Goodbye porkie pies

Until today, I was a lifetime member of the National Secular Society. Not any more.
Yesterday, I was sent http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2017/09/religious-segregation-under-one-roof-proposed-for-isle-of-man-school by a Manx born activist, now living in the UK, who was curious to know what I might be doing about it. The answer is cancelling my NSS membership.

In brief, the story is nonsense, as I told them months ago. They got on to it after being contacted by someone who was ill informed (and who had incidentally contacted me first). I looked into it, realised that the contact’s fears were groundless, but advised them who to talk to in order to get the truth and some reassurances. For reasons of their own, they chose to contact the NSS with their inaccuracies instead of resolving any real issue.

As a writer on both faith-based bigotry and religious privilege, as well as chairman of the local atheist group, I’ve been in regular contact with the NSS over the years – though the information flow is somewhat one-sided.

I inform them of things they might want to know about and ask for information on other matters. They rarely act on my information (so I cause it to be published outside the UK and months or even years later they catch up).When they do reply to my queries it seems they know far less about the topic than I already do. But more often, they don’t respond at all.

Still, we know each other – I even wrote the first review of their president’s autobiography, for an international atheist publication, which led to it being picked up elsewhere and getting good sales. So when the NSS contacted me about the St. Thomas’s story, and I gave them the facts (obtained direct and in off-the-record briefings from those at the coalface) I would reasonably expect them to hold fire.

Sadly, they chose to embroider half-truths and folk myths instead, as a way of tagging the Manx story onto a UK agenda which is also – largely – a deliberate misunderstanding, but does have the positive effect (for them) of stirring up other ill-informed folk who might possibly take out NSS membership.

Then again, this is the organisation which – until just a couple of years ago – employed as a campaigner the Islamophobic rabble-rouser Anne Marie Waters. Yes, the one who failed to gain the UKIP leadership yesterday. As a monitor of the far right for many years, I warned the NSS leadership privately about her real background and agenda a few years ago too. Again, they didn’t listen. Increased membership is key, it appears, even if it results in the (now suspended) chat facility for their weekly e-bulletins turning into something seemingly dominated by horrible Little Englanders – and worse.

Even sadder, this is the second time in under six months they’ve done this with a Manx story. The first time they did it was a belated response to a query I made to them last year about evangelical opportunism in Manx schools. By the time they did respond, I had already dealt with the matter, as I then informed them.

The NSS briefly used a largely inaccurate summary of the Manx case anyway, as a Trojan horse to publicise their potential campaign against unrelated UK phenomena. The Manx media touched on it, which caused the usual below-the-line muttering on local media websites from the usual bigots, but, in truth, there was no longer a story or an issue.

As it happens, the opportunist and bigot at the heart of it actually left the island last week, having had all sources of government revenue closed down to him. The details are too long and complicated to go into here, but let’s just say that if someone is determined enough to log evidence on inappropriate behaviour and abuse of religious privilege for years, then eventually there is so much of it that even the most myopic civil servant has to act.

Anyway, that’s all history now. In the time I was failing to get responses from the major UK atheist groups to queries on topics that now interest me, I started to get them from other sources – better informed, less opportunistic, not interested in turning molehills into mountains as a way to create a job for life. It has been a positive alternative to the mean-minded porkies perpetuated by career atheists, so for the future that is where I spend my limited free time.

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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 http://www.manxradio.com/news/isle-of-man-news/church-service-resonates-with-tradition/ . 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 http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=34684&headline=Silent%20protest%20over%20island%27s%20abortion%20law&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2017 , 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 https://www.gov.im/news/2017/jul/07/value-of-arts-and-culture-emphasised-as-strategy-is-published/ . 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.

Heaven knows they’re miserable now

The latest issue of a bi-monthly atheist magazine I write for arrived today; yet again my piece didn’t appear in it. True, the last time it was because a deadline was changed at the last minute and I missed it, but other omissions are a bit of a mystery. The copy was early, absolutely the right length, positive, and not contentious. In general then, no different to a system that has worked well for over a decade, and through two major overhauls of the magazine’s format.

I begin to see a pattern here. A few months ago I contacted both of the UK’s atheist associations to ask if they knew anything about an odd evangelical initiative posing as a “life skills” course that had just appeared in Manx high schools.

For three months nobody replied. Then, just as the issue had been aired and almost buried here, one contacted me for local input on a press release they planned to all UK media. I helped, they quoted me vaguely but didn’t use the relevant information I gave them, and tagged the whole Manx element onto a general whinge about another evangelical group and another “educational” Trojan horse.

Undeterred, I tried the full story on the editor of two international atheist publications who have used my reports on a number of Manx issues. Again, such reports have been a mixture of humour and positivity, chronicling times we’ve seen powerful religious figures do something unacceptable, raised it in public and with government, and won.

It’s all part of a continuing story about how, over a decade or so, a tiny atheist group has tackled such issues in our tiny country and, with some persistence, brought about social change. This happened not so much by screaming, shouting and name-calling but by hard fact and negotiation with people who are our neighbours and workmates, not anonymous bogeymen. Again, though I tried twice to make sure it had been received, the story was never used.

The cynic in me wonders if it’s because Manx atheists succeed, while our blowhard colleagues elsewhere do not. Far from the growing force that they’d like to think they are, to me atheists all around the British isles resemble the Labour Party, condemned forever to be in opposition and never in power. The Celtic ones in particular just cannot shake off that romantic loser self-image and plan for power or social change. Part of me wonders if they simply cannot handle success or responsibility.

Oh well, their loss. On the Isle of Man we have a brand of atheism that is responsible, socially engaged …. and works. If atheists elsewhere would rather act like a Morrissey fan club than hear about it why should I worry?

Taking the biscuit

At the beginning of Marcel Proust’s very long book In Search of Lost Time the narrator bites into a biscuit, which evokes a memory of one long lost moment, which sets off a chain of others, which goes on for six volumes of some 700 pages each. It’s a book so obsessed with small detail that at one point the author devotes a page and a half just to turning over in bed.

I’m just getting over a Proustian moment. To be precise, one rude, short but otherwise quickly discarded reminder of something past on Saturday was followed soon after by me finally succumbing to a chest infection and spending two days in bed unable to even turn over.

If A had not been followed by B I might have briefly blogged on Saturday that a pompous village idiot had been a pompous village idiot and left it at that. But as I had to retire to bed before I could even get a chance to turn on my PC, and didn’t emerge again until this morning, the incident nagged until, eventually, in a Freudian insight worthy of Proust I realised that this PVI’s behaviour years ago is the core reason for my total contempt of Manx government and pillars of the community ever since.

But I’m rushing to finish – hardly the Proustian method.

To take things a step at a time ….. on Saturday I had just finished packing and paying for my shopping in a busy supermarket and, to help keep the queue moving, pushed my trolley over to an aisle to put my wallet away. Within seconds, a belligerent voice behind me was screaming “Excuse ME”. Turning to find out what the problem was, I saw a ghastly, red-faced creature wearing the T-shirt of one of the island’s most dishonest and grasping charities.

Now, anyone of even average intelligence would have seen that (a) I was standing there to put my wallet away rather than inconvenience other shoppers and (b) there was a good 20 feet between me and the till through which a blind man could have safely driven a bus to get out of the door, which was presumably what the creature wanted. The T-shirt alone signalled this was not someone of even average intelligence, the red face suggested some mental disturbance, and in addition I actually recognised it from the 1980’s, when for a while I was on the local youth and community centre management committee.

Two stories will suffice to outline the problem.

Firstly, on that committee we tried very hard to make the place into a genuine community centre. The problem was that by law the two local members of the Board of Education had to be on the committee, and in turn they insisted that a local teacher also sat on it. While the youth workers were as keen as the rest of us to get genuine community groups into the building the two Board of Education members regarded any group not firmly under the thumb of government as “political” and made sure the B of E refused them. The teacher and youth workers were powerless to resist. This was their employer, after all.

The two B of E members also had another strange obsession. If there was some momentous event at the club we inevitably had to invite government figures to witness it. When arranging such events, the B of E members were totally disinterested in any detail (or offering any practical assistance) apart from checking if enough alcohol had been ordered for the government guests. They insisted that without alcohol the government would not come, and it would not be a proper event.

This was not true. Both the town MHKs sat on the committee and agreed with us that alcohol was not an appropriate example for young people, but the B of E owned the building and insisted. So alcohol was procured, and the B of E and other bigwigs got drunk and went home without once interacting with kids, parents or the rest of the community.

I could go on and on with such examples (e.g. these were the people who, at every interview for a job under their control, had just two questions, “Are you married” and “What church do you attend”), but why bother?

From such examples of sheer, self-serving cretinism I learnt how Manx government departments actually work – i.e. against common sense, against the needs or wishes of the public and totally for the benefit of those who hold the power. And this was even in the days before the Board became a fully fledged Government Department and Board members were – at least nominally – elected. In practice public disinterest meant that the places were rarely (if ever) contested, and even if they were friends in government could be relied on to ensure “undesirable” candidates were eliminated.

The link to Saturday is that the rude PVI was one of the Board members, and that even after the Department got so autocratic it cancelled the largely sham elections and openly (though behind closed doors and without ever releasing the potential names) chose members to “represent the public interest” that PVI continued to damage young lives for well over a decade.

As I know from elsewhere, it is a practice now followed by other government departments. To my knowledge, only one vital government department doesn’t work that way. And, sadly, it isn’t even the one which deals with law and order, which is probably one of the worst. For example, the sham “choice” of members of the Board of Prison Visitors (the body charged in law with independently assessing prisons). Theoretically the choice is by the serving members after interview, in practice it is by the DHA, (which is riddled with evangelical nut-jobs and paranoid about the Human Rights Act), without interview, and sometimes appointing people who have not even applied.

Two days in bed dwelling on this? One of which was the first day of my holiday? I’d rather have had a biscuit. But at least I haven’t obsessed at true Proustian length either.

Maya culpa

A new year resolution is falling apart rapidly. With my track record I’m only amazed it has taken a month.

I’d decided that this year I really must read something more challenging than the literary equivalent of comfort food. There is no excuse. The more I root round my excellent town library, the more hidden gems I discover. In the last couple of weeks alone I found an entire aisle of world literature by authors even I’ve barely heard of or never read.

It was all going so well until this morning, when I relapsed. And the fault lies entirely with Herman Hesse, not me. But then, me and Herman the German have history, so maybe I should have known better.

The thing is, almost 40 years back I was a recent school-leaver on a night shift in one of those Victorian mental hospitals – a real gothic pile on the edge of Dartmoor, would you believe. Back in the days before round-the-clock TV I’d been warned to take a book, as nothing happened for hours and the senior nurses inevitably left us trainees to mind the fort while they slipped into a side-room and slept.

Now this was just at that cusp between the hippy and punk era, when Hesse, Huxley and similar Mystic Megs were required reading, so I thought I’d better give Siddhartha a go. It’s only 100 pages, just long enough to fill all the hours between the ward of neurotics going to bed, dosed to the gills with major tranquillisers, and the idle sod who was supposed to supervise me waking up to raid the breakfast trolley before any patients could get near it.

So, around 5 AM I was some 80 pages into this psycho-babble (and being a mere callow youth totally convinced) when a very worried patient burst into the office. He’d woken up to answer the call of nature, only to find a dead bloke in the ward toilets. The bloke had apparently gone in some time before, sat down, had a coronary and quietly died.

This, by the way, isn’t as unique as it might sound. Older patients often had bad hearts, got no exercise because they were too under the liquid cosh to walk more than a few yards and constipated due to atrocious diet, with inevitable results. I suspect that if a researcher was able to make exhaustive surveys of death certificates from such places before they all finally vanished in the 1990’s the two leading causes of death would be (1) pneumonia (known in those days as “the old man’s friend”) and (b) coronary induced by over-exertion on the WC. Of course, grieving relatives were always spared the information about the location and cause of the coronary.

Somehow, sheer coincidence as it was and completely not my fault (as I was assured at length by hospital management afterwards), I was never able to reconcile the ponderous message of the novel about everything being right in the world providing you contemplated your navel 24/7 and that some poor, totally innocent sod had died a painful, lonely death in what was supposed to be a safe place while I was so absorbed by this hippy-trippy claptrap. I have never gone near a book by Hesse or any similar writer from that day until this morning.

When I thought I should give him another chance, and within an hour of opening it at home wished I had never bothered. This time I had a fit of the giggles within two pages, was laughing like a drain within 10 and eventually chucked the book aside in sheer exasperation after about 40.

Seriously – what a premier league wibble merchant. So self-absorbed it’s a wonder he never vanished up his own anus.

I couldn’t help noticing that neither the heroic truth seeker nor any other space cadet in the book seemed to have a job, any responsibilities, or indeed any real world distraction to prevent them sitting under a shady tree for hours, days or even years contemplating the mysteries of the universe. They took it for granted that this was such vital “work” that if they needed a meal, clean clothes, or money they could stand at some ordinary person’s door until they got it, without thanking the donor, or indeed feeling the need to even speak. Apparently that would have been beneath them and the donor should just feel grateful they were chosen. And only one solitary woman made an appearance in the pages, as a courtesan, allowing our hero yet another chance to be smug.

From what I’ve read elsewhere, that seems to about sum up the lives of Hesse and his circle too – the 1920’s equivalents of trustafarians. On the other hand, people who are genuinely on the streets, reduced to begging for small change, routinely have some angry office worker snarl “Get a job” at them. If only a few world leaders (or just Hollywood airheads) could say that when the likes of the Dalai Lama or Pope are tapping them for funds, there might be less trouble in the world.

Postcard from home

Monday morning, I am not at “The Unpleasantness” and will not be there for another week. Bliss.

To be honest, for reasons outlined in a recent posting I was briefly reminded of it while idly watching Amityville 3 last night, but that soon passed. For those who have yet to discover the joys of such trivia, Amityville 3 is the one where the malevolent house is bought by a career sceptic, someone on the lines of James Randi, and with quite predictable results.

As it happens, I find the crowd-pleasing antics of James Randi a bore – something on the lines of those Victorians who ran freak shows or conducted tours of Bedlam. But I was having such fun trying to work out why, exactly, American mainstream entertainment is so enamoured of woo-woo merchants and scared of rational thought that the nightmare of employment soon passed. As for the answer to that question about mainstream American entertainment – I suppose it would be bums on seats, which also explains why scepticism is another American career option.

Not that I am spending all my precious holiday time on such froth, you understand. Though after a weekend immersed in “serious culture” I have had quite enough of that too, thank you very much.

It all started innocently enough. On Saturday I called into the local library, aiming to stock up on enough light comedy reading to last me a week if all else bored me. Unfortunately, the new books shelf came before those bearing names like Sharpe or Wodehouse, and I was distracted by a 500+ page biography of Beryl Bainbridge.

As Bainbridge was part of a tight little contrarian circle which included Jeff Bernard and Alice Thomas-Ellis I had to take a look. And on the first page I opened an affair was mentioned between Bainbridge’s publisher (Thomas-Ellis’s husband, Thomas-Ellis in turn being probably Bainbridge’s closest friend and ally) and further that the affair, towards the end of her life, was viewed by the biographer as revenge for Thomas-Ellis “stealing” Bainbridge’s teenage love (and later husband) some 30 years earlier. This was all new and intriguing to me, so comedy took a holiday too.

Two hundred pages in, and the weekend gone, I think I might have had enough of the lives of English post-war literati and art bores ……. and I have only managed to struggle up to 1962. Christ-on-a-bike, what a bunch of muddle-headed, navel-gazing numpties. The average contemporary recent school-leaver in an office seems like an intellectual giant by comparison. I know that, to quote Philip Larkin, sexual intercourse wasn’t discovered until 1963, and in England LSD not until a year or two later than that: all I can say is, it must have been a great relief.

Anyway, tomorrow it’s back to the library, and this time it’s an armful of froth for me. At the moment I’ m so annoyed I might even leave with a stack of Jackie Collins to get rid of all that good taste.

B-L-E-U-G-H!!!

Brexit-on-Sea

Black Friday. What an awful day!

Listening to the office vegetables on Brexit this morning reminded me why I never want to go to a traditional Brit foreign holiday resort, just as Brexit reminds me why I left the UK and never – ever – want to go back. Already, some of those I knew from my UK days are talking about leaving their home country – for good – as sickened by the sheer stupidity of British voters as I once was with the anal retentives who kept Thatcher in power.

For example, I had to hear the ignorant spawn of yet another nonentity white flighter who came here in the 1980’s or 1990’s sound off on why we should adopt the Australian points system to keep “them” out.

Who are “they” exactly? Whoever they might be, at least they would be preferable to such parasites and ignoramuses.

Can such wasters ever appreciate the irony of the drivel they spout? Many drifted around various countries as ex-pats before settling on the Isle of Man as the least different to a mythical UK where they were unfit for employment – or much else.

Workplace brown-nosers, social non-contributors, non-readers, passive TV watchers, social media thumb-twiddlers… Their sole contribution to any community they leech off to drink, consume junk food and abuse the different until they vomit on a Friday night, leaving some lower paid and far better educated foreigner to clear up their mess. As in Ibiza, so on Douglas prom.

If only some unintended Brexit screw-up could remove their right to stay here instead of Eastern Europeans and Filipinos. What a paradise in the Irish Sea this place could become without them.