Is it me? Madonna

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Despite her “fall” from grace last night, Madonna has not really set the world alight since her Music album of 2000. For the last fifteen years we’ve had albums that were mediocre at best and public appearances and videos hat were embarrassing rather than crowning for the “Queen of Pop”.

This is not about her age, it’s about her music. She was a pioneer for female artists with her visual reinvention, great writing and collaborations with interesting and new producers. Now her music is unmemorable and you wouldn’t rush out to buy it anymore. Is it because other artists have claimed her spot? Not particularly there is only Lady Gaga that could fill the space left by Madge, but she instead has made her own impact and stands in her very own position of greatness amongst musicians – anyone who watched her performance at the Oscars will agree with that.

Through the eighties, Madonna produced great pop songs that had a depth and longevity to them – “Like a Prayer” for me is one of the best pop songs ever written and her first Greatest Hits “The Immaculate Collection” is a deserved classic album with sales into the tens of millions worldwide. But “Ray of Light” and “Music” are the only albums that can really be held alongside those early efforts. All her focus has been on the shock and image front rather than making great music.

Does that mean we dismiss her? No, of course not but when you falling off a stage gets you more attention than your latest album or single and you are this Icon, then it says something about your stature in the industry these days. If there were less revelations about her life, religious beliefs, younger boyfriends, her children and publicity stunts we’d have more time for her. She got away with her softcore porn book “Sex” and her varied film appearances because the music was so good – take away that catalogue of achievement and it’s just a rather sad woman doing exercises to dance beats. No one needs to see that.

She will always be one of the greats, but I’d rather she went away and did more interesting music as she did in the early nineties. There she played and experimented with her style, writing and music. She doesn’t need to be the bombastic, explosive and attention grabbing artist – we have Miley for that – we’d rather have the person who wrote the soundtrack to our lives.

JD

No gain, all pain

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Despite what I blog about in terms of my mental health, I’m not used to being ill. I’m not good at it and have little patience for it in myself. Others can be ill and they’ll get support and sympathy whereas I just get angry with myself and my useless body any time I fall ill.

Brain aside I’m reasonably healthy – or I was until lifting boxes into the loft a month ago turned into a trapped nerve by a slipped disc. Now the shooting pains up and down the side of my left leg are causing a lot of pain – even with strong anti-inflammatories to help. I’m hurpling around like Quasimodo or Long John Silver and it’s annoying.

I think I get so annoyed because I was always ill with something or another as a child – colds of phlegmtastic natures, the full set of mumps, measles, German measles and chicken pox, a buggered eye from being hit with a hockey stick and a gammy leg from a cut that needed 15 stitches. – but really in my adult life it’s been major or nothing. Okay Cancer’s a big one, but that and my Bi-polar disorder aside I’ve not bothered the Doctor too much. But that’s changed for two reasons recently – kids!

Ever since they came on the scene I’ve been hit by stomach bugs, vomiting bugs, tonsillitis, flu, constant head colds and other ailments – and while I can’t really blame them for the latest injury and subsequent pain, I can try. I used to have a decent enough natural defense that I’d built up being a teacher. Any educator will tell you the amount of diseases that fly around schools is scary with viruses spreading like wildfire through whole buildings in no time. As a teacher you start to become immune to a lot of it. I must have lost that since I stopped.

Being ill is not something anyone enjoys, but for some reason it makes me really angry and short-tempered. The control freak in me has to concede that there’s little I can do to solve these types of problems. The doctor said that the leg could take months to sort itself once the disc slips back into place releasing the trapped nerve ending. Until then I’ll just keep up the Richard Crookback routine!

JD

Equality or Recognition?

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At last weekend’s Oscars several of the winners used their moment to highlight issues of inequality: Race, Immigration, Equal pay for women, Gay rights, and the Right to be weird. All of which I fully support and most other people will. But there’s a huge catch because recognising the right is not the same as Equality and we need to sort the semantics out.

Look at the Civil rights movement in America. The constant eroding of the black communities to be allowed to vote in elections is a real embarrassment to the US. The suppression of black voters is linked to the tightening of the need for ID to vote. Now you and I in this country, go into our polling station give our details, hand over our voting card and then put a cross in a box. Why are they doing this? To stop voter fraud. The same fraud that doesn’t and hasn’t existed in the US for decades. All it is, is a barrier against immigrants, latinos, black and other minorities to stop them voting as they tend to be more liberal and would likely vote Democrat. Recognition in law? Yes – Equality? No.

Stop and search, shootings of black men, the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of young black men in prisons across the world. And we can’t be smug as our worst performing schools in the UK are the inner city ones with the highest number of young black men. Why is this not at the top of the political agenda? Why do we still point in awe at someone like Tiger Woods just because he happens to be a black man playing a very “white” sport? Why are there still football clubs who think it’s acceptable to travel across the continent and chant about their pride in their racism? If it got them votes then Politicians would be all over this. Why do you think UKIP are succeeding? Because they make these stereotypical images of “johnny foreigner” and the danger he brings forward and warns that the Bogieman will get you. It’s a national and international disgrace.

Equal pay and stature for women in work. Doesn’t exist. Women in the US earn only 77 cents for each dollar a man earns. The UK is better though 80 pence in the pound. The best examples are the four Scandinavian countries, France and Ireland where the figures are mid 80s but still not enough. Again we recognise the rights of women but to actually match that with our money seems beyond developed nations. In this day and age we still lack women in Parliament, as CEOs of Footsie 100 companies as strong role models. No, we’d rather have them with their tits out on the inside page of the best selling newspaper in the country. Why is there still stigma attached to stay at home dads? The women even get the blame for that.

Women are the true powerhouses of the home in the majority of cases yet if they want to use those skills in the workplace they are looked down on, paid less, promoted less and find themselves piled up trying to push through the glass ceiling. “Women can do everything” is the biggest lie we tell ourselves. They can do what they want and as their husbands we should support them and give them the freedom to express themselves as they need to. Equality would be that each household did what was right for them and the government should allow swapping of maternity pay to paternity pay to let stay at home dads the ability to support in the home. It shouldn’t be one or the other.

Gay Rights? Being fought daily across the US to try and counter laws that allow same sex marriage. Mental Health Stigma? Still there, we’re recognised but that’s it. Immigration – political football rather than a serious issue spoken about seriously please without cries of “Racist”.

All of these issues and groups have been recognised. None have truly gained Equality.

JD

 

Broadchurch – Series 2 Review

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Warning – there will be spoilers!

Right, stop your moaning Facebook and Twitter and everyone else, this was the way the second series was set up to go. Gripes about the lack of realism, factual inconsistencies of the court case and it not being as tense as the first series – all wrong in my opinion and here’s why. It’s a Drama, not a documentary.

Chris Chibnall has written two series now about human beings, their relationships and how we can be tested to our limits by the shit that life throws at us. All good drama, be it soap opera or Shakespeare must have great characters at the heart of the story otherwise we can’t route for them and want the good guys to triumph. This series has been about Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan’s performances of a couple and their life after the death of their son. It was raw, tragic and heartbreaking and the combination of performance and script was sublime at times. No it’s not car chases and whodunnits but it’s about the reality of a relationship under the worst stress possible.

The two of them carried this series emotionally, whereas Olivia Colman’s Ellie got stronger as the series went on. Broken from the revelation her husband killed their son’s best friend she took huge strides to pull her family back together and to sort Alec Hardy out too. In the end it was her tenacity that solved the Sandbrook case. The final episode belonged to David Tennant and his rejuvenated Alec Hardy back from having the pacemaker fitted he roared and growled to finish the case that almost finished him. The acting was subtle but powerful and showed just why this show has the dedicated audience it has.

The complaints about things being unrealistic obviously never saw an episode of Morse, Lewis, Eastenders, Midsomer Murders, The Killing, Fortitude, Perry Mason, Corrie, Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Wire in the Blood, Vera and any other show that has had a whodunnit or court case – TV drama uses these situations to drive plots and to open characters. If you want realism get down o your local court and sit and watch the cases there. I’m not tuning in for “realism” because I live that – I sit and watch a show like “Broadchurch” because of the fantasy, the writing and the escapism. Yes it played fast and loose with the format, but so what? I enjoyed it all the same.

Then there are the grumps that have already dismissed the way the series ended and “Won’t be watching another series of this!” We know they couldn’t have killed Joe Miller – as much as we all wanted them to, we know that they would then be as bad as he was. We can’t have characters like Beth and Mark or Ellie and Rev Rory (or whatever his character was called) stooping to his level – and you know what his punishment is classic Shakespeare; exile. More powerful and meaningful than death.

There have been so few new dramas in the last ten years that have been about character driven performances. In the first we saw a tour de force from Olivia Coleman, David Bradley and Jodie Whittaker. In the second Eve Myles, Andrew Buchan, Charlotte Rampling and David Tennant all shone through. Who wouldn’t want another series to see his great cast at full force?

JD

Jihadi Brides – One way ticket

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Four girls from Bethnal Green have travelled to Turkey to cross the border into Syria because they want to be Jihadi Brides. Understandably the families are heartbroken and are calling for the authorities to help them get their children back home.

Sorry, but I think we need to shut the door permanently to anyone going to fight or be any part of ISIS or ISIL.

These are people who believe that the “West” should be attacked,  punished and destroyed under a warped version of Islam. Why the hell would I want people who wanted to do us harm back in our country? No, we must draw a line under these exits permanently otherwise we are putting ourselves at risk.

As a parent I would be in pieces if it were my kid, but it wouldn’t excuse what they were doing. We need to be harsh on anyone who travels to be part of a terrorist group like IS and remove their citizenship – if it’s not a law it should be. People who say that they are only kids and that they are being brainwashed are missing the point that these “kids” will be given guns and weapon to harm people – those boys and girls won’t think twice about doing damage to others.

I know there are those who have come back shocked at their treatment – that what they were promised online and social media was not the reality on the ground. Tough. Why should my taxes be used to protect, transport or search for anyone who actively wants to become a terrorist against us? I know I’m sounding a bit UKIP-py here but I genuinely don’t think we can do anything else. We could end up bringing people back to the UK who still share the terrorists vision and end up with more examples of 7/7.

Just look at all the poor Syrians travelling for hours and days by boat to Italy to escape the violence and pain, these are the people we should look after – the refugees who are fleeing persecution. Or the Coptic Christians that were attacked earlier this week are welcome to seek sanctuary here. Those who want to kill us and our way of life do not.

Immigration is a positive thing. It brings new culture, food, music, traditions and skills to this country, but if you choose to leave it and fight against it then you no longer deserve the right to be a British Citizen.

JD

I’m disabled you know

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I’ve filled in a few forms recently and there is the obligatory question, “Do you consider yourself to have a disability?” and I go to click “No” but then realise that I am classed as having a disability.

“The Equality Act 2010 considers someone to be disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” 

Where’s my blue badge then?

These forms are all about equality and diversity, but you do wonder if they actually mean or do anything at all. Who looks at them? Is there a league table in an office somewhere praying for the black, lesbian in a wheelchair to roll into an interview room so they can strike the jackpot? 

While I fully support the need to ensure everyone is treated equally when it comes to getting a job, there are many things that are becoming less important on that form and others that really need to be moved up the rankings. For example the question “Are you Male or Female” is out of date. Surely the question needs to be something like “Do you live as a Male or Female?” or “Do you see yourself as a male or a female?” With Transgender issues finally being taken seriously we need to address that first important question. 

The question about race is a strange one too – am I British White or Scottish White? Well that’s not a question about ethnicity, it’s a political question. I might be 1/16th Chinese, 1/8th Russian, 1/4 Irish and the rest Brazilian – the only people that might care are the makers of “Who do you think you are” if I ever get asked. And why does my age matter either – if you can’t be biased because of the applicant’s age then why do they need this info at all. Unless they are writing my birthday into their diary so they remember to buy cake…

Then there’s the disability question I started with. It is ludicrous that we put all disabilities in one giant tick box and expect to put a paraplegic and someone who suffers from anxiety in the same category. We need to recognise what support they will need in the workplace instead of companies covering their backs from a legal point of view. Companies continually put their HR staff on courses about all these things and expect them to have a full understanding of what it is like to have disability “x” – that’s nonsense. We can’t expect them to pick it up that simply. 

I’ve been asked a few times by employers “What can we do for you to make it easier or more manageable” with regard to my bi-polar disorder and I always give the same answer “I don’t know.” And there’s the whole issue with having these labels and courses – if the person with the “disability” doesn’t know or understand the implications then a stranger will definitely struggle. It’s not a dig at HR departments, but more a question for our society – what is this urge we have to cleanly box everyone up in categories?

My gender, sexual preference, age, ethnicity and disability are not really that important – my ability to do the job is. While I’m sure some of my friends in HR are probably laughing at my ignorance to the importance of these things I still question the need for pigeon holing people when the whole point of that form is to aid diversity. You don’t improve a human being by fixing it on a spreadsheet and sticking labels on. 

The label only allows me legal protection, but as a human being I should have that anyway – companies should treat their staff with respect regardless of what that sheet of questions shows. I don’t want to appear to be looking down on physically disabled people and not want to be included with them – in fact it’s the exact opposite. I want those who are genuinely stopped from achieving because of their disability to be given the chances the rest of us are. Don’t lump me in with them, they deserve better. 

JD

Skunk – Hip to be Square?

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Home Grown Cannabis plants.

Everyone has their vices – my own is food – but the news that skunk can cause serious mental health issues is not a surprise. This hybrid version of cannabis has been revealed to cause psychosis, paranoia and anxiety – things that can come from using cannabis as well but are more likely with the strong THC levels in skunk.

There is this theory that smoking dope is cool; the often used image of the leaf or a giant blunt will be found on posters in halls of residence up and down the country. But we all know that smoking is not cool unless you are James Dean – the smell alone puts people off. The medical evidence against smoking is overwhelming, but you get the refrain that those smoking joints are more healthy. Bullshit.

I watched someone spiral out of control because they couldn’t cope with the effects of smoking around a dozen spliffs a day. He mixed cannabis with coke and booze later on and eventually his body gave up. It was a sad thing to see someone knowingly make themselves ill, and then to continue against the advice of professionals and friends with a self-destruct button fully pressed. While I know not everyone treats the drug in this way there are several  who do and their behaviour impacts on all those around them.

Many reading this will be thinking that I’m a bore, a square, a dick, but here’s my issue: why smoke skunk when you know it can seriously harm you? “Oh I just have a spliff or two at the weekend” – that could cause mental health issues due to the strength of skunk. I’m all for trying everything once – and yes I’ve tried different types of cannabis over the years – but once you are told the possible outcomes why would you continue? Young disillusioned kids that I taught were doing drugs from S2/3 onwards and it scares me that they are already setting themselves up for a fall later in life.

This isn’t me sitting in an ivory tower as a completely sober – by choice – snob looking down on those who drink, smoke and take drugs, it’s more that I’m worried for people and society. Living with a mental illness is not fun; trust me on that one. The problems it causes in life and the medical necessities are not something I wish others to go through. To doubt your own mind, be “tricked” or confused by it is a scary place to be. The paranoia, anxiety and even schizophrenia it can bring is not something I would wish on anyone.

Smoking cannabis will likely cause mental health issues. So let’s legalize it. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but if it were controlled and tested to make it “safer” when regulated and then spoken about in the same way we openly talk about smoking and drinking then perhaps the knowledge and information people are given will be standardized.  Take away the “cool” image and make it the norm and you won’t change the amount who try or take it, but you might just help people who suffer side effects. Also we could extract the medicinal element that help those with MS and other illnesses if it were widely available to use in labs rather than on licence.

For me there are only negatives with having the drug banned and illegal – make it legal, available, taxed, regulated, safer and understood then perhaps this would help us cut back it’s negative effects as we have done with smoking.

JD