The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Royal Blue

A decade or more of toil against gender stereotyping has been undone by a single birth. 

In Canada, they turned Niagara Falls blue (if you didn’t get it, the spray is normally white), and in New Zealand, Christchurch airport was also illumined with the colour for boys.  Prince William, said their Prime Minister, is held in high affection over there as he attended the opening of the Supreme Court.  They lit up the wrong building, then. 

The Australians, to their credit, didn’t show off any man-made or natural wonders.  In that gruff, endearing way, the PM simply spoke about the royal bub.  Like an eight-pound door knocker, or ceremonial barge.  You can’t picture a human, let alone a gender.    

Here in England, things didn’t turn out much better.  With Scottish independence in the air, we weren’t about to highlight the colour blue.  We wanted to celebrate the Union, and the London Eye was lit up in the colours of the Union Jack.  At least, it was meant to be.  What we got was blue, pink and indeterminate – the gender stereotypes again.  In the morning, we took extra care with our choice of tie. 

The sailors on HMS Lancaster celebrated in their own way.  They went on parade and formed the letters BOY.  Someone in a helicopter photographed them on deck.  They must have been hoping for a boy.  The extra letter in girl would have put some sailors too close to the edge, not to mention indeterminate

The baby’s name was never going to be Jack.  It was never going to be David, either.  Mr Cameron’s fiddle with the primogeniture law, like some of his other legislation, is now irrelevant.  Speaking of fiddling, how do we know it’s a boy?  Because certain people were paid to inspect the future monarch’s genitals and make a written report about what they saw.  We trust that this is the last time such liberty is taken.

BBC headlines showed the world reacting to news of the royal birth.  That may have pleased the audience here in Britain, but it was little more than a few best wishes from a few predictable presidents and Commonwealth countries.  Nonetheless, in their tradition of balanced reporting, the BBC website did quote a Pakistani journalist’s tweet that the royal arrival made no difference whatsoever to a great number of people. 

We can still celebrate our British-ness, though, even when we know that not everybody does, and that members of the Royal family are born and live and die exactly like the rest of us?  And we don’t need to travel to the sub-continent to witness such ennui.  After that car accident in Paris, anarchist graffiti like DEAD AS A DODI straightaway appeared on walls around London.  

Life is probably easier for anarchists.  They don’t wear ties for a start.   

Friday, 19 July 2013

What, are fish fingers made from children?

We keep getting these reports. 1 in 10 secondary pupils think tomatoes grow underground.  A third of primary kids think cheese is made from plants.  This ignorance should surprise no one, or just the ignorant, since many children also believe that their father is God, that policemen never tell lies, and that politicians, unlike prostitutes, don’t take money for favours.  Some children don’t know where babies come from, Mummy, let alone what prostitutes add to the equation.  Nor can they do maths.  They are clueless about how to use money itself.  No doubt there are children out there who don’t even know what money is.  

Children need to be told things.  Though please spare them, and us, the science of statistics.  The new study reveals that 25% of little learners think fish fingers come from chicken meat, or pig.  I confess this does surprise me.  I never imagined having to tell a fish the truth, let alone a child.

But why pick on children?  You old bullies.  Of course, most journalists are over 18.  Nonetheless, adults often know as little as, or less than, children.  We should ask some strapping grown-ups the same questions.  I suppose it’s much easier to get hold, so to speak, of large numbers of children.  They can’t escape the classroom, where peculiar questions are the norm, and where strapping, I should point out, remains illegal.    

By the time we’re adults, we shouldn’t still believe that adults know everything.  I myself am an adult.  I personally know a large number.  I admit that you can sometimes find knowledgeable ones, mature individuals with excellent taste.  In China, for example, customers at a rat restaurant complained when they were served lamb.  

In the UK, consumers are not always so discerning.  Until the recent meat-switching scandal, the retired couple next door used to eat entry-level, supermarket beef lasagna.  (Yes, you old bullies, lasagne is the plural form.)  At least, those two lovebirds thought it was beef.  When the wife went into hospital for an operation, the old chap asked if they could test her for horsemeat while she was there.  He was probably joking.  His mistake was to ask the question before the old girl was fully sedated.

Don’t mind the neighbours.  You can come across mistakes anywhere.  There is a blue baby on your Facebook Profile page, and you know that babies are not normally blue, not properly-breathing, human ones, anyway.  It’s ridiculous.  A blue baby and a white nappy.  But it doesn’t make the headlines.  The designer’s an adult, isn’t he?  Either a Krishna devotee who thinks that nappies only come in one colour, or a bluestocking who knows that, while most people don’t care what colour nappies are as long as they are clean, they might object to an earth baby of a regulation colour if it doesn’t match their own.  Some mistakes are a good idea.  Some make it into schoolbooks.  Who writes the schoolbooks?  Adults.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Serving the nation

It was quite a coup.  Andy Murray’s victory at Wimbledon, I mean.  If Scotland was already independent, Britain would still be waiting for its first Wimbledon champion since 1936.  The Scots will get their vote in the end.  And if democracy doesn’t give you what you want, there is the other sort of coup.  The youth of Egypt delighted the world with their Twitter revolution.  The Army did nothing.  We saw the power of technology in the hands of fresh-faced democrats.  The Muslim Brotherhood did nothing.  Let the youngsters take the credit.  We’ll take power later through legitimate elections.  Mubarak went.  The fresh-faced democrats stayed in the Square for months until the Army allowed elections, then took to the Square again until the Army overthrew the party that won them. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

A stunning victory

So, Mrs May has got what she wanted.  Abu Qatada has gone.  But who exactly won?  Like millions of other law-abiding UK residents, he had wanted to stay.  The government feels it can claim victory as it got him to do something which he hadn’t wanted to do.  But his deportation was possible only because it is now illegal for the courts in Jordan to use evidence which has been extracted under torture.  And he did drop his old objection to going.... That’s some victory for any Home Secretary.

The problem is Mrs May wanted to get rid of him well before the legal safeguards for his fair trial were put in place.  His human rights didn’t matter because she had decided he was a dangerous man.  The Human Rights lobby irritated the government.  She tried to wash her hands of him and the lobby, but the courts wouldn’t allow it.  If she has her way, this so-called victory will now be used as an excuse to withdraw altogether from the European Convention on Human Rights.  That would be some victory for any Home Secretary.  

The Human Rights lobby should, in fact, be applauded for making governments respect the need for a fair trial and the rule of law.  If Mrs May was tortured into confessing to a crime she did not commit, or implicating an innocent person in a crime, she would look to a fair trial and the rule of law.  If Mrs May was tortured into confessing to a crime she did commit, or implicating a guilty person in a crime, she would look to a fair trial and the rule of law.  This is everybody’s right, although some people, such as Mrs May’s supporters in the battle over Abu Qatada, might think a dangerous woman did not deserve it.

There is, of course, no guarantee that Abu Qatada will be found guilty in a trial in Jordan.  In fact, if he has a fair trial, there is every chance that he will be acquitted.  There is no guarantee, either, that the British Government will not disregard the basic human rights of other individuals.  If this happens, sooner or later an innocent person will suffer.