It’s a worthwhile, yet lonely business, this local columnist lark. Despite more than two decades experience for this and other publications, friends are nonplussed, the family blasé and striking the right balance between eliciting amusement and causing offence is becoming more of a high wire act by the week.
She is not someone I give any thought to generally, but Katie Price recently occupied my psyche. Her disabled son, Harvey, has been the target of online abuse since he came out of the womb. Through no fault of his own he has been mercilessly trolled online and even had mocking T-shirts produced so his humiliation can be intensified. Although I am not a fan of his mother, she has, to her credit, defended her son to the hilt. She has gone as far as calling for changes to the law to protect individuals from receiving the toxic abuse, the type her son suffers, from behind the comfort of a laptop in suburbia.
Yours truly has also received a fair amount of online vitriol lately. I am a broad shouldered, not the most aesthetically pleasing specimen, I grant you, but does that give anyone the right to openly go on the extreme offensive? I believe that provoking debate is to be encouraged and I would like to be a small cog in the machine that helps local print media survive, and ultimately flourish once more. It would be a crying shame to see it to become a relic of yesteryear.
Bullying is unacceptable face to face, I think we all agree, but the grey areas are twofold: Firstly when does ‘joshing’ stop and bullying commence? And, secondly, keyboard warriors are still, due to police cuts or whatever other reason, faced with scant comeback.
Maybe it is the Brexit effect, where venom spews and opinion froths as people disagree with the opinion you dare to have. A cruel comment, when the argument can no longer be upheld in a logical fashion, brings on a feeding frenzy.
Recently I have written two columns that have provoked this. First I attempted to raise funds to house a child in the Bangalore orphanage where my grandmother spent her formative years. I am pleased to announce that Divya, 9, is now safely in situ. However, despite my attempts to highlight a problem and raise a few quid, I was accused online of being a ‘white savour’ a ‘nonce’ and a ‘lefty’.
On my wife’s advice, I sit and read such comments and do not respond, instead choosing to take the fifth amendment and let the furore die down. And then, recently, I wrote a column about Glastonbury headliners. My argument was that the festival has moved away from its roots by going all political and having headliners such as Ed Sheeran and Stormzy, as good as they are. Thus far I have been accused of being a ‘Daily Mail reject’, a ‘tosser’, ‘politically biased’, a ‘third rate local rag hack, ‘talentless’ a ‘hypocrite’, ‘right wing’, ‘an arse’, a f***ing idiot and been told to ‘frig off’.
It seems folk aren’t happy unless we can all be labelled. You are either pro or anti-Brexit, left or right, black or white, whereas the truth is that I, along with many others, are none of the above, opting to take a rounded view of any situation that presents itself. I am labelled ‘right wing’ and a ‘hypocrite’ for criticising Eavis and Corbyn for taking to the Glasto stage and criticising capitalism, as kids who had paid £220 for the privilege of listening, cheered them to the rafters. I am labelled a ‘lefty’ for attempting to raise a few quid to help a young girl escape a life of destitution, but I guess the truth of the matter is, if you dare to peek above the parapet, you are on a hiding to nothing.
As John Lydgate put it: ‘You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time’. That remains true some 117 years after it was uttered. The difference is that although now, as then, disagreement is still rife, and rightly so, the manner in which we go about disagreeing has spilled over from logical, respectful debate into witch hunts where anything but the issue in hand is invoked in order to land a few body blows.
So, broad shouldered as I am, and with some perverse level of pleasure as to knowing that a reaction is being garnered, I will continue to get my cup of tea and bowl of Clusters from the kitchen on a Sunday morning and sit back in bed and watch as people I don’t know cast aspersions on my character. The one saving grace? I am not Harvey and do not have to put up with anything like the abuse that young man has to as I sup on my Earl Grey and look forward to another weekend of relative local anonymity.