Back to the future

A number of different thoughts have seemed to come together recently for me. On the one hand I have been getting more and more anxious about the increase, as I see it, of intolerant articles and attitudes in the press and generally in conversations around me. I have also been getting nostalgic, not unusually for the time of year I suppose, and particularly recently I have been noticing how language has changed over time. Then today I caught Wendy Cope on the radio reading "Two Cures for Love". And it all came together!

Now, I would quote Wendy Cope’s poem, but there are copyright issue involved and I am aware she has strong feelings about her poems being quoted throughout the length and breadth of t’Interweb. And who can blame her? So I hope it will suffice to say that one of her suggested cures for love is to get to know the object of desire better. That should certainly do it (unless it’s true love, of course, in which case we can decide to put up with the foibles.)

The idea that getting to know someone better would make us break a relationship or demonstrate the futility of true love was what made me think that the -isms of the world are based on a lack of love (not a stunning revelation, it is true); it also made me wonder if perhaps we are harsher when we know more about other people. We judge friends more than strangers – this ties into the cult of Celebrity, where we invade the lives of the famous and get to know their every move and every detail of their day-to-day activities, however meaningless and mundane. When we see that others are really just like us, we see their faults as faults, not as exotic behaviours to be studied and catalogued. The example from childhood that I had been contemplating regarding changing terminology was around what we called people of Middle Eastern origin. When I was little we called them Arabians. "Arabian" conjured up romantic images: Rudolph Valentino, Fry’s Turkish Delight, 1001 Arabian Nights, genies and sand dunes and belly dancing, the Foreign Legion and ships of the desert, She who must be obeyed, blue moons and ancient spells.

This meant that as a child, when I met anyone from "Arabia" I was intrigued and fascinated and wanted to learn more. It is true I had strange ideas, from their point of view, but it did mean I thought they were special.

Now it seems we know too much about each other and the magic is gone, just as in a stale relationship: no respect, no mystery, no love. It’s all about who leaves the top off the toothpaste or hair in the sink, and not about our hopes and dreams and human frailty. We feel we need a cure for each other. Our language has evolved and lost the charm. Like the Bible we have moved from King James to Good News; more people understand it but fewer people want to. I am not suggesting we hold Mass in Latin again or anything of that sort, in order to revive Christian fortunes; I am suggesting that sometimes a little mystery is a good thing because the unpredictability and uncertainty keeps us focused and aware of the Other as new and fascinating. Instead of being a rival (taking our jobs, or whatever it is the BNP likes to spout), difference becomes intriguing. A threat comes from something like us, but frighteningly better; difference means that we have not established if a threat exists. It is true we may fear it, and so react badly, but if I am, say, an unemployed (male) plumber, I will worry more about competition from a Polish plumber (or a woman plumber) than a Martian.

Now, I’m not sure I agree with my own conclusions here, because I accept that some people will always be afraid of the unknown, be it Arabians, women or Martians, and that in fear people often react badly. However, I suspect they would react badly whatever the analysis, and I can’t personally provide the support or insight needed to help them over it.  But I do want to put myself back into the position of a child faced with something new. I might ask silly questions, but so long as I make sure they are asked from love not fear, I hope they will not be offensive. Hopefully it could be the start of a beautiful new relationship.

Post-Christmas Spirits

Well, that’s another one over then! It’s a shame it doesn’t last longer, but eldest son went home yesterday (we took him over as there were works on the railway, which meant that probably nothing would work; should be "not-works" really) and the whole family thing is breaking up again after only a few days. <Sighs maternally>.

It was a relaxed affair from my point of view, possibly a little too relaxed as the stress then ratchetted up on 27th when the in-laws came over. We had 16 in total this year, probably about the most I would like in the house at one time. In previous years I have cooked in advance but not this year – what a mistake! I must remember to check back on this post next December to remind my self to do as much beforehand as humanly possible, no matter the effort required on Christmas Eve. Really, you must.

Also I had tried cutting back on what food I got in so although we had plenty of most stuff I did under-estimate the biscuits for the cheese slightly. But then we also had more people arriving at the last minute, so perhaps not such a bad estimate after all.

Presents were good; one might even say "Awesome" – well done to all! No books though, which is always a disappointment, except for a small gem from Santa – The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Really very funny and enjoyable, especially for someone as devoted to reading as myself, and now beginning to blog…

But all these trivial details are not really what I wanted to write about (except the reminders for planning next year). What I was sad to see in the papers was the ongoing snobbery about how people choose to spend the holiday. Let’s take it a step at a time.

Firstly, the papers whip up a frenzy about the economic meltdown, and then go on to emphasise the price cuts and early sales in what is left of the high street. So far, so dull; let’s be English and moan about the state of the world. At the same time let’s get everyone drooling over the price cuts being offered by desperate retailers. If I thought it was an orchestrated attempt to support the retail sector by encouraging retail therapy, I might be less critical. But I don’t, not for a moment.

Because then, when people understandably decide to take advantage of the bargains, it seems to be an opportunity for journalists to sit back and be smug about how we are destroying Christmas and what a dreadful lot of people we (meaning "you") all are. Had it been supportive propaganda for retailers, we might have seen some congratulatory articles about plucky Brits holding back the wave of recession-fuelled angst and wading like Canute against the tide of economic downturn threatening to engulf us all. Yes, we can be heroic and doomed all at once!

If people want to trade unwanted gifts on eBay or get some sales bargains, so what? Firstly, not everyone is celebrating a religious holiday; secondly, better to trade on eBay than throw it in the bin; thirdly, lots of people really enjoy the sales and wait for them as an annual event, or have listened to what they have been told by the media and seized an opportunity with gusto. And fourthly, who do you think you are?

It so happens we have the kind of Christmas that might be termed "traditional", and I’m not a great fan of the sales, so am unlikely to join in with the rush to Selfridge’s. However, I will defend to the utter end the right of others to spend Christmas as they choose (so long as it doesn’t involve mutilating grannies, bombing hospitals or whatever) without criticism. And while I am sure that writing this kind of newspaper article is (a) money for old rope and (b) designed to get a rise out of people like me (well done by the way – I almost went shopping just to annoy you), sometimes I do just wish we could give it a rest. Just for a week. Would it be so hard?

I suppose one of the reasons for this rant is that I was already irritated by the way journalists were writing about how rubbish Woolworth’s were and how no one would miss it because it just sold tat. Well, not everyone can afford John Lewis, and to be honest when Woolworth’s in York closed in the summer, many of us were bereft. I am definitely paying more for the same things now – including, but not exclusively, spare mugs for the office, boxes of chocolate, kitchen utensils, batteries, paper (file, printer and writing), pens, bulbs (garden and light), toys and umbrellas. I dread to think what I will do when we get to Easter because they always had the best selection of Easter Eggs.

So back to Christmas. Why is (almost) everyone being so mean-spirited this year? Just pull yourselves together people! Friends and colleagues have all been as lovely as usual; so the rest of the world needs to take the hint from them, in my opinion.

Apologies for the rather incoherent rant. I do feel a little better now. This probably demonstrates that I need to change the papers I read – although as it was two different ones, perhaps I just need to stop reading the papers altogether.

I can take the cynicism when it is being witty (usually) but these weren’t even amusing. Perhaps I am really complaining about the quality of the humour this year – in fact, do we have a Humour Recession to deal with as well as the rest? Are we facing a slide back to Seventies sit-coms and mother-in-law jokes? It would certainly tie in with the increasingly anti-feminist material we seem to be encountering.

Hmm, off to renew my Wimminly credentials.