What Have I Done Now?

Avid followers of my blog (if there are any) will recall a post a while back where I commented on a Vice documentary I had seen, focusing on Liberia and in particular exploring the slums of West Point, part of the capital in Monrovia. I still remember being utterly shocked during the documentary, not quite being able to quite comprehend the levels of poverty I was witnessing. It was a different world, and not one I had any experience of. The naive youth of the post is telling- I knew so much less then than I do now, and it shows.

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West Point isn’t the most developed of places. 

Now my close friends know that amusing, strange and at times unbelievable things happen to me, often from a compulsive urge to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes my way. Dave ‘#SayYesMore’ Cornthwaite (who is currently pedaling around Norway’s fjords on a schillerbike, as you do) would probably be proud of that, though I feel it might irritate family and Catherine, my ‘lawyer for everyday life’, as she likes to call herself. It’s led to a few interesting experiences during my degree, such as the crazy lightning selfie video, a compilation of which currently has more views than people live in Russia. I’ve narrowly (and at times very narrowly) missed major incidents too- flying over Luhansk the week before MH17 was shot down on the same flight journey, and even the Istanbul airport attacks. As you can see, strange coincidences are not new to me.

 

 

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That moment when you know you’ve screwed up, really badly.

But this one is really weird.  

I applied for the International Citizen’s Service not necessarily thinking I’d get in, nor really considering where I might end up going. I’ve always felt that Africa was in my stars, and so I was hopeful for that at least. I wanted to be doing Disaster Risk Reduction work and hopefully use my (newly anointed) Geography degree, and thus I applied to Y Care International, one of the ICS programme partners funded by DFID. They mentioned disaster risk work plenty of times, and thus they were the only option for me.

 

Y CareThe assessment day went well, with lots of amusing team-building style activities and some genuinely interesting characters from as far afield as Glasgow and Belfast, which is a seriously long journey to London! The interview was pretty straight forward, and my boring non-drinker status helped me sail through the potentially more difficult personal issues section. By the end I knew that if selected, I’d be headed to one of a handful of West African countries.

‘Great! I’ll finally be headed to Africa if I get in… #LifeGoals etc’…

 

Then a few days ago, I did get in. I still didn’t know my destination…

 

Today I had an email, and found out. Guess where?

L-I-B-E-R-I-A.

I did more digging. The slums of WEST POINT are part of Y Care’s 2 projects in Liberia. Literally a 50% chance of me going there.

Oh my god. 

So 3 years on from my rather inane, naïve blog post, I might be about to witness it in the flesh. Hopefully not General Butt Naked though, who they interview in that documentary…

Christ.

 

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The fearsome warlord in his ‘heyday’… He is now a repentant priest, apparently. 

Now I might not be going just yet- I have a job interview to hear back from, but I’m very, very keen on the opportunity. It would enable me to network for future disaster risk research, something that could have a positive impact in a state such as Liberia, get practical experience of development work and actually do a proper job of it too, unlike those awful ‘I paid £2000 and painted an orphanage wall’ projects. The ICS programme is great, asking you to raise a sum for the charity itself whilst they cover all your costs both before and during travel, making it a great opportunity for all.

Liberia ebolaIf I do end up pursuing this, you’ll get to enjoy more blogs- even from Liberia- and even Vlogs too, charting my experiences over the 3 months. I’ve already started checking out the wildlife, and between civil wars & ebola, there is still some pretty tasty stuff out there. Pygmy Hippopotamus- you’re mine! So after all of that, it looks like the story of Billy and Liberia has just begun, in yet another weird web of coincidences. I’m already anxious to discover the plot!

Balo

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128 Days Later: How Trump and Russia Have Changed Our World

Donald Trump has been president for just 128 days, and the world is already near-unrecognisable. His incompetency on the global stage has seen age-old relationships falter, and with this, the entire nexus of Western geopolitics has shifted. Whereas Obama once stated that”This is as important a relationship as I’ve had during the course of my presidency” about Germany’s Angela Merkel, highlighting close, amicable US-EU relations, it is clear that Trump’s America is altogether different. It is difficult to remember a time in which the United States has been more distant from Europe, or in which such a strong geopolitical bond has deteriorated so quickly due to the will of one man. Merkel, normally a relatively understated speaker, struck a defiant, revealing tone on Sunday, stating that “The times in which we could rely fully on others, they are somewhat over”, with the clear context of the previous day’s G7 summit. The underlying message being as obvious as it is appalling- that Europe can no longer rely on the United States as a close ally. The publication of confidential intelligence from the UK in the US press also drew sharp criticism of Trump, this time from the UK, in the wake of the Manchester attacks.

There is serious discord then, between the two most powerful Western blocs, that of the EU and the USA. This is a major, major issue. The damage from Trump’s first foreign trip does not stop there. At a NATO summit, Trump neglected to endorse Article 5, with is an omission of such gravity that it sent diplomatic tsunamis through military and geopolitical circles. Namely, Article 5 is the Collective Defence clause and the most important clause of the original NATO treaty, the concept being that an attack against one member is an attack against all members. It was a key part of keeping Western nations safe in the Cold War, and it is of great historical and strategic significance. So for Trump to not endorse at this conference, as new leaders are expected to, is appalling. Why?

Article 5 has only ever been invoked once, in response to the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which essentially launched the War on Terror. Allies responded in force and paid in blood. Britain lost 454 soldiers in Afghanistan, Canada lost 158, France lost 89 and Germany lost 57, among many other significant national contributions. 

The United States is thus the only country to ever invoke Article 5, and yet now hesitates to endorse it. It is unacceptable for the US to be ‘picking and choosing’ after so much blood has been spilled in their name by allies. This then, is rock bottom.

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A devastating visual indictment of Trump’s refusal to endorse Article 5

Elsewhere, Trump looks likely to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which would be a hammer blow due to importance as the world’s second biggest polluter. Whilst China is taking great strides both in environmental policy and technology, America is looks set to be resting on it’s laurels, plunging back down the mineshafts in search of coal. Regression isn’t a strong enough word to describe the Trump administration’s environmental policies in comparison to that under Obama, though perhaps we had good warning of this with his plan to gut the EPA.

Trump’s associations with Russia are never far from the news, and with every leak that emerges, it is increasingly clear that there is significant substance to these rumours. These are well documented in articles in both the New York Times and the Washington Post that cover this in better detail than I will go into here. They say that ‘where there is smoke, there is fire’, and there is so much smoke right now that it is difficult to see your hand in front of your face. I doubt we will see anything approaching the truth until decades after the Trump administration, but with every piece of the jigsaw that falls in place, the cries for impeachment grow only louder.

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Scratching The Surface: An outdated visual of Trump’s Russia ties. 

Trump’s campaign ran on an anti-establishment platform, and a key part of that was penetrating the American consciousness with the concept of ‘fake news’ and how the mainstream media (MSM) is the enemy. Trump’s MSM is a broad church, with virtually every news organisation apart from Fox and RT included. The NYT and WaPo, representing the cream of America’s media organisations, have been particularly strongly attacked. On the face of it, this is just a quirk of Trump’s presidency and character, though calling them ‘the enemy of the people’ is obviously extreme. Some news channels can indeed be accused of being ‘too far left’, and perhaps publishing biased articles- but every media organisation has its own leanings. Trump’s attack is significant because his constant tirades about ‘fake news’ have decimated public trust in the media, and this is a major problem. Trump can now dismiss any negative story as ‘fake news’, deceiving the American people and making it very, very difficult to distinguish between the truth and a lie. Trump’s attacks on the media are an assault on the critical thinking of the American people, an attempt to neuter one of American democracy’s strongest assets- an inquisitive, tenacious media.

Taken apart, these events are already troubling, but when pulled together by a common thread, they are nauseating. That common thread, invariably, is Russia. One country and one country alone is benefiting from all of this, and it is isn’t difficult to work out who. There is obvious evidence that Russia strongly interfered in the US election, as confirmed by sources in the FBI and Department of Defense, helping to secure a victory for their preferred candidate, Donald Trump. Whereas before there were peace and a united front, the West appears to be fracturing before our eyes, creating a far weaker bloc in opposition to Russian aggression. NATO, the EU, the G7- all vital partnerships and all faltering. Vladimir Putin has played a long game and an incredibly smart game, and it is undoubtedly winning. Russia’s harnessing of social media and technology to interfere in US politics will be studied for decades to come, and it represents a step-change in cyber warfare. They are very obviously already reaping the benefits of this, particularly geopolitically.

Simultaneously, Russia has managed to carve out a positive image of itself, particularly within the left in the West. In Syria, Russia is seen to be ‘sorting it out’. In Ukraine, Russia was ‘opposing Nazis’. It’s time to call Russia out for what it really is. In Syria, regardless of the geopolitics, Russia is propping up a dictator who has undeniably gassed his own citizens and has committed a mind-boggling array of sickening atrocities. Russia’s displays of air power might be impressive in Syria, but accusing the West of causing civilian casualties when Russia is literally carpet bombing areas a la the Second World War is galling, to say the least. In Ukraine, Russia used ‘hybrid-warfare’ to invade a sovereign European state, capturing land of strategic significance to Russia in the Crimea. In both theatres, Russia has been accused of war crimes.

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Russia is no angel. 

This is the same Russia that influenced an American election. People appear to have short memories, but it is not so long ago that the UK had the ‘British Army of the Rhine’ to delay a Russian attack through Europe, and that US troops were stationed across Europe. It is hard to imagine cooperation on that level in the wake of Trump’s NATO, G7 and EU summits. He is withdrawing from the world, taking America’s superpower status with him. The Cold War may have ended, but a new Cold War has just begun- and Russia is winning. What is more, Russia is winning unopposed. 

128 Days Later? The world is unrecognisable, and it is clear that Trump must go.

But of course. Fake News.

A Night in Kakata

As darkness falls across the communities of Kakata, many Liberians pile in to crowded little cinemas that play football games live from across the world. Everybody here has a team, with Barcelona and Real Madrid being the main choices, but English teams are popular too, with Chelsea, Liverpool and United fans in abundance.

But whilst Liberians are enjoying the drama on the pitch, the real drama occurs elsewhere. Take a seat amidst the inky black night, and look skyward, for every night the greatest battle on earth commences.

 It can be in the distance, it can be on the horizon or it can be right overhead, but one thing never changes- every night the gods are doing battle up there. Huge bolts of white lightning fork from cloud to cloud, casting the surrounding sky into sterling silver. All too soon, it fades into darkness. Another crack in the distance this time, and the sky erupts into golden yellow light, as another jagged fork etches it’s name into the sky. Africa used to be portrayed as a godless place by our colonislist forbears, but how wrong they were, for every night the gods thunder with rage  in titanic battles overhead. A close roar of thunder here resembles a natural force of artillery, arcing across the sky with a tremendous boom. The storms of West Africa are as beautiful as they are powerful, yet the sheer force of them is a stark, timely reminder of our mortality in the face of the natural world. 

Other men, too, have aspired to the power of gods in Liberia. Doe, Taylor, Johnson have all been guilty of this, and with electoral chaos pending, one can only pray that Weah and Boakai remember the past of this gifted but troubled nation.

One glance at the night sky, toward the greatest amphitheater on earth, will be all that they need. 

Dispatches from Liberia: A Week in Kakata 

After a pretty intense journey crammed into the back of the Landcruiser, and being thrust into the baking sun for lunch at a restaurant on the high street, it was hard to know what to make of Kakata at first. I couldn’t see beyond the big, dusty main street, and it looked like that was as big as it got. How could this be a city? It felt a little like the middle of nowhere, and I was slightly anxious with the prospect of 9 weeks here ahead of me. That turned into great anxiety when a man started to shout at the group, and particularly me, about something unintelligible whilst we were eating. He was quite aggressive, pulling his shirt down to show an old war-wound on his shoulder. Unsure how to respond I asked a nervous question of Emmanuel, our incredible volunteer supervisor, and he just told me to ignore him. So I did, and he eventually went away. I later learned that he had mental issues of some description, probably stemming from his time during the wars. In hindsight, this could have happened anywhere in the UK, let alone Liberia. Even so, Kakata was off to a less-than-auspicious start. 

We bundled back into the Toyota, as we set off on a mercifcully short joruney to our temporary accomodation. I started to get a feel for the size of Kakata, and I decided that all was not lost. We arrived at the secure compound that was to be our home for the first few nights, and I was amazed at the size of the rooms. I hadn’t expected a whole room to myself, let alone one with a double bed, and effectively an apartment for two! I looked out of the window and saw two tiny little finches, with a gorgeous marbled black and white plumage. This was an inkling that perhaps the birdlife might be better than I had hoped, and it was confirmed when I saw flocks of golden-yellow weavers in the trees overhead, and even more so when a beautful pale white and blue kingfisher landed atop some jagged glass on the compound walls. This was a pretty good start, though I doubt I’ll ever know what those intricate little finches were, but that’s a happy mystery, perhaps. 

Pretty soon afterwards, someone pointed out a huge beetle crawling about, easily the biggest I’d ever seen. I dislike bugs with a passion, but having witnessed it apparently attempt suicide by flying full-pelt into a building, I realised that they were only a threat to themselves. I was genuinely amazed to see a Rhinocerous beetle though, the king of the insect world for me. Huge beetles with a dark ‘tusk’ at the front, these were the beasts of wildlife books of my childhood, when I was even smaller than I am now (which is not a scientific impossbility, as many of my friends would have you believe). It was thus brilliant to see one up close. All in all, that’s not a bad list for a concrete fortress of a compound, lined with barbed wire, big lizards and huge shards of glass! 

A short while later I heard a shout that the ICVs, our Liberian counterparts had arrived, and I instantly felt a knot in my stomach. I was quite nervous about meeting them, simply because to not get on with my counterpart could be a disaster for my time here! I didn’t know what to expect, but I was met by the friendliest people I’ve ever met. You cannot understand the definition of friendly until you’ve met Liberians! They swiftly taught us the Liberian handshake, and we were soon making friends as the evening drew in around us. Some icebreakers got everyone going, and we learned who each of our 7 counterparts were. I was paired with the wonderful Safi, who is great fun and has been looking after me ever since. She seems to know everyone in Kakata, and is fantastic at putting me right when I make mistakes in the community. She’s taught me plenty already, but mainly that in residential areas you MUST say hello and shake hands with everyone you meet, which is very different to the UK, detached and ‘cold’ way of life. Safi has a big personality and has confessed to being someone who knows how to party, so have that to look forward to also! Our counterparts seem to have plenty of volunteering experience, through chruch, the YMCA and education, so we should be in every capable hands.

The next day was a Sunday, and Safi arrived early to take me to a Liberian church for the first time. We took April, another UK volunteer, with us too, and headed to St. Christopher’s, a catholic church a short distance away. The walk itself was exciting, dodging motorobikes on narrow dirt roads before I spied my first evidence of the heavy fighting that took place in Kakata during the civil wars, in the form of a bullet-riddled building. 

All these thoughts were eviscerated by the incredible experience that is a Liberian church service. It was literally everything I wanted it to be, complete with music, gospel singing and dancing! It was a long service, but the energy, happiness and relaxation in the room was palpable. The stress and hardship of the week were forgotten in full, for here was the the world of God and worship, and nothing less. Everybody went to the front of church to gift a small financial offering amidst a buzzing clamour of excitement, singing and dancing. I had a fairly christian schooling, so many passages of text and songs were familiar, but the Liberian English lexicon and dialect gave the bible a distinctly African flavour. 

I had to stand to introduce myself to the church, and had to state that my friend Safi had invited me. A Ghanaian woman also introduced herself, and we were then given a beautiful welcome by the congregation in the form of a song and the waving of hands. This was a special moment. In that church, you could forget everything, and be at peace. At the end, everybody wanted to shake our hands, and to welcome us personally to the chuch. I thus had ample opportunity to trial my newly-acquired Liberian handshake, and I’ve never quite felt so welcomed by a group of complete strangers. I’ve also never felt so relaxed, in such a foreign yet inherently familiar setting. Beautiful gospel singing still ringing in my ears, we headed away from the church, onto the road home. 

A street away, a tiny little girl that could barely walk was squatted amidst a steaming pile of stinking garbage, struggling to defecate in a plastic bag, naked to the world. 

If an image or a moment could be etched in your memory, then this was one of them, and believe me, it is seared on my mind. Amidst the happiness and the joy of chucrch, it was all too easy forget the realities just outside those holy gates.  Whilst we were celebrating, she was barely surviving. 

I must not forget that.

Dispatches from Liberia: Monrovia

Slowly meandering above the Sierra Leonean coast, my first views of Africa emerged from the mist. Golden rivers, lit aflame by the sun, twirled and swirled across lush green wetlands. A patch of long grass was flattened- an animal track! But what animal? A crocodile, a pygmy hippo? What an amazing question to be able to ponder! Then a few homes came into view, connected by the artery that is the blood red earth of Africa. I had made it!

 There were other memories of the journey too, of course. There was the bizarre London hotel, which was a tokyo sleep pod-cum-university halls. There was the heavy handed secuitry in Brussels that nearly confiscated my London snowglobe, a gift for my host family, and the small child who effecitvely invaded Belgium by running through security before being caught. There was the hilarious hostess on the long flight to Monrovia, her dutch humour and acerbic wit doing much to entertain me when I couldn’t sleep. Sierra Leone wasn’t my destination of course, so it was a bit surprising to learn we would be stoppinbg in Freetown before heading on to Monrovia. We all stole a view out of the open door as passengers got on and off, and my excitement reached fever pitch! The heat, the smells, the sights… Africa was so close, I could nearly touch it. 

In the darkness we plunged down onto Monrovia Roberts airfield, and the adventure began. The military efficinccy of Europe was replaced by the human chaos of Monrovia, with all manner of people directing us left and right in the terminal, with visa confusion and people trying to make a quick buck off us combining to make our culture shock more pronounced. Steppinbg out of the terminal, the heat nearly knocked me off my feet, and I seriouslty regretted wearing a light fleece for the flight. We were greeted by the excellent YMCA staff including Emmanuel, who did much to put our nerves at ease. We were bundled into two 4x4s whilst they quelled the gathering crowd, and we were off into the night. 

The journey that followed was the most intense of my life. Pitch-black, in entirely unfamiliar territory, we barrelled towards Monrovia. Huge lorries would burst out of the darkness, axles straining under their excessivley overloaded cargo. Parts would be hanging off cars, or perhaps be missing at all, and the driving was creative to say the least. Motorbikes were zooming about in the middle of this action, zipping around the speeding lorries like moths to a flame. Some bikes carried 4 passengers, and many had no headlights at all. Overtaking broken down vehicles and other debris in the middle of the road was a common occurence, and it was absolutely exhilarating and terrifying in the dark. Our drivers were both immensely skilled and courageous, and they did a fantastic job of keeping us safe, however. We stopped for food, experiencing the delights of Liberian cuisine for the first time. Fried plantains, spicy rise and some incredible chicken was a great start to the trip, though I regretted trying a sauce that we were offered. It was like trying to swallow lava, and I’m still not convinced my tongue is okay! My tastebuds were bathed in a world of new flavours and textures, however, and I was very, very happy. 

We set off into the darkness once more, headed toward the city centre. It was electric, absolutely buzzing with activity wherever you looked. It is hard to put in to words quite what Liberian roads are like, but believe me, every moment is edge-of-your-seat stuff. We also saw the Liberian police for the first time, sitting in the back of a pick-up, toting kalashnikovs, helmets and flak jackets. This was a stark reminder that we were not in the UK anymore, and I certainly wouldn’t pick a fight with them. 

Bumping our way down a dirt track near the city centre, we found our secure compund that was to be our home for the night, Hiking up a few sets of stairs with my bags all but killed me off, but between the YMCA staff and Jordan, my Glaswegian counterpart, we made it. Exhausted from a long day of travel, I set-up my mosquito net and decided to shower in the morning- the sweat could wait. I ducked under the net, and I was dead to the world in seconds. 

I awoke early with no prompting, blessing the electric fan as cool air kissed my skin. Finding a chair by the window, I concelaed myself behind the curtain and watched Monrovia come to life. I saw women in beautifully patterend dresses wander by, with babies strapped to their backs with the same beautful mateiral. I watched white 4×4 after white 44 drive by, each with a new orgnisation- the UN, UNDP, USAID and countless others passed by in very little time at all. Yes, this definitely wasn’t England! I saw men toiling away in the cooler air of morning, huge pieces of lumber straining their shoulders. Kids were everywhere, finding fun and amysement in everything they could find, inlcuding a swingball style game consisting of a ball, some string, and a stick. I watched golden yellow birds flit from palm frond to hanging cable whilst peach-coloured doves lazed on warm tin rooves. Kites and Eagles soaring past aded to the incredible energy of a morning in Monrovia. Below me, a shack-like restaurant opened up, emblazoned with the Chelsea FC logo and the words ‘Stamford Bridge’. You just can’t escape. This city was alive!

Breakfast consisted of a hard boiled egg and some bread, before all 7 of us squeezed into a landcruiser, together with YMCA staff. We blended quite nicely into the masses of white NGO 4x4s on the road! The two other men and I ended up in the boot of the Land Cruiser, which was incredibly hot and cosy but gave great views of the Liberian streets, and the chaotic traffic! People waded into traffic, selling chewing gum and crisps through the car window, whilst motorbikes would do their best to avoid them. There was a constant cacophony of cars honking- it seems quite normal to honk it every 5 seconds in Monrovia at least! Sitting in the back, I witnessed the aftermath of an accident, and saw a bike literally  break down and fall apart behind us. The glare of daylight removed much of the mystery of the night before, but it was still clear that literally anything could happen on the road. As we saw more of Monrovia, tiny shacks by the side of the road, made of tin, wood and other rustic materials gave way to bigger, more substantial buildings, including some pretty major Chinese development projects that were an incredible mass of concrete and steel. A short, unsuccesful trip to the British embassy and a long wait in a cafe to get our visas sorted was all we had time for in Monrovia, but it was enough to get an enthralling insight into Liberia, and into what lay ahead. We stole a brief glimpse of the Atlantic before it was time to go. Our bags stashed in another car, we squeezed into the boot of the Land Cruiser once more, and prepared to journey onwards.

It was time to head to Kakata.  

Operation Ruman IS Up for Debate

Twitter is aflame with military-types defending #OpRuman, the British response to Hurricane Irma. They parrot the government line, stating that Britain ‘is doing everything it can’, or perhaps use the response in order to measure our ‘might’ against the offerings of other nations. They don’t like any criticism of the UK military response whatsoever (*grumbles* ‘we’re sending a helicopter carrier, what more do you need’). After a series of governments that have consecutively cut the UK forces, this protectionism is understandable, but horribly misguided and counterproductive when it comes to disaster response.

From their armchairs, and amongst the steel hulls of hardware and the beating heart of machismo, they forget the objective of Operation Ruman, and they certainly forget the human futures at stake. Criticism of the British response is not aimed at humiliating the armed forces, it is wholly aimed at making this response better so that it can better serve the needs of the people of the affected areas. Currently, that stems from political pressure from MPs and the media. Whether the current UK response is proportional, whether it was quick enough, and whether it will be effective remains to be seen. That will be assessed in the months and years to come, as disaster experts start to pick apart the response and assess what worked and what didn’t.

There is no doubting the lion-hearted efforts that British troops are currently putting in across the Carribean. Everyone in the UK, in the disaster/humanitarian sector and in the media respects that. We are thankful for their service.

But the vast majority of them are not disaster experts, either, and it is important to recognise that. They are doing great work at the moment, but if that could be improved in the future, that should be looked at. And it will be looked at. Armchair generals on twitter don’t get to suppress that, and neither does the British government. Operation Ruman will be studied by actual experts in their field so that improvements can be made in the future, be in in the terms of the speed and agility of the response, troop placements, types of resources deployed, or more importantly, the work they actually did. It’s going to take many years for these islands to recover, and it is important that they are helped to get on the right trajectory as soon as possible. They won’t necessarily need ‘all the help they can get’, but rather the ‘right help’ in the ‘right areas’. 

Ultimately, of course we are all pleased with our armed forces, and the working they are doing out there. You can’t let that pride, however, turn into a pig-headed suppression of any criticism and debate over the response, because the nothing will improve, and the same mistakes will be made over, and over, again. Those potential improvements are so important, and they will genuinely save and change lives in future disaster. Look at how drastically different the US response to Harvey and Irma was in comparison to Katrina, for example.

I’m afraid that if you aren’t an expert in Disaster Risk Reduction & Response, then your opinion carries little weight in this discussion. By all means be proud of our troops doing good work over there- but don’t suppress this vital debate.

 

 

Perhentian Island Reptile List UPDATED

Following the results of the 2016 expedition, I can at this stage add at least one species to the Perhentian Island list. The following list remains a work in progress. 

  • Lesser Malacca Toad
  • Common Asian Toad
  • Banded Bullfrog
  • Smooth Frog
  • Common Tree Frog
  • Common Green Frog
  • Icthyopsis sp.
  • Armoured Pricklenape
  • Green Crested Lizard
  • Common Flying Dragon (Draco Volans)
  • Marbled Bent-Toed Gecko
  • Four Clawed Gecko
  • Tokay Gecko
  • Perhentian Islands Rock Gecko (Endemic- Grismer)
  • Spotted House Gecko
  • Smith’s Green-Eyed Gecko
  • Common House Gecko
  • Flat-Tailed House Gecko
  • Common Smooth-Scaled Gecko
  • Kuhl’s Flying Gecko
  • Smooth-Backed Gliding Gecko
  • Olive Tree Skink
  • Many-Lined Sun Skink
  • Long-Tailed Sun Skink
  • Short-Limbed Supple Skink
  • Perhentian Islands Forest Skink (Endemic- Grismer)
  • Clouded Monitor Lizard
  • Water Monitor Lizard
  • Brahminy Blindsnake
  • Reticulated Python
  • Oriental Whipsnake
  • Mangrove Snake (Venomous)
  • Golden Tree Snake
  • Painted Bronzeback
  • Blanford’s Bridle Snake
  • Red-Tailed Green Ratsnake
  • Common Wolf Snake
  • Banded Wolf Snake
  • Malayan Bridle Snake (New Addition- Identified by the 2016 Expedition)
  • Wagler’s Pit Viper (Venomous)
  • Banded Sea Krait (Venomous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Training Weekend Away

Friday saw me packing my bags before hitching a lift to Rugby station from a close family friend- village life doesn’t always make transport so easy, so it was well appreciated! My journey became a whirlwind of Midlands towns and cities I’d never really visit otherwise, with stops at Nuneaton, Northampton, and Leicester before finally arriving at Wellingborough station. I was pretty nervous, to be honest. I wasn’t in Wellingborough for fun, so to speak. I had 4 days of training scheduled in, with people I had never met before, for a project in a country a long way away. The stakes were pretty high. All I really had to go on was that a guy called Jordan who was also headed to Liberia was already at the station- I just had to find him.

 

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Our lodgings at the Frontier Centre 

 

It turns out that Jordan is very Scottish- think a Glaswegian Robert the Bruce-  but absolutely lovely all the same. No sooner had I met him than every man and his dog it seemed came over, and all were headed abroad on ICS with Y Care. First impressions were good at least! This was the Sierra Leone & Liberia training weekend, fitting due to their neighbourly locations and entwined histories, yet there were also a few stragglers from other ICS nations who hadn’t been able to make their training dates, and even a few from other organisations! In the group we had people headed to Sierra Leone and Liberia, of course, but also Nicaragua (with Raleigh) and a solitary (also Scottish) guy headed to Togo, who swiftly also became known as Togo (real name Ben). Even before we were pushed onto the minibus by Ollie from Y Care, it was reassuring to know that everyone was pretty normal. I don’t know what I was scared of… finding a serial killer in the midst?

 

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No High-Jinks on the High-Wires for me- I wouldn’t be found dead up there! 

 

We soon arrived at the Frontier Centre, an outdoor adventure centre run by Rock UK, featuring high-wires, huge climbing frames, fire pits and lakes for all manner of excitement. Importantly, it was vast, with loads of land to explore. I even found a plane in the woods, apparently part of an NGO partnership display. The Frontier Centre caters to families in the summer as well as school & youth groups, and everyone seemed to be having a great time while we were there! The accommodation was akin to a comfortable dorm, and certainly comfy enough for a training weekend. After all, Liberia is likely to be somewhat different! The food was a weird throwback to school dinners, even down to the dodgy bread and butter pudding and other interesting menu choices. It was good though, and considering it was free, I could never complain! Queuing did make me feel like a child again though, praying I didn’t get the lumpy skin of custard or semolina this time…

 

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There really was a plane in the woods. 

 

The Y Care staff were great, and immediately set everyone at ease on the first day with some icebreaking team exercises that were a gentle way to get to know each other. Everyone seemed lovely, and we’d soon made friends. It was pretty clear early on that the Liberia team was quite small, with just 7 or 8 of us compared to many, many more people that were Sierra Leone-bound. Early on we also discussed fundraising, charting how much everyone had done and how much more people had to raise. I still have a fair bit to do, but I’m not worried just yet. I have plans, and gained some really nice ideas from my peers along the way! The entire training weekend was quite cleverly done with constant group work and presentations along the way, ensuring that we bonded as teams and that we were also comfortable in our skins, which will be important when doing outreach work in our selected nation.

 

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The Nene Way runs adjacent to the site

 

There were too many things covered over the weekend to go into any great detail, but I assure you that we were at it for long hours, going from 9:15AM until late into the evening. We had an entire day of safety & security training from Y Care’s in-house expert, Gurpreet (or G, as he likes to be called), which covered pretty much everything you could imagine. The day involved hygiene, disease, health, safety, not being a target, dealing with confrontation, and it was heavily scenario based which was a great, hands on approach. It was nice to see that everyone was pretty sane, to be honest! We learned a lot about YMCAs, how they operate and how Y Care works with them, which was genuinely quite fascinating and inspiring. I had no idea that YMCAs had helped invent basketball, for example! Importantly, it helps Y Care have a very low footprint on the ground, whilst ensuring ICS volunteers are working on projects that will actually benefit locals. It sounds like a good system to me! We had plenty of fun too- I watched Bridesmaids for the first time, we had a great camp fire, plenty of friendly football and rugby was played and my team nearly pulled off an amazing comeback heist in the quiz, coming from joint last to placing 2nd and losing by just two points. I’m not sure I can claim we were robbed this time, but anyway- we were robbed!

 

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A Quieter Spot 

 

Of course, I also found out what my placement was about! I’ll be working on a Post-Ebola recovery program, particularly focusing on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) in the town of Kakata, just an hour’s drive from Monrovia. The team and I will be working on outreach and education through the YMCAs and local schools, as well as carrying out more practical work together with research. I’m so excited to get started on such a worthwhile project, and I’ll give it 110% as ever. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make a difference, no matter how small. We had lots of sessions on Liberian life and culture, and I’m really looking forward to being out in such a different place. It’ll be my first time in sub-Saharan Africa (or any part of Africa for that matter), and I literally cannot wait!

The final day was a little shorter, looking at our ‘Action at Home’ amongst other things before we all headed back off to the train station again. We’d arrived as pretty much complete strangers, but we’d pretty much all departed as friends, which was a great feeling. My journey back was even weirder than the journey there, ticking off even more weird towns- Bedford, Bletchley, Northampton- on a convoluted way home. At least I didn’t have to fly home to Scotland though…

Nearly the entire gang enjoying a campfire partly made by yours truly!

We made some great memories over the weekend, and I can’t wait to be a part of a strong team headed to Liberia. We’ve got some great characters, and I’m sure we’ll get to know each other very well out there. I’ll see you all at Heathrow, folks! Thanks to everyone at Y Care International for a great weekend, the Frontier Centre for a lovely stay and all my fellow ICS volunteers for just being awesome! It’s powerful to see so many young people come together from all over the UK for a common purpose, regardless of our background.

We’ll do great things together, wherever we go- just watch us!

In the meantime though, I have fundraising to do, and that’s been put on hold by a combination of a cold I picked up at training & having four jabs in two days. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a lot healthier than I am right now… I really don’t think the Yellow Fever jab liked me!

Until next time, that’s all from me!

 

RSPB Middleton Lakes: Warwickshire’s Best Nature Reserve?

Having had enough of the terrible customer service at my usual haunt, Brandon Marsh, I was really looking forward to trying somewhere new this weekend. RSPB Middleton Lakes is a little further than usual, but is still easily within a 30-minute drive, and we were swayed by frequent reports of interesting species there. It turns out that Middleton Lakes is literally right next to Middleton Hall, a historic manor house with attached tea room, which is an added bonus. I can now attest to their quality of their milkshakes…

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Despite knowing little about Middleton Lakes, I was shocked when it turned out to be much, much bigger than Brandon, and it was just so much better. It seemed to be far more alive, too, with ducks and geese along the warren-like wetland network nearly as far as the eye could see. Being able to see Water Rail chicks within 2 minutes of arrival certainly helps, but there was a great range of species on offer. I had a lifer- Great White Egret, and I’m sure I would have had a couple more had I brought a telescope. A Marsh Harrier was spotted earlier in the day- alas, what could have been! Dragonflies and butterflies were everywhere, and even better, the site was bustling with families both young and old. Middleton Lakes has clearly found a formula that works, and it was a joy to behold!

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The RSPB staff were friendly, approachable and knowledgeable, and featured a pleasing mix of young and old for once. This put into context quite how bad the ‘welcoming committee’ is at Brandon Marsh, Brandon being far more Stasi than smiley. I’ve been going there since probably before I could walk, and trust me, it can’t get any worse than it is now! Middleton Lakes was also cheaper, at £3 per car as opposed to £2.50 a head at Brandon. In short, if you are in need of a nature fix in the Warwickshire/Midlands area, then you could do an awful lot worse than Middleton Lakes. I’m pretty sure you could even see parts of Birmingham’s skyline in the distance, but I could be wrong.

All in all, Middleton Lakes is genuinely the best reserve you can find in Warwickshire, and is absolutely worth a visit! I just really don’t know why I hadn’t been sooner…

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A Magical Month

After another gruelling six months of long-distance, transatlantic love, I was finally reunited with Catherine in mid-June, and had the pleasure of her company until mid-July. This gave us roughly a month to reconnect with each other, explore new places and see how the pair of us had grown since we last met, and it was absolutely brilliant. One (tiny) advantage of long-distance is that every time we see each other, it is genuinely exciting. 6 months apart is a long time, but it makes every single second we get to spend in person so much more valuable! We had a blast- I got to attend a conference at the University of Kent, where Catherine presented a paper and did great (I was so proud, but I needn’t have been- this her bread and butter!). This gave us a few days in Canterbury, and we did all sorts- the Cathedral, punting on the river, meals out… Honestly, it was the best start to the trip we could hope for. I’d never been to Kent before, and I have to confess that I was rather taken with Canterbury life!

 

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Alpaca Floof. 

 

We then returned to my native Warwickshire, where Catherine continues to seamlessly fit into the family, which I partly put down to a shared sense of mischief and humour. We befriended the many Alpacas at the local Toft Alpaca farm and coffee shop, and also enjoyed some great bites to eat out at Hilltop Farm Shop, complete with adorable ponies. We did endure some truly godawful meals out too- imagine an Eggs Benedict with a burningly acidic hollandaise sauce, eggshells and a texture of rubber and you are somewhere near just one of the debacles, but on the whole, food was pretty good. We did the silly things too, of course, playing cricket in the garden (Catherine’s pretty good and even has her own cricket bat, rare for an American) and a few long walks, including a trip to Brandon where we caught up with a pair of Hobbies and a horde of grumpy old people.

 

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Alpaca-spotting (and befriending) with Grandma!

 

The final part of the trip was kicked off by two visits to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, initially just to see Oscar Wilde’s Salome at the Swan, but we were so impressed that we had to come back for more, and thus Julius Caesar was duly booked. I’ll do a proper review for each play in a later blog, but Salome was incredible. I’ve seen plenty of plays and Salome must go down as the greatest I’ve seen. Matthew Tennyson was spellbinding as Salome, and I loved the gender-altered specifics of his role. Tennyson could appear vengeful one moment, and then like the weakest, most vulnerable creature the next. Tennyson wore a slinky white dress, and many other characters were in similarly androgynous or gender-bending outfits. Oscar Wilde would have been very proud of this great piece of serious, slightly queer, theatre. The singing was incredible- if you can, just go and see it, honestly. If you are clever (and 18-25), you can get tickets for just £5 under the BP subsidised ticket scheme. Julius Caesar was also very, very good, featuring plenty of gore, bodies and blood, together with the most shocking scene of theatre I’ve seen. I’ve never heard the entire audience at the RSC gasp like that before, and considering the number of tourists from far flung parts of the globe, the universality of that moment was gripping. Brilliant theatre. I’ll reveal what that moment was… another day!

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Having spent an amazing few weeks with my family (thanks so much!) we headed off to London so that Catherine could attend another academic event, this time a 2-day seminar at Kings College London featuring a few students from the University of Michigan. I couldn’t sneak into this one, but I got to meet Jess and Lucas again, and see some pretty cool places. Catherine and I had a ball, nearly even in the driving wind and rain outside St. Pauls Cathedral, when google maps had broken. We explored Soho and Covent Garden, spent hours poring over books in enormous book shops and finding hidden gems (like Stanfords Travel Shop!) that we will surely come back to again and again. We met up with her close friends, Lilli & Haley, ate Sushi & Giraffe (or was that at Giraffe??) and explored art galleries and exhibitions. It was great! I’ve never been a huge fan of London, but this trip saw me fall in love with a city I used to absolutely hate. There’s an oft-repeated quote from Samuel Johnson that ‘to be tired of London is to be tired of life itself’- and I’ll drink to that.

 

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The number of globes at Stanfords was enough to make this Geographer very happy indeed.

 

Our last day together is always emotional, and I was a little worried that we wouldn’t be able to hold it together too well. It’s a tough old beast, long-distance. Instead, I had two important emails come through. The first was an invitation to a job interview for the Civil Service, that could see me pretty much raise what I need for the Master’s degree of my dreams. Something exciting for the future. The second was an email notifying me that I was to be awarded a commendation at graduation for contribution to the department, something that I am incredibly, incredibly pleased with. Something exciting for the past. Those emails patched over our sadness, and made us unbelieavably happy as we relished in each other’s futures with lashings of Turkish ice cream at Picadilly Circus. Bliss.

 

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A better food choice!

 

So I’ll be graduating from Exeter with a strong 2:1 in BSc Geography, coupled with a departmental commendation. I’ll admit to being a little bit disappointed that I didn’t get the First I’d strived so hard for, but after receiving that email I don’t think I care one bit.

After a truly, truly magical month, we said our goodbyes on the Tube in Bethnal Green of all places, and I’m pretty sure we mostly held back tears this time (easier said than done, my friend), which is a great success, all things considered. I zoomed off to a selection day for the International Citizen’s Service, whilst Catherine zoomed off to catch her flight back to beautiful Ann Arbor. But we are happy.

She has plenty of reading for her PhD to be getting on with, together with an important fellowship. I need to get ready for graduation, attend my job interview in London and prepare to move out from Cornwall, so there’s plenty to be keeping us both busy.

Excitingly, this week I’ll find out whether my ICS application was successful- if it was, I might be spending October-December in Senegal, Liberia or Sierra Leone.

Could I FINALLY be on my way to Africa?

 

Liberal Democrat: Anatomy of an Election

I’ve always struggled to find a home politically, being uncomfortable with aspects of both left and right-wing policies and concepts. I’ve always been strong in my belief in the NHS, the environment and education, which might lead you to believe that I’d be a natural labour voter. Instead, parts of the left are greatly concerning to me, and thus I’ve found myself to be far more comfortable as a firm centrist. The Liberal Democrats has thus become my political home, despite the tuition fee fiasco and other aspects of the coalition that badly wounded the party in 2015. The Brexit vote reinforced this- the Liberal Democrats were the only party to take a united hard-line anti-brexit stance during the vote, and this continued during the 2017 snap election. As someone who has studied on a university campus largely funded by the European Regional Development Fund, living in a region that receives far more money from the European Union than it ever would from central government, the concept of brexit was (and remains) entirely unpalatable. Whilst I can appreciate the potential benefits of Brexit in some respects, I am steadfast in my belief that this country took the wrong decision. Labour didn’t take a strong stance on brexit- and Jeremy Corbyn certainly didn’t. 
That’s a rough synopsis of how and why I became a member of the Liberal Democrats, but that would be a boring story on it’s own, right? 

One way or another, I agreed to stand in the local elections as a Town Councillor for Arwenack Ward, and as a County Councillor for Penryn West. I wasn’t necessarily the most serious of candidates, and these areas were places that we (as a party) were likely to lose in. Thus, with very little literature sent out about my candidacy, the party would gather votes but as an individual I was never likely to win on any level. Regardless, I was kindly invited to the election count by Mathew McCarthy, the somewhat unorthodox town councillor for Penwerris and a strong figure in the party locally. The count night at Carn Brea, Camborne was one of the most fascinating and inspiring experiences of my life, with hundreds of people gathered because they wanted to make a difference to their communities, and having seen it in person I believe that this is the most organic end of politics, where people generally are genuinely running to make a positive impact locally. There were people of all parties present, from the Greens through to UKIP, with smaller regional parties such as Mebyon Kernow and plenty of independent candidates present too. With some 123 seats being contested, it was incredible to see so many people present involved and interested in local politics at the grassroots level. The press was in attendance too- though I never found a good image of myself! My results were interesting if unspectacular. In the county council elections I was able to take 151 votes off the popular incumbent Mary May (later elected the chairman of Cornwall Council and thoroughly nice to boot). The Greens did exceptionally well to come in 2nd place, whilst I narrowly lost by 4 to my Conservative student counterpart Ellie Phipps, which isn’t bad considering the surge they had across the county. With actual effort in my campaign it was obviously unlikely I’d ever dethrone Mrs May, but I could have had a good run at 2nd for sure. The town council election was less interesting, but I was only 30/40 votes off beating Jayne Kirkham, who was later the Labour MP candidate in my constituency, which is something. 

As events conspired, it was a good thing I wasn’t elected as I will now be moving away from Cornwall, but it was a great experience, and affirms my belief in the British political system. Whilst we electorally need a better form of proportional representation, the people at Carn Brea that night were deeply passionate about their ideas for their little area- and with 123 areas across Cornwall, that’s a warming part of local politics. Cornwall has an awful lot of people trying to make positive differences for you, and thus the whole ‘politics doesn’t represent me’ argument falls apart in my eyes. If you get involved, you can make a difference- and on a smaller level, your vote really counts. I saw elections decided by margins as fine as one vote, and elsewhere in the county it has to be decided by coin toss/pulling straws, demonstrating the value of what might seem an insignificant, unimportant single vote. There was emotion too, of course- political beliefs and hopes for your area run a lot deeper than the surface. 

Then Theresa May called a snap-election, and I was furious. The local elections had already phased me politically, and I was feeling more than a little worn-out when it was announced. This was the prevailing view I came across too- everyone I knew had enough of being bombarded in the press, social media and through the letterbox by politics- and now it was going to continue, at higher pace and at significantly higher stakes. URGH! 

I couldn’t help as much as I would have liked during the election, being seriously busy with my dissertation and upcoming exams, but I still did my bit. I helped our Liberal Democrat candidate, Robert Nolan, in the campaign for the Truro and Falmouth constituency. Rob was formerly the Mayor of Truro, and his campaign focused on defending our area from successive brutal conservative cuts, that have left our local NHS in bits in particular- just one visit to RCH Treliske is enough to show that (hello 1970s)! Our campaign received quite little support from Lib Dem HQ, and thus I was amazed at the efforts of all manner of local volunteers doing all kinds of tasks- from as menial and mundane as folding envelopes and delivering letters to the more demanding door knocking, press releases and events. We had a relatively small core team, but a much bigger team of volunteers who sprung up out of the woodwork in all areas of the constituency, of all ages and backgrounds, which was awesome to behold. I did a bit of everything, but enjoyed door knocking most of all- though I did get shouted at over the tuition fees scandal. At least she was passionate! On that note I was in frequent touch with counterparts in other parties, and the level of abuse levelled at some of them on a daily basis was despicable, from shouting and spitting to vandalism of signs and the like- we too suffered from many missing signs. When it seems like the only signs to survive were those of Labour, it’s pretty obvious where they disappeared to. Politics should not go that far locally- those standing are just normal people. They’re very human, and they feel just as much as everyone else. It was thus very disappointing to hear of and to witness this. 

This time around, the atmosphere at Carn Brea was electrifying. So much hung on the next few hours nationally, and there was a sure buzz in the air. The press were far more numerous, and the stakes so much higher than last time. Even the election counters looked a little nervous- and from past experience they usually look as excited as a man watching paint dry. Only three elections were being counted that night, with the other Cornish constituencies counted elsewhere. We had Camborne and Redruth, St Ives and then our area, Truro and Falmouth to contend with. Whilst our canvassing had been positive, I thought it fairly obvious that Sarah Newton MP would likely hold T&F, whilst St Ives looked to be far closer between us and the conservatives. Counting each vote that came in, providing rough estimates for votes from different polling stations for future use and challenging any that were wrongly sorted, it was the longest of nights. I drank far too much Lucozade to stay awake, but it was badly needed. It took until 6:00AM to be nearly finished, and our areas were one of the latest in the entire country to declare. I saw some negative reports in the local press calling it an embarrassment, but in reality everyone worked their hardest- having arrived at 10pm, it felt like a miracle to get out at all! I certainly couldn’t attach any blame to the Cornwall Council staff for that. 

Counting our votes for the Truro and Falmouth constituency it quickly became clear that Corbyn-mania had truly permeated our area, with huge block votes coming in from parts of Penryn in particular. Even in our traditional core vote in Truro, labour polled unexpectedly well, matching our effort in places. Regardless, the Conservatives looked the strongest by far. To their credit, Jayne Kirkham ran a very effective campaign and was able to rely on a strong student vote, perhaps swayed by Corbyn’s tuition fee promises. This reflected, of course, the large swing nationally. When the election results were called out, it was hugely unexpectedly close, drawing a gasp from the crowd. Sarah Newton MP prevailed, with 25,123, but Kirkham’s Labour campaign did quite astoundingly, gathering 21,331 votes and vastly increasing their vote share from the previous election. We came a solid third, and given the lack of resources we had to deal with it was a strong effort with 8465 votes. We certainly didn’t expect the Labour surge to be as strong as it was locally, but in hindsight it was difficult to run an effective campaign against the fervour that Corbyn had been able to whip up across the country.

More exciting was the result in St Ives which prompted a recount, but sadly we didn’t quite succeed against the incumbent Conservative MP- losing by just 312 votes, a stellar effort. It raises that bittersweet thought though- just one more street, a few more letters and maybe it could have been won. The St Ives team ran a fantastic campaign and were so unlucky to not come up trumps in the event. Now there was a lot of talk across Cornwall of tactical voting, and I took a fair bit of abuse post-election from Labour supporters for not voting Labour or standing aside to them in our area. My defence of this is thus- all the major tactical voting sites at the time advised a Lib Dem vote, and regardless a brief discussion in the Truro and Falmouth Tactical Vote page on facebook revealed that nearly all of them voted for Corbyn anyway against that advice, so I believe there is little to be gained from that line of thought. In contrast, we needed just 312 votes in St Ives- and Labour took 7298 in a seat they had no chance of winning. Swings and roundabouts, then. Regardless, Cornwall could certainly have had one less Conservative MP if tactical voting had actually occurred. 

Final Thoughts

Being able to be a part of a political campaign from start to finish was an absolute privilege, and I express my sincere gratitude to Mathew McCarthy and the Truro & Falmouth Liberal Democrats in particular. I also give my commiserations to Rob Nolan, a lovely, lovely man who deserved far better and worked far harder than the results show. It was amazing to see the amount of effort that goes into a political campaign, from many different angles, and it made the election count a truly emotional experience. Despite being held in an old leisure centre, Carn Brea will forever be etched in my mind- watching the monument high on Carn Brea emerge in the morning mist as the entire nation awoke to a new political future will be one of those special memories that I’ll look back on with similarly misty eyes in the future. So much emotion and effort goes into a campaign- unless you’ve taken part, you just can’t understand. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I think we could have run a more effective campaign in some respects, but this is an observation on a national rather than local level. The Liberal Democrats put the farm out on being anti-brexit, but offered comparatively little else in the terms of policy. Whilst we recovered some seats, it was clear that the party was still badly tainted from the previous coalition, and this undermined our student vote in particular. This struck home particularly harshly during the election count, when the students of Sheffield Hallam voted out Nick Clegg, a true gentleman, scholar and a hugely important liberal voice. Our party will genuinely mourn his loss, and his service to the centre of British politics. Tim Farron did a good job, but was nowhere near dynamic enough as a leader to offer a truly innovative, exciting vision for Britain’s future, and that has to be a core aspect of a successful political campaign. That, to me, was the main failing of the Liberal Democrats as a party in this election. With a visionary leader, this was a great chance to seize the centre of British politics as Labour and the Conservatives pulled further apart on the political spectrum, but it just didn’t happen. With Farron now gone, we again have this chance in the next election, but we need to be careful. We are still tainted from the past coalition, and there are murmurs of a new centrist party in the works… The Liberal Democrats survived, and we have a good future- though I just wonder if bigger changes might be afoot. 

So, my foray into politics took me far deeper than most students go, and it has left me far, far richer for the experience. I’m a better communicator now, I understand local politics far more intimately than previously… I just gained so much from my time with the Truro and Falmouth Liberal Democrats. I’m moving on now, perhaps to Warwickshire or London, and thus Carn Brea will eventually become a distant memory- but I will never forget the determination of the Cornish people to make Cornwall better on all levels, be it in running for elections, doing interviews or even just folding envelopes- Cornwall has people who really, really care, and as one of the poorest regions in Northern Europe, it really needs every single one of them, regardless of their political orientation. 

Cornwall needs them, and British politics needs people like me, people like you and people like us. 

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