Just what I say: Brian Nicholls

Date: Monday 11th September 2017

FOR once it’s a real struggle to find the right word or phrase and even analogy to open this particular item. It is usually quite easy because there is nothing new under the sun, as they say, and whether it be recent or ancient there is usually some historical comparison with modern events, but I can’t find one.

What has me stumped is the increasing inability of those who should have learned by this stage in history that inequalty is never satisfactorily resolved by replacing it by another inequality and that there are invariably two sides to every story, even though the media is usually interested only in reporting just one side.

A recent example of this phenomenon was when an actor who had been earmarked for some part in yet another daft comic book-based Hollywood film stepped down from the role so it could “be more apppropriately cast” following a furore by the usual furore-makers because the actor in question is white while it transpires that the fictional cartoon comic book character he was to play was of Asian origin.

Good grief, the character in question is not even a real person but a cardboard cut-out which could have been any colour depending on which felt-tipped pen the cartoonist picked up.

The casting of white actors in roles which depict those of other cultural or ethnic backgrounds is known as “whitewashing”. A lot of people clearly get offended by it and for some it is unequivical proof of institutional racism in film, TV and the theatre.

Whitewashing also produces indignant coverage by the media who like to accept all such accusations at face value without questioning whether the same thing might be happening but in reverse.

History does show that until very recently those of black and ethnic origin were almost non-existent in the acting profession and that far too often white actors were ludicrously made up or blacked up to play Chinese, African or other ethnic characters, who were usually sinister and cunning and not good eggs at all.

Let’s face it, without Bert Kwouk no British film with a Chinese, Japanese or other Oriental character would ever have been made in the second half of the 20th Century.

Things needed to change, but that change has created a reverse polarity with only black actors allowed by the combined rules of realism and political correctness to play black characters, but they are also increasingly cast, particularly in the theatre, as characters who are clearly white.

Shakespeare is the greatest playwright in the English-speaking world. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he is mine, and so my wife and I go to Stratford-upon-Avon regularly to watch his plays at the RSC. The last one we saw was Hamlet with an all-black cast.

The full title of that play is Hamlet Prince of Denmark and it is set around the 14th Century.

Danish history was never my strong suit but it seems highly unlikely that Hamlet was black or that all the other Danes and the couple of Brits who are in the play were black either. It was a very good production and the acting excellent, and fortunately there were no protesters outside the theatre furious about ethnically inappropriate casting, nor were there at the other two all-black productions we have seen there — even though in the periods and places depicted black people would have been very rare if not non-existent.

We were always told you can’t have it both ways, but increasingly it seems some people can and it depends on how loud you shout and how morally outraged you are. But it also seems that only certain people or certain groups are allowed to shout and feel moral outrage.

If you hate inequality and discrimination then you have to hate reverse inequality and “positive” dicrimination.

Yet these inconsistencies and incongruencies are everywhere in race relations, gay rights and even in the way we must not criticise any religion or faith group except the Church of England, about which we can say anything we like no matter how derogatory.

Are we just losing our long-standing and refreshing ability to see the irony in such situations and the often pompous contrariness in the views of the morally outraged who scream predjudice and then use predjudice as their main weapons to get what they want at the cost of the rights of others?

Or are we just getting silly and running scared of being accused of political incorrectness? Probably both.

THE so-called discussions between the UK and the European Union over Britain’s exit from that club seem to be anything but what most of us would consider to be genuine negotiations. So far they seem to be producing plenty of heat but very little light.

It is hardly surprising. If Brexit is a divorce, as some describe it, then why are we expecting the disputing couple to sit down to negotiate a sensible settlement without them blaming each other and trying to scratch each other’s eyes out? We need some outside help and mediation.

The Europeans accuse the UK Government of not understanding even the basic principles of the negotiations which, from what we have seen and heard so far, may well be true, but then the EU’s opening gambit is so contrary and obtuse that a genius would struggle to comprehend what it actually wants.

To the EU there seems to be no perversity in telling us that when we leave we clearly cannot expect to retain any of the benefits of membership such as full tariff free access to the single market and the customs union, but at the same time it is insisting that after Brexit EU citizens living in the UK must be guaranteed exactly the same rights to travel, live and work here and be entitled to health and other benefits, even when we will be outside the EU. Inconsistent or what?

This is not going to work, and certainly within the time frame set out, unless both sides acknowledge that they are going to need some form of independent divorce counsellors to chair the negotiations.

THIS column has previously lamented the lack of human beings to speak to when you ring up companies or utilities and instead just get a list of number choices, “Press one, press two”, etc.

Having rung my travel insurance people this week to check that my pre-existing medical conditions status was unchanged before I committed to booking some winter sun I have changed my mind, because all I got to talk to was a human being with a computer stuck up their backside them what to say.

Having been fortunate in having travel insurance free with my bank account for years and with both the aftermath of cancer and a heart attack not disqualifying me from full cover, this was just an annual call to check nothing had changed.

Things had changed. The insurer clearly no longer wanted me on its books and, according to it, I had ischaemic heart disease (with angina to boot) and high cholesterol. I don’t have those problems and my cholesterol is 3.5 but the computer just kept saying “NO”.

It was like talking to a Dalek. “Have you ever been advised that you have high blood pressure?” No, never. “Have you ever been advised to take medication to lower your blood pressure?” I’ve just told you I’ve never had high blood pressure. “Have you ever been advised to take medication to lower your blood pressure?”

Same question sequence with every alleged condition. It mattered not that a cholesterol level of 3.5 is condidered good or that I do not and have never suffered from angina. “Can you walk 200 metres without being short of breath?”

Yes, I can, and do run for half an hour without getting out of breath. “Can you walk up stairs without getting out of breath?”

Suffice to say that the computer decided that, despite my answers, it can no longer cover me because of my high cholesterol, angina, shortness of breath and perilous heart condition and the computer’s human mouthpiece informed me so. I informed him what I thought. That decision means I now have to have specialist insurance at £400 plus a year.

Still, never mind, swings and roundabouts. I can make that money up by closing my accounts and transferring my ISAs to a far better provider than HSBC, which pays terrible interest rates even to Premier customers. So yah boo to you.