Saturday, July 30, 2005

It's only words

Apart from continued nausea, I am feeling pretty bright; I have a new TENS machine as the wires in the old one were knackered. The new gadget is a Flip-Tens (right) which means that all the controls are protected and I don't nudge the nobs and give myself electric shocks. And when closed up it actually looks a little bit like an iPod. The shop I bought this from on-line is excellent, the most inexpensive I have found so far for electrodes etc and the guy really helped me out with what I was looking for, so highly recommended. For those who don't know what TENS is here is an explanation in rhyme.

I have also started on my new pain-killer regime. I was worried that they were going to knock me out completely, but in fact so far they're only making me a little high. Unfortunately, they're not keeping me going through the night just yet, but I know I'm on a lowish dose and have room to manoeuvre with that. Thing is just now I am a damnsite more comfortable than I have been lately - I didn't realise how had it had become and how miserable I was getting with it.

Manoeuvre is the one word that I cannot spell. I had to go find the correct spelling for it there. I cannot fix this in my head. O E U. O E U.

On the subject of words, yesterday I was editing (or perhaps rewriting) some work about the Social and Medical Models of Disability and I managed to produce this fantastic sentence which I simply must share. The piece spoke about how the Medical Model judges disabled people according to degrees of 'normality' and...

"Because such an approach judges a person’s quality of life according to their comparative resemblance to a hypothetical standard, it is bound to see disability as a wholly negative thing, a curse to be eliminated, a cause of suffering to be relieved or an obstacle to be overcome. "

It just arrived on the page like this and to be perfectly honest, I cannot find a more concise way of saying what I want to say. Does that make sense at all?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Music To Watch Patients By

Yesterday I went to the doctors. Our practice covers the entire population of the town and is in a large modern building. They play music in the waiting room, usually inoffensive pap – “The Pan-pipers of the Eastern Andes play… Songs from The Musicals.” type stuff. It was mid afternoon on a weekday and my fellow patients were mostly elderly or exhausted-looking mothers with children, everyone slumped and looking miserable, some dribbling a little in the heat.

And suddenly they’re playing Manamana (a.k.a Phenomenon) by the Muppets!

Nobody responds. Nobody looks up. I had been beginning to drift off before that point and wondered whether it was just me with the Muppets playing inside my head.

Then Manamana finished and on came The Theme from Hawaii 5-O. You know the one. Still everybody sat slumped, gradually sliding off their chairs at a rate of an inch every minute or so such that you thought they were moving but you couldn’t be quite sure.

A boy who looked about eleven or twelve, attending with his mother got up to have a cigarette outside. His mother complied with this, agreeing to knock on the window if they were called in. The kid then stood smoking right outside the open doors so we all got to inhale anyway.

The local muscle-man came in and sat right next to me. I have never spoken to the chap but you can’t help but notice him around. He is really extremely muscular, like Vin Diesel or someone - way too much for my tastes - but he always wears skin-tight jeans and t-shirts tucked into them, the fabric stretching across his chest such that you can see his nipples. I imagine it is very hard work looking like that and good luck to him, but when the guy plants himself next you to, you don’t really know where to look. Fortunately I was then called in.

Doctor put me onto a yet stronger lot of painkillers and I requested to see a physiotherapist, just to talk about ways in which I might be able to keep my muscles working without making them worse. The doctor called me “Young Lady” which amused me. I guess he was a bit worried about the state I had been in last week. He asked me whether the dizziness had improved and I had to tell him that dizziness is par for the course.

When I came out into the waiting room they were playing The Theme From Shaft and still no signs of life from my fellow patients. I do wonder sometimes whether there is a zombie plague taking over the world and most people have already sucumbed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Curious Incident of the Seagull In The Daytime

Or The Seagull Has Landed.

You develop a complicated relationship to seagulls when you live on the coast. The seagulls in Whitby are a cause for great annoyance. They are most hated by the drivers and the goths. Anybody who has a car knows what it is like to get guano off the paintwork – our friend H’s car which we use was once brown but is currently a kind of mottled beige such is the amount of poop on the roof. The goths get it the worse perhaps; black velvet, daubed with white seagull plop - well, you can imagine. I guess the nuns up at the convent must have similar troubles but you never hear them swear about it.

And the gulls are cheeky. If you leave food anywhere that they can get to it, even if it means entering an open window, they will. If you leave leftovers of your Chinese meal from the Good Luck takeaway in a rubbish bag outside, they will eviscerate it, leaving a mess of noodles, like entrails, all over the yard.

However, they have their advantages. Like they attack the tourists.Bram Stoker,Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell (Dickens as well but Dickens visited everywhere). You have the philosophical/ historical set who come here because this is the birthplace of English literature (Caedmon, the first person to write poems in English), Roman Christianity in England and Lucky Ducks. Then you have the railway people and the Austrailians come to visit the home of Captain Cook. You have the people who are into Jet jewellery and early photography. There’s the goths for Whitby Gothic Weekend and then there’s the beardy sandal-wearers at Folk Week and the new Abbeygael Festival. All of these people are very welcome here.

But mostly you get the scally day-trippers from Teeside. Not everyone from Teeside or indeed every day-tripper is the same of course, but there is a certain type. This type keep their custom exclusive to those shops which they have branches of in their native towns, i.e Woolworths and the cheap shoe-shops, thus contributing little or no money to the local population. Their children seem at first undisciplined, but then you see them being subject to corporal punishment in public places.

And strangely enough it is always these people who get attacked by the gulls. We all get shat on, but these folks sit there eating their fish’n’chips and getting gradually drunk on some sickly fizzy concoction they have purchased in two litre bottles from the Co-op, teasing the gulls by pretending to throw their chips but then not letting go and bursting out into slack-jawed laughter. Then they complain to the local council when some great hefty herring gull swoops down and pinches their dinner.

Anyway, on the whole locals live side-by-side with the gulls and you don’t notice them anymore. When you’re on the phone, the landlubbers on the other end comment on the noise they make although you don't hear them. People staying over have their sleep disturbed by them but you wouldn't even know you were there.

Until someone tries to hurt them.

We went to York today and when we came back there was a seagull sat in our yard. Seagulls do venture into our yard, but there’s not a lot of space and they certainly don’t stay in our yard when there are people about. And they don’t then hide behind the dustbin as opposed to flying away when you approach them.

Our seagull could not fly away, but he wasn’t obviously injured and there were no feathers about. Suddenly we were filled with suspicion and rage. There are three possible explanations of how our (now beloved) seagull came to harm;

  • We keep finding BB gun pellets in the yard. Has someone been shooting at the seagulls? Almost certainly. Did they actually hit the seagull? Perhaps.

  • Our landlords use the flat above ours as a holiday flat, perhaps five weekends in the year. They have roses up there and they put slug pellets down on our steps this weekend. It just so happens that all the slugs live directly opposite our flat and today there were about two dozen shrivelled slugs outside our flat. Could poisoned slugs harm the birds that digest them?

  • Are the seagulls themselves being poisoned?It is hard to kill animals as big as seagulls with poison without endangering other animals. So they get sick. A few years ago a mass culling exercise resulted in 'drunken' seagulls flying headlong into buildings and people, causing a greater hazard and nuisance than they ever were before.

  • Whatever happened, the chances are that foul play was involved.

    Most conflicts between man and nature are entirely man-made. The reason seagulls are pests is because people feed the seagulls or leave their kitchen windows wide open with plates of food on display. Reduce their food source and their numbers reduce. Simple.

    On a positive note, we phoned the local RSPCA for advice, convinced that they would have no interest in a mere seagull but a lady did come out and rescue it (tiny woman picked this rotten great gull up in one hand and gave it her other hand to peck on). So hopefully our seagull will live happily ever after.

    Sunday, July 24, 2005


    The news coverage of the attacks in London is just getting silly and so am I...

    Public Information On The Terrorist Threat.

    London maintains her stiff upper lip this morning after the good old British Bobby thwarts terrorist attacks on the London Transport System. Those Islamic Extremists have picked the wrong city to terrorise. Here, it is business as usual: those plucky Londoners are having none of it.

    Suicide bombers? Maybe two weeks ago, but this week they were Mild-Concussion Bombers. This red-faced would-be martyr hands himself over to an obliging officer. There’ll be no seventy-two virgins for this cheeky chappy in his police cell tonight. By jingo, there aren’t seventy-two virgins to be found within the Borough of Hackney.

    So, you may ask, what is Islam? And what has Mr Mohammed got against the London Underground?

    Well Islam is a jolly decent religion which is rather like the Church of England except without Her Majesty The Queen in charge. Mr and Mrs Mohammed may not participate in the raffle at the Church fete, but Mr Mohammed plays a mean left-field for the local cricket team. We have nothing to fear from him.

    Unfortunately, some young followers of Islam not only reject the raffle, but the warm and watery beer which made Great Britain great and indeed the very game of cricket itself. Without the understanding of a googly or a ferret, these unruly hotheads are without wholesome use for their boyish energies and are ripe for the plucking when those dastardly extremists come scrumping for martyrs in our back yard.

    What about the International Situation?

    In recent years, The British Armed Forces have leant a hand to Johnny Foreigner when he has got himself in a pickle. Some caddish Islamic types have the rather girlish idea that Johnny Foreigner should be allowed to get himself out of any pickle he has had the foolishness to get himself into without our help.

    You may well laugh at this. Or if you are a woman reading your husband’s newspaper, you may say, “But what is wrong with allowing autonomy to developing countries, so long as they are supported by the international community and allowed to trade freely and fairly with everyone?” To this we have a simple rebuttal: Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. If you can’t understand the rules of cricket, then it is most unlikely that you should comprehend the workings of International Politics.

    So is the International Situation in some way related to the atrocities in London in recent weeks? Of course not! It is nothing but lilly-livered nancy-talk to suggest that the actions of the British Government, either at home or abroad, could have any undesirable consequences for the British people.

    What can you do to stop the terrorists?

    When using public transport, try singing the national anthem, Rule Britannia and Land of Hope And Glory. Your fellow commuters are bound to join in. Roused by this patriotic display, not only will you have eliminated any nervousness on the bus or tube train, you shall also have greatly lessened the resolve of any of those rascal terrorists within the proximity.

    Keep an eye out for for suspicious people or anything out of the ordinary. Are the trains running on time? Something must be up. Has anybody made eye-contact with you? Observe if any of your fellow passengers stand up in order to let the frail, crippled or pregnant take their seat (not including when standing for the national anthem of course).

    Tommy Terrorist may be a master of disguise, but he is no match for little Timothy (above left), who runs straight home to tell his father what he has seen.

    Most of all in this War On Terror, we need make as much tea as our kettles can muster. This not only helps keep our spirits high and our upper lip stiff but in an emergency, tea doubles up as a handy antiseptic (when diluted with neat alcohol), an effective analgesic (when mixed with morphine hydrochloride), and a local anaesthetic (when applied to an open wound in combination with cocaine).

    So brew up Britain and chin up London! In our great history, we have faced and defeated foes such as Bonapart, Hitler and... Philip II of Spain. A handful of ideological Yorkshiremen are no match for us.

    Monday, July 18, 2005

    Music To Write Novels By

    I seem to be listening to the same three albums all the time when I am writing just now. This isn’t terribly representative of the music I love, but these are three albums among the music I love, which it is actually possible to listen to at the same time as writing.

    This music helps me concentrate. If I write in silence, my mind tends to drift onto others things like checking my e-mail, reading the news or messageboards. The moment I change windows, I am likely to become thoroughly distracted. The music gives me a place where my mind can wander to and from without embarking on some other project.

    1.Suzanne Vega – Suzanne Vega

    And I tried so hard to resist
    When you held me in your handsome fist
    And reminded me of the night we kissed
    And of why I should be leaving

    I think Suzanne Vega is one of the best lyricists of all time. She ought to have been bigger than Dylan but she is a woman whose peak was in the nineteen-eighties. Plus her voice is so soft that it sometimes trickles over you without registering. She is a mistress of poetry, knowing when to stick rigidly to rules and when to bend and break them, how to express the message of a song succinctly, hidden amongst the flowers. And she writes a jolly good tune as well. It’s all very beautiful.

    2.Tea For The Tillerman – Cat Stevens

    How can I tell you that I love you? I love you
    But I can’t think of right words to say
    I long to tell you that I’m always thinking of you
    I’m always thinking of you, but my words just blow away.

    How many times have I mentioned this album on my blog? How many times have I discussed the matter of whether it is this or Teaser and the Firecat which is the best Cat Stevens album? At the moment I am firmly in the Tillerman camp. I don’t need to justify this - if you haven’t got this album, buy it now. You need it. Everybody does.

    Astral Weeks – Van Morrison

    Then we sat on our own star and dreamed of the way that we were and the way that we weren’t meant to be
    Then we sat on our own star and dreamed of the way that I was for you and the way that you were for me.

    I heard that when Jonathon Franzen wrote The Corrections this was the only album he listened to the whole time. This would be quite a recommendation if I actually believed it to be true – it’s a good book, some of the prose is rich bordering indulgent but it often pays off. Anyway, Van Morrison. He wails a lot but with feeling. His lyrics vary from being highly poetic to profoundly banal, but he always sounds like he means every word from the bottom of his heart. Astral Weeks is a bit like one long song, but if it is, I’m not really sure what the heck it is about.


    In other news, Damon will be pleased to know that I watched Oragazmo, the other film by the South Park boys which he mentioned after I saw Team America. Orgazmo is about a young Mormon who winds up being offered a job to star in an adult movie as super-hero Orgazmo. It was bad, really bad, but I did laugh a lot. Lots of visual humour involving sex toys and martial arts which might be pivotal, I don’t know. Our conclusion was that you had to be ever so slightly drunk to get the most out of it, but if you were (as we were) it was great. Another candidate for my list of Best Bad Movies.

    Oh and I rarely do these things, "What fruit are you?" or "What sort of underpants are you?" but spotted this one on Kezzykat's blog and had to have a go;

    You are .pdf  No matter where you go you look the same.  You are an acrobat.  Nothing is more important to you than the printed word.
    Which File Extension are You?

    I don't know what to make of that.

    Thursday, July 14, 2005

    Review: War of the Worlds

    On Tuesday evening, having watched 28 Days Later in the morning, I went to the cinema to watch War of the Worlds. The plot from the novel by H G Wells follows the story of one man whilst the world is invaded and the human race are enslaved by aliens. Steven Spielberg’s particular take on the tale moves from Victorian London to the modern-day US and has downbeat divorcee dock-worker Ray (Tom Cruise) looking after his children for the weekend when suddenly New York experiences some odd weather conditions.

    We realise something is afoot when an alien tripod craft bursts out of the ground and starts vaporising people and buildings. Ray takes the only working car for miles around and heads off for Boston to return his children to their mother.

    It’s going to be hard to review this without spoilers, but many people are already familiar with the story the book, other films and perhaps best of all, the Jeff Wayne album. However, if you don’t want to know anything about what happens beyond the above synopsis, turn away from your screen now…

    War of the Worlds failed for me on a number of levels, so I shall start with the plus side. The effects were superb and the design – of the aliens and their craft – was absolutely first class. Even the aliens wandered about on three legs. And it is a powerful story; the original alien invasion story, whereby the Earth is attacked by something which it is beyond our means to defend ourselves against.


    Okay, first of all, I struggled to sympathise with anyone. Ray came across as being a truly inadequate father – not just the bumbling yet conscientious American man in charge of children standard; he was aggressive and neglectful and when the shit started to go down he was unable to cope with his children’s distress. The best acting came from Dakota Fanning – a young actor who keeps popping up everywhere as a little girl in peril (her best part being in Man on Fire) – as Ray’s daughter, Rachel. However, Spielberg exploited her wide-eyed cuteness to the point of exhaustion, with every other shot being of her terrified face. Plus her character wasn’t entirely solid; her moments of extreme stoicism and childish hysteria were sandwiched a little too close together for my liking.

    Ray also had an older son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) who was more effective as a parent-figure for Rachel, but promptly decided to leave his father and sister for reasons not entirely clear, but it meant that he and Ray could have an emotional father-son man-to-man, “Let me grow up, Dad.” – “No son, I can’t let you go.” – “But Dad you have to!” – “Yeah, all right I guess, you’re a man now and I respect your decision to run towards the aliens which are incinerating everything in their path.” (this wasn’t the actual dialogue, but it was close).

    Robbie did get engulfed in the fireball – a proper impressive fireball – but he still managed to make it to Boston for the final scene with no explanation, not even “Well, just as all those military vehicles I was surrounded by exploded, I happened to fall down a deep hole, at the bottom of which was a pile of pillows, a collection of fire-retardant blankets and a ladder. So I wasn’t hurt in the fall, the blankets protected me from the initial fireball and then I was able to use a ladder to get out.” Nothing.

    Meanwhile, Ray and Rachel find refuge with a former ambulance driver called Harlan Oglivy (Tim Robbins). A character called Oglivy exists in the book – he is an astronomer and the one that says, “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one.” (or words to that effect). He is supposed to be a little crazy, but in the film he was just plain creepy. You didn’t know why – he seemed to ramble a lot and say very contradictory things. You really didn’t know what the guy was after and most especially you have no idea why Ray decides to kill him, having blindfolded Rachel and left her singing a lullaby from Mary Poppins.

    How this got a 12A certificate I really don’t know. No nudity and no swearing? It was two hours of pretty much unrelenting death and destruction. When people weren’t being vaporised they were having the blood sucked out of them or being burnt, crushed or drowned. However, unlike in the horror film I saw earlier that day here there was no let up and thus very little suspense. Like a painting with no balance of light and shade. After the first half hour of being assaulted by all this, on top of the fact that I couldn’t feel invested in any of the characters, I just felt numb and a little bored.

    However, the fact that this was The War of The Worlds carried us along to the end. The end of story is that the aliens die because their systems can’t cope with commonplace bacteria. This is by nature a bit of an anti-climax, but could have been dramatic enough. Instead it seemed like a cop-out; like they'd run out of time and energy and wanted to tie up all the strings before bedtime.

    I have only listed about half the faults this movie had but you’re probably bored already. I sound like I really hated it and I didn’t. I suppose I am so critical of it because (a) I paid good money to go see it, (b) it’s Steven Spielberg, (c) it’s a jolly good story; it ought to have been good. But overall, it was disappointing. Definitely a “missed opportunity” if not actually a “pile of pants.”

    Review: 28 Days Later

    I actually started to review Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, but I couldn’t get my words together so I thought I would try something a little less intelligent…

    Tuesday was a day for apocalyptic horror. Well, it was a Tuesday. In the morning I watched 28 Days Later, a British made film directed by Danny Boyle (Transpotting chappy) about a young man who wakes up from a coma to find that the world has been overrun by a virus called Rage, spread by fluid transfer, which turns its victims within a matter of seconds into brainless yet murderous creatures. Our chap wanders the empty streets of London, meets some fellow survivors before trundling off to the North in search of some soldiers who are transmitting the only remaining radio signal. However, the soldiers’ idea of protection isn’t necessarily what the survivors expected…

    I’m not a great horror fan, mostly because I find it most horror films (a) not very scary (b) very annoying. If I watch a horror movie, I want to be frightened. Personally, I find this helpful. In the same way some people hire ‘weepy’ movies so they can have a good cry in a controlled and socially acceptable way, I want to be frightened for a short while so that the world is a less frightening place. If I didn’t ever get scared through the books and films, I would probably become afraid of crime, terrorism, Avian flu, meteors and the like – and not having any predetermined narrative conclusion, these things could keep me awake all night. Horror films never follow me into the real world.

    But if I am subjected to loads of violence, gore and other disturbing imagery and not actually frightened, then I am left feeling really annoyed or even offended. I am not in the least squeamish, but I am human and I do need some emotional payback for being exposed to distressing material. Violence is okay within entertainment, as part of a narrative, but violence is not okay as entertainment; not even in the context of when in Rome.

    Another somewhat contradictory parameter is that it can’t be too believable. Everything has to be believable within a context, but that context has to be ever so slightly fantastic. The monsters can’t be the sort of monsters that I could read about in the news, for example. 28 days later worked well in this respect; I didn’t believe that such a virus could be produced let alone successfully spread, but I did buy the human drama it produced.

    28 Days Later also had loads of violence, gore and other disturbing imagery but it was very frightening. It was well-paced such that you never felt easy, but you weren’t left on the edge of your seat so long that you fell off and broke the spell. The horror did change in nature as the film went on, which is something other people have complained about, but I thought this worked pretty well to bring the whole thing to a climax; ultimately human minds are far scarier than mindless zombies.

    Once or twice the script seemed to lack cohesion and there was one inexplicable narrative turn involving ball gowns I don’t know why they left in. At the end of the day it was a science-fiction horror movie with its fair share of anomalies and irrational behaviour and Chekov certainly wasn’t on the credits. But the acting was superb, the music (as always with Danny Boyle) was great and I was carried along from start to finish.

    At last the British are getting film-making right (I apologise on behalf of my motherland for every Romantic Comedy that we’ve reeled out in the last decade. I just hope that this Renaissance of British Horror doesn’t leave the likes of such actors as Hugh Grant behind – I’m sure he could play a socially-awkward upper-middle-class ape-creature or something).

    But don’t watch it if you faint at the sight of blood or Christopher Eccleston.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2005


    I am feeling rather chuffed with myself today. Last night we went to the cinema and saw War of the Worlds which I may review at some point soon, but this would usually mean a total wipe out today. However, I really needed to go see I, H's sister about the bridesmaid dress. I was pretty anxious about this, about managing this thing (long story but the timing was out of my hands) and dealing with the people in town. It's like a daylight version of a zombie movie out there in Whitby just now, crowds of the living-dead staggering about in seemingly random directions, dull-eyed and open mouthed. The pit-falls of living in a seaside resort - apart from the fact that most people's jobs depend on these creatures, I imagine we could all happily move out for the months of July and August every year.

    I find it exhausting with the wheelchair, because I am forced to interact with them. I have to try and get them out of my way (they do this standing still thing as well as the staggering bit) and some of the only recently dead who offer me help or leap out of my way; I have to thank everybody a million times as well of course. Last time I went into town it was just too much for me, I got scared and rushed back home. If this happens, I stay home more, I get less used to dealing with this stuff and I become more anxious about facing it. Then I get lazy and go out less, but I get unhappy because I'm getting out less and so on and so forth.

    So I was quite pleased when I got to and into the shop where I works without getting even vaguely flustered. Irene is a really lovely lady, really cheery but practical and I'm really pleased to have her on board with the bridesmaid dress. All that went fine, so rather than speeding back home I ran a few errands outstanding for the last... however many weeks it is since I last braved the zombies.

    And then, just I was about to leave town and head back home.... I got shat on by a seagull.

    Saturday, July 09, 2005

    Britons Never Ever Ever etc.

    I was about a hundred and fifty miles away from London when the explosions happened, so I don't have any personal experience. For this I recommend James' account of his journey to work. Also, the BBC website has been recalling some very powerful accounts from people directly effected by events. For a disability perspective, Imfunnytoo wrote a great blog entry on how disabled people need to be included in emergency plans.

    Hearing about the London bombings seemed very strange. I think everybody has been expecting something like this for the last three or four years. We are kind of used to the idea of terrorist attacks, especially in London as you can see here. But since September 11th 2001 and subsequent Al Queda attacks we have been aware that next time it might happen on a much larger scale. The IRA were/ are wankers of the highest order, but they were at least under the illusion of having a political argument – they were invested in keeping a reasonably low body-count so that they wouldn't be seen as monsters. Al Queda (and similar) appear totally unreserved. They're wankers without pretentions, they don't need to be cunning or evil or even especially zealous; any arse can blow themselves up and take a random group of innocent people with them, but as such they are capable of doing infinite amounts of damage.

    But perhaps it's not useful to say that when the news came on in the Handicap Friendly pub, I imagined hundreds or thousands of deaths and I do believe that we're very lucky that it wasn't much much worse. And then there's the heroism. The Tube is notorious for being about the most cold and unsociable environment in the country; people really rarely talk or make eye contact, until one day the train explodes and everyone starts risking life and limb for one another.

    On our way home on Thursday most of the newspapers on the garage forecourts were of full-page Union Jacks - still with this morning's news of our successful Olympic Bid. I thought such pages were perhaps more apt by Thursday evening.

    One of the accounts on the BBC described the tube trip home on Friday evening, where the driver came over the PA and announced, "
    Believe me ladies and gentlemen, when I woke up this morning I thought I'd be driving an empty train through empty stations. Now I've seen how many of you are travelling today, it's made me proud to be a Londoner. God bless you all"

    Amen to that. Love to everyone in or around London and especially for those who were or had loved ones directly involved in these outrages.

    Our Grand Adventure

    On Thursday we had a grand adventure. [...] had sold some shop-fittings on eBay and we drove down to deliver them to someone in Lincoln. This meant driving through the delightful Beverley, across the magnificent Humber Bridge and then going home up the coast via Bridlington, Filey and Scarborough. The Humber Bridge was quite a highlight, especially as [...] had somehow got through life without crossing a massive bridge or even going through a tollgate. How? I don’t know. This he found very exciting, even though the sky was grey, the water was beige and Hull’s cityscape was something between the two.

    Other highlights included sitting on the seafront at Filey and a really decent bacon sandwich in a pub which had a big sign outside saying “Handicap Friendly”. I don’t know about elsewhere, but this is extremely unusual in the UK for two… three… no, four reasons. One is that if somewhere is accessible, they may have a small sign, a sticker on their window or something - not a massive sign you can read from 200yrds up the road. Two is that the H word is considered massively problematic amoung Brit crips. Three the word “friendly” in conjunction with the needs of disabled people is pretty damn patronising (if in doubt, imagine a job advert where a company described themselves as being Black Friendly). And four, the place was a very ordinary country pub complete with steps, narrow doorways and so on.

    However, over the course of our brief visit, I noticed at least two other customers who almost certainly had some form of learning impairment and I guess this was what the sign referred to. We theorised that there was some sort of sheltered accommodation nearby and the pub was trying (and succeeding) in getting the custom of friends and relatives who wanted to take the residents out for lunch… Still pretty dodgy if you ask me.

    The television was on in the corner of this pub. I couldn’t really hear it, but when I looked up I saw the Prime Minister on the screen, a caption underneath him reading London Blasts and I knew that the terrorist attack which we have been expecting for the last four years had finally gone off…

    Wednesday, July 06, 2005

    Make Celebrity History

    I suppose it is an age old problem: the confusion between celebrity and authority. Being famous allows your opinions to be heard and being famous as well as articulate and appealing allows your opinions to be influential. Everything from the clothes that appear in our high street shops to the way people handle their love affairs may be subject to the influence of our role models – this stuff is a cultural inevitability – but in the last few weeks I have begun to despair at people, on mass, deferring to a group of celebrities on issues about which they have no intellectual or moral authority.

    Bob Geldoff is an very useful example, because I really like the chap. It would be impossible to argue that the man is faddishly pinning his colours to a cause as some sort of self-publicity exercise; clearly the man has passion, he’s also reasonably articulate and he is a character which really appeals to us. Leaving Live 8 aside for a moment, last year I heard him speaking about another of his passions; equal access to children for separated and divorced parents. Something he knows something about from bitter personal experience.

    I was totally with him on his arguments about the role of fathers. Of course it is nonsense to suggest a child needs a mother and a father or else they’ll be a total screw up, but when both parties are willing and able to contribute, it is in everybody’s interest that they do. Then Bob was challenged about the practicalities of truly equal parenting; children would wind up being passed from pillar to post throughout the week unless you forced estranged parents to actually live together. Bob, bright guy, had thought of this already.

    The perfect solution was that the children remained in the family home and the parents took it in turns to stay there, each having their own household elsewhere. The children remained in the one location, they had total stability. Of course it is perfect. Absolutely perfect. Well, unless of course you sprinkled fairy dust over parents at the birth of a child which meant that they would remain in love and capable of living together harmoniously forever and ever…

    Back in the real world of course, many couples struggle to make their joint incomes stretch to one household, let alone three. One of the common barriers to access for divorced fathers is that they can’t afford a house or flat with enough room for the children to stay over comfortably and single-parent households are the poorest in the country. But it’s been a while since Sir Bob has needed to worry about where the money for a school uniform is going to come from.

    So back to Live 8. I cannot bring myself to be cynical about this sort of project, but cynicism and scepticism are two different things and I don’t know how a series rock concerts can make the slightest difference to anything. So Bob and the others are musicians; this is what they do. But if they were florists and they spent the day arranging flowers for Africa then what difference would it make?

    Okay, awareness; thanks to these people, we’re all aware that the G8 summit is taking place and perhaps we are more aware that Africa is not in a much better state than it was twenty years ago. But besides that?

    Did thousands of people turning out for the concerts or tuning in to the coverage send a message to the G8 leaders? Absolutely not. They had won free tickets to a concert with some of the most famous musicians in the world and a handful of Africans tucked out of the limelight. Their presence was not a protest; they needn’t have had any investment in the cause whatsoever. Had artists of such calibre arranged a concert in aid of “Save the Hedgehogs” the numbers would be have been the same.

    And the G8 leaders, even if they were likely to be influenced by political protest, know this very well. The Make Poverty History campaign, that lobbies these people, will have made some impact, but the rock concerts? No way. I don’t believe that all but a handful of people at those concerts, on stage or in the audience, gave a hoot about Africa or would be prepared to adjust their lifestyle in even the small ways which might benefit justice for our cousins in the “Third World”. I don’t mean to offend anyone who attended or tried for tickets who is pious about this stuff, but the fact is you didn’t have to write a thousand word essay on European Trade Laws and their effect on poverty in Africa in order to get in.

    But does any of it do any harm? The harm things like Live 8 might might do is too complex to speculate upon, but in general, confusing celebrity with authority is a bad idea. Celebrity, or something like this, is perhaps part of human nature; we like stories about people who are special and before these people existed on televisions, they existed in books, before which they existed on church murals or in the words of minstrels and in all other forms of story telling; both historic and fictional.

    But I'm not sure they always had voices. I'm not sure they always yielded influence upon people when it came to issues with which they had little or no knowledge about. Occasionally, expertise and celebrity go together; Jamie Oliver knows about food and Tom Cruise is an alien. But please God, if we want to address a problem, we need to consult real experts and we then need to act on that consultation. Having a good old sing-a-long may lift our spirits but it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to the problems of the real world.

    Sunday, July 03, 2005

    Wedding News #2 and How Everybody Is As Weird As Me

    I have had a crap few days where my brain has been off-line but I am feeling much better this weekend. Last night Hal came round and we tried on the bridesmaid’s dress. We couldn’t get all three of us in it so we then tried it one by one and um… it wasn’t big enough even for little ol’ me.

    So all this went out the window, if ever so briefly. It’s only my bust it doesn’t fit over, but still. Even before this point this dress has been more trouble that it was worth. Hal kindly volunteered himself and his sister to finish the whole thing off for me, so save my Mum having to do it and perhaps in particular, my having to negotiate with my Mum as she continues the project. I think I need to think about the diplomatic virtues of where we go from her as well as the practical ones. And it strikes me as an awful lot of work for H and his sister (who I have never even met)...

    I have been having nightmares about the wedding. I know it’s not normal to have nightmares about weddings, especially not about someone else’s wedding, especially not about someone else’s wedding you’re quite looking forward to. All my dreams have a recurring theme; somehow, through a combination of bad luck and bad judgement, I manage to mess it all up. Not just what I have to do – in fact my dream is never about those things – but everything, everything is messed up somehow because of me. Last night I dreamt that I had arranged everybody else’s accommodation, made all the catering arrangements and everything went to shit.

    All my nightmares are about having loads of responsibility. My absolute worse nightmare, and it sounds ridiculous but it was extremely vivid, detailed and sensual and I was entirely convinced for the duration, was when I was Joseph Goebbels. Yeah I know. Very silly. But I was Goebbels and I suddenly realised what I had done. Now, not only did this make me feel – well, you can imagine – but I was Goebbels in about 1942 and I didn’t know the outcome of the war (honestly, don’t ask me how my subconscious managed to misplace such a fact entirely). I was quite convinced that unless I carried on, me and my entire family would be tortured and killed and nothing I could do would make any difference anyway. My heart is racing just to remember what that felt like and I dreamt that one about seven years ago! Still can’t understand it. Why Goebbels in particular?

    Sometimes I worry that people who read this blog might think that (a) I make this shit up or (b) I am quite insane. However, everybody has stuff a bit like this, I’m sure of it, if not in dreams and having people in their head, then people are weird in other ways. For example they
    See, you’re all a bunch of weirdos – it’s not just me! Dreaming that you’re Goebbels is just fine.

    All that standing around while H pinned everything together has resulted in new and interesting levels of agony in my legs and back; when I woke up this morning it felt like they had given up the ghost entirely. But to be honest, I’m so grateful to be able to think straight again that I’m not minding too much.

    In other news, I watched a really good film on Friday called The Devil’s Backbone (Espinazo del diablo). I have been watching loads of films this week – about two a day. My brain’s not really been up to even this, as I have been terrible bored or confused during most of them. However this one had me from start to finish. Supernatural thriller, beautifully filmed, engaging characters and really quite spooky without being disturbing or especially gory. Highly recommended.