6 September 2018

Spectacles and baseball caps as fashion accessories

Why wear your specs on your head?

I've been fortunate in never having to wear glasses for anything other than reading, drawing and painting. 

I do of course occasionally wear sun-glasses. But whether using reading or sun-glasses, I avoid doing what the bloke above is doing - because, unlike him, I've still enough hair left that it would probably make the specs greasy and in need of a clean.

Yet these days, for no apparent reason as far as I can see, it's become very fashionable for men and women of all ages to rest their glasses on their hair when they don't need them.

Does anyone have any idea why this is?
Is it another pointless import from the USA?
If so, what prompted our American cousins to start doing it in the first place?

What about baseball caps that point backwards?

Related image                      

These young man are Americans, so it makes sense that they might want to wear a baseball cap.  What makes no sense to me that they're wearing them with the peak pointing backwards.

I know that baseball caps have become fashionable here in the UK (but have no idea why).

I also know that a lot of our youngsters have taken to wearing them back to front. In fact, I've a young neighbour who never comes out of the house without wearing his baseball cap the wrong way round  - regardless of whether it's hot and sunny, pouring with rain or cold and snowing.

A few years ago I blogged, to no avail, about why we Brits make so much use of baseball metaphors in presentations and business-speak (standing up to the plate, getting past first base, hitting a home run, etc.) when our national summer game is cricket, not rounders with a hard ball on a big field.

Now, the big question nagging away at me is: why so many men (of all ages) prefer US style baseball caps to traditional British headwear.

A few years ago, another neighbour of ours went skiing in the USA and told an American in a lift queue how much he liked his baseball cap and asked where he could get one that pointed backwards.  When the American aid he'd got it at the local ski shop, my neighbour went there and asked if they had any backwards-pointing caps.

The shop assistant was serious and apologetic:"Sorry sir, but I'm afraid we only stock ones that point forwards and I'm not sure where you'd get one of the type you're looking for."

Now even outstanding cricketers like Kohli sometimes wear baseball caps

Image result for royalty free pictures of famous cricketers with baseball caps

India's cricket captain Virat Kohl with  baseball cap (and beard)

                                                   Image result for royalty free pictures of famous cricketers with baseball caps

Proper cricket cap worn last week by record-breaking 
 former England captain, Alistair Cook  

All of which is to ask: why all these things are happening and happening at the same time?

5 September 2018

Time for the chancellor to tax beards?

Nicholas II and Vladimir Lenin


According to my diary, which has one historical fact for every day of the year, today was the day in 1698 when Peter the Great of Russia imposed a tax on all men with beards (for more information on which, watch this on Youtube). The tax remained in force for a further 70years after that.

This was just as well, because beards had become so fashionable by the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries that Nicholas II and Lenin both had beards, as did Queen Victoria's two successors, Edward VII and George V.

Even one of my own great grandfathers had a beard and still had it when he died in 1950 at the age of 98.

But by the 1960s and 70s, beards went out of fashion - apart from exceptions like students and hippies (left).


For reasons that remain a mystery to me, the last few years have seen beards make a sudden and rapid return to the world of male fashion - regardless of age, occupation, social class. or politics.

Call me old fashioned, but I still haven't got used to watching footballers and cricketers (of all nationalities) with beards.

During the recent hot summer when pollen counts were high, we were visited by a salesman in his twenties with an enormous red beard (and a shaved bald head) -who couldn't stop coughing and spluttering.

"Hay fever?" I asked, to which he replied "I've always suffered from it but it seems to get worse as I get older."

I was too polite to suggest that it had nothing to do with growing older and everything to do with the fact that his beard must be full of pollen. If only he could be bothered to shave his face as well as his head,  his hay fever wouldn't be so debilitating.


Were I advising Philip Hammond on a simple way to increase tax and reduce the deficit in these economically challenging pre-brexit times, I'd suggest he takes a leaf out of Peter the Great's tax book.

He could say that treating hay fever with antihistamines, nasal sprays, etc. is a cost to the NHS that's made worse by men who don't bother to shave. And a tax on beards wouldn't affect the P.M., or many other MPs for that matter  (apart from Jeremy Corbyn).

31 August 2018

TV interviews with politicians

A lesson fromMichael Crick of Channel 4 News on how to interview a politician?

 (The following has been reproduced from https://www.joe.co.uk/news/journalist-decimates-theresa-mays-record-on-south-african-apartheid-in-car-crash-interview-197165 https://www.joe.co.uk/news/journalist-decimates-theresa-mays-record-on-south-african-apartheid-in-car-crash-interview-197165 where you can watch the interview - to whom many thanks):

"What did you do to help the release of Nelson Mandela?"

Having endured a day of intense scrutiny from the media, Theresa May was last night forced to defend her record on South African apartheid ahead of a visit to Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island.
Michael Crick decimates Theresa May's record on South African apartheid in car crash interview
Michael Crick interviews Teresa May

Channel 4 news reporter Michael Crick used the opportunity of a one-on-one interview to question the prime minister about what she had done to oppose racial segregation in South Africa, which was only ended in the country in the early 90s.

During the two-minute grilling, May was repeatedly interrupted and refused to give a straight answer to the journalist's line of questioning, although she admitted that she had not personally taken part in protests against South Africa's white-only regime.

"You were active in politics in the 70s and 80s, what did you do to help release Nelson Mandela?" Crick asked.

May responded: "I think what is important is what the United Kingdon-" But Crick interrupted the prime minister, repeating: "No, what did you do? Did you go on protests? Did you get arrested outside the embassy? Did you boycott South African goods? Did you do anything?"

She replied: "I think you know full well, Michael, that I didn't go on protests. But what is important is the work that -"

"Well did you boycott South African goods?" Crick interrupted again. Only for May to continue:

"The work that the United Kingdom government did to ensure that it did give support where that support was needed."

Although not a member of parliament until 1997, Theresa May was an active Conservative politician and party member during the 1980s and served as a councillor for London Borough of Merton from 1986 to 1994.

Margaret Thatcher, addressing the Tory party conference 
in 1984 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Margaret Thatcher attracted criticism during her premiership of the country in the 80s for dismissing the then incarcerated Nelson Mandela as "a terrorist". Following the end of his 18-year imprisonment, Mandela would go on to become President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Turning to the record of the Tory government at the time, Crick asked: "Hang on a minute at that stage Mrs Thatcher believed that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Were you a loyal Conservative member, did you think the same thing?"

May responded: "What was important was the support that the government was giving at the time, often support behind the scenes to ensure that we saw the result that we did in relation to the ending of apartheid here in South Africa."

Theresa May later visited the deceased former South African president's cell on Robben Island. Upon leaving the island, she wrote in the visitor book: "It has been a privilege to visit in this year - the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela. His legacy lives on in the hopes and dreams of young people here in South Africa and around the world."

When Michael Crick was a young reporter in the early days of Channel 4 News, he interviewed me. But not in the way he did here with Mrs May because, unlike a lot of TV interviewers (e.g. John Humphrys) he understood the difference between an interview to obtain facts from an expert and an interview to put the interviewee under pressure.

So he doesn't always interrupt the interviewee in mid-answer as a matter of course (like John Humphrys) but only does so when his question is being as blatantly avoided as is done by the  Prime Minister in this particular interview.

I have no idea why he resigned as political editor of BBC 2's Newsnight, but thought it a damaging loss to the BBC that he went back to Channel 4 News, were he started his TV career. 

Crick is one of the reasons why so many of us believe that Channel 4 News is by far the best news programme on British television.


20 August 2018

Reminder to Joe Root & his colleagues

I can't remember the last time an England cricket captain won the toss, put the other side in to bat and led his team to victory in a home test match. 

I do remember groaning whenever I've heard that he's decided to field first, as happened  when Joe Root did it against the best batting side in the world. 

I'd always thought that every cricketer knew and would have  the sense to act on the advice of W.G. Grace. In case Root and his colleagues think they know best, here's Grace's neat, easy to remember three-part list (with repetition):

"When you win the toss – BAT. If you are in doubt, think about it, then BAT. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague – then BAT."

Has the WHO given psychiatry scientific respectability

19 August 2018

Jack Nicholson being treated with electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) in 
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Every day, we hear of yet another reason to get worried about our mental health and about whether or not we are suffering from a mental illness without realising it. The media's covering far more about it than ever before. 

Students are under severe stress at our universities, children are suffering stress from social media, and, according to the iPaper (16 August), the hoarders among us have serious reason to start worrying about clutter: Perhaps we’ve watched, fascinated and repulsed, at TV shows such as Britain’s Biggest Hoarders, which feature homes stuffed to the gunwales with, well, stuff...

Image result for picture of goffman's asylumsThis week, it was classified as a mental disorder by the World Health Organisation, which explained that “accumulation of possessions results in living spaces becoming cluttered to the point that their use or safety is compromised. The symptoms result in significant distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.” (my italics)

Mental Disorders half a century ago

Related imageWriters like  Erving Goffman and R.D. Laing (1967) were writing books that questioned what were then common definitions of mental health and illness – long before the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo'Nest or my own 1978 book Discovering Suicide'.

What these had in common was that they not only questioned the way mental health and illness were defined, but were also critical of psychiatrists and the way they (and their associated staff) treated and managed patients suffering from the 'illness'. 

The medicalisation of social problems 

In the 1960s and 1970s, sociologists and others were arguing that using a medical model to define and explain different forms of deviant behaviour (like delinquency, crime, alcoholism, mental illness, suicide, etc.) was a convenient way of defending and preserving the status quo. After all, if these were illnesses, society could hardly be blamed for causing them. So in that sense, medicalisation involved adopting an essentially conservative model of social problems.

Psychiatry was (and still is?) the lowest status of all among medical specialisms

While doing a PhD on suicide in the late 1960s and early 70s, I came into contact with quite a lot of psychiatrists, some of whom were working in mental hospitals, and others working in research units. 

What surprised me then (and still surprises me today) was how quickly they became qualified in their chosen specialism: after graduating in medicine, it only took one postgraduate year to qualify in psychiatry - which involved spending relatively little time learning about social and psychological factors compared with time spent learning about what drugs should be used to treat which types of mental illness. 

As for defining types of mental illness, that was a blurred issue for psychiatry. Don't expect much clarity when it comes to questions like what's the difference between neurosis and psychosis, what do schizophrenic and paranoid mean, why is something that used to be called manic-depression now called bi-polar disorder?

Perhaps the biggest weakness of psychiatry is that (unlike cardiology, oncology or brain surgery) it lacks a killer disease that its specialists can actually cure. 

Other weaknesses will be discussed in later blogs.

Meanwhile, we should take our hats off and acknowledge psychiatry's PR triumph now that the WHO has classified hoarding as a mental disorder...