Prefer not to Say


I sometimes wonder just what is happening to us in the 21st century world of free speech, the politically correct world of free speech that is. In this mad world there are just certain things that you can’t say and certain things you can’t criticise without someone accusing you of sexism, racism or basically any other kind of ‘ism’! Then again, my mother always used to say, never talk about politics or religion and you’ll get on fine.

Religion.

This week Boris Johnson is in the news for saying that Muslim women in burkas ‘look like letterboxes’ and the whole world, or so it seems is up in arms because this means that jovial Boris is Islamaphobic! He wrote the comments in a newspaper article and I thought he was just trying to take a serious subject and inject some good old British humour, pretty much just like this blog post. How wrong I was!

On the other side of the political divide, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party are not exempt from allegations either. Not allegations of Islamophobia but this time antisemitism.

These allegations seem to stem from a speech made by Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor, who mentioned in a speech that Hitler was, or so he thought, a Zionist. A Zionist, as far as I know, is someone who believes in a Jewish homeland and Hitler appeared to believe in that for a time, as it was a way to get the Jews out of Nazi Germany but then in his madness he went one step further and with Himmler and the SS created the Holocaust, an attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish race.

I’m not quite certain what Livingstone was trying to get at or what point he was trying to make but the Labour party is still suffering from these allegations even though Ken Livingstone has been expelled from the party, which is a shame because I always thought he was an interesting and articulate politician.

One other element of this situation concerns an international ‘definition’ of antisemitism which Labour has declined to accept, as this definition severely limits any kind of criticism of Israel and its current attitude towards the Palestinians. So not adopting this definition is hardly anti-Semitic, it is just a choice made by reasonable men. Some people think the whole thing is a stick which the right wing of the party are using to attack Jeremy Corbyn with, as he is seen by some as too left wing. Oh well, that’s politics for you.

Sexuality

Today, British and Western society are pretty tolerant of others’ sexual preferences. I remember years ago, seeing a programme on TV in which the sexual antics of the late MP Alan Clark were being discussed and someone, I forget who, in fact it may have been just an ordinary member of the public, answered this to a question about Clark’s numerous affairs. ‘At least he wasn’t a poufter!’

Personally, and it may be politically incorrect to admit this, I found it rather funny. Today when at least one MP I know of and another ex-minister are rather fond of Brazilian rent boys, Alan Clark’s antics are perhaps hardly worthy of comment.

The other day I sat down with my tea to watch channel 4’s Dinner Date. Now this isn’t one of the great TV shows of all time, in fact it’s pretty tame really but I do like it, even though it’s something I really only watch when I settle down to eat my tea. It’s a pretty simple format; a man or woman sits down to scan through five possible dinner menus devised by five possible dinner dates. Only three can be chosen so then the fellow, or the lady, meet with three blind dates, each serving him/her a home cooked meal as per the menu. At the end of the show, the diner chooses one of their dates to take to a restaurant for a proper date. Sometimes all turns out well, sometimes not. At the end of each show there’s a little teaser, John and Janet exchanged phone numbers, but haven’t seen each other again. My favourite was when Terry and Angela had another date then moved in with each other!

Anyway, I know I’m rambling on so I’ll get to the point. The other week I was watching it and the guy was looking through his menus and then the first blind date comes on to introduce the meals and it was another man. Yes, it was a gay version. A gay man chooses three gay dates and hopes to find love.

Sorry but it wasn’t my cup of tea so I turned it off.

Judge

You turned the programme off Mr Higgins?

Me

Yes your honour, I turned the programme off. I just wasn’t enjoying it.

Judge

So you just turned the programme off? Do you not realise that diversity should be welcomed?

Me

Well when it’s about a man and a woman it’s really quite a fun sort of programme but in this one when it was a man talking about other men that he fancies and what turns him on in a man; well it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Judge

Mr Higgins are you a communist?

Me

Me? No your honour.

Judge

Mr Higgins are you now or have ever been a member of the Communist Party?

Me

What? No I’m not a communist I just didn’t like that particular episode. In fact I was discussing it with a couple of my friends and they didn’t like it either.

Judge

Was this a meeting? A communist party meeting?

Me.

No, not a meeting. Just me and some friends having a few pints.

Judge

Who were these friends? What are their names?

THE ACCUSED LOOKS ABOUT THEN RACES FROM THE COURTROOM, SECURITY PEOPLE HOT ON HIS HEELS.

Race.

Have I covered all the no go area of today’s sensitive society? No, there is one remaining issue which I really must tackle.

The other day I was listening to Radio 4. It was a programme discussing Boris Johnson. One lady being interviewed described herself as a woman of colour. I thought, what is that about? Perhaps it’s not politically acceptable to call yourself black these days, instead you must be a person of colour. I must be a little behind the times then with twenty first century PC speak but what does that make me then as a white person? Am I a person of no colour? Clearly I do have some colour, in fact I’m usually rather pink although just lately after experiencing the hottest summer in the UK since 1976, I am really rather brown. Am I a brown person then?

Not so long ago I was filling in an application form for a new job. Towards the end of a form I came across another document about my racial identity. This of course is 21st Century UK not apartheid South Africa so the question took me a little by surprise. There were two obvious answers, one was White British and the other was White English. Anyway I finally found a third option which was the one I  decided to take.

It was prefer not to say.

If you have been offended by the content of this blog, well I’m not sure what I can do about it. You could go for a lie down or maybe even go for a quick pint down at your local. If you need counselling please call somebody. I’m not sure who but you could always have a look in the phone book.


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Running With the Stars.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

I am back once again in the UK after my five weeks in France. Yes, all things must come to an end and of course, so do holidays. It’s probably only fair to mention that after an inordinately long time spent lying on a French sun lounger, I do have, as you can imagine, a fair old plethora of French thoughts and ramblings in my notebook, all of which I feel duty bound to share with you, my readers.

Please bear with me, after all, in a few weeks time I will be fully reintegrated back into the UK and I’ll be writing the usual stuff about things like old black and white films and old TV programmes newly discovered by strange and sometimes fleeting new freeview TV channels. However, until then:

One of the really satisfying things about staying in a large house in the French countryside, is the lack of interference from the outside world. I mentioned in another post about silence, that simple commodity that is a cornerstone of relaxation but is difficult to find in an urban metropolis like Manchester. Another simple quality here in rural France is the lack of light pollution. In the city things such as street lighting, neon lights and illuminated advertising hoardings all contribute an abundance of light but here in the country, darkness is something different; a deep, sensuous blackness that almost overwhelms the senses.

Lying back on your chair or lounger in the soft, warm evening and looking up at the sky is a wonderful sensation. Without the interference of ambient light, the sky at night is a whole new world. An enigmatic velvet vista opens up to the naked eye with myriads of stars, some the merest pinpricks, others great beacons in the sky.

Peering into the night sky I noticed one particular star, much brighter than the others. It was then I remembered that on my iPad I have an app that can tell you which stars are in the sky. The star in question was not the pole star as I had surmised but Vega. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky, and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is relatively close at only 25 light years away from us, here on Earth.

A screenshot from my iPad.

It is really humbling looking up at this great vista and realising that this is what creation looks like and that you too are a tiny part of it. It might even be the case too on that some distant place, millions of light years away, some other person, some distant inhabitant of a distant star is thinking the same thing, looking up at a star that might be our sun, the same sun that warms the earth.

One book that I have particularly enjoyed on this holiday was a book about the thoughts and ideas of Marcus Aurelius, a long dead Roman emperor and philosopher.

This is one of the things he said . .

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. - Marcus Aurelius

Another book which I read on holiday was a little disappointing; Lion by Seroo Brierley. The film version was an absolute wonder of documentary style realism and full on emotion. In the book though, Seroo talks about the events that took him away from India to Australia and then years later, reunited him with his lost family in a rather detached and matter of fact way. He hints at a hidden guiding hand in the universe but then denies that he is religious. What was the hidden guiding force then? Electricity?

Strange how something that would make one man turn to religion makes another turn away. Sometimes, religion itself can trigger a negative response. It has always surprised me that someone in the public eye like Cliff Richard for instance, who is a devout Christian and used to make a full on Christian song his Christmas hit has always had his faith used against him. It used to be a regular thing in the 1990’s to slag off Cliff because he was a Christian and yet Madonna, who belongs to a strange sect called Kabbalah, has not had similar treatment. She for some reason, was the acceptable face of the religious pop star.

In a few months time, around Christmas in the UK, yet another town will cancel the Christmas lights because it is offensive to non Christians and rename them ‘holiday lights.’ It’s Christmas, it’s actually a Christian festival for pity’s sake. Still, it will happen and it will be reported in the Daily Mail, I’m sure.

What you probably won’t see reported in the Daily Mail will be that in Afghanistan, Ramadan has been renamed ‘holiday week’ so as not to offend westerners. Perhaps here in the UK we are somehow ashamed of faith, perhaps we don’t need it any more, we are too advanced, too technological, or something. Perhaps technology explains too many things, the origin of the universe, the big bang. Pity it doesn’t explain the reason for living, the actual point of life.

Some years ago I started using some audio tapes by Paul McKenna to build my confidence and help with job interviews. On one of the tapes he mentions that there is no fixed purpose in life except the one you give it. Could he be right?

On one of my last evenings in rural France gazing at the night sky, I found myself thinking of the last sequence in the movie ‘The History of Mr Polly.‘ You must have seen the film on TV, the one with John Mills as Mr Polly. Polly finds himself in a very dull job with a very dull wife and resolves to commit suicide. Anyway, events unfold and instead of committing suicide, Polly accidentally starts a fire which threatens the whole street and he then mounts a brave rescue of an old lady. Instead of dying, Mr Polly becomes a hero and when the insurance money comes in, he leaves his wife, nicely settled with the insurance money, takes a little for himself and departs for pastures new. He sends some money to a post office in another village and gradually meanders in that direction, sleeping in fields and hedges, getting himself a tan. Working occasionally when he wants and sleeping when the mood takes him at other times.

He comes across the Potwell Inn and asks for work and right away finds himself at home.

Right at the very end of the film Polly, played by Mills and the Inn landlady, played by that old British film actress Megs Jenkins are sitting in the garden, contentedly watching the sun go down and Mills wonders aloud ‘what have we done to deserve a sunset like this?’

The fact is, sunsets are a part of nature and they will come and go whether we deserve to see them or not. As long as this world goes round the sun, the sun will rise and the sun will set somewhere on the globe. Even so, sunsets are lovely.

So are the stars and now and again it’s nice to imagine yourself running with them.


Floating in Space can be ordered from amazon as a Kindle download or as a traditional paperback by clicking here. Click the links at the top of the page for more information.