Unwell? Moi?

I haven’t posted for a while because ….well, things have been difficult. Still are, actually, but if I don’t get back into the writing habit soon I may never do so.

The problem wasn’t exactly writers block. I met obligations to write for publication elsewhere, but got mugged too often by real life to put anything up here.

This was no classic “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell” situation. It was those around me who were unwell – at the most inconvenient times – and I was the only available nursemaid. Likely themes came up, I’d write a sentence or two, then emergencies arose and by the time things had calmed down the issue was dead and further comment would be irrelevant.

Now a Christmas break from “The Unpleasantness” brings a rare chance to regroup before 2018 and “business as abnormal”. I intend making the most of it.

Stuff I’ve experienced since I last wrote makes me realise some things are gone – forever – and some things that used to matter to me no longer do. I have lost the patience to wait for some people to change, or even start acting with common decency.

Time to follow the path not chosen because of my naive belief that if you treat people right they always respond in kind. Sadly not; some just get their snouts deep in the trough and forget everything else.

I am not about to join them. If anything, I will be trying harder than ever to spread sweetness and light to humanity. Just not to those who refuse to do the same.

So be warned, in 2018 this blog may change direction. With a certain amount of baggage now shed, I even hope it will become lighter and funnier.

Right, that’s it. Blockage over, back on track.

Deep joy.


Corpse-kicking for Jesus

A Scottish friend drew my attention to a recent letter in the Oban Times by one Donald Morrison, who comes across as a major league retard, even by the notoriously low standards of Scottish Calvinism.

Morrison took the hump because someone had the audacity to organise a humanist funeral in Inverness, so spent about a page ranting in the local press about it. He claimed people who attended thought it the worst funeral they’d been to. He presents as a compulsive fabulist, so I assume he’s lying about that, and is using any weak excuse to (effectively) attack a dead person, their family and friends at a sad time.

Even for a god-bothering small town throwback this fool is offensive. He spends whole paragraphs whingeing because his god, sin, heaven and hell weren’t mentioned once, neither was his favoured collection of fairy tales, and nobody prayed. Shock horror.

He then rants on for another couple of paragraphs because the funeral celebrated the deceased’s life instead of dwelling on death and salivating about it. Finally he attributes a fictitious book to Nietzsche before saying that a popular joke (”God is dead: Nietzsche/ Nietzsche is dead: God”) appeared as graffiti days after Nietzsche died, when any fool knows it was little more than an icebreaker used by teachers in the 1960s to introduce fourth formers to some basic philosophy.

In a town where everyone must have known about the funeral, one feels for the friends and relatives of the deceased this boor insulted. The island suffers from thoughtless, fundamentalist cretins, but even they would not stoop to this.

Idiots like Morrison should stick to things they actually know about – like molesting sheep. I’m the last one for censorship, and generally love it when such religiots put their wellies in their mouths and give us all a good laugh. But in my days as a journo for small local papers even I would have thought twice before allowing them to denigrate the recently dead.

Not unwell but….

A couple of weeks back I was joking that the blog is getting more Bernardian by the day and that, in future, each time I go a week without posting I will put a small message up saying “Manx Gent is unwell”.

This week I came close. The Unpleasantness became more unpleasant, as these things do. All the business manuals on workplace stress say that the real test of your abilities is the way in which you turn around a flow of negative feedback by staying positive, pro-active… and a bunch of other numbskull buzz words. Somehow, I think management and their stooges missed that e-mail.

By coincidence, I had been reading Hannibal, the sequel to Silence of The Lambs, in which at one point Hannibal Lecter explains to somebody that, when feasible, he chose only to eat the rude. Such a shame there’s never a helpful cannibal around when those of us trying to maintain civilised values and human decency could benefit most.

In addition, having agreed to give a daily lift to a stranded colleague the workday also became longer. So, in the 20 or so minutes which used to be my readjustment zone between home and work each morning and evening I get treated to a litany of somebody else’s work problems. What kind of screwed up world is it where even my altruistic acts are being turned against me?

But at least the week ended well.

Firstly, on Friday my first day cover of a new P.J. O’Rourke book on the Trump election, How The Hell Did This Happen? , arrived. For those not in the know, O’Rourke’s work is neatly categorised by the title of his first book, Republican Party Reptile. I discovered him back in the mid 1980’s, when a review of that very book described it as just the thing to buy a bishop for Christmas if you wanted him to die of shock.

It was a pretty apt review. It is ironic that conservatives, while wrong about everything, at least manage to be wrong with cutting edge humour while liberals… Well, when you have no choice but to deal with life’s worst absurdities up close the last thing you need is a sermon in your spare time.

Every acid phrase by O’Rourke has you screaming “No, no, you can’t say that” while doubled up laughing. A lifelong Republican, he finally balked at the idea of Trump and, like his cohort Chris Buckley, advised conservatives that there was no other choice but to vote for The Great Satan (i.e. Hillary) as someone who, however clueless, at least knew where the White House was and understood what a US president was supposed to do.

The other good thing was the remarkable kindness of some public sector employees who contested a petty restriction for me. About a week ago, I asked if I could put up a poster for From Syria With Love in….let’s just say a public building where it might be seen by a lot of passing trade. I was politely informed that the noticeboard was for local events only ( visions of the Royston Vasey shop there for a moment), so went to look elsewhere instead.

A couple of days later I had a message from a manager, who’d been out when I asked, saying the matter had been brought to her attention, that no such policy existed and that I was welcome to bring the poster in. Later, on calling in on quite another matter, I was actually told to go home and fetch it. So I did, and it’s now up there alerting decent people to a worthwhile event and annoying xenophobes and petty bureaucrats.

In short, not thriving, but not unwell either. Just middling.

Manger danger

Well, it’s that time of year again. You know, the one when churchgoers accuse everyone else of trying to cancel Christmas. Before they can do this, they need a weak excuse, which varies from supermarkets selling the wrong kind of Christmas card to nativity plays and scenes allegedly being “banned” by local authorities.

Last year the local flashpoint was a particularly large and gruesome set of nativity figures (more like gargoyles) set out in the lobby of the local hospital.

The figures themselves have quite a funny history. Originally they were built for a local church, where they were displayed for a Christmas or two before parents, quite rightly, complained that some of them (I believe Joseph and Mary were the major culprits) were so ugly that children ran away screaming and couldn’t be enticed to look in the crib at the main attraction. So, they were stored away and forgotten about until the priest retired and was replaced by a younger, more belligerent, model.

The new guy fell over them one day while looking for incense, communion wine… Jesus Crackers …. choirboys…… something like that anyway. He set them up in the church, at which point he was not only told by parents why they’d been banished in the first place but also discovered that, while stored away, they’d got damp and were now beginning to rot. A coat of varnish couldn’t hide the smell, and certainly didn’t make Joe and Mary look any less like Quasimodo and the Gorgon.

What to do? Is it sacrilegious to burn knackered nativity figures? I don’t suppose they prepare you for such dilemmas in the seminary.

His inspired answer was to “donate” them to the hospital, where, for the first Christmas, they were installed in the hospital chapel. Apart from the whiff, the main complaint was not their plug-ugliness but their sheer size and inconvenience. The Muslim staff who are the chapel’s only daily worshippers (they use a chapel side-room) couldn’t squeeze past them. Nobody else would have noticed them, because even half the staff don’t know the chapel exists.

But the donating priest had other complaints, which he got his parishioners to express. Namely, why was their generous “gift” hidden away in a room specifically built for a (non-existent) hospital Christian community instead of installed in a prominent public place where it could inconvenience and scare the Bejesus out of the general public?

So last year it was (in the process blocking the main entrance to the hospital and hiding all the direction boards frantic relatives look for as they rush through the door), and both staff and public duly complained. The sensible management response to this might have been to put the monsters somewhere less intrusive, but the Manx NHS does not have sensible management.

So, this year, the whole freak show was wheeled out in the same place. In addition, the whole display is cased in a purpose-built box. Officially, this is to “protect” the gargoyles without obscuring the direction boards. Not so. I suspect it is actually to protect the surrounding walls from mould, and to contain the stink. Because if the spores from these things spread to even one ward, there would be an outbreak of emphysema.

Quite hilarious to think that some hospitals ban smoking – not only indoors but even in car parks – while being complicit in the introduction of other health hazards, simply in order to keep a handful of religious zealots quiet.

Not saving the children

At this time of year there’s an event in the lobby at Ronaldsway Airport called the Festival of Trees – or something like that. To be honest, it’s organised by a major charity I have no respect for, roping in smaller, similarly pointless, others, so yet another non-event I ignore.

The general idea is that the little charities pay an entrance fee to Save The Children and build Christmas trees reflecting their work. The public then votes on the best tree and the winner gets a prize at a glitzy shindig attended by the kind of idle rich lame-brainer who goes to that sort of thing because….. well, they have nothing better to do, I suppose.

Though they are never the prize-winners, some trees can still be quite inventive. For example, a year or two back one charity which donates toilets to villages in developing countries made a “tree” out of toilets. I mention this one specifically because nobody took offence at a quite literal example of lavatory humour or demanded it be taken down.

And this year one of the trees was a joint effort by two groups (one of whom is Amnesty International) promoting a modest scheme to bring a few Syrian refugees to the Isle of Man. The proposal is that if Cameron can promise to resettle 20,000 in the UK over five years then, working to the same scale, maybe the Isle of Man could take 25. That’s just five (or one family) a year.

Not a big ask, especially when over 100 people have signed up offering a room. Also, to my certain knowledge, two owners of finance sector companies – one a member of the British Board of Deputies of Jews, the other a child refugee from Budapest in 1956 who was overwhelmed by the sight of Syrian refugees there while visiting relatives two years back – have offered to rent houses.

So, the tree explaining all this was built around a combination of life jackets and pictures of famous refugees such as Ann Frank, with the message “Refugees Welcome” around the base, snippets of information and a few links urging people to sign a petition which will go to the Manx government in late January. Not exactly an ISIS recruiting drive, I think we could agree.

I’d forwarded a few pictures of it to friends, urging anyone who passes through the airport to take a look, maybe even cast a vote for it. ‘You can’t miss it’, I’d told them, ‘big orange lifejackets everywhere and REFUGEES WELCOME signs in big red letters’.

Some people then went out of their way to look and came back puzzled. After going round the lobby a few times, they finally spotted the lifejackets, but nothing about refugees, just some Save The Children leaflets on a totally unrelated matter. When pictures of the exhibition opening appeared in the local press, what was left of the “tree” could be seen in the background and, yes, it had definitely been tampered with in a major way. Without the refugee material it made absolutely no sense. No wonder nobody noticed it.

So what happened? The first suspicion was that airport management, knowing that the Governor was due to open the exhibition, had assumed he might take offence. Nope, asked around and there was definitely no government tampering. In fact some airport employees had quite liked it when it first went up and had signed the petition online.

Which leaves the awful thought that the censoring must have been done by someone who, in theory, is concerned enough about the plight of children in war zones to want to help. Or at least, hold social soirees to raise money for other people who, in theory, are employed to do something practical for such kids.

Fundraisers for a major development agency deliberately sabotaging a campaign of the world’s most respected human rights group? That would be obscene. But what other explanation is there?

Unless one emerges, I would have to politely suggest that anyone with a shred of decency should boycott a “charity” whose fundraisers, contrary to what it says on the tin, do not seem remotely interested in a practical project to save a few children from psychopathic dictators who think nothing of bombing their own subjects – even in hospitals where they’re being treated for their injuries.

Hide quickly, Jesus is coming

As one or two of my favourite writers have explained, there are good reasons why many people choose to disengage from the world over the Christmas period. This (see
http://www.manx.net/isle-of-man-news/75428/community-christmas-day-dinner-planned-in-douglas ) is a perfect example.

Once upon a time, there was only one religiously based Manx attempt to invite lonely old folk to church for a Christmas dinner. It was an honest and laudable enough project. I know this because it was started (and exclusively staffed for over a decade) by relatives of mine, even including me for a year or two.

Sadly, the religious organisation nominally promoting it then picked up on the idea that it could constitute ‘social work’ and form part of a bid for more public money. Not only that, but a few otherwise unemployable windbags who attended the church could get paid by government to…. well, carry on doing what they had done to make themselves so unemployable really. This became a bit of a growth industry, and other religious parasites – particularly of the evangelical strain – began to catch on.

Now, if all this meant that some dispossessed people actually got befriended and cared for it might be OK. But it didn’t. Social care unprofessionals and Elfin Safety got involved, bank balances went up, decent volunteers started to stay away (the best were actually told to go away) and the whole thing became a nightmare.

Years ago, as many of us know from older relatives, poor people used to hid behind the sofa when the rent man or tally man came round. I have it on good authority that these days their Manx descendants do the same when Living Hell, their front organisation Southern Offenders or the execrable Methodist Die At Home Alone ring the doorbell.

Almost every day I surreptitiously slip in on a few independently minded bods, and it is beginning to feel like hiding dissident writers from the Stasi. The thought that someone they talk to in the post office or supermarket might give them away to some swivel-eyed, godbothering prodnose….. Honestly, it’s just horrible and a wonder they can get to sleep at night.

So do the decent thing this Christmas. If you know someone who is on their own or in need, by all means invite them round or pop round their place with a few mince pies and a bottle – if you know they like that sort of thing. But whatever else you do, never, NEVER grass the poor sods up to the biblebashers.

Oh, Kirk Michael!

Some years ago, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd co-wrote The Deeper Meaning Of Liff: A dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for yet.

As far as I can tell, it was inspired by a travelling game, where odd place names became the names for equally odd pursuits and objects. There is a single Manx entry in that book, for Jurby, which is ‘a loose woollen garment reaching to the knees and with three or more armholes, knitted by the wearer’s well-meaning but incompetent aunt’.

Ever since, certain Manx place names have become, to me, a shorthand for the kind of person or activity most associated with the area. For example, there is a kind of person who wishes they had retired to Greece or Spain, where they could start drinking at noon while looking out to sea through a large window and cursing anyone dark-skinned for their misfortunes until too plastered to lift the bottle or string a sentence together. Inevitably this person was too incompetent in business to retire in the sun, so they are reduced to muttering incoherently to themselves from an Onchan conservatory.

Similarly, Kirk Michael is shorthand to me for boorish folk who settle into a small community and make no attempt to fit in or contribute, treating their house as a weekday dormitory and jetting away at weekends to London or on holidays to South Africa. Having moved here from a place where the natives resented them in more militant ways, they never walk anywhere and even a trip to the village shop is done in an armoured vehicle. Their sole Manx social activity tends to be horseriding, done on farms or green lanes which they never travel to on the horse, so the armoured vehicle is often tethered to an empty horsebox and both can be found prominently parked in the narrow main street on any Saturday.

This, then, perfectly explains the scene I witnessed yesterday while driving through Kirk Michael. The side of the road closest to most shops and pub was packed with parked cars for about half a mile, despite the double yellow lines. Driving down the free side of the road, I was startled to be confronted by a large MPV driven by a fully Barboured platinum blonde woman of Ronsealed complexion and indeterminate years. Thankfully, but astonishingly, she was not coming towards me but backing her tank down the entire length of the street until she reached a horse tackle shop on a street corner where, rather than park in the public car park opposite, she mounted the pavement (blocking it off to pedestrians coming either down the main road or the side street), fell out the passenger door and staggered into the tack shop.

That was pure Kirk Michael. On a good day. Two such ‘locals’ coming in opposite directions at any time after breakfast does not bear thinking about.