Sunday, 27 December 2015

Less tackiness please, we're British.

This Christmas I hardly made a fuss- I ate frugally and spent a lot of time lying in bed- mostly because I had a terrible cold/flu and didn't have much energy. On Christmas Day I dragged myself to mass and was amazed to see how some parishioners had chosen to dress: leggings and a tight jumper stopping helpfully at the waist so that the gaze rested on a country-sized derriere. Mini skirts, fishnet tights and diving decolletages replete with overflowing embonpoint- if you fancied a bit of South Pole exploration, some of those necklines were certainly headed in the right direction. I always feel sorry for the priest when he gives communion to ...a pair of breasts. It used to be that attending mass on big occasions like Christmas, Easter, Advent etc which are all profound events in the christian calender, one would be sure to look demure and dignified. The thought of flashing skin and flesh was completely frowned upon. Nowadays anything goes in the way of dressing and behaving- a couple  flirted madly last Sunday in church; they arrived separately and left that way too but the temptation of  making doe eyes at each other while clutching a rosary clearly proved too much.

Tackiness is so widespread and prevalent in all walks of life from the lower working class all the way up to the highest echelons in society. I blame Charles and Diana who famously went public with their very personal problems. Since then the Great British Resolve to 'never complain and never explain' and to maintain a very stiff upper lip at all times seem to have all but disappeared from our daily lives. It is now completely acceptable to whinge ad nauseum, be rude and obnoxious and to show a complete lack of disrespect and consideration- cue to dressing like one is going to a nightclub when attending mass or worse yet, looking like one has literally rolled out of bed.

The mantra of so-called busy people who in fact are too rude and selfish to find time for others has become the norm. We all have that so-called friend who hasn't bothered to be in touch for months but rings up blithely on Christmas Eve, oblivious to the fact that their behaviour is wrong. I have now gotten to the point in my life where there are no words- once I fall silent the relationship is stone, cold dead. No amount of coaxing will bring it back to life. All we have is the present moment and if we allow others to treat us as if they can make up for their roughshod disregard in some distant future and one that most certainly will only suit them, then we should not complain about our hurt emotions.

Tackiness is not just the way you dress, it's also the way you think. Over Christmas I decided to watch TV- something I never, ever do but the house where I was staying had a gigantic TV in the living room and I thought I would vegetate in front of it. Now you have to understand that I never sit idly still as I am always doing something: writing, reading, walking, cooking, working, housework (which I enjoy). The instances in my life where I do nothing at all are few and far between and usually occur like this holiday season when I was too ill to do much else. I don't own a TV having thrown it out many years ago. This Christmas I remembered why I had: television is a mind fuck. The quality of the programmes is such low level nonsense designed for cretins. Listening to mindless, dumbed-down drivel aimed at those who clearly are grammatically and phonetically challenged filled me with such revulsion that afterwards my head actually ached. I can think of no worse torture than to be forced to watch television day in, day out. To see these so-called celebrities who do not have any real talent now passing themselves off as role models who teenage girls all want to emulate, fills me with a terrible dread. Would a show on philosophy or the meaning of life have an audience at all? Does anyone ask themselves BIG questions anymore?

We should all be concerned when we live in an age of mind-blowing stupidity and ignorance. Despite our wealth and the convenience which fools us into believing anything is possible, the soul life is what makes us want to become better people- kinder, more thoughtful, more concerned for our fellow human beings and most importantly, more interested in the world.

Britain used to be great- in a sense it was austerity, deprivation and simplicity that spawned great minds and made us masters of ingenuity and innovation. Could it be that we have too much now to see those glory days again?

Photo copyright SvD.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

So, this is Christmas

2015 has been a strange and in many ways, terrifying year. The Medusa of terrorism became a dreaded and unpredictable enemy. The Euro almost succumbed to racketeering and defaulting on Mickey Mouse loans (condoned at the highest level) and as it teetered on the edge, hundreds of thousands were forced into a poverty they had never imagined. Barbaric killing and destruction wrecked ancient civilsations probably for good.The world appeared at times to be slowly falling apart and for many, daily life became a nightmare of chaos and worry. In several countries today people are being displaced or impoverished by someone else's decision or recklessness.

This Christmas my desire to celebrate is muted. I have very little need for material possessions and hardly wish to buy anything; part of getting older is not feeling compelled to keep accumulating and to ask "Do I need it?". I am also haunted by the image of the starving, displaced refugee or the victims of pointless wars, whose homes, livelihoods and possessions have been reduced to rubble. There are economic casualties as well- the Greeks for example- and worst of all there are also too many in this life who have nothing. Not one possession even that belongs to them.. In the West our lives are filled with things: to do, possessions, mementos, trinkets, bric-à-brac, the latest fashion etc. but for some, a plastic bag to wrap only a faded memory is a great luxury.

Now that Christmas is upon us with all it's excessive, Bacchanalian over-indulgence, it is necessary to remember what this time will mean for those who have nothing. Victims of war or economic deprivation will have very little to celebrate. When they wake up on Christmas Day, they will still be covered in the grime of poverty and exclusion.. As we settle down to our Christmas feast, those who are less fortunate will be staring probably at an empty plate. Or a family of six may have to share a single egg. The homeless or displaced, those with literally nowhere to call home, will find their annihilation all the more heart-breaking. In the UK, homelessness has risen by  an average of 6% per year since the financial crisis of 2008. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't just alcoholics or drug users who end up becoming homeless but people who lose their jobs and can no longer pay their rent or mortgage. In other words, people like you and me.

I knew a former MD of his own company who was forced to close his business but then found it hard to ever get a job paying the equivalent of what he used to earn. At times he stopped looking for work altogether and was often broke. Lucky for him, his father would hand out the cash whenever he needed it. To this day, the gentleman in question now in his forties, relies on financial help from his parents who instead of judging him, support him because they love him. Not everyone is so blessed. We all know someone, for example, who has no family. No mother or father or brother or sister. The elderly especially, fall into this category of lonely souls.

Until one has experienced deprivation and hardship, it is too difficult to understand what others have gone through in their lives.. We would perhaps have a different attitude to our own baseless worries if we were fleeing persecution or if we had no money, friends or the support of loved ones.

In my humble opinion, Christmas has turned into a spectacle where we worship the wrong things and create a false impression of who we are and what really matters. The best Christmas is surely the one where our hearts are at peace.

As a family-less person, I have grown used to Christmas on my own. This year I shall do what I normally do on December 25th- go to church, walk my hound across a chilly landscape and give thanks for having everything I need.

Homo, qui in homine calamitoso est misericors, meminit sui. A man who is merciful to a fellow man in calamity, remembers what is due himself.- Roman proverb.

Merry Christmas.

Photo copyright SvD.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Take off that veil and integrate

The horror of yet another gun attack by the so-called disenfranchised aka terrorists as a couple in America go on their deadly rampage. The media provides important information on their pasts- one born in the States, one born in Pakistan. Despite his Western upbringing, the husband imports and marries an ultra-conservative Muslim. I can't get my head around these people who are born in the West but for some unfathomable reason hanker for their roots to such an extent that they reject the values, traditions and customs of the First World. If I am completely honest and this is very un-PC, I find the whole thing quite vile. I am not being a snob or a racist in making such a statement but I do not understand how immigrants can show the finger to their hosts by enjoying all the benefits of living in the West (such as the simple luxury of having potable water running in the taps, good medical care, public transport etc) and yet refusing to assimilate.

There is a very disparaging description used by blacks to criticise their ilk who adopt Western thinking: coconut- black on the outside, white on the inside. Such a criticism is complete and utter garbage- what way should British-born blacks behave? Should they join a gang and perpetuate the stereotype? Those who have West Indian parents probably find it the easiest to integrate given the colonial history of the British-speaking Caribbean but to always point the finger and declare that one is defined by one's skin colour is just plain ignorant.

Obama and Oprah Winfrey are both black and they have excelled in a country that is supposedly anti-black. Oprah's childhood was dirt poor and she grew up in the deep south of America- she could not have been more disadvantaged if she had tried! I'm no fan of Oprah Winfrey (or Obama for that matter) but you have to admire her for what she has achieved. She certainly doesn't run around in a boubou (traditional African Kaftan) spouting back-to-her-roots rhetoric. Instead she recently posted photos of her Thanksgiving celebrations (a feast first introduced in the 17th century by white pilgrims - immigrants - in America) because she defines herself as American albeit African American.

There is no doubt that immigration has benefitted the West- today many of our ancestors came from somewhere else- Barbra Streisand, Albert Einstein, Lucien Freud, Henry Kissinger, Steven Speilberg are the descendants of Jews fleeing persecution. Steve Jobs was the son of an immigrant. Immigration by definition is about wanting a better life. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously chose the US over his native Austria.  I've been to Austria on walking holidays and my parents enjoyed their honeymoon in Innsbruck. Austria is a heavenly place where cultural identity is very strong- women and men still wear traditional costumes and anyone who has eaten the popular liver dumplings is unlikely to forget them easily.

When I'm in Austria or any other country for that matter, I can't wait to try the food and the booze - in Austria, the herb-infused schnappes is invigorating and therapeutic. In America I am particularly fond of Miami and the Cuban restaurants. In France I order a good Bordeaux with a bloody entrecôte. In the UK I enjoy a bacon sandwich on white bread with brown sauce. When in Rome one must behave like a Roman. I had hoped to go to Syria where the cuisine is/was renowned and ironically a combination of Mediterranean, Turkish and Persian flavours (in other words, influenced by those who settled there over hundreds of years).

What I object to is the insularity of immigrants and sadly, the government has little idea of how some ethnic groups in the UK simply refuse to integrate. There are two arguments here: liberals will say that we should facilitate those fleeing persecution etc. but the discussion seems to end once these refugees are given leave to remain. The other argument is that immigrants should simply dive in to their host country. My suggestion is that anyone who wishes to live in the UK, for example, must speak fluent English and they should be tested before being granted residency. It is also completely unacceptable to dress in traditional attire- the old country is now exactly that- a place that belongs to the past. There are countries in the world where Muslims and Christians live in harmony- Trinidad, for example- where Western attire is the norm in everyday life and when attending the mosque and church in equal measure. To my knowledge, neither group has attacked the other and begun a war.

The issue of identity has something to do with religion, yes, but also much more- having a job, being useful in society and forging an identity which everyone regardless can be proud of. Furthermore Britain is a Christian country- thousands of years of history and our peculiar offshoot of Catholicism, the Church of England, have led us here. This is a country of spires where we used to celebrate religious holidays instead of 'bank' holidays. Our culture has created some of the most unforgettable literature, art, music some of which has shaped the way we live now. Did you know that our royal family popularised decorating fir trees to celebrate Christmas? And it was an Englishman, Henry Cole, who sent the first Christmas Card in 1843? At the same time Charles Dickens', already a celebrated and hugely popular author, published A Christmas Carol, which one could say, paved the way for an entirely new market celebrating Christmas in all its sentimentality.

I am not entirely sure that politicians understand how to cope or deal with the terrifying prospect that awaits us with the rise of extremism. I doubt politicians have a clue what extremism actually is- the belief that immigrants are disenfranchised is too convenient. The monumental failure in my opinion is what politicians didn't do. We are at a crossroads where the rot has set in- cue to the terrible attacks taking place around the world. Yes, we have rights and I wouldn't wish for totalitarian rule where our every move is scrutinized- I was lucky to visit East Germany before the wall came down and saw what happens when people are forced to live in fear. But we simply cannot go on the way things are now hoping it will improve. Hoping that terrorists will take a happy pill and stop wanting to kill us. The Far Right is gaining ground in France. We are literally running out of time.

Photo copyright SvD.