If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…

Now a few weeks on from the Sea of Hull installation people still keep asking me have I gotten all the blue paint off yet. The answer is almost. Something about the lotion based body paint that was used is particularly persistent when it comes to nails, although it comes off pretty easily from skin and hair (thankfully). The nails however seem to cling onto the blueness… And while I faithfully scrubbed the hands until spotless – I was lay assisting the next morning and that might have been somewhat off putting for people taking Communion – the toes still look faintly as though I’ve been moonlighting as a lady called Lola at the weekends with light green toe nails. Oh well, suffering for your art and all that. Nothing compared to the North Sea breezes and walking on surfaces that while they may be cheap and/or look good are not really conducive to being walked on in bare feet (cobbles for example are quite hard to walk on, perhaps surprisingly). While we are on that subject though, I must say that the street cleaners of Hull did a great job – considering they had to clear up the inevitable broken glass debris of Friday night in a Northern town – at an even more stupid time in the morning than I had to get up – as the place was spotless. Well done folks (as usual, the people who do the real work very rarely get a look in).

The other thing that has struck me is the (relatively small, but vocal) negativity strain that seems to exist about such things. What I find odd about human nature is not that negative views exist – everyone has different opinions, although I am not convinced they are always ‘entitled’ to them, but that is a different debate – but instead holding the view that anyone is interested in their small minded little dribbles. You might not want to every take part in a large scale nude art installation (indeed, the Lovely Wife would happily inform you that this is the case) but you do not have to. Nor do you need to go to the exhibition next year. In fact, you can largely ignore it. There are somethings far more important that you should be spending your time and ire on – our inability to deal effectively with poverty or our continued wanton destruction of the environment for example.

I’m overweight and have very low self-esteem. I run when I can in order to stay as fit as possible and have had to endure any amount of abuse from people who think it is funny to call fat people doing exercise rude names. Some people are not bothered with that – after all I know perfectly well that the loudmouths are by definition only slightly evolved from bacteria (and there are bacteria I’d rather spend time with) – but I’m not one of them, it hurts. I get it less now, but I think as you obviously age there might be just a tiny inkling in what passes for a brain that I might actually stop, run over and punch the little twonk in the nose. It has been close.

But why do, as Miss Swift correctly points out do the ‘haters gonna hate’? Ego probably – certainly rarely do you get abuse from one person on their own (unless they are drunk, in which case they probably have a huge imaginary throng of an audience in that vacant wasteland of a head). Sometimes I feel, certainly with the running lip, that there is an element of guilt there tow – which they kind of know they should be doing something similar but the pull of the TV is too strong and therefore they have to try and drag someone down instead. Some people are just sick.

I run because I enjoy it and it has kept me fitter over the years than I could ever hope to imagine considering the complete lack of voluntary exercise that was present in my childhood. I took my clothes off a few weeks ago because I like the artist’s work and I thought it would be a laugh, which it was, and I’d happily do it again. It reminded me that we are far, far too hung up about nudity in Western society and it is not healthy as it sexualises it on one hand and makes hung up about our bodies on the other. We seem to have lost the concept of modesty, in judging what is appropriate at what juncture and therefore seem stuck at the extremes and not just on this topic. Which is a shame.

If you ever have abuse from someone when you are making and effort or doing something that matters to you, remember you don’t stand alone. Reality is that for everything we love doing there are people out there who, malign intent aside, simply do not understand what you are doing or why. There are many things I see people doing that I do not ‘get’ but I usually manage to have the grace to keep my views to myself. Hopefully I can avoid being hypocritical in future (always the issue when you engage in rant, which I guess this is) and instead remind myself to be respectful of others views and needs and supportive of those suffering verbal abuse for whatever reason – that cannot and should not be tolerated. Being made fun of; being criticised – maybe. But while the difference between these and abuse may sometimes be unclear at the borderline I think if we are honest there are times when it is quite clear that whatever it is needs to stop.


History and (Mostly My) Prejudices

One of the things that some people have noted in the voting patterns in the recent UK referendum vote is some of the demographics that indicate the majority of people at the under twenty five age bracket voted Remain, while the opposite was true in the over fifties. Apart from the concern that this raises in terms of a gulf between two important sections of the UK community, it does leave you wondering why.

Partly, it must be due to mind set and the way that many people in both these groups see the world, based on their own experience and influences over the years. It is hard not to think that in the older demographic part of the decision may have been less than pleasant memories from the wars, from a time that they may not have lived through themselves but would have known a lot about from their parents and other adults who had been affected by that conflict.

Even past the two world wars it might also be some contribution from the fact that many of the member states of the EU now were then (admittedly against their will, based on the friends I have from those countries) behind the Iron Curtain and so wrapped up in feelings about the Cold War. We focus today on concerns with Russia, but in my childhood the threat was the USSR and that was always more than just Moscow.

Old prejudices die hard and while they may not be decisive they might be a strong influence.

In some ways it is the negative aspect of history, where the past drags us down rather than teaching us to move forward without making the same mistakes. It can also provide ample opportunity to offend, often when not meaning to.

I am guilty of this. Back in 2000 I had the pleasure of spending several months in Japan, and thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in what is a quite unique culture with a fascinating history. I came back to the UK with a great fondness for the place; inevitably I brought back plenty of souvenirs including several T-shirts and the like. One such shirt had a wood cut image of a Samurai warrior emblazoned on it. One day soon after returning home I was walking around Staines with it on when a young Chinese girl came around the corner. She just about stopped herself from screaming; she had responded instinctively, and fearfully, to the image on my shirt. I apologised of course but the damage was done for me. I never wore that shirt again. I had not realised how for some people the interaction between these two great countries still had such rawness.

I reminded myself of my own fallibility in this area this week when I saw something that made me instinctively – and as I reminded myself later, somewhat irrationally – a bit cross.

It was nothing much, just a school kid carrying one of those retro shoulder bags that went through a popular phase a few years back.

Some of them have ‘classic’ logos on them, and this was the problem for me. The logo was ‘Pan Am’.

Now, for many years the now defunct Pan American Airlines was one of the most famous airline carriers in the world (infamously also appearing in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ as the operator of flights into space… By the time of a later movie – ‘Silent Running’ – it had become American Airlines who owned the space lanes which seems fairly unlikely too, but I digress). The decline and fall of the airline was a long and complicated process but that is not my point of contact with the logo – for me, this is linked irrevocably with Pan Am Flight 103, which was destroyed by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie in Scotland, December 21st 1988. This terrible event had more of an impact on me than perhaps would be expected. This was because it happened at the same time as I was out in Newcastle with my school friends to celebrate the fact that we had just finished school that year (long before the days of school proms in the UK, we had to arrange our own celebrations).

For many years that association was to stick with us and we always tried to meet in some kind of commemoration. It has stopped now for various reasons and I miss it; but it does means that this one tragic event has always been on my heart.

So seeing that logo used purely for fashion purposes seemed at that instant in very poor taste. I had reacted instinctively due to my prejudices.

Then I reminded myself that this young lad has no idea he is providing offence or at least making me feel unsettled. It is highly unlikely that he knows anything about that logo or its story (or cares). Maybe I should be disappointed at ignorance, but that is a different thing. So I told myself off for being oversensitive and to get on with more important things.

But it has made me wonder how many of us harbour specific little prejudices of our very own…

… And then how many of them I have triggered to cause offence in my innocence. If I have done so, I apologise.

Can we consign that to history now and move on?

Visions in Blue

I am being a bit self-indulgent here, but since a fair number of people have been quite curious I thought I’d go over my impression of being a naked Smurf last Saturday.

On Saturday morning I participated in the Sea of Hull installation in, well, Hull. In 2017 Hull will be the UK city of culture and the council and local art gallery had commissioned the artist Spencer Tunick to create a series of artworks for an exhibition next spring as part of the overall effort. Tunick’s work is mostly in large scale installations of nudes, usually around well know landmarks and on various themes. I have been a fan for some years and when the email came around asking for participants it was a fairly easy decision to sign up.

A slight aside; I would not consider myself a naturist. I do not find the idea of being unclothed and going about normal things such as cooking or sitting chatting with a cup of tea an appealing prospect, far from it (although to those that do, fine by me). However, as someone who has always (and still has) body image issues I have tried hard to find things which challenge me and actually every time I have come away with a better appreciation for what God has given me – and a respect for others. I’ve previously taken part in a mass skinny dip in Wales for charity (about 400 people) which at the time was a world record, and it was a hilarious experience – I felt like a 5 year old and there was much giggling to be had. I hoped with Hull there would be a similar feel, and the absurdity of adults acting differently from normal was certainly present, but there was something else too, which I will come to presently.

(As another aside, I will point out that the Lovely Wife was not participating with me – this is absolutely not her thing at all. At the skinny dip, she spent the time helping organise everyone – this time she slept through it)

So how did it work? Well the hardest thing about it was the time. I had to be on site for 2.45 am in the morning, and while I am a ‘morning’ person that was a struggle even for me, as was dodging the drunken yobs wandering aimlessly through Hull city centre (presumably having been thrown out of the clubs that were still in full swing). Having registered I was directed to a queue to pick up a bag with the jar of paint that would be the adornment for the day. Then it was mainly sitting around waiting for instructions. I was on my own, but there were a lot of couples and small groups. Ages were widely spread, from students through to the elderly. Eventually we were briefed on what was going to happen – once we were ready, it would be a series of installations through the city centre. After the briefing – more waiting, this time really for daylight.

Once this arrived, the notice went out to get ready, so off came the clothes and on went the paint. Now I will say one thing here. If you ever do anything like this, just get on with it. The most difficult bit about being naked is the undressing so the less time you can spend doing that the easier it is. Once that was over, a rather sweet collaboration developed with your neighbours to check that the bits you could not see – including your face – were properly covered in paint, as everything (including hair, something of a challenged for many of the girls) needed to be completely one of four shades of blue that you had been randomly allocated to when you registered. Once done, we all trooped off to the first installation, cajoled by assistants with megaphones.

From that point on the main difficulty was following the instructions over the noise of over three thousand people nattering to each other about how strange this was, how weirdly good some people look painted green and just how bloody cold the breeze was. I’ve never seen so many goose bumps.

Although occasionally things did seem to take rather longer to set up then perhaps they might, most of the shoot went smoothly and we were released to go back to our clothes at about seven in the morning. There was a certain level of grumbling about the rather loose interpretation of ‘a short time’ – the promise in the instructions for how long we would be undressed, which in fact was the best part of three hours. But most people took it stoically – in the end if it had been five minutes there would not have been much less of embarrassment (if indeed there was any). Walking back to the hotel was a surreal experience – people with heads and hands painted blue and green otherwise dressed normally did make you feel you were in the middle of a low budget 1980s science fiction movie, and people starting their journey to work greeted by the same image probably found it even stranger.

Having managed not to terrify the Lovely Wife as I got back to the hotel room and having managed to get most of the paint off, I am left to reflect on a very odd experience. I enjoyed it, and am quite proud to have taken part in a collective art installation – we’ll be back in Hull next year when the final art is exhibited (all that has been in the newspapers is the press coverage not the final photos).

In addition, it taught me in the most graphic way possible the levelling that can happen between people and the subsequent unity that can then evolve. Naked and painted all over means you have no idea what someone does, how well off they may be, even the colour of their skin. It is an interesting way of stopping you making judgements about people and for a few hours folks with nothing at all in common in their normal lives worked and laughed together. If we could only try and achieve that with clothes on and without paint, this country would be a much nicer place.


At a time like this, I am heartily glad that I have things to draw support from or escape into. From the start, obviously you cannot escape the issues forever – that is irresponsible and cowardly (unlike a distressingly large number of politicians it seems) – and they need to be dealt with, no matter how much you wish they did not exist (much to my disappointment the current situation has not yet turned out to be a very long and vivid dream sequence, and if it is this is truly a record breaking shower) or how difficult the obstacles seem to be.

I believe in miracles, but you get more of them if you put in some effort first. But often we need something to ground us, to allow us to recharge, to wipe off the sweat, can give us some encouragement and push us back out into the ring for the next round with a renewed sense of vigour.

What this is for each of us varies from time to time but I was trying to think positively today and came up with the three that are most important to me.

Belief: I do not just mean belief in God; although for people like me that do believe then obviously that provides comfort. For others, and this includes many of my friends it is a belief in an innate goodness in humanity that might win out in the end, that ‘humanity’ itself will eventually win out because there are more good people then bad people. I tend to fall in both camps – I despair of humanity in general when I listen to the news, but then I meet wonderful people of all ages every day of my life, which reassures me that there is always something good in the world despite appearances sometimes to the contrary.

Each Other: Relationship is essential to us. Without it we cannot survive. I am lucky enough to have the Lovely Wife is a rock I can cling to (sometimes literally) when everything else is going wrong. I am sure she would also agree that friendships are also important – even more so in cases where perhaps you need support which is different from what a partner can give. I am renewed and elated by my friendships – not just by them being an ear to hear, but because I can also rejoice in their successes because of my connection to them – in the achievements of their children, in the success they are having in their various careers or just knowing that maybe someone you know thinks of you and smiles.

There is also energy in knowing that your friends might need you, and while it might seem counter intuitive, knowing that you are responsible for being ready with that crisis can also remind you that you cannot just walk away from life.

On a different scale there are the community groups that we operate in –fan supporter groups (whether that be related to sports, music, cult TV show or whatever), church communities or indeed just enjoying the same things… It is very rare to meet someone who you cannot find a connection with – but in terms of supporting each other that connection has to be a strong one.

Save the tenuous ones for making polite conversation at a party when you are never going to see the other person again.

Imagination: While some animals show a low degree of being able to create a vision of what may be rather than what is, we humans do this to a degree that no other creature comes remotely close too. Imagination, and the benefits it brings, is a huge gift. All of art – whether that be music, painting and sculpture, TV, theatre and film or whatever – leaps from the imagination of individuals but then becomes part of a wonderful melange you can partake of – should you wish. We all prefer to partake from different sections of this particular smorgasbord. But while sometimes this can seem very unimportant, listening to certain kinds of music, or reading a favourite book or, as in my case, binge watching 1980s Red Dwarf (I forgot how funny this could be) is a perfect way for a short time to get away from the crap and later wonder… In a world that created this, surely we can find a way to make it work? And then get on with hopefully doing my bit to get things as much back on track that we can at this time.