Sunday, 27 April 2014

Why boredom is no excuse for anti-social behaviour

Photo "borrowed" from Wadebridge police. Please don't arrest me.

A week or two ago, Wadebridge Police shared the above photo on their Facebook page, along with the message that the driver responsible for these tyre tracks had been issued with a "Section 59" warning - ie. a reprimand for anti-social driving.  This covers careless or inconsiderate driving, as well as driving in any kind of manner that may cause distress or alarm to nearby residents.

I'm going to state here and now that I fully support the police in this.  I've been scared witless when driving alone, thanks to idiots who think overtaking on a blind bend is a "cool" thing to do, or who tailgate you when you're travelling at 30mph in a 30mph zone, because they somehow think the speed limit doesn't apply to them.  The comedian Jon Richardson once said that being in a car can make you feel brave, because you're encased in metal and that basically means you're Robocop.  But too many people take that "bravery" to a ridiculous level and forget that a car is a machine capable of great speed and that when they crash, they can cause severe injury and even death.  Or perhaps they don't forget those things and they just enjoy taking risks.  Who knows.  All I know is that people who drive in a deliberately aggressive, careless manner are, in my opinion, total arseholes.

My opinion aside, inevitably people began to comment on the photo once it had been shared on Facebook.  Some praised the police for their actions, others suggested that they should find "better" things to do.  Of course, few things would seem more important to those people, had the driver of the car hit a child, but hey...

Then one comment started to surface over and over.  The same argument, being used as an excuse.  "I bet whoever did this was a kid.  And I bet he was just bored.  There's nothing for kids to do around here, so you can't blame them for kicking off."

Wadebridge: Nothing to do.  Except go to the cinema, or travel to the beach, or play football in the park, or...

Here's the thing: that's bullshit.

Boredom is a horrible thing, I agree.  And I agree that sometimes, being in a small town and feeling as though you have nothing to do can make you angry or fed up and more likely to want to act out.  But it's not an excuse for doing so.  Taking it as such is ludicrous.  Would you allow a murderer to stand in court and say "sorry I killed that pensioner your honour, but I was bored"?  Of course not.

The Manic Street Preachers are famously from a small town in South Wales where, by their own admission, there was nothing to do.  So they read books, watched films and, in their own words, "stayed in and dealt with the boredom."  Eventually, they decided to learn instruments and form a band.  The rest is history.

The fact is, whilst feeling bored out of your brain is lousy, it can pave the way for things.  When I was bored as a teenager (before I could drive and get out for the day), I'd write stories.  Some people choose to paint or draw.  Others might take up sport; going for a run is a known way of getting the adrenaline pumping and ceasing that feeling of dullness that we all get from time to time.  We can read a book or a magazine.  We can go for a walk or arrange to meet our friends.  We can mess about in the kitchen, cooking something from scratch.  We can find something  - anything - to pass the time, without resorting to dangerous driving or other forms of anti-social behaviour.  

To suggest that people are almost forced into criminal activity through boredom is to entirely ignore their potential for creativity and imagination.  To use boredom as an excuse for anti-social behaviour does nothing but take responsibility away from a person and that's ridiculous; we must all take ownership of our actions and face the consequences that they may bring.

My opinions on this haven't always made me popular.  Saying that boredom is a lousy excuse for anti social behaviour causes some people to suggest that I've not checked my privilege.  My answer to that is that you don't have to be privileged to see know that petty vandalism isn't nice and will more than likely end you up in trouble.  You don't have to be well educated to realise that deliberately driving at high-speed, zig-zagging across the road in a built up area with a speed limit of 30mph is dangerous and illegal.  You don't have to be rich to know that going for a walk with your mates might be better than staying indoors and cyberbulling someone online.  Boredom sucks and the frustration that a lack of money or ideas creates can make you want to rail against the injustice of it all (believe me, I know from experience of being a totally broke, deeply hormonal teen, living at one point on an RAF base with just one shop and literally nothing to do and nowhere to go because there were barely any buses out), but it doesn't excuse any of those things.  That's what I'm saying; not that boredom isn't lousy and frustrating, but that it shouldn't be used as an excuse for crime or anti-social behaviour.  We all feel bored from time to time.  How we choose to deal with that boredom is up to us.

For what it's worth, I think more money should be put into services for young people.  A decent youth club, an Am Dram group, a cafe/meeting place aimed at younger members of society...  All those things would be welcomed and would make a difference to the lives of young residents of small towns across the UK.  We need to listen to younger people and ask what they want and how they'd like to be spending their free time.  We need to encourage them to use their creativity and skills and we need to show them that they are all valued members of society; too often young people are discriminated against because of a minority that do commit anti-social acts.  We should never tar an entire group of people with one brush.  People come from all walks of life and they should be listened to and appreciated equally.

Shows like Educating Yorkshire prove just how important it is to remind the younger members of society that they can achieve whatever they want to and they can be whatever they choose.  Let's give them those positive messages, rather than lumping them all in with negative press.  These could be the teachers, doctors, actors, musicians, mothers and fathers of the future, after all.  Let's not insult them by suggesting that they can't help but commit crime because they're bored.

When a person commits a crime - petty or otherwise - there could be a dozen reasons for it and we should listen to those reasons, because doing so may help prevent further crimes in the future.  But having nothing to do doesn't make it okay to rob an old lady, or steal a car.  It wouldn't stand up in a court of law, would it?  Boredom isn't an excuse for anti-social behaviour and frankly, I'm bored of it being used as one. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

REAL Women Don't Tell Others What REAL Women Are.

Citizens of Internet Land,  I have a problem.  Well, actually, I have several: My hair rarely behaves and I'm not married to Matt Smith, to name but two.  But currently, I have a problem with pictures like these:

Here's the thing.  I'm a UK size 10.  I have curvy hips, wobbly thighs and, frankly, something of a pot belly at times. Being only five feet tall means that any excess weight I gain is noticeable pretty quickly and I won't lie; I've struggled with my body image.  That's in no small part due to walking past shops with magazines filled with pictures of celebrities no bigger than I am, with captions like: "Celebrity's shocking weight gain" and "Supermodel displays not-so-super cellulite."  These women, some of whose bodies are not that dissimilar to mine, are then subjected to the "red circle of doom," highlighting their physical flaws.  It's humiliating and it's depressing.  Why?  Because that person is more than just a body.  She's a woman with feelings, ideas and aspirations and who are we to reduce her to nothing more than her looks?  Not only is it depressing for the person in question to be so publicly criticised for the most trivial of reasons, but it's dangerous, too.  Young girls read glossy magazines.  There's already far too much pressure on youngsters to look a certain way in order to feel that they fit in.  I went through a phase when I was in my late teens where I would barely eat a full meal because I was so convinced I'd be fat and disgusting if I did.  I got over it, thankfully and now I'm back to my usual, greedy self, but too many girls don't.

So, you'd think that perhaps, given all of that, I might approve of the "real women have curves" movement and the "motivational" (if it's possible to type a word with sarcasm, I just did) images popping up online, telling us that real women are curvy, rather than all skin and bones.

I don't.

The implication in those images is one I'm uncomfortable with.  It suggests that a thin woman - a girl who perhaps has a flatter chest than others - is somehow not real.  It also subtly tells us that there is a specific way that we're supposed to look, in order for us to be considered attractive.  How is that any better than what the magazines are doing?  The fact is, it isn't any better.  It's no healthier for a naturally slim girl with a slightly boyish figure to be desperately munching on crisps in order to try to make herself curvy than it is for a curvier girl to be starving herself in order to be thin.

Here's a question:  Do you identify as female?  If the answer to that is yes, then congratulations!  You're a woman.  Your body shape has utterly no bearing on that, whatsoever.  I could go up or down a dress size and I'd still be just as much of a real woman as I am now.

Most of my curves are doughnut-related.  Go to Prague, everyone; they have doughnuts as big as your HEAD.

There is, of course, something to be said for encouraging healthy attitudes to our body shape.  It's right that we try to encourage young girls to look after their bodies by eating relatively healthily and being active (yeah, I know - the irony of me saying that after posting a photo of myself with a MASSIVE doughnut is not lost on me).  But it's also vital that we teach them to love themselves.  AS THEY ARE. 

It's time we stopped judging others for not fitting into some warped societal idea of what a woman should look like.  It's time to stop suggesting that a girl won't find herself a partner if she's too skinny, because "real men like curves" one minute, then making her paranoid by telling her that "men don't like fat girls" the next!  Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. 

So do women.

Friday, 11 April 2014

In Praise of My New Tattoo

I have a Doctor Who tattoo now.  Doctor Who tattoos are cool.

Today I went and had a new tattoo done.  For a while, I've wanted a quote from Doctor Who inked somewhere about my person, but I hadn't entirely settled on what or where until I happened upon this one.  It's taken from Matt Smith's 11th Doctor's quote:

"I am and always will be the optimist,
The hoper of far-flung hopes
And the dreamer of improbable dreams."

There are several reasons why this is the perfect Who quote for me, but it can mainly be whittled down to this one: I'm not afraid to dream big.  I'm often found daydreaming about something or other and when I have a dream or a goal that I'm passionate about, I reach for it, however barmy others might think I am for doing so.  I guess that's a quality I share with the Doctor and it's something I'm quite proud of.

And of course, it's a Matt Smith quote, for goodness sake.  My Doctor.

Hello, sweetie...

I'm absolutely thrilled to bits with my tattoo; it says something that is important to me, whilst also referencing my favourite show - a show which continues to astound and delight me, years after becoming the fan I am now.  The tattoo is also beautifully delicate and feminine - I especially love the shooting star!

So I'm using my blog to give a big shout-out to Chaos Custom Tattoos in Wadebridge.  It's a fabulous place and I can't thank Lorraine enough for my gorgeous artwork.  Not only did she create this tattoo, but she designed the Manics one on my back as well, which I also absolutely adore.  Both are original pieces that had talent and care poured into them and as a result, I am thrilled with how they look.  If you're in Cornwall (or fancy a trip down!) and you're after a new tattoo, I really cannot recommend Chaos highly enough.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Why The Voice & The X Factor are NOT Responsible for "The Death of Music."

Pictured: My favourite band.  Partly for reference.  Partly because... I just wanted them there.

Last night saw Jermaine Jackman win the third series of The Voice UK.  Millions watched his emotional rendition of And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going as the tears streamed down his face, moments after his name was announced.  And whilst those who watched and enjoyed the series were cheering (or debating whether their favourite act should have won instead), hundreds, if not thousands of angry people were bashing away at their computer keyboards, insisting that shows like The Voice are killing music.

Now, I'm not going to lie to you.  Whilst I really enjoy The Voice, conversely I hate The X Factor.  And it wasn't all that many years ago that I would have been one of the people ranting about how its dominance really is killing music.  But then I matured - because yes, I believe that the "TV singing competitions are killing music" argument is an immature one - and I came to realise that music is still very much alive.  And the only people capable of truly killing it?  Is us.

Hear me out on this.  Yes, I know how insanely irritating it is that we've reached a point where having the latest X Factor winner bag the Christmas number one spot is almost inevitable.  And yes, I see that the largely bland cover versions they churn out as their debut singles aren't exactly inspiring.  But I also see the kids watching those shows from a young age and developing an interest in music.

Taste in music, to borrow a Doctor Who-ism, is not something that necessarily travels in a straight line.  It's a ball of wibbly wobbly, music-y wusic-y... Stuff.  Take me, for example...

That is me, wearing the uniform of the obsessive Manics fan...  The hippo is optional.

I was about to say that my music taste has its roots in late 80's and 90's pop, specifically boybands.  However, that's not entirely true.  Whilst the first music I "discovered" for myself were the likes of Take That (okay, they were hugely famous, so it wasn't hard to "find" them), the first music I loved was the stuff I had grown up listening to as a very young child.  To put it another way:  It was the music my parents listened to.  Consequently, I loved Abba, The Beatles, Elvis, The Carpenters and Queen long before I was into anything else.  Then I got into 90's pop - probably because I became a teenager in the 90's - followed by Britpop, followed by the Manics and various other guitar-based bands.  I also love a lot of classical music.  In fact, when it comes to music, I'll give most genres a try, even if I don't end up liking them much (with the exception of most modern club/dance music - to HELL with that noise).  What I'm trying to say is just because it could be argued that I spent a lot of my adolescence listening to generic pop music made by manufactured bands, it doesn't mean I was then tied to only listen to that for the rest of my life.  The same goes for the youngsters watching The X Factor and The Voice; they may hear a song covered by a competitor on either show and like it.  Since we live in a much more digitally advanced age than when I was growing up, they may instantly google the lyrics to see who sang the original.  It might get them interested in a genre - Motown or soul, for argument's sake - that they had never even heard of before.  And that is definitely not a bad thing.  That marks the regeneration of music, rather than the death of it.  After all, those kids could well be the artists of the future.

Still, it's not the idea of formulaic pop being pumped into our youngsters' ears that bothers most people.  It's the thought that singles from X Factor competitors dominate our charts - from One Direction to Olly Murrs, it's hard to find a weekly singles or album chart that doesn't feature someone connected to the show.  And if they're selling thousands of copies of their music, what's happening to independent bands and artists?

Well yes, they might be struggling more to gain recognition and radio play, what with so many of Simon Cowell's protegees taking up the airwaves and getting all the sales.  And that's undoubtedly a bad thing.  But their music isn't dead.  New bands are out there, playing little pubs and clubs, doing all they can to be "discovered," just as they always have been.  They're on the road, supporting more established bands and artists.  They're recording videos and putting them up on YouTube.  They're giving away free downloads on their websites; the digital age is, if anything, making it somewhat easier for new bands and artists to make themselves heard, in spite of the reality TV juggernaut.

And that's where we come in.  You see, if you're vehemently against reality music shows and you don't see the artists they produce as making real music, then you've got to support the artists that do.  You need to be at those pubs and clubs, supporting your local, unsigned bands.  You need to be buying albums and encouraging your friends to do the same.  You need to be supporting independent radio stations, who champion music that the mainstream so often miss.  

Reality TV caters to a certain genre of music.  You'd never discover a new Manic Street Preachers on The X Factor.  It's mainstream music for the masses and yes, I get frustrated at times, seeing how low risk it all is.  How generic.  But it's not the only music that's out there and believe me; it won't be the only music that the kids who consume anything that falls from the Simon Cowell production line will end up listening to and enjoying in their lifetimes, even if it feels like it is.  All shows like The X Factor and The Voice are doing is providing the kind of music that a vast majority of people want to listen to.  They're not challenging their audience or giving them anything new, but then their audiences aren't really asking them to.  And whilst critics of the shows may not agree with me, I think it's fair to say that - whether you like the music they sing or not - both TV programmes have discovered people with genuine singing talent, who may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Reality TV isn't responsible for the death of music.  Music is alive.  We just have to encourage people to look for it in more than one place.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Finding The Balance Between Freedom of Speech and Respecting The Feelings of Others

Let me get one thing straight before we start this...  I am pro free speech.  I believe that we all have a right to be heard, no matter what we're about to say.  I think that the freedom to express ourselves is important and it should be a human right, not a privilege only bestowed upon the lucky.  


...In recent weeks, I've seen more and more evidence of people using their "right to offend" thanks to free speech.  And guess what?  It offends me.

None of us want to live in a Nanny State, in which we're so politically correct that we feel the need to censor our every sentence, lest we anger or upset anyone.  To be forced to live like that would be restrictive and an attack on not only freedom of speech, but the art of debate.  Indeed, those of us lucky enough to live in a country where freedom of speech is a right given to all should exercise that right whenever we choose; there's nothing inherently wrong in doing so.

But what I personally believe is wrong, is when people stubbornly cry "free speech" whenever their words are criticised.  Because, as I've mentioned before on this very blog, self-analysis is key to being a functioning adult in society and frankly, if we're unable to look beyond our own words and actions to see how they might affect others, well that's a sign of arrogance, with a side order of immaturity thrown in for good measure.

Yesterday, a friend posted something on Facebook, asking those who might be thinking of making a fake pregnancy announcement as an April Fool's joke to consider how the "joke" might be taken by anyone who is struggling to conceive or who has lost a baby.  It's a subject close to my heart at the moment, seeing as I'm 31 and single and really rather devastated at the idea that my chance for motherhood might never arrive.  I knew I wouldn't find it funny if someone flippantly declared that they were going to have the one thing I desperately want, only to reveal it was a joke.  But that's not the issue, here...  One of this person's Facebook friends then commented, implying that their freedom to make jokes was being impeded.  They went on to suggest that we should be able to make "rape jokes" and "black jokes."  Later, when I shared the same picture, one of my friends played the "freedom of speech" card too, quoting Stephen Fry's "I am offended by that," Well so fucking what" line.

Now, I respect Stephen Fry enormously.  But I can't tell you how much the "so fucking what" quote pisses me off.  Still, I'm going to try...

You see, the thing about saying "so fucking what" is it instantly suggests that you don't care.  And that's fine on one hand; we're not legally obligated to give a damn about anyone else's feelings, particularly if we believe the person to be upset over something trivial.  But on the other hand, just because we don't share a person's feelings, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to understand them.  After all, when we are upset by something, wouldn't we hope that others might at least try to accept our view, even if they don't share it?

Yes, we live in a world in which certain people will take offense to literally anything.  Those people annoy me as much as they annoy Stephen Fry, believe me.  Like I said, I would hate to live in a world in which we had to censor everything we said, lest we upset anyone.  For a start, in that kind of world, being the gobshite I am, I'd be screwed.  And not in a fun way.

But freedom of speech works both ways.  You can't expect to be able to voice your opinions - however contrary - and never accept anyone's right to respond, even if that response is simply "I find that offensive."  Or, to put it another way, I have just as much right to be offended as I have to offend.

When we put our thoughts out into the world, be it in the form of a real-life conversation, a blog, a joke or a simple comment on Facebook or Twitter, we have every right to put them there.  That's what freedom of speech is.  But when we do so without any thought for how those words might affect the listener/reader, we show a lack of compassion that makes me uncomfortable.  Being free to say anything we like shouldn't mean that we do so without a second thought for anyone else.

Would you do a stand up comedy routine at a women's shelter and perform nothing but jokes about domestic abuse?  I love black humour - it's got me through some seriously lousy times in my life - but I sure as HELL wouldn't do that.

It's about respecting other people's feelings, rather than censorship.  When someone says "actually, I find that upsetting," they're perfectly within their rights to do so.  And if we tut and shake our heads and say "pah, political correctness gone mad; I'm just using my freedom of speech and if you don't like it, so fucking what," we're not respecting that person. 

I would have every right to find a Fifty Shades fan forum and leave endless messages, saying what abuse-glorifying, badly written crap the trilogy is.  But I don't do that, because whilst I passionately believe those things and I am very vocal about it, I also respect people's right not to feel that they're being attacked.  

What I'm saying (in a rambly way, hence the title of my blog!) is that whilst freedom of speech is a beautiful, brilliant thing, so is consideration for others.  So when someone says "actually, I don't find that funny and here's why..." perhaps we should listen to them, instead of rolling our eyes.  And when we choose to exercise our right to free speech, we need to accept that those who take offense to our views have just as much right to exercise theirs.