There is plenty right with cutting edge comedy that makes us look at how our world spins lies, distortion and half truths. Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle has made a huge success of poking fun of everything and everyone – nothing is off limits, Madeleine McCann and 9/11 are just two of many subjects covered in routines.
But maybe this time, the comedian has crossed the border without a visa. In the last gig of a recent tour the ubiquitous panelist of the BBC hit comedy show Mock the Week poked a very sharp finger into the chest of Down’s Syndrome and the content of the routine has caused offence to a member of the audience who happens to have a young daughter with the condition. Sharon Smith wrote about the incident on her blog.
I don’t have a problem with Boyle’s right to say what he wants on stage but there is an issue of him making money out of routines where vulnerable people do not have the intellectual rigour to fight back. In the gig that Sharon saw, Boyle parodied the so-called ‘accent’ of a person with Down’s Syndrome saying: ‘I’m looking forward to my birthday present this year, a pair of flared trousers.’ It is indeed funny that a person can fuel a lifestyle from such drivel.
But it works both ways, so on the basis that Careimages is all about accentuating the abilities of people with Down’s Syndrome and other groups marginalised first by society and further by Boyle cowering behind the ticket booth of free speech, here is a little joke:
Frankie Boyle was being led to the gallows by a fella with Down’s Syndrome and it was pouring down. ‘Not a very nice day for it.’ says Frankie. ‘It’s all right for you’, says the hangman, ‘I’ve got to walk back in this.’
Tomorrow I am going to a funeral, not of a friend but of a colleague / team-mate, whichever of the two words best fit. I won’t use the person’s real name out of respect. He was 52 and played for the same chess club as me, but he was at a much stronger level so our paths barely crossed. I played once with him and enjoyed his company immensely. But throughout the long game (each of us lost games that lasted four to five hours) he was drinking heavily. It was clear he had a problem. A few weeks later he was hospitalised with severe problems with his liver. A few members of the club went to visit and it was clear that he was very ill. His gaunt figure and depressed face were icons of a body unable or unwilling to walk and eat properly. His situation was desperate.
After six weeks in hospital he was discharged back to his flat with empty bottles of Scotch where a week later he died. With few or no friends to talk of, the bottles were always there to reassure him life was worth living. Tomorrow, a few colleagues from the chess club will stand at his grave with his only remaining relative, a sister who lives far away.
On the day we played in that match together he told me about his great prowess as a chess junior, about how he once beat a now famous grandmaster, about his interesting work in computer programming for a blue-chip company. And you might think that a man with such a mind and talent could find his way in a great city like London with its myriad of opportunities for work and play. But no, here was a person who was out of the social services radar and did not have the ability to ask for help. I wonder how many more like him are out there.
A few weeks ago I took a long hard look at my rather portly stomach and decided enough is enough. As a young person I loved sport and participated in football, cricket, squash and even ran a marathon once. But as middle age took hold, the mind was more willing than the body and the calories were spinning round like a Catherine wheel. Result, to paraphrase Mr Micawber, was certainly not happiness – I couldn’t even find my duck in the bath.
Luckily, two nieces came to the rescue with a serious short-term fix which revolved round replacing all the nice things in life with the type of food fit for an anorexic sparrow. But you know what, three and a half weeks in, and after a table-creaking lunch of sardines and a tomato, I’m a different person. Yes, I do miss a prune danish, a bagel with 100 per cent full-fat cream chesse, a bag of crisps, the occasional pizza, pasta, cheese cake, sticky toffee pudding (I could go on). But at three kilos lighter and a more enlightened approach to food I do feel a weight is off my stomach and indeed mind.
Another, and perhaps more interesting outcome of this exercise, is noticing how many people out there are overweight, and how much junk is consumed. I’m certainly no advocate of so-called health foods, which through a cunning marketing ploy around the organic brand, has turned intelligent people into zombie-like creatures who have a penchant for giving enormous sums of money for no added value whatsoever. As the great American comedian Jackie Mason pointed out, people who buy from these types of shops look like they are on their last legs. But I do think that an ad hoc individual food audit could help many people as it has helped me. Of course I won’t spend the rest of my days without a nice baguette or pizza, but I will at least recognise that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
I count myself as having been dealt a reasonable hand by the good Lord; despite the recession, the two companies I am involved with are still going (in itself an achievement these days). I have a lovely family and support the best football team in the world, Leyton Orient (it’s all relative).
More to the point, I live about 1.5km from my office and walk in every day past huddles of folk at bus stops either on their way direct to work or, perish the thought, to the underground to be ‘sardined’ to the office. Walking there and back five or six days a week however, has taught me something I had never given much thought to; the level of noise pollution in London is unbearable.
OK, you expect unbearable noise on the Euston Road during peak times; but not on roads which are generally ‘quiet’ by London standards. And herein lies the problem, the noise levels are not generated by the volume of traffic but rather by the volume level of individual drivers. A white van is not by definition a dangerous beast. But when the driver has been forced to stop at a zebra crossing to enable a mother with toddler to cross, and is angry by being held up for five seconds and then sets off as if he were in pole position at Le Mans, the beast becomes a behemoth if you happen to be walking next to the incident.
A group of schoolchildren may seem an innocuous target but do I really have to listen to their ‘conversation’ from a distance; and the more the distance is narrowed the more unbearable it is. And why is it that the most powerful motorbikes make the least noise of their fraternity? A rider with the mother of all exhausts knows how to control their machine in populated areas whereas the ubiquitous pizza delivery chap on a machine that should be hanging in a motorbike museum rides at 60kmh in second gear. The noise is simply intolerable.
This literally orchestrated attack on my senses is but an hors d’oeuvres in preparation for the final ear drum splitter – the emergency service siren. While I feel for the poor soul in the back of the ambulance who needs to get to hospital quickly; is it fair to ask him or her to arrive at A&E with split ear drums? Would the police car not get through stationary traffic at the same speed if the siren was down a notch?
The truth is that society’s aggression is manifested in many different ways but you never hear anyone talking about noise pollution. Maybe it’s because they can’t hear themselves think.
It’s the little things which put the bigger things into perspective. Last week two minor events in my life brought home how precious and precarious life can be; and how luck and fate plays a part. First to a hospital in north London to visit a friend from the chess team I play for who was admitted the previous weekend with a serious complaint and who was, and is, very poorly. Seeing a guy who two weeks before was playing alongside me in the National Chess League now barely able to walk to the lavatory was a real shock. The daily grind of work, making ends meet and hoping there is enough left at the end of the month for the odd visit to a restaurant suddenly becomes meaningless when you see a person you know well suffering like this.
Then the next evening to interview a potential model for Care images (actually her mother) as the model is a five-year-old disabled girl. They live in a council tower block on one of the higher floors and as I waited for the lift to come down I thought to myself; ‘what would happen in the event of a fire?’ The answer, chillingly, stared at me from the TV screens on Friday as news of the tower-block tragedy in Camberwell came through.
We are caught up in the minutiae of our lives, especially the economic climate. As long as everything is OK for me, then why should I worry about anyone else? This is a philosophy which brought great success to one Margaret Thatcher and is one that has permeated all aspects of our society. Maybe we need to take a step back, draw breath and take stock of what kind of country we have become. One minute, two happy families were busy with the minutiae of their lives in a tower block, two hours later they were trapped, unable to escape the flames. I may well be all right Jack, but what about those people who are not?
I’m starting with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi which sums up my feelings: “We cannot leave it to our leaders. We must also act together to build a just world.”
With this historic quote by the godfather of ‘direct action’, blogger Rajiv Joshi started his contribution for G20Voice, an alternative community made up of 50 of the world’s most interesting bloggers who set up network at the G20 Summit at the Excel Centre.They come from 22 different countries, and between them represent a golbal audience of over 14 million readers and online participants. They were joined by representatives of all the major British NGOs.
Here is the view from John Hilary, the director of War on Want: “World leaders have responded by trying to preserve the system that is responsible for the crisis. Governments have been happy to bail out the bankers with hundreds of billions in public money, yet the poorest have received no help in their struggle to make ends meet. Worse still, with its refusal to accept anything but ‘light touch’ regulation of financial capital, the UK government has become the biggest obstacle to progress.
“Gordon Brown and other G20 leaders are throwing money at the global economic crisis rather than addressing its root causes. The London summit has been used to resurrect the failed policies and institutions of the free market era, in a deal which prioritises short-term action at the expense of fundamental reform.
“War on Want believes a stimulus package for the developing world is desperately needed. But the G20 decision to treble money available to the International Monetary Fund will resurrect an institution which lacks legitimacy.”
Barack Obama was adamant that the summit has tackled the main ussues that needed redressing, namely, accountability of the world banking system and trade imbalance. By agreeing on an economic stimulus package, he hoped that the recession will ‘bottom-up’ and come to an end in the next few months. That remains to be seen.