O tempora o mores!

Remember ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ (1972-76)? When we thought it was all right to laugh at people because their skin was a darker colour than ours? And call them insulting names because it was all in the name of humour?

Remember the racial stereotyping in ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ (1974-81) and ‘Mind Your Language’ (1977-86) (cunning, lazy Indians, dishonest Burmese, dour Germans, sex-mad French, and whinging Chinese)?

Remember ‘Are You being Served?’ (1972-85) when we thought it perfectly acceptable to laugh at gay men because they were all mincing queens who talked in silly voices? (Lesbians just didn’t exist at all back then in comedy-land.)

Remember how women who failed to live up to men’s idea of sexually attractive were treated in ‘On the Buses’ (1969-73) and how Hattie Jacques’s size was the subject of much humour in any number of ‘Carry On’ films (1958–63)?

Remember when anyone who failed to meet certain arbitrary standards of beauty, or to have skin of a pale pinkish sort of hue, or to engage exclusively in heteronormative sexual activity didn’t have feelings and was justifiably fair game as the butt of whatever joke was going? They should obviously have been born better looking, white, and straight if they hadn’t wanted to be pilloried, stupid idiots.

Aren’t things better now? Or weren’t they till last Thursday? Because given the increase in racist attacks to which the referendum result appears to have given licence, I can’t see that racial prejudice will be the only kind making a come-back. As I’ve said elsewhere, not all Leave-voters are racist/prejudiced, but all racists and prejudiced people definitely seem to be Leave-voters — and the England of the 70s and 80s is the land to which a lot of them are yearning to return.


Still waiting for the fat lady to sing

Sometimes, in the framing shop where I work part-time, a customer might bring us a valuable work of art that’s been damaged by water, mould, insects, or even vandalism. We would either say we can frame it as is or advise them to take it to a specialist conservator who’d be able to restore it to somewhere near its former glory.

We would not say ‘Oh, that’s rubbish,’ and screw it up and bin it before their very eyes.

Clearly a small majority of people in the UK couldn’t see that they had something worth repairing or maintaining, and felt that it made more sense just to throw it away.

"Do I look like I'm singing yet?" Lucien Freud, Sleeping Supervisor, 1995

“Do I look like I’m singing yet?”
(Lucien Freud, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995)

So let’s be clear here: this is not going to be an objective piece. I’m going to try and be fair, but dammit! the Loony Leavers won more votes in the referendum than the Rational Remainers and I am not happy with that. Not happy? I am disgusted, sickened, devastated, bereaved, stunned; but, being British, I phrase it as ‘not happy’ because sane, educated, level-headed British people have always been given to understatement.

Let’s look at where we appear to be now. The Remainers feel that the winning Leavers are being self-satisfied and gloating; the Leavers think the defeated Remainers should accept their lot and stop whinging. Both sides feel hard done by and wish the other lot would desist from saying nasty things about them. Everyone feels betrayed at some level or another.

Yesterday a man said to me ‘If we all pull together, we can make this work.’ If. Yeah, because that’s definitely going to happen. The petition for a second referendum had, a few seconds ago, almost three million signatories, and every click on ‘refresh’ reveals a few hundred more. (As you probably know, I’m normally fairly scathing of online petitions as I’m not sure they do any good or that the people or bodies being petitioned take the slightest bit of notice. I’m still not convinced, but desperate situations call for desperate measures, and this one is certainly a good indication of popular feeling, so here’s the link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215). Most of the battles may well be fought online, via social media and the like, but this is a (virtual?) civil war and there will be casualties. Already two of my friends, a couple who’d been together for three or four years and last month were planning their wedding, have split up because he voted ‘In’ and she voted ‘Out’ and such differences seem to be irreconcilable. A police officer friend reports that he’s had more call outs to scuffles in the last couple of days than during Cup Final. And a local Leave campaigner has had his car and the wall of his house spray painted with the word ‘Traitor!’ (I doubt that these incidents are limited to my immediate vicinity, much as I like to think the world revolves around me, so I must assume they’re representative of the current climate.) This isn’t a comfortable situation for anyone.

I may be wrong here as this is just supposition, but I can’t help feeling that had the Remain side won – had we won – we’d have said ‘Phew, that’s a relief’ and life would now be back to normal; whereas the Leave side won and they (OK, not all, but a significant number) are either gloating and crowing and generally behaving in a distinctly immature manner or feeling all butt-hurt that we’re not cheering for them and congratulating them on their victory. Someone told me yesterday that she was sick and tired of the Remainers complaining and that we should just accept it and move on. But that’s where I disagree. We’re hurt, we’re suffering, we’re bereft. We have every right to feel like this and to express it. The Leavers may be bored with hearing that, but tough. They’ve got it for a few weeks or months, until we come to terms with, and learn to live in, this new dystopia that they’ve created. We’re stuck with what they’ve wrought for… decades at least. So, if as you read this, you find yourself thinking they have a point and we should stop whinging and be happy that we’ve (potentially) lost something we hold dear, then all I can say is: suck it up – we’re going to have to.

Or are we?

Putting aside people like me who were always Remainers and the dyed-in-the-wool Leavers who won’t let facts get in their way, let’s look at this from the perspective of the not-so-bright-who’ve-just-got-brighter. They naively believed the spin doctors and the tabloids and the man in the pub. They did no more research. They allowed themselves to be fired up by all the perceived bad things about the EU and never stopped to wonder if (a) they were true or (b) there were compensatory factors. And they voted LEAVE! (in capital letters). They didn’t ask what the great plan might be with regard to the economy, employment, pensions, international trade, travel, or even duty-free allowances of booze and fags. They didn’t question when they were told that leaving the EU would rid the UK of all those pesky immigrants who come here and provide essential, and in some cases life-saving, services and do the jobs no Brit is prepared to accept take jobs away from the British and/or impoverish the country by living on benefits to which British citizens are mysteriously not entitled, and that the £350 million that we were mendaciously told we were paying into the EU every week would instead go into the NHS. Only then – when the referendum was fought and won – Daniel Hannan decided that ‘umm… y’know when we said this’d put an end to immigration and we’d be able to send all the immigrants already here back to their home countries…  yeah… not gonna happen’ and Nigel Farage suddenly realized ‘ermmm… about that £350m a week that we said’d go to the NHS… hmm… well… we might have made a bit of a mistake there.’ There is a conspiracy theory that the bombing of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center was an inside job. No conspiracy theory is required this time: the leaders of the Leave campaign have just destroyed the twin towers on which their campaign was based before our very eyes – and with surprising candour. And on top of that there suddenly appear lists in all the papers about what we’ve lost and how nothing will ever be the same ever again.

This vote has been very different from anything we’ve known in the past. Normally, with (say) a general election, supporters of Party X are dismayed when Party Y wins. They moan and whinge and complain, but really it’s in a fairly half-hearted way because they know that in four years’ time (possibly sooner) they’ll get another bite of the cherry. There’s always light at the end of their own particular tunnel. This tunnel has no end and no illumination anywhere along its length. And only now are many beginning to realize how all-consuming that darkness is likely to be. Only now, what with hindsight always being 20/20 and all that, are they beginning to wonder if maybe, just maybe, they made a Big Mistake. The number of Brits googling for information on the EU – since voting to leave it – has increased quite dramatically, and many have admitted to ‘buyer’s remorse’ now they’ve learnt more or reality has hit home
(https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/06/24/the-british-are-frantically-googling-what-the-eu-is-hours-after-voting-to-leave-it/, http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/i-really-regret-my-vote-now-the-brexit-voters-who-wish-theyd-voted-to-remain-a3280361.html).

I may be clutching at straws here, but there is nothing in the Act to say the result of the referendum is in any way enforceable or binding. (Here’s a link, should you want to check my claim: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/36/contents/enacted). Moreover, nothing’s supposed to be happening until October (unless Brussels manage to expedite matters). And co-incidentally (or perhaps not), October is when David Cameron steps down as Prime Minister.

If the new incumbent plays his (or her) cards right, he could become the hero not only of all the people who never wanted out but also of those who’re regretting having fallen for the ‘£350m to the NHS’ and ‘bye bye, immigrants’ lies. All he’ll have to say is: ‘Although my predecessor said he’d abide by the result of the referendum, I did not. And judging from the reaction since the vote, I feel it would, at this stage, be a mistake to follow through with any action that is clearly not what the people want.’

I remain quietly optimistic that this isn’t over yet. The fat lady has yet to sing.


You may also be interested in this excellent article by Tom Short.


Innies and Outies and Shakey All Abouties

I’m baffled by the ‘Vote Leave/Remain’ posters and badges and street campaigners.

When it comes to local elections, I kinda get it. ‘Vote Joe Bloggs cos he’s gonna do this for the area and he’s a really nice, family-oriented guy’ makes sense because, rightly or wrongly, at local level, personalities matter — people are, in many cases, going to vote not for a party, but for the man or woman who comes across as the most approachable and reliable.

But with this referendum, the whole situation is different. It’s not a matter of what a politician, or even a group of politicians, can do for us. Likeability of individuals doesn’t really come into it.

There were a group of campaigners of one sort or the other with a tent and some video screens in the middle of the market square the other day, spouting facts/fictions/nonsense/truth. Clearly, I didn’t stop and listen or I’d know which side they were on and whether I subscribed to their screechings. Apart from a vague desire to heckle them (I always have a vague desire to heckle people who’re proselytizing in the street, regardless of subject matter, though am probably too shy/well mannered ever to do so), I had better things to do than stand in the rain listening to propaganda. They seemed to have a reasonable-sized audience around them, though whether they were preaching to the choir, I couldn’t say.

I would imagine all the very intelligent — along with all the very stupid — people have already made their minds up about the issue, and no amount of persuasion is going to be the least bit effective on them. There can only be a small number of vacillating fence-sitters left to target. There are, of course, people who’re easily swayed by what others think — but aren’t they, in this instance, more likely to be influenced by what their mates say or their tabloid-of-choice prints than by strangers in the street or posters in people’s front windows? Yesterday, for example, I saw three fat blokes (I’m allowed to be sizeist; I’m fat too 🙂 ) wandering around, slightly the worse for their lunchtime pints, proudly sporting ‘I’m Voting OUT’ badges. So obviously, were I not sure which way my allegiances lay, I’d think ‘Oh, wow! That squiffy fat geezer’s voting to leave — he must be right.’ (My reaction would have been the same had they been wearing ‘I’m Voting IN’ badges, by the way.)

And isn’t there a danger, knowing what a contrary bunch humans are, that for every convert the campaigners win, they’ll just end off pissing someone else off, causing them to vote the other way out of sheer bloody-mindedness?

Lord of the food flies

When I was about 14, we had to read Lord of the Flies at school — and I hated it. Now, 40 years on, I’m absolutely loving it. I really don’t see why anyone would have thought it suitable for teenagers, though. OK, the characters are aged between six and twelve, but the themes — alienation, disintegration of society, corruption and power, anomie — are really way beyond most adolescents’ grasp.

There is one thing I don’t understand, though: if they’re living on fruits and berries and generally feeling malnourished because of it (hence their joy at nomming the pig Jack kills) — how come Piggy stays fat?

Grr… people!

People are annoying me. They aren’t doing it on purpose: many of them don’t know I exist, but they’re still annoying me.

“I’m totally in favour of gay marriage because everyone should have the same rights and opportunities — unless they’re immigrants or refugees and then they should be deported immediately, yea, even unto the third generation.”

“I’m totally in favour of allowing immigrants and refugees to come here because everyone should have the right to freedom, safety, and security — except for transgender people who should be made to use the public toilet where they’ll most likely be sexually abused or pepper sprayed.”

“Britain should definitely leave the EU because we didn’t fight two World Wars to be told what to do by Brussels — but we’ll still expect the same trade deals and health and other benefits membership bestows on us because… um… we’ll sulk if we don’t get them.”

“I have no problem with transgender people being accepted as however they identify because they didn’t choose to be born the wrong gender — but being gay is a lifestyle choice and an abomination in the sight of God.”

“Did you see that documentary on telly last night about that rich bloke who spent all that money on [so-and-so]? Disgusting I call it when people like me have to take out a loan even to afford a 50″ television and can’t even buy designer shoes without maxing out my credit cards. These rich people have no thought for how the working classes have to suffer.”

“Immigrants come here and live on benefits and scrounge off the state. If it wasn’t for them taking our jobs, my son/husband/mother/sister/partner/best friend wouldn’t be unemployed right now. S/he was offered a job but it was minimum wage so s/he turned it down and some fucking Paki got it instead.”

“What does he know about [whatever]? He’s just a posh bastard who went to Eton and and studied the subject at Oxford. The man down the pub says [something different] and I believe him — he heard it from his brother-in-law *and* it was reported in the Sun.”

I much prefer people who’re prejudiced against everything. Either they really are, or — for whatever reason — they’ve chosen to come across that way; but at least you know where you stand with them and your own choices are clear: have nothing to do with them; try and educate them; roll your eyes and accept them for what they are. What really saddens me is when I think I’m speaking to someone open-minded and liberal and then they turn out to have one, very specific, unshakeable prejudice. They’re fine with a, b, and c — but mention d to them and all hell breaks loose.

Me, I like everyone (unless they’re a knobhead or a fuckwit — and being a knobhead or a fuckwit has absolutely no relation to their ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, overall political stance, wealth, class, or anything else).