Why I Gave Up Opera Singing.

I’ve been mulling this over for the last couple of years, and now it’s time to tell my story. I have given up opera and classical singing. For good. Yeah, I said it. Now, some of you might be thinking “about bloody time”, and others might be thinking, “aw, why?”, and still more of you might be thinking that I’m a quitter, and I lack dedication, and don’t want to put in the hard graft. Well, I have come to a point in my life where it is better to be honest and authentic, than to carry on on a path which I no longer feel any affection for, no excitement and no inspiration. I’m not sad about saying goodbye to this former “dream”, in fact the opposite, I feel a burden has been lifted from my shoulders, which will now allow me to pursue other creative goals, which really do inspire me and excite me.

When I first went to university as a fresher, I was enrolled on a Music Technology degree. I had joined the degree after doing a couple if years studying production and creating music through technology at a local poly, and when that course closed, I was offered a place on the nearest similar pathway. This turned out to be a Foundation Degree. I had hoped to carry on writing and producing my own material, but I found the university a much more competitive, and sometimes downright hostile, environment than the poly, where people were much more egalitarian. The Foundation Degree turned out to be a boy’s club, where, I am ashamed to say, I allowed myself to be sidelined and pushed aside. I finished up the first year, doing most of my work on my home computer, as I could never get studio time because several young men chose to use it as their own private club, making other users feel they were encroaching on their turf. I think I started to suffer with ‘stereotype threat’ which prevented me from doing my best work, and I lost confidence in my abilities. The head of the Music Tech faculty was as much use as a chocolate teapot, often arranging “tutorials” then failing to even turn up for them. I felt the course had become something of a “free for all”, and frustrated that I had not been considered for a high status work placement, which some if the other students had been offered, I chose to migrate from the Music Tech FD to the Music BA proper.

On the Music BA, things were quite different, much better in all truth, and I had the option to switch my “personal tutor” to one who actually took an interest in me, and bothered to attend scheduled tutorials. There was a much more equal mix of male and female students as well, which helped me to feel less awkward and unwelcome. The main difference between the Music Tech course and the Music BA, was that you were expected to study two main instruments and take a performance assessment each term in one of them. I chose to study bass guitar, and voice. As bass is not really a solo instrument, I focused all my energy into singing. At first, I chose to do popular and jazz, but feeling that I was not getting good enough marks for my performance modules, I followed what my fellow students were doing, and switched to classical singing. OK, so I did have an awful singing teacher for the first few months, but I managed to supplement this with self-study and a few private teachers from the local area, until a new singing teacher came to the university who actually was bothered to teach me. She allowed me to experiment with classical and operatic repertoire, which I had previously felt eluded me. I also felt encouraged to join a local chamber choir, two different amateur large scale choruses (the type which perform Messiah and other grand oratorios) and competitive barbershop choir to get the extra practice in. From then on, I managed to catch up and for what it’s worth I started doing a whole lot better in those performance modules. Being able to finally compete was rewarding, and I stuck with it, eventually getting not only my BA (hons), but competing in music festivals and actually winning. I started thinking about becoming a soloist or taking roles in operatic productions. Some of my advisors actually advocated for this, so it wasn’t an impossible goal.

Now this might sound really silly, and it is, given hindsight, but in the early to mid 2000’s there was a bit of a fad for ‘popera’ and ‘classical crossover’. The rise to fame if such artists as Russell Watson, Charlotte Church, Kaff Jenkins, Alfie Boe and the supergroups Il Divo and Amici Forever offered to ‘democratise’ opera, and take it out of the elitist realm into the popular “Top 40” mass media. In the case of G4 and Paul Potts, these ‘opera’ singers were nailing it in the TV talent shows, even if their day job was working at Carphone Warehouse, so this belief was justified. In actual fact, it did nothing of the sort, and several of the “popera” stars, in performing for the likes of Queen Liz and the Pope, proved themselves to be every bit as elitist as the next guy. Even the ones who traded off the idea that they were “common” were every bit as guilty, Alfie Boe might have slept on a park bench and slept through whole opera performances, but who performed at the Jubilee? Precisely. What made this all the more uncomfortable was that a lot of these performers were demonstrable frauds, botching their way through butchered and auto-tuned arias they were unqualified vocally to perform, but receiving the adulation of an ageing and pseudo intellectual public who knew no better. The big joke was, although the popera / classical crossover scene purported to be “democratic”, it actually turned out to be more elitist than proper opera, and deal with big bucks. The whole thing was a hoax which unfortunately sucked millions out of the uneducated public who mistook it for ‘culture’ when really it was commercialised, mass-marketed, low-brow garbage.

As I have discussed before on this blog, I came from a very deprived background. Not especially ‘poor’ but culturally deprived and austere due to my parents collective psychological hang-ups and religious conservatism. I was the first person in the family to even consider going to university, as the ‘liberal arts’ were something to be scorned and scoffed at. Most of my family did military service, cleaning or nursing. There were a couple of uncles of mine who played the organ, but they took zero interest in my musical endeavours or any inclination to support me, which was a huge disappointment. I went to uni on a full grant, but I was very aware that the majority of students did not, and there was a clear class delineation between which students studied classical and popular musics. Maybe it was a bit of confirmation bias, but on one course I was on, a very average soprano was always given the solos, and basically carte-blanch to please herself, (often being hung-over or absent from classes) as her father was a big-wig in a multinational computer company. This kind of thing, unfortunately is common practice in universities, and underlines the intrinsic classism. I had also come to classical singing very late, where most of the others had been having lessons since childhood, and I was already several years older than the majority of the students I was in competition with. This made me even more determined to nail it, and I worked bloody hard, sometimes practicing up to 3 hours plus a day, actually ending up with sessions with a speech therapist because of this. I plugged on regardless. I invested all my time, money and health into this, even though I knew it caused me stress and anxiety.

Obviously, the idea of ‘high society’ enthralled me, and I liked the idea of singing on the stage at the Sydney Opera House in a big flouncy ‘designer’ dress and being given bouquets of flowers. This was a ridiculous idea in hindsight, and I do not know what it was that possessed me to think of things like that, but I saw what was praised and respected and I wanted a piece of it for myself. I bought my dresses from dress agencies when I knew full well that the other girls were getting them bought by ‘daddy’ from House of Frazier for hundreds of pounds. I tried to fit into a society which made me constantly compare myself to others, and it very often was nothing to do with the actual singing, it was about image, status and social climbing. Although I knew I was good, it was ‘imposter complex’ which caused me the most anxiety, the threat of being found out for being cheap and working-class made me try too hard. I remember going out once dressed in a white mini-dress and hair extensions looking like Mariah fucking Carey, for what purpose exactly? I felt compelled to present as hyper-feminine (yea, I know!!) glamorous, sexualised, and even put together a modelling portfolio for my agent of me sulking and pouting like a real diva. Things like this now fill me with deep shame. It was fake, insincere and deep down I actually knew it was, but I thought it would win me approval of the musical establishment which had proved that they value such dedicated effort. Having to compare yourself to other people all the time is stressful and tiring, and it prevents you from actually relaxing and enjoying what you do in case you let the mask slip for one moment and let your secret out. It was hardly any better as I had previously felt unable to achieve my goals in music technology and production because of my gender, and now I was struggling in classical music because of my class, age and highly manufactured ‘image’ I had created to over-compensate for my perceived inadequacies.

I feel I shot myself in the foot over this, as I put my own creativity on the back burner in order to prop up a false identity, and overvalue music written generations ago by old white men, who do not represent me or my experiences. I did exactly what I felt was expected of me, and expected it to pay out with opportunities and status. Which it did, for a while. I’m not going to throw anything back in anyone’s face, as I am truly grateful to those kind people who took an interest in me, encouraged me, and provided me with advice and constructive criticism. You know who you are, and I love you and respect you very much. I very much enjoyed my times studying at the summer schools in Italy, challenging myself with advanced repertoire and really pushing the envelope. I enjoyed West Dean college and Jackdaws as well. I met people who were just as passionate and excited as me, but I also met people who brought me down, threatened me and devalued me. I tried to get into ‘cliques’ which obviously did not want me intruding, and certainly would not welcome me with open arms. In some cases, I was unapologetically shoved out. I even recorded an album in 2011 which had provoked a green ink letter from a local choir leader condemning me as a crap singer and a fraud. On several occasions I was propositioned sexually, in return for favours, which I of course declined. The older ladies in my mum’s circle always praised my ‘beautiful voice’ and I achieved a lot of respect from them, but it was not their adulation I wanted. I wanted it to come from higher up. I had ruined a relationship I had with another local songwriter due to my pretentious behaviour, and brought down hell and damnation on myself. This left me bruised, paranoid and critically damaged my reputation, leading to false accusations being made against me, and a ban from the recording studio where he worked. This was the beginning of the end. It was on returning from Italy in 2014 when I really started to question what it was I wanted. I had been given two solid opportunities which I had not followed through, and to be perfectly honest, I am glad that I didn’t, because I had already dug myself a trench wide and deep which I was struggling to get out of, and this would have made it even deeper. One was to go and study in London at the ENO, on the Baylis project (I’d done a few of their short courses before, but this would have been a post grad) the other, was to go to the midlands to record with an industry Svengali who had been the musical director for such luminaries as Russell Watson, Katherine Jenkins and “Mr Go Compare” himself, Wynne Evans. I could have thrown myself headlong into doing this, but what kept me back was knowing that it would not make me happy. It forced an evaluation of what I really wanted, and caused me to backtrack, going back to playing the guitar and investing in Logic X and doing what I had wanted to do in the first place, create my own music. In all this rabid desire to be accepted into the establishment, I had severely undervalued my own work, and done myself a great disservice.

Being neither fish nor fowl is a hard predicament to be in, continuing to conform to highly-gendered stereotypes of the ‘diva’ singer and the operatic ‘prima donna’ put me at a distinct disadvantage when I was also trying to promote my own work and my own songs. I even found I lost work, and squandered opportunities as people thought they knew what I was all about. I even lost out on auditions for actual pop and rock bands as I was told, oh, we’ve heard your voice and we don’t want that kind of singer. Well, I wasn’t ‘that kind of singer’, I would never sing in an operatic style in a band, but I didn’t get the chance to prove myself. This unfortunately has happened many times, and I can’t blame them for thinking this as for years I had actively promoted myself as an operatic soprano, and I had the newspaper clippings, of my music festival wins, my performance diploma success and public performances to prove it. I was stupid to stamp my own card, secure my own reputation, then think I could just back away from it and do something else which appeared to be the polar opposite of what I’d been telling everyone I could do. Having effectively ruined everything for myself has brought me to this place where, in order to maintain some sanity and to be authentic to myself I have to say ‘enough is enough’. I sacrificed everything to be what people expected me to be, and to prove myself worthy, and now it’s turned around and bitten me in the backside. I can’t really blame anyone for being ‘prejudiced’ against me, when it was me who served to create myself an image I was to be judged by.

I have gone back to guitar and music production now, but am currently taking a little break from performing, instead exploring other avenues such as spoken work, writing this blog and even playing the saxophone. I have no desire to perform as a ‘soprano’ again. I have a few commitments I have to see through, but after that, no more. I make my money by teaching vocals, guitar and ukulele now, which is a lot less stressful that having to maintain a false public facade as a performer. I’m still in charge of a community music project which I hope I’ll build into a successful enterprise by next year. I no longer enter competitions, and have done very little busking this year. I need to rebuild some of my friendships and even apologise for my past behaviour, where I had come over as arrogant, snobbish and pretentious. I am truly ashamed of the way I behaved, and for those things I am truly sorry. Saying it was out of ‘fear of rejection’ is no excuse. Being true to yourself is accepting when you have been wrong and sometimes having to face up to things which frighten and challenge you. I’m currently working through this, as I’ve been wrong to allow myself to be manipulated and moulded by other people’s opinions and judgements. Being told stuff like, you’re too old to do this now, singing pop will ruin your voice, you should aim higher, you are a lyric soprano, you are a dramatic soprano, are you sure you’re even a soprano? I think you’re a mezzo!! (what the actual fach?!) you should wear this or wear that, sing this or sing that, don’t do that because it’s common and ‘unladylike’, why are you wearing a football shirt? Do something with your hair! – stuff like that pulled me in all sorts of directions except the direction I was meant to go and I’m still trying to work that out. I’m going to have another go at running a studio, and I’ve been accepted on a production course at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios next year, which hopefully will rekindle my creativity, which has been at a bit of a loss lately. I can do whatever I like. I don’t want to be boxed in by gender and class stereotypes which make me doubt my own competence. I’m going to go with my instincts and not let other people’s opinions confuse and deter me. I don’t want to be told ‘don’t give up!’ and ‘keep at it, you’ll get there!’ Just because I have invested so much time and effort into this, does not make it any more worthy of salvaging. That’s the classic ‘sunk cost fallacy’ which keeps people trapped in unhealthy situations well after their sell-by date expires. I have wasted enough time on this already, it does not make me happy, and I don’t want to waste another second. Bye bye opera.

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Chasing Rainbows…When Should You Give Up on Your Dreams?

We have all got used to the motivational posters, and the songs encouraging us to keep going, hang in there, and don’t stop believing, but sometimes, giving up on your dream is the only sane option. We all have fantasies of future careers and life goals as children, from wanting to be scouted out for a premier league football team, to getting in the X Factor, to a Disney princess style wedding or becoming an astronaut, none of which are fundamentally grounded in reality. We British love an underdog story, and love to share aspirational tales of people who have beat the odds to achieve great things despite poverty or disability. But the sad truth is, these people are in a minority, and even tho they are inspiring in themselves, and single-minded in their outlook, clinging to future goals and pursuing dreams can stop us from enjoying what life has to offer right now, as we are always looking ahead to futuristic ‘might be’s’, which might never come, no matter how much we are investing in them.

Sometimes these goals are not even our own dreams, but our way of doing what us expected of us by a parent, teacher or spouse. We’ve all been in a position where we have been manipulated into things for want of approval by another. Many young women feel they have to marry and produce offspring just to fulfil commitments to their family, but then feel trapped and unfulfilled once reality kicks in, and they’ve had to give up on their own career or vocation to put their children first. It’s frustrating to be so eager to please everyone except yourself, and you justify this with confusing your dreams with the plans somebody else imposed upon you. You say, “I always dreamed of being a wife and mother”, except that’s not true. You used to dream of being a professional tennis player, but you felt committed to do what was expected of you and threw that by the wayside. Now you know that once the kids have grown up, you’ll be 40 and there will be no chance to start over and do what you really loved.

People might scoff at the high-minded ambitions of the young, and encourage them to set more achievable goals, but this is where people seem to have double standards. You might be told to give up on your astronaut dreams without being encouraged to study engineering, astronomy or physics which would bring you step by step closer to that goal. You might be told to can your dreams of being a professional dancer as your parents can’t afford the coaching, but you might not be introduced to community dance projects and scholarships. You might not be scouted out for Manchester United, but getting involved in grass-roots football could be extremely rewarding and is a million miles away from the capitalistic and cut throat world of the premier league. You can make it work, maybe not in the way you’d envisioned, but in a way which is deeply satisfying and inspirational, and will help the next generation of kids reach for their dreams. You should be open to exploring options rather than investing in one hyper focussed obsession, unable to see the wood for the trees.

Giving up on your dream, as an adult is a different story. I have been forced to examine myself recently regarding my own “dream” or becoming an opera singer. The more we invest in an idea, the more we tend to cling on to it. Taking on courses, the practice regimen and exams is hard work, and costs a lot of money. I was recently introduced to the idea of the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, which pretty much explains it, the more I invested in the idea, the more I wanted to believe in a future pay out. I am not quitting because I believe myself to be a failure, maybe I didn’t get that ‘big break’, but I can’t honestly say I am disappointed with my own performance at all. I feel discomfort in holding up a facade which never really fitted me, and continually banging my head against a brick wall by trying to be something people expected me to be instead of just being myself. I listened to the advice of other people, instead of trusting my own instincts, and that made me into a rather unpleasant person, which I am deeply sorry about. I wanted to do what was considered ‘acceptable’ and ‘respectable’, in the eyes of the ‘establishment’, even tho it was not right for me.

People are very judgemental of adults who “give up”. They are weak, they lack commitment, they are quitters. All negative judgements, feeding into the idea that if you stick to your guns, and single-mindedly pursue your goals, in the end you’ll be a winner. I used to believe that, and have had to ask myself, what keeps me going, what makes me want to get up in the morning? I clung to the idea that opportunity was just around the corner, but that is putting faith much more in “luck” than “skill”. I long ago realised that I no longer had a passion for opera singing, I found it tedious, and even the thought of performing now was giving me none of the thrill it once did. I realised that, my true passion was the same as it always had been, as a young kid, in writing and production. People, who I think genuinely wanted to foster my talent and encourage me took me onto another path, and I went along with it, genuinely believing this dream to be my own, and for a while, it excited and inspired me, I was thrilled at the progress I was making and it led me to fantasise about success. But it stopped me from experimenting and pursuing the things I really loved.

Anti-quitter rhetoric just gets people stuck in relationships they are trying to make work, and on career paths which give them no job satisfaction. When you have invested so much into an idea, it makes giving it up even harder. You know you’ll get scorned for giving up and be seen by others as unreliable and lacking commitment. This is a very judgemental and unhealthy viewpoint. If you can’t try out other things, and switch tack once in a while, how will you ever find your true calling and where your true talents lie? Trust your gut more, when something feels wrong and makes you uncomfortable, it us usually because it is wrong, and no amount of adaptation will make it right and make a round peg fit into a square hole. Don’t let people talk you out if giving up if you feel you really have to. Taking this burden away will give you a new strength to pursue other options instead of boxing yourself into a way of life which no longer represents you.

Messages like “Don’t give up” and “Hang in there” might be motivational, but what about “Don’t get stuck in a rut” and “Don’t beat your head against a brick wall”? In those cases, don’t be ashamed to just up and go. If your dream no longer makes you happy, there is no shame in abandoning it for something which does. Life’s too short to waste on chasing rainbows – when the rainbows have faded to gray.
Nobody has the right to judge you for it.

Russ Shipton – The Complete Guitar Player Book 1 Review

When I first started teaching, I was rather befuddled with the amount of guitar tutor books available on the market. There are literally hundreds to choose from, some aimed squarely at children, and giving a good basis in music theory, some inclined towards classical music, and a few, like the popular Rock School range, aimed at rock and pop players. As a lot of my students are adult beginners, it’s a little more difficult to find appropriate teaching materials for them which will get them playing proper songs from day one, instead of getting bored playing nursery rhymes.

I remember being introduced to the Russ Shipton books as a teenager by my guitar teacher, and what made them attractive was that it starts right in page one with proper songs you can strum and sing along to, so you feel you are making progress quickly and you have something you can perform to your friends or parents. It’s very rewarding having a good few stock three chord songs you can perform from lesson one, especially if you are a confident and able singer. The Russ Shipton course is best for self accompaniment, rather than focusing on lead guitar technique, it’s squarely focussed on the folk / rock singer songwriter genre, and features songs by such luminaries as Elton John, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Donovan and Eric Clapton. If you are not a confident singer, you can still brush up your skills playing the chords, but you won’t get much mileage out of the songs. If this is you, I’d suggest starting with the Ernie Ball series, or Rock School Grade 1, which steers you more towards lead guitar / solo playing.

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The songs included in Book 1 are :
Mull of Kintyre – Wings
The Times They are a Changing – Bob Dylan
Candle in the Wind – Elton John
Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan
Hey Jude – The Beatles
Catch the Wind – Donovan
Mr Tamborine Man – Bob Dylan
Me and Bobby McGee – Kris Kristofferson
Love is all Around – The Troggs
Scarborough Fair – traditional folk song
Why Worry? – Dire Straits
Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton

The format is a little funny in that the verse or chorus of the song is presented as a “warm up” or as a lesson, but the rest of the song lyrics and chords are in the back of the book, meaning you have to keep flipping to the back to play the whole song unless you either have a good memory or rewrite them on to one page. A few of the songs have the melody line mapped out in a very idiosyncratic style, I guess of Mr Shipton’s own invention, but it would have been better to show this in tablature or standard notation. It’s not particularly helpful, and best ignored.

Each song has its own strumming patterns, and tries to introduce folk guitar concepts like alternating thumbed bass patterns, this is very clearly laid out and easy to understand.

Pros :

Proper songs, not nursery rhymes
Strumming patterns
Clear and easy to read

Cons :

No tabulature for melody
No stave notation
Hasn’t been updated to include more recent songs.

It would have been nice if the updated version included more up to date songs, especially more by female artists, like a lot of guitar teaching materials (especially ones from the 70’s and 80’s) it is very male oriented, this includes the photos and illustrations unfortunately, and may not be suitable for some female students who could become demotivated by it and feel they are not being represented.

Perfect for adult beginners and confident folk / pop singers who wish to accompany themselves on guitar.
Not suitable for those who wish to play lead guitar solos.
It’s not really a “complete” method, so the title is a bit misleading, but it’s a great starter book for newbies, especially older beginners.

8 / 10

Why Does Christianity Attract Angry Men?

I was out at the Carnival a few weeks ago, when I was unfortunate enough to run into a man who I had had a few problems with in the past. This man had previously been to the music community project I run, and whist I was kind and tolerant of him for a while, it became obvious that he was a narcissist and wanted everything to revolve around him. As an older man, in his 60’s, he took me for “fair game” and someone who could be bullied, and as his behaviour escalated, I realised I’d have to get the local police community support officer to back me up. The guy actually nearly had the project shut down because of shoplifting and bringing his booty back to the youth centre, and smoking marijuana on the premises. This of course, was a great laugh to him. Some people actually stopped coming because he frightened them away with his outbursts. Once he was barred, I didn’t see him around for months, which was great, it was peaceful again and we could get on with making music and having fun again without having to worry about this belligerent and egotistical idiot ruining things for everyone.

No having seen him for months, I was surprised to see him out at the carnival, and I at first didn’t know whether to speak to him. Not speaking would cause him to say I was “stuck up”, so I thought that I should at least acknowledge him. I’d heard he’d become a “Born Again Christian”, which I doubted as he was such a serious stoner, but I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he’d cleaned up? Bad mistake. I didn’t really expect him to do anything more that grunt at me, but what he actually did was a huge shock. “I live in Christ, and Christ lives in me!” He shouted, “I don’t need to be on the BBC’s (sic) gravy train, I live in the Lord!” (this was an erroneous reference to Britain’s Got Talent) He continued lambasting me and calling me all the names under the sun (arsehole was one of them) then laying into me regarding my costume, I had worn my Star Trek uniform to the carnival, and this apparently made me a sinner of the lowest degree, “Star Trek won’t save you, I’m saved, I live in Christ!” He continued rambling, obviously completely out of his tree and drawing an audience.

This objection to Star Trek by fundie christians I’ve come across before, as they perceive it as being, not a thoughtful and well-written Sci-Fi entertainment show, but a devilish false religion. Hearing it from this guy, an old stoner who’s in the last been known to make passes at under aged kids and rant drunkenly in the street just makes me think he’s finally met his “people” some group of bigots who’ll encourage his crazy behaviour and deem it “godly”. This is not without reason. Our town hosted a well-supported LGBTQIA Pride event in the summer, and in the run up to it, this guy was threatening to go there to “harass the queers and bum boys”. Now, for any “normal” person, this might seem like unacceptable behaviour, but to certain vocal minorities if the so-called “Christian” church, it’s actively encouraged.

I have had dealings with these kinds of people, nay, men before. Sure, there are bigoted and angry women, but nothing comes close to the “foaming at the mouth with righteous anger” acted out by these bitter menfolk. Growing up with the Plymouth / Open Brethren I saw some crazy outbursts, usually aimed at single mothers or their children, but I have also seem similar crazy attention seeking behaviour among other denominations, especially the evangelicals, who seem to be influenced by a lot of superstition and American propaganda. A while back, I sat and silently listened to the conversation two late middle-aged men were having at a local church community centre. They seemed to be of the mindset that it was terrible that Britain had been disarmed and that the only way to stop bad guns with guns, was to have good guys with guns. They seemed really sold on the American far-right NRA rhetoric, and were trying to apply it to our country. (This was a few months before the murder of MP Jo Cox) When I did finally challenge them about it, they told me that I’d be a good prize for a Muslim rapist. Which is can awful thing to say about anybody.

Another local character and supposed “Christian” is a Neo Nazi who uses his supposed Christianity to justify his racism, homophobia and misogyny. He is particularly fond of rioting, demonstrations and beating his children. He justifies himself biblically, and has managed to ingratiate himself into several christian meetings, despite everyone knowing who he is, and how dangerous he is. There are several other race-baiting Christian nationalists with similar beliefs, they tend to flock together and back each other up, but this guy is by far the worst, and he’s infamous for it. He’s especially well known for getting married to a disabled woman who he physically abused, landing her in hospital less than three weeks after their marriage. This conflation of being a Christian with being a white nationalist is especially confusing when you consider that Jesus was a middle-eastern Jew and highly unlikely to have been an Aryan. The typical Britain First raving nutbar might not be religious, attend church, and might actually be atheist, but they associate with nominal Christianity because they associate it with a vague notion of “Britishness”, just as they are likely to conflate anyone with darker skin than them with being a Muslim, therefore dangerous, even if they are Baha’i, Sikh, Jewish or even another Christian. These angry men are by far the most divisive and instead of reasonable discourse, just think shouting and violence will solve everything.

There are several angry and spiteful pastors who obviously attract an angry and spiteful following. One is the leader of the famous “Faithful Word” baptist church, Pastor Steven Anderson. He is a self-righteous “biblical partriarch” who has about ten children (I’m guessing he’s Quiverfull although he doesn’t promote himself as a follower of this cult) by a submissive and sheepish wife Szuszanna. The BBC made a documentary about him a year or so back called “America’s Hate Preachers” which profiles some of his more outrageous sermons, including his call for homosexuals to be murdered, and a prayer vigil he held for Obama to die and go to hell. He’s openly celebrated the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and the Bataclan massacre in Paris saying that the victims were paedophiles and Satanists who deserved to die. When challenged onscreen about beating his wife and children, he answered that it “would be a sin not to”. Like most sects who believe in male headship, this justification of domestic violence as “godly discipline” is rife in white, Protestant communities, with some authors, like the infamous Debi and Michael Pearl, publishing manuals on how to carry out the most physical and emotional abuse on their disobedient and worldly wives and children and but leaving the fewest visible marks. They are entirely of the conviction that the Bible tells them to beat their families into submission, despite Jesus never promoting violence and child abuse. Not all are white tho of course, famous prosperity preacher Creflo Dollar also came under the spotlight for punching and choking his daughter, then aged 15, who called 911 on him.

The other celebrity pastor popular with the ranting, angry macho men is a strange character called Todd Bentley, of the Florida Lakeland revival. He is heavily bearded and tattooed head to foot, and used to have a sideline as a wannabe wrestler, which of course makes him all the more attractive. More worryingly, he promotes violence and physical assault in his sermons, often with the intention of “healing”, which is quite frankly ridiculous. Some of the things he’s bragged about from the pulpit is curing an Asian man’s toothache by punching his tooth out, kicking an elderly woman on the face, and “leg-dropping” a pastor, claiming that the Holy Spirit told him to do it. His followers are biker types, hard rock fans and WWE fans, who actually find this dangerous doctrine amusing, and see him as “one of the boys”, I can see why this appeals when a lot of christian sects condemn tattoos and rock music, so seeing a pastor “owning” it is revolutionary. It’s a shame he’s such a bad ‘un. Mr Bentley has a criminal record, for sexually abusing a young boy, and assaulting his own mother, so quite how this ties in with their “homophobia” and obsession with liberals being paedophiles is beyond me. I suppose they could justify the elder abuse if they consider his mother to be “disobedient” and “worldly”. He’s also had numerous extra marital affairs with women from his worship team, which make him a hypocrite of the highest order.

These pastors, and others like them make the Westboro Baptist look like a humorous self-parody, which I feel that have become since the death of their patriarch Fred Phelps. These angry and violent men are no longer confined to America. (Thanks to some sensible action by then home secretary Theresa May, both Bentley and Anderson are banned from the UK) Too much American evangelical propaganda is being consumed in the UK which promotes the false idea of “moral decline” and places the blame squarely on “Feminazis”, “queers” “Marxists” and “coloured” folks. It’s obvious why the disenfranchised white working class man, expecting a job for life, a sexy and submissive wife to make them sandwiches and dozens of adoring God fearing kids, feel cheated that women aren’t so crazy about the idea and that there are actually people from other races who are probably better educated and more intelligent than they are, which comes as a huge shock when you’ve been brought up to believe otherwise. Then there is the bogeymen they construct, the fear that trans people want to molest their children and there are aborted foetuses in Pepsi Cola. One strange German “Christian” accosted a friend of my mum’s a few years back because she was wearing a tiger’s eye (semi-precious stone) ring, which he said was possessed by the devil, before forcing it from her finger and throwing it into a field. She was shocked and appalled and should rightfully have gone to the police as this was a mixture of assault and criminal damage.

Like the “friend” I met out at the carnival, these bogeymen further fuel their mania, with him it was Star Trek and the BBC which boiled his piss, but it really can be anything, ranging from the “occult” (crystals, tarot cards, Harry Potter) to more puzzling things like smelly candles (portals to hell), troll dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids (which give women abortions) Some even still believe the old stories about playing rock music backwards to get a message from the devil. Pat Robertson is good at creating these bogeymen, and has, for his sins claimed that lesbians were behind 9/11 and gay people have a magic ring to give you AIDS. The fact that even after all these years the 700 Club still has such a devoted following shows just how gullible people are. Pat Robertson’s laughing all the way to the bank. Of course, there are plenty of other wompy YouTubers monetising this paranoia, from Trumpians Jim and Lori Bakker, eager to sell their canned goods in the event of a zombie Apocalyse, (to prevent people from eating human flesh) to the rape apologists from A Voice For Men and similar sites, terrified of the matriarchy and “cultural marxist” takeover making men extinct. (especially if they are white men, they have an obsession with ‘cuckold porn’ and race-mixing leading to “white genocide”)

I tend to avoid churches now, even tho most mainstream denominations such as the Catholic Church, URC and Church of England are not into all this propaganda, and some are devoted to teaching love and acceptance, looking more progressive by the day, by welcoming LGBT people and ordaining women. Because of this, they tend to lose their cranks to the sects, the Brethren, the JW and the independent home churches who are loosely evangelical / Pentecostal / charismatic, and consume a lot of American alt-right literature and media. A few bad apples is all it takes to frighten people away from Christianity for good, so these men are doing the exact opposite of “winning souls for the Kingdom” by using angry and threatening behaviour instead of practicing the love of Christ, so in that way, you could say they are the ones doing the devil’s work. (They do like the idea that Jesus was angry and spiteful too, citing stories like the cursing of the fig tree and kicking the money changers out of the temple as examples) The only people they attract to their fellowships are more hateful and violent men, just the same as they are, making it a self-fulfilling prophesy that Christianity is a religion for angry white men, where women and LGBT folk are unwelcome. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is obviously an irony wasted on them.

EDIT

For those of you still worried that Star Trek might be a satanic cult, I have to add this video of Vic Mignogna, who stars as Captain Kirk in the fantastic crowd funded series “Star Trek Continues” totally owning Christian protesters at an Anime/Comic Con. Vic is also a voice artist for several anime shows and was a founder member of Christian rap group “dc talk”.

You can check out his work here.

https://www.facebook.com/StarTrekContinues/

Lidl “Bitterol” (Aperol clone) Review

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So Lidl’s famous Bitterol liquor is back in stores, hooray! I was first introduced to Aperol in Tusacany, where I was first attracted to the neon orange colour, and wondered what it was. I then tried an Aperol spritz ice lolly at a festival in Wales which was ridiculously expensive. Aperol spritz cocktails seems to be pretty pricy, Slug and Lettuce charges £10.75 for the pleasure of something you can recreate cheaply at home.

Basically Aperol, and Lidl’s clone product Bitterol is an Italian bitter aperitif made with natural bitters, orange oil and quinine. It’s rarely consumed neat, but mixed two parts Aperol, two parts Prosecco and topped up with soda water and ice cubes for a perfect refreshing summer drink. I chose Lidl’s own bog standard Prosecco, which cost just £5.99 and topped up with 49p fizzy water, job done.

I’m no expert, but I can’t taste any significant difference between Bitterol and Aperol, they both contain the same ingredients, and when mixed into the classic cocktail, I’d challenge anyone to tell the difference. At just. £7.99 a bottle, the Lidl product is almost half the price of the Aperol at £14.99, so if your hosting a late summer barbecue and want the authentic flavour of northern Italy, this is a must, and quite a bargain.

Boiling a Frog – Life with the Open Brethren (Pt.3)

As I mentioned in part 2, the Brethren are self-governed, so it is really difficult to keep track of what they actually believe, or indeed, who is in charge. Like the rather more liberal Quakers, they are anti-clergy, and gave no paid full time priest or pastor. They have a very vague leadership, which is made up of a elect circle of men who they call the Elders. These elders can be from any Brethren sect, Exclusive, Closed, Plymouth or Open, but the lines are so blurred now it’s hard to tell one from another. They tend to avoid “labels” and just call themselves “Christians”, despite being deeply distrustful of other Christians from other denominations. In this case, the self appointed leader was Phillip Watkinson, and the Elders just his mob of sycophants.

Having been formerly in Church of England Sunday school, I had a very naive view of the clergy, I thought that people went away and trained in seminary for years before they took to the pulpit to convey the truth to their parishioners. I had the upmost respect for preachers, believing that they were well-read, knowledgable and wise, and I took this belief with me to the Brethren assembly. If I had known then what I know now, I would not have been so respectful. None of the preachers had any credentials or had studied anywhere, they just basically stood up at the front of the assembly hall and pulled stuff out of their arse for about an hour, and everyone sit and listened in rapt silence. A preacher I remember coming was the “guest speaker from High Wycombe”. He was an old man and an old school “fire and brimstone” Bible Basher. I always dreaded him preaching, and a lot of the younger kids would be in tears. He was particularly obsessed with “loose women” and as several of the kids were there with their mums, who had separated from their partners, he singled them out as being jezebels and especially corrupt. He had no problem in actually pointing to people from the lectern and screaming at them they were on a fast track to hell. A single mother I knew well, as I was friends with her son, had a handful of tracts thrust at her, by an Elder who aggressively ordered her to read them, needless to say she was very offended and upset. Her boyfriend had left her for another woman when her son was a little boy, so he was raised without a father, and she did not like the Brethren blaming her for it. Without knowing the whole story, it was always “blame the woman”. Some of these kids and their mums left the assembly over this sort of thing, the faux moralising only really condemned women, but not men, as a lot of the women had had solid reasons for separating from their partners due to domestic violence, infidelity etc. The Brethren are against divorce, even if there is sexual abuse, coercion or any other bad things going on in the relationship. A lot of Brethren wives just put up and shut up whilst their husbands partake of criminal acts or have tawdry affairs, even forgiving the husband and taking him back afterwards. Women’s opinions and experiences count for nothing, and complaining is just seen as being cantankerous and trouble-making.

This form of preaching tho, actually appealed to men, much like a lot of the “Red Pill” and “Men’s Rights” stuff on the Internet does. The young men who were secretly recruited to the special “men’s groups’ did nothing to hide their disdain for women. They liked the idea of landing themselves a nubile submissive who’d be duty-bound to make them sandwiches and give them sex on tap. The women, especially the ones born and raised in the Brethren, lived with what can only be described as a kind of “Stockholm Syndrome”, and equally defended the status-quo by vocally criticising young women they saw as wanton husseys and disobedient. These women were seen as the true downfall of men, who drove them to extreme sexual and violent behaviour by making them do it. My father was a very sick man, who too was brought up with a very old-school attitude to gender roles. The same goes for my cousin’s father, another very angry and self-righteous man, also prone to temper-tantrums and controlling behaviour. The Brethren did not see this as a problem, and even when I sought help because if my father’s violent outbursts and tantrums, I was told by Elaine, (Phillip’s wife) that she always felt sorry for him having to live with two women who hated him, and if we honoured and obeyed him it wouldn’t happen. She just wrote off his spoilt child outbursts as being somehow our fault, for not following “God’s Laws”. My mum had been influenced by the Exclusive Brethren as a young woman, and she was very torn up about her marriage vows to my father, and because she did not believe in divorce, she really didn’t know what to do, she was at her wit’s end, and suffering from depression and frustration, as she had no where to go and no one to help her. She fostered a very stoic attitude, and just sucked it up and pretended that everything was alright, even tho it obviously was not. Even now, crippled with Parkinson’s disease she finds it very difficult to talk about these times and the abuse she suffered, even tho I have encouraged her to seek help from a counsellor or psychologist.

At this time I did not know that I was asexual, and that being asexual was not a crime but a valid sexual orientation, just like being gay or bisexual. I knew I felt deeply uneasy about being female, but I did not even know that trans people existed, let alone that I might be one. Trans women, I basically saw as ‘trannies” and sexual deviants, sick depraved people not to be trusted, and I didn’t even know that transmen even existed. It felt impossible to be a FtM trans person as men were so special and honoured, they were bigger, stronger and more intelligent than women, and God had put them in place to control us, we were created as ‘helpmeets”, forged from their ribs to be their housewives, sexual partners and mothers to their children. They even support this “scientifically” by falsely claiming that men have one less layer of skin, and one less rib than the “weaker sex”, because this was taken in order to construct Eve. They are very idealistic about the idea of men representing the “Headship” or Christ, and being the “protector” of his wife and children, as a kind of domestic tribalism. The man’s nature or ability to be a leader was never called into question, and there were certainly several men of low IQ married to smart, intelligent women who just had to stay silent and nod approval whist quietly seething at their husband’s sanctioned stupidity.

Not really relating to being a “sister” put me in a very uncomfortable position. I never wanted to wear a head covering, so never brought one to assembly. They kept some spare headscarf and berets in the “ladies room” to loan women who didn’t have them, but I politely declined. Seeing my cousin, my former best friend get so entrenched into the Brethren inner circle was very upsetting and made me feel very isolated. As kids we were inseparable, and had a lot in common, enjoying playing video games and making music, two things which the Brethren consider “worldly” and inappropriate for “christians” to participate in. I felt torn between doing things which I loved, or being silent and submissive and being “saved”. When I broke down in tears, as I often did, I was rebuked and told that if I was upset it was because I was disobedient and had wrong things in my life and the Lord was convicting me of my sins. It was the other older ladies in the assembly who never approved of anything I did, even when I went to college to do an IT course they turned their nose up at it, as it would not prepare me to be a wife and mother. I came to believe that that was my only goal, to marry some pre-approved man who was an upstanding Christian (ie Brethren) with a big Bible under his arm and who “lived by God’s Laws”, and everything would be okey dokie and I’d be happy with my lot. Even my mum, who’d been brought up with these values supported this idea, because she above all, wanted me to be happy. There is so much self-deception going on among the Brethren wives, it’s unbelievable. They are not allowed to have jobs or follow any career paths themselves, but a lot do clerical work for their husbands and fathers businesses, before being married into godly domestic bliss to become fertile and fruitful mothers. Women who fail at this, and are ‘barren’ have to live with their shame, and blame their own sinful nature rather than question their husband’s fertility.

The problem with the older ladies, brought up in the assembly, is that they frame their criticisms as being in your best interests, and that they only want you to be happy. Their idea of happiness, and success, is to have an affluent husband and a bountiful family, the more children the better. It’s confusing when you think that you want other things, a career, a skill or vocations other than that, but you start to question yourself and come to believe that your highest calling is motherhood, however unsuited to it you might be. Going to college or university is looked down upon, as hotbeds of liberalism and sin. My hobbies as a teenager tended to raise eyebrows, being into computers and electronics was considered mannish, and Science Fiction (and just about any TV tbh) was considered demonic and subversive, (I’m sure they held specific affection for Spock) and popular music was all “the Devil’s music”. At this particularly liberal assembly, they actually allowed an organist to accompany their hymn singing, but guitars and drums were especially corrupt, and in a rather racist, xenophobic twist to this already fucked-up world view were derided as ‘jungle music from Africa’ to call up demons. I kept my interests to myself, so now the music and movies I watched felt like sinful indulgences, decadent and wrong, which made me feel guilty and unclean. I truly wanted to believe that if I could rid myself of these things, and find myself a good husband, I would be blessed and brought happiness in the form of healthy, male children who I could vicariously live through.

I’m sure most of the Brethren kids were severely repressed and lived in fear that Jesus was watching them wank, and I know as a fact several who were gay, bisexual or had otherwise queer identities that they had to keep under their hats. Kids born into the Brethren tend to get earmarked for marriage early, and there is a lot of matchmaking between the parents, not exactly arranged marriage, more like steered by suggestion. There is a lot of kudos for a family marrying off their daughter to the son of a successful and affluent Brethren businessman. There was a nice family at the assembly, who were mixed race, which was unusual. Both parents were doctors, the mother was white and the father was North African. I think they were tolerated because of their wealth and status, Phillip and Elaine liked a bit of social climbing and to associate themselves with people they thought to be successful. Their children were a bit of a mixed bag, both boys had homosexual tendencies, the younger of which later came out as gay. One of the girls was rather like me, but more sporty, a tomboy who was always being mistaken for a boy. She used to wear a reversed baseball cap in her anarchic homage to the silly hat rule. Still, despite the family being “nice”, and one of the only decent families there, you have to wonder why they subscribed to the Brethren philosophy. I think it may have been because the father had been a member of a strict African sect, and he certainly did have Islamic relatives who were even more conservative than he. The youngest daughter did exactly what was expected of her, and married an upstanding young man who was the son of one of the visiting preachers from another assembly, and soon got to work making babies. As for the others, who knows?

If you were raised in the Brethren, and were Brethren born and bred, my heart goes out to you. It was back enough being from a conservative home and coming into the assembly as a teenager. Being a lonely teenager, recently put out of school, the isolation led me to look for friendship among these people who professed to love and care for me, but only wanted to shoehorn me into their little box. They had ideas about all young girls being slutty teeny-boppers with short skirts who were going to get pregnant and bring shame on their families, so being asexual, I was seen as moral and chaste by them, as if asexuality meant some kind of self-sacrifice and denial. I did not realise than that they had misread my asexuality as a pure and noble self-enforced celibacy rather than a legit sexual orientation. Virginity is fetishised, and seen as purity, whereas being asexual is ‘queer’ and therefore deviant and dangerous, and meant I could not be trusted to fulfil my wifely duties as would be expected of a sister of marriageable age. I had no interest in short skirts and low cut tops, but this was not motivated by modesty, but the severe embarrassment of my body betraying me and growing bits I was not entirely happy about. After puberty, I only ever wore lose fitting t-shirts, usually with Star Trek or Star Wars designs, baggy 1990’s style “Madchester” jeans and high-top Pony trainers. This tendency to dress very masculine disappointed them, who would have rather I was dressing in long Laura Ashley print dresses and floppy hats and trying to court a husband, who had been “suggested” to me by the Elders as a good catch. The “chastity” they used to approve now turned to resentment that I wasn’t in any hurry to marry one of their sheepish and spotty youths with a scruffy KJV under his arm, a dark dandruff-spotted suit, and a badly knotted tie. I have more sympathy for the boys now than I did back then. being held to standards which were impossible to maintain, always worrying about sinning and provoking the anger of the Elders, who had the power to bring them blessings or curses on a whim. It’s no wonder they were so nervous, expected to be fine upstanding godly men, and the Elders of the future.

Mountains out of Molehills

When my mum first took my cousin, then aged about 12, to Christchurch near Bournemouth, the first time he saw the scruffy 1950’s tower blocks, he exclaimed excitedly, “Look Auntie June – Skyscrapers!”

When a person has led a sheltered life, or has lived in poverty and deprivation, it’s easy for little things, which most people would pay little attention to, to be blown into epic proportions. The more cloistered the person, the more easily overwhelmed with the things others would consider trivial and hardly worth bothering with.

Like my cousin, I was brought up ultra-conservative, and living on an island, it felt as if the island was the entire world. Visits to the “mainland” occurred less than once a year, and usually comprised of coach trips to attractions, which added to the unreality of it all. My father was a very austere and frugal man, who hated spending money. Even his so-called friends considered him mean and tight fisted. He liked to live as a hermit, and this was sad in retrospect, as being an only child most people mistakenly perceived me as spoilt and over indulged, when the reverse was actually true. Mum tried her best by me by about twice a year taking me on a coach trip to a place of interest, usually her interest mind you, but a welcome day out. My father rarely came, as he did not even see any need to visit the neighbouring town let alone go across the water. I wonder now if he had some kind of undiagnosed agoraphobia which might have explained his odd reticent behaviour. He had come from London, but had never taken me there, to the mysterious home town of his youth. What I knew of that city was from daytime TV and Eastenders. Roland Rat lurked under King’s Cross station in his “Rat Cave”, with a network of tunnels to race his Ford 100e whilst going “yeeaahhh”. It wasn’t a real place.

When I was 8 years old, I entered a competition on TVS, my regional ITV station, to draw a holiday location for their strange foamy bumblebee mascot of summer holiday kid’s telly, Ivor Hunnypot. I forgot about this, not expecting to win anything, until I got a letter, in TVS’s retro brown on cream notepaper, that I would be flown to Southampton on their tiny Britten-Norman eight seater plane, with my mum and dad, to visit Ashurst Butterfly Farm, which would be filmed for the show. My father had been in the army, so was no stranger to flying, but my mum, all of 40 had never flown before and hid her fear by consuming miniature bottles of whisky whilst holding back tears, and slightly trembling. Looking back now, I think this was extremely sad. Going on package holidays abroad like the other mums was impossible, as impossible as going to the land of Oz, or riding on a dragon. Most people take this for granted. Certainly other kids used to come back from summer holidays jabbering about the fun they had had in France or Spain, flying on commercial jets and riding donkeys, and I felt deeply disappointed that this was not an option for me. On the occasion I had taking my reading book “Mark and Mandy go to Spain” to my father and asked if we could go, my father angrily reacted, “What do you want to go there for? Greasy fucking bastard Spaniards”. I didn’t ask again.

Being met at the local airport by one of their kids TV presenters Gordon Radley was to me like a visitation from Christ himself. It was not even a pleasurable experience, but extremely intense and overwhelming. My mum, clad in a white fur coat she had bought for the occasion was still chugging miniatures and pretending to be calm for my sake. My father was silent and passive aggressive. We were flown into Southampton airport, where we were shuttled to the ITV studios where we got a cheap meal in the canteen courtesy of the show’s production manager, a quick tour of the newsroom and soundstage, before being taxied to the Butterfly Farm for my so-called “treat”, which was being filmed all the time by a camera man on a hand held 8mm.

My overriding memory of this day was awkward. I was being told on the one hand that I had won a prize and this was meant to be it, but being taken to an indoor greenhouse with free flying butterflies, (I was actually terrified of them) going for a brief ride on their enormous and scary carthorse and being awarded a porcelain horse statue and a gift certificate for a return visit, was actually rather pedestrian. My mum trying to be glamorous whilst slightly drunk and my father being detached and awkward didn’t help matters. I was supposed to be enjoying this, and I can’t really say that I did. The presenter, Gordon, tried to be friendly and jolly me along which made it worse and even more embarrassing. There was a lot of smiling and pretending to enjoy myself but it was false.

After we got back home, there was a lot of feeling that this was a much bigger and more important event than it had been. I’d flown in a plane for the first time. Mum had worn her fur coat. I’d met Fred Dineage. I’d eaten soft scoop ice cream in the TVS canteen, and spilt my Ribena on their crisp white tablecloth. But that was it. It got worse after they showed the edited, silent, three minute film on TV. The presenter managed to get my address and name wrong, but it didn’t matter, me, my mum and dad were immortalised on film now, and that was spellbinding. They even sent us a VHS tape of it to us (we didn’t even have a videotape player then) so it could be shown at my school. This was when things went from bad to worse.

Kids nowadays are so used to YouTube and filming stuff on their phones that they do not take any notice of the moving image anymore. It’s lost it’s mystery and magic, just like the conjuror’s box, wobbling slightly on the stage due to the movements of the frustrated bunny concealed inside. From the way in which the other kids, and somewhat more disappointingly, the teachers behaved, anyone would think that I had been cast in a Hollywood blockbuster. The school had chosen to show that blasted VHS in assembly, so kids were angry, and parents were jealous. It seems odd now looking back how this was made into such a big thing, when really it wasn’t. Maybe part of that was due to me being overly impressed by having met a celebrity and seeing myself on the small screen. I don’t know. The jealously soon turned to bullying and whenever I had a spat with another kid, they had to bring up the bogeyman Ivor Hunnypot (who nobody even remembers, even a google search couldn’t find him!) and that prestigious non-event. I felt haunted by it, even up to high school, when I’d gone and won yet another tin-pot little kids TV contest. People remembered it, and still resented me because of it. They said I’d cheated, I couldn’t draw, my parents did it for me, it was fixed, any excuse for not being gracious and happy for me.

Just like my cousin and his wide eyed awe at Bournemouth’s “skyscrapers” and my fantasies about London being the supernatural residence of Roland Rat and Stock/ Aitken/ Waterman, this three minutes of fame was fetishised and blown out of any proportion. I can’t remember what happened to the original tape, I threatened to destroy it several times in angry frustration, (throwing it off of the Isle of Wight ferry was one idea) often wishing I had never even bothered to enter that dumb drawing competition. I didn’t get money. I didn’t get a foot on the fame ladder. I got cheap jibes and embarrassing moments of people bringing it up like it was the only thing I’d ever achieved, my epitaph, my footnote in history. I pictured myself, maybe aged 80 and in an old folks’ home being forced to watch this VHS, over and over, ad nauseum, haunted by the psychedelic strains of “The Butterfly Ball” which was dubbed onto the soundtrack. I wonder now about the kiddies who get BGT auditions, or get on other TV reality shows, will the same thing happen to them? Is it really worth it?

A couple of years later I won another drawing contest in Thames TV, for drawing Geoff Capes, the famous budgie-loving strongman pulling a Southern Vectis bus. I was supposed to be getting an invite to the CCTV set, but due to strike action, I got sent an tracksuit instead. When my mum objected to this, they lumped me in with a school group to go see the Commonwealth Exhibition, and meet Glenis Kinnock, wife of the then leader of the opposition. I got to meet a few low-rent z list celebrities that day, which caused me to hyperventilate and go bright red, but I do not remember any of them except Annika Rice, and I’m sure none are still famous. As this didn’t involve flying, my mum was a bit more relaxed, but again, my father was passive aggressive and withdrawn all the day. Staying overnight at Richmond for free, he resented having to buy a meal and kicked off about a cup of tea and a cake costing the grand sum of “three quid”. This event was not filmed to the best of my knowledge, so I never had to suffer the indignity of it being shown in a school assembly, thank the Lord.

You might want to shelter kids from the harsh realities of the world, but educating kids, and making sure they have a solid grasp of reality is important. The importance and prestige we attribute to television is a false reality. We think that that little box in the corner is a sacred space, only to be conquered by the great and the good. If someone’s “on the telly” they are seen to be immortal, untouchable and magical. The obsession with celebrities is a testament to that. They are mortal, fallible people just like anyone else. Don’t create fetishes and obsessions in your kids, because they are hard to shake off, even as an adult. No one should be in awe of a reality TV star, or a famous city, any more that they should be of Bournemouth’s high rise flats. Get some perspective. My parents were at fault for being cloistered themselves, so never developed this critical objective viewpoint. Anything out of the ordinary was a culture shock, and that is very sad.


(Not actually Ivor Hunnypot, but it’ll do)

When TV is your ‘window of the world’ and the only way you experience life outside your little bubble, funny how you tend to associate London with somewhere not quite real. It might be the same for people visiting New York, as so many movies and TV shows seem to be set there in a fantasy version of the rather more mundane real city. I associated London with Breakfast TV, Pebble Mill, PWL studios, and where Roland Rat lived. I remember reading the addresses for fan clubs and mail-in competitions like the famous “answers on a postcard” pleas from Blue Peter etc, and they always seemed to be somewhere in London. When my mum booked a coach trip to London Zoo, she might as well have booked a rocket to the moon. London for me was somewhere magical and unreal, not somewhere you could actually go, which was a source of great anxiety and emotion for me.

It took a very long time, almost until I got to university before I realise that nowhere was magical and inaccessible. I got a passport and decided to travel to the Costa Del Sol first, with a friend who had not travelled abroad or flown on a plane either. It was OK. Not really a disappointment, but not really a special, otherworldly life affirming experience either. I could go to London on the train any day of the week, and there was no celebrities and superheroes stalking the town. No Roland Rat, Dirty Den or Pete Waterman. Just Pret a Mange and Wetherspoons. Everything was real and alive, and pedestrian. And that felt healthy, and real, and nothing to get over excited about.

Are Little Old Ladies ‘Sweet’?

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It’s rather an enduring image isn’t it? Of the sweet little old lady, with her walking stick and blue rinse, smelling of Parma violets like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth? But does it have any basis in reality? From my own experience, most “little old ladies’ are far from sweet, and more likely to smell like a piddley diaper than Parma violets, and their hair, rather than being blue, is more likely to hang in lank, greasy, fag-stained yellowy rat’s tails.

As I have to live with my mum, who has Parkinson’s disease, and care for her daily, I can safely attest to the fact that she is no more sweet now than she ever was. If anything, her state of mind and health has actually served to amplify her personality defects, and make them even worse.

Mum grew up with three brothers, and a strict (bordering on abusive) father, so learned to lie to get out of trouble. This self-preservation strategy served her very well in a home where she could blame misdeeds on her younger brother, but in a home with just the two of us, it’s just an insult to my intelligence. So when it’s a question of ‘who ate the last of the biscuits’, and she says it wasn’t her, and I know damn well it wasn’t me, it just provoked an anger which a simple truthful confession would not. This was made even more uncomfortable when she tried to blame the biscuit eating on the gas man, who would no better than to help himself to food in a client’s house! I even had the indignity of emailing the gas board to check that none of their engineers was eating our food, just because I had to give her ‘the benefit of the doubt’.

This lying does her no good at all when it comes down to her personal care. If I ask her to throw her diapers in the bin, and put her dirty clothes in the laundry basket, and I later find a stash under her bed, wondering where the smell is coming from, it just makes me feel anger rather than sympathy for her. Lying about taking her pills, then I find she hasn’t taken them is just self destructive. She has a persistent UTI and needs antibiotics to control it, without these it will soon spread to her kidneys and cause her to collapse. When I confront my mum about this she accuses me of bullying her, and I try to counter by asking how her compulsive lying sits with her Christianity. She argues that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and says that of course, I never lie. It’s true, I don’t, as I see no point in lying and actually making things worse than they need to be. Lying just complicates issues unnecessarily. If she refuses her medication, she will get sick, so she’s doing herself no favours at all.

I always insist on washing her hair in the bath, despite her objections that she has a headache. Her objections to hair washing went back to her youth when she believed that washing hair more than once a week was “washing the lustre out”. If by lustre you mean grease and dandruff, I guess she is right. It’s also hard to get her to change her clothes, she sleeps in her clothes despite my objections, because it’s difficult for her to undress. I’m not going to undress her, because all she’s going to do is wail and cry and say I’m hurting her, and to be honest, her squashed hedgehog is something I don’t want to see. As long as she puts on clean clothes after a bath, that is a compromise we can live with. She tends to get dressed in the dark and not bother looking in the mirror, so she usually goes out looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame anyway. The way she puts tight fitted t-shirts on top of sweaters makes everything bungle up into a convincing hump, but if that’s how she wants to dress, who am I to argue?

What she doesn’t realise is how bad this makes me look, when everyone seems to think I’m responsible for her care. I cannot dictate what she wears or whether she wants to wash her hair, but when they see her in a state, it’s me who gets the blame. Her contrary behaviour is embarrassing, because I’d really like her to be ‘sweet’, but she never was. She never thought much about the way she looked or smelled, and how embarrassing it is for me to be seen with her wearing the clothes she slept in and with food all down her front. She went out with melted chocolate all over a her pants a few months ago, and one of our neighbours thought it was blood and called for an ambulance. I put a lot of it down to passivity and self-hatred, which I think was another coping strategy for dealing with a bullying and narcissistic husband, little acts of defiance give her feelings of being in control, much like a toddler refusing to use the potty, despite being in excruciating pain with self-inflicted bowel cramps. She might revel in “putting one over” on me, but it’s no victory, just an act of self-destruction.

No “little old lady” is sweet. That’s a patronising and quite offensive stereotype, diminishing them to a comedy character in a cartoon. They are products of their own pasts and the accumulation of grief and abuse that nobody “decent” talked about. They all remained passive and pretended that everything was OK, woe betide anyone enquire about what was going on behind closed doors. What went on among families was seen as to be nobody else’s business, even if the police or authorities were told, they tended to stay out of it. You can’t expect sweetness from someone with so much pent-up anger and disappointment. Living with a smile fixed on your face whilst gently patting pressed-powder over bruises was as much a part of life as eating and breathing. If anyone asked, her programmed response was, “I am so lucky to have such a good husband and such a lovely house”. Since she got sick, several times I have encouraged her to get counselling, but she still has this mindset, and refuses to talk about it, preferring to “leave it in the past”.

Maybe the “sweet” ones are the ones who have lived with their soulmate, and been loved and nurtured in loving families and delightful affluent homes, but maybe not, maybe they are just a creation of the advertising agencies and romantic comedy writers. They wear Cath Kidston prints, bake cupcakes, love the Queen, bounce well-behaved chubby grandkids on their knees, and take extravagant wine-soaked holidays in the French vineyards. They are Mary Berry and Helen Mirren, glamorous and dignified, not a grey hair out of place. Being a woman in the 1950’s was hard. Few were respected, adequately educated, or well paid, the only opinion for the ‘working class’ woman was to take on low-level menial work until the opportunity arose to marry a slightly better-off husband who could give her a roof over her head. Love was not even a factor in this decision, financial security came first, you just had to suck it up and do as you were told, or risk getting thrown out on the street. There was no “good old days” of fancy futuristic labour-saving kitchens and “Hi Honey, I’m home!” from a hard-working devoted breadwinner. You can understand their anger and dissatisfaction when life promised so much and delivered so little. Far from being ‘sweet’ like the stereotypes created by the advertising agencies, far more are just angry and resentful because they have had to live through more bigotry, sexism and abuse that the sunny smiles, blue rinses and Parma violets will ever be able to hide.

Should You Lose Friends Over Facebook?

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Today I had an interesting experience. I had agreed to buy some cosplay items a few months back from a fellow costumer I knew through the cosplay / comic con circuit. This guy is a lot older than me and has, like a good many men his age, a rather right-wing outlook. We recently fell out on Facebook over a disagreement over the implications of Brexit, which resulted in him unfriending me. I was a bit worried about what he’d be like today, but expected, that as I’d gone around to his house to buy something from him, he’d be nice as pie, and he was.

I recently reconnected with an estranged family member, who is now a Facebook friend, and just like anyone would, I had a good snoop of his Facebook page to try to suss him out a bit. Having not been in contact for almost twenty years, I was wondering if he had changed or if he was still the same person I knew back then. I was a little disappointed to see shared reactionary memes and fake news stories, mostly about Trump, Sadiq Khan, and Boris’s “letterbox” comment, and my heart sank a little. Could we ever actually be friends again, or will we let this facile Facebook drivel divide us for another twenty years?

Another friend of mine seems to delight in making controversial posts, but then getting upset when people comment on it. Some of his friends are alt-right libertarian types who take great delight in being as abusive as possible, in the name of “freeze peach” and consider upsetting people as “winning”. One character in particular is a proper Red Piller and is the most angry and reactionary of the lot. I questioned my friend about why he has not blocked or at least unfriended this person, and the most sensible answer I can get out of him is that he finds him “entertaining”. I was honestly a bit confused about this character, thinking at first he was a creative troll, and then, after suffering verbal abuse, false accusations and finally him asking my friend for my home address, I began to think otherwise, this was a very sick and twisted individual, and possibly dangerous. Intentions are hard to gauge online, with no nuances or tongue in cheek to assure that its satire.

I got in a spot of bother a few months back over a ‘friend’, actually somebody I knew from a local band who’d shared that “bacon sandwich” meme, the one which falsely claims that Facebook has banned the image and people are scared to share because it’s offensive to minorities. After commenting on the post that she was being dishonest about the image being ‘reported’ and that she was sharing from a page (Albion First) which purposely post provocative memes targeting Muslims and Jews, she got very upset and claimed I was “harassing” her. What I do not understand is why a person would post a provocative meme, and then get upset when somebody reacts to it. Not long after, another “friend” from the same band posted the “Who Remembers Gollywogs” meme, from a supposed “nostalgia” page, which actually has a lot of racist content, and using these seemingly innocuous posts for like-farming. In this case, I chose not to comment lest this person accused me of harassment as well, so I decided it was more in my best interests to remain silent to keep the peace.

From my experience, people tend to talk about stuff in Facebook that they wouldn’t talk about in real life. I guess most people hate conflict, and hiding behind your phone or your iPad is a bit more cosy that spouting off in a pub. People seem to keep their face-to-face opinions a bit more moderated, plus of course, it’s easier to read vocal inflections, facial expressions and sarcasm, which gets lost in the text only format of social media. It’s getting very difficult to tell if a person is a) joking, b) trolling, or c) they actually hold this opinion. Plus, a good quantity of your so-called “Friends” are people you’ve never met in real life, and if you have, having a disagreement won’t have any detrimental real world consequences. I had no remorse for unfriending an American who had extreme views on gun rights, and insulting and stereotypical views about my country. I can’t honestly remember discussing burkas, bacon or Brexit with anybody in real life, and I think for my own sanity it’s best not to discuss it on Facebook either, especially if the person who posted it could cause real-life trouble for you.

So should we let this nonsense ruin friendships? It depends. If your friend is in real danger of being radicalised, and doing something dangerous, you should seek help for them, ASAP, as that is what a real friend would do. If it’s just sharing witless nonsense and they aren’t planning on joining ISIS or the KKK, let it go. Facebook is an unnatural environment where there is usually no ramifications for what you post, and there is no threat of you getting into a fight, like you might if you aired your opinions in public. There tends to be something of an echo chamber, and generally people collect friends who have similar temperaments and share similar political views to themselves. The only people who might have jarring views, and contrary opinions are family members, work colleagues and other people who you with to keep contact with, despite sometimes cringing at their posts. In this case, when kicking up an ideological shit storm on Facebook which will cause bad feelings in real life, I find it’s best to just unfollow. That removes the temptation to comment, and the pain of biting your tongue.

Avoiding the wailing and gnashing of teeth over this divisive and cynical rhetoric is the key to maintaining workable and professional relationships. Sure your Auntie Mary thinks keeping a bacon rind in her undies will scare terrorists away, and Uncle Bob thinks everybody’s grandma and their dog is changing sex these days, but if you’re going to be spending Christmas with them, steer the conversation elsewhere. Talk about the weather and how much rain we’re having. You can’t educate people who don’t want to be educated. They will by default respect the authority of the Daily Mail before a young whippersnapper who can’t remember ration books, because they are older and wiser than you. Your pretentious social-climbing boss might be terrified of the threat of a Labour government forcing them to pay more tax. On the other side, your progressive friends might see conservatism as the first step to a biblical theocracy and public stonings straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. Some people see everything as some “PC Agenda” hell bent on taking away the right to free speech, so go out of their way to be as obnoxious. There is no point arguing, because they’ll just take that as “proving their point”.

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Facebook is too much of a temptation to many people, who are easily enraged about supposed injustices in the world, and this raw emotion means most folk do not bother checking the source before clicking “share”. Seeing how easily Facebook was hijacked by Cambridge Analytica shows the power of this manipulated moral outrage. If you are a well read, and politically conscious person, it’s easy to mistakenly think that other people are as educated as you are, when in actual fact, the majority of people have no interest in politics beyond lamenting that everything was better in the old days. The trashy tabloids capitalise on this misinformed populace by using deliberately misleading headlines, knowing damn well that their readership are too lazy to read the whole article. For them, the tabloids are a fun diversion from the boring work day, where they can catch up with the sports and celebrity gossip, and where politicians are reduced to caricatures which even Spitting Image would be ashamed of.

Fake News is easily debunked by googling it and seeing what Snopes or Fact Check have to say, who try hard remain non-partisan in debunking both conservative and the less common liberal hoaxes. Sources of memes are easily checked by investigating the Facebook page which first shared them. Reporting fake news and propaganda is fine, as the person who posted it will not be notified, which I encourage you to do, discretely, if something seems a bit ‘off’. By letting this divisive propaganda destroy friendships and otherwise sow discontent, we are giving them a power they do not deserve to have. Sure, if even half the stuff which gets shared on Facebook were true, people would have a right to be upset. Who doesn’t want safer cities, better provision for veterans and more wealth? But the way they choose to promote this is by sharing falsehoods about the other side and turning brother against brother and sister against sister is a destructive trend, which means the only people who win are the trolls and the advertisers.

Money and Anxiety

I recently had a bad experience coming back from a camping trip in Wales. I normally book to leave on the Thursday and come back on the Monday, and this has been my pattern for the last few years. This time, imagine my horror, when the guard checked my ticket and told me it was only valid for travelling on the Friday. The guy in the ticket office when I booked obviously misheard me and thought I’d said the 7th when I actually asked for the 10th. Being dyslexic, I didn’t check, just took it for granted that it would be OK. Now the train conductor was was very fair, and managed to get me a ticket to Birmingham for £31.50, which was better than being stranded, but which got me thinking. I certainly had a bit of a panic, not wanting to get thrown off a train in North Wales with nowhere to go and no money, but it was the money and having to pay again for another ticket which really upset me, not the simple threat of being stranded.

The wealthy do not understand that money makes everything OK. Getting stranded in North Wales is no worry if you can pay for alternative accommodation and transportation. There is no panic moment when you think you’ll be sleeping on a railway platform or in a hedge. This became a very real threat a few years ago when on a trip to Italy, where I was participating in an opera singing workshop. These workshops tend to attract the very worst people imaginable, proper elitist snobs, the kind of folk you know exist, but really hope that they don’t. I had bought bog-standard cheapest available Ryan Air ticket to fly back from Pisa online, at a cost of around £150, which was the best I could find at the time. Two fellow singers on the course decided to take the train back to Pisa with me, stopping at Lucca for lunch and see a museum, before getting the train to Pisa Airport. One of these was a seventeen year old upstart from a £20,000 a term school, the other was a well-off former Wren, who’s husband was an Admiral or some such rubbish. I pretty single mindedly wanted to get to the airport ASAP, with no buggering around, but once these two had almost got on the wrong train, and then twatted around in the museum, then took longer getting lunch as they wanted to go to a proper restaurant, not just grab a McDonald’s and go, then whittered about bullshit and their own “interesting” lives for hours while I watched the clock ticking away, before moaning at me for not leaving a tip for the waiter in a eatery I had no intention of eating in, but by then my patience was quickly wearing thin. Then the Wren pipes up that we are probably going to miss our plane and it’s all la la la, and some kind of joke, but I get angry. Now it might be fine for her and little Master Public School Prick to dither about and miss their plane, but for me it would cause serious problems. The difference is, MONEY.

Mrs Wren says that she would have to call her husband, and she’d have to buy another ticket. Public School Prick doesn’t care, he’ll just shell out for one anyway with his daddy’s credit card. Neither actually cared one shit about missing their flight, and just took it as par for the course, something they did all the time. I’m panicking as if I miss my flight, I’ll have to get in touch with the Embassy, or call the police or something as I don’t have money for another ticket. Then back in England, I’ll lose out on my pre-booked accommodation and my pre-booked rail ticket home screwing up everything in a kind of cascade effect, costing me even more unnecessary expenditure. These ideas are really racing through my head, but I’m trying to be resourceful in a country where I hardly speak the language and my plans have been shot to bits by other people’s selfish actions. Call me a miserable sod, but it’s here I have to take my leave of them, get on a bus without any niceties, or even saying goodbye, and get to the airport twenty minutes before my flight boarded. Missing this flight was not an option and not a joke, as when you don’t have money to burn, you need to be both timely and frugal. I got home with no more problems once I rid myself of this absurdly decadent and irresponsible pair.

Call it privilege, but the wealthy can afford to waste money. Money is never the first thing on their mind, as it’s always there. It’s never a source of anxiety to not have it, and to scrimp and save. They simply do not understand what it’s like to live hand to mouth with this financial sword of Damocles always dangling over their heads. Poverty causes less well off people true panic. It also makes good people do bad things, which is the rather tragic side effect. Someone who feels they have been “ripped off” by a store, will have no scruples about shoplifting the next time they are there. My mum was sold overpriced brand-named antihistamines by Boots last month, which they refused to refund, and I seriously considered nicking some testers in revenge before thinking better of it. Sometimes these perceived slights are reciprocated in vandalism or criminal damage, by the tired, angry and frustrated. This apathy and frustration over an injustice might even lead someone to seek retribution or recoup their losses by stealing from a person or place unconnected to the original incident. Seeing a lazy privileged idiot squander their money only brings this injustice into sharp focus. You can have some sympathy for someone who steals from such people, knowing they will never actually miss it, or even care. Money, it seems is not the root of all evil, rather, the lack of it. The wealthy, of course, have their own kinds of white-collar crimes, but tend to view the working class and the “unemployed” as the least trustworthy and the most criminal for exactly this reason. It’s nice to live in cloud cuckoo land on a cloud of money and privilege and blissful ignorance. Living with uncertainty and “pulling your horns in” is living in self-denial which eventually leads to a crippling depression,

A few years ago I had the great misfortune of being sent by a “friend” on a wild goose chase to London, where I was supposed to rendezvous with this so-called friend, who was after promising me accommodation and a decent meal was not even answering their phone. I was on JSA at the time, and it hadn’t been long since I graduated, my student loan was as gone, and I was struggling on about £60 a week “dole”. Looking for work in Guildford and West Sussex I was no stranger to wild goose chases, but this was particularly disturbing, as once I got to where this person was due to meet me, after waiting for several hours, I went to buy myself a sandwich and had my card rejected. That feeling of the bottom dropping out of your stomach, coupled with a brief and sudden heart attack will be something the person to whom “money is no object” will never have to endure. It truly is terrifying. You can be a very enlightened “anti capitalist” and reject money, and the pursuit thereof, but it isn’t the money which is the problem but the security it provides. Without that safety net, navigating the world become a risky and dangerous act. Money doesn’t buy happiness, it’s true, but it certainly makes life a whole life easier, and assuages these attacks of anxiety and abandonment.

So now, I’m battling with my feelings of ambivalence, being glad that I’m not being dumped out onto a Welsh railway station with only sheep for company and no idea what time I’ll reach Birmingham and a safe bed, but smarting over having to pay an extra £31.50 (the price of an average bottle of cheap champagne) due to an easily avoided administrative error. The rich don’t have to worry about such things. Whoopie doo for them.