Wednesday 27 April 2011

Under wraps

You know those new super-injunctions that are all the rage? The ones the celebs take out, banning any mention of anything in their private life, especially that sultry affair with the nanny and the pittance they paid the gardener?

Well, I've taken one out myself so my sordid private life is now safe from media exposure and backstreet gossip. From now on, if any of you breathe a word about those tawdry, squalid episodes in my past you'll be facing the sharpest lawyers in town and a huge bill for damages. So watch what you say.

You can reveal as much as you like about my unflagging work for charity and my devotion to the Sacred Order of Divine Bliss. You can refer constantly to my tireless support for stray cats and the Association of Real Spaghetti Eaters.

But any unsavoury allusion to my friendships with the glamorous supermodel Veronica Trinket, the renowned conceptual artist Tanzi Twitch or the legendary footwear designer Binario "Bino" Biscotti will lead straight to the courts.

Any suggestion of over-indulgence in relation to alcohol, drugs, sexual perversions or gambling, any insinuation that I'm a secret admirer of the Royal Family or Morris Dancing, any mention of botched plastic surgery, and you'd better have your cheque book ready.

You can demand the truth as much as you like, but I'm not interested in truth. The only thing that matters is my glittering public image, and if it has to be built on a dungheap of lies, evasions and fantasy, so be it. The masses don't want truth, they want to be lifted out of their barren lives into a shimmering utopia of human perfection.

What d'you mean, there's nothing left to write about? I'm sure you could work up a few paragraphs about my passionate love of goldfish....

Saturday 23 April 2011

Bed hopping

It seems practically obligatory these days for men to have a mistress, or at least a regular hooker. Any man who's happy with one woman must wonder if he's settling for too little or if he's a bit of a cold fish.

Every day there's some celeb who's been caught with someone not his official partner. Or I hear about a friend of a friend who's been shagging woman number two on the quiet. Not many men admit to seeing prostitutes, but it's a good ten per cent of them.

As one of those men who's always been happy with what he's got, and has no desire for second helpings, I don't understand how other men can be so greedy, or sex-starved, or possessive, or whatever the motive might be. But having occasionally been knocked for six by unexpectedly sexy women, I'm not going to judge other men who don't stop at being smitten. Temptation can sometimes be overwhelming.

But I do judge men who visit prostitutes. It's a sordid, inhuman activity that always degrades the woman, whatever spin you put on it. I've never in my life used a prostitute and I have no sympathy for any man who does.

It's also routine for a guy who's two-timing to keep it secret and deceive his partner about what he's up to. Routine in other words to spit on his partner's trust and goodwill and treat her as a gullible idiot who can't put two and two together.

I can't fathom this either. How can a man see it as natural to be seduced by a sexy woman but equally natural to hide it as if he's doing something shameful and disgusting? It's not convincing to say he didn't think it would last very long and then no one would know and no harm done. It's still deceit and betrayal.

No, it's not just effeteness that kept me from sneaky bed-hopping. It was just as much the accompanying tangle of dishonesty and connivance. For me it wouldn't have added a guilty thrill, only nail-biting anxiety.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Slobs and go-getters

Are we naturally lazy or naturally hard-working? Are human beings designed to slob around all day doing nothing useful or to get stuck into something and enjoy a sense of achievement?

Some people are happy to live lives of total indolence, slumped on the settee with a six-pack watching crap movies, while others are working all hours running a business or cleaning their homes from top to bottom.

So who's normal and who's peculiar? Or is it just individual temperament? Or the way we've been brought up?

It's partly what we see as important, and what makes us feel secure and comfortable. If the sight of dust and grime and sagging curtains makes us feel ashamed or inadequate, we'll rush around hoovering and wiping and repairing. If an office intray full of weeks-old memos makes us feel pathetic or disorganised, we'll spring into life and deal with them.

If such feelings never bother you, you can sprawl around all day in a state of untroubled serenity.

Status sneaks in as well. Someone who's acutely status-conscious, obsessed with how their life compares with neighbours or workmates, will be frantically plotting to earn more, have a flashier home or be more glamorously dressed. So they'll put in the hard graft to get what they lack and keep up with the Joneses.

Those who're indifferent to status even if their home is a crumbling tip next to a spotless mansion, won't lift a finger.

And don't forget ambition. Some people simply want to be the best at something, to set themselves high standards, while others muddle along doing the minimum they can get away with.

I have to admit my own fits of hard work are due more to a guilty conscience than any natural urge for strenuous labour. I've never been hung-up on status. And I've never been ambitious. Listening to Lissie Maurus in a pleasant alcoholic haze will do me fine.

Friday 15 April 2011

Foreign hordes

 Once again Prime Minister David Cameron has been banging on about "mass immigration", "the large influx of people into Britain" and the strains and stresses this is causing to those already living here.

He happily repeats the enduring myth that the UK is being swamped by a vast tsunami of foreigners who're plundering the country and leaving the rest of us destitute and done-for.

It's no good telling him that actually the immigration rate is still a minute percentage of the population (around 200,000 a year out of a population of 62 million) and hardly amounts to an uncontrollable deluge.

It's no good pointing out that many of these immigrants are highly skilled and greatly benefit the economy, and that they often take on vital jobs that other people don't want to do.

And it's no good suggesting that anyway the problem is not numbers but organisation, that if public services were better managed and new arrivals got more help to integrate into British life, there would be a lot less of the current hysteria and panic on the subject.

If it's really a question of numbers, how come people aren't bothered by the 790,000 new children who pour into the country every year? They also need things like schools, healthcare and housing. They also need to learn the language and learn how to integrate into British life.

But we're willing enough to organise that. We don't see children as a huge burden and liability we can't cope with. We don't demand a crackdown on childbirth. We see children as a potential asset, not a looming disaster.

Politicians should stop fanning xenophobic anxieties to improve their election prospects and set a more responsible example.

And pigs might fly.

Tuesday 12 April 2011


I feel precious little sense of belonging. To people, things, places, religions, commun-ities, countries, or anything else. I've always been the bemused outsider, half-attached and half-separate, looking on from a distance rather than wholeheartedly absorbed.

I lived in England for 53 years, but I don't feel very English (even if others see me as just that). I've lived in Belfast for 11 years but I don't feel very Northern Irish either. European possibly, incorporating a little something from every country.

I don't feel I belong to my family in the way most people do. I'm very different from my mother and sister (and my late father), and apart from our shared histories there's not a lot to bind us together.

I find Buddhism inspiring, but in no way do I belong to it in the sense that I'm beholden to it or engrossed in it. I merely refer to it for its insights, like dipping into a recipe book.

I like the neighbourhood I live in, but like the dozens of other neighbourhoods I've plonked myself down in, I don't feel any sharp tug of belonging, only a warm sense of "okayness".

I don't gravitate towards people with shared interests. I don't identify with other hill-walkers or Annie Lennox fans or chess-players. I can enjoy these things without the need for like-minded devotees.

There are one or two people I feel very close to, who I feel I belong to in the sense that there's some strong and compelling connection between us. My partner of 30 years for one. But not many people have that effect. Most people I meet are ships that pass in the night, similar on the outside but utterly different on the inside.

The only thing I belong to in any obvious way is the intelligentsia, that community of curious minds that analyse and dissect the world around them, that are never content with cosy platitudes but always want to go deeper, to find what's hidden.

The bemused outsiders.

PS: I forgot the two things I really connect with instantly - music and art.

Saturday 9 April 2011

The meaning of life

I spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life. Especially as I've been on this planet for 64 years and the meaning doesn't get any clearer. In particular, what the hell is the meaning of so much violence, poverty, torture, ill-health and general misery and hardship?

There are a number of possibilities:

1) They're a test. To see how much we can endure, how much crap we can tolerate, without going completely mad and wanting to top ourselves.

2) God got bored with peace and harmony and thought, Soddit, I'll chuck in some murder and mayhem to spice things up a bit.

3) We've brought it on ourselves by our own thoughtless behaviour and our inability to challenge corrupt and useless governments.

4) God created a perfect world but then left the day-to-day maintenance to a sub-contractor who predictably screwed up.

5) God's computer was infected by a virus, and the IT staff were away on a training course at the time.

6) It's the inevitable consequence of the shitty capitalist system, comrade, and only full-bloodied socialism can wipe it out and bring about a truly democratic society that gives proper respect and dignity to every citizen.

I must say I rather incline to number six, but number two appeals to me as well. I'm sure God doesn't want to be seen as a tight-arsed goodie-goodie any more than the rest of us, so he has to chuck some pure evil in the mix occasionally.

God's only human after all.

PS: As you all probably know, God made me an atheist. I refer to Him purely as a literary device.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Modesty forbids

For several years a female statue has graced the town hall of a small village in north east France without exciting any controversy. Hundreds of visitors have come and gone without it attracting much attention. Now suddenly the Mayor has decided it has to go "because her breasts are too big".

Gerard Cordon, Mayor of Neuville-en-Ferrain, claims the statue was embarrassing members of the public, particularly couples getting married. There would be tut-tutting and indignant comments about its suitability.

He has banned the statue and commissioned a more modest version with a less conspicuous bust.

The sculptor, Catherine Lamacque, is bemused by the decision. She says the figure depicts Marianne, the traditional female symbol of the French Republic, and says she gave it outsize breasts deliberately "to symbolise the generosity of the Republic". Furthermore the Mayor himself chose the original design.

But her comments don't impress Monsieur Cordon. Such artistic and cultural considerations are apparently less important than the over-reactions of a few squeamish villagers.

I have to wonder why anyone would be embarrassed by the statue. Presumably not women, who're very familiar with such items. And presumably not men, who're always entranced by such anatomical generosity.

I suspect if there was any embarrassment at all, it was on the part of women whose menfolk were paying rather too much attention to a female body that wasn't their own. Especially men about to get married, supposedly with eyes only for their dear beloved.

Or are there people so artistically-challenged that they're unaware of the huge number of female sculptures just as lavishly endowed and imagine this is some kind of perverted flourish on the part of the artist? Monsieur Cordon for one.

The fastidious Mayor really ought to get a grip and devote his time to more important business such as sheltering his village from the economic recession. Or just providing a few more benches in the local park.

Pic: the bust of Marianne

Sunday 3 April 2011

Beleaguered island

Imagine you live on a pretty Mediterran-ean island with a population of 5000. Then imagine being overrun by 20,000 strangers fleeing misery and hardship in their home countries.

This is the situation in the Italian island of Lampedusa, in between Sicily, Libya and Tunisia. It's one of the closest sanctuaries for people running from the civil war in Libya and economic turmoil in Tunisia*.

Chaos has taken over the island, which simply can't cope with the new arrivals and now resembles a makeshift refugee camp.

Around 6000 of the migrants have been sleeping rough, and all of them are relying on the goodwill of Lampedusans and relief workers for food, medical care and other essentials.

Some of the Tunisian men were tricked into the journey by traffickers telling them Europe would welcome them. With so many people fleeing war and upheaval, the welcome has turned decidedly chilly.

The Italian authorities are belatedly taking steps to move the migrants elsewhere and restore order to Lampedusa, which is also expecting the usual surge of tourists during the summer.

The existence of so many troublespots around the world has led to an increasing tide of refugees wanting to leave shattered countries and find more settled and prosperous lives elsewhere.

Many of the countries they go to are struggling to cope with the influx, not helped by an increasingly xenophobic public and their own economic difficulties.

But countries doing relatively well have a moral duty to take in those from less fortunate countries and help them to re-establish themselves. Those who feel no such duty and think migrants should simply be sent back home and left to their fates are heartless to say the least.

There but for fortune go you and I.

* also Egyptians and Moroccans