Saturday, 28 February 2009

Arm alarm (2)

A father's letter to the London Independent describing his son’s reaction to Cerrie Burnell's arm is so wonderful it's worth quoting verbatim:

My six year old son is an avid watcher of CBeebies. I quizzed him as we watched the channel.

I asked him if he liked Cerrie.

“Yes, he said. “A lot.”

“What’s the most noticeable thing about her?” I asked.

“She’s got lovely hair” he replied.

“Do you notice anything different about her?” I asked.

“No” he said.

“What about her hand?” I said, by now feeling that it was like getting blood from a stone.

“She always waves goodbye with her left hand” he finally answered.

Did that bother him, I asked.

“No” he said.

Why, I asked.

“She has to wave with her left hand because she doesn’t have a right hand.”

Bored with my conversation, he went back to watching the show.

I supect my son is typical of the children watching CBeebies. I also suspect that it’s prejudiced parents who are frightened of disability, not their children.

Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex.

PS: I've removed the label 'disability'. Isn't that a prejudicial term in itself?

The Independent today features a woman who has been been regularly refused work as a model - because she's deaf. Excuse me, but how does deafness affect your appearance exactly?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Arm alarm

People's irrational prejudices never cease to astonish me. There have been demands for a TV presenter to be taken off screen because her incomplete arm "might scare the children".

Twenty nine year old Cerrie Burnell was born missing the lower section of her right arm. It's not a big problem for her but it clearly is for some viewers who complain that their children are "asking difficult questions" and "might have sleep problems".

Some of the comments received on the BBC's website were so venomous they had to be removed. What on earth stirs such extreme reactions to something so harmless?

Yes, it might upset children who haven't seen such a thing before, but many aspects of everyday life can be alarming on first acquaintance. Coming to terms with these things is rather more mature than trying to hide them and pretend they don't exist.

If the critics don't think Cerrie should be showing herself to respectable society unless she looks "normal", what do they want her to do instead? Shut herself away somewhere where nobody can see her, keeping herself to herself and not embarrassing those with delicate sensibilities?

Their attitude seems to be that only those with a complete, fully functioning body are socially acceptable and anyone "incomplete" should hang their head in shame and crawl away into a corner.

Well, if anyone should hang their head in shame it's those who can't see someone like Cerrie as a human being rather than something freakish and monstrous.

I'm glad to see that thousands of people have come to her defence and said they see no problem with her TV appearances. Several charities have also supported her and regretted that people's attitudes are still so narrow-minded.

Tell you what, Cerrie. You just go, girl, and ignore the pea-brains.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Nick in a nutshell

I'm not very keen on memes, but I rather like this one that's going the rounds at the moment. So here goes:

I am: a non-conformist, job-free, romantic, vegetarian, androgynous socialist.

I want: only a comfortable and mentally stimulating life. I've no desire for wealth or luxury.

I have: my own house, a soulmate, a few friends, no enemies, good health, a lively mind.

I wish: there could be more peace and harmony in the world instead of violence and conflict.

I fear: a poverty-stricken, lonely, painful or senile old age. And hate-filled bigots.

I search: for greater understanding of myself and other people, and more emotional sensitivity.

I wonder: at the miracle of existence, of planet earth and all that lives on it, of human imagination and inventiveness.

I regret: virtually nothing. I have had a good life in which things have usually turned out for the best.

I love: Jenny, good food, art, books, music, beautiful scenery, human warmth and tenderness.

I always: admire honest, principled people who stick up for what they believe in, come what may.

I usually: feel optimistic about the future and what it will bring; and see the best in people.

I am not: an angry, jealous, hateful, begrudging, regretful or obsessive person.

I dance: if I get the chance. There's something very liberating and cathartic about it.

I sing: along to CDs, much to Jenny's annoyance.

I never: go to church, wear dresses, go skiing, go to the opera, drink red wine, eat meat, watch football.

I rarely: think of myself as old, buy clothes, go to the doctor, feel bored.

I cry: very seldom. A frustrating result of male conditioning. I wish I could cry more easily.

I know:* a lot about obsessive compulsive disorder, transsexuality, motor neurone disease, Buddhism.

I need: intellectual stimulation, love and affection, self-confidence, to see the funny side of life.

I should: be more adventurous, more persistent, more caring, more industrious.

Amazing how much you can reveal in a few sentences....

* I've invented a new one!

Thanks to: Hullaballoo, Suburbia, and Fat Frumpy and Fifty

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Pleasure seekers

Companies may be collapsing in droves because of the economic crisis, but one business that's flourishing like never before is sex toys.

Shops and firms that market them report surging sales as the old image of seedy backstreet dives full of shifty men in dirty raincoats has been ousted by a more enticing picture of uninhibited men and women routinely enhancing their pleasure.

Sales of sex toys are up by a staggering thirty to thirty-five per cent on a year ago. They're increasingly given as presents - even wedding gifts. One company suggests the platinum vibrator with diamonds (£2275) for the bride, and the gold-plated ones (£227) for the bridesmaids.

After all, if the credit crunch means you can no longer afford that up-market restaurant or that designer dress, you can always stay at home and get your pleasure a cheaper way. Well, maybe with plastic rather than platinum.

To cater for all tastes, there are even environmentally-friendly sex toys like feather tickle-sticks and wooden spanking rulers.

Of course the rising popularity of sex toys has prompted criticism that they are just a new source of female insecurity, leading women to think their sexuality can only be fully enjoyed with an expensive, designer-label gizmo. On the other hand, whatever floats your boat, as they say.

Apparently men no longer feel threatened by vibrators, fearing their male functions to be redundant. Now they realise a little technical help in that department can be handy, increasing the pleasure for both them and their partner.

So the next time you wander into that distinguished restaurant and find it's deserted, there could be a simple explanation. All those missing diners have finally sliced up their credit cards and taken to their beds.

Goodness me, it's my second blogiversary this very day. Have I really been churning out this drivel for as long as that?

Jade Goody was rather upstaged at THAT wedding by Jack Tweed and his pals leaving home in nothing but scanty female underwear. Brilliant! A hearty thumbs-up for cross-dressers everywhere!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

You're nicked!

Yes, it's that familiar tirade. Haven't the cops got anything better to do? Why aren't they going after the real criminals rather than nicking people like me for totally trivial offences?

The other night Jenny and I went to see "Rachel Getting Married" and then popped into our favourite Indian restaurant for a meal. All very enjoyable, lots of relaxing chatter and gawping. Then we headed back to the car.

A ****ing parking ticket! Some ****ing pettifogging jobsworth with nothing better to do had decided to amuse himself/herself by clocking me for "parking within 15 metres of a junction, causing obstruction to other drivers' views".

God give me strength. I wonder how many thousands of times I've parked next to a junction. Likewise every other driver on the road. And what hazard are we causing exactly? How many people have I killed and injured? Any advance on zero?

Yes, it's a technical offence. So yes, I'll have to cough up. But really, is this the best possible use of police time? Is this the highest priority for our over-stretched, paperwork-laden police officers?

There are drivers out there smashed out of their heads on drink and drugs. There are arsonists burning down factories. There are teenagers dropping rocks onto motorways. There are thieves beating pensioners black and blue. But never mind all that, let's find something dodgy about that little blue Clio. Aha, it's in the wrong place. It's not where it should be. Gotcha! Bang to rights!

Stupid ****ing bastards.

(My apologies to a certain blogger with relatives in the police force. Nothing personal....)

Sales assistant: I'm sorry, your credit card's invalid.
Customer: Why, has it expired?
Sales assistant: No, your credit card's fine, but your bank's expired.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Who needs him?

So what if you don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend? So what if there's nobody sharing your bed? Does it really matter?

Those of us who've got a partner, who're used to being brought cups of tea, or having a shoulder to cry on, or just finding the washing's been done, might think the choice is obvious.

It's a struggle being on your own, right? Nobody to help with anything, nobody to keep you company, nobody to make you laugh. Not much fun, eh?

Kate Mulvey, who calls herself a Post Modern Spinster, has no patience for other people's patronising, condescending put-downs of her chosen lifestyle.

She writes in The Times that she doesn't feel at all deprived or deficient. The idea of marriage gives her the heebie-jeebies and she certainly doesn't see herself "ferrying kids to and from parties".

I relish having all my time to myself and doing exactly what I please, she says. I don't have to neglect my career, or make constant compromises, or never get enough sleep, or hide my trashy magazines.

Why should I hitch myself to someone else, she asks. It's not the nineteenth century, I'm not going to end up in the workhouse.

Mind you, she seems to think finding a man has to mean marriage and children. Well, that's a bit nineteenth century, surely? Can't she just live with him?

Who needs even that, she says. He may seem like Mr Perfect to begin with, but chances are that in a couple of years he'll either be Mr Sulk, Mr Unfaithful or Mr Slob. Who needs him? Why bother?

PS: Isn't it strange that single people are assumed to be unhappy, unless proved otherwise, while with couples we assume the opposite?

Photo: Kate Mulvey and one of the pleasures Mr Wrong can't comment on....

The world-famous gigastar Dame Edna Everage turns 75 this week. Happy Birthday, Ma'am! What a woman! What an inspiration to confused, insecure young girls the world over! Her pithy advice on every subject is seldom equalled.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Free to agree

Johann Hari, a journalist on the London Independent, has stirred fierce controversy by defending the right to free speech and the right to criticise religions.

There were riots in Calcutta after an Indian newspaper reprinted his article, and the editor and publisher were arrested. Johann himself has received death threats and been condemned by religious fundamentalists for not showing "respect".

His opponents argue that religious ideas are unique and can't be discussed freely. Challenging any of their beliefs is "offensive", "abusive" and "prejudiced". He must keep his mouth shut and not interfere.

And what was he criticising? The stoning of adulterous women, the hanging of gay people and girls being forcibly married to their grandfathers. Practices so disgusting that any civilised person would want to end them.

But oh no, apparently he's not entitled to get angry over such barbarities because religion is a special case. If your god tells you to hang gay people, so be it. You have the right to do anything you like in the name of religion and nobody can stop you.

This claim to religious immunity is extremely dangerous. If it really takes hold and enough people support it, the long-standing tradition of free speech will be seriously threatened. Instead of being able to speak our minds, we will have to watch every word we utter, in case some religious fanatic objects and cuts our tongue out.

There is nothing "unique" about religious beliefs, nothing that sets them apart from any other kind of beliefs. They're merely ideas, to be accepted or rejected, proved or disproved, like ideas in general. And we're all entitled to do the assessing and have our own opinions.

To say we aren't is to subscribe to a very sinister political creed, the one that among other things caused World War Two. Its name is fascism.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Looking for love

I like Valentine's Day. I always ruminate on love and what makes it blossom - or wither on the vine. It's one of life's eternal mysteries.

I didn't fall in love myself until I met Jenny at the age of 34. I had wanted to fall in love many times but somehow it never quite happened.

I dated plenty of women. I kissed them, cuddled them, sometimes went to bed with them. We swopped our life stories, shared our enthusiasms, laughed at each other's quirks.

Each time I wondered if it was love. But each time it would gradually peter out. As hard as I tried, that vital spark was missing.

What was I doing wrong, I asked myself? Everyone around me was falling in love, finding their soulmate, getting married even. It seemed to come to them so easily. Was I being too fussy? Was I emotionally stunted? Was I afraid of intimacy? Was I really gay? Was I just not the falling-in-love type? I found a hundred reasons for love's elusiveness, but still it failed to find me.

The clock kept on ticking. Birthdays came and went. Likely women entered my life and disappeared from it again. I began to think falling in love must be an illusion.

All these besotted couples aren't really besotted, they're just clinging to each other because it's expected, because they're lonely, because they're desperate. This thing I'm chasing after is a mirage, a dream, a novelist's invention. But it was no good, I still believed in it and I still pursued it.

And then of course I met Jenny. Quite out of the blue, when I was least expecting it, our paths crossed and suddenly something ignited. And the rest, as they say, is history. A surprisingly long and satisfying history. A relationship that just gets deeper and deeper. What was the magic formula? I didn't know then and I don't know now. It's just one of those extraordinary miracles that leaves you gasping.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Old and dumped

When the economic slump began, I wondered if the traditionally vulnerable groups would get the sack first. Unhappily they have, with us oldies hit the hardest. So much for anti-ageism laws.

From September to November, unemployment of up to six months among Britons over 50 climbed by 30 per cent. For younger age groups, the biggest increase was only 12 per cent.

Pretty shocking statistics when only recently the British government passed new laws that were meant to prevent age discrimination and give us oldies a fair deal for a change.

But as I said earlier, if employers are determined to find loopholes in the law and kick out oldies regardless, those loopholes will appear. And a TV programme a few days ago explained them.

Of course employers aren't stupid enough to say "Sorry, you're too old. Get lost". So the assorted oldies on the programme had been given all sorts of euphemistic refusals, such as "You're over-qualified", "You'll be bored", "You won't fit in", "The culture won't suit you" or "We're looking for someone dynamic". Cleverly worded excuses that wouldn't get a legal action very far.

Employment agencies simply "lost" the CVs they received from older workers.

At the same time those approaching the official retirement age of 65 are still being shown the door, because the law still allows sackings in certain circumstances which employers are only too willing to exploit.

So it rather looks as though I might be unemployed for some time, unless I fancy sweeping the streets or dishing out parking fines. But would the street sweeping culture suit me, I wonder? And would I be dynamic enough?

PS: Women are getting shat on as well. They're twice as likely to get sacked as men. No surprises there....

Monday, 9 February 2009


There's a lot less hitchhiking now than when I was young. It's rare these days to see that familiar thumbing motion as I cruise around.

Back in the legendary sixties there would be a dozen would-be hitchers lined up as I left a motorway service station or entered a major cross-country road.

They'd stand there hopefully with their tatty bits of cardboard saying Exeter or Birmingham or Aberystwyth. Or sometimes Glastonbury or Aldermaston as people hitched to rock festivals and political protests.

I'd pick them up and have fascinating conversations about everything under the sun with complete strangers from who-knows-where. A bit like blogging in fact.

I hitched once or twice myself in my pre-car days, but usually the thought of indifferent drivers hurtling past showering me with muddy water was enough to put me off and I caught the train or bus instead.

But now these cardboard signs and imploring eyes are not often seen, and I miss those unpredictable encounters.

Many people are afraid to hitch after stories of deranged lorry drivers raping and murdering their passengers. Others prefer the comfort of trains or coaches. And nowadays we're all more likely to have our own cars.

So this wonderful custom seems to be virtually obsolete, done away with by fear and the desire to travel in style. And our collective wish to have our own little gas-guzzlers rather than sharing someone else's. Hitchin' will soon mean nothing more than a town in Hertfordshire.

There's a very old urban myth about the driver who picks up a young female hitchhiker. When the destination is reached, the woman has disappeared. The driver later discovers that she died several years earlier, on the exact date his wife died.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Why compete?

I'm a seriously uncompetitive person. I just don't see the point. A mere whiff of people around me being competitive, trying to outdo each other, trying to score points, and I turn off instantly. I simply can't be arsed.

If those I'm with are feverishly trying to out-smart and out-shine each other, to trump their companions with the wittiest arguments or slickest accomplishments, I fall silent and let them get on with it. I'm really not interested in jockeying to be top dog.

Whether it's intellectual brilliance, career advancement, the property ladder, exotic holidays, cultural awareness or alcohol consumption, I couldn't care less if other people seem to be more on the ball or up-to-the-minute than I am.

I don't measure my achievements or well-being on a competitive yardstick, on how far ahead or behind I'm deemed to be. I'm guided solely by my own instincts and aspirations and a sense of what I'm comfortable with.

Competing with other people can be destructive as often as it's fruitful. If you're competing for the fattest salary, the biggest hangover, the most gas-guzzling car or the most sexual conquests, is that really going to enrich your life? Or will you just end up on a neurotic treadmill of trying to impress others rather than searching for your deepest desires and satisfying them?

The ultimate proof of how badly competitiveness can backfire is of course the current economic crisis. For years British banks were competing ruthlessly for the most customers and the biggest market share. And the result? A trail of wrecked lives and broken hopes after the whole house of cards abruptly collapsed.

Thanks to Conor for the idea.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Bodies under fire

Susie Orbach, the expert on eating disorders and people's negative attitudes to their own bodies, has written a new book* about what she calls "body distress".

In an interview in the Irish Times, she says that for many women (and girls) today, their bodies are no longer their own. Instead of just being something they live in, they've become public property, something that has to meet other people's expectations and images.

They have to be constantly upgrading and enhancing their bodies to meet these expectations, and they are never happy with their body as it is, as it was given them.

It's become increasingly normal to openly criticise women's bodies and make them feel inferior and inadequate. Every woman is fair game, from celebs to office workers to schoolgirls.

Rather than just enjoying their body and taking it for granted, they are on a constant quest for smoother skin, firmer flesh, thinness, shapeliness, or whatever other people see as female perfection.

There is an insatiable demand not only for creams, lotions and cosmetics, but for extreme measures like plastic surgery and gruelling workout regimes.

As Susie Orbach says, bodies have become another form of work requiring perpetual effort and commitment. We no longer treat them casually or naturally.

She says this distorted view is creating an impaired society, both mentally and physically, which is distressing and disturbing huge numbers of women (and increasingly, men too).

As a therapist who has helped many such women, she has profound insights into the social attitudes causing their distress. I shall certainly read this book.

A typical example of body-knocking: the Daily Mail concludes that Liz Hurley is looking old, that she is "haggard and wrinkled" with "saggy skin" and "is no longer fresh-faced".

* "Bodies", Profile Books, £10.99, €12. Her best-known book is "Fat Is A Feminist Issue"

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Not slobbing out

Being jobless, I feel I should be taking the opportunity to slob out and go to seed like your normal bloke.

You know, crawl out of bed at noon with a hangover, grab some pizza and a six-pack and slump in front of the telly watching the darts or the footie, belching occasionally. If the phone rings, I just say "Sorry mate, he's dead" and collapse back on to the sofa.

But being a liberated, reconstructed, new-age, feminist sort of guy, I'm incapable of being so degenerate and stereotypically masculine.

So I jump out of bed at 7.30 and after a healthy, nutritious breakfast I'm moving briskly round the house doing all those domestic chores that Jenny, being a ridiculously overworked lecturer, has little time for.

Renew the road tax? Done. Pay the bills? Say no more. Defrost the fridge? Rightaway. Call the plumber? No sweat. I'm incapable of the slatternly male thing of letting everything pile up until the house looks like a burglary hit it. Too much disorder and my brain starts clogging up and I hyperventilate.

If I'm on top of the household chores, then a bit of Me time is called for. And that doesn't mean flicking through GQ or John Grisham. I'm a liberated man, remember, so nothing less than serious cultural self-improvement will do. In other words, Booker prizewinners, new-wave cinema, cutting-edge art, that sort of thing. Serious brain-stretching, if you please, no gossip mags anywhere in sight.

No, slobbing out just doesn't come naturally. I've tried my best. I've had a go at slumping on the sofa, or dropping my dirty clothes on the floor, or leaving the washing-up for a week. But somehow it simply isn't me. I feel more like a character from Shameless* than the Nick I know and love. The fact is that I've been brought up to be tidy and conscientious and it's not a habit I can break easily.

*Shameless: a British TV series about the dysfunctional Frank Gallagher and his nine children, who live on a Manchester council estate.