Notepad on Life

December 20, 2018

Humanist funerals – working without a net

Filed under: death — - @ 9:08 am
Tags: , , ,
trees in park

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My first humanist funeral last week. How very contemporary.

No robed clergy, no talk of onward journeys: just a peroxide blonde with chubby calves, trying to make the most of this terminus, laying on the sincerity with a trowel and uttering the word ‘celebration’ with such emphasis, it was as if she was trying to convince herself as much as the mourners.

We need to abandon this semantic sleight-of-hand. It ‘s fooling no-one, and the strain of trying can’t be good for the well-being of those still standing. Celebration comes weeks, months later, when grief has subsided into melancholy and memories begin to prompt the counting of blessings as much as tears. When someone asks what absent friends would have made of these lousy Christmas crackers and the laughter around the table is unforced. Then we celebrate.

Today, we just try and get through.

And no matter how much the deceased might have loved him, Frank Sinatra numbers before, during and after the service are lipstick on a pig that just won’t wear it. Too early, the undertaker takes up his position in readiness to escort the family from the crematorium after the closing song, clearly unaware that Mack the Knife is one of the most interminable tunes in popular music. For several minutes he stands stiffly to attention, and the extended juxtaposition of formal grief and musical levity gradually moves beyond amusement, into realms of excruciation that make you want to scream “STOP!!!”.

I have no philosophical empathy with humanist celebrants but credit where it’s due; these Godless funerals are a tough gig. You can be the worst clergyman out there, cack-handed and cliche-ridden at these last hurrahs, and yet you’re only ever the support act, sending the deceased off to the Main Event. Like a dodgy warm-up band, people will humour you and put up with you, because the Headline Act – the one they really want to see – lies beyond the curtain, beyond this lifetime.

No such safety net for the humanist host. For those prepared to confront this ultimate wall and at least try to spin it, I respect their fortitude, whether or not they pull it off.

We file out just as mourners for the next committal are filing in, in full view of one other: death’s conveyor belt. Crematorium architects might like to consider how wretched this looks, next time they head for the drawing board.

Celebration my backside. Not today. Not here. Not like this.

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December 5, 2018

The police and their public edge a little further apart…

Filed under: crime,Law and order,Uncategorized — - @ 1:52 pm
Tags: ,
man in officer s uniform black standing during parade

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Have-a-go-heroes.

Burgled householders getting mediaeval with their intruders.

Vigilante policing because the official version’s gone AWOL.

I don’t know what the strict legalities are in these scenarios but I think we all know police attention wouldn’t just focus on the villains. The good guys, too, could probably expect a visit and, at the very least, a condescending “quiet word” about taking the law into their own hands.

But when it’s a cop getting heat? Oh, how their tune doth change.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, wants the public to get physical when they see officers under attack.

“People stand up and say ‘that’s not right, don’t do that’ and on occasion, if they feel able, get involved and do something physical.

“You have to look at the circumstances.

“If there’s a man pointing a gun at you we don’t want you running at the man pointing the gun, that would be crazy.

“If you see an officer getting a kicking and you feel able to assist, absolutely I want my public getting involved, and we see people getting involved, including in some of those videos.

“We don’t want people taking crazy risks, we do want people getting involved.”

Right. So when it’s us under threat, lying back and thinking of England are the order of the day, but when it’s you, we suddenly have the green light to go full-on Chuck Norris?

Optics-wise, not your finest hour, Cressida Dick. Not by a long chalk.

December 3, 2018

Sex on TV – you’re coming from the wrong angle

Filed under: Cinema,sex,TV — - @ 1:12 pm
Tags: ,
photography of a naked woman lying on couch

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It’s a safe bet the young Alicia Rodis never ran around her school playground, pretending to be an ‘intimacy co-ordinator’. Not even when she and her folks sat down with the careers teacher a few years later, I fancy, did the phrase crop up.

But that is where life has led her.

To help actors with reservations over sex scenes in TV drama, Alicia is one of a burgeoning number of on-set ‘advisers’ provided by programme-makers. If the words “Oh get over yourselves…” haven’t occurred to you once you finish the following extract from How HBO is changing sex scenes forever, you’re a more liberal soul than me:

“As Meade knelt down… [Rodis]…was within eyeshot, watching the monitor. She had given Meade a pad for her knees, knowing that the hard floor would bruise them otherwise. Between takes, she offered mouth spray and flavored lubricant. And she had spoken with Meade before the scene about her concerns and relayed them to the director. In a moment when Meade was completely exposed, Rodis was there, providing physical, social and professional protection.”

You should have called me, HBO; I’d have saved you thousands in salary and company car perks. For how about this, as an alternative way of dealing with actors’ reluctance over simulated oral sex scenes, or no-holds-barred faux shag-a-thons on the bonnet of a Lamborghini?

Change the scene, not your payroll.

I’m fresh from several weeks of getting fully up-to-date with the drugs-and-nightlife drama Power and you need to know this: when even this card-carrying heterosexual whose hormonal flame is not entirely doused finds himself thinking, “Oh, not another sex scene…” you may be overdoing things somewhat.

I appreciate a DD breast in HD as much as the next man but ‘gratuitous’ doesn’t begin to describe what goes on in the bedrooms of Power. Even if the psychopathic thugs portrayed by 50 Cent and the excellent Joseph Sikora were to declare such detailed copulatory coverage as essential for ‘plot development’, I doubt I would be able to stop myself laughing in their faces.

This is about eyeballs, pure and simple. Soft porn tarted up as ‘dramatic art’ to hook an audience. You’re concerned about the toll such ‘art’ takes on its participants, all of a sudden? Then just rein the scene in. We all know the mechanics of what’s going on, for crying out loud; any half-decent director should be able to get the message of enflamed passions across with a fraction of what’s on display at present.

A brassiere hits the floor; a man’s tongue flickers expectantly across his lips. Cut. We’re good for the rest, thanks.

But if you insist on churning out sexual superfluousness as a safety net for your viewing figures, then at least spare us this ‘intimacy co-ordinator’ fig leaf: your industry’s risible attempt to show it’s ‘doing something’.

My beef isn’t with Alicia Rodis here: she may be the consummate professional, but that won’t change the essence of her job. She is an ‘hypocrisy facilitator’. Lipstick on the cynical pig of showbusiness.

Although that’s probably not how she puts it on her Linkedin page.

November 1, 2018

Buses and the new emasculation

Filed under: Motoring — - @ 12:16 pm
Tags: ,
bus cable car city downtown

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For years, suggesting the merest hint of effeminacy was enough to light the alpha male’s blue touch-paper.

Poke fun at the amount of time he likes to spend in the kitchen, or the delight he seems to take in shopping trips with his wife, and you’d see smoke start to emerge from his ears. Cast doubt on his prowess in the bedroom department and you’d have to be sure you ran faster than he could.

Nowadays, however, culinary prowess and romantic empathy are the hallmarks of New Man, and gals just love any kind of vulnerability. Times change and so does the world. Leaving just one remaining affront to manhood that cannot be countenanced.

Being stuck behind a bus.

As a bus commuter, it’s the only explanation I can find for the number of astonishing suicide runs I witness daily, as yet another car owner plays Russian roulette with oncoming traffic in his desperation not to be stuck behind a bus.

It’s like Chicken for grown-ups: the bus, indicator blinking, can be clearly edging away from a stop and yet still they come; insistent, come what may, that they will not be at the back of the bus. As with NASCAR, the Big One is not a matter of if, but when.

What is this madness? Your penis contracts one half-inch for every quarter-mile you spend stuck behind public transport; is that it? King of the Road is a song, you prat; not an entitlement.

I’m not one of life’s natural New Men. I visit the kitchen as often as I visit certain relatives and I’ve never felt entirely comfortable wearing pink, but I’m sensing an opportunity to make up lost ground.

A simple bumper sticker; I’m comfortable behind buses. Yeah, I’m down with that.

October 18, 2018

Slow burner – the next great small business idea

Filed under: Advertising,business,Consumer,Nostalgia,Tobacco — - @ 7:55 pm
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WP_20181015_00_20_07_ProNotice anything unusual about the pipe tobacco I recently purchased?

Correct. All those in-your-face Smoking Kills stickers on the tin. Gone.

Call me anal, OCD, borderline autistic, whatever you want. Some folk eat a Mars bar from the outside in, nibbling away the chocolate layer before setting about its contents; I pick away at health warnings on tobacco packaging. Because I miss the pretty colours and because I object to being preached at.

I’m a university graduate. I’ve lived almost six decades. I don’t need it spelt out to me that smoking is harmful, as if I’ve just enrolled at infant school. I realised that 30 years ago, when I briefly dallied with cigarettes and more regularly with cigars and a pipe.

I could see the pleasure involved but I also recognised that over-indulgence was a bad idea. So I’ve never inhaled, quickly abandoned ciggies, and happily resigned myself to smoking solely outdoors, once we had children.

As a result, I might smoke a pipe a dozen times a year; a cigar twice a year if I’m lucky. Not only do I appreciate the experience so much more precisely because of that rarity, but it’s also as likely to kill me as a runaway bus. And ultimately, something has got to kill me.

Risk and reward, carefully weighed up, despite the most calculating artifice of the advertising industry pre-2003. It’s what intelligent people do.

So spare me your block capitals and your lung cancer photographs, Nanny State. Spare me those joyless grey metallic doors – metaphor for so much of the newly-sanitised British mindset – behind which tobacco must now be primly shuttered away in our shops, as if we are all prize buffoons who need protecting from ourselves by those unfailingly wise governments with which we’re blessed.

Though it could make your eyes throb after a day at a British Grand Prix meeting, I miss Marlboro’s fluorescent red, and the avant garde gold of Marlboro Lites. I miss the heraldic grandeur of Rothmans, the winged helmet of Gauloise or the dancing lady of Gitanes. Anyone who can make a playboy out of a camel deserves better than to have his art lost in the dark of a corner-shop cupboard.

And when I buy pipe tobacco, I want to be similarly wooed, in a gentler fashion, with enticing names and graceful fonts. What I don’t want are pictures of bleeding gums, or apocalyptic warnings about impotence, in 72-point lettering.

I don’t need you, Big Government. I’ve worked all the downside out for myself, what with having more than half a brain. Your concern is touching but your bombast is ugly and intrusive, and given the attack of the vapours you’d get, were we all to give up smoking and tobacco’s tax revenues vanished overnight, you can spare me the cant while you’re at it.

Exasperation, however, can be the mother of invention. I’m envisaging a niche business that familiarises itself with the illustrations and colours found on old-school tobacco packaging, and re-creates them in the form of adhesive labels that can be peeled from a backing strip and applied to modern tins or boxes of tobacco products, neatly covering up all those ghastly health warnings. The private citizen buys a favourite brand, decides he’d rather look at pleasing graphic design than the strident manifestations of statism, when he beholds his cigar box or fag packet, and sends off to our fledgling business for a strip of brand-appropriate labels.

Downside? If such a business isn’t already illegal it may well become so. As the vaping debate has shown us, the anti-smoking lobby doesn’t like being out-smarted. Once any form of sanctimony gets the bit between its teeth, it would take most of the Royal Engineers to extricate it, so if you like the sound of my suggestion, you’d also better like a fight.

But that and copyright issues aside (and as we’re making their packets look nicer, how much pushback should we expect on the latter?) don’t be surprised if the potential market is bigger than you might think. Pretty colours and a little vive la resistance is an alluring combination.

October 16, 2018

Fake news – theory and practice

Filed under: Journalism — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , ,
girl reading a newspaper

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Did anyone at Press Gazette notice the irony, I wonder, when they published a plea to combat fake news virtually side by side with a remarkable story on how Woman’s Own magazine goes about its business?

On the one hand, there is the BBC Director-General, Lord Tony Hall, delivering a lecture on how the media must assert itself as being above fake news.

Mentioning the “F-word” – “fake news” – Lord Hall called on journalists to do everything they can “to combat the suggestion that we peddle fake news”, including double-checking sources.

He said: “Every publisher and every journalist has made mistakes but, in an age when any mistake is portrayed as evidence of an intention to mislead, we must re-double our efforts to get it right first time – and be open and generous about it if we get things wrong.”

And then there is Woman’s Own, getting the festive season under way particularly early by reportedly handing actor Denise Welch a libel suit on a silver platter.

Luckily for them, it seems not to have come to that, with the title’s idea of ‘best practice’ revealed after Welch complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, prompting a humiliating apology from the publication.

Contrary to their claims, following a tip-off from a source, Welch had made no unreasonable or ‘Diva’ type demands regarding a return to Loose Women, the magazine conceded. Nor had she made any demands regarding contracts, increased payments, other celebrity guests, airtime or studio lighting. Any suggestion that the Loose Women producers did not want her back was also incorrect.

But they spelt her name right; which was nice.

Compounding the magazine’s woefulness was a quite astounding confession about their idea of journalism’s ‘hard yards’…

“The publication added that it had not considered it necessary to contact Welch given that the source had been reliable in the past.”

Are you kidding me? I don’t care if your source consists of stone tablets handed down at Mount Sinai; every fresh allegation against someone requires the absolute minimum of you trying to get hold of that person for his or her side of the story. If you can’t reach them, then your article says so. On a Journalism 101 checklist, this comes just below which end of a pen you should hold.

From the magazine’s amazing arrogance in resisting suggestions that its apology should be referenced on the cover (it’s okay for them to interfere with people’s reputations, apparently, but not for the victims of their untruths to interfere with Woman’s Own‘s precious front page) we can probably assume that it simply regards this episode as an occupational hazard, rather than a sizeable clue that some people could use a career change.

Press standards organisations, sadly, won’t change that. Irate celebrities won’t change that. Women who pause to consider how much empty fiction they are prepared to pay good money for each week, on the other hand: they could change that. If enough of them really wanted to.

September 28, 2018

To university freshers everywhere (or, ‘We Must Have Done Something Right’)

Filed under: Education,Family — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , ,

people-woman-coffee-meeting.jpgSometimes, Older Son makes my wife and me tear our hair out. On other occasions, his wisdom and sensitivity make us wonder what the hell he’s thinking about all those other times.

Found recently on his Facebook page…

“I don’t know much about the world, I do have a bit of advice for you uni hopefuls, though. From a little personal experience:

University is not the be-all and end-all of life. There are both amazing and harrowing experiences to be had in every aspect of it; the outcomes of which are often not up to you. It can lead you on to great things, of course. It can also wear you down and create the most intimidating stressful situations that leave you sick with worry.

If you work hard and enjoy the good times, you have every potential to do well. If you feel in your heart that you don’t belong there, it’s not the end of the world. No amount of pressure from others should keep you there if, like me, it’s doing more harm to you than good.

Some of the worlds funniest, most intelligent, interesting and inspirational people flunked or quit. Don’t be afraid to do what’s right for you, rather than what pushy relatives or unrealistic social expectations demand – as long as you work hard either way.

I still work in a pub though, so take this with a pinch of salt.”

September 26, 2018

Can we please stop humanising cancer?

Filed under: Health — - @ 12:24 pm
Tags: ,
adult biology chemical chemist

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I waited a while with this one, for obvious reasons, but now that almost two months have elapsed since the sad death of golfer Jarrod Lyle, there was one jarring note to its aftermath.

You may share my view that so touching a final Tweet from his wife, referring to her husband and their daughters, deserved a better ending than “#fuckcancer” but it’s the thinking behind the profanity that intrigues me.

I’m sure few of us in the 21st century would waste time howling at the moon during periods of adversity, so why formalise invective towards cancer? Do we hope to shame it into desisting from its nefarious deeds or simply to shock it so much with our abruptness that it stops in its tracks?

I only ask because, hard on the heels of recent ad campaigns, assuring us that it’s payback time and we’re coming to get you, the latest step in our battle against this dreadful illness seems to be to present cancer as the ‘baddie’; a malevolent thug whose time is up.

In which case we must pray that those seeking a cure aren’t losing the fight the way their bankrollers seem to be losing the plot.

Cancer is not an enemy agent. It has no soul, no conscience, no persona. It is simply malfunctioning cells. You might as well say #fuckmywobblytable for all the good it will do.

I find it remarkable that the same Society that frequently considers itself too smart to believe in God, is trying to get its head around cancer by turning it into a pantomime villain.

September 25, 2018

You know your company’s feeling the pinch when…

Filed under: business,Celebration — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: ,

…what was once a swanky awards night at a high-end hotel has become a three-man team doling out spot-prizes during the working day – one of them handing over the trophy and a balloon, the second firing a glitter gun at the recipient, while the third plays Congratulations on an iPad.

Now, where did I put my cv again…?

September 18, 2018

Overheard on the bus – men’s men, 2018-style

Filed under: Culture,Men — - @ 12:00 pm
Tags: ,
adult chill computer connection

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They board at the stop after mine, in the business park. Both are in their late twenties, early thirties. Both have established beards to the point where one of them could pass for an Amish on a gap year.

When one starts talking to the other, I instinctively assume he is referring to their employer’s mainframe or telephone system.

“They’ve overhauled the entire system,” he explains, “should you wish to swing through New York City as Spiderman, you can now do so effortlessly and with complete pizzazz…”

He retains a straight face for the entire sentence.

My relief at having no daughters who could one day bring home men such as these, is profound.

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