The Wrong Trouser Leg of Understanding

I’ve changed! Not much, just the title of my blog. The old name was never quite right, it didn’t feel comfortable, but I was struggling to think of a better one.

Until now. You may well be wondering what on earth the new name means. If so you’re in the right place.

There are some people who say that growing knowledge is like a spider web. As you learn more things new connections are made and you can travel along different strands at will, which is OK so far as it goes but doesn’t explain that thing our brains sometimes do when we just don’t get something. You’re struggling to get to grips with a concept, to see what is so obvious to the person explaining it to you, but you’re just not getting it until you can back right up and start again from another point of view.

This is what I call going down the wrong trouser leg of understanding. If you’ve put your left foot into the right trouser leg you just can’t switch over at knee level once you realise your mistake, you have to back right out and start again (and yes, sometimes you can repeat your mistake and end up going down the wrong leg again).

It’s a bit like being unable to get the image of Queen Elizabeth out of your head when someone asks you to name your favourite Queen track. All you can think about might be, ‘What, there are tracks on the queen? Where do they go? Are we talking Royal trains here?’ See, it’s not helpful.

Anyway, I like the idea, and I’m always going off at a tangent, so it seemed much more me.

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Donald Trump, mental illness, and all that other stuff.

OK, so here goes. I’ve been tempted to write about various Big Issue type stuff for a while, but the news inevitably moved on while I was still distracted by what I laughingly call real life, and then it seemed as if everyone was drowning in a sea of think pieces, op-eds, and so on.

Nothing much has changed, to be honest, but it’s simply got to the point where I’m fed up with reading article after article without putting my own thoughts down. They’re not going to be in any way coherent, for which I apologise.

So firstly Donald Trump. Well, where does one start? Although the word ‘start’ seems horrendously out of place given that this a man about whom so much has been written already. I’ve read articles questioning his intelligence, his business acumen, his morals and his mental health. I’ve also heard interviews with Roger Stone and other supporters, read articles about how he is a super communicator, and so much more. Yes, I have learnt more than I ever wanted to about Donald Trump and I’m certainly not going to regurgitate it all here.

What’s got me reaching for the keyboard is the increasing frequency of articles linking Donald Trump to mental illness; not only those spouting the view that he must be mentally ill and therefore unfit for office, but also those saying hey, don’t bring mental health into this, it’s not helpful.

I’m inclined to agree with the latter – you should never diagnose mental illness from afar, and certainly never as an untrained person. Also, enough with the lumping all mental illness in together and making it something that bars you from anything. Having a mental illness does not automatically equate to being unable to raise a family, run a business, or hold public office. There are a lot of people out there living perfectly functionally while also having a mental illness.

Also, it is perfectly possible to be an absolutely despicable human being and not have a mental illness of any sort. It’s called being human, and there’s an extremely wide range of human behaviour. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

I have a lot of sympathy with the view that Donald Trump is simply a white supremacist, and his tapping into a prevailing mood of fellow disgruntled white supremacists explains his success so far in the presidential election. The fact that Milo Yiannopoulos, that renowned proponent of free speech as exemplified by the GamerGater and Alt Right movements (ahem), was a guest speaker at the Republican convention, just goes to show who they think their target audience is. Or partially is. The thing is, I’m not sure that labelling Trump as a white supremacist is helpful either. It makes it still too easy to brush off his particular brand of unpleasantness as something we don’t have to deal with. Because we can put white supremacy in a box and say, ‘not my problem’.

Donald Trump is, I’m afraid, all too human, and that’s what we all have to deal with. We have, collectively, created societies where being a Donald Trump is to be top of the tree; to be entitled to everything, to take without asking, and to spew hate and insults when anyone dares to cross us. In Western societies you tend to need to be male, white, Christian, straight, able-bodied, free of mental illness and of as high a social class as possible to access Full Privilege Mode; in other societies other religions and skin colours may prevail to a greater or lesser extent, but being male and rich generally trumps (!) everything else no matter where you are.

The fact that Trump takes this to extremes may or may not indicate a mental illness, I’m not qualified to judge, but it most definitely indicates a flawed character. The thing is, we are collectively responsible for the way his flawed character manifests itself, and that is what needs to change.

There was a whole load of rubbish spouted about how the Isla Vista shootings were down to mental illness rather than misogyny, how the Orlando shootings weren’t targeting the gay community but simply an easy target, and so on. But really, come on. Deep down we all know that some choices are being made here. Why not shoot up any random nightclub, why choose a gay club out of all the others out there?

If someone attacks a mosque or a synagogue there is usually a reason for that choice. There are many, many other places of worship to attack. The fact is that in the west we have a hierarchy of things that are acceptable to attack. We might be momentarily horrified, but it’s not Us that have been attacked really, but Them, and so we go on with our lives because, on the whole, this system works out for us in the long run. There may be some minor bumps in the road if we’re not top of the tree, but generally we’re OK and are net winners in the game of Some people are more important than Others.

If we don’t stop, reassess, and put our society on a much more equal footing, then these things are going to keep on happening. We are, after all, only human and that includes the best and worst. Any attempt to put this down as a problem belonging solely to a group we can distance ourselves from only perpetuates the toxic atmosphere.

It’s difficult to accept, but accept it we must if we want to live without hate, fear, and conflict.

As a final point, I’ve seen one Trump supporter try to claim that the hateful things he says are simply down to the man suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. It was a desperate attempt to brush aside some pretty awful things said, but let’s run with it for a moment.

If we as a society had no swear words, no words of denigration or hate, nothing in our language to hurt anyone, then all a Tourette’s sufferer would shout out would be random words that didn’t hurt anyone. All they would hear, and therefore all they could randomly shout, would be neutral or positive things.

Just imagine Donald Trump shouting out ‘Tree! Always back up your documents! Donut!’ instead of his usual patter.

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What is a government for?

 

A slight detour into the realms of the political for this blog. It struck me that all of my children will be old enough to vote in the referendum in June, so in large part this is for them. I think they probably know all this anyway, but this was inspired by imagining them listening to the debates, reading articles, and trying to decide which way to vote. So, just what is a government for?

This seems to be one of those questions that few of us ever find ourselves pondering, and if we do then it tends to get brushed aside quickly with a, ‘Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? The government is supposed to be running the country.’

The thing is it rarely seems to be obvious in practice. Who gets to be the government and how should we choose them? How is the government supposed to run the country? Whose policies should be followed? Do they slavishly follow manifesto promises or should compromise be reached when it comes to everyday practicalities? Who gets to benefit?

As we endure the run up to the Brexit referendum on June 23rd and the US Presidential campaign I have found myself pondering just how many people ponder this, and what conclusions do they come to? With me so far? Good.

I expect, or at least hope, that if you were to stop the proverbial man or woman in the street and ask them if they think that any government, of any political persuasion, should run the country for the benefit of that government alone and their few trusted cronies that you would receive a resounding No! Government should not be for the few. Apart from anything else, once you have a situation like that then those in power will rig things so that they stay in power, and then you have a diminishing number of options to change a situation and you’re already starting from a point of disadvantage. Coups happen in situations like that, or revolutions, civil unrest and uprisings. All of which are bloody and far from guaranteed to succeed, much less have the outcome you thought they were going to. ISIS in Syria, anyone? Or to quote a fictional example, 1984.

So should governments run the country for the voters? Simply do what benefits voters and no one else? Well, not really. For a start not everyone is eligible to vote. We have what most people would consider universal suffrage in the UK, which means that virtually all adults have the right to vote, but there are still a lot of people who cannot vote. Mostly children, but also some adults who are not registered to vote for whatever reason. You might think that it would be a strange country that would ignore its own children and channel all resources into adult voters, and yet a quick look at various childrens services in the UK will tell you that’s exactly what we do. Childrens Mental Health Services have lagged behind those of adults for decades – a GP told me way back at the turn of the century that the waiting list for children to access mental health services was so long that you would have to wait at least a year even if your child was suicidal. I can’t imagine that things have improved at all since then. Then there are the cuts to support services for families, cuts to child benefits – I could go on, but it is clear that governments will not put money into services for people it doesn’t see as important ie those who can’t vote for them or provide them with a pay cheque.

Another case in point is the District of Columbia. The people who live there have no representation in the Senate, limited representation in the House of Representatives, and very few voting rights. It’s a situation that arose because Congress decided they wanted full control of the surrounding land, to not be beholden to one state or another for its security, but the unintended consequence is that without anyone to speak up for them the residents in the District live in some of the greatest poverty in the United States. Not all of them, true, but there is a lack of integration between the white communities and the black communities and I’ll give you three guesses as to which come off worst and see their circumstances getting worse. Oh, DC residents are still liable for full federal taxes, by the way. They just don’t see much of that money back in terms of social care.

And then there’s the fact that throughout history there has been a pattern of not allowing everyone to vote. It is within living memory that women in the UK were finally allowed to vote no matter what their income or social status. Within living memory. If governments only serve those who can already vote then that would never have changed.

So should governments do what is best for the majority of their citizens? After all, you can’t please everyone all of the time, so why not just go with what will make scarce resources work for the majority of people? This is another No, although I see enough comments online and in the print media to realise that many people wish that this was the case. At least, they seem to think that way because they assume that they are in the safe majority. The problem with this strategy, apart from its inherent cruelty and unfairness towards some of the most vulnerable people in society, is that it is open to such abuse. As soon as you are willing to accept that some people are worth helping, but that others can be safely consigned to the waste bin, then you open the door for those who wield power to change definitions, shift goal posts, and just generally behave in ways that benefit themselves and no one else (remember the governing for the benefit the government and cronies above?) You get people who vote for a party because they think they are the hard-working family that is being talked about in the manifesto and they don’t want to spread thin resources thinner by propping up others who are labelled as scroungers. Except then they discover that they are now labelled as scroungers, because although they are hard-working they are so poorly paid that they rely on benefits to make ends meet. Benefits which are being cut, or taken away entirely.

Or, you might have been a business owner that believed the promises that red tape would be cut for small businesses, rates and taxes would be set to allow you to cling on through the recession, only to discover that you’re not operating in the right development zone to benefit, or your business is considered just a tad too big, and so you get hit with all the extra rates and administrative hassle you thought you might be spared until business had picked up enough to cope with it.

I haven’t even mentioned people considered minorities because they are disabled, or have a different colour skin, or are LGBTQ , or practice a different religion, or weren’t born in this country, because I figured that was obvious enough. The thing is, being different doesn’t mean lesser, and doesn’t mean being less deserving of full participation in the life of the country that you live in, wherever it is.

So no, no governing for the benefit of the majority only. Govern a country for the benefit of everyone, and if you hear anyone proposing anything different then look very closely at what they are really saying. How do you imagine they would act if they actually got into power? So anyway, as the dude in the suit of armour said, ‘Choose wisely.’

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Glamour

‘I think I’ll call you Roo’ she said, as she twirled her fingers through his greying black beard. He just nodded, astonished that after all the uproar over the past few days such a glamorous woman had knocked at his mother’s door and asked to see him. At least, he assumed that’s what she had done – one minute he’d been alone in the basement and the next She was there.

‘I’m sorry, but what did you say your name was?’

‘Tatiana.’

He shook his head a little, confused, he could swear that she’d said Titania when she had first introduced herself, but maybe it was the accent confusing him. The police had only just left after he’d called them to investigate the death threats he’d received, and he was still in his sweaty grey tshirt and shorts, but the tall brunette in front of him didn’t seem to notice that he smelled rank and badly needed to brush his teeth, except, hadn’t she been a red-head when she’d first appeared? Never mind, he’d always preferred brunettes anyway.

He tried to listen to what she was saying but his senses felt overwhelmed that such a beautiful woman was standing there, actually wanting to talk to him and not turning away in disgust. For all his bragging on-line it had been years since any woman had spent more than 2 minutes in his company, apart from his mother and the police woman who had just left. He thought he had just heard her suggest that they go over to her place. Result!

He agreed enthusiastically, as he knew that his mother would only be nagging him to clear up and take out the garbage when she came back from work – and getting out of the house would mean she wasn’t there to cramp his style. Although, truthfully, he’d nearly forgotten what his style was – it had been over 20 years since he’d snatched a kiss from Chantelle behind the bike sheds. He didn’t even stop to pick up the overnight bag that he told his on-line fans he kept in readiness for such occasions, mainly because that was as much a figment of his imagination as the rest of his online life.

Somehow he couldn’t remember walking up the stairs and out of the door, or any other part of the journey, but he knew they had arrived when he could smell pine needles and wild rosemary. The trees grew together so closely that he couldn’t see any gaps between them, but suddenly he was surrounded by women. A lot of very, very angry women. Except that he wasn’t totally sure they were human, there was something about the eyes, and the teeth, and the claws…

He turned to Tatiana, bewildered and more than a little scared now. As he did so she allowed the glamour to drop for one second so that he could see her as she really was, and then he was gone.

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Confidence

Jane looked up as Lizzie wandered over to her desk. She tried not to frown or look disappointed but she knew that this could only mean one thing – Lizzie wanted a chat over her morning coffee and Jane would have to listen, nod and agree when all she really wanted to do was shake Lizzie and tell her to wake up and smell the coffee, you are living in a dream world. If only it was that easy.

It was exactly as Jane had dreaded. Lizzie had been to the spiritualist meeting last night and had been told she was doing well, her mother was looking down on her and was proud. The usual garbage that anyone with half an ounce of blather could pull off if they wanted to. Jane looked at Lizzie as she talked; noticed the colour back in her cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes, and the gaunt look disappearing as she started to eat properly again. No, it wasn’t going to be easy to negotiate this minefield. The problem was that Lizzie really was doing well, and her mother ought to have been proud, but it seemed that the only way Lizzie would hear that was from her mother’s own mouth. Or that of the spiritualist currently claiming to be doing that.

Jane had let her mind wander as she pretended to listen, but was brought back to the present by a note of sudden doubt in Lizzie’s voice. Oh no, she thought, but oh yes. Lizzie was starting to notice cracks in the current spiritualist’s knowledge. Crap. Jane knew what would happen next – Lizzie would fall out with the medium, then she would get depressed, stop eating, barely make it into work, and just generally fall apart. Jane had seen it all before in a never-ending cycle over the past twenty years, since their mother had died when Jane was twenty-two and Lizzie not quite twenty-one. She had hoped that time would help Lizzie move on, but it didn’t seem to be happening any time soon.

After the coffee break was over Jane tried to concentrate on her work, but found it difficult. She kept getting distracted, thinking through what she was going to have to do next. She’d hoped for a little more time, but she was clearly going to have to be prepared with a back-up plan a lot sooner than expected.

At lunchtime she googled the contact details of all the spiritualists and mediums  that she hadn’t used before, and prayed that this time she would find one that could remember all the inside family information she gave them.

 

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Bronze

Clara opened the last cupboard door in her father’s house. Ever methodical she had gone from room to room, drawer to drawer, emptying, sorting and dealing with the contents. It had been just a few weeks since he had died, and she was relieved that her father had never been a hoarder and had always been disciplined about keeping the house scrupulously clean and tidy since her mother died over forty years ago now. It had made the whole process so much easier, not having to sort through endless piles of meaningless stuff to find the one nugget of golden memory that she wanted to keep hold of.

This cupboard was news to her, though. It had been partially hidden behind a massive mahogany wardrobe in her father’s bedroom and she had briefly wondered if it was a door to a secret room and was imagining all sorts of mysteries before realising that wasn’t possible – it was simply a blocked in alcove to one side of the chimney breast and there simply wasn’t the space for a whole room between the bedroom and the outside wall of the house.

She turned the handle and simply stared. This cupboard was jam-packed, full to the brim – there were cardboard boxes stuffed with notebooks, piles of yellowed newspapers, and any number of buff folders that contained goodness knew what paperwork. The whole thing was a mess.

Reaching for a newspaper at random she unfolded it and looked uncomprehendingly at the front page – there was a picture of her mother, standing on what looked like an Olympic podium, with a bronze medal around her neck. How on earth had she not known about this? Why had her father never mentioned that her mother had competed and won a medal?

Clara pulled out all the boxes as fast as she dared, and sat on the floor sifting through. The first cursory glance told her that she had training records, diaries, medical records and, right down at the bottom, a box containing the medal itself, wrapped carefully in tissue paper. She held it up and examined it, never having seen an Olympic medal before. It had the date and location on it, Munich 1972 – the Olympics famous for the kidnap and murder of the Israeli athletes and coaches. She had been born a year later, and her mother had died when she was two years old – was that why her father had never mentioned it?

Rummaging through the piles of stuff Clara focused on looking for anything that might give her a clue; a letter, a diary entry, anything. She found nothing, but she was running out of time – the estate agent would be here soon to show the first potential buyer around. Deciding that she’d have to deal with it all later she boxed everything back up again and drove it home, feeling both frustrated at the lack of answers and glad that there’d been a mystery after all.

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Relative

Christmas was going to be a real drag this year, Felicity decided. Mother was coming, which meant that the house was actually going to have to be cleaned for once. Not so much for mother’s benefit as she was mostly deaf and completely blind, but because she would be bringing Grace, her daughter – Felicity’s sister.

To say that the two of them didn’t get on was like saying that gazelles weren’t that fond of lions, or that water did everything it could to repel oil. Or was that the other way round? Well, whatever, they didn’t mix well. Particularly not when Grace had sunk a few Christmas brandies. Her tongue, always unpleasant, gained a particularly barbed and bitter quality after that.

She never wanted to remember that she’d only moved back in with mother after her husband had left her, having finally had his fill of her cross ways. No, the way she told it she’d given up her marriage to go and care for their ailing parent, ignoring the fact that mother had been in full possession of her faculties at the time and very reluctant to have a child move back in just as she was enjoying herself. The stroke that had caused her deafness and blindness had come out of the blue for everyone, and Felicity suspected that no one had resented it more than Grace, having suddenly found herself catapulted from the status of freeloader to carer. Not that she had been a nice person before that, but it had certainly made things worse.

Grace never tired of accusing Felicity of neglecting her mother and making much of all that she did herself – completely ignoring the fact that Felicity lived three hundred miles away, across the channel, and had a job and family of her own to be there for. No, that bit was never mentioned. She wheeled across the kitchen to give the Christmas pudding mix a final stir before going back to finish greasing the pudding bowls. She looked at the small bottle of almond oil on the table top by the mixing bowl virtually overflowing with dried fruits, candied peel, apples and spices. It smelled heavenly and was completely nut free. They had been left out because of Grace.

Felicity didn’t know why she’d even got the almond oil out of the cupboard, but it was there now, tempting her to add just a few drops to the mix. After all, who would know? Except Grace, of course, when her face and throat swelled up until she could breathe no more. Yes, it was very tempting, and with mother here already there’d be no dash back home to care for her. Felicity filled two of the bowls then added some almond oil to the mix for the last two. Would she label them correctly? She didn’t know. She hadn’t made her mind up yet, it was a difficult decision to make. Oh well,  she thought, all problems are relative.

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