2020 / December

Sinatra was swinging, all the drunks they were singing.

Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

Photo by Elias Andres-Jose on Unsplash

So, we reach December, and that means one thing: We can start doing Christmas songs! One of my favourites is The Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. It’s a song that recently has not been without controversy.

This year, BBC Radio have announced they will be playing the censored and uncensored language versions. Their different radio stations can opt for which version is more suited to their audience demographic. I can see their point:

You’re an old slut on junk … You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot.

It’s not exactly the most Christmassy or pleasant of conversations, but it is one that is supposed to represent the characters and their predicament. I think it’s an interesting debate. In the UK we have a quite nuanced approach to freedom of speech where we attempt to balance the individual’s right to express their point of view with their responsibility to consider the impact asserting their point of view might have on others.

When it comes to wellbeing, this is a balance we constantly need to strike. We need to be assertive in communicating and make others aware of our own needs, whilst also being mutually aware of the needs of the other. For me, this has been an ongoing matter of learning. For the most part, I’ve found the difficulty is that sometimes being expressive and assertive will upset other people.

Yet, like in this song, it’s about why the other person is getting upset. Sometimes, people need to be upset by a situation or circumstance, and our language should rightly reflect this, being authentic even if untasteful. Yet this is where the controversy over the ‘banning’ of this song from the radio started.

BBC Radio Solent’s Alex Dyke tweeted that he felt uncomfortable with the song’s lyrics; “It’s an offensive pile of downmarket chav bilge. We can do better!”. His discomfort, and decision to ‘ban’ the song was not about any genuine offence the language of the song might cause, but instead a cheap judgement on what language different parts of society might use or find socially acceptable. It reminds me of the lyric from the song which entitles this piece:

Sinatra was swinging, all the drunks they were singing.

Sinatra is considered one of the classic all-time greats of singing, yet all of us, after a few drinks happily massacre his songs. However, our feeble attempts to sign his tunes are often filled with in the moment, joyous, enthusiasm and authentic fun. Our efforts are not to be taken as offensive, but to be enjoyed for what they are. In the same way, our language, whilst sometimes not the greatest is necessary as a means of communicating the emotion and authenticity of our feelings.

What strikes me, is that for our wellbeing, and that of others, our language shouldn’t be judged on how downmarket or upmarket it might be, but how authentic it is and its intended purpose. Perhaps then, we might have a society which really is about freedom of expression within the context of caring for one and all.

Need to find your own authentic language to express yourself? Why not consider booking an appointment with the author, Dr Dave Wood?

Fairytale of New York is taken from The Pogues album 30:30 – The Essential Collection:


Founder and Director of Metanoeo CIC and Metanoeo Coaching. Working with individuals, communities and business to co-create #wellbeing4all through life coaching, resources for living life well and training and supporting life coaches.

Work is never over!

27 November 2020