Rants

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Don’t Reign On My Parade

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II en route to St Paul's Cathedral, 5th June 2012. Photo: Defence Images

The Queen on her way to St Paul’s Cathedral

As a metaphor, the image of the whole country going down the river for the Jubilee is so appropriate, I’m surprised more wiseacre commentators haven’t picked up on it. It is galling enough that a country in such dire straits — with high unemployment, a double-dip recession in progress, a failing health service, and its myriad other problems — can afford to splash out on celebrating the one person in the nation who never need worry about the spectre of poverty or work (the Queen is, after all, permanently underemployed) not dying.  But that the manner of this spectacle should be her sitting idly while a pageant of her subjects float past on what might as well be a river of tears, in barges crafted from their dashed hopes and dreams, is nothing short of cheek.She stood watching this flotilla of filthy followers for hours, we are told, as if that was enough to justify her privileged position. The time, money and effort of thousands of people was evident, while all she had to do was put on her best hat and watch them pass in their little boats with the rain beating down upon them, giving them the appearance of drowned rats. It must have looked like something out of a postmodern Wind in the Willows.

I wonder, as she stood there, undoubtedly bored, whether she was aware of what some of her subjects had to endure to enable this event. The Guardian reported that a number of long term jobseekers were forced to work as stewards without pay during the event. That, in itself, doesn’t count as out of the ordinary in this Tory Britain, but the details revealed a sequence of uncaring treatment that was described as akin to slavery. They were bussed in from Bristol in the early hours of the morning and abandoned, told to camp under a bridge like common trolls, made to change into their uniforms in public and had no access to toilets for the whole day. I don’t expect the unemployed to be treated like royalty, but I’d demand at least they be treated like human beings.

A Celebratory Message for the Queen. Photo: jordi.martorell

Celebrating the Jubilee

I tried my best to avoid coverage of the Jubilee, but the signs and signifiers were everywhere. I reached a point where I swore that, if I saw another Union Jack, I would wrap myself in it and immolate myself in Trafalgar Square. Displays of excessive jingoism only seem to manifest during royal events, football tournaments and wars; the rest of the time, most citizens couldn’t give two patriotic shits about the country. But stores have done a roaring business in red, white and blue tat – from bunting and tableware to clothing and cushion covers – so every home can look like the venue for a BNP rally. The only theme that I’ve found more annoying is constantly being confronted with the litany that I should ‘Keep Calm and Carry On,’ on posters, mugs and T-shirts. In the current political and economic crisis, that’s the equivalent of saying ‘What iceberg?’ when the ship is already sinking. I, for one, will be donning my T-shirt featuring the slogan ‘Time To Panic and Set Fire to Things’ any day now.

I’ve nothing personal against the Queen. As run of the mill old ladies go, I suppose I find her inoffensive enough. If I were in a post office queue, she’s the kind of person I’d rather was behind me than in front of me, as you know she’s going to try to engage the person serving in conversation about her various aches and pains, the doings of her million grandchildren, and what her husband said to the Chinese ambassador this time. I’m also not going to let this article descend into an over-reaching republican diatribe, in spite of that being the general thrust of my opinions. My issue here is with the misplaced and mystifying adoration of her social position.

In 2002 a BBC poll revealed the country’s preferred list of 100 Greatest Britons, which placed Elizabeth II at number 24. Two monarchs beat her: Queen Victoria and her namesake, Elizabeth I, the only crowned head to reach the top ten. But, tellingly of the contrary nature of all of us, Oliver Cromwell, who chopped off a King’s head and briefly turned the country into a republic, beat all monarchs bar one. Three Prime Ministers and a man who tried to blow up parliament with a King in it also placed nearly as highly, or higher than, our present Queen. The rest of the top of the list was completed by notable scientists, authors, explorers, mathematicians, military leaders and musicians – in other words, people who actually contributed to the betterment of the nation and its people, not just someone who got to where they are merely by being born. So do we really love our monarchy as much as all the pomp and trumpeting would have us believe?

Tradition was you’d rid yourself of a troublesome head of state by divorcing their head from their body. Now, any policy passed by parliament must be signed into law by the monarch, meaning they would have to sign the law removing themselves from the constitution, and finding any monarch progressive enough to throw themselves from the royal gravy train is as likely as finding a stone that bleeds blue blood. The truth of the matter is that we still have a monarch because this system is set up in such a way that no government would make so radical and potentially unpopular a proposition as to abolish the monarchy, and no monarch would put themselves out of a job. It’s a classic elephant in the room dilemma. Everyone knows the role of the monarch is entirely ceremonial and symbolic, but no one is prepared to take the steps to cut away the dead flesh. It’s tradition, but that’s just another way of saying we do something a certain way because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I’m not sure that our adoration, bordering on religious idolatry, doesn’t come about largely because it’s expected of one.

I also wonder what the rest of the world thinks when they see the footage on their evening news. Undoubtedly the royals are good for tourism, they’re a spectator sport. But so are the Hunger Games, and if the country needs a distraction in these troubled times I would rather the O2 Arena was rechristened the O2 Thunderdome and the privileged few would be forced to duel until only one was left standing, and in that way at least they would have earned my respect, and any right to parade.

Stuff The Jubilee

Bin the crownIt’s not happening until June, but I’m seriously fed up with the Diamond Jubilee already.

I make absolutely no effort to find out anything about it, yet every time I turn on the TV, browse the internet, walk down the street, read a newspaper, go to a pub or a shop, even go to work, it’s being rammed down my throat so hard it makes me sick.

Ironically, the propaganda churned out by the Royal press machine to brainwash the population that these celebrations are worthwhile has served only to increase my opposition. The more I am encouraged to take part in and enjoy the jubilee celebrations, the less I want to. I’ve always had anti-monarchist tendencies, but ever since the ridiculous charade of the Royal Wedding last summer, my Republican views have grown ever stronger.

But let’s remember that wonderful day last April – wasn’t it just the Wedding of The Century? Britain at it’s best?

Kate’s lovely dress! Will’s dashing uniform! Their kiss! The carriage! The flag waving school children! An extra bank holiday! A nation united!

Bollocks. What a ridiculous fuss over the marriage of two people we don’t know and we are unlikely to ever meet. I can’t understand why there was such adulation over two people, who, if they were not obliged to, would not give a flying fart about 99% of those who profess to love them. Millions of pounds spent on security that could have been better spent elsewhere. The unconvincing attempts to portray a public schoolgirl of millionaire parents as a People’s Princess. The totally one-sided sycophantic 24/7 media coverage. Or the baffling obsession with Pippa Middleton. I wouldn’t. (No offence Pippa, if you’re reading this).

And we’re getting it all again…

The Queen’s wonderful service to the nation! The concert at Buckingham Palace! Kate’s charity work! Harry larking around (he’s such a card)! William protecting the Falklands! The barge parade on the River Thames! The flag waving school children! The community spirit! Street parties bringing the nation together! An extra bank holiday! The economic benefits to our struggling economy!

The last one is rather questionable. The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that each bank holiday costs the UK £2.3 billion and the Diamond Jubilee is no exception. Even the government’s own impact assessment for the extra bank holiday states that “inevitably there will be an impact on economic output as most workers are likely to be given the day off by their employer”.

Of course it’s not all about the economy though. In a further attempt to justify the celebrations, the impact assessment gushes that there will be a lifting of national spirit, improved national identity and increased profile of the UK to the rest of the world, extra tourism and trade, etc (it actually says etc). These benefits are naturally all intangible though and are impossible to accurately predict or measure. Isn’t that convenient?

Leaving aside the Jubilee for a moment, the arguments for and against the monarchy have been well documented over the years. For: history/national pride/tourism. Against: cost/undemocratic/inequality.

Much better writers than me have debated these arguments in detail so I don’t intend to discuss them here, but what I do want to do is highlight a few of the many recent royal stories that have attracted my attention.

The first one concerns our Brave Prince William, who was recently sent to the Falkland Islands to fly a helicopter around.

anti-monarchyI quote Rear Admiral John ‘Sandy’ Woodward: “To have a Royal anywhere near the front line is a bloody nuisance for the rest of the front line. You have to take extra precautions that he doesn’t get shot down, that his plane doesn’t fail. You maintain it three times as carefully. If you have a Royal on board your ship it is the end of your career if he gets so much as a scratch. It’s never said, but it goes without saying. He’s not there as a military man, he is there as air sea rescue which is really not military at all. It’s civil. I think it’s pointless, I can’t imagine why they sent him. Maybe they were just trying to wind up the Argentinians, I don’t know.”

My personal view is that this was a marketting exercise ahead of the Jubilee to increase our pride in the Royal Family and for them to highlight their usefulness to the nation – but then I am a cynical bastard.

Without question this episode demonstrates the blatant inequalities created by the very existence of a Royal Family: one man’s life valued much higher than that of the Joe Nobody’s around him, simply because he was born into a family of privilege.

Further evidence of these inequalities was recently provided by Buckingham Palace itself.

The Royal Household advertised for a trainee butler to serve the Royal Family. The salary is £15000 for a 45 hour week.

The job’s duties include: “collect and deliver tea/coffee trays, breakfast trays and newspapers for Royal and Household purposes in an efficient and discreet manner” and “to be responsible for the valeting of guests and Members of the Royal Household invited to stay with the Royal Family ensuring that clothes and uniforms are cared for to the highest standards”.

Christ, this doesn’t half boil my piss. It’s England in 2012, and we still have people serving other people. Masters and servants. This needs to stop right away. Let them carry their own trays, pick up their own newspapers and wash their own clothes like everyone else.

And they want us to celebrate this shit?

 

Anti-Abortion Groups – Just Cut It Out

At worst, unsolicited junk mail just annoys me. Three menus for Mick’s Curry Pot coming though my letterbox in one week may be taking just that – the mick – but the owner of this takeaway isn’t actually hurting anyone (unless they risk ordering anything.) But laying on my welcome mat this week was an innocuous enough looking colour printed, folded sheet that made my girlfriend feel physically sick and chilled me to the bone.

Little could be less welcome than the leaflet headed Abortion: What everyone has a right to know, kindly (?) provided for me by the people at SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.) Although never mentioned in the text, the whole thing stinks of religion, as I can’t credit this comically acronymed organization having taken this crusade upon themselves out of a genuine regard for women’s well-being.

I’m aware, as I write, that in this instance it would be more appropriate if I were a woman. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. As father to any theoretical offspring, my input, although valid, would be overruled by the owner of the body in which it is brewing – the mother. So the final decision on whether or not to abort is a woman’s. Had a woman written this article its points may have been more valid. Just rest assured when it comes to this disgusting pamphlet that I am trying to be of the same mind.

In the guise of being helpful, and very much in the style of the health advice leaflets you can pick up at your GP surgery, the pamphlet features a photograph of a young, anxious looking couple and promises to contain ‘information about abortion’ with the aim of preventing someone ‘making a decision which could end in regret.’ In fact, the whole piece is filled with prophecies of regret and remorse. True, you may end up regretting having an abortion, but you may also regret going through with the pregnancy and end up raising a child you resent. A terminated pregnancy is not necessarily the last chance a woman will have to have children – there’s no medical evidence that having an abortion affects future fertility – a baby is more final.

Within is a time line of significant development dates – the heart starts beating at three weeks, liver forms from six. But at what point does a cluster of cells deserve the label ‘baby?’ I think of it like this: at what point does a bowl full of ingredients become a cake? Not to make light of what is a serious and often traumatic decision, but sometimes ridicule is the best way to combat facile and ill informed arguments.The argument that possession of hair and fingernails makes a tiny, partially formed homunculus into a person, and its termination into murder, for example.

Nowhere does this set list mention the development of the nervous system, which I would use in the argument of equating suffering. Surely, a foetus without a nervous system, that therefore cannot feel pain, suffers considerably less (if at all) than a mother who is forced to go through with the pregnancy. All sorts of what if scenarios can be thrown into the mix here; what if the woman was raped? What if she or the father has a disease or debilitating condition that will be passed onto the child? What if she or they are simply not able to raise the child? The mother, father and child could spend years or their whole lives suffering from the consequences of the decision not to have an abortion. Anyone able to take a balanced look at both sides of the suffering argument would see the burden of suffering is against the minuscule organism that cannot feel anyway.

The analogy of the cake was for comic effect, as I stated. The moment of birth is not the first point at which a developing offspring can be considered a baby. Appropriately, a deadline for termination is set well before this. In the UK this is 24 weeks, although 90% of abortions occur before the 12th week and usually are given after that only for strong medical reasons.

‘Women deserve better,’ we are told by these SPUCers. ‘Evidence points to increased risk in some women of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress and eating disorders.’ Nowhere is this evidence made explicitly clear. These predictions are such that they almost seem like a threat. You will go mental if you have an abortion, they seem to say. Women certainly deserve better than information like this. It’s an insult to their intelligence and a perversion of the facts.

On the rear, some further facts and figures are given. I’ll not question the numbers, as they’re pretty irrelevant in regards to the conclusion they are used to support. There is apparently one abortion in Britain every three minutes, 570 a day (mathematics is clearly not their strong point either, as 24 hours divided by 3 minutes equals 480) and 4,000 every week (again, a distortion of their own figures.) The denouement to this little tally is that ‘if current trends continue, 9 million children will have been killed under the Abortion Act by April 2018 – the 50th anniversary of the law coming into force.’ It is here I have the biggest issue, and it is with their choice of language. Certainly the killing of millions of children would be a tragic and appalling practice. But it is not killing, and they are not children. They are children in potentia. The accompanying illustration of an embryo, with the label ‘unborn baby at 8 weeks’ says it all. Even though the illustration is half the size of a mug coaster, it is still stated that the picture is enlarged. If these people knew the first thing about embryology, they’d know that in no sense can this tiny, barely noticeable life form be described as a baby.

The whole leaflet is a piece of distorted scaremongering. If it’s facts and figures you want, here are some scary ones this misleading organization omit: worldwide, 70,000 women a year die from illegal, back street abortions, mostly in countries where they are not legally available; around a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion – as the world is over-populated as it is, with resources stretched, can you imagine what would happen if you added 25% to it? Think of the starvation, the disease, the pollution that would ensue. I’m not prophesying doom, but I’m not sure, were these children to be born, they would thank you for bringing them into that kind of world.

The overriding raison d’etre of these kinds of organization is to protect the foetus until the moment of birth, but after that it’s the parent’s responsibility. They care not a jot that the child may be raised in poverty, in an environment of abuse or neglect, subject to disease or disability, hunger and pain. As the pamphlet is keen to point out, ‘every life is worth living.’

Abortion is neither the beginning or the end of the world’s problems. Certainly, I would rather the traumatic and painful decision to have an abortion did not have to be taken by any woman. If SPUC have funding available for such a campaign, it would surely be better spent at the other end of the process – in preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Contraception, freely available to those that cannot afford it, is your friend there. But education about its availability and uses is often blocked and the subject of other negative and misleading campaigns, often by religious bodies, such as the Catholic church, and unfortunately very often from the same groups who are against abortion.

What it boils down to is this: These groups hate the idea of a woman’s sexual freedom. Sex is for making babies, not for fun. If you get pregnant, it’s your own fault, and if you have an abortion you’re a murderer. What I think is this: enjoy your sex life, as long as you in doing so hurt no one else; take precautions and take care of your body; know your own body and know when something is wrong; accidents do happen, and if they do there are options available. Abortion isn’t an ideal solution, but we live in a far from ideal world.

Once this piece is published, I’m going to take great pleasure in ripping this leaflet up, and burning the shreds. Unless an actual dead baby had been shoved through my letterbox, I don’t think I could have been more revolted at an unwanted delivery.

(Source of some information: http://www.abortionrights.org.uk/ )

Twitter and Fabrice Muamba – It’s All Kicking Off

I hope, should the hammer ever have cause to fall upon me, I am not caught between it and the anvil of public outrage. Fair and cold justice is a cornerstone of democracy, and the least, should any of us transgress the law, we could ask. Occasionally, a crime ignites public opinion, and, fuelled by a certain kind of tabloid journalism (naming no names,) the application of mob justice is demanded. Paedophiles or crimes related to children are a common theme, and a kind of contemporary witch-hunt ensues.

Another subject that seems to elicit responses disproportionate to the offence caused is racism, particularly very public racism, and so I approach this article with caution, aware it’s likely to garner a certain kind of unthinking response. It’s a sensitive area, so I’ll set out my stall now to avoid accusations of defending racism or racists. I am not, and will not.

I’ve so far avoided writing about the fate of Bolton’s Zaire-born footballer Fabrice Muamba lest I pre-empt his demise and as a result seem crass and unfeeling. Thankfully, due to the efforts of medical staff both on the scene of his collapse and later in the ambulance and hospital, he is making a remarkable recovery. Although considered the national game, and even though it made front page news for days after the event, there are sections of the public who couldn’t care less about a football related story. For those whom this passed by, here is a quick summary of events:

On 17 March 2012, during a game against Tottenham Hotspur, the 23 year old Fabrice Muamba suffered a heart attack on the pitch. After receiving lengthy medical attention with the game paused, and while tens of thousands of fans looked on concerned, he was transferred to hospital with his outlook not looking good. His heart had stopped for well over an hour and he was, effectively, dead. For me, I’m sure like many others, comparisons with Mark-Vivien Foe, who died during a game for Lyon in 2003, were inevitable. Muamba’s condition slowly improved in the following hours and days, and it now looks as though he will make an eventual recovery, although it is unlikely he will ever resume his sports career.

The response from the wider community of professionals and fans within football was warm and supportive, with cross-club expressions of good will. One of my favourite moments was the placing of a Manchester United scarf – an object I, as a Liverpool fan, might normally be expected to spit on – with the message “one game, one family” outside the Bolton ground. It summed up much of my feelings about the incident.

Inevitably, as the world isn’t lacking in mean-spirited idiots, not everybody echoed those sentiments. Liam Stacey, a student from Pontypridd, took a different view. He used Twitter to post messages of a racist, vulgar and threatening nature to Muamba and to those who expressed their understandable revolt. This is where I risk the greatest chance of being mistaken. I only read his exact words second hand, as no decent publication (the only kind I read), or this website, would repeat them, and they appall me. But, I can’t help but feel some of the resulting public outcry far outstrips the seriousness of the crime.

When charged at Swansea Magistrates’ Court, Stacey pleaded guilty to posting the abusive comments and was sentenced to 56 days imprisonment. It seems, on the surface, a fair judgement, but part of the magistrate’s closing statement set me thinking. “I have no choice,” he said, “but to impose an immediate custodial sentence to reflect the public outrage at what you have done.” Since when has the legal system paid heed to the degree of public opinion of a crime? If it did, the lynch mobs would be out to hang all paedophiles and child murderers. Justice should be even-handed, regardless of what the public think.

In addition, the University of Swansea, where he was studying biology with the aim of becoming a forensic scientist, have suspended his studies, saying he was “not welcome” on campus, and that his attendance may be a disruptive influence on other students.

A quick opinion poll I conducted amongst friends turned up a variety of opinions on the subject. Some thought it lenient, or at least not extreme. Others thought he was being made an example of, and that it would make others think twice about committing a similar crime – a common misconception of how criminal justice works, hence why countries with the death penalty, such as the US, actually have high murder rates, rather than it acting as a deterrent as you would expect.

The short prison stay, eight weeks of low security incarceration, probably with Sky TV and other home comforts, seems inconsequential to me. Far more damaging, and by far the best punishment for this kind of idiotic crime, is the permanent stain to his reputation. A very public humiliation, using the same media tools he used to spread racial hatred and abuse, is the key to dealing with racist morons. Embarrassment is a powerful tool.

In regards to his seclusion from university, I have my reservations. Rehabilitation is necessary for any criminal, and lack of employment opportunities after a prison sentence is one of the major factors in reoffending. This action by his alma mater risks seriously stunting his entire future – a potentially longer and more severe punishment for what is, when you get down to it, a small and twatty crime.

It would be nice to think this was an isolated incident, perpetrated by a single moron, but apparently this kind of behaviour is catching. Manchester United fanzine, Red Issue, sparked further controversy with a cover which could easily be taken as mocking the Muamba situation, with the headline “Grief Junkies Run Riot” and tasteless comments such as “I’ve tweeted my condolences just in case,” and “Is he dead yet?”

Are we, as a society, becoming overly sensitive to public outrage, or is it just a matter of having the means – via social networking and 24-hour news access – to express our opinions? Either way, these incidents seem to occur with tedious regularity. They make me just want to grab the whole internet community, shake some sense into them while telling them to calm the fuck down and get some perspective. I’ve never believed the idiom sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Words can hurt, deeply, and they usually take longer to heal than many wounds. That’s why the correct response to hurtful, or incendiary words, is to use words in response.

In Defence of Mumsnet

Mumsnet, one of the major British parenting network sites, has always come in for a lot of flak, most of which comes from two points of view:

  • Those who think it is the same as the other fluffy pink mummy sites, full of bad spelling and tickers
  • Those who think it is a sinister conspiracy against the country: a Boden and biscuits mafia

Now we have a new one – those who think it is a distributor of “man hate”.  Sigh. *

So, what is Mumsnet?  Why does it cause such a problem?

When people say “Mumsnet” what they usually mean is the Talk section of Mumsnet, which is a huge message board or forum, aimed at parents (although the majority of users are mothers, there are a sizable minority of fathers, grandparents, childcare workers and childless people who also use the site).  There are hundreds of sections, covering all aspects of life, not just parenting.  Each section tends to have its own “feel” – so Pregnancy tends to be fairly gentle, Am I Being Unreasonable? is a hotbed of disagreements and strong debate and Feminist Activism can be pretty militant.  There is a site wide policy of very light moderation, so swearing, heated disMumsnet logocussions and pretty obscene conversations do occur (never, ever google anything users of Mumsnet tell you to google…).  Members can name-change whenever they like, meaning that posters can reveal secret details on one thread then go back to joking with long term friends on another, under their usual nickname, which does not tend to be related to ‘real life’ identities.  There are also no avatars, twinkly tickers, signatures or pictures, and only a very small range of emoticons.

Herein lies one of our problems. Mumsnet is very different to the rest of the parenting forums, and I would say that the main difference is that Mumsnet treats posters as adults.  We aren’t mollycoddled, and the only things that get deleted (apart from spam) are personal attacks and hate speech.  Mumsnet as a body of posters tends to be self regulating – so a poster coming on who doesn’t follow the rules will get very short shrift.  This has given us a bit of a reputation for being bitchy, although, to me, it just means that we say how we feel, like grown ups.  Other sites will tend to ban you if you express any forthright opinions, and so there are a good few Mumsnetters who are banned from other sites.

Mumsnet also tends to be a bit more educated than other sites.  That’s not to say that Mumsnetters all have doctorates, or even GCSEs, but there is a higher expectation of basic education.  Text speak and bad grammar are frowned upon, and there are often jokes about things like classic literature and politics.  This is often given as evidence that Mumsnet is somehow elitist, and that “ordinary” people would be pushed out and ridiculed.

To me, there are endless websites where you can post cute little tickers, use vomit inducing euphemisms and tipe lyk u cant speel 🙂 ❤ ❤ 😮 and I think it is only fair to let one site have its own way of working.  Just because the users of the site are mostly women, and mostly mothers at that, doesn’t mean that we have to act like children ourselves.

justine off of mumsnet.  Because of the general culture of the site, there is a higher than usual concentration of professionals and, in particular, journalists.  Mumsnet is often used as a cheap research technique, with posts (usually without the knowledge and assent of responding posters) being used in news articles as the “opinion of parents” (I have had this happen to me, when I posted about an internet joke, and there was one reply – I was quoted twice, as different users, as proof that mothers in general found the joke hilarious).  Justine Roberts, one of the founders of the site, can often be found on talk shows giving her opinion – she can’t give the opinion of Mumsnet as a whole, because the 2 million users that use the site every month can’t possibly have one opinion.

However, that, and the fact that the site regularly hosts web-chats with politicians and other movers and shakers, gives Mumsnet a reputation as attention seekers who try to control the media.

Why is it that people hate the idea of a site where women can get together to chat about sex, politics, parenting and culture?  Men have most of the rest of the internet, and any woman daring to post anywhere else is often attacked if she dares mention anything feminine in any way.  Parents of young children are likely to become isolated, and there isn’t the support network that used to exist to support young mothers.

So, if my baby is acting weirdly, or the cuts are pissing me off, or I just thought up a really good joke about mooncups…I’ll see you on Mumsnet.

*I have deliberately ignored the ridiculous behaviour of a certain pressure group lately.  Don’t feed the troll and all that.

The Jeremy Kyle Show, and Why You Are Ronnie Barker.

What follows is something like a typical scene from the ever popular Jeremy Kyle show – if its enduring appeal mystifies you then consider my theory…………..

“You two don’t have any simple human respect for each other”

“Yes but we came on the show to try and fix….”

“SHUT UP!!! I HAVEN’T FINISHED TALKING AT YOU YET”

“I’m not sure this really was the best forum for trying to reconcile our difficu….”

“I SAID SHUT UP! SHUT YOUR POISONOUS MOUTHS AND LISTEN TO ME!!!!!” BLACK T-SHIRTED HENCHMEN RESTRAIN THEM!!! FORCE THEIR FILTHY MOUTHS CLOSED WHILE I CLIMB UPON MY HIGH HORSE AND EXPATIATE!!!”

Jeremy Kyle Pointing and looking annoyed

Firstly, it doesn’t have to be Jeremy Kyle, you could really put any angry, sneering, self-righteous, disapproving ringmaster into that circus and they would appear, relative to their on-stage participants, well dressed, successful, intelligent and moral.

It’s what we perceive as Kyle’s moral compass that’s meant to link us to him, that connects the audience at home with the audience in the studio and sets us, as a collective, apart from the scrapping sub-human scum on stage. In the real world we know that Jeremy Kyle isn’t any more “moral” than us because he stole from his ex-wife to fund a destructive gambling habit. He met his current wife after she “won” a competition on his radio station to marry a complete stranger – not very surprisingly, this didn’t last. But hey, all that was before he was canonised by ITV to referee human bear baiting – so that’s all right then.

No, it’s the poor people on stage that keep so many tuning in. Poor in every sense of the word. Because here’s the thing: seeing the morally destitute, airing their dirty laundry in front of a studio audience on a daily basis is, for millions, oddly comforting. It plays a very important role in the ongoing pacification of the lowest social strata, because this show and others like it are the social counter-balance for the abiding culture of celebrity.

Consider that comfort is measured by humans in terms of relativity: a billionaire and a homeless person could describe exactly the same bedsit and their perception of its merits would, no doubt, be polarised. Bearing this in mind is important in realising how the satisfaction of a normal person could be adversely affected by continuous media exposure to the social elite: Hello, OK, Cosmopolitan, a plethora of TV shows mistakenly labelled “reality”. Young, beautiful and rich people are constantly paraded before your eyes, people whose concerns appear to be limited to matching stilettos to super-yachts, deciding on the name of their new aftershave or being vocally ungrateful about the contents of their after-show party gift bag. Their ubiquity normalises their concerns and their conduct, even though it bears no resemblance to normal life.

Understandably, if you’ve been lugging-2-kids-and-a-week’s-shopping-back-through-the-rain-because-you-missed-your-bus-because-you-had-to-put-something-back-because-your-benefits-have-been-cut-but-you’re-still-trying-to-not-let-the-kids-know-just-how-close-to-desperate-life-really-is, then reading about Posh’s “struggle” to settle down in Los Angeles could make you feel just a bit unsatisfied with your position in society.  When literally anyone can be famous, just for being famous, who is to say what’s normal? Where the focus of the TV and popular press is all about the social elite, the fact that you haven’t shaved your legs yet this year and you won’t be going on holiday again and there is catshit on the front lawn again even though you don’t own a pet, can really put a crimp in your perceived level of comfort. The phenomenon dubbed “status anxiety” means that your perception of your place in society can be drastically affected when you unconsciously reconfigure what is “normal”.

The Jeremy Kyle show, under the guise of helping its victims, shines the spotlight at the gutter rather than the stars, parading the under class of society through your living room and letting you know that, whilst you won’t be going to the Oscars this year, at least you don’t have an electronically tagged son who is stealing from you to pay for his alcoholic girlfriend, who is also your half-sister and your mum, to have a backstreet abortion so she can continue her porn career. It doesn’t matter that the conflict has been carefully orchestrated and edited for your viewing pleasure because all it needs to do is put a smelly and stupid Ronnie Corbett next to your Ronnie Barker to distract you from the well dressed John Cleese.

It re-establishes the norm.

The Rail Users’ Uprising

Travelling by train can be wonderful or unbearable.

I do it every day, long and short journeys, for work and leisure, and a couple of months ago, the monthly season ticket just for my daily commute increased by 7.5%. Thank Christ I don’t live too far from work! I am so annoyed about this that I’m on the brink of turning into Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” so I can only imagine the level of resentment that my fellow commuters living further out of town must feel.Train on track.  Photo: IBBoard

The service provided by our rail companies – across the board – falls short of an acceptable standard, with sub-categories ranging from “could do better” to “surely you’re taking the piss?”

Now, I hear, there are proposals to increase peak time fares and close ticket offices.

  • Charge even more for a service not fit for purpose and cut jobs as well? Nice one, Justine Greening. That was well considered, wasn’t it?
  • Commission a report by some aviation fat cat with a knighthood? Check.
  • Report concludes that inefficiencies on the network cost Muggins the Train User AND Muggins the Subsidiser, of whom there are several million, a staggering amount of dosh.  (Insert a pithy phrase about a pipe-smoking chap who was rather good at solving crimes.)
  • Wait almost ten months to announce your response to the report? Oh yes. (Doubtless bricking it because your so-called “government” is so out of touch that even the unelected and over-privileged think you’re going too far with everything you attempt.)
  • Tackle the immense problem by increasing fares, thus metaphorically kicking in the teeth (and literally taking money out of the bank account) of the very people your government is supposed to be interested in keeping on side? Why the hell not!

The Tories are in power (and so are the Lib Dems, to a certain extent – but sadly, we can’t tell the difference, so let’s call them Tories, too) so we can’t expect policy geared to encouraging the use of trains. This party doesn’t give a damn about the environment and cares even less about the people paying its MPs’ wages (well, what’s a taxpayer-funded salary when you’re already rolling in money?). They’re not going to invest in the railway system. It’s Beeching v2.0 – completely unsurprising from the party that stands for the individual, the car, the choked motorway and the creation of more wealth for the already loaded few.

I have a proposal to increase the efficiency of the rail system. They’re punishing us for…well, nothing. Why not punish them in return? After all, we have reason enough. My fellow rail users, it’s time to fight back.  Here are my suggestions.

  1. Refuse to show your ticket to the ticket-checkers if;

a) The train you have travelled on is late
b) There is no space to sit or stand – without having to come into contact with a fellow passenger – in the usual standing areas in the carriage
c) The train is at peak time on a major route and there are fewer than four carriages.

2)      If conditions a), b) or c) are present, demand a refund, either partial or full.

a) if you are late for work
b) if you are late for any other appointment
c) because you have paid for a service that was not provided properly.

3)      If you incur any additional costs, send the rail company the bill. For example:

a) If your wages are docked because you were late for work
b) If you miss out on a deal (e.g. restaurant) because you arrived too late.

4)      If you are charged an increased fare or a penalty fare on a train because you did not buy a ticket before the journey, refuse to pay. Point out to the ticket inspector that you did not “choose” to walk past a ticket office before boarding the train; rather:

a) You arrived at the station with sufficient time to spare but there was a queue
b) You arrived at the station with hardly any time but you intended to pay.

Either of the above is a valid reason. You have a life that changes – sometimes, you have to go somewhere at short notice. They’re providing a service that should accommodate the needs of the passenger.

Then go on to point out that:

  1. They have the technology to process payments in their hand, so what’s the difference?
  2. You refuse to pay extra for the same journey – this is extortion, plain and simple

If Greening’s plans go ahead, tell them:

  1. There wasn’t a ticket office open – there are no ticket offices now, remember?
  2. You will only buy a ticket from a shop or post office if the ticket office is reinstated as well – it’s all about consumer choice, these days, right?

If we all did the above, then the traToy trains on a wooden track.  Photo: Carniculain companies would have to provide a decent service, more people would want to use the trains and they would be far less resentful about paying the already high prices. This bunch of heartless fools in power would have to realise that the public are not just willing to protest against them and everything they stand for, but are also willing to claw back their hard-earned cash. They would be forced to invest in the rail network so that companies could provide trains with carriages that were sufficient in number and sufficiently clean. They would be forced to limit the prices that the rail companies would charge. In short, they would be forced to stop having a bloody good laugh at us.

The ‘No Offence, But…’ Pandemic

‘No offence, but…’ is a phrase which is slowly but surely sweeping the globe. An increasingly common method of insult which allows an individual to guise deeply personal criticisms as casual observation, ‘no offence, but…’ is used to create humour at the expense of a typically unsuspecting and undeserving victim, for the benefit of a non committal audience.Annabella Weir, playing the "no offense" lady on The Fast Show

This expression is basically a self served license to insult someone by stating something typically personal and often irrelevant to the ebb and flow of the current conversation. The phrase is used as a flag, a method through which one captures an audience’s attention; say ‘no offence…’ in any social setting and everyone within earshot will pause to hear the outrageous and insulting quip you are about to discharge. The beauty of the term is that as well as removing any possible guilt or remorse from the mind of the insulter, the very wording of the phrase simultaneously forbids the subject from becoming openly offended. Since no offence was allegedly intended, the victim is expected to take it on the chin, to the point that any serious response or reaction on the subject’s behalf will immediately appear both unwarranted and uncool in the eyes of bystanders. After all, can’t you take a joke?

As a high school teacher, I have been gifted a rare insight into the dynamics of the adolescent social clique, and I am pained to witness on a daily basis the many cruel ways that children treat one another. Girls, I am ashamed to say, are the most vicious. I have seen boys literally knocking each other flat as a result of a ‘ya mum’ joke that went too far, but a hard and fast smack in the eardrum does a lot less damage to an individual when compared to the drip, drip, dripping of malicious insults, tapping slowly and tortuously onto the forehead of another. Of course, the issue on which I am basing this rant is by no means confined to young people; there are countless adults who can be as callous, if not more so, than the children for whom we are supposed to be setting an example.

So how should we respond when this septic term is uttered, whether as the victim or a member of the audience? At the outset, it needs to be noted that anyone who uses the phrase is a spineless tool, and for two good reasons. Firstly, if the person in question wants to say something insulting to someone, they should be brave enough to own their comment, rather than hiding behind a pathetic preamble. Secondly, if the individual feels the need to put someone else down in order to make themselves look good, they are probably neither nice or interesting.

Unfortunately, as a victim of the pandemic there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I would suggest falling back on your humility with the consolation that everyone present who possesses half a brain realises the speaker is a cretin making a cheap shot at your expense. As the audience however, you have a bit more power in this scenario (no one has instructed you not to take offence, after all). What I have found works particularly well is aiming a ‘no offence, but…’ back at the speaker. In doing this, you must be very careful to ensure that your retaliation has both more bite than the antagonists, and that it references their ridiculousness (so that those people within the circle of conversation who have a even a hint of intelligence can witness your outstanding wit and superior sarcasm).

So next time you hear a fool making a shallow and unreasonable statement in order to boost their own ego, close them down. Because if we can’t get rid of idiots, we can at least shut them up.

Footnote: ‘Nothing personal…’ is the evil twin of the above phrase. Ironically, this term is only uttered as a preface for something profoundly personal. Unfortunately, the irony is typically lost on the speaker, who isn’t trying to be clever, just mean.

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