Fat Bloke on Politics – Relax everyone, I’ve got this….

Last September, a twitter spat between UKIP’s only MP, Douglas Carswell (he has since left the party to become an Independent and is, to the relief of many no doubt, standing down at the next election) and Professor Paul Nightingale, deputy director of the SPRU (Sussex University’s Science Policy Research Unit ) made it into the headlines.(Story here.) I won’t dwell on the exchange, other than it centred on how the sun’s gravity affects the tides. ( I kid you not.) Mr Carswell thought the sun directed the tides, Prof. Nightingale pointed out it is the moon that performs that function for us. Now instead of pausing to think, ‘hmm this man is a scientist, perhaps I should just confirm my facts in a, you know, primary school science book, Mr Carswell, Member of Parliament for Clacton,  ploughed on, amazed that the Prof. didn’t even know that the sun does this and the moon is only responsible for high neep tides.

Now I’m not going to take the cheap shot and imply Mr Carswell is stupid, because we all have funny little gaps in our knowledge that would make others roll their eyes. I couldn’t tell you a single X-Factor winner, or Strictly Come Dancing winner or, well, anything much to do with sport. (Leicester City won the Premier League, I know that. Born there ya’ know!) And we all know I tend to litter the page with apostrophes like I’m sprinkling glitter.

No, what I think this exchange exemplified is the attitude of the political classes and how they relate to the general public. Especially when refracted through the prism of the news media. Mr Carswell had such self belief that he was right that he never entertained the notion of considering what someone else was telling him and double checking his own facts.

And that, I think is the problem. Some would call that confidence. A great trait in a leader to stick to their guns despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. However, thanks to overly aggressive and critical news analysis, if a politician does change or reverse position,  they are criticised for being weak, for doing a U Turn, indecision. So we seem to have the rise of a political animal that is without self doubt, bathed in the glowing sense of their own self righteousness and infallibility (Even when they then flatly contradict their previous position.) And, messiah like, their pure vision carries along believers. Farage, May, Le Pen, Corbyn and, of course, the comic book, bete noir figure, that is Donald Trump, all seem to bear this trait.

So, are we getting the politics we deserve? No quarter given, no considered balancing of the pros and cons of an issue? If we take what we write on Facebook and Twitter we seem to be a more polarised society in the UK than ever.

So, like me, you probably already know who you are voting for. And, perhaps, like me, it won’t make a blind bit of difference because you live in a seat safely in the hands of the other party. But do me a favour. Just think on it. Just for a bit. Is the party you always vote for actually the best for you and your country? And is that straight talking politician who you think is speaking to you really doing that? Or are they really just speaking your fears and pandering to your baser instincts? When they promise this tax cut or benefit freeze, you do know they’ll stiff you somewhere else instead right? Older voters, you do know they freeze and ‘triple lock’ your pensions, not out of a sense of respect or duty, but because proportionally your generation votes more than other ages?

In the last general election, the Brexit referendum and the presidential election in the US we saw people lie to pollsters. If you are ashamed to admit in public who you vote for, should you really be voting for them?

But that being said, make sure you do vote. Whether it appears hopeless or not, the non voters have enough heft in numbers that they could swing any ‘safe’ seat in the UK.

It is going to be a long few weeks, of endless drivel and media discussion, of this minutiae or that. There will be gaffes, (Like Cameron forgetting which football team he supports or Gordon Brown muttering into a still live microphone.) There will be storm in a teacup controversies. And there will be so much fear. But try to look past it. Try hard to see the bigger country, not just for your wallet, but for the best of us and the poorest of us. Bear in mind the wonderfully wise words of Terry Pratchett.

‘Personal is not the same as important’.



The Confidence Trick

Did ya miss me?

Yeah, I’ve been away from this blog. Sorry. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Regular readers (handsome, talented people, all of them; many of them not even related to me) will know I was performing in the eponymous roles of stuffy Dr Henry Jekyll and playful, flirty and only slightly murderery Mr Edward Hyde. I’ve also been caught up writing my daily blog on the adventures of Rob Titchener, villain of the The Archers, and what he’s been doing since he left the show in February.

Last weekend I reached a dramatic high point in the story, with several long bonus editions. So between that, some actual ‘what I do for a living ‘ work I brought home with me and the general humdrum duties of being a grown up ( For example, I managed to get my strimmer to burst into flames yesterday!), I haven’t had much time to get my FatBlokeTalking head on. Sorry. I can’t believe many of you have felt particularly bereft, but all the same, sorry.

Today I’m going to talk about that slippery fish, confidence and self belief. The invisible shield we drape around ourselves, that changes thickness and efficacy depending on whatever activity you are engaged in. And just how easy it is to destroy that shield with a well aimed blow.

My Archers blog has had a really good week. Someone put a link on Facebook and I gained a lot of new visitors, and new followers signed up for email updates. I had lots of nice comments on the blog and emails as well. My bonus editions were well received. I was feeling good. Then I did something stupid.

Well, two stupid things.

First, I downloaded the list of email subscribers and compared it to an earlier list, trying to see if there was any useful data I could extract from timing, posts etc. What I found, was that although I had picked up dozens of new followers, I had lost one. One from right back when the blog began. They’d stayed with me through fifty posts,  but had finally given up. It bothered me. What had I done wrong?

The second stupid thing I did? (and we’re not including incendiary garden machinery here, or my launching part of the plumbing into next door’s garden whilst trying to unblock our bath. Yeah, that happened too.) I googled myself. And it was great. There were numerous links people had put around the place and some smashing comments. All the more cheering because they were written by people who had no idea I would be reading them. But then I found one saying the ‘blog didn’t work for them’. That’s all. But it hurt; really dented my confidence. All those ego inflating messages meant nothing because one person just didn’t get the blog. I realise many writers, far more talented than I, have driven themselves half mad trying to please everyone. So I really should just suck it up.

Then, a couple of days ago, someone using a devilishly clever pseudonym had a go at my general writing ability, saying I was ignorant / stupid. I bit back. Shouldn’t have, but I did. And several of my readers also came to my aid. I’ll freely admit, I have trouble with apostrophes. And occasionally, if I am writing fast and haven’t had chance to proof read properly, I’ll make stupid mistakes of the ‘There, They’re, Their’ variety. The Archers blog is usually written in the forty-five minutes bus ride to work in the morning so I often don’t have chance to properly proof read. But, I’ll admit, it really stung.

It knocked my confidence badly. Because it is my Achilles Heel. Well, one of them. You can call me fat, ugly, hairy, graceless, naive or boring and it’s all water off a duck’s back. I either don’t care or I’m perfectly secure in the knowledge it’s not true. My shield is thick.

But it’s weak around my writing and acting ability. Shouldn’t be, because people have said many nice things to me to encourage me. We get a review after each of our plays, from the local NODA rep. (National Operatic and Dramatic Association) It is his habit to leave the penultimate paragraph of each review for the actor who has most impressed him during the play. Now, I’m not bragging. (Yes, I am. I am very much.) But of the seven plays I have done I have been awarded penultimate paragraph three times. Sounds good, but you should take into account that for two of those plays I was playing a very large lead role, Hercule Poirot and Jekyll/ Hyde. If I didn’t get it on those roles I’d have known I really screwed up. But having said that, I did throw a bit of a hissy fit when he criticized my accent for Poirot. So much so that I didn’t really hear the rest of the review when it was first read out. I stomped home and left a whiny post on Facebook. The next day, once I’d had the email copy and actually read it and saw the lovely things he had said about me further on, I felt a prize arse.

This isn’t a new thing. When I was about five maybe, there was a painting competition in my village. You had to paint a local scene. I remember painting a row of trees in the park. It was just awful. The scale was a disaster, some bloke walking his dog was as tall as the trees. Then, at the village fete, I was announced as having come third or something, and invited to come up on stage and collect my prize. (It was a book token. Kerching!) Dear God, did I kick up a stink, I bawled and screamed. I did not want to go on that stage. Not, as I suspect many people thought, through shyness, or fear, but because I was absolutely certain I did not deserve that award. Even at that tiny, tender age, I knew my work had been no good. Still, I did get the book tokens (I think I bought some Woofit books with them, by Michael Parkinson. I wonder if that stirs any faint memories.) In hindsight, I suspect tokenism. I could have just dropped it in a puddle and entered it and I’d have still won a prize.

So, what’s the moral of these ego-maniacal anecdotes? I don’t know. I get uncomfortable when people praise me and give undue weight to criticisms. Self centred as I am I can’t believe that it is only me who is like that.

One final thought, people have said to me in the past, about having the courage to go out on stage and act, sing, make a potential prat of myself, that I must be very self confident. Yes, I can do those things, but put me in a room of strangers and no script and I’m halfway out the window! The confidence changes shape, it morphs to the room. Having my son helped. Suddenly I have someone relying on me to be a good example. (I’ve often been used as an example, rarely a ‘Good’ one though.) And that can be a powerful spur.

To sum up then, assuming it is not just me who feels this way, perhaps the old adage of ‘If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all’ should apply. Especially on social media when inflection or even the wry smile you are wearing can’t be seen. Proof read your own comments to make sure they can’t be read a different way.

You do that and I promise I’ll work harder on the apostrophe’s.*


*That one was on purpose, but answer me this: ‘a week’s worth of news’ Is weeks a plural or does the news belong to the week needing an apostrophe? See, Satan’s Commas!

Find me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com