Monday 29 October 2012

Party poopers

I used to belong to the Labour Party, but these days I have little inclination to join any political party. The perennial problem with political parties is that for every person whose views I wholeheartedly share there are probably an equal number whose views I utterly detest. In other words, the problem of belonging to a broad church.

Whenever an especially loathsome view is expressed by some renegade party member, of course the leadership stresses that the person concerned isn't voicing the official party view, that they're speaking for themself, that they were speaking off the record and so on. The fact remains that the view was loathsome and I wouldn't want to be associated with it.

MPs from all parties for example regularly come up with appallingly sexist and misogynist views, causing widespread embarrassment to party supporters. A Labour MP has just told a Tory MP that she shouldn't disagree with her husband in public and she wasn't being a "good little girl". Why would I want to be in the same party as someone who says things like that?

If other people are prepared to put up with such throwbacks for the sake of some collective goal, the best of luck, but I'd rather not. I couldn't simply pretend they don't exist or make excuses for them. I'd want to keep their nasty opinions as far away from me as possible.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Small mouse

Another triumph for Tanzi Twitch, the renowned conceptual artist, who has again won the Scunthorpe Award for International Art with her startling new work "The Small Mouse Is Slightly Confused But Nevertheless Finds The Cheese Number 23."

Art connoisseur Sophie Slingback asked her about the controversial painting, which has been heavily attacked by critics and the general public alike.

SS: Critics have pointed out that the title seems to bear no relation to the painting, which depicts a dusty room empty of everything except a tin of baked beans. There is no visible mouse or cheese or mousetrap. Is this discrepancy saying something about confusion?

TT: The critics all hate me. They hate that I'm rich and famous and beautiful while they're ugly nonentities living in seedy basement flats. That's why they're attacking my painting. It's all just spite and malice.

SS: They have a point though, don't they? I mean, there's no mouse to be seen anywhere in the painting. Neither a confused mouse or a clear-headed mouse. Neither a small mouse or a large mouse. The mouse has gone missing, whereabouts unknown.

TT: The critics are all parasites leeching off the artistic estate. They wouldn't know a masterpiece if it bit them on the arse. They wouldn't know genius if they had it for lunch. Their opinions are worthless, only fit for toilet paper.

SS: The critics also suggest that the anonymity of the mouse, the lack of an identifiable name, is insulting and demousifying and recalls Nazism at its worst.

TT: The mouse prefers to remain anonymous. She finds names confusing. She might forget if her name was Mirabelle or Goldilocks. Or Tinkerbelle or Anastasia. She would be running around all day in a panic, terrified she might be called Sharon.

SS: There are persistent rumours that the mouse was brutally disposed of when the painting was complete. It was chopped into pieces and dumped at dead of night in remote woodland. There are witnesses.

TT: Another grotesque lie. The mouse is alive and well in a mouse retirement home in Budleigh Salterton. She spends her days knitting and playing sudoku. She is blissfully happy and proud of her unique contribution to the global artistic heritage.

SS: Brilliant! Sheer genius! A talent to be reckoned with.

TT: Christ, I could do with a fag.

Picture of Tanzi Twitch courtesy of the Plunkett Gallery, Cork Street, London 

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Self righteous, moi?

I'm accused sometimes of being self-righteous, but I don't quite get that. Okay, I have strong opinions but I'd never say my opinions are more valid than someone else's. If I'm presented with an argument that's more convincing, more sensible, better thought-out, or better researched, I'm happy to adopt it and dump my own opinion in a second.

For example, I used to think prostitution was acceptable until I read that most prostitutes show signs of post traumatic stress disorder, which changed my mind instantly. I used to think it was healthier to be thin, but dropped that idea when I heard that slightly plump people are actually less prone to serious illnesses.

I'm also accused of being opinionated, which might or might not be true. True if opinionated simply means having strong opinions on most subjects. Not true if it also means I foist my opinions on others and expect them to agree.

I express strong opinions in my blog but I don't expect others to swallow them. On the contrary I welcome totally opposite opinions that make me think through my own views more carefully.

In my non-blog existence I usually keep my opinions to myself unless someone specifically asks me what I think about something. Of course that might just mean I don't want my dubious and half-baked opinions to be challenged by anyone else.

If I'm really self-righteous and opinionated, I've obviously missed my vocation. I should have been a politician.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Two of me

It's fascinating (and amusing) how differently my blogmates see me. Sometimes in quite contra-dictory ways.

I'm too pro-women.
I'm not pro-women enough.
I'm too masculine.
I'm too feminine.
I'm over-emotional.
I'm under-emotional.
I'm too judgmental.
I'm too objective and tolerant.
I'm too personal.
I'm too impersonal.
I worry too much about other people's opinions.
I'm insensitive to other people's opinions.
I'm cautious and timid.
I'm reckless and tactless.
I make sweeping generalisations.
I refer to one-off individuals.
I'm too conventional.
I'm too unconventional.
I'm self-righteous.
I back down too easily.

Just saying.
Will the real me please stand up?

Thursday 18 October 2012

Noxious busybodies

How often do women have to say "It's my decision what to do with my body, not yours" before other people finally take notice?

How often do women have to tell the huge army of busybodies, nosy parkers and interferers to butt out and mind their own business before they actually do so?

A private sexual health and abortion clinic, the Marie Stopes Clinic, has just opened in Belfast. And predictably enough, all the usual anti-abortion, anti-choice factions are protesting against it and trying to close it down.

Too bad if women out there are desperate for an abortion, for all sorts of very good reasons, and believe it's entirely their decision to go ahead.

It's their body, their womb, their embryo, their potential parental responsibility. All the implications are personal ones. All the long-term consequences are personal ones. Yet other people think they have the right to tell them what to do or not to do with the child inside them.

People who justify their offensive interference by citing religion, or respect for life (does that include the mother's life?), or opposing mass murder. Whatever the (dubious) pretext, it apparently entitles them to permanent rights over a woman's womb and whatever is inside it.

Well, here's my advice. Why don't they try looking after their own affairs, which no doubt are far from perfect, and stop poking their self-righteous noses into other people's?

Pic: protest outside the Marie Stopes Clinic

Sunday 14 October 2012

Pigeon holed

Someone suggested the other day that the label "eccentric" was out of date, that the people we used to call eccentric would nowadays be diagnosed with a range of mental health problems.

A recluse would be identified as agoraphobic, a hoarder as having OCD, a social clod as having a personality disorder, and so on. They'd all be neatly pigeon-holed by therapists and given a suitable course of treatment.

Well, I think that's absurd. Of course there are people who're eccentric, meaning strange or unusual or wacky, and to reduce them all to mental health categories would be dehumanising nonsense.

It denies the full richness and uniqueness of their identity, as well as implying they aren't just strange but psychologically damaged.

I'm sure we all know a few individuals we would call eccentric - because of their odd clothes, or opinions, or way of talking, or domestic habits. But we wouldn't dismiss them as mentally ill, we'd just see them as a bit dysfunctional, not quite all there.

Attitudes to eccentrics have changed though. A few decades ago people would have enjoyed being seen as eccentric. They would have revelled in it, and tried to be even more outlandish. People like Screaming Lord Sutch, Kenneth Williams and Su Pollard.

But nowadays most people find the label embarrassing, almost a liability. Even if they're privately as eccentric as a pink banana, they take care not to show it but to pass as a normal, unobtrusive citizen. Only if you know them well do you realise they're nutty as fruitcake.

Which means it's hard to think of any contemporary eccentrics. Grayson Perry is about the only one who comes to mind.

But there are plenty out there, lurking behind the grey suits and the sensible dresses. Just doing their thing and trying not to be diagnosed.

Pic: Emilie Autumn, the American singer-songwriter

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Aren't I wonderful?

I'm not narciss-istic. I'm not obsessed with myself or my appear-ance. I don't spend hours gazing critically into the mirror. I would say I examine myself just enough to be a healthy, well-adjusted human being.

I don't endlessly deliberate if I should reshape my nose or dye my hair or wax my back. I don't slather myself with moisturisers and perfume and exfoliants. I don't dwell over every detail of my behaviour. I don't swell with pride over my achievements or wallow in self-pity over my failures. I don't hold forth about every ongoing personal saga. I don't imagine I'm astonishingly talented or charismatic.

Of course a bit of self-analysis and self-awareness is essential if I'm to relate intelligently and considerately to others. Those embarrassing individuals who never examine themselves and have little insight into their own motives or the messages they're sending out are already too numerous.

But those tiresome me-worshippers who find their own existence far more fascinating than the trivial lives of anyone else are pretty infuriating.

Every so often I have the misfortune to be at a social gathering where one self-absorbed guest is blathering on about the ins and outs of their humdrum everyday life as if every detail is front-page news, while the other guests listen politely and wonder how long this interminable monologue might last. If they manage to interrupt the flow for long enough to broach a change of subject, Mr or Ms Aren't-I-Wonderful will either find some personal slant on the new topic or ignore it altogether.

If anything, I'm the opposite of narcissistic, I tend to be too self-effacing and too intrigued by other people's conversation to make a proper contribution of my own. I find my life fascinating but I'm never entirely convinced that others might think the same. I need a lot of persuading that people actually want to know about me and my tangled personality. I'm quite capable of lengthy silences if I'm not totally confident of other people's genuine interest.

Apart from anything else, it must take so much effort to be narcissistic. Constantly talking yourself up, screening out criticism, tweaking the unflattering reality into something more impressive. You can't let up for a moment, or the mask will slip and the mere mortal will re-emerge. Unthinkable!

Sunday 7 October 2012

Unpopular bosses

A lot of people - both men and women - complain about female bosses and female workmates. Supposedly they can be harder to work with than men - tougher and less forgiving. Strangely enough, I've never found that myself.

I've worked with plenty of women, both as bosses and workmates, and I've never had any problems with them. The bosses in particular were very easy to get on with and even a joy to work for. I've had much worse male bosses - bullies, dimwits, nit-pickers, egotists, neurotics, penny-pinchers, you name it. Bosses I was glad to get shot of. So I'm baffled by all these complaints. Am I just lucky or what?

Maybe I'm generous towards women, I give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the women indulged me because I was a bloke. Maybe I was happy to do what they asked me without too much fuss. Maybe I thought they had better ideas than the guys. Whatever the reason, there was never any serious friction. So what is this antipathy others keep referring to?

Is a lot of it just sexism? Are there still hordes of men out there who resent women having high-powered jobs and telling them what to do? Do women themselves secretly think women bosses aren't up to the job and a man would do it better? Is it that old cliché that women have to do the job twice as well as a man just to be seen as competent?

All I can say is, thanks to Kate, Iris, Sheila, Ulli, Ruth and all the other female bosses I've had. I enjoyed working with you and I'd be very happy to work with you again. No hard feelings whatever. No grudges, no rancour, no unfinished business. What's the big deal?

Friday 5 October 2012

Knight errant

I'm shocked and totally disgusted that during the several decades that Sir Jimmy Savile was abusing girls and young women, everyone around him knew about it but did precisely nothing. People at the BBC, other presenters, the media, they all knew but kept their mouths firmly shut.

All this time the public were still blissfully ignorant, seeing him as a funny, lovable eccentric who raised millions of pounds for charity and was a role model for alienated rebels everywhere. They hadn't a clue what he was really up to behind the innocent facade.

Why is there always this entrenched conspiracy of silence about these perverts, particularly the ones in high places? Why does nobody say a word for fear that they're the ones who'll be jumped on and not the little toerag they're exposing?

The journalist Janet Street Porter, revealing on BBC's Question Time how widely Savile's abuse was known about, defended her own silence by saying that as a woman in a male-dominated workplace nobody would have taken her seriously.

Others were silent for a variety of reasons. Because Savile's public reputation seemed impregnable. Because they knew other people would close ranks. Because he threatened to stop helping charities if anyone told the truth. Because they feared some sort of retaliation.

But it's this endless conspiracy of silence that allows abusers to get away with it not just for years but often for decades. How on earth can keeping silent still be more normal than protecting vulnerable young women and girls from lasting psychological and emotional trauma?

In the name of common decency and humanity, these shameful cover-ups have to stop.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Stiff upper lip

Some people love stoicism. They think it gets them safely through a crisis without being washed away in a flood of unhelpful emotions. I'm not so sure about that. It can equally mean suppressing yourself and wading through a load of crap.

Sometimes those so-called unhelpful emotions are exactly what you need. They alert you to what you really want and to the fact that other people are blocking you from getting it. They stop you putting up with things that aren't in your interests.

It seems stoicism and the stiff upper lip are quite recent British traits. Centuries ago we were renowned for being over-emotional and lacking self-control. In fact it was considered essential in the best social circles. Gradually it became fashionable to control your feelings, grit your teeth and take whatever was thrown at you.

But why should we take anything that's thrown at us? Why should we put up with awful working conditions, or domestic violence, or relentless bullying in the name of stoicism and "not letting it get you down"?

Yes, there are times when a bit of self-control is necessary if you want to keep your job or save a relationship. But at other times letting go of your emotions is the best way to protect your self-esteem and stop other people trampling all over you.

I could have been stoical about the way my father insulted me and belittled me, even as a mature adult. Instead I kept away from him and refused to let him treat me badly. I didn't speak to him for years. But I kept my dignity and belief in myself.

I could have been stoical about the boss who persecuted me for a minor lapse in time-keeping. When he dragged me through a disciplinary hearing, I fought him every inch of the way. He still got what he wanted but I felt so much better for having challenged him.

Now and again I come across people who seem to have spent their entire lives being stoical - passively enduring dreadful jobs, tyrannical spouses, contemptuous children and interfering neighbours. And what good has it done them? They've let their identity be crushed and trodden-on and ended up an apologetic shadow of their true self. They've been all too willing to let the bastards grind them down.