached and so now saw it for the first time. We said they could remove the burn if they wished, and explored participants’ reactions to the disfigurement over the remaining hour. They completed the BICSI at the end of the session and left after debriefing.

 

Results

The interviews were transcribed verbatim, and analysed by two separate researchers, using Pope, Ziebland & Mays (2000) method of Framework Analysis. Focus was on the content in accordance with the previously identified a priori themes.

 

Identification with the avatar and ‘presence’

The experience of the virtual environment differed for each participant. P1 and P3’s perceptions of their real life identity influenced their avatar editing choices. P1 wanted to create an avatar that mirrored his real life look, spending twenty minutes choosing an outfit that he “might realistically wear”, and adjusting the hair to mirror his own. He joked about how “picky” he was being, but continued to adjust the appearance before he was happy to use SL for anything else. He then gave his own name to the modified avatar, and addressed it by that name throughout session one. When asked about his choices, P1 said that he would feel more “comfortable and honest” with an avatar that looked like him. Following this, P1’s immersion within the virtual environment was apparent when RD1 was left momentarily naked in front of others. He responded with embarrassment and announced “This has new player written all over it”.

 

In contrast, P3 removed all traces of an appearance that might reflect his own – “I hate things that look like me”. He concluded that the modified avatar was “who I wanna be”. P3 edited the face by attaching a beard but kept the everything else as before. On observation, the modified avatar seemed to look like P3, plus the beard.

 

P2 spent least time modifying the avatar. She kept the shape and facial features, but changed the outfit. Her first comment  was that “she doesn’t look like a student”, referring to the outfit provided by SL. She then spent time changing the clothes to ones she said she “wouldn’t wear in real life” but she felt “alright” about. She made frequent remarks about how “fake” the VE felt.

 

Social Interactions and other avatars

Participants responded differently to SL’s social opportunities. P1 was relatively at ease, engaging in local and private chat with other avatars. He was confident in his ability to be socially attractive to other residents, and commented about getting “a second life girlfriend”.

 

P2 and P3 were less confident and approached social interactions by reading ongoing public chats amongst the other SL residents, P2 commenting that “they say stupid things”. She questioned whether people form friendships in-world and talk about “controversial issues…like politics”. She observed others but did not initiate any conversations.

 

P3 did initiate conversations, but spent time choosing the most appropriate avatar with whom to engage, basing suitability on screen name and overall appearance. P3 seemed anxious in-world and uncertain in his real life behaviours. He said that if there was no response from people he approached in-world, he would feel “rejected”. He demonstrated this by walking his avatar into the sea when he “couldn’t handle” an ongoing conversation.

 

All three participants wanted to authenticate the identity of the other SL residents, and both P1 and P3 commented on their assumptions about the real life identity of “sexy” (P1) or “scantily clad” (P3) female avatars. They were both adamant that these avatars were likely owned, in real life, by a “bloke” (P1) or “some weird guy” (P3). They also both said that those avatars who appeared “normal” (P1) were more likely to reflect the look of the corresponding user. P2 reserved judgement and reflected instead on whether other avatars were controlled by “real people”.

 

Reaction to the FD

All three participants agreed to use SL with the FD attached to their avatar. Both P1 and P3 said that, knowing they could remove it lessened any social anxieties they might have felt. P1 commented that he was “using [RD1] for the sake of an experiment” and would not “choose” to put the burn on his own avatar. P3 similarly commented that “these characters can be changed and that’s the key point for me”. P2 on the other hand, showed little response to the scar because “it’s not me”, and so a facial scar in SL “wouldn’t really matter”. This reflected her behaviours in session one, in which she spent least time modifying the avatar, and said she felt the environment was “fake”.

 

All three participants now identified less with the avatar they were using. Both P1 and P3 distanced themselves from any previous ownership; P1 referred to the avatar as “RD1”, rather than his own name and also said that “…yesterday I saw him as being this kind of smart cool guy, whereas now I feel sorry for him”. Similarly, in response to seeing the scar again, P3 laughed saying “I’ll admit I kind of want to take it off”. However, none of the participants did actually ask to remove the scar.

 

The participants’ social behaviours in-world with the FD did not differ from their first session. P1 continued to engage in the social element of SL to “see how my new face reacts”. His behaviours though, seemed confrontational and an attempt to get a reaction from other residents – “I just want someone to proactively ask me about it” – and he was disappointed when this did not occur. As a result, he asked people whether they noticed anything “wrong” with his appearance. He received friendly comments that the look was original. Both P2 and P3 avoided social interactions for the same reasons as before, saying they had nothing to talk about.

 

Results of the BICSI

The three participants identified different real life coping behaviours they felt they would adopt.  P1 predicted he would follow a positive rational acceptance style (mean score 1.81) if living with disfigurement. Whereas P2 speculated that she would adopt an appearance fixing approach (mean score 1.9) and P3 would adopt more avoidant coping behaviours (mean score 2.13). These were not consistent with the behaviours they adopted in-world when using the disfigured avatar, as no participant removed the scar or tried to fix the avatar’s appearance once the scar was attached.

 

Discussion

‘Presence’ without FD

Evidence of virtual presence prior to attaching the facial scar was apparent in the social and appearance adjusting behaviours of the participants. All modified  RD1 early in the initial session to illustrate their personal preferences. For one, this included claiming ownership by giving the avatar his own name.

 

At times, each participant showed emotional investment in the social content of the virtual environment. Specifically, feelings of rejection, embarrassment or social anxiety were reported by all, which resulted in one participant avoiding any virtual conversations. P2, whilst ostensibly maintaining a social distance, was nevertheless concerned about what her avatar ‘felt’ or ‘wanted’.

 

‘Presence’ with FD

Following the attachment of the FD, two participants re-defined their virtual identity and used the on-screen name for the avatar. This distancing seemed to highlight their changed perceptions, and led one participant to adopt a more confrontational stance towards other SL residents.

 

The behaviour of one participant in particular seemed avoidant following the attachment of the FD. He referred to the avatar as RD1, whereas previously he had given it his own name. Two participants expressed sympathy for the avatar, where they had previously felt a sense of personal affinity. This reflects earlier research detailing avoidant coping behaviours of people with visible disfigurement (Kent 2000).

 

Transformational potential

We found differences among the coping styles identified by participants’ responses on the BICSI and their behaviours in-world. One participant’s scores favoured appearance fixing behaviours, and yet these behaviours were not demonstrated in-world. The two participants who said they would not attach such a feature out of choice, did not identify appearance fixing as their preferred coping. The discrepancies between the BICSI scores and behaviours in-world suggest future research directions evaluating the longstanding problem of divergent expressed and reported attitudes (e.g. Gahagan, 1980).

 

Conclusion

We explored the use of SL for FD research, looking for evidence of ‘presence’ in the VE to support validity of experience. We believe this was demonstrated sufficiently to justify further focus on VEs for clinical research. There was also indication of inconsistency between attitudes expressed and corresponding behaviours, which promises better clinical evaluation of this confounding factor in effecting change.

 

References

Au, W. J. (2008). Notes from the new world: The making of second life. New York, NY:  Harper Collins Publishers, pp IX – X and 252.  

Bessell, A., Clarke, A., Harcourt, D., Moss, T. P. & Rumsey, N. (2010). Incorporating user perspectives in the design of an online intervention tool for people with visible differences: Face IT.  Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 38, 577-596.

Blascovich, J. & Bailenson, J .(2011). Avatars, eternal life, new worlds and the dawn of the virtual revolution: Infinite reality. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, pp 102- 115.

Cash, T. F. (2005). Manual for the body image coping strategies inventory, purchased from http://www.body-images.com/assessments/bicsi.html  (29/10/2010 at 16.17).

Gahagan, D. (1980). Attitudes. In: Radford, J. and Govier, E. A Textbook of Psychology, Ch 27. Sheldon Press.

Hall, V., Conboy-Hill, S. & Taylor, D (2011). Using virtual reality to provide health care information to people with learning disabilities: acceptability, usability, & potential utility The Journal of Medical Internet Research, 13 (4) e109. http://www.jmir.org/2011/4/e91/

Inan, F. (2008). Virtual reality and social phobia: Recreating a social situation in virtual reality. Unpublished Masters, Delft University of Technology.

Kent, G. (2000). Understanding experiences of people with disfigurement: An integration of four models of social and psychological functioning. Psychology, Health and Medicine, 5, 117-129.

Parsons, S. & Mitchell, P. (2002). The potential of virtual reality in social skills training for people with autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 46, 430-443.

Parsons, S., Leonard, A. & Mitchell, P. (2006). Virtual environments for social skills training: Comments from two adolescents with autistic spectrum disorder. Computers & Education, 47, 186-206.

Pope, C., Ziebland, S. & Mays, N. (2000). Qualitative research in healthcare: Analysing qualitative data. British Medical Journal, 320, 114-116.

Price, M. & Anderson, P. (2006). The role of presence in virtual reality exposure therapy. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, 742-751.

Yee, N. & Bailenson, J. (2007). The Proteus effect: The effect of transformed self-representation on behaviour. Human Communication Research, 33, 271-290.

 

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Acknowledgments

This work was completed as part of the first author’s MSc in Foundations of Clinical Psychology and Mental Health with the university of Sussex. We would like to thank Dr Kate Cavanagh for her support throughout.

 

Affiliations

Corrie Neilson: 33 Handsworth Avenue, London. Email: corrie.neilson@gmail.com

Suzanne Conboy-Hill: Consultant Psychologist, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, & Visiting Clinical Research Fellow, University of Brighton.

 

‘Time for Dementia’, a Sussex Partnership medical training inititiative

The older we get as a population, the more dementia is likely to affect us closely, either as the person who has it or as their carer, family, or friends. Health services have not always been geared to these long term, shifting, deteriorating, and often demoralising needs in which an individual loses the core of themselves and those around them, incrementally day by day, lose the person they love. Training is a key issue but exposure to the trajectory of dementia has usually been missing, leaving just the bare bones of clinic snapshots supplemented by text book descriptions and checklist facts.

This short video describes a new project involving two major mental health trusts*, a number of local universities** and the Alzheimer’s Society***. Uniquely, it enables medical, nursing, and paramedic students to spend time with people who have dementia in their homes; getting to hear directly from them and their families or carers, and observing the change over time that both the person and those close to them are trying to manage. The experience of putting people in context and having conversations instead of relying just on those clinical checklist snapshots seems a positive way forward in enabling professionals to ‘see the person, not the diagnosis’. As one carer says, commenting on how interested their visitor students were, ‘I hope they’re going to look after us when we really need it.’

 

*Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Surrey and Borders NHS Foundation Trust

**University of Surrey , University of  Brighton, University of Sussex, Brighton and Sussex Medical School

***Alzheimer’s Society

 

Dear Mr Gove

You’re standing for party leadership and Prime Minister of this country so I need to ask you something. When you said ‘we’ve had enough of experts’, what experts did you have in mind? Was it an unattainable professional elite to contrast with the ‘hard working families’ you’re on the side of? You didn’t mean nurses obviously, because they’re ordinary and hardworking [and decent; we’re hearing decent a lot too]. But you probably did mean the pesky junior doctors with all their learning and knowing stuff and arguing even while they’re still called juniors and so clearly not long out of their teens. I expect you also meant the ones who get to be consultants by dint of learning even more because obviously they’re top notch experts which we know, because you told, us are neither ordinary nor hard working [and probably not, by implication, decent].

But hang on a minute, what if nurses work their way up the ladder, you know, by learning stuff, getting Master’s degrees or PhDs, or becoming specialists or researchers or even consultants? Do they stop being ordinary decent and hard working too as a consequence of knowing a lot more than most of us about stoma care or infection control or HIV or managing acute mental health crises? I know who I’d want if I needed help with any of those things and it wouldn’t be an enthusiastic amateur no matter how decent they were. By saying you’ve (sorry, “we’ve”) had enough of experts, you’ve dropped these people onto the horns of an identity dilemma – are they hard working or are they experts because it doesn’t seem possible to be both.

You’ve also dismissed out of hand the expertise of large numbers of other people, maybe because their expertise is just a tad low brow for you? After all, you don’t need to know your declensions to re-wire a house safely without leaving rat holes in the skirting boards do you? And while we’re at it, what about all those people with expertise in gas boilers, construction, plumbing? People who keep our domestic services running and safe to use? The accountants who look after our finances and know how to add up so it makes sense? I’d include teachers but you’re not that fond of them are you? In fact, I don’t think you see them either as experts or ordinary decent and hardworking, just annoying know-it-alls who won’t do as you say – possibly because they, um, know stuff? [And by the way, if you don’t like experts, what exactly was your aim for children while you were Secretary of State for Education?]

Another thing; do you think people become experts by accident – a tongue of flame perhaps? Because I can tell you [I am one], that it actually involves quite a lot of hard work; years of it often. But of course, once we become experts we lose all our credibility because we can’t claim to be ‘working class’ any more, even if we spent our early years in a one-up-one-down back-to-back with the toilet down the road. That’s because, despite being in charge of education for so long, you’re anti-intellectual and isn’t that what this is? – an attempt to deride and denigrate anyone with expertise and set them up as a ‘class’ to be despised by people who aren’t? If you made enough people feel screwed over by the experts [because maybe you thought you were when they were saying stuff you didn’t want to hear], they would listen to you instead. And they did, so well done on that. And by the way, I’m onto that tabloid journalism malarkey you used to good effect in your campaign. Single issue, no content, anchor it to something emotive like the NHS? Gotta hand it to you. Oh, look – we did.

We need experts, it’s what we invest in to keep us safe; to balance our books personally and nationally; to make strides in science, engineering and technology; to know how to fix our brakes, build buses that don’t fall apart like a clown car, and houses and offices that stay up where they’ve been put.

It’s why we favour educating our children to be aspirational and inquiring, able to think and appraise; although that wouldn’t have helped your campaign much, would it? All those critical eyes able to see through the bog fog of your promises? Better to get them reciting facts like robots with not a clue how to reflect on them.

We also want to show our young people how to be decent, humane and welcoming; to be tolerant and compassionate to others. But let’s look at what you have shown them; here’s a list:

  • How to manipulate, denigrate, and betray.
  • How to ignore people who know what they’re talking about in favour of what you want to hear.
  • How to pretend the horrific divisions we’re seeing and vile hostilities directed at ‘immigrants’ is nothing to do with you.
  • How to contribute to a cataclysmic national crisis without one word of remorse.
  • How to view people with real knowledge able to challenge empty rhetoric as valueless intellectuals, simultaneously undermining our bank of national knowledge and any ambition children might have. I won’t mention the anti-intellectual bullying that already goes on in schools and deters kids from daring to achieve. I bet you’ve helped with that with your ‘we’ve had enough of experts’, haven’t you?

You want to be Prime Minister and I’d like to think it’s so you can take full responsibility for this disaster, denouncing the referendum result as the fraudulent Lance Armstrong of politics that it was. Because how different is winning on the back of performance-enhancing lies from winning by pumping yourself full of cheating chemicals?

So, having contributed to the creation of political mayhem and triggered threats to our national security, food security, financial security, and the emergence of the most hateful and paranoid of factions within our society, I must ask you, do you consider yourself to be up to the job of PM; to have the, um, expertise? Or are you planning on flying airbus UK by the seat of your cheerfully amateur pants into the dung heap of your own making that you still can’t see? ‘Gaudeamus pig manure’, as we used to sing at our school in working class Cleckheaton.

No idea who your MEP is? Never voted for one?

But you’re going to vote Leave because the EU is unelected and doesn’t do what you want. Right, well whose fault is that, then?

I’m guilty of ignorance too. I thought about MEPs today for the first time and I had to look mine up. I’ve never voted for one, never had a clue what they do and that’s my fault. Worse, I find that Farage is one of them and maybe by not engaging, I helped put him there. I hope I get another chance. If we still need MEPs after tomorrow, I’ll be all over mine like a rash and holding them to account.

I’m voting IN so my ignorance doesn’t count in this instance, but if you’re voting Leave and you’re just as guilty, please think again.

 

See also The EU Referendum – Four Tories & a UKipper?