Jaroslav A. Polák
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My Hebrew Tuesdays, why modesty is overrated, and how I became a grand dame

In this week's diary, Julie Burchill explains why she's returning to the shul – and her secret to good health.

International Happiness Day is on 20 March. There is something inherently funny about this, implying as it does that the rest of the year may be wilfully abandoned to misery. It reminds me of the slogan that my adored adopted home town is keen on: “Brighton and Hove – no place for hate”. Perhaps the originators could tell us where in Sussex, then, we may give full rein to our rancour: Steyning, Fulking, Pease Pottage?

When we are stroppy teens, we often declare mulishly that we’d rather have an interesting life than a happy one, seeing cheeriness as something suspiciously shallow. Each time we hear the vulgar street exhortation “Cheer up, it might never happen!” we dig our dismayed heels in further. But before we know it, we’ve gone from exquisitely doomed youth to grumbling old git. Look at poor Morrissey! Like Maoism and love bites, miserabilism only looks good on the young.

The country with the best “happiness equality” in the world is Bhutan, the United Nations tells us. I’m not sure how happy I’d be in a country where homosexuality is illegal, where abortions are so hard to get that many women have to cross into India to find even a backstreet termination and where citizens married to foreigners are not permitted to hold civil service positions. Is it just because Bhutan is so cut off that no one knows any better?

The position of those on the left when it comes to immigration is strangely inconsistent. On the one hand, they like to present England as a joyless hellhole (which I always think says far more about them and their joyless mates than the country I’ve had such a smashing time in during my long, lush life): on the other hand, they want everyone to come here. Is this what the young people call “humblebrag”, perchance?


Dirty little secrets

A gorgeous young starlet meets a hot male model on a reality show. They hook up on camera, she gets pregnant when they emerge blinking into the real world, they break up, he accuses her of sleeping around and casts doubt on the paternity of the tot, she has the baby, he takes a DNA test on daytime TV, they kiss and make up – every step of this madcap minuet of modern manners played out in the scandal sheets.

So far, so good. I love drama (“Anything that is worth doing is worth doing in ­public,” as Joe Orton once wrote), to the extent that when a tabloid reporter doorstepped me and my girlfriend after our ­sapphic elopement back in the 20th century, I rapped sharply on his car window to wake him up when, finally ready to take a dolled-up sunshine promenade, we noticed that he was taking a nap. But then the starlet puts a message on Twitter: “Appreciate simplicity. Be grateful and authentic in every­thing you do.”

I don’t have anything against people selling their stories. Modesty is an overrated virtue, especially in women, who have had it forced upon them under threat of death for most of history. What I have an issue with is the way in which such types pretend, in essence, to be Quakers on social media – or the InstagrAmish, if you will. If you’re going to live a look-at-me life, own it. Be blatant, be flagrant, be shameless, but please don’t pretend to be Gandhi on Twitter.


Playing the fool

I’m all for acting in an immature fashion. It’s my proud boast that, professionally, I’ve gone from enfant terrible to grande dame without ever growing up. But the idea of reading a book called Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invig­orates the Soul – and of setting aside time in which to play – strikes me as so pedantic and buzz-killing that I’d rather break rocks in the hot sun. If play does have “a positive effect on health, relationships and creativity”, you’re probably not doing it right.

Another sign that you’re a member of this monstrous regiment is the “adult colouring book”, the latest atrocity in this line being the “Scribble Lunch Bag”, which will allegedly provide “colour therapy for the working day”, according to Psychologies magazine. If I was a boss and I saw someone at their desk colouring in jungle animals on a lunch bag, I’d sack them on the spot. Banging on about being playful, rather than having immaturity come naturally, is surely a sign of a soul that was born menopausal.


Cure for wellness

Wellness: that’s another thing the sort of softie who likes to “play” will be keen on. I’m very healthy, despite my wicked ways, and I think that this is largely down to not fretting about my health. I’m writing this shortly after binning yet another letter from one of the doctors at my GP surgery demanding that I have a smear test, but I was not fast enough to avoid yet another of them on the phone asking why I get cystitis so often. “My husband’s 13 years younger than me,” I snigger, immaturely.

During my life, I’ve been nearly struck off by three GPs – not for ceaselessly cadging drugs, as you might think, but because I used their services so little that they thought I’d moved away. Frankly, I find hypochondria repulsive; I once walked on a fractured foot in Benidorm in Spain for five days after kicking a mobility scooter that blocked my path, believing that I’d only stubbed my toe. Though I understand that the Well Woman industry is feminist in intent, I can’t help feeling that it makes fussing ninnies out of us. Give me a Tough Broad over a Well Woman any day.


Back to shul

Tuesday night is Hebrew night! I had to leave the shul I attended some years ago for being too pro-Israel and drop out of my conversion, because I figured that though I didn’t mind being a bad Christian (it’s all about sin, forgiveness and redemption anyway), I would be sad if I was a bad Jew. But now, by learning Hebrew, I can stay connected to the people I admire more than any other without going to the effort of living up to their high standards. Truly, “Yesh li ooga sheli veh ani ochelet otah gam.”

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear