Diversity and the Last of the Time Lords

I’m over the moon that Peter Capaldi is going to play the next Doctor. I think he’s a terrific actor, he is clearly as dedicated a Whovian as one could hope to meet, and I bet no one can possibly be putting him under more pressure to do a good job than himself right now.

The announcement last night, in a rather hastily put together live show, demonstrated how big of a deal the casting of this particular role has become. The hype surrounding the show has steadily increased since Russell T Davies breathed new life into the TARDIS back in 2005. And with such hype comes commentary. And with commentary comes meta-commentary, which is my area of expertise.

At the fore of the discussion on the identity of the actor who will next play this most iconic of TV characters is the plea that the part should go to a non-white male. I’ve heard this a lot recently. In the weeks leading up to the announcement, a host of different names were mooted as possibilities, among them Idris Elba, Chitowel Eijofer, David Harewood, Billie Piper, Olivia Coleman and Helen Mirren. This morning, a friend of mine tweeted that she heard someone say the following:

“I wish it had been a woman or a black guy.”

I have so many feelings swirling around my head about this it’s hard to pin them all down. But some things did immediately spring to mind. Of the actors listed above, some are women and some are black guys. None are both. Surely if ever there was a time to employ the term ‘and/or’ it would be now. If we also factor in the precedent for casting previous supporting players, how come there wasn’t a big call for Sophie Okonedo (Liz 10 in The Beast Below), Christine Adams (Cathica in The Long Game) or Yasmin Bannerman (Jabe in The End of the World) to play The Doctor? (Or was there a campaign which I missed?) And what about non-white, non-black actors? I’m not sure how much of this is a historic hangover, but those of African-Caribbean descent often seem to be the poster-children for issues of diversity at the expense of the Asian and Hispanic communities. I know she’s busy on The Good Wife right now but I reckon Archie Panjabi would do a stonking job as The Doctor. (With Omid Djalili as her companion. They would make a cracking ‘odd couple.’)

One the one hand, diversity is usually regarded as a Good Thing. It connotes inclusivity, a variety of perspectives, a sense that ‘normal’ is not defined by any one sex or ethnicity or religion or orientation. On the other hand tokenism is usually regarded as a Bad Thing. It connotes misrepresentation and a patronising attitude to a particular group. Treading the line between these two can be very difficult indeed, particularly when combined with issues of creativity and artistic license.

Compare and contrast: the lack of diversity in ‘Friends’ (set in New York City) with the lack of diversity in ‘Midsomer Murders’ (set in rural Oxfordshire.) New York City is a very diverse geographical area, and towards the end of its 10 year run, Friends was starting to come under fire for its overwhelmingly ‘Whitebread’ depiction of NYC. On the other hand, rural Oxfordshire is, as a matter of fact, predominantly Caucasian, and so would the inclusion of characters from ethnic minorities be a crass attempt to shoehorn in an unrealistic sense of diversity? (This is of course setting aside the boneheaded remarks made by the writer about the last bastion of Englishness.) It seems to me that the crucial difference between these two examples is representation. Artistically depicting somewhere real but omitting its ethnic variation seems, well, not to put too fine a point on it, like whitewashing.

As a matter of opinion, I think that Doctor Who creates ethnically diverse landscapes very well. Which makes sense, given that it’s a show about the past, present & future of this and many other planets. So it’s right that characters should be depicted who are white and black and brown. And green and blue and red. And it’s not as if this kaleidoscope is restricted to the extras either. Looking back over the 7 series of the main show (plus specials), 4 series of the spin off Torchwood, and 5 series of the spin off The Sarah Jane adventures, the supporting characters show a terrific range of sexes, ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientations in each show. In fact I’d be hard pressed to come up with another TV universe which has embraced the range of humanity experience so fully. Although I’m sure that there are groups that might feel differently. (Off the top of my head, I’m not sure of the extent to which non-able bodied people are depicted.)

So, for the 12th time in a row, a white male has been cast as the main protagonist. Is this a missed opportunity? Perhaps. Moffat made it clear that he is open to the idea of a non-white male doctor. I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse from the point of view of those who think this is a missed opportunity. If the Doctor could have been female, does that mean that she should have been? Do the arts have a responsibility to push an inclusive agenda, or is that agenda served better by maintaining the ‘integrity’ (whatever that means) of casting whoever the producer’s feel will do the best job, irrespective of their sex, age or ethnicity?

I think my feeling is that while I can understand the disappointment of those who feel Capaldi’s casting is a missed opportunity, I can’t share in it. I think that given the show’s (in my opinion) generally good history of casting a range of actors, it’s more important for them to focus on what they do with those characters. For instance if Hispanic actors were only ever cast as villains I think I would see that as more offensive than simply not casting them in the first place.

In fact there was just one comment in the Guardian which actually made me feel quite upset on this subject:
“Given the rules of regeneration theoretically permit the Doctor to become anyone, many may regret there has been no change of race or gender – although, following recent concern over misogynist attacks online, female actors may be relieved to have avoided becoming a test case for the limits of Twitter tolerance by feminising a famously boy-centred franchise.”

The notion that marginalised female actors might feel relief that now at least they won’t have to put up with rape and bomb threats is offensive and abhorrent. Although for the avoidance of doubt I am absolutely not lambasting Mark Lawson for raising this as he is making a subtle point about a difficult subject, and kudos to him for that. For although I hate the idea, there is a possibility that he may be right, which I hate far more. As a feminist I find that idea far more damaging than Peter Capaldi getting the role of a lifetime.

What is an ‘ethical’ investment?

Poor Justin Welby eh? One day he’s railing against pay-day loan companies (as any sensible person intent on currying favour with the collective Guardian readership would do) and the next day he’s found out that the Church of England has been ‘indirectly’ funding Wonga the whole time. Whoops! Welby has professed himself to be ’embarrassed’ and ‘irritated’ by these revelations. Perhaps being the Archbishop of Canterbury prohibits him from expressing any stronger emotions, like how a Jedi shall not know anger, nor hatred, nor love. (Yes, I know that this interpretation of the Jedi code is hotly contested by everyone except those responsible for the Attack of the Clones poster. I’m not getting into that here ok?) Anyway, it’s clear that Welby is pretty pissed off by this turn of events.

I’ll admit to a certain degree of schadenfreude at the prospect of Welby feeling embarrassed about anything. If you are in the habit of going around moralising on any given topic you’d do well to make sure you aren’t guilty of the same thing yourself. Now Welby looks like just another clueless investor, pathetically clinging to a plea of ignorance to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. He is vowing to scrutinise where his money actually goes more carefully in future, in a bid to maintain some credibility. Actually this is mildly reminiscent of one Rupert Murdoch, claiming to be unaware of the practice of Voicemail hacking and trying to persuade us how humble he felt. Watching powerful men squirming when they get caught out is always pretty funny!

Or so I was feeling up until about an hour ago, when a pension update came through my letterbox advising that the investment options are changing. And I thought to myself, do I know where all of my money is invested? Absolutely not! Between us, Terry and I have several pension funds, plus bank accounts & savings accounts. I have no earthly idea where that money is invested. I might be funding pay day loans, munitions, tobacco, fossil fuels or any number of other industries I find morally repugnant.

So, I am going to stop pointing and laughing at Justin Welby, and focus instead on the fact that his current high-profile humiliation is raising some awareness about the shadowy world of the investment portfolio.

I’ve always taken pride in my fiscal prudence, and I regard myself as pretty savvy when it comes to personal finance. For nearly a decade I have been paying into a pension, which, supposedly, will furnish me with a retirement income that will keep the wolf from the door in my twilight years. I’m fortunate in having a defined-benefit-final-salary pension, so the amount I get in retirement should, theoretically at least, not be dependent on how well the fund performs over coming years. And as as result of this, I realise I am myself just another clueless investor, pleading ignorance as to where and how my money is invested.

For those with defined contribution schemes, which are now the preferred type of pension in the private sector, the investor is periodically asked if they want to change their investment options. Amongst the type of funds available, there is usually an ‘ethical fund’ option. These funds purport to avoid stashing money with companies and industries which do not meet a certain ethical standard.

In the 6 years I spent studying moral philosophy academically I developed a healthy scepticism for anything claiming to be ‘ethical’. Mostly because whether or not something is ethical is a) highly subjective, and b) utterly dependent on context. Earlier I listed a few industries I claimed to find morally repugnant. But if I’m honest with myself, are my moral judgements here really so cut and dried? Scummy advertising campaigns and 4 figure APRs aside, pay day loans can serve a purpose if used carefully. I find the notion of war and violence abhorent, but what if weapons are used to arm rebels trying to overthrow a corrupt and dangerous government? I might yearn for the day when all energy comes from renewable sources, but in the meantime I want big oil and gas to be able to keep their costs down so that people can afford to keep warm in winter. And tobacco companies might, er, well they might contribute to research to improve treatment for lung cancer…OK, that’s stretching it a bit. But the point stands, that I actually struggle to make an absolute moral determination on the ethics of a particular company or industry.

But even if I’m not convinced whether my money is invested ethically or not I think I’d still prefer to know. I’d rather face up to the truth of who and what I am funding, and then take responsibility for that investment, than refuse to peer under the rock for fear of what I might learn. Wilful ignorance is not bliss, it is a refusal to engage in the truth. And that is something that I know is immoral.

5 years

After 5 years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer lay dead and buried, having made the ultimate sacrifice to save her sister, her friends and the world.

After 5 years, Harry Potter was devastated by the death of his godfather Sirius Black, and burdened with the knowledge of the prophecy concerning his and Voldermort’s fates.

After 5 years, Sheridan and Delenn boarded the White Star to fly to the newly completed offices of the Interstellar Alliance, leaving Babylon 5 and its Next Generation crew behind.

In each of the above cases, the fictional world would continue past this half-decade point, with varying levels of success. With great longevity comes great responsibility, especially in the world of cult fiction. Die-hard fans will cry bloody murder if a beloved character is slain, and yet without that sense that the stakes are getting higher and that all bets are off, your audience winds up crying tears of boredom instead of grief.

If you are finishing your series after 5 years/seasons, you need to convey a sense of absolute finality. Even if you are going to attempt a spinoff series. Or a couple of lame TV movies. Or after your ‘final’ episode you then air the end to the previous season because the network execs wouldn’t stop screwing around with your show. (Although Sleeping in Light packs more of an emotional wallop anyway – so that worked out ok!)

If you’re planning on carrying on Post-5, then you better have something pretty spectacular up your sleeve for your End of Year Arc. Which invariably means death. And not a red-shirt death either. You need a meaningful sacrifice, someone your audience loves, someone whose loss will dramatically alter the relationship dynamics between your other characters. You need to convey a sense that despite your show continuing, everything has changed. That it won’t just be more of the same.

You also need to be accept that however you plan things, there will always be those who will reckon you should have thrown in the towel then and there. Season 6 of BtVS is widely regarded as where it started to go off the rails. Harry Potter always had its detractors, and many of them honed in on the rather excruciating Ron/Lavender/Hermione love triangle in Half-blood Prince. Crusade only got a single series before being unceremoniously cancelled.

Nothing lasts forever. Sometimes things need to change. More often, things need to end.

All of which is a massively self-important analogy to the fact that after 5 years as an administrator at Science Learning Centre London I’m leaving to start a new job and a new life in Oxford.

At the tender age of 31, 5 years represents half my working life since graduating from UEA in September 2003. I’ve had some great experiences at SLCL, made some great friends, and learned a huge amount, but it’s time to move on.

A brief history of my life in computer games

As mentioned in a previous post, I decided to run a Barcamp Berkshire session on the computer games I had enjoyed throughout various times in my life. The below is a blog-version of my talk.

A short history of my life in computer games

As an only child I spent a fair amount of time at weekends and during school holidays playing on my Dad’s computer. The above game, Sleuth, was a text-based rip off of Cluedo, but with the addition of some incredibly basic graphics. As a detective you had to navigate your ‘avatar’ (if you can possibly call the small cluster of pixels an avatar) around the floorplan of a large mansion, interrogating murder suspects.

slightly later

As time went by, my Dad got a better computer with a better graphics card, which allowed me to play more sophisticated games like Commander Keen. (N.B. Dad – if you’re reading this and remember it differently, just go with it ok? No one ever expects accuracy to get in the way of the narrative.)

It was playing this game, frantically hammering on the keyboard to avoid the green, googly-eyed monsters, that I realised my motor skills left something to be desired. I needed a computer game that didn’t rely quite so heavily on precision key-strokes.


Enter my primary school friend Emma, her Dad’s rather better computer, and a wannabe pirate by the name of Guybrush Threepwood. The Secret of Monkey Island marked the start of a long and happy relationship with Scumm games. The point and click puzzle solving was fun, cerebrally challenging but required little in the way of hand eye coordination.


A couple of years later I went to boarding school and took the prudent measure of befriending a chap named Alex who had the Scumm game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis installed on his machine.


As I grew older I learned that the best way to make friends with teenage geeks was to talk to them about gaming. There are those who swear mid 90s FPS games hit their apex with Duke Nukem or Wolfenstein, but for me and my mates it was all about Doom 2. Killing a Cacodemon with a chainsaw in God Mode was one of life’s purest pleasures.


Learning the art of conversing with geeks was a skill which would stand me in good stead for going to university, where I would meet the love of my life, Terry.


Terry moved in with me and my student housemates in 2002, and one of our first decisions as a cohabiting couple was to set up 2 computers in our respective rooms, with an ethernet cable running between them, taped to the ceiling. It was here that I discovered the world of the PC-based strategy game series Command and Conquer. We spent hours playing together, sometimes against each other, but more commonly in collaboration against a computer generated enemy. We started off with Tiberian Sun.

red alert 2

Graduated onto Red Alert 2


And really hit our stride with Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.


I was a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, and was wildly excited when Terry got me the Xbox game. This was my first proper introduction to console gaming. Since my days of button-mashing on a PC my manual dexterity had improved a bit, but not vastly. Jumping puzzles and boss fights would sometimes get the better of me, and Terry would on occasion have to help me out with the trickier bits.


The sequel Buffy game: Chaos Bleeds was more my speed, incorporating more puzzle solving than its predecessor. Additionally I loved that you got to play as different characters, in particular the welcome return of Sid the Dummy.


In 2005 I decided to do a 3 year part-time MA in Philosophy through the Open University. Although it’s still one of the best things I ever did, it was incredibly hard going. One unexpected challenge I faced was what to do with my diminished leisure time. Reading no longer held any pleasure for me and watching TV & films felt too passive. To this day I am convinced that playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess kept me (just about) sane. The game looked gorgeous, the puzzles were challenging enough to keep me interested but not so tough I gave up. Best of all, the new, intuitive, style of gaming introduced by the Wii meant that rather than having to press lots of fiddly buttons, fighting with a sword entailed swinging a Wiimote. Suddenly I had a console game where I wasn’t unduly punished for having poor motor skills.


So absorbing was this new world of Hyrule that I happily played a couple of older Zelda games from the Game Cube days, although button mashing on a Wavebird was definitely a step down from the Wiimote swinging. I was delighted by Windwaker, even though the bright primary colours and youth of its protagonist made it felt a little babyish compared to the sombre tones of Twilight Princess. When it came out, Skyward Sword became my favourite Zelda experience to date. Delving further in the Nintendo back catalogue, Ocarina of Time felt pretty blocky and clunky next to the later games, but I still enjoyed playing through it. Mostly…


That bloody jumping puzzle!


This dude is trying to kill me with six swords. Six!


Oh the tears! Oh the swearing!


Last summer I mentioned I rage quit Ocarina of Time for 3 and a half years. This was due to my failure to execute the above jumping puzzle (or if not that exact one, a very similar one.) On occasions my frustration at my own ineptitude can get the better of me. It’s generally not pretty.


Although I loved Zelda, I needed a new kind of game which punished user error less severely. The Lego franchise hits this nail on the head. Aimed squarely at the family market, the game brilliantly realises the Star Wars universe in Lego bricks. The other main draw was the drop-in, drop-out collaborative play which carried through to similar TT games.


Such as Batman


And Indiana Jones. The games weren’t flawless, but losing a few points each time you ‘died’ as opposed to getting the dreaded Game Over screen was a welcome change of pace.


Several years ago Terry wrote a post about our quest for games which supported collaborative play. Friends suggested we tried the House of the Dead series. As one commented “Beating off a swarm of zombies together is a great experience!” How right he was! Additionally, House of the Dead: Overkill had (in 2009) the dubious honour of having the most swear words of any computer game to date.


While I’m not adverse to adult content by any stretch, I do seem to have more affinity for the more child-friendly games. Although quite how the title ‘Boom Blox: Bash Party’ made it past the censors I don’t know.


As the first decade of the 21st Century drew to a close I faced up to the fact that years of a rather sedentary lifestyle had left me significantly, if not severely, overweight. Having had less than successful encounters with gyms in the past I decided to see what gaming could do for my BMI. The Wii Fit pack proved a sound investment and over the course of about 6 months I lost a stone in weight, predominantly doing the cycling courses.


At last year’s Barcamp several people mentioned how awesome Portal was, so much so that we bought the game and I duly blogged about it last year.


The past few months have been a bit rubbish. Work hasn’t been going so well, and I’ve been feeling pretty strung out. I decided to replay Skyward Sword, and in so doing managed to finally win the Hylian Sheild on the Boss Fight Rush Challenge, a feat I failed to accomplish the last time I played. For every game I play there is usually a part where I eventually give up because it’s too hard. But then there are the occasions that I get over my rage quit, I try again and I succeed! And that feels pretty damn good!


My original talk finished with this slide, designed to prompt a bit of discussion for the rest of the slot. However as I mentioned in my previous post, part way through my delivery I realised that I was using an old version of this presentation. I ended up not discussing these types of games I have never properly tried. Instead at the end of my talk I went back into drop box, found the right version and went over the parts I’d missed out. So I never got to hear from anyone as to whether I should try out a handheld console like the Nintendo 3DS.


As mentioned above work hasn’t been going too well recently, and so when I wasn’t replaying Skyward Sword I was spending my time looking for new employment. As of the weekend when I went to Barcamp I’d already had one unsuccessful job interview, and had another scheduled for the following Thursday. Knowing how I struggle to occupy myself when waiting to hear the result, Terry bought me a shiny new Nintendo 3DS, so I could distract myself from the waiting and the possibility of rejection. He presented me with this toy on the Thursday evening after the interview, which was an incredibly sweet gesture. Except that by Thursday evening, I’d already been rung up and offered the new job! So it seems I’m not going to have much opportunity to play my new game, as I now have to move house, which is likely to take up a fair amount of time. But that is a post for another day!

Barcamp Berkshire 2013

It’s Sunday morning, June 16th, and I’m sitting in the main atrium of O2’s Slough offices, having spent the night camping in a small meeting room (and through judicious application of ear plugs, an eye mask and a sleeping pill actually got some sleep!) This is my second ever barcamp, and so far it’s been even better than last year.

I’m surrounded by geeks of every colour and flavour, some happily tapping away on their laptops like me, others engrossed in conversation. As is the prerogative of the ‘social introvert’ as barcamp stalwart Melinda Seckington puts it, I’m enjoying a moment of introspection, and am currently reflecting on how much I have changed since I was here a year ago.

Terry has been a face on the tech scene for the best part of the last decade, and has been to more barcamps, hack days, conferences, tech events & general geek get-togethers than one could shake the proverbial stick at! Last year he convinced me that I should give barcamp a go, and I went along feeling intrigued and excited, but also with some seriously trepidation. Sometimes I feel like I am a pretender in this world of developers, designers & coders. I barely have any skills or experience in programming – I find myself smiling and nodding along to conversations about the pitfalls with Ruby or Python, and I would struggle to sit through a talk about GitHub or the merits of BitCoin. On the other hand I can happily discuss sci fi and computer games, I work in STEM in an admin capacity and I over the years I have learned how to speak at least some techy language.

Last year, my blog was still in infancy, so after much deliberation I ran a discussion session on how I had a blog, but was not writing much for fear of seeming ill-informed and immature: I discussed how I sometimes get the urge to write to a particular item in the news, but then end up not really having the energy or time to research the thing properly, and become paralysed by wondering why anyone would care what I thought about something anyway. The session boosted my confidence enormously, not least because of the number of people who came up to me to say they felt exactly the same way.
I also got to see the other kinds of sessions which get run. While I think it’s fair to say that the majority of sessions are still heavily tech-oriented, I realised that I really could talk about anything which was of interest to me.

I also learned that the attendees of barcamps are an incredibly supportive, friendly bunch of people, and that a talk really doesn’t have to be polished to a gleaming, professional standard. This year I flung together a bunch of screenshots of computer games I have played throughout my 31 years of existence, and talked a roomful of people through A Brief History of My Life in Computer Games. I’d been tinkering around with the presentation during the week, and ended up projecting an older version of the final draft on the screen. Last year such a basic cock up would have sent me spiralling into a depression of self-doubt and recrimination. This year, I just shrugged it off, got to the end and then chatted to the attendees while I found the correct version on dropbox, and then quickly tacked on the extra material. It was far from slick, and it would have been better if it hadn’t happened, but no one seemed to mind, and more to the point, neither did I.

Later that day I remembered I had a topic in mind for another post which I haven’t got around to writing yet. I found a slot which was populated entirely with techy talks, found a free room, rounded up a few people who were hanging out not attending anything and held an impromptu discussion about female superheroes. Last year such confident, off-the-cuff self promotion would have been unthinkable. (The actual blog post, replete with the contributions of the people whose opinion I solicited, will be coming soon.)

Loads of great things have happened this year. In no particular order, highlights of the weekend were:

Rolling around on a tennis ball to force the back muscles to relax.
Listening to an 8 year old girl describe her IT lessons.
Riding the Virtual Reality rollercoaster “Occulus Rift” and not screaming out loud like the 3 blokes ahead of me!
Playing my first ever game of powerpoint karaoke, and crushing it! See the video here:

Barcamps rely heavily on the goodwill of the volunteers, so generous with their time and energy. By dint of working for O2, who hosted the event, Terry was automatically a member of the Crew. By dint of being married to Terry, and being driven to the office at the same time, I found myself getting stuck into the last-minute helping out too. Not be all self-aggrandizing or anything but I like to feel my substantial experience in crowd control, registering conference attendees and dealing with temperamental computer systems afforded me the necessary skills to be of use during a rather chaotic hour at the start of the weekend, and at various times thereafter. So for me the cherry on the fabulous barcamp cake was getting officially upgraded to Crew. Making a contribution to the whole weekend gave me a much needed boost of confidence, and I hope to go to many more!

How legalising Same Sex Marriage Will Damage Families – a point by point rebuttal.

I was having a quick glance at Facebook earlier today, and came across this little gem of picture:
gay marriage

Disclaimer – if you are one of the 4 people who contributed to the discussion about this on Facebook, the below is basically a rehash of what was there. Feel free to stop reading now. Go and have a cup of tea or something. I won’t be offended, really! Similarly if I appear to have nicked a point off your Facebook comment and seem to be presenting it as my own idea then, er, take it as a compliment!

I haven’t written a pro equal marriage post in a while, and this seems like the perfect chance to write another.

So: this is a list of the perils which will befall the Good, Honest, Hardworking Families of Great Britain if The Gays are allowed to marry. As it is presented as such, as opposed to a list of Why Being Gay is Evil, I will presume that their objections are specifically against Equal Marriage. After all, homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967 by the Sexual Offences Act, and the age of consent for homosexual acts was bought in line with legislation covering heterosexual acts in an amendment to the same act in 2000. This list purports to show why Same Sex Marriage will damage families. Presumably therefore these potential dangers which the Exchange of Gay Vows will engender are dangers over and above those posed by just being gay and having gay sex.

Point 1: Children and Teenagers at school will quickly learn about “gay marriage” as teachers will have to teach them the new definition of marriage.

Well, yes, if Same Sex marriage is legalised in the UK, then axiomatically the definition of marriage will change. But I don’t remember anyone at school teaching me the definition of marriage. Even if they had I don’t think this is a particularly tricky concept to explain: that-thing-that-previously-only-a-man-and-woman-could-do-well-now-a-man-and-another-man-or-a-woman-and-another-woman-can-do-it-too. Easy.

Point 2: Gay relationships will be promoted to primary school children via storybooks.

I would sincerely hope that would be the case. Having decriminalised gay relationships, and taken further strides (or, in some cases, painfully slow baby steps) to equalise gay and straight relationships, the next stage is to normalise them. However on this point I am pessimistically of the belief that the authors of this list don’t have that much to worry about. Next time you find yourself looking at primary level story books, look how many inter-racial couples there are, or men and women in non standard-gender roles, or heaven forfend, someone transgendered. If lack of progress in other areas blighted by bigotry are anything to go by, legalising same sex marriage and comfortably showcasing the diversity of relationships in educational tools are likely be a long way apart.

Point 3: NHS-Endorsed Websites, which promote high-risk sexual practices, will be mainstreamed in secondary schools.

Now this may come as a shock, but attitudes to sexual relationships and the potential medical pitfalls which may occur (including conceiving a child) have come a long way since Marie Stopes wrote Married Love in 1918. Sex Education in the UK is predominantly focussed on teaching young people about the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and the emotional upheaval which usually accompanies one’s first forays into Carnal Knowledge. As such, NHS-Endorsed websites which might be reasonably used as resources during Sex Ed classes, do not focus on the legal definition of marriage. They focus on the act of having sex. Because, and this may have escaped the authors’ notice, having sex out of wedlock isn’t illegal here. Consequently this point has sod-all to do with whether same-sex marriage is legal, and is solely concerned with gay sex, which has been legal for over 4 and a half decades.

Point 4: Being Male or Female will be meaningless if any combination can get married.

Having wrestled through early childhood, puberty and my later teenage years with the inescapable fact of Having a Vagina, I can testify that what being female means to me is…being legally allowed to marry a man. Yep, turns out that my entire gendered identity is solely related to the fact I can be legally joined in matrimony with one of the penis-bearing brigade. All those years of reading Judy Blume, Cosmopolitan & Simone de Beauvoir (full disclosure – I never actually made it all the way through The Second Sex) taught me that I am a Woman by dint of my relationships to men and nothing else.

Of course, there is another way to view this: If we legalise same sex marriage, they’ll be no more sexism! No more glass ceiling, no more gendered toys, no more casual harassment. We will all just be people. Sounds marvellous!

Point 5: Marriage won’t be about commitment to bearing and raising children.

My husband and I aren’t having children. We got married because we wanted to, but having kids was never on our agenda. We know lots of married couples who have similarly decided to remain child-free. Marriage isn’t about a commitment to bearing and raising children now. Legalising same sex marriage makes no difference to this.

Point 6: Marriage will be reduced to gratifying your own personal desires.

In a lot of cases, marriage is about gratifying your own desires: the desire to tick the Married box on forms, the desire to have a big white wedding, even, in my opinion, the above commitment to bearing and raising children is a personal desire to be gratified (although not necessarily in partnership with a spouse). Less cynically, the desire to make a public declaration of love for your soulmate is also a personal desire, and that was the one and only reason I got married. In fact the only times I can think of where marriage is not about gratifying one’s own personal desires, is when it is about gratifying someone else’s. For money, power, reputation, honour, prestige or protection. Out of fear, out of jealousy, out of laziness, out of spite. Or simply to keep someone else happy. Marriage, along with the rest of all conceivable human actions, is always about gratifying some desire on some level.

Point 7: Children will lose out, because society will no longer prioritise their main need, which is to be brought up by the people who conceive them.

As stated above, I have no intention to ever have children, which is just as well, as I’ve been labouring under the delusion that the main need of children is to be raised by a person or persons who love them, and make them feel safe, secure and happy. Clearly that is secondary to the fact of whether or not the parents are genetically linked to the child.

Gay couples can’t have children anyway without some kind of intervention, typically adoption, artificial insemination or surrogacy. The process for a gay couple proving themselves worthy of parenthood, particularly regarding adoption is rigorous (although really not my area of expertise so sincere apologies for any misconceptions here – no pun intended!!) On the other hand the most casual of heterosexual encounters can result in an unintended bun in the oven (perhaps as a result of neglecting those NHS-endorsed websites!) Yet ‘society’ tends not to intervene in these pregnancies except in very extreme situations.

Gay couples already can, and do, adopt or by other means start a family. So how would legalising gay marriage change this?

Point 8: Traditional family networks, which bind society together, will be fractured.

Er, what? Seriously, what does that actually mean? I mean I get that for most people their immediate family are among the most important people to them: partners, parents, siblings, children, possibly Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and cousins etc. I understand that these ‘loved ones’ tend to be at the heart of our most precious relationships. But I’m not sure that I’d describe such as dynamic as ‘binding society together.’ I mean after all, isn’t that ‘blood is thicker than water’ crap basically about dividing society up into Us and Them. Family and Not Family. The societal expectation is that at times of difficulty one will prioritise one’s own kin ahead of strangers. I’m not saying that’s a necessarily a bad thing, but surely that’s not binding the whole of society together. Binding the whole of society together would be treating everyone equally, regardless of your personal connection. Let’s say there was an earthquake: a truly bound-together society would be populated with people who would rescue the first person they came across, trusting that another stranger would do the same for them or their family. Not clamber over the bodies of dead and dying human beings they didn’t know, looking for their wife, or child, or brother.

I’m not saying family isn’t important. As above I believe that raising children in loving, secure, happy homes is the paramount responsibility of parents, and family can play an important role in that endeavour. But our society teaches us to stratify our relationships, and so we learn to regard certain people, such as those related to us, as more precious than others.

So having entirely rejected the premise that family relationships bind society together I am unconcerned as to how same sex marriage might fracture these non-existent bonds.

Point 9: Motherless and Fatherless families will be institutionalised.

Given the tone of this whole piece, I am deeply concerned that this is actually a threat, as opposed to a warning of what may come to pass. But even as a threat it is entirely incoherent. Straight, ‘nuclear’ families can be rendered either Mother or Fatherless through tragedy, irreconcilable differences or something else. Yet again, legalising same sex marriage seems to have no discernible impact on this situation.

The whole point about gay marriage is that two people of the same sex who love each other can, if they wish, formalise that love the same way straight people do. Ultimately the objections all come to down to the entirely irrational fear that by redefining marriage to include same sex relationships, somehow existing straight relationships will be devalued. If your relationship is really that fragile, perhaps your time would be better put to use trying to strengthen it.

Female on male sexual coercion in The Big Bang Theory isn’t funny

I’m going to (try to) tread lightly on this, as I am neither male, nor thankfully have any substantial experience of sexual coercion.

Also spoiler-alert: the below contains plot points for episodes of The Big Bang Theory and Glee which have aired in the US, but haven’t made it to UK screens yet.


I’m quite fond of the TV show The Big Bang Theory. However there is a particular running ‘joke’ which is starting to make me feel rather uncomfortable.

The character of Amy Farrah Fowler was introduced a few years ago, as a potential girlfriend for the intellectually brilliant but emotionally challenged Sheldon Cooper. At the start, Amy was clearly being portrayed as ‘The Female Sheldon’. She is his intellectual equal (although Sheldon himself would probably not accept that), a renowned academic in her field of Neuroscience, and her social skills are somewhat lacking.

Over the seasons both the character of Amy and her relationship with Sheldon has developed. The romantic dynamic between them is rather one-sided. Amy is head-over-heels in love with Sheldon; she would very much like their relationship to become more physical, and she is frustrated by Sheldon’s apparent lack of interest in sex.

At the start, this seemed like the kind of classic role-reversal with which TBBT likes to play. You can imagine the writers’ meeting where they decide it would be really funny to have the female ‘gagging for it’ and the male ‘not putting out’. And earlier on, this premise was a rich minefield of genuine humour. But more recently, I’m starting to feel increasingly uneasy about how this is portrayed.

Amy has been shown manipulating Sheldon into situations where she can derive some sexual satisfaction, while he is clearly oblivious as to what is really going on.

A few episodes later, Sheldon has a rare moment of true vulnerability, where he acknowledges that Amy and his pairing is probably headed for a full-blown sexual relationship, and he appears daunted by this prospect. In short: he is starting to feel pressured into having sex, both by his girlfriend and by societal expectations, and it’s quite scary for him.

It’s one of those odd moments you get in comedy shows, where the tone seems to be more dramatic than comedic, and I was left genuinely confused as to whether Sheldon is at this point a figure of fun, or of pathos.

At which point I thought to myself: if the gender roles here were reversed and the male was pressurising the female that wouldn’t be funny at all – at least to a reasonably enlightened 21st Century audience. But surely it’s the behaviour itself that is abhorrent, not the genders of the actors. Whether you are male or female, gay or straight – pressuring, manipulating or in any other way coercing someone into having sex is a horrible thing to do.

Compare and contrast Amy’s behaviour with that of Raj and Howard. Howard, prior to his marriage to Bernadette, was the archetypal sleazebag. He would hit on any woman he could find, his bravado and swagger clearly masked his insecurities, and he treats women with very little respect. Raj is equally messed-up with regard to women, unable to talk to them unless he has been drinking (or thinks he has been drinking), but nonetheless desperate for a romantic relationship.

Sidebar – quite what the writers are doing with Raj’s sexuality is anyone’s guess. One moment they are portraying him as a straight metro-sexual, the next playing up his effeminate qualities and implying that the bromance between him and Howard is a frustrated homosexual affair. More annoyingly, this is always done as an object of humour, so I’ve now lost track of whether we are pointing and laughing because Raj might be gay, or because Raj might not be gay. At such times I think Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood put it best when he sighed disdainfully “You people and your quaint little categories!”

I digress – what Raj and Howard have in common is a sickening sense of entitlement. In the most recent episode Raj and Howard comment on how ‘unfair’ it is that women like “confident normal guys more than nervous weirdos!” Immediately I recalled reading this excellent post last year, about how feelings aren’t fair, and you are not entitled to have someone like you.

So how does that map onto Amy’s behaviour? She is, at times, undeniably ‘creepy’ towards Sheldon. She’s frustrated at being in a relationship which isn’t going at the speed she wants, but, presumably, is still in love with him and doesn’t want to leave. Her own feelings of frustration are intrinsically valid, but she’s not entitled to use those feelings to justify trying to make Sheldon do something for which he doesn’t feel ready.

Had this been an isolated event I probably wouldn’t have bothered commenting on it, but as it turns out, I saw something pretty similar on the latest episode of Glee a few days later. One of the male characters, Ryder, has a rather intense moment where he reveals that he was molested as a child by an older female who was babysitting him. Unlike with TBBT, Glee was playing this scene absolutely straight – there was no indication that the audience was meant to find this funny. I expected that, in typical Glee style, this revelation would be greeted with sympathy, hugs and then they would all sing a song about it.

What actually happened made my jaw drop. While the females in the group express support, Ryder’s male friends ask him what his problem is & doesn’t he realise how lucky he was to be getting some action. Ryder awkwardly realises that he has to show a bit of machismo, so he laughs it off, but clearly still feels unhappy. The whole scene is laid on with a trowel (Glee doesn’t really do subtle) so I assumed that they would come back to it later on, and the male Glee-Clubbers would learn a valuable life-lesson about how all sexual abuse is wrong, regardless of the genders of the perpetrator or victim. Instead, there’s a short scene where a female character, Kitty, confides in Ryder that something similar happened to her once, and she understands his pain. Which is fine as far as it goes. But it left me screaming at the TV: What about everyone else? Are you really going to just leave this with a bunch of boys thinking that female on male rape ‘doesn’t count?’

Glee will, I fervently hope, come back to this later, neatly signposting it with a repeat of the revelation scene in the recap at the top of the show. Because surely they can’t just let this hang there? I guess from my privileged, liberal mindset, I was genuinely surprised that the attitude that ‘female on male rape doesn’t count’ is prevalent enough to be shown on a TV show as a first response to a young person sharing that it had happened to them. I know you get characters in fiction (and regrettably reality) who don’t believe rape is a problem full stop, but surely we are supposed to disagree with them.

I noticed on Facebook that the anti-feminist bingo card is doing the rounds again. Generally I agree with this, but I have always been baffled by the hating on the term “Equalist”. As I said earlier, shouldn’t it be the behaviour we abhor, more than the genders of the actors? If it would be bad for a man to do something to a woman, why would it be acceptable for a woman to do it to a man? I accept that the power dynamics (physical, emotional, mental) between men and women are sometimes unequal, so a male acting upon a female may have a disproportionately worse effect on the female, than if the female were to act upon a male in the same way. But I would strongly contend that even where that is the case (which I would also contend is the exception rather than the rule) just because the total effect is ‘less bad’ that doesn’t make it ‘good.’

As a female I have no idea what it is like to be a man, and as someone who has thankfully never been sexually assaulted I have no idea what that is like either. So I am doubly ignorant as to what a male who has been molested by a female might feel afterwards. But as a human capable of empathy, I can imagine that any kind of sexual violation and betrayal of trust must be horrific.

Returning to The Big Bang Theory – to be absolutely clear I am not implying that Amy wants to rape Sheldon. But depicting her desperate attempts to get Sheldon to sleep with her as ‘funny’ leaves me with the feeling that the writers are, to some extent, subscribing to this idea that because Amy is a woman and Sheldon is a man, her coercive behaviour is more socially acceptable, and therefore fair game for comedy.

Listen to the dialogue in this scene. Sheldon is explicitly saying “Stop.” He asks his partner for help, and she responds by joining in. Imagine if this depicted a woman pinned down by 2 men. Still funny?

Part 2 of Hen Do – A Philosophical Geek Out

Last Sunday morning I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, on account of not staying up all night clubbing.

We were off to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. The highlight of my weekend – aside from celebrating my friend’s impending nuptials of course!

It turns out one of of the other revellers is as big a Whovian as me, so we went round the costumes and artefacts together getting our Nerd on, and effortlessly outclassing the rest of the visitors with our extensive who-trivia. (Which earned us some rather dirty looks from a few of the older gentleman, who obviously felt young ladies should not be bigger fans than they were!)

And then, as is the custom whenever two Doctor Who aficionados get together, the conversation turns more serious. Solemnly she asked me if I, as the Doctor, would have destroyed the Daleks on Skaro in the Classic Tom Baker story “Genesis of the Daleks.”

Obviously this isn’t a question one takes lightly. I need to give this some thought. After a minute I realise that to answer this question I need more information.
“Which Doctor am I?”
Of the 11 incarnations that have so far graced our screens (Red Nose day specials and the abysmal Peter Cushing film notwithstanding) I feel that each Doctor would have responded to this moral quandry quite differently. Troughton and Davison wouldn’t have done it – they were too nice. Whereas Colin Baker was always a bit of a bastard, by which I mean that he was (for my money) one of the least ‘human’ doctors. Not for him the constraints of homo sapien morality. Similarly Christopher Eccleston would totally have connected the wires. His backstory makes it clear that he (attempted) to destroy the entire Dalek race previously, and the experience has left him with what is essentially PTSD.

That was 5 days ago and apparently it’s been preying on my mind. Earlier today the following occurred to me: towards the end of The Parting of the Ways, Jack gets killed by the Daleks. Rose then brings him back to life as an Immortal. At which point he becomes a fact – a fixed point in time to which the Tardis then strenuously objects. (Sidebar – might this offer a clue as to why the Tardis now appears to hate Clara?!) But if Jack is now a fixed point in time, then the survival of the Daleks up to the point that they kill Jack must have been inevitable! Tom Baker’s doctor had no choice.

All of which demonstrates why Doctor Who is the perfect philosophical programme. There’s all the wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff which covers your basic metaphysics. There are ethical conundrums aplenty. Some great food for thought on aesthetics; in a vast universe populated with aliens, who’s to say what is beautiful and what is ugly. And if that wasn’t enough you also get to play with propositional logic. In an ever-expanding canon of material, which apparent logical inconsistencies can be explained away and which can’t. Tracing the logical validity of a complex argument is not the easiest thing to do, and Dr Who is a brilliant mental scratching post upon which to sharpen the critical faculties.

Hen Do

This weekend I went on the Hen Do of a friend and colleague. I don’t have that many female friends to start with, still fewer who are not already married so I have limited experience of Hen Parties. I knew we had an action packed weekend ahead of us and I was a little nervous about hanging out with a group of people I barely knew. In that event I was happily worrying over nothing. Her friends are lovely and we bonded over a white water rafting session and a Masterclass in Cuban Cocktail Making. We had the obligatory games of making our Hen guess how her betrothed would have answered various intimate questions, replete with anatomically themed prizes. We drank, we giggled, we fortified ourselves over an Italian dinner, and then we went to a nightclub.

This was the part I had been dreading. As I have previously blogged, I don’t really do late nights. I’m definitely a morning person. Get me up at 5 in the morning, and while I won’t be particularly happy about it I will be functional. Keep me up after midnight however and I turn into a pumpkin. I’ll have been unattractively petulant for the past hour anyway, but after midnight I just stop. Woe betide if you haven’t got me into bed by then.

But, I’m away for a mate’s pre-wedding party and I am aware that I should make a special effort. After the rafting I have some water trapped in my ear, and on the advice of my roommate I lie down on my side. My bed is by a large window and I curl up like a cat in the little sun trap which has obligingly appeared. I drift off into a pleasant slumber. At least I assume I do. I wake up about an hour later having drooled on the pillow, which I don’t generally do whilst conscious. Annoyingly this pool of liquid emanating from my body is not from my ear as hoped, but I’m barely caring about that, instead focussing on the delightful realisation that I Got A Nap.

The reason I am so pleased about this is that any period of actual sleep I can get during the day extends the period of time I can remain awake and alert later on. Perhaps now with the right combination of alcohol, sugar and general exuberance I can make it through the clubbing portion of the weekend after all.

So we’re all nicely tipsy from our cocktail session (but not rolling around drunk out of our skulls like most of the other hen parties I’ve seen in Cardiff tonight.) I’ve taken the risky decision to sip a diet coke through dinner (normally I avoid all caffeine after about 3pm) followed by a digestif of Amaretto to ramp myself back up for the night ahead. We take a short walk to the club and although I’m still feeling trepidation about what’s to come I have some confidence that I won’t be bailing out straight away due to exhaustion.

I pay my £2 cover charge and step into a crowded room with pulsating lights and bodies, the latter crowded at the bar, gyrating on the dancefloor and draped over bannisters. The Wall of Sound rushes towards me, only it’s covered in evil looking spikes. I know at once I’ve made a mistake. I generally don’t get panic attacks, and knowing people who do I would not want to debase that hellish experience by saying my discomfort is in any way comparable to what they suffer. But the atmosphere in this sweaty club is palpable, and it’s an atmosphere which is threatening to choke me. Despite being in a large group of women, none of whom are overly intoxicated, I feel vulnerable.

Hands grasp me round my hips, ostensibly to keep me from stepping backwards while their owner slides past on his way to the bar. Do they linger on my body for slightly longer than is necessary? Am I just being paranoid? Was that a grope? Or is that a par-for-the-course physical interaction, inevitable when that many writhing humans are packed into so confined a space? People are shaking and shimmying in time to music which is slightly familiar to me, but hardly the soundtrack of my life. I’m astounded by their carefree movement. If I tried to do that I’d be either the unwilling victim or perpetrator of a mild sexual assault.

The floor is sticky. It’s a nightclub, of course the floor is sticky. The bar staff are filling tiny glasses to the brim with viscous, luminous liquids half of which are spilled en route to the gullets of those who would consume them. The room smells of stale sweat and beer (which is unpleasant but probably not carcinogenic so in my book an improvement on the days when cigarette smoke drove out all other offending odours.)

Belatedly I notice that the reason the music sounds familiar is that it hails from the 90s, not the 80s as promised. I was 7 years old when the 80s ended. I knew Christmas Carols and the theme song to Postman Pat. If it sounds familiar then it must mean I’m failing to enjoy myself in the wrong era. The only things which look authentically 80s to my eye are 2 enormous cathode-ray tube TV sets in cream plastic casing mounted on the wall. I look around me at the party-goers dancing and drinking and having fun. I wonder how often the term “cathode-ray tube” goes through the minds of the average attendee at this venue.

I realise this is not for me. I can no more go to a nightclub than I could run the Marathon. By which I mean: I accept it is not a superhuman feat, plenty of people do it. But you need a certain disposition to start with, or failing that, a substantial period of training. I have neither. I have spent the past decade of my leisure time reading, watching TV & drinking good ale (or good wine or good spirits) slowly in a comfortable environment (either home or a nice local pub) whilst conversing on topics both whimsical and earnest with friends. I relax knowing my property and my person is safe from danger, I can take my time to consume well crafted alcohol, and I can hear & be heard. With hindsight I wonder why I even tried to ‘go clubbing.’ It’s loud, frenetic, and kinda skeezy.

Perhaps I needed one last experience to realise that this is not something I will ever find fun. And that’s fine. Perhaps as a philosopher I’m always looking for the moral dimension to any given situation. I realised that didn’t need to be the case here. I could just accept that people enjoy different things. That doesn’t make me better, or worse, than anyone else.

So I make my excuses and head out towards my hotel to get into bed with John Scalzi. On the way out the doorman asks if I am coming back. I smile sweetly and say “Under no circumstances ever!”

Dead politicians

Margaret Thatcher died today. As a staunch liberal I had no love of Thatcher’s politics, and no interest in her non-political life. I cannot therefore truthfully express any sadness at her passing. Most of my friends are staunch liberals as well, and have split themselves into 2 groups: the gloaters and the chiders. A friend of mine saw the below pie chart on Facebook, which summarises the likely range of reactions. (The lefties in-fighting in particular made me chuckle.)

Thatcher Pie Chart

I am an atheist. Related to which I do not believe there is such a thing as an immortal soul. I believe that our character, memory, and all things which could contribute to a sense of personal identity reside in the brain. I believe when blood stops being pumped to that brain, depriving it of oxygen, then the brain ceases to function. I believe all the information stored in there, and the capacity for hierarchical thinking which separates us from other animals, also disappears.

When someone dies, while I endeavour to be sympathetic to those grieving and will say whatever I deem to be appropriate, privately I abhor the term “Rest in Peace.” They are not ‘resting’; they are dead. There is no ‘peace’; there is nothing. And they no longer exist as an entity to be ‘in’ any state of any kind.

So I am not writing “RIP Thatcher” on my Facebook wall, either in a spirit of genuine mourning, or in a spirit of (perhaps grudging) respect for someone I disliked.

Nearly 2 years ago my 93 year old maternal Grandmother died. She was a lovely, warm, caring lady. She’d had a long, full life. She had suffered loss, known great happiness, and was eminently sensible and stoic. She remained interested in the world around her right up until she passed away. She died knowing she was loved by her friends and family. Would that we were all so lucky.

I don’t think that she is up there somewhere looking down on us all, but I know that I and others carry the memory of her with us. When considering my own mortality and the mortality of those I love – that is the thought to which I turn for comfort: that after a person’s death, the effect that they had on other people continues.

I think it’s fair to say that when someone’s obituary starts with the words “The former Prime Minister of The UK” one can assume their influence on other people was larger than most of us will get the chance to exert. I am not saying that politicians should be expected to sacrifice their humanity for their work, in fact I really wish they wouldn’t, but I think when you get into the upper echelons of government you become the mouthpiece of your party’s policies. To the majority of citizens in the country – who do not know you personally – your status as an individual becomes secondary to your status as a member of the government. Accordingly, the masses’ attitude to you will be entirely based on what you have done as a politician (and what elements of your personal life have been deemed relevant by the media and consequently thrust into the limelight.)

It is an occupational hazard of being in power that there will be those who despise you. It is impossible to please all of the people all of the time, as what all of the people find pleasing is heterogeneous. Those who are displeased with your decision to please someone else are likely to hate you for it. And as the power increases, the level of hatred increases too. This would be true of any politician, not just the particular ones who ‘polarised opinion’ (which I reckon will be one of the most used descriptors in the next few days.)

Today there are people expressing outrage at other people expressing glee at the death of a political figure. Those expressing glee are the people for whom Thatcher represented tremendous injustice, lack of compassion and cruelty. In celebrating her death, are they showing disrespect? Perhaps. But maybe they feel that disrespect is justified. Maybe that vicious instinct to jeer at the misfortune of others is the only way they have left to show how much anger they bore towards someone so instrumental in bringing about the hardships we face now. Are they forgetting that she was a person too? Perhaps. But in what meaningful sense was she a person to the majority of people? In the absence of any personal experience how could she be anything more than the figurehead of a political party? In fact, she was the person that party elected to shoulder the burden of public opinion, some positive, some negative. Much as I like to think that our current political system is populated with dunderheads, I refuse to believe there can be a serving MP anywhere with ambitions to become a cabinet minister, who is not aware of the following: if they become a ‘household name’, in some households that name will become a swear word, inextricably linked with the reviled party they represent.

Powerful people become ubiquitous pegs upon which a multitude of ideas can be hung. I’m sure that within the next few days there will be opinion pieces galore celebrating Thatcher’s status as the first (and to date, only) female British prime minister, or how she ‘stood up’ to the unions, or Argentina, or the IRA.

But surely this attitude is no different from those currently singing Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. It’s not about her, it’s about what she represented.

In death, the person that a politician was is lost to everyone except those that actually knew them. But what they represented becomes amplified, and frozen in time. No more blustering through interviews, insisting a quote was taken out of context. No more opportunities to debate an issue, raise awareness or jump on a bandwagon. And no more chances to make amends for the wrongs they have inflicted.

Dead politicians are remembered by vastly more people than they ever actually knew. I don’t believe in an immortal soul. I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I believe that when we die, metaphysically all that remains of us is what other people remember. If you are a politician, be aware that for a lot of people all they will remember of you is evil. Because that is all they ever knew of you. To them, you were not a person.

On the other hand of course, you could remember that in actual fact you are a person. And you could try acting like that sometimes. Exercise some judgement, exude some compassion, exhibit some humour, show some humility. And then maybe, just maybe, some of those who disagreed with you will not put crass jokes on Facebook about dancing on your grave.