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Thin Skins and Banana Skins.

1 Nov

I see that William Sitwell has been sacked as editor of that much-read organ Waitrose Food. His crime? Taking the piss out of vegans in a private email to a Ms Selene Nelson. She complained that he considered it ‘…funny to speak about vegans with hostility and anger.’

Well Ms Nelson, well done for losing Mr Sitwell his job. And shame on Waitrose for not ticking Mr Sitwell off for an ill-advised joke and letting him carry on with his life. The national obsession with taking offence has found another champion. It shouldn’t need Giles Coran to tell us that, ‘Vegans are not a race or a gender or a sexual orientation or a differently abled group. They just choose to eat plants. You should be able to take the piss and not lose your job.’

I recently visited an old university buddy of mine who is terminally ill. I drove  another friend and as we neared our destination he said, ‘I’ve told him that we’re going to take the piss out of him as usual.’ And so we did. Before we left our witty, talented, dying mate told us how good it felt to enjoy a little scurrilous plain speaking rather than pussyfooting around the vast elephant in the room.

The point is that we have become a nation of eggshell-treaders. Worse, we have stopped saying things because we don’t want the ‘woke’, right-on, PC police to raise an eyebrow and deselect us from some club or other. Worse still, our police, courts and public forums and services are afflicted by the minutiae of dealing (expensively) with the carpings of the minority who are hair-triggered for outrage. We are stymied by our thin skins. They are becoming banana skins on which we will slip time and time again as we slide into an insensitivity to what is really important. Millions are being spent on fine-tuning the semantics of what is a hate crime or pursuing an ageing pop star with no evidence. A few weeks’ ago a builder friend had his van broken into and £1500 of tools stolen. Insurance for that sort of thing is prohibitive and the police laughed when he expected them to investigate. They are snowed under with box-ticking; paranoid, like the health, education and fire-services, that the blame vigilantes will get them.

Some things really are important. As we approach this centenary Armistice Remembrance, I wonder what the great remembered  fallen would have made of the brittle and unsavoury world that we have fashioned for ourselves.

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The Sacred and Profane..

22 Oct

Swearing an oath can be both sacred and profane. What fun there is to be had with the English language! My parents were pretty frugal on the profane front – a bloody or a ruddy escaped every now and then – but the excesses of barrack-room banter did not make their way into the Sorro household. The rise and rise of profanity in the last half century is an indulgence that I’m uneasy about although I can’t claim that I haven’t vented my spleen every now and then with the satisfying invective that is swearing.

I’m a straightforward swearer. The F-word escapes occasionally, the C-word rarely. What initiates usage might be a minor irritation, anger even; a mishap or shaft of pain; company that I keep, the tide of a conversation; the context. I know my audience. it’s either myself or those I judge not to take offence.

I am fond of a variety of mini swear words but my favourite is Bollocks. It’s such a rich and harsh and muscular and satisfying expletive. It’s so versatile. It’s middle English origin was testicles, of course but it also means nonsense as in ‘You’re talking utter bollocks’. It’s a much better misfortune expletive than ‘Oh Shit!’ when you lock yourself out of your house.

It can be both a savage criticism: That’s bollocks or glowing praise: That’s the dog’s bollocks. You can drop a bollock, freeze your bollocks off, go bollock naked and be kicked in the bollocks. Of course Bollocks lacks a certain inclusivity as on half the population have testicles so pressure groups will shortly spring up to lobby for the banning of such patriarchal, male-centred hijacking of the English language. Even now there is concern  that Michaelangelo’s David may be the target of #MeToo camapigners who have threatened to chop his bollocks off. Certainly I could well be ‘no-platformed’ for being a well-known advocate of bollocks. Bring it on!

As I marched to Parliament Square last Saturday with the other 700,000 despairing souls, I was handed a Bollocks to Brexit sticker. Now I wore the thing quite proudly but I reflected that this might represent a pretty low level of political discourse. Furthermore my somewhat puritanical upbringing kicked in. There were plenty of families ambling along, proudly plastered with Bollocks stickers. If it means that, at least, this wonderful expletive will last well beyond the Armageddon of the next few months and years, well then our youngsters will be grateful that they have a great word to use, daily, to describe misfortune in all its rainbow colours.

Enlightenment…Entitlement…Embarrassment.

5 Oct

The Enlightenment was that period, largely the 18th Century, when the great thinkers of the time, philosophers, artists, scientists and some of the world’s great leaders applied rigorous intellectual thought to the human condition. Liberty and fraternity, the separation of church and state, freedom and equality and the improvement of man’s lot through the harnessing of scientific progress were part of a global blueprint. Benjamin Franklin was humble enough, bright enough and convinced that cooperation in ideas, culture and in science across the globe, was the way forward. Another American, Thomas Jefferson, included some of the ideals of the Enlightenment in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And so Kant, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Voltaire, Descartes, Locke and all the rest found receptive minds eager to forge brave new worlds.

Watching the Trumpmeister oxymoroning his way through his every utterance – this time over the he said/she said Kavanagh/Ford scandal – I am once again left speechless at the levels to which the great offices of anyone’s state have been reduced. My next mental picture is of Theresa May robodancing to ABBA as she tried to unite the disunited in Birmingham. And then there’s the Rusky piss-taking spy scams. In my little pub in my little corner of the world the locals see all this for massive, laughable bollocks that it all is…but are absolutely powerless to bring the Royal Oak Age of Reason to the table. Further, we locals find ourselves lowering our voices when we get anywhere near those crucial social issues of our time which have spiraled into foam and spittle-producing mania. There was quiet but almost uncontrolled tittering when we learnt that clapping has been banned at Manchester University student events, to make these affairs more inclusive. Jazz Hands, which is the British Sign Language version of clapping will now replace the time-honoured method of appreciation. Tell that to the one-armed weather girl on the BBC, I said. The locals chortled.

The woman who was struck by Brooks Koepka got a little more sympathy for sheer bad luck but not for her calls for blame and compensation. Mind you, the world of top golf is awash with cash so a few dollars in her direction would be a drop in the ocean.

There was general laughter over the Italian physicist who has been drummed out of the brownies for making highly questionable remarks about female physicists. One local wag offered: Why don’t they just laugh at him?

And all of this seems so trivial when the pictures come in from Indonesia. Our powerlessness in the face of natural disasters – and our inability to cope adequately are big issues needing big solutions. We need those enlightened thinkers once again to help us separate wheat from chaff; credible voices to reduce the noise of imbeciles.  We need the bigger issues to be seen by all in a similar light. This requires a greater freedom of thinking, a selflessness and generosity of mind and spirit that is so obviously missing at the high tables of politics and wealth around the globe.

Enlightenment, entitlement, embarrassment. Full circle. Let’s start again with an Enlightenment.

 

A Trip to Tesco…

31 Aug

It was a toss-up between Waitrose and Tesco. We have both in my little Kentish village…darling. Did I want to be ‘seen’ (Waitrose) or ripped off a little less (Tesco). Quantity (Tesco) won over quality (Waitrose) – with the added bonus that I didn’t feel the need to either shave or change out of my flip-flops.

Aisle 5 is booze. I am strolling along wishing that I had more general shopping to pack out my trolley so that my substantial alcohol purchases won’t dominate at the checkout. The prospect of the box of Bud and six assorted whites and reds dwarfing a bag of carrots, a pint of milk, houmous and breadsticks was worrying me. Suddenly a crash and ‘Oh fuck me!’ A woman with a small child and those silly rips in her jeans had dropped a bottle of Chardonnay. My immediate thought was: not much to lament there. Then, ‘That’s all your fault, you just won’t shuttup, will ya?’ she squealed at the bemused child who was minding her own business perched uncomfortably in the trolley-seat.

As I chivalrously stooped to help pick up the shards now littering the aisle, the wee-like Chardonnay was oozing its way along the thoroughfare. Before you could say health and safety a Tesco functionary hove into view. And before he opened his mouth the dummy-mummy went on the attack. ‘That bloody bottle was put right on the edge of the shelf. And the bottle was wet. Not my fault, at all.’ Her face had reddened and she gave me a look which silently warned me to keep my trap shut. Tesco man smiled and said, calmly  ‘Are you and the child OK?’

Now I don’t know if you have a voice in mind for my dummy-mummy? Well if I say plummy-dummy-mummy, that might surprise? We’re talking Joanna Lumley.

Confronted with this piece of kind-heated commonsense, dummy-mummy’s brain was scrambled. In her confusion she continued her half-hearted offensive..’No thanks to you, you ought to stack bottles properly.’ Tesco man, who was fast becoming my man of the week, told the imbecile that, of course, there would be no need to pay for the wine and that he had called for another functionary to bring mop and bucket. He finished by saying that, for health and safety reasons, they would check the CCTV to see if they could learn lessons from the incident, dummy-mummy pushed off rather sharpish, still grumbling. I caught Tesco man’s eye. We exchanged broad smiles.

As if this wasn’t enough excitement for one trip to Tesco, no sooner had I left the shop than an open-topped Mercedes hotrod roared into the car park. Of course it was driven by what looked like an octogenarian. Are the grey wrinklies the only people who drive these phallic, babe-magnets these days? In addition, what little hair the fossilized Lewis Hamilton had was stuck up in a question-mark of gel. Like ripped jeans, so very silly.

As I leafed through the paper I despaired of what made the headlines. Mother Theresa Thunderbird dancing her way across Africa as she searches, fruitlessly for trading partners to fill the EU void. As she scrabbled for friends in Nairobi and Capetown, I reflected on how much closer we are to Paris and Berlin.

Indeed the French fishermen, acting like my dummy-mummy, going on the attack when they had no grounds to assail our boys who were working legally off the French coast. The cry of ‘sustainability’ in their defence rings hollowly. Rules that suit. The French fishermen – and others – will happily ignore EU rules when it serves their interests best to do so. Just an observation.

I notice that the new head of Ofsted has criticized the culture of league tables and teaching to the exam. Well knock me down with a f….ing feather. A revolution has occurred in GCSEs. Grades are now numbered 1 to 9. Well knock me down with a f…ing feather. When I took my O Levels they were numbered 9 to 1. So much better now. I was also delighted to read that schools should provide sports, music and drama and other activities to enrich the education of young people. I never knew that. Again, you could knock me down with a f…ing feather. And, while you’re doing that work out how much f…ing damage and billions of pounds have been spent f…ing up the system in the first place. Back to square one. Collateral damage – enormous.

Jezza Corbyn can’t shake the anti-Semitism thing can he? Nigel Farage for the next Mayor of London? Alex Salmond crowdfunding to pay for his legal fees in the sexual harassment case?

I mused on all these things as I sat on the bench outside Tesco. Then I saw my calm Tesco man leaving at the end of his shift. We exchanged smiles again. My hero.

Summer’s lease…

27 Aug

We know that summer is nearly done because the pouting, morose Mourinho drags himself into press conferences to bemoan his lot and BT Sport drool over his every utterance. We seem addicted to the pessimist, the downbeat, the prophet of doom. The smiling mouthful of teeth that is Jurgen Klopp gets far less attention than the sulking Jose.

A man called Bobby Duffy has written a book called ‘The Perils of Perception’. He points out that we crave bad news, and journalists love the maxim ‘If it bleeds, it leads!’ We have come to distrust politicians and the media and rely on our everyday experience from which to draw more general truths.

This doesn’t stop the Daily Mail hijacking our sense of insecurity and taking us up the garden path of misinformation. The Mail asserts: ‘Immigrants commit a quarter of all crime in London’. Given that 40% of the capital’s population is immigrant, it looks like they are remarkably law-abiding. Duffy goes on to cover a large range of misperceptions. Brits apparently think that 15% of the population is Muslim. Actually it’s 4.8%. We overestimate wildy, almost always to feed some idea of threat or gloom or prejudice. We are led in this by our leaders in Parliament and the media.

The truth is that life is miles better now that it was when I were a lad. By nearly all credible assessments poverty is decreasingly, crime is falling, terrorism is in decline and longevity is on the rise. There are still plenty of problems for us to sort out but we should resist what he calls ‘rational ignorance’ where we confirm our bias in the face of statistical and other truths.

‘Rational ignorance’ might explain the media’s devotion to the glum dirge of Mourinho. He’s having a laugh at our expense. Now bored with the Premiership he will seek a multi-million payout so that he can ply his gloomy trade in warmer climes. Perhaps he has twigged that the adventure and sparkle of Guardiola, Klopp and Pochettino are things that he cannot match. He has lost his mojo. He’s rationally ignorant.

The trouble with with hair…

18 Jul

As I get older my troubles with hair multiply. Not on my head you’ll understand, that area diminishes day by day and the once lustrous mane of conditioned dark beauty becomes a thin, wispy, grey sadness. Elsewhere on my body unwanted sproutings abound. They have to be tracked and tamed with tweezer and blade. So it is that I have a sharp eye for the hirsute, the bald, the well-kempt and the shaggy when I am out and about in society.

What on earth is going on? No longer can I assess a man’s character by the visible filaments growing from head and chin. Standards have been scrambled. Stubble is sexy, bald is beautiful and dishevelled is delightful. The females of the species seem to have kept their dignity and style rather more admirably than the male. As they ‘suffragette’ their way to universal parity, smartness and elegance have been allies in the march of progress.

I hope that the hair-language that I grew up with doesn’t get sidelined along with the sideburns. Will we always be able to split hairs or keep our hair on? Will I continue to not turn a hair when I am in control or come within a hair’s breadth of disaster when I brake too late on the motorway? Hair raising! Perhaps in my attempts to make subtle distinctions, I will no longer split hairs. My temper, like the NRA’s guns may, thankfully, dispense with a hair-trigger. Dispense with the whole gun, I say.

Let me return, via a hairpin bend to my main theme. I judge people by their hair. No apologies. Plenty of evidence to support my theory. You are your hair. Back in the fifties when I first made hair observations, most men and women were neat and tidy up top. Brilliantine and brylcream and the barbers’s razor tamed the male thatch. Well-tamed curls and ubiquitous hairpins were the order of the day for females. The hair ‘salon’ became ubiquitous. Neatness was all, shabby was not chic. Mick Jagger and Joni Mitchell changed all that. We were plunged into an uncertain hair-world where the cut of a man’s jib and mane was no indication of his character.

I have spent years in deep study of the association between the barnet and the person. There is a direct link between hair (or lack of it) and competence/integrity. Baldness I rate highly. Gandhi, Harry Hill, Vince Cable (nearly) to name but a few. Proto-baldies such as  Elton John, Wayne Rooney and Rob Bryden also score well. Mussolini is the exception that proves the rule. Neaties like Obama, Mandela, Macron and Huw Edwards are beyond reproach. The Queen comes into this last category as does Fiona Bruce and Moira Stewart. Federer and Williams; Harry Kane. No place for Mother Theresa May, I fear.

You can see where I might be heading. Dishevelled. Boris. John Bercow – did you see him in the Commons yesterday? Scarecrow hair. Diane Abbot and Jezza Corbyn. Amber Rudd. No wonder she resigned. All dreadful. Let’s include those with an abundance of ‘products’. The gelled quiff, the narcissistic spray. Trump, Jeremy Rhyming Slang, David Dickinson.

Compare Michael Barnier with David Davis. Chic v Shabby. No wonder Brussels has London by the short and curlies. No wonder Pouty Gove has been to the barber to smarten himself up. Theresa is getting grooming to the top of her priority list. Greg Clarke, Jeremy, Sajid Javid, Philip Hammond and Esther McVey indicate that she has shifted her policy from the hedge to the hairdresser.

I have to blog like this for light relief, you’ll understand. While politicians on both sides seem to ignore the national interest in pursuit of low-minded in-fighting and the scoring of Westminster bubble-points, the rest of us watch in anguish. Mother Theresa, please address the nation and not just your party. Try to inform and engage us rather than mollify that jumped up twit-twat Rees-Mogg. His hair, by the way, reminds me of Adolf.

I’m off to have a shave.

 

Some people are on the pitch…

11 Jul

Tonight’s agony is softened by the knowledge that the journey is indeed, mercifully, over. I confess to switching over to Nadal v Del Potro for light relief – and that was as tense and brilliant a tennis match as anyone could wish to see. But I didn’t care as much – and that is why it was easier to view.

My enjoyment of the World Cup has been immeasurably enhanced by my stoic refusal to listen to the pre and post match punditry. What a revelation! When you just get the soccer- warts and all – you can almost enjoy the tedium of the sideways and backward passing which dominates the modern game, for the thrill of those occasional thrusts which result in a ‘set piece’, a penalty or the odd ‘open play goal’. As soon as Shearer et al get on the mic we are all doomed to be swamped in such verbal excrement that we pray for yet another interview with our next Prime Minister, Gareth ‘the God’ Southgate.

I confess to a few glasses of Viognier while our boys were succumbing. Croatia v France is a worthy final. Our boys falling at the semi-final hurdle has enabled me, somewhat hastily, to book Paul Simon at Hyde Park on Sunday. I’ll have Luca Modric on my iPhone and The Boy in the Bubble up close and personal. James Taylor will be crooning too. Heaven.

Wimbledon has been wonderful, they tell me, and I must now catch up. Someone said Roger lost today. It’s a wind-up surely?

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