11 April 2021
At times like these, the world needs kindness more than ever.
Suffering is all around us while autocrats and plutocrats live increasingly remote and unreal existences, never seeming to recognise that they actually depend on the rest of us.
In China, the Uighurs are being ‘re-educated’ to destroy their cultural history and independence; in Myanmar, the Rohingya are being annihilated and demonstrators are being shot; in the middle east, Israel is killing Palestinians and disenfranchising all Israelis who aren’t Jewish; Muslims are divided between Sunnis and Shi’ites (basically the left and right hands of the Prophet fighting over who gets to cut the other one off); Americans are buying guns and, having got them, reckon they might as well use them to kill other people; Northern Ireland is descending into chaos again, this time over the Brexit agreement rather than religion, but the burning buses look the same; the ‘authorities’ in Hong Kong are killing anyone who disagrees with them; nobody likes Iran (like Britain, another failed state that used to control a huge empire); and Russia is headed by a humourless despot who thinks it’s cool to be photographed topless on a horse.
What happened to laughter? Can you imagine Vlad the Poisoner helpless with laughter? Why are so many leaders so self-important? What makes powerful people think pomposity and arrogance are essential to their trade? Can you imagine Donald Trump saying “I don’t know, tell me what you think”?
We are all but waves on the limitless oceans of spacetime, and waves don’t go anywhere, they’re just water going up and down in the same place, and are gone in the blink of an eye.
I sometimes wonder if we all – including me – try to see too far with short-sighted eyes and we should just accept that other people see things differently without necessarily being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. We can perhaps concentrate just on thinking about what will make other people happier and ignore what might make them like, or fear, us more.
Being kind to people can make them happier, even if only briefly, and doesn’t have to take time, perhaps messaging them asking how they are, or remembering their birthday, or sending them a book you saw in a charity shop and thought they might like. It’s often the little things that make the most impact and, just for a moment, the other person will wonder if the world isn’t all bad.
If I could have one superpower, it’d be to make people feel better about being themselves, warts and all. For me, silliness and laughter are essential parts of this so I get great pleasure from small things, like the official sign in the District of North Vancouver which reads:
|Attention dog guardians |
Please pick up after your dogs. Thank you.
Grrrrr, bark, woof. Good dog.
(I’ll send a photograph of the sign to anybody who thinks I make these things up.)
Incidentally, did you see that Betfred, a gambling company, had refused to pay out a £1.7m jackpot won by Andy Green playing blackjack on their site in 2018. Their excuse? Their system had a glitch that failed to stop people winning multiple jackpots. This is a classic example of what Bugs Bunny once described as “a pronoun problem”, a definition I’ve cherished ever since I heard it. In a summarised form it goes “I’ve got a problem and you’re going to put it right”.
The punter concerned was understandably upset and took them right up to the High Court where it was decided that the problem was Betfred’s not the winner’s and they should pay him what he’d won. After this judgement, Betfred said “we will abide by the court’s decision and not appeal. We would like to apologise to Mr Green for the delay in receiving his money.”
(An incidental benefit arising from this is that we now know that, because the software’s been sorted, if we do win a jackpot, we should stop playing because the updated software isn’t going to let us win another.)
I always used to suspect it was more productive to place a bet that certain events would happen than to insure against them happening because bookmakers were more likely to pay out than insurance companies but I’m now beginning to doubt this. (I once damaged the trousers of a suit and was offered half the cost of the suit because only half of it was damaged; obviously, I did the only thing possible and posted them the jacket and saying here’s the other half of the suit’s value, it’s yours to keep, please send a cheque for the full cost of a replacement suit, and they did.)
Gambling firms have profited hugely from the Covid-19 pandemic, as have billionaires generally with 493 new billionaires, 205 of them in China, being added to the Forbes annual poll which now lists 2,755 billionaires with a combined wealth of $13.1tn (up from $8tn in 2020). Trump was one of the few losers and finished almost 300 places further down the list.
Another much more worrying effect of the lockdown has been the surge in domestic violence but an 18-year old Polish woman, Krysia Paszko, who’d heard of the Spanish system which the French had adopted that uses codewords to tell pharmacists they were being abused. (In France, asking for a “Mask 19”, alerts the staff to abuse.)
In Poland, Paszko set up a website Rumianki i Bratki (camomiles and pansies) in April last year. It looks like a normal cosmetics shop with pictures of lavender soap and cleansing sage face masks but, instead of salespeople, you reach a volunteer team of psychologists from the Centre for Women’s Rights and, if someone places an order and gives their address, it means a police response is needed; in the last year, it’s helped 350 people with free legal advice and action plans.
Her inspiration won Paszko the EU’s Civil Solidarity Prize, a 10,000-euro ($12,000) award for Covid initiatives.
And, of course, the Duke of Edinburgh died this week. I hope people will respect the Queen’s request that they give money to charity instead of dumping bouquets that rapidly turn into a mixture of compostable material contaminated with cellophane, plastic and rubber bands. Let’s also spare a thought for how she must be feeling at the end of a partnership of 73 years.
Philip himself is now in the big kennel in the sky with our dowager dog who died a few weeks ago. I hope he’ll visit her – she loved everybody, especially if they brought her celery.
Actually, I’ve always wondered, if there is a heaven, do animals go there? Are your old pets waiting to greet you? Do they still eat … inappropriate things? Are poo bags issued to dog-lovers? I’m reminded of Androcles saying in G B Shaw’s play ‘Androcles and the Lion’ that he wouldn’t want to go to heaven if there weren’t any animals there.
Would a friend of mine who died of Motor Neurone Disease when we were both 43 recognise me now I’m no longer 43? What about babies who die very young – what sort of spirit would they have?
Even more importantly (for me) is whether there’s laughter in heaven and whether one’s allowed to be silly, like in the card in the shop window that said:
Tabby cat, white chest and paws,
answers to the name of Bugger Off.
Silliness and self-importance are mutually incompatible and I know which I prefer.
I wonder about these things not out of any disrespect to other people’s beliefs but because, here on earth, friends, animals and silliness are important to me, and I fully accept that what I now think of as ‘me’ is so rooted in the life I’ve had so far that my spirit may exist far above such petty limitations.