Thursday 24 September 2015

I Think Awful Things All The Time, And So Do You

I am neither racist, misogynist nor homophobe. But (and I am aware that a but after any of those statements, let alone all three never portends well) like a lot of people (though we never admit it to ourselves) I have to work at it. We need the so-called 'PC brigade' to keep us all in check, as we are still occasionally surprised by what is offensive to others. A little more than we would like to admit.

Let me clarify slightly, I am not saying we are all inherently awful, or that I secretly want to put on a bedsheet and burn crosses. But, I am a product of a very different Great Britain than the one we live in now. I was born in the 70s, and was brought up in an era (and in the westcountry, before you london types tell me I'm wrong) when it was perfectly ordinary to nip into the paki-shop to buy some beers on your way to pick up a chinky for dinner. I apologise unreservedly for using those terms, but back then nobody ever batted an eyelid, except for the 'right-on' trendy comedians, who I eventually learned were right. At primary school all the best jokes were about Ethiopians, Jews and the N-word (even I'm not typing that one now, but it was thrown around everywhere back in the 80s, and even the early 90s, and right up until Hip Hop records decided to claim it back, so maybe that worked, however distasteful I still find it). And we all collected Robinsons Golliwogs, which are a fond memory, but really shouldn't be, even the Golly my grandmother knitted for me leaves something of a bad taste now.

And it wasn't just the casual racism that was rife, we still all tell people they throw like a girl, or say a throwaway 'gaaaay' at them if they do something we consider feminine. I would like to say that I didn't do this, but it is such ingrained behaviour that it is difficult to stop, however much I hate myself whenever I catch me doing it. I even find myself using the 'some of my best friends are gay' line to defend it, but it is no defence. Even though those aforementioned friends also do it, one of them once told me 'I may be gay Dave, but you're a raving poof in that hat.' That's how ingrained it is, and it was an awesome hat, so perhaps he was referring to the stereotype of the homosexual as snappy dresser.

Women are still getting the rough end of the stick as well (ooer missus, etc. etc.) The 'gaaaaay' insult is not used merely as a distaste for homosexuality, it is aimed at men who act in a feminine manner. You can tell, because nobody ever said it to a tomboy did they? Feminine behaviour in men is deemed bad, and denigrated by using homosexuality as an insult (to fall back on a lazy stereotype, often by young men who use a great deal of hair product) I fail to see how either of those things can be acceptable in an equal, caring society like the one we supposedly live in.

Then there's the language we use for women. Upon seeing an attractive girl, the first thing many of us think (and say in a lot of cases) is something along the lines of 'I would ruin that', or 'I would do awful things to her,' which at least removes the indefinite article from the equation. I know 'I would very much like to enjoy some consensual acts of mutual affection with that strong, confident woman', doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but it would definitely be better, wouldn't it? Objectifying women is never a good thing, and describing the sexual act as a bad thing is even worse.
When we see a new female musical act or comedian, or even a newsreader, our first reaction is to judge their appearance (read this excellent piece by Public Service Broadcasting's J. Willgoose if you don't believe me). Not a single online conversation about any female in the public eye goes without somebody saying something along the lines of 'and she's not bad to look at either,' or 'yeah but you wouldn't would you?' This simply does not happen when discussing men. The recent Diane Abbott/Jeremy Corbyn scandal evoked this reaction, thousands of blokes expressing how unattractive they found Diane Abbott (a plus sized black lady) and yet no women screaming about the very idea of having sex with a skinny old pensioner (yes I know it was back in the 70s when they were both young and thus conventionally and acceptably attractive, and don't even get me started on the idea that two single people having a consensual relationship is meant to be a scandal). It got even worse when #piggate broke (if you don't know what I mean then I don't know how you are reading this online, I don't think the pig consented though). With inevitable comparisons between Diane Abbott and a dead pig. Well done internet.

The Charlotte Proudman incident brought even more weirdness to light. Both women and men weighing in on the wrong side and saying 'it was just a compliment, why can't she take a compliment?' which sounds fine. But if every other message from a phone number on the side of a plumbers van was to tell him how attractive they thought the photo of his arse crack on the back was, he'd get pretty tired of it quite soon. And then he might get it.

I know words are just words, and sticks and stones and all that, but no. Even the ironic, post-modern use of old tired stereotypes now seems to just be a way of allowing people to say dreadful things, and possibly still mean them. It is, as always, not what we say, but the way that we say it. Often, the 'can't you take a joke?' attitude, is hiding a more prevailing one of 'I am much better than you simply because I am a straight white man.' I know that saying all this makes me sound like a whiny little bitch (spot the irony) but I have to point this stuff out to myself all the time, I am saying, and thinking, and doing awful things every day because I cannot be bothered to fight the status quo. So are you, we all need to pick ourselves up a bit, and change the prevailing attitude so that the next generation look back on us with the same distaste we have for our slave owning, genocidal forebears (yes, I do enjoy hyperbole).

What is excellent in this brave new world we live in, is that we now find the paki shop and the chinky unacceptable. Maybe not all of us, but most, and making holocaust jokes is no longer all the rage. We look back at things from 20 or 30 years ago in shock at the dreadful attitudes on show. Sadly, rape humour is still rife, and using gay as an insult is still perfectly normal. To take offence at such is just 'PC gone mad' or suchlike. People said the same thing about wilful Racism back when I was a kid, and that has changed now (when did somebody last call you jewish for being a bit tight with your cash?) I hope that misogyny and homophobia go the same way in the next generation, but we need to work at it. These things have been hardwired into us by our parents' generation, and we need to kick against it. The same as we did thirty years ago as we realised that people of different ethnic origins were really no different to us (I have both black and asian friends who are far more stereotypically english middle class than I am, and white friends who are now so entrenched in black culture that they may as well go full minstrel, can I say full minstrel still? Well, I've done it now) and began the long road to accepting homosexuals. It's a shame that women seem to be the last bit of the jigsaw to be genuinely allowed equal respect, even from each other in a lot of cases.

 I am a product of my upbringing, we all are. I don't say we should use this as an excuse, I say we should recognise it, realise our faults because of it, and work as hard as we can to overcome them, and create a better world, however unpopular it makes us.

Friday 11 September 2015

Hooray for Wasps, our tiny yellow protectors

Wasps are bastards aren't they? Or so legend would have it, I disagree, and since reading this in the paper yesterday even more so. It is difficult to avoid them at this time of year since they are everywhere you go. Especially if, like me, you live with people who like to spread jam all over the kitchen in the morning, before leaving the lid balanced jauntily on top of the jar in an amusing trap for unwary jam jar picker-uppers later on. As I write this, my resident wasp, Edgar, is buzzing cheerily round my head while George Orwell (the kitten) bats at him playfully. We are all ok, we are in an harmonious existence, Edgar is enjoying his jam and not even George Orwell has been stung (although he would deserve it).

At this point I probably need to point out that we are pretty sure I am allergic to wasps and might die a bit if I get stung. We found this out back when I was 18, and after quite a lot of Special Brew in the park (I know, classy) I leaned on a wasp. I did not notice for a while but eventually looked at my hand and saw a big yellow stripey arse (only its arse, the rest of the wasp had snapped off) sticking out of my finger. I did nothing about it, and went on to the pub, having just enough presence of mind to take off my rings so I didn't lose a finger.

The next day my hand had swollen up like a blown up rubber glove, and looked hysterical. I went to the doctor, who suggested I was allergic to the sting, and next time it would be more serious, and eventually I might end up slightly dead. But then I might not be at all (I miss my 90s Doctor, she always had a fag on the go, and enjoyed ambiguity in her diagnoses) either way, I had to put my arm in a sling for two weeks while the swelling went down. Imagine that, an 18 year old lad, out looking for ladies, and explaining that he has been put in a sling by a wasp. Not until I had my arm broken by a puppy ten years later did I feel more inadequate explaining my injuries.

This still did not make me do the scary wasp dance when one came close by. If anything, it reminded me of my mother's advice, 'stay still and it will go away,' which after years of being a little fat kid who ran around a lot and got stung (without a hint of an allergic reaction I might add) I eventually took and it worked. Sadly like most mums, mine does not follow her own advice and does a little shimmy if one comes near her. Even though she likes wine, and there is research to show that without wasps, we would not have wine.

However, I don't know anybody who has been stung as an adult who doesn't tell the story of the sting without adding the caveat, 'of course it was entirely my own fault'. Except for those people for whom nothing will ever be their fault, and believe the wasps should have made their home somewhere where they wouldn't be poked with a stick. I include absent minded swatting at your head and accidentally grabbing the wee yellow chap as being your own fault here. Wasps are not as aggressive as they are made out to be. They do pollinate flowers, and without them we would not have thought of paper.

A year after the wasp sting incident, I discovered a wasp nest in the eaves of the verandah outside my window. At this point I feel compelled to explain that in a rookie mistake, my parents had allowed me to move in to the second reception room of their sizeable Victorian residence for a bit, after I had once again run out of money, broken some furniture and been evicted from my crappy bedsit, hence the verandah.

Away from the sidetrack though, I showed my father the wasp nest, and in his characteristic way, he said we should probably keep an eye on that, never thought of it again, and left it in the hands of his wildly irresponsible son, who as we now know, is probably allergic to wasps. It turned out that my father's laissez-faire, cavalier attitude to house maintenance and parenting was for the best though. That summer I saw less wasps around than ever before. Barring their first week or so when they were just saying hello, they went to other places, and didn't bother me in the least. I am certain that they were off exploring, and defending their territory (me) from any other wasps. The lovely little yellow guards (don't forget they also make wine taste nice, yay wasps).

Wasps no longer scare me in the least. Very little does. I'm not just trying to sound a bit hard there, there are plenty of things I don't like, and so don't do, but I'm not technically scared of them. It's surprising, since as a child I was terrified of pretty much everything. I was famously carried out of Raiders of the Lost Ark by my mum because of the melting Nazis, and again in Superman 3 when that woman gets turned into a robot.

I had to sleep in my sister's bedroom after watching the Omen, though, again some blame has to be attached to my father there for thinking it was a good idea for an 8 year old to watch the Omen. Still, it was thanks to Dad that I came up with beer and zombie nights for my step-kids back when they were small, and I think some of the scars I bear from seeing a man impaled by a church steeple have been passed on to another generation, through the medium of cheap lager and Hellraiser 2. They say they enjoyed it though.

I don't like flying and I have an irrational fear of fish I can't see, but I go on planes, and I wade through rivers regardless. I talk amiably to wasps when they hang around me, and I've started sharing my lunch with them by leaving them their own bit of chutney on the table in the garden. We have come to an understanding, they can probably kill me if they fancy it, and I can definitely kill them if I want to. So we have gone for an uneasy peace of mutually assured destruction. It was briefly broken last weekend when my friend Phoebe killed a wasp for me in the pub, but me and Edgar have talked it through, and in return for some extra chutney, they're going to let me live. Phoebe needs to watch her back though, apparently.

Monday 7 September 2015

Nobody Likes Your Facebook Posts Either, Stop Moaning.

Do you, like me, occasionally find yourself scrolling down your facebook feed and getting thoroughly annoyed at pictures of babies, legs on beaches, gurning selfies with cocktails, inspirational phrases on pretty backgrounds, check-ins at every pub on the pub crawl or whatever it is that grinds your particular gears? Of course you do, we all do. However, do you ever take the time to think about the effect your own posts are having on other people? Of course you don't, nobody does.

As a pet owner, writer and musician, I am constantly bombarding people with pleas to read my crap, or listen to my songs, or just look at cute pictures of my Cats. In the same way as my eyebrows go up and I moan “oh for fuck's sake not another picture of a baby” I suspect the people posting the baby pictures think the same thing about these blog posts, and endless rewordings of the phrase 'please just listen to my song, it will only take you three minutes, you bastard'. I can't really blame them, especially since just today I was enough of a twat to post a picture of me in my new hat because I am so pleased with my new hat. I mean how self-absorbed do you have to be to think other people are going to give a shit that you got a new hat (5 likes and rising so far).

A lot has been said over the last year about the echo-chambers of social media. But mostly to do with politics, and the left in particular. There's also a baby echo-chamber, a pet echo-chamber, a pictures of your dinner echo-chamber and so on and so on. Luckily for you, there will always be people who like different things, and so your marathon posting of every song the new kids on the block ever did from youtube will find enough likes to convince you that people are enjoying it. I am not. I don't even enjoy people posting songs I do like from youtube in massive blocks of 5 or more. Other people seem to though, here's a really great song by the Trees, post this, and I might click like on it.

I know a lot of people are fond of the unfollow button to stop seeing all the baby pictures/right wing propaganda/keep calm and do something asinine pictures (seriously, if you don't know about the unfollow button, google it, you will be much happier). I'm not one of them, I like to see all of it, otherwise I will end up in an echo chamber of people who talk boring crap about guitars, comic books and save the whales left wing hippy shite. I like to see the right-wing propaganda, so I can challenge it a bit. I like to see the baby pictures (well, I don't, but it means I know who not to invite round for the next 18 years) and even the game invites let me know another thing about somebody (that they have nothing better to do with their time than keep a pretend farm, or throw birds at pigs, get a proper hobby). And surely the whole point of facebook is to know things about people so that we don't have to have conversations with them anymore?

Facebook are not making it easy for me these days, since they now seem to insist on showing me every picture that my friends have liked from their other friends, with not one toss given as to whether I know these other friends or not. This week is always a difficult one for those of us who aren't fans of gurning children in front of doors wearing freshly labelled school uniforms, as yet unripped or stained with the heady mix of grass, chocolate and other children's blood/snot/faeces that they inevitably will be. Especially when now we get to see the children of people we have never even met. Although I have to accept that my niece looked wonderfully psychotic in her first day at school photo this morning, so I am glad I don't have a children in school uniform filter fitted yet.

 (Thanks to my Sister for letting me post that picture)

Strangely eloquent minions will always annoy me though, and you may get unfollowed for posting them. Possibly unfriended, I may even come to your house and slap you. I have never heard a minion utter a coherent phrase other than one of their own names, banana, or bottom, so the minions who are currently telling me that they are strong women who will cut me up like a muppet if I say anything mean about their friends/children/hamsters/bananas are a total mystery to me. I am occasionally tempted to start my own minion quotes account that just says 'bammely boonage, bap mee barappta binkydoo woonits, bottom' next to a picture of a grinning twinky wearing goggles.

I mean, seriously? I've seen everything the minions have done, I like them a lot, I even sing like them when I am drunk, but this is worse than bitstrips were.

I know that most of my friends list is a little lefty bubble of do-gooding-hippies, and that's good. But luckily it also has a smattering of casual racists, gun fanatics, smug capitalist fatcats and people I have never met and have no idea why they sent me a friend request (but you all seem lovely). This is even better, as it gives me a wider perspective on the human condition, and I don't even have to leave the house, or get into arguments in pubs anymore, I have not been punched in the face in over a decade for laughing at somebody's genuinely held beliefs now, which is lovely.

Next time you are wanting to strangle somebody who believes that the only way they can truly express themselves is by sharing a picture which is just some white writing on a black background that tells you how how crazy they are (I know how crazy you guys are already, you're crazy enough to express yourself through a black and white gif somebody else made in ten seconds, you mad fuckers you) remember that they think your kitten is a wanker, your band are shit and the pictures of you and your wife on the beach make you look fat.

By the way, listen to my new song, it's about my cat, it's quite funny, and it's only three minutes long.