Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Catholic Church and Modern Life

It must be weird being a catholic priest; you spend your entire life making it incredibly obvious to people that as far as adult sexual relationships go, you don’t really want to be involved. You wear the outfit, you take a vow of celibacy, you very publically choose not to take a wife yet again and again, the public end up banging on your door demanding advice on what they should do in the bedroom. They stand baffled; like a vegan asked for a steak recipe or a Pussy Cat Doll asked about female solidarity wondering how much clearer do they need to make it?

It’s an odd demand to make of an institution that is notoriously sceptical about women in the first place. Yes, we do make up more than fifty percent of the population but as religions go, they just don’t seem quite sold on us ladies yet. Women have only recently; biblically speaking, evolved from Adam’s rib and we are very much seen as the Johnny Come Latelys of the human species. If people judge the dearth of female comedians on our inherent inability to be funny, why shouldn’t the same damning logic be used to decide our ability to possess morals, spirituality or a sentient brain? If we do possess these attributes why have we so glaringly failed to make it to the front bench of the major world religions? It’s just not happening ladies, is it?

Maybe that’s why women are so desperate for advice from the men in frocks. Birth control, fertility treatments, family planning, all areas of life priests will never in a million years, not if they are reincarnated a thousand times, which as a catholic would be a bittersweet experience, have to deal with. Yet like dithering first dates unable to decide on a main course, we soulfully look up from our fertility menu and ask the men in black what they think.

I don’t know how they come up with their theories on how a teenage girl should cope with an unexpected pregnancy. Maybe they go out to meet young women and ask their advice, maybe they approach it method style and spend an evening in watching “The Only Way is Essex” whilst texting or maybe they just make it up as they go along. They join the priest hood hoping to avoid women and end up having to sort our yappy crazy lives out anyway, like the spiritual gay best friends that they are. Now ain’t that a kick in the head?

Which brings us to the latest news; David Cameron has announced plans to promote gay couples from the first division gloom of civil partnership to the full premier league glory of marriage. Like most people I thought “Yes, you may be the democratically elected head of government Cameron, discussing an entirely civil matter but what does the Catholic Church think? That famously infallible institution, governed by unelected men in red hats, multi coloured smoke elections and a two thousand year old magic book, what’s their take on events?”

How nervous the Catholics must have been about issuing its response? Huddled in a room, smoking cigarettes and nervously looking out of blinds, “The people need us, but in all seriousness how can we help; an institution famous for sexually abusing children and then covering it up whenever we’re allowed into a country? Can we really tell anybody what they should do in their private life?”

“And don’t forget the Magdalene laundries! Locking women up for the rest of their live just for getting pregnant, in hindsight we were just kind of taking the piss there weren’t we?”
“And then there’s the fact that the ban on priest marrying has little to do with theology and is probably more about keeping money within the church, forcing us to live unnatural lives of loneliness and isolation”

“Good point! How can we make it obvious that we haven’t a clue what we are talking about? How can we say something so ridiculous and nonsensical, that our answer, in a way, satirizes their interest in our opinion in the first place? I know! Why don’t we compare same sex marriage to slavery? Then claim that marriage; a ceremony most people associate with overpriced stationary, angry aunts demanding invites and Britney Spears drunk in Las Vegas would be ruined if gays were allowed? Everybody knows gays are amazing at weddings; have you seen “Four Weddings”? They win every week!”

“Perfect. Then maybe the public will finally get the message and we can go back to saying mass, listening to Susan Boyle records and secretly marrying our housekeepers as God intended. And no one will ever ask our opinion on anything ever again”
And that is what happened.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Why Ed Milliband is screwed.

This week Daniel Radcliffe has announced he’s ditched the Lib Dems and put his lot in with Labour. It’s some much needed good news for a party in a very dark place. At the moment Labour are a bit like a lonely, abandoned family that’s been through a very bitter divorce. After a long, turbulent, some whisper abusive marriage, Tony and Gordon finally split. The removal van arrived, the boxes were packed, the kids, puffy faced and swollen eyed were told that although they still loved them very much Daddy Gordon needed some “quiet time” and Mummy Tony had a lot of money to make.

Unfortunately for those left behind, when Mummy and Daddy absconded, they took not just all their belongings, heirlooms and valuables but their policies and ideas too. The party is now left in an empty house, with no furniture, cupboards bare and constant threats of the electricity being cut off. It didn’t help that, instead of the golden, older brother, in a surprise reading of the will everything was left to the nervous, well intentioned, younger sibling who now is struggling to keep it all together.

No one hears from Tony anymore. While his children gnaw on stale bread, there are only occasional postcards from dodgy sunspots that reek of sun tan oil and tales of late night karaoke sessions with Silvio Berlosconi. He travels the world in borrowed jets, reeking of strong cologne, like a dead eyed Flying Dutchman. Everybody keeps meaning to check in on poor Gordon. Like an elderly relative they plan to call around for a cup of tea, maybe take him for a spin down to the shops, if only to make sure milk bottles aren’t gathering around his door, but they never quite get round to it.

It’s not just the heroes of the nineties they miss, it’s the dreams and certainties they took with them. After years in opposition Labour were so desperate to get elected, to be considered credible enough for government that they abandoned pretty much everything the party traditionally stood for. Labour is to the unions, what the Tories are to big business, but while at least the Conservatives have the swagger to be honest about the interests they represent, ever since the D-Ream days there is a distinct nervous shiftiness about who their home base is. Like a first generation immigrant family, mortified by their ethnic family at home, they started refusing to speak the language and avoided bringing their new friends around.

The “New Labour” idea was borrowed from the policies Bill Clinton used to win the US Presidency. You mix left wing policies; public spending, certain liberal social policies such a supporting gay marriage and mix it with tough right wing policies that will out conservative your opposition. So New Labour combined investing billions in the NHS and building schools with increasingly right wing policies on immigration, crime and social freedom.
Then it all began to unravel. Tony fell in with a bad crowd, got drunk on the dream of liberal intervention and woke up to discover he had invaded Iraq. Then after years of bullying Tony, Gordon finally took over and discovered that like a circuit comedian after too many years playing the clubs, he just didn’t have an Edinburgh hour show in him after all. He finally had power he coveted for so long but no long term plan for the party or vision to go with it.

Then the big bust happened. After years on no proper regulation, people discovered to their shock that left to their own devices bankers will exaggerate and lie about how much their shares are worth if they can make millions from doing so. The entire banking sector collapsed like a house of marked cards. With the country days away from ATMs running out of cash, Gordon rallied European heads of states and saved the Europeans banks from collapse. But it was too late; Gordon was considered an incompetent mess. He was out and after years of internal Dynasty style plotting, self obsession and back stabbing, they had no next generation to take over, no new ideas, no clue what to do next.

While Labour’s attention was distracted electing a new leader, the Coalition began rewriting recent history. The country is broke because Labour overspent, not the billions we needed to safe the banks. We definitely don’t need more financial regulation what we need to do is cut back the state. It needs to be replaced by the private sector, by the big businesses that coincidently donate millions to our party. Yes, in opposition we didn’t complain, notice or even mention Labour’s “over spending” in fact we promised to match it, but that’s not the point. This whole mess is like a family that spent too much. Yes, I know it involves complicated things like government bonds, quantative easing, the vagaries of international money lending and interest rates but that is too confusing and no on really understands how that works, least of all the experts themselves. Let’s compare the most complex international meltdown in modern times with a maxed out credit card because it’s an image that suits our message and the public can get their heads around. Meanwhile, Labour, stuck with a new leader they didn’t really like looked on dumbstruck.

Now what should Ed do? The voters are now convinced they’re in this mess because of the overspending, should he go along with the new narrative to try to get people to trust him again or tell the truth that no one believes. He has a right wing parliamentary labour party longing for the swaggering confidence of the old days when they were in power. Why can’t you be like Tony they cry, they liked us then, appeal to the middle class swing vote, just stand slightly right of the Tories and that will be enough. He also has depressed voters desperate for an opposition, crying out for someone to sensibly oppose the cuts, but with a guilty feeling that maybe they’ve got what they deserve.

Add to that the whispering voices in his own party, that the true leader, the older brother, hasn’t gone away, he is just waiting to regroup. He who shall not be named, is gathering force, writing articles for “The New Statesman” and is coming back. Its good news that Harry Potter has joined the party, if Ed Milliband is to be the boy that lived, he’ll need all the help he can get.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

PIP Implants- the future of the NHS?

Women who get boob jobs are a demographic it is hard to sympathise with. They are the vacuous, orange airheads the media encourages us to mock; why should they deserve our concern? When reports about faulty breast implants rupturing and leaking first made the news there was a feeling that since they’d already put themselves through one unnecessary operation, why should we feel bad they had to go through at least one more? Why should the taxpayer be concerned about a mess up in a private industry? It serves them right, the vain silly fools.

If you’re a woman and you don’t feel good enough, if you don’t like how you look; it is your responsibility do something about it. Luckily if you’re not sure where your body stands on the spectrum, just check any magazine cover, newspaper, television programme or Hollywood movie. If you are vain enough to take the entire western media at its word, believe the message it screams in the face of anyone glancing in its direction; that a better body will make you happier, then help is at hand. After all, the only people less deserving of our respect than vain women who get plastic surgery are fat women who let themselves go.

The cosmetic surgery industry makes £900 million in the UK every year and 90% of its customers are women. Last year 25,000 women had breast implants confident in the belief that they were empowering their lives and boosting their confidence. That is three times as many as ten years ago. And why not? You go girls!

We’ve been trained not to take breast implants very seriously. They’re advertised on the tube, you can get two for one offers, there are even ‘Yummy Mummy Deals’. Even if it is illegal to advertise prescription medicine, like say a strong cough medicine, a two hour operation which requires a general anaesthetic, serious painkillers to cope with pain and a lifetime of follow up surgery every ten years, is fine. Unlike medicine, implants do not have to go through rigorous testing. All they need are a CE mark of quality, the same rigorous testing applied to yoyos.

Do we honestly believe that the risks involved are explained? Who can the women rely on to give them the best advice? The private health care company which exist to make a profit and view the women as customers rather than patients? Will they get the truth from the media that trivialises the procedure and make millions advertising them? Or the government that washes it hands? Unlike most bodies there is very little regulation in this private healthcare success story. In the US there are 6 authorised skin fillers, in the UK there are 140. There is no registered qualification for a cosmetic surgeon. Many surgeons work in the private industry because they have not risen in the NHS and are attracted to a field with remarkably lower standards. They aren’t on the General Medical Council's specialist register, which means they are not good enough to perform surgeries independently in the NHS but are accepted there. If they so wanted, a vet with no other qualifications could set up their own Botox beauty clinic, injecting poison into people’s faces.

It is guessed that between forty to fifty thousand women in the UK have had pip implants breast implants, it’s hard to get a definite figure, because very few companies kept track. What is sure is the reason why they used PIPs implants: price. Medical grade silicone costs 35 euros a litre, the industrial silicone used in PIPs, also used in furniture, cost €5.

When reports of PIPs implants rupturing made the news and worried women tried to contact their surgeons, some discovered the companies no longer existed, others that they the companies had no record of what they had injected into them . The three biggest companies announced they will only remove the implants when they had actually ruptured, forcing the women to walk around with the knowledge cancer causing carcinogens might be slowing leaking into their body unless they are willing to pay another two thousand pound to have them removed.

Women who choose to have breast implants might well experience some regrets. They might feel a bit silly or unhappy with the job, but should they have to worry that the implants they paid surgeons to put in their body might rupture and kill them? – Or is that just part of the deal?

In 2000, after a similar problem with PIPS, 2,000 women successfully sued the company. They have still not received their money and the company were able to begin business again. The Health Minister stated that private health companies refusing to remove and replace the implants are "not stepping up to their responsibilities". Strong words, but then that is all the Health Minister of the United Kingdom can use; words. It is a private company so the Government has very little authority to intervene. With the Coalition recently promising that private health companies in the NHS will provide choice, transparency and competition, it’s beginning to feel like it’s the entire country the government is treating as silly fools.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Rihanna put some clothes on

Rihanna; the gorgeous R and B star with a voice like a fog horn on the pull, is in trouble for gifting an audience member with a lap dance as part of her life London show. This comes after her X Factor performance only just squeaked by Press Complains Commission and a Northern Irish farmer chased her off his land for wandering around his acres half dressed and presumably scaring the cattle.

I know, as a feminist I should be defending her right to dress like a trafficked street walker, but, I just don’t buy it. Why does empowerment for young women so often involve being half naked in public? I can’t image her male equals having to wander about in a thong to keep themselves relevant. Kanye West, P Diddy, Jay Z present themselves as media moguls, head of corporations while their female equivalent seem to have to act like the sort of women they’d hire for a dodgy staff party.

When evidence of the horrific domestic violence she experienced at the hands of Chris Brown emerged, within months her record company responded with a sexier look and a record “S&M” that played up the frisson of sex and violence. The last pop singer who had her personal demons exploited for public success was Britney Spears, and we all saw how happily that ended. In the words of Destiny’s Child, a band that would never have been caught dead rambling round any field in the nud- “Child, put some clothes on”

Sunday, 24 July 2011

R.I.P. Amy Whinehouse

Sometimes when life is not going well, when you know at the pit of your stomach that things just aren’t going to sort themselves out, that everything is not going to be ok, the only thing that gets you through it all is music.

The best music, like all art, comes from honesty and while there are plenty of songs about heartbreak, loss and disappointment, very few have the bravery and rawness of Amy Winehouse. In “Back to Black” she wrote about her mind unravelling, she sang in the midst of her life collapsing with the urgency and bewilderment of someone who doesn’t know if they’re going to make it out the other end. Through the patronising drivel of most pop, all the empty clichés and bland rhymes that never solved or made anyone feel anything; her records had the spine tingling honesty of the real thing.

Her early death now means that she’ll be lazily labelled as doomed and weak, the opposite of everything her swaggering vocals celebrated. Amy the Cat was alive; she was messed up but was hanging on as best she could. In a world of overproduced, airbrushed perfection, she was as truthful and ugly as the tattoos on her scraggly body, as messy and earnest as her raggedy beehive. She knew that she was destroying herself but couldn’t seem to stop and refused to hide or apologise for it. The stomping sexy brass of “Rehab” announced a woman that dared you to patronise or feel sorry for her. Yes, her life was a mess but she took full responsibility for it and would rather tear herself apart than play the victim. She didn’t blame anyone, especially any man or relationship. What was the point when she was, in all likelihood, as messed up and culpable as anyone?

Unlike most albums about romantic loss, there was very little about the actual person she was mourning. It was about her; her confusion with what she has doing to her life, her desperate struggle to gain back control and make sense of it all. With a knowing sneer, she let you into her world of rejection, despair, crying on the kitchen floor and in doing so gave dignity and the exhilarating relief of recognition to anyone who experienced anything similar. Worried you were cracking up? Tell her about it. Felt unwanted? Who didn’t? Worried you were mentally incapable of happiness for any length of time? Pass the voddy, she knew all about it. She was the unexpectedly sympathetic voice in the pub toilets, who saw you in all your raw eyed swollen face mess and nodded in understanding. Who was she to pass judgment on whatever mess you were in? All she expected was the same in return.

I really wanted her to make it, to prove the jaded journalists without a whisper of her talent wrong. I wanted more records, for her to sing more songs about other things in life, to have the time to grow up and define herself as more than the messed up girl. Most of us go through that self destructive phase, where we confuse masochism with love and pain with being alive, but there are so many other songs to sing, happier ones; more interesting ones. The aching sadness of it all is that Amy will never get the chance to know that.

Was all the pain she experienced worth the albums she turned it into? Would it have been better if she hadn’t felt so deeply, had been able to move on that bit quicker from whatever demons she couldn’t quite shake off, whatever emptiness she couldn’t fill? Was her talent a result of her troubles or a casualty of them? Isn’t it patronising and insulting to suggest that she needed the damage to make such amazing music; that all you need is a broken heart and a drug problem to produce era defining music?

Before the madness of fame, in her early interviews she came across as someone who just truly loved music. She described hearing soul records for the first time with the innocence and excitement most of us describe out first love. Her tragedy was that anything was ever allowed to come between it. Hopefully now, instead of the drugs, the messy relationships, the bloody ballet slippers dragged through grubby Camden Town, Amy will in death finally be known again for her soaring talent. Nobody who sang with such passion; wrote lyrics as wise and simple as “Love is a Losing Game” could ever be accused of having had a wasted life. Her devastated family can now finally have their beloved daughter back, reclaiming her from the tabloids caricatures and insanity of addiction. As for the public, those of us who never knew her, I doubt she'd want us to feel sorry for her. How could we? She left behind such music, such beauty and for a heartbreakingly short amount of time, she was after all, Amy fucking Winehouse.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Defending Bridesmaids

As feminist, I managed to enjoy “Bridemaids” still feeling I could look Emily Pankhurst in the eye afterwards. It was refreshing to see women on screen I could recognize. Instead of the usual shrill relationship fixated twiglets, these hot messes mismanaged their finances, fell out with their friends, got drunk and slept in bath tubs. These were ladies I could work with.

Do all films about female friends have to be po- faced documents of female struggle? Do they have to end with the message that ultimately we all die alone? Hasn’t Samuel Beckett already beaten her to that premise? Why begrudge Annie, our heroine a nice boyfriend at the end? Rather than being desperate to get wed, she has to overcome her cynicism and grow up before she can get together with the nice Irish cop. Rather than being her goal, he and the rewarding relationship he represents is the prize she earns at the end.

As for Kate Moss, I don’t think anybody considers getting married the supermodels greatest achievement. I think most were pleasantly surprised at how relaxed and incandescently happy she looked in her wedding pictures. The self made millionaire has married a man that obviously adores her, in a killer dress, surrounded by her family at a dream wedding, she probably paid for. Remember, this is that same woman who got her heart broken by Pete Doherty- give the girl a break. In the same week her ex stumbled out of yet another prison sentence for drugs, couldn’t anybody, of any gender, wronged in love not feel a shiver of vicarious glee at her happiness?

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Queen's Visit

When Obama visited Ireland last week and spoke movingly about the impact the Irish immigrant community had made in America, he knew how to get the crowd onside. Irish people get emotional about their diaspora in a way the British don’t. Historically, whenever the British moved abroad they were either inspired by the spirit of opportunity and adventure or off to expand the Empire. When The Irish left their homeland it was usually because something depressing was happening.

Even now, Irish people still feel a twinge of guilt and responsibility for those forced to make their home aboard. That’s nothing compared to the guilt felt by the people who actually emigrated. If Ireland could somehow channel this guilt into a form of fuel, George Bush would have invaded us years ago.

I had an auntie and uncle that moved to America during the last big recession in the 80s. The heartbreak of their leaving was matched only by the awkwardness and stress of their visits home. Every two years or so, they’d return with suitcases full of strange sweets, accents warped like old records and speech studded with strange Americanisms like “soda” that we’d all sneer at behind their back. For the length of the visit they tried to slip back into the family roles they abandoned years ago, with siblings they didn’t really know anymore, before returning exhausted back to their real life.

My family never asked questions about their new home; it was as if for those two weeks everyone wanted to forget they were ever away. America was the other woman they wouldn’t speak of. The day they flew back was always the worst. Like a wake the family reunited to say goodbye, bottles of whiskey were gruffly given, neighbours called and hands were shaken. We were ordered to kiss our departing uncle and aunt goodbye, a strange intimacy we treated with giddy embarrassment. Nanny always cried and there was always confusion over she whether going to the airport would be too much for her. Years later, when it was my turn to move abroad, out of choice rather than necessity and only as far away as London, she sobbed as keenly as if I were off to deepest darkest Alaska. Don’t forget me she’d whisper as I hugged her goodbye and guilt sagged like a wet leaden raincoat.

It’s not helped by the fact most of the Londoners I met had gaps in their knowledge of Ireland whole conversations could fall into. I didn’t want to be the clichéd Irish person trotting out Famine statistics and sobbing to Christy Moore, so I didn’t know whether to explain that “southern Ireland” wasn’t a country that Britain isn’t “the mainland” and the Irish language isn’t just pronouncing film as “filum”. Britain seemed clueless about Ireland; it was like discovering your best friend has no idea how old you were and the countries seemed separated by much more than the Irish Sea.

Even now, every trip home, I dread the car journey with my dad back from the airport, where I always get paranoid I’m getting an English accent. As I talk I can feel the strange London vowels in my mouth and my voice sounds awkward and clumsy like listening to a message I left on an answering machine. Now I’m the one bringing home sweets for my nephews and flinching when I accidently say “cupboard” instead of “press”.

Even something as innocuous as watching the Royal Wedding in Trafalgar Square brought a rush of guilt no other European Royal event would bring. Had my head been turned by London with its fancy Palladium architecture and transport system. The Queen wasn’t just the head of a crazy family; she was the head of the British State. What was I doing waving her flag?

So watching the Queens visit to Ireland I wasn’t expecting much. I certainly wasn’t expecting, all the way in Archway London, to feel a lump in my throat and a flush of relief, when she bowed her head before the memorial to the men who had died for Irish independence. The Queen of England, the head of the British army wasn’t just publically acknowledging my past, my history, my version of events she was honouring everything that mattered to my family, my Dad, my Nanny. Britain and Ireland were finally on the same page: London and home feel slightly nearer and I felt slightly less far away.