Tuesday, 11 February 2020

From Cheer to Fear

While my childhood in the 1980s wasn't the happiest, I was aware that around me was an optimistic society.

Our hair was big and our pop music was bouncy (if you didn't count The Smiths). A particular favourite of mine was Mental as Anything's 'Live it Up' (below), which never failed to boost my spirits.



We'd somehow successfully navigated the threat of Nuclear war, oil running out and the closure of the pits and most of us looked forward to the future.

Clothes and pop music were eagerly devoured with the lines to all our favourite songs learned from 'Smash Hits' magazine or 'Jackie'. Pop star pull-outs lined our bedroom walls.

No one cared about looking like a supermodel. In fact we only had models. Supermodels hadn't yet been invented. However we accepted that very few people looked like a model and were happy with 'pretty' and aspired, if anything, to 'girl next door' in terms of looks. That winning combination of wholesomeness and prettiness.

Drugs were virtually unheard of in the Irish town where I grew up. Glue sniffing was about it and many of us bought (or were bought) a single of 'Just Say No!' by the Grange Hill cast. Our teachers still walked around with a cane under their arm (at least in my first year) -  gesture enough to keep the vast majority of us in line at school - as we knew they had the power to use it.

When I did school work experience on my local newspaper and was paired with Don, the 'Courts & Sports' reporter, crime was low level. the odd stolen ladder or charity box. Father Ted genre crimes.

While our homes tended to be decorated in various shades of brown and our parents' cars beige, we ourselves were colourful and any clothing, particularly involving a fluorescent zigzag paired with a RaRa skirt, was a must. We also loved experimenting with make up and hair.

We enjoyed thriving shops, libraries, community centres, pubs, cinemas and nightclubs. Banks, Post Offices and ticket offices were plentiful as were jobs. If we wanted something we generally had to work for it and save for it, but that made the acquiring of it all the sweeter. You had to be about 50 with a mortgage to be trusted by the bank with a credit card. Luckily our cheque books and cash did us just fine.

If we had time to feel blue from our busy social lives, we just felt blue for a while. No one called it 'depression' or 'anxiety'.

You had to sit and wait for the phone not to ring to get your heart broken, not have it mercilessly shattered within seconds of checking on your love interest's internet or mobile phone activity.

No one seemed to worry about their weight or what they had or hadn't been blessed with in the body part lottery. Or at least if they did, they never talked about it. Life was for living, for getting on with.

Fast forward to today and we have a society which seems ever more miserable and fearful, even though it's never known more material goods and comfort and enjoys international travel we could only dream of!

We have allergies that kill us (as oppose to merely being a nuisance) and people with anxiety and depression from a young age.

Yes, we have tackled many of our 'isms', but as societal acceptance has grown, other intolerances seem to have risen up to take their place. In the good old days friends could have a difference of opinion without falling out over it. That level of diversity seems to have evaporated. I believe we have also become less caring about each other and more selfish as a nation. I remember people sticking up for each other and helping each other as communities. I remember respect for the elderly. What happened?  And how could social isolation become the number one social ill in an unprecedented era of electronic connectivity?

Social mobility was also important. Now most wealth is going one way - in an upwards direction - to those who already have far too much of it. This is having a crippling effect on the rest of the economy, akin to a tourniquet cutting off the blood supply to the rest of the body. Debt has been turned into credit -  abracadabra!

Our tramps (who often took to the road by choice) have been replaced by homeless in ever increasing numbers.

Addictions of all varieties are skyrocketing and it is not uncommon to find people in their 20s complaining of a level of ill health they might have expected to encounter in their 60s.

As if we needed any more woes, we are warned there is a 'climate emergency' but are not told what we are supposed to do about it, apart from worry and find ourselves fleeced for ever more taxes, greener cars, greener boilers etc, usually within a few short years of replacing the previous for environmental reasons.

The TV news has almost become a no go area with its carpet-bombing of doom and gloom.

Perhaps that is why we still find so much 80s music playing everywhere we go. It reminds us all of how life should be. Buoyant and optimistic. Looking forward to a bright future!

I for one refuse to live in fear. Let's all make this our mantra.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

The Ghost of Stuart Lubbock

It is 19 years since Stuart Lubbock, a 31 year old butcher and divorced father of two, was found dead in TV star Michael Barrymore's swimming pool following an all night party in March 2001, yet Police are no nearer to solving the tragedy.

Of two things they are sure. It wasn't suicide and it was no accident either.

Stuart died of a serious forcible assault causing devastating injuries to his anus, possibly while being choked and drowned at the same time, which would explain the absence of reported screams as he was being attacked (there is some difference of opinion between pathologists).

Police believe they have narrowed it down to three suspects who would have been strong enough to carry out the assault, possibly two of them working together. A fascinating Channel 4 documentary 'The Body In the Pool' has spent two and a half years poring over the evidence and interviewing friends and family, Police, pathologists and journalists in their pursuit of the truth in this still 'live' case.

A £40,000 reward for new information has been offered by Crimestoppers and The Sun in the hope that loyalties will have changed and consciences may have started to weigh heavy in the intervening years. All eight people present that night deny any involvement but at least one is lying and it is highly possible more than one was a witness, if not a participant, in the crime.

Interestingly all the guests were known to Barrymore except Lubbock, who had been picked up that night in a nightclub and invited back to the party with them. It happened like this. Lubbock had gone to his local nightclub with his brother Keith as they did every weekend. At some point Stuart popped to the loo and returned excitedly telling his brother that Michael Barrymore was in there.  Michael Barrymore subsequently emerged and a female friend of Barrymore's invited Stuart Lubbock back to the house for a party. Lubbock's brother was all but ignored as Barrymore and hangers on, now including Stuart, swept out of the nightclub and into a taxi. It was the last time Keith saw his brother alive.

Everyone who knew Stuart agreed that Stuart wasn't gay. If anything he was a 'ladies man' who had struggled to stay faithful to his wife. What they all agreed is Stuart would have been 'starstruck' by meeting Michael Barrymore and probably flattered to be invited to the star's party, keen, no doubt, to tell all his friends and workmates about it on Monday morning. Stuart came across as somewhat naive and trusting.

The taxi driver who drove the group to Barrymore's home in a nearby Essex village was interviewed and said Barrymore seemed drunk as he was unable to walk in a straight line. While he drove them to the house, Barrymore (sitting behind him) leaned forward and mumbled. 'I could do with a f**k.'

What happened next is sketchy, but one of the guests remembered seeing Barrymore rubbing cocaine into Stuart's gums in the kitchen at some point in the night (which Barrymore denies). Barrymore himself talked in a filmed interview of lending swimming shorts to his male guests and putting on the pool lights.

Early next morning one of the guests rang 999 to report a body in the pool. By the time the emergency services arrived, Barrymore had had the body removed from the pool, claiming that he himself couldn't swim, a claim quickly refuted by his ex-wife and many others who knew him.

At first the Police were swayed by their interviews with party goers claiming the death was accidental and did not seal off the house and pool as a potential crime scene, a mistake they later admitted. Police believe that opportunities were taken to remove incriminating items from the scene and from the house, possibly by Barrymore's personal assistant (though he denies this). Certainly the property was cleaned up in between the incident and the Police returning some time later.

When Stuart's inquest came up, interestingly Barrymore hired top QC Michael Mansfield to represent him. It is almost unheard of to bring a QC to an inquest as it is the purpose of an inquest is to establish who someone was, where they died, when they died and how they died. It is not the purpose of an inquest to establish if a third party was responsible and who that third party might be. An inquest is not a criminal proceeding. In the event disagreement between pathologists meant that an open verdict was recorded.

Which brings me to some things which bother me about Barrymore;
  • His first reaction was to flee his own house when the body was found.
  • When challenged as to why he had not entered the pool to get Stuart out he claimed he could not swim (subsequently contradicted by those who knew him well). It would also have been odd indeed for him to buy a house with a swimming pool and keep a collection of swimming trunks around if he could not swim.
  • Items were removed from the property (including a pool thermometer and door handle) which may have played a part in the death
  • Barrymore hired a top QC to represent him at the inquest.
  • In 2002 Barrymore demanded another investigation into Lubbock's death and tried to claim Lubbock's internal injuries must have been inflicted in the hospital. A Police investigation showed this was untrue.
  • Barrymore has said it was just 'another night' which happened to go wrong, as if such an incident doesn't warrant a fuller explanation or Stuart were somehow partly responsible for his own death.
  • Having initially been questioned and cleared. after a second arrest and questioning six years later, Barrymore tried to sue the Police for £2.4m in 2018, claiming they had ended his career through 'unlawful arrest'. He won nominal damages.
However aside from the unsavoury nature of the case, I believe it is Barrymore's own lack of answers and deep remorse for the fact a young man died at his house which have effectively ended his career.  Some expectation that the passage of time means that somehow yesterday's news doesn't matter anymore. In fact he is even 'harassed and bullied' over the Lubbock death making Barrymore the victim!

Yes, he may never have been charged but Barrymore was a family entertainer and his many fans would have been appalled at the scandal surrounding the Barrymore brand, not least that there has been no proper closure for the poor Lubbock family.

Doubtless Barrymore is sorry and wishes it had never happened, but he comes across as feeling sorry for himself most of all.

The ghost of Stuart Lubbock has clearly not finished its work for the loss of Barrymore's lucrative career is surely the worst possible fate he could face and every attempt to re-start it has backfired over the years.

In a recent press conference Essex Police made it clear that they believe someone present at the party killed Stuart Lubbock and they are still confident that they will apprehend the murderer.

For me the most horrifying aspect concerning this alleged murder is that it may have been committed, not for money or revenge, but for fun. For kicks.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Corona virus? Use a hankie!

While I was born some decades after WWII, my grandparents almost made me feel as if I had lived through it with them. I almost have palpable memories, even if they are genetic, rather than lived experience.

Sometimes when modern life goes a bit too insane or paranoid I seek refuge in the common sense of those times.

How did the message 'Coughs and sneezes spread diseases' become out of date exactly?

Why did they stop fining people for spitting in the street when TB (tuberculosis) can still be spread this way, and is actually back in the UK again after a long absence?

I can only assume we must have become careless and complacent, losing our laws, common sense and manners when antibiotics were invented and multiple vaccinations came along, assuming they could save us from all ills.

Pre-antibiotics, common sense, rigidly enforced, was all there was. And a bar of carbolic.

So far it seems the Corona virus has killed no more people than the average flu outbreak. The scary bit is the unusual strain of it, the fact there is no vaccine and no anti-viral medication.

In reality there are plenty of people who WON'T get it, even if it spreads worldwide because their immune systems are too strong or they are symptomless carriers. As with any disease it is the vulnerable who are most at risk, the very old, the very young and those with pre-existing conditions or who are poor or malnourished. Those with compromised immune systems, in other words.

So before we go nuts stockpiling masks, goggles and spacesuits, why don't governments go back to basics in their nationwide emergency measures? When governments actually start introducing nationwide emergency measures, that is.

Fine everyone who coughs or sneezes without using a handkerchief or who spits in the street.
Insist that everyone from the very young to the very old washes their hands at every opportunity and train all cleaning staff to pay particular attention to door handles, light switches, toilet flushes and everything else likely to be touched by multiple persons in public places. In fact I am staggered we have not had foot-operated WC flushes and handbasin taps for years, like many Italian cities do.

Enforcing sensible behaviours and encouraging people to look after themselves (and each other) will surely rid the world of this virus quicker than anything else, and until it either burns itself out, as viruses eventually do, or an antidote is found.

Good personal hygiene should never go out of fashion, irrespective of how many antibac chemicals and medicines are invented.

Another aspect of WWII, sadly forgotten, is the equally useful saying 'Keep Calm and Carry On.' It is both unhelpful and downright irresponsible to allow or facilitate mass hysteria. The virus of fear can be just as deadly.

Finally a friend and journalist - Fleur Kinson - offered the following thought which I quote in full; 'Why hasn't the World Health Organization forced the end of the Chinese market practices that cause ALL of these modern epidemics? Swine flu, bird flu, SARS and all the rest have been born in crowded Chinese markets where live and slaughtered animals are clumped together with people in unhygienic conditions. It is known and anticipated that all these new epidemic viruses arise in these environments in China. Why has no international agency forced the Chinese to adopt difference practices? Countless lives across the world are affected. We know where these things start, so why don't we stop those environments?'

Sunday, 26 January 2020

The Abortion Stall

Yesterday I was walking through the middle of Brighton when I noticed an array of gory-looking poster display boards ahead. At first I assumed they were slaughterhouse scenes and it was some kind of animal rights stall but as I drew closer I realised it was a display of human foetuses in various stages of abortion around a leaflet table.

'Brave.' I thought. (Brighton is not exactly liberal about subjects like anti-abortion, for all its 'anything goes' ethos).

I noticed several people standing around poised with leaflets at the ready and did my best to dodge them.

One slightly built well-dressed lady in her sixties collared me though.
'It's ok.' I smiled. 'I'm not a fan either,' smugly assuming this would let me off the hook.
Instead her eyes widened and she rounded on me. 'So what are you DOING about it?' she demanded.
'Erm. Nothing. It's none of my business what other women do.'
'Really?' Her eyes flashed at me. 'So if you lived next door to a young child and heard it being abused every night, you would do nothing, would you?'
'Of course not. That's hardly the same thing.' I replied, somewhat stunned.
'Life is life!' she replied emphatically. 'Thousands of babies are being murdered every day. Cut up in the womb alive, their body parts sold, and people like you are doing nothing. Most women don't even know what happens. They are not being given all the choices. The BPAS is supposed to advise them but it's really just an abortion clinic. So is the Marie Stopes'
'Look, bad stuff happens every day. I replied. We can't possibly campaign against all of it. It's just not possible. And ultimately it's none of my business what other women do with their bodies. I just know it wouldn't be right for me,'
'At least take these leaflets and read about what you are walking way from.' she insisted. I took the leaflets and she let me go.

I walked away marvelling at her tactics and whether she really believed they worked. It was tempting to be rude to her, but despite the steeliness of her resolve, I detected a mental fragility as well in her desperation to convert. I wondered what her back story was. Had she had an abortion and then regretted it? Had someone close to her? Had she been denied a grandchild? Had she been a doctor who performed abortions who switched sides or was she simply a staunch Christian?

I didn't read the leaflets but I didn't throw them away. Later on I recycled them in my local Library next to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service leaflets on abortion, by way of offering some balance.  Maybe she had a point. Adoption seems to have become a dirtier word than abortion these days, but it's nevertheless still an option, Perhaps its waning popularity has something to do with the  trend of modern women desperate for fertility treatment claiming they 'couldn't love a baby unless it was genetically mine'.
I really don't understand this at all.
My cat is not genetically mine, but I love him unreservedly!
Personally I have always thought it would be a good idea to have women desperate for a baby and women desperate to get rid of an unwanted baby share the same clinic waiting room and be kept at least an hour waiting for their appointments. A lot of human suffering, cost and heartache might be saved if they all got talking to one another and realised they were all human and all suffering though what they did and didn't want. It used to be commonplace for adoption within families for example where an unmarried woman who 'got into trouble' would hand the baby over to a married sister or aunt who would raise it as her own, but with the mother still in the child's life. Yes, there were forced adoptions as well, but those dark days are long gone. There is no shame in being an unmarried mother nowadays, and plenty of support available, in most cases.

Notwithstanding there actually IS a market in aborted baby parts for stem cells, skin grafts and everything else, so abortion is a worldwide racket, and arguably the biggest reason why pregnant women find it so hard to access independent advice.

Recently I read '40 Years of Murder', the autobiography of one of the forensic giants of the 20th century, Keith Simpson. In the 1950s, a badly decomposed body, dressed in the remnants of a summer dress was brought to his pathology lab. She was identified by the dress fabric and the necklace as the wife of a young BBC executive who had gone missing several months previously in the summer. It was hard at first to ascertain the cause of death, but Professor Simpson eventually found enough soft tissue in the womb area to detect a mass of salt water. Her womb had been perforated by an illegal abortionist. The Police interviewed her employer and it emerged she had had an affair with him, fallen pregnant and he had arranged a private abortion for her. She had died shortly after the procedure and her employer arranged with the abortionist to dump her body in a shallow grave in a nearby forest. Unusually both were brought to trial and were convicted of manslaughter.
While abortion will never be risk free, at least its legalision prevented many more horror stories of this nature.

I suppose the biggest thing which puzzles me about abortion is why we have so much of it in a country with free contraception available to all and no shortage of sex education in schools and on TV.  I could understand it more if we lived in a third world country or a country where contraception was prohibited for religious reasons.

Prevention will always be better than cure though, and in an overpopulated world, our government should start offering tax incentives to remain child-free or at least limit numbers through proper family planning. We also have plenty of kids languishing in children's homes and on the street desperate for families/couples who claim to love children to adopt or foster.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Is Prince Harry a victim of Coercive Control?

Prince Harry, one of the world's most eligible bachelors, is introduced to a stunning charismatic American actress with a megawatt smile. He is beguiled. They have things in common. They are both the products of broken marriages, they are both used to being in the spotlight, he as a Royal, she as a successful actress. Perhaps she won't be fazed by dating him as many girls are when they realise what is involved. Moreover he notices elements of his late mother, Princess Diana, in Meghan Markle - her ever photo-ready star quality, her stated desire to do good in the world, her troubled family background, her independent spirit and her sense of fun. Then there is Meghan's need (and hunger) for the limelight, also just like his mother, and much as this turned out to be a double-edged sword for Princess Diana.

Prince Harry has had relationships before, often for several years at a time, usually with horse-loving blonde home counties types. But never has a girl changed his personality before.
He has always remained (and emerged afterwards) as the same happy go lucky bloke with the cheeky ready smile, universally liked and popular with everyone who encounters him. Caring too and committed to patronisng many worthy charities in the memory and footsteps of his late mother.

This time things are different.

Reader, he married her.

At first everyone is delighted and charmed. Here is a genuine 'breath of fresh air' joining the Royal Family, American and mixed race to boot.  Stylishly dressed and made up on every occasion in modest yet figure flattering designer outfits, Meghan's joining 'The Firm' will surely bring the Royals into the modern age, if Prince William marrying Kate Middleton, another commoner, several years previously had not.

Meghan has a brief 'starter marriage' behind her, but she loves dogs and children and alarm bells were slow to ring, unless of course you count her rather unorthodox wedding where she called many of the shots on everything from choice of preacher to flower arrangements with the royal band excluded, notwithstanding her side of the chapel was decidedly empty, except for her mother Doria.
Her estranged father gave some embarrassing media interviews begging her to reconcile with him, joined eventually by her equally embarrassing elder step-sister, but this provoked public sympathy rather than otherwise as her relations were clearly 'on the make' looking to cash in on Meghan's new Royal status, unlike her mother, who remained quietly dignified.

All in all though, this marriage looks like it will be a major and internationally unifying union, a reboot to any stuffy notions about the Royal Family and a clear sign that it has learned from the tragic saga that was Princess Diana's life and is embracing new and more progressive times.
Trolls and cynics abide in manageable numbers at this point.

Fast forward 19 months since the wedding and Prince Harry;
1. No longer sees his former friends
2. Is no longer close to his brother William, who had always been his closest ally
3. Following an unprecedented seven week hiatus away from his birth family over the festive season and holed up with Meghan in Canada, he has come home to be rude to his beloved Grandma, the Queen - a move to separate him from his country? Tellingly baby Archie has been left behind in Canada - collateral in the face of any obstacles against stepping down from Royal duties...?
4. The latest is that Prince Harry has voiced fears for his 'mental health', which suggests a man torn - perhaps between two ultimatums: ie; 'It's me and the baby or your family. Which are you going to choose' v 'It's your family or your wife and baby. Which are you going to choose?' It may not be a decision to step back for him so much as an agonising dilemma with unbearable pressure and conflicts of love and loyalty on both sides. And of course his family is no ordinary family. Not as easy to turn his back on as, say, Meghan's father was for her.

Too fantastical to believe?

Well I am not the first to comment on the personality change in Prince Harry from easy going bloke up for a laugh and a joke to worried looking 'Prince of Woke.' He has changed everything from his style, attitude and habits to his diet, and all since he met Meghan. This is a classic sign of being in a coercive relationship. Coercive relationships work a bit like a cult. A predator targets someone they wish to manipulate, charms and convinces them that they are what they need/all they need/their soulmate and it's them against the world, plays on their weaknesses and exploits them. Their target can be highly intelligent but still possess emotional vulnerabilities (Harry lost his mother at a young age for example and will always feel that void). A predator will then begin to convince their target that friends and family are bad for them or don't have their best interests at heart like they do, just by sowing seeds of doubt in their minds or playing on a perceived fault or failing in a friend or loved one until it becomes a full blown estrangement or feud.

This behaviour is more common than people think, hence there are now laws against coercive control in the UK and it is classified as a form of abuse in a relationship. Coercive control doesn't always involve physical or emotional violence (or taking charge of a target's bank account and keeping them short of money) either, just manipulation and the victim slowing losing control of their life and sense of self and sanity as divide and rule takes effect. It can be perpetuated by either gender and either gender can be a victim.

Why?

Power.

In Meghan's case she has gained a real Prince along with a title, a baby and a world stage for any woke charitable foundation she cares to found. She is known the world over (which she wasn't as an actress) and has also gained a bevy of powerful celebrity friends including Michelle Obama, the Clooneys and the Beckhams, people she probably wouldn't have been best buds with otherwise. Moreover she has gained money and a share of the Duchy of Cornwall pie, just as her career in Suits was probably nearing its final season and her acting career about to wane. There is now talk of book deals, Netflix films and a whole host of projects being lined up on the back of her brief career as a Royal. Harry, as the potential victim, also has a subconscious trigger for playing along - here is the independent woman he loves breaking free from the Royals but attempting to keep her status, just as his beloved mother tried to a generation ago, only she was not allowed to emigrate with him and William as the direct heirs to the throne.

So what evidence is there?

Apart from obediently pulling the plug on her lifestyle website and personal social media accounts for the sake of Royal protocol when she got engaged, how hard has Meghan actually tried to be a Royal, knowing it was a complete lifestyle change, incompatible with being the strong independent feminist she claimed to be, and doubtless well briefed by Harry and others as to what she would be letting herself in for?

Has she even realised there is a difference between being a celebrity and being a Royal and that the two are mutually exclusive? Is she trying to create some kind of hybrid in MeghanMania  world? Just as there is a difference between environmentalism and conspicuous consumerism including private jets and mashed avocado and the two are mutually exclusive.

1. She stage managed her own Royal wedding and refused to let her father attend, rather turning it into a celebrity-laden gathering to showcase herself and her marriage and substituting her own choice of preacher, music and decorations. No Royal bride has ever exercised this level of control over a Royal wedding.
2.She arrogantly turned down a plush apartment at Kensington Palace insisting that Frogmore Cottage be refurbished to her taste at huge public expense.
3. Meghan retained her Manhattan PR agency throughout her courtship and marriage. Why? What possible use could she have for them in her new permanently changed life as a member of the British Royal Family?
4. She had the Sussex Royal website created a full 9 months before the announcement they wanted to step back from Royal duties and move to Canada.
5. She had various friends leak her 'struggles' within her new role, akin to Princess Diana's 'cries for help'.
6. She upstaged Princess Eugenie's wedding by announcing her pregnancy on the same day.
7. She upstaged Harry by appearing at a presentation he was hosting and making a cringe-worthy speech of her own, even though not scheduled to do so.
8. There was the extravagant jet-set baby 'shower' in New York bankrolled by the Clooneys
9. There was the strange pregnancy without end where everyone waited for weeks for an announcement and even the date and venue of birth kept changing (to the point there were suspicions of a surrogate).
10. Then baby Archie was hidden for weeks, cameras not even allowed at the Christening.
11. There was the embarrassing 'Not many people have asked if I'm ok' interview in the midst of their African tour, which seemed to be more about them and their first world problems than the deprivation all around them.
12.There was a free holiday at Elton John's gaff by private jet, after which Sir Elton infamously claimed to have offset the carbon used via a donation to an environmental charity (a claim that backfired).
13. She guest-edited Vogue with a feature 'Forces of Change' featuring many of her inspirational women friends without seeking Royal approval.
14. There was the 7 week break from Royal duties and spending Christmas with the Royals as tradition expects.
15. There is now the extraordinary announcement that they intend to 'step back' from Royal duties and emigrate to North America without prior agreement or negotiation with the Queen and on their terms - ie keeping Frogmore cottage and other Royal perks, despite claiming to wish to become financially independent.
16. Finally there was the telling comment from Prince Harry's own lips; 'What Meghan wants Meghan gets...'

I don't doubt the newspaper scrutiny has been an irritant and bane to the Sussexes, but they have not helped themselves with their strange self-entitled behaviour and refusal to play ball and throw some bones to the press in terms of the standard event pictures and interviews they would expect to participate in as Royals. And let's face it they have also failed to play ball and work with the Royal Family itself, despite being members of it! It is a bit like actors accepting roles for a long-running play but then refusing to follow the script. Harry knew the drill when it came to how to play the media, but has clearly been overruled by his wife. As for Meghan, she is no shrinking violet when she wants media attention. And she clearly does want to play a centre stage role in the world.  It just has to be on her terms.

One thing is for sure. Harry has not been wearing the pants in this relationship. Meghan has been the driver from day one and she definitely has an agenda, even if she has made some ill-judged moves and gaffes along the way, and Meghan is definitely at the heart of her own agenda.

It will be interesting to see how the Sussex story plays out from now on. I suspect the plans to break free from the Royal Family but still enjoy Royal perks will backfire for this couple somehow.  I thought Meghan would wait until at least baby no. 2 before making such a dramatic move, though I assumed it would be in the form of a marriage split rather than trying to disrupt the actual core structure of the Royal Family.
I also suspect she won't hold onto her current level of power and influence, over either Harry or the world. When all is said and done Meghan is no match for the Queen, whatever she tells herself.

Laura King © 2020

Megxit! Who needs The Crown?

Amazing how news that Harry and Meghan are 'stepping down' from Royal duties and decamping to Canada can wipe Brexit, the Australian bush fires, Prince Andrew and the Iran jet strike and potential war situation off the face of the news.

It's almost a welcome relief.

Interestingly opinion seems sharply divided on the Royal couple.

Is he a loving husband protecting his innocent wife and son from constant scrutiny and media attack, particularly after what happened to his mother?

Is she a scheming manipulator who married him for wealth and influence and, having (allegedly) separated him from his friends and family, is now seeking to separate him from his country...?

Younger friends in particular seem aghast that anyone would marry for anything other than love, but people continue to marry for all sorts of reasons and always have. Wealth and influence is definitely up there in the top three reasons people choose to marry.

Others cite 'racism' as the real reason Meghan has been given such a rough ride by the press since marrying into the Royal family.

I disagree. I think most people liked her to start with and considered her a welcome 'breath of fresh air' entering the Royal Family rather than the one woman tornado she turned out to be.

I think it is Meghan's behaviour which has led to her unpopularity. Her refusal to accept that marrying into the Royal Family involved sacrifice and accepting a new life of tradition and conformity (albeit not preventing her doing charity work and expressing herself in other ways.). She has singularly failed to grasp what Kate Middleton learned early on, and despite Kate's willingness to be a mentor.

Following some unconventional celebrity Royal wedding decisions (not agreed with the Palace) Meghan refused to accept the plush Royal apartment offered to them at Kensington Palace, instead insisting that Frogmore cottage was refurbished to her personal specification at huge public expense. Then there was her love of expensive designers and jet planes, her proselytising on the environment while continuing to consume like there is no tomorrow. The weird drama of the pregnancy, the lavish jetset baby shower in New York, the long wait where no one was allowed to know when the baby was born, see it for several weeks or even photograph the christening, but were fed the odd Instagram clue and finally, body part photo of baby in black and white! Then the happy interlude of the Africa visit involving the strange self-obsessed interview followed by the long 6 week break from the Royals over Christmas. And now this announcement, apparently without consultation with the Queen. Or indeed negotiations as to how their future life apart from the Royals, but still Royal, would work.

Meantime Prince Harry has turned from a popular happy go lucky sort of bloke with a cheeky grin and lots of friends into, as one newspaper called it, a rather strained looking 'Prince of Woke' who doesn't get to do blokish things any more. He has changed in every way from his personal style to his diet. Moreover he wouldn't have dreamed of being so disrespectful to his beloved grandmother or dismissive towards his brother before Meghan came along. Meghan is clearly the driver and pants wearer of this relationship.

I am sure the newspaper scrutiny has not helped the Sussexes, but they have not helped themselves by their refusal to play ball and throw some bones to the press in terms of the standard event pictures and interviews they would expect to participate in as Royals. It is a bit like actors accepting roles for a long-running play but then refusing to follow the script. Harry knew the drill when it came to how to play the media, but has clearly been overruled by his wife. As for Meghan, she is no shrinking violet when she wants media attention. And she clearly does want to play a centre stage role in the world.  It just has to be on her terms.

What has Meghan got out of the marriage so far?  A world stage on which to express her 'wokeness', and launch her charity foundation ambitions from, money and prestige (except perhaps in UK), a Prince, a baby, and a whole new set of celebrity friends (apparently she scarcely knew the Clooneys before inviting them to her wedding). She has also got close to Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, the Beckhams and assorted other celebrities through her short career as a Royal.

Now, like an unwise defendant, they are representing themselves in the media via their social media, often with corny or badly-put together press releases, riddled with inaccuracies. This is not doing them any favours either, along with eschewing all sensible advice and counsel from third parties, including the Queen herself.

They also claim to seek 'financial independence' despite the fact they will need to rely on Royal protection from the public purse for the rest of their lives, wherever they live. True, Harry had some inheritance from his mother and Meghan earned good money in Suits, but apparently the majority of their current income comes from Charles's Duchy of Cornwall estate coffers.

It also appears they want to remain on the same income despite no longer performing even the few Royal duties they were performing.

Meghan having gained so much from this marriage, and been the driver of so many decisions, I refuse to believe she is any kind of victim. Moreover she has been rude and disrespectful to the Queen and displayed more than one instance of breathtaking arrogance and lack of manners for which there is no excuse. Doesn't she think her poor mother-in-law has been through enough and given her age? Does Meghan really imagine that the whole world revolves around her and she has no responsibilities to anyone or anything herself?

Meghan or (Me-gain as some have unkindly put it) is no victim. Arguably she knew exactly what she was doing when she married Prince Harry, and will gain an awful lot more before this saga is over.

Or as another friend put it; 'Either she didn't read the JD (job description) or she has been a deliberate disruptor and social climber all along.'

Thursday, 2 January 2020

The Politics of Homelessness

In late Summer, flowers and a couple of photographs appeared sellotaped to the wall tiles outside my local supermarket, along with chalked messages on the pavement 'RIP' and 'Always loved'.

The photographs showed a pretty young woman with red hair, in one dressed up as if going to a fancy dress party, in the other, donned in hospital gown, identity bracelet on wrist, bending over a cot holding a baby's finger, but looking into the camera.She had apparently lived outside the supermarket, homeless.

A gofundme page was duly set up to raise money for the funeral.

While haunted by this story, I was also puzzled as I walk past the supermarket at least once a day, sometimes more, and never once had I seen this girl, even sitting outside, let alone living. And she was certainly striking enough to make an impression if I had. Nor could I imagine such a girl would have been short of offers of help.

Moreover it had been more than a year since anyone had attempted to sleep outside the supermarket on a regular basis, a young man who had a habit of stuffing the local phone box full of his belongings overnight.

I asked the staff about her. She had sometimes begged outside the supermarket they said, but had never lived on the street outside, and to the best of their knowledge, had not died there either. One was quite distressed that anyone should think they had allowed a helpless young woman to die on the streets outside their shop and was at pains to point out that outreach workers visited the area daily.

Fast forward four months and the coroner's report has just appeared in the local paper.

The young woman *Yvonne turned out to be a 24 year old with a flat in Hove and a young son, although she had apparently known instances of homelessness in her life. She and her partner had taken drugs together one night and he had woken up to find her dead in bed the following morning.

My sympathy immediately evaporated.

Who decided to set up a tribute to her outside my local supermarket and claim she was street homeless, rather than an addict with a home begging for drugs money?

Was her death politicised by putting tributes outside the supermarket, despite the fact that her death had had nothing to do with the supermarket? Apparently cardboard gravestones are now appearing in street locations around Bristol, as if every death is attributable to society's failings, rather than poor life choices (and according to Shelter, two thirds of homeless are homeless owing to addiction issues).

Did those who gave *Yvonne money realise they actually financed her to commit passive suicide?

She had died by her own hand, albeit presumably accidentally, in her own flat leaving a motherless baby behind. And nowadays we are apparently supposed to feel sympathy for 'victims' like this.
Granted, some individuals have difficult and even terrible starts in life (and I speak as one of the former).  But surely, if they then bring a baby into the world, they either give it up for adoption to someone who can look after it or vow the child will have a completely different childhood and life to themselves? What happened to a child as a wake up call and motivator to turn one's life around? What happened to a child as a serious responsibility?

I began to mull on the curious modern cult of victimhood we are seemingly supposed to accept and subscribe to, and in many cases treat as lifelong, rather than a temporary state.

Why too are we supposed to accept this hideous drug culture sprouting up all around us without question as the new normal? How can drugs ever be regarded as 'recreational' when they can just as easily kill or maim as offer a few hours escapism?

Recently I read the autobiography of a forensic pathologist. Tellingly, when he embarked on his career in the early 1980s, he came across his first cocaine overdose death in 1985, some four years after he had qualified and he was very surprised by it. Nowadays it is not unusual for him to come across more than one in a day's work, just from cocaine. And not just young people either, He is increasingly finding middle aged cases on his slab. According to him there has been a seismic shift in the number of unnatural deaths owing to substance abuse over the last few years.

I wonder what Charles Dickens would make of street life today. What novels would he pen? Where would his sympathies lie? Somehow I don't think he would disagree that even poor people are capable of self respect and taking some degree of responsibility for their life choices. Moreover, local hostel places often go unused by those who seem to prefer the streets and are allowed to remain on the streets, despite the law.

Notwithstanding, I regularly support homeless charities, particularly Emmaus, who do an amazing job of full support and rehabilitation (for those who commit to their programme) but I question the efficacy of many other approaches and ideologies. For example every time a local premises doorway or public area is secured from rough sleepers overnight, there are some who deem this 'unacceptable' or 'an attack on the homeless' as if it is perfectly acceptable to sleep in shop doorways or on beaches, open to attack and the elements, rather than in hostels. We also had a local MP who thought 'shooting galleries' were a good idea to facilitate the illegal activity of drug taking! The only people that might help would be park users who don't want to keep finding syringes everywhere, not the homeless.

*Note: I have chosen not to use a photo of the real life street tribute, but this image seemed just as apt,