Saturday, 20 December 2014

Today's Lesson - Brits

Good Morning class! You know the term, you use it. What does it mean?

Weeeeell, that depends.

First of all, is it OK to call people Brits - that is to say - do they mind? Some of us (ME!) don't like it. I don't even use it, other than jocularly. Some like it, use it, don't see the problem. Matter of taste, etc.

Admittedly "British person" is a bit long-winded, and that's your only alternative. Because Briton means something else. Britons were a tribe......... Oh dear, here we go.........

Here's a map. Study it for a few moments, and be prepared to scroll back up often.

These are the British Isles. It's a totally geographic thing. If Germany had invaded and successfully acquired them in 1944, they would still be the British Isles, or, to be precise, die Britischen Inseln. Anyway, they've had many names, but the first examples we see written on maps was Pretani and Bretani. What did that mean precisely? Well, pretty much any islands off the north-west coast of mainland Europe, so it included far more than it does today. 

What does it include today? Depends who you ask. Oh dear, this was never going to be a straightforward article, but here it gets really complicated.

See the green bit? Some people who live there don't think it's included. Some do. Outside that part, most do, but not all. I repeat, this still is a geographical matter NOT a political one. For the sake of argument, we will assume that the majority of people on the planet consider everything in the above map to be the British Isles, plus a few other small islands. 

The Romans definitely distinguished between the biggest island and the smaller one to the west, but this is where the big difference between geography and politics first cropped up really. On these islands were a lot of tribes, who saw themselves as quite distinct and individual to one another. The Romans didn't care about any of that. They just used the names of the biggest/most important (?) tribes to name the various bits of the land, so they called (roughly) the red and yellow bits Britannia. They called the khaki bit Caledonia, and the island to the west (the pink and green bits) Hibernia or Scotia. I see a few hands raised, but don't worry, we'll come back to that.

What was the distinction then, on the big island, between Caledonia and Britannia? Those who live north of Hadrian's wall like to tell all sorts of tales about that, how inhabitants were too fierce and scary and the Romans didn't want to go any farther north. Or there's the theory about the terrain and climate being not to Roman tastes. There are all sorts of ideas and myths and competing theories. Which is a whopping great big clue for nobody really knows. That's just how it is. Or as they say, you have to draw the line somewhere. 

What is known is that all these small tribes had allegiances, possibly along ethnic grounds. The northern people, the Picts, were possibly quite distinct to the southern people (Celts and Britons). There is a suggestion that they were shorter and darker and really quite physically different to their neighbours. But they were not "lesser" than the other tribes around them in any way. Oh no, never believe THAT. Were they the original "Pixies"? Possibly. But I digress.

Whatever the reason, them up there, and them down there were divided. And the Romans built a wall between them because it suited them. And they've been divided ever since. Funny how these things "stick". I blame the Romans for a LOT.

So to recap, Britannia was the Roman name for the larger, southern province they created on the big island.

We can't keep calling it the big island, what's its real name?

This may surprise you, but it's official name is Great Britain. Does that mean the second biggest island is Little Britain? Well, it was once. No, really! They were Megale Britannia and Mikra Britannia. They had other names too. At one point Great Britain was known as Albion. And it goes without saying that at times the whole island has been known as Britannia, which really pisses off those in the far north, but what can you do. 

So what about the other one? Well, Hibernia or Scotia, was a very well-run place with a High King, and a fledgling democracy, and it soon began to think of itself as a nation. But what did it call itself? As far as we know, the term Eire or something similar was used by its inhabitants quite early, and possibly long before the Romans gave it other names. So, the island is called Eire (in Irish) or Ireland (in English) and variations on that (e.g. Erin) are all OK. Just DON'T call it Little Britain. DON'T.

Now then. Politics. Due to politics the names of the countries contained within these islands are different to the names of the islands. Got that? 

Ireland has been divided into two parts since 1920 and we are not getting into the wrongness of that, or how much longer it will continue, just that right now, there are two countries on the island of Ireland, 1) Eire or the Republic of Ireland, in the south (where the currency is the Euro), and 2) Northern Ireland (also known sometimes as Ulster, because it includes most of the area known historically as Ulster ), in the north (where the currency is the pound sterling).

Now then. Northern Ireland is part of the nation called officially:

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

See what they did there? They used geography to make a very BIG name for a very small (sizewise) nation. (This includes, as I said, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales (the yellow bit). I won't dwell on the history of these because this is getting quite long enough. Just memorize the map.)

So, most people just call it the UK because otherwise it's a bloody mouthful. They call it lots of other things too ("Septic Isle" - Bob Geldof), and one of the things you hear is Britain, right? But what does THAT mean?

Well, it pretty much means whatever the speaker intends it to mean, because it's not an official term for ANYTHING. It isn't correct geographically or politically, it's a casual term. So you could argue until you are blue in the face as to what it includes or doesn't include. Right?

I'll tell you what it doesn't mean, shall I? It is NOT a synonym for England. It really isn't. Whatever Britain is, it's not the same thing as England. Yes, you've heard it used that way, many, many times. Maybe you've done it yourself. Maybe you didn't know any better. Maybe you don't give a shit and will continue to use it that way. Maybe your intentions were good and you were trying to be inclusive (for pity's sake never refer to the other bits as England or there'll be blood). 

That's the map, those are the borders, and now you know.

Ah, but that doesn't cover the word Brit, you say. Where does a Brit come from? Wherever he says he comes from. Play it safe and ask, don't assume. Never, never, never use the term "English" to refer to anyone from the parts that are not England (see blood, above). OK, many people would just pat you playfully on the head and correct you, but if it were a bunch of Scottish football fans it could get ugly. Don't do it, just in case.

So what do you refer to people from these islands as, if you don't know which bit they come from? 

Bless your dear little American hearts, they all sound the same to you, don't they? It baffles us. To us, Scottish accents, Irish accents, Welsh accents, and English accents are all very distinct and obvious. But having an English accent myself, and from right down in the south-east too, where it could NEVER be mistaken for anything else (except Australian, apparently), I have often had my "British" accent commented on. What the hell does that mean? 

There is no such critter as a British accent. There are a group of accents as different as chalk and cheese within the British Isles. Yes, we know what you mean, but it's still funny. 

If you refer to someone with one of those accents as British, you may get away with it (just an eyeroll, you know). Can you at least tell an Irish accent apart? Is it obvious? Then say Irish. Please. Same with Scottish (NOT Scotch, thats a drink. Scots is OK, but never Scotch. Got it?). If you can't tell the difference between Scottish and Irish, well, to be fair, they are the same people. But don't mention that either.

See, what happened was that the Picts were either:

1. Driven to the far north.
2. Driven OUT.
3. All killed.
4. Assimilated.

Possibly all 4 (YES).

Who by? The Scots. They came from Ireland. Don't ask. But it's true. Billy Connolly says "The Scots were originally an Irish tribe. A mentally ill Irish tribe. One day one of them said, come on lads, I know an even rainier place..." and they went to Scotland. Oh, it's a fun history, look it up.

So, Celtic lands. But there's more. You may have noticed we've neglected the Welsh up until now. I've been told by North Americans that they know very little about the Welsh, and they do get overlooked. Well, most of them are down mines, so you can't see them. And they're all mad anyway. So, having offended everyone in Wales, let me just explain that it's generally assumed the Welsh are in fact the last of the pure English. That is to say, when the various waves of invaders over the centries made the English the mutts they are now, there were those who fled into Wales and that's the last of the Celts gone from England. 

It's disputed, like all of this. Some say the Cornish are Celts. Some say they are actually the lost Picts. But it's funny how the Welsh often aren't thought of as Celts. Anyway, call them Welsh, call them British, call them anything you like really. There are a few uppity ones, but generally they have a good sense of humour, and are used to being the forgotten minority. Which is just as well.

For uppity you really need the English, and this is where I come in.

When I was young it was common to hear people (in England) referring to anything in the British Isles as English. Oh yes. That's about as politically incorrect as it gets, but that's the old attitude. In fact they'd only just got over losing India. I was taught, as a child, that my nationality was English. People, believe me, there is no such thing. English is a language, and an identity, yes, but it's not a nationality. I wrote it on my entry card into France once and had a French immigration officer rip me a new one. 

The correct nationality for citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is British. Therefore, British people come from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. OK?

But if you ask me what I am, I'll tell you I'm English. Identity has NEVER followed geographical or political lines, and I doubt it ever will. 

If you call me British, I won't mind, but if you call me a Brit, I will bite you.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Naughty or Nice

Will Santa be coming to visit you this year? Have you been good?

Seems to me that everything in our culture hinges on carrots and sticks. Even the non-religious families use Santa as an all-seeing eye to bribe the little ones into behaving themselves. For the rest it's the omniscience of God.

Are we capable of being good without threats and promises?

Meng-Tzu, a Chinese philosopher from 2500 years ago, decided that people were all born good. Not only that, he believed that given the opportunity, they stayed that way. Presumably he didn't consider the mischief of children as bad, he never said, so we don't know, but he did say:

"The great man is the one who does not lose his child's heart."

Lose it, that's interesting. He didn't think, as some do, that we start out bad; sins of the fathers and all that. Nor did he think that we were born as blank slates.

He wasn't alone in this. There have been many wise ones throughout history who considered humans to be innately good, and scientists more recently have explained human altruism as a survival advantage. It's a natural instinct. That is to say if we behave ourselves and are nice to one another, as social animals, we tend to do better. In other words we have actually evolved to be good. It works for us.

So, why do we do bad things?

I don't think I need to give you any examples of bad human behaviour, but if you really want a couple from this week, look at the school massacre in Pakistan and the US senate report on CIA torture. When they choose to be, humans can be very, very bad indeed. I chose these two examples because in both cases there was an excuse given.

If you know me at all, you know that I have no truck with excuses. Anything you say or do to try to justify bad behaviour won't work. Oh sure, you can explain why you did it, but an explanation is not an excuse. It doesn't make it OK. Ever.

There was a time when all evil deeds were blamed on evil influences, i.e. devils and demons. Humans using supernatural figures as excuses. That stopped working for most rational people a long time ago.

Instead everyone was held totally responsible for his dark deeds. Even if he DID have an excuse, like the poor boy who stole to avoid starvation. No matter, hang him anyway.

Then, we found a middle way. The advent of psychology as a way of looking at human behaviour suggested that sometimes humans are not in full control of themselves. They do things under pressure, be it small or great. They "flip". They have psychotic breaks.

The arrival of insanity as a not guilty plea in court gave us another layer of argument. Just who is or isn't truly insane?

I decided long ago that it should be fairly obvious that under normal circumstances anyone who kills is crazy by definition. It's an aberration. A disorder. It goes against our natural instincts. It's not something sane people do, generally speaking. The exceptions would be soldiers, of course, who are obeying orders, in this instance it's the commanding officers and politicians demanding it whose sanity is suspect. And there are crazy situations, like riots and revolutions where people lose their grip en masse. It has been said this can happen to anyone. It may well be true.

So we have mitigating circumstances. The man who is so enraged by finding his wife in bed with their neighbour that he shoots both of them. Is that an excuse? No, NONE of this is. Bad is bad. You can explain it but it doesn't make it good.

And then there's accidental killing. Some people have some rather creative versions of accidental. "I was just holding up the liquor store, and my gun went off, I didn't mean to hurt anyone".

(I'm never quite sure who's worse there, the guy who pulled the trigger or the lawyer who gives him these excuses to use.)

All things considered, people can actually be very bad indeed, either by choice or by insanity.

Assuming the average person doesn't go around killing, or even stealing, what is good and bad anyway?

In my humble opinion, the Pagan concept of harm is as good as any. It isn't crystal clear (first you have to define harm) but having done that, it is a system of morality that works very well. The short version is that if your behaviour negatively impacts the well-being of anyone (including yourself) it is harmful. Where there is no victim, there is no harm. This is where Pagan morality is often looked down on by those with conservative ideas about sex, for example. In a system where morality is based on harm, any consensual sex is seen as harmless.

Which brings me to naughty. Meaning bad. It's a word that was always used when I was younger to refer to simple michief, as in children. Today it seems to have developed a somewhat different connotation of bawdy, and that's curious isn't it. That bawdy is automatically seen as bad. It's more of that puritan nonsense.

And nice? That seems to refer mostly to manners. I am a great advocate of good manners, but I think some people have lost track of what manners are for. They are supposed to make things more pleasant and comfortable for everyone. If they don't, they're not worthy of being called good manners.

The usual issue is how one should behave in a social setting when a person is saying something unethical. Which is more correct etiquette: to be polite, and above all to avoid a scene, by ignoring their words, or to stand up for what is right? Tricky?

Imagine you were at a dinner party or some such thing, where somebody was being blatantly racist or sexist, or otherwise bigoted. You notice embarrased looks on other guests, some looking away to distance themselves, some pretending not to hear, some with sour faces. Who has the courage to be "bad mannered" and call them out on it? Or even ask them to shut up or leave?

Being good isn't always easy. Sometimes you have to break rules to do it. Sometimes you have to break the law. Nobody said it was easy, important things never are.

If Santa, or God, or Sauron is watching everything you do, be sure you're not doing what some twisted person says you should do, but what you know deep inside to be right or wrong. Because, yes, you do. You KNOW. In fact, don't worry about what the watchers think. Do it for yourself.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Pepper Test

A silly fun blog today.

We were discussing how English takes words from other languages and....butchers them. OK, OK, English is not the only language guilty of this, most do it (you should see what the French do, or maybe you have) but English has "borrowed" more words from other languages than any other. It's why our dictionaries are bigger, seriously.

Obviously nobody expects these words to be pronounced exactly as in the original language. That would involve affecting a foreign accent and the only people that pedantic are generally social pariahs. But we really do some strange things......

Unless you, most people manage to say jalapeƱo as hah-lah-peyn-yo. It's common enough, and well-known enough, and only the most ignorant get it wrong. Unfortunately this has led people to think that habanero should be pronounced hah-bah-nyair-ro, and it's not. So I have decided to call this entire thing the Pepper Test, that is, can you get the critical parts right without sounding like a linguistics professor? Is there a balance between ridiculously correct and making a total twat of yourself? Hmm.

Let's begin with French. French is not phonetic, I mean, it just isn't. It's even worse than English in that looking at a word does not always give you clues as to how to say it. But the one thing most people know is that the French n is nasal. Most people, even if they don't speak any French at all, know that one says pardo(n) with the n being only half there. It's impossible to explain it any further in text, so I'm resorting to this:

(Sorry, it won't embed, but please click on it, it's under a minute long)

So that was just in case anyone wasn't familiar with the sound that I'm going to write as (n) here, OK?

The first word that we play games with is restaurant. We have saved the French vowel but not the ending. Why? If we really wanted to pronounce this as if it were an English word we'd say ant at the end. But we don't, we say ont. Because we can't make our minds up.

Then there's the American way of dropping the h on herb? Why? The French word is herbe and it's pronounced airb, not erb. Again, make your mind up!

I could list a lot more butchered French words, but the winner has to be


For some absurd reason (where? when? who?) English speakers decided to pronounce this


This melts my brain. It bears no relation to the French pronunciation, but it isn't phonetic either.

The French say


In English it would be



We'll move on then to how we mess with Italian.

One of the greatest gifts to come out of Italy is Parmesan cheese. In Italy the word is Parmigiano, and it is pronounced  par-me-jahno. But for some reason, despite SPELLING it Parmesan, the Americans say par-me-zhahn. Why? Anyone know?

At the same time, lasagna, keeps its original spelling, and is usually pronounced pretty much correctly too. Pick and choose, I guess.

Spanish, oh dear.

My dear Texan friend is ready to pull her hair out over the inconsistencies she finds in local place names. For example Bexar, Texas, is pronounced bear,-texas. The Spanish would be bey-hah, tey-hahs, but that would be too simple.

(If anyone from England is laughing, consider the pronunciations of Pall Mall and The Mall, I dare you)

But it's worse than that the further we go.

In England you will normally hear paella pronounced as "pay-ella", and if I say "py-aya" my husband calls me a pedant. But if I were to say kwesa-dilla for quesadilla he'd call me a peasant. You can't win with the English.

Similarly, how many people say llama properly? It's not hard.

I think German possibly gets the worst treatment though. Being so close to English it gets "Anglicized" in surnames and place names in the New World.

I am a lover of the German language, but that isn't why I get these wrong so often. It just comes naturally. If I see a word that looks like German, I automatically pronounce it as German. OK, I learned to say liverwurst badly, to conform, but I refuse to say bockwurst with a w. It sounds ridiculous. No, it makes me sound like Elmer Fudd.

It even bothers me to to say Schwartz the American way, but I accept that if it's YOUR name, I must say it how you say it. Because your ancestors were weird.

Near me is a village called Holstein. There are also many Holstein cattle in these parts. I just cannot find it within myself to say hol-steen, because there's a little German voice in the back of my head saying SHTINE!SHTINE! And Young Frankenstein just drove me bonkers.

Of course there are dialects in German just like anywhere else, and these are legit. I must not get upset about German dialects, because I speak German with a hick accent (shh, this is one of my best kept secrets). Still it baffles me how Toews became TAYVS. But it's their name and not mine.

But I think my favourite mishmash of German has to be Volkswagen, which is all one word, but English speakers decided to Anglicize just the first letter.

I could go on, but I'd prefer this was interactive. Either here, or on Facebook, please share your favourite translated absurdity!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


I've read a lot lately about the relative merits of socialism vs. charity, and some people have a radically different idea, a guaranteed income for all citizens. Switzerland has actually implemented it. Instead of a confusing and ridiculous system of endless types of welfare, one cheque. Covers basic needs and you are at liberty to earn as much as you wish in addition to that.

Those good at figures have calculated that it is actually cheaper to do this too. For example, in a large country like the US it would save billions. So it would make an awful lot of sense. But it will never happen in the US, because far too many people would object to the idea regardless of the savings. Whether it could happen in Canada or not, I really don't know.

However money is handed to those in need, one thing is certain. As it stands right now, in pretty much every country, with very few exceptions, the systems are not working. We're not even doing better than before. In many western countries in fact, the needy are worse off than they were 20 years ago.

Socialism, aka sharing, is feared so it's only ever done in a half-baked way. Add to that government corruption, complexity, inefficiency, and lack of funding in the first place.......the systems just don't work as well as they could.

If there is a need for charity, or food banks, or whatever, then your system isn't working.

Of course there will always be those why say "Why should the system revolve around the needy?". Matter of opinion of course, but I think that is how you measure a system, that it works for everyone.

There have been all sorts of ideas over the years as to how to help those whose income is insufficient. In each method, regardless of source, three things happen.

1. Somebody decides how much is needed. It's often wrong.
2. Somebody decides who gets it. This is often flawed too.
3. Somebody decides how it should be given. This is where the options come in. And where the arguments start.

I like simple. Simple is cheaper, for a start. Less administration - less cost.

I worked in an Unemployment Benefit office in the early 80s in England. It was a time of high unemployment, and we were busy. I saw how the system worked, I saw its effects, and I didn't like what I saw. But if anything, the system is less fair today. Even if you don't keep up on UK news you may have heard of the debacle in recent years where chronically sick or disabled people were left penniless due to an outside company being called in to assess their ability to work. These assessments were not made by doctors, I hasten to add. They were a series of questions, some of which were misleading - bordering on "trick". Great suffering, and not a few suicides ensued before this ridiculous experiment was changed to a different one. And it's not over.

Meanwhile the British right-wing media concentrated on blaming fraudulent claimants for everything. A report came out showing that benefit fraud by ordinary people was a drop in the ocean compared to tax avoidance by large companies, but that wasn't front page news. Far more fun to run stories about "scroungers".

You've read plenty of these wherever you live. We all know there are scroungers. They annoy me too. They are bad for many reasons, not least that they give geniune claimants a bad name, because they all get tarred with the same brush. But if you care about data, about numbers, about where the money goes, these people are a minority and much of the time it costs more to catch them than the amount they steal. As revolting as they are, they are really not a big deal.

The real thieves are the big corporations who wriggle out of taxes by employing creative accountants, and that's the polite version, while everyone else foots the bill.

I have mixed feelings about taxes. In principle they are the obvious, best solution. Everyone pays into the pot, and all expenses come out of it. It couldn't be simpler. It appeals to my inner Marxist.

From Each According to Their Abilities, to Each According to Their Needs

If you can offer any objection to that. I'm all ears.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it doesn't work. This social contract has become instead "From each, whatever their accountants can't hang on to, to each according to the least we can get away with". But the idea is sound, so the first step in improving the system is an overhaul of taxation.

The idea of the guanteed income could then be a sort of negative taxation. For example you could have a structure whereby the first $15,000 (or whatever is deemed the poverty line in a given location) of an individual's income is not taxed, and anyone who earns less than $15,000 per year would receive money instead of paying it out. Instead of endless agencies all doling out cash, it would be one payment, from one source.

But first those who can afford to pay taxes would have to do so.

So the question at this point tends to be "I worked hard, why should I share?" That's not wholly an economic question, that involves ethics and compassion. You can't legislate those. But there is an economic side to it. So, I tend to offer that answer, just in case I'm talking to a selfish bastard. I offer the fact that if fellow citizens are not struggling to make ends meet, the society we live in is better for everyone.

Less poverty = less crime.

It's easily demonstrated. And possibly easier to get through to them than the idea that one day they may too be in need and benefit from the system, an idea they deny or dismiss.

Let's go back to that other method of distribution of "spare" resources. Charity. I talked the other day about this, and my opinion of how some charities function is no secret. Some of them waste the majority of the money donated to them, or worse. Some just drive you crazy with their tactics. But most importantly their method of sharing is no fairer, and often less so, than governmental aid.

Firstly, those who say "I prefer to give to charity" generally do so, in order to pick and choose who they donate to. In fairness we all do this. There is a limit as to how much any of us can give, so we tend to support something close to our hearts. What we find, however, with many who consider charity to be the preferable option is that either they like it simply because of the tax write-offs available, or it allows them to indulge in their prejudices. They'd never donate to an AIDS charity for example, because they are anti-gay.

In addition, sometimes they like to make a big show of donating. They can't just quietly send a cheque, they have a gala dinner where rich people in designer clothes eat luxury food to raise money for the poor, with the press invited, obviously. Makes so much sense. But I'll move along.

Bottom line is that we could do better, as individuals, and as a society.Those who don't want to share are a minimum, so we can insist. We can change things, if we want to. And we have to think outside the box a bit. Admittedly patchwork quilts keep you just as warm as those made out of one sheet of fabric, but I think we could cover more beds with the latter.

Monday, 15 December 2014

You're From Earth, So Act Accordingly

This is doing the rounds.

Dozens of women are getting "100% like a man" and many more are getting high percentages in the opposite to their actual gender and wondering what that's all about.

Well, it's not a very good quiz, actually. It's based on stereotypes. Men do this. Women do this. What utter bollocks.

I am one of those people who does not believe that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Certainly hormones and socially assigned gender roles do affect us, but there are so many examples of people who don't follow these rules, despite all influences, that the rules just don't apply.

They never did. This is not some modern thing. People have always been people. The only reason we are even talking about this now is that today western women are allowed to work outside the home, they don't have to raise their own children (or even have any) if they don't want to, and men are getting more leeway too.

Because society has changed we are all getting more chance to be ourselves, based in individuality and not genitals.

We have four dogs in the house, and there is a hierarchy. Well, they think they've got it figured out anyway. Bowser thinks he's top dog, being biggest. But I've often doubted that. This morning he didn't finish his breakfast, and Molly, our OES cross, and only female, decided she'd have it. It was free for the taking, in her view. Bowser noticed this and barked at her. She ignored him. He growled at her. She ignored him. He nipped at her. She had him upside down so fast she deserves a black belt. He is EASILY four times her size, he's a big, solid dog, part mastiff, and there's rottie in there too. But she flipped him. He is currently sulking in the other room, and she's finishing her meal.

The female of the species is often surprisingly vicious considering her smaller size and lesser strength, but she doesn't take prisoners. Nobody has ever told Molly that she is "only" a girl, you see.

Increasingly, in modern man, we are hearing some sanity. They don't strut their stuff quite so much. They treat women as equals not just because it's politically correct to do so, but because we've bared our teeth. We dared to be human too. Wow. But it's good. It's not simply a question of conflict being resolved better (although that is happening too) but of the mutual respect that the modern way contributes to leading to less conflict in the first place. All good, all good.

Still, this idea persists that women are complex. Difficult to understand. Mysterious. Possibly inscrutable. Some are, certainly, in the same way some are quieter than others, or taller than others, but I don't think it's an innate trait. I think it's often misunderstood. Some of us are actually very straightforward indeed, possibly TOO straightforward, and it confuses men.

So, while I don't think complexity, or lack of it, is a female trait, or a male trait or whatever, just a personality quirk, I am addressing this post TO women because they are pissing me off.

Ladies we don't need this rubbish.

I noticed a long time ago, probably when I was in my early teens, that some girls were difficult to deal with. They had mood swings. They played "games". Their feelings were easily hurt, and if you said the wrong thing their reaction was swift and horrible. This, presumably is what men complain about, and I don't blame them.

I think this was learned behaviour, from their mothers. It has been said that, in turn, this weird behaviour is a result of bad behaviour by men, well, maybe but it becomes a chicken and egg thing, bordering on vendetta, and it will continue forever if nobody calls a halt to it.

I'm calling a halt to it, sisters. Right here, right now.

I'm not disputing that some men behave badly. But if you want something done about that, don't sit and wait, do it yourself. Stop with the needy, over-emotional, over-reaction. Stop with the games. Stop with the passive aggressive. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

We have fought long and hard for equality, and we still have a way to go. Don't mess it up by behaving like a spoiled princess. (Fathers, I blame YOU for some of that, and mothers aren't off the hook either). Well, this isn't your Daddy, so grow up. This is your boyfriend/partner/husband and you are no longer a child. You are equals. You are of equal value and equal intellect. Behave accordingly.

A man is not something to be conquered or trained. He's a human being with his own ideas and needs, and you have to find compromises. BUT, if you pick up a bad one, drop him again quick, like a hot coal. Forget that one, find a better one. You cannot turn a bad man into a good man. Let him be somebody else's problem.

Let's not pretend there aren't still men that think they are superior to women. Not just in the older generation either. They whine about emasculation of men (means "we're not getting it all our own way any more") and some go even further, forming groups protesting against feminism and advocating rape as "punishment". These are not normal men, and don't represent them. They are deeply damaged men, possibly dangerous, and we can't ignore them. But in general the common or garden old-fashioned patriarchal type is just a pain in the arse, not an actual abuser.

Let's not also pretend that there aren't rabidly fanatical women who hate men and will happily accuse them of anything. These do not represent women either, and they are not even representative of feminists as is often claimed. These are women with a grudge, possibly justified, possibly not, but again, they are a minority, and not relevant to today's discussion.

All of that is extremist stuff for another day.

Today, I want you girls to behave like the equals you want and deserve to be treated as.


If you have a problem, say so. Speak your mind. Clearly, and without emotional words. Sometimes emotions show, that can't be helped. But you can choose your words. There is no need for insults, threats, accusations, or dragging up old shit. If the problem is that he never helps with dinner, when you both work the same hours, then tell him "I need you to help me with dinner, please." Simple as that. He is not psychic, and if you've let him off thus far, how is he supposed to know what you want him to do? If you wait for him to offer, and he doesn't, then you'll be doing it on your own, won't you? Yes, of course it would be better if he offered, no question, but if you want things to get done, for pity's sake ASK. Don't sulk or sigh. Speak.

Will he remember the next night? Maybe not. You may have to ask again. It takes a while for behaviours to become habitual, that's just how humans are. Do you snap to it and do exactly as he asks all the time? I doubt it and I hope not - you see this isn't about giving out orders, or obeying orders, in either direction. It's about co-operating with somebody you love. Remember, you love him? You do, don't you?

What if he grumbles, does half a job, or actually refuses?

Then you two need to sit down and talk in greater depth. Communicate, please, for everyone's sake.


Not what your mother, the movies, Mills & Boon/Harlequin, Cosmo, or 50 Shades of Abuse told you to be. When you speak your mind, make sure it is YOUR mind. If you don't know what you want from a man, from life, from your career, from the waiter, figure that out first. If you need to "find yourself" could you get on that please? Don't take too long.

There are no rules other than ethics and good manners. It is not written in stone anywhere that you have to do or be anything just because you were born a girl. Be a good human. Be real.

Here's a far better quiz:

Thursday, 11 December 2014

My Xmas Letter

It is traditional for many families these days to send out a letter with their Christmas cards to update everyone on their year just gone, the highs and lows, etc, a sort of review.

I don't send these out for several reasons.

1. I don't send Christmas cards. It doesn't matter why, I just don't.
2. Almost everyone I would otherwise do this for is on Facebook, and sees the minutiae of my year, as it happens.
3. I can't write them.

When I was a child, after Christmas, my mother made me sit down and write thank you notes to everyone who sent me a gift, and in that I was supposed to review my year. I loved all the people I wrote to. I was very grateful that they thought of me. I could sit and write pages and pages of other stuff, but these? After the thank you part I'd dry up, and it was like pulling teeth getting me to do more than a paragraph, of an entire year - often full of exciting stuff, because I had a great childhood.

Now I'm old and wise and all that, I write and I write and I write. Customer service emails. Complex responses on forums. Blogs. Novels even. But one little review? I can't do that.

Of course I can write. I can form sentences, I can express ideas, I can remember events. But I just can't DO IT.

For a start if I am too positive I feel guilty, knowing other people's lives are full of suffering and need. It even feels like boasting.

If I'm too negative...well, that's not going to happen. No effing way I'm going to even waste energy on that.

If I try to get the balance right it just ends up waffly.

But just the same I was told to do this, challenged, in fact. Furthermore I was challenged to do it in my own style.

At first I thought I'd just tell it funny, because my life is funny. My life is the sitcom nobody would ever believe. I'll give you an example. I was sent a take down notice by a dead artist. That is to say his estate sent it. Believe this or don't, but it's true. The estate of Salvador Dali forced me to stop selling melting clock earrings. They didn't look like his melting clocks, as a matter of fact, nor did his name appear anywhere on the page, but because one of my tags was "surrealism" apparently that's HIS intellectual property. And it doesn't matter that he's been dead 30 effing years, I can't do that.

Well, it wasn't worth a fight. I took it down and sold the remaining stock off to a lady in England who is selling them in a bricks and mortar shop, and I hope it has DALI DALI DALI plastered all over it. Ner ner ner ner ner.

So you know, I could fill a book with "funny things that happened in 2014". But I don't have time. (My memoirs will be in 24 volumes).

But what I feel is lucky. No, no, not counting what I told you yesterday. I feel lucky for the health and prosperity of my family.

Everyone in the family is sound in mind and body, pretty much. James nearly wasn't this morning, so I also feel lucky that the tosspot who drove into him only damaged his bumper. These sort of things are most definitely luck.

Everyone in the family who is supposed to be employed, is employed, and some even got new/better jobs this year. Those of us who work for ourselves are doing OK, and those who aren't working yet are studying hard.

We all love each other, and that's more important than anything.

The rest is just details.

In fact, simply that I am able to sit on a comfy chair, in a warm, pleasant room full of music and animals, and write this at a nice desk on a working computer, tells you that my life is absolutely amazing and fantastic, and better than 99% of human beings. Most of whom have some sort of misery, big or small, temporary or permanent, due to bad luck or self-inflicted choices. So I am grateful.

I'll tell you something else. 2014 is not what I thought it would be if I thought about it at all, say 20 or 30 years ago. In some ways we are FAR ahead of what I expected, and in others it's laughably still the same. Our phones are better than Captain Kirk's but I still don't have a bidet.

Anyway, I'm fit and happy and can pay the bills, and what more do you want?

And now for some absolutely bloody awful music. Your Christmas card is below.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014


A few years ago, a friend suggested that I write a book about how to have a successful marriage. It was a follow up to something I say A LOT, which is that you should always seek advice from people who have been a success at something. Seem obvious? Well, I think so, but in fact if you look around you, people seem instead to seek solace from those who have not. Of course, it's good to comfort one another, but it won't actually help you sort your problems out.

So I started writing the book, and it was going quite well, and then I suddenly realised why it wouldn't work. Chapter One was about choosing the right person, and of course for most people reading it, it was too damn late for that. Most people would only read a book like that after already having chosen. In fact, most people would only read it after things started to look a bit wobbly.

That's humans, you see. They go into things with their eyes wide shut. Like men assembling things, they only read the instructions when they are having problems. You know I'm telling the truth.

We have been married for 34 years. We are still very much in love, enjoy each others' company, laugh, play silly, and generally look like poster children for marriage. I keep being told how lucky I am by those whose relationships are not so good, or didn't last.

Luck has very little to do with it.

There are many things in life that are pure luck. There are many that are part luck.

The only aspect of my marriage that was luck was meeting my man. After that all of it was choices.

We met at an incredibly young age. I was 6 and he was 8. Yes, really. It was only a brief encounter, and we actually met properly at 17 and 19. We happened to work in the same place (that was the luck part) and the attraction was mutual. It was an attraction that would be represented in art by coloured twinkly lights, because it was that quick, that natural, that powerful, and that obvious to everyone around us.

Love at first sight is, I'm told, quite rare. I'm not so sure. I think some people just don't wait long enough. There's a saying "if it don't fit, don't force it" and I think that is what happens quite a lot with relationships. It doesn't seem quite right, but hey, I'll make it work. Well, maybe. I think the whole Cinderella story is about "fit", symbolized by a slipper.

However, you still have to choose that person. You have the option to reject them. People do that you know. For all sorts of reasons. My younger daughter almost made that mistake. They were best friends, and she was convinced that was the wrong choice for partner. Well, it wasn't. She clued in eventually and now they are happily married with two little boys.

People also choose the wrong partner (or reject a good one) for reason of money, age, looks, and all sorts of reasons that seem reasonable but aren't. As you well know by now, I don't even think gender is an obstacle, and society is warming up to that generally.

The "right" person cannot be predicted. You will know them when you meet them. THEN you have to choose them. You see? You don't choose any other way.

But it doesn't end there. There are lots more choices during a marriage that can make or break the thing. Choices of fidelity go without saying. That's just the beginning. Anyway, maybe I'll still write that book, who knows.

Why do people forget they have choices? I wish I knew. Honestly. I spend so much time reminding them. It's not "news" to them, they just forget.

While I'm here, on a related issue, there are choices with children. First and foremost, whether to have any. It IS optional. There are a number of people who should have opted not to have children, but had them anyway. Then treated or raised them badly. There are no excuses for that.

There are lots of choices to make as a parent. Raising good kids is only part luck too. Again, I'm told how lucky I am that my kids have all turned out well. Isn't that an incredible coincidence? I have been showered with luck. A good marriage AND 6 good kids. Yes, I am grateful. I also take some of the credit. Here's the good news. This "luck" is widely available. You can have some too.