Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Sun Never Sets On Bigotry

I see The Sun is running a big campaign to save Christmas from 'political correctness'. It attempts to create disharmony by saying that Christian images of Christmas are being banned to avoid upsetting those of other faiths.
There may well be a few cases where teachers and others, from the best of motives, stray into absurdity. In a similar way, last Christmas some schools banned cameras from school nativity plays in case photographs ended up on child pornography websites. And where did they get that idea from if not from the hysterical outpourings of The Sun and the other redtops?
But be very wary of any stories you read about people banning Christian symbolism. No story is more entrenched in urban mythology and more quoted by every right-wing bigot than the schools across the land who banned hot cross buns at Easter. There wasn't a shred of truth in this story, which first appeared in the Sunday Telegraph. If you want to know how it was fabricated and then spread like a virus through the rest of the press, I urge you to go to the Guardian Archives and read the detailed account written by Roy Greenslade in 2003. And consider that if a so-called 'quality' paper like the Telegraph can stoop to these methods, what kind of dishonesty is The Sun and its editor - Blair's buddy, Rebecca Wade - capable of?
The really offensive thing is the hypocrisy involved in a largely secular country plastering these Christian symbols all over its greetings cards and shop windows and all the parents who never darken the doors of a church for 52 weeks of the year taking their kids to special children's services - I think they're called 'Christingle' or 'Christinkle' or something equally Disney-meets-Julie-Andrews - not to mention the millions of once-a-year Catholics who will pack the normally empty pews at Midnight Mass.


As you would expect, The Sun came out with that standard line that the British are 'a tolerant and decent people'. Well, if they were it would be no thanks to The Sun. Coincidentally, just after hearing that stomach-churning cliché on the radio I overheard one of the checkout ladies in the supermarket ranting against all the money that was being raised for AIDS, "most of it for bloody shirt-lifters". Ah, I thought, that good old British tolerance and decency really warms your heart. I trust I don't need to point out to readers of this blog that the overwhelming majority of AIDS sufferers in the world are heterosexual.
But gay men and women are subjected to this kind of petty bigotry and insult every day of their lives. Because, unlike black people, they are invisible, it's very much in their faces. (I'm not suggesting it's easier being black. It's a case of swings and roundabouts where prejudice is concerned). Anyone over 30 has grown several skins so it's unlikely to spoil their day. But it's not so easy for a 14 year old to cope with that drip, drip, drip of venom, whether it's from people in supermarkets, The Sun or some religious leaders.

A considerate man in a pub was once kind enough to advise me not to eat the peanuts on the bar because some fucking queer might have put his fingers in them and I could end up with AIDS. The barman, who was listening to this, was a friend of mine so I decided to agree with the man and top everything he said with something even more extreme - the bastards should stay in their own sordid pubs, Hitler had the right idea.......that kind of thing. The man became increasingly confused, partly because although he thought I was on the right track it was a track that led straight into Auschwitz and, bigoted though he was, he wasn't sure he wanted to be driving the train. He was also confused because my friend the barman was becoming increasingly hysterical, shedding tears of laughter into the peanuts - extra salted, anyone? - and eventually had to summon help because he was laughing too much to serve anyone. That might not always be the best way to confront bigotry but on that particular occasion it was game, set and match.

To say that God's in his heaven and all's right with the world might be over-egging the pudding. But Lee has been given his job back at the garage and for this we have to thank his mother.
The woman for whom my tweed trousers are the wellspring of erotic fantasies has been calling at the garage every morning to remonstrate with Arthur for contributing to youth unemployment, reducing her household income and forcing her to buy own brand fish fingers. Arthur withstood these verbal assaults for several days but the tipping point came when he was trying to sell a top-of-the-range people carrier to a couple from the new executive houses on the other side of Burrell Meadow. While demonstrating to the couple and their twin ten year old daughters the different seating configurations, Lee's mother appeared at the offside window and told Arthur he was a pathetic little wanker who exploited young boys in a criminal manner and had destroyed her son's future and his self-respect.
Later that day Lee was reinstated but to salvage some of Arthur's authority his apprenticeship was suspended and he's having to clean the used cars on the forecourt.
He almost lost his job again when he and Carlo, who was supposed to be shopping, had a water fight and Arthur was hit in the face with a chamois leather. Carlo came home with packets of sodden corn flakes and Garibaldi biscuits which he attempted to dry in the microwave.
However I was so delighted that Lee would no longer be infesting Lupin Towers from reveille to sundown that I ordered Carlo to play one of his Abba albums and I did a little jig around the kitchen.
"Dancing Queen!" Carlo shouted, which caused me to stumble momentarily until I realised it was the name of the song.
Ah, the potency of cheap music, as dear Noel once said. Soon we were both singing along and cavorting around the kitchen as though at a school disco.
Unfortunately, the strains of the Swedish chanteuses and the crackle of the corn flakes in the microwave meant we didn't hear the doorbell and it came as a shock to suddenly see Mrs Skidmore's face pressed against the kitchen window. She had called round to invite me to sherry and mince pies with herself and George.
"You can bring him if you want", she said with a cursory nod in Carlo's direction, "but there won't be any dancing."

Coming up in the low temperature soap: exciting news from Sandy


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