Sunday, February 17, 2008

What the Archbishop didn't say

Yet another Daily Mail front page (well, Mail on Sunday, actually, but they're the same bastards) alluding to the Archishop of Canterbury's "advocacy" of Sharia Law. It's truly astonishing the depths to which the media, and the newspapers especially, will stoop. Who cares about the truth, eh? We've got targets to hit.

I am not a churchgoer. I was baptised into the Church of England at the age of 13 because I wanted to go to a Catholic school (work that one out). Not, as has been the subject of various newspaper reports bemoaning the standard of modern-day parenting, because it was a good school and my parents wanted me to go there (in fact they were deeply reluctant), but because it was where my best friend was going and I was so desperately insecure that I felt I had to follow him. I am one of those dreadfully cowardly people who label themselves "agnostic", partly, I suspect, because I went to said Catholic school and had the gospel of John Mark drilled into me for three years. I am now trying to learn about different religions when I get the chance - Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism among them - not because I intend to folow any of them, but purely because I believe it is important to understand different cultures to better interact with them. So my willingness to stand up for the Archbishop is not born of any religious deference. It is born out of despair at the manipulative expediency of the media.

Dr Rowan Williams never said anything about the adoption of Sharia Law in certain parts of the counntry being "inevitable". I know, because I've read the transcript of the lecture, rathr than relying on what the papers say, much of which is bollocks. He gave a wide-ranging lecture on the concept of allowing community jurisdiction to act alongside the rule of law in certain cases in certain areas. He touched on Jewish customs, Catholic customs, Christian customs and, yes, Islamic customs. His point was that in certain cases, on certain issues - including, for example, abortion, divorce, marriage, family-planning - certain communities recognise a code of conduct and customs which is particular to membership of that community and this should be understood in the context of UK law which prizes the rights of the individual above all else. With the legal ystem apparently creaking under the weight of litigious traffic in our blame-obsessed, fear-driven society, is it really beyond the pale to even consider such a thing?

No, but it doesn't sell papers, does it? What's next, the special commemorative Enoch Powell DVD, complete with quiz and "Rivers of Blood" rafting game for the kids?

By the way, this issue does fall within the remit of this blog because lots of people on the train read the Daily Mail. Oh, and I'm not just being what Richard Littledick would call a "bleeding heart liberal" - The Guardian is just as bad.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The birthday experiment

Yesterday was my 31st birthday. After last year's extensive celebrations to mark the beginning of my third decade (or, more accurately, the end of my second), it was a fairly low-key affair. What with the arrival of The Little Commuter, marking the passing of another year seems a fairly pointless thing to do with any great gusto, since it rather pales into insignifiance compared to other recent developments. I did get a nice surprise at work, howver, when a half-bottle of champagne arrived at my desk, courtesy of my sister, along with a helium baloon bearing the traditonal birthday legend. My sister jokingly remarked that she'd pay money to see me try to get the balloon home on the train, and, never one to turn down the chance of a quick buck, I decided to conduct an experiment. Leaving the office early (one birthday privelege I was not going to pass up) I set out to walk to Kings Cross, with the champers clutched under my arms and the balloon fluttering above my head. I was intrigued to see whether I would attract attention, and moreover whether anyone would wish me happy birthday. I figured that, since Oxford Street and Soho are crawling with people desperate for trade - chuggers, vendors, the guys that hand out London Liteweight and The London LooPaper, recruitment-literature-hawkers and the people that try to sign you up for language school no matter your nationality, my chances were fairly good.

I was wrong. Nobody so much as batted an eyelid. Well, I thought, either Londoners really are a bunch of mean-spirited curmudgeons, or this city is just so full of crazy loons that the sight of a grown man parading along the street in rush hour with a helium balloon fluttering above his head just doesn't cut the mustard in terms of spectacle. No matter, I thought, as I headed into the Kings Cross underpass: I'm bound to attract at least a couple of good wishes from my fellow commuters on the train, at least some of whom must see me everyday.

You know what's coming next, don't you?

Nobody on the train paid me the slightest attention, even though I was standing by the door the whole journey, so that everyone who got on or off filed straight past me. I even pulled the balloon into my chest at one point, to clear a path for somebody to get off, and then I even pressed the button to open the doors. No one thanked me, much less wished me happy birthday.

Now I'm not by nature an attention seeker (despite the evidence). I'm not making out that for some reason I am especially deserving of people's good wishes. I just think that simple things like wishing someone a happy birthday, pardoning them when they sneeze, or thanking them whne they open the door or even move to accomodate you, promotes a sense of bonhomie and should be encouraged. Little gestures can often mean more than big ones. The mayor of London obviously agrees with me, as he is starting an advertising campaign promoting just such a thing. Ken, I salute you.