Lockdown reading for escapists


Tl;dr – I’m not that into State of the World books – here are some fiction, science and on-writing books I’ve enjoyed

As someone who cares about world poverty, human rights and social change, you may be forgiven for thinking that I spend my leisure time reading about world poverty, human rights and social change.

Mmmmm, I’m don’t.

I have read many such books, hell I’ve co-edited one. But I mostly read those while employed, or to learn skills that can be applied to voluntary community organising. Not for fun! Reading them feels like work, so they are read during designated public service time, ideally when I’m being remunerated. Turning such pages does not liberate me from this cruel world or my mad self. I envy people who can read about –  let’s say totalitarianism – learn something, and just get on with their day.

Even Ursula le Guin and Dan Hancox’s acclaimed works lie dormant on my shelf, once gifted by some of my favourite persons. Alas, the only attention they receive is a guilty sideward glance every once in a while. I’m sure they are excellent books, but I’m attracted to a different breed of novel, and mostly short ones. I seek out the tantalisingly macabre*. Apart from that, I read popular science titles and selected works on the craft of writing.

If you’re finding more free time during Coronavirus lock-down and are seeking out escapist reading recommendations, great! I hope this provides an alternative to all the state of the world analysis/pandemic fiction books people are rushing to recommend (how?!?!) . For the rest of us who struggle to read regularly at the best of times and/or may have  a lot more childcare and chores on our hands, I hope my favourites at least pique your interest and present ideas for future indulgences.

Macabre fiction

Some of this is so deliciously ikky, but also quite claustrophobic. Skip this list if you find this terrifying (in a bad way).

The Lullaby – Leila Slimani
Horrific. I love it.

Perfume – Patrick Süskind
Scent based plot set in 18th Century France. What’s not to like.

The Nothing – Hanif Kureishi
So funny, so wrong, so sad, so good.

The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan
Gifted  as a secret santa. Best office present ever.  Maybe don’t read this one if you’re far away from your four kids during lockdown

Milkman – Anna Burns
Totally bat-shit and brilliant depiction of The Troubles from the inside. Anna Burns is an absolute genius and one of my literary heroes

Four excellent novels by Asian women writers:

The Vegetarian – Han Kung
I was hooked from the first page. Who is this asshole and why is his wife still with him and why did she become a vegetarian????

Braised Pork – An Yu
I love it when a bizarre death gets the plot rolling.

Ponti – Sharlene Teo
I can smell the eggs fish and the Singapore humidity-induced sweat just thinking about it. Great anti-hero too.

The Suicide Club – Rachel Heng
What if suicide was banned and you had to want to live forever?

Not-so macabre fiction

The Break – Marian Keyes
Do NOT dismiss Marian Keyes. The Chick Lit category is just a socially sanctioned way of continuing to label women’s work as frivolous and unimportant. Her characters are great and so relatable, and the plot riveting. I cried, I laughed, will she take him back or not goddamn it! We’ve all been there. And if like me, you dont care for online shopping or handbags, the backdrop for her novels will be other worldly.

Middle England – Jonathan Coe
I love Jonathan Coe. Reading this Brexit area inspired book today will truly feel from a bygone era

Season of Migration to the North – El Tayeb Saleh
Arabian Nights in reverse. The Denys Johnson-Davis translation is amazing.

The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCollough 
An epic which takes place over six decades. Totally not the sort of book I’d pick up, it was sent to me as part of the international book exchange, and wow, I loved it. Total escapism into early 20th century down-under. Be warned: In the Virago edition Maeve Binchy gives away a key plot line in the introduction as if we’re all born in 1950 and have seen the TV series, madness. It’s not Romeo and Juliet, woman!


The Organised Mind – Daniel Levitin
This book made such an impact on me, I quoted it a zillion times in my piece on facebook addiction.

The Beautiful Cure – Daniel M Davis
Dramatically told story of our immune system and how it works.

Behave – The Biology Humans at Our Best and Worst – Robert Sapolsky
I borrowed this hefty 800 pager on the promise that every page there will be at least one ‘wow’ moment. The premise is that every behaviour has multiple causations ranging from one moment to one day to centuries before the behaviour occurs. It is pretty damn good, once you acclimatise to the american author’s sense of humour.

Creative Writing

I write fiction. Here are four books I’ve found exhilarating and incredibly helpful

On Writing – Stephen King
The second section of this book is the best guide to writing fiction, and the best written guide, there is out there hands down. You don’t need to have read any Stephen King to appreciate this work of art.

Into The Woods – How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them – John Yorke
I was at the till about to pay for my own copy of On Writing , when the young guy at the till’s eyes lit up and asked me if I could wait a minute, just one minute while he runs to get me another book that I must have if liked On Writing. He came back hyper ventilating with a copy in his hand, trying to speak in gasps on why this was a great book. I was so moved I bought it. He was right, a must for people who love stories.

Becoming a Writer – Dorothea Brande
About the psychology of creative writing. I remember being on the tube, what I was wearing and where I was going when her central thesis hit me. A game changer.

The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
Definitely on the hippyish unlock-your-inner-creativity end of the scale, but if you arrive at it’s pages with an open mind, you may find it frees something inside you to make art.

*With one major exception: I refuse to consume or promote any media which normalises the abuse of women by men.

This too shall pass

Hello. This is my first piece in a while.

Tl;dr – not possible. I can’t write a summary because what I want to say keeps changing. Nothing seems right on the page. As a writer, you aim to present your reader with the best possible work, the most coherent, affective piece. I am afraid that I will fail you. It’s taken me nine days to write this. The logic is all over the place. But my editing can’t keep up with real world changes, let alone the tumult of my emotional landscape, so you’ll have to have it as it is now, spliced and forever unfinished.


On the eve of International Women’s Day, I was walking on Ilkley Moor with friends. Someone said something about Coronavirus and I thought ooooooooooh that’s why the nine-pack champagne rolls in Waitrose were gone! I then got on with negotiating the bog and revelling in the scenery, chatting away.

Everything has changed since I was in Leeds, everything.

Since the election….

Hang on. Remember the election? Remember Boris proroguing Parliament? Remember Brexit????

Since Labour’s defeat, I’d taken a step back from political work. I realised I had other priorities in life and this was the time to invest in them. I’ve been applying for jobs, and as usual climbing, dancing, singing and editing my novel. I’d been off social media since December. I hadn’t watched, listened to, or read a single news item from Christmas until mid February when I started going online again. I remember browsing the Guardian website and thinking fuck this shit and going off again for weeks.

I can’t really explain why I’m writing this. It keeps brewing, sentences keep coming to me while I cook, run, and make tea. It feels like years but it may only be two days –  since time is not as it was – since I felt what I last felt which I don’t feel anymore. All I know is that walk on Ilkley Moor seems like two years ago.  As a writer, I think it’s an urge to document, to draft, to test ideas. Writing helps me think, helps things come together. Like a curry you heat up the next day, I leave the page more joined up and cohesive, I have more oneness when I write.

For me it’s day six, no seven, fuck, nine, see? I’ve been running in my local park everyday. I’ve been meaning to do yoga, but I realised, it would only be possible after I did something: Go round to every door on my street, collecting emails to set up a list. I wrote eighteen handwritten notes in case people weren’t home, and was shitting myself in case people were rude. But everyone was nice and enthusiastic about my initiative to connect people and I felt like a fucking hero. As I walked the twenty steps back home, the ground underneath me felt different. It felt like it did when I skateboarded around this very street thirty years ago, when me and fifteen other kids owned the Close. Somehow it felt mine again. Also I know I’m going to be mates with the lady at number nine because her letterbox is dressed with a handwritten notice Do Not Touch  – This is a Bird’s Nest!!! And as we chatted, the robin collected moss for it’s new home, thus distracting us from noting her email address down.

The organiser in me set up the email list because I knew I could use it to build community in the future when this is over. I didn’t think I’d be one of the first to write saying: Hi neighbours, If someone finds some eggs can they buy me some?

Fancy that. Imagine telling any of us just a month ago that it would be a struggle to get eggs. How quickly we adapt. How quickly self-isolation and social distancing have entered our vocabulary.


Everyday I wake up and when our new reality dawns on me: I’m not coughing, good, I don’t have a fever, good. I feel like one of the lucky ones. In the daytime, not much has changed for me. I have spent the best part of a year working from home and I really like my own company. I’ve gotten used to living off shavings from my life’s savings, and I rarely go into town. I have a garden and every morning spend hours staring out into it, birdwatching. I set a schedule for myself, I have a home routine. I do GCHQ puzzles and the Sainsbury’s mag crossword. I cook lavish meals for myself everyday. Scrolling through my phone is not a  primary activity.

Yet two days ago I found myself again, an anxious phone addict, grinding my teeth, eyes bulging. I learned the hard way back in 2015 what social media addiction was when I hadn’t yet had therapy, and desperately needed validation through likes and comments to mask the pain and darkness inside of me. When I woke up to the fact that I couldn’t make a cup of tea or manage a few lines in a book without checking Facebook, I quit for a month. The change in me was so dramatic, I wrote two pieces about it, launching this blog. I don’t take my phone to bed, check it first thing, or look at Facebook everyday anymore. I don’t like the person I become when I’m on social media, or what it does to my head or my day. If your mind is now going ‘but but but, my alarm clock/sleep app/the news THE NEWS etc!!!’ you’re an addict.

I’m dedicating paragraphs to this – during this extraordinary moment in history –   because it’s important to move through our digital lives with intentionality over this year. Twelve weeks – let’s say twelve weeks for now –  might seem like a long time from where we’re standing, but as any addict knows, a year feeding your addiction could pass in a flash. You could miss the Spring. You can piss away three months scrolling through your phone, developing into a nervous wreck, lowering your immunity. Your pre-frontal cortex now has a fantastic excuse  – a global pandemic – to convince you that you need to be online 24/7, be up to date with armageddon as it unfolds, and type things about it. And since you can’t meet up with actual people as much you used to, you scroll for hours till your jaw aches. And then the day is gone, and you feel like shit. That was me for two or, I don’t know how many days ago. I’ve nipped it in the bud now. Yesterday I had the best day, because I shut my phone off from 12-7pm and hid it under the bed. I haven’t done as well today but I’m determined to keep my gaze at the sky, at the earth, not a screen. I won’t miss Spring. I hope you don’t too.


The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connectedness. That’s the paradox. You’ll need to stay connected, but the medium through which you may chose to do so, is designed to make you into a zombie. I know many of you will wince at this, but it’s time to start using your voice to communicate with loved ones. And if you spend a lot of time alone and find yourself working from home, you may accidently not talk all day – which has a profound effect on your brain and wellbeing. Talking in real time or via Whatsapp voice message will make you feel less antsy/distracted/lonely if you do it early in the day. Better than a wank. Evenings: Zoom Calls with your crew/family. If you’re not doing this already, trust me, it’ll save your sanity. My uni mates now have a Zoom call alternating 6 and 8 pm every day and there is always at least four of us on it. It’s great. We chat shit and chat Covid. I had choir online  last Thursday and it was hilarious. I needed to sing. I needed to laugh.

It’s my evenings I’m struggling with. I’m an evening group activity person. With those taken away from me, I feel nervous as the night closes in. I’m not in a touchy/needy faze of my life, thank god, but the last time I had physical contact with a human was ten days ago and I’m already struggling. I’m used to partner dancing with 20 different people every Monday. I really want a hug.

With regards to this new way in which we live, I make no apologies for being on the Milk It side of the how-to-live-in-these-next-few-month debate. The ‘well excuse me if I’m not writing King Lear/Prison Notebooks during a global crisis!!!!’ commentary, is a fucking cop out by the same people who live online and over-use the word privilage. You know, people who like to shoot down, shut down everything and just criticise others for dreaming outside the Twitter box, or seeing life as it really is. Well fuck em. I’m going to dance starkers in my garden. I wish Bill Hicks was alive. Oh my god, Mark. I wish Mark Fisher was here to see this. Mark, I wish you were here.


Deep sigh. We’re not all going to have the same openings as others and some of us will now be stuck in doors with people we’d rather not be in such close proximity to, day in day out. But there will be *some* opening. The normal is suspended, so do something extra ordinary – something you’ve always wanted to do. Go on a derive, identify clouds from your window, learn a new language. Did you know that 50% of all the world’s bluebells are in the UK? On a global scale, they’re rare, so go revel in them at the end of next month. The National Trust is keeping gardens and parks open so that ‘the nation can relax’, so MILK IT. Have sex on a tree. But when you get home, for fuck’s sake WASH YOUR HANDS.

I wrote that last bit, before the inevitability of a lock down dawned on me.

I’m not glazing over the fact that terrible things are going to happen and are happening. I’m living in an area with one of the highest incidents of Covid-19 in the whole country. Hospitals are already overwhelmed – and the worst is yet to come.

This won’t ring true with most, but there is no denying the last time I felt a bit like this was during the election campaign. For some of us, reality was on pause. Except this time round, I’m sharing that WTF – deep – breaths feeling with seven billion people, not seven thousand. As I sat on the toilet last night with my head in my hands I thought, no wait the last time I really really felt like this, when daily life was deep breaths following waves of MDMA rushes and dark dawning-on-yous, was a week before I got on a plane for Tahrir during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. I had made a bucket list of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to speak to before I got on that plane.

I had a lot more jokes in this piece, but I took half of them out.

I saw the undercooked chicken leg being prodded by Greg’s knife on Masterchef, and thought how can we eat animals? This is nature getting back at us. The birds are my friends, I don’t think I can handle a leg on my plate again.

I started drinking every night and then I stopped. I want to smoke all the time, but I’m stopping myself to preserve my lungs which is stressing me out.

Universal basic income is a serious point of discussion. The supermarkets have written to the government saying please can you stop making us compete? The government is going to pay workers’ wages. Hotels for the homeless.  I feel dizzy.

Daily events will keep us on tenterhooks. In contrast, our daily rituals will get very boring, very quickly. Keep washing your hands. Pretend it’s a new religion. You’ve got to wash your hands and disinfect those doorknobs, or our NHS won’t cope when you get ill, which you probably will.

I had so much more to say, swiggles on paper over the last few days, but now I don’t want to say any of it.

We’re all adjusting. We’re all doing our best. This too shall pass.

Each day at a time my friends, each day at a time.

25 things I learned in 2017


  1. Winter is for scheming.
  2. Lots of friends does not mean happiness.
  3. Everybody needs some time to shake themselves up a bit.
  4. No amount time living in the UK will naturalise me to the licking of a finger to turn a paper or The Washing Up Bowl.
  5. You don’t have to be in the left to be on the left.
  6. The opposite of left-wing is selfish
  7. I don’t believe for one second that all these people have all these allergies and syndromes. What’s really going on?
  8. What’s really going on is a cry for help.
  9. Cycling between vacuous, hysterical hedonism and pitiful illness is not my idea of the good life. Witnessing loved ones descend into this, is also not my idea of the good life.
  10. We’ve lost the yearn to learn in all the over stimulation.
  11. Good conversation is euphoric. It builds and builds.
  12. Will millennials please stop apologising for not whatsapping me back instantly. Your anxiety is making me anxious. Thank you.
  13. Whatsapp voice messages allow me to think, process and luxuriate.
  14. People have become fearful of phone calls.
  15. London hasn’t seen such an epidemic of human behavioural change since the 18th century gin craze. This time it’s smart phones. Look what they’ve done to us.
  16. Sleep is not the only reset button you can press on a day.
  17. Nothing says collective crisis like adults, en masse throwing tantrums about how their needs have not been catered for. The final lurch for agency as the ship sinks.
  18. The frequency upon which conversations around literature are tuned today are more pleasure-inducing than that of politics. Politics needs a retune. Badly.
  19. No one made non-wired cotton bras like BHS. Damn you Philip Green.
  20. My gym installed 3 metre high turnstiles reminiscent of maximum security prisons and Israeli check points. They don’t work properly. They are a cause of much frustration and delay. Ladies and Gentlemen, people of London: We have reached peak #BoringDystopia
  21. Mark Fisher lives in me. I’ve developed a sort of lymphatic system made up of his words and ideas.
  22. If I ruled the world, the first thing I’d abolish are the conditions which compel people to consume hot drinks while walking.
  23. Capitalism, appropriates everything. Looking disenfranchised and destitute is now fashionable. Who would otherwise leave their house on a rainy day in furry slippers except the mentally unwell?
  24. In the future, waking and reaching over for your phone while in bed, will be viewed with the same judgement as if reaching for a cigarette.
  25. There is more to me than this. This person I reproduce every day is not the sum of me.


Labour Fucked my Period

I’m someone who lives in my body.  Hours of my CPU are spent on whether I want courgettes or peas with my fish cakes tonight, what I need to buy and cook and eat before tomorrow’s meeting so I have a proper dinner, if those nuts really agreed with me and what precise level of satisfaction I’m experiencing with my digestion today. I’m preoccupied by how hungry I am, or not, seemingly all the time. How my knee is feeling today and when I last had sex.  Am I over or under caffeinated right now. That muscle I pulled in top right quadrant of my back eight months ago, I can still feel it, huh, but I didn’t yesterday, why, what did I do different?  The euphoria of that run, the shock my calves felt and the slow day-by-day step down to recovery. How straight my back is, how my sit bones feel on this chair, and the angle of my back arch. The feeling of this texture on my skin, or that. And my period. When I’ll come on, how long I’ll bleed for and how much, on which days, and how the skin around my cheeks will fill with fluid. When and how my pelvis will loosen, and how the pain will permeate from the middle to the outer of my lower back in waves, and cripple me for about 20minutes before I’ll feel at 80% again.

Well Labour fucked with all of that.

Or rather, the greatest social movement of our era despite Labour did. I’ve just come back from The World Transformed, where I forgot to have dinner, smoked loads and felt great. My period was here and gone and now back and now pain on day three WTF??? I was so present in space and interaction, the New Kind of Politics and the people we were all being, that I had no idea what was going on with me and didn’t care. What luxurious queue conversations were had. What laughter in my workshops. What atmosphere in the streets and in the Wetherspoons. Seems like The Left is back. In a big way. And The Suits looked out of place, rigid and dated.


I’m not sure if this was excitement, it was more like a release. It’s like being on a long seemingly endless train journey when you’re in a tunnel and are sure you’re going to come out, but you don’t know when. Every once in a while you look out for it and you still can’t see it, and some people glance at you funny for looking out of the window in to the dark, and from others, a friendly nod. And then suddenly you can see it, and it looks like a pin hole, and you know it’s coming and you want to hold everyone’s hand. And you start crying.

John McDonnell made me cry, Shareefa Grassroots made me cry. The McStrikers made me cry, Gary Younge made me cry and Diane Abbot made me cry. China Mieville’s To a Red October signature on the first page of his book – which I opened on the tube this morning  – made me burst into tears. I cant even cry. I haven’t cried for five years, and now what, I can? Really? Is it all going to change, inside and around me?

I think I’m predisposed to being so in my body, but it’s also a chapter in my How to Live Well Under Neoliberal Capitalism guide to myself. It’s the way I retain self-respect and refuse to rush or be rushed or pander to the instant and instantaneous. It’s my fuck you to neoliberalism to look up at the sky and walk a bit too slow for London. To have unproductive conversations at inconvenient times. To explore, as Jeremy Gilbert quoted in the Acid Corbynism session, the full potential of my being. To live authentically and spend time pondering ingredients, relationships and textures.

My period is all over the place, it’s here, it’s not, it’s gone it’s back, I have no idea what’s going on. I’ve had a good break from There is No Alternative pumped out and recycled in this city everyday. But most of all I had a break from being inside me, and embodying me. I like being one of many and feeling insignificant in a sea of conversation. It’s how we’re going to get out.

It is in fact, from within the collective, that we will find ourselves free.

You Are Not Alone.




Ashouf Feek Yoem ya Capitalism and other stories


Mariam and I have great conversations. Once, we were discussing how we’ve never come across media in our mother-tongue: a mish-mash of English and Arabic, spoken between bilingual English and Arabic speakers in a non-binary fluid way. We decided to make an impromptu podcast and talk about whatever, see what comes out and publish it unadultered for our own, and hopefully your, entertainment.

  So note: This is podcast is not entirely in English

Collectivise Everything

The following is a semi-faithful transcript of an address I gave in Leeds last weekend. I was invited to speak for ten minutes on how we “widen the movement for social and environmental justice, and work to shift popular opinion towards progressive alternatives and away from hate and fear” on the opening panel of Educate, Agitate, Organise! Some people liked what I said and asked me if it was written anywhere. It wasn’t, so here it is, mostly from memory and scribbles on paper. It may be in a different order and include bits I intended to say but didn’t have the time to flesh out and others I forgot to include. I’ll be editing it as I remember bits over the next few weeks. I hope it’s useful.


Thanks so much for inviting me to speak. All my notes are on scraps of paper I’ve written on the train up. Ive accepted after all the years of doing this that I just think in long hand so Ive given up on trying to type all this stuff up, so excuse me if I momentarily get lost in my bits of paper.

It’s been a huge privilege to work at War on Want over the last almost eleven years. We have great campaigns and programme partners and do inspirational work. But I don’t want to talk about that. If you want to talk to me about the work we do, come find me at the stall, I’ll be here all day, or come to the workshop we’re co-running. What I want to talk about is the atmosphere, what I’d like to call this neoliberal soup we find ourselves swimming in today.

First though Id like to point out an assumption in the question posed to this panel. There is an assumption that growing the movement leads to leverage. The assumption that if we just get more people over to our side, believing the stuff we believe, doing the stuff that we do we will achieve the change we want. It’s an assumption which many of us, including myself operate under. It’s a question, though. Over two million people marched against the war on Iraq in 2003 and didn’t stop the war. So there is a question there about how we relate to power and to achieve what ends, and a question about what our theory of change is.

Right, anyone who knows me from campaigning and organising inside or outside War on Want knows I’m a ‘form over content’ person. I think our content is great. We have the truth, justice, equality, facts and all these great things on your side. But just because you have these things or “good politics” doesn’t mean people will join you. I believe it’s the form in which we present our work and politics which make people come to you, join you and stay with you. and it’s in this spirit that I’d like to address the question posed to us today about building the movement and shifting popular opinion.

We need to appreciate the logic of neoliberal capital which pervades our very existence in England in 2017. It’s central to the way we relate to each other and the world, and it is only through seeing the soup for what it is, that we will be able to struggle through it and get onto the island. It is not just the economic which is central to how capitalism functions, but the mechanism which makes it almost impossible to imagine a world outside itself and its own logic.

Sandwich board in Old Street, London

So Id like to offer ten points from my experience of working at War on Want, in the global justice movement, before and after the financial crash, but also from my experience of  just being a human being living in London over the last 15 years. So I’d like to offer you Nadia’s Ten Point Plan, so here we go:

1. Slow down and take stock

The number one thing I’ve seen activists do in reaction to austerity measures, the erosion of rights and increased oppression and brutality is arrrrrrrrrrrrgh arrrrrrgh arrrgghhhh! More more more! We need to do more! And this sort of hyperventilating, hyperactive reaction to late-capitalism’s ills. Don’t mimic the system’s rhythm of instantaneous reactions and snap decisions. Get off the treadmill. If we let ourselves be in this state of panic, we wont be able to cope, people are already burning out and retreating into themselves, internalising and feeding off individualised distractions as a coping mechanism.

And we need to talk about mental health. And the privatisation of mental health where we are told that the symptoms we feel of depression, stress and that although we know that We Are All Very Anxious, this is our individual problem alone and that the solution is to take certain medication or go to a councillor to solve our individual problems. So even though we all know that many people are suffering from similar symptoms, and there is in fact a crisis of mental health, the hegemonic discourse does not engage with the problem beyond viewing it as a series of individuals’ problems.

The truth is of course structural and the perpetuation of anxiety is part and parcel of the system and how it operates. If you are in a precarious job and housing situation like many people are, you will have less mental space for political action, and will often be way too exhausted and stressed out to go to that campaign meeting on how to save this or that or fight yet another fire.

And here I have to pause and do something I never do. In the fifteen years of doing this sort of thing I have never said ‘read this book’ because I generally don’t think it’s useful for people to inform themselves about the detail of exactly how everything is being destroyed or taken away; I think that has a numbing and demoralising effect actually. But today I’m going to recommend you read Capitalist Realism this great 80 page book by Mark Fisher. Mark tragically took his own life a few months ago, and Red Pepper magazine invited me to write a short obituary, which in the end I didn’t finish because I felt there were many others who knew Mark much better than I did who were writing at the time. However, my unpublished piece was titled He Gave Me Words,  and this book and in fact all of Mark’s work gave me words, through which to understand this atmosphere we’re living under and how it functions to control us.

So other than anxiety and mental health, the other thing I want to talk about in terms of taking stock is the silencing and policing of our minds which is going on, not just through overtly coercive tactics but by micro-aggressions and subliminal training of us into compliance, to keep us in line. Control of this sort only really works if we are complicit in it. Take for example these wristbands we are wearing. Since when do we have to wear wristbands to participate in a university event? I really want to tear it off. But I wont of course. Because I find myself not wanting to get the organisers of this event in trouble, who I really like, have worked really hard to put this event on and want to maintain a relationship with. So myself, and the organisers, and all of you are colluding in this mechanism of normalising tagging and the wearing of wristbands, to mark us some how as official, or alternatively as if we are all collectively going to prison or something.

Also for the first time ever in years of being asked to speak on panels, I was sent a form by the student union asking me to sign a declaration that I wouldn’t say this or that or incite hatred or be discriminatory against ‘any groups’. I mean does that include the government or multinational corporations or the mega-rich? Are they groups? And what this does is set the tone, that yes this is a radical event, but actually there are strict perimeters of how you can behave and what you can say. And why is a student union at a university in a position where they have to send out these forms to speakers? We need to call this stuff out, and opt out of these mechanisms. All of us. Together.

So what I mean by all of this is it’s important to take a minute and slow down together, and have an awareness of how we are operating in the world and how everyday mechanisms may be stifling our ability to take action and be conscious actors and resistors in this struggle.

And that was all number one! Ok ill have to rush through the other nine…

2. Don’t entertain the lies

I mean this literally. The lies need entertainment to stay alive. Step away, dont pander to them by internalising them. Disengage your mind.

a. Capitalism is not only the most wasteful, but also inefficient and bureaucratic system that ever existed. Dont let anyone tell you otherwise. Challenge people who state capitalism’s efficiency as a statement of fact imply it as common knowledge. We all know that things aren’t working for us in the everyday. For example why do all have individual home internet contracts? Why can’t a whole building of flats all have one internet connection like this university does? We all know the pain and frustration of speaking to call centres to rectify a problem with a utility bill, which isn’t even your fault in the first place, and how everyone’s time and money is wasted, even though you’re paying for this service, no wonder people get so stressed out they cant attend political meetings!

b. The choice rhetoric. Choice is not freedom. I don’t want the choice of ten hospitals I can go to but need to travel miles on expensive public transport to arrive at a hospital full of overstretched, underpaid staff being choked by the cuts. I want one properly funded local hospital where everything works. Too much to ask in one of the richest countries in the world? I think not.

c. Mental health is your problem individually. We’ve just talked about this. It’s not.

d. Austerity is ideology. In fact it’s actual fundementalism. The cuts are a deliberate choice to extract profit and transfer power and resources from poor to rich.

e. You cannot buy justice.

3. Know your own history – your history has power

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Learn your history, while rejecting the nostalgia. The minimum wage, votes for women, ending Apartheid in South Africa, all these things happened because a small group of people started something. Learn from what people did before, and take courage and inspiration from them. Some amazing battles were won.Know where you are in history. We lie in a long lineage of people who have fought for justice. Be knowledgable. Be proud.

4. The people responsible have names and addresses

This phase of neoliberal capitalism makes it feel like no one is responsible. Things always seem to be someone elses problem, some one else’s decision. And when people can’t put a face to their oppression and decrease in living standards they turn on people who do have faces; people in their communities and their neighbours, because some one somewhere must be responsible for making my life worse, and turning on the person next to you at least makes you feel like you have some sort of control. But we have to make visible those in power who make the decisions that make the poor poorer and the rich richer and tear our cities and communities apart.

5. Dont let inclusively mean anti-intellectual

Dont dumb down your politics or patronise people. Dont let the quest for inclusively mean that everything needs to be over simplified. Also refuse to be treated as a child by advertising telling you how to behave in public places or in your own home.

6. It’s ok to lead

It’s ok to be a leader, an inspiration, an organiser. Not everyone wants to can do that thing. If it’s you, then just do it. Dont worry about it too much.

7. Look up and look out

From your phone, from the floor, from the screen, out of the window and importantly out of yourself. There lies the power and inspiration.

8. Visions vs Alternatives Vs Firefighting

I’m keen on removing barriers to justice and having a vision rather than firefighting all the time or feeling the pressure that we have to have some coherent alternative. I don’t buy that argument. It’s difficult to build alternatives within our lived reality. Let’s remove the barriers to justice, then we’ll talk. The onus isn’t on us to prove we can build a better world. I’m not playing that game. Capitalism isnt my elder, I need to prove myself to. If anything it’s the other way round.

9. Make the Left a nice place to hang out

We have the joy. We have the joy and the love and the camaraderie on our side. We know that it is good, honest relationships which make people fulfilled and happy. Throw the best parties and bake the best cakes.  Replace vacuous hedonism with meaningful hedonism full of strong bonds and good times. Take as much space as you can. And when you come up against obstacles in trying to throw the best party, make it visible how and why you weren’t allowed to.

10. Collectivise everything

Childcare, admin, gardening, cooking, fixing, thinking, writing, mental health, and refuse, refuse; to be inside yourself.

As the wonderful Angela Davis said, either no one is an activist or no one is – let’s make sure that we too are not using activist as a category to separate us from others, and let’s start from the belief that we, as a collective, all together, have power.

Ill stop there, thanks very much for your time.

Neoliberalism vs Democracy Conference – Glasgow

Disclaimer – the views expressed in this piece are the culmination of every single conversation I’ve had, book ive read, laugh of my grandmother, paving stone I’ve skipped over, cloud I’ve seen, song I’ve sang, dream I’ve dreamt and blue-tit I’ve watched eat peanuts from the bird feeder.

The notion that these thoughts and ideas are ‘solely my own’ is totally ridiculous and I dont possess the arrogance or ideological blindness to make such an outrageous statement.

25 things I learned in 2016


  1. What women mean when they ask “so is it serious or are you just having fun?”
  2. I have deep class guilt. I thought I was immune to this as a brown-ish person. I’m not.
  3. Physical spaces and long standing relationships make me feel rooted.
  4. I am a person who needs to take their time. And luxuriate on everything.
  5. I get flustered and upset when people project home-counties, middle-class white-British caricatures upon me when I’m open about not being poor.
  6. What “we all carry sadness around with us” means.
  7. What “don’t be so hard on yourself” means.
  8. People don’t need to understand who I am or where I’m from to be my friend and like me. What a relief.
  9. I’m a writer.
  10. What the novel is that I’m writing.
  11. After good warm sex, I behave in ways that only David Attenborough can explain. That’s some deep seated evolutionary shit man.
  12. I need to dance. Regularly.
  13. I need mentors. Elders. Those with knowledge and experience and the will to teach. I want to sit, chin on your knee, listen and absorb.
  14. I need a lot of warm hugs to survive being single.
  15. I need to laugh and be around people who laugh.
  16. My own company can be euphoric.
  17. I love and need ritual. Daily, weekly, monthly. By myself and with others.
  18. That despite 15 years apart, myself and an old friend can pick up where we left off in 2001 or 1995, or 1987. I have a spiritual twin.
  19. I fucking love Christmas.
  20. I love the visceral: food, taste, smell, body warmth, fresh air and a damn good shit. I love the political/philosophical. Everything in between is bureaucracy and should be abolished.
  21. Autumn is my favourite time of year. Hands down.
  22. Horizons heal me.
  23. The sky can make me weep.
  24. I need community. I latch onto people who know things and people in places. A friend and a pub have given me something really special this last year.
  25. That I will survive. The loss, the abandonment and the sorrow. And come out shining.

Anxiety, live blog

Today, now, I’ve decided to try something new. I’ve decided to describe the affects of anxiety as they happen. To write it all down and publish this within the hour.  Here it goes. I hope this is helpful to somebody.1dab60219716e8f636001f2f159609d2

I’m not going to write about the causes of this anxiety episode except to say that something happened this morning, something out of my control, which I feared would compromise getting my deposit back after leaving this flat. The problem is now on its way to being sorted, but Ive still got all these symptoms, and some are worsening.

I remember my tutor in a mindfulness course I took saying that it is hard, but helpful to try and describe the physical sensations of anxiety and stress in order to recognise them, and take steps to get past the episode. I’m writing this as Im fascinated by how powerful the brain is and it’s affect on the body. So here is an account of what I felt and am feeling now.

At first my heart rate went up as I tried to solve the problem. All the potential best and worst case scenerios rushed through my head. As the issue came close to resolution about two hours ago, I started to feel less panicked.

However, it is now five hours after the initial shock and this is how I feel: I have a distinctive tight feeling in my teeth. It feels like something is stuck behind my backmost molar, but I know from experience that there isnt. My lower right hand jaw bone is aching and I can almost feel a throb. I keep flaring my nostrils and dropping and shaking my jaw. I must be trying to ease the pain.  The inside of my lips feel wetter than usual, as if I have produced too much saliva, and I can feel a tingle like the after effects of chilli.

My ears feel slightly blocked, and like I’ve inhaled chlorinated water in a swimming pool by mistake. Usually it’s the left ear that’s bad, but today it’s the right. I’ve got this burning sensation under my earlobe and pressing on the top of the jaw right there aches.I can now feel a bit of pressure in my right nostril and again, it’s sensitive to touch. In fact, I can now feel a dullness and tightness on the whole left side of my face. Sometimes it’s to the front of my face bones, but today it seems to be the right. This is all making my speech a bit lop sided, when I speak, as I feel Im avoiding using the right side on my mouth. When I move my head to the left, I get a sharpish pain above my left temple.

I have a historical muscle issue on the top right hand quadrant of my back and I can now feel pain below my shoulder. This has caused a slight forward rotation of my shoulder so my posture is affected. I keep pulling my shoulders back and down in attempt to relieve the tension.

Also, my usual vivacious apetite has gone. I feel exhausted, despite my good night’s sleep. I’m usually an active energetic person. But right now I feel like I want a sedative, painkillers, a mouth guard, (although Im not grinding my teeth), a sofa, 1000000 box sets and a good ol’ cuddle.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is anxiety, and its affects. I know it’ll be over by tomorrow. I wanted to share what my mind has done to my body right now, so that maybe if you’ve experienced some of this, you know that you are not alone.



Five years ago to the minute, Egypt roared


At 18:02 GMT+2 on 11 February 2011, I heard a country roar. I’ll never forget it. I had just stepped out of a lift, and into an office overlooking the Nile. I was struck by everyone’s transfixed gaze on the small TV in the corner. A moment later, those words: President Mubarak has stepped down and handed over control to the Armed Forces. Less than a beat later it came – The Roar.

It’s hard to describe what the simultaneous gasp, cheer, shout and scream of millions sounds like. A wall of human sound coming from living rooms, tower blocks, taxis, coffee shops and pedestrians. I ran to the window. I remember digging my palms into the aluminum frame as I looked down at the flood of exuberant humans gushing down into the street. It’s like the Nile had burst its banks, the dictatorship’s dam had cracked. And the river roared.

I ran down into the street and joined the crowds. In 10 minutes I was in Tahrir where the party was well under way. For the first and last time since, in Egypt I felt free.


History is written by the victors. In retrospect, when observing the state of the nation today, it seems that Tweets from Tahrir is a more important work than we then thought. It is a small contribution to subverting the hegemonic discourse, a challenge to the machinery engaged in rewriting memories as we speak.

This moment, the roar, is an opportunity to thank those we passed the baton to. To those people whose projects continued the documentation of those 18 days: The emotions, the demands, the hopes, the dreams, the laughter, the camaraderie and the pain. To those who got in touch from around the world, eager to amplify the revolutionaries’ story and inspire activists everywhere, you are too part of insuring history isn’t lost, thank you.

Here are just a few: Peter Weibel and The Centre for Art & Media, bringing the Egyptian story to their global aCtIVISm project, the Pandora’s connecting of Tahrir to Taksim with the Turkish translation of our book, Paul Mason for his unwavering and continued support for the Egyptian Revolutionaries.

But most of all, this is a moment to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those 18 days. The majority of whom were the urban poor, with no Twitter accounts or university degrees, chancing their luck for freedom. They are the martyrs of #Jan25. The word Martyr in Arabic is here poignant, as it holds both attributes of self-sacrifice, but also bearing witness. They saw a moment of hope and died fighting for a better life. It’s our job to make sure their story isn’t forgotten.

Al Thawra Mostamera: The Revolution Lives On!

You are not alone.



Tweets from Tahrir, five years on

tweets book cover

Five years ago I stood in Tahrir Square as one of the millions who brought down President Mubarak. The feeling then was that the world was opening before our eyes. The possibilities seemed endless. Famously, the events were reported in real-time on social media. The revolution may not have been powered by Silicon Valley tech tools as some in the West too lazily assumed, but the experience was shared with the world through those portals. I co-edited a book, Tweets from Tahrir, which collected tweets to tell the story of the revolution. A selection of them was printed in the Guardian — the world was eager to hear those voices.

But #Jan25’s bloom didn’t end in fruition; Few of Tahrir’s dreams were realised. If anything revolutionaries’ voices were muted in the months and years to come. The activists and ‘citizen journalists’ on Twitter, fluent in English and media-friendly, were only ever one part of the coalition that brought down the president. The spirit of their revolution lived on for a few years (a remarkable feat for a movement with little institutional base) but was ultimately overwhelmed by the organised strength of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were in turn overwhelmed by the military – which, it turned out, had never really been deposed.

On this anniversary, with Egypt back under the rule of an autocratic ex-general, I wanted to hear the voices of those original activists again. Was it worth it?

Was it worth it? And why?

@Salamander Of course!!! It was the best 18 days of our lives with all the fear and pain and agony, the sense of victory; of achievement. These are priceless feelings. But also it was worth it for what it entailed, that for one moment we all felt proud; we all stood up against injustice and united, we battled oppression. Would we have regretted not rising up at that moment, had we not? Who knows?

@Zeinobia Yes, it was because despite it not ending in the way we wanted – we do not have democracy or social justice – it still opened the eyes of many on the bitter realities. Taboos are being challenged.

Anonymous Tweeter 1* It was definitely worth it, because it ignited a whole generation’s revolutionary spirit to stand fearless in the face of a powerful regime. It was worth it because it was a pre-cursor to an ongoing struggle against tyranny, inequality and oppression that will continue as long as the core issues remain unresolved. Because the unsustainable methods used by all past regimes will reach a breaking point, and then the experience of #Jan25 will be priceless as we move along the learning curve in iterations, bringing us closer to the goal.

@Ganzeer Yeah, I think so. While we may not have totally succeeded in bringing down The Man, it is incredibly satisfying to see The Man frightened and scared and using everything he’s got to cling onto power. The Man, in this case, being the Egyptian military apparatus and its business cronies. Admittedly though, I also can’t help but feel heartbroken over the lives that were lost and the dreams that’ve been crushed.

@Gharbeia Totally. There was no chance of building a democracy in 2011. I wish I could find my February 2011 interview with the BBC when I said tonight is a party, tomorrow we have a military coup to deal with. The real goal I think was to break the binary between traditional authoritarianism and Islamism, and the way to do this was to create a crisis (it is the only thing we are good at) to throw the Islamists in power, then throw them out of it, hopefully quickly and peacefully. This was the analysis of a small group within Kifaya (pre-2011 grassroots coalition), and it is exactly what happened.

Anomymous Tweeter 2* Absolutely. Jan25 revealed how a united and determined populace can topple the Pharaoh and shake his throne to its foundations. It inspired the ordinary citizen to reclaim his/her rights, freedoms, streets, public spaces, and their country. However, the counter-revolution has basically triumphed. In terms of rights and freedoms in Egypt, we are now worse-off than we were under Mubarak’s dictatorship. The Rabaa Massacre – orchestrated by Sisi – is on a par with the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China. In terms of our rights and freedoms (since 2013) – it’s not like we are back at Square One. It’s like we are starting at Square Negative 100.

Anonymous Tweeter 3* It was worth it. Not because of the initial outcome but because it had to happen. It was bigger than any of us and it was going to happen anyway. I can only hope that people learn from history next time, but that may be too hopeful.

@MohamedAhmos Yes, because the people had their voice heard.

@Gsquare86 We fought, conquered, bled, cried, laughed, were imprisoned and tortured, but for a moment we were free and it was all worth it.

@TheAlexandrian Well, that really depends on your time horizon. Any wholesale societal shifts of the sort that we witnessed across the region five years ago will naturally involve a period of adjustment before a new equilibrium is reached. This period will naturally come with quite a bit of difficulty. Even in the region’s lone “success story” Tunisia, consternation and unease remain high. At any given point in recent years, one could look to the continued repression, economic stagnation, and security breakdowns across Egypt and conclude that all this was assuredly not worth it. Yet, without minimising the real toll felt by everyday Egyptians, what we are seeing is the growing pains that generally attend to the breakdown of authoritarian rule. It will likely take a generation to pass before we can meaningfully assess whether the current tumult was truly worthwhile.

@omareldeeb Well five years later I’m very disappointed at what we have become. We are losing more and more freedoms to military rule, and the educated youth are leaving the country for better opportunities elsewhere. I’m guessing #25Jan is at its worst state.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?

@Gsquare86 I would do it all over again every single lifetime. Nothing to regret only lessons to grow with for what’s yet to come. It’s not over.

@RamyYaacoub There needed to be a plan, any sort of plan, I recall my enquiries about a plan to be drowned by calls for the complete bringing down of the regime. But, there was never a plan, and I would’ve wanted one.

@Ganzeer I’ve been vocal about the dangers of trusting the military since around July 2011, and my stance has not changed since. I wish I and others had made that realisation as early as January 2011. Maybe, just maybe, the outcome would’ve been different, I don’t know.

Anonymous Tweeter 2* I would’ve sought to avoid conflict & infighting with people in the same revolutionary boat. I would’ve worked harder to organise with others to make #Jan25 a more effective & sustainable popular revolt.

@Zeinobia Not much. I would have participated and covered it. The only difference now is that the blind trust and innocence we had during then will be replace with political realism.

@Gharbeia Not much. Things are going OK given where we started from, aren’t they?

What are your hopes for the future?

@TheAlexandrian My hope for the future is simple: that #Jan25 is regarded as a means and not an end. That it not be relegated to an annual event in which we patronisingly ‘celebrate’ the Egyptian people, but rather recognise it as the opening salvo in a long struggle to establish an Egypt that all its citizens can celebrate and take part in. If this general ethos abides, then I have faith that all the specifics we wish for will have their due chance to come to fruition in time.

@Gharbeia That we build that movement before it is too late. We are facing an approaching perfect storm: worldwide structural crises and an unsustainable regime. We need to be ready before it falls apart, and it will.

Anonymous Tweeter 1* my hopes for the future are for Egypt to circumvent the bloody rebellion and all out conflict that appears to be the path it is on. To have a military that understands this threat and checks itself giving the space for civilian rule to dominate the political spectrum. We need technocrats in place strategising for an economy that reduces the recruiting power of extremist groups and utilising the resources of the country in a transparent and sustainable way.

Anonymous Tweeter 2* I hope for a revolution that will effectively safeguard the goals of freedom and social justice – against all opportunist politicians, against corrupt judges, against thieving businessmen, and against bloody generals.

@RamyYaacoub My hopes have been curbed, or in other words, adjusted to reality. 1. I hope for the end of torture in police stations; 2. I hope for some, consistent, economic reform/growth; 3. I hope that some political structures/organisations to be allotted the space to grow to give room for future generations to develop the necessary skills to create/implement real and positive change.

@Zeinobia I hope that for the sake of those who died, were detained and injured during not only those 18 days but those 5 years, we achieve the goals of #Jan25 and start a true civilian secular democratic transition that will save the future generations in Egypt in the future.

@Ganzeer Same as day one: bread, freedom, and social justice.

* Three activists asked not to be identified.

Tweets from Tahrir, edited by Nadia Idle and Alex Nunns, is published at £8 in paperback and £7 as an ebook. Available from orbooks.com


This piece first appeared in Red Pepper on 25 January 2016