Sunday, 5 July 2009

The national fun deficit

Seeeing reports of various Pride events around the UK yesterday I can’t help but compare things on the Isle of Man.
A public figure even tentatively suggesting the island, say, held a panel discussion on combatting homophobia in workplaces and schools would be beaten to death with rotten kippers, and a full blown Pride parade would be right out. Interestingly though, it is ‘officially’ our national day today, so it seems reasonable to point out that, even for the year’s biggest party, there isn’t a lot of fun on offer.
The Tynwald ceremony itself will be held tomorrow (more here on our annual national disaster on the day itself). This also means a week of plastic patriotism meant primarily to separate ‘homecoming’ Yanks from their wallets.
For example, just streets away as I write Ramsey National Week began yesterday, and what a bundle of laughs that is.
Here you can witness ‘themed decoration of town shops and business premises’ commemorating “100 years Anniversary of the Ellan Vannin Disaster”. That’s a party to celebrate the ferry to Liverpool sinking a century ago, and the fun continued with a concert and talk last night at Ramsey Heritage Trust’s premises, Quayle’s Hall. This was the only cheap and cheerful place to hold birthday parties and community events until it was stolen from the community by a government underwritten project which researches… I don’t think anyone knows really, but witch-burning, sexual offences involving sheep and other pre-industrial traditions probably feature highly on the agenda.
Then we had a Northern Masonic Open Day and the launch of a CD of Maritime Hymns. Elsewhere a bunch of dilapidated wrecks tried to raise interest in the town’s biggest dilapidated wreck, Queens Pier, by wittering on about their childhood in the confused belief that today’s youth would want something similar.
This morning the hedonism continued unchecked with ‘Maritime Songs of Praise and Blessing of the Lifeboat’. There’s a clue to the expected age-range with the note that “Seats will be provided for those unable to stand”. Probably a good job the lifeboat crew are on hand to save any fossils who fall in the harbour then.
But there are bigger crimes against taste and decency to consider elsewhere today too. You can always tell the Radio Cowshed newsroom is shut at weekends and the unpaid religious broadcasting team are running the place. Take the invitation to go and take a look at the Manx Churches Flower Festival (see, officially known as the Manx Heritage Flower Festival but totally run by godbotherers at the Tourist Board who guide a committee of other church people.
To be fair, it’s a pleasant enough event if you need something to entertain a doddering, flower-fancying friend or relative. What IS interesting is the sly way visitor figures are fed into church attendance figures.
Being a Tourist Board event, where the civil servants have to to justify the public money, there’s an obsession with numbers. Folk at the doors of participating churches are issued with little clickers to press every time a visitor enters. As there are 17 venues and most try to visit at least half, the single total figure the Tourist Board rolls out representing all visits to all venues is misleading anway.
It gets even sneakier when, as the only safe attendance figure for a church event, the numbers at each venue are added by clergy to weekly figures which also include, say, scouts and guides, hire of the church hall and numbers at weddings and funerals. These weekly figures for all churches are then totalled each year, then divided by 52 to produce ‘average weekly attendance’, which can be passed off to the casual observer as ‘Sunday attendance’.
I know this from once being conscripted to the festival committee to help broaden the appeal (church leaders blocked secular venues and that was the end of that, by the way), and I got a detailed picture of the way churches change the counting method every few years to hide plummeting Sunday worship figures while subbing a Manx Anglican diocese newspaper for a newspaper chain.
To be fair, a town of 5,000 is never going to book Madonna, and it gets slightly better when local kids provide their own entertainment during the week. Still, the idea that everything from local to national government money (e.g. arts council and heritage grants) gets chucked at this, yet we can’t organise a half decent event for kids or families or manage even basic debunking of racist, sexist and homophobic myth because an evangelical halfwit might object, is, frankly, pathetic.

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