Tag Archives: War

PEEPING OUT OF THE BUBBLE.

11 Apr

We all like to believe that it’s our own views and lifestyle that are “normal” and that it is those of others that are strange or extreme. We try to surround ourselves with like-minded people, read like-minded newspapers and books and largely watch TV programmes that bolster our view of the world. This results in people following a similar life-style to those they are close to. In other words, we create our own bubbles to live in, bubbles that protect us from those with: opposing views, contrasting life-styles, different priorities or conflicting attitudes. So it comes as a shock when we encounter someone or something that doesn’t conform to life inside our comfortable bubble. The most obvious example of this is when we have a General Election or a referendum. If the result goes against what we passionately believe in, then it pulls us up with a start. It’s a sickening realization. It’s a shock to find that many of the beliefs that one holds dear, are not shared or are actually rejected by many others. It’s a feeling of helplessness and even despair. It is as if one is living in the wrong world.

I have felt this emotion many times. I seem to specialise in being in a minority. For a start I’m left-handed, which I think is normal but others think is odd and feel free to comment on. On a more serious note, I am a life-long vegetarian in a country of rampant meat-eaters. How else can I explain the inexorable march of McDonalds, Burger Kings and KFCs? How else to explain the popularity of pub carveries or the stubborn clinging to the tradition of the Sunday joint? I try to ignore all this and imagine a world where everyone cares about other living creatures. In other words I conjure up a fantasy world that reflects my own views and moral stance, but every now and then I am confronted with the reality of people eating animals and so get shocked and upset all over again.

Next up is war. I am against war because of all the misery, destruction, injuries and deaths it leads to. This is why I have been a supporter of CND and the Peace Movement for many years. Yet I live in a country, the United Kingdom, that is very militaristic and is frequently involved in making war. In the Tony Blair years, the UK went to war 5 times in 6 years. ( Iraq, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq again). Since then we have got militarily involved in Libya and Syria. The UK is also one of the biggest exporters of lethal arms in the world. Currently,  the weapons it has sold to Saudi Arabia are being employed to kill and maim the people of Yemen. The peace movement has large numbers of course but is almost certainly out-numbered by those who support the military and acts of war. This usually includes our Government and Parliament. Many people have sons, husbands and other relatives in the armed forces, so naturally support the causes they are fighting for, even though this involves invading somebody else’s sovereign country and killing its people. British soldiers are now routinely described as “heroes” and it would lead to many an upsetting scene to argue otherwise. As much as possible, I converse with pacifists and shield myself from the horrible reality of my country pursuing war.

These are just a few examples, and I’m not even going to get started on the EU referendum of June, 2016, which has polarised the nation into Leavers or Remainers. Just for the record, I  voted “remain”, which put me in the minority camp yet again, even though the margin of the “Leave” victory was very narrow.

So, for much of my everyday life, I just sit inside my comfortable bubble, mixing with people who mostly agree with me. I do this to preserve my own sanity and to keep the peace. Being constantly at odds with others is not conducive to a calm and happy life. My friends and most of my family share the majority of my views. On social media I usually swap opinions with like- minded people. For example, the vast majority of my Facebook friends shared my shock and dismay at the “Leave” vote and posts generally back up this common viewpoint. But every now and again, someone pops up who has a different opinion and dares to express it. This can lead to quite heated online discussions which can quickly disintegrate into unpleasant slanging matches. This is when I get to peep at the world outside my bubble. I think this is a good thing. It’s not always comfortable but always valuable to encounter opposing views. The thing about Facebook “friends” is that they’re not always genuine friends. They can be: acquaintances, work colleagues, ex-work colleagues, friends of friends, people you have met on holiday etc. I think it’s a positive thing because it gives one the chance to encounter alternative views and attitudes to one’s own. For instance, I supported one friend ( a genuine, long-term friend), who challenged the idea of Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, being a man of the common people. He did this by posting a picture of Farage at a fox hunt, something one usually associates with the upper classes. So Nigel’s claims that UKIP campaigns for the “ordinary man” (and woman) seems to have been contradicted by his life-style. However, the  response my friend got was full of  seething anger, bitterness and resentment. Many claimed that Farage was a hero of the people because he had freed the UK from the evil clutches of Brussels and others grumbled at the fact that he had been ignored in the New Year Honours list. The anger and outright bile exhibited in those Facebook responses was pretty shocking to me as such views don’t exist inside my bubble. It gave me a salutary but enlightening glimpse into another version of the country I live in ( almost a parallel universe.)

The world of work provides another opportunity to peep outside the bubble. One can choose one’s friends but there is no choice about one’s work colleagues. It’s important to get along with them in order to do a better job as cooperative members of a team. It also makes for a more peaceful existence. Constantly clashing and arguing with colleagues at work would make life a misery. So most people keep quiet if their views don’t fit, unless it is a work issue which should be thrashed out in an orderly and respectful fashion. Thus, when I was a full- time school teacher, I debated educational issues with colleagues in staff meetings or working parties, but seldom got into arguments about war, politics, religion or the morality of eating animals. I have now retired from full time work, thank goodness, but still do occasional casual work at 2 local schools as an examination invigilator.  In between exams I often sit in the staffroom and listen to the “crack” which is invariably amusing and/or informative. These staff-room conversations give me a useful and interesting insight into the alternative worlds beyond my “bubble.”

Only last week I learnt the following things. Many people still believe in the Death Penalty and would vote to bring it back if there was a referendum. Some think the persistent discipline problem in schools and in society at large should be tackled by bringing back corporal punishment, or reintroducing “Boot Camps.” ( This is despite all the stories of child abuse and public school beatings that unfortunately frequent the news waves.) Michael Howard, the former Conservative Home Secretary, who liked to think he was being tough on crime, would have been very pleased. One person actually claimed that the rot had set in when “Childline” was launched. So the juvenile delinquency problem is all down to Esther Rantzen! Everyone was dead against a local community centre being converted into a refuge for asylum seekers. We don’t want them here because we’re Brexit, was the cry! No comment was the safest policy. On a more trivial note, I found out that some people go to have spray tans before a special event like a wedding. You are not allowed to wash for 24 hours and it lasts for 2 weeks. I said nothing of course but couldn’t help thinking that this is yet another example of the fraudulent society we are creating — fake news, fake identities on social media, fake musical tribute artists, fake looks following botox or plastic surgery. Compared to all that, a fake tan seems mild.

Finally we come to the great Yorkshire Pudding controversy. The conversation went from diets ( always a popular topic), to food in general, to Yorkshire puddings. I had these as a child but they haven’t featured in my diet for years except in the occasional pub lunch. Well, it seems that everyone who was in the staffroom at that time has a Yorkshire pudding every week  with the Sunday roast. One person puts vinegar into the mixture as her husband likes his Yorkshire crispy. Maybe, it’s because Cleveland, where I live, is part of the old North Yorkshire. I listened quietly but then was asked directly how I liked my Yorkshire. It’s not the usual question one gets asked in an educational establishment! I had to admit that I didn’t eat them and everyone’s jaws simultaneously dropped to the ground. They couldn’t believe it and thought I was joking. When asked “why?” — I answered: “Because they’re fattening.” This answer was met with a stony silence. I had obviously broken a sacred, social taboo. I had committed the sin of making judgement on other people. I would normally have kept my mouth shut but was put on the spot, and didn’t realize my honest answer would cause such a stir.

So it’s very comfortable to live in one’s own cosy world but fascinating to peep out of it. The lives of others are always interesting. When faced with a direct question, I will try to answer as straight-forwardly and honestly as possible. However the best policy is usually to keep mum. It’s the coward’s way out I know, but I don’t really want my life to be scarred by constant arguments and upsets. This probably contradicts what I said in an earlier blog, when I argued that it was preferable to be honest rather than just polite. Maybe, I’m mellowing in my old age. Peeping out of one’s bubble is interesting and fine, but  constantly bursting out of it is not recommended!

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Short memories but Long Term Consequences.

8 Dec

Only a few weeks ago the United Kingdom conducted the very solemn ceremony known as Remembrance Day. Up and down the country wreaths were laid, poppies were worn and fine words spoken to remember and honour the country’s war dead. People recalled the terrible tragedy of war and grieved the  deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers who were lost in Britain’s conflicts from the First World War to Iraq and Afghanistan. The most high profile ceremony was, as usual, at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Our most prominent politicians and representatives of the Royal family were present to take part in this ritual of national mourning  and of grave, sober remembrance. And quite right too — we must not forget those who gave their lives fighting for their country!

Thinking about all this, it seems very strange therefore, that less than 4 weeks later, this country, the United Kingdom, has once again voted to go to war! So more unfortunate victims will be created for us to remember in sad ceremonies of the future. The House of Commons, with a large majority, voted for British warplanes to start bombing the ISIS held parts of Syria, even though Syria is a separate and sovereign country. And it seems that despite the solemnity of Remembrance Sunday, many were very excited about this new rush to war. There was wall to wall media coverage, cheers in the Commons when the result was announced and vilification of those who voted for Peace. The Prime Minister, David Cameron described them as “terrorist sympathisers” and refused to apologise for these incendiary remarks even those he was asked to do so in parliament 12 times.

This is the 5th time in this short 15 year century, that the UK has gone to war. The reason this time is to attack the terrorist group, ISIS, who recently carried out the appalling massacre in the streets of Paris and who also claim responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt , killing all passengers and crew. In their territories in Iraq and Syria they have carried out atrocities such as: rape, murder, beheadings and crucifixions. Every decent human being is shocked and horrified by such outrages and I suppose it is natural to want to hit back at ISIS or Islamic State as soon as possible. However, is it sensible to make serious decisions such as going to war as part of an emotional, knee-jerk reaction? Surely it would have been best to count to ten and use that time to consider the possible consequences of our actions. We could have used that time to think of the alternative ways of bringing down ISIS other than bombing. We could also have used that time to remember the tragedy of war that we were all thinking about less than a month before. It’s a serious case of short -term memory loss and I don’t think the MPs who voted for war in Syria can use Alzeimers as an excuse.

So what might the consequences of this rash, rush to war be? First of all, although it is supposed to be defending us from terrorist attacks by hitting their bases in the Middle East, our bombing raids immediately put our air-crews in danger. I shudder to think what would happen if their war-planes crashed or were shot down over ISIS territory.  Secondly, the British bombing will almost certainly make the UK an even greater target for an ISIS inspired terrorist attack. Thirdly, many more people in Syria  will hate the British, once the bombing casualty figures start to rise. Thus the raids will be a superb recruiting tool for ISIS, as more fighters join their ranks to gain revenge on the bombers. Some belief that this is the very thing that ISIS wanted, so the British have played right into their hands. As Stephen Fry tweeted — In a war you do what the enemy least wants you to do, not the thing it most wants you to do. ( or words to that effect.)

The British government has tried to make this issue very black and white. We are bombing ISIS in Syria as well as in Iraq, in order to protect ourselves from a Paris-style terrorist attack. We also want to support our close ally: France. It sounds so simple. However, we are actually entering a very messy and murderous civil war with multiple warring parties. Russia and the USA are already involved in major bombing campaigns, along with the French, the Turks and now the British. The great danger is that the Russians are supporting President Assad but the Americans are supporting the anti-Assad fighting groups. The potential for a major incident between America and Russia is very high. They are supporting opposite sides in a civil war and both are flying their bombers in the same tiny airspace. Already, the Russians and the Turks have come to grief with the shooting down of a Russian fighter that is supposed to have flown into Turkish air-space. The British , along with the French have now entered into this volatile, dangerous situation. Two years ago the British wanted to bomb President Assad’s forces. Now they are bombing some of Assad’s enemies in the civil war. Has the British Government and parliament really made a sensible decision?

It can be argued that this war, like the Iraq invasion that preceded it, is illegal. It certainly does not have the full sanction of the United Nations. Resolution 2249 which the UN passed, does not invoke Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Only this chapter can authorise such military intervention. The military raids of the western allies ( as well as those of Russia) are not respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and unity of the Syrian state, as demanded by the UN Charter. As in Libya, the western powers have taken sides in a complex civil war which could have disastrous consequences for the future.

A terrible consequence of bombing is civilian casualties. Ask anyone who lived through the Blitz in 1940. The Airwars project ( airwars.org) estimate that at least 10% of airstrike casualties are non-combatants. With thousands of raids being planned and ISIS using the poor civilian population as a human- shield, civilian deaths and injuries, including to women, children and elderly people are going to be considerable. Politicians and military people cynically and coldly call this “collateral damage.” To many people who campaign for peace, this is simply unacceptable. I remember at the start of the Iraq war, seeing a photo of a teenager who had had his arms and legs blown off during the American/British bombing onslaught on Bagdad. The British papers tried to dress it up as a feel-ggod story, as the poor lad had been kindly flown to England for medical treatment. Maybe it would have been much better if we had not bombed his city in the first place. I stared at the picture and then had to hide it away. It made me feel physically sick. I fear that many such scenes will be replicated during our Syrian bombing campaign.

The atrocities of ISIS and their followers are terrible but will revenge attacks make the situation better or worse? I would suggest the latter. My grandma and mum used to advise me “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” They are very wise words. It would be difficult to follow Jesus’s advice and turn the other cheek or forgive. However, surely the powerful countries of the West, plus Russia, can cripple ISIS economically by setting up a blockade?  They could also put diplomatic pressure on Islamic State’s supporters such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Pressure could be brought to bear on Turkey to stop it purchasing Isis oil and stop it giving Isis fighters easy movement across its borders. There are many alternatives to bombing, which is a dangerously simplistic solution.

Maybe, Prime Minister David Cameron is more interested in trying to maintain Britain’s status as a so-called Great Power. He wants to keep his place at the “top table” , I would suggest. He wants to save “face” when meeting up with Hollande, Obama or Putin. I would suggest that he is suffering from a severe attack of “Churchill syndrome.” Unfortunately, by joining in the bombing he has sacrificed a lot of the influence he or his Foreign Secretary might have had in Syrian civil war peace negotiations. The British cannot present themselves as honest brokers any more. They have revealed their hand to the opposition.

The Syrian Civil war is savage and dangerously complex. There are many sides involved in the fighting. Atrocities are being committed by all sides. In the end, only a diplomatic solution seems possible. By joining the war, the British, I would argue, are pouring oil on very troubled waters. They , along with the other powers have got involved without having any clear plan for the peace, if it ever comes. The interventions in Iraq and Libya have had disastrous consequences. Afghanistan is still a dangerous mess. I doubt that Syria will be any better.

It’s so sad that we seem to have forgotten the meaning of Remembrance Day so quickly. In joining the war instead of campaigning for a peaceful solution in Syria, the UK is failing to learn the lessons of even the recent past.

TO BE HONEST OR TO BE POLITE?

13 Nov

This post is going to include comments that some people may find rude or offensive. I’m writing it nevertheless because I’m sick of being polite! Society ties us up in a whole web of politeness. The result is that we spend a lot of time smiling at one another and exchanging superficial pleasantries, while at the same time hiding our true thoughts and feelings. Clearly, this is often very necessary , as it ensures that for most of the time, most of the people get on with each other without coming to blows. Politeness is the oil that lubricates the cogs of society. The problem with this however, is that our real, honest selves remain locked up inside us. We are like players on a stage, acting out the various roles that have been allocated to us. We carefully follow the script but hardly ever reveal our true identities.

I recently had a dream in which I was walking around with my hands covering my face. The simple interpretation is that I was hiding the real me in order to avoid confrontation and trouble. Another common analogy is that we are wearing metaphorical masks, like characters in Ancient Greek theatre. In my dream ( and in real life most of the time), I cannot reveal that I’m an athiest just in case the other person is religious. Similarly I cannot reveal that I am a pacifist just in case the other has a son or husband serving in Afghanistan. I cannot admit straight away to supporting Arsenal just in case the other is a Man Utd fan. One of my most important life-style choices is that of being a vegetarian. ( veggies would call it: choosing a compassionate life-style.) However I have to be careful how much I say about this ethical choice and even HOW I go about saying it. Some carnivores ( or omnivores) show polite and fleeting interest, but if I prolong my explanation beyond a couple of minutes, I run the risk of arousing their impatience and even anger. If a person outlines an ethical standpoint he/she is in danger of being accused of “preaching” or of trying to take the moral high-ground. In other words, people think you are trying to be better than them. This gets up their noses. As soon as a veggie tries to activate a meat-eater’s conscience, a defensive/aggressive shield drops down and  an unpleasant scene is potentially only moments away. Thus, in order not to offend others who do not share their moral views, most vegetarians keep quiet, unless they are sure that someone is genuinely interested in their stance. The result in most cases is that my opinions about animal welfare and my respect for all life ( human or otherwise), are trumped by society’s need to keep the peace and avoid controversy.

I wasn’t always this passive and polite. When I was a teenager I wanted to shout my views from the rooftops. I didn’t care what people thought of them. I was in fact proud of my views for I had a strong belief that they were right. At that time in my life I had fewer inhibitions and like all idealistic young people , I sincerely thought I could change the World for the better. Afterall I grew up in the mythical, magical 1960’s when traditional society seemed to be in melt-down and all the rules were being rewritten. Just for one shimmering moment, in the fleeting era of “Flower Power”, it seemed that peace and love would conquer the world, taking the place of the usual war and hatred. I supported this movement wholeheartedly. The Vietnam War was at its height and for a brief period it seemed as if all that appalling violence could be swept away by a mass movement based on  love ( and I’m not just talking about Christianity.) Basically I believed in a way of living that supported the protection and prolongation of LIFE rather than a mode of existance that accepted and even promoted cruelty, misery and unnecessary DEATH. I extended my definition of Life to that of all creatures on the earth, human or otherwise. Thus I was against war, against torture, against cruel sports and against the mass slaughter of animals for food. All these views fitted naturally together like a moral jig-saw. I wasn’t ashamed to express them even though I risked arguments and upset. More controversially, I decided that in order to be consistent with my anti-unnecessary- death stance, I had to disagree with abortion too, unless there was a very special reason such as the woman’s life being at risk. This was and is controversial as anti-abortionists for some reason tend to be on the right of the political spectrum, whereas all my other views fitted nicely with those on the left. So as well as arguing with carnivores — sorry– omnivores — and supporters of war, I now got embroiled in heated exchanges with feminists who insisted on “the woman’s right to choose” and said I had no right to even have an opinion on this as I was a man. The unborn child who was having it’s life extinguished even before it came out into the world, seemed to have been forgotten in all this. So as an adolescent I fervently supported the rights of people to live in peace, the rights of animals to have a life and the rights of the unborn child. Then I got a bit older ( some people would say I grew up) and all went silent. So what happened? To put it succinctly: politeness descended like a fog. My views got lost in an enveloping mist of good manners.

Once I became a young adult with growing responsibilities such as: a family, a career and eventually a mortgage, my priorities became more personal. Idealistically trying to change the world now had to go on the back-burner. I could not continue challenging people about their views or their eating habits without running the risk of stalling my career and socially isolating myself. If I had kept “banging on” about the evils of war, the abominations of abattoirs or the rights of the living foetus, my colleagues, friends and even family would quickly have got tired of me. The dinner-party invitations would have dried up and promotion opportunities at work would have disappeared. Eventually I would have been branded an “extremist”, that is: someone who is unwilling to compromise. So, there’s that dreaded word — Compromise. Nobody wants to be compromised but most of us end up doing it anyway, of our own volition. We water-down our views or keep quiet about them in order to get on with other people and be a success in society. I don’t know whether I should be ashamed to admit it but this is what I did in my twenties. Some would say I became a realist instead of continuing to be an idealist. I wanted to be a popular and accepted member of my community and so I made the necessary adjustments. In other words I became a conformist. Thus it was that I hung my “Superman” suit up in the wardrobe and concentrated on living a pleasant everyday life by fitting in. Besides, unrelenting challenging, arguing and campaigning had been draining and debilitating. Constantly swimming against the tide is very tiring. As a result, I decided to go with the flow and my more controversial views were hidden away to avoid embarrassment. Some would say that it was the coward’s way out!

For more than a decade I kept quiet, trying to be nice to everyone and not rocking any boats. I led a very happy family life with my wife and children and I got on in my teaching career. Schools in fact are great places for conformists. They try to be a microcosm of the wider society and the whole ethos is on  “fitting in”, from wearing the uniform to following all the rules. They are not such good places for “rebels.” One of the first things I had to do was get my hair cut. Up to that point I  looked like a cross between George Best and George Harrison.( or so I imagined.)  Now I was forced to look like an American GI going to war! I also had to get used to years of slavery to the collar and tie as I masqueraded as an upstanding member of the “establishment” Both at home and at work I generally avoided controversy and I was rewarded with social and vocational success. I was pretty happy most of the time.

However nothing lasts. Mrs Thatcher came to power in the 1980’s with her aggressive and destructive ( in my view) right wing doctrine. Unemployment reached frightening proportions, the pointless but dreadful Falklands war was fought, the miners’ strike was smashed, along with many of their heads, and dangerous Cruise Missiles were arriving at Greenham Common from Reagon’s America. On top of this, environmental issues such as pollution and destruction of habitats were getting more and more urgent. CND was revived and Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were born. All these developments meant that I was radicalised again, as were many of my friends and family. It was no longer a case of hiding away one’s views in order to keep life pleasant. It was now the time to stand up and be counted. So I donned my duffle coat, put on my badges and found myself:  on torch-light processions, writing protest letters, lobbying my (Tory) MP, signing petitions , going door-to door canvassing, joining the Labour party ( and attending boring meetings) and going on a wide variety of demonstrations. I became a peace campaigner and in a small way, an environmental activist. It felt good. There were millions of us. Taking part in mass marches, I felt energised and empowered.  It was good to be fighting for positive change rather than timidly keeping quiet or sitting on the fence. Unfortunately millions more were either apathetic or downright hostile to the causes I supported and the Tories under Thatcher and then John Major unbelievably won 4 elections in a row! Eventually I and many others got tired and dispirited. Ten years of campaigning had burnt me out and I desperately needed to rest from the fray. So I lapsed into the “quiet life” again.

The temporary abandonment of my activism was also necessitated by an unfortunate series of crises in my private life in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Separation, divorce, not being able to live with my children and further relationship turmoil, all now took over from trying to save the world. I had to recover from the traumas, lick my wounds and reconstruct my life. It was quite a long time before things settled down and were more or less stable again. Eventually I found happiness once more, becoming a grandfather twice over, falling in love and even remarrying. By 2006 I at last managed to escape the tyranny of work after a tough few last years, and discovered the joys of slightly early retirement. I kept my more contentious views and concerns largely under wraps and avoided controversy. Everything in my garden seemed rosy. What more could I ask for?

However, underneath all this surface contentment, restless rumblings of dissent were once more stirring inside me like a dormant volcano coming back to life. Why did this happen? Why did I want to threaten my new very happy life? Well first of all, my fundamental, heartfelt beliefs had never actually gone away just because I hardly ever aired them in public. If anything, they had grown stronger and deeper, like good wine maturing in a cellar. They were beliefs that formed the foundation of my life. Although hidden away, they are what defined me as a person. I wouldn’t be Stuart Bates if I wasn’t a pacifist, a vegetarian, a socialist ( with a small “s”), a “Green”, a Republican, and so on. These principles shape me as much as my various roles of: husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, friend etc. Once I was a retiree and had more time to think and reflect on life, they inevitably rose to the surface again. Also, I’ve found that one advantage of getting older is that one is not so much in thrall to all the niceties and rules of etiquette that can prove so limiting in one’s life. William Blake memorably called these restrictions: “mind-forged manacles.” As I got past 60 and had less responsibilities to tie me down, I increasingly wanted to break free from my shackles and reveal my true self. I wanted to be honest and not be “economical with the truth”, to quote a famous cabinet secretary.

Many older people get this feeling. They lose some of their inhibitions and become so-called “grumpy” old men and women. They even made a humorous television programme about it and so I found myself in the illustrious company of Rick Wakeman, Ben Elton, Dawn French and others. It almost became fashionable to be “grumpy”. I prefer to call it being “honest”. However, other people think that older people can be as much of an “embarrassment” in polite society as children. Afterall they might just suddenly blurt out what they truly think instead of just saying what they think others want to hear. Older people, like young children, don’t care so much for the consequences of their words and actions. I would argue that they do not so often allow their true, honest selves to be smothered by the niceties of polite society. I am still courteous most of the time but think that it is also important to speak out. In this 21st century, Britain has been constantly at war and has proved to be an aggressive, militeristic nation, just as much as it was in the infamous days of Empire. We dress it up as supporting “freedom” and “democracy” but we still end up invading other countries and killing and maiming lots of people. The real reason is to get oil and other natural resources.( in my opinion.) We have even ended up torturing people and have apologised only when we have been caught. Yet the British still think of themselves as the good guys and describe their invading soldiers as “heroes”. Yes, there’s lots to speak out about and lots of potential arguments in store because so many have relatives in action in the armed forces. If you speak out against war you are accused of not being patriotic and even of being a traitor. Society has lots of techniques with which to gag its critics. And that’s just one controversial subject. There are plenty more that need to be addressed instead of being swept under the carpet of polite society.

Probably closest to my heart is my deep concern for animal welfare. I am against the abuse and exploitation of animals and birds be it through sport, in laboratories , on farms or in abbattoirs. Some of the stuff I read about makes my blood boil and makes me feel physically sick. And yet most people’s response seems to be either they “don’t know” or they “don’t care.” To me it’s simply a case of “Ignorance” or “Arrogance” How can I be expected to keep quiet about all this in order to avoid awkward moments in social situations? I have been emboldened in this by reconnecting with the friend who I turned vegetarian with in our mid-teens, all those years ago. Vic has not changed his fundamental views in his lifetime and neither have I. The trouble is that I am increasingly encountering people who believe: its OK to torture animals in order to find a cure for human diseases, it’s OK to eat animals’ dead bodies because they are very tasty and it’s OK to whip race-horses excessively in the name of creating an exciting finish. How can I remain quiet about all this?

I am sick of being policed by politeness. It’s cords still tie me down to a greater extent and I will probably not subject anyone to an outright attack. However I no longer try to disguise my disgust and dismay when coming across something shocking. For instance I was recently confronted with the grisly sight of a bloody, medium rare steak on a restaurant table. To me it was  obscene but the others in my party all drooled over it and couldn’t wait to get their teeth into it. To me it was the grilled corpse of a poor murdered animal. But apart from my look of horror, I meekly remained mute and pretended to be pleased with my vegetarian alternative. So I spoke out to my diary, to my wife and now in this blog. Sorry about my emotive vocabulary. It’s embarrasing isn’t it?

I know that some of my relatives regard me increasingly as a “loose cannon”. They fear that I might “go off it” at any time. ( and they may be right!) But I believe that honesty trumps politeness in most situations. At least it should do. What is the point of life if we all hide behind euphanisms and never say anything meaningful?  What’s the point in having views if one is afraid to express them or to act upon them?

So now, in my 60’s, I am embarking on another decade of campaigning. My Facebook “friends” are already getting fed up with my vegetarianism and for constantly reminding them about the shocking abuse of animals. However, as I have said, nothing is gained through being always quiet and polite. Anyway, it’s very uncomfortable sitting on that fence all the time!