Thursday, 24 August 2017

Room 101

I hold myself account to a rule of being only positive online, but I'm going to allow myself one post on here which is slightly more negative.

Recently, I've caught a few episodes of Room 101 and it got me thinking what I'd banish to Room 101 if I had the chance.  Picking things such as "poverty" or "war" would be very worthy but would frankly say very little about me and given that this is all but artifice, there seems like utility in picking things so important.

So forgive me a little indulgence , and here are the ten things I'd banish to Room 101 and remove from the world if I could.

1. People who get in the way

Maybe this particular choice is what inspired the whole post, as I did get inwardly quite wound up by a woman in Boots last night who was aimlessly wandering the aisles wearing a a large backpack, wearing headphones and eating a banana oblivious to all the people she was blocking from walking past.

But it's not just in Boots; pretty much everywhere will people think nothing of stopping immediately atop an escalator to "have a bit of a think about which direction to go" or choose the most obstructive place possible in the supermarket to gather with their trolleys and "have a bit of a chat".

...or my particular pet hate - groups of people who walk as many a breast as will fill the pavement and either walk slowly meaning you want to overtake but can't or walk towards you in the same manner leaving you nowhere to go.

I get it that some people walk more slowly than others, or sometimes people want to stop and have a chat but it wouldn't hurt to think twice about whether you're in the way before doing it, surely?

2. Blokey racism 

One of the most pernicious things to arise in the past few years has been the idea of the "blokey racist".   Racism has always been around, and perhaps it always will be. All sorts of bigotry have long been dismissed as "just a bit of banter" but recently, there's been the idea that it's OK for politicians and the media to say racist things because "they're only saying what everyone is thinking".

The worst proponent of this, and a person I individually blame for much of the rise of this evil trend is Nigel Farage.  He says racist things on a regular basis; there's no doubt in my mind that he is xenophobic and racist and yet we're supposed to think it's a OK because he does it whilst smoking a fag and drinking a pint.

Differences in political opinion are what drive debate, and debate can drive progress, so I'm all for giving a platform to people with whose views I disagree.
However, there's a line beyond which an expressed view is not longer valid political debate and is simply offensive rhetoric.  Thanks to the things he says, and how he expresses them, Nigel Farage should be banished from our media and ignored, and yet somehow he seems to have become the jolly smiling face of racism and appears on TV and in the media more often than people who could actually make a decent contribution to society.

There was even talk of him being rumoured to do Strictly this year, and nowhere did I see anyone saying "hang on, but isn't he that notorious xenophobe?". So let's stop pretending that racism is a valid political viewpoint and call it what it is.  And let's stop giving racists a platform.

3. Men wearing slip on shoes with tassels on them

Come on.  It's just ridiculous.  Stop it.

4. Dan Brown books


I used to say I had nothing against Dan Brown personally; I used to say I just didn't like his books.  ]
They are unmitigated rubbish and if they didn't exist then all the minutes people spend reading them could instead by spent reading something with some merit.

And then I learned the awful truth.  Dan Brown thinks his books are good.

I was reading about him one day online (don't ask why) and came across an interview in which he said - paraphrasing - that people dislike him because they don't understand what he's doing in his books.

At that point, my dislike of the books spread slightly to become a distaste for him, too.  I felt slightly insulted that he was suggesting that my dislike of his books was because I didn't understand what he's doing.

I understand exactly what he's doing.  He's taking badly-formed characters and paper thin plot lines and milking it for as much money as he can - and that's quite a lot by all counts.  I don't begrudge that of anyone, I just wish he were a little more honest in admitting that's what he's doing.

5. My PE teachers at school


A great teacher can set you up for life.  I attribute my love of maths and science to some great teachers at secondary school, and my love of reading to a particular English teacher who I can remember specifically taught me how to look for subtext and how to interpret words.  I can remember that the feeling of having my eyes opened to books in a way they'd never been before and how suddenly reading became so much more pleasurable than I'd ever previously experienced.

And then at the other end of the scale were the PE teachers.  I was not a fit and active kid.  I was ungainly and uncoordinated.  I remember once being paired in piggy-back races with another kid of similar (large) size. Not having the strength to carry him, we collapsed on the floor and I quite badly hurt my toe.

I was left in no doubt by the PE teachers that I was to blame for that.  They even wrote to my parents to say so.

And so it carried on. The teachers played a part in battering every ounce of physical confidence out of me as much as the rest of the class.  Whenever there was a new complicated move to be demonstrated in the gym, they would always ask me to do it.

Why wouldn't they?  It kept all the sporty kids in the rugby team amused, and they mattered more than I did, obviously.

And so over time, I withdrew from PE at school.  The discomfort of having to put myself through that torture was starting to affect everything else I was doing at school, and the fact I was taken out of PE seemed to make me even more of a target for the teachers' jokes.

If I had to walk back through the events in my life which contributed to just how insecure I feel about my body and my fitness, an unmissable staging post would be the time I had what little confidence I had deliberately deflated.  I'd just done a cross country run and not come last.  I crossed the like actually a little pleased with myself.  The comforting words of encouragement from the head of PE as I walked past him just beyond the line were simply to tell me I could really do with a sports bra.

If I could remove those PE teachers from my life and replace them with teachers as supportive and engaged as the English teacher was, I'd be fitter, healthier and ultimately happier than I am today.

6. Fragrance adverts on the TV

Fragrances are an odd product.  Unlike something you can see, or something you can hear, it's not particularly easy to demonstrate on TV.  The only way to demonstrate the problem is to have those ladies who stand around at the front of department stores squirting fragrance onto anyone who doesn't perform an evasive manoeuvre quickly enough when trying to dash from the door to the lift to get up to the home furnishings floor.

And so anyway, on TV, fragrances are demonstrated by trying to imagine an environment or lifestyle which is likely to appeal to us, and suggesting that in some way it's redolent of the fragrance.  Usually the scenarios played out involve attractive people with some flimsy excuse why they don't have many clothes on.  Quite often they're in water, or flailing around on a bed, but in some cases - the one where the guy sits in the chair wearing nothing but a cup of tea springs to mind - people just take their clothes off for no good reason.

I guess ultimately they're trying to say "if you make yourself smell nice, then you may have more sex" but they can't say that because it's probably not true and certainly not provable so instead they just fling toned naked people around the screen in the hope that we pop to Boots and spend fifty quid on a bottle of smelly stuff.

7.  Boxing

I am not a great fan of sport in general, but some people are and that's grand.  Largely sport is just about running around and either jumping, kicking or throwing things skillfully.  I takes a lot of dedication and determination to get to the top in any sport.  But all those sports are pretty harmless.  There may be the odd sprain or strain on the way, but nobody tends to die in the course of it.

But boxing isn't harmless.  Boxing is about hitting someone hard enough that they become too physically injured to continue.  You can argue that there's a lot of skill and artistry involved, and I don't deny that.  But would we consider taking all that armour off people doing fencing and giving them really sharp swords and telling them to hack enough off each other until one person has to stop.

Of course we wouldn't.
That'd be barbaric, regardless of the swordsmanship involved.

8. Time


Not all time, obviously, as that wouldn't leave us with much - but I'd quite like to remove some bits of time.

Today I had braces fitted, and I'm only a few hours into wearing them and already thinking "is it nearly done yet?" when in reality I'm going to have the bloody things on my teeth for at least two years.

Wouldn't it be great if I could press a big "fast forward" button and just do the fun stuff for the next two years.  I don't mind two years of dinner parties, time with friends and holidays but I don't really want to have to have two years worth of ironing with the braces on.

Of course, the braces would still need the time to do their work, so maybe it's me who's being removed from time in this case rather than the other way around.  Where's a physicist when you need one..?

9. Small talk


When I'm in a shop and I'm trying to buy a bread roll or a potato peeler I'm quite happy have a bit of a back and forth about the product and exchange the requisite pleases and thankyous as we complete the transaction.

But I have no particular desire to talk about the weather, or the shop next door, or the wedding of the daughter of the person serving me.

It's not that I'm in a particular hurry, I just don't find making small talk with strangers particularly socially comfortable and it feels unnecessary when I'm just buying a cup of coffee.  And believe me, people selling coffee are the worst; especially when they know your name.

10. The year 2016


Brexit.  Bowie dying.  President Trump.  Prince dying.  All those other great people dying.

Can't we just forget it happened, try again and if providence will let us keep Bowie, Prince, Victoria Wood and all the others we'll promise to think more carefully before voting in elections...






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