School's out: a summer camp in Wisconsin. Photo: Flickr/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
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I enjoyed working for the adult summer camp, but I drew the line at the shooting range

Suzanne Moore’s weekly column, Telling Tales. 

Americans like to send their children away to summer camps. They do the same to adults with learning difficulties. So it was that I found myself among a group of people with, shall we say, very mixed abilities. I had answered an ad in the Village Voice and had been asked about my experience of working with such people. I’m not sure the guys who hired me had any.

One of my favourites was Snapz, a woman from New Jersey in her fifties who spent the entire two weeks simply yawning and scratching.

“How’s it going, Snapz ?” I would regularly enquire.

“OK, honey. It’s just that I need a vacation.”

“This is your vacation,” I had to keep telling her.

And then there was Marty, who was as jittery as hell. Now we would describe him as “on the spectrum”. Marty had a job as a messenger because he had memorised the streets of Manhattan. He paced them all, clutching  his tin. On his tin and on his lapel were handwritten labels. One said: “MUGGERS I WILL FITE U”. And another: “THIS IS ALL MY MONY NO STEELING”. His specific anxiety was that weathermen on TV did not forecast the weather but controlled it.

So, with Snapz and Marty and the gang, I embarked on some entirely unsuitable activities for heavily medicated people – wine tasting; camping, with bears breaking into our supplies – but I drew the line at shooting after a stabbing incident at a barbecue.

I loved Marty and came to rely on him. If you gave him a date from any time in the 20th century, he could tell you what day of the week it was. We used to call such people “idiot savants”. I don’t know if there is a politically correct term for it; only William Hague has the same ability with dates.

In a national park in Virginia, Marty’s anxiety got the better of him. He didn’t like the darkening skies and was rocking back and forth.

“Give me a dime. I need to call the weathermen.”

“Marty, there are no phones.”

He insisted, “I need to call the weathermen, now.”

All I could think to do was find the rangers’ office and ask if he could use the phone. Marty was sporting a special new sign: “I CAN KIL U”.

We did not go down well at the rangers’ office. He went ape-shit because of the unforecast storm and he punched through the window. Armed rangers arrived.

“It’s only a window,” I cried.

“You do realise, ma’am, that this is a national park and that is a federal offence,” one of them barked, cuffing Marty.

“I am English,” I said. “I demand to speak to the ambassador.”

One sheriff looked at another and said, “She is even crazier than him. Just get them out of here.”

When I dropped Marty off with his elderly parents, he told them the vacation had been great. Except for the weather. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 29 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, British jihadis fighting with Isis

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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