As the Journalist Said to the Bishop

IF and I say IF, the Bishop of Gloucester has done something untoward it doesn’t change what I said. I would rather be someone who thinks the best of people and is proved wrong, than someone who thinks the worst and is proved right. When I was a journalist I was the latter but in the 2 years since I left I have become the former.

The nature of any profession is that you tend to believe the world is made up entirely of the kind of people you deal with every day. You become a member of your job’s sub-culture. It’s all you see.

Given that most news stories are ‘bad’, things you grow to believe that is what the world is. Since leaving journalism I have probably become more naive, but I’m glad I have.

I don’t care if my sometimes Pollyanna-ish world view is subsequently stamped on. Rather that than being proved right about something bad adding another patina of cynicism to my personality. I am a happier person out of journalism. I have more time to stop and smell the flowers. So what if some turn out to be nettles – there will be more flowers along in a minute.

Whatever happens with the Bishop of Gloucester, I’m glad I’ve lost my journalistic edge and no longer automatically call the police when someone steps down for personal reasons. One day that WILL be the genuine reason and I’ll be happy to be right.

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Skeletons.

My Dad died, aged 90, in July 2012.  He was a working man in the old style – Socialist, a plumber and a worker with his hands.  When I worked with him on the building sites he swore like a trooper but kept his language clean at home.

I was never physically abused as I would define it but when he did hit me, he hit hard and it hurt.  He was so talented as an artist that his art teacher offered to pay for him to go through college.  But Dad saw art as somehow not a proper job and took up a plumbing apprenticeship instead.

He was born and brought up in rural Cornwall in the 1920s and ‘30s.  Always single-minded to the point of stubbornness he refused to sing in the church choir even though he was in it; forced to go to church by his religious mother he would fold his arms and clamp his mouth shut during every service until they gave up and released him from the choir.

In the RAF he challenged his senior officer to court martial him for refusing to attend compulsory church parade.  The RAF backed down and he was excused.

For my first 40 years we were at odds.  He was 40 when I was born, older than most dads, and we were from different worlds.  He was a rough and ready plumber who brought up in Cornwall during the depression – an area of tin mines where he used to play in the arsenic-soaked drains.

I was an arty-farty child of the 70s who grew up with long hair, necklaces and bracelets and no interest or aptitude for physical work.  I was an acorn which had fallen a long way from the tree.

I went for a coffee with my Mum today and she said she and Dad kept a secret and with his death she was now the sole bearer.  I asked what it was and she said she couldn’t tell me.  In my experience that’s all part of a ‘game’ people play; when they say they have a secret they can’t share you know they are going to.  They just need to feel it was pulled from them so you have to play along.

As an only-child with a happy upbringing and no real traumas to talk about, I have always fantasised about some secret which makes me ‘different’ or gives me some piece of angst to flaunt.  I always favoured a half-brother or sister given away before I was born.  Whilst I have mostly been happy as an only-child, I have always been intrigued what another version of me would be like – especially a female me.

Since we learned we couldn’t have children I have come to accept that I was never going to meet a mini-me.  So a half-brother or sister was the best I could hope for.  My mate, Dave, learned he had a half-brother and I was quite envious.

That wasn’t the secret.

For a brief moment I was actually disappointed when I learned the secret was something else entirely.  Then it sunk in.  Dad’s secret was so left-field, so out of a clear blue sky that had Mum asked me to guess it wouldn’t have been in my top-20.

Dad was a cross-dresser.

My Dad, a powerfully-built effing and blinding man’s man of a plumber liked dressing in women’s clothes.  He ‘confessed’ this not long after I was born so this must have been in the early ‘60s.  This was even before the Permissive Society and he was embedded in a self-image created in a rural back-water in the 1930s.  It wasn’t as if he’d been born into Bohemian London where he hung out with Quentin Crisp and more open-minded types.

To him it was a guilty secret.  Mum said he was ashamed.  It was something bad.  Not to me it isn’t.  Not now in the 21st Century.  I wear kilts and own a pair of 5-inch stilettoes.  But back then it was different.  So for nearly 50 years they carried this secret.  Mum bought Dad some female clothes of his own to wear but not, I suspect, because she was showing support; I got the impression that it was more because she found the idea of his wearing her clothes distasteful.

She never stopped loving him.  It didn’t make her feel any the less for him.  She’s still deep in mourning now.  But after the initial confession they hardly talked about it again.  It was an embarrassment to both of them.  Dad was paranoid about any colleagues on the building sites finding out.

I don’t know when he used to dress up.  Never in my life did I pick up the slightest clue.  He didn’t go out dressed up; he only used to do it at home.  I didn’t ask Mum what he wore or when he did it; that would have been prurient.  I don’t need that detail.

It has started me thinking about some of the decisions he made in life; is that why he chose manual labour over an artistic career?  Was he over-compensating and trying to assert his masculinity?  I know cross-dressing and being gay are two different things, but was he worried about it in those less enlightened times?  Having a ‘condition’ doesn’t make you an expert; you can be as ill-informed and prejudiced as everyone else.

He would have been mortified if I knew.  And you know what, I might have been.  It’s one thing to be all cool and enlightened when you’re talking about it in the abstract.  But could I have been so liberal-minded when it was my own Dad?

This revelation hasn’t changed my feelings towards him one bit.  I don’t love him any the less.  He was a man struggling to supress something which should be no cause of shame at all.  That’s not how he saw it, though.  He was embarrassed and ashamed.

My Dad who seemed to have such a strong and fixed sense of identity carried a polyp of uncertainty.

There is a photograph of me, taken when I was in my early 20s.  I am wearing a taffeta ball-gown, looking coquettishly at the camera.  Mum told me today she was horrified when she saw it.  She thought the shameful urge had been passed on to me.  I just think it’s a funny picture.  Dave has it now.  I have an embarrassing one of him and we joke that if either one of us becomes famous the other one will sell it to a tabloid.

I do have a Bohemian taste in clothes.  I do buy some women’s accessories for myself – mostly scarves, hats and jewellery.  I do envy women’s shoes – they are much more attractive than the clod-hoppers made for men.  I have also bought some women’s t-shirts in a size-18 plus.  And of course there are the spike-heels.

I wouldn’t call myself a cross-dresser, though.  I just like good clothes, irrespective of which gender they were designed for.

Maybe that is something of my Dad’s genetic influence though.  I live in a world where I can be like that and still be secure in my own identity.  Dad didn’t have that.  For him it was something to be ashamed of.

Perhaps this acorn didn’t roll that far from the tree, after all.  I have reached the end of this piece loving him even more.  My Dad was a lovely, kind and talented bloke.  A lovely, kind and talented bloke who liked to wear women’s clothes.

So fucking what?

 

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Poppycock

We went to the Remembrance Service in Cheltenham this year.  There’s usually at least one fainter and this year it was a cadet standing on one of the four corners of the Cenotaph.  Almost as soon as he hit the ground another cadet marched up and took his place.  Which means they must plan for a fainting.  The cadet was tended by St John Ambulance but it does beg the question, if fainting is so expected is it wise to make them stand to attention for so long?
Which set me off on another train of thought; warfare is chaotic.  So why does the military devote so much time making soldiers polish things and clean things, march in unison and stand stock-still for hours on end?  It’s almost OCD.  None of that’s any use against the Taliban.  A Taliban who seem to do quite well in their own clothes, wearing scruffy beards, making bombs on the kitchen table and firing there guns in the air from the back of Toyota pick-ups.  Has a Taliban ever fainted doing something pointless?  Just wonderin’.

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Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

This weekend I learned a former line manager of mine has pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing child pornography.  It’s made me question my certainties and my loyalties.  What it has made me realise is that it’s one thing to condemn someone you don’t know, when you have no emotional investment, and another when it’s someone you like and always thought of as a nice bloke.

The fear is that if you don’t condemn someone guilty of a crime like this you are condoning it or trivialising it.  There’s an even more insidious fear that if you don’t condemn people might think you are into it yourself.  Even though I am an Atheist, I suppose the easiest solution is the Christian philosophy of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’  Does that really cover it, though?

In reality people cannot love the person who commits this sin.  There is no league table of evil; is child pornography more evil than murder?  It’s an unanswerable question because there are so many variables and conditions and exceptions and what-ifs.  Just because the question exists doesn’t mean you have to answer.

But what about this guy?  I haven’t seen him for 18 months and the chances are I won’t again; our lives don’t overlap.  What if I did bump into him, though?  Would I call him an evil, sick bastard?  Or would I chat and not mention the case?

If I harangued him to his face, what good would that do?  He’ll have been through the legal process, punished, put on the sex offenders’ register and (hopefully) be getting some treatment.  Is repeated abuse from everyone he meets going to help?

Yet if I just politely chat am I giving the illusion it doesn’t matter?  Am I belittling the scale of what he did?  Every time we encounter child abuse there’s a pressure for us to make people know we don’t condone it and so we join the tumult.

I know there are people who will ask why I am tying myself in knots over this.  It’s simple, they’ll say.  He’s evil, he got sexual pleasure from the abuse of children, it’s a no-brainer, he should be dead to you.  I can understand that particularly coming from parents.  I don’t have any children and I’m sure if I did I would feel much more loathing for him.

But to say, you can’t understand you’re not a parent implies my view has no validity.  I have never had a loved one murdered but that doesn’t mean my opinion on the death penalty doesn’t count.  Equally I could say that if you have never had a connection with someone convicted of possessing child pornography you can’t know how conflicted you will feel.  You can sit there and shout ‘bastard’ at the TV when it’s a stranger but when it’s someone you know, a whole set of different feelings come into play.

This guy was my line manager and we socialised occasionally.  We had one-to-ones when I had bouts of depression and he told me about his depression.  He talked about how it started when his father died unexpectedly.  All those aspects of his personality aren’t erased by what he has done.  But can someone who gets off on child porn still be a ‘nice bloke’?

To me, this guy can.  Okay, I shall do the expected condemnation; what he did was evil, sick and I would never do such a thing, not me, no I’m normal I am a million miles from getting off on that perverted filth and he deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law.

But I liked him and if I met him again I would talk and shake his hand and not mention his conviction.  Perhaps I’m naïve; he will never erase that part of himself and will always be drawn to that material.  And yet that same person could sit down with me and chat and be pleasant.

For the second time this week I will have to resort to a quote I always found rather twee because it actually sort of, partially resolves my moral dilemma.

Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.

 

 

 

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Zombie Flies

I have just seen something which registers 9-point-0 on the Weird-Shit-O-Metre, to quote Men In Black.
Yesterday I dealt with a maggot infestation in our food caddy.  It was crawling with them so I killed them instantly by pouring boiling water in it.  So I had a pool of water with loads of dead maggots in the bottom.
For some reason I didn’t pour it down the drain immediately and left it overnight.  When I lifted the lid this evening it was full of…….dead FLIES.
What the buggering flip is that all about?  Surely maggots can’t metamorphose into flies AFTER they’re dead?  Can they?  That is just not right.  But I saw it – the water had loads of dead flies floating in it.  And they were small, as if they were baby used-to-be-maggots flies.
So did the fly survive the boiling, emerge from the dead maggot and then drown?  Or did the dead maggot just turn into a dead fly?
Or are we faced with an outbreak of zombie flies?
Anyone got any suggestions?  Coz at the moment whenever I hear a fly it’s accompanied by the Jaws music AND the Psycho music.

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Trial by Twitter

We now know that Charles Saatchi has been given a police caution for this assault. But what the whole incident also highlighted was the insidious trend of trial by Twitter. People made up their minds and (mostly) convicted him on the basis of some paparazzi shots in a Sunday tabloid which doesn’t have the best record of accurate reporting.

Anyone who suggested that there needed to be a more thorough investigation of the incident before condemning Saatchi was virtually accusedof condoning domestic violence. Refusing to rush to judgement is not the same as defending an illegal act.

Twitter creates a lynch mob mentality and that is dangerous. It’s vital that even the apparently obvious crimes are still tested in law because you’re in danger of ‘mission creep’; eventually more ambiguous acts are pre-judged until eventually no one has the protection of due process.

Some have said, the photographs were unambiguous – he was clearly throttling her.  Okay, yes.  But if you start trial-by-Twitter gradually and very slowly the incidents which are judged are less clear-cut.  Eventually it becomes the norm to judge people where the issues are more blurred and the burden of proof becomes weaker.  One day, any one of us might find ourselves being judged in the social media.

That’s why you always have to allow people to be judged by the law.  But even the law can get it wrong.  And if the law can get it wrong – with all its checks and balances – how much more unreliable does that make trial by Twitter?

For me there is one case which proves you can be wrong about something which seems cast-iron true.  The Birmingham Six.  After the 1974 pub bombings the 6 Irishmen seemed guilty beyond doubt.  There was hardly anyone who believed their innocence.  And yet we were all wrong.  Imagine if Twitter was around then?  Imagine how certain of their guilt everyone would have been.

Social media circumvents the need for proof to the point where we judge someone on the most superficial evidence.  Even someone subsequently found guilty or who confesses deserves a fair hearing.  Twitter is not that forum.

The fact that in this case, Saatchi admits it was an assault, doesn’t change the fact he was prematurely judged by Twitter.

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In Defence of Colin Brewer

I would like to speak up for Colin Brewer, the Cornwall councillor who says some disabled babies should be put down.  Not because I agree with him – the views he expressed are abhorrent.

Like most people I was disgusted by what he said UNTIL I read a throwaway line in an article that Councillor Brewer is currently off sick due to a series of strokes.

As someone who has a brain injury as a result of a stroke I am also prone to causing offence by things I say because I suffer from dis-inhibition.  We don’t know the nature of Mr Brewer’s brain injury but if he has had a number of strokes his cognitive function may well be impaired in some way.  I wonder if it is that which has caused him to voice unpalatable views?
Brain injury is invisible and people only see or hear behaviour which, to them, is unacceptable and they make judgements accordingly.   That is the curse of people with a brain trauma.  Offensive though his comments are, all those condemning him should, for now, back off and give him some space.
I hope the police officers questioning him will be sensitive to the medical condition which may be behind his remarks.  I have written to Devon and Cornwall Police asking them to show some awareness of Councillor Brewer’s condition.
As a died-in-the-wool, Guardian-reading liberal leftie, I never thought I would find myself standing up for a Tory who advocated the euthanasia of disabled children.  I guess there’s a first time for everything.
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Love of the Dole

I came this close from resigning from the Dole today.  I just can’t be unemployed in the way I’d like if I have to deal with such inflexible people.

I normally sign on at 2.30pm every other Thursday.  This Thursday, however, I arranged to sign on at 8.30am because I’d got a place on a training course.  But first thing this morning I got a call saying the training had been postponed.  No problem, I think, I’ll just go and do the voluntary work I normally do on a Thursday morning and then sign on at the normal time.

Good Lord, the DSS nearly ground to a halt.  I presented myself at the desk at 2.30 and when Kay, according to her name badge, couldn’t see me listed I suggested she might find my name in the 8.30 slot.  Ooh, I’d done a very bad thing.

‘We made a special arrangement for you to sign on at 8.30, so you should have been here at 8.30.’

A ‘special arrangement’? I didn’t realise the DSS had put itself out for me so much; opened early, brought in extra staff, re-arranged other appointments.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise.  I thought it would be ok just to come in at my usual time.’

‘Well, it isn’t ok.’

Apparently not.

‘You should know you can’t just come in when you want…..’

‘Kay…..’

‘You have to come in at the agreed time; otherwise your claim won’t be approved……’

‘Kay…..’

‘You should’ve been here at 8.30 for your appointment with Phil.  He’s gone home now……’  (Why, was he upset?)

‘Kay…..’

‘I don’t know what we can do…….’

‘Kay…..’

I was beginning to wonder how Kay breathed because she just talked and talked and talked without pausing.  I was beginning to look for gills, or maybe she respired through tiny holes in her keratin – like a beetle.  Eventually she did pause and I drove a word into the small crag of silence like a piton and hoped it held.

‘Kay…..a word in edgeways, please.’

‘But……’

‘Kay,  I wasn’t told it had to be at 8.30.  If I was told I would have been here.’

‘Well, you’ll know in future.’

‘In future, yes. But the future wasn’t two weeks ago when I wasn’t told.’

I realised I was very close to being one of the reasons they used to have a Perspex screen between the DSS official and the client.  Two security guards stood next to the desk, just in case I turned nasty rather than peevish.

Kay left me while she went to talk to a colleague.  When she came back she said, ‘Because you weren’t here on time we can’t find your signing-on card.’  As if that was my fault.  As if the card gets sucked into a black hole if I don’t sign it at the agreed time.  She asked me to take a seat while she tried to salvage something from the wreckage of her day.  Who would’ve thought the world would end on a Thursday?

While I waited I decided to check Twitter and Facebook on my phone.  ‘You’re not allowed to use mobile phones in here,’ said one of the security guards.  Pardon me?  Why not?  It’s not as if we’re in a 747 and I’m going to cause a crash (which is a myth, anyway). What possible harm is a mobile going to do in a DSS office?

By now I was becoming self-righteous; I hadn’t actually claimed for Job Seeker’s Allowance for my first 6 months after leaving the BBC because I wasn’t seeking work.  Therefore I didn’t feel eligible for it.  But now I am looking for work so I am entitled.  After 30 years employment, I am only claiming back what I’ve paid into the system in National Insurance and tax.

Now here I was made to feel like I’d buggered up the whole welfare state and I wasn’t allowed to communicate with the outside world.  That’s when I nearly resigned.  I am intelligent, I’m a graduate and I’m articulate and here I was being treated like a trouble-making idiot.  Clearly this relationship wasn’t working out.  The DSS and I weren’t a good fit.

Kay  finally found someone to sign me on, as if she’d used her influence to get me an audience with the Pope.  I sat at the desk, expecting another lecture on my lackadaisical time-keeping and how much I had thrown the Department into confusion.  But the guy merely asked me to sign the card and wished me a good day.

How on Earth does the DSS stay in business?  If it doesn’t learn to treat its core customers better it’s going to lose them to the competition.  The Dole isn’t the only source of money; I’m seriously thinking of taking my talents somewhere else…..like an employer.  Perhaps it’s only when everyone has left it for a job that the DSS will realise it doesn’t have a monopoly on handing out money.

By then it will be too late.

 

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Never Go Back.

Tonight I ended up at a pub with people I worked with until 6 months ago. It was an uncomfortable experience – they felt like strangers. It brought into sharp focus how angry and hurt I feel about my treatment by the BBC.

It was simmering under the surface in my last 3 years after the brain injury – the bitterness & anger at the lack of understanding. I am torn between thinking, how could I expect them to understand and feeling hurt that they can only empathise with physical injury.

I know I upset a lot of people but I have lost sight of where it all went wrong. I feel let down by the corporation and individuals and I need to deal with this before I can move on. Right now, I don’t know how to and I’m blocked.

I really wish I hadn’t gone tonight. Every time I see them I feel disliked.

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Apple Grumble

Dear Mr God,

I have been thinking about apples, today.  Well, obsessing about them about them actually.  Why are You still banging on about the whole apple thing?  I mean come on, it was nearly six thousand years ago – time to move on, surely.

So Adam and Eve scrumped ONE apple.  Big deal.  Now we get this whole Original Sin thing and a restraining order preventing us getting back to Eden.  Talk about, over-reacting.  Look, we’ve got our own apples now – have one of ours.  Take as many as you like.  Jeez, get over it already.

We’re supposed to say sorry all the time and admit how crap we are and say how wonderful You are.  Y’know, there comes a point when we are perfectly entitled to say, ‘Look, we’ve apologised. If that’s not good enough sod ya then.’

And if stealing the apple was the cause of all our pain and travail, how come we aren’t banned from eating them?  Why is there nothing about not eating apples in the Terms and Conditions you call the Bible?

You’re sending out mixed signals; on the one hand you make a real song and dance about stealing one in the Garden of Eden, but on the other you’re not that bothered if we go on eating them. If we give up apples will you let us back in?

I mean what’s the deal here?  That’s all I’m asking.

Yours Sincerely

Confused of Down Here.

 

Dear Confused,

Look it’s not rocket surgery.  All I asked was one thing; stay away from the apples.  That’s all, it wasn’t hard, was it?  Well, obviously it was.  I gave you the Garden of Eden and eternal happiness and I even let you go commando.  Just don’t touch my apples.

And what do you go and do?  Eat one of my bloody apples.  Honestly, it’s like dealing with children; you tell them not to do something and then they go and do it.  And then what are you going to do?  Are you going to say, ‘Ah well, never mind’?  How are they ever going to learn?  You’ve got to have discipline and you have to learn there are consequences.  Otherwise it’s all fun and games until someone has their eye out.  Then we’re all down A&E and you’re whining, ‘Ooh we didn’t know, you should’ve warned us.’

Thank you for the offer of your own apples but I’m afraid that’s not how it works.  You say I’m over-reacting but someone has to make the rules around here otherwise it’ll just be complete Hell.   Is that what you want?  And you say I haven’t said anything about not eating apples in the Terms and Conditions.  How old are you now?  You’ve had six-thousand years to work out what’s right and what’s wrong for yourselves.  Do I have to spell everything out?

Look, I thought I’d chosen something really, really simple; don’t touch the apples.  How hard could it be?  Look at the Hindus, they can’t eat beef.  The Jews, no pork.  Bhuddists, no meat full stop.  And they’re surrounded by meat mooing and oinking and baaing at them EVERY BLOODY DAY.  They manage.

I thought I was letting you off lightly.  You can have roast beef Sunday lunches, lamb shanks, bacon sarnies, chicken korma, fish and chips – just about anything you want.  Except apples.  But oh no, it’s all ‘I want to have an apple, can I eat an apple, please, please, please let me have an apple.’  Yes, you do sound that whiney.

And as for the constant praise, thank you but you’re missing the point. It’s no good apologising and then carrying on doing what I asked you not to do.  It’s about respecting other peoples’ property.

Just lay off the fucking apples and I’ll think about letting you back in.  So I’m sorry if you think I should ‘get over it.’  My creation, my rules.

Is that a cider you’re drinking?  I rest my case.

Yours,

God.

 

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