Dystopia

I’m startled by the chilly cleanliness of the street, taste the incredible freshness of the air.  The buildings are uniform, blank and alien.  A phrase I don’t recognise drops neatly in my mind: reinforced concrete.  I should feel more terrified.  A ragged man with a ragged beard bends down in front of me, muttering incomprehensibly to himself as he picks up what I recognise as a…cigarette butt.  I nibble the concept, trying it on: cigarette butt.  He pockets it – a filter with a meagre film of unsmoked tobacco.  He glowers at me in kneejerk hatred then boards a. 

A.  Bus.  A beautiful image of a near naked man adorns the side.  The technique of the painting is exquisite, but the picture is debauched, disgusting.  Women can see this, as can that poor degenerate who apparently wanders freely in this brightly lit Eden-city.

“Mr Sutcliffe?  Mr Sutcliffe.  Hi. I’m Peterson, I’m calling from SoCal; I represent the Time Warnburg conglomerate.”

I don’t recognise the accent.  The words feel strange; an obscure dialectical English, but unsettlingly familiar.  Like deja vu.

“You’re probably feeling a little, uh, confused right about now.”

“It’s Dr, actually.  And who are you, Mr Peterson?  More to the point, where are you; I can’t see you.”

“That’s, aah, a little, uh, complicated.  You were the victim of a little, uh, temporal disalignment.”

“Excuse me? A what?”

“A temporal disalignment, a TD.  Look, I’m a producer and we’re making a movie about your time and we, ah, there was some unpleasantness a few years back and, basically what I’m trying to say is, uh, we’re legally obliged to have unimpeachable consultants for any period movie we release.  Even then there are disclaimers and all kindsa’ hoops; you know what I’m saying?”

A young dark-skinned man knocks into me and walks away shouting obscenities, clearly he’s part brute, one of those vicious savages we hear so much about.  His costume is shapeless but garish: he should be sequestered away from decent folk.  I feel an odd stab of guilt but force it away.

“Mr Peterson, I’m a little unsettled.  And confused.  Could you be clearer, perhaps.”

“Nausea, right? Light-headed?”

“Well, yes.  But also, your idiom is, forgive me, a little bizarre.  More to the point, so is mine.  Where am I?  How did I get here?  And why am I not, um, freaking out?”

‘Freaking out’?

“Whoa there, Mr, uh, Dr, Sutcliffe.  That’s a lotta’ questions and I bet you gotta’ whole lot more.  Ok, the language thing, it’s complicated but it’s a side-effect of the TD.  We took you from your time and place in London, 1852.  Like I said, we’re making a movie about Jack the Ripper and we needed a medical consultant to advise on Victorian medicine.  We also needed one or two Victorian perspectives, that whole accuracy thing I was talking about.  Unfortunately there was a problem and you got landed a little too early and in the wrong universe.

Jack the Ripper? But my mouth frames a different question, “I’m sorry, wrong universe?”

“Uh, yeah.  Look, this is a little embarrassing.  You’re familiar with the many earths theory?  Goldilocks theories about radiation levels and general viability, sine waves, that sorta’ thing?”

“No.”

An elderly lady with a small dachshund on a knotted string gives me a pitying look – I must sound as though I’m talking to myself.  My word, is mine a demented mind?

“Sheesh, what did you guys… Right, I’m no science guy, but it’s like this:  there’s a, a multitude of universes, it’s where we get the word multiverse, right?  Lots of Earths, lots of Dr Sutcliffes.  But not every Earth exists, least not as you’d understand it.  The, uh, laws of physics don’t apply uniformly everywhere, which is why we’re able to talk.  You were carefully selected after a long, believe me it was looong, vetting process.  You’re from a different universe – we can’t go back into our own past, not to before the machine was invented.  Ask a physicist.  Or don’t – those guys don’t speak English!  Ha. Sorry, just a joke.”

I remain silent.

“Where was I?  Oh just put it over there, Francis, yeah.  What? Not that asshole again, tell him we don’t want any more of his shit; he’s finished…What?… Come on, that was 3 years ago.  Fucking...Sorry about that Dr Sutcliffe.  No rest for the wicked, right?”

“You were telling me what this is all about?”

“Huh?  Oh right, yeah.  Can I just say Dr Sutcliffe, you’re taking this real well all things considering, even with the TS effect.  Ok. So.  My time is a long way ahead of your time now and your, uh, home time.  Except it kind of isn’t because of fractal universes or something.  Like I said, I’m no scientist.  That’s why you can’t see me; ‘cause I’m not really there.”

“Wait, TS effect?”

“Yeah, you see some people don’t appreciate being, uh we call it timeshifted, so the timeshift, or TS, is designed to stimulate certain receptors and keep you calm.  Don’t worry that at least is temporary. And some people find it, uh, euphoric.”

Machines pass before my eyes at terrifying speeds.  I recognise them but don’t know what they are.  Some idle in front of me belching…steam?  The noise is deafening. They feel intimidating, violent.

“I certainly don’t feel any euphoria.”

“Hey, buddy, I’m trying to help here, no need for the ice-queen routine…Look, we’re still working on the problem but hopefully we can resolve your issue.  Think of it like a story for the grandkids, only maybe not ‘cause I’ve seen your crazy people hospitals! Sorry.”

A barely clothed woman swims into focus.  She is perfumed and painted and showing so much flesh she’s no doubt a..hooker…odd word.  She is so brazen, no chaperone.  I’ve little doubt she’ll be raped by nightfall.  Again that stab of guilt. She notices my attention and screams gibberish at me as she retreats into the distance.

“We’ve pieced some of it together.  You got switched with a local girl about two weeks ago.  I say switched…we’re still working out who she is and when she is.  Right now all I can say is she’s a girl, sorry, a woman.  And it wasn’t a straight switch: I only hope she didn’t get thrown too far back because she’d probably get burned as a witch…  Anyway, that’ll account for why your surroundings are a little more, ah, familiar than they should be.  Also why you didn’t ask me what a movie is.”

I’ve been here two weeks? That can’t be right.  “Is that why I’m talking funny?”

‘Talking funny’?

“Uh…sorta’.  It’s like, you ever driven a car long haul?  What am I saying, of course you haven’t, don’t know what the fu..heck a car is.  When you go on a journey you pick things up, right, like parasites and bug splats.  This is what you got – only insteada’ a parasite you got the, ah…local vernacular burrowing into your mind.  We can limit that here to keep your, I guess you’d call it integrity, um, intact…but out in the field, sadly not.”

Panic rises with Peterson’s words.  A couple across the street stare through a window at brightly lit boxes.  Their child cries, a thin rasping noise accompanied by the stamp of tiny feet.  Why is he allowed to behave like this?  Another disembodied voice “There is a good service on the rest of the London Underground.”  Another bus, which reads “some people are gay, get over it”.  Well, I wouldn’t begrudge a man his joy.  I feel I may have missed some nuance.

“Look, Dr Sutcliffe.  It’s time to talk consequences.”

Consequences?  What consequences? A crowd of people pour down the – station? – stairs, like city rats.  They are people of many races and costumes, holding tiny boxes that blare tinny sirens. I shudder involuntarily.  Peterson returns, quieter now, more in sorrow than the previous jauntiness.

“Dr Sutcliffe?  It’s probably starting to sink in, right?  This is the TD – you asked yourself, yes, why you keep feeling guilty? Out of focus?  We’re doing what we can, but I gotta’ warn you, if we don’t fix it in time, there’s no point in sending you back, ‘cause you won’t exist. But we still got maybe a few hours to fix it before sending you back would be downright negligent.  Not negligent, of course – that’s not an admission.”

“What?”

“Oh don’t get me wrong, there’ll be a, uh, shell.  A person.  But not you – see it’s all about language, it frames how you articulate your thoughts, your prejudices, your memories, everything.  Even to yourself, especially to yourself.  Everything about you is the words you use.  We TS’d you but you got TD’d which accelerates the process.  Right now you got over a century of linguistic flux and all the cultural baggage that entails, 161 years to be exact, comin’ atcha. To you.  Right now you’re mostly the, the you that you know with a piece of someone else in you, but soon…you won’t recognise yourself.  She has it worse, wherever she is, believe me.”

I’m not going to exist?

“Can’t you just bring me to wherever you are? You said you could control it?”

Pleading now.

“If it were up to me, I’d TS you right here, but the lawyers got me, you know?  You’re contaminated so we can’t use you.  And we can’t TS just anyone, that’s tampering with the past, and that’s a crime, buddy.  I’m sorry, my hands are tied.”

“One other thing, I’m, uh, obligated to say this, don’t even try to sue, hell, right now you’re the one in breach of contract.”

“What contract? I didn’t sign anything, I simply turned up here. I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”

“Nice try, buddy.  Anyway, on behalf of Time Warnburg I just want to say sorry for the trouble you’ve found yourself in and we wish you luck with the future.”

“Wait, I thought you said you were going to help me?  You can’t just leave me here in this awful place.  Anyway wouldn’t the TD simply be reversed if you sent me home?  Wouldn’t I just go back to being me? Hello? Where can I go, what do I say?  How will I live?  Please, I have a wife and child.  Hello?”

__

Preston Peterson – how he hated his parents for that – took a sip of his expensive mineral water.  He pressed a few buttons on his phone “We’re probably gonna’ have to shelve ‘Jack’ for a little while.” He hung up then tapped in another, longer number “Hi, Captain Alloway?  You’re probably wondering why you’re in Gettysburg in 2226…”

Advertisements

When Product Placement Is Problematic

It rubs the Olay Essentials Beauty Fluid on its skin. It does this whenever it is told.

Here at Frood we pride ourselves on always using the right pronoun.  We always put ourselves first.  You is the second person.  Little grammar joke to get us started.

Right.  Now that we’ve dissuaded even the most open-minded reader from continuing, to today’s subject: product placement.

That product placement is intrusive isn’t it?  Worse than alliterative titles or rambling, go-nowhere ‘writing’.  The placement of the products on the screen during the film, it gets in the way of your comfortable enjoyment thereof.  Because the products are placed in such a way that you can’t ignore them: Apple, Pepsi, Ford, products and brands, all placed in a kaleidoscope of televisual intrusion that gets in the way of your comfortable enjoyment…

With apologies to Stewart Lee, who narrated that in my head.

If you’ve left the house recently, you’ll find that really real reality has product placement to buggery.  Therefore, product placement in films actually increases realism – you can’t leave the house without seeing the iconography du jour – the Nike swoosh, the Heineken green.

David Beckham’s photoshopped package on the side of the bus, Samsung on the Chelsea chest.

Magner’s ‘Irish’ cider with ice (redundant in the current wintry climate).  In my own private universe Christmas is announced by a commercial featuring a train in a familiar red, the holidays are coming…tis’ the season always the real thing: Coca Cola.

But what happens when it all goes too far?

Frankly my dear…I’d give anything for the new iPhone twelvety-seven with 8G wireless.

Come, come, Mr Bond – you enjoy HMV’s 2 for the price of 1 promotion as much as I do.

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will take advantage of the new half-price sale on all sofas before January 21st or while stocks last, only at DFS, in this life or the next.

That is exactly what happens, and what will happen when it inevitably does go too far, if it hasn’t already, which obviously it has.  Are we clear? Good.  The revolution starts here.

Legal Disclaimer: no it doesn’t.

Dirty, Dirty Leeds United

“Long-suffering” Arsenal fans spent the weekend in a collective cold shiver, periodically shuddering out a thin, mewling bile into a stainless steel bucket.  It’s been a long time since a trophy, and almost as long since they appeared capable of winning one.  Then they compounded their FA Cup struggles by playing Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League.  Perhaps ‘playing’ isn’t the right word.

Me, I don’t know what the fans are all so upset about, but that’s because of an ill-fated choice I made some years back.

Growing up I didn’t much like the round ball game we call foot.  But over time I acclimatised to it and before you could say Stockholm Syndrome I realised that the time had come to choose a team.

I had a choice of 3.  Liverpool FC, winners of several European Cups and historically England’s biggest team (says them).  My mother’s side of the family is Liverpudlian.  Alternatively, because I spent more time growing up in the south of England than anywhere else, I was in the natural catchment area for Manchester United (‘humour’).  They’re now en route to their 20th league title unless the wheels come off and they embarrass themselves.  Like they did last season.

Or there was Leeds United, the team of my dad’s side of the family.  Before Chelsea stole the mantle, Dirty Leeds United were the team everybody hated.  Back in the 1960s they learned diving and time wasting from the continent and married it with the English game’s physicality (read: ‘psychopathy’).  It was a time for the winsome appreciation of the ‘hard man’, scything through ankles and ligaments from behind without a care in the world.  Silky smooth Leeds were not.

And that was when they were good.  But such halcyon days were long gone: by the time of my dilemma Leeds were suffering the early stages of a catastrophic financial implosion that even today inspires little more than gleeful schadenfreude.

Naturally I took one look at my options and plumped for the not-so-mighty whites.

Being a Leeds fan today means lurching from one crushing disappointment to the next, which comes in handy when watching England play international fixtures.  Last weekend we were dumped out of the FA Cup by Manchester City, effectively ending our season unless we contrive to get dragged into a relegation scrap.

But as I see it, if you’re not playing, sport’s about entertainment and escapism.  So while you might have seen Citeh’s world class superstars put ahem-hem past us without breaking much of a sweat, here’s what I saw:

They said it couldn’t be done, that Leeds couldn’t keep their 4 strikers happy, that Ibrahimovic and Drogba wouldn’t share the limelight, that Yeboah was past it and Berbatov, well he’s just a bit lazy.   

And yet.  Berbatov scored the opener, dedicating his latest work of beauty to jazz legend Charles Mingus.  Yeboah clinched the victory, a goal-of-the-season last minute cannon to seal the championship before the end of February – a mathematical impossibility, they said.  And to think that Yeboah is 46.  Capital One and FA Cups and the European Cup are surely to follow, same as with each of the previous 3 seasons.

But it’s not just about the terrifying professionalism, the ‘average’ possession and pass success stats or the crushing inevitability of the victories; at Leeds Utd style is king.  It’s there in their Alexander McQueen kits, in the muscular form of 2005’s Michael Essien; epitomised by Berbatov’s touch and a style of play that marries the best of tiki taka with individual flair.  Ronaldhino has even been rehabilitated to such an extent that he’s on the shortlist for next year’s Ballon D’Or.  CR7 and Messi have both inquired, but the big name signings are done – Leeds have a generation coming through to make even this current lot look like rank amateurs.

Barcelona and Ajax have sent representatives to the Leeds academy to learn the secret of its success.  Round these parts people nod their heads approvingly to talk of ‘the other’ Utd’s 90s team (such a shame that Man Utd have been relegated yet again – they’re far too big a club for League 2), or Barcelona but there’s really no comparison between them and our 15 year olds.

Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama hold season tickets; Michael Jordan is often to be found in the stands trading jokes with Eric Cantona and cheering alongside most of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.  The movie of the season is in preproduction: the movie of last season is up for the best film Oscar and best director (PT Anderson).

Ken Bates has inquired about investing in Leeds yet again, again breaching the restraining order.  The bullet was removed from his leg, no harm done.   But he got the message.

I recommend that you try this for your favourite sports team or despised franchise-corporate-monstrosity.

Suggestions:

  • LeBron still taking heat as his Miami team is humiliated in the play-offs, losing in 6 games against Oklahoma with an even worse points drop-off than in the previous finals against Dallas.
  • England to Grand Slam the expletive out of the 6 Nations without conceding a single try.  The momentum carries into this summer’s Lions tour as an English spine carries them to a record-breaking series of wins.
  • A La Liga team other than Real Madrid or Barcelona storm to the championship, their players resisting the opportunity to play for one of Spain’s big two.  Said team to build a dynasty and lead the campaign to effect a more equitable spread of television rights in the Iberian game.
  • It might be difficult for Chicago Cubs fans even to picture them winning a World Series, mind.

A Valentine’s Day To Die Hard

“It’s a difficult title. A Good Day To Die Hard? It’s like, have a sandwich and let’s go shopping – then Die Hard,”

Bruce Willis there on the BBC’s One Show.  On the off-chance you’re unclear, yes he was promoting the latest installment in a Die Hard franchise that’s 4 films too long, A Good Day To Die Hard.

Our Brucie’s since taken a bit of flack for his lacklustre appearance on the One Show.  The man himself has apologised, blaming jetlag for making him as stale as, well, as Die Hard 4.0.  Yes he was as ramblingly dull as his new movie’s supposed to be, but he’s been perhaps a little unfair on jetlag. After all, have you ever seen the One Show?  Exactly.

Just remembered that Caroline Flack doesn’t present the One Show.  So that was a waste of a perfectly good pun.

Sorry, just nodded off for a moment there thinking about the One Show.

Today is Valentine’s Day, which means those of you in relationships will have been pressured to buy all kindsa’ crap to prove via the medium of financial transaction that you care about one another.  Me, I’m taking my modem out for dinner.  Who says jokes about onanism can’t also be thinkers?

Some of you will inevitably disappoint: you know (s)he doesn’t like blah, how could you be so insensitive?

Or maybe you didn’t book the restaurant in time, or offered to make a meal but forgot about that crucial allergy.  No one looks their best under the neon glare of emergency room lights.  Especially not with a throat swollen like a frog mid-mating ritual.

Or maybe you took it really seriously even though (s)he’s not quite there yet because it’s only been a week.

Or maybe you took a stand against the consumer-driven commerciality of a manufactured anniversary that is inherently meaningless.  And it’s all a waste of money anyway.  Your principles don’t look so good when (s)he’s crying on the sofa, right?

Maybe you forgot it was Valentine’s Day.

If any of the above applies to you, fear not for help is at hand.  Instead of panic-buying petrol station flowers and a box of milk tray, or going all out with a 6 foot teddy bear with a nauseating message carved into its chest…

Never thought of it like that, did you?  Pretty macabre…

Instead of the tears and recriminations and burn marks from the sauté pan or the condescension of a maitre d’ “Oh I’m sorry, we must’ve…lost…your reservation.”

Instead of all that, don’t even bother, especially if your other half takes it all a bit too seriously.  Just take your significant other to the cinema to watch A Good Day To Die Hard, and afterwards I promise you’ll have forgotten whatever it was you were supposed to be fighting about.

“You know, I’m still pissed off at you but fuck me that was a ghastly/frickin’ awesome movie.”

And then you get to have angry make up sex, which is the best kind.  I only want what’s best for you.

Yippee Kay Yai and all that.

You might even see me at the cinema – I’ll be the one in the stained vest.  But that’s nothing to do with the film; I’m just a disgusting slob.

Frood Is 50

I spent the weekend in Valencia contemplating the romance of these coastal towns.  Taking in the seafood and jamon. And beers sold in iced glasses, even while the Valencians themselves wore winter coats to protect against the balmy February air.

As ever I fell for the clear skies and clear complexions of the slender inhabitants of this quiet, sleepy town. I fell for the palm trees and local landmarks.  I fell over in the sea.

Frood has hit a landmark of his own with this the 50th post.  Roughly 50,000 words worth of interminable, mangled filth, aka halfway to a Jeffrey Archer novel.  More puns than are acceptable among functioning human beings, and jokes worse than your average American primetime sitcom.

Those of you who are familiar with American primetime sitcoms know that there is a tradition in the US for the clip show, recap affairs made to alleviate the strain on writers, cast and crew.  With a plagiaristic glint in Frood’s rheumy eye, then, here’s what newish readers may have missed from the plumby depths:

Punch Me In The Face

My account of avoiding reading EL James’ Fifty Shades Of Grey.

I Wish I Were A Was

Damned if I know.

Paris, Je Voudrais Brainnnzzz

The zombie movie adaptation of World War Z that I wanted to see.

I hope you enjoy…

50 Froodian posts and counting; readers, your trials have only just begun.  But thank you, I love you all the same.

Cage Match Special: Ebooks vs Real Books

The Victorians future-proofed their houses to enable residents and later generations to modify the internal space according to need.  By the 1960s the Victorian style was considered ugly and wasteful – the future was utilitarian, in any colour or material you wanted provided it was poured concrete. 

The 70s vernacular is now considered the architectural equivalent of swearing.  

Space in any urban environment is forever at a premium. And as cities become more crowded, modern needs demand that living spaces be more versatile to combat the cupboard-like proportions of the average home.  Builders these days, in London at least (or so it might appear), subscribe to the principle ‘stack ‘em high, sell ‘em expensive’. 

Luckily there are all these new-fangled technologies to remove the clutter from our lives – chunky vinyl gave way to nifty CDs to the slow death of the hard format.  No need for physical copies of music or film.  Virtual friends are the same as real ones with the added bonus that you don’t have to feed them. Same with books (not that I feed my books).

The ebook is not a thing of beauty, but it might be a joy forever.  Unlike Keats. 

It’s certainly convenient – no more will I have to chop down a tree, pulp it, treat it, turn it into paper, let it dry, bind it into a book and then copy out longhand whichever novel it is I don’t want to pay for.  And then weep bitter tears once I realise that I don’t have enough pages and will forever wonder what actually happened to Madame Bovary.

I like to think it all worked out.

I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking “Profane Words! The ebook is a godless contraption, an abomination abhorrent to all right-thinking men.”  But hear me out: you can have whole entire libraries at your fingertips; you can take it to a café, or on holiday.  It’s light and you can wedge it into a special cover so strangers think it’s an iPad.

Best of all, if you find yourself wanting to read something that snobs like me call post-literate, no-one ever has to know.  Except that person reading over your shoulder, of course – there’s always one.  Fifty Shades of Dan Brown gets your knickers in a twist?  Age gap too great for Nancy Drew (“my god he’s old enough to be her father”)?  Some people, especially men, are too ashamed to read low end chick-lit in public – no longer.

Wait.  How old is Nancy Drew supposed to be again?

But there’s a downside.  No, not the romance of pulped and bound trees with their intoxicating paper smells and lovingly crafted covers hinting at the boundless joys within.  Not the promise, or the anticipation of a pristine spine.  As the French say, the best part of the affair is the walk up the stairs. 

There might be no inherent romance to an ebook, but it’s the future, only now.  And just like in the 1960s, functional and utilitarian are once again the future.  Besides, who needs romance in their lives?  That’s positively bourgeois, and hipster moustaches tell me that 19th century philosophy is the big fashion trend this season.  And when fashion speaks, people listen. Power to the people, y’all.

Back to this downside.  The other day I spied a young man on public transport.  With his half-dreadlocked hair, his vintage-flavoured attire and hippy jewellery he was clearly a free thinker and an intellectual, spiritual but not confined by the narrow concept of organised religions, yeah?  In case anyone was in any doubt, he was reading 1984; the Beatles of the books wot make you deep world.  At this point you probably think me a grump and a meanie. 

You’re absolutely right, but in fairness, the reason I know what this chap was reading was because he was holding it up so that the cover was at the eye level of everyone sitting down (except next to him, which no one was because he was a wee bit smelly, soap being bourgeois and all).  It faced up slightly so that everyone standing up could see it clearly, too.  The cover had been fashioned to look like mid-20th century Soviet propaganda.  That wasn’t an accident.

I ended up moving further down the carriage (no reason), but when I looked up, there it was: the cover was facing me.  Moving again I noticed the cover followed me like the eyes of Mona Lisa.

What a poseur.  

I was especially pissed off because everyone was paying attention to 1984, and not my copy of WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

And it took me bloody ages to find just the right cover depicting the mathematical flavour of the novel while also portraying the sort of dystopian vision the USSR was to become.  It was banned there between 1921 and 1988 don’tcherknow.

So the moral is this: ebooks are great and all, but useless if you want strangers to know what you’re reading and realise how tasteful and deep you are.

But Enough Of This Gay Banter…

The fighting has been fierce, marked by the intolerance of the tolerant: gaybasher-bashing, homophobe-phobia.  Bigotry towards bigots: progress of a sort.

Tuesday, February 5, was an historic moment in the decades-long move to (full) acceptance of homosexuality in the UK.  The equal marriage bill, conferring on homosexuals the right to get married (rather than civil partner-ed), passed its second reading in the House of Commons with 400 votes in favour and 225 against.  The House of Lords is yet to come, but that’s a battle for another day.

I’m something of a political nihilist, sniping and sneering at the shibboleths of left and right alike.  I instinctively distrust most politicians, especially the type of leader who seeks to rule through sheer force of personality, whether Winston Churchill or Tony Blair.  I think that political ideals are and should be subordinate to people, always.  

Nevertheless I do believe in many things: I believe the rehabilitation of offenders is more important than the pound of flesh and that Einstein was right when he said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  I believe in Harvey Dent…

I believe in a woman’s right to choose, and that divorce proceedings should be (pardon the expression) divorced from the standard adversarial legal system.  I believe in the right of the religious to pursue their own beliefs without scorn. 

I believe that a moral dilemma is, by definition, a choice between two wrongs and that in real life right vs wrong situations are vanishingly rare, I believe that the gay marriage question is one such situation; I believe in gay marriage.

Most things are arguable and most things are complex: there are many, many more perspectives than the two sides to every story mantra we learn as children.  Is it lonely up here on my high horse? Sometimes, but I have my sense of smug self-satisfaction to keep me company. 

Tony Blair was a genius in this regard: his party introduced civil partnerships at a time before the issue had come to dominate the mainstream.  It gave homosexuals equal rights in law; it allowed gays to say “we’re married” and it allowed certain others to say “oh-ho, no you’re not.”  Civil partnership was never intended to be anything other than a short-term compromise on a divisive issue.

And it is a divisive issue, with strong, largely instinctive, feelings on both sides – yes of course they should, it’s obvious? Or conversely: no they shouldn’t.

My first reaction was in favour, and as with most such ill-defined feelings I’ve had to come up with reasons after the fact, as is the case with most people.  That is, I’ve become more firmly dug in to my initial position.  This inherently makes discourse fruitless – I make my points, you make yours and if we started in agreement we’ll probably end in agreement, and if we disagreed at the outset, well I won’t hold my breath if you don’t hold yours.

But it’s only human to try and win a few skirmishes in the battle for hearts and minds.

The concept of marriage is fluid – a contract of ownership, or a means of cementing alliances.  No-fault divorce is accepted now, where once any sort of divorce was frowned upon.  Love may be the dominant reason for getting married, but that’s a relatively modern phenomenon; marriages arranged by the parents are now relatively infrequent.

The legal aspects of marriage are the sole province of the state, but marriage is more than forms and property rights.  Marriage cuts across religions – it no more belongs to Christians than to Sikhs or Jews, it is not Islamic, or Hindu.  In fact there’s no basic requirement to be religious at all to get married.  Or to want children – it’s certainly not about procreation in a time when a bastard is someone who cheats you, not someone born out of wedlock.

Little Englanders may wish to look away now, but the UK has always been an immigrant isle: Celts, Romans, Saxons, Norse, Normans – none are indigenous.  If anything this accelerated during the days of empire and commonwealth.  

Such diversity of ethnicity and belief can serve to mask the fact that people are more similar than they are different.  And while there are bound to be differences between gay relationships and straight ones only a fool would suggest that homosexuals are incapable of feeling love in as profound and overwhelming and deep a sense as heterosexuals. 

In any society it is necessary to balance rights and the beliefs of disparate groups which are often in direct conflict with one another.  The right of some to be offended doesn’t trump the right of others to give their relationships the proper name.

The question then is whether there is a positive need for change.  That is to say: homosexuals have the same rights in law.  There are fundamental differences between their relationships and the traditional concept of marriage (ie the absence of one type of genitalia and the abundance of the other).  So long as they’re not discriminated against (ie denied rights) that’s enough.

I disagree.

Equality of rights is one thing, but we live beyond the chilly confines of the law.  Words have more power and come with more baggage than we sometimes give them credit for.  A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but in a world of roses a ‘romance-signifying flower’ sticks out like a sore green thumb.  Or, to reference South Park in place of Shakespeare, “it’ll be just like being married only instead of being married you’ll be butt-buddies. Buuuttt.  Buuuddddiess.” 

To deny homosexuals the right to the word marriage is to imply that their emotions, their relationships are fundamentally different.  In such denial comes the unavoidable implication that their relationships are somehow inferior, not worthy of ‘marriage’ with all that the word signifies.  Or at least their relationships should be excluded, even if they’re the same but different to make a prejudicial historical analogy.  This in turn demeans us all.

I’m not married, but I’m forever amazed (and heartened) at the commitment and certainty it takes for two people to get married.  I’m also sure that it’s an easy commitment to make once you’ve found the right person.  Weddings are lovely occasions brimming with joy and optimism.  I’m not gay, but I fail to see how there could be any real difference: we have little if any control over who we’re attracted to or who we fall in love with.  One kind of love is not more tangible or genuine than another.

As I see it then, the issue is one of discrimination against one group of people for a frankly arbitrary characteristic.  Moreover, even the anti-gay marriage brigade is keen to stress its lack of homophobia, hiding instead behind straw men clad in the language of tradition and tolerance.

The Conservative rebels are even citing the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), saying that ECHR will be used to bully religions into submission.  Given the rabid Tory antagonism to ECHR this would be laughable if it weren’t so disingenuous. 

There is currently no human right to same sex marriage to be found within ECHR – the Strasbourg court has ruled on this before (in reference to article 12 and the right to marriage between a man and a woman) and the court is not minded to change.  But there is a right to freedom of religion (article 9).  Article 8 (respect for private and family life) may pose an attractive proposition for the litigious, but it’ll be a tenuous case at best.  And again, Strasbourg’s jurisdiction is the interpretation and application of ECHR – whether the state and its institutions are acting in conflict with your convention rights.

Further, the Anglican Church denies women the right to hold senior positions within its organisation with impunity; the Roman Catholic Church denies priests the right to marry.  Neither has been subjected to a successful lawsuit and rightly so in my opinion – religions may hold baffling beliefs to outsiders, but they are nevertheless genuinely held.  Religions should simply be prevented from imposing those beliefs on non-believers.  This is true of any social group.

But as they say, it’s not homosexuality per se that’s the problem.  If so, then it’s hard to work out what the issue really is – public mood is broadly in favour, the wedding industry is definitely in favour, fear of the erosion of religious rights appears unfounded or at least grossly exaggerated.  The equal marriage bill in fact explicitly protects the rights of the Church.

In the absence of a clearly defined reason to deny same sex marriage, the conclusion is surely clear.  On Tuesday, reason and decency won out.

A victory for the prime minister and a defeat for his party.  They’ve promised to carry on fighting to the House of Lords and beyond despite the damage they’re inflicting on their own reputations and their own party, despite the fact that they’re at odds with the public they claim to represent.  They’ll carry on despite the nonsense of a position which purports not to have a problem with gays but nevertheless seeks to deny them rights for the fact of their homosexuality.

They’d be well advised to stop with all the carry-on; enough of this gay banter.