some of my guiltiest (no longer secret) pleasures

Starbucks coffee - the guiltiest pleasure of allThe biggest guilty pleasure of my current existence can be seen, clearly and undeniably, in the photo.

If you’ve lived in the UK for the past couple of years or so, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Starbucks has been involved in lots of the stuff I mentioned in my previous post today as far as the downsides of transnational corporatism is concerned.

It’s a problem not because I’m an envious soul, unhappy that others should concentrate their wealth.  That’s not the issue.  The issue, far more, is that if a large company in a liberal society and economy has the right to take advantage of community infrastructures (road networks, health services, the education establishments that bring up future consumers), it surely has the obligation to contribute reasonably to their building, running, maintenance and repair.

Yet here I am, sensuously enjoying my guilty pleasure.  Yup.  Starbucks’ Espresso Dark Roast beans make one of the coffees I’d forego almost any other pleasure for.

That’s how conflicted a person I am.

I’m ordered, by the more coherent in my society, to challenge through boycott the evils of such carelessnesses to local economies.  I don’t, in fact, where I have the choice, go to Starbucks’ coffee shops any more as a result.

But I found discounted these coffee beans in Tesco before Christmas.  And since then, I’ve been hooked.

In the absence of another favourite coffee of mine – Portuguese torrefacto coffee (beans darkly roasted in sugar until they look like shiny black beetles …) – I give in to my guilty secret.  A secret which is secret no more.

Actually, I wonder if this a wider habit amongst us older ones who still profess to a social conscience, but who find boycotting this and that – tracking which company or organisation needs to be added to an ever-growing list – as tiring as I am sure they desire, plan and expect it to be.

And in politics as much as in consumerism: after all, you may in public proclaim how disgraceful that new racist splinter party is – and yet very much in private, maybe not even to a spouse or close friend, find yourself agreeing with many of its so-called principles.

That’s how far our democracy seems to be falling, I’m afraid.

Politically, I don’t think it’s my case.

But business-wise, as you can see, I have fallen.

Other secret pleasures I’m prepared to reveal?  Hmm.  That’s an interesting question.

I love the sound of cicadas in the pine trees on Adriatic islands, as handsome people, smelling of sun-tan lotion, walk by on their way to the beach.

Handsome by virtue of their ways of being as well as their physical presences.

Handsome by virtue of their “couldn’t care less” attitudes.

It’s my body and I’ll shake it as I wish …

I also love reading the thoughts of intelligent people, as they go out on a limb and demand that something cannot be so.

I love the limbs they go out on; love to imagine them as literal limbs too!

I love wondering if one day I might be so firm; so concrete; so resolute in all I think and do.

I love imagining myself in a place where I could do real good – even as I find myself without the means to do anything of permanent value for anything but my nearest and dearest.

A social context, I suppose, is what I am looking for.

A social place to be.

And finally, I cannot not remember how, in my life of relative ordinariness, I have had some days of genuine splendour – days which I feel privileged to have known; days I shall never forget; days I shall always treasure as long as I am able to do so.

“immigration makes us stronger, richer and more powerful as a nation”

I’ve been an immigrant abroad and in my country of birth.

I was born in Oxford, England.  I spent my first twenty-five years in England, though speckled and dotted with holiday visits to my mother’s birthplace, Croatia (for much of that time part of the now ex-Yugoslavia, with all the paranoia and casual terror that 20th century Communism implied).

I was therefore, even in my childhood, fully aware I was only half-inside the culture of my father.

That I was between cultures.

That, in fact, the culture I felt a greater affinity to on many occasions was neither one I spent much time in nor one I was allowed to luxuriate in.

People who lived there saw me, I think (later on anyway), as a free-loading touristy type who had a chocolate-box view of life in the Balkans.

Everyone, anyone, can love a place when that place is the location of glorious summers.

Then I went to work, live and love in Spain; brought up a family; gradually felt quite Spanish in many respects.

Things happened which weren’t very nice; even as recently as last year.

But you can’t stop loving the countries you’ve worked, lived and loved in, can you?  That’s just against human nature, and I’m not planning to go against that.

One Christmas, the Spanish king gave a beautiful Christmas message.  It praised the historical contribution and importance of immigration in Spain.

I felt immediately embraced.

I felt touched and so happy.

Life continued on its merry – or less than merry – ways.

My wife and I both lost our jobs.

Dreadful illness hit the family.

Eventually, we returned to England to find work.  And that was when I discovered it was possible to be an immigrant in the country of one’s birth.

We were in the fullness of Blair’s New Labour.  Five-a-day health exhortations; overarching learning targets; even parental fines for new parents (in fact, the very first letter we received from the local council was one which warned of fifty quid punishments if children weren’t taken to primary school!  No welcoming message; no “lovely to have you here”; just woe betide the fifty quid!  Because we’re watching you, we don’t trust you, and don’t doubt that it’s the case …).

This was culture shock.  This wasn’t the England I’d left sixteen years before.

I was just as much an immigrant in my own land as my Spanish wife and children.


When Ed Miliband tells us today

Immigration makes us stronger, richer and more powerful as a nation.

… I remember all those years before and what the Spanish king said in his time, and how those words made me feel.

And so today, tears also came to my eyes – still – of hope.

Not all good news, mind.

Ed’s next paragraph was a typical piece of wonkish triangulating politics:

But making immigration work for everyone and not just a few, means people should contribute before they claim and we should never, ever allow companies to undercut wages and conditions of workers here by paying slave wages to those brought in from overseas.

But the rest of the speech shows he’s working his socks off to provide a ravaged and battered country like mine with the tears of hope the whole nation needs.

And for doing just that, even if imperfectly, you have my vote already.

why i’m feeling it’s a problem communicating with people unlike myself

This started when I began to feel uncomfortable about going to a park alone.  I don’t feel like that when in Spain or Croatia; only in Britain.

Men, alone, in a park, are considered potentially dangerous in Britain.

Or, at least, that’s how I feel men are seen these days.  If you’re walking out with a spouse, it makes no blind bit of difference, of course.  No one is afraid of (say) a husband dutifully connected to a wife.  And women, in fact, can go for walks by themselves without parents feeling children may be threatened.

But men – God forbid.

That’s how I see it anyhow.

Does anyone else feel the same about how men are seen in Britain – or is that only, sadly, me?


The reaction, or the behaviour, appears to be expanding further now.

When an avatar on Twitter appears to be of a woman (so leading one naturally to assume that the person behind it is a woman) or is self-asserted transgender or is demonstrably religious or is anything but white, privileged, mostly secular myself, I feel I am without any real right to intervene and communicate back.  This is partly because my privilege has made me unable to understand another’s plight, reality, situation or joy.  Also, I am part of a wider threat to a more equal humanity.

In particular this happens when the person in question is saying quite sad things about their life.

Sad things I’d like to support them on.

Sad things I think (I think we can fairly assume) they’re asking quite publicly to be supported on.

I still do exchange info and tweets with all sorts of people, of course; but on what I consider relatively neutral topics.  Or perhaps that’s actually clearly neutral topics.

The emotional ones, the ones which I as a writer and human being am bound to be interested in, I feel are out of bounds for someone as white and clearly privileged as I am.

I’ve begun to feel online communication is so easily a spark away from tinder-box reactions that discretion cowardice is the better part of valour.

So, instead, I now feel that people will think I am simply looking to wear politically correct badges of courage, when in reality I’ve always thought I was trying humanely to reach out.

And maybe if I now feel that, then it’s going to kinda be true.

What do you think?

Are these the blatherings of confused – maybe gradually auto-anxiety provoking – privilege?

Or is there a real human need for equal communication being lost to what’s becoming an ether of righteousness?