Wednesday, 17 July 2019

A POINT IS ALL THAT YOU CAN SCORE [187]


[NOTE: This is a look at the film version of “Protect and Survive” – for my original article about the original UK Government booklet “Protect and Survive,” please see here: https://www.dancingwiththegatekeepers.com/2017/03/the-air-attack-warning-sounds-like.html]

“When you hear the attack warning, you and your family must take cover at once. Do not stay out of doors. If you are caught in the open, lie down.”

OK, so if there is going to be a nuclear attack, and I am living above the 5th floor of a block of flats, I must make arrangements with a neighbour further down the building, so I can build a fallout room there – and, if I didn’t get my booklet from the Government in the post by now, I will have less than 72 hours, from when I saw the message on TV, until the bomb drops.

I know I have covered comedies about nuclear war before, in “The Bed Sitting Room” and “Whoops Apocalypse,” but I cannot think of anything more horrifying than this. It was the threat into which I was born, until the Cold War thawed out at the end of the 1980s. However, games like “Fallout 76” return to the well of satirical laughter. The difference here is how “Protect and Survive,” a series of twenty instructional films about what to do in case of nuclear attack, was the official UK Government advice: its comedy comes from its po-faced tone, the practicality of the advice given, and the fact it would never be needed.


The films, mostly around two minutes each, were made in around 1975-76 by Richard Taylor Productions, an animation company best known for the whimsical “Crystal Tipps and Alistair,” and the “Charley Says” series of road safety films – this time around, the colourful cut-outs are replaced by blueprint-blue backgrounds, wooden models of houses, still photography, rudimentary flashes of hand-drawn animation, and a squelchy theme tune by “Doctor Who” composer Roger Limb. The authoritarian narration is by Patrick Allen, who reprised certain passages for Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes,” sounding even scarier than Vincent Price did for “Thriller.”

The shorts are very easy to find online, and on DVD. I wouldn’t recommend watching all twenty in one go, even if they only add up to fifty minutes – they were designed to be shown at intervals, and the bone-dry tone will not allow you to sit back and watch. As bizarre as some of the advice is, such as preparing your fallout shelter’s toilet, and preparing bodies by wrapping them in brown paper and attaching a label with their name and address, this would have been what you were asked to do. Just think about building up the walls of your fallout room with boxes and bags of earth and sand, but also flammable things like books and clothing. However, I did notice you are told you need at least two pints of water each day to live, which has since gone up to two litres.


The only reason the films entered public consciousness was because in 1980, when they were still classified, some of them were leaked, and the BBC broadcast a few seconds of them in an episode of “Panorama,” investigating what civil defence strategy there was in the UK following Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. It was deemed woeful: the accompanying booklet, also titled “Protect and Survive,” and also classified, was to be posted to all households three weeks ahead of a possible attack, when it would have taken four weeks to print them – the Government put the booklet on sale once enough people were asking questions. Today, the advice seems woeful, and just a way of keeping the public distracted and busy. I assume there are current plans – while they are not public knowledge, I hope they will be more effective than what they gave us last time.

Monday, 15 July 2019

WHOOPS NOW, SORRY I CAN’T GO [186]




British comedy owes quite a lot to the writers Andrew Marshall and David Renwick. While the most recognisable TV shows by them were those they wrote on their own – Marshall has “2point4 Children,” “Health & Efficiency” and “Dad” to his name, while Renwick created “One Foot in the Grave,” “Jonathan Creek” and “Love Hurts” – they had fifteen years of writing as a double act on sketch shows “End of Part One,” “There’s a Lot of It About” and “Alexei Sayle’s Stuff,” while creating satirical sitcoms such as “Hot Metal,” set inside a newspaper. Their most recognisable work from this time were first written for their radio series “The Burkiss Way,” often compared with “The Goon Show,” and reworked for TV: a sketch involving a clueless hi-fi system buyer was re-enacted on “Not the Nine O’Clock News” (“Do you want speakers? Do you want rumble filters? Do you want a bag on your head?”), and a sketch where a “Mastermind” contestant gives the answers to the previous question was reworked by Renwick, and performed by Ronnie Barker & Ronnie Corbett.

What may be their greatest achievement, now I have seen it, is their 1982 sitcom “Whoops Apocalypse,” satirising the leaders of the nuclear powers that will, probably, kill us all. It is a hard sell – the opening titles begin with a vision of a destroyed city that could have come from the documentary series “The World at War,” ending on a woman selling poppy-like remembrance badges, with the phrase, “Wear Your Mushroom with Pride.”


Fortunately, the comedy is as broad as it is cutting. The President of the United States is the Reagan-like Johnny Cyclops, obsessed with his ratings, and is even shot to increase his popularity. His Secretary of State, a religious fundamentalist, is nicknamed “The Deacon,” with Marshall & Renwick having no knowledge that Ronald Reagan’s real-life chief was known as “The Vicar.” Meanwhile, the UK is led by the left-wing politician Kevin Pork, who believes he is Superman. Soviet Russia’s leader, Dubienkin, is in fact a series of clones, a new clone coming in once the previous one dies.

In 1982, it would have been hard, even then, to imagine politics being so chaotic: a nuclear alert is caused by a malfunctioning Space Invaders arcade cabinet; the deposed Shah of Iran, attempting to find sanctuary, is shunted between Britain and France over most of the series, unable to leave a cross-channel ferry, until he is stowed onboard a space shuttle; the insane Prime Minister is blackmailed by Russia into joining the Warsaw Pact, leading his foreign secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer to go mad themselves, becoming Hawkman and Green Lantern; two American captives of the Russians are aware the US know they are captured because they had a newspaper delivered with their continental breakfast, meaning they will have no choice of jam until after they make a confession; a counter-revolution by Iran is discovered by Russia after the Shah’s pet parrot; and events are reported at all hours of the day by dramatic US newsreaders, CNN having only began in 1980.


“Whoops Apocalypse” is a brilliantly-written show - a favourite line, even though it is also from "The Burkiss Way," was of how an admirer of Frank Sinatra sold a lock of his hair back to the singer for an undisclosed sum. The show's bite still holds up even now, although the story it tells is rooted firmly in the early 1980s, before the conversation over nuclear weapons became, well, deathly serious, and before the seminal dramas “The Day After” and “Threads” were made. For that reason, the remaking of “Whoops Apocalypse” as a film in 1986, released in the US in 1988, suffers in comparison with the TV original – with the urgency dissipating from the situation, and almost gone by the end of the decade, lampooning leaders didn’t feel like enough, and replacing Iran with a Falkland Islands-like conflict was an obvious step. Still, it has Rik Mayall as the leader of a too-gung-ho SAS unit...

Sunday, 14 July 2019

ALL I CAN DO IS WRITE ABOUT IT [185]


How easy is it to write a thousand words? It is a question I ask myself every week, and I still cannot give a precise answer. The usual outcome is from a week of thinking about, and researching into, a particular subject, followed by frantic typing until I have produced a coherent piece of work.

Sometimes, it feels like I am just putting one word after the other, for the sheer effort of producing sentences, which can then be constructed into paragraphs. Fortunately, using a catchphrase that hasn’t been used in about ten years, there is an app for that.

I have neglected to use WordPalette for iOS for over a year, but because it is an app that allows you to string together a sentence using a “palette” of words provided from a corpus, with the intention of inspiring ideas for your own work, I don’t have much use for it if I had a plan from the start.

What I have reproduced below was the result of using WordPalette for about forty-five minutes - by that measure, writing a thousand words is possible while listening to the whole of the first “Now That’s What I Call Music” album – but because I had a lot to say there, that took much less time. However, judging from what follows, I didn’t sound like a William Burroughs cut-up story based in Interzone:

“The powerful words of persistent approximations are only a matter of manpower, and vain anxieties of pathological reasonable dignity as the rest is duty. All rest is futile as ghosts were moved away, as there was no more time to tempt the troubled child. Believe me, this deformity draws me to strive in the mechanism between the hilarity and the relapse few known creators had stood, in producing the trivia for magazines and gazettes. I soon won their strangest thanks, due to the implementation of certain fraudulent means by which the adhesion of the two real worthy sounding ideal selves, whose face was now well lit, despite his rebellious reason entirely lifted from this inconceivable device, will explain the details of the way it belonged. Even though I later feared they would content themselves, while its goal to soften an impending underground of options, the only man who kept his scalpels by the open window turns to the first cup of pure sparkling water, that contented the wheel of admiration that makes me close my eyes.”

“The national holiday to be expected finally reached the gracious intoxicating melancholy enough to teach me the simulating pieces of goals the tremendous energy those that cannot suggest yourself initially. I suffered with a perpetuity of gauntlets, everyone replied I do not imitate the powerful ladies you expect. precious little thank you offered. substances rare and arrows of grace in sensation, tapping you to give you dazzled life. Most said the result seems quite wonderful by itself, I do not have surprises to make the fingers approach the ideal desecrated temple, if you cross any of this quietly, since we know nothing from the bottom of an abyss, the only true form his feet retained was that of a pearl, so I entered a state of clairvoyance, that the first rays of the sun jumped out of the threshold, and into the mocking marbles.”
“The light was impossible to get by above the star of my level, referring to a similar pattern of the oldest human form the torch seems to have covered. You have to choose to look through their dress, raising his head above his family to speak for themselves. We will cease to appear in the dark if we were staying there, understanding enough to look at how the temperature was better when you leave a long cloth gummed away, so the senses washed like a piece of molten blade.”

Sunday, 7 July 2019

BUT I’D RATHER STAY ON THE SOFA [184]


In his video review of the “Huge Screen ver. 2,” a cheap LCD game, Dr. Stuart Ashen wondered if he would have a good time playing it. “Yeah I know it’s not going to happen. Join me after the break.” The screen fades to black. A caption appears: “There are no advertisement breaks. This is the internet.” The previous shot fades back in: “Oh yeah, that was weird. Thought I was on television for a moment. Hmm, I’d probably know I was on television because I’d be being paid.”

This video was posted to YouTube on 25th October 2010. Nine years and over 4000,000 views later, I’m watching it on my television, preceded by an ad for the National Lottery. I only came across the “ashens” channel over a month ago – the first video I came across was the “Chicken in a Can,” a lunch / autopsy hybrid that included the bones and giblets. At that point, the channel had 774 videos available – diving into it is like deciding your next box set to watch will be “Coronation Street”.

I am beginning to think that “ashens” – subtitled “Comedy, Technology, Idiocy” - may well be the archetypal YouTube channel. It is almost as old as YouTube itself, and has evolved both with it and because of it – what must have started as a bit of fun became a career because the platform evolved to accommodate the more professional videos people have posted to it. YouTube is not social media, it is public access television, in the same way that Facebook and Twitter are really publishers.


Ashen’s first video was “The Truth About Open Source,” a skit made using action figures and computer effects, about why you should pay for licensed software. It is typical of the short, funny videos people first placed on YouTube, when people were testing it to see what worked there – not everyone can put up their day at the zoo. It was posted on 25th February 2006, only two months after the platform officially launched, and nine months before it was bought by Google. Video resolution was only 320 x 240 pixels, and a ten-minute limit on video length was imposed to deter the pirated upload of TV shows, although you could post longer videos if you respected YouTube’s terms of service.

Widescreen was introduced in November 2008, prompting Ashen to post a video warning YouTube about the sides of the screen they were now exposing: “That’s where the monsters live... that one’s got a hat on.” By this point, the other type of videos he posted became more prominent, as they were elsewhere on the platform: show-and-tell reviews of products, mostly bad ones, framed against the stage of a brown sofa. His second video was the first of the “Pop Station” LCD game consoles, endlessly rehashing poor games with incoherently-translated instructions, but it would take two years for these occasional videos, co-existing with Noseybonk and other sketches, before it would gain the “Hello” opening title card they have used to this day.


I would not normally watch “unboxing” videos, but if you base these types of videos around obscure or poor technology, mundane or badly made “tat” from Poundland, and exotic or expired food and drink, there is much scope to apply dry wit and sarcasm to what you uncover. Because Ashen’s videos are usually unscripted, they usually also serve as their own “reaction” videos, a category of YouTube video that is also prevalent – I am aware that someone did a video reacting to the “chicken in a can” video, in the perfect example of media eating itself.

However, Ashen has continued to make space for comedy, adding an edge to the unscripted reviews. For example, a video that involved clearing a drawer of items to be reviewed contains a sketch about creating the dice that will determine the fate of the objects, loading their eventual destruction with great symbolism. One video was ended by sticking a cartoon frog into a corner while bizarre music played, because it can be done. One review, for a toy violin, was abandoned and re-recorded because Ashen broke down laughing at the poorly translated English on the box, explaining that master violin creators were “nicolas, Marty,” “Antonio Stella bottom tile,” and “ji plug pu – melon nai” – the two videos have a total of nearly two million views between them.

I am aware I haven’t mentioned the feature films yet – the science fiction fantasy comedy “Ashens and the Quest for the Game Child” (2013), and the upcoming “Ashens and the Polybius Heist”. You know you have done well when you can raise the money to make your own film, but when you can get Robert Llewellyn from “Red Dwarf,” and Warwick Davis from “Celebrity Squares,” you name must have some cachet. Oh, and the books: “Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of,” and “Attack of the Flickering Skeletons: More Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.”


(...And how could I forget to mention “Chanticleer Hegemony,” a Pop Station LCD game that featured on a box, but not inside it, and was tracked down after five years, only to find it was literally a cockfighting game, because that was something someone made.)

As Ashen explained on the BBC’s “Newsnight” in 2015, when the word “unboxing” made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, the ultimate reason for doing these videos is because people want to watch them:

“I think when, in the past, when you wanted to buy a new product, you would be very led by advertising, the only things you could see would be in adverts, or perhaps in a very controlled environment, like a shop, whereas people like the raw honesty of just, here is a box, and here inside is what you will get if you buy it, and if we can make that entertaining while we show people it, it’s all good.”


This is the point where YouTube became a professional platform, as in people could begin earning a living from their work. The partner program that began in May 2007 currently pays revenue to channels with more than a thousand subscribers, and more than four thousand hours of time spent watching their videos within 12 months – the latter requirement was added in 2018, a consequence of both the increased number of channels with multiple subscribers, but also the increasing professional standard of the videos posted, as watching online video eats away at traditional television – any video scoring over 100,000 views within a week is already beating most television audiences on satellite and cable television in the UK, and anything over a million views is approaching BBC Two and Channel 4 primetime figures.

I am glad that the YouTube algorithm somehow suggested “ashens” to me, as I haven’t laughed so much in a long time – that can be put down mostly to the toy violin. What it has taught me is that if you think you have a video something that people find funny, put it out there, and make sure they know about it. I should try it myself - if a comic monologue can be wrenched from jelly beans, I could make a video explaining how Quorn could be made in more interesting shapes, then present a blue pyramid of the stuff.

However, to start a career on YouTube, I would need to start by posting at least ten videos, of ten  minutes in length, that would get at least 2,400 views each year, with everyone watching to the end, with nearly half of them deciding to subscribe for future content – that is the minimum before I even see a penny from YouTube, unless I get sponsorship. Perhaps, I should make something for fun first.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

NOW FLIP, FLOP AND FLY [183]


The Sinclair ZX80 launched in 1980 as the first complete home computer available for under £100 – it also sold in kit form for £79.95. It may have been a breakthrough, with both the ZX80 and its successor, the ZX81, introducing home computing to millions in the UK, but that £100 price was achieved through compromise that leaves it little more than that first step. Infamously, it only had one kilobyte (1024 bytes) of RAM, when other computers came with at least four times that amount. Its central processor, a Zilog Z80, also generated the video display, meaning the press of a key caused interference with the picture. The keys themselves were flat, requiring you to press through a membrane to the motherboard itself. When the ZX81 was introduced in 1981, a “slow” mode fixed the flickering screen, and £20 was knocked off the price, but if you wanted more than 1K of RAM, you had to buy an expansion pack, required for most games. (By the way, 1024 bytes is the space needed to hold this paragraph, including spaces.)

The limitations of the ZX80 led to arguments that it cannot really be called a computer, even for 1980. However, comparing it against the “1977 Trinity” - the Commodore PET 2001, the Apple II, and the Tandy TRS-80 Model I all launched in 1977 – the ZX80 holds up reasonably well. The ZX80 could only produce a monochrome display, but only the Apple II was capable of colour. All of the computers have no lowercase text option except for the PET, but you cannot mix them with capitals, with only an either/or option for all text. Only the PET and Apple II had sound, a simple speaker to produce beeps, and only the Apple II had the built-in instructions to load programs from a floppy disc – the others would need to be expanded first.


The main contention over the ZX80 is the implementation of the programming language BASIC, short for Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. This language overlays the assembly code that is being fed to the processor, and is much easier to learn - even people who never used an old computer know what a BASIC program looks like:

10 PRINT “HELLO”

20 GOTO 10

RUN

The Apple II and PET computers, like most at the time, would license their versions of BASIC from Microsoft, but Sinclair would employ a software company, Nine Tiles, to write their BASIC. However, the chip that would hold it in the computer was to be only 4 kilobytes in size, restricting the number of commands it could hold. Shortcuts to the commands it had were laid across the keyboard, reducing the space in RAM needed to hold programs, but one strange result of Sinclair’s BASIC was that the ZX80 could not calculate decimal points.

You would expect a computer to divide 5 by 4 and give you 1.25, or divide 20,000 by 10,001 and give you 1.9998. In both cases, the answer given by the ZX80 is just the integer “1”, making you wonder why you didn’t just buy a scientific calculator from Hewlett-Packard instead. The instruction manual doesn’t help this: it is named “A course in Basic Programming,” cementing that this computer is only your first step into computers, but pages 36-38 provides a program for completing long division on your ZX80 to produce an answer with decimal points, like you were using pen and paper anyway.


What the ZX80 missed was the ability to run floating-point arithmetic, which is a way of calculating very large numbers. Basically (which is the right word to use here), floating-point arithmetic as used by a computer notes that the decimal point can be placed anywhere within a number, and you can use an exponent to determine where the point should lie. One answer we wanted earlier, “1.25”, can be written as 125 x 10-2 – this is because we moved the decimal point two places to the right. We could also express it as 12500000 x 10-8, if that proves more useful to a computer.

Before processor clock speeds and numbers of cores became the standard for how fast a computer is, it was previously how many floating-point operations per second, or FLOPS, it can complete – for 1980, tens of thousands of FLOPS is the standard, whereas an iPhone XS can do a billion FLOPS at least. However, if your computer can do none at all, is it really a computer?

Then again, do you need them? One kilobyte of RAM is not enough to do many things, let alone produce a display full of text, but you can make games – the software company Psion, known later for their personal organisers, fit Chess into 1K, minus a couple of rules. I have also seen the BASIC program for a type of Space Invaders game, made mostly of “PRINT” commands to draw the ships, and “LET” commands to apply values to them. Applying logic to the ZX80 is fine, and the reason most games for the ZX81 required more memory was because the games themselves were more elaborate. A popular early computing project was the “TV Typewriter” of 1973, which existed only to put text on screen, with homebrew projects adding memory chips and BASIC to them, and the ZX80, with its motherboard of mostly logic chips, can be seen as an extension of that.

Of course, the ZX81 added floating-point arithmetic to their BASIC in 1981, with the success of the ZX80 having validated the idea of cheap home computing. However, now that I know the Tandy TRS-80’s original BASIC chip was a public-domain version that had floating-point arithmetic added to it, while still fitting into the same 4K that Sinclair had, it makes me wonder why Sinclair didn’t do that in the first place – the ZX80 was inspired by Clive Sinclair’s daughter playing on her TRS-80, so it would have been worth a further look.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

HOORAY FOR SANTY CLAUS! [182]



For my birthday this month, I received a DVD box set that contained the complete “Superman" cartoons from the Fleischer studio, and a selection of their “Popeye” shorts. The third disc, however, was as random as you can get.

If it seems odd my talking about the 1964 film “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” just as summer is beginning, it must have been just as bizarre to make – to meet its November release date, it was filmed during July and August.

My copy could have been in a better condition – the film is largely in the public domain, having been abandoned once it served its purpose as an exploitation film. All Christmas films are exploitation films, hoping to take advantage of the time of year to make the maximum possible income, but what I didn’t expect was a plot that had another hallmark of the exploitation film: moral panic.

On Mars, the children are listless, watching television broadcasts from Earth, filling their minds with information. An elder is worried: “They never played, they never learned to have fun...” The children have “adult minds.” It is decided they need to learn to play again – taking their cue from the TV, they need to have a Santa Claus on Mars. Furthermore, it is decided that, “Earth has had Santa Claus long enough. We will bring him to Mars.”


My memory of this film, among the first I have heard described as the worst ever made, featuring on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and other shows, had mislaid the title: I thought it was named “Santa Claus Versus the Martians.” The idea of “conquering” makes it sound more substantially action-packed than it turns out. They appear to mean cultural impact instead, for once Santa Claus is on Mars, making toys in his automated factory, lamenting he only needs the work of one finger on his console instead of a workshop of elves, resentment grows in a few Martians, who sabotage the factory. A literal line from the film, spoken by a villain with a moustache that makes him look like Frank Zappa, is, “We cannot eliminate Santa Claus, but we can discredit him.” Fortunately, one Martian has become so enamoured with the whole set-up, they decide to dress up as Santa Claus, and becomes the new Martian version, allowing the original one to go home.

The children in this film are a little weird, and that includes the Earthlings, named Billy and Betty. They are the first to encounter the Martians when they land on Earth, and they are needed to distinguish the real Santa from all the fakes in the city. The Martians realise they must then be taken to Mars, so that no-one will know where Santa has been taken. They later become as listless as the Martians once where, due to homesickness – Merry Christmas.


It has to be said – this is inconsequential fluff, with all the production values of a 1930s Saturday morning serial like “Flash Gordon,” let alone early “Doctor Who” episodes. The Martians all wear green rollneck shirts, tights and helmets, topped with antennas that have corned beef keys at the top. The sum of its parts, and the story, can be disregarded, to savour all the individual bits that make up the feature, provided you make it more than three minutes into the film: the most well-known actor in the film, Pia Zadora, is one of the Martian children, and her watching TV is the most reproduced shot from the film, suggesting most other viewers did not get much further. Zadora was later known for being the unlucky star of bad films like “The Lonely Lady” and “Butterfly,” but also appeared in John Waters’ original “Hairspray.”

My remaining notes are as follows: “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” has the first depiction of a “Mrs Claus,” beating the Rankin/Bass animated special “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by about two weeks, but because people have actually seen the latter one, this remains a minor discovery. Once the Martian UFO is discovered, the military scramble on Earth is played out entirely in stock footage, save for news announcements on TV – I guess American children love patriotism and jets. At the North Pole, Billy and Betty are attacked by a polar bear costume. The film’s composer, Milton DeLugg, is better known for his work for television, most notably for game shows like “The Newlywed Game” and “The Gong Show,” where he appeared with his “Band with a Thug.” The Martians’ secret weapon is Torg – “oh, not Torg,” – and is based on the stereotypical drawing of a man in a cardboard robot suit.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

COMMAND ME TO BE WELL [181]


If you are constantly told you have something wrong with you, you will start to believe it. No-one has enough self-preservation to prevent such an insidious thought from infesting their mind. This is why treatment for mental health is so important, and why a stiff upper lip is only a sticking plaster.

This is why the idea of a Pride Month every June has become so important. People who were given no place in society, who were imprisoned if they did not live in darkness, have the right to celebrate their lives with primary colours, and remember those unable to join in.

I don’t care if businesses use rainbows in Pride Month to get the LGBTQ community to spend their money – if they didn’t think they were valid as human beings, then why appeal to them as consumers? It has become good business sense. Having said that, why take the banners down come July 1st – they should put their mouth where their money is.

This Pride Month, on Monday 10th June the Roman Catholic church waded unannounced into the festivities with a tract titled, “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.” Apart from proving that the secret of comedy really is timing, the document, from the Congregation for Catholic Education, mainly deals with how to approach the subject of gender identity in education, but starts by decrying gender theory,  and questions the intentions of transgender people to the point of implying they don’t really exist – it turns out they are misguided, and are just being “provocative.”

It should be clear that what I am going to do is let the text speak for itself. I was supposed to have done this a week ago, but I stopped myself. I wanted to choose my words carefully, even if the tract I was writing about did not. I am not going to denigrate someone’s beliefs, especially if they are held and practised sincerely, but if it turns out I don’t exist because of those beliefs, I have a right to reply, even if only to repeat those words back to where they came from.

It is hardly controversial for the Catholic church to state this – anything that threatens the traditional family unit, and the order of creation, was always going to get short shrift from them. In fact, the 19th paragraph of the tract – for reference, all the paragraphs were numbered – talks about how:

“...the view of both sexuality identity and the family become subject to the same ‘liquidity’ and ‘fluidity’ that characterize other aspects of post-modern culture, often founded on nothing more than a confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants, or momentary desires provoked by emotional impulses and the will of the individual, as opposed to anything based on the truths of existence.”

I didn’t know that King Henry VIII wanting a divorce meant the Church of England was founded in 1534 on postmodern principles.

Most reporting of the tract in the following week were based on this passage, while paragraph number 25, which mentioned the word “provocative,” in reference to the “display” of trans non-binary or intersex identities “against so-called ‘traditional frameworks’”:

“Similar theories aim to annihilate the concept of ‘nature’, (that is, everything we have been given as a pre-existing foundation of our being and action in the world), while at the same time implicitly reaffirming its existence.”

I thought more would have been made of when paragraphs 17  and 18 start talking about “the values of femininity,” how women have “a unique understanding of reality,” possessing “a capacity to endure adversity and ‘to keep life going even in extreme situations,’” while their “’capacity for the other’ favours a more realistic and mature reading of evolving situations, so that ‘a sense and a respect for what is concrete develop[s] in her, opposed to abstractions which are so often fatal for the existence of individuals and society,” such as when they are being patronised.

It has been nearly two weeks since the Catholic church released their document on gender identity,  and the initial furore over its publishing died down pretty quickly – it didn’t say anything that they weren’t expected to say, and its existence as a technical document on how to approach the subject in education is actually rather sound – paragraph 49 states that “Catholic educators need to be sufficiently prepared regarding the intricacies of the various questions that gender theory brings up,” while being fully informed about current and proposed legislation, consult with people who are qualified in the area, and for there to be a balanced dialogue on the subject.

If I was to see a balanced debate on transgender rights, I would be amazed. Yells of transphobia, of stifling debate and free speech, and any calls for increased rights for transgender people becoming an attack on women’s spaces, as if there weren’t already rules to deal with that, permeate social media. I really shouldn’t need to look at this, but it serves to know what you are up against, especially from those who feel they need to let you know what is going on their heads.

All I know is, as a transgender woman, or as a woman, or as Leigh Spence, my existence is not in question, thank you very much.