The word is charity, not church

I had a revealing conversation with some good people this morning. From it I learnt that I’m not the only well meaning liberal concerned by a particularly Manx problem.

In a nutshell, an important local charity is concerned that people don’t get involved because much of the public (inaccurately) think it’s faith-led. This, in turn, is a further problem because after recent scandals many locals now (quite fairly) mistrust evangelicals.

I can’t identify the charity for various reasons, but I can say it’s a tragedy if they’re not trusted by the wider community as they do vital work. It is also a tragedy that the misunderstanding is not of their making. And the greatest tragedy is that this charity exists in order to banish prejudice and increase our understanding of the wider world.

It really matters that when their workers go into local schools to run voluntary activities the kids do not dismiss them as yet another bunch of grasping happy clappies. In fact, Manx kids must engage with such ideas if they are ever to be inspired to do something more productive than shift money round the world while destroying mineral rich (but politically bankrupt) countries in the developing world.

It doesn’t help that the Manx government still have a 19th century arrangement under which major church leaders have regular meetings with social services staff, and are automatically consulted whenever there’s a new initiative. That isn’t a statutory procedure, by the way, just a convention dating back to pre-welfare state days which nobody seems to have questioned.

The real problem may be that the island – effectively – moved straight from the days when charity was dispensed by “the parish” to “the deserving poor” into the Thatcherite dismantling of the welfare state, so never developed the UK system of highly evolved and professional local government. As a result, when Manx civil servants see a social issue looming they cover their ears until the outcry gets too loud to ignore, then throw some government cash at a priest and walk away.

It is also unhelpful that even public spirited Christians rarely have a social circle that goes much further than the churches, so their charitable model doesn’t go beyond religious duty. On the other hand, it is increasingly a problem that UK atheist organisations won’t think about charity or the public and third sectors at all – beyond how to get on a state gravy train where churches have been first class passengers for so long.

So, how do we break out of that circular logic on the Isle of Man whereby whenever someone says “charity” the listener unconsciously thinks “church” and most of us shut off?

One thing is clear. There is no point in saying “the government should do something about it”. As any Manx person with first hand understanding of either local or international issues already knows, our politicians and civil servants know far less than any member of the public who regularly reads a decent newspaper. And they are not interested in being educated.

No, we ordinary members of the public are going to have to grasp the nettle. If we want a decent society we are going to have to take it upon ourselves to reach over the fence, put aside our preconceptions……and start talking.

It’s only a small island. So how hard can that be?


First respond

Earlier this week, just as I was gearing up to start putting together the kind of positive and funny stuff I now want to post, Life bowled me a nasty googly. As it does; nothing to be done about it except deal with it.

Maybe by next weekend things will be better and clearer, and I can spread some sweetness and light around. Meanwhile, if you happen to be Manx resident, even if you’re similarly up to your eyes in the smelly stuff, there is still one thing you must do.

Go to . If you have been following the local press you should already have a fair idea what’s going on. Even if, say, you have been on an extended monastic retreat for a year or so and totally out of contact with real life, this is the time to re-join the human race. Read the thing, and RESPOND!

This may be our only chance in a decade to end a disgraceful situation whereby, in order for Manx women to get basic health care, they either have to break the law or be assisted by more enlightened people in another country.

Never mind the government line that limited abortion facilities have been available for 20 years, and they don’t believe there is any problem or demand. In practice, they aren’t, there is, and there is. Ask any woman who has been in need of them.

Which makes this place a third world country, on a par with tinpot, no account, theocratic regimes one only hears about because Amnesty International notices their outrages. It is as if the island is being run by the DUP in proxy.

In fact, given that the main opponents of this bill are people who originally moved here from the territory the DUP runs – because the peace process threatened to make Northern Ireland a fairer place and the UK government would no longer fund sectarian hate preachers with grants meant to aid “bridge-building” and “community projects” – that is not so far from the truth.

So, respond, help change happen, and have a great and hopefully happy, hassle-free week.

Was that a week, or just weak?

It’s been an odd week. The best part is that I was only required to attend “The Unpleasantness” on three days, during which the management were so busy managing each other’s mistakes that I was left to manage myself. But enough of such drudgery.

Once it stopped raining, Tuesday was spent helping set up the Global Village for Tynwald Day. Then Wednesday morning I was back there, bright and early, to take my place on the Amnesty International stall for the day. And I really wouldn’t want to have been anywhere else.

The thing is, I have no interest in anything that happens around the main field. Each year my token visit there to check if I’m missing anything gets shorter and shorter. This year I was actually back on the stall within ten minutes, and feeling physically sick.

For me it’s a sad collection of colonial klingons, UKIP-lite losers and war-gamers. Tiny minds, no ambition beyond selling the next lame cow to buy a wide-screen TV. The mud, the diesel fumes, the attempts to crowd more and more paying punters into a smaller and smaller space? The increasingly desperate and clueless attempts to demonstrate “Manxness”.

Well…. thanks, but no thanks. If there is a Manx way of life, that field is not where you will find it. Quite the opposite in fact.

By comparison, the Global Village is a model of what we could have. The antics of some of the participants may well annoy or frustrate me, but it is the willingness to communicate with others not like us that has to be encouraged. There is none of that around the main event.

Last year things wound up with a sort of multicultural conga of performers, stallholders, and spectators of African, Bulgarian, Indian, Filipino, Manx and I-know-not-what other descent around the field. It was all totally spontaneous and totally infectious: the kind of thing that happens when people of very different backgrounds get together with a positive purpose. Nothing up the hill matches that.

Instead, we get dreck like . Which is also, incidentally, inaccurate. On the quiet, even compulsory clergy attendees tell me that the entire ceremony bores them to tears and makes them wish they were somewhere else – just interacting with humanity. This is when you realise how bad things really are.

Thankfully, this year there was , which rather put things in context. The last time anything comparable occurred would be 1991, when ACT UP popped in to protest the continued complete illegality of homosexuality, along with police and civic harassment of local gays. At the time police tactics were bad enough to drive some to suicide.

And then, a day or two after the main event, came . Apparently, “A vibrant cultural scene boosts people’s sense of identity, assists wellbeing and contributes to the Island’s economy and international reputation.”

Well, it might well do if we actually had one. But this has nothing to do with culture, as in the everyday life of people, and everything to do with product that can be measured, bought and sold.

Rarities like the Handmaids aside, anything I would recognise as culture is not to be seen in the public eye. It exists on the Isle of Man only in the cracks between the official version, which it wouldn’t surprise me to know government has trademarked.

Never mind the government, here’s the refugee aid program

Those who know the “real” me are aware I supported a modest proposal to settle one Syrian refugee family a year to the Isle of Man over a period of five years. The proposal and figure was intended (using the same ratio of refugees to national population) to match David Cameron’s promise to rehouse some Syrian refugees around the UK. The families were to have come from a specific, well supervised and monitored, refugee camp, and would have been subject to exactly the same rigorous checks as those the UK government would take.

Well, the world knows what happened to the UK promise, and recently Manx people also discovered that our own government were even less interested – even though Manx civil society would have done all the work and government was simply asked not to get in the way. Because if you try to do anything to buck the trend for institutional xenophobia on the Isle of Man, you expect such knockbacks.

Oddly enough, our government either sees nothing wrong in (or turns a blind eye to) the way, say, the London property portfolios of Middle Eastern dictators are overseen on the Isle of Man. That, after all, is strictly business. Oh, and it also means, for instance, that Manx government ministers and their staff can travel (at public expense) to the Dubai offices of a frivolous Department for Economic Development PR scheme to attract Middle Eastern investments (without any awkward questions about human rights or industrial scale corruption).

So anyway, as you’d need a ouija board to start a conversation with most Manx politicians or civil servants (assuming they even have souls), those involved in the original proposal have moved on.

Now, there’s a great scheme called From Syria With Love (see ), and one of their projects is , a collection of paintings by Syrian children living in refugee camps in Lebanon. And it’s coming to the Isle of Man. You can see the whole thing in Noa Bakehouse, Douglas, where it will be for two weeks between 25th March and 8th April.

Baraa Essay Kouja, the founder of the charity , and himself a Syrian refugee, will also be here for four days. You can catch his public presentations on Saturday, 1st April at 2.30 PM and Sunday, 2nd April at 10.30 AM and 7.45 PM. Baraaa will also be visiting secondary schools on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th to give talks about the refugee camps, the Syrian crisis and the children behind the pictures.

Framed prints of exhibition pictures will be on sale for £15 and there is also the opportunity to order unframed prints for £10 which will be available to collect one week after the exhibition closes. 100% of the proceeds goes directly to small scale projects in the Lebanon camps and at displacement points on the Syrian border.

You know, it’s almost a shame we can’t get anybody that efficient, hard working or imaginative running Manx government enterprise schemes. Because by my back-of-the-envelope calculations that’s a success rate about 100% higher than the Dubai scheme, which has produced no genuine new Middle Eastern investment. Most of those shady deals have been quietly in place here for two decades or more already, which is why by now they’re so complex and opaque that they rarely show up on the radar.

Anyway, excuse my cynicism. All I really mean to say is, go, see the exhibition, engage with a few local people who actually want to be part of the human race for a change. Maybe you might even want to lend a hand to what they’re doing.

Remembering in silence

A desperate e-mail sent to members of the island’s national choir last night nicely illustrates the huge gap between a popular public myth and reality.

Next Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, when – if you were to believe the hype – the nation turns out en masse to mourn fallen soldiers from the two world wars. Except that it doesn’t, and hasn’t in several decades.

I have to admit, the pictures in the papers will look impressive. But remove compulsory attendees from the emergency services, boy scouts etc., plus the paid attendees (politicians, senior civil servants, clergy…) and you’re left with a handful of nonagenarians and their carers. Even some previously compulsory attendees are now refusing to turn up. For example, head teachers used to send pupils to represent each secondary school, but these days most kids feel no link, and parents who share that view are refusing to make them go.

But then, Remembrance Sunday was never the proper time to remember the war dead anyway. That is properly Armistice Day, at 11 AM on 11th November, a tradition instituted by government in response to an angry 1919 grassroots campaign which, because of events in Russia, it was feared would turn into civil insurrection if not addressed. This campaign also suggested war memorials by popular subscription, which again national government subverted by building the Cenotaph and local governments repeated around the UK. Another key point is that the Cenotaph was a deliberately non-religious monument (to reflect that non-Christian soldiers from around the empire also fell by the million) and Armistice Day was also not overtly Christian for the same reason.

This put out the established churches, who expected to “naturally” lead the nation’s mourning, until years of secret lobbying by bishops eventually produced the Remembrance Sunday format. Then, gradually, civic authorities were encouraged to place less emphasis on Armistice Day (which, inconveniently, was also usually a working day) and to focus on Remembrance Sunday (which wasn’t – especially before the Sunday Trading laws changed).

All of which makes that desperate e-mail even sadder.

The thing is, the outdoor national Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Douglas is preceded by a church service in St. Thomas’s, and both are recorded live by the nation’s radio station; and this is where a problem arises. Listening to the recordings in recent years, it has become patently obvious to the broadcasters that those in church either don’t know the hymns or are just not singing. So, a hymn that everyone of my age learnt at school is announced, the town band strikes up….and nobody joins in. Dead air – a broadcasting nightmare

What to do?

Well, the plan is to recruit volunteers for a scratch choir, which will be placed conveniently next to the band and close to the microphones. If enough turn up, the false impression conveyed – at least to listeners who obviously can’t see what’s going on – will be of a nation lustily joining in traditional hymns to remember noble folk who died saving all that’s decent. But even this desperate plea might fail.

Because one condition of church attendance – even for potential choristers – is to contribute to a British Legion collection. Paid attendees are not expected to cough up, get their poppies provided, and after the church and Cenotaph services will sidle off to a government reception with free food and alcohol. The vets, their carers and any voluntary attendees? Nothing.

If I was the kind of person who would waste an hour of my life listening to yet another demonstration of national hypocrisy – or local radio at all – I would almost be tempted to tune in to find out what happens. But I’m not, so I’ll be laughing in my sleep instead.

And before anyone accuses me of mocking the war dead …..

On the 11th of the 11th at 11 AM, I will be laying a wreath at the Cenotaph. Which means a day off work, unpaid, and no free drink.

Government health warning

Oh well, as you can see from the people have been to the polls, and our new oppressors have been chosen.

To be fair, for once I am proud of my fellow Ramsey folk. We turned out in droves, and picked two very promising newcomers. Four of our five candidates could well have got elected elsewhere on the island, and done a fair job. In addition, the number of votes cast for the first alone was greater than the total in almost half the other constituencies.

Though why over 700 put an X next to the name of a candidate whose manifesto might as well have been etched in red crayon I will never know. My child took one look at it, rolled around the floor laughing at numerous spelling mistakes, then took it to school to show her disbelieving classmates. And we worry the young don’t take enough interest in politics!

But if only Ramsey’s good sense – or perhaps healthy collection of candidates – had been an island-wide phenomena.

For example, I can tell that those two blights on Southern civilisation, the Rotary Club and the evangelical churches, have been busy rounding up the bigots from the failure of the one literate and humane politician in that area to get returned. The subsequent loss of the only government minister dedicated to environmental change and a decent overseas aid programme is a particular worry.

The apparent choice of candidates for Chief Minister is another one. Collectively, the lot of them would struggle to muster a three figure IQ, and their prejudices and freeloading tendencies are a return to an era I thought we had left for ever. Despite criticism of some of his government’s policies, the last Chief Minister finally brought us out of the dark ages. His successor, and likely allies in Tynwald, could take us right back there.

Might as well face it, white flighters and other knuckle-draggers will now dominate the Manx attitude to the wider world, and to those here who are neither Caucasian nor pig ignorant. If you can read a book without moving your lips, the next few years will be a bumpy ride, so good luck.

British Banditry Corporation

I was amused by

There is nothing to be understood, and it is – frankly – ridiculous that the foreign body which demands such money with menaces then wastes some of it telling us why it is obligatory to pay.

Because the bottom line is this…

Another country’s semi-nationalised broadcaster has such profligate management that it cannot get by on the funds it gets. The government of that country is so poor that it cannot come up with a better management structure, and its politicians so dishonest that many of them prefer to be seen in public as calling for the abolition of the broadcaster while privately knowing this is not possible.

One solution is to demand money from the citizens of a nearby, nominally independent, country, even if they do not have a TV or use other devices to watch that broadcaster’s product. Some will say this is nonsense, but I know from the experience of Manx friends who have never owned a TV that very aggressive tactics are used to force payment on the (totally unproven) basis that of course everyone has a TV and watches BBC programmes.

Manx courts, for some odd reason, are not minded to challenge such twaddle. I sometimes wonder if they are minded to protect anybody who actually lives here against predatory foreign powers, rather than a few people with far more money than anyone could need (or even spend) who don’t.

There is also a myth that even if most people told the licence money collectors to get stuffed some will end up in jail. Again, not true. During the Northern Irish “troubles” over 50% of the population did not pay and none were prosecuted. Similarly, at least the same percentage of Irish citizens watch BBC as do British citizens (and the figures on that, while rarely mentioned, are far more reliable than any of those excusing UK taxation of Manx people for the privilege of a service which can be accessed, free of charge, in every other surrounding country).

So, to summarise then, the Isle of Man has no effective courts, no effective government, and no public will to resist daylight robbery via the equivalent institutions in another country.

I am honestly not sure why I mention any of this, other than that it is very funny.