Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka


This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday August 3 2017


The Unkindness of Strangers

July 24 was the anniversary of my discovery that my G-Mail accounts had been hacked. Soon afterwards my Facebook account was also hacked and hi-jacked and I lost contact with many real as well as virtual friends and with family members. My bank accounts were not hacked but I did lose money because I lost contact with editors who published my work. Even friends I had known for many years became suspicious of me. It was a horrendous experience and I wrote about various aspects of it in these pages.

One of the most disturbing aspects was that I was victim of seemingly vindictive acts perpetrated by a complete stranger. A malevolent stranger, for no discernible rational purpose, rifled through my personal correspondence on G-Mail and used the information gathered to try to convince people that he was me. I think I know his name now but I still know nothing about him or what his real motives were. I doubt that he made much money from the hacking. He had the gall face to write this to me:

“I am sorry for all the problems i have caused you this past few days. However, i want you to know the follwing (sic): I don’t know you nor have any particular personal motivation for taking over your mailbox other than looking for little money to survive on. I am willing to hand you all i have taken from you if you will help me with very little money to enable me settle my school bills. I know i have wronged you but please i need your help. I will let you know how to prevent future hacks as creating new emails is not the best line of action.”

A real-life friend tried to engage with my hacker and got a threatening response. All pretence of being me was dropped: Using the name “Spitfire” he sent this message: “Maybe you should just mind your business because your email might be next.PS: tell your friend that this is what happens when he tries to recover the email i already hacked into. If he tries recovering it with any other email then he looses that one too!”

Kindness to Strangers

Had he simply asked me for help he might have had more success than he did by disrupting my life. In one of his messages to my real-life friends he revealed that he had gathered from looking through my personal correspondence that I was in the process of giving away my home to the local Buddhist temple to be used as a meditation centre. He could also have read that I had previously given away my car to the High Priest of the local temple so that he could more easily perform his official duties and attend his clinic appointments. The car itself has become a community project. A local mechanic, without charging, has put everything right that was mechanically wrong and spray-painted the car. He said how can he expect payment when we gave the car as a gift.  Many little accoutrements and furbelows have been proudly added. A local builder constructed a new garage free of charge to house the vehicle and the completion of the structure was marked with a little ceremony with songs sung by small schoolchildren.

Every month, I make regular payments to people in need and often make one-off payments to complete strangers. I write all of this not to boast of my own saintliness but to demonstrate the effectiveness of direct and active rather than passive charity. Not everyone will have the time and circumstances to be active and giving is probably better than not giving even if we do not investigate the political background. While charity doesn’t always benefit the intended recipient, it usually manages to make the donor feel better.

Adam Phillips

The anniversary of the hacking came at a time when I was reading a book called On Kindness, co-authored by Adam Phillips, a psychoanalyst, and Barbara Taylor, a historian of ideas. In the book, they argue that in our contemporary times kindness has become something almost to be ashamed of. “Bullish capitalism harnessed to counterrevolution pushed kindness from the moral centre. Kindness was steadily downgraded from a universal imperative to the prerogative of specific social constituencies”.


“An image of the self has been created that is utterly lacking in natural generosity. Most people appear to believe that deep down they (and other people) are mad, bad and dangerous to know; that as a species – apparently unlike other species of animal – we are deeply and fundamentally antagonistic to each other”. This follows on from Thomas Hobbes’s view in Leviathan (1651) that human life is nasty, brutish and short and is a matter of “all against all”.


They contrast this with the different view taken by another philosopher, David Hume. Hume insisted that any person foolish enough to deny the existence of human kindness had lost touch with emotional reality. In his A Treatise on Human Nature (1740), Hume claimed that sympathy was the necessary foundation of morality. He insisted, in his later work, that sympathy for others was experienced by everybody, part of the essential nature of man.


In his review of On Kindness in the New York Times, Peter Stevenson wrote: “By walling ourselves off from our inner kindness, we end up skulking around, hoarding scraps from the lost magical kindness of childhood, terrified that our hatred is stronger than our love.” This echoes what Lewis Hyde wrote in his book The Gift (Subtitled How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World) that in a market economy, wealth is increased by ’saving’. In a gift economy, wealth is decreased by hoarding, for it is circulation within the community that generates increase in connections and strong relationships.

Dangerous Kindness

“At its strongest we have come to believe that feeling too much for others – being too sympathetic – either endangers our lives or is against our natures”. Taylor and Phillips argue that kindness is dangerous because it creates vulnerability: “kindness is always hazardous because it is based on a susceptibility to others”. “By involving us with strangers . . . as well as with intimates, it is potentially far more promiscuous than sexuality.”


Delicate Web of Reciprocity


There is much evidence that other animals besides human beings can enter into the sufferings and fears of others of their kind. On the lake in front of our house, there is a goose and two ducks who are constantly together. We have a daily ritual of feeding them every evening. One evening, the duck with the orange bill was missing and we became concerned. Eventually we found it hiding in the undergrowth. Its back was badly torn and it was having difficulty walking. We applied Betadine to the wound and telephoned the vet and who came quite quickly in the pet ambulance. We kept the duck indoors in a cat carrier overnight. The goose and the other duck were distraught and were waiting anxiously outside our gate until morning when we released their companion. The next time the vet came they tried to get into our house where their friend was being treated. The duck is still able to swim but the leg injury makes walking difficult. Her companions make sure she is looked after. Often one sees cows on the roadside grooming each other. A couple of street dogs in our shopping precinct are always together and I saw the male licking the female’s ear.


This kind of empathy is not the same as sentimentality. One must be kind even to people one does not like, people who are not one’s ‘kind’. Kindness means accommodating the unpleasantness of other people, dealing with conflict and aggression. Kindness means seeing people as they are but treating them well anyway.


I am sorry if I seem selfish and egotistical about this but I feel good about paying for electricity to be put into someone’s home, good about giving money to a man whose child has hideous deformities requiring constant surgery. Does Atthula feel good about threatening elderly ladies who are offering to send him money but cannot afford as much as he asks? You do not need to die to experience hell Atthula. You are hell and you will never be free of it.




RIP Sir Bruce

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday August 24 2017

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday August 24 2017

The good thing about social media is that everyone has the chance to voice their opinion. The bad thing about social media is that everyone has the chance to voice their opinion. It must be nearly twenty years since I first encountered the word “blog”. At that time, I had not sold my soul to the internet and did not even own a modem or an e-mail account. The Guardian Saturday arts review carried a feature on literary blogs. I will never forget one item that was included. X, a very famous, distinguished, successful and rich author, had just published a new book. The man who was quoted (I am fairly sure it was a man. The term “mansplaining” had not been invented then but mansplainers have been around since the dawn of time) expressed himself in a very pompous and pretentious tone blissfully unaware of how ludicrous he appeared. He said something along these lines: “I have not read the book, but what X seems to be saying is…” He then engaged in a lengthy exegesis of a work that had never passed before his eyes.

What’s He to Hecuba?

I do not know if my Sri Lankan readers are familiar with the life and work of Bruce Forsyth. I never met Sir Bruce and never saw him perform live. I cannot claim to be a great fan although watching the Generation Game on Saturday evenings was s highlight of the week for me and my cool friends. I was horrified to see some of the reactions to the news of his death on August 18. One of my ‘friends’ on Facebook simply commented ‘jerk’. I unfriended her instantly. We had little or no interaction and I am sure the loss of my ‘friendship’ would not trouble her but such behaviour is not what I expect from a friend by any definition. Others wasted no time in giving their opinions of the deceased. Many said they did not appreciate his style of entertaining – which is fair enough but who needs to know when the corpse is not cold? Others felt it was essential that we know that they found him ‘creepy’.

Success and Failure and Hard Work

Forsyth’s career spanned 75 years and could be assessed as successful but it was not easy. He did not enjoy immediate success and worked very, very hard. He was only 14 when he appeared in a song, dance, and accordion act called “Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom”. His first appearance was at the Theatre Royal in Bilston, with The Great Marzo at the top of the bill. Forsyth made his television debut in 1939 as a child, singing and dancing on a BBC talent show. After the Second World War, he spent years on stage with little success and travelled the UK working seven days a week, doing summer seasons, pantomimes and circuses, where he became renowned for his strong-man act.

I first became aware of him when he was host of the ITV show Sunday Night at the London Palladium from 1958. This was basically an old-fashioned variety show featuring a game show called Beat the Clock (a precursor of some of Forsyth’s later TV successes) but the bill was often headed by rock and pop acts. I remember seeing on the show Buddy Holly, Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This was an interesting time when many rock and pop acts were touring the UK as part of a variety bill with comedians, dancers and jugglers.


His career had its ups and downs and he was disappointed by his lack of success in the US but hard work and versatility saw him through. Forsyth earned a place in the 2013 Guinness Book of World Records as the male TV entertainer having had the longest career. In 2003, and again in 2010, Forsyth was a guest presenter on the news and satire quiz show Have I Got News for You. He was co-host of Strictly Come Dancing from 2004 to 2013. In 2013, he was the oldest performer ever to appear at the Glastonbury Festival. He received many awards and was knighted in 2011 for services to entertainment and charity.

Vulture Culture

Here are some comments from pseudonymous shadows on the Guardian website. “I thought Bruce Forsyth represented the worst of that appallingly (sic) art form known as British light entertainment. He could do about four talents pretty poorly, which was somehow suppose (sic) to add up to something worthwhile?” “Bruce’s main talent was in patronising the wholly untalented, while grinning at them sufficiently that they did not take too much offence.” “Why could anyone be surprised that the American’s (sic) didn’t take to his pointless and inane catch phrases and set piece tap dancing?”


Those who actually met him tell a different story. A friend of mine appeared on the Generation Game in 1975 and described Forsyth as “charming” – “a nice guy”. Someone who worked with him said: “I still don’t like the act that he did, but I respect him immensely as one of the most likeable and professional performers that I’ve ever worked with. When somebody famous dies, it’s often the case that my colleagues will tell tales of how that particular star had a nasty side. I’ve never heard any tales like that about Brucie and would be surprised if any were to emerge either.”

Celebrity Fair Game

Some commenters seem to be saying that anyone can say anything about a “celebrity” because celebrities have put themselves up for it by voluntarily placing themselves in the public eye (for money and fame). I can have some sympathy with that view in relation to the celebrity culture of the 21st Century. I have not lived in the UK since 1998 but every time I look at Mail Online and see all those non-entities being paraded I want to boke. These people are seeking fame and fortune without having the assets of talent or the capability of working hard. Do people like Forsyth deserve to be disrespected in death just because they decided to make a career out of entertaining the public?

Infinite Variety

Many of those vultures who were so quick to descend on Forsyth when he could no longer defend himself condemned him for the tradition he came from – variety, music hall. No doubt that could have been a seedy world (see John Osborne’s The Entertainer) but I loved it. When I was very young (four or five?) my parents took me to shows at the Cheltenham Opera House and the Gloucester Regal. They sometimes regretted it because I tended to imitate the comedians on the way home – “acting the maggot” as the Irish idiom has it. I never saw Forsyth but I did see Jimmy James, Dickie Henderson, Roy Castle, Jewel and Warris, Hylda Baker, Davey Kaye, Jimmy Wheeler, Max Bygraves, Max Wall, Cyril Fletcher, Al Read, Chic Murray, Reg Dixon, Charlie Drake, Stan Stennett, Ken Platt, Dave King, Max Miller, Arthur English and, best of all, Tony Hancock. Many of these comedians distinguished themselves as straight actors. To me the tradition Forsyth came from was a noble one.

Trolls at the Funeral

Someone shared my point of view: “Bruce Forsyth was not my cup of tea but he was loved by his family and by many others, and they should be allowed some space to celebrate his life and grieve in relative peace.” “One expects that people with the decency not to troll someone at a funeral would know better than to broadcast their random unkind thoughts for the newly bereaved to read. Sadly, it seems not.”

The main point is not whether Forsyth was any good or whether some nonentity (like me) was impressed by his talent or not. Our disagreements on social media are ephemeral and we will all flit away to some other topic within days or hours. This is about respecting the dead. A human being who did no harm to those denigrating him has died and his family are grieving.




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