Paul Mason at Bristol Festival of Ideas

This post was written 8 years ago.
Sat, 11 Jun 2016
When I saw that Paul Mason was coming to Bristol, I knew straight away I wanted to go to the talk. After following his coverage of the Greek Euro crisis last year, I had read 'Postcapitalism' and it had touched a nerve. Here was the story of how we had ended up there, and the reasons why global finance in its current form had become unsustainable. The book is about much more than that, of course. But economic theory and the history of capitalism form a big part of it, and Mason explains them really well.

It was a warm summer night, when people streamed into St George's off Park Street to hear him speak. I noticed that many in the audience were older than me, in their 60ies or 70ies, though there were also quite a few people my age or under. I wondered if all the audience were lefties -- My husband Matin once joked that what I really want to do is dig potatoes on a Russian farm (actually, no I don't). In fact, Mason's main point should be of interest to everyone, although arguably he doesn't show much love for the conservatives.

The talk was billed as "Paul Mason in conversation with Andrew Kelly", but it was effectively mostly Paul Mason talking, with Andrew Kelly giving cues. Perhaps it was done that way to make sure every planned topic was covered. And Mason did get through a lot. From the ills of neoliberalism to the question if things would have happened differently "if Thatcher had ended under a bus", from Kondratieff waves to the development of the labour market, the massive and game-changing impact of technological progress, and the impossibility to foresee social structures of the future ("Shakespeare could not talk of Dickens's London"). And more besides.

Mason started, as the book does, with neoliberalism and its consequences. Interestingly, if I understood that right, Mason sees the digital revolution as an outcome of neoliberalism. Propping up the economy by simply printing more money (fancy name: "quantitative easing") has enabled technology to progress in the way it has. Although there was a recession, the iPhone and all that came next still occured.

At the same time this technological progress enables a different economy to grow besides the capitalist model, one where people give their time freely and create products of great value (open source, Wikipedia etc.)

Festival of ideas with Paul Mason and Andrew Kelly
Something that came up a few times was what neoliberalism has done to people, especially workers. There was also discussion about low-paid service jobs. Many of the new celebrated business models (Uber for example) rely on exactly that. People doing service work for really low wages. A different example: "As kids we went through these big car washes and it was all exciting. Now we have five men do this work by hand". I remembered the first time we had been to one of those manual car washes and I had thought this was very unusual. But in fact, now you get almost only those. We talk about automation, but in this case the machine has been replaced by humans!

What shone through for me was that Mason really cares about people. But he also says "I'm angry". What some people celebrate as disruptive technology, to him is disrupting the fabric of our community. What was also interesting in this respect, were the different views that people have of a basic income. The idea has recently been embraced by Silicon valley, but in that version it means that social welfare is withdrawn and then needs to be bought from the money that's handed out. This really defeats the original idea of it.

Then there are the external factors that provide a 'rational case for panic': climate change, migration and an aging population. How can necessary change happen? And what changes are already happening? Besides the panic, this is also an incredibly exciting time. Mason says he wants to "liberate the 1%" which I find a brilliant phrase. About a week before the talk, this thought suddenly popped into my head: "Perhaps this is also true: Women need to liberate men from patriarchy". I wondered if I should ask a question about that - was this the case? was it still the case? - , and I thought about it on the day, but it turned out there were lots of questions already, and I was not sure of how to best phrase it anyway, not sure of my English.

There was one moment, when Mason replied to a question with "Let me explain", then corrected himself and said "No. My opinion is this.." And I could not help but think whether this was a consequence of men being accused of "mansplaining". (It actually once happened to me that a man said "and I am not explaining this" before he went on to explain something to me.) I am sure Mason gets feminism as much as he gets digital and I seem to remember there was a passage in the book about the role of women where this became clear.

One thing I found moving then, was also to do with gender. I think it was in a reply to a question. "There might be kids at your daughter's school who are 12 and transgender. When I grew up this was unheard of. I think it is a good thing that it is happening now - children being able to come out in this way. And don't you think this is a personal hobby." (he did not use exactly these words, but I hope I did not change the meaning to much)

There were very good questions at the end, and a lot of it was in fact about how change can happen. Mason was pointing to Podemos in Spain (something I still need to read up on) and that that could be a model for cities in the UK, too. - Cities are where it's all happening. "Young people love the cities, because it's like an analogue version of Tinder." - One question was about Mason's career, moving from BBC newsnight to Channel 4 and then becoming completely independent. He enjoyed it all, but had some reservations about the BBC. "When Channel 4 wants something covered it's: How many cameras do we need? With the BBC it's: How many cameras do we need and what is our line on it?"

I believe in the end, what Mason wants to achieve is to empower people, to give people agency. This is something I think about a lot, which is probably why all these topics seem personal to me.

After the talk I had my book signed. There was a woman in the queue who spontaneously said to me "There was no talk of Brexit. I think he is in favour of leaving?" I said that I thought that too, but that he'd still vote for staying because of the possible consequences at this moment (too much power to the Tories). "That's a relief", the woman said. I still decided to ask him and at the end of a brief chat I said "You will still vote 'In'?" He looked at me and paused, then replied, "Yes. Remain". And I suddenly wondered if my language had been highjacked by the leavers' take on the vote, who want to pitch it as an 'In' versus 'Out' when the 'In' has actually happened a long time ago.

This post was written 8 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

If putting one foot in front of the other was all it took

This post was written 8 years ago.
Thu, 02 Jun 2016
On the coach to Bristol, I started writing a blog post about my marathon run. Unfortunately I didn't save it and in one thoughtless swipe I closed all apps, and with it Jota, the little text-editor app I am writing on at the moment. I feel a bit sad about that, as I had written quite a bit already. So here's at least a mini summary.

It was a beautiful day, hotter than expected. There were enough water stations though and especially for the first 9 miles I fell into a comfortable running rhythm and it did not seem much effort at all. I was already becoming quite blasée ("this is easy") all the while telling myself: Hey, you have barely made a quarter yet, it's not going to stay like that!

I have to say I ran quite slowly, all the time, and I think that might be the reason why in the end I ran through the whole thing without too much difficulty. But of course I was lucky, too. I didn't have any cramps, just at mile 16 my left calf tightened up suspiciously, but it never developed any further. I got tired, but nothing ever ached too much.

One good tip I had read in my marathon book, and then also on Rachel Andrew's blog: To split the run in parts. I split it roughly in thirds. I knew that after 9 miles, after going up to Stanley Park and past the two football stadiums we would be back at the Strand and that would be a third. - My support team (my husband and children) were waiting there which was nice. My son ran a bit alongside me and offered me a 'Toxic waste' gum which I refused!

Then followed a longer stretch across town not all of which was that nice, sometimes running along traffic, where just part of the road had been cordoned off for the runners. Still I enjoyed exploring the town that way and also the bands playing along the sides.

My next target was Penny Lane at mile 18. I wondered if they would blast "Penny Lane" from the loudspeakers again as last year when I ran the half, and that was what happened. Also, here I got an energy gel again, something I'd been hoping for since mile 9 when I had the first one. I'd never taken them on the two half marathons I'd run before, and had tried my first one quite recently. To be honest I don't even know how big their effect is, or if it's more of a Placebo. But suddenly they took on that importance. When can I have the next gel? Why on earth did I refuse the offer of that lady running with us ("Does anyone need some gummi bears?") - At a later point a spectator held out a box with Haribos, and then I didn't think twice and took three at once.

So now you definitely know about all the sweets I've been offered! After mile 18 I split the race further down. 4 miles to the sea and then, once I'd made that, the remaining 4 miles would be on the sea promenade. I was going to enjoy that no matter how much I'd be hurting. And I did, although I have to say those miles stretched. The last mile led onto the road again, but there I was greeted again by my children. They'd tracked me on the app. That was really sweet. My son actually ran the last bit with me on the track and that helped to distract me. Past the finishing line, I briefly felt the exertion of it all, and I think for a moment I had tears in my eyes. But I walked on and I kept moving for a while afterwards, walking with my family, and I also had a beer. My muscles soon started to feel sore, and as predicted by @bealers on Twitter, for the next few days it would be really difficult to walk down the stairs!

I loved the race, I loved Liverpool, and might even do this again. Only thing was, being in the last wave and being slow, I sometimes got the impression people were just waiting to clean up behind us. In that sense, the half marathon which starts one hour earlier was nicer. I guess I could just become a bit faster, that would also help. My time for this one was 5 h 37 min, so a km took me just over 8 min on average. But really it was all about finishing and I even ran the whole thing (I tried walking once and immediately realised that wouldn't work), and of that I am a bit proud.

I'm glad I've written all this. I could have written even more, but at least it's something. One reason I'm glad is that it distracted me.

It was such a beautiful weekend in Liverpool, and then Birmingham with the in-laws. Then on Monday night, I took the coach from there back to Bristol. Matin and the children stayed in Birmingham for another night because Matin had to sort something out there.

I only came back because we had the JS101 group the next day. It is important to me and I think if I don't take it serious who will?

At the moment I am hurting quite a bit. It is difficult to describe how sad certain things make me feel. But there is no good way I could explain this further at the moment. I might have made an attempt if I hadn't written about the marathon, but it's better in this case I didn't.

You'll never walk alone <3 <3 <3

This post was written 8 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)