Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Holy Crap

I read a brilliant piece in yesterday's Stylist magazine by Alice Wignall ('Losing Our Religion?'). I think of Alice as a sort of mentor; not only because I've been lucky enough to work with her in the past, but because every time I'm thinking of giving up my creative ambitions and settling for something well-paid and immediate, one of her features will pop up and remind me of the sort of writer I'd love to be. She writes for everything from The Guardian to Cosmo - look out for the name. This article was about the recent notion of Britain turning on its formerly official religion, Christianity. The Archbishop of Canterbury has complained of a 'bullying campaign' in this country towards devout Christians, citing cases like nurse Shirley Chaplin from Devon who lost a tribunal against the hospital who banned her from wearing her crucifix necklace at work. This sort of discrimination claim really annoys me. Everyone's workplace has a dress code and a hospital's obviously has to be more rigid and sterile than most. The angle of this piece was more about the everyday Christians - young women who fear mentioning their piousness in the workplace in case people treat them differently.

It seemed quite topical to me, as just last week, a good friend was telling me about a colleague whose beliefs were becoming an issue. We all want to be tolerant and kind, but some Christians just ruin it for the rest of them by making it a huge part of their personality, conversation and identity. I have no qualms with the faith itself, but it should be just that - private, personal and just one aspect of a person. I don't like to be submerged in someone's views, just as I wouldn't pelt someone with incessant titbits about my love of musical theatre or garlicky foods. It's just not necessary. This is the kind of Christian that gets my goat. I remember going to the funeral of a friend in my teens, and another friend's mother remarking that such times made her so sorry for anyone that hadn't embraced God in their lives. I hated her for that, so ill-judged at a time when God had never seemed less fair or relevant.

Of course many practicing Christians manage to be quietly devout; a person first and a Christian second. I suppose I just link any sort of religious fervour loosely to madness*, and if you were unfamiliar with the bible, many of its teachings would indeed sound like the ravings of a lunatic. This, coupled with the person's affinity to a dogma that suggests many of my friends deserve to burn in hell for their lifestyle choices, does not a firm friendship make. Is that so terrible a reason to secretly judge someone? The Stylist piece quoted many women who admitted to feeling a 'discomfort' around someone on finding out they are a devout Christian. This does seem injust, but I know the feeling they refer to - it's a sort of 'Watch your step, this one has views' aversion - and the reason I know this is because it is not simply applicable to Christians. I feel the same kneejerk discomfort on finding out someone is teetotal (terrible, I know), a vegan or a Daily Mail reader. A hard-line Tory or a militant feminist are similarly so far outside my values and opinions that I will hesitate to treat them as I would a kindred spirit. Especially if they make their 'thing', whatever it be, a huge deal every single day. This is the only circumstance in which I can imagine a Christian would face mass criticism, and it seems to me that it is a very insecure person that needs to so heavily advertise their own religion.

There are numerous little things that put us off a person slightly (drinking milk straight out of the bottle and putting it back, anyone?) Just because they used to be the default religion for this country, some Christians appear to think people not wanting to hear their preaching is a terrible movement of persecution, when in fact most of us have simply moved on from all that. We abandon outdated laws and language from our culture all the time, why not religious ones? It's ok if you believe in God, but many of us also believe in our professional environment being free from such intense subject matter. That may seem like bullying to the Archbishop, but whacking an acquaintance over the head with your creationist beliefs is probably less bearable. So pipe down - we'll risk going to hell if it means we don't have to hear you thanking an invisible deity for your morning coffee.

* Shortly after posting this, I turned the page of the book I'm currently reading on the train, and saw an excellent description about how the humanist/logical mind processes the idea of religion:

The primitive thinking of the supernaturally inclined amounts to what [Henry Perowne's] psychiatric colleagues call a problem, or an idea, of reference. An excess of the subjective, the ordering of the world in line with your needs, an inability to contemplate your own unimportance. In Henry's view such reasoning belongs on a spectrum at whose far end, rearing like an abandoned temple, lies psychosis.

- Saturday, Ian McEwan


I am in work heaven. Well, life scenario heaven. I recently got on to a prestigious postgraduate Journalism course and my only worry since has been how to fund it, as it's quite pricey and starts in September. In a generous moment of good karma, a very new friend (who I met through my new am-dram hobby - coincidentally, a new year's resolution for both of us) offered to pass on my CV, and I managed to get a great little temp job in London. It's perfect because as it's switchboard work, I get little lulls between bouts of busy calls to sort out my life (or at least my BlackBerry). I also plan to browse the news online and google something new every day. So by the end of the summer I should be financially secure, a little bit more knowledgable and will also have met lovely new people and added a dimension to my social life. I couldn't be happier to be commuting and working again, being out of work for a few months really makes you appreciate the benefits of routine.

Anyway, just a little update on my journo ventures - I haven't given up on my perilous editorial quest! Just ploughing on, writing when I can and trying to keep enough cash for a cute pair of shoes every now and again. But with this new job and a slight educational detour in sight, Miss Write is back on track.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


Relax, the initials I refer to are that which currently dominate our airwaves, screens and thoughts - Prime Minister Seduction. Well, it's about 50/50 Election and Volcanogate at the moment, but I am belatedly feeling a surge of democratic power after catching up with the weekend's media commentary on the campaigns, and watching the groundbreaking ITV party leaders' debates online. It's a thrilling thing be able to vote, and while the last election seemingly passed by without me noticing it, this year the public really seem to be getting involved.

The 18-20s particularly strike me as more vocal than I was in their position; perhaps it's the new surge of enthusiasm for the Lib Dems which appeal to them, or just the shaken-up feel of British politics that has seemed so stale and inevitable for years. Post-Expenses scandal, MPs are more apologetic and desperate for our support than ever. A lot of the high-faluting crap has been cut out as they begin to realise how jaded and savvy the public are about the spin and gloss of their campaigns. In my very first post on this blog, I wrote about the reactions to the Obama/McCain election and expressed a sadness that British politics are so much less passionate and patriotic. I just don't think it's our style though; as a nation we're unmoved by a soundbite and unconvinced that any party will bring large-scale change (quite rightly, really). Now I am impressed that things seem to be moving forward and becoming more focused here, with campaigns edging towards more info and less PR. I've grown to like the grey area in our system - I am not loyally 'Republican' or 'Democrat' but instead entitled to see what's on the menu and order as I see fit.

The TV debates have been the epicentre of this new approach - party leaders abandoned monotone voices, lengthy policy description and generalizations in favour of dramatic pauses and angry accusations, short'n'sharp outlining of aims and bizarrely specific anecdotes. I particularly enjoyed David Cameron's description of meeting a 40 year old black man who had moved to the UK aged six and served in the navy for 30 years. In fairness, neither of his rivals jumped to correct him after a spot of mental maths I imagine a six year old immigrant could do themselves. I did like the ferocity of approach, though - points had to be made quickly, sincerely and on the spot.

General consensus is that Nick 'Who?' Clegg came out on top after months of obscurity, but I wasn't that much more impressed with him. He had the best tone, body language and used the most accessible vocabulary, but I just wasn't feeling that musty yellow tie on him. Just joking - I felt he stumbled more than the other two over his answers, cleanly avoided the negatives surrounding tackling the econonmy, and kept reverting to the Lib Dem appeal as an alternative to 'Old Politics' (Did you know the Lib Dem party, founded in 1849, has been around 40 years longer than Labour?) A fresh face, yes, and definitely the one I'd shag if I had to choose, but he hasn't got my vote yet.

Poor old Gordy is the opposite of 'fresh face'; dowdy, practical and worn down, but I would always trust a leader (headmaster, boss, bank manager) who looks like the face of experience rather than the face of Creme de la Mer. In the blue corner, Cameron is almost oddly collagen smooth, with a sneery manner and just a hint of sleaze behind the good suit and family man image. If you're pro gay rights and equality, do make sure you watch the footage of his interview with Pink News, where he not only faltered over his policies and values but had the unmistakable glint of panic in his eye as his 'New Conservative' diversity-friendly image collided with the long-standing values of his party. I would also take a glance at the Don't Judge My Family campaign, countering the Tory plans to give straight, married couples a tax break. I have known married couples stay together far longer than they should, causing knock-on problems down the line with a sustained, unhappy family atmosphere. Equally, marriages can break up as a result of one person rather than both - should the abandoned party be left to pay more tax because they couldn't or wouldn't beg their partner to stay and make it work? Judging citizens based on their marital status is laughably backward - 'smug, Victorian finger-wagging', as Harriet Harman so eloquently put it. So the Tories are not scoring highly in my books, especially with Chris Grayling's (my local MP, oh the shame) recent comments on B&B guests.

I still haven't 100% decided where my vote is going, but I do feel sorry for the flack Labour gets. Whoever is in power will cause dissatisfaction and attract mockery after thirteen years at the helm, especially in the wake of recession depression and a (non party-specific) expenses scandal. In the TV debates, for me, Gordon made the shortest, neatest points, seemed the most honest - including addressing the tough stuff - and seemed to have his policies most firmly in his head, and not in his notes. That said, he also made cringey jokes and got suckered into Cameron's playground bickering. I liked that he picked up on Cameron's constant quest to avoid giving any kind of answer ('This isn't question time, David, this is answer time.') Dave just seems to think he can respond with 'Yes, I agree *carefully registered name*, we're in a real mess. But look at what Labour have done about it - NOTHING. I'm not going to promise we're going to do any better but... Look! Look at them! Gordon can't even smile properly!' The day I see him respond with something resembling a plan of action will be the day I consider him as a possible leader.

I'm interested in the Lib Dem's ideas, but need to hear more than 'We're different.' This isn't Lidl trying to compete with Sainsbury's and Tesco, if you're a real contender come out with your policies up. Equally I need to read more into Labour's plans and track record, but I will certainly be stepping out to vote come May 6th. I think the Lib Dems will get much of the youth vote, if only because they're not such a broken record. Anything that gets my generation voting is fine by me, but make sure you get all your info before heading in to that polling station. I would love to hear if anyone's developed any new political leanings this year, and why. Particularly any new young Tories, oxymoronic as that may seem to me.

The world's unsexiest boyband [Brown's just a step behind on the choreography]

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Ex and the Shitty

There was an item on The Wright Stuff today (my daytime guilty pleasure) about going on holiday with an ex, or a partner 'you can no longer stand.' (I have a bit of a problem with the latter description - who stays with someone they can't stand?) I've had some experience of this, having booked a holiday with a boyfriend a few years ago and ended up going together post-split, with a determination to have fun 'as friends.' I can advise that things are never that simple, however great your relationship was, and to instead bring a friend or even just go alone. Sitting alone on a beach is infinitely preferable to the emotional hell of two recent exes in foreign climes with only each other for company.

It was an interesting debate though. Several phone-ins revealed people who had found out their partner was cheating the day before a holiday and gone anyway (ouch), or couples where the relationship had clearly fizzled out, but they had a trip coming up so decided to patch things up for the duration. The problem is, and it's hard to see when there's money and unfamiliar destinations involved, that holidays are supposed to be relaxing. All of the things that warrant the payment - a break from work, sunshine, empty schedule - become blighted by uncomfortable silences, bickering or tension you could cut with a knife.

The whole 'friends with an ex' thing is a total minefield anyway. I am mildly suspicious of couples who move straight to being great chums, laughing at each others' jokes without a hint of bile and happily meeting new partners without any stabby thoughts. I always hope that I will end up as friends with an ex, but with the emphasis on 'end up' - with room for a quarantine period of hatred, drinking and secretly willing heavy objects to fall on them first. Maybe I'm just a horrible person or my relationships are too intense, but I've never been able to go, 'Ok bud, we've had fun - good luck with everything and call me anytime.' There are always a few stabby thoughts.

If we were totally honest, the next time you're really going to be able to wish your ex well is when you've moved on, be that with a full on new relationship or just a distracting crush. It's a terribly superficial thing, but the battle to prove you're not going to die alone always dominates post-breakup relations. As the winner of that race, you are elevated to smug, sympathetic pal who asks them how it's all going and encourages them to hang in there. The problem women tend to have with a split is wondering where all the feelings evaporate to, and trying to stay close and keep that person in their lives. Do we really need to? I think if you were friends first, or dated substantially (this is where the Americans have it so right) you have established common ground, great chat and a bond before things get physical, and thus have more of a shot at the friends thing. Equally, if you have lots of mutual friends, you're forced to make it civil which can turn out to be a great thing.

However, if it was a whirlwind thing cutting straight to the passion, chances are you were too high on hormones and butterflies in those early stages to really register a personality in the other person, and in this instance I say cut them loose. Chances are you have little or nothing in common and if there's no friend foundation it won't last anyway. The easiest thing to do is really hate someone, so it can be a gift if they've cheated, battered your self-esteem or broken up with you in some tacky way. Obviously it won't seem like it at first, but whack on the Alanis Morrisette, energetically clean things and dig out your dancing shoes. Rage is often the catalyst for speedy moving on.

I would be interested to hear some feedback on feelings towards exes - are they still the centre of your social life or just the centre of your dartboard? Would you go to their wedding years down the line or are they now simply a hilarious dinner party anecdote? I would also like to know how to avoid the evil thoughts period and float straight to benevolent smiles and best wishes. Are voodoo dolls and Oscar-worthy acting the only way? Let me know your thoughts.