Let’s show our appreciation in the usual way… Oh. Sorry. No. Wait…

As of last Thursday, Manchester University Student Union has banned clapping. Instead, it is encouraging students to adopt the British Sign Language equivalent of ‘jazz hands’ to show their approval of something so as to ‘avoid triggering anxiety and improve accessibility’. Obviously, the world has gone mad.

Of course, the best place to go to in order to find out just how mad the world has gone is the Daily Mail website. It really has gone very mad indeed. You only need to look at the comments that other readers have left on the article to find eloquent expressions of that lunacy: ‘What about the majority who love the euphoric moment, the instantaneous expression of joy that clapping and whooping represent[?]… I am all for consideration but why do the majority have to be the only ones who have to be accommodating? Too much!’; ‘If you suffer anxiety on hearing clapping, then what about when a door closes, or a car backfires?’; ‘They didn’t ought to be at uni if they suffer from anxiety and sensory issues. I wonder, do they ever go to pop concerts or have a night out on the town, I would have thought they were much noisier’; ‘How will these students survive in the real world. It is really scary that the left have so much control on future generations of workers’ and so on. The article itself explains how Piers Morgan, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain robustly took the piss out of such attempts at inclusivity: ‘“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” – that’s going to have to go now, isn’t it?’ He goes on: ‘If you’re happy and you know it and you want to clap your hands, be careful – it may trigger anxiety. So, if you’re happy, don’t clap your hands, children.’

Scary, huh? In fairness, though, I’m much more scared by Piers Morgan and the Daily Mail readers than I am about a student union voting to consider its member with sensory processing issues, anxiety and autistic spectrum condition in what is clearly an attempt to improve accessibility and not some massive idiotic campaign to spoil ‘normal’ people’s fun. In fact, I’m not scared about that at all. I’m actually rather reassured by it. And I’ll tell you why.

You know on signposts and door plates and boxes of medicine there’s always a little braille bit? Use them yourself? Probably not. Seen anyone use them? Probably not. Think that it’s only right and proper that they’re there? Yes. Of course you do. Because blind people need them. I would imagine that you’ve not seen anyone use the strips because they’re not for you and only a very small percentage of the population need them. But you don’t think that they should be removed because they’re no real inconvenience to you and – and this is the important part – because you thoroughly believe that there’s a condition called blindness (and all its variations) which you can empathise with. The same is true for disabled access to public buildings. It’s probably not for you but you’re okay with it because disabled people obviously exist and, if you think hard enough about it, you can see that it’s really unfair for people to be denied access to those buildings because of something that they have no control over. Ever had to wait while disabled people in wheelchairs negotiate ramps to get on to buses and trains? Do you ever talk about how your consideration of them is getting in the way of you striding on to trains immediately, like you use to do? No. Do you talk in angered tones about how it’s always the majority who have to give up its nice things so that other people can participate, too? No. Ever moaned that you don’t see the disabled people making sacrifices like you’re having to? No. Because you can see the problem, you believe in it, and you’re not a massive cock.

That a university student union bans clapping reassures me that there are institutions out there which know that accessibility is such an important issue that they are prepared to consider the needs of all their students and to make improvements to their rules and guidelines to promote it. Someone on the Daily Mail page actually said ‘they didn’t ought to be at uni if they suffer from anxiety and sensory issues’. That’s lunacy, right there. You shouldn’t go to uni if you have a mental health condition? Try replacing ‘anxiety and sensory issues’ with ‘physical disabilities’ or ‘blindness’ and see how it sounds. ‘Do they ever go to pop concerts or have a night out on the town’ wonders one Daily Mail contributor. ‘I would have thought they were much noisier’ they say. Yes, they are. And that is why the people who are being considered in this decision don’t go to them. There are no attempts at empathy here. Possibly the worst, though, are those people who say they themselves have anxiety but, actually, clapping doesn’t bother them. Or that they have autistic kids but, actually, clapping is a good thing to teach them. These are the very people who really should know what empathy is, that it isn’t telling other people that they should feel as they themselves do or that sufferers of specific conditions are suffering too much because they themselves can cope. That’s the opposite of empathy.

One of the biggest signs that something is very wrong with the typical Daily Mail reader reaction is all those references to children, their happiness and development. Even Morgan has to drag them in, too. Will nobody think of them? This isn’t about children. It’s not about child development. It’s not about spoiling any child’s fun. It’s about adults who are finding it difficult to access events at a place of education, for which – incidentally – they are paying. Children can still clap if they’re happy. You can spontaneously clap if you find something funny or exceptional. Sustained, loud noise, though, distresses some people – particularly if they find themselves in the middle of it. It doesn’t annoy them, or irritate them, or piss them off. It distresses them, confuses them, unsettles them, stops them from functioning ‘normally’ – and, if we can do something about that in places these people have every right to be, then we really should.

But what about our right to clap? What about our joy when we burst spontaneously into applause to show that something is excellent or magnificent? We can grow the fuck up, that’s what. Clapping is not the only way of showing approval. It’s convention – and we can change it in order to better support those of us who find sudden loud and sustained noise extremely troubling. And once it’s changed, eventually, it won’t be second nature to burst into thunderous applause and the world will be a slightly nicer place for some people without it having done any real damage to anyone else. This is not the needs of the few outweighing the needs of the many. You don’t need to clap. Not clapping wont’t distress, confuse and unsettle you. It won’t ruin your day or prevent you from doing what you need to do for the next hour or day. All it means is that you’ll have to find another way of showing how pleased and happy you are, one that doesn’t make quite so much damn noise.

Jazz hands, of course, is an excellent way to demonstrate applause to deaf people. Personally, I think it’s a bit silly as an actual replacement for applause, though. Finger-snapping seems much more appropriate: it does make a noise, just not such a bloody loud one. The University of Michigan’s Men’s Glee Club has used it as a replacement for clapping for a long time. It argues that ‘snapping is less disruptive than clapping during speeches and announcements’, which is fair enough. More interestingly, though, ‘you can’t clap and hold a beer’ at the same time – or with ‘jazz hands’ either. Making sure that whatever you do in order to express your delight includes being able to hold a drink whilst doing it is undeniably a good idea. Personally, I think it’s hard to do jazz hands without looking like a bit of an idiot or as if you’re taking the piss a little. I’m more in favour of finger snapping.

I can’t let this go without talking about Jeremy Vine’s tweet: ‘Glad some brave souls decided to ignore the difficulties caused by sudden noises 100 years ago’. I was going to ignore it because it’s such a low and shitty comment, but I can’t. First of all, so many people were traumatised by those very events that to raise it as evidence of other people’s basic cowardice is reprehensible as well as, it seems, considerably missing the point. Aren’t there some statistics showing that so many men were so shocked and terrified by what was going on around them as they walked across no-man’s land that they couldn’t even pull the triggers on their revolvers? Surely that’s evidence of what trauma does to people, not that we should happily be inflicting trauma on others if we can help it. Much more ridiculous, though, is Vine’s implicit suggestion that people who are distressed by sudden, loud and sustained noise are in some way being disrespectful to World War One soldiers. That’s a low blow. And that these distressed people need to ‘decide’ not to be bothered by loud noises. Once again, just because it’s not visible and doesn’t effect us, we assume that it doesn’t exist. Worse, though, is raising the First World War in the first place. Presumably, Vine knows that, once he has mentioned it, any disagreement is ‘automatically’ a slur on our brave and noble dead. If you like, it’s a way to make sure that he wins the argument whilst admitting that he doesn’t have much of one to start with. Banning clapping is not a cocked snook at soldiers. It is an attempt, rather, to make the world a little more bearable to everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine I have two boxes…

Imagine I have two boxes.

Is this about Brexit?

No.

You said you weren’t going to post about Brexit again.

It’s not about Brexit. Shut up. Imagine I have two boxes and you get to pick one and keep the contents of it.

How is this not about Brexit?

Will you please shut up about Brexit?

Okay. Okay. You have two boxes. Go on. I’m all ears.

And I tell you what’s in both of them. I tell you that box A is full of marvellous things, things you really like, and that box B is full of nothing, really. Status quo – the concept, not the band. Air – equally, the concept, not the band. You’d pick box A, wouldn’t you?

There isn’t a band called ‘Air’.

Isn’t there?

Don’t think so. ‘Air Supply’ perhaps.

I’ll Google it later. But you’d pick box A, right?

Uh huh. I would pick box A. You lied about what was in box A, didn’t you?

Hypothetically, yes.

Even though this isn’t about Brexit? Jeez, you need to get over it. People voted for Brexit. They weren’t stupid, gullible or naïve. It was a democratic majority.

Technically, it wasn’t of course, because it was an ‘adviso – ‘

Nobody actually thought it was that. Nobody. Everybody knew what the outcome meant, regardless of what it said on the ticket.

You voted ‘leave’, then.

You’re trying to get me to say that we should have another vote because the leave campaign lied, right?

It wasn’t my overall intention, actually, but now that you say it…

But I didn’t vote leave.

You didn’t?

No. I voted not to stay. And, therefore, it doesn’t matter that the leave campaign lied or what might be in box A. What matters is that I know what’s in box B and I’m not interested in it. And neither was the majority of people who voted in the election.

Referendum.

Seriously, whatevs.

Shouldn’t you be interested in the workings of democracy, though? Lying in an election –

Is irrelevant. Completely irrelevant.

Another vote…

Is equally problematic in terms of democracy, isn’t it? You can’t keep trying again and again just to get the result you want, can you? How democratic is that, exactly?

Actually, that’s a really good point. No. We can’t. But – and I don’t know how to say this delicately…

Go on?

I suspect you’re not really bothered about the workings of democracy at all. You’re just using a legitimate concern to hang on to a result you really want.

What makes you –

And…

Spit it out.

Well, that’s scary, really.

Scary? Now you sound like an idiot.

I know. And I’m sorry. But hear me out. I think that you suspect that if we have another vote, we’d end up with a very different result, perhaps because of scaremongering, media bias, social media, whatever. Which is why you don’t want another vote.

Everyone’s lying for their own ends. I’ve said it before. And we’re better off, then, sticking to ourselves –

Whatever. That’s beside the point. The point is, that your insistence that we have to stick to a decision which the majority probably doesn’t want, now, even though it did however many months ago it was, is just evidence that democracy is fucked. Legitimate concerns about the workings of democracy have demonstrated that democracy is, basically, fucked. How does that not scare you?

You’re making too much of this. You should just –

Yeah, I know. Get behind it. Make it a success. Go to the festival. But I can’t.

Shit. You are so much part of the problem here. If it does go wrong, it’ll be the remoaners who made it go wrong.

I hate that term. ‘Remoaners’. And I hate the word ‘loser’, too. Because it’s not a competition. It’s about the future of the country. And it’s about democracy. Our system of ‘democracy’ enshrines moaning, complaining and needling within its institution. It’s called ‘the opposition’.

Moan moan moan moan moan. Do you ever shut up? Good grief, you’re dull.

And that’s scary, too, you know?

What?

That any debate has now turned into sound bites and mud-slinging. And that there’s no way to talk about it without it descending to that.

Well – you will not shut up about it. Let it fucking go, already.

Actually, no. I appreciate why you’re saying it, and – to some extent – I sort of agree with you. But it’s too important to let go. Fuck this issue, Brexit, the EU. But the democracy issue behind it is big. And important and needs dealing with properly.

You’re just going to have to admit that you lost –

Yeah, you’re really not listening to me. Democracy is broken.

Only because you’re breaking it. If you didn’t keep bashing it, it would be okay. At most, it’s a tiny stress fracture, the tolerance necessary in a real system involving real people.

This is how I see it, and this is why I can’t, cannot, won’t shut up about it. Politicians with an agenda lied about something for their own ends.

All politicians lie, for fu –

Shut up. Then, a ‘democratic’ vote took place, influenced by those lies.

I’ve already told you, I wasn’t influenced –

Perhaps you weren’t. Perhaps. But, regardless, there is no democratic way to check the influence of those lies, now that they have been uncovered, without – apparently – challenging democracy itself. And that is wrong. I’ve seen posts on social media threatening ‘war’ if the result is challenged. As if that is democracy in action. As if violence against society is part of the democratic process. And listening to the smugness of those thugs citing democracy as a justification for war is abhorrent. And, fuck it, we should be talking about that. In fact, we should be talking about that a really great deal. I’m not sure I give much of a shit about Brexit, if I’m really honest. It’s not going to affect me very much – I’m more than halfway through my working life, I’m unlikely to move abroad and I don’t have kids. I don’t care. I’m fairly sure that it’s going to affect an awful lot of other people, and my sense of empathy is having a hard time not being enraged at the injustice of that, but hey. I’m not a politician or an economist or a legal expert –

Any chance of me getting a turn?

In a minute. Sure.

I’ll forget what I was going to say.

Well make notes, then.

I haven’t got a pen…

Borrow mine. Where was I?

You’re not a politician or something…

Thanks – or an economist or a legal expert and so I really don’t know what’s going to happen. But our inability to have a reasoned conversation about this is worrying. And thugs making laws based on lies is petrifying.

Calm down. No thugs have made laws. I’ve explained about the lying. It’s just messy democracy in action, that’s all. There’s nothing at all to be worried about.

I didn’t make up the comments about ‘war’ and ‘social unrest‘, you know?

They’re a minority.

Indistinguishable from, and supported by, the majority they’re hiding inside. You could be one of them. You’d be saying exactly the same thing as you’re saying right now.

What the fuck? Are you accusing me –

Well, how do I know you’re not? I’m assuming that you’re not, of course. I’m assuming it. But I also assumed that you’d want to make sure that a democratic decision was, actually, democratic and supported by the majority of the populace before being enacted, because that’s what I believe democracy is. And you don’t. I assumed that liars – fraudsters, really – would be caught, prosecuted and punished. Should be caught, prosecuted and punished. And you don’t. I assumed that the lies would then be shown to be –

Yeah. Yeah. We get it. You think I’m scum.

No. No, I really don’t. It kills me to hear you say that. I don’t think you’re scum at all. I think your actions are enabling scum –

For fuck’s sake! Say that again.

No. No, because it’s more evidence that we can’t have a discussion about this without it descending into name-calling and that is part of the problem.

It’s a wonder we’re friends at all.

We don’t all have to share the same opinion to get on. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber.

Well, stop throwing the insults around, then! Chill the fuck out and stop posting incendiary crap about Brexit! Sheesh!

This is not about Brexit.

This is so about Brexit.

Well, what do you know?

Wanna know what I think? This is what I think…

At some stage, at some time, we need to have the ‘religion’ debate. We need to know what good it has done which could not have been without it. We need to discuss and find out whether morality can exist without it, whether – actually – we can spend our lives not being murderous, raping thieves without believing that there’s some big chap (yes, I know – but it is, though, isn’t it?) looking down and telling us that we’ll go to hell if we don’t curtail those thoughts and feelings. As adults, with reason and sense and intelligence, we need to have that conversation.

Because I’m not convinced that we need the big guy in order to be decent to each other. And believing in the white, middle class, heterosexual, berobed and besandled dude (or what ever version of him prevails in whatever culture people happen to exist in) does not seem, automatically, to make us decent. We have done many appalling things in his name – the list certainly doesn’t need repeating – and we continue to do so. I’m not just talking about strapping bombs to ourselves and walking into large public areas, or equipping ourselves with guns and ammunition and ascending the tallest nearby tower. There are those of us, too, who reward the privileged and punish the unfortunate, who think that a million dollars isn’t a lot of money, who burn cash in front of the homeless, who amass a massive fortune simply to inject our arses with foam rubber, or to buy a second yacht, or who assume that everyone has had the same chances, luck, genetics… and, therefore, if we’re poor, or ill, or incapable – it must be our own fault. Yet they will still call themselves religious, stand up in church and teach their children – hell, even insist that the children of others should be taught – the same ideas, values and rules. Such actions are not, perhaps, as immediate or as vivid as the previous atrocities, but they’re still unutterably atrocious. To say that God endorses and polices our good behaviour is pretty ridiculous when our behaviour is so damn bad.

And if God is about, why the big guessing game? Why leave us with just one book (or lots of little bits of books, like some appalling jigsaw puzzle without even a box lid). If he wanted us to be nice to people, then he could just demonstrate his existence – clear up some minor issues and translation problems – and we’d all be nice to everyone. Why make it just about faith? Faith suggests we know and trust the big guy, and he’ll make good in the end. But we don’t. At all. He’s meant to be the definition of ‘good’. So why not reveal himself to everyone? Yeah – I know. It’s all in the book. But there are hundreds of books. Some written ages ago, some not so long. Some written by lots of people, some just one. Some written by obvious nutters, some by decent sorts in sandals and long robes. Do they all say the same thing? They do not. Are they coherent within themselves. They are not. Are they violently at odd with each other? It would seem so. Do most people who adhere to those faiths read the texts? I suspect not. The ‘book’ strategy doesn’t seem to be working so well, then, frankly.

Christ, apparently, said that all you have to do to go to heaven is believe in him: no one goes to the father except through him. But I can’t make myself believe in something. It’s entirely out of my hands. I can pretend I believe… I can say I believe… I can bloody well hope. But I can’t believe in something for which there seems to be absolutely no proof whatsoever.

But if you’re going around spreading such stuff without knowing, if you’re in charge of children and you’re pedalling the myth as if it’s reality, if you’re deliberately proselytising, as if it’s true, blarney without absolutely being in possession of the facts of the case, then you are absolutely part of the problem. Because such behaviour stops people from being able to reason, actually removes reason from the argument, calls reason part of the problem… because reason renders faith useless, and then there’s no power to be held and no system of control. “Dinosaur bones? Put there to test us… God needs you to accept him without any questions whatsoever.” Forgive me, but that sounds awfully like someone who doesn’t want to be questioned rather than someone who has any answers.

And if you’re in charge of that religion? If you’re the head of that religion? If you’re the person who’s supposed to represent God to us, to decipher the rules, to decide what’s right and what isn’t? And yet… you still don’t know, not absolutely… but, just in case, you’ll corrupt people, ban contraception, prevent people from taking helpful drugs, subjugate genders, kill people, destroy people, agree with mass killings of innocents, capitulate in genocide and, worse, pass all those rules on to the next generation… But you don’t know? Then never turn around and tell me that religion enforces morality.

Let’s say you do know… There are countless others, who believe something completely different, and know just as absolutely as you do.

You know nothing…

What is there to be known? These things. It is empathy which promotes morality, not religion. Passing off as truth that which you do not know to be true is called lying. There are people who woke up today assuming that they were going to bed again tonight, who had plans for the rest of the day, week, month… who loved and laughed and giggled… who were planning surprise parties, holidays, families… who were going to do amazing things with their lives. And they got blown to pieces by murdering bastards who believed, knew, they were right – because someone told them so…

Wheaton’s Law

Alt-right, alt-left and freedom of speech…

TL:DR – everyone can be lovely: try not to be a cock.

About 28 years ago, I was a hick from the sticks, recovering from too much organised religion and – just – escaping into city mentality (okay, Exeter, but you know what I mean). I’d never been in a room with more than about three people who didn’t share my ethnicity. I thought that sex before marriage was – more often than not – unfair on any children it might produce. I’d never met a lesbian who was open about her sexuality.

I met a chap at university who was involved with the anti-fascist league. I did know that Exeter had a BNP presence. The chap was organising an anti-fascist demonstration where they intended to shout down a BNP rally (or something similar). I told him that I didn’t agree with his actions because he was interfering with their freedom of speech. He replied that, whilst he believed wholeheartedly in freedom of speech, the people he would be protesting against would use that freedom for arguing against those freedoms for others. I suggested that he was doing precisely the same thing: he was all for that freedom except when it belonged to people he disagreed with. He smiled, shook his head and – well – I wasn’t the sort of person who thought he could be wrong that often, I suspect that I was rather smug, and so I carried on beating my head against his argument. There might have been beer. Actually, there might have been a lot of beer. I probably stopped making sense fairly early on.

But I’m fairly sure he had a point. And I didn’t. This is why.

I disagreed violently with the ‘fascists’ who, in their turn, violently disagreed with me. As much as I disagreed, I presumed that this issue was a matter of opinion, pretty much: I thought they were wrong and they thought I was. We could both argue our cases – a lot of the theoretical stuff was the same in both. If I asserted that they were wrong and shouldn’t speak, then they could argue the same back. From a logical point of view, this is an impasse.

But the two stances are not ‘equal but opposite’. One side is primarily inclusive: everyone is valued, everyone can speak, everyone can listen, every one can decide. The other side is primarily exclusive: not everyone is valued (‘white supremacy’, ‘these streets are ours’, ‘faggots go home’ etc), not everyone can speak, not everyone can decide. One side would deny the other a chance to speak because of what they are saying: the other would deny the other a chance to speak because of who they are, and not just deny them a chance to speak, but a chance to do an awful lot of other things, too.

Shouldn’t everyone have a chance to speak so that others can listen and decide what they think and believe? Absolutely! But only if everyone has the facts, those facts are indisputable, the arguments are presented rationally and cogently, everybody listens to everything, nothing is spun by a media with a vested interest, everyone is capable of looking at those facts from an unbiased perspective and so on. Which just isn’t possible, it seems, not even in the late 80s and much less so now.

Surely, though, letting everyone speak would be, at least, the best position out of a lot of poorish alternatives? I suspect not – and this might have been the Exeter chap’s point. The ‘right’ makes the ‘left’ (shorthand here, folks) uncomfortable because of what they think – thoughts are contextual, they can change, they are not dependent on who you are. The argument isn’t personal. The ‘left’ makes the ‘right’ uncomfortable because of who they are, not what they think – and who you are, those broad brush strokes which ‘identify’ us, aren’t contextual, they don’t change: female, male, black, white, straight, LGBTQI+ and so on. Its argument is intensely personal. In other words, the ‘left’ is attacking ideas and the ‘right’ is attacking people. There is a way for everyone to live together happily in the ‘left”s world and there is not a way for everyone to live together happily in the ‘right”s. The ‘left’ wants to challenge ideas. The ‘right’ wants to challenge people in general. No one should be challenged for who they are, and everyone should be allowed to exist peacefully in their world without being challenged for who they are (issues of legality notwithstanding – different can of worms, although the same brand, at least).

The ‘left’ thinks that everyone should be heard regardless of who they are – and the ‘right’ does not (regardless of how much it pretends it does). The ‘left’ thinks that the only people who do not deserve that right are those who will not extend that right to everyone – and yes, there is a cheeky paradox in there. But the ‘right’ thinks that lots of people do not deserve that right, and that they’re relying on those very people’s ideas of freedom to proselytise against them, is much more than a little cheeky and much more of a paradox.

In other news, the weather continues charming.

It’s time for homophobes to shut up…

Surely there are only three real reasons anyone can have for not thinking that it’s okay to be gay. The first is that it doesn’t make babies; the second is that it’s bad for people; and the third is that it’s against God, religion or some religious text. The argument that ‘it’s against nature’ is so clearly ridiculous that it’s not worth considering…

No. A man having sex with a man, and a woman having sex with a woman don’t make babies. But then, lots of things don’t: celibacy, for a start, but people don’t seem to have a problem with that. There are people who can’t have children, and many who don’t want them, either. And yet they’re not deplored as being wrong for ‘not making babies’. I have heard the argument that it can’t possibly be right to be gay because ‘if everyone was that way, then the race would die out’. Again, this isn’t really an argument… Everyone isn’t gay and therefore the race isn’t going to die out. More to the point, if everyone was, then I’m fairly sure that gay men and lesbian women, being as intelligent as straight men and women, would find ways of keeping population numbers viable. (Gay men and lesbian women could make babies if they really wanted to, and frequently do.) The world is, actually, very far from being depopulated… Who cares if some couples don’t have kids?

Gays don’t make babies? So what…?

Is being gay or lesbian bad for you? To be brutally frank, the only thing that seems to me to be bad for gay men and lesbian women (and which is related to their sexuality) is living in a homophobic world which dehumanises, demeans, threatens, bullies, patronises and hurts them because of that sexuality. What else could possibly be bad for them? There are sexually transmitted diseases out there, sure, but none which targets gays and lesbians without also targeting straights. And yes, there are types of behaviour which are more risky than others, but again, none which are about sexual preference: not a single one.

Does being close to gays and lesbians make others gay and lesbian? Well, does being close to straight men and women make gays and lesbians straight? No. It seriously doesn’t.

Does being raised by gay and lesbian parents make kids gay and lesbian? Again, does being raised by straight parents make gay and lesbian kids less gay and lesbian?

Mind you, straight kids being raised to believe that being gay or lesbian is ‘wrong’, and that to be straight is to be ‘right’ does, I think, propagate a problematic society in which gay and lesbian kids are dehumanised, demeaned, threatened, bullied, patronised and hurt: this does, just as much, in fact, as raising gay and lesbian kids to believe that to be so is ‘wrong’.

Is being gay or lesbian bad for you? Find certain types of behaviour challenging and dangerous, if you wish, but sexuality? No.

Is it against religion, God or a sacred text? It might be against someone’s religion, someone’s God or someone’s sacred text. But those things aren’t absolutes as much as anyone might desperately want them to be. There are seven billion (ish) people on the planet, and there’s no religious consensus at all. What might be rules to one set of people can be (and are, in certain circumstances) anathema to another set. We all live according to our own beliefs and systems, but we do allow others to live in other ways. And if the babies thing doesn’t matter, and it isn’t harmful, then – seriously – what’s the problem?

My own background is a mixture of Protestant (Baptist) and Catholic. I can’t quote chapter and verse, and don’t want to. Again, it’s someone’s God, religion or sacred text, but it’s not mine. And people have no right to make their world view mine, which is as much right as I have to make mine theirs. None. But that applies to everyone. If homosexuality is not dangerous, or damaging, why does anyone feel they have a right to castigate in any way those who are homosexual, or to overbalance society to legitimise one sexuality at the expense of illegitmising the other?

So, why does society seem at times to be so deeply unhappy about gays and lesbians? It can’t be the babies thing – it doesn’t matter. It can’t be the harmful and damaging thing – because it isn’t. It can’t be the religious thing – one person’s right to religious freedom, so long as it isn’t dangerous and damaging, should enable and legitimise someone else’s right to be whatever they are, with the same caveats. And hey – I may not know much about the Bible, but I do know that Leviticus names many more things that people just shouldn’t do but which are now freely done and without any religious person saying anything. Nothing. Not a word… And that it’s harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Do you see rich, religious people trying to give all their money away? Do you see religious people berating rich people for having lots of money? Or for bringing up their kids with lots of money? Or leaving their kids lots of money when they die? You do not.

I guess it’s fear. Not fear of the unfamiliar but fear that – deep down – we’re not all the same after all. Some men love women, but some love men. Some women love men, but some love women. And that ‘love’, that powerful, all encompassing passion that drives us so much seems so vital, important and essential to who we are that anyone who doesn’t feel the same as we do must be wrong. Must be sick. Must be dangerous. Must be damaging.

We are so selfish that anything that doesn’t look and feel like us on such a primitive level damages our worldview and our conception of ourselves. And it is selfishness…

Because it’s still love, the same love.

It’s not murder, torture, genocide. It’s love.

Just love.

Please explain why you gave that rating.

Who was your sales advisor?

Er – Katy something.

How would you rate your sales advisor? (Where 0 is very disappointing and 10 is highly satisfactory.)

10

Please explain why you have rated him or her ‘highly satisfactory’.

Hmm. Hmmmmm. Actually, I’m not sure. What makes anything satisfactory these days? I needed carpet. She supplied carpet. She satisfied that need. She didn’t produce any obstacles in her supplying of carpet. She facilitated my carpet buying.

Was it ‘high’ satisfaction? I don’t know. I didn’t leave elated. She didn’t solve world hunger. But she also didn’t invade a country. I’m not sure, though, that I needed those things (in my purchasing of carpet, you understand. Had she offered them as extras, I’d’ve certainly accepted them – but they wouldn’t necessarily have facilitated the purchasing of the carpet).

She was extremely pleasant, friendly and cheerful. She smiled a lot. She bantered. All these things are good. Mind you, it was clear that she had been instructed to point out where on the receipt her name was so that when the inevitable email arrived and I was asked to rate her customer service ‘in an effort to improve [y]our standards’, I could identify her – and that kind of defeated us both.

It defeated her because it made it look as if her – I don’t know – her humanity(?), which had been so effortless and light, was actually just something which a large corporation could ‘train for’ and ‘reward’, something which could be turned on and off, or something which she did just so that a customer wouldn’t give her a scathing report. It also defeated her because it clearly went against her *excellent* customer service skills to remind me that I would be asked to fill out a form on her dealings with me.

It defeated me because it actually pretty much ruined the – up until that point – very enjoyable process of that most mundane of tasks: buying stuff.

Why am I rating her so highly? Because she was bloody excellent at her job despite having to ask me to fill in an online form about her serving of me. You should pay her more. Actually, I think you should probably pay everyone more – because, actually, you probably pay them a pittance or, worse, commission. And paying people more, and not asking them to get people to rate their performance, might be the best way, really, of getting them to be the best salespeople they can be. Rather than not giving them bonuses if they fail to ‘deliver the magic’ or sending them on courses entitled ‘being highly satisfactory’ or similar drivel.

Please don’t send her on a course about ‘ascending to middle management’. And please, please don’t make her lead a training session on how to be highly satisfactory. Please don’t award her a ‘salesperson of the month’ award. Or give her a piece of parchment entitled such.

Just pay people more. And stop assuming that you can get feedback on every bloody transaction that your staff make with their customers to either improve service or tell off the shirkers. Because every time I have to fill in one of these forms, a little part of me dies: and that’s not good for my brand recognition.

(Secretly, of course, I rated her that because, deep down, I fear I won’t get into the prize draw unless I give everything top marks… but I’m not going to spoil a good rant by ‘fessing that up.)

L&K

The whereabouts of carpark E

When I left the trailer where the big machine was, I had no idea where I was. I’d been inside a metal tube for forty minutes. I asked the nice woman how to get back to the carpark, and she just directed me back to the waiting area. Which wasn’t helpful, really. From there, I retraced my steps as far as I could remember – not very far, as it turned out. After five minutes, I was back in the main entrance – not where I’d come in from at all. I stood there, looking at a fire escape map on the wall. After five minutes of squinting, I realised that there were no carparks displayed, and so – utterly lost – I had no idea what to do other than strike out down a corridor and hope. Mercifully, hidden behind a glass screen, there was a sweet, grey-haired old woman guarding a desk which said ‘enquiries’.
“Hello!”
“Hello?” she asked, either indicating geriatric helpfulness or shock. She had Mrs Slocombe hair and glasses restrained around her neck on a little chain, presumably so no-one could nick them when she wasn’t looking.
“I’m sorry, but I have no idea where I am. I’ve got no sense of direction. I’m trying to find carpark E.”
She looked at me as if one of us must have escaped from the Alzheimer’s ward but she couldn’t work out which of us it was.
“I’ve walked through a blue section where everything was painted blue, and an orange section, where – you know – orange, in order to find the yellow section which is where Physio is. So – I’m guessing that it’s somewhere past the blue section? The carpark, I mean. The colours aren’t marked on the map, though, the fire escape one,” (I waved at the wall for assistance), “and so I’m a bit lost.”
“Oh.” There was a lengthy pause. “Sorry. Where is it you’re trying to get to?”
“Carpark E.”
“Oh. I’ve never heard of it.” She looked sad, and a little helpless. “Which road did you come in on? The main one?”
“I have no idea – it was… er… ” The realisation that I was about to describe the road I came in on as made out of tarmac and having cars on it made me stumble a little.
“Was it this one?” She waved, this time, vaguely to her right. “Or this one?” She waved to her left.
“Er. Gosh. I don’t know. I’m a stranger here.” (Oh, God. Did I really say that? I must have sounded like an over-polite Englishman from a really bad western.) Her tone became firm, as if she was talking to a four year old who was being deliberately awkward.
“Have you come from Nantwich or Middlewich?”
“Middlewich!” Finally! We had some common ground.
“Well, that would be the main road. So you’ll have parked by Accident and Emergency. What you need to do, is go straight up that corridor – ” she pointed to a wall covered with notices, ” – turn right, and keep on walking right to the end.”
“That corridor?” I said, pointing to the same wall. She nodded. “This one here?” I repeated, indicating the notices explaining what Osgood Shlatter’s disease is. “This one?”
“Walk to the end, turn right, Accident and Emergency.” She said it with such conviction, that I ended up walking over to the wall, almost expecting it to open up in some sort of Labyrinth (the film) kind of way. I looked back to the woman. She was still smiling. So, I turned right, and carried on walking: it led, almost immediately, actually, to the Fracture Clinic. When I was sure that she could no longer see me, I called her a ‘stupid, daft, old bint’ a little louder than I had intended to, and got tutted at by a nurse.
I ended up taking the first door to the outside that I could find, determined just to walk round the place until I found the bloody carpark – which, knowing my luck, would be on the other side of the entire site. I walked past carparks A, B, C, D, F, and G. Then, the pavement left the hospital, and carried on up – what I assume was – the main road. I passed A&E. There were ambulances. Then the pavement gave out altogether, and became mud. There was much swearing. But – so long as I kept the hospital on my right, I’d have to find my fucking car eventually. The hospital vanished and became what looked like houses. There was a pub. The muddy verge turned into a hedge – and so I ended up walking up a really very busy road, inches away from massive trucks doing sixty, and with a face like thunder. My car wasn’t on the other side of the site – it was actually quite a bit further round. If I’d turned the other way, I’d’ve got to it much more quickly.
Forty minutes in the metal tube: about an hour trying to find my car again.