Wednesday 29 July 2020

Justice denied

The more I read of people seeking "justice" after some horrendous crime, the more I realise it's a bit of a fool's errand, because we all have different ideas of what "justice" means and the chances of our particular idea of justice being met are very low.

Does justice mean retaliation? Or punishment? Or a show of remorse? Or putting someone in jail? It can mean all sorts of things.

Lissie Harper, the widow of PC Andrew Harper, who died after being dragged behind a speeding car for over a mile, said that for many months she had hoped "justice would come".

When the three teenagers in the car were found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, she said she was "immensely disappointed".

But what justice can there possibly be when your husband has died in such a horrific fashion? Nothing can bring him back to life, nothing can erase the grief and suffering she has endured since his death, nothing can compensate for the ruin of all her hopes for the future.

Even if the three teenagers are jailed for life (they'll be sentenced on Friday), how will that help her? It would be a heavy punishment, but punishment isn't the same as justice. Punishment won't ease her pain, or her family's pain.

My idea of justice in this case would probably be equally horrific deaths for the three teenagers, maybe in a nasty car crash while speeding away from some attempted crime. That's not something the law can arrange, though.

But no idea of justice could possibly compensate for that fateful knock on the front door, and a very sombre police officer telling you that your husband is dead.

Pic: Andrew and Lissie Harper

PS: Lissie Harper has written to the Prime Minister asking for a retrial, but it's not clear on what grounds a retrial might be justified. On Friday, one of the teenagers was jailed for 16 years, and the other two for 13 years.

Saturday 25 July 2020

In an ideal world

I wrote once about the faculties I would like to have in an ideal world. Faculties that would overcome all the annoying limitations of our human bodies and make life so much easier. These are the things I came up with:

1) A perfect memory that remembers absolutely everything. Like the plots of books and TV dramas. Like people's names. Like whichever shop it was that had that brilliant potato peeler.

2) Super-fast legs so I can forget the bus and walk the 3½ miles to the city centre in five minutes.

3) A maximum body-weight setting so that however much chocolate cake, trifle and ice cream I eat, I don't gain an ounce.

4) Fluency in several languages so I can read lots of great books that have never been translated into English.

5) A female body for a month so I can wear all those fabulous clothes I can only lust after as a bloke.

6) A totally adjustable body temperature, so I'm always comfortable however hot or cold the climate, and I don't need central heating or air conditioning.

7) Telepathy, so I know when someone is telling the truth or lying non-stop. Or whether they're just pretending to like me.

8) Infinite empathy, so however extreme a person's emotions, I can understand them instantly. I can feel exactly what they're feeling.

9) The gift of the gab, so whoever the person, whatever their situation, I always have something to say, and it's always what they want to hear.

10) A magic wand that will melt all the pain and misery in other people's hearts.

Goodness, wouldn't life be very different if we had the benefit of all those super-faculties? If the technology of human bodies advanced at the same pace as all our machines and gadgets and appliances? The mind boggles.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

I'm just me

I've never felt in any way "masculine", and I'm not drawn to any of those things men are supposed to be passionate about. When men talk about being more masculine or more manly, I couldn't care less. It all goes right over my head. I have zero interest in
  • Football
  • Cricket
  • Fast cars
  • Gadgets
  • Flirting with women
  • Sexual prowess
  • Heavy drinking
  • DIY
  • Action movies
  • Technical stuff
  • Being the "top dog"
  • Extreme sports
Of course there are certain masculine behaviour patterns I'm obliged to follow to avoid being ostracised by polite society. And there are things I do quite unconsciously because they were endlessly drummed into me when I was growing up. All men are sexist to some degree, whether they realise it or not, just as white people are all racist. The trick is to suss out those sexist habits and suppress them.

It seems to me that being a civilised human being is more important than being masculine, especially if being masculine means harassing and mistreating women. Behaving decently does more good than trying to be on one end or the other of an entirely artificial spectrum. I'm just me and I can't be bothered to chase after some dubious behavioural norm.

Every so often there's a major debate about what it means to be masculine, how masculinity can be "detoxified", why men feel insecure and confused etc. To me these debates seem quite pointless, when the simple answer to all the confusion is surely, stop pursuing false goals, just behave like a normal intelligent human being and you'll be fine.

Fortunately I always gravitated to workplaces where the men had as little interest in being masculine as I did. They never thought me peculiar for being a light drinker, ignoring the big match, or not gawping at someone's tits. What they enjoyed was witty conversation, idle gossip, good food and weird haircuts.

Masculinity? You can keep it.

Friday 17 July 2020

Digging up the dirt

This new trend of digging up something a person said 20 or 30 years ago and using it to discredit them seems ridiculous to me. We all had different attitudes when we were younger, many of them deeply embarrassing by today's standards, and just about anyone could be discredited on that basis.

Tony Sewell, the new chair of the government's commission on race and ethnic disparities, has had to apologise for saying homosexuals were "the greatest queer bashers around, "tortured queens playing hide and seek" who "made their own sexuality look dirty".

Of course the comments are grotesque and offensive, but they aren't recent comments, they're ones he made in 1990. Why should they be dredged up 30 years later as if he must have the same opinions in 2020? And why should they be used to try and oust him from a job that has nothing to do with homosexuality?

He has said clearly that those remarks "do not reflect my views today nor indeed the views of modern society." Isn't that enough to draw a line under the subject?*

We all have skeletons in the closet when it comes to unsavoury opinions we held when we were younger, and less sensible and circumspect than we are now. I supported all sorts of odd causes I wouldn't support now. I criticised people for personal failings I would now have more sympathy for.

If anybody could lose their job because of some off-the-cuff insult from decades ago, there would be an awful lot of sackings, and an awful lot of job vacancies. Can any of us say we've never let slip an ill-considered remark?

Unfortunately in the age of the internet such mortifying remarks are preserved for posterity and aren't easily buried.

* More to the point, he has denied the existence of institutional racism, which surely disqualifies him from a job concerning racial inequality

Sunday 12 July 2020

No recollection

I've always envied people with excellent memories, and always seen my own dreadful memory as an embarrassing deficit. But that's not necessarily the case. I'm realising that in some ways a poor memory can be a distinct advantage, and not a liability at all.

My sister has a photographic memory, and my father was the same. My memory in comparison with theirs is sadly lacking.

But having such a superb memory isn't always an asset. You can remember in great detail occasions when someone slighted you, offended you, upset you, or betrayed you. You might feel a lasting sense of grievance that your memory is endlessly reviving.

I on the other hand rapidly forget most of those incidents, leaving me unaware that someone once offended me and allowing me to move on without that emotional baggage.

I know I was bullied at boarding school, but I don't remember how I was bullied or who was bullying me, or how upset I must have been at the time. All I know is that I was bullied, and it just becomes a sort of minor historical detail.

I can avidly reread a book, knowing I've completely forgotten what I originally read and can therefore enjoy it as if for the first time. The characters and plot seem entirely fresh and unfamiliar.

I'll forget all the beginner's errors and mortifying mistakes that occurred in my various workplaces and recall only the successes. So instead of thinking "that job was a disaster" I think "I did that job pretty well."

I'll blot out how traumatic it was enduring many months of next-door neighbours keeping us awake with constant all-night parties. Now I only remember it as an annoying episode that thankfully came to an end.

Yes, it can be frustrating when I forget something really important, but a bad memory isn't the awful burden I often imagine it to be.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Familiar flaws

I've read several thousand novels in my life, so many that whenever I'm immersed in a new book I can see all the flaws as well as the merits. Which doesn't mean I don't enjoy the book, it just means I'm unlikely to be gushing with praise. If it's really bad I won't be rereading it, it'll be off to the charity bookshop.

However many awards the book has picked up, however many celebrities have recommended it, if there are shortcomings or defects, I'll spot them pretty quickly as I'm well attuned to what's good writing and what isn't.

I'll react instantly to one-dimensional characters, an overabundance of characters, implausible plots, irrelevant sub-plots, clunky metaphors, rambling descriptions, high-flown language, confusing flashbacks and flash-forwards, factual inaccuracies and so on. They just leap out at me.

I always wonder why the author couldn't see all these faults when they were writing the book, or why their editor didn't see them and suggest some hefty rewriting. I can't be the only one who sees all the faults and wonders why they weren't corrected.

Not that I would ever stop reading books, however flawed and irritating they may be. I get huge pleasure out of reading. I love interesting characters and original plots and unexpected twists, I love trying to guess the endings, I love quirky oddballs I can easily identify with, I love sad, lonely characters who find love and happiness. And I love being whisked out of my familiar everyday surroundings to a completely different world someone else has imagined.

Books are a bit like people. They may have glaring faults but we overlook them because they also have endearing and inspiring qualities we can't do without. And we know they won't go on a drunken rampage or wreck the car.

Re the pic: I'd thoroughly recommend City of Girls. Beautifully written, very entertaining.

Friday 3 July 2020

Raised eyebrows

I have a large streak of scepticism. Probably why some people don't take to me - they get the sense I'll never quite believe what they say, even if it's true. And whatever they're enthusiastic about, I might rubbish it.

Well, I'm not quite as bad as that, but I do weigh up what people say very carefully and raise my eyebrows at anything that sounds implausible or far-fetched, or plain ridiculous*. Some of the things I'm sceptical about:
  • Any variety of "alternative remedies"
  • Politicians' promises
  • Gurus who've achieved perpetual bliss and enlightenment
  • Adverts offering me an improved memory, boundless self-confidence, increased energy and vitality etc
  • Estate agents' descriptions of houses
  • Estimates by tradespeople
  • So-called sex changes
  • Phone calls claiming my internet connection is faulty
  • Stories told in celebrity memoirs
  • Businesses that claim to be protecting the environment
  • People who say DIY is easy
  • Lucrative investment opportunities
  • Conspiracy theories
I haven't always been such a sceptic. I was absurdly gullible as a youngster, instantly believing what people said to me and then being taken aback to find they were talking nonsense - or plain lying. Years of painful exposure to smooth talkers and devious rogues forced me to be a bit more questioning.

It seems to me that lying is now seen as quite normal, and people in all walks of life lie about virtually everything, assuming nobody will check the facts and uncover the reality. Celebrities in particular spin their personal back stories every which way, and I take all their dramatic confessions with a bucketful of salt.

But being sceptical doesn't stop me enjoying life. It doesn't mean I'm a nihilist or a spoilsport or a curmudgeon. I savour my chocolate truffles and ice cream and pinot grigio and juicy novels and rousing music like anyone else. I'm just no longer such an innocent abroad.

* Despite my habitual scepticism, there are some things I always believe. Like claims of rape, misogyny and domestic violence.