Because life is not a fairy tale, etc...

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Mothers, wives and brothels: a review of Wrecked by Charlotte Roche

Charlotte Roche received international recognition for her debut novel Wetlands. This coming-of-age story about a teenage girl awaiting surgery for an anal fissure sparked debate about the sanitisation of female sexuality, and the social pressures placed on women to follow a strict hygiene regime.

In Wrecked Roche explores these themes in the context of fidelity, marriage and motherhood. This semi-autobiographical story is narrated over three days by Elizabeth Kiehl, a woman obsessed with being the perfect wife for her husband, Georg, and a model mother to her seven-year-old daughter, Liza. Beneath this façade she is a neurotic control-freak, fixated with death, revenge and sex, plagued by suicidal thoughts, anxious about her breast-size, and fearful that her husband may leave her. She visits her therapist three times a week to try to heal the mental harm she suffered following a tragedy that haunts her daily life.

You can read the review in full on The Independent website.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Looking back: a review The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond

In The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs and Steel, offers inimitable insight into our cultural history through the study of tribal communities, and an entertaining account of the human struggle which suggests that traditional societies can teach us many "things of practical interest".

Drawing on his own fieldwork from nearly five decades working and living in New Guinea, as well as evidence from the Inuits, Amazonian Indians, Aboriginal Australians and others, Diamond combines technical expertise with personal observations to offer a perceptive exposition of our recent past. "All human societies have been traditional for far longer than any society has been modern," says Diamond. And while we take writing, government, police, store-bought food, and obesity for granted, these things are all "relatively new in human history".

You can read the review in full on The Independent website. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Being a woman, and beyond: review of Catlin Moran's Moranthology

In 2011's best-selling How To Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran focused on being female. But, if any proof were needed that Moran can discuss more than lady gardens, it is provided by Moranthology. In this, her first collection of published columns, interviews and reviews, she deals with an assortment of topics, including Boris Johnson, internet trolling, Downton Abbey and the eurozone crisis. Oh, and Aberystwyth.

A journalist since the age of 15 (and a columnist for The Times at 18), Moran's career has been anything but boring. In this anthology alone, she has interviewed Paul McCartney, Eddie Izzard and Keith Richards, gotten drunk with Kylie, and visited a sex club with Lady Gaga.

Along the way, Moran has made ingenious observations, discussing the lamentable ineligibility of the potato to be the official English vegetable, given its American origins, and considering whether Sainsbury's decision to rename the fish pollock as "Colin" was part of a "growing campaign to slowly name everything in Britain after an extremely normal man in his late thirties/early forties". Her report on the royal wedding is rib-achingly brilliant.

Though exceptionally funny, Moran does not shy away from serious issues. She addresses drug abuse, library closures and benefit reform, along with the impact this will have on low-income families and people with mental health problems. Her obituaries of Elizabeth Taylor and Amy Winehouse are moving, and her writing is often poignant, thanks to her ability to be simultaneously humorous and bitingly perceptive.

You can read the review in full on The Independent website.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Things I've learnt by 28...

If only I'd known then, eh...
I have been in a contemplative mood recently for a number of reasons, not least because I made a decision this week that is likely to change things for me, at least in the immediate future (and which I am still freaking out about). It wasn’t a decision I wanted to make, but in the circumstances it seemed like the only viable option.

So, whilst sadly pondering what is next, and thinking about big changes I am going to have to make, I became marginally reflective, and in the spirit of the “nothing’s the end of the world” feeling, started to think about what things have made me happy/sad etc throughout my 20s thus far, and what I wish I had known when I was a wee slip of a girl. The list is not complete, but hopefully some of it will resonate with others…

1.  You don’t have to know what you want to do straight away. Some people know from the cradle that they want to be a doctor, or a musician, or an…estate agent, and then achieve their goals at a relatively young age. It doesn’t matter if you take longer to decide. It is best to make the right decision. By trying different things you often have awesome experiences and meet new people. Not being a millionaire by the age of 25 does not make you a failure, neither does taking the bus aged 30, despite Margaret Thatcher's claims.

2.  Sometimes people are unpleasant and ignorant. That’s it. They can be rude and spiteful and thoughtless and arrogant, but it’s not you, it’s them. Don’t waste time with people who make you unhappy, or who use you, or who make you doubt yourself. Only bother with those who enhance your life, not make it worse. Severing ties with people can be hurtful,for you and them, but sometimes it is completely necessary and justified. Unfortunately, it does not matter how nice you are, or otherwise. The fact is that being nice and affable can often be a problem. People become complacent and take advantage. Don't compromise your own modes of behaviour, but just don't let them hurt you. Protect yourself.

3.  People who put you down usually do so because of their own insecurities. They may use you for an ego boost to try and improve their own confidence because they are unhappy with their own lives. Bin them off. If you don’t want to bin them off straight away, give them three chances to change their attitude towards you. If they don’t, then just leave them where they are. This is hard, and I'm yet to do it. 

4.  Perhaps you are beautiful, perhaps you are ugly. The fact is most of us exist somewhere in the hinterland between the two. But, regardless, it actually does not matter at all. You could be Helen of Troy or look like a bulldog chewing a wasp. If someone is so preoccupied with the way you look rather that what you say, then they are not worth your time. Not caring about how you look is actually quite liberating, and it makes you focus on the more important things, like the way you approach relationships with people, and the way you behave. Our bodies wither and die eventually anyway, but through our personalities we can make lasting impressions.

5.  It is much easier to give a compliment than to insult someone. Insulting someone is never nice, for you or them. But a compliment, that’s different. The littlest thing can make such a difference to someone else’s day, and requires almost no energy-expenditure. Consider doing it more. Insults are usually rooted in jealousy or resentment anyway. Remember that before trying to hurt someone. And remember that when someone hurts you.

6.  Try not to hold grudges. People can be mean and spiteful and selfish, but let the negative feelings go. You cannot change the past, no-one can, unless Doc Brown whizzes by in the DeLorean, though, I can tell you right now, that is unlikely. Sure, make changes to your life, re-evaluate your relationships, but let the anger go. Life is short, a cliché, but true, and you don’t want to waste any of it being preoccupied with something that makes you feel bad.

7.  If someone apologises, accept it graciously. Of course, if they have done something absolutely horrendous, then do not bother with them again, but over petty arguments, and little fallouts, take on board what they say, and forgive. You don’t have to re-establish a relationship with them, or become BFFs again, but end things on as nice a note as possible. Conflict is awful. Avoid it where you can. Also, don’t be reluctant to apologise when you are in the wrong, either. Sometimes it is necessary. And sometimes you just need to. Just be honest, with yourself and others.

8.  Don’t be afraid to try something new or different, even if you are likely to fail. This is a big one for me. But I can see now, in the harsh, unforgiving light of day, that it is better to try rather than to just let an opportunity pass you by. Ok, you may not achieve your potential, you may be absolutely rubbish, but you do learn something through the process, even if it’s just that you are not particularly good at that one thing.

9.  Just because you could be good at something, does not mean you actually have to do it. You could have fabulous surgeon’s hands but you would rather spend your time working at a checkout. So what? Do what makes you happy. You don’t have to be a high-flyer if that’s not you, even if you could be, and that is what is expected. Whatever happens, don't be too hard on yourself, at least not yet, anyway.

10.  Treasure the core of people who are most important in your life. We all have a group of very close friends who offer a support network that is crucial to our functioning. It is often easy to neglect them, believing they will always be there, but don’t. Don’t waste time trying to make irrelevant people like you, or worrying about what they think about you. Invest it in those people who love you and care about you, and who are always there when you need them. Make sure you are there for them, too. Don't take true friendship for granted. They are the handful of people who genuinely care about how you feel, and who are always there in a crisis. Nurture them.

11.  In matters of the heart be reserved, don’t give yourself away completely until you feel secure that, even if your feelings are not reciprocated, that you will be treated kindly. Difficult one, but nevertheless important. Heart-ache can feel like physical pain. Mitigate the potential to feel it where you can. But, if you love someone, or at least think you do, never begrudge them their happiness, even if it conflicts with your own. If someone loves you, or thinks that they do, be kind to them, let them down gently. It is rare in this life that we meet people who care about us so deeply and, in some cases, unconditionally. Recognise its significance, even if it is not what you want. No-one ever has too many friends, afterall. Feelings of deep adoration can evolve into something you find more palatable with just a little patience. And don’t worry about meeting "the one" because there are many of them out there. If you want casual relations, go for it, but if you don’t, that’s fine, too, and does not make you boring, or mean that you are wasting an opportunity to have “fun.” It’s only fun if you want to do it, and not if it seems like the most horrendous, dead-eyed and mechanical thing in the world. Just because other people do it, does not mean you have to. Personally, not my cup of Earl Grey at all, but if it is yours, enjoy...

12.  The same with marriage and children. Don’t feel pressured. Do everything at your own pace, and even if you don’t meet someone until you are 50, then that’s fine, as it is better to wait for someone with whom you will be happy. Likewise, maybe you won’t ever meet anyone at all, which is fine also. Never date someone just for the sake of having a partner. Don't marry and have children just because everyone else is doing so. Only pair-up if your chosen beau adds something to your life because, if not, then what is the point? Single life is seriously underrated anyway. Lots of people settle. Even in their 20s. Don’t be one of them.

13.  Be prepared for the fact that some people will surprise you. Don’t mentally construct templates of the people with whom you should form relationships, friendships or otherwise, because inevitably they won’t last. Nothing lasts that is based on the superficial, be that looks, salary, job title, education, or class. Sometimes it is best to follow your heart and not your head, though do not always ignore your head entirely. First impressions can often be the right ones. If someone ignores you, or is very dismissive, because you do not fit their "template," then do not worry about trying to win their favour. And don't let it make you feel inadequate. People are free to make choices in life, but that does not mean that they always objectively make the right ones.

14.  Don’t judge other people’s choices, even if they seem bat-s**t crazy, or make you doubt your own. We all live by a different moral code. Some of us are nicer than others. Some of us are absolutely vile and awful. But don’t necessarily judge somebody just because their viewpoint differs from your own (within reason). And don’t terminate a relationship just because you don’t always agree. Only do that when the people are clearly a negative influence. Friendships, like all relationships, are a balancing act, anyway. It is only when the bad outweighs the good that it’s time to say goodbye.

15.  Always be considerate. You never know what is going on in someone else's life, and consequently how the most throw-a-way of remarks could seriously affect them. Never be frivolous with someone else's feelings, or dishonest when they ask you what is wrong. Only cut them off when you know that there is no-way of going back, or repairing your friendship. If you are too hasty, be prepared for the fact that they may be too hurt to ever bother with you again. Though, know that it is not always bad to cut someone off. Some friendships last forever, others evolve, but some are only meant to last a brief time. In short, another cliche, but just treat people as you would like to be treated yourself. You know what feels right. And only you know what you want. Simples.

16.  Listen to your parents. A tricky one, but in most cases, it has to be said that, very often, they know what they are talking about. They have been alive longer than you, so have experienced all this crap before, and navigated it in a way that has, obviously, not completely ground them down. You may not like their advice, but at least consider it. Though appreciate and accept that they might not always be right. They are just people, too. But remember, nobody is likely to love you as much as they do, and nobody is ever as likely to always have your best interests at heart (in a lot of cases, anway).

17.  Finally just chill out, make the best of what you can, and try not to worry too much. Most people make mistakes, but so what? I'm starting think that maybe that's the point. It is true that nothing is the end of the world (except the end of the world, of course), and while things might significantly change because of something that has happened, you can always do something to make things better (or at least in most cases). Just, as Frankie says, relax…Some stuff is hard, but that's life, just go for it.

Nobody can get everything right all of the time, and it is likely that, by the time I hit 30, in what is a relatively short time, I'll have more to add to the list. I don't know, in another 28 years I may look back and think a lot of these comments are wrong, and completely re-write the list. I really don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. Nobody takes the same route from start to finish. I guess it is what we do, and how we do it, along the way that defines our experiences. Sometimes the scenic route is not so bad.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Keeping it real: review of Dr Brooke Magnanti's The Sex Myth

Since revealing herself as the author of the Belle du Jour blog and memoirs, Dr Brooke Magnanti has become an acerbic critic of the media's distorted representation of sex and the detrimental effect it has on prevailing social attitudes and beliefs.

The Sex Myth is a compendium of the most popular and salacious sexual dogmas pedalled by the press, only instead of bolstering these widely accepted ideas, Magnanti dissects each one to expose the unreliable or outright fictional evidence on which they are based.

Magnanti discusses issues including the stereotyping of male and female sexuality; sex addiction; the sexualisation of children and teenagers; rape; the porn industry; trafficking; prostitution; and the motives of those opposed to sex work. While these subjects have all generated a surplus of column inches and books, it would be foolish to dismiss The Sex Myth due to any perceived lack of originality. What makes it special is the impeccable diligence with which Magnanti analyses empirical data and research to bolster her claims.

She highlights the determinative influence that “Agenda Setters” – those, including pharmaceutical companies, governments and religious groups, likely to profit from the promotion of a specific theory – have on the development of so-called diseases such as female sexual dysfunction (FSD).

You can read the review in full on The Independent website. 

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Teenage love, lust and baby bumps: review of BBC Three's Pramface

Facepalm: Chris Reddy's Pramface is just not memorable.
Tonight marked the premier of Pramface, BBC Three’s new six-part comedy series charting the trials and tribulations of an unlikely teenage couple - Laura and Jamie - as they prepare to become parents following an awkward one-night-stand. Not that their set-up is conventional, of course. 

Laura (Scarlett Alice Johnson), 18, and Jamie (Sean Michael Verey), 16, both bright young things celebrating the end of their A-Level and GCSE exams respectively, throw alcohol-fuelled caution to the wind after they meet randomly at a house party. What follows is a clumsy, intoxicated fumble, dubious use of a prophylactic, and quite pedestrian, textbook, and predictably inexperienced relations, before they both reach animated climax, quickly courting sleep in a vortex of dirty, sweaty sheets. Yep, in many ways it was your average disappointing house party, more recognisable than the glamorous and sensual affairs favoured by the sexually sophisticated and improbably adventurous cast of Skins, and slightly more eventful than the shindigs suffered by Damon Beasley’s and Iain Morris’s motley crew of over-stimulated and terminally under-sexed lads. The only advantage in the latter case of the boys having to push each other’s swollen balls around the suburbs in a massive wheelbarrow is that at least they did not have to worry about getting anyone pregnant. While writer Chris Reddy lets Jamie lose his v-plates with minimal angst and energy-expenditure, this was not out of some misplaced sense of brotherly solidarity or kindness. Jamie, bless him, only went and got a girl preggers during his first romp, didn't he, something that will change his life, the life of his baby-mama, and the respective lives of their friends and family, all for the benefit of an adoring audience. Sweet.

I know, I know. The premise of Pramface is not the most innovative or dynamic bouncer ever delivered in the birthing suite of TV maternity, and this fundamental lack of originality is exacerbated by the predominantly hackneyed writing and clichéd characterisation that makes it seem a little bit too laboured. The only plus from a commissioning perspective is that it is timely, exploiting the nation’s gooey-eyed preoccupation with expectant couples and childbirth, whilst at the same time addressing the social phenomenon of teenage pregnancy. But from a viewing perspective the first episode played out like an animated scrapbook of golden nuggets stolen from the most successful comedies of recent times. Imagine Gavin & Stacey, The Inbetweeners and Threesome (along with a liberal sprinkling of Teen Mom) thrown into a snow-globe and shaken continuously over a 30-minute period, and you have a good idea of what the Pramface experience is all about. It is something reassuringly recognisable, yes, but at the same time it is not bold or memorable: it has no discernible identity of its own; it has nothing new to offer. 

Unfortunately, even the attempts at social awkwardness were cheap imitations, inciting nothing more than brief up-turned lip moments emanating from recollections of similar scenes done elsewhere to greater comic effect. While Mike Fenton (played by Dylan Edwards), Jamie’s best friend and self-defined “wing-man,” is responsible for a lot of the - albeit fairly limited but good - humour, he is undoubtedly a poor man’s Jay Cartwright. He is equally frustrated and desperate without question, but not as crude or depraved, much cleaner-mouthed, less creative, and with a head full of curly locks not entirely dissimilar to a young Justin Timberlake. Though hardly a cutting-edge 'do it is considerably cooler than the yellow-streaky-elderly-woman's-hair-helmet favoured by our loud and garish Rudge Park Comprehensive School (anti) scholar. In short, he does not have the visual impact. Though the ingenuity of Mike’s sex-music-tape cannot but be appreciated, peaking with the Top Gear theme tune as he proudly thrusts himself at his bed, the hilarity is tarnished when, later, he is indulging in the odd bit of open-shirted self-pleasure, and has lift-off just as his mum walks in (with a sandwich) and Clarkson’s entrance music bursts into action. It was funny, but that particular joke had already been exhausted, and if you are going to take recourse to the worn-out, awkward teenage-boy-caught-beating-one-off-by-his-mum scene, it has to be something pretty darn tootin' special. Jay, for example, was caught indulging his masturbatory fantasies whilst naked, wearing swimming goggles and with a handful of Bernard Matthews turkey ham hanging limply off his nethers. Really, you cannot get more embarrassing than that: nobody can top it. Not without the installation of a strings-and-pulleys-type system and a lot of imagination. It just ain't gonna happen.

The other problem is that, while Pramface does not claim to accurately represent the realities of teenage pregnancy, at the same time it does trivialise the issue, along with the struggles and prejudices many young parents face every day. The title itself, Pramface, is clearly ironic, highlighting a derogatory term popularised by Popbitch, which denigrates teenage mothers from areas of socio-economic deprivation. Laura is quite clearly from a privileged middle-class background, the kind of background where the family sits around the table to eat civilised meals together, discuss the events of the day and reminisce about their last break in the south of France; sharing hot breads dipped in olive oil and washed down with a nice sauvignon blanc. They have their problems, yes. Laura’s father had an affair with his secretary, which remains a bone of contention, hostility not bubbling far below the surface of her family's strained exchange of pleasantries, but they are still a cohesive unit. Laura has a university place confirmed, her parents are able to financially support her, and they live in a large, beautiful house.

By contrast Jamie’s upbringing is modest. When his mum makes her first on-screen appearance she is ironing whilst telling Jamie that he needs to find himself a summer job. Now, it would be surprising if the whole teen pregnancy thing is used as a springboard to discuss the nuances of class, and whilst the whole point of the title might be ironic: to demonstrate that anyone can become pregnant if they don’t take the necessary precautions; that teenage pregnancy is not confined to the much-unfairly-maligned underclasses; that it is wrong to cast aspersions on the morality of teenage mothers; or to make assumptions about their personal circumstances and lives, this message has not yet been communicated very well, and the whole concept of the series might cause more damage than good. Whilst it does highlight the double-standard, Pramface does not challenge it in a substantive way. From the outset it is obvious that both Laura and Jamie are going to have a level of familial support that is not commonplace. The series may, therefore, deliver an unfair missive to the public and potential teenage parents-to-be; namely the anti-abortion message that if they can do it, then so can you, despite the fact that these fictional circumstances are not typical. 

While Call the Midwife both romanticises and filters through implausibly clean nostalgia the gritty bloodiness of childbirth showcased by One Born Every Minute, Pramface effectively gives 16 and Pregnant a superficial TV make-over, sanitising the more widely understood realities of teenage pregnancy and trimming them into a more palatable and desirable HD-ready form. But while its real-life documentary counterparts comfortable cram everything that we need to know about an expectant couple, their history, their present and their families into just one 60-minute episode, here with have six 30-minute shows, despite the fact the narrative arc flat-lined before production and is unlikely to receive an injection of life anytime soon. Laura reacts to news of her impending motherhood with surprising calm and pragmatism, especially given that the fall-out from the baby-shaped bomb overshadows her straight-As success. She does not waste time procrastinating about the potential involvement of her baby-daddy, putting a call into Jamie almost immediately as her urine sprays the stick(s) – despite it being odd that she retained his contact details on a piece of scrap paper six weeks after their bedroom shenanigans. It just all seemed a little too easy and simple. Likewise, Jamie seems to react with a maturity and sense of responsibility that belies his youthful on-screen years. He was more than amenable to meeting, without bandying around stereotypically offensive accusations and unreasonable demands. While Laura’s unconscious dismissal of Jamie at the coffee shop in favour of a more generically handsome, older man, was funny, the fact that she could not recognise him at all does confirm the fact it was strange their head-to-head could be arranged so smoothly. 

All this said Pramface is not the worst comedy ever to be broadcast by BBC Three (that might have been Lunch Monkeys), and while unlikely to follow the success of Him and Her it was not unwatchable by any means. The cast is impressive. Angus Deayton and Anna Chancellor play Laura’s parents. They are joined by a number of familiar faces, as well as some very promising new talent. Yasmin Paige, who plays Jamie’s geeky school-friend Beth Mitchell, offered a glimmer of brilliance as she bounded around, hair in a matronly bun and face controted into an almost permanent frown. With her thinly-veiled crush on Jamie and obvious predilection for quirky witticisms and personal disaster, she could potentially flourish into the female answer to one William McKenzie, providing she is given the screen time she deserves. While she is a natural comic this is clearly one facet of her all-round excellent acting persona: the heartbreak and devastation she felt, slumped over in an empty bathtub whilst listening to Jamie doing the nasty, was so convincing it was almost palpable.

There was nothing terribly wrong with Pramface, but it would be disingenuous to sing its praises. It does, however, have to be remembered that this was just the first episode and, as with any series, it can take some time before a show gets into its stride. This might explain why it has already been commissioned for a second run: because the best is yet to come (no pun intended). It will almost definitely tickle the funny-bones of its 20-something target audience, simply because it is so reminiscent of other comedies to which we already feel unwavering loyalty that we are almost forced to tune-in. The problem is not that Pramface is terrible or badly produced: it is simply just not memorable. Though this time next week we may all be lauding it as the best thing to hit our screens since a tubby little man sat down and said, "hey, let's write something about office-work." This early in the game it is too early to tell.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Iain Dale, drunkenness and the anti-social tweet

Iain Dale: His glass isn't half full, it's completely empty.
I must confess coming to this quite late, having just read an article shared on Twitter titled Public Drunkenness Can Never Be A Social Norm, written by the Conservative-leaning political pundit, publisher, and former politician-turned-radio-presenter, Mr Iain Dale. He wrote the piece following an alleged furore that erupted last night as he "trended worldwide on Twitter," taking centre-stage in what he has - seemingly proudly, if not definitely quite self-righteously - deemed a "Twitter Storm." Now, I wouldn't usually comment on Twitter happenings of this nature, but given the genesis of the complaints, and Dale's seeming inability to fully understand why he attracted such negative attention, I thought this was quite interesting.

Dale begins by stating that this is "not an apology. It's not even a defence or explanation. It's putting a 140 [character] tweet into context," a claim that transpires not to be entirely accurate as he begins a relatively lengthy diatribe about the horrors of excessive alcohol consumption, and how he is forced to literally wade through masses of inebriated, vomit-filled miscreants every Friday night as he wanders down Charing Cross Road. "It's Britain at its worst," he says. "It's ugly and repellent," in a piece that is almost certainly both a "defence," and a desperate attempt to justify the unjustifiable. Not, of course, that he disagrees with drinking alcohol altogether, even though he is able to exercise the self-control to turn away from the Bollinger whilst you're suckling a bottle of White Lightening, you absolute scum. While admitting that "most of the time these antics are harmless," he claims that, last night, he was "accosted" by two people over a four minute period of time, one woman and one man, which was nice and politically correct. 

However, the intention behind Dale's introduction was quite clearly not to highlight the problem of alcohol abuse on the streets, but rather to present himself as a man who really had been pushed to the limits of his tolerance. It therefore follows that it's only reasonable to excuse him for his actions on the train, right? And what did he do, you ask? Well, basically, he took a photograph of an allegedly drunk woman sitting opposite him and posted it on Twitter along with this comment: "This is the drunk woman opposite me. I think she is about to puke. Disgusting slapper." What Dale was hoping to achieve is questionable. Whether he thought he would be met with applause, potentially knighted in the next New Years' Honours List, or commended for being brave enough to tackle the streets of London on a Friday night, all because he didn't want you, yes, you, to miss out on the golden nuggets of wisdom he pumps in to the airwaves during his LBC radio show, remains unknown. But it is clear that he expected to be praised, commended for highlighting a problem that, let's face it, is hardly anything new, and is probably such a minor and trivial concern for most that to even categorise it as a "problem" as such invests it with false significance.

So, it transpires that the woman in question had boarded the train and wanted to sit next to Dale, who had clearly put a bag on the empty seat next to him to preclude anyone else from sitting there. He asked her, "politely" no less, to sit on the seat opposite him, as "I had no wish to sit next to a drunk in case she puked on me." Apparently she tried to sit next to him again, at which point he told her (presumably not politely) to "Piss Off," before Someone Else told him to him to take a photograph of her - something that cannot be proved, but once more absolves him to a certain degree of responsibility for an action that was, ultimately, his own personal choice.  Now, Dale never stated that the woman did actually "puke," and it can only be assumed that his own prejudices regarding the way drunk people act impinged on his judgement. However, while many would have probably agreed with Dale if he had made a general statement about excessive alcohol consumption - potentially paving the way for constructive debate - he is attempting to retrospectively claim that his motive was to highlight the negative ramifications of alcohol-fuelled, anti-social behaviour on public transport. It wasn't, because if that was the case he would not have taken a photograph of the woman in question, and published it on the Internet with an extremely derogatory comment.

The woman was not identifiable from the photograph, and so it is unlikely that he contravened any privacy laws, but it was an action motivated by spite, a desire to humiliate, and a complete and utter sense of superiority. According to Dale he did not use the word "slapper" as a distinctly female insult. Nope. As far as he is concerned the word has completely different connotations, and refers to an "unkempt, scruffy person; gossipy, dowdy," an assessment that he claims could not be deemed inaccurate by an observer, as if that legitimises the comment: "anyone looking at the picture would have to agree that she confirmed [conformed] to that description." Only, I don't know why? She's not wearing a ball-gown and tiara, no, but she's not wearing a bin-liner with head and arm holes cut out, either. And even if that was the case, is it right to comment on someone else's appearance in such a detrimental manner? What is interesting is not only that the OED defines "slapper" as "a promiscuous or vulgar woman," but also that Dale clearly did appreciate that it was a very gender-specific insult, later tweeting that "if it [it, not she] had been a man I would have no doubt said 'drunken prick'." So, he would not have been a "slapper," then? Though Dale claims to have recently used the term to greet a "male MP," this was clearly said in a jovial context, with the humour arising precisely from the fact that the word was being misused (ie, directed at a man). What is perhaps even odder is the fact that Dale failed to understand the implications of labelling a woman who happens to be drunk as some sort of sexual deviant. It is precisely the type of argument espoused by victim-blamers who believe that, should a woman be subjected to a sexual assault whilst under the influence of alcohol, then it was, of course, her fault. 

No-one would disagree with Dale that it is unacceptable to be drunk and abusive on the street, behaviour which can be intimidating, but being drunk is not automatically synonymous with being abusive. Individuals are capable of acting in ways that are anti-social without even having so much as a whiff of a wine-gum. It does not seem, in this instance, that the woman in question had actually done anything wrong besides doing something that Dale would not choose to do himself. Drunk people can, of course, be unpredictable, which is itself unnerving, but Dale's response, in this instance, was disproprtionate. His claim that she had drunk too much, and that she may vomit, does not mean that was the case, simply because he already had a pre-existing, blanket disdain for anyone drunk in public, therefore his default response was to assume the worst. We can all be guilty of this behaviour sometimes, but most of us, on reflection, are able to recognise that we acted incorrectly. She may have just been tired. Or unwell. He didn't ask and just assumed because it was the most convenient course of action. 

If Dale is having to wade through drunks, like, all the time, then why did he choose this woman in particular to photograph and denigrate online? Given that her only real indiscretion was asking to sit next to him on the train - to which she received a "Piss Off" - she is hardly the face of a depraved and morally reprehensible Britain.The most rational (and clear) explanation is that he did it for his own entertainment (which, while not nice, is something that people do, unfortunately), but if he really does not like the fact others have disagreed with him (with some being less than pleasant about it than others), then he should just admit that it was wrong rather than cobbling together poor justification (and trying to present himself as a victim) for what was, itself, an anti-social tweet. If Dale is genuinely concerned about spiralling social depravity he has access to a national and influential platform to precipitate positive discussion. The piece he produced following this so-called "Twitter storm" is just a poor attempt to present himself as a martyr, someone condemned for doing nothing but highlighting a social ill. 

Of course, those with a public profile should be allowed to express themselves on social networking sites in any way they wish (about whatever topic they like), in the same way as anyone else, but if they are going to write something intentionally provocative or controversial then they must expect a backlash. Unfortunately, that's the nature of the Twitter beast, and while it is not always right (of course, messages that are littered with profanity, or are personal in nature, are never acceptable, and people should consider ignoring those tweets that instinctively incite them to react in that way), it is an inevitability. 

With the greater opportunity for communication and self-promotion comes the greater risk of conflict. Celebrities and the likes should accept that if they are going to be controversial and spiteful and vicious, they are not impervious to challenge. While Dale was clearly upset by his dissenters, he has failed to acknowledge that this was not because he criticised drunk people, but because he singled out one woman, without her knowledge, and insulted her using sexualised terms on a social networking site, something that has been detrimental to his own reputation, rather than highlighting any overarching societal issue. Any valid points he could have by made were subsumed by his meanness. Of course, Dale can do this everyday if he wishes, and should individuals have a problem with his tweets they should simply not read them and (by default) not provide him with the audience, but if he does make this a habit in the hope of a tap on the back from Twitter folk, then methinks he'll have a long wait. We all get annoyed from time-to-time, acting in ways that are not particularly pleasant, but it is always better to acknowledge that, rather than try to re-write our actions to make them more palatable, to ourselves if not to anyone else. Dale's unwillingness to admit he was wrong (without excuses and disclaimers), even with hindsight, is symptomatic of an unpleasantness unfortunate in one who has considerable opportunities to share his opinions.