Paula and Peaches, Peaches and Paula

 

Paula Yates always irritated me.

She was just enough older than me for that to be annoying in its own right, and then there was the way that she always mentioned she was a size 6. Every. Single. Time. She. Wrote. An. Article.  And then she gave her daughters those ridiculous names: Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom, Little Pixie and Heavenly Hiraani, which almost seemed a form of child abuse in its own right.

Then it turned out she was Hughie Green’s daughter,  which creeped me out rather. And then the poor bitch died aged 41.

I may not be a size 6, but I am not dead. And so I felt sorry for her.

And now Peaches Honeyblossom has died aged 24, poor girl.

“I remember the day my mother died, and it’s still hard to talk about it,” Peaches told Elle in 2012.

“I just blocked it out. I went to school the next day because my father’s mentality was ‘keep calm and carry on’,” she said.

“So we all went to school and tried to act as if nothing had happened. But it had happened. I didn’t grieve. I didn’t cry at her funeral. I couldn’t express anything because I was just numb to it all. I didn’t start grieving for my mother properly until I was maybe 16.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26931337

Katherine Whitehorn wrote that Exodus 20:5 is an observation, not a curse. It says:

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation

And here we see it playing out once again.

Larkin of course summed it up perfectly, though one summer about ten years ago I flipped his famous poem around. His original is here. Here’s my version. Both seem sadly appropriate now.

They fuck you up, your darling kids.
They may not mean to, but it’s true
that by the time they’re on the skids
you find there’s sod all you can do.

And so it goes from bad to worse
they have the faults their parents had.
Nothing’s learned and that’s the curse
of little shades of mum and dad.

Man hands on misery to man,
and every effort comes to grief.
You do the very best you can
and then they kick you in the teeth.

Peaches Geldof's last Instagram

Peaches Geldof’s last Instagram

Poor women. Both of them. They should have died hereafter.

A series of small epiphanies

Nell

Nell

For a while I’ve been planning  a talk about what it’s like to be  what Skeptics call “a Woo” and about my journey from there to being one of the folks running Skeptics on the Fringe.

“Woo” is a term I dislike for a bunch of reasons, mainly because labelling people makes it too easy to stop thinking about them as people and stereotype them. No-one should do that to anyone, but we are Skeptics, dammit: we should think, especially when we are complaining that the defining group of this other group is that they don’t think.  Irony, much?

I had a couple of hours of driving to do tonight, appropriately enough  visiting Ash Pryce founder of Edinburgh Skeptics and then Keir Liddle founder of Skeptics on the Fringe.  I used the time to sketch out the structure of the talk and identify the key points I want to make.  It’s now sitting as bullet points on my laptop.

I hate bullet-points because PowerPoint doesn’t kill presentations, bulletpoints kill presentations. I prefer slides – if they are used at all – to be images rather than words.  The bullet-points will become my speakers notes. I could even use this as an opportunity to learn Prezi.

So I need to get some images together.  This glamour-girl from the 1920s in my grandmother.  Come to the talk when I eventually give it and you’ll see why she’s there. Somewhere I have a supercute pic of my dad with me slung under his arm when I was about two years old, and if I can find that I want it in the slides, failing that there’s one of him in what looks like a bishop’s mitre.  I think I still have my O’level certificate somewhere.  And I want to include some book covers, some podcast logos, stuff like that.  As it says here, the talk is about a series of small epiphanies.

It’s going to take a chunk of time to put together yet, but I hope it will explain why intelligent and rational people are still attracted to Alternative Medicine, reincarnation and similar things, that it will interest scientists and atheists lucky enough to have been raised that way, that it will reassure skeptical activists that skeptical outreach really is worth it, and explain why Phil Plait was right when he said Don’t be a Dick.


I’ll be keen to do this talk at Skeptics in the Pub and other appropriate events once I’ve finished the slides. Contact me via contact@edskeptics.co.uk if you’d like to discuss dates.

Ho, ho, bloody ho

OK – I am going to whinge now.

It takes more than one day to prepare for Christmas, though not much more.

My Christmas preparations are modest compared with many people’s (an evening each for the pudding, the cards and the tree, and an afternoon for buying presents if you pick your emporium well, and an evening to wrap them). They are also expressly designed to keep me out of shops and to avoid giving money to Amazon.

However, if done, ’tis best done early. And this year circumstance, exhaustion, commitments and illness have prevented me doing the things I enjoy (decorate the tree, go to midnight mass, make a pudding for next year) and have made the ones done out of duty stressful and late.

If I can’t do things I enjoy with people I love, then my ideal Christmas really is a cheque given to Shelter or Streetwork, (and these days to my local Foodbank) and a retreat with the Buddhists so I can rest, think, and re-calibrate myself for the year ahead.

Merry Christmas. Next year om mani padme hum.

A tax on decency

These folk are collecting in Tescos South Queensferry this weekend http://edinburghnw.foodbank.org.uk/ and of course I bought tinned spuds, pasta sauce, UHT milk, tinned fruit and jelly as requested. But the regular donations page of their website is broken so the momentum built up by this weekend’s outreach cannot be turned into regular donations.

Besides which. What the actual fuck?

This is Cameron’s Big Society – it imposes a voluntary “decency tax”. This tax is paid only by those of us who think “there but for great good luck go I” and pay out in the hope that our tins of potatoes and suspended coffees will make any kind of a blind bit of difference, and in the sickening awareness that no, they really don’t.

I should not be giving tinned food to Foodbanks, I should be paying taxes which fund benefits that enable people to buy their own food.  I should not be buying suspended coffees, I should be paying taxes that fund housing benefits for the houses people actually live in, not the non-existent theoretical houses that don’t exist so they selfishly and fecklessly end up on the streets. No-one should be forced into the desperation that makes them beg for charity from strangers, they should be claiming the support that they are entitled to from any half decent society, and that society should give them the helping hand they need to get up and out of poverty.

And yes, I know the argument that benefits breed a culture of entitlement. But who is really displaying entitlement here? The person terminally ill with cancer who is “fit for work”? Or the trust-fund Tory who stashes their money offshore? The CEO paid tens of millions of pounds, building up enough wealth to keep their grandchildren in coke and botox all their trashy lives? Or the poor fools forced to work for them for free because it’s “experience” and “without experience they won’t get a job”? The Energy Company bosses making millions? Or the people freezing to death because they cannot afford heat and food?

People freeze to death in their homes. In a western country. Just because it is winter.  Which comes around once a year.

This is what the Tories do – they make taxation optional. Only pay to help others if you want.  If you don’t want, no problem. That’s fine.  Really.

Yeah, right.

But yes, I do want. So yes, I handed over the tinned spuds, pasta source, UHT milk, tinned fruit and jelly in the knowledge it’s a band-aid stuck down on top of gangrene.

But I really shouldn’t have had to.

In a nutshell

I found this snippet while tidying up the blog.  Since today would have been my Ma’s birthday, I am posting it now.

While emptying the house before my father died we found a packet of letters addressed to my grandparents and labeled in my mother’s writing: “Congratulations on our engagement and commiserations on Martin’s death”. Martin was her brother, killed aged about 26 in combat. She’d added: “Must have been difficult to write”.

Quite.

It’s my Ma’s shrewd sarcasm that I miss the most.

Feminist mammoths

The current upswing of feminism is rightly re-igniting debates about bodies and judgementalism.  As the meme goes

If you want a bikini body, put on a bikini

The idea that our bodies are there to be judged is common-place and getting more-so.  In the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame  women step out, we show off, we reveal and display ourselves (our long legs, our cleavages, our baby bumps, our  holiday tans and bikini bodies), we bare ourselves.  In relationships we are happy, proud, smiling, or with mystery men.  In Dacre’s world, women cannot do something for its own sake or for ours, only for our audience of watchers or because of a man.

I  have a tattoo.  (Stay with me, it’s not as wild a change of subject as you’d think).  I could never see the point in a tattoo I couldn’t see, so it’s on my forearm and I chose mammoths because I like them.

They raise the question though, of who is the tattoo actually for?

It’s hard to work out what they are, especially from a distance. The design is based on cave paintings and is an awkward mix of line-drawing and shade. The only time they’ve been complimented spontaneously was once in a pub when I stood up with my arm held horizontally, reaching for the back of a chair.

Mammoth Tattoo 01 Mammoth Tattoo 02

In Daily Mail terms they are a failure. But from my (literal) perspective, they are great, and I love them.

Mammoth Tattoo 03

I like seeing them trample down my arm towards whatever it is I am doing. (Hitting “post” in three… two… one….) They are a comforting sight first thing in the morning.  They even have names, though I am ashamed to admit this.

So, is a tattoo for person who has been tattooed or is it for other people?  Well, as it turns out, this particular tattoo is for me.

These aren’t just mammoths, they are feminist mammoths,

The day we noticed the world had changed

This post is a response to my friend Ash Pryce’s post: Living History: a Look Back on 9/11

I remember 9/11 very well because I wasn’t working that day and I watched from about 15 minutes after it started to be shown on the UK news. So I watched the second plane go in and the towers go down.

One of my strongest memories is of being aware that no-one knew what was happening, no-one knew what would happen next, how many were killed (40,000 people worked in the twin towers, so the final figure of 3,000, published days later, seemed like a merciful escape). The tv pundits didn’t have any briefing notes, there weren’t any alliterative sound-bytes from Alistair Campbell. We were suddenly, disorientingly off-script. Anything could happen that morning.

I knew that the world had irrevocably changed. Of course it actually changed a while before: 9/11 was the symptom, the part of the plant above ground, the final signal that we could see. But I knew that the world was about to become darker, nastier, less predictable, less trustable, less secure and less safe. That it would never be the same again.

You are right, ten years is an interesting time-span. It’s long enough for children to turn into adults – five years doesn’t do that – but short enough for adults to feel it was just the other day. And as you point out, twelve years or more is a recognisably long period of time.

So, ten or twelve years on – yes, the Americans and their allies took war to Afghanistan, to Iraq and (hush, don’t mention it) to parts of Pakistan. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay radicalised young men who would otherwise have just spent their teenage years playing street cricket on waste-grounds in Bradford or Finsbury Park.

The other kicker though is the electronic supervision we all live with; with every connection observed, every interaction noted. Orwell, Gibson and Stephenson are overheard in a bar. This is inextricably mixed in with the Randian neo-conservatism that combines a vicious sense of personal entitlement and malign greed and a willful rejection of science and the vindication of a monotheistic faith. It’s an evil mix, and it is bringing about the downfall of the US with the rest of the West tumbling after.

So in the short term, by say 2006, not much had changed much. But the world we live in now, and the world it is shaping to be, is a fuller realisation of dystopian post-democratic, techno-totalitarianism that even I imagined, cynical and fearful as I am, cynical and fearful as I was twelve years ago.