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They Burn Witches, Don’t They?

It seems, on the surface at least, an obvious decision for any moderate, modern thinker, to convict the three Derby men accused of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. Specifically, for those whom the story passed unnoticed, they distributed literature outside a mosque and through letterboxes calling for the death penalty for homosexuals. The leaflet in question – other, equally offensive ones, were previously used by the men, although charges were not applied to them in this case – displayed a picture of a hanging mannequin accompanied by the legend ‘Death Penalty?’ The leaflet quoted Islamic texts and called for the death penalty as a remedy for society’s homosexuality problem.

The men admitted creating and distributing the leaflet, but based their defence on their right to freely express what their religion taught them. In spite of testimony to the contrary from homosexual men who received the sheet, the accused claimed they intended to inform, but not threaten.

The three men were found guilty on 20th January 2012 and will be sentenced on 10th February. What is interesting and unique about the ruling is that it is the first of its kind since new laws came into force in 2010. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 made it an offence to use words, actions or to publish, display or distribute written material; to publicly perform a play, distribute, show or play a recording, broadcast a programme or to possess material that would be considered inflammatory. In regards of hatred based on religious belief or sexual orientation, the material would also have to be proved to be a incitement to hatred and threatening in its intent.

In British law, rights of freedom of sexuality, religion, speech, and the expression of such and protection from persecution based on the above, are very rightly enshrined. But where, such as in this case, they clash, it’s like opening your cupboards to find all they contain are cans of worms.

It is not a crime to hate someone based upon their sexuality, religion, race, gender, age, disability or social position. ‘Thoughtcrimes‘ may befit the world of Winston Smith, but no progressive society would ever prescribe such dystopian control. You can also express those thoughts, if you’re so inclined, in private or public, but with the possible consequence of judgement by and ostracism from polite society.

Celebrity gaffes, like those recent ones by Jeremy Clarkson or Diane Abbott, on television or Twitter, are quickly seized upon by the public who express their collective, and often over-inflated, outrage. The celebrities then suffer a usually temporary but sometimes fatal loss of public favour.

When a member of the public causes offence, outrage often follows, but only locally and in a much reduced way. The man-in-the-pub, armchair pundit, who thinks sending everyone back to where they came from is the cure for society’s ills, is usually written off as a casual racist or, depending on the extremity of his views, a nut. We may not like or agree with what he’s saying, but we can’t do anything about it. It’s as much his right to think and say what he likes as it is yours to disagree.

The change in law was an amendment, to be applied where the intent could be proved to go beyond the mere expression of opinion. In this case, the men’s efforts amount to a campaign against homosexuals in the area – little more than a gay witch-hunt. Their previous leaflets – brought to the court as supporting evidence – were entitled ‘G.A.Y.’ (God Abhors You) and ‘Turn or Burn,’ and homosexual men were targeted both in the street and at home.

If they practised what they preached, the men would have formed a lynch mob and acted upon their own proposal. There’s a huge gap between saying something should be done and actually doing it, and I’ve never been one to apply argumentum ad consequentiam to my reasoning, but I don’t believe it’s as far fetched as it sounds. There is a trend toward increasing, and unregulated, use of Sharia law in the settlement of disputes. The judgements are not legally binding, and are given in the spirit of advice based on Islamic law, but it is usually expected that those in receipt act upon them. According to the men, they were only reiterating the position of Islam on the practice of homosexuality. Where Islamic law differs so fundamentally from British law, they are completely irreconcilable, and it worries me that an impressionable recipient of such teaching might take it upon themselves to act in a manner they believe to be correct.

This law, and, by extension, the conviction of these men, is designed to protect those of a certain race, religion, sexual orientation etc. from threatening intentions, words and actions. It does not exist to restrict the thoughts and expression of opinion of an individual. It is an important distinction to make and, hopefully, an indication that no one need hide what they are or what they believe, and the law is finally on their side.

New Blues Anyone? Review of Stephen Dale Petit – The BBC Sessions

Stephen Dale Petit - The BBC SessionsThis week I received a treasure through the post – the Stephen Dale Petit (“SDP”) CD titled “The BBC Sessions.” As I do with any new album, I saved the first listen for the car. When I listen to music in my car it is at the forefront of my attention (just after driving safely – of course) while at home it tends to fall to the background. I loved the CD and I was soon singing and tapping along (and so were my kids!).

SDP is an American-born blues singer/songwriter/guitarist and this album is in the modern blues style. Despite his California roots, he is a pioneer and champion of the New Blues Revolution in the UK, where he has resided since the mid-80’s. SDP has performed with many of the blues greats, including B.B. King and Eric Clapton and he also famously busked in the London Underground.

The album “The BBC Sessions” comprises 11 musical tracks arranged in a sampling of 3 different BBC sessions from 2007 and 2009. There is a 12th track on the album consisting of a lengthy (nearly 16 minute) interview with SDP by Bob Harris. This interview outlines the musical life story of SDP and the history of the New Blues Revolution and was surprisingly interesting and informative.

My favorite session showcased on the album is the first and the oldest – the 2007 session. It starts with a breezy performance of “Steppin’ Out”, which is an amazing instrumental blues guitar showcase. My absolute favorite track of the 2007 session is Petit’s own “7 Cent Cotton” – an angry song with a rock feel….because who doesn’t love an angry song with a rock feel?

The middle session is from 2009 with special guest Mick Taylor, a former Rolling Stone. This session opens with the traditional “Goin’ Away Baby”. While I love the tune, I find some of the lyrics a bit unbelievable from SDP. The session continues with the slow, lengthy, rendition of “Love in Vain” that flaunts the guitar skills of SDP and Mick Taylor. This session ends with an extremely long (more than 9 minutes long!) version of “A Better Answer”. I found this track to be self-indulgent – the type of track where the musicians get lost exploring artistic possibilities and the listeners get bored. I much prefer the acoustic version of this song at the end of the album.

The last session showcases 3 original SDP songs. The tuneful “My Friend Bob” is a poetic story-telling song with a Bob Dylan feel and a blues-y harmonica solo. I did not, however, love the track “It’s All Good” with it’s initial growly vocals and hasty buildup to a chorus that is vaguely reminiscent of the Rolling Stones “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. The music portion of the album ends with an acoustic version of “A Better Answer”, which is a big hit in our household with it’s fun tempo changes and raw vocals.

All in all this was an enjoyable CD and I will definitely add it to my regular rotation. My only complaint about the album addresses more structure than content. There are short interviews with SDP interspersed between some of the songs. I find that this breaks the flow of the music; I would prefer that the interview material be saved for the beginning or the end of the album. There is a long interview at the end of the album; the other interview “snippets” are not necessary.

You Are Not Alone

According to research published by the University of Maryland, students in over 10 countries had a problem.Facebook login screen shot

An addiction, in fact, with hardly any social stigma attached. Except if the number of friends you have is below say, 70 or the number of followers is less than 12. Then there must be an issue with the person, rather than the social networking site that is akin, apparently, to a crack cocaine habit – as one internet surfing teen put it.

Where does this need for constant interaction come from – and, more importantly, where does it stop? Flitting from tab to tab at the top of a computer in the hopes that the number of comments, likes, status updates or tags have a certain relevance to the Universe of Me is not only really easy to do, looks relatively innocuous but is reassuring too. Dietrich was wrong when she said ‘I vant to be alone’. No one really wants that, it’s solitary confinement of the intellectual kind. Why are dating websites, or personal ads so popular? They have that ability to express yourself without any actual physical involvement in the exchange.

Technology is changing the way we communicate. There used to be a television advertisement – rather clever stop motion – where a guy never left his flat but managed to live using his phone and internet. It was advertising the Yellow Pages. Yet this isn’t an impossible ‘dream’ (or nightmare). Tesco delivers. Argos delivers. Both are online. Facebook offers a rather voyeuristic way of keeping in touch with those that we like (and some that we’ve only really met once). Not only are there TV beds with wifi, if they had a built in catheter and elimination system we need never move again.

But imagination, that precious thing which allows us to have ambition and dreams, often fails us as soon as we log in. Our days are never as exciting as our best friends seem to be. Our comments never as witty. We lack the ability to entertain ourselves and suddenly, consumed by insecurity we open Google as another tab to hide the screen of Shame for at least ten minutes until we check again.

All forums have this. It’s like the first day of school but forever virtual. More people who we could have a connection with. More people to ego trip us out of the obscure. Is this really a good thing? Cravings, anxiety and depression…surely enough in the physical day to day existence for some, yet clearly not for others. I made the rather exciting discovery that I could live without a mobile phone. Liberating. Exhilarating. Yet at the same time it caused slight concern: what if the car broke down and I was attacked by Zombie penguins on the beach – how could I contact civilisation? What if I had a really important thought which meant cancer could be cured in half an hour – how could I write this down and send it to someone of note? Firstly, red telephone boxes still appear at the roadside, and secondly, Post Offices provide a means of sending communication via paper without the need to top up by £10 or sign an 18 month contract.

Seriously though, think about the amount of time we spend online. Everyday. For some, it is a whole way of life, it is how they pay the bills and live at night. Yet is it really what we need to do? Should the apocalypse occur this year – which is very doubtful, as personally I believe the Mayans probably just got fed up counting rather than had a secret hidden knowledge – then the world may very well lose the internet for more than a day. Should that happen, I would hope we wouldn’t be doomed to an Escape from LA situation. Life is so much more than programmed software and Times New Roman.

There is something to be said for self reliance. Diversion from reality, whatever we deem it to be, is awfully enjoyable. And necessary, but not the be all and end all of Humanity. Legacies are not left in words alone (Unless, of course that is your career) but in how we make others feel, not how others make Us feel. Preachy, maybe, but it would make a good Facebook soundbite all the same.

Pirates! In…An Adventure in Public Relations

Aardman animation version of Pirates!  Promotional imageHar! Har! Me hearties.

So, here we have the tale of a perfectly satisfactory humour novella turned into global Hollywood hype non-conformist style, thanks to the genius (or is that genii?) of Aardman Animation – the animated whizzkids behind the Mel Gibson vehicle ‘Chicken Run’ and the much admired Lancashire one man and his dog. (Which shall not be referred to again, as it is pretty much given that everyone understands it is ‘Wallace and Gromit’ not ‘Turner and Hooch’ – which is about the only other option available.)

How could this film, which is clearly not aimed at youngsters, have caused controversy prior to public release? Or, cynically, how could this clearly not aimed at youngsters film (but still an animation) have highlighted itself during the dour dull days of January? Let me explain the premise of the film in a nutshell. Partly by digressing and explaining the point of the book.

Gideon Defoe, talented scamp that he is, wrote The Pirates! in an adventure with Scientists to impress a girl. Simple.. If I was that girl, I would be impressed.  (Maybe I am easily impressed, but a book has to make a dedication, and the dedication in that book made me go ‘aww’).

The Pirate Captain, played in the film by the devilishly foppish quintessential Englishman Hugh Grant. (I saw him filming the fight scene with Colin Firth in Hyde Park. Which was nice.) needs adventure and recognition for his services to Maritime sailing. There’s the Elephant Man, Charles Darwin, an exciting duel or two, some religious Bishop-ry. It’s all in there. And all good. Even a very short meeting with lepers.

What?! Lepers! Are they, the Gods of film, mocking the afflicted for the sake of cheap entertaining thrills (although clearly not taking science, sailing and deformed dead people seriously, leaving aside the casual religious mockery that has been thrown in)? Lepra Health in Action suggest so.

The fuss lies in the connotation of leprosy as, well, all about arms and legs dropping off, and of being contagious. Shun worthy in fact. Let’s face it, leper boats existed. So in terms of historical accuracy, Defoe is dead on. In terms of contagion, it is. Though treatable, so don’t panic.

Surely Lepra Health in Action should welcome the fact that leprosy, long thought of as a disease of the past, has been brought to the forefront of our armchair viewing opinion?

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter. The book is funny, the film should be funny. Leprosy, horrible disease that it is, has massive comic potential which has been exploited time and again, with only a modicum of complaint.

Not to sound like a Daily Mail reader (which I do read but only to cut my teeth on and sharpen my claws) it really does seem like political correctness gone mad. Arms do not just fall off. They are not made of plasticine and Hugh Grant does not look like a thin Brian Blessed, as portrayed in the film.

Use your common sense, if you have been affected by the issue of leprosy there is probably a helpline  to ring in confidence. And as the prevalence of leprosy has globally decreased, isolated to underdeveloped countries with poor standards of sanitation who will probably not be watching at the Imax in 3D a low budget brightly written and scripted comic caper, then I think cutting a whole chapter of the book was a little bit of overkill, but brilliantly stage managed to correspond with box office opening, especially as it’s a small cult classic.

Cynical, moi? Not really, just realistic, and looking forward to watching the film.

Dashwood – Hurt/Heal Review

It starts with a slow pounding intro, then we’re thrown straight into a ferocious and angry record from hardcore punks Dashwood.

Clocking in at only 37 seconds Splinter is one of the three stand out tracks on the EP. It will make you want to break things – you can almost see the bodies flying across the pit whilst listening to this. Augury follows immediately, giving you no time at all to regain composure. A little more melodic, but no less furious than the previous track, this is a brilliant example of a hardcore punk song and many bands that call themselves hardcore should sit down and take notes.

Persist, another one of the shorter tracks (59 seconds) is a brilliant precursor to the fantastic final track Idle Minds.

However, it’s not all amazing. Interlude, is really, really annoying. We go from awesome hardcore punk tracks, to a more mellow piece. If you’re a hardcore band, don’t give your listeners any respite. Keep it fast, angry and brilliant.

Aside from this tiny niggle, this really is a brilliant EP, and if you’re a fan of Gallows, Ceremony or Never x Again , then this record is definitely something you should get hold of.

Hurt/Heal is available in CD format from Pornography For Cowards, and on tape from Honey Bucket Records from 5th February 2012.

Quick Reviews: Lana isn’t quite the Rey of sunshine that we’re searching for.

Every week, one of our writers will be given five tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars.  Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words.  This week, Sam Lawson takes his turn.  If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to

Thomas Truax holding a gramaphone.  Photo: Chris Saunders

Now I don’t know if I’m ignoring the clique by including a foreword here, but I always think it’s nice when writers introduce what they’re about to say. Isn’t it nice? Isn’t it? Yeah. It is.

This week’s five tracks aren’t anything to rave on about in particular. There are some good tracks. Some. But 50% of the tracks I’m about to review are horse shit. Well, not horse shit. But they’re certainly close to being part of the dungheap. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m trying to be honest, and as an avid, avid fan of music I will stay true to my opinion. Thank you for taking the time to read, and I hope what is said doesn’t ruin any careers!
Deep breath before the plunge, here goes.

Thomas Truax – Beehive Heart

As soon as I heard this, the Mighty Boosh theme song began playing in my head. Think of the ‘crimping’ that they made famous, and then think of this song. They sound alike, yes? Yes. They do. Compare the two until you agree. I think this song is very much the sound The Ting Tings would make if their front person was of the male gender. Although this song lacks in melody and singing, it isn’t without a tune. Very toe tap inducing, I’d expect to hear this in a teen angst moment on UK Drama Skins.

Lana Del Rey  – Born To Die

I’m hearing violins. Violins? From the girl who’s meant to be the next Lady Gaga. First impressions are that it would fit in well at a funeral or some other sort of bereavement event. Obviously, the song is about death and being prepared to die, but perhaps you could play this at the burial of one’s pet? If you’ve ever heard Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love, this will not sound unfamiliar. While the whispering is reminiscent of “I’ll protect you from the hooded claw” introduction from Frankie’s Christmas classic(?). The song is extremely pessimistic, just look at the title. I will not buy the album.

Azari & III- Reckless (With Your Love)

Obviously I’m far too young to have experienced the 80s, but this song reminds me of that era immensely. It’s the type of house beat that I’d expect to hear in a nightclub at the beginning of the rave scene in 1989. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this thumping from my local social club while they attempt to be gay-friendly. The introduction is very reminiscent of that famous beat Insomnia by Faithless. Repetitive, but not annoyingly so. Vocals wise, think Cee-Lo Green in his Gnarles Barkley era. I highly recommend this to anyone.


These Reigning Days – Changes

Surprisingly, I don’t have much to say about this one. Except that it’s very good, and I like it a lot. I extremely recommend buying this as soon as it released on whatever platform is popular in February. The song is a sort of love-triangle-come-bigamist-marriage between Coldplay, Bullet For My Valentine, Editors and Glasvegas. Though frowned upon in some societies, this marriage works extremely well, and I can’t get enough of it. It creates a relaxing atmosphere that is simultaneously very upbeat and catchy and damn I just can’t get enough. (Turns out I did have a lot to say).

Zenon – Love You Forever

I’m trying to listen properly and drown out the ringing sounds of Irish heartbreak pop, but all I can hear is Westlife. The singer’s voice doesn’t particularly suit the genre, the melodies are mismatched with the vocals and there is too much versatility concerning the verse and chorus. If this was placed in line with 1000 other love songs, it wouldn’t particularly stand out. Trying to be unique but failing. That’s not to say that he cannot sing well. Unoriginal but not unpleasant. Top marks for trying, though.

In Defence of Bad Language.

This is the internet, a concept with which you are likely familiar. Probably just as familiar to you will be the concept of commenting. And, if you are a particularly feeble example of humankind, you are even more familiar with the idea of commenting to correct grammar and/or spelling.

Of all the breeds of Internet Pedant, you are the very worst. The word/statement/phrase you’re correcting clearly made adequate sense, or you would not have been able to grasp the concept clearly enough to do so. The ideas were communicated clearly enough for you to worry about a small smudge on their otherwise shining surface.

By Balleyne on Flickr

By Balleyne on Flickr

In your flailing efforts to eradicate the smudge, you obscure a very important fact; that you can even see the post is a miracle. The author could live thousands of miles away from you, you are communicating ACROSS THE PLANET, to DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, INSTANTANEOUSLY and the one thing, the ONLY thing, the most important thing that leaps from your tiny mind is: “Oh, they’ve spelt that wrong. Idiot.” (‘Spelt’ is right, before you start.)

This particular brand of cuntery is especially rife on twitter. There’s not a day goes by when I don’t see an informative or funny tweet from say, @SimonPegg or @SarahMillican or anybody else with a large following, that isn’t immediately followed by “Yes, I know I typo’d. You can stop telling me,” about twenty minutes later. These are intelligent, funny, successful people and yet the most interesting thing people can manage? “You made an insignificant mistake. I noticed it…(P.S. LOVE ME!)”

And that insecurity, I think, is the basis of the pandemic. The internet, no matter how hard it tries, will never ever be high brow. Never. Nor should it aspire to be. Its lack of any sort of brow is the beautiful thing about it. Everybody can access it, everybody can contribute. However, the sort of person that automatically assumes that high brow and intelligent are the same thing worries about the height of the internets brow. They sit and they think “Gosh, this life changing thing. It’s full of slightly-not-perfect, quickly typed un-proofread INFORMATION. FOR FREE. What if people think I’m less than intelligent if I don’t correct all of it?”

This type of insecurity is not entirely unfounded (though it is entirely stupid). Some people do judge others on their grammar and spelling, but only if they’re so invested in this shibboleth that they think it’s actually a test of intelligence. They think their superior spelling actually makes them objectively better rather than a product of very fortunate circumstances.

Let me tell you a story about the Ephraimites and the Gileadites. Once upon a time, (in the Book of Judges, Chapter 12) the Gileadites defeated the Ephraimites in battle. The Gileadites knew that the Ephraimites didn’t have the ‘sh’ phoneme in their language, and so were unable to pronounce a common word, shibboleth, in the Gileadite way. When the Ephraimites tried to cross the Jordan back into their own territory, the Gileadites stopped them, and forced them to prove their Gileaditeyness by saying ‘shibboleth’. When they couldn’t, they killed them. Why bother to kill more Ephraimites? The same reason you’d correct a minor mistake in grammar or spelling on the internet. Because you’re a dick-head, mostly. You Gileadite monster.

Rather than see the beautiful potential for global bonding the internet holds, you see its looser boundaries of nation and language to be a threat to your fixed position of superiority. We must create new boundaries, you say. There shall be the Great Nation of Pedants, and the Great Nation of People with Better Things to Worry About. And long shall they be at war.

Art of Writting By on flickr

By on flickr

The internet is as close to truly free communication as we’re ever likely to get. If you don’t want to talk to people from all walks of life, don’t bother taking part. Not everybody went to school, not everybody got a good education. Even if they did, not everybody enjoyed or understood English as well as you might have, some people didn’t even speak English at school. You have this opportunity, this rain of information and experience to scoop up by the bucketful and all you can manage in response to this awe inspiring spectacle is the internet equivalent of the red squiggly line. Microsoft word does that, and it’s annoying. Useful if you’re writing an assignment or a job application, but otherwise just officious, unnecessary and insufferably smug.

The English language is a dirty dirty fuckabout. It picks up stuff left, right and centre, has survived the rise and fall of an empire, the merging of dozens of tribes, the creation of the redsquigglyline standardised version, French and Norse additions, the dictionary…It’s a tough old thing. It’s unlikely to crumble because some people on the internet are doing it a bit wrong.

What you are engaging in, oh you of the passive aggressive *, is language prescriptivism. It’s ugly and limited and quite a lot snobbish. It does not prove, as you may like to argue, that you have standards (though they are an unfortunate side effect). What it proves is that you have a thirst to show that you done good at school. This makes you very fortunate, extraordinarily so. But there no need to be a dick about it.

Wasted On Myself: Poor Grammar in Song Lyrics

If there’s one thing that I hate (and there isn’t: there are lots of things that I hate) it is poor grammar. However, if there’s one thing I hate more than poor grammar (and there’s isn’t: I hate a lot of things more than poor grammar), it’s poor grammar in song lyrics. When terrible grammar is used in everyday speech, there’s an opportunity for a pedant like myself to dive in, head first, and correct the deluded soul, but when it’s committed to a recording the error is rendered in 44,100Hz and played ad infinitum for everyone to hear.

The particular bugbear of which I speak was committed by popular dub step chartbusters, Nero. The song (and yes, it’s a song, dubstep-haters) is Promises. Let’s remind ourselves of the offending sentence: “Promises, and they still feel all so wasted on myself”. It’s the chorus refrain, repeated over and over, needling away at my brain and causing my to violently express my disdain at passersby (it’s not my fault they’re not listening to my iPod – fools!).Nero Promises - a picture of a band accused of bad grammar

Now let’s break this “sentence” down: let’s ignore the initial punctuational error. The missing colon. I used one, not two sentences ago, because I have a rudimentary knowledge of how to use one. I can even use a semicolon; you can see that there, but since this is meant to be heard and not written down I’m going to let it slide. There’s an “and” in there too, thus negating the need for one, so we’ll move on. I can even forgive the grammatical mix-up that it “feel all”, so it’s when we get to the last word of the refrain that alarm bells start ringing. MYSELF! For the uninitiated, myself is a reflexive pronoun and should be not be used in this context.

If you want a breakdown of how to correctly use reflexive pronouns, head on over here and educate yourself. Look, I just used one correctly. Clever me.

Unfortunately, using correct grammar and highlighting its incorrect use in others is often looked upon as pedantry and generally rude. It’s a neon sign hovering over the head of the intellectual and, dare I say it, elitist. Since it’s usually the barely educated who are the vanguard of poor spelling, terrible grammar and fly-by-night punctuation, it’s natural that the grammar-Nazis are going to find themselves victims of the same uneducated finger-pointers soaked in blame culture, no-win-no-fee claims and episodes of Jeremy Kyle.

So whilst, we’re on the subject of blame, who is the culprit behind the misappropriation of the reflexive pronouns? I don’t know, but I can name at least one celebrity figure whose lackadaisical attitude to the reflexive pronoun borders on maniacal: Jade Goody. During her tenure in Big Brother (or Celebrity Big Brother, I forget which, since the person she was talking to was equally forgettable) she engaged in a loud argument in which every sentence she spat included at least one misuse of the reflexive pronoun. It hurt my ears, as well as my eyes to watch. And I’m glad she’s dead. There, I said it.

Grammatical errors in song lyrics are rife. Let’s look at two more examples:

“She’s got a ticket to ride and she don’t care.”
“I can’t get no satisfaction”

See? Even the classics get it wrong, but since it’s The Beatles and The Rolling Stones we’re quite happy to let it slide. As we zoom into the futuristic decade of the teenies (that’s this decade for you squares) and txt spk, TOWIE and 4chan are the preferred languages, I can’t help but jump up in my comfortable chair when one of nations popstars flaunt their ignorance of the English language.

The argument for “artistic license” is a valid one, but I can’t help but think it is merely an excuse for laziness and when poor grammar gets in the way of understanding a song there needs to be some kind of retribution.

Here is another example from the current chart landscape. The artist is Calvin Harris and the song is Feel So Close. The error lies in the opening lines: “I feel so close to you right now, it’s a forcefield.” WHAT?! Never have two more contradictory sentences been placed in such prominence in a song (I’m sure someone will think of one). I wonder what was going through Harris’ whiskey-addled brain as he wrote that line: “Och, I need a song that makes absolutely no sense… wait a minute…”. Now, this song can be fixed with one tiny adjustment to they first line (“I feel so close to you right now, but there’s a forcefield”) but it’s too late: the song has been recorded, released, remixed and re-iTuned so many times that it’s out there in the public arena for all to hear, and yet, no-one has pulled up Harris for his nonsense.

Now, I don’t have a solution for the spate of poor grammar in pop music, but I reckon if we put our heads together we can come up with something. Perhaps a catchy slogan.

Grammar: it all feels so wasted on you.

Stigma – the escape prevention plan

Ah, stigma.  Our old friend.A sillohette of a person trapped behind glass to symbolise stigma

This is a subject that those of us who take an interest in mental health politics are constantly banging on about, but the message still doesn’t seem to be getting through to others.  The problem is, I think, that all this banging on goes on in circles of people who already know it all already.  If you blog about mental health issues as a sufferer/survivor, it is almost certain you will have encountered stigma yourself.  You will have faced the dilemma of whether to reveal your illness to employers, you will have avoided the subject with relatives you know will just make stupid comments.  So reading the statistics just confirms what you already know.

A report, published last year by the NHS Information Commission, found that only 25% of people would trust most ex-patients of a mental hospital to babysit their child.  21% believed that anyone with a history of mental illness should be prevented from ever taking public office.  11% would not even want to live next door to somebody who has ever suffered from mental illness.  People with mental illness have the highest “want to return to work” rates of all disabilities, but face the biggest unemployment rates of any category of disability.  They also report difficulty in getting treatment, not only for their mental illness, but for any physical illness that may also affect them – people with severe mental illness have a life expectancy that is shortened by around 10 years.

The facts make depressing reading, and even more so when, as I once witnessed myself, they are displayed on a colourful information board in the corridor of a psychiatric ward.  Right next to the door. At one point I hatched a theory that it was put there to stop us wanting to escape to the stigma filled outside world.  Looking back, I was probably over thinking things a little…

This is the thing though.  When we are mental in the first place, we need a bit more understanding, because we are likely to be much more vulnerable.  There is no doubt that we face problems with which we are less able to cope.  I’m not sure that just telling ourselves that the problems exist is really going to help much.   It might make us more afraid to go out of our comfort zone, away from the people who know what it is like to be mentally ill.

Of course, there shouldn’t be stigma, but I think that we need to go beyond raising awareness that it exists and start trying to cope with it when we do see it.

I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be fought.  Of course it should, and I will happily join in the fight.  But, the fight will be ongoing for  while, and all that time we will still have to find jobs, talk to old friends and live our lives.  We can’t just write STIGMA on our front doors and not go out until it goes away.

Love and Loss, Hope and Fear

Cover Image of Birdsong, a book by Sebastian Faulks.I loved Birdsong when it came out (and Sebastian Faulks’ other novels, especially Charlotte Grey) and I was greatly relieved to see that the humanity which Faulks brings to World War One in his writing was carried through to the screened version. The brutal reality of trench warfare was brought into our living rooms last night, along with a sense of comradeship and love which went far beyond World War One.

With much twitching of moustaches and many significant looks, we began the slow build up of Stephen and Isabelle’s emotional involvement, touched on the rising tension of the mill workers, and wondered about the issues clearly faced by M’seur Azaire. The criss-crossing back and forth in time, the relationship between Stephen and Jack Firebrace, and the portrayal of Stephen as An Officer Conflicted, all conspired to paint a picture of love and loss, hope and fear. I look forward to next Sunday. I shall have a large handkerchief to hand.

The course of true love never does run smooth, Eddie, and I fear that you and Fleur Delacourt are about to find this out for yourselves. But if you could just let me know whether it was your carriage you escaped in last night, or whether you stole it from the textile baron, I’d be ever so grateful. It’s been bothering me.

I am still struggling to understand why, with a history degree behind me and an interest in history generally, I was very happy to watch Birdsong last night but have not the slightest desire to go to see Warhorse. Is it the desire to avoid the Hollywood schmaltz which tugs at the heartstrings, or the fact that I don’t want to see ‘acting horses’ who, despite all assurances to the contrary, must have been traumatised in some way by reenacting scenes from World War One? If not by doing that, then being paraded down the red carpet in the full glare of the paparazzi lenses?

They’re not Mr Ed. They can’t tell us.

I did wonder if some level of economy had been practiced and a set share had been arranged between Mr Spielberg and the BBC. It would have been prudent, surely, and might have appealed to the license fee payers as an austerity measure.

I read this morning that Birdsong is now a compulsory set school text. I am glad, for Faulks’ portrayal of the mud, fear and hell of the Flanders trenches is a masterpiece. And the BBC has done it justice. Hopefully this programme will do for World War One what Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ did for cementing awareness of the horror of World War Two in the minds of a generation.


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