Celebrities, Trade Unions and Christmas

Created 8th November 2009

If the title of this posting reads as a list that lacks a certain creative edge, it's deliberately so. The three issues are hardly related, but have developed their own connections in my mind over the past few days, taking on the usual narrative life of their own that pre-empts a far too occasional blog rant.

An alternative entitled "Don't Watch This At Home" battled its way to the fore once or twice, but the constructive emotional impetus was insufficient. By this I attempt to draw the reader's attention to my acceptance that the postings one can read here are often driven by negative emotional states - depression, anger, frustration, confusion, disappointment and so on - but with the intention of honing in on the positive energies that such emotions can affect.

Thus, the subject matter of puppy mills and Cesar Milan's recently screened episode of The Dog Whisperer highlighting the despicable conditions that dogs endure in these places evoked a despair I can not transform into anything inspirational. I know of animal rights activists who entered the labs of ICI (Dulux) to film dogs being force-fed paint in order to test its toxicity, who were permanently scarred by the requirement to collect evidence and take no direct action. My admiration for them and for the work of Last Chance for Animals is beyond words; the bravery and control they demonstrate through their actions and the animals they save as a consequence is something to be celebrated and recognised.

Cesar's message at the end of the programme was simple: you help animals far more by being rational if you truly want to act in their best interests. Our instincts towards pity and revenge must be controlled. On a more practical level there are two simple things that we, as those who claim to care about dogs, can do:
  1. Don't pity the animal that was abused.
    Helping it to recover requires us to be emotionally strong and reassuring. Pity is the for the past; rehabilitation and recovery looks to the future.
  2. Don't buy puppies that have been bred in puppy mills.
    I'd even go as far as saying don't buy puppies from breeders, although Cesar is more practical in this regard. He knows that people want puppies because they are cute, so his advice is that we do a full check on the breeder and carefully select the right puppy for our own social situation.
    My thoughts are along the lines of most of the animal rescues - there are millions of homeless dogs and no need for us to create more through lucrative breeding businesses. Adopt a dog from a rescue instead.

So Cesar Milan is part 1a of this blog list of My Current Trains Of Thought. Not many celebrities impress me, mostly because they are egotistical, hedonistic, semi-talented sociopaths who do everything in their power to make it in the world of showbiz, welcoming all publicity, good or bad, and then have the audacity to complain when the press won't leave them be. You pays your money and all that.

Celebrity no. 2 is even a shock to me. There I am, going about my usual Sunday morning business of trying to figure out what on earth we're going to have for dinner today and I find myself struck by a certain delight for the fact that there's cabbage and carrots in the bottom of my fridge. Perfect, thought I, to make a coleslaw, to go with sweet potatoes, sweetcorn and some southern american style chicken legs.

What now? Home-made coleslaw? An interest in authentic American food?

Domestic goddess I am not. My relationship with the duties of homemaker is by and large conducted through a process of careful negotiation with the other members of my household (for careful negotiation read threats, guilt trips and nagging until someone else does it, bitter complaints for eternity if I have to, or if the task has been completed at a level below my acceptable standards).

And who is to blame? No other than cheeky chappy Jamie Oliver, who I refused to watch on TV for many years and only thought about in a fleeting and vaguely complimentary when he did that whole school dinners thing. I'm 'well up' for trying to change our attitudes to food in the UK. We are rubbish at it, but some young bloke from Essex telling us all how to cook when he lives in the home counties and doesn't look much like he's suffered from the 'how to feed my family something other than beans on toast with a minimum wage and those prices' scenario? Let's just say it lacked a certain credibility.

As a teacher I hear it from colleagues all the time. They were born into the middle class, have never had to face the food or fags decision and haven't the capacity to understand that it is virtually impossible to afford anything like a healthy, balanced diet in a culture where the good food has become a lifestyle choice and is priced accordingly. But, they argue, a bag of supermarket apples is only a pound and you get at least seven. The 'value' ranges offer similar great deals and on the breadline you can't stop too long to think that these prices are keeping people like you as poor as you are and still they are beyond affordable. A bag of apples becomes a tasteless, unappetising accessory to the need for staple foods that fill up the family so they stop complaining that they're hungry when they're not and the additives are undoubtedly to blame for that. It's a cycle of nutritional deprivation that's difficult to break.

We have no time to grow our own produce, but we do have time to watch TV. We can't spend twenty minutes preparing a meal, but we can spend twenty minutes texting our friends. I'm not making a moral judgment here, really I'm not. It's just somewhere along the lines the social activities that could repair our terribly broken lives have been replaced by those that created this situation in the first place.

So back to Jamie Oliver: it was a curious set of events that led to my discovery that he might not be so bad after all. It started with the decision that I really needed to sign up to Twitter before someone stole my user name, the need then to 'follow' some people who I thought might be interesting, the decision to follow Jonathon Ross, who 'tweeted' that Jamie Oliver was one of the guests on his show, which I happened to tune in to because there was nothing else worth watching. He was fairly entertaining, but I still wasn't convinced. I couldn't get over the possibility that returning to one of my favourite places in the world (Watergate Bay) might reveal that his opening of a restaurant there had destroyed everything I loved about its undisturbed, uncontrollable, natural beauty.

As he described the project that led to the opening of this restaurant, I started to soften a little; after all 'Fifteen' is a project aimed at providing training and an occupation for disadvantaged young people. So he went up in my estimation sufficiently enough for me to watch an episode of 'Jamie's American Roadtrip', whereby his shock and horror at the racism in the South of the USA was impossible to miss. Finally, thought I, he does have some balls and they're not made of humous or some such posh stuff. What's more, I followed his instructions for making mayonnaisse and actually managed to produce something that didn't look like the sort of thing the dog brings up after eating grass.

And here endeth the rather rambling explanation for why Jamie Oliver has unexpectedly become someone I respect and also why I am making coleslaw.

On to trade unions, a much briefer escapade, which, in spite on my claim that it is not related to what has gone before in this post, is featured because my sentiment about racism is one that I find is shared by Jamie Oliver and also by my union. However, their recent request that I sign a petition to keep BNP members out of the teaching profession presented me with a terrible dilemma.

I have students who claim to support the BNP and I don't wish to belittle them by phrasing it this way, but quite honestly they have no idea what they are supporting. Soundbites of the BNP's more acceptable public face do not provide sufficient information for these young people to make an informed decision and I am certain (or at least hopeful) that once they have the knowledge they will run a mile in the opposite direction.

It's easy to imagine how teachers holding extreme political views at either end of the spectrum could be banned from entering the profession, because it has happened before. Frankly I'm surprised that so-called educated people can be as stupid as to believe that everything that is wrong with this country is because of immigration when it is clearly down to the destructive nature of advanced capitalism. Should I be banned from teaching for thinking this? Here's an idea - let's just send people to prison for having views that oppose the government.

There is, in my opinion, nothing wrong with members of the BNP becoming teachers (other than that they probably don't have the intellect to qualify as teachers). The problem comes when they start to impose their views on students. Socialist that I am I still try to give students the opportunity to make up their own minds. One would hope that teachers who are nationalists would also take their responsibilities seriously.

I suppose my greatest strength and weakness is that I am a utopian. Human beings have such great capacity for rationality and compassion, such great forces for change. We are able to contain our emotions, look for explanations, work to improve our own lives, all of which can be harnessed and utilised for common good. Regardless of whether I believe that Jesus was the son of God I am Christian in my beliefs about the sanctity of life and the need for respect, forgiveness, tolerance and understanding.

My thoughts turn to Christmas, not because the shops are full of Christmas tat, or that the TV networks are already overwhelmed with Christmas advertising, or that I spotted Christmas programming on one of the music channels. It's arguably not even a Christian festival. Regardless of all this it's one of the times those of us who celebrate Christmas get it right. Peel off the overspending and it reveals some of our better qualities, where we try to spend more time with our family, relish their joy at our gifts, share meals and appreciate the magic of nature that exists every day but takes on a special significance on 25th December.

Utopian? Perhaps, but the greatest human minds are universally accepted as those who disproved the impossible.


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