Always look on the bright side of life…

There was a BBC Drama series, aired back in 1987 (which I’m refusing to believe was 30 years ago) called Star Cops. It was science fiction, but for grown ups. It was set in the year 2027, a time when colonies had been established on the moon and Mars, when space had become commercial, with research stations and commercial flights to and from space.  It looks awfully dated now, the sets were wobbly, the green screen work poor and the zero gravity effects a bit silly. However, the scripts were good and imaginative. Why I bring it up now though, is that the head ‘Cop’, Nathan Spring. Had a device he called BOX. About the size of a thick a paperback, it was a computer you could speak to, that retrieved information and could access any computer around the world. Imagine living in such a future right? To compound the irony, this BOX was an incredibly expensive prototype that drew comment wherever he took it. This, in 1987, when the Internet was only a few years away; they thought that in 40 years we’d be flying to the moon and back every day, but a device that we now all carry around in our pockets was still pushing the boundaries of plausibility. (On a geeky side note, wouldn’t it be fun if someone over dubbed ORAC’s voice in Blake’s 7 with Siri’s voice!)

My point is that the future has never been what we thought it would be. (Ask my waistline!) The other night, at bedtime, Little Bloke asked me if I thought was world was doomed, his naturally optimistic nature showing through. I thought about it for a moment. It is true that, just lately, nationally and internationally things have been grim. But I could, honestly say, that no, I don’t think we’re doomed.

And here’s my reasoning. In almost every aspect of our existence, we are in a better position than we were 100, 50, even 20 years ago, with perhaps one notable group, and frankly, they had it coming. I refer of course, to White, Straight, Males.

We were watching a TV programme last night about TV in the 70’s and 80’s, and how it reflected the society of the time. Rascist, Sexist and Homophobic largely. Now those issues still exist, of course they do, but how much further forward are we now than we were even 30 years ago. It’s not smooth sailing by any means, but we are further down the road. It took nearly 50 years from the decriminalisation of homosexuality to gay marriage to be legalised. Straight White Males, like myself, may not like it, but we’re starting to loose our grip on the monopoly of controlling western society, just a little.

Many of the problems, in the developed world at least, are stemming now from our other successes. Healthcare and welfare costs are spiralling because people are living so much longer than before. Our air is cleaner, our roads and skies safer. ‘Regulation’ and the ‘Nanny State’ has done a very great deal to save and improve lives. More to be done, of course, much more, but look back at road deaths. In 1960 6,970 people died on Britain’s roads. In 2016 it was 1,810. That is despite a massive increases in the number of cars on the road.

Yes, there are terrible atrocities happening around the world, but we know of them. We are appalled by them, and, although our power to act is limited, at least they are on the radar. In years past we wouldn’t have even known of them, much less cared.

I’m not saying it’s all a bed of rose. Far from it. For every ten steps forward, we seem to take eight backward and one in a new direction entirely, and we do seem to find whole new ways of hating each other sometimes.

But look at the hope. Look at the response of the communities in London and Manchester. The people opening homes, sharing their belongings, handing out food, to those effected by horrible acts of violence or disaster.

That is what gives me hope. Whilst there are still people willing to do the decent human thing for a fellow human being, then tomorrow will always be a better day than today. Hope and love will always trump fear and hatred, whether it’s sitting in the Oval Office or waving a black flag in Syria.

Now if we can just stop the poles from melting….

Democracy – Hear me roar!

Okay, the deadline for voter registration has passed. If your name isn’t on the list, then you can’t come in. Not that I have any influence, but I wouldn’t have posted this piece before that deadline, for fear of discouraging anyone. But now I’m in the clear. So I can say this..

My vote is worthless.

I have had the fortune/misfortune(?) to live in two very safe Tory seats in my life. Very safe, double digit majority safe. In one of them, in 2005 the Lib Dem’s did manage to get it under 10%, but we all know what happened to the Lib Dem’s then. Besides, in 2005 I was already living in North East Cambs. constituency. And here in the sunny Fens we gave the Tories a massive 32.6% margin in 2015, and that was over UKIP in second.

Now, apart from my oft repeated dislike of poseur hipsters, you may not be surprised to learn I am not a right wing kind of bloke. Yes, I am white, middle aged, straight and male, but that doesn’t mean I eat from the right side of the plate. So I will never, ever, vote Tory or even worse, UKIP. So every general election, I clutch my voting card and shiny eyed go to the polling station and place my tick in a box for a candidate who most definitely should not give up the day job. I might as well write a witty haiku or an amusing illustration of pigs at a trough in protest instead for all the good it does. In fact, I think the only time I have had a winning candidate was in a town election when I voted for an independent. (Rather than Tory or UKIP again)

Little Bloke, bless ‘im, has had the lecture on the important of democracy and voting from me many times. But it is all said with the same sincerity as lecturing on the importance of eating vegetables when we’re tucking into a meat feast pizza. In my heart I know it’s pointless.

So what’s the problem? Voter turn out for one. I imagine there are many people who feel like me, but who don’t turn out to vote because they know it’s not going to change anything. What you’d call a self fulfilling prophecy I guess. But then, from polling data of those who don’t vote they usually find the ‘non’ votes are split largely along the same proportions of those that did vote. They aren’t all stay at home Labour voters for instance.

So, do we make voting compulsory, like in Australia? I think there is a good argument for it. For a start it would mean the parties would have to seek the votes of all ages and demographics, not just the ones who do tick the boxes. If they knew young people were headed to the ballot in droves they might not lean policies so heavily towards the grey pound.

Secondly, the bete noir that the Lib Dem’s sold their soul for, nobody understood, and fell flat…Proportional Representation. Under the ‘First Past The Post’ system you end up with people like me whose vote is worthless. At least with PR it might actually mean something. Remember the belly aching after the last election, when UKIP had something stupid like 3,900,000 votes and only returned one MP. Now, as much as I hate UKIP, when nearly 10% of the voting population express a choice and only return 0.16% of Parliament, then that is a deeply skewed (and possible ‘screwed’ system) But hey, at least the media give them as much coverage as the major parties, so that’s okay. Under PR we’d have a much more diverse Parliament, with the minor parties getting a more visible presence and having slightly more influence on the governing of the country.

But, if you think that’s bad, look at the Electoral College in the U.S for an example of wasted votes. Texas. A huge state, massively diverse, from desert to cities, to border posts and coastline. I may grumble (and I will thank you very much) about being in a constituency where 50,000 people voted and 21,000 didn’t get their voices heard. But in Texas over 4,000,000 didn’t! Texas’s whole 38 electoral votes went to Trump. Now, if that isn’t a system crying out for reform I don’t know what is.

Of course, the other benefit of being essentially dis-enfranchised is that I don’t have to make the effort to follow the campaign or muse on the policies. And that frees up a lot of time, spares a lot righteous anger (and saves the rest of the Bloke family from my lengthy opinions.)

I will still vote but it’s a bit like on November 11th, when I fall silent for the two minutes silence. I know ultimately it doesn’t change anything, but it is morally the right thing to do and it shows respect for those who came before me.

And if you do live in a marginal seat, then make sure you get up off your sofa and vote on June 8th. Do it for those of us who count for nothing!

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

 

,

I wish to register a complaint!

There is a show on the BBC that, for reasons I can’t fully articulate, makes me furious every time I see it. It’s not a politics show, current affairs or sport punditry. It’s called ‘Money for Nothing’ and it’s quite a charming premise. A lady hangs around council rubbish tips and grabs stuff off people who are dumping items. She then takes them away to be repurposed into new items to be sold on, returning any profits to surprised original owner. (Who all seem to be very worthy, in giving it to charity.) Now, in theory, I should be all for this program. It’s young, it’s funky, it’s upscaling and repurposing stuff that would go to landfill. But somehow it seems to miss that mark, instead displaying a huge Middle Class/ Hipster aesthete that ends up making me want to man the barricades and bring about the working class revolution. They’ll take an old armchair, or table. Give it to some funky young furniture designer, who usually ticks all the hipster boxes, flannel check shirt, woolly hat, trendy beard. They’ll go away and return later to discover they added some legs, given it a polish and are now charging £500 for it. The hipsters get their £450.00 fee and the original owner gets £50 which is, I’ll admit, better than nothing, and some middle class idiot get a £500 table! Not even a dining table! Some daft occasional table! Who are these people? Who has got that much disposable income to waste on furniture that will be ‘on trend’ for about 20 minutes.! They better not be the same people who whine about paying too much tax because frankly, they clearly have more money than sense.

So, we end up with Middle Class people dumping items, getting them repurposed by trendy, over priced hipsters, then sold to other, richer, Middle Class idiots. When she hands over the money at the end, it’s always some affluent, nice suburban house she visits. Never a rough looking ex council estate. Why? Because working class people don’t throw away good quality furniture. They sell it on or they have cheap chipboard flatpack furniture that has fallen apart.

The late Sir Terry Pratchett, bless him, in one of his books, gave a great description of Rich versus Poor economics. A Rich person buys a pair of boots for £100. They are well made and comfortable and last him ten years. A poor person buys cheap boots for £10. They leak and are uncomfortable and fall apart after a year, so they have to spend another £10 on a new cheap pair. So after ten years, they’ve both paid £100 for their boots, but the rich person has had blister-free dry feet, whereas the poor person has had trench foot and blisters the whole time.

It brings the class warrior out in me and watching a program like ‘Money for Nothing’ really gets that blood pumping in my veins. It is also great entertainment for Mrs and Little Bloke, who find my vocal fury very entertaining to watch.

It’s enough to make me write into Points of View…(Finally, we’re hitting the moral of the piece.)

I find Points of View immensely annoying, but for different reasons. Any feedback show where viewers/ listeners are encouraged to write in to vent their views tends to make me wince/ exhausted/ angry in varying degrees. It’s the god awful ‘I don’t pay my licence fee to watch….’ attitude. As if the few pence a day you pay towards the upkeep of the BBC means that you must enjoy and approve of every single programme it broadcasts. I deeply dislike ‘Money for Nothing’, but I’m grown up enough to admit that there may be people out there who do like it. (Though not quite grown up enough not to say those people are still idiots.)

There a huge tranches of the BBC TV and radio output which I find terrible. Radio One with its presenters in their 40’s still pretending they are teenagers. Radio 2, or the broadcasting arm of the Daily Mail as I like to think of it. Radio 3 with its 5 tweedy listeners. Even Radio 4, king of the radio, has its rubbish, patronising programmes. (There was one a few years ago called ‘Lives in the Landscape’ which could just have easily been called ‘Let’s laugh at poor people’ One episode was about a wedding in a community hall in a council estate. You could almost hear the host saying ‘And look, they have vol au vents and flowers, like at a proper wedding’) and Radio 5, I dunno, that’s sport ain’t it?

The point is that any network’s output has to cover the width of their audience. On BBC1 that is a large spread, across all ages, ethnicities, sexualities, economic status. Not every show is going to appeal to every audience member. Not even close. And I would argue, where they have tried to put out programming that does, we end up with non offensive pulp which no-one can be bothered to be offended by. The BBC is lumbered with having to take feedback because it is non-commercial, funded by the licence fee, so the great unwashed think they have a say in it’s governance. Just because you don’t like something, unfathomable as it may seem, doesn’t mean others have to feel the same. Or else how is Mrs Brown’s Boys still on air?

Life is too short. Don’t like a show, don’t watch it. Watch something else! Unless they are broadcasting downright lies then get over it.

Besides, hang around 10 minutes and they’ll be a Homes under the Hammer and, let’s be honest, you can’t quite help watching that can you? (I like the estates agents casually walking in and out of rooms.)

So, umm. What’s the moral this week?

I guess it’s ‘Everyone has the right to an opinion, but everyone else has the right to not listen it it.’ Don’t like something, write about it on a blog instead! Then you can vent your feelings and nobody need ever read it. Just like this entry.

Except you have read it.

Good for you.

Have a nice day. xx

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

 

 

A view of the continent.

It’s that time of year again folks! The Eurovision Song Contest Finals are on tonight. Now, I know we in the UK usually treat them as a laugh; a shambolic kitsch demonstration of Euro Trash nonsense, where Johnny foreigner can’t quite get pop music right. Once aided and abetted by the good naturedly sarcastic commentary of the late Sir Terry Wogan and nowadays by the slightly more bitchy Graham Norton. And yes, as a rule the songs are pretty dreadful to our Western ears. And yes, I’ll admit, my vote is largely influenced by how much I fancy the performers. (Remember the butter churning lady from 2014? God bless Poland. Not to be confused with the bread making ladies of Russia.)

The most fascinating part of each year’s song contest though, is the voting at the end. They’ve tried all sorts of systems over the years, from 100% Jury votes, to 100% phone in. Now it’s sort of a mixture of both. But however they have done it, it still comes out as deeply partisan, sectarian voting blocks. In recent decades the song contest has grown massively, so now there are semi-finals to get through before you reach the Saturday night finale. (Of course certain countries get a pass straight through. Good job really, ‘cos we’d never qualify otherwise.)

Each yeah we huff and puff about the biased voting and how nobody is voting for the UK entry for political reasons and because Johnny European just hates the British. All of which is a bit unfair really. (Only a bit unfair. After the Brexit vote can we imagine how popular we are now in various sectors.) Because in some places in Europe, the Eurovision Song Contest is taken very seriously indeed. During the worst years of the cold war, when the Eastern Bloc was locked down hard against all Western influences, being able to secretly tune in and watch the show was an act of rebellion. The song contest was seen as a symbol of European unity and freedom, something to be aspired too. I’d recommend seeking out the book, Nul Point by Tim Moore, where he goes out and interviews acts who scored the dreaded Nul Point at various Eurovision’s. He goes into greater detail about the political landscape of the contest seen from the various component countries. It’s also very funny, especially when he accidentally smuggles drugs into Denmark (I think, could be Finland, somewhere cold up north anyway.)

But Eurovision I think, also demonstrates the UK’s attitude to Europe as a whole. Slightly weird, insignificant and largely irrelevant to us. We’ve never really felt part of Europe because we’ve never lived inside it.

In England (And I mean England, not the UK or GB.) our borders, language and culture have remained largely unchanged for centuries. Yes, I know Berwick Upon Tweed has been popped into Scotland and back many times but for the last few centuries it has largely stayed put. The biggest change was when Ireland earned/ was granted/ won (however you want to phrase it) its Independence. Now look at Europe. Almost any country you care to mention has had massive cultural upheavals since 1900. Great empires smashed and reformed, countries forced together, then later split apart by revolution or bloody civil war. Hundreds of miles of borderlands shifted forwards and back. So you end up with great swathes of population who ethnically feel they belong to their neighbours, not the country they, for the moment, live in. Large regions speak their national tongue only as a second language, usually speaking a dialect more based on the language of the geographical neighbour, who, chances are, used to own that land.

Imagine if most of Kent spoke French as a first language, if half of Yorkshire and Northumbria spoke Danish. Imagine whole communities, whole towns and cities, centuries old, full of ethnic Danes, living life as Danes, celebrating Danish culture and holidays and cooking Danish traditional food, only begrudgingly participating in the rest of the UK’s political life. Imagine if those communities have regularly been at war with each other over the centuries, tearing into each other, then being abandoned in a foreign country by the sweep of a diplomat’s pen at peace talks.

So much of Europe has been split and reformed; population’s isolated by borders written on a map, not natural ones like seas, rivers and mountains. Centuries of armies marching across their lands back and forth. Yes, we were bombed in WW1 & 2, but our streets haven’t rung to the sound of invading armies for a very, very, very long time.

And we have the nerve to get all uppity if a Polish shop opens in our town, or we hear people speaking ‘foreign’ on the train.

So given that background, can’t you see how a political union with your neighbour’s might seem a desirable thing? How bickering in a debating hall might be preferable to foreign tanks rolling down the main street of your town?

And if you ever doubt what kind of influence the UK has had on Europe, just take note of how many songs tonight will be sung in our native tongue, not their own.

So if we get Nul Point because all of Europe thinks we’re all ignorant, isolationist fools, then, well, they just might have the point.

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The art of the cliche

Last night Mrs Bloke and I settled down and watched the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne. The critical review of which I can give as a solid ‘meh’. It was alright, though it felt like a rehash of earlier films and gave in to the urge of sequels to add significance to characters’ back stories. But anyway, I digress.

They did a thing in the film, that is such a lazy plot device, but is repeated so often people really believe it is possible. They took a grainy, low resolution camera image and said ‘Enhance’. The image gets processed and a now pin sharp picture of the lovely Julia Stiles appears. It simply doesn’t work like that. A digital image is made up of a mosaic of different coloured squares (or pixels). When you zoom in, all you are doing is making those squares bigger, a computer can’t magic up extra squares from nowhere to give you a sharper image! But, it has been repeated in so many cop shows and thrillers we have started to believe it is the truth. Think about it, when you see actual CCTV footage of criminals or terrorists, are they ever pin sharp?

It is a cliché that has become accepted as truth, whilst being utterly incorrect and misleading. And that folks, is my theme for the day. The clichés we live with that mislead us, subconsciously or deliberately.

Now, film and TV clichés are one thing. Although annoying, you can wrap them up in ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. But where I think they really start doing damage is when a cliché is used in realms where we are being asked to believe it is the truth.

I was listening to a news report the other evening, (Just before The Archers since you ask, so it was Radio 4, a sensible news product you’d expect.) And they were reporting on a story of a young man, Damon Smith, who had been found guilty of terrorist offences, placing a pipe bomb on a train. As part of the report they mentioned that Damon had Asperger’s Syndrome. Just that, no context. Just that little nugget that all but invites you to make a link between Asperger’s and this kind of behaviour, and by extraction, that people with Asperger’s are inherently dangerous. When I read the story online, they had changed Asperger’s to the more accurate Austism Spectrum Disorder, but then added that he was a ‘former altar boy’. Another little nugget of apparently tangential information. But it’s not, is it? It’s shorthand. By hearing ‘former altar boy’ we’re encouraged to think, here is someone who was good, but has gone bad. We’re not told if he is left- or right-handed? Whether he takes sugar in tea, whether he has read all the Harry Potter books? They are equally irrelevant but we don’t attach any cultural meaning to them.

The same thing happens in the reporting of sex. Police officers or members of the armed forces are generally all reported as being male. ‘A solider was killed in Afghanistan today’ or ‘A police officer was injured today…’ But if they happen to be a woman then we get told ‘A female police officer was injured today….’ And if she happened to be a mother, that will get mentioned as well. It’s that subtle sexism, that we are supposed to think ‘she’s a mother; she has no business doing that kind of thing.’ Never mind that all the men may be fathers as well.

Here’s another hypothetical. A 15 year old youth has been arrested for robbery. It’s a boy right? ‘A 15 year old youth’ is shorthand for a feral thuggish boy. If it was a girl, it might be ‘a teenaged girl has been arrested.’ If they are the innocent victims they might be called ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’

Look at this headline from today’s Daily Mail website. (Don’t worry, I’ve cleared my browser history.)

“Confident Macron, 39, and his wife, 64, cast their vote while Le Pen, 48, is targeted by naked protesters as France goes to the polls in presidential election.”

Now, for a start it’s a terrible run on sentence. But why mention the ages of those involved? How is that in any way relevant? It’s not, but, gosh, look how much older Macron’s wife is than him! That’s weird isn’t? And poor Le Pen, who is a sensible age, is getting targeted, (‘targeted’ that’s a loaded word as well) by naked protesters. We have to mention naked of course, because if we click on the story we might see boobies.

Just from that one sentence, which is factually correct I’m sure, we can easily tell which side of the French presidential election the Daily Mail is on. Once again, they seem to be siding with the ‘black shirts’ as it were. Now, how many stories about Donald and Melania Trump, who have almost the same age gap, mention their ages? Couldn’t find any on the search I just did. There are a few that mention her age, but also seem to mention how lovely she looks or how short her skirt was.

We’re in the midst of a general election campaign and, if the local elections results are anything to go by, something weird is going on. But please, please, try and be a little critical about the headlines and stories we are given.

When you are given a superfluous little detail, what is the cliché? What is the stereotype that it is trying to subconsciously create? The British media, though far less partisan than its peers in the US, still carries an agenda.

Think; be critical; look beyond.

And if you are ever in a high octane, action packed, chase sequence, don’t try shooting a gas canister to create a dramatic explosion to hasten your escape. It won’t work.

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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!

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