Friday 29 December 2023

Family values

Politicians are fond of extolling "family values" and lamenting how they're not as well observed as they used to be.

Well, they might be observed a bit more if anyone could agree what "family values" actually are. The phrase is so vague that everyone gives it a different meaning. The dictionary definition refers to high moral standards and discipline, but other things might be mentioned like decency, loyalty, stability, clean living, and care and affection.

It was understood in the past that "family values" referred to a heterosexual couple, and didn't include gay couples, childless couples or single-parent households, who were beyond the pale. All possible family arrangements are now included in the term, and presumably are deemed capable of family values, whatever they might be.

Perhaps we should forget about "family values", however they're defined, and emphasise something more specific like "parenting values", which people might understand more easily. Or we could call for "civilised values", a term that would include everyone, whether or not they count as a family.

Unfortunately the term "family values" is flung about quite hypocritically by politicians and others. How often some politician who goes banging on about family values turns out to have a mistress, a drug habit, a sexual fetish or something that gives the lie to his (and it's usually his) sanctimonious public utterances. It happens so frequently that whenever a politician mentions family values nowadays, I instantly wonder what he's trying to hide.

"Family values" is just another phrase that's used as a handy smear, to suggest that your political opponents have no such values and are hedonistic rabble lacking moral standards or civilised behaviour.

Certainly Jenny and I never mention family values, which to my mind definitely implies children. But we still aspire to high moral standards.

Monday 25 December 2023

When Christmas was banned

Not many people know that Christmas was once banned in England. If you tried to celebrate it you could be fined up to five shillings (or £26 in today's currency).

In the 1600s Protestants throughout Europe were suspicious of Christmas celebrations. They were too closely associated with Catholicism, there was no mention of such a thing in the Bible, and they thought the festivities had become too drunken and debauched.

In 1645 Parliament declared that Christmas, Easter and other such festivals were no longer to be observed with special services or celebrations, and an outright ban followed in 1647. The ban was unpopular - there were riots in Kent and elsewhere the same year. But in 1652 the ban was strengthened when shops were ordered to stay open on Christmas Day.

However by 1656 many people were ignoring the ban, and even in London shops stayed shut and festivities continued, with MPs kept awake by the sound of Christmas parties next to their lodgings. An attempt at further legislation quickly failed.

Like many "moral" bans, the ban on Christmas was largely unenforceable, particularly without the machinery of modern government or even a police force.

The ban is especially ironic nowadays, when Christmas celebrations are not just permissible but almost compulsory. If you don't have all the expected trimmings and trappings - presents, decorations, turkey dinner, festive sweaters, festive movies, Christmas cards etc etc - you're clearly some miserable party-pooper who needs to lighten up and get with the programme.

There must be plenty of exhausted parents out there (especially women) who rather like the idea of a ban on Christmas. But it'll have to remain a private dream. Christmas is here to stay.

* Many thanks to the Oliver Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, for details of the ban

Friday 22 December 2023

Inherently evil?

Although I still believe that human beings are basically good-natured and kind, and only turn nasty if they've been badly mistreated in some way, there are still many who believe some people are intrinsically evil and nothing can be done to change that.

Yes, there are monsters from middle-class backgrounds, people who've apparently had loving and devoted parents, but their childhood might not have been as healthy as it seems. Their parents may have been so wrapped up in their work or otherwise self-absorbed that they never gave their children the attention they needed.

Like 16 year old William Cornick from Leeds, who murdered his teacher in 2014, and came from a respectable middle-class home. His mother was a human resources manager and his father was a council executive. All those who knew him were baffled that he could have done something so dreadful.

But if you look closely at the background of hardened criminals, you often find a history of ill-treatment. Many serial killers are abused - physically, psychologically, sexually - as children by a close family member.

Children can easily be damaged by their home life. Years of poverty and deprivation, squalid housing, or parents with drug or alcohol issues, can leave a child with a deep-rooted bitterness about the unfairness of life, and that can lead to them lashing out in unpredictable ways.

I just can't believe that some people are inherently evil. It seems like a very cynical and negative view that ignores the huge influence of childhood experience on impressionable young brains. I'm sure good-natured children can easily become vicious and destructive if they're exposed to uncaring parents for long enough.

But perhaps I have a slightly rose-tinted outlook that defies reality.

Monday 18 December 2023

So much hatred

Why do some people hate other people so much?

I think it's largely because they're unable (or unwilling) to put themselves in the shoes of the person they hate.

How can you hate immigrants when you know something about the circumstances they're fleeing from (civil war, famine, discrimination, economic failure, dictatorship) and how gruelling was the journey to a more civilised country? What would you have done in the same situation as them? Wouldn't you also decide life could be better somewhere else?

How can you hate a bullying employer who maybe has money problems, has mental health issues, has a crumbling marriage, has difficult children, has a parent with dementia? Would you not have sympathy for a person who's facing so much adversity on so many fronts? There but for the grace of God etc.

How can you hate the unemployed when there may be good reasons why they're unemployed - they have a serious illness, they lack the necessary skills, employers are prejudiced against black people or women or ex-prisoners. But the assumption is that the unemployed must be work-shy layabouts.

Of course hatred can be based on many things. It can also be based on jealousy - resentment against those who seem to be having better lives. It rankles intolerably that other people have more luck, or are especially talented, or just know how to climb the greasy pole. But again, are those people having the fabulous lives you credit them with? Or are their private lives a disaster?

You don't have to hate people. You can still dislike them and you can still be annoyed by them. Isn't that enough?

Pic: a work-shy layabout

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Can I die now?

I'm all in favour of assisted dying, meaning dying at a time of my choosing rather than waiting for my death to occur naturally, perhaps with a terminal illness and after months of agony, incontinence, dehydration and other awful complications.

Baroness Meacher tried in 2022 to change the law to allow assisted dying, but she didn't manage to do it before the end of the parliamentary term, when it fell by the wayside.

The actor Diana Rigg strongly supported assisted dying before she herself died of severe cancer in 2022, after months of miserable suffering. She didn't understand why people were expected to go through such suffering rather than dying at the earliest opportunity.

Of course there are people who fear that a law permitting assisted dying would be exploited by those with bad intentions like wanting to get their hands on someone's money. But they would surely be a tiny minority, and appropriate safeguards would be built into the legislation.

There is clearly widespread support for assisted dying. A 2019 poll of over 5000 UK adults found that 84 per cent supported some form of assisted dying. In which case MPs should stop dragging their feet and legislate for it.

I would hate to have to be looked after for months while I waited in agony for my death to arrive. Being permanently incapacitated for no good reason except "allowing nature to take its course" would be dreadful.

I'd just want to say goodbye to my wrecked and ravaged body.

Pic: Diana Rigg

Saturday 9 December 2023

Odds and sods

  • I won't leave any great achievements when I die. I shall simply vanish into the ether. I have no problem with that.
  • I'm used to doing things on my own. If other people are hovering, I get flustered (if they're hoovering I get even more flustered).
  • Most cats find me frightening. They rush off when they see me. But some cats are extra friendly and want lots of stroking.
  • I shouldn't judge by appearances but I do. I like to think I can suss someone out. Usually my assumptions are quite wrong.
  • Sometimes I have no patience whatever and get instantly exasperated. At other times I have boundless patience. There's no logic to it.
  • I'm not easily duped or scammed. I have a pretty acute shit-detector that alerts me fast. In fact I'm a bit too sceptical for my own good.
  • How handy it would be if toenails and fingernails stopped growing once they reached their normal size. Why do they keep growing??
  • Flying doesn't scare me. Planes are incredibly well-maintained and very safe. After all, the pilots and crew want to stay alive.
  • I may be six foot, but I don't feel tall unless I look in the mirror. I imagine I'm a similar height to other people.
  • I'm compulsively polite. I hate arguing with people, so I always try to smooth things over with some bland comments.
  • It's strange that I've never seen myself walking down the street. Do I have a funny walk? Do I look like an old codger?
  • If I try to do two things at once I just get confused. I have zero aptitude for multi-tasking.
  • I'm not a drama queen. When people turn some minor incident into a frantic uproar, I just stay calm and dignified.
(You might remember some of these from earlier posts)

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Politics? No way!

There are many reasons why I always ruled out becoming a politician. It's been suggested a few times that I would be an excellent one, but goodness knows why. The very idea is laughable.

The most compelling reason was the constant clash between what I would want to do, what my constituents would want me to do, and what the party line happened to be.

To have to keep deciding between those three things must be hugely stressful. If for example I thought it was sensible to close a local hospital and transfer all its services to a new and better equipped hospital a couple of miles away, but my constituents wanted the local hospital to stay open, and the party line was something different again, what would I go with?

Then there's the mounting hostility towards politicians generally, for being out of touch with their constituents, pursuing expensive vanity projects and lining their own pockets. Female politicians especially are subject to a never-ending torrent of abuse, personal attacks and death threats. Many politicians have been forced to install elaborate security systems simply for their own safety.

And despite threadbare knowledge of the subjects I would be legislating on or making decisions about, I would have to add my shaky opinions to what might already be some totally misguided measures, with who knows what unforeseen consequences. What do I know about interest rates or planning applications or carbon emissions? No more than the average person-in-the-street.

No, I just couldn't have done it. I wouldn't have lasted six months.

Friday 1 December 2023

Keeping up appearances

I know I've said this before, but I'm constantly baffled by the extent of people's dislike of their bodies - and their appearance generally.

The market for physical improvements seems to be growing all the time, as people find parts of their body deficient and seek ways of making them perfect.

Botox, fillers, cosmetic surgery, shapewear, hormones, steroids, workouts, you name it. So many people just aren't happy with the way they look, even if their friends say they're fine just as they are. They'll take all sorts of risks to change the offending item - even going abroad to dodgy clinics they've never heard of before.

I've never been bothered by my appearance, and not just because I'm a man and less critical of my body than a lot of women. Apparently men are getting just as self-critical and more and more of them want to improve some body part they're unhappy with.

I suppose one reason I'm quite okay with my body is that my favourite activity is abstract thinking and that tends to exclude any thoughts about my appearance. I'm more likely to disapprove of some politician's nonsensical utterance than the shape of my nose or the size of my bottom.

One exception though - I do dislike facial and body hair and prefer hairless bodies, even though getting rid of the stuff can be an expensive and tedious business that many women object to. I've never understood why so many men grow beards and moustaches under the impression that these masculine adornments are a huge turn-on for women. Well, they might be or they might not.

So I won't be chucking thousands of pounds at some greedy cosmetic surgeon any time soon.