Sunday, 31 July 2011

Norwich Pride

A text arrived yesterday asking us if we would like to attend Norwich Pride. Yes we thought. Might be nice to see, and to offer (hopefully not in a patronising way) our support to the LGBT community of Norwich. So we agreed to meet our friends, a gay couple, in Chapplefield Gardens. When we arrived there was a throng of interesting sights and assorted people:



I’m no lover of dogs but I did think this one was terminally cute:




When the allotted time for the procession to start we realised that we were expected to join in. Not a problem for me and my lady but I think we were just a little surprised as we assumed that to take part one had to be lesbian, gay, bi or transsexual. Clearly not. It would seem that whilst as a community they are discriminated against and abused in varying degrees they are welcoming and inclusive. The world could learn a lot from them.
As we passed through the Haymarket there were a small band of bigoted religious funny-mentalists who for some bizarre and inexplicable reason seem to object to the LGBT community. The old geezer brandishing a cross, and with hate and fear in his eyes, was a very sad sight to behold. I feel sorry for people like that, and I’m not sure of the wisdom of some in the procession who goaded this small dishevelled bunch of socially inadequate proselytisers, but then I’ve not suffered too much prejudice in my life so perhaps I’m not qualified to comment.

As we neared the end of the march, the finishing point being the Forum it occurred to me that there are so many minority groups in this country that suffer inequality and injustice to one extent or another that surely they/we could make up some kind of progressive majority. It’s thirsty work marching so on arriving at the Forum we headed straight for Cafe Marzano for a well deserved libation or three. Not very dedicated as we were unable to see or hear the speakers but very sociable. Peter Tatchell was there mingling, and for all we knew he had spoken to the gathering. All in all it was a good afternoon out. It'll be bigger and better next year I suspect.



At the Forum I purchased a copy of a local anarchist magazine Now & Never, which I was disappointed to discover had an editor. Not sure that’s very anarchist! It wasn’t a particularly good read in my opinion, and absolutely no mention of the Anarchist Rule Book.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Richard Griffiths is a jolly good actor

I had a bit of an email-banter with a work colleague today that I thought I’d share with you. I’ve removed company identifiers and changed the names of individuals to protect the innocent. I’ve also ‘cut and pasted’ it so that it appears in the order in which it was written:





From: Aitch, Deidre (company name)
Sent: 28 July 2011 07:49
To: Me (company name)


Subject:



Morniiiiiiiiiiiiing

Algernon at 50





Regards,
Deidre Aitch











From: Me (company name)
Sent: 28 July 2011 09:39
To: Aitch, Deidre (company name)


Subject: RE:



That’s strange it looks like Richard Griffiths to me!



Technically you can’t possibly know what anyone will look like at any point in the future because the future doesn’t exist. What would be technically correct would be to say “what Algernon might look like at 50”. I have my suspicions that this is in some way meant to be derogatory. If that is the case I feel I must frown upon it and point out that this sort of slur doesn’t help with trying to engender a polite and harmonious workplace. It’s all about karma; send out the right vibes and those vibes will reverberate and be reciprocated. Big respect to all. Boom Shankar!



Regards
Me



From: Aitch, Deidre (company name)
Sent: 28 July 2011 10:21
To: Me (company name)


Subject: RE:



Dear Me


GO FUCK YERSELF!!



Regards,
Deidre Aitch
Some Job Or The Other





From: Me (company name)
Sent: 28 July 2011 10:35
To: Aitch, Deidre (company name)


Subject: RE:



Anatomically impossible and poorly spelt! It’s a good job that I’m not easily offended.



It’s a classic tactic of those that cannot rationally analyse and/or justify their actions to turn to abuse as a defence mechanism. My sympathies are with you.



Regards
Me





From: Aitch, Deidre (company name)
Sent: 28 July 2011 10:59
To: Me (company name)


Subject: RE:



Wordsmith!



Regards,
Deidre Aitch
Any Old Title





From: Me (company name)
Sent: 28 July 2011 11:03
To: Aitch, Deidre (company name)


Subject: RE:



I shall take that as praise, given that it could never be applied as abuse.



Regards
Me





Are you starting again?



Regards,
Deidre Aitch
Whatever you want

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Cyber acquaintances

Isn’t the interweb a rum ol’ do? Your paths cross and you digitally connect with all manner of individuals. Some you already know and some you don’t. But its many more than I suspect you would ever hope to meet in the analogue world. And, you interact with them in ways that perhaps you would be too reserved to do face to face. Some people share intimate secrets with total strangers. Some organise revolutions. Some find love, enlightenment or both. It’s a world of infinite intercourse. Sadly all this free love of the World Wide Web has its darker side. Weirdoes, stalkers and worse lurk in the binary undergrowth. I’ve been reading recently about someone who has suffered from an interweb stalker; Most bizarre. Be careful how you choose your electronic companions.

Losing my religion

I received a state education during the sixties and early seventies. Up until the age of fifteen RE, or Religious Education to give the full title, was compulsory at our school unless you had parents that objected. Mine did not. So along with 99.9% of the other children I was indoctrinated with a belief system based on Church of England teaching. I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I trusted my educators, accepting what they told me to be true. All was fine, I was happy to be burgeoning fodder for the ruling classes; I was addicted to the opiate. That’s how it was until a particular art class at the age of twelve or thirteen. I’m not sure what priceless work of art I was creating at the time, it was possibly a coil pot, but I do remember the conversation in class turned to religion. We had at that time a young and enlightened art master who allowed us to chat in class and who would join in with the conversations. We were an all boys school where the conversations amongst my contemporaries would predominantly be about sport, telly, music, anatomy or bodily functions. Having said that, there was a rump of us who would happily discuss politics or philosophy. For art classes our class was usually split into two and we would alternate between painting/drawing and crafts. One group doing the former whilst the other group did the latter. Our group seemed to be made up of the more creative and rather more cerebral of our class, which is why when on that fateful afternoon the conversation turned to religion no one would have turned a hair. The conversation was going well when Ron Murrell declared himself to be an atheist. It was a word I had heard before, and was just about familiar with its meaning, but it was not a word that I had pondered on greatly. All was about to change. The teacher joined in, saying that he too was an atheist and outlined his reasons for being so. For the first time in my life an authority figure had offered a different perspective on life. One that challenged the status quo. This was a momentous revelation. A teacher had said that he did not believe in God and nothing had happened. Dark clouds did not part and he was not struck by a thunderbolt. Perhaps he had a point. For several days I mulled over that afternoon’s discussions. Could it be that perhaps I was an atheist too? I did not reach a conclusion easily. But eventually I decided that, yes, I was indeed an atheist. The mumbo jumbo that is mainstream Christianity no longer seemed credible to me. To me the scriptures were now just glorified fairy stories. And an atheist was the way I stayed for around the next twenty years; a zealous and committed non-believer.

I won’t go into the details of my religious experience (or awakening) but suffice to say that I no longer considered myself to be an atheist. I wasn’t actually sure what I was but I knew I was no longer an atheist. I became a seeker. After much enquiring I learned of Gnosticism. It seemed to describe how I felt. I did not believe in the existence of God I just knew of God’s existence. I wasn’t sure what I should do with this new found knowledge so I carried on seeking. It was to be another ten years before I found myself a spiritual home. Led there peculiarly by my interest in the Civil War. That home was to be the Religious Society of Friends, better known to most as the Quakers. And there I stayed for the next five or so years; an enthusiastic Attendee, an almost friend. But it was not to last. My world was to be turned upside down when my marriage ended and my Gnostic status severely challenged. I questioned all my beliefs again. Nothing was sacred. I realised that my ‘revelation’ years earlier was probably down to some neurological blip, temporary chemical imbalance or just wishful thinking. The angel of God it most certainly wasn’t. I returned to being an atheist, and whilst I was aware that there were friends who were also agnostics and atheists, I no longer felt comfortable attending meeting. Me and the Quakers parted company. I have been to meeting once since moving to Norwich. It was earlier this year. But I did not feel at all good about it so I’m not sure that I will ever return.

As a born again atheist I am fervently anti-religion now. As I’ve said before on this blog, I don’t object to anyone following the religion of their choice as long as they don’t try to foist it on to anyone else. And, the default position of society should only ever be secular. The older I get and the more pain and suffering I witness in this world, the more I find the concept of a creator unbelievable. If there is a God, and I don’t see how there can be, it must be a very sick bastard indeed. Religion and gods are the invention of man; they are tools of oppression, not based on any real evidence. I like to think that I am now a confirmed atheist and all the better for it.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

English and Americanisms

I don’t have a lot of time for nationalists or patriots. They are indeed scoundrels. I’m not even sure I subscribe to the notion of land ownership or territory. Obviously in terms of governance a defined area or jurisdiction is pretty essential but I do think that the majority of people who reside in these islands are far too hung up on national identity. I suppose I consider myself English. I have a great love of the English language (despite my often poor use of it as this blog testifies) and our culture, even though in reality both are so nebulous that they prove near impossible to quantify. But that is the great thing about Englishness it doesn’t really exist. English people and their culture is a dynamic cocktail, an ever changing melting pot of culture and ethnicity. This is not a new phenomena, it’s been like that for centuries, if not millennia. There can never be a pure pedigree English person, it is a genetic impossibility. There is no measurement of Englishness. Over the centuries the land mass known as England has been populated by people from across the world. With them has come language and culture which we’ve absorbed. England’s motto should be ‘adopt, adapt and improve’ and I think that’s what makes this such a good place to live. We are not rigid; we are open to new ideas. This helps us to prosper both financially and culturally. Being open minded and accommodating has brought us tremendous benefits over the years. I hope we never lose it. In evolutionary terms the key to survival is to constantly widen the gene pool.

I like Americans, I like aspects of their culture and I’ve very much enjoyed the small amount of the USA that I’ve seen. I don’t much care for their foreign policy, their cultural imperialism, their gun-control laws, the way they treat many of their citizens at the lower end of the economic scale and the fact that they still have the death penalty is totally despicable. I work for an American owned company, who as capitalist organisations go is an okay employer. My American colleagues tend to be very nice people if not always worldly-wise, and so very few of them seem to have passports. Many have trouble accepting that we (in the UK) don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or have the 4th of July off. I know it’s wrong to make generalisations but much of the time Americans are very culturally insular. Why is it that when books, films, records etc travel from the UK to the USA deference to their version of English needs to be observed but when the traffic is in the other direction it doesn’t matter a jot. It is presumed that American-English will do. I think that it is the pure arrogance of it that irritates me. The attitude that their ways are right and everybody else’s ways are wrong. This BBC News article about how Americanisms (is that an Americanism?) irritate many of us was quite interesting. With plenty I could identify with. I’m sure there are very many reasons why Americanisms irritate so many of us. Some of it will be misguided nationalism, some of it will be racist, and some will believe that anything other than the fictitious ‘Queens English’ is a travesty, but as far as I’m concerned it’s about reducing our capacity to communicate. I have already acknowledged that English is forever evolving. I like the fact that we have regional language differences as well as the international differences (which include African, Antipodean, Canadian and US - apologies for those I’ve missed out). It makes for interesting listening and reading when we have all these variations. What really concerns me is that instead of absorbing new words from various sources we just adopt American-English wholesale, so that we end up with one homogenised language. A language based on inaccuracies. After all American-English does have the tendency to be rather Neanderthal, relying as it does on the lowest common denominator approach. If it works for them that’s fine, but I think it’s very lazy when the English adopt these neo-words and phrases. My fear is that if the change from English to American carries on exponentially we will end up just grunting at each other in a return to our prehistoric past. Some people have commented on Twitter in a rather pompous fashion that they think it’s rude of us to be irritated by Americanisms. Others just don’t understand what the fuss is about and that we should just embrace their language like ‘loving Big Brother’. I fear these sorts of people are quite shallow and really haven’t thought things through. Having vented my spleen I do accept that inevitably we will end up all speaking American-English but that’s no reason to give in quietly. The longer we can retain at least a modicum of sophistication in our language the more enjoyable life will be.

Going back to the BBC article, two Americanisms that really irritate are ‘can I get’ and ‘9/11’. This is because their technical inaccuracies offend my pedantry. I’ve ranted about ‘can I get’ before so I won’t repeat myself. I feel a rant coming on about ‘9/11’ so watch this space.


#hackgate

Anyone who uses the term or hash-tag (as it is popularly known) ‘#hackgate’ on Twitter is a complete tosser. To which gate might they be referring to, and what is its relevance to the hacking scandal that hangs over the murky Murdoch Empire?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Free press my arse

Freedom is one of those words that are often bandied about by the right as justification for their actions. When right-wingers use the term what they really mean is ‘the freedom to exploit or oppress others’. And so it is with our press. We don’t have a free press in this country. We have a press of vested interests. We have a press that is owned by a rich, powerful and minute minority, a press that wants to reduce the power of government. In other words a press that wants to reduce the power of the people. The press isn’t free. It is very much un-free. Beholden to their rich masters. We are deluding ourselves if we think that our press represents a vast cross-section of society. It doesn’t and it probably never will. I also happen to think that the newspaper has had its day. It is now in decline and the Murdoch mess has hastened the process. The ‘free press’ has only ever been the stuff of dreams and never a reality.






".... you should understand
That those who own the papers also own this land
And they'd rather you believe
In coronation street capers
In the war of circulation, it sells newspapers
Could it be an infringement
Of the freedom of the press
To print pictures of women in states of undress


When you wake up to the fact
That you paper is tory
Just remember, there are two sides to every story"

It Says Here – by Billy Bragg

Friday, 15 July 2011

Don’t be an ass you arse

Some poor misguided souls don’t seem to know what an ass is. They live under the misapprehension that it is a bottom. Perhaps they have been confused by watching countless performances of Willy the Spear-shaker’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. An ass is a horse like quadruped – see below. What they normally mean is arse. It bemuses me as to why they don’t use the term arse. Is it a stupidity thing?


My thanks to Wikipedia for a definitive definition:
“The donkey or ass, Equus africanus asinus,[1][2] is a domesticated member of the Equidae or horse family. The wild ancestor of the donkey is the African Wild Ass, E. africanus. In the western United States, a small donkey is sometimes called a burro (from the Spanish word for the animal).

A male donkey or ass is called a jack, a female a jenny, and an offspring less than one year old a foal (male: colt, female: filly).

While different species of the Equidae family can interbreed, offspring are almost always sterile. Nonetheless, horse/donkey hybrids are popular for their durability and vigour. A mule is the offspring of a jack (male donkey) and a mare (female horse). The much rarer successful mating of a male horse and a female donkey produces a hinny.

Asses were first domesticated around 3000 BC,[3] approximately the same time as the horse, and have spread around the world. They continue to fill important roles in many places today. While domesticated species are increasing in numbers, the African wild ass and another relative, the Onager, are endangered. As "beasts of burden" and companions, asses and donkeys have worked together with humans for millennia.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ass_(animal)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bumf

I’m old enough to remember outside toilets. They weren’t too clever, especially in the winter. Most that I experienced were connected to the main water supply and the sewers, but not all. When I was very young my paternal grandparents owned a picturesque thatched cottage just outside Bury St Edmunds. Whilst it every bit looked the part in terms of bucolic gem├╝tlichkeit, facilities it had to be said were rudimentary. There was cold running water to the cottage and that was it. The ‘lav’, for that’s what it was, was a wooden shed. Inside the shed was an oil drum. On top of the oil drum rested a toilet seat. On the right wall (looking in) about half way up and standing proud was a six inch nail that had been strategically banged in. Hanging on the nail joined by a loop of string was a wad of paper. Rough hand-torn squares of scrap ranging from shiny tissue to newsprint. It depended on what was around the cottage at the time. Periodically this wooden construction would be moved around the back garden, with one hole being filled in and a fresh one dug. As a young lad I dreaded having to go to the toilet at Granddad’s. In winter it was cold, dark and smelly. In the summer it was hot and even smellier and flies were your constant companions. This was Britain in the 60s! I was always so pleased to return to our modern council house with it’s inside toilet and hot and cold running water, and with proper toilet paper. Mind you the toilet paper in those days was nothing like today. We used to have sheets in a box rather than a roll, not that it really matter as the paper was the same; the ubiquitous Izal Medicated. Forget the super soft luxury toilet rolls of today Izal Medicated was not the faint hearted. It was hard, shiny, non-absorbent and non-stick. You were left with more than a stiff upper lip after using it I can tell you. “Kids today don’t know they are born!


Despite having ‘roughed it’ in my youth, camped and having been to quite a number of music festivals I really I can’t imagine what it must be like not to have access to any sanitation. In too many countries having access to a toilet and washing facilities can mean the difference between life and death. The absence of sanitation can kill. That is why I urge you if you can to support the work of the One Difference organisation. One “create brilliant, quality products, and every time you buy one,” they “donate 100% of the profit to life-changing projects in developing countries”. For some time now we’ve been buying One toilet rolls. The profits from which go to fund sanitation projects in Africa. In my humble opinion their toilet rolls are actually some of the best you could hope to buy. They are really really good. Soft yet strong. And by buying them others, less fortunate than us, are benefitting. To use horrible management speak ‘a win-win situation’.

Please support them if you can.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Lundy

At the beginning of June we spent a week on Lundy. It was a holiday that had been planned on a dark winter’s evening over two years ago in February 2009 when staying at The Castle of Park, a Landmark Trust property in Glenluce, Dumfries and Galloway. Lundy is a small island 3 miles long and ½ mile wide that sits in the Bristol Channel 10 miles off the coast of Devon. It is owned by the National Trust who in turn lease to the Landmark Trust. If you don’t know who the Landmark Trust are well they are a wonderful organisation that restores old and interesting buildings and then rents them out as holiday lets. Most of the buildings on Lundy are situated in one small village in the south of the island. For our week we were staying in Government House. With one shop and one pub on the island we were concerned that our stay might seem very long if the fare was mediocre. But we needn’t have worried, the shop was like a mini Waitrose and the pub was a most excellent hostelry.
Lundy is a nature lover’s paradise. It is an emerald in a sea of lapis lazuli. The water around is so clear in various shades of blue and turquoise. With so few people on the island it is a haven for sea birds including the puffin, from which in Old Norse the island gets its name. Goats, Soay sheep, deer and ponies roam wild on the island. One day I wandered down to the small beach close to the harbour. There was nobody around as I stood gazing out to sea. I was suddenly aware that I was being watched. Two heads popped out of the water close to where I stood. They stared at me quizzically then disappeared. Moments later they popped up again ain a slightly different position. Two grey seals with their sad black eyes; a magical moment and I kicked myself for not having my camera with me. Lundy is full of experiences like this. It is essentially a remote theme park for the middle classes, but a place well worth a visit. Here are a few of my holiday snaps:
















Sunday, 10 July 2011

I worry about Twitter.

Not just Twitter I might add, but social media in general. The likes of Twitter have enjoyed, of late, what might be described as some success, with the super-injunction debacle, and this week playing their part in the attacks against Murdoch and the News of the World. Is this all good for democracy? I have mixed feelings.

Whilst it feels good when popular victories are won against the forces of evil, like Murdoch, and I must say I have a mild Twitter addiction, I do worry that there is a fine line between justified protest and a sort of herd/lynch mob mentality. My concern would be if the latter were to prevail.

A free press is important in a democracy (not that we necessarily live in a true democracy) but we don't really have a free press. We have a press owned by a small number of very rich and powerful individuals. Most of whom have a vested interest in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. If we really had a free press it would greater reflect society as a whole.

I have no love of the rich and famous or an interest in the cult of 'celebrity'. I really don't care who is shagging who and in what orientation or denomination. So from that point of view I think that I would possibly welcome privacy laws but on the other hand I fear that those same laws could be used to gag journals and journalists from reporting on matters that in my opinion would be matters of genuine public interest. It is all quite a dilemma. I do quite like the idea that Hugh Grant has been advocating. He feels that newspapers should be subject to the same rules as television in terms of impartiality etc. Would this work? Possibly. It surely would be better than what we have at the moment; where papers just print out and out lies that smear an individual or a party. Once a story is printed in a paper that story is treated by many as fact. It is very hard for innocent individuals to clear their name and refute allegations. It is the total opposite to our justice system where individuals should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. As far as newspapers are concerned if they think you are guilty or your face doesn't fit or they don't like your politics then they will condemn you. Newspapers are never going to let fairness or justice get in the way of a 'good' story. Yes we have libel laws. But justice is slow and expensive and really only open to the rich. Innocent people have their characters besmirched and destroyed just to sell newspapers. That really can't be fair. The press do need a regulatory body that is truly independent and with the power to fine, order prominent retractions and apologies and to suspend publication if necessary.

There is no doubt that the mass circulation newspaper is on the decline. Electronic media will take its place. The gutter press thrives on rumour and innuendo. My fear is that Twitter could well go the same way, if it has not done so already. I do hope that it doesn't become lowest common denominator saturated.

This last week's events have reminded me of a John Cooper Clarke poem 'Suspended Sentence'. No prizes for guessing why.