Friday, March 24, 2017

Time for a little privacy: I shall be starting a new, wholly private blog, which you will not be able to read. And the photography thing goes on

I have to say that I have been a more regular blogger over the years than I have been recently, and I think I know why. When I started this blog, and I’ve said this before several times, it was intended to take the place of a ‘diary’ I kept for about 15 years. That diary was handwritten in hard-cover A4 ledgers - I still have them somewhere. It wasn’t just a record of my private thoughts, but also somewhere where I could have a good laugh and, in the manner of a ‘commonplace book’, record what I had come across.

Given that I believe that much of our justification for bothering to record our thoughts in writing, whether handwriting or typed, is that it can be read by others, the internet blogs were a God-send. In one sense writing for others and communicating your thoughts is pretty much the whole raison d’etre of a blog. On the other hand, there is close to absolute zero that my A4 ledgers will be read by anyone. For one thing my handwriting is incredibly difficult to read. To show you why, I have written a few words and scanned them to produce a jpg: £10 to everyone who can tell me what I have written. Christ, all too often even I can’t read my writing.

Now here’s the problem: for many years, until quite recently, in fact, I was wholly convinced that anyone who claimed they just ‘wrote for themselves’, whether it was poetry or a diary, was being disingenuous. ‘Why’, I would think, ‘go to all the bother of actually writing it down if you don’t want anyone to be privy to your private thoughts? Surely the very act of recording those thoughts in writing indicate that you, possibly secretly or unknowingly, hope they will be read by someone else?’

Well, that was then and this is now: I have changed my mind. I do now feel that sometimes we want to record our thoughts, for one reason or another, but really don’t want them to be read by anyone else. And I have changed my mind because I want to do exactly that. Why? Because I’ve found that I can often clarify what I think and feel in words, whether in conversation or debate, or by writing them down.

On the other hand and for a variety of reasons, I don’t feel I want to share those thoughts. Because what I wanted to post was rather more private than the usual stuff I publish here, I always stopped myself writing it. So I shall be starting a new blog which will - I never thought I’d say it - really is for my eyes only.

. . .

There is another reason why I haven’t posted here as much recently. Even though in the past I have joked that at the end of the day my general observations and thoughts about current affairs I record here are of no more worth than those of your local barroom bore, it also happens to be true. When an economist or someone from the world of politics blogs (here is a good example, the blog written for the Financial Times by some bod called David Allen Green and here is a very well-known UK political blog written by ‘Guido Fawkes’, they do so with authority.

When I or any other barroom bore takes to the net to record their two ha’porth, it is pretty much pot luck, with the emphasis being more, I suspect, on the ‘pot’ than the ‘luck’. Above I point out that I find I can clarify my thoughts when I get them down on paper (and, incidentally, if you try and write something and can’t find the words, the chances are that haven’t at all thought through what you want to say. The solution is to put down your pen/shut your laptop and spend more than a few rushed moments deciding what you want to say).

. . .

Like pretty much everyone else, I take snaps and still do. Although I try and take interesting one and tend to dick around with them to crop this, improve that, they are pretty much just snaps. There was a time, however, when I was rather more serious about photography, and I must admit that interest has not gone away.

In the 1970s most people took with them on holiday a 110 camera. These were shite cameras, with shite lenses and produced more than shite pictures. But they were 
cheap, although just now looking up 110 film on Wikipedia, I’ve discovered thatseveral manufacturers did produce rather more expensive models with better lenses. Be that as it may, the 110 camera your average punter chose to take on holiday to the Costas was shite and produced shite cameras, mainly because the film strip, which came in a cartridge inserted into the camera, was tiny.

I can’t remember ever having one of those, but I did eventually by some kind of cheap camera or other and was immediately always disappointed that the picture I had taken - or rather had wanted to take - was never the picture that came back from the chemist’s. A lot of it had to do with technique, of course, and committing basic errors: taking a picture of something or someone with the light source - usually the Sun - behind the thing or person, so that what you wanted to take a picture of was underexposed.

Bit by bit I learned the hard way what to do to try to make sure you had a sporting chance of taking a good photo, and soon cottoned on that if you wanted to take half-decent photographs, you pretty much needed a half-decent camera with, crucially, a half-decent lens. And before the ‘digital age dawned’ (I have to put that in inverted commas because I simply could not take myself seriously if I didn’t) it meant using 35mm film and a 35mm film single lens reflex (SLR) camera.

My first ‘serious’ camera was a Pentax MX, though I quickly also bought a Pentax K1000 and found it, despite being less sophisticated than the MX, was the camera I

always found myself using. (It was and extremely simple camera, but very good, so good, in fact, that Pentax produced them for more than 20 years and only stopped when the market for 35mm film cameras collapsed and everyone wanted a digital camera. When I bought mine, I scoured ads for news ones and discovered a shop in Loughborough selling it for £60, at least £30 cheaper than anyone else. The useful thing was that I could use my lenses on both the MX and K1000.)

Then, for a while, I went crazy, buying myself lens upon lens, a decent flashgun, a light meter, the whole gamut of equipment needed for developing film and printing pictures, and I don’t know what else. Finally, I decided to go to photography college and this I did. But I ran out of money after just two terms and had to knock the course on the head, although I did learn quite a bit of theory in that time. I could at the time explain to you what a lens with a longer focal length gives you a shallower depth of field, though I must admit I’ve since forgotten a lot of the theory, although I’m still convinced I could explain photography to a reasonably intelligent six-year-old with once resorting to any jargon - f-stops and ‘film speeds’, that kind of thing.

Several years later, my extensive collection of photographic gear - and I did have a lot - was stolen in a burglary. I eventually bought a secondhand 35mm Canon and a useful flashgun, but there was nowhere in the house to set up a darkroom and then digital photography replaced film stock photography and there was no longer a need for a darkroom.

That is a bit of a shame because although digital photography has much expanded what you can do with a camera, there was a definite pleasure to be had from developing film and printing pictures (although for both practical and aesthetic reasons I only took B&W (‘monochrome’) pictures. And still will: because, dear hearts, in about an hour’s time I shall drive to Bodmin and collect a spanking, brand-new Nikon D3300 digital SLR. Then I shall see where it will all lead.

Pip, pip.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why I wish I had never grown up a ‘cradle Catholic’: it screwed up my relationships with women for life

Over the years, I have come across news stories reporting along the lines that ‘people who have a religious faith’ are healthier and happier. Well, I suppose the immediate reaction to that claim will range from ‘told you Jesus loves you, now repent, sinner, repent!’ to ‘yeah, right, and the Moon is made of cheese’, with neither camp even considering that the other might have a point.

The news stories will detail how ‘people who profess to have a faith recuperate faster from illness and surgery’, and it is no surprise that such stories are the bread and butter of our popular press. It is, in fact, a perennial favourite of Britain’s much-loved Daily Mail - a quick google shows it carried the claim several times in the past five years - and if you want ‘definitive proof’ that it’s true, you’ll come across any number of internet sites supplying it. All - now there’s another surprise - seem to be sites fun by various religious bodies or promoting ‘family values’. And when Breitbart  also gets in on the act, many of us might agree it is high time we counted the family silver again.

In truth, as far as I am concerned the claim is too woolly to substantiate: the first difficulty would seem to be how you ‘measure’ happiness, although gauging how healthy an individual is would perhaps be a little easier. And what constitutes ‘having a faith’. One website I came across correlates church attendance with ‘happiness’ - people who said they attended church regularly reported ‘feeling happy’ with their lives more than those who didn’t. But another website posed the relevant question: could those figures simply be explained by the fact that happy people are simply more inclined to go to church? At the end of the day, and rather unhelpfully, you pays your money and you makes your choice. And yet . . .

‘And yet’ - now there, it would seem is a capitulation: after all my sneering and jeering, am I getting soft in my old age? Am I slowly coming round to the view that fairies might after all live at the bottom of the garden?

. . .

I am what is often called a ‘cradle Catholic’, someone who was born and baptised into, and raised in, the Roman Catholic church. And I really wish I hadn’t been. But here’s a conundrum: I am to all intents and purposes an atheist, yet if I were directly asked the question ‘do you believe in God’ I would do two thing - I would say ‘yes’, and then I would immediately shut down any further discussion. I would not only refuse to answer any more questions, I would refuse to take part in an subsequent talk on the matter. And I would do so for one simple reason: I don’t at all believe in the slightest in the ‘God’ of conventional faiths, the ‘God’ of christianity or islam, some ‘all-knowing, all-powerful being’ who ‘created the universe’.

My ‘God’ would be something far more mundane, though, as far as I am concerned, equally important (if not more so): optimism, hope, looking on the bright side, altruism, kindness, consideration, selflessness. And these most certainly exist - as do their counterparts: despair, greed, hate, selfishness. So to deny that ‘God’ exists would be to deny the virtue of much else that is ‘good’. From what little I know of humanism, I suppose you could call my outlook humanist (but let me stress that I know bugger all about humanism).

When, though, I meet someone who professes to ‘have a faith’, I don’t, as all too often seems to happen when they encounter ‘an atheist’, tackle their ‘silly faith’ straight on and try to show that it is all just so much hooey (although to be frank I do believe it is just so much hooey). I leave them be in their faith, because I sincerely believe they are rather better off than many who don’t have a ‘faith’.

I know that might sound contradictory, so let me try and explain: as far as I am concerned what is important the ‘having a faith’, not the ‘what’ they have faith in. Do I believe and accept that a certain Jesus Christ was ‘born of a virgin’, ‘God made man’, ‘gave his life to save mankind’, ‘ascended into Heaven’, will be resurrected on ‘Judgment Day’ and whose ‘love is all-permeating’? No, I don’t. But do I accept that others do believe it all and - crucially - it gives them comfort and succour and some kind of support in their lives? Well, yes, I do. I feel it is not the particulars of a someone’s ‘faith’ that are important, but simply that they ‘have a faith’. And if - as some studies seem to show (here is one and here is another) - those who profess to ‘have a faith’ do report being happier and do seem to enjoy better health, I am inclined to believe it is down to having a more positive outlook. I almost wrote ‘merely down to having a more positive outlook’, but I didn’t, because that rather trivialises it all.

. . .

I have meant to write the above post for several years, but never actually got around to it. I am doing so now, though, because, there has been another post I have meant to write for some time, but which I again have put off writing, and the above can lead into it.

The other day a woman at work, Sue, a Londoner but the daughter of two Irish who grew up in both Ireland and London, and crucially another ‘cradle Catholic’ happened to mention that she was bullied at her convent school. Another former pupil had tracked her down, informed her she was organising a school reunion and would she like to come. ‘No bloody way,’ said Sue. The only other pupil, she said, she would like to meet again with whom she had lost touch was another girl who always stood up for her when the bullying took place. The nuns did bugger all and just let it happen. If you met Sue today, you would be hard-pushed to imagine how anyone could bully her: she is quite tall, self-possessed and, it would seem, no one’s pushover. And yet she was. And like me she, too, wants nothing more to do with the RC church.

I suppose my major gripe is that my ‘Catholic upbringing’ completely distorted my view of women and, as far as I am concerned, affected my relationships with women rather badly, or, to put it another way, they could have been better in that I might not have reacted so badly to being dumped and might myself not have treated some woman what I now think is quite badly. Given my age, of course, my chauvinism might well be a result of the age in which I grew up. When I was young girls were still expected to take second place, have few ambitions except to become a wife and mother and whose role it was assumed to be was to make life just that much easier for the men in their lives. But I do feel my Catholic upbringing had a great deal to do with imbuing in me - and many others, of course - what is often referred to as ‘the madonna/whore complex’.

(NB. Two stories: Stephanie, a lawyer at work of about my age who was sent to a private girls boarding school when she was young told me she and the other girls were taught how to play cricket and to understand the game. Why? Well, if at some point in the future the man who became their husband wanted to talk about cricket, they would thus be well-prepared and would be able to hold their own in any discussion.

Then there’s the apparent reason why when the welfare state was established in Britain, the retirement age was set at 65 for men, but only 60 for women. Why? Well, it was reasoned that ‘most women were on average five years younger than their husband, so if they were working it would be useful for them to be able to retire at the same time as he did so look after him.)

Now, from the vantage point of a man who is closer to 70 than 60, I believe I can see much far more clearly: I would never describe myself as ‘a feminist’ because to me it always sounds so horribly arch and phoney when men do so. But I shall say that it now seems to me that in so many ways women, whether here in the affluent Western world or in ‘less developed’ societies get still get a raw deal. For example, is there any way that female genital mutilation could ever be justified? Ever? And here in the ‘developed’ Western world there are still far too many instances of a woman being paid less for doing the same job as a man. Why?

. . .

As far a my personal relations with women are concerned, I do quite explicitly blame the Roman Catholic church and the bearing it had on my upbringing and emotional development, quite specifically its institutional misogyny. It is best and neatly summed up in what is usually called the ‘madonna/whore’ attitude: on the one hand women - as in the cult of ‘Our Lady’ - are pretty much regarded as perfect beings (‘Our Lady’ as ‘the mother of Christ’ being regarded as the most perfect of all) and as such perfect beings are forgiven no transgression whatsoever. So, for example, and given the very odd christian view that sexual intercourse is sinful, Mary’s son Jesus simply could not have been created as the result of any coupling Mary might have engaged in, but just had to be born ‘of a virgin’.

(Years ago, when I was 17 and in my last year at school, I and about five six other boys were given our RI lessons by the headmaster who took over from a Dom Adrian Morey in my final year. He was an Irishman, Webster Wilson by name, who also took me for my German A level tuition and had married a German woman. I rather liked him and got on well with him, but sadly he was an object of ridicule in the school: he had somehow got off on the wrong foot and never regained the right foot.

Anyway, we all sat on his chairs and sofas in his well-appointed study on which on that day in a winter term a log fire burned gloriously. It was very soporific, and in the way that these things do, over the weeks a routine had emerged in which I or some other boy would engage Mr Wilson in conversation about something or other and keep him talking for an hour while everyone else dozed peacefully for an hour.

One day I told him that I, who was also taking sciences A levels, simply couldn’t get my head around the notion of the ‘virgin birth’. It just couldn’t be possible, I said. Mr Wilson countered with a question: ‘Do you believe in God?’ he asked me. Yes, I told him, I did. ‘Do you believe God created the laws of nature?’ he asked. Well, yes, I suppose I do, I replied. ‘Well, then he can break them, too, can’t he,’ Mr Wilson explained. And that was it.)

Naturally, women didn’t always - I should imagine ever - live up to the perfect state to which they were expected to aspire and ‘transgressed’. How could they? How can they? That state is impossible to achieve for all of us. But when they didn’t, they were regarded as jezebels, sinful beings like Eve in the Garden of Eden, who seduced Adam into eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Note that the emphasis is always on Adam who is said to have been seduced, and was thus the less guilty of the two: it was Eve who - in the myth - is the transgressor.

As a lad brought up on this rubbish, when I was at university - my sex life didn’t start until I was 19 - forever trying to get woman ‘to screw’, though this being the Sixties when the pill was still not widely prescribed, it was always a challenge. But then if a woman did do so, my attitude subtly changed. Whereas before they had been on a pedestal, now they were somehow not quite worthy, regardless that I had been an active agent in making them unworthy.

This was all compounded by, at 12, becoming rather plump and shortsighted, that I did not regard myself as very attractive to girls. The upshot was that when I finally did ‘score’, I was pretty much convinced the girl who had ‘given in’ was pretty much only doing me a favour. It has taken a good many years - far, far too many years - to realise that women have a sex drive equal to that of men. My relationships all seemed to follow a pattern: I would fall desperately in love, but the girl would end it and I would be heartbroken and consequently treat the next girl badly. I don’t suppose this can be entirely blamed on the RC church’s misogyny - or, in an attempt to be evenhanded what I regard as its misogyny - and I also believe that attending single-sex boys schools from the age of 10 and simply not growing up with girls will also have a bearing.

But - and this is a hell of an admission - it is really only in the past 30 or so years that I have come to see women in the round: people who just happen to have a different gender to me.

Friday, February 3, 2017

When is censorship not censorship? Well, it would seem it’s when the saintly Guardian does the censoring. And want to pour the perfect glass of water? The Guardian tells you how

The Guardian, often described as ‘a newspaper’ and ‘the conscience of the nation’ has many faces, not all of them admirable. I am a fan of its serious journalism - Christ, ‘fan’ does trivialise it enormously and I don’t intend to, but I’m sure you know what I mean - and believe the Guardian does a job that, to my mind at least, other British papers do too little. Yes, that is a broad claim, and the other national newspapers pursue serious journalism after a fashion.

For example, the Daily Telegraph exposed the expenses scandal among many of our MPs and the Daily Mail exposed the some of the crap going on in the charity industry. But the Guardian stands out because it is not primarily a profit-making enterprise, unlike its three immediate rivals, the The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, all three of whom have several axes to grind. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Guardian doesn’t, but those axes are not - as far as I can tell - ground according to demands of the proprietors other interest.

The Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail are all profit-driven, but we’re assured the Guardian isn’t. Well, in fact, we can accept that assurance in good faith because if it were profit-driven, whoever is driving the profit deserves a boot up his - or, this being the Guardian, possibly her - arse. The Guardian is slowly but very surely going down the pan

It is owned and run by the Scott Trust Ltd. the successor to the original Scott Trust. That the new owners are a limited company rather than a trust would seem to be irrelevant but something is going amiss. The Guardian doesn’t itself make a profit, but that didn’t matter because the media group of which it is a part did. But then just over two years ago, the media group sold its stake in a company which owns the very profitable Autotrader magazine. That did bring in a short-term £600 million, but it also ended a very useful income stream.

Just over six years ago, the group sold of all its regional papers, including the Manchester Evening News, again to raise money because it is slowly going bust.

Last year, it made a £173 million loss and the paper has now taken to holding out a begging bowl, asking readers to become ‘supporters’. Would it be too silly to suggest that it instead turned its mind to producing a newspaper more people want to buy

and made sure its online presence turned a profit? That solution doesn’t yet seemed to have occurred to the Guardian. Maybe its me and my cynical tendencies, but there seems to be something ineffably self-regarding in not just the paper touting for financial support but in those willing to cough up a fiver to ensure the future of ‘liberal thinking’ or however they want to phrase it

All of this is bad news, especially as Britain needs a paper like the Guardian to balance out what is otherwise a national press heavily biased towards the right of centre. But on other matters the Guardian does piss me off enormously, and one of the things which pisses me off is what I regard as a certain rampant hypocrisy

It is generally assumed that the Guardian holds a liberal position on censorship. Here for example is a piece entitled Censorship is inseparable from surveillance. Broadly, if I understand it, the Guardian’s position is the least censorship, the better and that it is up to individuals what they choose to see, read and watch or not. Well, if I am right and that is what the paper believes, it is a sad case of ‘one rule for use, another for you entirely’

A few days ago, the paper ran a piece along the lines of ‘would you want to know whether you partner had a bisexual history’. You can find it here. The emphasis is on sexual health and so thinking about it now, I assume the question is aimed at women rather than men, because Aids and other STDs are more likely to be passed on by a bisexual man to a woman, than to a man by a woman who had previously been tipping the velvet. Certainly, a woman can infect a guy with Aids and other STDs but they will first have been acquired from a previous male lover not a female (as far as I know - I’m willing to be set straight on whether Aids and STDs can be acquired through lesbian sex)

I am something of a Guardian comment queen and enjoy adding my two ha’porth worth to man topics. And when I came across the piece, I decided to add a comment confessing something which I had long kept private: that the thought of male on male sex makes me feel rather queasy. I just don’t like the idea. I can’t remember my exact words, but it ran like something along these lines:

‘Reading piece such as this [the article in question] always make me feel a little bit guilty. I have a gay brother to whom I am close and several gay friends and colleagues but when we are together their sexuality or anything related to it is pretty much the last thing which is one our minds. Yet the idea of sex between two men turns me off and makes me feel queasy. Yet the idea of sex between two women doesn’t. I have a female friend who feels the opposite. She is turned off by the idea of sex between two women but doesn’t at all care bout sex between men’

Pretty straightforward I thought, if not admirably liberal in a way the Guardian might like - the ‘feeling guilty’ looks the part. When I leave comments, I tend to return to them a few minutes later to see whether they have elicited a response from

other readers. And I was astonished to find ‘the moderators’ had deleted it. Apparently it ‘didn’t abide’ by the Guardian’s ‘community standards’. Now I can certainly understand how comments which are downright offensive could be deleted, but my views seemed and seem so innocuous. What on earth could be offensive about those

I responded leaving another comment asking for whoever was in charge of the moderators to review my deleted comment to see what might have been unacceptable about it. That, too, was deleted

So there you have it: the Guardian which doesn’t believe in censorship isn’t above censorship when it suits

It would seem the Guardian has something of a bee in its bonnet about folk who swing both ways. Just now, going onto the Guardian website to track down that particular article by entering the word ‘bisexual’ in its search facility, I came across quite a few pieces. There’s this one from December 2016 claiming more and more people are bisexual, though I rather think it’s just that more and more people are prepared to admit it. Then there’s this one from which actually claims that half of all young folk in Britain say they swing both ways, a claim I rather take with large pinch of salt

Possibly the reason for this Guardian interest is that it feels as a ‘progressive’ newspaper it should be pushing the boundaries. And I am bound to say the such pushing the boundaries is absolutely necessary if one wants to bring in any changes one regards as for the better. But on the matter of censorship the saintly Guardian does lose several brownie point

. . .

Another rather quirky aspect of the paper, though a very revealing one, is an occasional series it carries on ‘How to make the perfect...’ Here are two examples


Then there is my contribution

. . .

Writing this has reminded me of a story told to me by a friend of another friend who was offered a job on The Independent before it was just a memory. The ‘Indy’ has always struck me as rather self-regarding, a paper chosen by those for whom the Guardian was a tad to ‘lefty’. My friend’s friend was a reporter on The Times and was headhunted by The Independent and invited for interview. It went well. Finally, he was offered a job. ‘But you haven’t told me how much you would be paying me,’ he said. They told him. ‘But that’s about £4,000 less than I’m getting now,’ he told them. ‘Ah,’ they said, ‘but you would be working for The Independent.’ He turned them down.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A self-indulgent moment. My excuse is that I dislike being called a liar. It's not that I don't lie - of course I do, we all do - but on this occasion I didn't

My most recent post, a reproduction of an answer I gave on the Quora website, is to be followed by this one. Thinking about it, I am rather leading with my chin by posting it here, but I’m going to do it anyway. Some dick in Florida, a hack called Paul Ivice, left a comment on my Quora post, I responded to his, and it all degenerated rather quickly. I, of course, think I come out best; he, no doubt, thinks he did.

My reason for posting it here (apart from taking another single step towards posting 1,000 blog entries before I die) is because Mr Ivice – or that pompous Yankee prick in Florida as I prefer to call him – more or less called me a liar. Possibly, being a certain kind of American, he didn’t quite cotton on that, as always when I write pretty much anything, my tongue is quite a bit in my cheek. But lie I most certainly did not.

What I am pretty sure of is that he is a card-carrying po-faced prat who, like many other po-faced prats who work as hacks, believes his own bullshit and that every traffic accident he reports, every story he files about an extension to the city council restrooms is a blow for freedom and democracy. I agree that a free press is a cornerstone of a democracy, but it’s not quite as Dick and Dora as suggesting, as Mr Ivice and his ilk seem to, that the crucial role ‘the fourth Estate’ can play in a democracy means that every cough and fart by the media is somehow sanctified.

NB I put ‘the fourth Estate’ in quotes because the phrase began life as a snide gibe, not, as some now believe, as some kind of political wisdom.

(Later: I decided I wanted to flesh out the origins of the term ‘the fourth Estate’ and googled it - the posh term is ‘researched’ it which, of course, sounds a lot finer than ‘googled it’ - and came across the Wikipedia entry.

It seems the term was first used in the late 18th century by Edmund Burke to describe the press when they were first allowed to report on the proceedings of the British parliament, the ‘allowed’ being quite pertinent, of course, when he compared them to what he regarded as the other three estates of parliament, the Lords Spiritual (the bishops), the Lord Temporal (the nobility) and the Commons (the landowners and increasingly the merchants). The press, he surmised, would now constitute a ‘fourth estate’.

Given that, in contemporary terms, Burke was something of a progressive when he began his political life although he gradually calcified into a conservative, he would at the time most likely have welcomed press scrutiny of parliament, my claim that the term started life as a gibe, holds rather less water than I should like. But in keeping with what I allude to below - the sacred hacks’ principle of ‘not letting a couple of facts get in the way of a good story’ - please ignore this last piece of uncharacteristic honesty on my part.)

The Florida dick accuses me of being verbose and long-winded. Well, my response are certainly longer than his, but I shall leave it to you, dear reader, to decide whether he was right or not. And if I were to provide and explanation as to why my contributions are not in grunt speak but a little more fleshed-out, it would be that the nature of Quora, where these comments are appearing, is that it is informative. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. (Note to self: are you not more pissed off that you were called long-winded rather than that you were accused of lying?)

Here is the first comment left by the Florida prat (and from hereon in I shall mark out his comments in itals):

Dumbest and most misleading statement of the day: ‘Essentially, a reporter’s job is to provide enough words - copy - to fill the paper, and the sub-editor’s job is to prepare that copy for printing - laying out pages, cutting the copy to fit, checking facts, choosing pictures, writing captions etc.

To which I respond:

Good Lord, an idealist! A Lou Grant fan! ‘Dumbest and most misleading statement of the day’? Up to a point, Lord Copper (and I trust you get the allusion.).

Yes, newspapers are partly rooted in a desire to pass on ‘news’, and at its purest, that news will be, for example, proceedings in parliament and the courts (‘justice must not just be done, it must be seen to be done’). They evolved from the flysheets posted anonymously by political agitators and in the pamphlets which succeeded them, but a desire to ‘get the news out there and inform the public’ was not why they evolved.

They got bigger and more extensive because canny businessmen, initially the printers, realised that there was money to be made (as canny businessmen are apt to do) by selling advertising space on such publications and adding other copy which could interest readers who might otherwise be disinclined to cough up the cover price for nothing be loads and loads of ads. So the ‘news’ was the sweetener. It is best summed up by the cynical observation of the Canadian press baron Roy Thomson, later Lord Thomson of Fleet, who will have forgotten more about producing newspapers than you are ever likely to know in the first place, that ‘news is what you stick around adverts’.

That copy - that ‘news’ - was not just, or not even mainly political. Yes, it still included accounts of the proceedings in parliament, but it was also pretty much anything which the publisher thought might interest the reader - anything. It included small ads, advice columns, cookery tips, lurid and often exaggerated accounts of crime, accounts of executions, short stories, features - pretty much the same kind of crap which fills today’s newspapers. And that ‘anything’ had to be produced by the hacks he employed to produce his newspaper.

The journalists - the name ‘journalist’ was derived from ‘anyone working on producing a journal’ - had to come up with that crap, as much as was needed to fill the empty space. NB I once in the foyer of the offices of the Northampton Chronicle in the UK came across - under glass - a copy of that paper from the late 18th century, opened at random. I took a look. The layout was just column upon column of copy, but among the news items - so and so crashed their carriage on the road just outside town, a footpad is at large so be careful after dark - there was a column of lonely hears ads and, believe it or not, an ad for a washing with ‘a blue whitener’ with which users of Persil might be familiar.

As for your Lou Grant ideals, any reporter who refused to write a story because of her or his principles would be very swiftly invited to sling their hook and take their principles elsewhere. Don’t believe the shite on TV. ‘Dumbest and most misleading statement of the day’? Think again.

PS If you’re interested in why reporters were urged to ‘get the story first’, it was merely because for purely venal reasons you wanted to beat the opposition. In those days there were usually at least two rival papers in each town, and if you got the story first with more detail etc, and you were first on sale in the street, might gradually sell more of your rag, and when you had a bigger circulation (greater sales), you could persuade advertisers to come to you with their dosh rather than to your rival on the promise that the money they paid for advertising would go further. The only ideal at play here is ‘to make more money’.

I don't have time for verbose pedants. Good luck to you.

‘Verbose’? I’m not too sure you know the meaning of the word. Ain’t nothing like a bad loser. Sad, really.

Brevity is an art you have yet to explore.

What a very, very, very silly thing to say under the circumstances. Are you suggesting all answers to questions here on Quora should restrict themselves to 140 characters to accommodate the Twitter generation? And, dear soul, a Yank journalist - I see you scrape a living writing for ‘midsized’ newspapers - banging on about ‘brevity’ is a delicious irony all of its own, though perhaps you, like rather too many Americans are unfamiliar with the notion of ‘irony’.

Briefly, what principles that journalists hold dear are based on shaky foundations?

As a rule when I hear folk bandying about the notion of ‘principles’ I resolve to count the silver well before they go. What principles held by journalists are based on shaky foundations? Pretty much all of them, including ‘it’s my round but you pay’. I do suspect that you, rather like many other American hacks I have met who work for a ‘midsized’ newspaper, are inclined to take yourselves and your ‘vocation’ rather too seriously.

Face it, we’re really not that important. Yes, there’s the philosophical argument to be made about how our industry is an intricate part of ‘the fourth estate’ and that ‘the fourth estate’ functions as a bastion of every democratic society, though most people don’t hang around long enough to hear about that argument being made and, crucially, care even less. But this is all a tad to ‘verbose’ for you, I imagine. But I do wonder what you make of all those 4,000-word New Yorker features if you don’t like ‘verbose’. Do you just look at the pictures?

I suspect that you don’t have a clue what the specific journalistic principles are,so once again you spew a lot of words without any actual meaning.

Might I suggest you read my words just a little more carefully, then? You might eventually cotton on (with a bit of luck). Just a thought. All I get from you is ad hominem abuse. That’s the easy way. As for ‘specific newspaper principles’: as I pointed out before, I always take fright when I hear folk - such as you, perhaps? - bang on about ‘principles’. It’s almost always a sure sign of a nine-bob note (U.S. - as we have to translate for the sake of our transatlantic cousins - nine-dollar bill). To be blunt, U.S. newspapers might be long on ‘principles’ but what I have seen of them they are pretty bloody short on ‘interest’. ‘Waffle’ doesn’t even start to describe their content.

Why can’t you respond in a straightforward manner, instead of piling on more BS? What journalistic principles are you referring to? I still do not believe you know what they are.

You talk of bullshit? Well, how about the bullshit of talking about ‘journalistic principles’? As I originally wrote (though you snidely and inaccurately described my outline as ‘verbose’), ‘journalism’ is pretty much a moveable feast, from the extreme of Take A Break and the National Inquirer to the FT and The Economist.

The ‘principles’ of which journalistic tradition are you talking about? Those of the men and woman engaged in ‘serious’ journalism – ‘the first draft of history’, ‘speaking power to authority’ and all that malarkey - certainly do have ‘journalistic principles’: when ‘reporting news’ ensuring they stick to what they believe are ‘the facts’ and double-checking those facts, ensuring those quoted are quoted honestly and all the rest with which dedicated viewers of Lou Grant will be familiar (the irony being, of course, that ‘Lou Grant’ was a fictional character in a TV series intended to entertain and thereby attract advertisers to the TV stations screening it).

Or are you talking about the ‘journalistic principles’ of those working for Globe and OK! Magazine, folk who, given the oh-so vague definition of ‘journalist’ are just as justified to be described as such (as I pointed out in my original ‘verbose’ contribution)? Their principles most certainly do not include ‘facts’ and accuracy, more ‘entertainment’ and ‘boosting sales’. I heard and laughed at early on in my career – and often had to follow - the useful advice given to young reporters ‘don’t let a couple of facts stand in the way of a good story’. The ‘principle’ here was not to lie, simply not to tell the full truth. Which set of ‘journalistic principles’ is it?

I most certainly do not accept the denial by some (though thankfully not all) of those engaged in ‘serious’ journalism that those others, the Grub Street gang, hack pen-for-sale men and women, are not ‘journalists’. They are, often very good ones, but they just deal in other matters. And I have a great deal of respect for them and their abilities (and you never come across any of that posturing which makes the company of some other ‘journalists’ such a chore).

Meanwhile, there is a vast in-between of publications, all employing ‘journalists’: the weeklies (my first was the Lincolnshire Chronicle), the evening papers (the South Wales Argus), the provincial morning papers (The Journal in Newcastle), then the ‘nationals’ in London (I have worked at different times on, the Sun, the Daily Express, The Times, The Independent and several others, each of which demanded of me different skills).

You work for a ‘midsized’ newspapers, and I’m certain that in your working life (whether you are a writer or copy editor) you don’t just cover the serious business of the city council, the courts or the police department, but also the report on the new fund launched to build a library extension, the kid who has just built a replica of the White House from Lego bricks, this and that couple who have just celebrated and astounding 60 years of married life (‘give and take, that’s the secret, give and take’).

This might in your eyes – in, I have to say, your distressingly pompous eyes – be a ‘verbose’ way of answering your question, so to sum up: your question is as damn close to being a non-question as is humanly possible. It is far, far too vague, which coming from a chap who advocates ‘brevity’ is a bit bloody thick. As I said before, it is safer to keep a good distance between oneself and those who bang on about ‘principles’, whether journalistic or otherwise. The chances of infection are real. I prefer the company of doers not talkers.That straightforward enough for you?

Verbose = long-winded, and it was not only accurate, but this latest unreadable reply proves it. 

Yet again all you can come up with is abuse, not reasons. Just how is my most recent response long-winded and unreadable? I truly am interested. I aimed to make several points and only a moron would try (or expect) them to be conveyed in the 140 characters of Twitter speak. Come on, laddie, a bit more beef, or else I shall assume you, too, are all talk. You probably have done some copy editing: well take my most recent contribution and sub it down. There, a true challenge. But I shan’t hold my breath. (That damn verbose Lincoln, eh? ‘Four score and seven years ago.’ Why didn’t he just say ’87 years ago’? Three words instead of six. Long-winded cunt!)

Because you still have not answered the question, and all your dancing around it indicates you are unable to answer it. If you cannot give a straightforward answer, do not bother responding with more BS. And by the way, verbose was used correctly and fairly. It was you who did not understand its meaning, not me.

Sunshine, there is no ‘question’. That was the whole point. Christ, it’s like pushing string. You are the one who uses words to say absolutely fuck all.

The question you have carefully avoided answering is what are the journalistic principles that you claim are no longer being followed. How can you say they are not being followed if you do not know what they are?

I have just spent a bit of time going through my original response to the question, then your subsequent comment, my response to you and then the rest of it. In your fourth response you ask: ‘Briefly, what principles that journalists hold dear are based on shaky foundations?’ I did so because I was puzzled: I did not remember writing that. In fact, it turns out that at no point - in all I’ve said - do I claim that ‘principles that journalists hold dear are based on shaky foundations’. I might have been mistaken, of course, so I did what you apparently haven’t yet done: I double, then treble-checked. And, dear heart, I was right: I never claimed any such thing.

So your ‘question’ really is a non-question, which says rather little for your professional skills and abilities, ‘accuracy’ - oh, another ‘journalistic principle’ - apparently not quite your strongest suit. As we say in my country ‘fur coat and no knickers’. But by all means prove me wrong - where did I make that claim? And if you can’t give me chapter and verse, do what you should have done several rounds ago: fuck off.

You are mistaken. It was in your very first comment in this thread. How you could have missed it in reviewing the thread is beyond me, unless it was a matter of convenience. I took your words almost verbatim and challenged you immediately to back it up, though you still have not.

Show me - exactly.

I got no response, so a little later:

Still waiting…

You probably have revised your comments to extract it. When I asked you to elaborate on principles, I quoted directly from your comments as they were at the time. It was too painful to read through your verbose comments once; I will not subject myself to further pain by doing it again.

It was this, the implication that I had doctored my initial response, which pissed me off and which seemed to imply that I was lying, so I was blunt. But my initial response to the Florida Dick was deemed to breach Quora’s guidelines which insist that we be nice to each other and so it was deleted. Not to be outdone, however, and in some ways being just as much of a dick as Paul Ivice, I wrote a second response:

My initial response to your accusation that I have been dishonest and deleted a part of my message so as to alter it was blunt, to the point and highly relevant, but unfortunately Quora felt it overstepped the mark. So let me leave it at simply noting that the next twice you feel inclined to accuse someone of lying, think twice before doing so. It is not appreciated, as you can imagine. I shan’t resort to using the blunt Anglo-Saxon word I used before, but I can still invite you retreat to that place where customarily the Sun doesn’t shine where you can consider both your ‘journalistic principles’ and your rather distressing pomposity.

PS You use the word ‘verbose’ so often, it’s as though you’ve just come across it and rather like it. My son used to do that with the word ‘random’ when he was 7.

Being just as vindictive as the rest of you, here is a video which might amuse you. I googled - ‘researched’ - Paul Ivice and came across this on YouTube. It helped that he has a less than usual name. Google Patrick Powell and you will never track me down. This is a rendition of Van Morrison’s Moondance. I admit isn’t too bad to start with but nosedives at 30 seconds in. However, written by Van Morrison, murdered Paul Ivice. Christ, I’m a cunt, though I must admit that his voice isn’t bad. I can’t sing either, but at least I’m not daft enough to have my singing posted on sodding YouTube.

. . .

For those of you who like or even love this song (as I do, though being the middle-class modest, retiring sort, I will admit only to liking it) and need to be reassured that it isn’t quite as bad as Mr Ivice makes it out to be, here is the original. (Sadly, it might not play in the browser you are using. If so, try another.


And as we are on to Van Morrison, here’s is a song which I love and which gets right to the very core of me. If I’m quite candid, it sometimes makes me cry (and that is actually true, this and the opening of Beethoven’s fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony, the Ode To Joy. I’m a bit of a softee at heart, but for fuck’s sake don't tell anyone!)  Oh, and it is not a love song to a woman, man, dog or cat, but, I’m told has rather more to do with Morrison’s spiritual feelings. Mine, too, it has to be said.

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

PS I’ve just been on Spotify to listen to other versions of this song, and without exception they utterly crucify it. I’m a liberal at heart, but even I am astounded that there are so many stone-hearted fuckwits out there with recording contracts.

Amazingly there is no worst offender. All cover versions, from Jim Reeves to Elvis Presley, to Michael ‘Fucking’ Buble to Bing Crosby and the rest of the sorry bunch, so fucking execrable you wouldn’t think they are trying to sing the same song. If you want a laugh, go on Spotify and listen for yourselves. But if you want to enjoy the rest of your week in peace and equanimity for God’s sake don’t do anything of the kind. Stick to Morrison’s version and . . .

PS There’s an old joke about Van Morrison that the world is split into two: those who like Van Morrison and those who have met him. Well, simply going by this song, the man can’t be all bad.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Quite a simple post: how some of the phrases we used came about (apparently - better add that bit)

This blog is the successor to a diary I used to write, in long hand and in hard-backed A4 ledgers (I’ve still got them, about nine of them, spanning about 13 years). But that diary was also occasionally used as a commonplace book. So this entry of the derivations of several phrases we all know isn’t quite as unusual as at first it might seem. I cribbed it from a link on Facebook (heard of Facebook?). 

We can learn a lot about ourselves by looking to the past. History not only provides us with a nostalgic glimpse at how things used to be — like with these classic childhood toys — but its lessons can still teach us things today. Many of us fondly refer to ‘the good old days’ when times were purer and life was simpler.

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot. Once a day, it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive, you were ‘piss poor’ But worse than that were the really poor folks who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot. They ‘didn’t have a pot to piss in’ and were considered the lowest of the low.

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!’

Houses had thatched roofs with thick straw-piled high and no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’.

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the term, ‘dirt poor’.

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence, ‘a thresh hold’.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day, they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme ‘Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old’.

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could ‘bring home the bacon’. They would cut off a little to share with guests, and would all sit around and ‘chew the fat’.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the ‘upper crust’.

 Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a ‘wake’.

In old, small villages, local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside, and they realised they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (‘the graveyard shift’) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be ‘saved by the bell,’ or was considered a ‘dead ringer’.