Why Valentine’s day is wrong

I am fed up of the 3 days we have where commerce makes us feel we must dine out and buy cards and gifts to show our love: to our romantic partners and each of our parents. In Britain, there was a short lived attempt to introduce a nicely spaced Grandparents’ day. (Note the other three are in February, March, June; this was intended for September).

It makes those without those feel a great sense of lack and loss.

It makes other kinds of meet ups quite difficult at those times.

This year in England and Wales, Valentine’s day coincides with the school half term holiday; the saint’s day falls in the centre of the week. That means that expensive booked up meals reign for up to 10 days, and two weekends. Just in case you should try to sneak your partner out for a meal on a different day, with a normal menu. No discount vouchers are accepted at this time. Despite creating demand, they expect we’ll pay more. And then there’s all the treats and activities aimed at lovers. And it can feel awkward to go out not in a romantic couple; you can worry how you’re seen at the cinema with a person you’re not dating.

Part of me is angry at the idea that the world is about being – like the animals in the ark – in a two. Couples are normal, families are normal. People existing outside of the romantic mating pairs and their offspring and wider circle – involving more pairs – are odd.

But there are many of us who don’t fit the two by two model. We might be single – for now, or a long time. We may not have children. Many families have repartnering which means that you’ve more than two parents and more than two families who join at weddings. Some of us believe that you can partner with more than two. Not everyone partners with the opposite sex.

And all that is fine. But sometimes it can feel hard, or something to have to justify.

Some of us question that whole why two people for life paradigm anyway.

Having just been to a wedding, I’m very aware of the love industry. Some of it’s about keeping the tradition of marriage fashionable, for cohabitation doesn’t involve much for business to benefit from: no dressing up, venues to hire, catering, flowers, photography or planners. It’s also work for priests and registrars, and for lawyers.

Although traditionally religious people are often those in favour of marriage, marriage as an institution is not in the Bible. The Old Testament/Jewish part is all about affairs and polyamory. Jesus and the most prolific New Testament writer appear to be single.

St Valentine might well be canonised by the church for he encouraged people to enter the sort of relationship they endorse, even though it was counter culture to do so, like resisting his festival is today.

Marriage has historically much been about a business transaction as any kind of real partnership. Today, the legal part is emphasised in the service – I’ve even seen a bride given the certificate as her property to stop her husband selling her. No, I didn’t time travel and I was still in Britain.

And Valentine’s day is about finding someone that you can marry and then showing the person you married…well, the love isn’t so important as the trappings. The actual relationship we have, including the physical one, is something harder to sell, so we invent ways that can be translated into trade. A ring. A meal. A ticket. Something comestible.

I love that there’s also Quirkyalone day today. That doesn’t mean that you are alone, in any sense, or always will be. But can’t today be about ‘celebrating love, wherever it is found’? I pinched that sermon title from Trevor Dennis, dean of vice at Chester Cathedral, and I use it about my novel.

I’d like to broaden that remit to all love, in any relationship, including for God and ourselves.

Today isn’t a day to book out your restaurant and for your museum (Saffron Walden!) to have kinky adult craft classes, and create a sense of longing and misfit, guilt and exclusion.

Fill the cinemas and cafes with your non heterosexual exclusive romantic couple units.

That can include units of one.

Your love nor your worth is nor shown by the stationery and floristry you received today.

Nor whether you’ve had an ivory dress/special suit and a ring and a piece of paper to show that state and perhaps church (or another religion) sanction the relationship you’ve entered.

(Go and watch Michael Winterbottom’s Jude if you need convincing re the ‘bit of paper to tell me I’ve got to love you’).

Today is simply the middle of February; it’s also Ash Wednesday – don’t start me on that! – so whether you’re eating yesterday’s pancakes to defy the Church, having ash imposed on your forehead, having a special meal or meet up, or a day much as usual for you, as SARK says:

You are seen, you are known, you are loved.


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Why I’m selling my Borgen DVDs

I was excited to finally catch up with this TV drama on Danish politics, because I’d enjoyed its lead Sidse Babett Knudsen previously and am interested in how countries run.

Unlike comparable shows, I looked forward to seeing a person of principle in leadership. Sidse’s character’s surname Nyborg means ‘new castle’. And Castle is the nickname of Danish government, from where the show gets its title. So is it saying that the fictional first woman prime minster (what took you so long!) is a new kind of leader and government?

But it didn’t take many of the 30 episodes to make me angry enough to start calculating my DVDs’ second hand worth. In one tenth of the show, Birgitte Nyborg has abandoned what made her endearing, and is very much of the old stronghold. Most of her acts are against the principles I’d expect of her. Yes, she’s meant to be roundedly human with mistakes and struggles. It made the show more appealing than those which just focus on political drama. I liked the early, sometimes naïve and unsure Birgitte. I rallied for her. But she got eaten by the end of episode 3 and from thereon, we only see flashes of her.

I realise the kindredness of Birgitte Nyborg to Wonder Woman – who I often write about on here. Perhaps the looks of Lynda Carter and Sidse are similar. They are women doing unusual jobs for their gender and fighting for democracy and high principles. But the charm faded through their trio of seasons as the lead got harder and tougher, focussing on being slinky, steely and bossy.

And worryingly, according to some comments I’ve heard, slinky and steely does it for the audience. Not for nothing does Borgen often open with a quote from Machiavelli. I thought these were ironic, but Sidse the Statsminister comes uncomfortably close to him. And yet she’s seen as still the heroine.

“You’re the best prime minister that Denmark’s ever had,” she’s told. Well, if true, the Danes have had a bad run and should aim higher.

Here’s just some of the things which made me angry about Birgitte in Borgen:

– she gives another small and kindred party a made up ministry to fob them off

– she sacks two friends in 1st season, another in series 3, and many others, without notice

– she orders and rarely thanks. “I need you to come over. I know it’s late,” to her staff at 3am! “I need you to…This is not up for discussion,” she tells her husband, who ‘misses his wife’! – And not just because she’s not at home much. We do too, Phillip!

– she leads in the hard headmistress manner, as if it’s weak to ask and consult

I see a lot of Sidse’s role as dominatrix Cynthia in The Duke of Burgundy in Birgitte

– After Amir leaves, she seeks him out at home for a job she needs, but doesn’t apologise

– she lets serious gay persecution pass for the sake a precarious peace deal

– she thinks in terms of strategy and victory

– she’s prepared to use an old misdemeanour to discredit a rival. It’s not her who stops it

– she tells long suffering Phillip he’s weak for leaving her too soon. I’d have gone already!

– she gives in to the medical system twice without questioning (interesting role reversal)

– she medical queue jumps thrice – for Laura, and twice for herself

– In series 3, she says: this is a room of dreams, but now we need to consolidate. Ie, which of you are with my dream? Or else, you’re leaving

– she never consults or mingles with the public she claims to support and who chose her

– she publicly provokes her old colleague deliberately and pulls holes in his arguments

– she says no to Jorgen the Viking’s financial support because of his strings, but then is back asking for it later

– she is obsessed with the cult of her, her leadership, her ideas, her party. When Unpop Culture blogger calls the New Democrats the Birgitte Party, he’s right.

– she and the show quickly drop the hot potatoes of war, spies, and prisoner cruelty

– she and the show suggest that leaders must be ruthless and put feelings second, and often their principles too. Professionalism means: even my bereavement won’t stop this election


Borgen sometimes is able to bring in many voices to a complex situation; sometimes it clearly comes down with a view, and feels like public information broadcasting rather than drama. Most real media challenges come from the muckraking gutter press; otherwise, the news says what its told it’s allowed to.

Borgen appears to be self reflexive: The show seems to say: news is hot, politics are hot, make sure you tune in and vote and appreciate your official quality broadcasting company (probably by paying hefty taxes to it). Compromise is necessary, idealism not possible. Work before play and personal relationships – be grateful for the sacrifices our leaders make for you, and if you are one or work with one, be prepared to make the same. Note that it’s made by Radio Denmark and over here, it was shown by the BBC. I am avoiding the BBC due to the reasons in my last post.

The fast fire news format is no better than Alex’s gameshows ultimately, for no-one gets to talk properly – it’s all about provocation and spectacle.

Here’s some hard news:

Many of us don’t follow parliamentary politics. Katrine’s angry at a friend for not watching her on the news, but he’s resisting the package they present as what’s happening. Borgen suggests that media and media advisors run the country, and that parliamentary politics is far removed from most of our lives and what matters.

We need something and someone much more different than Birgitte and her party, and a show which goes further in its courage to portray life as it really is, and as it could and should be, and to not assume that the latter is impossible.

For much of this show, Birgitte’s got her bra and knickers on the wrong way round: her priorities and values are all askew. She’s not ultimately a Wonder Woman; more a Twisted Sister.

But I’m not taking offers on my DVD set just yet.



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Why TV licences need to end

I note that many countries still have these – but that many have ceased them. In Britain, our license is decades behind what is on offer and how people view.


My issue is firstly that a compulsory legally backed fee was ever levied from the public. Although the British Broadcasting Corporation was created as independent, the fact that its licence was equated in law to tax – and thus has the same punishments of fees and ultimately imprisonment for non payment – shows that it is not independent from the establishment, and thus neither is the BBC. This shows how law and crimes are often relative and privately self serving, not public safe keeping.


That the decision for change has to come from parliament is also telling.


It is often commented on that the BBC is biased. Its news is very negative and feels created to gain a particular response. During the credit crunch and since Brexit, it repeats doomful ideas. Watching it alongside other news – and in the early evening, you can chain watch about 4 different channels – you see the particular tone of the BBC. In a couple of weeks, everyone appearing on BBC TV will wear a red poppy, which has connotations for beliefs about war. The BBC skips over other matters – such as the unpopularity of its licence and the widespread historic abuse in it uncovered around children’s presenter Jimmy Saville.


Although some proponents claim that the BBC is standard bearer in both television and radio, it is not to everyone’s tastes. Its programming is repetitive (thus across more channels we do not gain more content than before BBC 3 and 4 were created), and that its drama is outweighed by the reality and non narrative programmes. Peeking at the BBC’s website, I see that programmes about food, dancing, antiques and nature are high profile. We should not be paying for that website – one I don’t even really rate or find user friendly.


I personally now don’t see BBC as appealing or good quality, in any of its media.


There’s also a certain kind of Britishness associated with the BBC. The BBC creates and maintains a status quo. Many of the BBC’s popular programmes are older ones. I’ve not yet seen it be ahead of the curve, and truly radical.


It’s also pointed out that BBC does have many adverts – for itself – and thus isn’t really better than a commercial channel.


The BBC hasn’t been the nation’s only provider of television or radio for some decades. By the early 1980s, there were four TV channels and three providers; the other two – Independent television (ITV) and Channel 4 – having to fund themselves via advertising, thus introducing the commercial break that is so familiar in other countries. There were other radio stations, locally and nationally, and further, if you could find the frequency. At that time, home video had arrived, and we covered the cost of what we watched in the purchase or hire fee.


And many videos – now in a different format – are of films, and I wonder if there’s a trend that non TV owners are regular cinema goers. Or perhaps they prefer theatre, or music, or sport, or lectures, or they’re involved in churches or politics.


So my point is that yes there are still people who don’t have a television and aren’t interested, and find other ways to find out about the world and have culture in their lives.


But these non viewers can be disbelieved and harassed. No, we’re not all glued to the box.


But it’s not easy to prove that we’ve no such box and that other devices which can pick up pictures are not being used for the purposes that require licensing.


I have seen some websites put out incorrect facts regarding when you need a licence: owning a DVD/video player and TV do not require one, it’s watching new programmes, live or recorded, on any device. It has been the case for some time that viewing prerecorded media only does not require a licence – and rightly so.


And if we’re watching DVDs of cinema films, then why should the BBC expect to gain a share by enforcing a licence that almost solely benefits itself? Or what of television shows that don’t come to Britain, or aren’t British made, or are made by another channel? The BBC doesn’t have to prove its share or gain an audience to elicit its fees, unlike anyone else.


This is the point that many people have made, and it’s been valid since the introduction of the 3rd channel, but especially from the 1980s, which is now over 30 years ago. By 2000, satellite and cable had arrived for many, as had the net. Now of course we have much greater choice and diverse habits and the BBC is an ever smaller offering of our media diet.


The BBC makes most of us pay them a tax (or be prepared to prove why we are exempt) but it itself does not pay corporation tax, as it’s non-profit making. This is huge: that it takes tax but doesn’t expect to have to run like other companies. It has also been accused of avoiding other kinds of tax on a large scale, by using a not long closed loophole.


And then, the most pertinent point: the TV license funds bullying.


I read huge numbers of prosecutions, many of which are thrown out of court. I’ve heard above 180,000 a year, and that 1 in 10 UK prosecutions are to do with TV licensing.


The licensing company has a whole collections arm, which are thus paid for publicly. They employ bully boy tactics, including their fear inducing adverts, with vans cruising about watching for signals from unpaid watchers, and then swooping on whoever answers the door, often exaggerating their powers (which is an offense of both kinds). They say that non payment is unfair on those who do pay, and call non payers “evaders”, which is an emotive and negative word.


But fee abolition website SpiderBomb shows that the BBC’s revenue from licensing creates a huge budget and it’s much more than it needs. Large salaries are pointed out – why should we have to pay for those? SpiderBomb suggests a much more modest fee is viable.


Yes I’ve heard the Beeb themselves argue that the radio part of the licence is pence, that it’s like a pint of beer each week, but what if we don’t drink Beeb beer? The price of beer argument’s a weak one, for some people still struggle with the £147 annual license and certainly the £1000 fine. There’s been much about the economic imbalance that the fee is a flat tax, unrelated to income (or usage), and that the poor are disproportionately harassed and even end up in prison because of this matter.


This sounds so familiar in inequitable governing around the world and history. I believe that the BBC and its overseas branches often argued for are part of empire retention, and that the real issue is about the use of public broadcasting.


And what if we resent funding a salaried collections company who are paid bonuses and given quotas, such as Capita are?


Many of us would be keen to not fund organisations of abuse and oppression, but we’re being forced to do so directly, via British law and our own so called Aunt.


Auntie Beeb is not seen as our caring trustworthy source of news and stories, but a not so subtle controlling matriarch who seems exempt from critique and change.


The BBC is one of a large family now, and a relation we may not ever spend time with, especially due to her brutish behaviour – that she requires gifts for visiting not only herself but other aunts, and sends in her henchmen for those who don’t. Is this someone you want to have a relationship with, and feel should go unchecked?


Today, a debate is happening in Westminster about the TV tax. Let us ensure our views are listened to and that it’s not replaced (which it needs to be) with more draconian rules.


– We need a new system which doesn’t involve further watching the public, as I fear subscription and online based scenarios lend themselves to, and we know that digital television sets assist with


– Fines and especially prison and door to door bullying is an abuse and needs to stop


– TV licensing needs to come off people’s criminal records; it makes a mockery of what law and crime really is


– Look to New Zealand as an example of a country who stopped the licence through peaceful people power


– Find a solution which reflects people’s habits and what there is now


We’ve put off this conversation too many times: we need to listen to the public to create a decision, and make something for them, not against them.







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Parking Pains

I took what was supposed to be a nice walk today, to think about my next novel.


I got plenty of thinking done – but not the sort I’d planned. And it wasn’t the pleasant, relaxing invigorating joy that a walk should be.


Because every few steps I saw another of those bloody signs.


The private car park ones, from people such as Parking Eye and National Parking Enforcement and similar names, all with something aggressive in their title.


So why have these notices popped up so much in the last 10 or even 5 years?


Companies who employ these firms claim that their parking is being abused; that people are overstaying or that non customers (or residents or workers) are using their facilities. So they contract private parking enforcement firms to ‘manage’ the parking spaces, sometimes on wasteland, to threaten motorists into not using their space, or staying too long, or parking outside of the sometimes too small and vague markings.


Even if there are issues with visitors being unable to park, this is not the right way to deal with them. By all means, get in touch and ask people to move on, but I cannot see how these henchman are needed.


Having the intrusion of being photographed each time you come in and leave which is then used to harass you for a disproportionate charge for going 1 mintue over an arbitary limit is a far truer example of abuse.


The truth is that these firms hope of course that drivers will commit what they consider a misdemeanour and garner them some revenue, to top up the fees from the landowner.


I don’t see that these companies run a legitimate business, for they exist from someone’s else’s faults. There is often no real harm done by the drivers and the companies create some with threats of bullying.


Much of the time they are guarding free parking where other custom is being given.


I think there needs to be a debate about paid parking and how motorists are over charged on many matters. Many of us can’t park even at our homes, even when we’ve paid permits, and parking charges are high. Many parking rules, private or otherwise, are more arbitrary than for safety – which is the only fair reason to penalise on parking.


We want to cut down on cars, but we also want drivers so we can make money from them. I especially note this contradictory call from councils.


These parking firms don’t give us much choice – for as we hove into the only parking place available for us to visit our friend, pop to the shop, have a drink, attend a business meeting, collect someone off the train, even go to church, we are greeted by a notice. Yes, usually not at the car park entrance – where the salient point will be that it’s free, or otherwise – but at the place we park. And we’ve already gone through a barrier, and can’t easily get out.

Perhaps we don’t see those horrid signs. Now I’ve noticed them I see the signs everywhere, but I didn’t for a long time. If it’s a free carpark and one that is for visitors, why would I imagine that I can be charged?


Their notices are ugly. ‘Private property’ is one of the first and most common things they say – so this is definitely capitalist. Not – ‘visitors only please’, or even, ruder, ‘private carpark’. I disdain anyone who puts up private property signs, it doesn’t speak well of them.


Then the signs say – if you don’t do this arbitrary thing, you ‘agree’ to being clamped – but clamping in Wales and England has been illegal on private ground for 5 years – and charged £60 to £250. But for what? And that removing these signs is a criminal offence.


I see a criminal offence here. I certainly see a moral one.


The removal of the signs being illegal is questionable; it would mean that the fees – note, it’s not a real fine – can’t be pursued. Those signs are vital to their having any credibility and success. They masquerade as real fines, which can only come from councils and the police. They use county courts to enforce these, but that is an abuse too. Parking Eye – Britain’s worst and most aggressive – is making a loss in legal fees to recover their invoices. That says a lot about them, and also the legal system.


They pay solicitors to send out letters which threaten credit rating harm – which is only possible, and much further down the line. (The credit system is something I want to question too.) This practice speaks ill of the solicitors.


There is, I understand, no legal basis for these fees. (It’s supposed to be under contract law but this is contentious).


I also challenge the legality of de facto one sided contracts.


These companies are buying driver’s data from the DVLA (Britain’s vehicle licensing authority), but this is effectively bribery and abuse of government information.


I query the underlying basis of the companies, rather than whether you were unaware or unfairly caught out.


I encourage businesses and land owners not to use them and for anyone who receives a notice from them to fight it. Let your favourite cafe and shop know how you feel about their use of these companies. Avoid custom.


Find another way to manage your parking – differently worded signs and without threats and privacy invasion.


There are many sites about how to fight these parking people and also petitions for greater regulation, and for the banning of these companies.

https://www.change.org/p/campaign-against-illegal-practices-by-private-car-park-companies-and-debt-collectors This site has many good points and a sound legal basis.

I’ll encourage others to do their own research. These firms are often acting unlawfully, and are living from harassment dressed as a service to landowners.

Instead, I refer you to a Suffolk village who says “no claims, no fines” and asks us to donate when we park towards the village upkeep. It works, and we lingered rather than moved on without spending like we did the Parking Eye run retail park.

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Wonder Woman and Little Women

Not natural bedfellows, you might think. When I switched from viewing the first to reading the latter, it was a very different gear.

And then I did some research and thinking…

They (are) both:


Continuously printed American classics and well known exports

Set during a war (the American Civil and WWII)

Concerning ahead of their time women doing ‘man’s roles’

A community of women led by a matriarch (Marmee March/Queen Hippolyte)

Lived in a discrete ideal community (Paradise Island/Alcotts in Fruitlands)

Believed that women thrive intellectually and in the arts in this environment

Writers wanted social change where where women’s roles are augmented

Talk of slavery (Alcott was an abolitionist; Diana’s bracelets)

Have strong morals

Were written for children, although enjoyed by all ages

Have gay appeal

Their authors are interesting stories in themselves

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What would Wonder Woman do?

About the terror attacks this week and what happened next


I’d like to emphasise that’s Kabul, Baghdad and Coptic Christians as well as Manchester.


I predicted and worried about this – that more attacks bred more attacks and more armed police and less freedom; that the death penalty has got in though a side door and that the trial by jury at the heart of democracy is being eroded. It’s not just Canterbury and London now – they’re in all the county towns, at stations, zoos, outside libraries.


I don’t feel safer – I feel more wary. It puts me off doing things. I feel relieved if I’ve not seen armed police or been somewhere that expects me to be searched – a world sadly familiar to those in the Middle East and to Black and Asian men respectively.


Fighting suicide bombers with guns doesn’t make sense – they are planning to die and will detonate rather than let you kill them. Shooting them in the torso is just where their bomb is. So what are the guns really for?


Guns are bullying, cowardly weapons that give you power over others, often from a distance. They easily get misfired and when we live in a panicked environment, we can make paranoid mistakes.


Officers in Britain – who’ve been largely unarmed till now, like the population – were wary of stepping up to the arming call, afraid of investigations if they misuse the gun.

Good – but why only just investigations? If I carry a gun on the street, let alone use it, let alone kill someone, I’ll be in prison both sides of the trial; I may stay there.

So why should police expect to be above the law that they are (ugly word coming up) enforcing?


Now that children have been targeted, police are more willing it seems. “It’s the best way I can protect myself and the public,” one policewoman said. Note the order of that.


Many words have been poured out in sympathy already, and take mine as a given, but I will focus this post on something less said, which needs to be.


Before I say it, I’d like to return to an old friend of mine, one who featured early in this blog 6 years ago, and who’s getting her first big screen outing released today – yes I’m going! (‘Twas brilliant).

Yes I am wearing long boots with a heel in her honour, and guess which 3 colours?

Let us contrast her way of dealing with problems with the police:

(Note these are general WW principles and change between comic/screenwriters)


1) Wonder Woman doesn’t fire bullets, she deflects them

-significant morally as well as operationally

Wonder Woman is only armed with her truth lasso

(Ms Gadot has a sword but she thought guns dishonourable fighting)

Her plane is purely for transport – it doesn’t drop bombs

She befriends animals, she doesn’t use them as weapons


2) Wonder Woman works with the authorities and is respected by them, but she is independent and she is not part of a huge force

Unless you count the Justice League, but they tend to be outnumbered rather than outnumber their opponents. Unlike police who overkill, literally; a whole squad after one person (even not dangerous ones) which wastes resources – and police claim they don’t have enough

(Don’t start me on police using foodbanks on ‘only’ £20k… try £30 a week!)


3) Wonder Woman is approachable Unlike po faced armed officers who we’re afraid to say anything to, even good morning. Wonder Woman retains her humour. She doesn’t yell, especially not at the general public.


4) Wonder Woman is compassionate A quality not in the police and army much; it’s why their personalities and training mean that they’re not the right people to handle many situations entrusted to them. Wonder Woman’s someone you’d cry on. Not most PCs.

And she knows the difference between being tough and strong


5) Wonder Woman is not dressed to kill or intimidate

Her face isn’t covered; no mirror glasses, no bully boy armour


6) Wonder Woman has a global view, inside (since she’s living among us) but outside (since she’s alien). She can point out our follies and since she’s so old, she has great wisdom, watching nations repeat mistakes for millennia

She’d also see what’s really happening, the even more despicable terror.


7) Wonder Woman doesn’t kill or use unnecessary force

She does her own undercover work; she doesn’t use assets


8) Wonder Woman knows when to talk instead of fight and can transform would-be crime doers. Wonder Woman believes in redemption and forgiveness


9) Wonder Woman thinks for herself. Hannah Arendt would approve – for she knows the peril of taking and giving orders without question


10) Wonder Woman

makes a hawk a dove

stops the war with love

changes minds (and hearts)

and changes the world.


It’s the far more effective way – not retribution, not meeting violence and fear with more.

Not weak, fluffy, unreal.


No wonder Ms magazine cover emblazoned: “Wonder Woman for president”.

I’d like to her preside over a lot more.


Finally, to what I didn’t yet say….

I was reminded this week of James Alison’s book On Being Liked and his first essay in it Contemplation of a World of Violence, written in autumn 2001. He points out that such acts are given sacred meaning and that we are sucked in collectively, policed as to what we can say (a new heresy) and given specific behaviours in response.

He encourages us to not be drawn into that, but to One who can show us a new way to see, one who subverted violence by seemingly giving into it and then overcoming it to say I’m nothing to do with this system; there is another way to live.

The One is not Wonder Woman this time.



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Challenge 25 policy – grave concerns

Gone are the days of 18 and 21 being celebrated as the birthdays when you get the keys to adulthood. Adulthood has been deferred; minatory has been extended, and that murky inbetween now a longer limbo.

Whether intentional or not, there’s incredible control here of citizens, undermining our rights as humans too, with very nanny state decisions being made.

This Challenge 25 policy isn’t just about drink.

It is used to challenge a 20 odd old buying a 12 DVD, when they are twice that age.

I have always maintained that age isn’t the factor – for we are not all automatically willing and able to cope with things because of our age, protecting young people but not older ones.

The more you forbid, the more you’ll provoke.

And once over 25 – people can buy what they want, and it harms just as much.

It has made retailers our guardians, and the ridiculous fines if they guess an age wrong means that their paranoia leads to arguments at the till. It’s not flattering to be thought younger than you are. Why do we privilege youth?!  So don’t make it sound like it’s kind of compliment: “if you are lucky enough to look under 25…” because it isn’t. It’s causing embarrassment and offence, on both sides, and also inconvenience.

We are proud in the UK not to be an ID carrying country. This policy enforces that on young people, using the frightening technologies of biometrics to learn and retain information about people. The abuse and (even for its supposed proper use) is appalling, continuing the control and following of citizens that we are so angry about and are supposed to accept – even rejoice in!

It makes me wonder if it is a way of starting ID carrying through the back door and influencing the youngest generation.

The adverts about peer pressure and drinking were much better, for they were for any age, and should put the responsibility on the consumer not just the retailer.

Meanwhile, you’ve created an industry around ID, useful for secret services and any who would abuse the system.

This isn’t liberty, this isn’t taking care of citizens, it’s another mixed message such as “we like the income that smoking gives us, but we’ll put health warnings on cigarette packets.” You like the revenue of alcohol, its profiteers are often close government friends, but you want to be seen to be cleaning up the streets.

So I don’t agree with First Minster Nicola Sturgeon that this is a step to be proud of. Scotland has been great in many ways at making sensible laws first in the UK, which then trickle down. This is not one of them.

Challenge 25 website doesn’t even have a contact – my email bounced, so we don’t know who to hold to account.

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Why the Beauty film is Beastly

Yes I mean that one – the new Disney remake of its own cartoon, where more than the cursed prince is hideous.

This is not a story about beauty being within. This is a story which perpetuates harmful and false ideas about youth, beauty and love. It says – you can be too late to find love and be forever inhumanly frozen. And this deadline is in your youth.

It says that you must find love in return to stop the curse. It hasn’t grasped that the telos of love is to love – end. Even if you are rejected or scorned, you and your love are not diminished. You can also find reciprocity in non romantic love.

Crazy Eyes in Orange Is The New Black had a better speech to give on this subject than anything said or implied by the Beastie.

It’s the implication which I particularly am concerned by.

Belle of course is beautiful and young. Cartoon Belle was a disturbing mix of juvenile and ridiculous woman’s figure. She is the heroine who is the darling of her father and the Beast and his entourage. She gets the guy – but he reverts to being handsome and human.

Does anyone else see issues with a creature of at least 3 types having relations with a girl?

But Belle (and we) learn to love Beast in his large and furry form (the cartoon was a bison crossed with Honey Monster) so it’s not surprising that the audience is disappointed when he goes back to being a man – in the cinema I saw the live action film, there was laughter.

The catalyst is the usual trope – the old ugly hag. But she – the sorceress, showing magic is dangerous and spiteful – is young and beautiful really.

I wondered how different ridiculously caricatured Gaston is to Beast, at least as he was. Why didn’t the sorceress pay a visit to Garston?

And of course the Beast has to be aristocrat with a huge home and an estate; he is served by a retinue far greater than his household (ie just him) requires. Is he going to give anything to the community he shuns now the spell has ended? Or will they all carry on with foppish selfish debauchery as before?

The lovers are young – wasn’t Belle 21 in one version? Those Disneyfied folk tales often have such wenchlike heroines, and there’s ageism in Snow White and the Dwarfs too. Why wasn’t an older couple at the centre? And why wasn’t excellent Ray Fearon, the priest, used more? 57 year old Emma Thompson is the mature widow, when at the time of the cartoon original she was the star wench. Why is she less worthy now of being a romantic lead?

And romance is of course dinners and dances and being silly together. Are we at all convinced this is the meeting of souls and the basis for a life together?

And as for his rejoining the human world : I liked the ending of Shrek better.

Read my cinema reviews here


Filed under cinema, society

Canterbury Cathedral – a place for martyrs, medieval architecture…and guns

I sent this to the Dean shortly after learning about the new regime which began last Sept.

I left time for a reply, but didn’t get one.


Dear Dean Robert

I was shocked to learn that armed police patrol the Precinct, and the city.

I’ve long been unhappy at your entry fee, but this is even more offputting; I won’t visit whilst this guards policy is in place. It clashes with Christian welcome and values, and either puts the symbolic mother of the established church under the civic and military control, or willingly colludes with them.

Have you read James Alison’s On Being Liked, and his first triptych about the Twin Towers? He writes that God has nothing to do with the ways of violence, but subverts them to overcome them. Yet here, it seems that we fight evil with evil, fear by escalating fear, and begin steps towards a police state.

Using weapons isn’t accountable, it’s an immediate execution that doesn’t require a court, and it’s feared that a new Becket will occur.

Promoting fear and allowing the costly rise of armed police is not the way to handle attacks and threats – although public statements claim that there have been none. Greater defence and shows of strength gives rise to more reason to make us an object of attack with continued wars, along with erosion of civil liberties. It promotes resentment of other – Muslims and Middle Eastern/Indian people, and I fear, this is strong in Kent where you have so many refugees entering. I am already alarmed by what people’s responses have been to the news about your guards – notions that Trump supporters would be proud of.

It also makes greater public resentment of law enforcers and government, and makes us more like the gun slinging US police that we have so many appalling news reports about.

Christians are called to be different. It is a less evolved, less Christ centred society that allows an increase in weapons, an eye taken before an eye has been even lost.

I am frightened at the thought of yet more repeating history (ie another Becket) where curtailment and suspicion become accepted.

I do not believe this to be the kingdom God called us to build.

I am calling for the removal of police in the cathedral and the city.

I will also be publishing my call, but I wanted to give you a chance to respond first.

Yours sincerely



My Day Out With Elspeth can be read here. You can read my review of Canterbury’s arts cinema



Filed under heritage, society

Not tipping the velvet

I am not referring to Sarah Water’s novel but the so called voluntary extra on some services.

I’ve made a pledge not to tip.

I note I nearly added ‘any more’ so you wouldn’t think badly of me and would know that I have shown gratitude and manners and had contributed to the supposedly tiny earnings of waiters and others.

See? Because it’s about guilt.

On several levels.

And that is not my only objection.


Tipping has put me off taking the services of industries who expect it. No I don’t get into taxis. I have as few haircuts as I can. And I don’t eat out so much – and I’ll choose a pub where oddly it’s normal not to tip. But in a café or restaurant it is expected, for offering the same!

I note in America that people can feel fearful. People have even been chased and shouted at because of not tipping, or even not tipping enough, and published stories add to that fear, such as in this BBC article. The one at the start speaks ill of the girlfriend and the waiter.

I don’t think it’s just the US where we worry about tips. Non or low tipping customers think: Will they say anything? Will I feel I can come back? Will I get a worse service next time? Do they try and sense the tippers, and treat us accordingly?

Because our service should never be dependent on us paying more for it.

And why does a hairdresser think it’s acceptable to be tipped but not other retail? Hairdressers are an example against one of the usual reasons for tipping – that staff aren’t paid enough.

One fork of that argument is that taxis and hairdressers actually charge rather highly. £35-50 – for work taking under an hour – is usual for the most basic hair services; a quick dry trim might only take 10 mins and thus still add up to the same hourly rate.

That’s up to 7 times the minimum wage, and not for the highest end of salons. And don’t forget the self employed (let alone unemployed) who don’t see even the £7 per hour stipulated in Britain.

And hairdressers want to charge at their discretion as you sit in the chair – one even says they can add 50% – and then expect a little extra….?! And I’ve heard them say – if you have more than 2 inches off it’s a restyle and will cost twice as much!

Taxis seem to start at £4 – even as I climb in – and I can travel up to £250 miles by prebooked train or budget coach on what they would charge for 5-10 miles at evening rate.

So why do they need fares rounding up? Especially as taxi drivers can be ungracious. We will return to the service actually given in a moment.

The other of my original forks was for service staff – the hotel porter, the waiters. They often just get minimum wage and sometimes less, and it’s hoped that tips make their earnings up to something liveable off.

But is that our worry, as customers? By all means campaign for fair wages, but why should we have to fill in where employers are failing, and are using social controls to manipulate the public into making up their shortfall?

National insurance, sick pay – all the duty of the employee – not the diner!


Here is my bottom line:

charge what you need and pay your staff enough.


The tipping industries are hardly cheap for customers, even before the “gratuities”!

There is also some more sinister bottom lines regarding tips:

Tipping is tied into capitalism. It says: hard work is rewarded (is hard the same as good?) and that value can only be shown through money.

It is also feudal and controlling. I watched a few films recently and saw how tipping by the rich made the servile classes do their bidding. It meant – I can buy you to do whatever I want. It said – you will do what is unreasonable and even immoral. I can buy superior and preferential treatment.

It suggests that tippees are a class below.

Now they are subverting that and become the ones whom we the clients feel beholden to.

But in other cultures, tipping is insulting. I think it is for both parties.

Tipping doesn’t actually improve the service; the staff don’t know what they’ll get anyway – by the time the tip comes, the service has been done. A survey found that the tip made very little difference to the quality of service.

Tipping is also divisive among friends. As I slide some coins onto a plate – feeling resentful as I’d already paid more than I’d budgeted – I wonder if my companion thinks I’ve not done enough. The last trip to a cafe ended in a discussion about tipping as we divided our bill. One meal ended with a friend calculating my exact tip and that has stayed with me some years, making me wonder about eating with that group again.

So what is meant to be a nice experience ends in a row, or at least unsaid judgement.

And as I sit in a salon, arrive at a hotel, eat my meal, ride in a cab, I’m wondering: will there be some kind of discord at the end of this? Often these are leisure and pleasurable things but I’m not feeling that. I may fall out with the service provider but also any companions.

And that is wrong.

I don’t also like the 10%+ service charge added at meals because the full price should be in the food bill – you are not charged more for a great retail experience or proofreading. And asking for the ‘discretionary’ amount to come off the bill often feels awkward.

Many places have done less than you expect, not more. The last time I ate out, my food took an hour to arrive. Staff are frequently slow to acknowledge or offhand or rush you.

Don’t cinema staff, shop workers, ushers all work to give us a good experience too?

It’s not even true that it’s small vs big businesses, for many places hoping for tips are big chains. And again, customers shouldn’t be paying their legal requirements for them.

A tip may be offered for exceptional service – no that doesn’t mean that taxi driver who helps you our of your wheelchair with your kids. That’s normal service, and people with special needs shouldn’t pay more. Kind words – especially written – should go as far. I was going to say, to a manager, but again, hierarchies come in, and it’s about garnering favour of superiors.

It’s pointed out by tip banning restaurateurs that a successful meal is due to more than just the person who serves you, and so letting the waiters take it all isn’t fair on the rest of the team, and that does include managers.

We should give good service due to pride in our work and caring about what we do. A tip shouldn’t buy us.

Tipping becomes about corruption – I’ll serve you only if you cross my palm. I’ll buy your service, whatever I ask and however I treat you.

I note several campaigns to end tips. That BBC article above includes several studies (the £25,000,000,000 tip industry being the most striking) and a link to this succinct comedian Adam Conover’s stance on Why Tipping Should be Banned

It’s one I’m now joining.

I suggest finally that big chains and those already charging highly are being greedy, but small cafes could just add 25p to each item. No the big spenders and large groups shouldn’t have to pay even more. But I bet this small increase would help with the deficit of losing tips.

Those who’ve already banned tipping and pay staff properly are the places I am attracted to visiting.






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Filed under society