THE SHITEHOUSE DECLARATION

As tribute acts go, I’ve probably seen worse, though it’s hard to think where off the top of my head. Let’s compare: Roy Jenkins – twice Home Secretary, once Chancellor of the Exchequer, a man on whose watch homosexuality was decriminalised, abortion was legalised, capital punishment was abolished and archaic divorce laws were reformed; Chuka Umunna – Shadow Business Secretary…and…er…well, that’s it. And yet, at the press conference held to announce the resignation of seven Labour MPs this morning, Umunna did his best to remix the speech Jenkins made at the launch of the SDP in 1981 so that it could become a defining signpost along his own path of vainglory.

When a mere four ‘moderate’ MPs staged a similar split from a Labour party that had been seized by the hard left thirty-eight years ago, the quartet consisted of the aforementioned Jenkins as well as a former Foreign Secretary (David Owen), a former Education Secretary (Shirley Williams), and a former Transport Secretary (Bill Rodgers). Rodgers was perhaps the only member of the quartet whose public service didn’t quite resonate with the heavyweight cache of his partners, though seeing today’s events on TV made me think of legendary US rock critic Lester Bang’s response to the question, ‘Are Slade the new Beatles?’ – to which he had replied, ‘Sure; they’re all Ringo.’ What we witnessed today was seven Ringos who hadn’t even formulated the concept of an actual political party, merely a ‘group’. The Gang of Seven, perhaps.

Various reasons were served-up as motives for the split, varying from individual to individual. The case of Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree) seemed the most understandable, subject as she has been over the past five years to unpleasant anti-Semitic abuse that the leadership of the Labour Party appears either incapable of – or unwilling to – get an effective grip on. Her resignation was perhaps the most anticipated and probably would have happened with or without the simultaneous walk-out of six fellow Labour MPs. But while dissatisfaction with the direction of the party has been brewing amongst those who graduated from the Blair academy ever since Corbyn took control in 2015, the shadow of Brexit hangs over the whole affair like the ‘I’d give it ten minutes if I were you’ post-toilet warning of an unwelcome houseguest.

Three or four Tory MPs are currently facing threats of de-selection thanks to their Brexit stance and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to picture them joining their ideological cohorts who have just exited Labour; and, somewhat predictably, the Mr Barrowclough of British politics, Vince ‘I sold the Royal Mail’ Cable has offered the hand of friendship to the ‘Independent Group’, echoing as they seem to do his own perspective on Brexit. Whether or not this means all three strands will coalesce into a new third party remains to be seen, but – a bit like Jacob Rees-Mogg’s melodramatic misfire re Theresa May’s leadership last year – the timing of this decision could well prove to be somewhat ill.

One of the criticisms levelled at Jenkins & co in 1981 was that they should have remained in the Labour Party and engaged in a battle that could have seen them eventually wrestle control from Foot and Benn; their exit was viewed in some quarters as a cowardly cop-out, being all-too aware that the structure of the British political system meant their Social Democratic experiment was destined to ensure a further two Election successes for Mrs Thatcher. The last time a third party was able to command more than 100 seats in Parliament was way back in 1923, and since then the role of a third party has essentially been to prop up the winners, most notably in 2010. At the moment, this Independent Group haven’t even got to the stage where they can call themselves a party, which makes their little collective more reminiscent of an even older Parliamentary model, one that stretches all the way back to the eighteenth century, when Whigs and Tories were ideological groupings at Westminster rather than organised political parties as we would recognise them today.

It’s hard not to be cynical towards the motives of Umunna in particular. He quickly threw his hat in the ring following Ed Miliband’s resignation as Labour leader after the 2015 General Election defeat and withdrew it just as quickly, suggesting he lacked the bottle to push himself forward as a potential Prime Minister when he belatedly realised the level of scrutiny he’d be subjected to. Since his hissy-fit departure from the frontbench in the wake of Corbyn’s 2015 election as Labour leader, his evident irritation with being shoved to the margins of Labour has rankled with his ego, something that’s been on constant display during his regular television appearances over the last couple of years. He’s also had to stand back and watch his own elitist outlook take battering after battering across the Continent, yet his denial over precisely how out of touch he is with the prevailing European trend echoes his guru Tony’s equally deluded sermons on the subject of Brexit. The world has moved on, but these people simply will not accept they are now standing on the wrong side of history.

Along with his kindred spirit in the blue half of the Commons, Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna has been prominent in doing his utmost to block Brexit progress, emerging as one of the leading cheerleaders of the ‘You plebs didn’t understand what you were voting for’ mindset. In Chuka’s world, the Third Way approach that worked in the 90s is still relevant, whereas most of the electorate see it as meaningless an approach to today’s problems as the Gold Standard or any other archaic political foundation stone upon which to build a system of governance. Few are arguing that a satisfactory successor has taken hold of this century; so far, there seem to be a series of competing ideologies, all of which are fighting to make themselves heard without any emerging as a distinct frontrunner. Such a climate is commonplace in the prelude to war, though that’s hardly a comforting thought.

All seven members of the Independent Group have fairly secure majorities from the last General Election, so it’s no wonder they’re reluctant to call on their constituents to endorse their walk-out via a series of potentially fascinating by-elections. Many hail from Leave constituencies, which (considering their shared stance on Brexit) is no doubt another factor in hesitating to put it to the people – unless it’s a second Referendum, of course; that’s different. Oh, well. We’ll see what happens in the days and weeks to come. At least if they’ve achieved anything, they’ve prompted me back into action; and that’s an achievement in itself.

© The Editor

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THE NAKED RAMBLERS

Well, it’s been a week in which old gags we don’t often get the opportunity to revive much these days suddenly seemed relevant again. Considering the subject of the economy is rarely far from the headlines as the countdown to you-know-what continues apace, it’s been good to declare for the first time since the heyday of Sid James ogling Barbara Windsor, ‘You don’t get many of those to the pound.’ Yes, Rachel Johnson got her pixellated tits out for the lads! Whoops – sorry, what I meant to say was…Rachel Johnson staged an empowering feminist gesture on behalf of a political cause.

In other words, a woman whose fame is largely due to the gene pool she shares exposed her breasts on television – and doing so in no way trivialised the issue at hand or gave the impression the most radical protest a woman can make is to submit to something we’ve been repeatedly told is symbolic of patriarchal oppression. Heaven forbid! Of course, who can forget Emily Davison’s courageous flashing of her bloomers at the 1913 Derby? No, Boris’s sister made a valid point, unlike those dim slags who used to pose on page 3 of the Sun or those exploited victims of the white male gaze who used to congregate on platforms at the climax of a Formula One race. Phew! Glad we’ve cleared that one up.

Ms Johnson’s stunt follows hot on the heels of Dr Victoria Bateman’s highly-publicised ‘political striptease’, something that inevitably evoked memories of a similarly silly Monty Python sketch in which Terry Jones plays the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs delivering a dull speech in the manner of an old-school stripper. Yes, folks – that’s where we’ve got to, when Python sketches satirising the monotony of mainstream politics are actually overtaken by the real thing fifty years on. If one can overlook the rather frightening fact that such a narcissistic fruitcake can hold a lecturer’s position at one of the country’s most prestigious universities, Bateman’s publicity-seeking desperation perhaps highlights just how low Remoaners are now prepared to go.

Dr Bateman does have previous when it comes to using her body as a sandwich board for her opinions, however, especially in a Brexit context. She first stripped-off for the cause at a Cambridge University Faculty of Economics meeting in 2016 and first bore all on video for the benefit of social media just last summer – both of which were warm-ups for her streak across the media this past month or so. At least the 70s nudist joggers celebrated in song by Ray Stevens had no pretensions to hackneyed political activism. Don’t look, Ethel!

From my experience of friends who have had children, I’m aware toddlers have a habit of ‘throwing a paddy’ when denied something they desire and are also prone to randomly taking their clothes off at given intervals (something that can prove somewhat awkward in public situations). We expect such behaviour from small children; they don’t know any better because they haven’t been trained in social skills. When adults adopt the same tactics whilst pursuing a political point they both diminish their credibility and utterly devalue their argument. Moreover, a generation of women who have fought to be taken seriously for what they can do rather than being judged on their looks or their bodies are faced with the depressing sight of headlines again being grabbed by a pair of tits – or two.

As an analogy, the whole Emperor’s New Clothes concept was already a tired old cliché when it was used as the climax to the ludicrously overrated Robert Altman’s turgid satire of the 90s fashion business, ‘Prêt-á-Porter’. Dr Bateman’s counterproductive exhibitionism has been rightly received with the hilarity it deserves, her rambling logic lost in the sniggers greeting her (over) exposure. Her infantile simplicity when it comes to a complex subject – basically, EU Good/Brexit Bad – does nothing to win any converts either. Yes, she is a mere sideshow to a far more serious ideological battle; but the fact she is prepared to get her kit off for a cause that has been marked by foot-stamping petulance from day one again provokes comparisons with toddler tantrums. Perhaps the only fresh air that can be inhaled from Dr Bateman’s stale striptease is that it’s nice to see pubes back on the naked female form in this hairless age. And that just about says it all.

From the nastiness of Polly Toynbee actively advocating the imminent demise of the over-50s who voted Leave to the pointlessness of Johnson and Bateman all-but burning their bras, the straw-clutching tactics of those who refuse to accept the will of the majority are becoming increasingly insane as attempts to prevent or reverse the inevitable are floundering. Their Parliamentary allies are still hard at it, however – either threatening yet again to form a breakaway centrist party happy to lick the jackboots of Brussels or inventing endless amendments seemingly written on the back of a beermat to serve as further minor spanners in the works. Even the PM can’t be bothered hanging around to hear the latest defeat being declared now, preferring to stick her fingers in her ears at home. Aren’t we all.

Okay, I know I’m not the first to adopt this premise, but if we can imagine the result of the 2016 Referendum had been won by the other side, does anybody seriously believe the issue would still be dragging on day-after-day two-and-a-half years later as the dominant headline at the expense of all the other pressing issues facing the nation? And would Jacob Rees-Mogg be whipping off his Union Jack Y-fronts on television and inviting Brexiteers to write slogans of support on his honourable member? Mercifully, no. It’s time to put your clothes back on and grow-up, Remoaners.

© The Editor

A CLASS ACT

Swivel-eyed get – what a wonderfully vivid description of an interfering busybody. It gate-crashed the national lexicon when Arthur Seaton was confronted by the actions of ‘Old Ma Bull’, a characteristic battleaxe familiar to anyone who had grown-up in an immediate post-war working-class community, the kind that would shortly be given iconic properties courtesy of ‘Coronation Street’, whereby Old Ma Bull would be remade and remodelled as Ena Sharples. The 1960 movie of Alan Sillitoe’s ‘kitchen-sink’ novel, ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ laid the ground for Tony Warren’s transfer of the Angry Young Man’s oeuvre from silver to small screen at the end of that year; but Albert Finney’s interpretation of the book’s lead character has remained a British cinematic touchstone that every anti-hero has followed ever since, even when the actors taking their cue from Finney’s pioneering lead don’t necessarily recognise the taste of the chip on the character’s shoulder.

Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Terence Stamp, Michael Caine – actors whose grammar school backgrounds were no impediment to achievement at a unique moment in recent British history, when social mobility was a reality rather than a theory undone by successive government cuts to the Arts in the state sector. The death at the age of 82 of the first of those landmark thespians to break the mould has served to remind us all that it was once possible to rise from the provinces and reach for the stars bereft of nepotism or economic privilege. Despite the fact that this quartet went on to play a wide variety of roles, the seismic impact they made when kicking down the drawing-room doors at the dawn of a decade that briefly redrew the map of possibilities is something all four will forever be associated with.

However, one only has to look at the legacy of ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ via the small screen to realise its groundbreaking authenticity has been diluted and all-but obliterated. Today’s television demands have transformed Tony Warren’s depiction of Salford from a twice-weekly account of events the audience could relate to into a nightly penny-dreadful document of fantastical melodrama whereby sieges, shootings, murders, abortions, rapes, drug and sexual abuse, fires and explosions are the norm, and where infidelity is apparently compulsory. Taking its sensationalistic cue from the likes of ‘Eastenders’, ‘Emmerdale’ and ‘Hollyoaks’, the 2019 landscape of Weatherfield makes Syria seem a preferable destination.

One could say this week’s unsurprising (if appalling) statistics on knife-crime have perhaps demonstrated urban society today is a good deal more dangerous than the one Arthur Seaton swaggered his way through on a Saturday night in 1960; and I would imagine the producers and writers of ‘Coronation Street’ justify their gory stories by claiming they are merely reflecting that danger via the heightened, exaggerated reality of drama. At the same time, such tactics don’t so much exaggerate as distort reality, as though the writers scan the worst headlines and then shoehorn them into the script, giving viewers the impression that society is even more violent than it actually is. Pulp novelist Richard Allen sourced his cult series of 70s books on teenage tribes in much the same way.

The criticism of ‘Coronation Street’ used to be that it was trapped in a nostalgic time-warp, portraying a cosy cobblestone community that had long since vanished beneath the tower-block; the only remnant of this viewpoint in today’s version is the fact that every character in a job has a workplace no more than a dozen paces from their front door. Otherwise, cosy certainly isn’t a word that can be applied to ‘Coronation Street’ in 2019; a solitary street in which virtually every depressing social issue afflicting the nation can be found in action is hardly cosy, though it’s not exactly reality either. And one major casualty of this approach is the crucial element of ‘Coronation Street’ that served to elevate it above the competition for decades, its humour.

Past writers understood the formula that had made the show so successful; Weatherfield was a place where tragedy and comedy sat cheek-by-jowl, as they do in the real world. Yes, there were plenty of dramatic events on ‘Coronation Street’ during its first half-century, but there was equally just as much witty writing, characterisation and dialogue worthy of the finest sitcom. This was once a balance that worked well, though perhaps having to stretch storylines so thinly across so many episodes a week has now resulted in a desperate increase of the shock-horror plots at the expense of Stan & Hilda-type hi-jinks, something clueless TV executives deem vital in a ratings battle that has actually never been more irrelevant. If ‘Coronation Street’ remains a mirror on society, anyone looking through that mirror can only come to the conclusion that society is f****d.

If the streets of terraced houses surrounding the old Raleigh factory in Nottingham that Arthur Seaton knew as home hadn’t already been wiped from the map, would they too have descended into the same moral cesspit at their Salford contemporary sixty years on? Probably. Whereas the kitchen-sink heroes – Seaton, Billy Liar, Jimmy Porter et al – railed against the iniquities of their uninspired inheritance and fought tooth-and-claw to climb their way out, the way in which their grandchildren are depicted for dramatic purposes lacks the one key ingredient that made those early 60s movies so invigorating and uplifting – hope.

One could argue the decline of social mobility means hope is in short supply as it is, so surely drama should reflect that when turning its focus on those at the bottom of the heap. Unfortunately, by doing so it has the habit of making any relatively rare drama set in a working-class community either on TV or at the cinema a pretty despondent experience. Even whenever a non-Estuary English accent is aired on the likes of ‘Woman’s Hour’ today, the listener knows the subject under discussion is bound to be gangs or drugs or sexual abuse or sex trafficking coz that’s what them working-classes do, innit.

Finney has died at 82, Courtenay will be the same age at the end of this month; Stamp is 80; Caine is 85. These guys are either gone or getting very old indeed, and we won’t see their likes again because the system that enabled them to succeed isn’t there anymore. That’s why we’re inundated with Cumberbatch’s, Lewis’s and West’s; that’s not a criticism of Benedict, Damien or Dominic as actors, but they all had advantages that gave them a head start. A kid without those advantages, a kid in possession of a talent with the potential to flower into that of a Finney or a Courtenay, will have doors barred to him as a result and we’ll be denied that talent. We could consequently return to the time before Arthur Seaton, whereby ex-public schoolboys will effectively ‘black-up’ to play working-class characters, and actors with more authentic origins will be reduced to comedy cockneys or daft northerners. And then the bastards will have ground us down after all.

© The Editor

DIVIDE AND MISRULE

One of the many reasons why I have drifted away from the daily missives some of you used to look forward to is that I don’t talk politics with anyone anymore. Conversations that spawned and informed many a past post on here no longer take place due to unforeseen circumstances that have led to a loss of appetite for many things, never mind talking politics. Nobody I now know is as clued-up as some I used to know, so I tend to get asked questions about what’s going on as though I’m some expert oracle of the kind Michael Gove would no doubt despise; that in itself would be a good enough reason to be one, but I’m not, alas. At the same time, I’ve broken my blog silence without any advance planning simply because my sedated, slumbering inner blogger has been stirred back into action through sheer exasperation.

I guess I don’t have to elaborate on what motivated this unscheduled return to the frontline. Yes, I’ve followed events like the rest of you of late – the BBC News Channel, ‘Peston’, ‘This Week’, the programme formerly known as ‘The Daily Politics’, and that bastion of outrageous institutionalised bigotry that won’t even allow MPs fond of playing the race card when their myriad shortcomings are exposed to drone on forever, ‘Question Time’. So hapless have I become in trying to locate any light at the end of the Brexit tunnel that all I could conclude from a recent ‘Newsnight’ debate on the subject was the undeniable fact that 65 year-old Baroness Meyer has a great pair of legs. Yes, I’m that f****d. But angry as well. I know I’m not alone there; perhaps this country’s defining characteristic at the moment is anger, though it’s no real wonder when our elected representatives make one yearn for the intervention of Guy Fawkes and his pals.

OK, let’s start at the top. Theresa May is perhaps the most nihilistically intransigent Prime Minister since Ted Heath, yet like the equally toe-curling portrayal of a certain Time Lord by Jodie Whittaker, our Glorious Leader tries to draw on her predecessors to create her own interpretation of a part she lacks the talent to make her own. She combines the blinkered, deluded cluelessness of Cameron with the bloody-minded tunnel vision of Thatcher in her Poll Tax death-throes, and blends the excruciatingly uncomfortable, awkward-on-camera bumbling of Gordon Brown with the God-bothering righteousness of Blair at his most sanctimoniously evangelical. She seems to have the knack of taking on the worst characteristics of past PMs, and as a result she’s even got people feeling sorry for her, just like they feel sorry for every tone-deaf wannabe being ripped to shreds by the judges on TV talent shows. What an achievement that is, to win the favour of the electorate by courting their pity.

Never mind – Mrs May and her unruly Cabinet of careerists, crawlers and backstabbers will soon be overthrown by the Great Socialist Revolution of the Messiah, an event which has had more postponements than HS2. Oh, God. What a choice we face – dumb or dumber. Yet there’s always the prospect of a Third Party, of course, an SDP for the twenty-first century composed of all those Honourable Members who are largely responsible for the mess we’re in. Yes, those (© John Major) ‘bastards’ who have made it their daily duty to thwart the outcome of a democratic vote they didn’t want and didn’t expect. Whether it’s Chuka Remoaner and the rest of the Miliband deadwood or the likes of Anna ‘Nazi’ Soubry, the two and-a-half years since the actual People’s Vote have been defined in Parliament by this contemptible coterie of detached demagogues deliberately throwing down obstacle after obstacle in order to prevent the enacting of something a majority of the electorate voted for. To put it plainly, they are despicable.

I admit I voted Remain in 2016, motivated by a ‘better the devil you know’ approach rather than any particular affection for an organisation I honestly hadn’t really given much thought to. Since then, however, my perspective has undergone a radical transformation entirely due to those who voted the same way as me. I have been appalled by the attitude and behaviour of some of those who advocated Remain and their foot-stamping refusal to accept a result that told them what they didn’t want to hear. Their superior arrogance has only been matched by the superior arrogance of the EU itself. No wonder they’re such kindred spirits.

To me, it now seems the reasons behind the result of the EU Referendum of 2016 have distinct parallels with the circumstances that put Donald Trump in the White House. The outcome was the consequence of so many people feeling so powerless after being ignored and dismissed for decades, whether by the scythe Thatcher took to communities dependent on heavy industry or the Coalition’s ruthless austerity policies. Suddenly, the powerless were presented with a platform to give the powers-that-be that had trampled them underfoot for generations a legally sanctioned bloody nose. MSM talking heads can waffle on about immigration or every other explanation given for the result, but in the end, Brexit was the most gloriously defiant ‘fuck you’ aimed at the political class in post-war British history. That’s the way it seems to me now, anyway. And the subsequent response of the political class and their media sponsors has only strengthened this opinion.

Just a couple of weeks ago, that nasty old guillotine-knitter Polly Toynbee reiterated the jaw-dropping narrative of Remoaners at their most vile by openly wishing death upon anyone over 50 who voted Leave in order that Youth would inherit the vote. This narrative of course assumes anyone who wasn’t eligible to vote in 2016 would naturally vote Remain in the event of a second Referendum. Yes, I’ve no doubt all the ‘young people’ Polly Toynbee and her fellow Grauniad scribes probably come into contact with – at a guess, the student offspring of their affluent acquaintances – probably would vote Remain; but what of the products of under-privilege in every grotty corner of the country who are tumbling out of an educational bubble trashed by useless Blairite rhetoric and straight into zero-hours uncertainty or the Circumlocution Office maze of Universal Credit? Why should they automatically give the thumbs-up to the system that exists to make their lives a misery? The great divide in Great Britain is the same today as it has always been – not gender, not colour, not creed, but class.

Yes, I know I’m guilty of generalising here. If Leave was an entirely working-class upsurge, how does that explain Jacob Rees-Mogg? Maybe he gets so much air-time because he helps reinforce the MSM view that Leave voters are all either eccentric, vaguely unhinged toffs like the Honourable Member for North East Somerset and Boris, or red-faced gammon men in yellow vests to whom Tommy Robinson is Che Guevara. Dehumanising your enemy is the first rule in the book of warfare, and the populace has been battered by a sustained campaign of dehumanisation by the powerful Remoaner mafia since June 2016, something that continues to this very day with the Project Fear prediction of martial law, absent medicines, empty supermarket shelves and a future Britain resembling that of the BBC’s mid-70s Dystopian drama, ‘Survivors’.

In many respects I wish the Referendum had never happened. I think it has been disastrous for the country’s (admittedly shaky) concept of unity, but at the same time has served to highlight divisions that have been in place for far longer than most were prepared to admit. There is no easy answer and there is no easy outcome, but if the will of the majority is denied, the contract between electorate and elected will be broken forever. And God knows what happens then. Be careful out there…

© The Editor

LAST WORD

What a year. What – a year? Nah. Not so much a year, more an involuntary exercise in extended despair lit by an SAD lamp due to the no-show sunrise; or to be precise, a perpetual bleak afternoon in mid-February with a blinding-white, cloudless sky keeping the soil hard and the grass grey. This is the year that never was, the year written-off before it even began – strangled in the womb once the first domino fell. I knew it would be the longest, hardest slog of all, and I was right. A powerless witness to the moment Arcadia became Hiroshima – unleashing many a dormant demon in the process – I haplessly tried to turn back every stopped clock; but this was the catalyst for collapse, when joy, beauty, happiness and hope were so utterly obliterated from the landscape that it’s often been impossible to imagine them ever resurfacing. Farewell, 2018. It hasn’t been nice knowing you.

To anyone thinking ‘he used to be good, but he’s really lost it this year’, welcome to the last word (all being well) from ‘the breakdown chronicles’ – and if you’re prepared to walk in my shoes for seven more paragraphs, this is the post for you; if not, look away now. Of course, telling it like it is with prominent warts precludes sugar-coating, but we’re all grownups here, and we all know the world can often be a very unpleasant place – especially when the sparks depart our own little corner of it. Okay. Are you sitting uncomfortably? Then we’ll begin…

A bud beheaded before it flowered has all the skewered promise of Amy, Jimi or Kurt curtailed in haste and in waste; in other words, it’s January and I’m resident at a crime scene. I’m allocating possessions to the most deserving, along with money in the event of an event anticipated; do I box them or bag them to make their distribution easier for those entrusted with the unenviable task? I owe them something at least. No doubt they’ll be expecting the call, anyway. The daily testimony in ink has been superseded by on-camera monologues conducted in varying stages of inebriation; I presume they’ll be viewed as posthumous documents of decline now, with the private made public because it doesn’t matter anymore. The walls inch closer, the light fades, the avenues of pleasure are cordoned-off, and preparations are made to add another insignificant name to the statistics. You’re on your own, kid.

A Wilde thing graces the calendar’s second page, though his entrance is unexpected when it comes. I never thought I’d see Dorian Gray’s daddy. How come I’m still here? Cowardice or hubris? Anyway, internalised trauma is manifested as obsessively recording the dead and discarded of a destiny denied in prose, verse and video – distracting anal admin as the Devil draws up work rotas for any sign of idle hands. The box-set suggests similarly sad and unshared salvation in escapist down-time retrophilia, with pretend friends opening a portal I can peer into but never enter. Joni M and Gainsbourg C succeed winter’s mellotron as spring gatecrashes the exterior whilst the interior remains comatose, recycling redundant anniversaries as imaginary porn plays on a flammable reel, burning holes in the fabric of magic.

The creeping menace of the next blow – which feels inevitable if the established narrative is to be maintained – instils a permanent fear of tomorrow that makes retirement from the day wholly undesirable, provoking as it does the dawn of another energy-sapping round. Twitchy tossing and turning hours pass, then off we go again; three black coffees and seconds out. Ding-bloody-ding. Platforms that provided an outlet and spawned an audience are devoid of appeal in this atmosphere, as are all the stories that come and go free from comment; everything seems so immense and so exhausting in contemplation, let alone action. Every scream is released into a vacuum as the depth of the trough is rarely revealed, for the few prepared to listen may realise the magnitude of the mission and pull out prematurely, as though fearful of catching a contagious disease. Their absence would make a difference; nobody new can be trusted with such information now, nor can they ever again.

Backseat passengers strapped into a driverless vehicle (destination unknown) blub like babies at the slightest trigger. Too much is imbued with heavyweight memory that beats with the intensity of the eternally cherished. Aural (and visual) stimulation stokes the sadness without warning, which is why isolation is essential. Do you want the world to see what a wreck you really are, always one step away from dissolving into melancholy mush? Embarrassment and shame are obscured by necessary niceties when company calls, the false impression a blend of survival and denial; moreover, it serves as a safeguard should the judgemental perceive the trivial when confronted by the uncomfortable. Occasional online missives also manufacture the illusion all is well and that the waspish edges remain sharper than a serpent’s tooth. The lives of others lie on social media; I lie of mine in person too, dining alone as a flabby cadaver rotting from the inside.

Comrade Smirnoff and Monsieur Chardonnay uphold their position as purveyors of desperate elixirs despite another spirit – that of ’76 – attempting a useless resuscitation when the soul’s animation has been suspended; heat is a frivolous, ill-fitting irritant, whereas cold makes sense when the sole source of warmth is withdrawn with the chilling ease of stardust drifting out the door. The unseasonal fog has to be slogged through like the evening void and the silent night, even if there is still no convincing reason as to why. The ghosts in my machine continue to choke on the ashes of deceased desire, raked over and analysed with the kind of forensic precision Poirot would be proud of, as though cracking the riddle will alter the outcome. No. The present is the past with all the best bits edited out; the future can go f**k itself – as can earthly bread when heavenly bread is all that matters. Mourning hasn’t broken; black is black, whatever the weather.

Apparently, it’s another month, but it’s irrelevant because nothing has changed bar the world outside the window; the seasons switch with the same inexplicable abruptness of an architect becoming an assassin or reality reduced to mere dream. The kindness of those to whom we are now strangers was too good for too long (talkin’ ’bout my aberration), and life is a missing persons report – missing persons, missing pleasures, missing everything. It has hatched a hard-boiled egg of a cynic, one who doesn’t subscribe to the conveyor belt. After all, why search for a silver medal when you’ve held a gold? Meanwhile, as I’m down, my teeth are there to be kicked-in and various eager parties line-up for a penalty shoot-out. DWP? YT? Let ‘em get on with it. What do I care? Truths are lies, lies are truths, and fake is the news. This isn’t Strawberry Fields, but nothing is real, all the same.

The pavement blanket is now ginger and crispy underfoot, but the romantic air cannot penetrate the permafrost, regardless of the gorgeous spectrum plummeting from the branches as they strip for the imminent full circle. Burying a lovely old life and enduring a horrible new one, these are the wilderness years condensed into twelve months – I hope; twelve more months of this and I am spent. But when the worst thing that can happen to you has happened, nothing can ever hurt you again, right? At the same time, anyone expecting me to regenerate into the irritatingly upbeat Tommy Steele of ‘Half a Sixpence’ as of midnight is residing in Cuckoo Land; such delusional optimism is naive at best and willfully ignorant at worst. Having said that, the Reaper no longer looms quite so large on the wordsmith wish-list; and, lest we forget, a quartet of hippies from LA, Texas, Salford and Toronto once acknowledged that we have no choice but to carry on – so fingers crossed that when next we meet I’m in a better place…if I can find one…

© The Editor

MAD AS HELL

Anger – there’s a lot of it about. In a young man behaving badly, it allegedly constitutes part of his kicking-against-the-pricks obnoxious charisma; over-40, however, and you’re in Victor Meldrew territory. Perhaps by then you’re supposed to have settled down and accepted your miserable lot because you can’t beat the system; any sign of continued exasperation with The Man is merely the mark of a grumpy old git. And as grumpy old gits outnumber the young today, they’re not the most popular members of society; after all, weren’t they supposed to have delivered Brexit (or so the story goes)?

Yet, take a detour into social media, supposedly the chosen forum for The Kids, and you’ll find anger appears to be the prime vehicle for expression, whatever your age or even sex. Whether you’re a snowflake student seeking to no-platform someone you disagree with, a yummy mummy infuriated by your rival at the school gates, a sci-fi nerd incensed by the latest entry in your favourite movie franchise, or an Instagram pouter compelled to ‘fat-shame’ the It Girl of the moment, anger is in abundance. And even if you refrained from commenting, just ask yourself if any tweet or post made you angry today. It must have been a rare day indeed if none did. So much of what we encounter online appeals to the emotions rather than the intellect, a fast-track to a gut reaction which is perhaps a defining characteristic of our response to today’s numerous issues.

Step back out of cyberspace, though, and anger is just as prevalent. Ethnic adolescents being stopped and searched by the police; redundant white males navigating the benefits trap; distraught parents confronted by the PC intransigence of social services; touchline fathers convinced that goal was offside; whining Remoaners/foaming-at-the-mouth Brexiteers; motorists, pedestrians, supermarket shoppers – it’s as though modern society, which is supposed to be such an improvement on the days when we were primitive savages living in huts and dying from the Plague (i.e. the 1970s), has oddly exacerbated anger rather than sedated it, spawning a strain of tourette’s that afflicts the collective population of the western world. The great panaceas that corporations have developed to make life easier than it apparently used to be has instead created endless sources of frustration; our seeming inability to resolve them can make veritable mountains out of trivial molehills.

Whenever the issue of widespread drug abuse surfaces as a topic, the ‘why do people do it’ question always seems to me a no-brainer; if our wonderful system provided the same kind of blissful release that comes from a spliff or a syringe, there’d be no need to turn to an illegal alternative. Yes, millions switch on the bloody ‘X-Factor’ for an escape into voluntary mental paralysis; but for just as many that toxic breed of contrived gladiatorial entertainment is as much a part of the problem as the fastidious speed camera or the pensioner plodding in the middle of the pavement or the letter from British Gas claiming you owe them money when you don’t or the computer crashing without warning. Sometimes, these little annoyances group together and conspire to do their stuff simultaneously; when this happens, it can seem like the whole world is against us. And we get angry.

One only has to scroll down three or four comments on yer average YouTube video for discourse to descend into racist name-calling. A typical example would be some archive and utterly innocuous footage of a London street from half-a-century ago; most marvel at the minimal amount of traffic or the fascinating fashions, then somebody comments on the absence of ‘coloured’ faces and all hell breaks loose. Anger again. Same goes for the response to spoof Twitter accounts such as the brilliantly satirical Titania McGrath, following on from similar spoof accounts of posh SJWs that were taken seriously – and literally – by those bereft of a sense of humour and ended up being deleted by the powers-that-be as a consequence. People are becoming so accustomed to taking things at face value that shades of grey don’t compute. I guess the easy default button today is simply to get angry, even when it’s blatantly obvious someone’s just taking the piss.

Granted, there are undoubtedly moments concerning more important issues where anger is understandable. Anyone who has the stomach for merely a cursory glance at the PM’s draft Brexit withdrawal ‘deal’, which leaves this country more subservient to the EU than it was under actual membership, cannot help but feel angry. Regardless of which side of the great divide one resides on, it’s hard not to come away from such a pitiful (not to say cynical) white flag feeling as though calls for a second referendum are meaningless when we’re essentially remaining anyway. It certainly gives every appearance of being a betrayal of a democratic mandate on an unprecedented scale (and final confirmation that our voice counts for sod all in the corridors of power), but what can any of us do about it? Sweet FA, mate. How many marched to stop the invasion of Iraq way back when? It doesn’t matter because it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference. So, what’s left for us but anger? Unfortunately, anger is bloody exhausting.

The recent upsurge of interest in old-school hobbies like knitting or sewing – ones still negatively associated by more than one generation with blue-rinsed nanas – suggests the novelty of an archaic pastime and its defiantly non-twenty-first century ability to reduce blood pressure has a Zen-like appeal for some. And, while such a sedate interlude might be a little too twee for everyone, the allure of something so alien to the instant nature of contemporary click-bait culture is unarguable. If hi-tech creature-comforts can often increase our tendency towards anger, perhaps it’s no surprise their simpler predecessors are attractive as a means of calming us down.

This has happened before, though; think of the 60s Rock Gods who, having purchased the recognisable symbols of success that the consumerist conveyor belt had prepared earlier, suddenly realised mansions and Rolls Royce’s didn’t actually make their lives that much more fulfilled. They then rejected these flashy trappings and began dressing like hirsute hobos as they got back to the garden. Yes, they had the luxury of being able to afford an approximation of rustic simplicity, but this abrupt embrace of nature then bled into the wider movement for self-sufficiency that has proved enduring as a rat-race opt-out, despite Margot and Jerry’s objections.

Of course, reclining in the arms of a beautiful woman (or non-binary individual of your choice) could suffice as a preferable approach to anger management. The causes of anger can be rendered irrelevant when mankind’s oldest notion of escapism intervenes, and whilst there may still be plenty to be angry about beyond the bedroom, none of it seems that significant in the heat of passion. So, is that really the reason for the abundance of anger in 2018 – not enough people are getting laid? Well, I guess that depends on how much you value the purely physical over potentially spiritual. Add love to the sex mix and you’re elevated to a much higher level, one that outlasts the momentary gratification of base lust. Base lust is a much more accurate metaphor for the present day, however. We want the world and we want it now, as someone once said a long time ago. Maybe that’s the problem.

© The Editor

HEADING FOR A SKID, MARK?

No, the irony will never escape me, but I do have to admit I owe Mark Williams-Thomas a great deal. Deprived of ITV’s top investigative reporter rising without a trace in 2012, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the fearless ‘former police detective’ and ‘child protection expert’ in alerting the nation to the scourge of celebrity paedos hiding in plain sight, I have been able to acquire an audience for my ramblings both in this medium and another. In fact, it was the other that enabled MWT to facilitate my first big break; and for that I will always be grateful to my generation’s Roger Cook.

The ‘Exposure’ exposé on Jimmy Savile that aired on October 3 2012 was the career-launching platform MWT had desperately been looking for, following occasional work for ‘Newsnight’ in a similar vein. It also provided me with something of a platform too. At that point, I’d been uploading videos to YouTube for a good couple of years and had slowly built a small cult following for my redubs, remakes and remodels of largely vintage TV. After watching MWT’s sensationalistic hatchet-job on a dead man who was admittedly as loathed as he was loved in his lifetime, my scepticism was superseded by a light-bulb moment. Here was a chance to combine and contrast the old world with the new one. And so Jimmy Savile became Great Uncle Bulgaria.

My first ‘Exposure’ spoof appeared within 48 hours of its source material being screened and went down well with my regular subscribers as well as helping to pick up a few more along the way. It was fairly short and quite crude – in terms of technical quality; the crudeness of the humour was a given – and I would probably have left it at that had not MWT used his newfound fame to kick-start a bandwagon he was determined to be in the driving seat of. Whilst shocking examples of the real thing were taking place at that very moment (albeit under the radar in faraway northern towns), the media’s moral crusader convinced the nation that it had actually all happened in the 1970s and 80s; the rich, the famous and the powerful had been the perpetrators, and their wicked deeds had been securely shielded from the masses by top-level cover-ups, conspiracies and secret societies until MWT had the guts to shine a light on the clandestine network of shame.

The insidious instigation of Operation Yewtree, unleashing the Cromwellian storm-troopers of the police and their allies in the legal profession, spearheaded a Hopkins-esque witch-hunt in which safely unfashionable old celebrities were rounded-up one-by-one, usually thanks to the exhausting efforts of MWT. Yes, it was boom-time for ambulance-chasing law firms, false-memory therapists, and yours truly. By placing The Wombles at the centre of my parallel universe Operation It Could Be Youtree, I was able to expand the roll-call of the guilty (till proven innocent) by substituting each of the aged accused with telly contemporaries of Wimbledon Common’s most infamous residents – Bagpuss, Hartley Hare, Mr Benn, Nogbad the Bad et al – as well as encompassing the motley crew of Icke disciples, fanatical fantasists and self-appointed paedo-hunters MWT had given the green light to.

Recently revisiting ‘Exposure’, I was surprised that my version of Mark Williams-Thomas, reborn (almost inevitably) as Mark JOHN-Thomas, doesn’t actually appear until right at the very end of the third instalment. However, as MWT became more ubiquitous on-screen whenever Yewtree grabbed a headline, this humourless, pompous individual with a hilarious absence of self-awareness quickly asserted himself as the star of my show thereafter. MWT at that time had his own YT channel and such was his delicious vanity that virtually every appearance he had made on TV was there; I had an unlimited supply of footage I could play with. And I did. By the time I’d taken so much piss out of him that his bladder must have been running on empty, MWT mysteriously removed more or less all the videos I’d pillaged. Coincidence? The fact is my series had taken on a life of its own that went way beyond my usual YT audience, even as far as those directly affected by the events I was satirising.

Whilst I’d been playing my strongest hand to parody the hysteria, others had been playing theirs in different online mediums, and I discovered the ‘Exposure’ series was being passed around like illicit contraband. Some of its most enthusiastic fans made contact and new doors were opened to me as a consequence. Episodes gradually acquired a little more sophistication both in presentation and in material as I was being fed information I wouldn’t otherwise have come across. The mainstream media was sticking rigidly to the MWT manual and no prominent journalist had yet dared to stick their head above the parapet for fear of being labelled a paedo apologist. For a good couple of years, my videos and the more forensic blogs of various determined diggers were the only places where an alternative to the consensus could be heard.

It took until celebrities whose currency hadn’t dated along with their dress-sense found themselves caught in the Yewtree net before voices belatedly began to be to be tentatively raised. Gradually, the wider public were made aware of the dubious police tactics and yet we heard little of the non-famous casualties denied access to expensive lawyers, those whose lives had also been devastated by this appalling approach to law and order. Moreover, an #IbelieveHer agenda served to conveniently mute all those women whose men-folk had been whisked away at the crack of dawn by the CPS Stasi – all those wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters and sisters who were suffering in silence because their stories didn’t fit the narrative the MSM had opted for to present events, as ever, in simple black & white terms. Most are suffering still.

I’m lucky. I was able to walk away from the madness when I’d reached the end of the ‘Exposure’ road with a fourteenth and final episode that retold the tale in the style of Simon Schama’s ‘A History of Britain’ series. I felt I’d extracted every ounce of sap from the Yewtree and there was nothing left to say, for me at least. Firmly established as the resident paedo professor of the daytime TV sofa, Mark Williams-Thomas nevertheless continued to seek out new celebrity scalps even as more questions than ever were being asked about Operation Yewtree and its ramifications, as well as its equally unnecessary successors, Midland and Conifer. And now those questions are bringing the odious role of MWT into the public spotlight at last; prominent papers are actually saying out loud what the rest of us were saying out loud five long years ago, when we were routinely dismissed as beyond-the-pale paedo sympathisers.

Paul Gambaccini’s broadcasting clout guarantees him a sympathetic audience and gives him the freedom to openly describe what he went through as well as being critical of the system that exposed him to it, whereas others who experienced the same ordeal remain marginalised by their obscurity and tarnished in their communities. Yes, without Mark Williams-Thomas, there would be no ‘Winegum Telegram’; but without Mark Williams-Thomas, there would be far fewer damaged families and far fewer ruined individuals. I’d happily consign this blog to the same great online platform in the sky that the ‘Exposure’ series now resides in if that pound-shop Titus Oates finally received a taste of his own rancid medicine.

© The Editor

KNIVES AND FAWKES

Yeah, I remember (remember) the fifth of November. How could I forget? One fifth of November not so long ago mine eyes did see the light – to paraphrase the final speech of a late lamented orator – and this wholly secular illumination finally toppled a distant and previously unchallenged blink of elation from its long-held pole position in the memory banks. That had occurred on a sunny day in 1974 when I first mastered the tricky task of propelling myself on two wheels without falling over; alas, the applause and cheers that rang in my ears upon pedalling the short distance to liberation from the tricycle now feel as far away as its belated successor does from the bottomless pit that life decided I would be more at home in. All I can hear from here is the discharge of gunpowder in the annual celebration of a plot that failed to succeed and left us with what we have today, four-hundred and odd years later. Is that really worthy of celebration?

With so many appalling institutions to choose from, so many that were established in idealistic circumstances and have betrayed their original intent, afraid I have to hone in on the one that hogs more headlines than any other. Yes, some things in life are sacred and their betrayal cuts deeper than the sharpest scythe; but I wonder if my increasingly incurable cynicism towards our elected representatives and their motives is simply a symptom of my own personal (and undeniably unhealthy) state of mind or merely the inevitable outcome of a fairly traumatic political decade.

I know MPs are easy targets, but to be fair, they do ask for it. It’s less than ten years since the Expenses’ Scandal, exactly a year since the most recent ‘sex scandal’ (one that cost the jobs of two members of the Cabinet), and allegations of bullying within Westminster are ongoing. And I’m sure I’m not the only outside observer weary with it all. A financial crash, punitive austerity, a coalition government, two incredibly divisive referendums, the Brexit balls-up, and the endless splitting of vitriolic factions that only ever aids a divide-and-rule agenda; my gut reaction can’t help but evoke the spirit of Roy Castle amending his theme song – ‘generalisation, that’s what you need.’ I dunno. Maybe politicians just seem to be bigger bastards the longer one pays attention and the more one is inevitably let down. Even if the blatant efforts of so many to derail a democratic mandate and preserve a thoroughly rotten status quo wasn’t such a classic example of why they languish amongst the lowest subspecies of the human race, it’s not as though it’s the only one.

Principles and morals – not exactly essential qualifications for entering the hallowed environs of Parliament these days, one concludes (if they ever were). Just take a cursory glance through the ‘serious’ section of Private Eye and marvel at the endless litany of obscene amounts paid to Honourable Members as company directors or corporate consultants in addition to their Westminster wages and fiddled expenses; not much belt-tightening on display, and even MPs one would generally like to credit with a bit of integrity have hardly suffered during the Age of Austerity (which, lest we forget, is now officially over). If they’re not receiving back-handers from lobbyists, they’re being flown out on junkets to tax havens or Middle Eastern oases by undemocratic regimes courting their favour and eager for a little influence in the corridors of power. And these regimes know how easy it is because the people they’re dealing with are almost as unscrupulously immoral as they are, albeit considerably vainer and dimmer.

That kindergarten of corruption, the local council, is the breeding ground for many of those who then make the leap to the parliamentary hustings; all of the toxic trappings of Parliament are present on a smaller scale, serving as a virtual training camp for the worst Westminster can offer. Just ask the good people of Northamptonshire. At times, it’s hard not to surmise that anyone seeking promotion to the political premier league from the rotten boroughs is little more than a conceited, self-aggrandising sociopath only out for themselves and prepared to ruthlessly clamber over anyone – friend or foe – to get where they want to be, essentially poison ivy to whom others are convenient trellises. I can’t sleep at night, true; but I’ve no idea how most MPs do. I don’t know how the majority of the mendacious hypocrites have the nerve to stand up and lecture the rest of us on how to live our lives, quite frankly. They are the least qualified members of society to do so, yet they do – constantly.

Those of us immune to the appeal of politics as a profession make friendships and alliances in life that we hope will be of long-lasting significance; we do so with no motive other than the desire to spend time in good company because we enjoy it, not because we see this company as something that can facilitate a move somewhere else, using people as a climbing frame and callously dispensing with them when they’ve ceased to be of any further use. If we behaved that way in daily life we’d rightly be regarded as a bit of a shit. In politics, however – as in business, which is often indistinguishable from it – such behaviour is applauded as a sign of strength, especially when it comes to government.

The unedifying backstabbing that took place in the wake of David Cameron’s resignation a couple of years ago was a case in point. True, it was already difficult to warm to the likes of Boris and Gove, but the way in which they laid down their friends for their lives was indeed a telling lesson in the dark arts of party politics and should have earned both the eternal contempt they deserve. And thanks to their stint as pantomime villains, we ended up with Motherfucker Theresa – the last woman standing as the Tories re-staged the climax to ‘Reservoir Dogs’. Then again, maybe the desperation that ensued when Dave departed reflected a wider crisis; maybe politicians have become worse because they’re terrified they’re bordering on extinction now that the world is run by corporations rather than elected representatives; maybe we’re witnessing their Nero moment.

At the same time, I suppose there’s an argument to be made that Parliament enables the intellectually-challenged to have something to keep them busy; after all, where else could a retarded dumpling of a redundant turd such as Chris Grayling find a role in society? He’s akin to the thick third son of an old-school aristocrat, earmarked for a career in the clergy. If their actions didn’t affect the lives of so many others, we could perhaps leave them to play in their Victorian Gothic nursery like the privileged special needs cases they are, safe in the knowledge they’re only harming themselves. Unfortunately, they’re not. Even the relatively inoffensive ‘silent majority’ of constituency MPs (most of whom we vote for every four or five years) may start out with high hopes and the best of intentions, but should they end up far higher than they imagined – well, as the old saying goes, all power…you know the rest. It’s not for nothing that Guy Fawkes was once referred to as ‘the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.’

Of course, I may well warm a little towards the current crop once they’re out of politics. Portillo I find occasionally engaging as a presenter, and I even admit to quite enjoying Balls and Osborne’s Saint & Greavsie routine last Election night. But, as stated previously, right now I’m not in a position to pass judgement with balance and fairness on those who raise my spiky hackles, so perhaps it’s probably for the best that I withdraw and leave the nation to roll over as Universal Credit rolls out. Maybe we’re all Nero now.

PS I may make the point better in this video, even though the corporate safe-space YT has become will no longer allow me to make a penny from it or any other…

© The Editor

CRYSTAL BALLS

How much unexpected meetings or chance encounters that lead to seismic life changes are indeed down to chance or are merely inevitable moves in a preordained plan depends, I guess, on your view of man as either an autonomous animal in control of his own destiny or as a mere pawn in God’s grand scheme. The Osmonds certainly fell on ‘the plan’ side of the argument, as the title of their 1973 concept album testified – though why ‘Long-Haired Lover from Liverpool’ fitted in to His big idea remains an extremely mystifying example of the Almighty moving in a very mysterious way.

Sticking with all things Merseyside, take 6 July 1957. Skiffle is the first of many teenage fads to come, and a church fête gives The Kids a chance to strum their washboards amidst the Morris dancers and a display by the City of Liverpool Police Dogs. On this occasion, The Kids are a bunch of school pals called The Quarrymen, led by a 16-year-old named John Lennon. The cocky leader of the pack shares a mutual friend with an equally overconfident adolescent called Paul McCartney; said friend introduces the most successful song-writing partnership in musical history to each other for the first time that day. And so the wheels of a cultural revolution are slowly set in motion with neither party remotely aware of it. How could they be?

It’s quite possible McCartney might have decided not to accept his pal’s offer to visit Woolton that summer’s day in 1957; after all, Macca had only just turned 15, still at a young enough age to be susceptible to other offers characteristic of a 1950s British childhood. If he’d gone fishing or train-spotting or had indulged in a jumpers-for-goalposts kick-about, the world would have kept on turning and none of these activities would have altered it, unlike the meeting at that church fête, which did – in many ways, for all of us. One could argue the mutual friend of Lennon & McCartney – Ivan Vaughan – was a pivotal figure in modern history, yet he could just as easily not have been. On such wafer-thin paper is history written.

The tempting ‘What if?’ scenario has generated many speculative and imaginative alternatives to historical events over the years: think of a novel such as Robert Harris’s ‘Fatherland’ taking place in a parallel universe 1960s, twenty years after Nazi Germany won World War II. Counterfactual history approaches the concept with a more academic eye, though many historians see it as an essentially pointless exercise; Nazi Germany didn’t win WWII, but was that always destined to be the final score on the eve of kick-off?

Certain figures whose actions changed the course of world history often appear to have led charmed lives, as though there was indeed a plan in mind for them. As Andrew Roberts highlights in his new biography of Winston Churchill, the Great British icon was born two months premature, suffered a near-fatal bout of pneumonia as a child and was stabbed as a schoolboy; he regularly diced with death as a soldier, and civilian life was punctuated by three car crashes and two plane crashes, all of which he survived along with numerous strokes and heart attacks. Pure chance or preordained?

If one believes our destinies are already mapped out for us before we even arrive in the world, one could almost adopt a petulant attitude to our apparently powerless part in directing those destinies. What’s the point in trying if we’re only acting out actions penned in advance anyway, being little more than marionettes whose every move is dictated by some celestial puppet master? If whatever we do makes no difference to the eventual outcome, we could consciously live a life of inactive isolation, surrendering to sloth and deliberately avoiding effort altogether. Then again, by doing so we may well be merely fulfilling a designated role after all. It’s a conundrum if life seems frustratingly impervious to our attempts to improve it, as though we permanently sleep on the wrong side of the bed.

We’ve all retrospectively recognised moments in life when we’ve stood at a crossroads and chosen a specific route from several options available to us. These options could have been deliberated upon at length beforehand or we may have just thrown caution to the wind with an ‘eeny meeny miny moe’ moment. If the consequences of our decision fail to deliver, it’s unavoidable that years later we ponder on what might have happened had we chosen one of the other options. Middle-age is especially prone to such hindsight musings, though only if we don’t find what we’re looking for once we get there. And, of course, there’s always the nagging belief that what we didn’t do would have turned out so much better than what we actually did. If only…

When constructing these parallel universe lives, it pays to pause and recall the saving graces that emerged from even the darkest of times, those times we become convinced life could have done without. In my own experience, feline and canine companions came out of a period in the 1990s I often wish I could erase from memory, yet both cat and dog long outlived its merciful end, enriching my existence for years afterwards; without that painful period, I would have been denied the joy they brought. Therefore, I accept it was necessary – my own personal 40 days and nights in the wilderness. And I’m sure we’ve all had them.

I’ve never visited a fortune-teller nor bought into their mystical shtick, not out of any inflexible opinion that they pedal pure hokum, but mainly because I genuinely have no desire to see into the future – even if it were possible. Should the crystal ball show me something I don’t want to see, I’d be convinced the future is already arranged and it’d be futile me trying to change it. And feeling as though someone else is scripting that future puts one back into the worst kind of childhood mindset, trapped in a world where all-powerful beings, from parents to teachers, are in control of everything that happens to you. Your input is negligible in terms of impact compared to theirs, so why bother?

One problem with accepting the preordained notion of life as a readymade plan is that, unlike the end result of WWII, it doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes a luminous path ahead that certainly feels preordained as it generates good vibrations is abruptly blocked and we are rerouted against our will, back down a darker avenue as the trite ‘well, it just wasn’t meant to be’ excuse is trotted out. One could either behave like a senior Met officer and lock one’s self in one’s car when confronted by an unexpected and unpleasant turn of events or one could face them head on. But the latter depends on whether or not one has faith in the possibility of a reward for doing so; and faith, like love, trust and hope, is not always the most accessible of subscriptions when life’s size-nine’s have your groin (and your crystal balls) in their sights. But maybe that’s the fate that always awaits we fools who (like Blanche DuBois) still believe in magic…

(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

CARRY ON UP BRITANNIA

A friend of mine once…hello, by the way. Been a while – well, a month. Sorry, where was I? Ah, yes – a friend of mine once saw Morrissey live at a festival. Said friend was on acid at the time and told me afterwards he imagined he was seeing Elvis in Vegas. Proof that an altered state of mind can manipulate one’s perception no end, I guess. A bit like when I watched Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech the other week on TV; I was pissed at the time – yes, in the early afternoon; hey, ho – what a dismally decadent life I lead; and the speech sounded like an oratorical masterpiece. Okay, so it was alright as conference speeches go, just not ‘I have a dream’. Intoxication may also have enabled me to overlook the toe-curlingly opportunistic and utterly meaningless (to the electorate) spectacle of Palestinian flags in the hall, not to mention the motley collective of cretins that comprises Jezza’s shadow cabinet applauding every box-ticking platitude. A week later, it was the dancing queen herself, Motherfucker Theresa’s turn; and I was sober. It wasn’t the same.

At one time, conference coverage was an aberration in the admirable vacuum of the daytime TV schedule. Long before Britain’s slavish worship of the worst American attributes infected the broadcast medium and television became something that spanned twenty-four mediocre hours, annual party conferences and their unprecedented live transmission shoving the test card aside were events even the most politically apathetic tuned into. It was something to watch! Yes, it was mostly boring, but so were Open University lectures. But we still watched them because there was nothing else on. Now there’s something on all the time and conference coverage has lost its novelty. It’s so slick now that it’s not even as boring as the rest of the shit on all the other channels anymore, which is a shame.

Unfortunately, as happened during the last General Election, the shadow of Brexit obscured everything else at the party conferences. It does feel as if both the worst frothing-at-the-mouth Brexiteers and the more sanctimonious Remoaners have kept the topic on the front page of everyone’s lives at the expense of serious social issues that have long needed urgent attention. The fact that the people actually had their vote two and-a-half years ago appears to have eluded the deluded losers who didn’t get the result they wanted. Personally, I’d still quite like a replay of the 1975 European Cup Final, but I’ve reluctantly accepted the final score now. How anyone can look at the vicious divisions the 2016 Referendum opened up and imagine doing it all over again will in any way ‘heal the nation’ clearly suffers from the same symptoms of denial as that despicable paragon of selectivity, Alastair Campbell.

Those eager to rejoin a club that undoubtedly views uppity Britain with such superior contempt for having the temerity to leave it make this country resemble a battered wife desperate to get back with her abusive husband because her self-esteem is so low she can no longer function without returning to what she has been brainwashed into believing is her proper station in life. Even those who voted Remain on the simple basis of ‘better the devil you know’ must have had their eyes belatedly opened by the behaviour of the Brussels bully boys in recent months. Granted, some of the most enthusiastic (not to say wealthy) Europhobes are motivated by their own peculiarly fanatical obsession, but the equally selfish self-interest of dishonourable members determined to overturn democracy in the name of democracy can only have diminished the standing of Westminster further as well as strengthening the Leave argument. Yes, a second referendum is precisely the tonic this troubled nation clearly needs.

Maybe there is salvation, however, for Our Glorious Leader last week announced we have a rerun of the Festival of Britain to look forward to! The Festival of Brexit? That’ll sort it all out. The unveiling of the Millennium Dome back on New Year’s Day 2000 proposed a similarly over-optimistic aim; almost 20 years later the Dome itself has become just another impersonal music venue named after a corporation – imagine if that pernicious trend applied to people: ‘I baptise this child Vodafone Smith’ – though I suspect a vicar’s daughter would rather associate her glorified village fête with the two more illustrious precedents. These are, of course, the 1951 jamboree and the one it marked the centenary of, the Great Exhibition. Yet, there’s a crucial difference.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was rooted very much in the here and now, celebrating the nation’s contemporary industrial supremacy, whereas the Festival of Britain was imagining an exciting post-war future with its Dan Dare-like edifices such as the Skylon. Whatever ghastly shape this Tory idea of state-sanctioned ‘fun’ will take is doomed to echo the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. The 2012 event was an expertly staged piece of heritage theatre, celebrating past glories in spectacular style; as we have even less to look forward to now than we did then it’s inevitable we’re going to end up with another chocolate box for fat American tourists. After all, unless the centrepiece of the celebration entails Meghan Markle waving a rainbow flag to start a mass moped race of obese, knife-wielding trans-hoodies, choreographed by Banksy and set to the strains of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ (featuring a rap from Stormzy), it’s hardly likely to wallow in the present day.

True, the opportunities for merchandise are mouth-watering. Stab vests and burqas in Union Jack colours; Grenfell Tower paperweights; toy Tasers; bottles of acid with a picture of Little Prince George on the front; inflatable safe spaces; armed police action figures; Stormont doll’s houses with no dolls inside; a clockwork robot-dancing Mrs May; the Oligarch & Saudi edition of Monopoly in which the aim is to buy up every piece of land in central London to build a luxury apartment block upon. Well, according to reports, £120 million will be set aside for this celebration of ‘culture, sports and innovation’ – and here’s me thinking that extra cash was being saved for the NHS. The current schedule is for the intended date of 2022, which has also been earmarked for the next General Election as well as Brenda’s Platinum Jubilee; it seems all three are rooted in shaky optimism from the vantage point of 2018. And who the hell can look that far ahead, anyway? Not me, mate.

(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