Sunday, 28 September 2008

Con job

I’ve just resigned a job which the most extraordinary bit of deception persuaded me to accept. In a nutshell, I was interviewed for a job that didn’t actually exist – or at least only part of it existed.

The advert in the paper was for an admin officer cum PA. The job description was similar. The questions I was asked at the interview were based on the job as advertised.

But when I started work, I discovered the admin officer job didn’t exist. It was all a funding scam. There was funding available for an admin officer so that’s what they advertised for. In reality I was doing little more than answer the phone and greet visitors.

The two senior staff who had recruited me acted as though this was entirely normal and nothing unusual had happened. They assumed I would be quite happy doing very little and they could leave me to my own devices the rest of the time.

Well, spending my time checking blogs, reading the papers and watching Barack Obama’s speeches was fun for a while, but then it palled. I wasn’t learning anything and I wasn’t using my existing skills. I was in danger of completely vegetating. So I decided enough was enough.

Now this is a charity we’re talking about here. Somebody funded them in good faith to create a phantom job. Somebody funded me to sit on my arse all day indulging myself in whatever way I wished.

I’ve written before about charities wasting money and this is a classic example. If the money’s available, grab it fast. Who cares what it’s used for? Just produce a phoney purpose for the cash and stuff your pockets. I’m sure it happens all the time (along with the perfectly valid spending, I hasten to add).

The next time I’m interviewed to be an admin officer, I shall ask a few searching questions. Like, is this on the level or is it all smoke and mirrors? Is this job any more real than Tinkerbell?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Gender bender

Controversy is raging over the beautiful model Isis Tsunami who appears in the TV reality series America’s Next Top Model. Not because she swore or criticised the Pope. But because she’s a transsexual.

Some of the other contestants say she's merely a drag queen who shouldn’t be on the show. One TV presenter openly laughed at her and discussed her genitalia. Others have talked about an audience-grabbing publicity stunt. But many are lauding her inclusion on the show as a sign of enlightened attitudes.

Many years after the first transsexuals appeared, they're still the subject of heated debate and have never been totally accepted as ordinary men or women. They're regarded by many as a strange mixture of the two.

I must admit to being politically incorrect on this issue. While I have no problem with men adopting a female identity and behaviour (or vice versa), or even becoming buxom supermodels, I’m bemused by someone wanting to be treated as a genuine woman on the same basis as a person actually born a woman.

The fact is that a man is always anatomically and biologically a man however much his body has been changed to resemble the opposite sex. He may look like a totally convincing woman but he is not. Which is why a lot of women have trouble accepting a transsexual as one of them, or are even overtly hostile*.

I’m even more bemused by the increasing legal recognition of a new sexual identity, with the issuing of new birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates etc. Of course it makes life easier for the person concerned but at the end of the day it’s a denial of physical facts.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally accept the reality of transsexual feelings, the conviction that despite your physical sex you’ve always felt yourself to be the opposite sex and as the cliché has it, you’re trapped in the wrong body. That fundamental sense of mis-identity seems undeniable. But it’s another thing entirely to want the world to accept that you ARE the opposite sex.

I don’t see any obvious answer to this dilemma. A transsexual doesn’t want to be seen as a drag queen or a mock-female, she wants to be taken as the real thing. But if she ISN’T the real thing, then what?

And now I expect a hail of criticism to rain down on me….

* See in particular “The Transsexual Empire” by Janice Raymond

Monday, 22 September 2008

Men's liberation

According to a new Irish Times survey, Irish men are shedding the old masculine stereotypes fast. And far from being confused and demoralised by feminist demands, the vast majority are content with their life.

The survey says 53% show their feelings easily, 58% think it's okay to cry, 51% are very sentimental, 48% get annoyed by men who stress 'manliness', and 79% are content with their lot.

That puts paid to the conventional wisdom that men feel they're being pushed around by bossy females and just can't be themselves any more. Or the idea that men are still so strait-laced they can't express tenderness or warmth or any emotions other than rage.

Or does it? People don't always tell the truth in surveys, they often say what they think is expected of them, or what will make them look normal or likeable. If the men's partners were asked about their answers, would they agree?

I have a strong suspicion there's some glossing going on here, and the women in their lives might very well say "Mark expresses his feelings? You're joking. He's like a bloody sphinx." Or maybe "Pete's content? But he moans about everything non-stop. He's the original grumpy old man."

But perhaps I'm being too cynical and men really have changed dramatically. That's what my male readers tell me, anyway. It's certainly encouraging to think that despite all the 'backlash' propaganda about shell-shocked men clinging to their masculine comfort blankets, many of them have no problem with opening up and showing their real selves a bit more.

In fact in all sounds so positive I think I'm going to cry.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Slumming it

Every so often some journalist or politician looking for attention decides to see what it’s like living on welfare. You know the kind of thing – “My life on a fiver a day” by Terry Twatt.

It’s always completely bogus. They’re not really living on a fiver a day because they’ve got a nice stock of Armani togs and all their hi-tech gizmos back at their real home in some fashionable urban neighbourhood.

They know they’ve only got to survive a week of low-life grot before they can race back thankfully to their normal life and resume shagging their sleek, perfectly-honed bedmate.

They don’t even have to keep it up 24/7 because they can always sneak home for a few hours and make up some plausible diary entry about the Tesco budget loaf being eaten by giant rats.

They know full well that one week in a grubby hovel is not the same as a life-sentence of poverty, dead-end jobs, greedy landlords and constantly struggling to make ends meet.

They don’t have the crippling back story of mountainous debts to loan sharks, four children to feed, a winter’s worth of fuel bills, and windows being broken by the local yobs.

A week of slumming it is about as realistic as having a few pints and pretending you’re an alcoholic.

Instead of grabbing their flea-ridden fleeces and pretending to be poor, Terry Twatt and his ilk would do better to tell us just why poverty is so entrenched and why a long string of British politicians have failed to give the residents of one of the world’s wealthiest countries a decent standard of living.

And why the fat cats running our big companies are paying themselves more and more while the wages of their overworked employees are steadily shrinking.

But that would be far too controversial. And not nearly so entertaining as a bit of down-in-the-gutter make-believe.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Suffragette mayhem

I had no idea the Suffragettes were so active in Northern Ireland until Jenny and I went on a tour of Belfast's Crumlin Road Gaol and discovered that many suffragettes were sent there for bombings and arson attacks.

The gaol is no longer in use, but in the early 19th century militant women campaigning for the right to vote were often inmates.

There were the same moderate and militant factions that existed in the movement generally. It was the more forceful women who planted bombs, set fire to buildings, destroyed mail in post boxes and smashed windows.

They included Dorothy Evans and Madge Muir who were arrested for possessing explosive materials.

During the court hearing, Dorothy Evans put up so much resistance she had to be restrained by six constables and the hearing had to be reconvened in Crumlin Road Gaol.

Remanded in custody, they promptly went on hunger strike and were released.

Then they hired a car, decorated it with suffragette flags and drove defiantly round Belfast before being rearrested.

Thanks to the persistence of women like them, in January 1918 the Representation of the People Act gave the vote to certain women, and in 1928 the Equal Franchise Act granted the vote to all women over 21.

And now huge numbers of people entitled to vote don't bother to do so - but that's another story.

(Information from leaflets available at Crumlin Road Gaol)

Saturday, 13 September 2008

A dignified end

Under English law, if you help someone else to die because they are suffering from an unbearable terminal illness, you can be prosecuted for assisted suicide and jailed for up to 14 years.

Although people aren’t usually prosecuted and the authorities generally turn a blind eye, the law still exists and relatives who help in this way always risk this draconian penalty.

Now 45 year old Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis and wants to end her life with her Cuban-born husband Omar by her side, is taking legal action to force the Director of Public Prosecutions to state his policy on prosecuting assisted suicide.

She is planning to visit Dignitas, the Zurich clinic that helps terminally ill patients end their lives in comfort and dignity abroad.

But the legal uncertainty is causing her great anxiety. "I can't let Omar travel with me to Switzerland because that might be construed as assisting me in my death," she said. "But he says he is prepared to face jail if he could do something to stop my life being unbearable."

I think it’s quite wrong that people who seek to die because of their wretched quality of life, and want a loved one to help them, are still triggering a so-called crime that could put someone in a prison cell for a lengthy period.

I certainly wouldn’t want to spend years in pain and suffering, unable to enjoy life as I had in the past, and feeling increasingly despondent and hopeless. I would much rather end what’s left of my life. I don’t see why the law should deem anyone helping me to be a criminal in the same way as a murderer or a rapist.

People always raise the ugly spectre of relatives being got rid of for some malicious purpose like inheriting their money or moving into their house, but I’m sure safeguards could be arranged to avoid that sort of abuse. This remote risk shouldn’t prevent people ending intolerable suffering.

I hope the DPP recommends scrapping this insensitive law as soon as possible.

Photo: Debbie Purdy and Omar Puente

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Touching up men

I see Yves Saint Laurent has launched a version of Touche Eclat for men, so we too can conceal those dark, under-eye circles that result from our reckless round-the-clock lifestyles and lack of sleep.

Now we too can look fresh and sparkling after a quick application of the wonder potion our womenfolk have been surreptitiously dabbing on for years. All in a discreet “pewter tube that’s easy to stow in your man-bag”.

Well, not me, you understand, I no longer lead a reckless round-the-clock lifestyle. In fact I never did, I always preferred the comforts of my duvet to drunken chatter in the small hours.

But aren’t we rather missing the point here? Instead of plastering ourselves with miracle repair creams, shouldn’t we be reining in the lifestyle a bit to something less gruelling? Anyway, what’s wrong with signs of wear and tear? It just shows we’re normal human beings.

One newspaper interviews a few likely users. Gerald, 27, admits he works 10 to 12 hours a day and likes late nights. Clement, 21, says he works up to 12 hours a shift and sometimes gets only four hours’ sleep. Hey, how about slowing down the treadmill, lads, and taking it a bit easier? What exactly are you getting out of those 12-hour-a-day jobs?

But some of them admit they might use the stuff if they’re looking a bit dishevelled. That is, if they can figure out how to apply it without getting it everywhere except under their eyes. “How the heck do women do this?” wails one of them plaintively after several abortive attempts to get it in the right place.

Personally, at my venerable age (“Approaching sixty from the wrong direction” as Dame Edna once put it) I need rather more than a quick smear of Touche Eclat to refresh my disintegrating features. I think a full restoration by a master builder would be more effective. Not that I have any problem with wrinkles. Each wrinkle is a trace of fun, as they say.

So, girls, if your beau beats a hasty retreat to the restaurant toilet in the middle of that Italian meal, he’s not necessarily stocking up on condoms. He might just be reviving his weary eyes in case you doubt his nocturnal vigour. That is, if you aren’t in the toilet doing the same thing.

Photo: Stuart Pilkington from Big Brother

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Back from the dead

Just imagine cremating someone you think is your father, and then five years later you see him alive and well on TV. First you'd think it must be his double. Then you’d think, Jeez that IS my father - so who the hell got cremated?

A Manchester man found out that the father he thought was dead and gone was actually living in a care home but had lost his memory and didn’t know who he was.

The man earlier named as his father was a body found outside a hospital wearing clothes like his father’s. He had lain undiscovered for so long (I’m putting it politely) he was difficult to identify.

The police had issued an appeal with photos of the real John Delaney but when he was found wandering round central Manchester in a confused state, with bruises and amnesia, social workers didn’t make the connection and gave him a new name.

They couldn’t appeal for information about him because under the law at that time they had to have consent from a relative first.

So he languished in the care home until quite by chance his son (also John) happened to switch on a TV programme about missing people and there was the familiar face. It must have been quite a shock.

Well, I guess you’d be ecstatic (as his son was) if you’d loved your dad to bits and suddenly there he was back from the dead. On the other hand, if you’d loathed your dad and you were only too glad to see the back of him, what a nasty jolt if he turned up again! I suppose you could always turn off the TV sharpish and forget you ever saw him.

But for five years, the son must have been agonising about how his father’s body came to be undiscovered for so long and what dreadful circumstances had led to his death. He must have been thinking that if he’d kept a closer eye on him he’d still be alive. While all the time he WAS alive and had all the care he needed.

And what about the other family, the family of the cremated man? They’ll never know what happened to their own missing relative. He’ll always be just a huge question mark.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Down in the mouth

The tooth fairy who’s so shamefully neglected Heart has been neglecting me too. I have a raging tooth abscess that makes eating or drinking virtually anything extremely painful. It’s the first time I’ve had an abscess and I sincerely hope it’s the last.

Clearly that feckless tooth fairy has been down the Wand and Tutu with her hedonistic Fairyland mates, happily supping the fairy nectar and forgetting all those mere mortals relying on her diligent protection. I’ve already sent a furious email to the Fairyland Directorate.

I went to the dentist because of a persistent toothache. Liz couldn’t see anything wrong so she took an x-ray and then showed me the nasty little shadow creeping around the root of my molar. That’s an abscess, she explained in her most professional, seen-it-all-before, nothing-to-worry-about tones.

There are two options, she added. Either extract the tooth or suck out the toxins and do a root filling. I looked round for the tooth fairy to ask her advice but she still wasn’t there. There weren’t even any lingering traces of fairy dust on the windowsill. She had obviously gone on a week-long binge without a care in the world and I was on my own here.

Well, since as some of you know I’ve only got 26 teeth anyway, I decided to defend my poor little molar and prevent it being sacrificed to the forces of bacterial darkness. I shall endure the rigours of the dental chair to save my frail, embattled chopper.

I’m sure it won’t be that bad. It can’t be worse than waxing, surely? Or maybe it can. I hope Liz has the epidural organised. And maybe a few bottles of whisky, just to be on the safe side.

In the meantime, I’m taking a course of high-dose antibiotics to clear the infection and hopefully the pain. At the moment chewing my favourite foods is more like chewing a rose bush. Jenny’s culinary expertise is wasted on my failing machinery.

If I ever catch up with that wretched, indolent tooth fairy, she’ll get a piece of my mind. And I’ll confiscate her magic wand for a week. That’ll wipe the grin off her face.

PS: It’ll all cost me an arm and a leg because the whole surgery’s just gone private and I carelessly hadn’t got round to signing up with a new NHS dentist. Rats.

Good grief! Jesus with an erection! Whatever next?

Monday, 1 September 2008

One of the lads

Men sometimes try to befriend me thinking we can establish some kind of masculine matiness, nipping down to the pub for a pint and having a good barney about women, football, cars and gadgets.

Sadly I have to disappoint them as I just don't share their blokey obsessions. Or their assumption that we have to get together to preserve our masculinity against the constant threat of creeping feminisation.

I wouldn't mind talking about women, except that their take on the opposite sex is likely to be more defensive and critical than appreciative. Women as liability, women as shopaholics, women as over-emotional fusspots etc. Sorry, lads, I just don't see them that way and never have.

The one thing I'd love to discuss is the male experience and its problems and dilemmas, but that's just what men usually don't want to bring up. That would open such a huge can of worms, so many hidden anxieties and insecurities, that they avoid it all costs and stick firmly to the well-trodden conversational footpaths.

When women get together they discuss the female experience in exhaustive detail but for men it's still often the unmentionable elephant in the room.

If a friendly chat with a guy got to the bottom of why I find it so hard to show I'm upset or sad or demoralised, or why I don't always pick up the emotional nuances of what a woman is saying, or why I'm so bad at multi-tasking, or how I feel about my partner earning a lot more than me, that would be time well-spent. But it's much more likely he'll ask me which team I'm supporting in Saturday's big match.

Men still think anything too personal or intimate is girly stuff, okay for women to fret over but too trivial for men. There are more important things to sort out. Like Saturday's big match. And anyway, it's only gay guys who like that personal stuff.

One day men will get together not to build up masculine defences against the feminist hordes but to let down those defences and share all the things they still clutch to themselves like secret hoards of treasure.

In the meantime, my apologies, guys, but I can't spare an evening eyeing up the ladies, analysing that disputed goal, comparing rival sat navs, swilling beer, and generally proving I'm one of the lads. Because I'm not one of the lads, I'm just an average bloke looking for some like-minded souls.