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Monthly Archives: August 2015

We aren’t helping

It’s interesting to compare and contrast the attitudes of Germany and Britain towards refugees heading into Europe from Syria. When the mainstream tabloid Bild proudly talks about helping

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the British tabloids are still focused on the ‘swarm’, the term so beloved of their Prime Minister, David Cameron

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And at German football grounds, a display of solidarity, of willingness to help.

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Can you imagine the same thing at Premiership grounds?

I suppose the difference is that Germans have more recent experience of being refugees, being attached to refugees, of taking back refugees. There is more empathy and more understanding in recent history, and therefore more compassion. In Britain, we just see refugees as the “other”, as infection, as something to be controlled and feared, as something that’s coming to get us. Part of that comes from the second world war itself – fighting off invasion – and the sense of righteousness and validation that came with victory.

As a person who lives in these islands, I find it sad that we’re still trapped in that World War 2 mentality, stuck in that mindset that others are coming to get us and raid us – ironic when you consider what Britain has done through its history, or maybe that’s exactly why we’re afraid; we’re worried that they’re going to treat us like we treated other people around the world down the centuries.

But there it is. While others welcome refugees, understand them, try to help them in their time of need, we still focus on how we can keep them out, how we can stop them coming, how we can kick them out if they do get here. Our tabloids, horrible though they are, reflect what they think their readers want to hear. When do we start standing up and saying that isn’t what we want, that we do want to help?

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Not allowed

You’re not allowed to talk about immigration nowadays. Which is why it’s so brave that courageous investigative journalist Rod Liddle has flouted this ban, and risked possible imprisonment without trial, in order to talk about immigration.

You’re not allowed to talk about immigration, except when you talk about immigration, all the time, every couple of columns, dancing a merry line wavering between dog-whistle racism and out-and-out racism. You’re not allowed to talk about immigration except when you use phrases like swarm and invasion. You’re not allowed to talk about immigration except when you call refugees cockroaches and say you’d be happy to see pictures of floating bodies.

No one can talk about immigration anymore, apart from in national newspapers, for money. That’s literally the only place you can talk about immigration nowadays. The bien pensant liberals have banned all discussion of immigration except in the national media, for money, every day. It’s like living in Putin’s Russia or something. Or Syria. It’s literally impossible to talk about immigration, except when you do.

Thank goodness for the brave newspaper columnists, radio hosts, bloggers, pundits and politicians who are fighting against all the odds against the massed ranks of so called soi disant politically correct political correctness. They alone must plough the lone furrow and risk the opprobrium of people who read the Guardian.

These brave men and women are our heroes. Let us salute them. They aren’t allowed to, and yet somehow they do. All the time. Every day. For money.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Summer of Labour

If you’ve ever wondered why ordinary people hate politics, remember this summer. Everything about the Labour leadership election has been terrible – everything. If you wanted to design something to repel voters from engaging in democracy, it would be this. From start to finish, a grinding, tedious, hateful cavalcade of hubris, slime, condescension, viciousness, rancour, infighting, disloyalty, Peter Mandelson, disingenuousness, hatred, contempt, sneering, lies, deception, wilful unpleasantness, nose-cutting-off-to-spite-face-ing, self-destruction, ship-scuttling, grandstanding, sniping, patronising – oh God, so very patronising – bullshit.

(If you think, by the way, “ah yes, but my sage insights were above it all”, you’re wrong and you’re part of the problem. I’m part of the problem. This is part of the problem. We’re all part of the problem. Anyone thinking they’re above it all and wisely looking down and picking Maltesers out of the midden is deluding themselves. We’re all equally responsible for this never-ending clusterfuck. We all did it and we should all be miserably ashamed of ourselves. Are you? No.)

At the next election, when only three in ten people bother to turn up and put a pencil cross on a bit of paper in a draughty community centre, and we all wonder why, and we take to Twitter and grumble about how everyone should vote, do you mind if we remember this summer? Because no one has covered themselves in glory. Not the Corbyn supporters, not the Blairites, not the people calling anyone who doesn’t support full communism a tory, not the people who say you mustn’t call anyone a tory even if they’re a tory. None of them. Get this straight. It’s a massive, massive turnoff for everyone. It’s a disaster. Not just for Labour, although of course they’re doomed to a new SDP – or worse – but all of us. All of us. We all fucked it up.

Your Hodgeses, your columnists, your opinions-for-money no-marks, you expect them to be awful. And of course they have been. But it’s their job to be awful. They need to be, or else be bland, and therefore no longer of interest. No, don’t blame them. Baby needs shoes. It’s us. Ordinary people who’ve happily sniped and sneered and grunted and groaned our way through this endless dry heave. Us. On Twitter. On Facebook. Everywhere, talking shit. Endless shit. With only one aim: beat up the other lot. Not with any aim of achieving anything other than feeling glibly superior to the other side. That’s all it’s been. God, what a waste.

It’s not about twitter or social media though. It’s about those people who think they own politics – from the people who would like a party to be exactly what they want a party to be, and stick their fingers in their ears and shout “lalalalala” when anyone has a slightly different idea, to the commentators and scribes, so sure of what the plebs need and so certain of how they should be told to think, the silly twerps. It’s about who owns politics. And it’s not us. If you think it’s you, it isn’t.

In the wreckage there will be a new order. Perhaps there will be reconciliation and working together. Probably there will be more fighting while the real bad guys get away with it. We are the wrestling crowd looking on while the referee has his back turned and the bad guys are cheating. We are powerless, no matter how hard we holler. And that’s the way they like it.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Learn to hate

If you’re poor, you’re fucked. Not just because you’re poor, but because the rest of us are being taught to hate you. Those of us merely circling the toilet bowl, rather than having been flushed down, are being taught to punch down, to blame you, to punish you, to hate.

Everyone does it. Here’s a story this week of a starving person who had their benefits sanctioned, fined far more than they could afford for stealing a pack of Mars bars.

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The courts punish you for being hungry and desperate. The rest of us are meant to feel happy that someone has been brutalised for being hungry and desperate.

Here’s a tweet from police this week, humiliating people who had been forced by circumstances to sleep in a car.

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Again, we’re meant to clap along. Well done cops for sending these people out onto the street and making fun of their humiliation and shame on social media. Our go-to reaction is not compassion but hatred. We have been trained to point and laugh.

It’s come down the years, through various sources. The constant being told we are broke and must live within our means creates a race to the bottom. We’re feeling squeezed so we’re urged to look down and kick those below us. Newspapers and TV programme makers provide the fuel we crave for our hate.

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And so it goes on. How did we get here? Have we always taken such pleasure in spitting on those who are in trouble?

But as we continue to “live within our means”, it’s only going to get worse. When the official opposition party in this country feebly abstains against further welfare measures, it’s not perplexing why a left-wing candidate is finding popularity. There is a kickback against the hatred. But is it enough? And is it in time?

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Early days

A few years ago, I had psychotherapy. I got quite a lot out of it, at the time – more than I’ve ever got from cognitive behavioural therapy or the dreaded “mindfulness”, which has always grated against me. You look at your relationships with other people around you, which naturally gravitates towards family, from family to childhood, and childhood to early memories, dictated by how your parents were around you. I had some comfort, then, from thinking about how my life had begun, all the ways in which I had been influenced by my parents and how I had made choices based on the scaffolding that had been put up to support me.

I look back at that a little differently today. One thing about becoming a parent – I honestly didn’t want to end up writing “what I’ve learned from becoming a parent” pieces, but that’s all that’s in my brain at the moment – is that you find yourself transported back to your own childhood. You start seeing it through new eyes, through the eyes of your own parents, wondering how they must have dealt with you when you were difficult, frustrating, annoying, colicky, angry, silly, happy or whatever, when they’d had a fraction of their usual sleep and all they wanted was a snooze in an armchair without you pestering them for something every half an hour.

All the comfort I had taken from therapy, where I was able to place blame for things that had gone wrong in my own life, or explain my own failures through some kind of inherited or learned failure, are no comfort anymore, and it’s tempting to pull away those blocks from beneath me. I don’t want it to be possible for your mum and dad to fuck you up, now that I am one; I don’t want someone to sit in a chair in a dimly-lit room one day and tell a nodding stranger about how I ruined everything for them because of how I didn’t do X, Y or Z, or how I did A, B or C.

People talk nowadays about neural connections and what happens when not enough are made. I’ve read enough about attachment behaviour disorder to understand the theory of what happens when a child’s needs are not met and what happens to them as a result. In addition to being paranoid about dropping my child on her head when lifting her helpless, whimpering body from one place to another, I’m terrified of doing something that’s not good enough, or doing something wrong that’s going to wreck her future, with the best will in the world. Am I going to get things wrong? Am I going to make her happy enough? Or happy at all?

I look back at my own parents. I imagine them, like me, tired, exhausted, seeing afternoons through the cloudy film of sleepless nights, trundling from one dirty nappy to another, one bottle of milk to another, one screaming, yelling time when you don’t quite know what’s going on and you don’t know how to solve it. I wonder what I must have been like to look after, and how hard it must have been. I end up thinking how hard it must have been for them, rather than what damage, if any, they did to me – and they probably didn’t do any at all.

You want to be the product of your parents, but more than that. You want your child to be the product of your parenting, but to be more than that too. You want them to be better than you could even have imagined. You want them to be better than everything you could possibly put into them, and to find happiness, whatever that is, somewhere. And I think some kind of happiness is possible, whereas there have been times before when I’ve wondered about that. Happiness is possible. It’s possible because you’re not going to wreck someone else’s life; you’re not going to be the most brilliant parent either and make them amazing, but that’s fine, because they’re not your remote-controlled drone, you’ve got to take the stabilisers off the bike at some stage and just hope for the best, and watch, and enjoy what happens, even though you’re terrified.

Being a parent is the only thing in life where I’m absolutely terrified of getting things wrong but I don’t have a single worry about impostor syndrome. I’m not an impostor – I can do this, as well as anyone else can, and everything I do has a purpose, even if it seems mundane at the time, because it all adds up to this one aim, of making a person who can succeed or fail or do whatever they want, because you gave them every single chance to be themselves.

It’s not like a job; it’s better than a job. It’s scary beautiful, amazing, tiring, difficult and stressful, but never anything other than what it is, and never boring, at least not so far. And it changes this afternoon, evening, tomorrow morning, and everything changes every day, and never stays the same. You get things wrong; you carry on. You carry on, and it’s going to be all right, because even though once it seemed like the most remarkable and unlikely and improbably thing ever, you can do this. I can do this. It’s going to be all right.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Dead men

If you’ve ever had even the slightest contact with child abuse survivors, you will know the effect that abuse has on them. It might have caused you nightmares. It might have made you sick. It might have led to you having some kind of trauma yourself. I can say, as someone who has had the barest second-hand contact with survivors – and has had the privilege (yes, privilege) of working with some survivors too – that it is not something that you forget, when you hear about it. The stories bear into your brain. They don’t quietly go away. You don’t forget the things you have seen and heard. For some people, for example the dedicated, highly trained and overworked staff in social services, it’s something that can be parsed without trauma or at least with a professional distance; for the rest of us, it’s harrowing.

Behind every abuse story there is an imbalance of power. The status of the abuser is always superior. They might be older; they might be an adult where the victim is a child; they might be a family member – a parent perhaps. They might be someone more important socially, or more trusted. They enter into positions of trust for the express purpose of being a predator. It’s this power relationship that leads the victim to think they won’t be believed. Why would anyone take my word for what happened? Everyone is going to believe them instead.

All survivors will have been through that feeling – that they won’t be believed, that there’s no point in disclosing anything, that it will only lead to more problems. Abusers bank on it. They reinforce it through everything they say and do, to emphasise that they are the ones with the power, while the victim is powerless. The circle continues, and gets worse.

In relation to historic abuse, it might be tempting to blame the decades of the 1970s or 1980s, that somehow monsters like the celebrities currently being investigated – or who have been convicted – were a product of their times, and we are so much wiser now. But I think that’s dangerous to assume. The same ideas persist. Good men don’t tell lies, and they should be believed above the word of a mere child, or someone who is beneath them. The higher the status of the abuser, the more chance they still have of getting away with it.

You can see this quite clearly with some of the reaction to the Ted Heath allegations this week. Oh, it couldn’t possibly be him. Neighbours and friends explain that the Ted Heath they knew couldn’t possibly have done the things he is supposed to have done, just as the neighbours and friends of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Max Clifford and the rest said the same things, back before it all came out. Maybe this time it’s different; maybe it isn’t. But there is an assumption that someone so powerful couldn’t have been up to no good, that somehow his status is something that needs protecting from rumour and suspicion, and nasty little witch hunts. Let dead men rot, and leave them in peace.

I’ve seen the argument a couple of times this week, by proper writers who get paid and everything, that any allegations about Ted Heath are false. The writers have decided this because, well, they just have. They don’t know how many accusers there are, or what the accusations are, or what the details might be, although they’re more than happy to put the word victims into quotation marks – “victims” – to make it clear what they think.

Journalists, particularly columnists and thinkpiece producers, like to make out they challenge the status quo, but they are the upholders of the establishment. They often have an unhealthy deference to powerful people and powerful sources. It challenges their whole worldview to imagine that good men could be monsters, so it simply won’t do, and they simply will not accept it. Why are we bothering to investigate long-dead men, or people who are closer to death? Why can’t we just leave reputations alone?

But that’s the whole point. It’s precisely because of the status of these men that they should be looked at so closely. And even if the alleged perpetrators are long since dead, it doesn’t matter, because if it happened, it still happened, and those who were marked by it and left behind by it are still around, still forever changed by what happened – if it happened. Of course it’s not a call to automatically believe every claim that’s ever made, but to look at them seriously, and take each one seriously, no matter who it is who is being accused. Don’t simply dismiss any claim because of the status of the alleged perpetrator – that is a very, very dangerous place to go to, and emphasises why abusers get away with it, not just the celebrity ones, but all abusers, everywhere.

Maybe it helps people to think of child abuse as something that happened in the past, but doesn’t happen anymore. Maybe it’s comforting to think that it’s not really a problem. Maybe we don’t like to think that human beings are capable of the things they’re capable of, particularly those people we elevate to the highest levels in society – because what then does that say about us? But it does happen, and it keeps happening, and it will always keep happening.

One thing that came out of the whole Savile affair was that survivors felt emboldened. Perhaps they would be believed, after all, no matter if their abuser was a high-status man, someone famous, someone with wonderful charity work, someone who was trusted and admired by everyone else, everyone who didn’t know their dirty little secrets. To imagine, based on nothing other than your own suspicions, that victims aren’t victims and this is all some kind of grimy witch-hunt, is the very worst kind of wilful ignorance, completely inexcusable. It’s not true, it’s not right and it does a huge disservice to those brave people who have battled against demons only they know in order to come forward and take a stand against the people who hurt them.

Let’s have no special status for anyone who’s accused, no sweeping clearing of all blame for those people we decide are particularly worthy or above reproach. And it’s time to educate those who cheerfully think that men in positions of power must be trusted, just because they are who they are. Or were.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

They’re coming

Still they come. Those pesky migrants, all lumped together, a giant amorphous blob of humanity – or less than humanity, if you want to look away and pretend their plight is nothing to do with you. Still trying to get on trains and trucks. Still trying to get here.

By making them all one big mass it makes it easier to be fearful. Why are they coming here? What do they want from us? Are we in danger? As an island peering out across the sea, we seem to be the last stop on the line, the terminus. Why are they coming here, we wonder. Are we too generous, too kind? Are we not punitive enough?

On one hand, it seems like absolute ignorance for people who live on these islands to look across the channel and see people wanting to make a better life. Haven’t they read the history of this country, of how it colonised, conquered, carved up and robbed all parts of the world for its own appetite? Don’t they see the hypocrisy in wanting to pull up the drawbridge, given that this nation’s fortunes rested on expanding, voyaging, and plundering?

But then perhaps it’s exactly with this history in mind that home counties folk clutch their pearls at the prospect of “opening the floodgates”. What if these foreigners treat us the way we’ve treated foreigners through history – as a resource to be drained dry, and to hell with the people who live there? What if these people are just like us? What if they do to us what we did to them?

And still they come. And still we don’t see them as people, but as a plague to fear.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2015 in Uncategorized