You Can Leave Your Shirt On: Body Art, Nipple Mutilation, and Commercial Road, Portsmouth.

The Comical Road... sorry, I mean Commerical Road, fountain, Portsmouth. A magnet for shirtless chavs.

The Comical Road… sorry, I mean Commerical Road, fountain, Portsmouth. A magnet for shirtless chavs.

Summer is here. Or so one would think, given the amount of bare chests that were on display at the weekend. (For the avoidance of doubt, that is male chests. Although given the obesity epidemic it is, nowadays, trickier to ascertain.)

Who would have thought there were so many shades of mayonnaise? Pimply torsos ranging from Deathly White to Fetid Mayo, with the occasional sufferer of Vain Male Syndrome thrown in for good measure.

The deluded souls with VMS are those who clearly attend the gym, but labour under the misapprehension that anybody else wants to see the pumped up fruits of their efforts.

Each chest, regardless of colour, race, or muscularity, had one thing in common: it was near frostbitten. Because herein lies the crux of the problem. NEWSFLASH! The sun may be out boys, but it is NOT THAT WARM.

Common sense surely would tell one that there is a period between winter and summer (known to the majority of us as ‘spring’), when temperatures begin to thaw, and tease us with blue skies and sunshine. But you are risking your nipples if you honestly believe that, on a day when small children still have their chests bundled in vests and jumpers, you need to go out sporting nothing on yours.

However, it transpires that some of us care not about freezing such extremities, as was demonstrated by a programme I watched last week. It involved tattoos. Many tattoos.

Now, I’m partial to a tattoo myself, but I draw a sensible line at tattooing the whites of my eyes black. I also draw a line at cutting off my own nipples in order to make my torso a smoother surface for my body art, and then placing them in my freezer at home (with my FOOD!) until I find some liquid in which they can be suitably pickled.

If that reads like the mutterings of a lunatic, then that is because they essentially were – the person in question was on the documentary, and was concerned that people in business might not take him seriously because of his body art (he’d changed his name to Body Art too. Hmm.).

How one could assume that one wouldn’t be taken seriously because of tattoos, in the face of telling the nation that they’ve chopped off their own nipples ready to pickle, is simply another surreal enigma to me. The only saving grace was that, unlike half of Pompey, he kept his shirt on.


The Hypocrisy of Religion: Are Non-Believers more Moral than Believers?

tumblr_static_tumblr_static__1280 It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog for the sake of it, because the only time I usually get to write these days is when I am preparing my column for the newspaper. However, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about religion. This is not necessarily distinguishable from work, seeing as I have a degree and a post-grad teaching qualification in the Study of Religions, but I myself am an atheist.

I think the reason that religion, Christianity in particular, has been on my mind, is due to the death of my grandfather. But it hasn’t been puzzling me because of any after-life issues – it’s been puzzling me because I get sick and tired of the seemingly un-Christian attitude of the minority of the alleged Christians that I know. Now don’t get me wrong – I have many lovely acquaintances and friends who also happen to be Christian, so I am making no sweeping statements here nor judgements. But therein lies the crux of the issue that’s bothering me: it’s the fervent Christians that I know, the ones who are very audible about their strong beliefs, who appear to be the judgement-makers and the hypocrites.

If you look online or research the matter, you’ll find many sites where Christians argue the fact that they do not need to keep the 10 Commandments of the Old Testament. A very simplistic history for those not in the know, is that the OT is not about Jesus – Christianity didn’t begin until after his death & alleged resurrection, so Jesus isn’t mentioned until the New Testament. He was, of course, Jewish, and the Gospels (meaning Good News) tell this Good News of his birth, and subsequent teachings.

However, the 10 Commandments are referred to in another book of the New Testament, Romans, and are upheld as something to follow. So here’s my issue – even if the 10 Commandments didn’t reappear in some form within the NT, surely the basic rules of society (don’t steal stuff, don’t lie and so on), are simply a common sense, nice person, moral code to try and live by? Obviously they are laid out as absolutes in religion (i.e. not relative to circumstances, just don’t do it and that’s that), which is hardly realistic for every day life, but they are there. And, Christian or not, these ideals are something we teach our children and generally try to abide to.

On top of this list, there are also the usual compassion, kindness, forgiveness teachings we expect from the NT. We find one of the gospels, Luke, having a real slant towards kindness to gentiles (people who weren’t Jewish and were generally regarded not as humans but as items expelled from the posteriors of canines). Luke for example is where we find the Good Samaritan – don’t pass by on the other side.

So why is it, that out of all my friends or acquaintances, I find that, sometimes, the ones who are full of their own Christian virtue, whose cups simply over-floweth with the juice extracted from a thousand biblical pages, are the ones with the least regard for true human suffering or respect for others? Maybe this is just my experience in life – for I’m not out to offend anyone – but it is making me curious to the hilt.

For example, I have a friend who is religious. He attends church and suggests that one should even pray for parking spaces because often God will help out in cramped residential areas. (I’m thinking that a God who will find you a parking space might have done something more to help out in the Holocaust, but that’s just being picky – and I’ve no wish to get into a theodicy debate just to confuse matters and start waffling about moral evil and free will.) I once questioned the Christian friend of an ex-partner as to where she believed God to be during the Holocaust. I asked purely out of my own interest in the opinions of a Christian in regard to this genocide, and she responded that those 6 million Jews obviously weren’t Christian, so God simply wouldn’t have been there. I could rest my case there, but I’ll go on.

I also know a Christian who had bariatric surgery. So does this mean that God can find parking spaces for some Christians, but can’t stop others eating themselves to death. This isn’t judgmental, I’ve been fat before – I’m simply stating the fact. I could list other examples, including people I know of who are devout Christians until the social issue arrives next door to them and suddenly the compassion disappears down the NIMBY bolt hole, but I’d rather throw this into the mix before I finish: are the non-believers among us actually the genuinely nicer and more moral people?

If you’re giving to charity not because you hope to get into heaven, but because you’re being kind, or if you’re offering compassion to the grieving because you’re empathetic and have no goal of eternal life, does that mean you’re more moral than the Christian who is doing it, in part, because they believe Jesus wants them to? I’m not agreeing or disagreeing; I’m just throwing it out there. There’s no such thing as an unselfish act (just watch the Friends episode or experience that tingle of personal pleasure at a good deed next time you donate to Children in Need), but if you’re trying to live the life of a good person simply through your own volition, not because you hope to go to heaven or please a deity, does this mean you are naturally kinder?

There is no answer really – it is akin to Pascal’s Wager – which is to say, that perhaps one should act as though God does exist, just to err on the side of caution. Not really a plan, because it doesn’t take faith into account, but what about those of us who are good atheists? If heaven, or paradise, or an after-life of any belief does turn out to exist, will those of us who acted nicely simply because we are nice burn in hell anyway? In which case, that’d be no part of a religion I’d have ever wished to follow anyway.

In conclusion, just because you’re a theist, it doesn’t automatically transpire that you’re a nice person. And ditto for any person of any belief or disbelief. But if you declare yourself, in your loudest voice, to be a Christian, then shouldn’t you at least try to act like one? Because surely that’s the thing about religion – you can’t just say you’re religious, there is an expectation. You must be a believer of that faith because you fundamentally agree with its teachings. Otherwise, you’re just as superficial as the fish symbol, crucifix, star of David, pentangle etc, that’s clanking around your neck.

Just a note – one could of course get into denominational discussions and moral absolutism and relativism, or myriad other routes, but really I just wanted to provoke thought and curiosity. There are no sweeping judgements here, no ‘one size fits all’, and nothing set in stone. 

Nature Versus Nurture: Who takes responsibility for you?

From one of my favourite poems, do check it out in full.

From one of my favourite poems, do check it out in full.

Life. It’s a funny old thing.

Ask yourself, are you the kind of person who sees themselves as a victim when things go wrong, or are you the kind who realizes it could (nearly always) be much worse, and thanks their lucky stars for what they do have?

Our experiences, and our reactions to them, are all relative. If your life has been relatively smooth sailing, then that’s wonderful. But perhaps, because it’s been so smooth, you are not actively thankful for it – because you haven’t even realised?

Alternatively, if your life has been hard, then perhaps you recognize the little things, and are able to take joy in the minutiae of your day?

It seems, to me, that it doesn’t do to be too greedy in life. We all want things – love, friendship, material comfort, a home. But if you have too much, and you take it for granted, then maybe it hits you that much harder when it’s gone.

I often read articles in which a person says that they ‘never thought it would happen to me’ – and I am quite envious of that attitude, in a strange way, because at least they’ve lived the rest of their life in blissful ignorance.

I, on the other hand, am the kind of person who assumes it will always happen to me! In part this is due to a variety of childhood circumstances, ranging from family alcoholism, parental bereavement, domestic violence and divorce. I have an overt recognition therefore that ‘it’ can – and does – happen to anyone.

However, I would also say that I am extremely lucky. I had a very happy childhood, with strong love from my parents and grandparents. I subsequently have a good grasp on the things that matter, and an equally strong sense of independence and gritty determination.

I am organized to a fault – perhaps a throwback to previous chaos– and I believe in standing up for other people. I don’t believe that I am anyone else’s responsibility, and I probably take on too much responsibility sometimes for others.

I am a worrier, a pre-empter, and a control freak. I am a bookworm and a writer and a lover of words.

Have you ever asked yourself who you are, and why? In terms of nature versus nurture, I probably come out 50/50. Our families have much to answer for in this debate, but the real responsibility lies with just one person: you.

A Eulogy for My Grandad, Alfred Lush

Grandad's 87th birthday, 2011

Grandad’s 87th birthday, 2011

For those who couldn’t attend but wanted to, this is the speech that I gave at the infamous Grandad Lush’s funeral, in celebration of his marvellous life:

I am used to writing about my Grandad, given that he has made several appearances in my column over the past year, so it seemed only appropriate that I write something about him for today.

In fact, how could I not, because if it hadn’t been for the influences of Grandad, my Grandma Rose, and my Mum and Dad, then I wouldn’t be the person that I am today; and today, for me, is all about family.

My Grandad has always, unstintingly, been there for me. And I know I’m not the only person in this room who is lucky enough to be able to say that about him. From the earliest days of my childhood, when I used to force him to sit in my paddling pool, or walk me around the rainy back roads of Denmead, just so I could try out my new raincoat, he has been there.

Which leads me to think, how lucky am I? How incredibly lucky and fortunate am I to have had him for 38 years? And because he was such a presence, and such a huge inspiration, I am now lucky enough to have been left with a million memories. And surely that is where we all live on eventually: in memory.

And I don’t mean the cloudy recalls of times that have passed, or the memories that begin to fade before we’ve even really begun to make them. Instead, I mean the kind of memories that are cut in crystal clarity; for my Grandad had too much charisma to ever fade to the format of vague recollection.

I will always remember weekends in Denmead when he would take me to the local One Stop and buy me sweets; Saturday mornings at his video shop in Baffins, and being able to choose what I wanted to take home to watch; little glass bottles of Britvic orange from behind the bar at the pub, and eating chicken in a basket from the pub kitchen, sat on the sofa with my Grandma.

I remember Grandad coming to the hospital when his first grandchild, my daughter India, made her appearance into the world, and I remember his utter pride and love for both of my girls, always tinged with the melancholy that they should have had – had life taken a different turn – a Grandad, as well as a great-Grandad.

And, of course, a couple of times over the years, I moved in with Grandad, and I think I say with some surety, that there can’t be many young women who were out-partied by their 80 year old grandfathers like I was. Friday night card games were the stuff of legend in his house, and rightly so, because if there was ever a man who was never going to give in to the stereotype of a lonely old man, living a lonely old age, then it was Grandad Lush.

Las Vegas and cruises; card games and horses; braces and smart shirts; huge hugs and a stubborn nature; a titantic heart and a dapper suit; tomatoes and cucumbers growing in the greenhouse; chocolate biscuits and Kleenex for Men tissues; Imperial Leather soap and Marks and Spencers everything; automatic cars and the Daily Mail; puzzles and bacon sandwiches; watching the boxing and placing the bets; Sunday roasts and maths homework; chocolate eclairs and lemonade, and – who could forget? – brandy and dry ginger.

Each of these, a memory, taken like old-fashioned flash bulbs bursting into colour in my mind. The list could be endless, the memories are myriad, and my love for him is infinite.

And so, today, try not to see this as a mourning and a grieving and a beacon of loss, but as a thankful celebration for all that was and is Alf Lush. He was an unrepeatable, unforgettable, fountain of colour in all ours lives.

And because of that, I was – and I am – so very lucky. Thank you, Grandad.

A Tribute to Grandad Lush


My Grandad, Alfred Lush, passed away on Thursday, 26th March 2015. He has appeared in many a column of mine, and I am writing this with a raw and aching sense of loss.

As the only child of an only child, I have always been particularly close to my Grandad, but following the death of both my father and grandmother, the bond between us strengthened even further. Due to the twists and tumbles of fate, my Grandad was in my life far longer than my dad, and he has been an anchor for me.

He had always told me that he would not become incapacitated in old age, and that he would not – when the time came – suffer a long and painful death.

“I’ll go like that, my darlin’”, he told me, with a click of his fingers. And sure enough, he did.

At the age of 90, with no loose ends left behind, he went in the blink of an eye. He was sat completing a puzzle in his armchair, and when his companion, Mary, looked up, he had simply gone. The puzzle was entitled A Ripe Old Age.

The grief is flooding me in waves at the moment. Sometimes, during the day, my skin will feel almost alive with it. A physical sensation, a raw and open wound, like frostbite on flesh. But at other times, I find myself laughing at conversations that he and I had, and smiling at the memories of him with my father and my beautiful grandmother.

My Grandad lived on his own terms, and he died on his own terms. He was a businessman and an old-fashioned gentleman. He was generous to a fault, and even after his beloved wife died, he would not give in to the stereotype of a lonely old man, and a lonely old age.

He worked everyday until he was 75, when he finally retired, and sold his last business, Shoot Pool, in Fratton Road. He went on holidays to Vegas, a cruise only last year, and it would be fair to say that he rather enjoyed a bet or two on the horses.

But first and foremost he was a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a great-grandfather. He knew where priorities lay and what really mattered in life, and his words of wisdom, and the examples he set me, shall never be forgotten.

Wherever you are now, my darling Grandad Lush: I love you.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 7th April 2015