Happy New Year!

A happy new year to you and yours! I’m posting the direct link to the newspaper for today’s column as I’ve been hibernating for so long over Christmas, that I cannot even bothered to retrieve my laptop from its place unless it’s an emergency!!! Have a fabulous 2017… x

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/opinion/how-we-rise-to-challenges-is-what-really-matters-1-7752318

 

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What’s in a Name?

Grandad Lush, far right, next to my grandmother, Rose Ivy Lush

Photo – from left to right – Beads Bailey-Green, Nippy Bailey-Green (nee Arnett), Audrey Arnett, Peter Arnett, Rose Lush (nee Arnett) and Alf Lush

After writing about the consistently abusive comments of online readers in regard to a particular person’s column at The News, I had a look at my own. Low and behold, on a column about Donald Trump, there were several abusive comments just for me.

Strangely, given that I presume they were written by adults, a few focused on my name. Apparently, the moniker of ‘Verity Lush’ is indicative of my status as an ‘idiot’.

Lush is an old Pompey name. I’m an only child, as was my dad, and he died when I was young, so there are very few Lushs left in Portsmouth. And the name is Pompey through and through. The Lush family were myriad in the 20th century and owned various Charlotte Street stalls after the war, fruit stalls on Clarence Pier and businesses around the city. They are interwoven with other old Pompey families, such as the Madgewicks, by marriage. My gran was Arnett, so again, Portsmouth through and through.

I don’t mind having the mickey taken out of my name. I’m 40 in a fortnight and have never, until now, been judged for it, but I’ve had years of banter as regards the adult movie (polite version: Bond girl), name. It takes a certain amount of brass cojones to start a teaching career with teenagers under the name of Miss V Lush. More than it takes, I suspect, to write anonymous online abuse.

It seems too easy to me to make an assumption about someone based on a name and a political opinion, because you know very little about that person. I currently teach with some of the hardest working people I have ever met, in the most passionate team I have been privileged enough to work with, in order to give Portsmouth kids who cannot access mainstream education in our city, a chance of a future.

If that makes me an idiot, then I am proud to be one, for as Spike Milligan said, “See the happy moron, he doesn’t given a damn. I wish I were a moron. My God, perhaps I am!”

 

Planet Earth

Ten million of us have been tuning in on Sunday nights to watch the BBC’s Planet Earth II.

The suspense, the sadness and the sense of awe and wonder that it creates, are second to none. And it’s nothing to do with Hollywood, and it’s entirely uncontrived. It is purely nature and the world in which we live.

We spend such a short time on this planet, and most of us see so little of what it has to offer, that these glimpses of life that we will otherwise never see, are nothing short of incredible.

The medium of television and screen-time is often denigrated as being less than highbrow, but this is viewing at its best. Edge-of-your-seat spectacular.

 

Home Coffee Day

There is such enforced jollity at Christmas. Fabulous if you’re in the mood, hellish if you’re not. The boys down at Home Coffee, who are opening in Albert Road for people who are spending Christmas day on their own, are doing a wonderful thing.

Even when you’re happy, Christmas can be a hard time. Loved ones who have been lost are brought to mind, grief is that little bit sharper, worries are magnified by the obvious passage of time that a new year brings.

For Home Coffee to open and to give people a place to go where they will be surrounded by others, and where they feel as if they are a part of the season, is fantastic.

 

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Sexism, racism, and greed. What the election of Trump says about society.

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So, Trump is in and Clinton is out.

What does it say, I wonder, about American women, if so many were willing to vote for a man who once suggested they should all be grabbed by their privates? A man who also claimed that he finds his daughter so attractive that if he weren’t her father, he’d date her.

The election of Trump seems to say more about the people who voted for him, than it does about the man himself. Insidious racism and sexism has been given an outlet in Trump, and even women – who once were unable to vote – couldn’t help but revert to the stereotype they’ve allegedly battled against for centuries.

According to those who were asked, they voted for Trump because he is a businessman, and he will sort the economy. Firstly, whether he is a businessman or not, Clinton is a politician with substantially better relationships with world leaders than Trump has, whatever our personal opinions of her. Also, anyone who became president would want to positively impact the economy, but Trump is also likely, given his infamous temperament, to want to use the big red button as a stress ball on occasion. Fingers crossed someone on the inside has thought to give him one missing digit on the code.

And, finally, isn’t it astounding what people will overlook if they’ve been promised money? In all avenues of life, people are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to obtain money, or use money as a weapon. Money becomes a weapon and a bribe. People are willing to wield cash like a big carrot on a stick, or as the stick itself, because they think it’s the best way to beat the other person, with little thought of the fallout.

Trump has bribed America with promises that seem appealing to either greed, misogyny or racism, and despite the downside being his propensity to start WW3, America has fallen for it. Not all Americans of course, as more voted for Clinton, and we have never seen protests post-election on this scale in our generation.

2016 has been one helluva year. Let’s buckle our seat belts for 2017.

Money …

Writing about Trump led me to thinking that, for some people in life, money really does make the world go round, doesn’t it?

We all need a certain amount of money to be comfortable, though you’d hope, that for most of us, health and happiness would be far ahead of cold cash – as long as you have enough to cover your actual needs and a certain expendable amount on top that enables you to enjoy life.

Everybody needs money, but is there a set amount that you’d be happy with for life? An amount that doesn’t cross over into greed and that allows you to live comfortably and not with extravagance? And, of course, are you willing to work for it?

EU Law post-Brexit?

My husband and I had an 18 hour delay on the way to New York, following a cancellation by BA. It transpired that you are entitled to compensation when your flight is delayed but this is governed entirely by EU legislation. Subsequently, post-Brexit, what will eventually happen to this protection, and others?

Will things like this be put in place before Brexit occurs to cover the thousands of people each year that such occurrences effect, or will the airlines simply rub their wings together and think of the squillions they’ll be saving?

To be honest, we’d rather we’d had the extra day in NYC, which leads us back to the tricky concept of cash and how politics effects us all.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 19th November 2016

Donald Trump and when to hold your hands up (in the air, not skirts)

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The recent spate of tales in the press about Donald Trump and his misogynistic comments about women have clearly been dug with a hefty political spade from the mires of time. And then kept on ice until it is close enough to the presidential elections to cause real damage, as opposed to being spun back into the annals of memory by his furiously back-pedaling political party.

It just goes to show that you should be careful what you say, doesn’t it? And what you do. Because somebody will always remember, or, these days, have a recording of it. And it doesn’t matter how much time has eclipsed since you made your faux pas, or your dreadful comments, or your bad behaviour, because for the aggrieved or injured party, it’s still today.

This is quite a complex issue really because how do you then respond, once you’ve been found out? Do you apologise profusely (you certainly should – we all make mistakes), or do you try and spin the blame around and deflect it from yourself (indicative then that the aggrieved are correct in giving you a wide berth in future, for all adults with a sense of decency should have it within them to apologise for their actions and admit when they are wrong).

But it seems these days that we live in a culture of blame, either enjoying playing the whimpering victim or just believing ourselves to be blameless and morally seamless. And, really, who can possibly believe that of themselves? Who isn’t ashamed of some past or current behaviours (externally of egotists, narcissists and sociopaths)?

At least by confronting an issue and holding your hands up, you show yourself to have some humanity and give yourself a chance to walk away with a shred of decency intact.

I wonder what Trump will do? Thus far, he has sent his wife out as his defense, playing the ‘I am a woman’ card. The coward. Though who would expect more from a man who is a danger to the entire world, unless enough Americans see sense on November 8th? For despite looking like a buffoon and having a surname normally associated with flatulence, a lot of people seem to be listening to him. Scary times.

 

Grrr… Simon Cowell… Grrrrr…

I am pleased to report that I only remembered a couple of days ago that the X-Factor is even on TV at the moment. I loathe this programme – a far cry to during its heyday around 7 years ago when I used to always tune in.

Perhaps it’s just my age now? Or the fact that there are only so many ways to spice up a tired old format that’s now been done to death, and the vacuous celebrity-obsessed numptys that it spawns.

Even the continuation of lining the pockets of Simon Cowell grates on my nerves and, of course, the demise of the Christmas Number One – something I’ve banged on about before, but that rankles me every year nevertheless.

 

Lush…

A reader wrote into the letters page recently agreeing with a point I had made in a column.

This particular reader, Tony Hamlett, also mentioned my name and said that he hopes it is real – I am happy to say Tony that it is indeed! My maiden name is Verity Lush and I have always therefore written under it, as my writing career began long before I was married.

My maiden name is also of extreme sentimental value to me, being the only child of an only child, and given that my father passed away when I was 12. The Lush name is too good a one to be forgotten.

Thank you for taking the time to write in, Tony.

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 15th October 2016

 

 

 

What makes it special, makes it dangerous.

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There is a line in the Kate Bush song, Cloudbusting, that states, “what made it special, made it dangerous”. I’ve never given it much thought before – probably because when I was a child and my mother used to play it, I didn’t go much on Kate.

 

However, now that I am older with different tastes, I appreciate the creativity behind music, as opposed to simply being mortified that my mother would dance around the house, limbs flailing, larynx wobbling, in her best Bush-impersonation.

And isn’t it so very true? If something is special, then it can be needed or wanted not only by us, but by someone else – which in turn can make it dangerous. Power, money, love. If we want or need something, we worry about it. We may hide it or conceal it, for fear that it will be taken, and we may lock it down under cover, in order to keep it safe.

If something gleams, whether truly or metaphorically, it draws the attention of others. Envy, lust and greed can ensue – all ugly emotions, and emotions that can be dangerous.

Across the centuries, things that have been special have been sought after. Jewels, art, the leadership of political parties, and all of these things come with a price to pay. This depends particularly upon those who want them, because for some, even monumental bloodshed has not stood in their way.

As human beings, we are willing to go to war for what is ‘special’. In fact, human life itself is about as special as it gets – think about the lengths you’d go to for your own child or kin. Think about the lengths science has gone to – and will continue to go to in the ages yet to come. Science can be special, but it is also dangerous, and raises issues of ethics and morality, and the concept that just because we can do something, it does not mean that we should.

As Kate Bush once wrote, what makes it special, makes it dangerous. The traits that rise above the rest, are those we covet most.

Silence speaks volumes…

A lesson that most of us learn as we age is that, sometimes, it’s better to say as little as possible. Sometimes, it’s best to not even bother defending yourself vehemently and, occasionally, it’s better to simply say nothing at all.

The old adage that we should ‘sleep on it’ is golden advice and nearly always works, as opposed to leaping in. Social media is a minefield for this and best avoided when cross.

In fact, silence can say more than a thousand words. Not responding when provoked, or resisting the temptation to leap to our own defense, can be the more rational option. It is not necessarily more satisfying in the short-term, but in the long-term, it can speak volumes.

Another year grows old

It’s that time of year. The time when autumn is just beginning to show its russet-face and the mornings are tinged with a crystal chill, the promise of winter in its wake.

Hence, it is also the time of year when Tesco et al fill their aisles with mince pies and Christmas chocolates, advent calendars and all manner of ludicrous party attire, that should only ever sported after a glass of festive merriment.

I found myself thinking that this was all a tad too early until a student pointed out to me that it’s something ludicrous like only 11 Mondays until Christmas. Admittedly that’s also 11 weeks, which sounds decidedly longer and more manageable but, nevertheless, another year is growing old.

 

First published on Saturday 8th October 2016

Why online articles bring out the worst in people

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It’s strange isn’t it, that once people post an opinion in a public forum, other people – who they have never met, who they have never done anything to – believe that they have the right to be abusive to them.

Having recently written about how much is lost in translation in the written word, I wasn’t surprised when I read the readers’ comments on a Guardian article last week.

The article in question was about the American police officer that shot Terence Crutcher, a black man, in Tulsa. Hundreds of readers were commenting and many British readers were pointing out the difference in gun law between the US and the UK, which is undoubtedly a contributory factor.

What started as a passionate argument with poignant views and thought-provoking counter-arguments, quickly slid into an abusive tirade between the UK and the US. Some of the most offensive expletives that we all know were being slung about, and the issue at the heart of the article was forgotten in amidst those who were climbing aboard the abuse bandwagon, waggling their little pitchforks and seeing who could pipe up with the most vehement combo of swear words and body parts.

Healthy debate is something I welcome, especially as a teacher of philosophy. Rude and, frankly, dense commentary, is not. If you have to resort to abuse then you’ve nothing intelligent to say and you do little aside from show yourself up as not being the sparkliest pixie on the toadstool.

But because these are complete strangers, and because it’s not face to face, perhaps it’s all too easy to slip into being plain old nasty. You can air an opinion that differs hugely to someone else, and you can even air an opinion that isn’t complimentary at all about someone else’s behaviour – all legitimate and up for debate – but once you have to resort to calling them names and pointing out their physical failings, or posting cruel comments to them, then the only person you’ve degraded is yourself. You’re not only being rude, but you’re losing sight of any actual wrong-doing by the other person – giving the impression, in fact, that they’ve done nothing, and that the only one who is wrong is none other than… you. You simply won’t be taken seriously.

Facebook rants, for example, are all too easy to fall into. We’ve all been there. But in retrospect we can probably all agree that it’s far better to reply in a polite manner, stating our own views calmly, and remembering that much in the way of intonation is lost in the written word.

Somebody commented on my column’s Facebook page recently about an article I wrote concerning the influence of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, who give the impression to very young kids that it’s fine to just strip off and send semi-naked selfies to not only anybody online (is that really a 12 year old boy following you on Instagram?) but the world at large in the 21st century. The commenter suggested that I was therefore not a feminist and that Kim K can do what she likes with her own body. I agree – she can – but I still maintain that doing so in the public eye, leading to very young children taking selfies in bikinis and posting them online in the belief that this is ‘success’ and the way to ‘celebrity’, is the utter opposite of empowering young girls. The only people it’s empowering is paedophiles.

The person also questioned why I hadn’t written about men stripping off – simple: I was focusing on females. The majority of celebrities that strip and pose selfies are female, even if they weren’t then I chose females and their influence on younger females, and if men are stripping and inadvertently encouraging young boys to do the same in a public forum in which they can be groomed and abused, then my opinion is the exact same for them. Because the crux of my article wasn’t the gender or sexism of selfies – it was the audience of them. The audience who, like the Guardian readers, are completely anonymous to you. You don’t know them, nor how old they are, or what their lifestyle choices are, or even how distant – or close – they may be to you. Just because the internet can be anonymous, it doesn’t mean that we should be any more open, less cautious, or more abusive, than we would be in a dark alley with a stranger behind us at night. You do not know who is watching.

And although the commenter and I differed in opinion, I welcomed the debate – why else would I bother writing, if not to encourage interaction and to put thoughts out there? What I had written had been thought-provoking enough for them to use up nearly an hour of their life commenting on it.  I wouldn’t have dreamt of being abusive to that person or calling them names, no matter what I thought of their views, but perhaps that’s because I try quite hard these days to imagine that I am actually speaking to whomsoever I am typing to online, and act as though I am chatting to this complete stranger’s face. As the Guardian commenters demonstrated, you don’t get anywhere by simply slagging each other off, and I like to keep my abusive comments for the people I actually know … 😉

 

Kids and dentists…

According to reports, nearly 40% of British children did not see a dentist last year. Really?? Given that many children these days also have to have teeth removed due to the sugars in cereals and drinks, you’d think it imperative, if only to set up and model good habits for adult life.

It’s free for kids to see a dentist, it’s only twice a year, and it’s not remotely scary when it’s just a peek in the mouth and a sticker at the end of it. Admittedly it’s less pleasant if you’re having a tooth or two removed, but if you brush them to start with and don’t have Pepsi on your Cocoa Pops, then surely you’re home and smiling. With teeth.

 

GCSE Results

I have been reading through various new exam specifications this week, all in preparation for this being the first academic year in which our children will, in many subjects, be awarded a 9-1 grade.

By the following academic year, the humanities and sciences will have caught up with maths and English, and there will no longer be any letter-graded system left.

The new specifications are not only harder but the government have offered practically zero in terms of guidelines as to what a grade 6, for example, will even consist of.

I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before they announce a new initiative to introduce a radical system … one in which GCSEs are awarded an A*-G grade.

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 1st October 2016

 

Just when did we swap Hepburn for Kardashian?

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Maybe it’s because of social media, or maybe it’s simply due to a variety of sociological changes over time, but the world of celebrity seems to delve ever-deeper lows.

When I was a teenager, I remember buying magazines like Sky. There would be a celebrity on the cover but they usually had their clothes on. If they didn’t, then it would be a tasteful nude shot, normally black and white, and more a glimpse as opposed to Kim Kardashian’s oiled buttocks bursting forth from a human-sized champagne glass in order to #breaktheinternet.

‘Celebrity’ used to have more mystique about it. There was something a little mythical about classic icons such as Audrey Hepburn, or even, fast-forwarding, the supermodels of the 1990s. For starters, you didn’t know what Cindy Crawford’s cervix looked like.

The very thought of Audrey et al oiling up their butt-cheeks is laughable, and even though you can argue that Marilyn posed in a mighty provocative manner, that’s my point exactly – it was provocative, tantalizing, teasing. What it was not, was crass, or slutty, or blatant. Nor was it at the fingertips of a squillion impressionable young boys and girls, thanks to their phones and laptops. Because there is the other issue – the audience at which these pictures are aimed.

The Pirelli calendars that began back in 1964 were aimed at your dad. Mainly for him to hide in the shed with. Today’s non-artistic equivalents are available for 11 year olds to peruse at their leisure between lessons. How on earth can this be doing anything other than damaging self-esteem, society, and what is perceived as appropriate by all who see them? Are we not indoctrinating a whole new generation of people to believe that it’s perfectly normal to splay yourself open for the world to see?

There seems to be no line any longer, nothing that is left to be crossed, nor any boundaries left to push. We are functioning at the hands of self-obsessed twits, famous for little other than having massive bank balances, buttocks and boobs, and shriveled little brains cocooned in their gigantic air-filled heads.

 The day I tried to break into a car with an axe…

My husband and I have purchased a very heavy, tree-felling axe. Not for purposes of recreation, but because we have a wood-burning stove and are chopping logs in preparation for autumn.

It was mildly humiliating therefore to find myself trying to get it into the car after I had paid in Homebase.

I pressed the key continually whilst trying the handle of the backdoor, waggling the axe about and becoming hotter and tomato-faced with rage the more frustrated I became. Swearing under my breath I took a step away from the door and a deep breath, before realizing what now seems obvious. It wasn’t my car. Just a mad woman with an axe trying to break into someone else’s.

Go have yourself a giggle today …

Laughter is something we take for granted and if you think about it, it’s funny in itself. It can be contagious, and we make all sorts of odd and strange noises when we laugh.

We use laughter to make social bonds and to maintain them. You feel good if you laugh, and you feel good if you make someone else laugh.

Sometimes, we can laugh by ourselves. We’ve all had that experience of worrying that we look slightly bonkers whilst walking down the street alone and bursting into spontaneous laughter at a sudden memory of something. But the best laughter by far is the kind where your tummy hurts and your eyes are watering. It just doesn’t happen often enough.

 

First published in the Portsmouth News, Saturday 17th September 2016

Image courtesy of breitbart.com