Saturday, 22 May 2021

Diary: Welcome Back!

Everyone's making a big thing about the return of audiences, spectators, paying punters to concerts, matches, gigs and so on now that lockdown is finally easing. 

Personally, I've quite enjoyed hearing (and seeing) live music relayed via the internet or broadcast over the airwaves without the shuffling, coughing distraction of real people in the audience. I know, I know... they're needed, if only for their cash; they rarely bring cachĂ©. More often their behaviour ruins concerts with ill-timed sneezes and other outbursts, to say nothing of the competitive 'who can be first off the blocks' clapping, which means the applause shatters the magic silence at the end of the music when the performance casts its mystic spell. 

I know people want to show their appreciation. Orchestras have been doing it to each other (and to soloists) at the end of their behind-closed-doors live performances. Just not in the nanosecond of silence once the last note has been played. And I know people (sometimes) can't help coughing. But you never see (or hear) members of the orchestra (or choir) doing it, do you? Even when they've got several hundred bars rest in which to sit in silence (and sit still)... listening.

Because that's what they're doing. Listening. And it's not, on the whole, what the majority of audiences do. Of course, they hear the music. But they're flicking through their programmes or ferreting through their handbags, unwrapping sweets. And coughing. Personally, I'd make the whole bloody lot of them submit to a thorough medical before letting them through the door!

In other news, things just get odder and odder. We have a serial adulterer and liar at the ship of state's helm, a cabinet of (at best) curiosities and, at worst, inanities. And now we have an heir to throne thanking... tabloid newspapers?

Of course, the Bashir affair is a disgrace. Quite how the man was ever re-employed by the BBC is a mystery. And the cover-up and scapegoating of whistle-blowers is, rightly, being called a scandal. 

But... but... I'm at a loss to know what Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit-hole could possibly see the tabloids, which did nothing but hound Diana for years both before and after the Panorama interview, suddenly becoming the good guys in this sad, sad story.

What next? Dominic Cumming's coming back to tell us all he was the good guy all along?

Watch this space! That particular shit-show is on Wednesday. 

And talking of morals, my book on Moral Philosophy is free to download this coming week (Monday-Friday). So, if you know anyone doing, or thinking of doing, 'A' level RE, spread the word!


 

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

It's been Mental Health Awareness Week this week. We're all now more aware of mental health, this week and every week, and certainly more respectful than when I was a boy and the name of the local lunatic asylum (as it was officially known) was banded about as a playground taunt. And that's undoubtedly a good thing.

What many people may be less aware of is the link between physical and mental health. I suffer from chronic secondary pain, thanks to early-onset arthritis among other things. In what Susan Sontag describes as the dual citizenship of health and illness, some of us have seem to have been deported: put on a plane and flown to a land of permanent pain. No wonder depression is four times more common in people with persistent pain; no wonder studies show that ‘individuals with chronic pain are at least twice as likely to report suicidal behaviours or to complete suicide.’

No wonder. And yet our piecemeal medical treatment still fails to recognise the impact that one thing (like inflamed and painful joints) has on another (like mental health). Chronic pain patients are passed from one specialist to another like broken down machines on a (re)assembly line where no-one standing on the factory floor knows (or cares) what the finished (or, if you're lucky, repaired) product looks like. Or should look like. As long as they've done their "bit" then it's on to the next stage and on to fiddling with another patient.

When I was at university, studying philosophy, the problem of personal identity never seemed as if it would ever have a satisfactory solution. "If the brain (or spirit) of a cobbler were transplanted to the body of a Prince" ran the question, "who wakes up?" At the time, many people suspected that the cobbler would be the one coming round from the anaesthetic, so sure were we that the brain was the big be-all and end-all of our personalities. 

The problem is almost as old as philosophy itself, and the brain-body dichotomy comes down to medicine through the works of Descartes, by way (perhaps) of John Locke's socks. But scientifically we now seem to know much more that makes such blithe assumptions insecure. The notion of neurons (basically, brain cells) in our guts, for instance, which certainly gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "gut instinct"! 

Whatever we are, it seems certain that we're not now centred in one bodily area; we aren't (just) our minds - in fact, what our minds are (whatever that may be) may be inextricably linked to our bodies. We're a unity, a whole. And yet most medics still want to take us to pieces and deal with their "bit" of the problem of our ill-health. No wonder some of us don't ever get better!

In other news this week I was again asked to sound off about something on local radio. They seem to ring me whenever they want to get a phone in going, as if an anecdote of mine will somehow kick things off for them. I've no idea if it does. But I'm usually happy to help. After all, they've been very helpful to me. If you want to know what it's all about it remains available on BBC Sounds for a few days, and if you'd rather not listen to the entire four hour programme, fast forward to about 1 hour 40 mins and you should here your truly after just a little bit of context.

And just watch out if you're wearing headphones!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09ftc46





Saturday, 8 May 2021

Results are in!

I hadn't held my breath. I nearly didn't vote, for what would've been the first time in my life. There really didn't seem much point in turning out to vote against a sitting Tory councillor certain to be re-elected (so certain that -- in common with the Tory council leader -- he seems incapable of replying to emails). Of course the equally secure sitting MP had to crow about it all on Twitter: 

And I, somewhat to my regret, had to rise to the bait. It's all very sad.  

We don’t want to be governed by skilled, qualified, honest and capable politicians any more, do we? What we seem to want now is “personality” however shallow, fraudulent and incompetent. That's the real problem with Kier Starmer. For all his other attributes, he lack 'personality'. Why won't anyone admit it? The man is serious, qualified, committed, industrious... but lacks that magic sparkle that seems to attract the British electorate, as well as blinding them to any number of faults and failings. What a piece of work...

In other news the continuing struggle of an under-valued, under-funded (and overly politicised) NHS continues to amaze and inspire me. Last week, dose two of my Covid jab; this week, after a quick phone call, a steroid injection to alleviate some pretty nasty autoimmune disease complications. The nurse administering the latter had come out of retirement to cover for colleagues (a) taking a sabbatical to complete further training and (b) drafted into the NHS Covid vaccination programme. 

Unlike the so-called (and utterly flawed) NHS test-and-trace (which really ought to be re-named "Tory Test-and-Trace") the vaccination programme is testament to the success of grass-roots, NHS commitment and professionalism. The number of volunteers, the amount of goodwill, the lack of the "greed" so mendaciously credited by the PM, is what has seen this programme such a huge success. No-one is making obscene amounts of money from plum NHS procurement contracts; no-one is texting their friend the PM for tax breaks; no-one is dithering about what to do and worrying which of their private sector chums might benefit. People are volunteering, working long hours, and -- like the nurse who treated me on Thursday -- coming out of retirement to do so.

And yet it's the Conservative government taking all the credit. 

And reaping the electoral rewards. 


Saturday, 10 April 2021

Diary: No Man is an Island

"Any man's death diminishes me," wrote John Donne. And while, as any other human, I mark the passing of anyone with anything but joy, I can hardly jump on the "deeply sorrowful" bandwagon of mourning that seems to have gripped the nation (well, those involved in broadcasting) since the announcement of the Duke of Edinburgh's death yesterday. 

The North Korean-style solemn music across BBC radio, the clearing of the schedules, cancelling of BBC Four and rolling news across all media seem to indicated more the desperation of journalists and broadcasters indulging their own passion than the properly respectful marking of the man's passing. 

It's not just the BBC, either. (Although quite why repeats channel Radio 4 Extra had to be given over to special news bulletins for nearly two days is another matter. What were they doing, repeating coverage of Queen Victoria's passing?) Cathedrals and churches up and down the country competing with each other to say how "deeply saddened" they are, and how quick they've been to open up for "private prayer" and provide books of condolences to sign. 

The man was 99. He'd led a good life. So have many, many others whose passing we either fail to notice or ignore. Ok, he was a public figure but the role wasn't exactly that of an NHS doctor on covid duty, and it came with considerable privilege. Surely the most appropriate response is to celebrate a life lived well (and at our expense) rather than pretend it's the death of Diana all over again. 

In other news, I’ve been trying to get Faber to give me permission (at a price; they’ll do nothing for nothing) to use a line of Larkin’s as an epigraph in my latest book. Things started well: the Society of Authors thought they could help, as his trustees. Then a nice lady at Faber said I needed to use their bot: I did. The book I need t quote from wasn’t there. I chose the nearest I could find, the bot duly spewed out a licence and demanded payment. But I wasn’t going to part with cash for something that some lawyer somewhere might want to challenge in the future. So I emailed again: and again; and again. But the nice lady isn’t answering. 

Perhaps the Faber offices are closed for mourning? 

I wonder what the man himself, who was nothing if not obsessed with death, would have made of that?

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