MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

I’m still alive, which surely proves I’m not spending all day watching the telly whilst not here. I don’t watch much TV as it is and certainly wouldn’t before 7.00 in the evening, anyway. Recently forced to upgrade by my digital supplier, I did so with little enthusiasm, though I can now ‘Series Link’, which is a bit like programming ye olde VCR to record a particular programme weeks in advance. It’s not something I’ll probably make much use of, however, as I tend to use the TV set as an effective monitor for the DVD player most of the time. And what I do like to watch is usually regarded as being of minority interest, which means it’s always in danger of disappearing from the screen. The word ‘minority’ has different connotations where mainstream broadcasters are concerned, anyway.

The recent announcement that those oh-so wise guardians of the licence fee have decided to slash the budget of BBC Parliament – probably to finance further ‘life-changing journeys’ through some far-flung foreign field for a bunch of has-beens from the 80s – is typical of the Corporation’s priorities when confronted by criticism: keep the crap and dispense with everything that makes it unique (see also the sales of Maida Vale and BBC Caversham, plus the regular pruning of World Service branches). Moreover, the cutting back of the Parliament channel is a blow for archival anoraks who’ve enjoyed numerous nights viewing unearthed real-time coverage of distant General Elections on said channel. Thankfully, most are available on YouTube now, albeit not subject to the censorious new moral regime that is constantly preventing me making a penny from my own videos; anyway, it was online where I received my latest fix when sitting through the 1970 show.

Avuncular anchor Cliff Michelmore had a mouth remarkably similar to that of a frog; I kept expecting an elongated tongue to lash out and whip a fly from the nose of David Butler during the broadcast. Alas, it didn’t happen, but it was an entertaining watch, all the same. A degree of civility and politeness on the part of the presenters when speaking to politicians came as a refreshing shock, particularly from Robin Day, who is still credited with a fearsome proto-Paxman reputation; and when compared to the tiresome bullishness of the ‘Channel 4 News’ or ‘Newsnight’ teams of today – behaving like prosecution barristers from their very first accusation – the less confrontational approach of Robin Day actually achieves better results from MPs not instantly on the defensive. Then again, perhaps the men from the Ministries were held in a slightly higher regard back then.

As ever with these programmes, glimpses of the general public are a priceless window onto a lost world – a bit like a recent DVD outing, the mid-70s Thames TV murder-mystery panel game, ‘Whodunnit?’, hosted by Jon Pertwee with regular panelists in the shape of the swaggeringly-suave Patrick Mower and the gorgeously languorous actress-cum-hotelier Anouska Hempel. At one point, a member of the public is added to the panel every week (courtesy of winning a TV Times competition), and each bears all the endearing awkwardness-on-camera absent from media-savvy millennials. Regarding the public of Election 70, however, there is additional fun to be had through spotting future faces hidden behind the floral shirts, including journalist Simon Jenkins hanging out at a swanky London night-club in a sequence that resembles a Carnaby Street pilot of ‘The Hit Man and Her’ – and Gyles Brandreth whilst still a student at Oxford.

The declarations themselves are quite dramatic on occasion; though not as momentous a wipe-out as 1997, the unexpected ousting of the Wilson Government saw some impressive scalps claimed by the victors, none more so than the colourful figure of George Brown, losing his seat after 25 years. The notorious old soak managed to stay sober during the tension provoked by the recount, and Brown’s losing speech was his final public address as a ‘commoner’, for he enjoyed a familiar elevation to the Lords almost immediately thereafter. Watching the defeat made me wonder what it must feel like to receive rejection on such a scale (Brown lost Belper by more than 2,000 votes), though I suppose it depends on how much you care for your constituents. I would imagine being rejected by just one person you love is a tougher experience than being rejected by 2,000 people you couldn’t give a toss about.

Would I have more confidence in our elected representatives if the likes of Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Castle, Jenkins, Whitelaw, Thorpe, Thatcher or Powell were amongst the candidates today? Looking at perhaps the most abysmal and incompetent Tory Government in living memory (including Major’s) and then glancing across at a Labour Opposition infected with identity politics and boasting a Corbyn alternative in the likes of oily Umunna, I can only come to the conclusion I’d rather be on the 1970 electoral register than the 2018 one. I don’t think I’ve ever had less confidence in any of them to deliver the goods than I have right now. The Brexit charade seems to sum it all up, a farce as demoralising as the ongoing soap opera in Washington. Hard not to be a cynic and simply think f**k the lot of ‘em. Mind you, most days I think f**k the world and everyone in it, so I guess politicians are open goals for contempt.

Twitter can often provide a different perspective on affairs, especially if you follow incompatible participants from across the ideological spectrum. It’s healthy to have your opinions challenged as well as reinforced, though even this can grate after a while. Of course, both sides highlight anything that supports their chosen narrative, so the left bigs up the Boris-is-an Islamophobe storyline whilst the right milks Jezza’s anti-Semitic terrorist sympathies; alongside these headlines are smaller stories that do a similar job, though one can’t help but wonder if they’re being reported solely to promote an agenda as inflexible as its polar opposite. Too much exposure to it all and I come away convinced both sides of the divide are as bad as each other; and I’ve got enough negative energy to deal with as it is.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not feeling especially charitable towards anyone at the moment, and as public figures whose careers are in ‘public life’ can provoke both anger and annoyance at the best of times, I’m hardly in the right frame of mind to pen balanced assessments of their performances and, on occasion, give them the benefit of the doubt. If there’s only bile in the belly, you’re left with Alex Jones; if there’s only petulant conviction you’re right and everyone else is wrong, you’re left with Owen Jones. And if there’s no sign of a heart, you’re left with Katy Hopkins. As Richard Nixon said, ‘Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then, you destroy yourself.’

I appreciate some of you may miss the days when I would write about anything in the news; I do myself. But despite my best efforts, the prospect of returning to regular posts on here still leaves me impotent. A year ago, I could write daily dispatches without breaking sweat; but a year ago I could kiss the day goodnight secure in the knowledge that everything to have constituted the day would be there for me to kiss goodnight again tomorrow. There was plenty of time to take everything for granted and wallow in the blissful complacency that comes with perceived security. Well, that security has gone now and I’m stranded on this bastard island until my eyes are able to recognise a rescue ship when they see it. I should’ve gone to Specsavers. But as the spirit of dark and lonely water once said to a traumatised generation, I’ll be back-back-back-back-back…

(https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jack-English-Cat-called-English/dp/1717944809/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533553266&sr=1-1)

© The Editor

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JACK OF ALL TRADES

A year ago this week, I smoked my last cigarette; a recent clean of the spines displayed on my bookshelf reminded me how my world used to be coated in a stinky and sickly golden smudge that unknowingly proved to be as great a social deterrent as BO. But it’s only when you sometimes come across evidence of how something used to be that you belatedly realise how much it has changed. Example: A couple of years back, I purchased an archive copy each of the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph; both were printed in 1977. Twenty-odd years of colour newspapers utilising digital technology had served to erase the aesthetic memory of how Fleet Street produce once looked, felt and smelt. The bright clean reproduction of images we’ve become accustomed to (if we still bother with a physical edition, of course) when stood next to the murky monochrome equivalent from forty years ago reveals the latter as having a closer resemblance to a poor photocopy.

The old hot metal printing technique also gave newspapers a distinctive odour as well as leaving its imprint on your fingers if you held a paper in your hands for more than five minutes. Newspapers were relatively cheap in relation to other goods, but had they retailed for pennies exceeding single figures, it probably would have been taking the piss when they were hardly works of art. They were simple, unpretentious and instantly disposable objects, hence their day-after demotion to the chip shop, so it’s no wonder they were something everybody could afford. Mind you, dailies and Sundays sold so much back then that the proprietors didn’t need to charge more than 10p to make a handsome profit.

As a child, there was a strict dividing line between what parents read and what children read. Comics were for us, newspapers were for them – oh, and dad also had a few…erm…‘magazines’ stashed in a secret place that we weren’t supposed to know about. This arrangement suited my tastes, for the content of newspapers was extremely dull to my prepubescent eye bar one page – no, not the third one, but a page somewhere near the back-end of the publication, just before the sports section. This page was the nearest a newspaper would get to a comic, even if the parade of three (or four) panel strips exhibited humour not quite as basic as that in the Dandy or the Beano.

The paper of choice in our household was the Daily Mirror. Its strips included space and time-travelling strongman Garth (who always somehow seemed to visit planets whose female natives had yet to discover bras), old-school northern pisshead layabout Andy Capp (who had a fag permanently glued to his lower lip), The Perishers (which appeared to be a British take on Peanuts), and Bill Tidy’s surreal The Fosdyke Saga. All the national dailies were defined in the child’s mind by which comic strips they featured. The Daily Express could boast Rupert Bear; the Mail had Fred Basset; the Sun had Hagar the Horrible, and so on. Even the local paper had its notable cartoon characters: As well as hosting US strip Marmaduke (a Great Dane I often confused with Scooby Doo), the Yorkshire Evening Post had the bizarre home-grown character known as Alfie Apple (Yes, a walking/talking apple).

Unlike my parents, I didn’t grow up to become a loyal subscriber to any particular paper and I gradually lost touch with the strips; whenever I’ve caught a glimpse of them in recent years the inevitable addition of garish colour has, to me, removed part of their appeal. The loss of their black & white-ness is something that appears to diminish their charm, in the same way that it would be impossible to imagine any of those early 60s ‘Kitchen Sink’ movies in Technicolor. There also seems to be fewer of them, with one of the key tools in securing the next generation of readers now marginalised, mirroring the suicidal dismissal of journalists who were experts in their chosen fields, something which suggested the editors of the papers had already given up and stopped believing there was any sort of future for the medium.

As has been pointed out on several occasions here recently, the allure of the recent past and the rose-tinted hues of unavoidable nostalgia can stretch into many unexpected areas. For some reason the old newspaper strip has fired my imagination of late, and in my increasingly desperate quest to seek constant distractions from the sinkhole I fell into eight months ago, one distraction I seized upon was to pay homage to the genre by making up my own strip. So I have done. Aesthetically, it belongs to a lost world, so wouldn’t be at home in the current excuse for a format that no longer really exists. Instead, I went straight to what used to be a commercial offshoot for the already-proven success – the collected strips in book form. As the book only contains 28 separate and self-contained three-panel strips (albeit every single strip in existence to date), I’m regarding this as ‘the pilot episode’. It may never be granted a networked series, but it’s out there for me to at least try.

I’m English and I was the companion to a cat for eighteen years. These are two things I know about. Therefore, I created a cat with a suitably traditional English name – Jack – and gave him a range of familiar English characteristics to add to his own archetypal feline qualities. I gave him a best mate, a girlfriend and a nemesis. I also gave him an ‘owner’ we never see, just as adults were always absent from the world of Charlie Brown. Unlike Felix or Top Cat, he walks on all fours, but he talks like us. Be a pretty dull strip if he didn’t.

He’s not particularly original; after all, it’s not as if cats have never been turned into cartoon characters before. And I’m not an especially gifted draughtsman either; the drawings are crude and sketchy, but I could say that maybe adds to their charm. Anyway, the humour is wry, dry and droll – and contemporary, I guess, though I avoid any direct references to the news; that would only instantly date them. With the book blurb declaring ‘As seen in the Winegum Telegram’, it felt only right to include a sample…

The transference of the images from sketch-pad to printed page ironically gives them the look of having being sourced from an old newspaper, an act of serendipity that adds to the homage, I guess. Anyway, the book’s available on Amazon for a piddling £2.99 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jack-English-Cat-called-English/dp/1717944809/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533553266&sr=1-1) and might provide you with a few minutes of entertainment when you need a break from your Smartphone screen. I make less than a quid from a purchase, by the way, so I shan’t be living it up like Northamptonshire County Council when they sank a fortune into a swanky new HQ before realising it left them with nothing to fund public services. No, Jack the English Cat is not about a fast buck; I just wanted to make people smile, and this is the best I can offer right now. Life is not good and I’m not expecting my creation to be my salvation, but every little helps, as Morrison’s used to say.

© The Editor

THE CLOWN DUELS

Yeah, I’m back again for another isolated observation in my occasional series of ‘Stars on 45’-style topical medleys. But while I might poke and prod a few minor irritants today, they essentially remain of a trivial nature to me; none of them irritate me enough to bring forth the froth to my mouth – unlike the subjects that fire the warring extremes on Twitter. One might almost imagine they have nothing else going on in their lives. Anyway, it felt right to endure one more unwelcome anniversary by stepping out of the shade for a few minutes; after all, if I leave this neglected baby of mine in the sun too long the poor whelp risks suffocation by spam – mostly in ‘Russian’ by the look of its distinctly Slavic appearance. By Jove, I’m being spied on!

God knows why I could possibly be of any interest to whatever name the KGB goes under these days, but it’s moderately exciting to think I am. Maybe Vlad’s online agitators think everyone here is pretending to be a ‘Communist’ now and they’re curious. I’m as guilty as the next spoon when it comes to hankering after something before your own time simply because your own time is uninspiring and your perception of the time before your own has been shaped by something you read or a movie you saw. But it’s a risky business. When one has no first-hand experience of something intriguing, it acquires a romantic allure and can be embraced without any awareness of its less attractive realities.

The latest fashion for proclaiming one’s self a Communist is one that is only being followed by those with no personal memory of life behind the Iron Curtain. As far as irrelevant ideologies go, Communism is currently the fatuous political equivalent of a Ramones T-shirt, generally worn by people of an upbringing untroubled by hardship whose way of coping with guilt over their good fortune is to lecture those without it how they should live their lives. Each generation of Trotsky groupies cherry-picking Marx’s greatest hits and compiling its own mix-tape knows what’s best for the rest of us; and it’s ironic that the current crop’s default insult is to call their opponents Nazis when they themselves espouse a belief system responsible for more death and misery in the last century than even Adolf’s mob managed.

Great in theory, terrible in practice, Communism’s good intentions have been open to abuse from day one simply because the system makes it easier for the worst side of human nature to assert itself than even the far-from faultless Capitalism can boast. International sporting events being beamed into my childhood living room gave the names of now-defunct countries such as East Germany, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia an undeniably nostalgic ring – as did the pronunciation of them by British TV commentators sounding as though they had socks stuffed in their mouths. But that’s as far as the nostalgia goes. Communism is not some forgotten musical genre from the 70s long overdue for critical reappraisal in ‘Mojo’ or ‘Uncut’. Just ask the good people of North Korea.

I have a particular fondness for the Regency era, but as no one alive today experienced it, reading written accounts in the absence of living testimony is the closest I or any other interested party can get to it. Therefore, safe in the knowledge I’ll never be put in such a position, I can comfortably declare life would be so much easier if gentlemen could still duel. Yes, it was an antiquated and illegal method of settling arguments over ‘honour’ even in the century that finally saw it disappear from civilian circles (i.e. the nineteenth); but it lingered for several decades as a controversial means of redressing a slight on one’s character or simply ending a long-running dispute. For all the talk of Cabinet ructions today, the incumbent Government Ministers don’t come close to their predecessors.

In 1809, Lord Castlereagh (Secretary of State for War and the Colonies) challenged long-time critic and Foreign Secretary George Canning to a duel on Putney Heath, a clandestine clash that resulted in amateur shot Canning being wounded in the thigh. Twenty years later during his stint at PM, the Duke of Wellington challenged the Earl of Winchilsea to a duel on Battersea Fields, sparked by the latter’s opposition to Catholic Emancipation. The Duke missed whilst the Earl refrained from firing; honour was upheld. Hard to imagine today’s Tory Brexiteers and Remoaners sorting out their differences in the same manner, but one cannot help but picture it as an alternative solution to political differences that conventional means seem incapable of resolving. Who knows what form Brexit might take were those involved in its implementation able to lock swords or aim pistols at the crack of dawn? Personally, there are some in this world I’d love to challenge to a duel tomorrow; and even knowing I could be mortally wounded wouldn’t dissuade me, as I can think of far worse ways to go. Alas, as ever, I am a man out of time.

Ironic in a way that an item of clothing one always associates with Regency duellists – the waistcoat – has experienced an unexpected resurgence of popularity this summer courtesy of Gareth Southgate. Unusually dapper for an England manager, Southgate worked wonders with the limited means at his disposal during a World Cup in which team spirit triumphed over the Prima donna superstar; his refusal to sanction a homecoming victory parade for a team that didn’t win anything is also a refreshing change that goes against the tiresome ‘plucky Brit’ strain of celebrating failure in the absence of success. Eddie the bloody Eagle can probably be blamed for that. Mind you, maybe we could play the Croatia game again – y’know, make it a ‘People’s Replay’ now that we have a better understanding of how the aim is to prevent the opposition from scoring. Best of three, eh? I’m sure Gary Lineker would tweet his approval.

Something non-toxic coming out of Russia was a welcome contradiction to the ongoing narrative, though headline-writers quickly focused on another defining characteristic of the summer. While that exceptional heat-wave was viewed by some as the harbinger of the climate apocalypse, to others it was just another of those sweaty intermissions we have every few years. More people seemed concerned the nation was poised to run out of beer during the World Cup than by the fact that every summer from now on threatens to evoke the kind of comparisons with 1976 that are destined to rival Fleet Street’s inevitable references to 1963 come each winter. Of course, if long hot summers are to be normalised, it sadly reduces the comical sight of red-skinned natives wincing with every step in their air-conditioned Crocs, as I should imagine most are now aware enough of what the sun can do to pale flesh to take precautions beforehand. Anyway, it’s already started raining again.

I don’t think the expression ‘burning the post-midnight oil’ actually exists, but I hereby invent it because it seems more applicable to the twilight zone I inhabit. Hell, a heat-wave is never conducive to a good night’s sleep, for one thing; but I was still active at 3.00 or 4.00am six months ago, back when my frozen frame was dependent on a fan heater as well as an invaluable electric blanket (when I felt I ought to finally drag myself towards the mattress whose warmth is strictly artificially-induced). Therefore, I can’t blame this joyless interlude devoid of all beauty on the summer. At the moment, brief bursts of creative energy just aren’t enough to let the sunshine in. Look at the example below and be fooled into believing it’s the work of a man as sharp as the blade that duellists once pierced a waistcoat with. It’s not. But it’s quite funny if you like that sort of thing. Anyway, I’ll shut up and keep trying until I’ve awakened from my dream of life.

 

© The Editor

SEVEN AND THE RAGGED TIGER

Seven is a highly potent number. It concluded the head-count for both dwarves and Samurai; it provided us with the seas, the deadly sins, the colours of the rainbow, the wonders of the ancient world and the ages of man. It gave us the right quota of brides for the right quota of brothers, the amount of years for a marital itch, the veils needed for Salome’s erotic dance routine, the title of a disturbing 90s horror movie, Enid Blyton’s secret alternative to her famous quintet, the necessary inches for the classic pop single, the correct collection of rogues for an intergalactic outlaw called Blake, and – of course – the assembled days of the week. It seems to have followed me around. I was born in a year ending in seven, lived at a No.7 for the best part of two decades, and my current home is a residence whose separate flat and house numbers add up to…you guessed it. And now I have seven months on the clock to measure my faltering progress through the brave new world I was dumped in as 2017 drew to a grim full stop.

Careful – I’m perilously close to a pattern so familiar on Twitter, that of relentlessly focusing on the one topic over and over again with mouth-frothing fanaticism. I never used to do that, but I never previously wrote for this blog whilst trying to recover from…er…well, a breakdown. No touchy-feely alternative word for it. I certainly don’t want any of my jottings to be viewed as ‘therapeutic’ as a consequence, however. Even if trying to get back into the habit is undeniably a form of therapy for me, I should imagine coming to such posts as a reader when burdened with that awareness could make approaching them akin to a ‘duty’, precluding either enjoyment or stimulation and reducing the whole exercise to the reading equivalent of a professional goalkeeper allowing a special needs child to score a penalty for charity. I’m sure a holiday in Salisbury would seem more appealing right now.

OK, let’s try to widen the picture a little by saying Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Bored already, alas. Mind you, it was two years ago when we all made our way to the polling station and cast our vote, so should the subject still be the main headline day-after-never-ending-day? Tiresome doom ‘n’ gloom predictions abound on both sides if it does/doesn’t turn out how either want it; and I’m afraid I’ve reached the point where I’m beginning to not care anymore. Most days, I feel as though this country is incurably f***ed anyway, but that’s probably because on many of those days I feel as though I’m incurably f***ed. Sorry, it’s not you; it’s me.

I ain’t no Jacob Rees-Mogg, extolling the economic virtues of Britain breaking with the EU whilst relocating my Russia-friendly business interests to Brussels-friendly Eire; and I ain’t no Lord Adonis, wistfully waving goodbye to the Continent from the window-seat of a private plane flying over the Alps with a teary-eye that foresees endless referenda until the desirable result is achieved. At the same time, much like that gruesome twosome, mine is not an objective perspective right now – though I at least have the decency to leave the subject alone as a result.

I suppose I could indulge in the contemporary trend of anniversary-marking to fill otherwise empty column inches; it’s not like I haven’t before, after all. This year we’ve got 10 since the financial crash, 30 since Acid House, 50 since the Paris Spring, 70 since the birth of the NHS, and a century since women in the UK won the vote (well, as long as they were over 30). The latter two have received the most attention, with the NHS anniversary in particular plumbing a nauseating nadir of sentimental media waffle that has run parallel with – and appears contradicted by – the shocking revelations from Gosport and Chester. Mysteriously, very little coverage has been given to the impenetrable layers of self-interested and self-satisfied management swallowing up the bags of cash that governments routinely throw towards the NHS in the hope some of it will filter down to frontline nurses and patients. But I guess that doesn’t fit the celebratory narrative.

Anyway, I’m not really paying attention. My much-missed feline companion passed away two years ago this month, yet just the other night the light caught one of her long-discarded nails embedded in the carpet – unseen since 2016. This tiny, seemingly insignificant fragment of a friend lost to me forever felt like an invaluable, precious gemstone when I excavated it; but any trinket touched by the lost keeps them close when we can no longer draw them to our breast. Some bin or burn such mementos because they cannot bear to be reminded; others find these articles imbued with a comforting resonance that serves as evidence they really were in our lives and we didn’t imagine them. As someone once said, was it just a dream? Seemed so real to me.

But, what the hell! School’s (almost) out for summer, so let’s switch our attention to the World Cup and Wimbledon. Better that than allow our eyes to linger on ladies’ legs and other exposed body parts lest we incur the wrath of those who permit female drooling over topless Aidan Turner whilst simultaneously condemning male longing to varnish the delicious porcelain flesh of Demelza with one’s tongue. Long may her Cornish bosom heave, for drama is one of the Beeb’s few remaining assets; by contrast, claims by the BBC’s box-ticking ‘comedy controller’ that the Pythons wouldn’t happen today because they were ‘too white’ gives an indication why the corporation’s current comedic output is so dire. The sun must have gone to his diversity-mangled head.

I remember 1976, but it was different then; I did things in hot weather I can’t do today. Besides, fun wasn’t as ‘organised’ forty-two years ago as it is now; adult involvement in childhood summer pursuits was mercifully minimal. I feel fortunate to have had the freedom to climb trees, kick balls past woollen goalposts, and arrange toy soldiers for a pitched battle to the strains of ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’. I steered clear of the Boy Scouts and the Cubs because I didn’t want grown-ups imposing their twee, sanitised idea of fun upon me. Pity the poor monitored kids of 2018’s heat-wave, who have never been left to their own devices and consequently can’t entertain themselves.

No, the best thing about this time of year – if you burn the midnight oil, of course – is reluctantly retiring to bed around 3.00am and catching one last look at the world outside your window. The landscape still consists of silhouettes, but the sky isn’t black; it’s a luscious shade of blue that enables you to already discern the next day on the horizon, as though it were a great wave rolling towards you in slow motion, one that only matures into its finished form when it washes over you several hours later, stirring you from slumber in the process. That’s a nice image to leave you with, at least. You don’t need a weather-man to know which way the wind blows; but may you always have a tiger in your tank.

 

© The Editor

THE WAY WE LIVE NOW…AND THEN

We may hate it, but advertising slogans can often linger. ‘Say it with Flowers’ said Interflora; and, as it happens, whenever I think of Interflora, I think of Interpol. Perhaps the association stems from an obvious gag on something like ‘The Two Ronnies’; many of their gags were obvious, but the obviousness of them was overridden by the comic charm of the performers. Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, flowers – delivered to the doors of the consummated as well as the unrequited, sometimes motivated by guilt, sometimes by the need to remind someone you love them. They make an ideal house-warming gift, for example, when it comes to a new residence, being as they are the most potent symbols of rebirth and regeneration when love is in the air.

No, I’m NOT going to write about that shameless exhibitionist’s manual known as ‘Love Island’; besides, Nigel Kneale beat me to it by half-a-century with his unnervingly accurate satire on lowest-common-denominator twenty-first century television, 1968’s ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’. This remarkable example of cultural soothsaying is one of the most uncanny crystal balls in TV history. If you haven’t seen it, do; once you get over the occasionally theatrical acting and groovy 60s aesthetic impression of the future, the way in which it predicts the worst our goggle-box can offer today will evoke associations with everything from ‘Castaway’ and ‘Big Brother’ to the aforementioned STD-through-the-keyhole voyeur-fest on ITV2 and even the grotesque Smartphone suicide-watch trend. The dialogue – short, snappy and uncomfortably familiar in its irritating abbreviations – mirrors Orwell’s belief in how language will eventually be narrowed and compressed into simple sound-bites. The ominous first words on-screen are ‘Sooner than you think…’

The play’s oft-stated division between the privileged and the rest (‘High Drives’ and ‘Low Drives’) inevitably evokes the Us and Them gap that the Brexit vote exposed; but to me it also anticipates the downgrading of one particular demographic in this country – one that is firmly rock bottom on the social scale fifty years later. A recent ‘initiative’ by a leading publisher that sought the input of unpublished authors made it clear who they were looking for. London-based, Oxbridge-educated chattering-class warriors burdened by the unbearable baggage of box-ticking have their preferred minorities to pat on the head and patronise, as novelist Lionel Shriver has bravely pointed out (much to her predictable Twitter crucifixion); and if you happen to emanate from a white working-class background free of further education, forget it. You are very much Low Drive – or ‘Gammon’, if you prefer; it’s the insult it’s OK to eat between meals without ruining your appetite.

For some, it matters not how many Sikhs are photographed with their arms round him, as Tommy Robinson’s EDL past will always brand him a white supremacist; but both sides of the barricades have their own version of the truth and never the twain shall meet. Like similar headline-grabbing stunts by Peter Tatchell, the amateur agent-provocateur tactics of Robinson could be said to be looking for trouble and inviting arrest along with accompanying publicity. But maybe the climate requires such actions in order to receive any acknowledgment within media circles whose contempt for ‘the Gammon’ is evident to anyone bereft of blinkers. Somebody once proclaimed the face of Tommy Robinson will one day feature on a far-flung future bank-note. Another agitator called Thomas – the late Mr Paine – was similarly derided and demonised in his day, yet is viewed rather differently two-hundred years later, so who knows what criteria the Bank of England will employ when it comes to its cover stars of the twenty-second century? A shame Nigel Kneale isn’t around anymore. He probably would.

Another fortune-teller called Karl Marx apparently said ‘The more you have, the less you are’ – a good point if applied to those who measure their worth by the number of material goods they possess; but how is that statement interpreted by the collectivism that contemporary Marx disciples espouse, especially in the Labour Party? I’ve always been averse to collectives, instinctively recoiling from their ‘block vote’ rhetoric; I‘m too much of an individual, never a team player. If I’d been gifted with sporting prowess, I’d have been at home on the tennis court rather than the football pitch. The problem with collectivism is the compulsory sacrifice of the individual voice to the consensus, and that’s just not me, Jeremy.

Jonathan Meades in his recent excellent BBC4 treatise on the uses and abuses of the English language spent a section dissecting the collectivist clichés that arise when eleven men play eleven more; but he primarily focused on the jargon employed by the Law, politics and business to mask true intentions in a tsunami of verbal diarrhoea that is deliberately intended to leave the Gammon crying ‘My brain hurts!’, therefore throwing him back into the primordial embrace of ‘Love Island’. The sad fact is that this works because we allow it to, just as we allow one knee-jerk response to a pair of tits on a lifeboat-man’s mug to damage the public standing of the RNLI, or we allow consensual sex to be reclassified as rape. Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it – whatever that means.

At one time, it could mean Noel Coward or Anthony Burgess; Margaret Rutherford or Terry Thomas; Tony Hancock or John Arlott; John Osborne or Quentin Crisp; Peter Sellers or Peter Cook; John Betjeman or John Lennon; Ian Nairn or Oliver Postgate. The Great British manufacturing industry wasn’t merely about economics; it was also about individual voices – all lost now to revisionist market forces. We don’t make ‘em like that anymore because we’ve been absorbed into the global village chain-store, flogged at half-price by a new breed of national shopkeepers.

Another neglected gem from the pen of the man who gave us ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’ was an obscure anthology series produced by ATV called ‘Beasts’; it’s creepy in that unique way only 70s TV can be, set in a Britain when the moribund and the macabre meet. One story concerned a poltergeist in a supermarket, though not the kind of supermarkets we have now; it was a store owned by one of those small regional chains that no longer exist, like Hillard’s or Vivo. Viewing this time capsule recently, I experienced a strange sensation of warmth as childhood brand names flew off the shelf at the height of the petulant spirit’s rage. Rows of Ricicles probably wouldn’t be within the poltergeist’s sights today, no doubt censored by finger-wagging government guidelines on sugar intake – let alone a version featuring Florence and Dougal on the front of the box.

And so, restlessness forced me outdoors a month ago; I went for a meandering walk – and if you’ve made it to this paragraph you’ll know by now I’m good at meandering. Unfortunately, simple exercise (physical or mental) no longer seems a valid enough reason to stroll alone. When I ended up on a local park, my aversion to collectives worked against me; I felt increasingly self-conscious re my sore thumb solo status, surrounded as I was by women and dogs. I had neither with me, though I came home to the ghosts of both. And cats. But I end where I began, thinking of flowers as potent symbols of rebirth and regeneration. Maybe I should get some. Life may now be a silver medal, but at least I can make it smell nice for a few days.

© The Editor

THROUGH THE PAST, DARKLY

Grinning and bearing my way through precisely six months of paralysis following the abrupt stopping of the clocks last December has had a funny effect on my perception of time. Frozen as both participant and observer, one way of suppressing a sense of uselessness at my sudden inability to respond to contemporary events in the customary manner has been to retreat into a digitally restored version of the past. After all, when circumstances rob you of the present and deprive you of a future in the process (or at least the future you thought you were getting), the one certainty you can turn to is the past, a place where the ground beneath your feet is reassuringly solid.

This is a painless post in terms of writing (and, one hopes, reading); it’s simply me taking a stress-free diversion into my viewing habits of the last half-year, one that may strike the odd chord merely as an entertaining interlude. And, as it’s not unusual for this blog to mine a bit of nostalgia from archive telly, I speak today of ‘Special Branch’, a series produced by ITV back in the days when it added up to a good deal more as a broadcaster than the vacuous vacuum it currently inhabits. It’s a series that has also provided me with a convenient distraction from recent events via the DVD box-set.

Originally a dramatic, franchise-justifying product of the fledgling Thames Television, ‘Special Branch’ first appeared at the fag-end of the monochrome era in late 1969. Starring the chunky-faced Derren Nesbitt as DCI Jordan, the series dramatised the middle man between CID and the Secret Service at the height of post-Philby Cold War paranoia. Nesbitt’s Jordan was a flash young buck whose startlingly dapper dress sense always made him look as if he’d just stepped off a gentleman’s fashion shoot for ‘Town’ magazine; a bit of a flamboyant oddity in stale environs populated by both stuffy Whitehall suits and crusty Met veterans, Jordan nevertheless got results as well as gorgeous ‘dollies’ resplendent in the big hair/false eyelashes/micro-dress ensembles popularised by the likes of Bobbie Gentry at the time.

Constantly thwarted by MI5 mandarin Moxon (played with slimy languor by Morris Perry), DCI Jordan eventually threw his career away when the seductive charms of recurring double-agent Christine Morris (the Bobbie Gentry blueprint par excellence) proved a little too seductive. But then, Jordan was very much a man of his time – a time when men weren’t marginalised by a media intent on portraying the male of the species (and his ‘toxic masculinity’) as the embodiment of all evil whilst simultaneously wondering why so many examples of this useless, redundant relic end up jumping off rooftops.

Like most British drama of the era, ‘Special Branch’ in its original format was divided between studio sets shot on videotape and location inserts shot on film. Occasionally, embryonic OB (Outside Broadcast) cameras were used for exteriors, but the blatantly artificial lighting and shaky visuals suggested the time was not yet right for its use as a regular system for anything beyond on-the-spot news reports. The more familiar contrast between studio VT and location film was industry standard then and only seems jarring decades after the event, as does an acting style informed more by theatre than cinema. However, it clearly irked some working in TV and eventually led to the aesthetic rebirth of the show following a two-year hiatus in 1973.

Euston Films was established by Thames as a means of shooting serious, grown-up dramas entirely on film, both indoors and outdoors, and must have been a gritty innovation in the early 70s, particularly when compared to the slicker fantasy-adventure filmed series from the ITC stable. The revived ‘Special Branch’ was its first outing and it wasn’t just the look of the series that had changed. The cast received a complete overhaul as well. Out had gone Detective Chief Inspector Jordan and his superior (played by Fulton Mackay long before he became a familiar face courtesy of a certain prisoner name of Norman Stanley Fletcher); in came the craggy countenance of DCI Alan Craven, played by George Sewell. Prior to his recruitment to the side of the good guys, Sewell had mostly been a character actor playing villains; he had a memorable role in 1971’s seminal Brit gangster flick, ‘Get Carter’. After ‘Special Branch’, he reverted to type; but in the part of Craven, Sewell excelled as a hard-boiled copper that the viewer could entirely believe in.

Considering the controversial role the actual Special Branch played in Northern Ireland in the 70s, the TV version of the department largely avoids such contentious areas and also distinguishes itself from its earlier incarnation by mostly steering clear of staple stories surrounding suspected spies and Marxist student revolutionaries. Often, the storylines seem suited to a series focusing on routine police work, though there are numerous ‘firsts’ present, not least the fact that the lead character has a girlfriend who happens to be black. Nobody would bat an eyelid at an interracial relationship today, but this was pretty groundbreaking stuff in 1973; in retrospect, the mixed-race love interest between Craven and a nurse called Pam is a refreshing development for mainstream drama and one that wasn’t built upon for several years. Moreover, there’s also the mental breakdown of a regular cast member, something which is handled with both surprising sensitivity and a welcome absence of ‘issue’-led sentimentality so commonplace in present-day soaps.

The key ingredient in the reboot of ‘Special Branch’ is the introduction of the old cop/young cop dynamic when Patrick Mower appears as DCI Haggerty; initially a ‘guest artist’ (as the opening credits imply), Mower’s arrogant and swaggering character is then bedded in as a permanent presence, providing the show with some testosterone bite and laying the foundations for the Regan & Carter double act of the series that ultimately succeeded it. Paul Eddington is also added in a pre-‘Good Life’ role as an MI5 bigwig whose urbane pomposity serves to frustrate the more hands-on approach of his subordinates on the street. The cast list is fleshed out by members of the wonderful rep company of character actors that peppers British TV drama of the 70s, some of whom eventually found leading roles of their own.

After two successful ‘seasons’ (as is now the norm to say), ‘Special Branch’ was dropped in favour of ‘The Sweeney’, a series produced by the same team, and one which took many elements from its predecessor but crucially cranked up the macho violence in the process. Thanks to consistent reruns from the early 80s onwards, the adventures of the Flying Squad have rarely been absent from our screens and have become established as the retrospective template for British police dramas, inspiring tributes as diverse as ‘Life on Mars’ and the memorable ‘Comic Strip’ homage, ‘Detectives on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’. But none of that would have happened had not ‘Special Branch’ paved the way.

I don’t know why, but an antiquated series produced in a different country has served a need almost half-a-century on for someone struggling to cope with the wasteland bequeathed to him, and has also opened a portal into a past far more alluring than anything the present can boast. An entirely irretrievable image of England, of course; but we all find our own personal panaceas when confronted by the unbearable. This has been mine – well, one of them. And when it comes to dealing with the troublesome twenty-first century, those of us who experienced at least thirty years of its predecessor can always count on its cultural artefacts to provide necessary shelter from the storm.

© The Editor

PETUNIA PITSTOP

Overwhelmed by both a sudden injection of big-budget big bucks and the exotic distraction of tax-saving excursions to tax-haven locations, John Lennon famously reflected on the change in cinematic circumstances during the filming of ‘Help!’, the second Beatles movie. Strumming away in the Technicolor upgrade of the Bahamas, Lennon wryly remarked, ‘I’m an extra in me own film.’ Well, I’m making my second cameo appearance on my own blog since December, and I’m afraid I’m only passing through again. The kind words and encouraging response to the last post may have failed to elicit a written reply on my part, but all comments were much appreciated, as were the numerous re-tweets by long-term supporters. It’s nice to feel loved, virtually or not.

Before I go any further, I apologise. This was never intended to be – and indeed, never has been – one of those blogs that exist solely as a narcissistic outlet for an author assuming his or her life is as fascinating to the readership as it is to him or herself. I’d hate for this instalment to be regarded as the point at which a blog with an unlimited remit shrank into a narrow sequence of hastily scrawled postcards from the edge. I’m trying my best not to make this a regular habit, honest.

Of course, just as a novelist’s autobiographical journey tends to infiltrate the back story of their lead character (however hard they fight against it), identification with the subject matter under discussion on here has regularly led to vague asides – or more explicit references – to my own back story. Even a piece I wrote about the Israel/Palestine thing a year or two ago (I forget when) was given a little more emotional substance with the tale of my Uncle Joe and this long-gone figure’s membership of the Palestine Police in the years leading up to 1948; ditto the revelation of the family lineage linking me to the Enola Gay’s flight over Hiroshima in 1945. I suppose it’s only natural that many of the news stories to have caught my eye and provoked a post are stories I’ve made some connection with, thus (hopefully) elevating them above simple journalistic reportage, of which there is already more than enough out there.

I know this hasn’t always happened; plenty posts have simply been vociferous responses to events that have angered or infuriated me, fuelled by nothing more than anger or fury. And, it goes without saying, there’s always the mischievous spirit of satire on stand-by to intervene when the ludicrousness of politics – identity or otherwise – has risen its daft head yet again. Having said that, whenever my own life experience or that of friends and lovers has bled into a post with a wider surface context, I personally feel I’ve usually managed to get the balance right (as Depeche Mode once observed) and have successfully steered clear of self-indulgence.

To return to the second paragraph, I don’t believe my life is especially fascinating – though I will concede, however, that being able to view it with a degree of out-of-body detachment helps me ‘manage’ it. Watching a decline and fall through the mirror is undeniably unhealthy, yet curiously compelling in the same way one’s gaze can never be entirely averted from the bouncy genitals of a streaker. You can’t help but look, despite yourself. The fact is I tend to interpret life experience as material for ‘Art’ (no less pretentious word was available, alas), and I’m talking both good and bad life experience. In the case of the latter, it’s the kind of thing that makes uncomfortable reading for those who know me; but as I only appear capable of coping with crises if I respond to them with pen, paper or keyboard, there’s no alternative in the great battle for survival. I’m certainly not enjoying scrabbling around for tiny fragments of hope down here at Rock Bottom Central, but I do feel as though my life is out of my hands right now and I just have to deal with it in the only way I can – until the day comes when I’m in control again.

If it is true that dwellers of an urban environment are never more than six feet away from a rat, it feels right now as though I’m never more than six minutes away from remembering recent events that led me to where I currently reside – no book, music, movie or TV show can remove that from the room. Therefore, reading, listening and viewing habits work in empathetic conjunction with the mood of the moment.  It’s no contradiction that sad songs speak loudest to us when we’re sad; the last thing we need when feeling like shit is being ordered to get up and boogie. Moreover, it’s both amazing and comforting that the most trusted voices to have serenaded the listener throughout adult life have something to say for every occasion. Indeed, we are reassured when the voices that have been there for us when times are good are also there for us when times aren’t; and we know we’re not alone when our friends sing of suffering. Just listen to Marvin Gaye’s contribution to 1974’s ‘You Are Everything’, an otherwise gooey duet with Diana Ross; when he sings ‘Oh-whoa, darling/I just can’t go on, living life as I do/comparing each girl with you/knowing they just won’t do/they’re not you’, you know he’s not only been there, but he’s bought the company that made the T-shirt in true Victor Kiam fashion.

Silly YouTube videos may well be the babies I nonchalantly dump in children’s homes once I’ve popped them out, but they make some people happy and – for the moment – they are serving a useful purpose that other outlets currently aren’t. They are in no way a pointer to revived spirits, merely a means of keeping idle hands away from the Devil’s gaze. Nevertheless, they have survived unscathed and perhaps act as an unexpected manifestation of the obstinate resilience we all seem able to produce when confronted by our deepest fears. Hell, I’ll take whatever I can get.

Sometimes, however, the smallest, most innocuous interventions make a difference. Old Mother Cable may conveniently sidestep his shameful role in the scandalous selling-off of the Royal Mail as he attempts to big-up the latest Lib Dem ‘revival’ by posing as a political moral barometer; but the postman (or woman, in my case) can still deliver the goods in the face of privatised indifference to the customer. Anonymous surprises through the letter-box can momentarily put the brakes on any recourse to Alanis Morrissette when the helplessness of the dispossessed is desperately seeking a soundtrack; and the anonymous have nothing to fear. I may be a wounded animal, but that animal isn’t a dragon. All this proves is that, whilst the systems with which we make contact may be myriad in this century, the oldest (well, after smoke signals and carrier pigeons) hits the mark even now, despite Vince’s best bloody efforts.

I shan’t bore you with further details, though – oblique or otherwise. Yes, I’d like to get back to the wider world and escape the confines of the internal compound (trust me, it’s crap in here); but it ain’t easy, however many open goals the media leaves on my doorstep. Bear with me if you can and I’ll try to phone home again next time I’ve got some spare change.

© The Editor

IT’S BEEN A LONG COLD LONELY WINTER

How fatal taking for granted the loyalty and devotion of one’s audience can be was never better illustrated than in the swift falling from favour of the poor old Bay City Rollers. Almost omnipotent in 1975, the nice-but-dim young Scotsmen were the UK’s belated home-grown answer to The Osmonds. Possessing the clean-cut boy-next-door appeal guaranteed to send nascent female hormones into the same overdrive as Utah’s most famous family firm had done, the rise of the Rollers dramatically served to usurp the Mormon musical missionaries. Prompted by their astronomical British success, the Rollers then looked to replicate it on the other side of the Atlantic – despite the fact this had already proven to be a futile exercise for immediate pop predecessors like Marc Bolan and Slade. Yet the Rollers got off to the best possible start when ‘Saturday Night’ shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 at the beginning of 1976, an achievement that naturally booked them on the next flight to America.

But the timing of the Rollers’ Stateside expedition was especially unfortunate. In 1976, two emerging musical genres that would go on to dominate what remained of the 70s – Punk and Disco – were luring away sizeable chunks of the pop audience from the hormonal cauldron of the teenybop arena; at the same time, those unmoved by Donna Summer or The Sex Pistols were mesmerised by a certain self-contained Swedish hit-machine. Rollermania was also destined to be a temporary phenomenon – a necessary rites-of-passage ritual for teenage girls before boyfriends and babies, as well as being the last hysterical hurrah of a frenzied trend that defined the decade until it grew up and moved on. The band returned home from what turned out to be a short-lived stint in the American spotlight to find their audience diminished and the zeitgeist having relocated; they never scored another No.1.

However random or irrelevant this brief detour into the reassuringly safe refuge of pop culture history might appear to be, it is my roundabout way of making a point. Deciding to tentatively return to a medium I had no choice but to plunge into suspended animation five months ago might make it appear as though I reckon it’s ‘business-as-usual’ and we pick up where we left off in December. As much as it flatters my ego to imagine it, I’m aware that assuming all regular commentators and readers have spent every day of 2018 so far scanning their inbox first thing on a morning in the hope of seeing a notification informing them a new ‘Winegum Telegram’ post has appeared – and their days therefore being ruined as a consequence of this not coming to pass – is utterly absurd. Yes, I’m conscious kind comments have continued to periodically pepper the blog during the hiatus; but to envisage lives revolving around the proclamations of Chairman Petunia, and collapsing into complementary stasis in the absence of them, is a conceit even I would never countenance.

How do I explain why coming back to this has been so difficult? Oh, well – think of string and the length of it. Perhaps it’s been so difficult because ‘gifts’ that previously provided satisfaction and a sense of purpose (if an absence of income) lost their collective value for me. Experiencing a severe dent to self-confidence re my ‘creative capabilities’ was one reason for ruling out a return; recent reunions with old posts on here – read for the first time with real detachment – left me impressed albeit simultaneously disbelieving I’d written them. Yes, each element is connected and affected. One particularly devastating bombshell can have a big enough impact to bleed into every facet of one’s life, even areas that have no direct relation to it, triggering a chain reaction that can leave one pretty bloody winded. Until the event that knocked me for six, I could write a post for this, put a jolly little satirical video together for YouTube, and maybe even work on a novel – all in a day’s work. And now, everything has either slowed to a snail’s pace or ground to a complete halt, which is a crippling state of affairs for someone whose identity is defined by his creativity; this is actually the first prose I’ve written since December. Noting regular references to depressive bouts in past posts, I feel almost envious of the author’s naivety, realising I had no real idea how low I could go; but even someone with ‘previous’ isn’t prepared for the kind of emotional meltdown I’ve undergone, and Nietzche’s assertion that ‘if you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss will stare back at you’ has been an unwelcome guest at my dinner table of late.

Don’t think I haven’t noticed news stories that I would no doubt have penned plenty posts about had I still been active; but being relieved of my duties has spared me extended exposure to items that would only have added to my unhealthy state of mind had I had to immerse myself in them via the compositional process. The necessity of such survival tactics means I’ve allowed the opening months of 2018 to pass me by in a way I never have with a year before; but I’ve been powerless to prevent my paralysing inertia. Having said that, I did manage to condense many of these headlines into one video a month or so ago, which felt like a small step in the right direction; it says what I felt needed to be said without having to devote a dozen posts to the subjects featured, so it was a tiny triumph of sorts.

Even with the invaluable support of close friends, however (many of whom have revealed touching depths of understanding and empathy), I remain frustratingly entrenched in a Groundhog Day distinctly lacking colour or joy and where the only thing I’ve been able to detect around the corner is a bloody great brick wall, forcing me to adopt the ‘one day at a time’ approach to life – one bereft of forward planning and predictions, though also, mercifully, devoid of Lena Martell’s greatest hit (Sweet Jesus).

During the darkest sections of this extremely dark tunnel, the only contemporary cultural artefact that seemed capable of holding my attention was BBC4’s French police series, ‘Spiral’ – and that was mainly because any wavering from the subtitles would bugger-up the plot, so I had no alternative but to concentrate. Otherwise, unable to focus for long on a book, I lost myself in a steady diet of DVDs that provided nostalgic comfort food for the head as well as solid no-nonsense drama that has stood up remarkably well 40 years on. Give ‘The Sandbaggers’ a try if you enjoy old-school Cold War espionage in the le Carré mode; one of you out there already has – that much I do know (according to the latest memo from C, anyway). Similarly, a superb album of eccentric curios and buried treasure unearthed by St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs titled ‘English Weather’ got me through the winter on a loop, whereas Joni Mitchell at her mid-70s peak is easing me through the spring. Only wish these healing hands could carry me back to where I was before I needed them; but they can’t.

Knowing not if this post is one-night stand or series reboot, I can’t guarantee when the next one will be; but architectural historian Jonathan Glancey’s reflection on the sad descent of architectural critic Ian Nairn into drunken disillusionment and an all-too premature end feels relevant. ‘If you do fight continually against the things that make you angry,’ he said, ‘you get exhausted…exhausted in your mind, exhausted in your heart, and exhausted in your soul.’ Modesty prevents me from placing my own humble kicks against the pricks in the same league as Nairn’s poetic tirades aimed at architects and town-planners from the 50s to the 70s – tirades that graced the pages of national newspapers and networked TV screens. I do recognise a kindred spirit when I see one, however. Symptoms of Nairn’s downfall seem uncomfortably familiar as well, which is why any return to regular writing on here has to be motivated by a genuine compulsion to do it (rather than a misguided sense of obligation), believing I can do it, and being convinced people actually want to read it.

So, that’s the best I can do right now. You heard it here first. Okay. Until we meet again…soon, I hope…

© The Editor

TTFN

I suppose some of you regulars may have started to wonder where I’d gone. The brutal truth is I just can’t write at the moment. I’m only pushing myself to write this because I feel I owe you for your loyalty over the past couple of years. This week, I experienced a bereavement that has utterly numbed me and completely killed the urge to compose. I can’t offer any sort of take on the remaining weeks of this vile, wretched year and the last thing I can face right now is the thought of having to relive it by reviewing it. Even if I tried, the end result would be so bilious and bleak that it’d make the last-but one post read like a jolly holiday brochure. You may have noticed a more cynical and pessimistic edge creeping into recent posts, anyway; I didn’t want this to become a permanent trend or a defining characteristic of a blog I’ve always tried to enliven with gallows humour as my hand is on my heart and my tongue is in my cheek.

Some might say carrying on regardless by churning out sardonic articles about something in the news every day could serve as a convenient distraction; to be honest, the most time an average post takes to write isn’t much more than a couple of hours, anyway, so it’s not as if the exercise is especially taxing. But if all you feel like doing is raging at the world in a relentless tide of negativity, it would quickly grate with the reader; besides, if that’s what the people are looking for, there’s always Alex Jones’ YT channel.

At the moment, anything I even attempted to write would just be too depressing, too despondent and, frankly, too much – not just for you, but me too. Away from online discourse, I’ve even broken a previously-unbroken habit of 13 years, that of writing a private diary entry every night before bedtime, because I can’t face documenting the day’s events anymore.

I won’t inflict any of this on you, so I’ll be taking a break for a bit. Right now, I definitely doubt I’ll add another post to 2017’s long list, and I can’t say with any degree of accuracy when normal service will be resumed. Bidding good riddance to 2017 implies 2018 will be welcomed with open arms, but I’m certainly not looking forward to 2018 because I simply can’t see it being an improvement on the twelve months we’ve just endured. As far as I’m concerned, it’ll probably be even worse. It’s hard to envisage anything remotely positive up ahead, which does somewhat reduce the likelihood of posts that might put a smile on your face. And I don’t want to dwell on how much I’m hurting because it could easily translate as self-pity, like ‘All By Myself’ on a bloody loop – the Celine Dion cover. Imagine that.

For two years on the Telegram and perhaps around the same amount of time on another (now-defunct) blog that I reckon most of you here can recall, I’ve been a busy bee and haven’t paused to catch my breath for more than two or three days at a time. In the end, I may find that two or three days more than that away from the blog might rekindle the compulsion to pick up where I left off and I could be back within a week; but I don’t feel that way today. I feel burnt out. Maybe a longer sabbatical than I’ve so far taken really will help to recharge my jaded batteries. Who knows? I’m not intending to call it a day completely. Even though it has brought me zilch financial riches, writing’s all I can really do and I generally can’t stop myself from doing it. With that in mind, I suppose it’s inevitable I’ll return as long as I feel I’m wanted.

For many, the majority of life is lived in a monochrome Kansas that is made tolerable by brief glimpses of Technicolor Oz. It should be the other way round, but it never seems to be, alas. Kicks in the teeth are commonplace, body blows par for the course. It sucks. And it doesn’t matter how hard you work and how many hours you put in, the rewards are usually conspicuous by their absence. When/if that rare moment of magic called happiness comes along, for God’s sake grab it, cherish it, and always remember just how precious it truly is; never take it for granted; it can be painfully transient, and when it’s gone it’ll rip your heart out.

I don’t think I’ll have another opportunity to say it, but thanks for your constant support, and have a good Christmas if you can. After all, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

© The Editor

THE GOOD-TIME GIRL NEXT-DOOR

Some exits appear preordained in terms of timing. That Christine Keeler should pass away just a month or so after Westminster was mired afresh in a so-called sex scandal that pretty much paled next to the one she will be forever associated with is pretty immaculate timing. Her death at the age of 75 also came just a week after declassified files revealed her brief beau John Profumo’s involvement with a Nazi spy in the 1930s. When the knee-touching exploits of Michael Fallon and the office porn of Damian Green hit the headlines, the Profumo Affair was never far away from being evoked again; but 1963 was a different world to 2017. Christine Keeler’s involvement with a prominent Cabinet Minister as well as an alleged Russian spy is often credited with not only contributing to the demise of a Tory Government, but for also shining a light on the double standards of our ‘betters’ that helped bring about the collapse of the curse known as deference.

Private orgies at one end and bits on the side at the other were equally permissible amongst the upper echelons of British society as long as discretion was practiced. Vices were not paraded as they had been during the Georgian era, but vices had never gone out of fashion; they’d merely gone behind closed doors. After all, it was the job of the ruling class to ‘set an example’ to the lower orders; if they fancied a bit of rough in a Lady Chatterley fashion, they went about it quietly because that was very much frowned upon. The social melting pot of clandestine gay drinking-dens was a perennial source of anxiety to the powers-that-be not so much because they were concerned about the ‘scourge’ of homosexuality, but because the mixing of the classes would negate deference and risk bringing about the downfall of all they held dear.

Working-class ‘tarts’ of either sex remained alluring forbidden fruit to the upper-classes, however, so it was no surprise that Christine Keeler and her fellow London night-club hostess Mandy Rice-Davies hooked-up with a man bearing the unforgettable job description of ‘Society Osteopath’, Stephen Ward. Ward opened the doors to that Society for two girls of humble means, and who could blame them for grabbing it with both hands at a time when their alternative options were both limited and humdrum? Ward’s impressive client list included Viscount Astor, bastion of the establishment, and rising star of the Conservative Party, John Profumo.

The affair between Profumo and Keeler was brief, as was the simultaneous liaison with Soviet naval attaché Eugene Ivanov, and chances are neither would have attracted any outside attention had not the police and press been drawn to an incident outside Ward’s plush Mews flat. Keeler’s jilted West Indian lover Johnny Edgecombe firing shots up at the window Keeler was hiding behind led to the exposure of the Profumo connection with Keeler and then Ivanov’s presence. In the wake of several spy scandals involving the likes of George Blake and John Vassall – not to mention the high-profile defection of Kim Philby – any Russian association with members of the aristocracy was bound to provoke jitters, and Labour naturally exploited the situation when MP George Wigg employed parliamentary privilege to accuse Profumo of having an affair with Keeler. The Secretary of State for War was forced to deny it in the Commons; it was this lie, and the resignation that followed the subsequent admission he’d lied, that condemned him in the eyes of his peers.

However, it was Stephen Ward who was really hung out to dry by the establishment, charged with living off immoral earnings – something Keeler always denied – and tried at the Old Bailey in the summer of 1963. Journalist, broadcaster and campaigner Ludovic Kennedy described the guilty sentence handed out to Ward as a blatant miscarriage of justice; but before Ward could be made an example of by the loathsome set who’d nominated him as a patsy, the abandoned osteopath had slipped into a coma courtesy of a deliberate overdose that resulted in his death three days later. Christine Keeler ended up inside for nine months on a charge of perjury relating to the overturned sentencing of Johnny Edgecombe’s love rival Lucky Gordon. John Profumo left politics and devoted the rest of his life to charitable works in the East End of London.

Between the public revelation of her affair with Profumo and the death of Ward, Christine Keeler was perhaps the most infamous young woman in the country. That her infamy should come at a moment when a changing of the social guard was already gathering speed via the breakthrough of The Beatles and the defiantly non-deferential satire boom in retrospect seems no coincidence. The iconic shot of her sat naked on a chair – perhaps the first of the Swinging decade’s such images – was memorably parodied on the cover of ‘Private Eye’ by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in Keeler’s seat. Macmillan himself was gone by that autumn, citing ill-health, yet with his replacement being the Earl of Home, the Tories had clearly learnt nothing, assuming the default toff would save the day. He didn’t, and Harold Wilson led Labour back to power a year later after 13 years in opposition. The times they definitely were a-changing.

The exposure of the ruling class as decadent hypocrites trashed forever their self-appointed role as the nation’s moral guardians, whereas Christine Keeler’s overnight notoriety was a novel innovation for a girl born with a plastic spoon in her mouth. We’re used to working-class girls-made-good spread across our tabloid pages in the twenty-first century; that didn’t really happen before Keeler. Whether or not we can hold her responsible for the cast of ‘Geordie Shore’ isn’t perhaps a legacy she’d have wished to lay claim to, though she had to live the rest of her life in the shadow of something she did in her early 20s, both despising the fact yet ultimately dependent upon it for an income. But the timing of her arrival in 1963 was nevertheless as perfect as that of her exit in 2017.

© The Editor

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