Category Archives: Political comment

This much I know…

… that you know nothing, Jon Snow.

My head is full of whirling nonsense at the moment. Knowledge-based curricula. Skills. Transferable skills. Teaching. Learning. Knowledge. Because I subscribe to several noisy teachers on Twitter, my Twitter feed is alive with shoutiness and anger about one thing.

How we teach.

Well, one thing I know – that’s a silly argument unless we understand how we learn. This much I know: you can be doing all the right things and there’s STILL no learning. I know because I’ve been doing all the ‘right’ things with Heston (a dog) to teach him not to chase crows, and  he still chases crows.

But then again, what are ‘the right things’?

Should I bully him and make him submit, because I am his pack leader and he must obey me at all costs? Should I trick him with operant conditioning like Pavlov’s dogs to accept a treat instead of blithely chasing flying things across fields? There are studies to show both methods ‘work’…

And yet a part of me thinks Heston should be free to chase a crow across a field. It’s his business. He’s a dog who likes to chase birds. He doesn’t do any damage, he never catches a crow and he enjoys it. He gets lost from time to time, but it’s more out of social nicety and fear of farmers that I try so desperately to stop him chasing the damn things.

And is that why we strive for learning, out of social nicety and fear of inspectors, the media and government fly-by-nights who are here today and gone tomorrow?

In all of this arguing about HOW we learn, we forget lots of things.

One of those things is that we don’t actually know. We suspect. We suspect phonics works. We suspect we embed things into long-term memory by a process of stimuli-review-review-review. We suspect there are things we can do to make something more ‘sticky’. We conveniently forget the mahoosive great evolutionary elephant in the room because it’s philosophically unpleasant.

That’s the elephant about natural ability.

After all, there are studies these days that show we can be no more funny than our parents were funny.

But again, it’s a suspicion, not a provable fact. If our funniness is determined by genetics, is our intelligence too? And that’s too controversial to consider. We’re one step away from Gattaca. Also, it’s only one side of an argument.

And biology can be shaped by experience, we suspect. Nurture is vital, we think. But Nature is fundamental, too, men say. This is why we can never settle the ‘nature vs nurture’ argument. I suspect it is both. We have the capabilities we are dealt and we have the experiences that guide us. However, it’s unpleasant to think that we are limited, that we are mortal, that we cannot all be 4-minute milers or Einsteins. In fact, that goes against MY nuturing experience, for I have been told since I was tiny that “there is no such thing as can’t” and that I can be what I want to be. I’d like to believe I am infinitely capable of whatever I choose to be.

Yet that’s partly a big crock of shit and partly true. I could not be a sub-10-second 100 metre runner. I could not be a catwalk model. We accept we are physically limited. But accepting we are intellectually limited too, well, that’s a little less pleasant a pill to swallow. However, it’s BECAUSE I was brought up in a home where all things were possible that I believe I can do anything I want to and because I went to a school that didn’t accept the tail-end of limitations for women. If we wanted to become a physicist, well, we could.

So it always bugs me that we talk about teaching as if it is the be-all and end-all to intellectual capability, when I suspect we come a whole lot too late to do much meaningful stuff. We are but a part of it. I’d like to think, for example, that I have had a lot of success teaching some children to read.

Yesterday, for example, when reading The Princess and The Frog with a smart-as-a-whip seven-year-old, she said:

“Do you know what? It’s all about promises this book… the Queen promises the princess she can have a gold ball, and then the princess promises the frog she will kiss him, and then they promise to love each other forever.”

Totally unprompted.

Then, we came across a word in italics. She read the sentence, emphasising the word anyway (“What do you want to do?”) and then said “Why’s that word like that?”.

Later, she said “made for gold” and before I could correct her, she said “made OF gold” and then said, “I get of and for mixed up. The letters go wrong.”

Finally, the story calls the Frog ‘Frog’ and at one point, it says “Frog came into the room.” So she said “Why does it say ‘Frog’ and not ‘A frog?'”

I think that revealed a lot.

First, I think I’m stealing a living, because she’s obviously teaching herself. She just needs me for answers. Second, she knows A LOT of stuff already and I didn’t have to tell her the things I thought she might need to know. Third, this is a relationship, not a one-way process. It’s neither about me, nor about her. I was pleased to see that the combination of synthetic phonics and whole-word work is working. She can decode the story. But I realise a lot of her ability is about her home. Her parents value reading. They are literate, intelligent people themselves. She reads lots of stories at home. She has a great library. She has a universal grammar and an innate ability to understand how language works (with ‘Frog’ and ‘a frog’)

And she hit the nail on the head with of and for. 

Some things are just not sticky. Take the words bougie de prechauffage. This is a glowplug for a diesel engine in French. I have never used that expression. It is never likely to be useful, yet it is stuck in my head with the glue of permanence. Then take the word cependant. Now I can NEVER remember what that means. I recognise the word. I can read it. It has pendant in it. I see that word all the time. Yet even now I had to look it up. It’s really annoying, because it’s just not sticky. I put that word on a flashcard. I added it to memrise. I put it on a post-it. I looked at that word every day. And it’s like that word has no desire to be in my head.

Partly, I get that. It’s about usage. I use pourtant or néanmoins instead if I want to say however. But I still see it all the time. I just ignore it, I think. I skip over it. So the jury is still out on why certain things are hard to do. We apportion blame. It’s the word’s fault for not being memorable enough or having something noticeable about it. It’s my fault for not yet having found the method to get that word in my head.

But no scientist, psychologist or other has put forward a convincing argument as to why this is hard to learn for me (when it isn’t for other people) and proposed a method of getting it to stick in my head. We suspect things about learning that defy logic and real life.

This is why I believe education should be divorced from politics. Learning is a complex process that we are only just beginning to understand and most of what there is is theory. This much I know: there is one useful way to navigate the theories. Experience, open-mindedness and wise consideration about what is relevant and useful for the children in your class. When English teachers compare themselves to Finnish education (which is a pointless comparison if you ask me) what I like about Finnish education is how empowered the teacher is to pick out what works for their groups.

I also believe the direction in which education is heading in England is flawed and narrow, because it is based on the whims of a small group of middle-aged white men. It has no room for music, no room for sport, no room for art, no room for textiles or food tech.

For many of us, these are the pleasurable things that make school worthwhile and actually lead to a fruitful job and/or life after school.

But schools cannot be responsible for everything.

There is a lot of hoo-ha about whether children should be able to read broadsheets.

Of course, we would like their reading to be at a level where they can if they like.

But why broadsheets?

I had an argument with a guy about Oliver Twist. He thought that Oliver Twist is a cultural must. I think it is a poor story written early in Dickens’ career (his first big book, really), that the characters are shallow and the story is lacking in the richness that you find in David Copperfield. I prefer David Copperfield as it is much more real. It’s also a coming-of-age story which might be more relevant to teens, were I to teach it. However, I accept that Oliver Twist is better known and the characters more familiar and useful if we’re talking about Fagin and the Artful Dodger. But then is English Literature just about having some kind of key to other cultural understanding? Is it just a glorified way to understand England? Should that be an English teacher’s job, to force study of things that someone has decided have cultural merit?

This opens up a massive debate about what we should teach and what English teaching should be. And that’s a toughie.

On the one hand you think, yes, it’s useful to read Oliver Twist, but it’s bloody long. I can’t trust the kids to take the books home and read at home and so I have to study most in class, if not all. And if I study ‘most’, aren’t I just going with edited highlights? If I want them to get the story, why don’t I just watch the film? What do I want? My kids to know the story? My kids to appreciate the literature?

Well, I’m sorry, but the last bit – how do you MAKE people appreciate a cultural thing?

And how have we arrived at the fact that this cultural thing is more worthy to know about than, say, the works of Beethoven or the art of Van Gogh?

And who decided that Beethoven is in the canon and The Beatles are not? And why The Beatles? Why not the Rolling Stones or The Who? And if we take The Rolling Stones as part of English cultural heritage, then does it spoil your pleasure if you don’t know the music of Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis? And if you listen to Chuck Berry, shouldn’t you really also listen to Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker? Blind Lemon Jefferson?

I don’t agree with prescription over what is in the magical ‘canon’, because if you ask me, I think film, modern fiction, music, pop culture, television, video games… they’re all as important keys to understanding the world around us. I don’t agree that the ‘canon’ of knowledge should be some kind of elitist wet dream of some middle-aged white men, telling us we are culturally impoverished and have no ambition if we haven’t read Dickens.

It implies that – heaven forfend – we aren’t ‘worthy’ individuals if we haven’t read Dickens or listened to Mozart. Heaven help most of my friends.

Should we all have the reading ability to access Dickens if we like?

Of course.

Should we all read Dickens instead of Game of Thrones?

This much I know… if you think so, you know nothing, Jon Snow*.

*I will accept this Jo(h)n Snow could refer to the epidemiology guy, the newsreader, the cricketer, the US Secretary of the Treasury or the character from the popular televisual series.

What I learned from Roald Dahl, Morrissey and Jim Morrison

To hear all the bickering at the moment in the educational world in England, mostly inspired by Gove’s insistence on a knowledge-based curriculum, you would wonder how anyone learned to read. His arguments are based largely on an American theorist’s views about what we should be teaching – E.D Hirsh. That man must be getting a lot of hits on t’interweb right now. And Gove’s views are expounded by several white, middle-class shiny-faced smug know-it-alls who have been frustrating me all week. They’re going with the ‘filling of a pail’ approach for education. i.e. you are only clever enough when you can win in the final of University Challenge or when you have a place at Oxford or Cambridge.

As usual, some other things kind of percolate through my brain over a couple of days and it makes me have an ‘ah!’ moment of enlightenment.

I read a few articles and blog posts this week with a real sense of anger and frustration, wondering how I ever learned to read at all when I never had the fortune of an Oxford education.

The ‘ah!’ moment came later, once I’d taken a chill pill and let everything kind of settle in my head.

Last night, I was listening to the divine Steven Pinker talking about his favourite person, place or thing. He was talking about wars and violence in connection with a book he was reading and he said this: “People are far more motivated by what people around them are doing than by any ideal or overt moral purpose.”

And that made me think.

Then a very sensible voice reminded me of something else. The Doors. People are Strange.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with anything.

At school (and I had the privilege of a grammar school education in the 1980s) we did some reading in English. I know we read The Odyssey. I know I found it hard to spell Odyssey and Odysseus and I know Elizabeth got 20/20 on her first homework and I got 7. After that, it’s a bit of a blur. I think we read The Red Pony. I’d say we read David Copperfield. We did a lot of poetry reading from Touchstones. The only thing I really learned was that the English book cupboard smelled weird.

So if I didn’t receive my early inspiration from school, where did I get it? What prompted me to keep reading?

Well, it wasn’t home. We were poor. I don’t mean dirt-poor, but books were Christmas presents, not every day things, and I still have the twenty or so books I had then. A Children’s Bible (from my agnostic grandparents…) a copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy stories from my great grandmother. The box set of My Naughty Little Sister. The box set of Winnie The Pooh. The Wind in the Willows. That was about it. My parents didn’t read – I mean they do now, but I never saw my mum pick up a book that she didn’t read to us, and I never saw my dad read, though he does now. My Gramps read Wilbur Smith and The Daily Mail and my Nana read Danielle Steele, if their book shelves were anything to go off. They had three bookshelves of about two feet each – and mostly with hardbacks.

I did have a superb municipal library and my mum took me all the time. I picked what I wanted and I still remember the smell of Bury Library – children’s section.

I am pretty sure the person who planted the seed was Mr Parks, our Year 4 teacher. He let us put our heads on the desk and listen to him read Danny, the Champion of the World. Of course, Ofsted would fail him now, I’m pretty sure, for a lesson like that. He taught Jake though, so I know he’s still a bloody brilliant teacher. He planted the seed. Bury Library and my mum’s frequent visits there watered that seed.

So why did I keep reading in that wasteland of 11+?

Partly because there was a great bookstand of Young Adult fiction in Bury Library – Adult section. I read The Outsiders for the first time and cried. I read Brother In The Land and immediately decided that nuclear weapons were a thing of disgust. Then I read graduated to Ian Fleming and Virginia Andrews. By the time I was 13, I was chomping at the bit for something a little more inspirational.

Two things happened that year. Morrissey and The Lost Boys. You can understand Morrissey’s influence, I’m sure. A librarian’s son brandishing a copy of Oscar Wilde with a fervent and unusual passion for poetry. I went out and read Oscar Wilde. Didn’t really get it much, but the intention was there. The Lost Boys. Well, here’s how it gets convoluted. I liked People are Strange. I bought the single. I heard it was a cover of The Doors. I listened to The Doors. I liked it. I fell in love with Jim Morrison, even though he was dead. (Oh come on! I was young! Don’t tell me you haven’t had a crush on a hairy, weird rockstar?) and then that took me into a whole new world. Nietzsche. Aldous  Huxley. He’s the reason I did French (so I could read Rimbaud and Baudelaire) and I read poetry because Morrissey and Jim Morrison made it all cool. Then it was all downhill. Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti. Is it any wonder I became an English teacher? I bet you are disgusted to know that a fey, vegetarian Salfordite and a crazy-eyed, heroin-taking pop star had more influence over my reading than anyone else?

It wasn’t all bad.

I read EM Forster because I saw Maurice and it made me sad. I read LP Hartley’s The Go-Between because by then I had found an inspirational English teacher who used to hand-write copies of Spike Milligan poems about abortion for me, and hand me copies of John Clare poems. I read because they were recommended by someone whose view I trusted. I ate out of her hand. I read Jean De Florette after seeing the film.

Bearing in mind I grew up in a time where word-of-mouth was the only method of learning outside school, where if you wanted to find cool, new things you had to turn to your friends, I copied what they did. Let’s be fair. Out of school, few of my friends read books. That’s fine. We listened to a lot of music – you can’t be from Manchester and not do that – and we did things like watch football and get drunk. But when my friends played some wicked solos from Jimi Hendrix, or someone passed us a new album, we ate it up. If any one of my friends thought something was worth a read or a listen, then it was worth a read or a listen. Mostly a listen, it has to be said.

And I made choices that were not at all related to school. When I chose which university I wanted to go to, Sheffield was number 1. Why? Because some long-haired boy named Robert had gone there the year before and I was absolutely and utterly convinced I would hook up with him in Sheffield, get married and have his babies.

I never saw him, of course.

But even at university, it was mostly a combination of access to books that fuelled my fire, and freedom to learn. I have no doubt that in today’s world, I would not have gone to university. That is something I would have foregone. There’s no way on earth a girl like me would have ever signed herself up to be a debtor, no matter how much difference it would make at the end. I’d have probably worked in a bank, I think. And I did think about it. I was on the tail-end of grants, and it was touch and go.

Still, I met other cool people who passed me cool things; a Venezuelan boy got me all excited about Marxism and Derrida, Sartre and Camus. In 1990s Brixton, The Communist Manifesto went round like a hot cake on Electric Avenue.

So… What does all this tell you? I read because a couple of inspiring teachers fed my fire, because I had a wonderful library with great books where I was free to rampage in whichever weird direction I chose, because I had friends who recommended stuff.

I still read the stuff my friends read.

I wonder if this is why Amazon’s most popular feature is ‘people also bought’?

And at the end of the day, well, it has made me wordy. But it’s not the kind of stuff I discuss with my friends. In fact, if I tried to have a conversation with my family about all of this ^^^^^, my Nana would probably smack my legs and rightly so. For being a smug, shiny-faced know-it-all is perfectly fine if your only aims in life are to win Mastermind or alienate people, but in the real world, most people don’t think that having an A at A level in General Studies (as I very proudly do) is anything to be admired and I can quite understand why sometimes people want to ask me what planet I’m on if I do a blog about Marx or Engels, God and Angels.

Anyway, this highly personal anecdote will never win over the Govites who think the only way forward is Oxford and academia, and that we should all by rights know how to parse a sentence, and that if I don’t know where the Kremlin is and what the Cold War is I can’t possibly understand the world I live in. But I thought you should know where I stand.

And yes, I have a head full of knowledge, can recite Macbeth mostly by heart, quoted Personal Helicon to Heaney and so what? It wasn’t very useful today when I was writing blurb for a website, or when I was marking exams, or when I was teaching students how to ask questions about Monkey Forest or when I was mowing the lawn or taking the dog for a walk. Let’s be honest… apart from a few of my readers, most of you will have long since disappeared, for it is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody really likes a cleverclogs who thinks that other people should be reading The Daily Telegraph, and that they are culturally deprived if they do not.


End of rant.

Anyone still out there??

I almost can’t look at the papers at the moment. Today, DC is on the front pages doing some kind of ‘I told you so’ dance, telling off the Eurozone for dragging the world into the mire. We’ll say nothing of the USA, the faltering Chinese economy, the massive Japanese debt, daily alerts about Greece, austerity budgets in France.

I said yesterday in relation to another matter that people should get their own house in order before pointing the finger. He who lives in glass houses and all that… but there’s a huge issue in England at the moment that is really stuck in my craw at the moment.

PFI schemes. You won’t know what these are maybe, or how ludicrous they are but when I tell you, you’ll be dumbfounded that anyone could have agreed to them. Put it this way, you might as well have given all your money to Kerry Katona and seen it go up her nose. At least it would have been more entertaining and done less damage.

Here’s the thing. Set up in 1992 under John Major, they snowballed under Brown. Just to get that straight. Conservative idea. Labour misuse. Pigeons come home to roost under Con-Lib government. Nobody is absolved from blame over this.

When you know what PFI schemes are, that’s important, because each and every one of our politicians contributed to the problem, worsened the problem and then we, the people, will suffer.

Basically, the idea is this: in order to build new public buildings when the Treasury coffers are empty, you contract out the buildings. You offer the contracts to developers and building businesses. They build a new hospital or school with their own money, and then they lease it to the people who will be using it. In the case of hospitals, health care trusts. In the case of schools, local authorities on the whole. Thus, you get a shiny new hospital or school for nothing. Yeah, right.

The leases run a bit like mortgages, in principle. The hospitals and schools pay the developer interest and a lease fee and then after 25 years, they get the building. In theory, should things go wrong, it’s like renting: it’s not your problem to fix.

In reality, it’s possibly the world’s most stupid idea. It’s stupid because the lease-back fees are exhorbitant. The interest rates would make loan sharks blush. The pay-back terms aren’t just over 25 years, but sometimes over 60. Things were built that just didn’t need building. I know there’s no reason hospitals and schools shouldn’t have a wonderful atrium and modern art and lots of glass and look totally unlike schools or hospitals.

Lots of studies agree that the very appearance of schools and hospitals puts people off what they’re supposed to be doing there. But when you’re on a budget, you don’t deck your house out in Farrow and Ball, or buy a conservatory. You build a shed and paint with B&Q budget paint. Sure, it doesn’t look as good, but it does what it needs to. More importantly, it doesn’t saddle you with debt for needless changes.

Some people will point to the benefits of PFI schemes like how they have modernised or streamlined things. But at what cost? And couldn’t those benefits have come just from building the same buildings with public funding – always cheaper – than private funding? All we’ve done is lined the pockets of the developers. Sure, we have shiny hospitals and schools and so on, but at what cost?

The cost, of course, was initially soaked up by the people who were paying for the leases – the hospitals themselves. So what happens when you have a high mortgage or repayment rate? You cut other things. You stop having your daily can of coca-cola or you stop paying a man to cut your grass.

This – on a grander scale – is what happened in the PFI hospitals. They cut other things. And the majority of expense is always staff. In a school, about 80% of the budget is staff. I guess it’s a little different in hospitals because of the costs of machinery and so on. But staff are easy to cut. It’s easier to get rid of a nurse – or just fail to reappoint when they move on – and fill their shoes with an auxiliary. Services get stretched thin. Staff get stressed. Terms for repayment get renegotiated and you’re the loser again. You need to find more funds.

You’ve got two choices. You stop paying and default, with all the consequences, or you go cap in hand and ask for more money from the Treasury. Central and local government put you in this position, but they’re now slapping your hands as if you’ve been willingly messing about with your budget. They give you more. But unfortunately, they don’t have bottomless pockets, so that means somewhere else, a cut has to be made.

And guess what? All the hospitals who have been putting up with shit buildings, decrepit units, MRSA-discos-in-the-making, those hospitals and Trusts who’ve been frugal – the Government take from them to give to you. The government robbing the ants to give to the grasshoppers.

Imagine it this way. Your neighbour bought a shiny new car. He bought it on ridiculous finance. You told him other ways to borrow the money, and actually even advised him to save up until he had enough to pay for it, but he ignored you. He bought it on a credit card with 21.9% APR with a 10 year term. It was affordable. They’d pick up the costs if things broke. It seemed sensible, even though he’d be paying thousands of pounds more than it was worth, and thousands of pounds more than he’d have had to pay if he’d have bargained with another credit company, or even if he’d saved up.

Soon, he lost his job and had to downsize. You watched him struggle. Unfortunately, if he defaulted, he’d have legal proceedings to face. He went to the finance company to say ‘take it back’ but they can’t or won’t. They force him to keep paying. In fact, they pass him on to a ‘debt consolidation unit’ who allow him to pay 20% APR over 20 years. It feels less, but it’s much, much more.

But the economy turns for the worse again. Now he can’t afford those payments either. He’s already eating beans on toast every night and now he can’t buy new shoes for his children, so he goes cap in hand to the dole office.

The dole office do this. They see that you’ve got £5,000 saved up. You’ve been putting it aside because you worried something like this would happen. You were saving for your retirement, as you’d been advised to do. You only have debit cards and you never buy anything you can’t pay for outright. You’ve been driving an old banger because you were saving up to buy a new one, and you’ve been making-do and mending as long as you’ve been a grown-up. You do everything right.

The dole office take your £5,000 to pay off some of your neighbour’s new car.

This is in essence what has happened with the health care trusts and the schools. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

This would never be legal on a personal level. You couldn’t just raid your neighbour’s bank account if you were stupid enough to sign up for one of those 1279% APR loans. But this is what the government are doing. Plundering the pockets of the ants who have saved and stored and made-do in order to pay for the shiny atrium in the grasshopper’s house.

It’s so disgusting, I’m personally surprised Bono and Sir Bob aren’t involved in it and we haven’t got Midge Ure trying to get everyone together to raise money and awareness.

And this is what your leaders do whilst you try your best to follow their advice about debt.

“The price tag for repaying PFI firms will reach £8.6 billion next year alone, with the taxpayer owing a total of £121.4 billion on public projects which are worth only £52.9 billion.”

In a way, I don’t blame the organisations like Innisfree who profit from these schemes. I think that they should renegotiate. I think they are unconscionably greedy if they don’t. I think they should do the right and the honest thing. But you can’t blame them for having rock-solid contracts that allow them to double their profits. They’re a business. That’s what businesses do. At least businesses and banks are honest, if not always transparent, in their motivation. Their aim is to make money. Nothing more. Nothing less. They will do so in the ways that make the most, and that means cutting costs, cutting corners, being barely legal. Don’t ever expect more from a business. They are dependable and forthright in their aims. We know what they’re about.

No, it is the government that allowed this to happen. Businesses only exist where there is a need. And businesses should not be above the law and above governance. We’ve got this bizarre system where banks and businesses operate outside the law and are ungovernable. The only way it can work is if they are limited by all governments. For if we don’t limit them in England, they’ll go somewhere like Macau where they can.

But then, who’d want the governments to be in charge of stuff when they’re the idiots who signed us up to this in the first place??! Would we really want these idiots to be in charge of stuff when they can’t see Ponzi schemes for what they are and when they’re too stupid to realise that if you rob Peter to pay Paul, you’re never going to make ends meet. Sooner or later, you’re going to run out of people to rob.

Really, they need me to be in charge and to rip up contracts and say “‘that was a ridiculous, unconscionable deal and we’re not honouring it. You’ve been lucky to have what you’ve had. We’ll pay you 2% above inflation and that’s a good profit. Now fuck off.”

After all, who are they going to complain to?

Here’s to being Cassandra all over again…

What I said would happen yesterday with the promotion of bad history as an argument about David Starkey was well born out yesterday. It fell into a black and white argument with both sides being absolutely and utterly deluded, racist, small-minded and pathetic – reason had no place in it at all. Well done DS and well done Nabil Abdul Rashid. You both pushed black/white tensions up a notch.

I feel defensive of being white – I always have. I feel the weight of my white ancestors on my shoulders. Luckily I’m a woman and this makes me feel a little better, because my type have been a persecuted minority, and continue to be so. Heaven forbid I should a white man. I’m suddenly responsible for everything after the outbursts yesterday online. This is what I said about skeletons falling out of the closet. 500 years worth of skeletons about slavery and racism and mistreatment and black holocausts and hideous crimes perpetrated in the name of expansion all fell out of that closet. Boom boom boom boom boom. All rattling their bones and providing visions of Christmas future if we don’t deal with our sins. The problem is, when a person of any colour starts dragging the skeletons out of the closet, the other colours go to their closet and drag a few out, until all that happens is a big tumbling pile of bones of ancestors is on the floor and we’re all using them to hit each other with.

Yesterday, I saw vile and nasty racism from white trash who should know better. I laughed when some of the black champions of history mentioned white advancement, because it sure as hell doesn’t seem like we’ve advanced very far. Do they watch Jeremy Kyle? Most of his clients are one colour, and it’s not black or Asian. We’ve all got the rednecks, the white trash, the trailer trash, the racaille, and it’s vile and ugly because it’s like a nasty cliché of how we’ve failed as people.

But then I heard just some of the most outrageous statements I’ve ever heard about black history – which made me laugh out loud and then stupidly try to challenge. Maybe I could have patronised these people, continued to let them believe nonsense and silliness, treated them like Jake when he gets argumentative or like Steve treats me when I get argumentative and just gone ‘Okay’. But I can’t. Because every misunderstanding spreads a little lie that sits on the racist cracker. And let’s get this straight. Very few people in England believe it was one race or another. Nobody’s saying it’s white or black. I’ve not seen many statistics, and the ones I have seen are that it’s poverty that’s the over-riding factor. I don’t want to get into the causes – manifold as they may be – of that poverty – but that’s the uniting factor. And race shouldn’t be the dividing factor.

Despite this, I heard sub-Saharan Africans say many, many times that the Moors were black. This was a really big fallacy spread by the response. And I know about the Moors. I know a lot about the Moors because I’ve got 20,000 words of my own research I wrote about them sitting waiting for me to get my arse in gear and write a story about Sigilmassa. I know about the Maghreb. I know about the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians and the Imazighen and the Arab settlers and the spread of the Moorish dynasties and then their decline. I also have some great Moroccan friends whose roots are bedouin Imazighen of many varieties. They had fun teaching me ‘berber’ words and Arabic words and I walked with them through the Atlas mountains and they told me their view of the Maghreb, on the Arabic world, on Morocco, on life. We spent three days just walking and talking. I’m a curious girl. I ask lots of questions. I want to know stuff.

Let’s take Zinedine Zidane as an example, since he’s one of the most famous ‘Berber’ faces. I hate that word, but he is an example of your typical ‘Moor’. He’s an Algerian Kabyle. Now excuse me for stating the obvious, but nothing makes Zidane black, unless he goes for a little make-up. If he said ‘Is it because I is black?’ like Ali G, we’d all laugh, just like we do at Ali G, because like Ali G, he’s not black. In fact, he shares more of an appearance with Ali G than he does with Nelson Mandela.

But yesterday, sub-Saharan Africans are getting all their knickers in a twist about the Moors, feeling forced to say they were black. That’s news to all the Alis I met who weren’t black in the slightest. And yes, there were black skinned people as part of this ‘Non-Homogeneous’ group (I pointed this out a million times yesterday) but the Moors looked to Mecca. Their towns were built on Islamic principles. Their language is Arabic. Their scholars weren’t African in view or belief, they were Persian, Middle Eastern, Arab – call it what you will. Their names are Arabic and their whole world was Eastern looking, not Southern looking. If not in skin colour, in culture, in belief and in society – they were Arabic.

I am willing to accept that Islam and Arabic unite some north African countries with some sub-Saharan African countries. There are large Muslim populations in many Eastern African countries. But the Maghreb people – the Moors – have more in common with their Persian relatives than the Somalis, genetically speaking. The only things that unite a Moroccan with a Somali is religion and language, not skin colour. And yet there are hundreds – and I’m not kidding – of comments from black people yesterday, all militant about the Moors being black. And not a bit black. All black.

This kind of skewed history comes from white mouths, Asian mouths, black mouths – anyone who wants to twist history to suit their view. And yes, blacks, like women, were repressed for a long time (blacks less than women, by about 3,000 years, but I digress…) and their contribution to history has been both written out and white-washed – and didn’t exist in the first place – just like peasant history doesn’t exist and women’s history doesn’t exist – because we were too busy living  and being repressed to go round contributing to art and literature, music and philosophy. No offence to any one other than white intellectual men, but by and large your achievements are minimal. Blacks, women and poor people didn’t create a Beethoven or a Michelangelo or a Leonardo or a Shakespeare because we were too busy being repressed, and just because I can find some semi-okay poetry from someone in a skirt in the Seventeenth Century doesn’t mean it’s as good as Donne or Shelley. I can’t champion it because it’s rather pedestrian. Jane Austen is funny, but she isn’t Shakespeare or Shelley because her experience was ‘the drawing room’ – and as much as I’d like to, I can’t go around saying Shakespeare was a woman or that Shelley was a black because they weren’t, and it just makes me look like an idiot with an agenda if I try.

Yet this is what was happening yesterday. I totally get that blacks have a right to be angry. 500 years of subjugation will do that to a person. Let’s talk about the patriarchs who deliberately wrote women out of religion and law, shall we? That started 3,500 years ago and we’re still suffering. Don’t you men know it!

But all these skeletons were just coming and coming as people dragged them out of the cupboard. For your Hitler and Stalin, I give you one Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe. I give you Pol Pot and Chairman Mao (let’s not spare the far east, hey, as we’re dragging out the skeletons?!) For your slavery I give you Darfur and civil war and Rwanda and Chad and South Western Sahara. For your slavery, I give you female circumcision. Ad infinitum in a universal tit-for-tat. Ironic considering the original poster said he didn’t want that….

But unfortunately, that’s what happens. My main concern was that the video would go viral. Luckily, it didn’t (or hasn’t so far) and therefore hasn’t attracted the bigots from either end of the spectrum all trotting out myths and lies about history and social demographics to suit their argument.

It’s so ironic that ‘we’ ‘get rid’ of Al Qaida – Bin Laden is assassinated and the alleged kingpins in the Al Qaida network disintegrate – Muslims are killed on the streets in the riots and show England how to truly do community and belief and came out to defend their England – and as the universal racist zeitgeist turns from Islam, DS seems to a little inadvertently and possibly very consciously, spearhead the new racist zeitgeist – black against white. Ironic, because these are the two communities most poor and most troubled. Poor White working class boys and African-Caribbean boys are the two most underachieving groups in Britain. Interested to know who achieves the best? Why Far Eastern boys of course. The Chinese, the Malaysians, the Koreans – their achievement outstrips everybody else’s, followed by Indian boys whose achievement is not far behind. The only way we can all aspire is if we end the tit-for-tat blame game and the blind allegiance to racism from whatever side we come from. People of all colours do shite things to each other. For every high achieving Chinese boy, there’s one who runs up massive debts or falls in with Chinese gangs – for every Indian who becomes a surgeon, there’s one who’ll steal a car from his family in B&Q. People are people, as Depeche Mode once said, and the more we try to categorise ourselves, the more damage we do.

A little hope for the morning from Mr Bob:

Rebellion, insolence, sedition which we ourselves have ploughed for, sowed and scattered

I’m watching what is happening in England through a computer screen which removes me somewhat from it. Much of it horrifies and alarms me. I’m watching youtube clips of men arrested for smashing windows with golf clubs who are then saying ‘what reason do you have to arrest me?’ to the police. I’m watching cars being smashed, businesses destroyed.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb – author of one of the most powerful books of our time – might not say this is a black swan event – but there’s a bit that seems to fit for me – the posthumous rationalising of events as if they were predictable. Lack of jobs, poverty, lack of opportunity, a trigger event initiated by the police – all being used as reasons for the behaviour we’re witnessing. The media are to blame for spin. The shops are to blame for putting stuff in view. Labour are to blame because they created this culture and made policing weak. The Tories are to blame because it always happens on their watch because they give the police too much power. It’s the fault of the police. It’s the fault of the parents. It’s the fault of the schools. It’s the fault of new technologies allowing all this to happen.

The problem with all of this rationalising is that it doesn’t take into account personal accountability and morality. And this is what we have: a mass of ungovernable people who have either lost their sense of personal morality in the heat of the moment (not unlike so many other people who get caught up in the heat of the social zeitgeist, where genocide becomes acceptable, at the far end of the spectrum, or where far right parties get voted into power) or a mass of ungovernable people who can’t think for themselves because they are so overwhelmed by greed and moral indignation. Sociology tells us to group people, to link social events to social causes. But it doesn’t look at the individual, as if the individual has no free-will whatsoever. To me, social explanations such as poverty or unemployment is a problem for one great big reason: they see us a mindless herd. Maybe we are. Maybe that’s where it all went wrong.

Where are we as individuals if we have no sense of right or wrong, or no sense of consequence?

I can rob this shop. I can get carried away by the heat of the moment. I can subjugate my values for the brief euphoria of lawlessness. I can smash its windows because it feels good. It gets rid of some of that anger about ‘The Establishment’. I can steal all the things I never could afford. I can finally have the thing I wanted for so long. What I covet can be mine. In my miserable life, I can finally think someone’s handed me a lottery ticket to get those trainers I wanted, a new laptop, a new blackberry.


I can think. I can rob this shop, but this guy who owns the shop – he’s going to suffer. Maybe his insurance won’t cover it and he’ll end up out of pocket. Maybe everything he’s worked for will be destroyed. I can imagine the guy’s face as he realises his living has been destroyed. I know he’ll never feel the same again. It’ll take a while for him to get the insurance, and they’ll look for every opportunity they can to rip him off, because they’re a business and that’s what they do. He’ll suffer, whilst I’ve filled my pockets with his cigarettes and his cash. Maybe he won’t be able to pay for food tonight. Maybe he’ll break down. Maybe this will push him over the edge. Maybe he’ll sink into depression. His insurance premiums will go up, through no fault of his own. He’ll put prices up. Either that will drive people to cheaper places where they can soak up overheads, or he’ll have to live in poverty. If insurance goes up, prices go up. My own friends and family will have to pay more. I might steal this £200 from the till now, but every time I buy a can of coke from this guy in the future, I’ll have to look him in the eye and know I did wrong by him.

And I make the right choice.

I can square up to the police and throw a petrol bomb. But that man is just a man. He’s protecting the country because he’s paid to. I might not like what he stands for. I might disapprove of their politics, but he’s just a man. He’s a man who maybe doesn’t believe in how the police operate all the time, but he knows overall they do more good than bad. By a long shot. He himself remains dignified and composed and doesn’t launch a petrol bomb back at me. I allow my emotions to run free, but I don’t expect him to have emotions. Or I expect him to control them. He’s just a man. He might disagree with my politics. He might have come from Irish immigrants forced from Ireland due to famine. His ancestors might have been born in workhouses. His family might have pulled themselves out of the gutter. Maybe he wants to petrol bomb me because he thinks I’m disrespectful scum and I’m creating a world that he doesn’t want his kids to grow up in.

So I do the right thing.

I remember that this is my community – my home. It might not be much, but it’s what I’ve got. It’s what my family fought for. It’s what they tried hard to get right. This is the park I played in as a kid. How devastated would I have been to see it ruined? This is the church I went to. I might not believe in God, but it’s where my Mum goes every Sunday and I respect that. It means a lot to her.

So I protect my community, my home. I take personal responsibility not to commit a crime and I know that if I steal, if I vandalise, if I destroy, it’s myself I’m hurting. Because I am part of this community and what I do to it will hurt me. I know I’m part of a bigger picture and I know my part in it.

Where is this kind of thinking? Where is empathy and insight? I can blame the big things, the institutions and governments, education, parenting, community, religion. But at the bottom of it all, we are individuals who make choices. At some point, sociology forgets that. The media forgets that.

When I was face to face with the teenager who stole my camera, he was full of excuses of poverty and being wound up by a group. He was too poor to repay me, so he said. He didn’t want his picture taken. Allah (!) didn’t believe in it. Society and sociologists and religion gave him ready-made excuses which he trotted out. It took a while to cut through these social excuses to make him see what he’d done. He’d damaged the good work his mosque had done to integrate. He’d let down his family. He’d victimised a woman who is the same size as his mum. He’d stolen a camera full of ebay stuff I was going to sell, so I didn’t make money that week. He’d been part of a hundred-strong group who were inciting a fight in times where people carry knives and heaven knows what else. He cried at the end.

But the worst thing is, despite him crying , I know he’d do it again. That voice that I provided for him is missing or else he wouldn’t have done it in the first place. And that’s the real problem. There have always been people without their own moral voice that says stealing is wrong (because it hurts someone else) but that’s what’s wrong, to me. All these people with no moral voice to tell them what they’re doing is wrong. They cite poverty and unemployment and tension and police brutality as if they are living in Syria. They are not. I look at other news and see the world falling apart – so it seems. Famine in Somalia. Civil dispute in Syria and Libya. Economies in free-fall. I know we’re not going to get through this with a smash-and-grab mentality. So why don’t more people think like I do?

What’s missing seems to be two-fold: altruism and empathy. I see so much anger, so much rage and so much selfishness in the news reports about London – there’s one solution. Empathy. When you empathise, your anger dissipates. When you empathise, you want to help others. When you empathise, it allows you to balance the needs of others against your own and then be altruistic. But this is down to the individual, not society. Society can’t be responsible for teaching everyone to empathise. I can imagine the scorn with which that would be greeted: National Programme to Develop Empathy. You can imagine the derision from the media. I can imagine the derision from myself! But that’s what we need.

I think I’m having a survivalist panic…

… I’ve been inflamed by several things recently – including rising oil prices, estimates about peak oil production and decline (check out peak oil  and then tell me you aren’t planning on getting your bike out!)

What started it off was the price of chicken food. It’s gone up 70c to 2€ 70. Not a big thing in itself, but a reminder about several other things: wheat failure in Russia and China, rising food costs, inflation. Then Prince Charles, rightly, is telling people to eat less beef. Beef is a hugely hungry food crop – and rearing cattle is costing the planet dear. Something has to give. Either we have to have a drop in the population – probably enforced because of starvation – or we have to eat less-consuming products. Or both. As it is, rising food costs are telling us that we can’t keep going on forever. Not only that, but the people being priced out of the market are the poorest.

Then I read a little something posted by Mark from hed(pe) on Facebook, linking from survivalblog about spotting potential domestic terrorists. And I realise I fit the bill in so many ways.

I have libertarian philosophies!

I am trying to be self-sufficient!

I am afraid of economic collapse! Nothing is too big to fall. If you don’t believe me, ask a dinosaur.

I hate big government!

I would like to add, I don’t have second-amendment issues and think we should all be carrying weapons. I’m leaving protecting the property to Jake in the event of cataclysmic collapse. I’d also like to add I’m not a religious zealot or think the end is nigh. I would like to pass a little of the blame onto the Cold War instigators and also to the makers of Threads – a film about the aftermath of nuclear war. All that fuss about nuclear weapons and enemies and iron curtains and Communism just deflected us from bigger problems: we’re outgrowing the planet and nothing is more likely to spark revolution than hunger. Just ask Marie-Antoinette.

And it’s not just all about what us human ants are up to. Mother Nature has a good way of warning us that she’s still more powerful than all of us. It doesn’t matter that economies are strong, or societies are cohesive if she’s going to throw a hurricane Katrina your way, or a tsunami, or a fukushima-scale disaster.

However, I took a leaf out of the ‘worrying is as effective as solving an algebra problem by chewing gum’ book and decided that my panic was a little premature and I shouldn’t start stockpiling just yet. If the world wants to know how it is without petrol or enough electricity, or with limited resources, it should look to Cuba.

In the interim period before deals with Venezuela and after the Soviet empire collapsed, in the so-called ‘special’ period, Cuba had nothing. All the oil-based goods sank to a minimum. Petrol came in at 10% of its former levels. Imagine having only 10% of the petrol we have! Food was scarce. And I think this would be my ‘look to and learn’ country for how we can avert peak oil problems and food shortages.

Firstly, everybody shares a car. If you have a car, you maintain it and you learn about engines. You realise you can put a lada engine in a huge American behemoth. You travel by any means necessary. If you have a tractor, you hook a cart to it and shift people. And then you are forced to say ‘to hell with travel’ because you can’t get around anyway. No petrol means no petrochemicals and this means no tyres. No tyres means you’re not going anywhere even if you do have petrol or bio-diesel. So you get a bike. If we’re lucky, we’ll soon see the sense in keeping more bike tyres than you need as spares for the future.

And if you can’t get a bike because resources mean there are none, have a horse or a pony, a mule or a donkey. We forget it’s only 200 years since these modes of transport were de rigeur. 

I bet it has a Russian engine under the hood!

Another thing about Cuba: consumerism is dead. There are shops, but they have nothing in them. We went in a shoe shop looking for a pair of sandals for Pete. We found some flip-flops – that was all – and they were so crap they broke within days. But you realise people can get along without ‘stuff’. If you don’t have CDs, make your own music. If you have finished a book, pass it on. If you don’t have a computer, meh, write a letter. Second-hand markets are not just ‘vintage’ and kitsch, but essential!

If you haven't got new stuff, make do with old

In the state-controlled hotels, the food was dire. Clearly there were food shortages and whilst people equate rations with not getting what you need, it also ensures what there is can be shared equally. I like that idea. Not only that, but most people supplement what they get with what they can grow. Chicks were everywhere, as were ducks and geese. Hens are great. Not only do they eat a lot of scraps and insects, but they also provide you with an egg. A vegetable garden and a hen and you have enough to supplement your basic food.

Medical supplies also became incredibly hard to source or pay for – so all those herbal remedies the EU directive banned as from April 2011 would have to come back into play.

Not only did petrol imports drop off, so mechanical aids were useless – no point in having a tractor if you can’t fuel it – but fossil fuels too – so brown-outs became the norm. And then you realise you can live without so much electricity. Street-lights are the first thing to go (and I like the fact our streetlights here go out around midnight and come back on about six in the morning… that’s six hours of electricity less than the lights outside my house in Bolton) and you cut back on all non-essential electricity. All those fancy porch lights and path markers and so on become expensive and pointless.

Oxen are the new black
Oxen are the new black

But petro-chemicals also supply the pesticide and fertiliser trade – so you have go back to organic methods, like nettle feed and horse manure. And you get out all your old horse or oxen ploughs and very soon, by force rather than middle-class white-girl westernised liberalism, you’re organic and petrol-free. Because industry relies on raw materials like steel and fossil fuels, industry drops off and agriculture becomes the main employer once again. People fish to supplement their income. No motor boats means no intensive fishing, so fish thrive. I ate the best lobster ever in Cuba, spear-fished by a guy who used the lobster to supplement his diet – but not having diesel-powered boats meant the waters are clear, clean and those lobster, not over-caught, were huge and delicious.

Diet changes too. Meat and dairy – so expensive in terms of how much it costs to raise, both financially and environmentally – become part of the past, and vegetables and grains take over. People become accidentally healthier – forced into healthy eating. You can’t afford to smoke or take drugs. So health improves although medicine is less available. Ironic. Diabetes, heart disease and early mortality all dropped – albeit in highly unfortunate, imposed circumstances.

So… I’ve decided we should all make our drop in the ocean – although bigger changes are needed to avert major disaster – and not for us, for people in the poorest communities, the most fragile of society, the old, the young, the weak. The death rate amongst pensioners went up 20% in the Special Period in Cuba – not amongst other groups. We owe it to each other. We owe it to our future selves.

Unfortunately, change is often powered by necessity rather than altruism. Drive less, consume less, grow more. Switch things off. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Maybe I should start breeding oxen and cart horses!!

Just as a parting shot, I’d like to say we 30-somethings with dread in our soul are a product of our societies’ upbringing. I watched Threads in school about nuclear disaster. I remember the gravestone-AIDS-ads. Nuclear threat, epidemics and Greenpeace all contributed to this survivalist panic. But no matter what, the media can’t disguise the fact that inflation is up because of two things: rises in food costs and rises in petrol. If you want my money on the future, these two will be the driving force behind change. You can keep your nuclear war and your hazmat suits. We’re only three meals from revolution. And heaven forfend we have to give up our beloved motor vehicles!

Trump and Berlusconi…

… must be two of the most repugnant men on the planet. I’m still getting over Sarah Palin, and then comb-over Trump links up to the Republican party and I’m astonished once more. Is it me, or are the Republicans having a serious crisis?? If you can’t find anyone better than Palin and Trump, you’re looking like a floundering dinosaur flailing about in its death throes – and this is both comical, because Palin and Trump are jokes, and alarming, because Republican Americans might vote them into power at some point.

Trump reminds me of Berlusconi, and maybe Republicans and Americans should take heed.

1. Both have hair issues – Trump with that weird combover, and Berlusconi with his hair plugs. Instantly laughable. This leads me to the second and linked point.

2. Both are too vain to age gracefully. And vanity is not an admirable quality in a leader. Especially when vanity has made them look ten times worse than they’d look if they aged gracefully.

3. Neither of them have much by way of dignity. If you have hair that looks like that, you obviously don’t care what the world thinks of you, either. And if you can’t age gracefully, it’s just undignified.

4. Both are a funny colour. Can you trust a man whose skin looks like it was sprayed on?

5. Both have bleached teeth. And I despise a man who spends more time worrying about whether his teeth are sparkly white than whether their political views are in order.

6. Both are homophobic. What’s wrong with gay marriage, for a start? Berlusconi saying being a pedophile is better than being gay… what’s with that?

7. Both seem to see women as being little more than entertainment. Trump is the man behind several ‘beauty’ pageants, having had several ‘model’ wives with big boobs. I don’t even need to say anything about bunga-bunga parties or teenage prostitutes where Berlusconi is concerned.

8. Both have more money than sense. And that’s never a good thing.

9. Both made a lot of money out of property and are ‘businessmen’ with a bent on making money and not giving much back: charity isn’t really a word these men know.

10. Both make Obama even more rational, sensible and effective, simply by being idiots. Berlusconi’s comments about Obama’s ‘tan’, and Trump’s obsession with Obama’s birth certificate make them look like idiots who couldn’t get into a good political argy-bargy with Obama over anything sensible. Men of little brain, I’m afraid.

11. Both are laughable ‘playboys’ who think affairs are acceptable and yet say family values are important: hypocrites, the pair of them, who want the world to live by ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

12. Both make cringeworthy ‘jokes’ – my favourite is Berlusconi’s about communists boiling babies to fertilise the fields – and yet both fail to realise that they themselves are the joke. The world laughs at them, not with them.

13. Both have too much testosterone. Five kids, really??!

14. Both are ‘pro-life’. Anyone who is pro-life (as I was as a teenager, I confess) should read the works of Marie Stopes. Being able to control birth, pregnancy and break free of the constraints of being at the mercy of pregnancy were the real forces behind breaking women out of poverty and ignorance. Women could study, could work, could build without interruption, could make choices about their health. More women died in childbirth than of disease in the past. Taking away women’s choice to have a child means you are effectively enslaving them and keeping them submissive. Give a woman birth control and she can control her choices and her destiny, her future and her life. Abortion, I confess, is a different issue, but related. When men force women to have no option than to bring an unwanted child into the world they are doing little other than taking away their choices and I find that deplorable.

15. Both show that being rich can buy you a prostitute wife several years your junior and that even ugly, perma-tanned, bleached-teeth racist homophobes with hair issues can buy find love with beautiful, big-haired, big-breasted women young enough to be their daughters. As Caroline Ahearne once asked Debbie McGhee, ‘so what attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?’ – it’s amazing how having a billion in the bank can make you attractive to a wide range of supposedly brainless bimbos willing to take advantage of your generosity.

16. Both reveal themselves to be complete racists in their behaviour towards Obama. I’m completely dumbstruck by Trump’s comments that he heard Obama was ‘terrible’ at school and didn’t deserve a place at Columbia or Harvard – thus suggesting the only reason he got in was because he was black. Not entirely sure how someone who is ‘terrible’ goes on to graduate magna cum laude, but there you go.

17. Both seem to shake off controversy and grow fat in its wake.

18. Both seem utterly invincible.

19. Both remind me of the Emperor in the Emperor’s New Clothes – completely obsessed with their own power and invincibility and without any sense of how foolish they really are.

20. Both have suspicious links made to organised crime. Berlusconi’s are well-documented. Anyone who hasn’t heard stories of how he is hand-in-hand with the Mafia hasn’t been reading the papers much. However, some American sources are pointing to links between Trump’s ex-colleagues and organised crime.

I can’t, however, see Trump trying to play hide-and-seek with the very dour Angela Merkel. I can’t see him making jokes about natural disasters in America and saying it’s a good opportunity for people who have lost their homes to enjoy camping. Any man who can annoy the Queen – married to the famously politically incorrect Philip – by shouting to get Barack Obama’s attention – is an imbecile. Berlusconi’s comments about Finland seem more on a par with Sarah Palin than Donald Trump – though both seem to reveal themselves as idiots the more they say. Anyone who refers to himself in the third person, as Trump does, doesn’t deserve Lady Justine’s time. That’s for sure.

Not only that, but Trump’s criticism of Obama isn’t his own idea. It’s Huckabee’s. He can’t even be racist or idiotic with his own ideas. A man who’s been on the verge of bankruptcy and has distinctly questionable financial behaviours leading the country upon whose economic success the whole world’s fortunes rest? I don’t think so! A man who gives a speech in a room in which there is a huge ice statue of himself is not someone I want to be the man in charge of the USA.

As the old adage said: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Both Trump and Berlusconi could learn from that. Unfortunately, to quote another: “A fool and his money are soon elected.”

Let’s hope Trump’s posturing is nothing more than a fairground distraction. Unfortunately, Berlusconi is the main attraction and the ringmaster of the fool’s carnival that Italian politics seems to be right now.

It seems France is in the news again…

Yesterday, a law came into being that has been reported across Europe. The law of October 12th 2010 says that it is forbidden to wear in public any of the following items: a hijab, a burqa, a hood or balaclava or a mask. Before you think of the absurdity of banning masks when it’s Hallowe’en or Carnival in Venice, I should also add that these are allowed for sporting events, festivals or artistic or cultural demonstrations, including religious processions. This law applies to everyone, including muslim tourists. You cannot wear these items in public places, on public transport, on the beach (because I wanted to wear a balaclava on the beach!) in public gardens, in shops, in businesses, restaurants, banks, stations, airports, town halls, tribunals, prefectures, hospitals, museums or libraries.

Of course, the media’s first reaction (especially in England) was one of ‘ban the burqa’. This is ridiculous. Firstly, the integral burqa is worn by very few women – the hijab is far more popular. Secondly, it fails to take account of the (perhaps token) statements about balaclavas (cagoules – at first I thought they were banning the nifty showerproof overcoat thing worn by trainspotters, planespotters and other fetishistic ne’er-do-wells, which smacked of ‘fashion police’ rather than ‘gendarmes’)

The over-reaction involves the fact that people seem to think they will be ripped off women’s heads. Not so. The wearers of any face-obscuring item will first be asked to remove it. This enables identity checks and every other Big Brother process about being who you say you are. Then, if you don’t, you might be carted off to a police station and fined 150€. So, should an IT-girl on French slopes decide she doesn’t want to remove her ski-mask and balaclava, she would be treated in the same way as a muslim woman who refuses to remove her veil.

Of course, the populist press only want to hear ‘ban the burqa’ and it was alarming to see in British newspapers that the two arrests in Paris yesterday were for ‘wearing a veil’ when in fact they were for demonstrating in a public place without permission. Quite a difference. But that’s not news, is it? The women arrested at Greenham Common in the 80s were arrested for similar things. Protesting is fine as long as it’s organised. With rights come responsibilities. But this mis-reporting has incited the British and the English MPs.

Theresa May, the MP not the dodgy ‘adult’ movie star said that no such ban would happen in England and this has brought out two different sides of the camp.

The first are those who think it is a good idea. They see the veil as a living tomb, the citizens within them as ‘non-citizens’. They see it as a symbol of repression. They point to the fact that you cannot kiss on Dubai beaches as a matter of public decency and that we abide by muslim rules when we are in muslim countries. And they are right. In Morocco, I got a really great insight into what I would say is a fairly progressive muslim society. Bear in mind the predominant culture is bedouin and that the ‘Arabs’ were just as much an invader in Morocco as they were in Spain. The djellaba is de rigeur.

Djellabas are pretty neat items. You put them on over whatever you’re wearing – like jeans. Some have a hood, jedi-style. I even saw a camouflage djellaba. Colourful djellabas are fine, and many of them were beautifully adorned with embroidery and amazing detail.

It’s impossible to see these as religious oppression. On the whole, they are practical to keep sand out of your inner regions, voluminous enough to keep a breeze circulating and I had a really good chat with a woman on a train about them – and she made me realise that it’s as much about respect as anything else. Not covering up so men can’t see you – because the men wear djellabas too – but that it’s a premise that you don’t go around flaunting your wealth, you have a little more dignity than the desire to show bling. It’s anti-bling. The houses, most of which are windowless high walls, open onto beautiful courtyards. This is the same. It’s a private beauty, not ostentatious beauty. France is quite like that anyway. You don’t see bling or show, fancy BMW X5s, Manolos or Jimmy Choos. It’s anti-commercialism.

Not only that, Morocco has a wide range of bedouin outfits, western outfits, muslim outfits – and people are sensible. It’s based on respect.

Now, the other side of the argument holds with free-will and that in a democratic country we should have freedom. And this is also true. This is something very dear to me.

But personally, and this has been forgotten in all of this, we dress appropriately. We use our discretion, because with rights come responsibilities. So, just because some suffragettes chained themselves to fences and fell under horses to get me a vote as a woman, and just because some bra-burners in the seventies made it illegal (in law, if not in practice) to pay women differently or to sack pregnant women, or to ask about intentions towards pregnancy doesn’t mean that I should now use this equality and freedom, liberation, to do as I goddamn please. It’s INAPPROPRIATE to wear certain things in school – so I was always suited and booted – I didn’t display tattoos. I didn’t wear jeans. I didn’t wear too-short skirts or silly revealing tops. Mainly this is because I was working with teenage boys, and having seen Leroy Parker’s eyes on stalks when a trainee teacher bent over and reveal a whale-tail thong sticking out of the top of her too-tight trousers was precisely why. I don’t want teenage boys perving over a flash of thong. I don’t want to do anything that distracts from the central purpose of the classroom: learning. I did once wear a ball gown, but that was for learning.

Likewise, it is INAPPROPRIATE of me to:

1. Go naked in the streets, unless I am my good friend David and I’d quite like to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, or unless I am an animal when fur is de riguer.

2. Go to a Manchester City vs Liverpool match wearing a Manchester United shirt.

3. Go to a Pakistan-Bangladesh cricket match wearing an Indian team shirt

4. Turn up at a South Africa/Australia match in an England shirt

5. Wander around Dubai’s streets in a bikini

6. Go to Iran wearing a mini-skirt and boob tube

7. Go into a mosque wearing a swimming costume

8. Wear a Ginger-Spice-inspired Union Jack dress in the middle of Bradford

9. Dress up as John Lydon if I’m going to meet the Queen

10. Wear lederhosen and slap my thighs in a science classroom

11. Put on a Nazi costume and go wandering around the streets.

12. Wear a ballet tutu to work in a packing factory

I’d be a provocative idiot if I did these things. Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

And so it’s all very well to say we should or shouldn’t be allowed to wear particular clothing (or none at all) but there’s also a degree of provocation in wearing it. “It’s my right” is offensive to many other people. It’s my right to erect a huge Union Jack on my driveway in Bolton, but I don’t. It’s my right not to wear a bra, but I don’t take advantage of that. I can wear a bikini in M&S if I like, but I don’t. “It’s my religion!” is another argument altogether. It’s not in the Qu’ran to wear a veil, only to be dressed modestly. If it were, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Morocco would all be wearing a burqa. “My husband makes me!” is not an answer at all, and terrifies me.

What is important to remember though is that whilst France has the largest Islamic population in Europe, it also has only between 350-2000 (estimate by Le Figaro) veil-wearers. Why is it then that so many of my formerly free-faced Bolton neighbours feel the need to wear the veil? 15 years ago, veil wearers were not so frequent. Now most of my neighbours and clients wear one.

There is, to me, an issue about integration. My veil-wearing clients often were not English speakers and would ask their children to call me. Some of them were just members of mosques where it was the habit and it was the habit for me. My other Muslim clients who didn’t wear a veil included a very intelligent second-generation Pakistani girl who had three older sisters – a doctor, a lawyer and an accountant. None of them wore a veil at all, although their mother wore a headscarf.

What’s more concerning is that so many of the women who wear one are young, independent and ‘English’ who don’t feel integrated enough into ‘English’ customs not to wear one. And that’s an issue.

Maybe France is wrong to be secular – but I uphold its values. Having worked in a Catholic school where you cannot teach sensible sex education (because sex is only allowed in marriage!) and you cannot advise them to be careful or avoid disease means that religion comes before education. If you cannot teach evolution, then something is wrong. I like that religion falls outside French state schools. Of course, you can elect to send your child to a private school where religion is allowed, but there’s a distinction. And someone in this modern world has to say religion has no business in politics or education. After all, America, our great ‘secular’ nation whose dollar bill proclaims, ironically, ‘In God We Trust’ and in which four states are prohibited from teaching evolution, so my personal thoughts are that religion has no place in law or in education. And I applaud France for being secular.

I also strongly believe that it is your responsibility to integrate into democracy and equality, never making yourself ‘more equal’ than someone else. If you are allowed to wear a hijab and I am not allowed to wear a cross, then you are more equal and the respecting of your rights violates mine. And that’s wrong. Either everything is allowed – whereby people will take advantage of that, teachers will end up dressing like prostitutes, ‘sexy’ t-shirts will be on sale for 7 year olds along with push-up bras and someone somewhere will decide naked is best – or there are limits which people will complain about. Since people are unable to act responsibly and appropriately, liberalism must be a little conservative. And that’s sad.

But not everyone thinks like I do – and that’s why a degree of intervention and restriction is needed. Maybe if we weren’t all so bothered about it, it wouldn’t be as bad as it is. Unfortunately, some people are provoked by the sight of a burqa, and some criminals have used it to disguise their identity and so laws like this will continue to be passed to appease the majority.

The Troubles, Kashmir and DC

I’d just like to start with an apology for non-political people. Sorry. This is going to get political!

Yesterday, I had a brief discussion about the cause of the Troubles in Ireland with a client. He asked me what it had stemmed from and a bit about my take on it. As far as I can see, English landowners bought up or were given huge tracts of Ireland and some of them treated the Irish worse than slaves. By this, I mean if you own slaves, they are your possessions and it’s good sense to look after them, unless you see them as an expendable labour force – a death from starvation here and there is nothing to you – so you feed them, house them and so on, like you would with working animals (what a terrible image) because it’s in your best interest to do so. With a hired peasant workforce, you have no such obligation. You can pay them terribly, leave them to fend for themselves and know that if they don’t like it, there are millions of others you can employ for a wage that won’t cover the food and lodgings they need. Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay, “A Modest Proposal”, written in 1729, sums up many people’s views of the Irish at the time – and not necessarily satirical views at all! He proposes we eat the children of Irish beggars, “a child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends” and perhaps, most biting of all: “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”

He brings to the forefront that this argument is as much about ‘papists’ as it is about Irish, and that many more children are born nine months after Lent (and as a teacher, I can tell you there are a surprising number of children born in September, 9 months after Christmas revels. So much for planned pregnancies!) He also says it will give the parents a saleable commodity, their ‘corn and cattle’ having already been seized by the landlords. And this is part of the problem to me. Multiply all the Irish resentment by 400 years and is it any wonder we have bombs in Omagh? In fact, English landlords and tenant farming is precisely the problem in Zimbabwe, is it not? Such treatment of the indigenous people where they feel (rightly or wrongly) that their lands have been removed from them by foreign colonists leads to leaders like Mugabe.

So… when David Cameron tells the Pakistani people that Kashmir is partly an English problem, he has a point. I know his critics are saying he shouldn’t apologise for our colonial past, but if we expect the Japanese to apologise for war crimes, shouldn’t we apologise for our crimes against humanity too? And, he has a very valid point.

What’s the problem in Afghanistan? Is it really Bin Laden and the Taliban? The Taliban rise off the back of the Mujaheddin, coming from the battle of a native people trying to defend their country from more powerful allies, be they English, American, Russian or Chinese. Here sits Afghanistan, a pivotal point on the global maps of the past – a cross-roads, a pawn that every major country wanted to control. And here sits Afghanistan in 2011, a wreck because of its unfortunate position and the fierce resistance of the people who want to run it how they want. I’m not going to judge the Taliban because it’s not my place. And neither can I judge British involvement in wars over 200 years in the area. But both are facts. The Taliban exist. And Britain used Afghanistan as a pawn against many things: the Iron Curtain, Chinese expansion, Russian expansion, control in the Opium Wars…

What’s the problem in Iraq and Libya and Egypt and Yemen? Western and European involvement in politics that are nothing to do with us because we’ve got a vested interest politically in whatever is produced in that area, or in keeping them ‘on side’ in wars against other nations? It’s not that simple, of course. As my A level English teacher said, I have a tendency to make sweeping generalisations. But I’m a fan of ‘the bottom line’. Ignore all the other little by-products and we have many countries who have reared up against the Empire and pitted us as Darth Vader against their freedom-fighting Luke Skywalkers. America was no different.

And England aren’t alone. France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Spain, Portugal – even Russia and China – we all have our roles in colonising countries who had very little say in the matter, and we all had problems at home that maybe we should have dealt with first. Riddled with moral issues of our own, we gallantly went around the emerging continents  – Africa, the Americas, Australia, Oceania, Asia, colonising everything we can get our grubby little hands on.

And when we’re not colonising, we’re cutting up countries to apportion. Israel, India, Kashmir… some noble British or American cartographer comes along, draws an arbitrary line down a map and it’s settled. Pakistan and India. African nations (check out anywhere there’s a neat line on a map and you can see the work of sweaty little cartographers of the past cutting up countries like cake) Yes, I know there’s more to it than that, but when you get down to it, that’s essentially what happened.

This is why Heart of Darkness is a great novel, and even its progeny, Apocalypse Now. It raises the problems of colonisation – that you do it for perhaps noble reasons, or perhaps just a smash-and-grab for whatever resources lie untapped – but whatever noble reasons you might do it for are lost in the fact that what you are doing is essentially raping and pillaging with violence and menaces.

And no, the Romans, the Vikings – they were little better. Maybe someone should resurrect Caesar and Alexander to apologise for riding rough-shod over Europe, North Africa and the Near East?

So… as for David Cameron’s comments – no, they’re not out of place. He’s right to accept some responsibility and face up to our ignoble past. However, we aren’t alone. Most of our countries, our home nations, have done atrocious things in forming the boundaries that exist today. Indigenous people’s rights have been stamped on and thwarted. Countries have been torn apart and stitched back together in arbitrary fashions. Borders have been drawn where none should exist. None of our nations are above taking a little responsibility that somewhere along the lines we’ve violated someone else’s rights. And if we all start apologising, it’ll take a long time before the global hand-wringing is all over. Maybe we should have a global amnesty on responsibility for the past and look forward to finding real solutions that come without riots, without wars, without extremist governments, without meddling rooted in preserving the resource connections we seek to pillage, without little short French dudes getting out their planes to sort out North Africa to – some would cynically say – ensure an election victory as Thatcher did with the Falklands.

And so, Marlow was right when he said:

“They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force– nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind–as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea–something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”

Kurtz – played of course by Brando – embodies the nobility at first of that idea – to civilise, to bring order, to bring humanity. Do any of us English doubt what the Romans did for us? Not if we’ve seen The Life of Brian… but I can’t say there is a solution to Kashmir, to Afghanistan, to Zimbabwe, to Israel unless we can all agree to stop meddling and getting involved in other people’s politics for whatever reason, be it humanitarian or a desire to protect a resource we esteem. And that in itself brings many other problems as we then have to allow the real citizens to form a government that works for them. That can be bloody, violent and horrific – and then we feel we want to intervene as some kind of global referee.

It’s no wonder political actions are so problematic. But, for me… it’s a good thing that DC has done. It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it acceptable. It doesn’t solve anything to apologise for the past. But when we accept our mistakes of the past, maybe it’ll make us think twice about making them in the future. And, like parents who’ve made mistakes themselves, you have to let your children make their own mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s the only way we learn, as people individually, or as a collective of nations.

American diplomats… bunch of bitchy little girls

I try not to get involved in politics these days. It boils my blood. A friend of mine yesterday pointed out that the news often makes her cry. It does me too. I was chatting yesterday with a French friend about wikileaks, and when I said we old Europeans tend to be cynical about politics, he said ‘no, we’re realists’. Perhaps he’s right, but I for one am very cynical. I wish I could trust a single elected government official. You know my thoughts on this already.

However, I’m actually quite amused by the Wikileaks scandal. Firstly, I don’t believe anything has been revealed that someone with any political understanding didn’t know already. North Korea being a ‘spoilt child’? Only yesterday, I said China would never stomach a war with America using Korea as a pawn. Russia too. Cold war/Asia/East fighting battles on chessboards with pawn nations against Europe/the New World/West hopefully went out of the window with Vietnam and Afghanistan and so on. The pawns fought back with weapons we provided for them and decapitated all the black and white Kings and Queens. So is it any surprise to anyone in the world that China would prefer diplomacy to war? Not at all. Is it any surprise that Washington (I use this term to mean politicians, rather than the American public!) would rather bomb the shit out of them, having failed to learn a lesson in 1953? Not really.

Obama regards (present tense??) David Cameron as a lightweight? Well, didn’t England?? Two thirds of the country didn’t vote Conservative. That’s a lot of people who didn’t believe in him either. Maybe still don’t. To be honest, as a probably slightly central thinker (belief about free education and hospitals weighed out by a right-thinking capitalist approach) I like his fairness. But in my opinion, he’s a bit like that shiny-faced, slightly-plump goodie-two-shoes kid who always had his shirt tucked in and his tie done up properly who’d say ‘Miss… such-and-such has been doing this when you were writing on the board.’ I’m thinking Martin from The Simpsons. Lightweight, probably. He’s not a political heavyweight like Tebbit or Thatcher and so on, but is that a bad thing?

The US has been bombing Yemeni Al-Quaeda camps? Quelle surprise! Yemeni officials have been saying they’ve been doing it?? Yeah right. I’m pretty sure when you look at what’s happened there, you know the US have something to do with it. If I were Al-Quaeda, I wouldn’t look at the damage and think for one single minute that Yemeni troops had done this. Not to mention the fact that most governments are about as watertight as a sieve. I’m quite sure Bin Laden could work out this for himself.

Hillary Clinton has been spying on the UN. Isn’t that kind of her job?? If she doesn’t know what the hell’s going on everywhere, I’d be pretty worried!

My favourite stories are the Prince Andrew ones. Firstly, I kind of like that he’s actually doing something. You have this vague understanding that the royal family are out there ‘doing stuff’, but I’m pleased to hear he’s actually trying to do something useful. I did say trying. Secondly, I like that he is a ‘neuralgic patriot’. If anyone is a neuralgic patriot, I’d hope it was the Royal Family. I’d be pissed off if he’d been calling England names!! I like that he said Americans don’t know geography. I know it’s a very, very sweeping generalisation, but Sarah Palin? Come on. Fess up, America. You’ve got people who like Palin, who voted for her. This worries us. There are four US states where it is ILLEGAL to teach anything other than creationism as the theory of how the world was created, thus making it not so much theory as four states’ ‘fact’ that this happened. In a supposedly secular nation! Four states!! And I like the fact he said ‘English geography teachers are the best in the world.’

Obviously, he’s not met MY geography teacher, Mr Mulroy, who was responsible for losing my GCSE folder and getting me a D. My only D. He talked more about a fireball his grandmother had seen and less about favelas and shanty towns. However, I like that Prince Andrew said our Geography teachers are the best in the world, even if he was exaggerating. Honestly, he sounded like he really believed it. Why’s that a bad thing? I want my Royal representatives to believe, without doubt, that British stuff is best. Apparently, the American ambassador, ‘who speaks 6 languages’, was not impressed by Andrew’s intelligence (or lack of) – did she NOT know Andrew AT ALL before she went to the meeting??! Everybody knows a) Prince Charles is a green-alliance soft-touch who talks to plants b)Andrew is a Hooray Henry of Prince Harry standards c)Edward is probably a bit gay and d) Anne likes horses and swears a bit and is probably a bit like Princess Margaret was. And she was an old lush. Maybe I should be the American Ambassador. I wouldn’t be surprised by Andrew’s lack of finesse or brains. So he’s more like Phillip, who we all know to be a bit of a ‘foot-in-mouth’ pensioner. Is this news to anyone??! Even the pro-monarchy (well, pro-Diana) Daily Express knows these so-called secrets.

US ambassadors think Berlusconi is ‘feckless, vain and ineffective’? Honestly, that’s quite diplomatic. I’d have said a second-rate mafiosi one step down from Mussolini, myself. Some say hanging round with 16 year old Moroccans is a ‘playboy lifestyle’ – I say it’s one year older than paedophilia. Just to point out, the guy is 74. He has hair plugs and bad Just for Men hair dye. Vain?! That’s putting it mildly. This is the man who said Obama was ‘more tinted’ than the last one… feckless? I’d say a rude racist, myself. Accusations of money laundering, corruption and lying – none of which stick because everybody knows he’s got so many people in his pockets. I’d personally have gone for ‘wannabe gangsta-cum-mafiosi-paedophile’ and it’d have been much more accurate. Allegedly. For a man who controls the media in Italy, he’s not very media-savvy. I personally like his justification of ‘it’s better to like beautiful young girls than to be gay’. This is the Italian Prime Minister, people.

Putin is an alpha-dog? Anything we didn’t know?! He’s risen up through the ranks and turned the country around from a corrupt oligarchy to a financially and politically stable place. You don’t do that if you haven’t got a killer mentality and brute force behind you. Human rights not really a strong point, nor Chechnya, but he’s got KGB connections coming out of his eyeballs. This is a man who probably knows YOUR secrets. Let’s not forget, we might have got Gorbachev and Glasnost but then we had the pisshead Yeltsin.

China hacked Google. Really?! As Jake would say, in his uber-sarcastic tones. So, a technologically savvy nation (who invented the world’s first eggless egg) hacked an organisation it was threatened by? Hmmm. There’s a surprise. I’d have been more worried if they hadn’t tried to see what was afoot at Google. I’m not at all anti-Google, having been one of the first googlers back in the day when Ask Jeeves was still popular, but it doesn’t do well for corporations to get involved in politics. China have hacked into other stuff? I’m not surprised. I’d be more surprised if they weren’t spying on everything.

Afghanistan is still corrupt?! Oh My Word!! So one of the world’ major political hotspots has failed to be sorted out in five years, despite a centuries-old mess left by East and West. I like the fact the Afghan VP had $52, 000, 000 on him. Where do you keep that kind of money?!

The CIA have made a boo-boo and arrested (and probably tortured) the wrong person and asked Germany not to prosecute them for their error. I’m saying nothing. But shit like this happens all the time. England were no better with suspected IRA terrorists. We don’t have to look back very far to realise we’ve made similar errors as a country. So who gets to cast the first stone?

On The Daily Beast, the first comment ‘I wish I could say I’m surprised’ sums it up for me. Steve kind of said it all this morning when he said ‘there’s a difference between suspecting and knowing’, which is true, but it still makes me laugh. If any one of these people, organisations or countries didn’t know precisely what was going on, they’re not very good at politics!!

It reminds me a little of someone finding a popular schoolgirl’s diary (the Burn Book, I guess, from Mean Girls) and sharing it around. Nobody is surprised to find their names in it. Nobody is surprised to realise what the other one thinks of them. Still, it creates a scandal because everyone’s upset that the diary is out there. If America is Regina, England must be Gretchen or Karen – are we an insecure rich girl or sweet but dimwitted?? Rumours, gossip and bitchiness. The Burn Book is Uber-Bitch Regina’s secret diary of scandal, gossip and meanness, not unlike some of these wikileaks documents. The school (perhaps in this case, the UN) make everyone fess up and apologise. Maybe that’s what should happen here.

Berlusconi: I’m sorry I said paedophilia is better than homosexuality

Homosexuals: We’re sorry we said you looked like a leather-back turtle

Berlusconi: I’m sorry I said Obama was tinted

Obama: I’m sorry we said you were vain and feckless. We know how sensitive you are about your hair plugs.

Saudi Arabia: I’m sorry we said you should bomb Iran. We’re just mad because they get so much press attention

Iran: we’re sorry we have such a terrible human rights record. We love all of you really.

China: Sorry, Google. I know we should be best friends, what with China having such a high proportion of the internet, but we can’t have you taking over

Google: Sorry, China. We know how sensitive you are about what your people can do. We shouldn’t have interfered in your politics, dude.

US Ambassador: Sorry, Andrew – I didn’t mean to say you were stupid.

Andrew: That’s okay. I forgive you. I shouldn’t have been so nasty about France. Forgive me, France. And so I like Britain? So sue me!

France: Hmmm. Okay, but America, you owe us a big apology for saying we’re thin skinned.

America: we’re sorry; we’re just pissed off you didn’t support us over Iraq

France: I know, but we felt strong-armed, and you need to admit it was a criminal action

America: yeah, we know. Sorry, Iraq. We didn’t mean to say you had WMD… it just got so out of hand. If you’d just have sold us oil at a sensible price…

Iraq: well, what’s done is done. Saddam’s dead now. Maybe you could help us rebuild the cradle of civilisation?

America: fair enough.

ad infinitum