Toilets, Trousers and the Tweets that Twist the Truth:

A funny thing happened on my way to the toilet yesterday. Don’t worry I won’t go into too much detail as to my toiletry experience, it was more of what happened ‘en route’. To set the scene I had recently replied to yet another reckless tweet from a newspaper journalist called Julia Hartley-Brewer. She had reminded her followers that anyone who was happy with the recent news that the PM Boris Johnson was relaxing lockdown 2 restrictive measures should be aware that they were suffering from a version of the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

The term Stockholm Syndrome originated after a bungled bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 resulting in six hostages being held in the bank vault for six days. Over that time an incongruous bond formed between captor and captive.  

The captives starting to believe in their captors cause after being almost brainwashed by them whilst in their captivity.

The term became even more celebrated when eighteen months later, for those of you who can remember, Patty Hearst the erstwhile heiress to the Hearst publishing fortune was kidnapped and held to ransom by a revolutionary group calling themselves ‘The Symbionese Liberation Army’. Patty was missing for months before being ‘captured’, as it were, on CCTV pointing a machine gun at a distressed bank teller standing shoulder to shoulder with her newfound comrades carrying out a bank robbery in San Francisco ‘Tania’ as she was now demanding to be called had aligned with her captors having joined them as a fully paid up member of the SLA. The captive became the captor.

Thus the point that Ms Hartley-Brewer was making was that we had all been conned into thinking that Covid-19 was a deadly disease which needed containing to protect those vulnerable in society – and therefore were going to be happy restrictions were being lifted as this meant we had done well to bring down the fictitious infection rate. She was implying that we were basically the UK replicants of Patty Hearst.

I replied to the tweet by saying that maybe her words were a little disrespectful and pathetic to the thousands that had already died and were going to die. However she didn’t like her words being challenged and neither did her followers; and it was the plethora of replies I received telling me that Covid -19 in effect didn’t exist that stopped me on my way to my daily ablutions!!

As a small interjection I might just add that it was not the first time I had a revelatory experience on my way to or actually on the toilet.

I always thought it as no coincidence, if you had ever met my Dad, that I received the news that he had suddenly died whilst I was on the toilet contemplating life and its mysteries. I remember it as if it was yesterday as I ‘quick stepped’ out of the loo with trousers and undergarments down by my ankles to answer the incessant repeated rings on my home telephone. As I say if you had known my dad, then you know he would have would have found the surreal humour in me scrambling to pull up my ‘kecks’ (as they say up north) very apparent before I started screaming No, No , No…as I slowly began to grasp the disaster that had just occurred.

With tears streaming down my face I railed angrily at the absurdity of my situation and the helplessness of whatever I hadn’t done, had done or was going to do still wouldn’t bring him back. Trying to pull on my trousers to get out of my flat and drive as fast as I could to be with my Mum only increased my anger. Now I see it for what it was… and for me it was a reminder that life is for living and death will not cut you any slack whenever it arrives. Fate was not going to wait for me to be back on the couch watching Countdown before the ringing started to penetrate my brain. Tragic? Yes.  An awful day? Without doubt. Python-esque? Most definitely. Strangely enough, I look back now with great fondness and smile at the sheer ridiculousness of it all; comforted by the knowledge it’s the way John (my Dad) would have wanted me to remember it.

The same can be said in 2005 when after a morning of about sixteen scenes while working on the Channel 5 soap opera ‘Family Affairs’ I arrived back to our house in the need of a ‘necessity’ that a drive across London can exacerbate.

My wife Wendy had been house-sitting her parents’ home in Stoke -on-Trent and would be coming back to London with our boys and my Mum who was keeping her company in a few days. She had been complaining of a terrible headache which was not unusual as any long term suffer of migraines will confirm. Upon my arrival home and with great haste I removed my coat and sweat shirt, dropped my trousers and made for the latrine. Having graduated into the 21ST Century by now and, as I am sure many of us do, my mobile phone came with me into the hallowed ground of the ‘Water Closet!’. I had only just opened up the link to the racing results from Cheltenham when the damn thing started to ring. Caught between answering ‘Wendy Mob’ and finding out who won the 2.35pm novices handicap my good conscience got the best of me and I answered.

I was surprised at the very least to hear my Mum’s dulcet tones but immediately realised that something was wrong…very wrong. The headache had turned out to not be a migraine and Wendy had been rushed to hospital with Meningitis. .She was gravely ill, and they were desperately trying to ascertain whether it was viral or bacterial meningitis. I needed to be with her and my two boys…like yesterday!

Once again, I was confronted with trying to move at speed whilst pulling up my trousers. Looking back, I guess I understood what it must be like to be caught ‘in flagrante delicto’ in a bedroom when the object of your desire’s spouse returns unexpected. It was certainly good grounding for being in a Ray Cooney farce if ever I should be offered a part.

I drove like a maniac and arrived at the hospital in about 3 hours. I ran down the corridor to see my eldest son Jack who was five at the time sitting outside of the isolation ward where his Mum had been put due to her infectiousness. In a scene Richard Curtis would have been proud of we ran into each other’s arms and as I picked hm up I held on tight. Wendy was quarantined for three weeks whilst they confirmed it was virial meningitis and only made a full recovery, if you ever do fully recover from such an attack on the system, some eighteen months later. Again, we look back with laughter at the sheer madness of it all. For many a year afterwards,  I had as much difficulty passing a ‘stool’ when any of my family were away as I did passing a pub without going in!!

I guess the most positive thing to come out of my toilet exploits was the fact that sometimes as a young man and with my tongue firmly in my cheek, I would use the pseudonym ‘Armitage Shanks’ on a night out to add a little humour into my usually disastrous ‘pulling’ technique. On such nights, amazingly, I always seemed to enjoy considerable success with the opposite sex. I always put it down to the fact that they knew the name but couldn’t place where from and it always sounded a little regal. I was only ever on a short time line though as the game was usually up as soon as they were themselves sat on the toilet and glancing down at the clear white porcelain below and saw the name of ‘Armitage Shanks – Toilets makers to the Queen’ starring back at them.

But I digress. Enough of this toilet humour and back to the main thrust of this week’s Blog!

So as the night rolled on I was confronted by more and more ‘Twit-erati’ convinced that Covid-19 didn’t exist and that became a gateway into their many other conspiracy notions.

I knew that there were a lot of Americans who had lost reasoning and rational thought, but I had no idea it had infiltrated as far as it has here in the UK as well. Why has this happened? How did this concept that everything is a conspiracy initiated by dark forces and probably the Dark Lord…’He whose name must not be spoken’ when they don’t even know who ‘HE’ is!

Being a bit of a history junkie, I re-read an essay written in 1964 by Richard Hofstadter called ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’.

In it, he addresses the ever increasing thinking that in some form or other a sense of ‘conspiracy to govern’ is establishing itself in the psyche of the American people. He cites examples over the years dating back to 1855 and up to McCarthyism of the 1950’s. I don’t think even he would believe how this concept has grown not only in the US but worldwide as well.

Across the Atlantic and here beliefs that Covid-19 doesn’t exist, elections are rigged, facts are just lies, predictions cannot be based on anything but falsehoods and data is corrupted to keep us, the people, in the dark are increasing. It’s the most insidious of cons but people are buying into it blindly it seems.

They refused to believe it is not the NHS who are lying but those who deny Covid-19. It is not the scientists who are lying about climate change but those who are denying it. And denying it for their own selfish monetary reasons. Those like Trump. Rees-Mogg, Farage, Bannon, QAnon, etc etc.

Why are we in such a mess? There must be another explanation, mustn’t there ? It isn’t just down to us, is it?. It can’t be can it? 

And as we realise if it isn’t to be a God providing us with the excuse on which to hang our own behaviour, we are open to a replacement. There must be another power at work we cannot see, control or influence… and that means it’s a conspiracy from an all-powerful yet unseen force!

How did we as a species allow ourselves to be so vulnerable and gullible to such paranoia with regards to an unseen but all controlling power? As we evolve and science slowly but inexorably replaces belief and doctrine, surely the idea that a higher power than us is controlling all that we do must finally drift into the rarefied air that is filled with the ghosts –  metaphorically of course –  of Zeus, Thor and other past deities long since dismissed as mythical and not real.

But wait, we have to believe in some sort of higher power, don’t we? Otherwise how can we explain why we are here? The existential debate ‘time immemorial’

Well maybe I have answered my own question. The late great Christopher Hitchens would always reply when confronted with the premise that more secular governing entities have caused far greater death and destruction than any religious ruling class – their example being that “yes the Inquisition was bad but not as bad as atheist led Nazi Germany” – by saying that the ability to govern with a cultish totalitarianism is always a possibility in countries that have a history of fully embracing the notion of a belief in an all-powerful higher force.

Hitchens would point out that Hitler used the theist mentality already in existence in Germany to simply transfer their belief system onto a another all controlling power…himself. As skewed as this is,  it worked. As it did in Russia and China as well. The dictators manipulated a conviction and commitment by the people to believe in something and turned it to their advantage. It can also be seen in certain middle Eastern countries as well where there is one leader who is promoted to almost God like status to control the will of the people encouraging them to sometimes even go against the teachings of their doctrinal mandate.

And so it seems that the super spreaders of conspiracy theories seen the benefits of the past to instil their own particular brand of cultism to an ever increasing and willing audience. In a strange dichotomy, as we become more secular, we have still not yet thrown off the shackles of fiction against fact, belief against rationale and creation against evolution.

I, as always, am ever hopeful that the next generation and the ones that follow will use education and a fact based desire to learn to combat the ever increasing conspiracy theorists and lead the way back to free thought and a factual intellectual growth. It is imperative they do. The existence of human beings on the planet is at stake and to deny essential truths any longer will be to make our survival even harder. Covid -19 exists, climate change exists, poverty in the 21st Century exists and it will do until we the people armed with facts, science and an inherent responsibility for our own actions eradicate it…Enough Said!!

Gary Webster

27th November 2020

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