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Saturday 27 November 2021

People with Dirty Labels

Reading and listening to every article and discussion on the horror of the migrant crisis has brought home how unarguable it is us that we are a country of arrogant, over privileged selfish arseholes.

That a large body of people would rather see mass pain and suffering than give away a tiny slice of cake to a stranger.

We are conditioned with fake outrage towards every act a person may make in getting to those shores. In one breath we are the world beating masters of everything inviting the richest world beating best to join us, in the next we are the poor and fragile creosote man of Month Python fame unable to take one more tiny morsel into our overgorged bellies in case we explode. 

Wilful ignorance abounds, selectively chosen to see us poor English as the victims and everyone else as the bad guy. We could never be to blame and whilst few of us would have the stomach to hold a drowning woman's head under the water, many are happy to turn their heads whilst others do. Farage and his gruesome entourage spend hours walking the beaches looking for horror, not to help or assist but to gloat over their special place in their world. Poverty and tragedy porn at it's worse, standing over a person who has made a journey more extraordinary, perilous and unbearable than anyone in this small minded country could imagine, yet the tiny bit of lifesaving dignity these people have left is far more than Farage could ever possess. 

The person who's idea of a bad day is waking up next door to a Romanian family cannot even offer a towel, a warm blanket and hot mug of tea to shivering souls on a beach. He mocks and ostracises those that do. Such a Christian spirit. As I recall in my reading of the bible, generosity of spirit didn't have a cap. The good Samaritan didn't say ''tough, I've saved enough people today, I'm off to the pub, the rest can die.'

Our Government has a policy not vastly less horrific. Pretending to mourn those poor people who drown but equally making it policy to turn back the boats to make it more likely they will drown.

For those that do survive, rather than a warm welcome and the hand of friendship we have a our artificially generated hostile environment. How far are we from lining the M20 with people spitting and abusing people as they are shipped to accommodation around the country. Our media positively encourages this response firing up the rhetoric with words like invasion and economic migrant. Even the word Asylum Seekers is seen as a dirty label for a person, when it literally is what it says, 'someone seeking help and sanctuary'.

What are we told to see? A person who isn't a person. But a robber, a thief, a terrorist. Humanity and cause stripped back to dirty labels. 

So what do we do? First strategy is to ask media to be nice and turn our more darker instincts to a fresher view of the world. I say it because that's what should happen but will never happen.

Oddly under the covers of the hostile environment the government knows they can no longer stop the migrant crossings and they also know they will grow in numbers as more displacement is inevitable. Reality is truly a bummer. Like with Covid and Brexit, migration problems don't go away with shouting at the TV and wishing them solved. Reality keeps coming back to bite and the news eventually will turn against those who continually blame others. Popularity goes in cycles and eventually it will turn on them. 

Even the most stupid government needs a strategy so eventually I believe the only way to stop the boats be to open up some legal routes. The government would like to do this quietly and hidden from view so they can claim credit for solving the boats problem in the channel without increasing the number of migrants on our shores. They could actually have got away with this once upon a time as 95% of people in the country never even see or meet an asylum seeker or can't tell them apart from others. They are an invisible problem which we only know exists because it makes good headlines.

Sadly the government can't work on the solutions in the background because they have created such a toxic atmosphere, everyone is watching and waiting for the next story to unfold. The opening of legal routes for these people will be treated as a betrayal and a defeat. Other parties will be subject to this accusation to a greater degree making it worse for politicians seeking to do the right thing.

So in order to spin it well and tell the right story the language will not change, the hate will continue and we will no doubt be drowning people routinely for some time yet. 

We lack the leadership to resist the rhetoric and treat the population as adults. Perhaps also we lack the population willing to listen to a leader attempt to explain this. Such is the world we live in. 

Sunday 21 March 2021

Ignorance has its champion


Free Speech, flag lovers and cancel culture have littered too many conversations in recent weeks in the same way that some days walking the streets there is more dog crap to avoid. Nonsense dressed up as victimisation for people who behave like over fed dogs pulling faces when they are denied a treat.

There are plenty of people who have a right to victimhood and I don’t have to reach too far to find an example among racial, disabled and women’s groups. No-one ever gave them a free speech mandate. They have never been cancelled either because they didn’t get a booking in the first place. Just as the recent decades decided to reach out an olive branch of a few token bookings and media slots the establishment has found a way to demand their own special treatment. It’s the same kind of victimhood where the richest make you believe they are more deserving of tax cuts than the poorest. The success of this tactic at the ballot box has given the principle more virtue and allowed right wing nut jobs to claim they have been injured whilst punching a liberal.

The right-wing media have long been masters of the creating the patriotic victim strawman by suggesting immigrants from remote parts of Africa have an in depth knowledge of the UK benefits system. The fact that none of them understand how little benefits migrants can claim is not just a reflection of the lack of education in those African states but the ignorance pumping through the veins of too many of this country.

With social media growing the TV media has been bent like a child under the weight of a bully. Outlets are either active in promoting victimhood or are forced to represent these arguments to avoid being accused as being part of cancel culture. This is combined with the pay per clicks culture encouraging the input of skinhead Barry whose father was a bad’un and started a Facebook group under a fake name he found in Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry film. Skinhead Barry is a social justice warrior fighting our freedom of speech campaigning that union jack tattoos should be mandatory.

Ignorance now has its champion.

I remember when ignorance was to be avoided not giving a grant and business plan. Talk about cancel culture, they get to claim they are being cancelled on prime time TV and every social media page in the country. That’s some platform for an opinion that once wouldn’t have got views beyond a cubicle in the pub toilet.

A car crash is due. With brains the size of peas and more contradictions than a Trump speech, I get the feeling they will turn in on themselves. But with the narrative of division written through any contentious event it will have be to something momentous. Even a global pandemic was like giving an arsonist fire safety training.

At some point truth will have marketable value again in the same way as flares are coming back in fashion. Most of us would even wear the flares if that’s the only thing that gives us hope.

Monday 15 March 2021

The Right to be Scared: Why would we deny it?


The last week on social media has been as challenging and thought provoking as many in recent times. Considering the Brexit battles, BLM and Covid we haven’t been short of material but this week took us further down the toilet of our self-destructive and divisive culture. This week’s crowning judgement is remarkably similar to the All Lives matter slogan of last year, designed to undermine the legitimate protest that maybe black people through lived experienced may feel that their lives matter somewhat less. The slogan doing the rounds this week is ‘Notallmen’ in defiance of women suggesting that men need to pay attention to how they as women are feeling.

This is the crux of my concern. It has become so commonplace for strangers on the opposite side of the fence to inform you of your own opinions and how you should feel. To crown 2 issues together in a very neat opposite is a white man telling a black (I include Asian in the same group) woman of the following list of feelings:

·        That to say that white men can be racist makes you racist about white men

·        That to say all men late at night on your own in a public may create fear, is the same as accusing all men of rape

·        That a man explaining to you that you have no need to fear men despite the fact that you do fear men in these situations and therefore you must be paranoid, unnecessarily hysterical and probably hate men and are a lesbian.

·        That a man telling you what to do in vulnerable situations in no way includes telling a man perhaps they should restrain from such attacks or abuse of women.

Men are excused for being men, as if behaviour choices are tribal and involuntarily. Men for the most part are fearful of tackling other men because they are scared of a violent reaction. Interesting point that one, because if I as a man, am scared of a violent reaction to being challenged, how the hell is a woman supposed to feel.

Another factor in the excusing of men is that some of the more vocal libertarian women in the media seemed to want to join in. Certainly point 3 above was wafted around mainstream newspapers in female penned columns. But let’s not get too distracted by that. The women in these particular media outlets are in their jobs purely because they are willing to excuse men or certainly attack other women’s groups or ethnic minorities.

What to conclude from this, I do not know. I am loathe to call women victims because that is me imposing my feelings on a whole group of independent individuals, but the key point is that if a woman tells me she is scared, my job is to believe her and reflect on what I can do to adjust my behaviour. If a woman tells me she is uncomfortable it’s not for me to say, oh don’t worry, it’s just me being a dick. The right answer is stop being a dick. I might think I’m harmless but if one woman is scared then probably others are too. It’s the same late at night or in busy places. I don’t get close to women on their own. They may or may not be scared or aware of me, but if I am conscious of my presence it’s likely they are too. Step away, cross the road. If that’s not possible say something to reassure. Defuse any anxiety.

Admitting to myself that I can be as scary and intimidating as other men in these situations is not a reflection of my behaviour or my honour. In fact by acknowledging and creating space then the women around me know that I am not a threat. They feel better and so do I. The only way to be less threatening is to actively behave in a less threatening way. It works and from what I have heard and read this week it is all that women are asking. They are not saying all men are bad but please behave in a way that reassures strangers and doesn’t add to fear.

The final point is that about men challenging men. The problem is spotting it quick enough. Men I have known in the past, even the most laddish who from the outside might be perceived as at risk of predatory behaviour would also go to the extremes to ensure a woman was safe. They are remarkably respectful and honourable in public spaces and go out of their way to look after women around them. For example, in a taxi queue, they would let women jump the queue to get the first cab. Small things but probably a relief to any lone girls standing in a drunken queue. A friend was always the biggest lad around and he was quite happy to risk the wrath of the men waiting to ensure the girl was safe. Though he might turn around and joke about the size of her chest back to us, he would never let the girl feel unsafe. I guess it shows that being around men and groups of men there can be all sorts of behaviours, some less forgivable than others.  

In bars, where most of the time I observe poor behaviour, girls are mixing in the same groups. The dynamics are complex so sometimes I look away. As I’m not frequently out on my own late at night, I see less of the stalker type behaviours. Though for all my lack of seeing it, I have no doubt it exists. How do I know? Because women tell me. Reading all the social media stories last week tells me and should tell all of us. Pay more attention and see what’s happening. And if possible, intervene, do something.

Why deny someone their experience? So often in these pages I wonder why people, mainly men, believe that being considerate and empathic takes something away from them. We must do better. I must do better. We all have women in our lives, perhaps we should listen more and judge less.

Monday 8 March 2021

International Women's Day, So let's hear from a man

 It’s International Women’s Day and that means it’s time for a man to share his opinion. You would think actually, this day, should be a day of respectful silence for men. A day for once where our opinion can stay purely a thought with no requirement for it to be shared verbally or in writing with a woman.

I can hear the voice of every woman in the country collectively chiming… I can live with that. So by rights that should be the end of this blog whilst I take my silence.

Nah, not going to happen.

In lieu of my silence I would like to use to this blog to wonder why men struggle with such silence around women.

First let’s deal with the male voice choir requesting an International Men’s Day. In fact, there is one. It’s in November but nobody cared. Not even men. And that’s kind of the point. Most men don’t feel the need to campaign for recognition because we can’t claim history bypassed us or denied us. Men were ahead of the queue before queues were invented. This front of queue phenomenon has been sold as either natural male supremacy and that women should appreciate being an important second or alternately as a heroic need for us to queue on behalf of women to provide and share resources.   

Men are crying foul as we are bumped from the queue and women are asking for a share of the front spot. Sadly men colleagues, we have to recognise we’ve had the front seat since the beginning of humanity so we can gracefully sit this one out a little longer. It’s terrible I know.

This victim sentiment is powerful and moving. Having had all the patronage through thousands of years it is quite tragic to realise that we might not be as important as we like to think. Tiny violins are being played by women as they try not to collapse in hysterics. Also men complaining about women playing victim card in their campaigns, now claiming to be victims ourselves, is acute level irony.

Men do better please.

Seriously nothing bad ever happened because a woman got a job. Whilst a woman having a valid point of view might feel like some act of castration, it really isn’t. Men, here’s an experiment.  Close our eyes and mouth for a few moments and listen to said point of view. It’s scary I know but when we open our eyes once more, the world will still be there. The house will not have fallen down and all our bits will still be intact. We might even like it. After all, men, our egos have to do a lot of work so giving them a day off might do wonders for our longevity.

So why do us men fail at this so abysmally? It’s simple. Everything politically and socially is sold as a zero sum game. If we give women one of our chips then we will have less chips. Also if we give her one chip then she’s want more of them until we will have none left. It’s so unfair until we realise that we had far too many chips and keeping them all for our self is what’s being making us fat and ill. So share. But the world has an infinite number of chips. Giving women more chips doesn’t mean we have less because if we’re clever we just make more chips. Most of our resources, jobs and even queues, have more than enough spaces for men and women. It is simply a convenient perception that by sharing something, we automatically have less.

Observe the way politicians always talk of financial constraints where it is suggested if we give a nurse a pay rise, we have to drown a migrant. Why can’t we give nurses a pay rise and stop migrants drowning at the same time. Answer is. We can. We can do both and do lots of other things. That is what life is about, picking how we prioritise. You can have 1000 things on a list and order them in priority but still do all of them. Repeatedly we are told it’s the opposite of that. Men are being given the wrong message and education about this sharing business. I wonder who it is that keeps telling men that they are being deprived of something.

Oh that’s right…. Men.

So for the women of the world, I apologise for men. We are macho, tough, heroes, your natural superiors at the same time as being victims and fearful that you might do something better than we do. It’s not your fault we are complicated, contradictory beings that barely understand ourselves.

Enjoy your day Women. You deserve it today and every day because men have got a heavy debt to pay before we get to even.

Meanwhile, perhaps we can have a new day in the calendar for men. A ‘Get Over Yourself’ day. Men can spend the day in a vacuum or in the middle of a forest and told to shout out 100 opinions an hour. At the end of the day we can ask ourselves if nobody heard us speak, did anyone give a shit.

Sunday 7 March 2021

Nothing is more boring than our own opinions. My characters have far more of value to say


Writing has taught me something that I might otherwise have failed to learn. It perhaps makes me who I am, still flawed in the usual ways but having worked out some of what matters to me.

The core challenge of writing is farming knowledge from people around me to develop stories and characters. If we only ever wrote from a single point of view, that is, our own, then all writing would be one dimensional, predictable and boring. Like some other writers, when I began, I wrote in order to express an opinion or tell the world what I think. Quickly I learnt that politically motivated rants offer little nuance without a character to support. Writing therefore is not about imposing my opinion on other people but listening and understanding other points of view. Giving life to them. Their opinions might actually be more important than mine. This is extraordinarily powerful when exploring the experience of women and other minority groups. The downtrodden or victims of abuse.

That is a lesson in life. Ask myself, why do people think or do what they do? The conclusion is rarely vastly different from our own motivations. So learning about ourselves helps us to understand others.

As an exercise this starts with self-exploration, gathering my own motivations, darker desires, framing my opinions and getting a sense of my own imperfections. This self-examination is by no means a perfect exercise. The results can be inconsistent and frequently affected by mood. Some people are self-critical, others struggle to admit failings so easily and will see history in rose tinted ways. It is hard to be honest with ourselves but the exercise remains useful. Others will attempt similar learning through spirituality and I have complete respect for the centuries old traditions of self-exploration through religion or meditation as long as it is not some kind of self-harm or sacrificial ritual. That kind of activity is the opposite of learning. The creation of pain or harm seems wholly unnecessary when so many other methods exist.

I am keen to understand spiritual rituals more. In my complete minimalist superficial exploration of these methods so far, they have been useful for clearing my mind, but have taught me little more about myself.

My self-learning has been through the creation of story characters. I started this piece by talking about listening and learning from others. This allows me to create the story characters and see life through their eyes. Using the first person in writing empowers those characters to be bolder and share with the reader elaborate versions of me. The reader can take a view that some of what is described is the writer’s personal point of view but clearly if my character is a woman or someone distinctly different e.g. age, ethnicity then the ability of the reader to attach meaning to the writer is challenged. For the writer in me, it allows me to braver with content. Things I don’t feel able to talk about or say myself are given voice and power. Without this self-expression I couldn’t be as brave. I guess actors would say something similar. By becoming a character they can give more of themselves.

In my characters, I know the bits that belong to me and those I stole from others. The extent to which I do that is unimportant to the reader as long as the story is worth it. But for me it is invaluable. It has given me the discipline to avoid judgement and understand more about why people are the way they are. As stated above it’s not a perfect process. I still slip into opinion and lazy judgement at times. I simply try to do it less.

The times I am more likely to slip into such lazy judgement is when faced with those who don’t have this self-examination. Those who deny others their experience and lack empathy. Those who tell rather than listen, impose rather than encourage, create difference rather than seek union.

Modern social exchanges lack much about what we learned from each other in the past. As convenience creates apathy and empathy collapses when we need it most.

Sharing has never taken anything away from me. I still have my preferences and choices, I still see myself as individual. The worry is that many still struggle with this and the more we challenge the harder the point of view becomes. I found my way but can’t see why others don’t do the same. Apathy and convenience might be the answer. The result is extremes grow stronger. As they encourage more hardening of views, we will all be less for it.

Friday 26 February 2021

The Great Deflection: Gaslighting for Beginners

Gaslighting is an overused phrase in modern social media parlance largely because it is actually  the most successful form of getting away with it and has been for years.

The first of lesson in gaslighting is that it's never your fault. Especially if you are a man. Great examples of the ancient form, she's a witch who some how used her magic spells to make you want to have sex with her. Temptress, harlot, progressing neatly to the modern day golddigger or perhaps, if she hadn't worn that short skirt and flashed her eyes like that, you would never have noticed her. Her constant complaining made you want to have an affair. .

Second lesson of gaslighting is do not under any circumstances admit guilt. This is actually the hardest part. The whole point of gaslighting is exposing the weakness in other people. The worst think you can therefore do is let your own weakness come to the fore. Denial even in the face of absolute truth is very powerful. Because your accuser has to accuse you of lying or question her own evidence. The accusation of lying against a partner is almost the nuclear option. Partners are less likely to throw a bomb into a relationship because the consequence of such a truth is that the relationship has to end. By denying this truth, the accuser has to work backwards to explain away evidence. The self-doubt generated is extraordinary. Done once, a crack is opened in the door, it's easy to force the window wider and gaslighting is in full swing. Examples of this including, you being seen kissing a girl only to be explained as a quick peck on the cheek with a friend, persuading the accuser that they didn't see the kiss at all.

The third lesson is deflection. If the rules of blame and denial are failing, it's now better to create a diversion. Classic in this genre is to declare illness. Your partner will immediately be obliged to show sympathy and if they area already semi-gaslighted they will be happy to accept the excuse not to face the truth. The gaslit partner is the most caring ever. The other form of deflection is that common in the legal form. Blame the process, make them question procedure because whilst all your accusers are discussing which is the correct process, the rules of the game, you're still getting away with it.

It's an artform and can be taken to any extreme. Practice is the key. Once you experience and see how powerful it is to reduce your accuser to doubting their own self-worth, the game is won. Once you see it, it can't be unseen. it's everywhere in life, in the workplace, in politics, especially in the government. 

Government are the masters of  gaslighting, persuading a nation that the countries problems they created are somehow the fault of foreigners, bureaucracy, looney left councils, single mothers or anyone who gives a shit. 

Practice makes perfect. The gaslighter has nothing to fear from the truth because the truth is whatever you say it is.

Saturday 20 February 2021

People who love the flag too much


I’ve never been a flag worshipper of any type. As someone growing up with the National Front and the British National Party hoarding the flag like a political accessory, I found it represented everything I wasn’t. Plus on the streets where I grew up I didn’t find the flag much of visible presence. The St George’s Cross I honestly would not have recognised until well into the eighties. Most flags I saw were football ones and even those I avoided because being openly partisan at school or in the street usually resulted in a punch on the nose.

That’s stuck with me despite being an England fan in sports and enjoying football. I never felt the need to wear the kit or the flag.

In 2003 when I went to work in The Hague national flags suddenly became of interest and I had to think about the flag that was supposed to represent me. The Dutch national flag which was visible quite often on people’s houses and they seemed far prouder of their flag than I was off my own. In a multinational office many people had their desk adorned with a neat national flag. Malaysia, Germany, France, Singapore, South Africa, USA. Flags abundant. But I was reluctant to get a Union Jack flag. Why was that? Here was all my colleagues quite proud of their country and here is me reticent of the same.

Eventually I brought out the flag as part of the frequent sports banter that adorns any office and became easier to showcase my colours. Plus it is fact that I cannot change. I am British and this flag is the most recognisable form to other people. England flag the same. I am as English, British as it comes and I cannot claim any other heritage of meaning. Such a claim would have been mighty hand come the Brexit years.

The striking thing I learnt in those years was not only people’s love of Britishness, Englishness and much of our traditions and habits, it was quite clear they often appreciated things I never did. The tourist sights, our habits, our ultra-long winded way of saying something simple. They seemed to delight in these quirks so I should too. It taught me to be own my heritage a little more. It wasn’t something to deny but actually celebrate.

It’s not easy to shake off those who feel patriotism only belongs to right wing politics. Especially in recent years as this theme has returned with a vengeance as identity politics grows. So I still have to fight the assumption that someone waving a British flag isn’t also a nationalist, a racist, someone full of hate for other nationalities. The thing I learnt more than anything in The Hague was, whilst we had some banter and fun poking about national traits it was never negative or competitive. No malice came with it. Loving your own country doesn’t mean hating another.

The union jack wavers I too often see at home and tattooed on arms frequently are not so altruistic. It’s a zero sum game.

I remember in the 80’s Norman Tebbit, one of Thatcher’s right wing ideologists talked about his cricket test. This meant if you didn’t support England at the cricket then you were not a patriot, directly and deliberately challenging those of South Asian or Caribbean origins for being proud of their heritage. This divisiveness is still prevalent today though the EU flag being the recent enemy of choice is all about saying you can’t be both British and European. You can’t be both Indian and British.

It works as well. It plays wonderfully to those who believe that immigration has taken something from them. Also a complete insult to those who found love for the complex and fascinating idea of wanting to be both things at once. And why can’t we? We are none of us one thing so why does our nationality have to enforce a rigid and xenophobic approach to those not born to that flag. The deeper I think about it the more farcical and ridiculous it becomes. The fact that we test people’s patriotism or love of a country by a flag just becomes silly.

It’s not to say other countries don’t have similar problems with flags and what they represent. I remember being caught up in very brutal argument about Dutch racism. It was about Zwarte Pete and the representation of slave labour. The white Dutch telling the black Dutch how he should feel about it. Always an interesting lesson in point of view when I watch someone being denied their own experience.

I don’t believe I will ever have a love for the union jack or any single flag because I don’t want the flag to define me. If I had all the flags that represent me now it would be about 10 different ones from India to the EU. All of them represent a part of me and that is something I am proud of.