Comments, anyone?

This was a writing exercise I did some while back. The premise was to find a couple of unrelated articles or adverts in a magazine or newspaper, and make up a piece of fiction from them.

I found an article about women delaying having children due to career choices, sitting serendipitously next to a piece about child brides. I know there is a bit of a connection there, but I couldn’t resist it.

Those who follow me will realise that this was written entirely tongue-in-cheek!

But, does anyone have any strong opinions on the suitability of treating this subject with humour?


Dear diary.

Goodness me, it’s been a busy day. So much has been happening that I might almost forget who I am! Perhaps I need to remind myself; my name is Elizabeth Wilson, and I’m ten years old. Well, ten and three quarters, really. Very nearly eleven. Anyway, we had the careers teacher talking to us in our class, today. It’s never too early, she said.

So, we talked about careers. Well, in these enlightened times, we’re now being told: ‘Delay marriage until you’re sixteen, and get a career.’ Quite a turn around, eh? Sixteen! I’m sure I don’t know what my mum is going to say. I mean, a career is all well and good, but while I’m out being a career girl, she’ll be at home and all broody for grandchildren and worried that she’s heading towards her thirties and in the meantime all her friends will be cooing over their grandchildren.

I say that I don’t know what Mum is going to say, but that’s not actually true. I can hear her now; ‘It’s not natural, all this waiting. It’s a woman’s duty to have children – it’s her function, after all, both biologically and socially. What would happen if all you girls said you were off to have careers, rather than getting married and having children? Society would collapse, that’s what would happen. It would just consist of old people, and who would look after them?’

Plus, of course, I don’t want to leave it for too long; my biological clock is ticking and I’m not getting any younger.

But on the other hand, I could be in a responsible, well-paid post by the time I’m sixteen. Really, a whole world of experience is going to be opening up for my generation that my Mum could only dream about. In a way, it is no less than the final emancipation of women, and how exciting is that?

It was so much more than just a talk about careers, though. It has helped me to understand that there is more to life than just getting married and pleasing a husband. Just because I will be a woman, doesn’t mean that I am not an individual in my own right. We dare to say that the days of being owned by men, of being their mere playthings, are well and truly over!

And, I’ve got an interview already! The Mayor needs a new mistress; it’s only a two year contract, but it will be good experience and could perhaps be a stepping stone to something better. He’s big and fat, but rich as Croesus, and apparently he’s very good in bed, which is a bit of a bonus.

Perhaps, in a way, it’s a bit of a compromise. I’m sure that my parents will be pleased.

Oh heavens, why on earth did I follow that blog?


Every now and again I get unfollowed. And every now and again I unfollow a blog. Is it a big deal? Should it be a big deal?

At first, it can seem hurtful to find that someone has unfollowed you on any sort of social media, but really it shouldn’t be. Somehow, I find that I now follow a huge number of blogs, most of which I love, and I do wish I had more time available to read them more fully and comment on them, but I don’t. This means that every now and again I sacrifice one for the common good.

But, never without good reason.

First up, one thing that does irritate me, is when I visit and read a blog, leave a response – sometimes a quite lengthy one – and never receive any sort of reply. One blog that I initially followed was like this, and when I had left several comments that were never even acknowledged, I went through their comments strings and found that they could not be bothered to reply to anyone.

Instant unfollow. I dislike rudeness.

What other reasons?

Okay, so maybe I was attracted to your blog initially by the posts about cuddly kittens and home baking, but now the focus of your posts has shifted to motor vehicle maintenance and origami, and I feel my interest is waning. It’s time to move on. Don’t take it badly – what we had was good, but we all grow and develop and change over the years, and what was once right for both of us now leaves at least one of us empty. I wish you well, but I’m leaving you for another.

A little like the above, perhaps I found your blog through a particular post that interested me, but since then it seems that every post is on subjects that don’t. I’m sorry, I gave it a few months, I gave it a good try, but it’s just not doing it for me. Bye bye.

I unfollowed one blog because every post was a long moan about other people. Sorry, there was no pleasure to be had in reading that one.

Perhaps I notice that where your blog was originally full of carefully argued points and good language, it has become home now to foul-mouthed polemics and crude language in general. Hmm, perhaps you should take this one personally. I won’t be the only one to leave.

So, every now and again I see that my own number of followers has fallen, and that I’ve been unfollowed. My reaction? I do wonder whether I have written something boring or offensive, and occasionally re-read a few of my posts in that light. That’s okay, it’s constructive and encourages me to think about what I’m doing.

Perhaps we should all hope to get unfollowed every now and again, just to make us focus constructively on our posts.


Plastic Bottles of Water

Plastic bottles of water.

We buy plastic bottles of water.

Why the bloody hell, at least in the west, do we buy plastic bottles of water?

And, hang on a minute, before we even start wondering why we pay stupid amounts of money for a commodity that is virtually free, we even pay for those silly little contraptions on the tops of the bottles that you grip with your teeth, pull, and then, if it works, and doesn’t just break off, enables you to squirt the water through this nozzle into your mouth.

All of this just to save you unscrewing the cap and taking it off.

The dreadful labour of having to unscrew the cap.

And taking it off.

Perhaps that is why we buy the bottled water – to save us the bother of turning a tap and holding a glass beneath it to catch the water.


So why do we do it?


It costs…well, tap water is all but free. For example, in California tap water costs one tenth of a cent per gallon.

In the UK my local water company charges £1.248 per cubic meter, which is 220 gallons, for water. This makes it just over half a penny a gallon.

Bottled water? On sale in my local supermarket for £1.50 for 3 litres. On special offer. There are approximately 4.5 litres in a gallon, so this costs out at £2.75 per gallon, which is approximately 550 times more expensive than tap water. Or, if you like, you are paying under half a penny for the water, and almost the entire £2.75 for the plastic bottles.

Feel good about that?

Me neither.

Perhaps the bottled water is far superior to the tap water?

Nope. Sorry about that, it’s not.

First of all, approximately half of it comes from the tap in any case. Yup, that’s right. The company that flogs it to you gets it from out of the tap.

And as for the rest, tap water is subject to more stringent quality and health standards than bottled water is, in any case. In tests on water in the USA last year, tap water came out better.

So are the huge, multinational soft drinks companies who manufacture these things doing it for our benefit?

You bet they’re not. They’re doing it because they can see an easy and gigantic profit.

We could do worse than talk to our old friend, Mr Satan Moneyglutton, the anonymous CEO of a major soft drinks company, at this point.

‘I honestly don’t know what you’re whingeing about. You want convenience, don’t you? What could be more convenient than pouring all of your money into our coffers?

‘Tap water is so yesterday. It’s inconvenient. We have declared war on tap water. When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to irrigation and washing dishes.

‘And we are working hard to persuade restaurants not to give tap water to diners, but force them instead to purchase our bottled drinks.

‘It is helpful, of course, that most towns and cities seem to have stopped building and maintaining public water fountains, thereby forcing the thirsty citizen to purchase a canned or bottled drink.

‘Furthermore, with the spread of those nasty windfarms and tidal power generators, the future for oil as a source of power is, sadly, looking a wee bit unhealthy.

‘Clearly, there’s no point in leaving the oil in the ground where it’s of no use to anyone, so it makes sense to step up the manufacture of plastics which, incidentally, will make me even richer.’

So, there you go.

‘Nice bottle of water, sir? Only £1. And would you like a plastic bag full of air with that? Only £1.50.’

Don’t laugh – it’ll happen soon, I’m certain.

It’s all become quite vitriolic.

Which was predictable, of course, and, really, it always has been.

This high profile UK Member of Parliament or overpaid football star has avoided paying taxes on a huge income by squirrelling it away overseas somewhere.

That one has done it by calling his money something else – Ethel, perhaps, or William Wildebeest. I don’t know.

Others do it other ways, but the law supposedly only gets interested if the perpetrator pretends that the money isn’t theirs, or so I thought. Because apparently you can invent a non-existent company and stuff the money into that, register it on an island somewhere in the Caribbean or on a small planet not far from Jupiter, and then legally avoid paying any tax on it.


Society demands, quite rightly, that if we are to live in that society, there are certain rules that we abide by. One of these rules, generally, is that we pay our taxes.

Taxes go to pay for, amongst other things, our hospitals and our emergency services. Those that seek to ‘avoid’, i.e. evade, paying their taxes, presumably still wish to live under the rule of law, and would want to be treated in a hospital should it prove necessary, and if their house caught fire, would presumably like to have the fire put out as soon as possible.

The root of the anger and hostility is, quite simply, fairness. When the average member of society sees that a number of extremely rich individuals can legally flout the law by manipulating where their money is and what they call it, whilst those who are blessed with only a tiny proportion of their wealth have no choice but to pay their share, then there will naturally be resentment.

The fact that the law allows it will do absolutely nothing to curb this anger.

Of course, different countries have different tax laws, some of which are set up to encourage foreign investment.

Which then seems to be a small step from foreign-capital-sitting-quietly-in-an-account-‘earning’-interest–not-paying-taxes-and-not-attracting-attention-from-its-country-of-origin.

That something is legal obviously does not necessarily prevent it from being morally repugnant.

And I am sick of hearing the argument that if we do not bend over backwards to favour and reward the rich then somehow our country will lose out.

Presumably they will take their money elsewhere if we don’t – oh, they have done already, did you say? Never mind. Give them some more.

The laws on income tax, specifically, have been formulated and changed and added to and changed again over a couple of hundred years, so it should be no surprise that what we have today is a hotchpotch of laws and loopholes. Perhaps if they could be scrapped and then a new, simplified, set drafted, we might be able to get to grips with this in a proper way.

Because it is no longer acceptable for the law to continue to function in this manner.

It needs to be fair; it needs to be morally right, as well as legally right.

And…keep it polite, please, folks!

A Tax on Sugar

In a surprise move yesterday, the British Chancellor announced in the Budget that there would be a sugar tax introduced on soft drinks that carry a large amount of that substance.

The shock that the public, and indeed many of his own political party, received from this announcement was as nothing compared to the shock received by those in the industry.

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A nice cup of tea with no sugar in it and an apple that doesn’t have a great deal either.

In an interview earlier this morning, I was privileged to speak to the anonymous CEO of a major soft drinks company, Mr Satan Moneyglutton. Weeping copiously, he explained to me:

‘For long years we have been told that what people want are chemical compounds devoid of any nutritional merit, packed full of sugar, and now I feel that we have been stabbed in the back.

‘On the best advice from the governments of the day, we undertook our duty, I would almost say our mission, which we take very seriously indeed, to create a nation of fat people with poor health and rotten teeth.

‘And now the accumulated wisdom of years is being ignored. If these drinks are now said to be so bad, then why are they so effective at causing children to lose concentration and run up the walls of classrooms and become disruptive?

‘If they are so bad, then how come we manage to get such a large proportion of the public addicted to them? Our products are industrial success writ large.

‘This is nothing more than an attack on enterprise and the free market. Why no tax on water? Or tea or juices? I suppose the Chancellor prefers fine teas to a nice bottle of ChemoSludge *TM.

‘And it is socially divisive! This will hit the poor the hardest, since this is where we make most of our profits. We know that the poorer the family, the less likely they are to be well educated, and then the more likely they are to purchase our elixirs. This is where this horribly unfair tax will hit.

‘We were given no warning, no sign of this change of mood. Where will it all end? First they try to destroy the reputation of our lovely healthy tobacco industry, and now this. Honestly, I fear that the government’s next target might even be our ObeseBurgers *TM.’

At this point, the line to the Cayman Islands went dead.

The Language Barrier

As part of its strategy to counter extremism, the British Government has today announced its intention to fund a plan to help all migrants to this country learn English. For once, I think that this is a plan to applaud.

For the inability to speak and understand the language of others around you fosters fear, misunderstanding and distrust.

Having lived in an ex-patriot community myself, I remember how easy it is to become persuaded by others that you are somehow surrounded by ‘enemies’, and to develop a laager mentality. This mindset takes it as a given that everyone outside of the circle does not understand you, they are somehow ‘against’ you, and forever plotting to attack or undermine you, so you sit there muttering darkly about these ‘outsiders’, and voicing your dislike and prejudices against them…it becomes a cycle of mistrust that can possibly become violent.

It is another example of the saying that we hate what we fear, and we fear what we do not understand. And when someone is trapped in a limited social circle because they cannot understand anyone outside of that circle, their chances of becoming a full member of the wider community are severely limited.

Having travelled in non-English speaking countries, I realise how much easier life becomes for me when I make the effort to learn even a small amount of the language.

There will be some who refuse to learn the language on the grounds that they feel that they are there temporarily, possibly working on a short term contract, and can get away with using their own language in a limited circle of work, shopping and socialising.

And there will be some for whom it is a matter of pride to use only their birth language.

I think that both of these viewpoints are mistaken.

Writers understand only too well the importance of language. We worry over whether to use this or that word or phrase to get our meaning across; we worry over whether the way we have worded something may be misunderstood. But when you are attempting to communicate with others in a language that you only vaguely understand, every single conversation is full of these fears.

And when that is the norm, it becomes easier just to avoid any situations where you have to try to use that language.

But it does not actually take much to overcome these fears. Perhaps accepting an invitation to visit to someone’s home, or their place of worship, will lead naturally to conversations where people can learn about each other. But the essential thing is to be able to communicate, which becomes next to impossible without at least a few words of a language in common.

The Problem of Historical Truth

In my previous post about the pitfalls of online research, I began by alluding to the unreliability of newspaper reports. If you were to read reports on an important item of news in a number of different newspapers, you frequently might be forgiven for thinking that they were actually talking about completely different events. There will be political bias, of course, and the prejudices and agendas of reporters and editors alike. Are the individuals in an armed insurgency terrorists or freedom fighters? It is a point of view. Are strikers in an industry greedy mischief-making saboteurs, or victimised and mistreated victims of greedy corporations? Again, it is a point of view.

It can be very hard today to see through the fog of opinions and misinformation on any topic. How much more so when we delve back into time?

History is written by the victors. For example, what we know about Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul and Britain were written largely by the Roman conquerors, especially Caesar himself. Most of what we know of the reign of Ashoka, in India, comes from the edicts that he caused to be inscribed upon the remarkable number of rocks and pillars that are still in existence.

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Even tales written by the vanquished are likely to be inaccurate, of course. The cruelty of the victors, their barbarity; all of their actions will be exaggerated.

The historian understands that information comes largely from primary and secondary sources. A primary source might be, for example, an account written at the time (Caesar, above) or Parish registers of births, marriages and deaths. These sources are considered to be most likely to be accurate, being compiled at the time of the events described, but clearly they might all be deliberately or accidently falsified. Secondary sources might be newspapers, which are largely made up of analysis and opinion, and therefore considered to be an interpretation of information that has been derived from another (hopefully primary!) source.

A primary source is also referred to as evidence, yet I wonder whether a better distinction would be made if ‘evidence’ referred only to unwritten sources; archaeological remains, buildings, pottery, jewellery and coins and their like, which, whilst needing interpretation, are unlikely to be prey to the kind of distortions that written sources might be. Caesar, after all, might have claimed to take ten thousand prisoners when he only took five hundred, yet pottery of a particular type that is found at a particular spot, tells a story that needs to be interpreted, yet is unlikely to be a falsehood.

We need to be careful, though, when it is interpreted in light of contemporary writing, to avoid the temptation of unconsciously corroborating those writings.

Having written the above, we do have to take a certain amount on trust, because it is not practical to question everything in the world that we come across.

Yet, just because we discover that Troy really does exist, does not mean that all of the stories of the Iliad are now, somehow, all true. That would be like an author writing an incredibly impossible fantasy tale, in which the city of Vienna still exists and features, yet claiming it must be true because Vienna is a real place.

During the first year of World War One, a fictional short story ‘The Bowmen’ was published in the London Evening News by Arthur Machen. In this tale, he describes a battle between English and German soldiers at Mons, in France, in which the beleaguered British were aided by the sudden appearance of phantom archers who intervened to keep the British safe. Although this was fiction, the story quickly ‘went viral’, as we might put it today, and was readily believed by many in Britain. Of course, there was a feeling then that the British were good and the Germans evil, and so it was natural that God might intervene to help and protect them. A far stronger belief in God, in those days, also contributed to the feeling that it was natural to find that a miracle had occurred.

Although Machen republished the tale in a book with a long introduction explaining that it was fiction, and examining reasons the public thought it was true, not only did the belief persist, but further reports of angels on the battlefield began to appear. As a child in the 1960’s, I remember reading an account of this in a comic, with it presented as the truth. In 2001, the Sunday Times reported that photographic evidence to support the story had been discovered, although this was proved to be a hoax.

The Sunday Times also published exerts from Hitler’s Diaries in 1983, until these, too, were proved to have been forged.

Memories are notoriously unreliable. I was reading just a few days ago of an experiment where a group of people were encouraged to discuss childhood memories, with selected members of the group feeding in deliberately false information. After an initial hesitation, it seemed that all of them accepted these false memories as real, even to the extent of agreeing that they had taken part in a balloon ride, when they had not, and describing what they had seen from the balloon, and their feelings during the ride. The point being that they came to believe these were their own, real, memories.

How reliable are our own memories, then? And what can we trust? Clearly, there must be a lot of historical narrative that has been honestly recorded, that is simply not true, and we are unlikely to ever know what it is.

The Liebster Award

Goodness, what’s that?

Checking my emails, I noticed that I had a new message on the comment thread of my most recent post, from Dave, the fellow who blogs at Plying Through Life

Dave comes over and leaves a comment on my posts every now and again, and in return I go and look at his regularly, because I enjoy his tales of scuba diving, travel, and life in general, told with a dry and droll humour. He is also the only person that I have come across so far who really does herd cats in the course of his work.

Anyhow. I went and took a look at his comment, and found that he had nominated me for the Leibster Award.

Goodness, what’s that? You ask.

See, I’ve got you at it, too, now.


Well, I’m going to nick Dave’s explanation, because I don’t think I can better it: ‘It’s an Internet based award, given by bloggers to other bloggers.  It’s intended both as a way to recognise the work of bloggers you enjoy, and by publicizing links to their blogs help others discover those blogs too.  The emphasis should be on newer bloggers.  The nominees are also put on the spot, as the nominator can ask them any questions they find interesting, which helps us learn a little more about the blogger and extends the sense of community. The payback for this grilling is the nominee can then nominate other blogs they think are deserving.’

Then there are the rules, or guidelines. Again, I’m going to nick the wording from Dave (really sorry, Dave!), mainly because a large chunk of it is technical detail that he has laid out clearly:

1) Thank the person in your post who nominated you for a Liebster Award and link back to them.

2) Answer the questions he/she asked you.  Or don’t, if they make you uncomfortable.  Or emulate Mark Twain: “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.”

3) Nominate other great bloggers for a Liebster Award, and notify them by leaving a comment on their blog, with a link back to your nominating post. Not sure how to put a link in a comment?  Type the HTML for links in as follows (the HTML tags will not show in the posted comment):
<a href=”insertYourURLhere”>Your Linked Text Here</a>

4) I’ve seen anything from 3 to 11 nominees recommended.

5) Some variations suggest the nominees should have less than 200 followers, as the intent is really to showcase newer blogs.  How do you know how many followers they have? The best way I’ve found is to use the Manage Followers page in the Reader.  (You are following these people you like, right?)  Then, click on the title for the blog you’re interested in (not the web address), and you’ll be taken to a reader page for that blogger with a list of their posts and how many followers they have noted at the top.

6) Give your nominees a list of questions you’d like them to answer.

7) Include the award guidelines in your post.

8) Include a copy of the award logo in your blog.

9) Recipients have the option of declining the nomination.

So, I suppose that I had better answer Dave’s questions. Here goes…

What inspires you?

I am inspired by all sorts of random things. I tend to read or see or hear something, and my thoughts fly off at an odd tangent and by the time that I’ve caught up with them they’ve begun to wander down all sorts of alleyways and dodgy looking side streets that I wouldn’t normally even dream of going down. And by then it’s too late to do anything about it, so I just have to go with the flow and I find myself writing all sorts of stories or political pieces. Of course, I suppress a lot of them before they can get out and do me any lasting damage.

What got you started blogging?

I’d been thinking about it for a while, really since I had made the decision to self-publish the novel that I‘m currently editing. I knew that I had to start the process of promoting said book, and so it began as shameless advertising and self-promotion. Naturally, I then found that there were all sorts of things that I wanted to write about and share, and so it grew from there.

Which are your 5 favourite blog posts?

Now that’s really putting me on the spot! I assume you mean ones written by other people and not ones what I writ. In which case, I’m going to cheat and just suggest that you take a look at any post by each of my nominees – they will all repay the trouble!

What’s been the most rewarding part of becoming a blogger?

That’s easy; it’s the connections that I’ve made with other bloggers. Once you begin to follow comment threads on both your own posts, and those of other bloggers, you get drawn into conversations and quickly find similar like-minded bloggers. I don’t think that it is an exaggeration to say that you begin to forge friendships.

Name 3 things on your bucket list

1) Publish my first book; I really will do that within the next six months!

2) Go back to India and Nepal yet again. Each time I come back from a trip there I think that the next time I get an opportunity to travel I ought to go somewhere completely new, but by the time that I do, I always have this overwhelming urge to go back.

3) Take more photographs. I love taking photographs, but never seem to have the camera with me at the right time. I know that I really need to set time aside to do this, but…hey, where did that time go?

What is a favourite quote?

I could name quite a few, but one that has been in my mind rather a lot recently has been the quote from Edith Cavell, the British army nurse who was executed by the Germans in the First World War for helping prisoners to escape:

‘I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’

I think that a lot of people would do well to muse on that.

What is a favourite book or genre?

I don’t think I could possibly answer that; I read and enjoy so many genres, and my favourite book changes frequently. At the moment, if pressed, I might answer ‘Siddhartha’, by Hermann Hesse. Or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Or ‘The Old Ways’ by Robert Macfarlane. Or…you get the idea, I’m sure.

Name one place or person you’d like to visit

Well, if I could possibly tear myself away from another visit to India or Nepal, I do rather fancy visiting Ethiopia. I’d love to see the highlands there, and the Coptic churches.

And I’m going to cheat by also suggesting a person, and I’m assuming that this is intended as one of those ‘if you could meet anyone who had ever existed’ type questions, and admit that I would love to have had the opportunity to sit down with Gandhi and talk politics, philosophy and religion.

But…even as I write that, I am reminded that no one ever learned anything by surrounding themselves with people who thought like themselves, so perhaps I should plump for a long talk with someone who had a totally different outlook on life to myself. I have had a few such interactions on blogs with other bloggers, and we have managed to keep the discussions civil, and so I think that we have all learned a little about the others’ points of view. Maybe no one was converted to anyone else’s point of view, but I like to think that at the very least we came away with a little more respect for the others.

Have I twisted around this question? Sorry…

What talent do you wish you had more of?

Lots, really. But if I’m only allowed to choose one, then I suppose it must be writing.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on a vacation?

Trekking in the Himalaya. Definitely.

And now for my nominations. So many of the blogs that I follow have been running for a long while, and have many followers. And many of the others that I would have liked to have chosen either blog only rarely (too rarely!), or have blogs that are not structured suitably for the award, specifically just blogging episodes of a longer tale. So I have tried to pick out some newer ones that I have found. With one exception.

And so, my nominees are:

The Eurphoric Single Mom who blogs on her struggles to lead a normal life as the single mother of 2 young children, one of them autistic.

A year of living kindly. At the beginning of the year, Donna embarked on a year of consciously using kindness to change the world about her.

Yesterday and tomorrow. Another blogger who writes on her struggles to live a normal life after life has administered a good kicking. I have nothing but awe and respect for these amazing people.

Bun Karudo’s Scribblings  This one is the exception. It has been running for some while, and how it has not had this award so far is completely beyond me. I just hope it’s not because he hates the idea! Bun’s blogs are a most humorous antidote to feeling down.

So, nominees, I hope that you accept the challenge, and these are the questions I’ve set for you:

1) What do you find most difficult about blogging?

2) What would you like to learn?

3) So what inspires you?

4) Have you got a philosophy of life?

5) Any big event on the horizon for you?

6) Have you a favourite place?

7) Couch potato or Olympic athlete?

8) Name 3 things on your bucket list.

9) Have you had a life changing experience?

10) Name 3 people you would like to meet.



One month to go. The internet will shortly be deluged with Christmas blog posts of one sort or another, and so I thought I’d get mine in early.

Because that’s what you do with Christmas; you get in there early, and stoke it up.

I have been told so often that when it comes to Christmas, I am a curmudgeonly old misanthrope, that I could almost believe it.

But not quite.

I do not dislike Christmas.

Far from it.

What I do dislike, though, is the greed and consumerism that has been steadily growing up around it for more years than I care to remember.

The greed and consumerism that fuels the pressure to buy more and buy bigger; the pressure on parents from their children; the peer pressure over who gets the most, who gets the biggest.


The greed that encourages shops to put up decorations in August or September, and run Christmas adverts then in an attempt to promote and fuel this feeding frenzy.

It is not an exaggeration to say that families can virtually get bankrupted with the costs of presents and entertainment. There are many families who spend thousands of pounds on Christmas.

Is that really what it is supposed to be about?

Unless you take the trouble to go into a church, you could be excused for not knowing that Christmas is supposed to be the festival that celebrates the birth of Christ.

It would appear to celebrate greed, especially on every television channel and in every department store.

Until Victorian times, Christmas wasn’t much celebrated, Easter being the important festival in the Christian calendar. Much of its popularity came from Charles Dickens championing it in books such as ‘A Christmas Carol.’

Since then, though, there has always been an element of overindulgence, of booziness. But that is to be expected with a festival. Where Yule was celebrated, there was feasting and drinking, so there would always be some who indulged a little more than others.

And so I am ambivalent about it. On the one hand, there is this ghastly mass consumerism, which I find utterly nauseating.

On the other, it is, really, just another of those winter festivals that originated to give people hope that the bitter, hard season would eventually be left behind, and that spring would come. That is what I like.

Because in that, it is about hope, something that we could all do with more of, at the moment.

The Limits of Free Speech

It is the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that were in the headlines this year, because of the murders of twelve journalists and cartoonists at its Paris offices in January. Not unnaturally, this prompted a huge outpouring of sympathy and support not only for the families and friends of the victims, but also for the principles of free speech. The murders, it seems, were viewed by the majority of people, certainly in the west, as an attack on democracy and the principles of free speech and, by extension, on all of our western values.

But, even in the west, not everyone would view them in the same way. Whilst condemning the murders as abhorrent, there were many who pointed out that the cartoons were distasteful and unnecessary, and provocative towards all Muslims, and to view the cartoons as offensive was not the same thing as regarding all western civilisation as beyond the pale. And not the same thing as condoning the murders.

Yes, we do have the right of free, or at least reasonably unfettered, speech, but it is important to remember that with rights come responsibilities. It is generally accepted that we do not lie under oath, and that it is unacceptable to malign or defame someone. It is quite rightly against the law to shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded cinema if there is no fire, or to claim that an expensive nostrum that one is marketing is the elixir of life.

It is against the law to incite violence, but, to return for the moment to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, it could be argued that their publication was just that. Those responsible for the publication must have been perfectly aware that they would be regarded as deliberately provocative and would provoke anger and outrage. At the very least, they displayed an unnecessary lack of respect towards a large number of people; a complete disregard for their feelings. I cannot help but compare their actions to those of the hooligan who throws a brick through a window, just to enjoy the sound of the destruction, and the knowledge that he has hurt and offended someone who he may never have met.

So…censorship. There! BOO! I’ve used the C word! To suggest that there might be valid reasons why we might have limits on free speech, is to openly invite accusations that one would like to censor this and that and everything and that is obviously a bad thing, no? Well, that depends rather on whether or not you agree with what I have just written. I would not suggest that discussion of certain subjects should be taboo, but that the challenge is to find a way to discuss a difficult subject without causing unnecessary offence, otherwise we prevent that discussion happening in a rational and intelligent way, anyway. It is not wholly possible to avoid controversy, and indeed we should not wish to, but a healthy discussion is not the same as a slanging match.

If it is possible to speak out to draw attention to injustices in a state or a system, or to discuss controversial subjects without the fear of being persecuted for doing so, then one is enjoying freedom of speech. Deliberately insulting or slighting another person is no more than rudeness; technically, it is verbal assault.

How does all this pertain to the writer, then? Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Conrad’s ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus’, if written today, would clearly need to be given a different title. But does that make Conrad racist? No, it was considered to be acceptable, when it was written, to use that as a title. It wasn’t then considered as provocative. If he was writing today, Conrad would surely avoid it.

Many of the Father Brown stories are quite racist in their content but, again, are of their time. If Chesterton were writing today, he would surely write them differently, without those racist overtones. Whether or not he had any particular feelings about the superiority, or otherwise, of any particular race, he would, hopefully, self-censor his writing. It is, after all, what we all do at times to avoid offending someone else (don’t we?).

A number of newspaper journalists and editors will use the phrase ‘in the public interest’ to justify publishing damaging stories of famous figures’ private lives that can have no possible bearing on the lives of members of the public, but are merely prurient and salacious and sell newspapers. Is this a misuse of free speech?

What are your thoughts on this issue?