It's late. I can't sleep. And I'm wondering which is worse? A streaker or a bear? [Not Safe For Work].
I'm off to bed.
For the third time since we got it, the PC has died. This is a real shame, as it's one of the sexiest looking pieces of kit we own. It works really well, up to a point.
That point is when you turn it off. You press the buttons, it all starts turning itself off, and then it just sits there. Still working, but not doing anything. And it does this for a loooooooong time. And then you pull the plug, and when you turn the power back on - nothing.
The power supply just rolls over and dies. The first time, I panicked. The second time, I was pissed off. And tonight?
Tonight I'm just tired of the whole thing.
You see, the great thing about the modern, interconnected world is that it's all supposed to be easy and just to work. But although it's supposed to look easy to the end user that's hiding all the complexity beneath it. And the thing about increased complexity is that it brings with it an increased range of ways for things not to work.
I like to think we're at the dawn of all this stuff. That people used to think the same way about electricity, or fire, or making quiche. That given enough time, we'll master it. We'll be able to take it for granted in the same way that we take breathing for granted, or tea, or nose hair. But while I like to think that, I don't really believe it.
I believe that technology's on a roller coaster that's only accelerating, and has been since the days of the Luddites and the Whistling Nancy. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know that sometimes I find it hugely exciting and sometimes I find myself wondering if maybe it would be nice if we made sure we had something finished before we started something new.
And there's me writing this as I re-do my templates again, and I'm far from certain if they're working properly. The irony isn't lost on me.
I'm going to throw this thing in the bin and get a new one.
Well, as of Saturday, I am a student again. And this time, I'm not studying anything scientific, no. I am an arts student.
I have yet to work out what this means. I suspect that it means becoming the butt of jokes about not looking out of the window in the morning so I have something to do in the afternoon, and maybe it means that at the end I will be qualified to ask people if they would like fries with that. But in the short term, it's filling me with a fair amount of fear. I am an arts student at the Open University, and that's too close to "Open Prison" for me to be entirely comfortable.
I'm already intimidated by my fellow students. I met some of them on Saturday, and while they all seem very nice, they all seem a bit more committed already. There's me, with my small notepad and pen, and they've got A4 books full of stuff. Me with my blank look, them with their handfuls of handouts. Them with their airs of confidence, me with my mumbling and stammering. They're my tutorial group. One is a large woman who lives round the corner from me. One is a slightly less large woman who is a teacher, so only works half days and gets really long holidays. One is a guy about my age, who just has the look, with the indigo denim jeans, the roll neck sweater, the leather jacket. He's moisturised and toned and invited me to a party within hours of meeting him. A little too serious, though, and a definite threat.
Yes, threat. Within five hours of sitting down in a room with my tutorial group, I'm already thinking in terms of oneupmanship, of competition. I know that's wrong. I know I should be thinking about them as support, as potential allies in my journey along the path of whatever path I am going along. And maybe I will.
But in the mean time, I've got to go. I have an essay crisis.
I'm pleased to live in a world where we have freedom of speech.
It's a world where people are free to quit their jobs over their beliefs.
It's a world where religious groups can complain about how they are portrayed in fiction.
It's a world where granting people human rights is seen to be violating someone else's.
And it's a world where the opinions of a vocal ignorant minority become controversial and newsworthy.
You'd think that in a world where we had freedom of speech, we'd have something worth saying.
7pm News : Today's issues, driven by media hysteria.
7.55 Three Minute Wonder : Human Rights Abuse: Three women push babies out in clear violation of the rights of the child.
8.00 Eat what I Tell You : Body Fascism and Size-ist Prejudice: Two women move in with an evil dwarf who forces them to examine their own excrement, forces them to feel inadequate about their weight, and lies to them about made up science.
9.00 Celebrity Big Brother : An unbiased examination of how human beings behave without the rule of law.
10.00 Shameless : Class-biased Anti-lesbian Racist Propaganda. An innocent English tax dodger is harrassed by a lesbian and a randomly mentally-ill woman in violation of his basic human rights.
11.05 Shipwrecked : An unbiased examination of how human beings behave without the rule of law.
When is it okay to show racism on the telly?
Let's start with the rabid view, eh? It's never okay to show racism on television. Bang goes repeating the full series of Cracker. Bang goes any storyline in a soap opera that shows racism and the backlash against it. Bang goes any serious drama that deals with racism in an intelligent way.
So we've eliminated that option. It's okay to show racism on telly. So long as it's not portrayed in a positive manner, or goes un-noted and unpunished. We've got to show the consequences. Teeters on the politically correct brink of censorship and propaganda, i know, but what the hell.
Let's look briefly at American Idol. I know it's not an attractive thing to watch, but I caught some at the weekend. Audition shows. Judges mock the contestants "You look like a bush baby". Contestants insult the judges "You should go back home to England". One's personal. One is - debatably - racist. Nobody is going to bat an eyelid. Mainly because it's a lot of nonsense.
So, any racism portrayed on television must be in the right context. That's really, really tricky for a writer. It becomes - if you will excuse the language (and you should, because it has NOTHING to do with race) - a black and white matter. You've got to have an oppressor and a victim, and the reason for the oppression has to be race, pretty much. If you throw in any ambiguity then you've got a whole different kettle of fish. We like to call this sort of drama "edgy".
And then we've got reality.
I genuinely don't know if what I saw on American Idol was racist. I think it was personal. Contestant doesn't like judge, suggests that judge should go home, picking on the most obvious thing. It's like suggesting that Paula Abdul can't sing, or Randy Jackson is a bit overweight. It's cheap, it's personal, it probably isn't in any way fair, and it's just grabbing at something to have a go at.
Unfortunately, American Idol didn't show us the consequences. Didn't show us how it felt to be on the receiving end of that sort of comment. Didn't show the realisation of the meaning of the words that had been spat out in anger. Nobody complained, nobody felt uncomfortable, and as far as I know nobody is suggesting that the programme is banned.
And that's a shame. Because showing racism on television, unscripted, and showing its consequences is probably a good thing, It's probably something that television can achieve better than reality because in reality you can never get the same dispassionate hands-off viewpoint.
It's the sort of discussion that happens all the time on current affairs programmes. I've seen some stonking debates on Channel 4 News about such-and-such a group having their *whatever* rights violated by *whatever* other group. And at the end of the programme, there's no fall out, just a five minute short film about a drop-in centre in Wales.
Maybe sometimes we need to be uncomfortable. Maybe sometimes we need that sugar coating, that disguise of entertainment.
Whatever the infantile debates and arguments in the Big Brother house are actually about doesn't really matter. Oxo cubes, undercooked chicken, class, race, whatever. It really doesn't matter.
The interesting side effect is the debate in the outside world. The debate that focuses not on what was said but on what was meant. It's interesting because it looks behind the veneer of Political Correctness and provokes debate.
I happen to work with a witch. At least, I assume she is a witch - she looks like one. We rub along fine most of the time. I can have a chat with her in the coffee room at work and when I hear about how she's turned some traffic policeman in to a toad, I can say something along the lines of "you are a witch." But if I interrupt her in the middle of a presentation and point out the same thing in the same words but with an entirely different emphasis, it's a disciplinary offence. It doesn't even have to be words. She likes touching me on the arm. She thinks it's building bridges between us. I think it's creepy and borderline sexual harassment, but I know that she doesn't mean it that way and so I just put it down to cultural differences. I have culture, and she has something different.
The debate in the United Kingdom of a few countries and Wales is important. Is the behaviour that we're seeing racially motivated, or is it more down to a personality clash combined with extreme circumstances?
Racism - or any sort of automatic discrimination against an individual because of one aspect of their character or physical characteristics is nasty. It's a learned, indoctrinated behaviour that is focussed solely on hatred and generally comes hand in hand with jealousy and a lack of self esteem. It's to be pitied, in many ways.
Bullying is not nice either, and it's very unpleasant to watch on television. But I don't think I know anyone who has never been bullied, and who has never been a bully themselves. Maybe not consistently, but I genuinely believe that given the right pressures and the right circumstances we are all capable of being pushed in to bullying behaviours. Except Mother Theresa, obviously, because she's dead (poor taste joke deleted).
So, which is worse, I wonder, and by how much? Bullying someone because your racism is ingrained in you from an early age and you can't help yourself, or bullying because you just don't like them? And as a victim, which should you be more upset about - the one that you couldn't avoid, or the one that you have triggered.
Indeed, if you actively provoke a reaction can it truly be called bullying?
See what I mean about the debate?
It's often said that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. It's not necessarily true, of course, and needs some qualification. I'm more concerned today with its corollary - the idea that those who do remember the past are somehow in a position to avoid repeating it.
This is blatantly nonsense. As any kid will tell you, a parent saying "when I was your age" is a sure-fire sign that what is about to be said is something completely irrelevant. For example
"When I was your age I used to play in the local woods and I got lots of fresh air."
Good for you. I'm not allowed to play outside in case I get knocked down by a driver going too fast while he's on his mobile phone, the woods are now a shopping centre, and if you'd had a playstation when you were young, you'd have played Sonic the Zelda all day too.
Living memory isn't necessarily relevant. How much less relevant are the events of, say, the eighteenth century?
I've written about this before, I'm sure - I must have. Living in the past, particularly if it is an imaginary past, is a trap. It's a nasty and invidious trap because the past can never be questioned - it's not real, it's not even a memory. It's a matter of belief and faith. And like belief in fairies, it's incredibly difficult to question because it's got a whole cult of authenticity behind it. The "you may not believe, but I know mentality which is the adult equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you.
I know it's seductive, and I know it's easy. But if you are always looking to the past and you are determined to recreate past glory - real or imaginary - then how can you possibly see where you are going, apart from backward?
Over the last couple of weeks, I've been reading through old entries over the last few years of writing this blog. I've noticed that my style has changed dramatically - I tend to write less about what I am doing, tend to try to find something bigger to write about.
Part of that is that I am genuinely interested in things like the emotional reaction to corporate decisions, and part of it is that my life is decidedly less interesting than it has been at points in the past. I don't travel as much, I don't read as much, I don't have so much time on my hands.
Another part is that I'm writing about much less personal stuff. Where I do write about personal matters it tends to be my health, rather than, say, the rather good spinach and pine nut pie that Starbucks used to sell. Or waking up in Brian's flat. I spent a good five minutes trying to remember where Brian's flat was. Or who Brian was, even.
Maybe this means that something is due for a change?
Goes to Dominos, calling to apologise for poor service and give me a free garlic bread. However, I couldn't make out why I was getting this free garlic bread, but who am I to look a gift bread in the mouth?
There's a rally in London today. Religious groups are to protest outside Parliament in an attempt to halt legislation banning discrimination against lesbians and gay men. They should be soundly ignored.
I'm not particularly anti-religion. I think that it does a lot of harm, sure. I think the church spreading pamphlets in Africa telling people that using condoms promotes the risk of spreading AIDS is a particularly nasty side of that for example. I think the use of belief in a next life to promote martyrs and justify religious war is downright insidious, but on the other hand, I think that a lot of great culture has been created to glorify some supreme being, and that's generally a good thing. I think that religion founded the moral codes behind many of our governments and cultures across the world. We've got a lot to be thankful to religions for.
I just wish that they could accentuate the positive a bit more.
I do kind of understand the reasons why they want to have the freedom to discriminate against lesbians and gay men. That is "understand", not "agree with", note. After all, if you're a parish priest who has a deep belief that homosexuality is a very bad thing, you're not going to want to be forced to rent out your parish hall to a gay civil partnership. But surely my belief that having a civil partnership with my boyfriend is a good idea is as valid an idea as your idea that people can turn in to pillars of salt, that the earth was created in seven days and that all the historical evidence that the world is more than 6000 years old is falsified by an invisible flying spaghetti monster?
Possibly, just possibly, I might even have some evidence to support my belief that my relationship is loving, nurturing and supporting. You may not have any evidence at all, other than a deep-felt spirituality. Good for you, I say. I kind of respect a faith that can hold on to one set of beliefs despite a whole world of evidence that denies it. Good for you.
On the whole, though, I believe that 99% of religious people in the UK will welcome this legislation. Because faith and religion aren't bad things. They are often used to justify bigotry and hatred, and when they are, that becomes a pretty serious issue.
But I'm not planning to lobby parliament for legislation to allow discrimination against people on religious grounds.
Recently back from xmas in the homeland with the various families.
Families are weird things. Every one is different, of course, but in general they're the people who have supported you throughout your life and who you have supported. The people who should have your best interests at heart, and vice versa.
An excellent example of this would be almost every episode of trisha, or eastenders, where families fall apart left, right and centre, usually with hilarious consequences. These are tense, realistic dramas, apparently. As a result, I am forced to conclude that both of the families with whom I spent xmas are atypical and deeply dysfunctional.
Our families are not ripped apart by constant rows. Sure, we argue, but at the end of the day we still feel the same about each other. None of my family have killed each other as far as we know. None of us have teenage children that we can't control. Indeed, all of the youngsters in the family - including many who were born after 1980 - are polite and friendly. We trust each other, and we know that honesty is the best policy. We know who the parents of everyone are, so we don't need DNA tests. And as for our relationships - they're pretty much solid and stable. Marriages last, relationships last, we get on, people are happy.
There must be something seriously wrong with us all.
That said, my sister and her family gave us a fantastic bread knife. Stainless steel, Japanese, beautifully designed, sharp as you can get. And the first time Mr Twinky used it he sliced straight in to his paw.
Accident... or something more sinister? The beginnings of becoming a proper family at last, perhaps?