December 2022

Well, that got very cold very quickly, didn’t it?

As you can see, we very much avoided the worst of it by travelling two and a half thousand miles to an island level with The Sahara. We usually have a break at the end of February as a farewell to the dark days but this year we needed an early one. And it seems we picked exactly the right week.

While Britain suffered Arctic conditions, we were lounging about in twenty five to thirty degrees of sunshine, drinking gin and beer and rum and living on meagre salads; lazing the days away reading novels and staring up at the cliffs or out to the sea; breathing clean, fresh air and worrying about nothing more than how to keep phones and cameras charged and whether there was enough ice in the freezer. We had a lovely time.

So, we missed a lot of the news and I think my mental health is all the better for it.

Except for one rather depressing piece that sneaked in:

Hate.

It’s a nasty little word, isn’t it. And yet it’s bandied about as though it’s just another version of being not too fussed about something. ‘I hate sprouts’ or ‘I hate milk’ or ‘I hate Marmite’. We don’t really mean it, do we? But comments made by Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun about hating Meghan Markle on a ‘cellular level’ and ‘dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, “Shame!” and throw lumps of excrement at her’ have been branded as hate speech.

 

I, personally, don’t hate anybody. There are people I dislike, some intensely, but not hate. Thatcher comes pretty high up the list (as do most right-wingers) along with Farage and his ilk. Johnson for the lies, Hancock for the unnecessary deaths (as though any at all are necessary) and Rees-Mogg for being a twat. But I don’t hate any of them. And yet Clarkson, despite his claim at a Game of Thrones connection to his comments, chose to use the word ‘hate’. Was that just in case people didn’t realise that it was designed to inflame hatred? Who knows? He’s a journalist and writer of many years so won’t be using any words accidentally. So why pick that word?

Brendan O’Neill wrote an article in The Spectator arguing that Clarkson’s comments were made for comic effect and likened them to Jo Brand suggesting that certain politicians should have battery acid thrown at them (I think it was Farage). Clearly, Jo Brand wouldn’t do that and it was obviously an opportunity to giggle at a ‘wicked idea’. It’s not intended to incite violence. But here’s where we fall into a problem:

The audience.

At the risk of being called a snob (it’s been done before and always makes me laugh), the Jo Brand comment was made on Radio 4 whose audience is largely made up of middle-class, university-educated people who would see the comment for what it was. But Clarkson’s comments were made in The Sun. A largely despicable rag that relies on feeding and satisfying a radicalised, misogynistic, racist readership for its income (See – snob!) Anyway, Brendan O’Neill’s credentials don’t pass muster in the taste department at the best of times so his partial defence doesn’t carry that much weight. Still, it makes interesting reading.

Even if he is right though, there is a problem with this in that there is a percentage of Clarkson’s audience, possibly a large percentage, that will think what he suggests is a good idea. That then carries some risk of an individual acting upon it; whereas Jo Brand’s audience would (largely) be horrified if an acid attack was made against anyone. I’m trying to find some balance between outrage at Clarkson and mild amusement at Brand. But then, every writer knows that it is all about audience and purpose. Nothing is written without a purpose. So was Clarkson guilty only of overestimating his audience? Did he mean to just make them laugh rather than feed an already outrageous lack of sympathy for the couple? Who knows? What is clear though is that a number of people on the editorial team all thought it was okay. Not one of them with a, ‘Hang on a minute,’ comment.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say on the matter. No answers, just more questions. Nice that it made me question my own opinion though.

That’s a viewing point near to where we stopped (that has been seriously upgraded since we were last there when it was a basic, concrete circular pad) and where we met some Japanese, Spanish and German people. All perfectly nice. All smiling at each other and all a bit knackered after the meandering climb up there in the heat. People from very different parts of the world sharing a space and relaxing together. It’s one of the more pleasant aspects of visiting Europe: the diversity. We have it here but it seems that half of us disapprove. The place that I live no longer welcomes ‘others’. It makes me a little ashamed.

On the bright side though, literally, every day gets a little longer from now. We are beginning to put the dark days behind us. It never happens quickly enough for me but at least we’re travelling in the right direction. And I’m hoping that this adds to my ability to be a little more positive. The news is constantly depressing and I think the twenty four hour rolling news has a lot to answer for. If you want your fears reinforcing, then just turn on any news channel. Good news is no good for revenue, it just doesn’t work, a bit like happy poetry: there just isn’t any out there, or very little. Okay, I guess I have to concede Spike Milligan.

A baby sardine
Saw her first submarine:
She was scared and watched through a peephole

‘Oh, come, come, come’
Said the Sardine’s mum
‘It’s only a tin full of people.’

SM

Perfect, isn’t it?

This, I think, is what more people should try: blue sky thinking. I know, they’re parasailing really but it’s a nice pictoral metaphor. We all need to free up our imagination, tear down the boundaries that restrict us and keep us in our places. I know it’s an old, discredited idea because it tends to throw up ridiculous scenarios but whatever’s wrong with ridiculous? Spike’s poem is ridiculous but it makes you smile. At least, it should. If it doesn’t then you need to give yourself a good talking to and try to chill out a little. I suspect you might be overdosing on rolling news coverage.

So now we have Christmas behind us and a little sanity can begin to seep back into our lives. I’ve never been fond of Christmas but this year we’ve had a couple of four year old boys and a two year old who were pretty excited and I think it rubbed off a little. I despair at the excessive commercialism of the festival but those boys showed me why I used to like it when I was younger: It has a magic about it that is hard to define. A hope of better things (and presents, of course) but also the wonderment of something strange and exciting. There was an innocence to their joy of what was happening. Not something you can buy from Argos or Amazon. We let them dress the tree and destroy it as well and we introduced them to Norman the Gnome who has now reappeared in our house as if by magic. They got excited by simple, tiny things: antlers on headbands, forged letter from the Reindeer Trainee Team, a house rammed full of people for Secret Santa (one of the best ways to avoid the raging commercialism as everyone only spends fifteen quid on one present), and more sweets than they’d ever seen in their lives before.

That’s Norman right there. He has a flap cut into his back that gives access to a space where we used to store small gifts to be given out at the Christmas lunch. I’m surprised that he didn’t frighten our own kids at the time (he was made out of papier-mâché for our local panto which used the garden gnome scene in Fawlty Towers) but they seemed to love him. Maybe due to sweets and small cars being pulled out of his back at the same time that we pulled crackers. He went missing for a few years and reappeared a week ago with no convincing explanation as to where he has been or what he’s been up to. We gave him the benefit of the doubt as we were pretty pleased to have him back; if only because having a papier-mâché gnome hiding somewhere in the house is pretty disturbing. He might be an old friend but I like to know where he is.

As 2022 draws to a close, I hope that 2023 brings us better things. I have had health problems this year that have been (hopefully) thwarted by our fabulous NHS. I wrote at length about the amount of time, money and people who worked to make me better (I didn’t even know I was ill) so I hope that some resolution can be found regarding the wages of those fantastic individuals who saved so many of us and lost so many of their own as they hauled us through the Covid years. Personally, I would give them all twenty five percent and a massive bonus. That’s what the government have been doing for their mates for over a decade so it must be time for someone worthy to benefit now. I hope that we can begin to escape the shadow of Covid. It’s been a strange time for us all and I think it will be some time before we understand quite how seriously it has impacted on the nation’s mental health. And I hope that we can begin to lose some of the intolerance that has plagued us as a nation over the last few years. Wouldn’t it be nice if certain groups of people were no longer demonised? That we could learn to celebrate differences rather than exacerbate appalling prejudice. That those failings in large swathes of our population have been used to divide and rule is part of our history that will, inevitably, be looked back upon with shame in years to come. We have let ourselves down badly through the encouragement of greedy, lazy leaders. It’s time to put a stop to it and behave like human beings again and understand that people are people. There are no differences, only similarities. And I know that makes me part of the ‘woke agenda’ of which I am immensely proud (look up the meaning of ‘woke’ and decide that you don’t want to be aware and sensitive to social issues). I’m happy to be ridiculed for feeling kindness towards others.

Anyway, I hope it’s not a naive wish.

So, thanks for reading these blogs this year. Let’s hope for better things next year. Unlike a certain person’s dream, mine is to write about something nice that’s happened every month. Until then, why not take a look at my website where you’ll find all kinds of nonsense. See you all in the New Year!

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