BOYS WILL BE BOYS

OrangeIn a way, it’s the ultimate ‘benign’ state censorship – suppressing a story from the public lest its release have repercussions that lead to further problems with a problematic situation. It’s not as though this is anything new; the 30-year secrecy rule in this country means there are many things we only learn of long after those involved are dead and gone. However, these usually relate to political machinations and merely confirm what had long been suspected albeit without evidence to back up the suspicions. Minutes of clandestine Cabinet meetings in which Michael Heseltine disagreed with Mrs T or confirmation there was collusion between Special Branch and Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland aren’t exactly earth-shattering revelations; besides, they are already history.

What was belatedly revealed by Swedish authorities this week, that almost 40 separate allegations of sexual assault – including rape – had been reported at a Stockholm music festival in both 2014 and 2015, seemed an especially unedifying example of a police cover-up at the highest level due to the fact that the newly-released reports referred to the perpetrators of these crimes as ‘so-called refugee youths, specifically from Afghanistan’.

Sweden is a country that has experienced a high level of immigration from the Middle East in recent years, and harmonious integration is often a sensitive, delicate process when several far-right political groups are waiting for any immigrant to make a wrong step so they can be held up as a stereotypical primitive barbarian. That could be one possible reason as to why these reports haven’t been made public until now. Alas, the appalling, seemingly organised assaults that took place in Cologne over the New Year have forced the hand of the Stockholm Police, and this particular experiment in benign state censorship has backfired badly.

Events in Cologne, in which it is alleged gangs of young male immigrants emanating from North Africa and the Middle East apparently coordinated an operation with military-like precision to target hundreds of young German women enjoying the New Year festivities, have brought the wisdom of Angela Merkel’s ‘open door’ immigration policy into question. It is often customary for married men to traverse the refugee route alone, summoning their families to their new homeland only when they have secured employment and accommodation; but the sheer scale of those fleeing the likes of Syria is so high that this custom has been in danger of creating a scenario wherein the man/woman ratio is disproportionate; add unemployment and too many young men with too much time on their hands to the mix and the recipe is potentially combustible.

Various theories for the behaviour of testosterone-fuelled young male immigrants let loose on sexually-liberated Western Europe have been suggested, with one being the culture they have been raised in relegating women to subservient, second-class citizens is to blame. Confronted by scantily-clad native women for the first time, the tendency is to react as though they’ve just entered a 24-hour brothel in which the dress sense of young girls has been designed solely to titillate the libidos of men more familiar with female flesh being wrapped in swathes of impenetrable armour. Were that true, how does it explain the motivation of native young men who have committed similar sexual assaults when they have been raised in a culture that has none of the restrictions placed upon the sartorial uniform of women that is commonplace in hardline Islamic states?

The notion that any nation south of the Mediterranean Sea is utterly isolated from western influence is to deny the power of satellite television and cultural colonialism, whether Coco-Cola or Hip-Hop; the latter, of course, is renowned for its positive, liberal view of the female sex, and it is feasible that three decades of an international conversation about bitches and hoes has gradually penetrated the thought processes of young men the world over.

Again, however, hordes of horny, drunken young men whose conditions can easily spark into gang-rape should the opportunity present itself didn’t exactly arrive as a social problem when NWA released their first album. For example, the inspiration for a notorious scene in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was inspired by the memory of Anthony Burgess’s wife being raped by a bunch of drunken GIs during the Second World War.

Despite what the Feminazi manifesto would have us believe, not all men are rapists, just some; equally, not all immigrants are rapists, just some. The occasional pissing contest groups of young men indulge in when the alcohol has sent the blood rushing to their dicks is something as old as civilised society; they can let off steam by fighting each other, damaging property or certifying their masculinity by taking any stray devotchka who happens to wander unknowingly into their orbit. If, as Swedish politician Paula Bieler has suggested, young male immigrants require education as to what constitute western social values, this implies the problem is solely due to cultural differences, which – as history has taught us – it isn’t.

© The Editor

FANTASTIC VOYAGE

AladdinDavid Bowie is dead. Still doesn’t sound right, does it? Standing at the crossing this morning, waiting for the red man to be superseded by the green man, a student girl in her late teens stood on the other side of the road, bright scarlet hair; and there, in an instant, barely a minute after locking the front door, I see the influence of David Bowie as one of Ziggy’s grandchildren faced me across the traffic. She may or may not know, I thought, but without him she wouldn’t be there.

Flashback to 1974, wandering around the aisles in the novel new Asda superstore, leaving my parents to attend to the weekly shop as I seek out the comic racks; en route, I find myself drawn like a little iron filing to the magnet nestled in the record racks, and I come face-to-face with that face – side-by-side are ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’, works of art in an age when the LP sleeve was the contemporary canvas. Accustomed to painted faces via ‘Top of the Pops’ regulars such as Roy Wood of Wizzard, Steve Priest from the Sweet and the rest of the Glam court jesters, I nevertheless knew this was something on another level; the radio hits were already being absorbed – ‘The Jean Genie’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Rebel Rebel’, even the much-maligned ‘Laughing Gnome’, all sung in that strange neo-cockney voice that could range from high-pitched scream to low-pitched growl – as the otherworldly spectre hovering over a culture I was too young to participate in was unable to stand still. By the time I had begun spending my pocket-money on seven-inch singles, he was in drag to promote ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ as a prologue to anticipating the coming wave of pretty things poised to conquer the charts that came via ‘Ashes to Ashes’.

Aged 15, I experienced the colossal commercial monster of ‘Let’s Dance’ in a year when Bowie’s influence on mainstream pop was at its zenith as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club were living out their adolescent Bowie fantasies on the world stage. His biggest period of sustained success for a decade inspired the canny cash-in of his former record label RCA, who reissued all of his 70s albums at an affordable price; I had an entire career ready and waiting for me to dive into and by doing so, I passed through a door that changed me forever and for the better. I wouldn’t be alone. The Punks, the New Romantics, and their bastard offspring the Goths, were all in his debt.

In 1983, I was mining a legacy that only stretched back fourteen years, yet there was enough richness in there to span a century. From acoustic folk to full-blown Metal, from Art School Glam to Plastic Soul, from synthesized soundscapes to endless isolated sub-genres that were never limited by labels, the variety was staggering. The restless artistic spirit rewards the devotee with an abundance of options and renders those who cling to a hit formula for life one-trick ponies who eventually subside into irrelevance. With Bowie, there was even an additional icing on the cake that proved just as influential for closet extroverts: for each musical about-turn, there was an accompanying visual one too.

The founder of the Biba fashion house, Barbara Hulanicki, once observed that British wartime and post-war rationing had left an entire generation malnourished, enabling them to mature into stick-thin clothes hangers ideal for the androgynous peacockery that Swinging London defined in the 60s and David Bowie remodelled in the 70s. Although he was born eighteen months after VE Day, Bowie grew up in a nation taking its time to recover from the conflict; both his older brother’s recurring mental illness that eventually led to his suicide and the stifling suburban conformity that the Jones family relocated to from dirty urban Brixton were factors that formulated his impatient oeuvre and contributed to his steady evolution from long-haired R&B ingénue to cosmic Leper Messiah, sprinkling stardust over a generation that had missed the 60s and cried out for their own heroes, escapist pied-pipers leading them out of the candlelit gloom of early 70s Britain to a divinely decadent parallel universe. Bowie, like his contemporaries Marc Bolan, Rod Stewart and Elton John, had been whispering Open Sesame for years, yet it took the abdication of The Beatles and the cold chill of a drastically different decade to create the climate that could facilitate the great breakthrough.

The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a pop culture supernova that the first sixteen years of this century have cowered in the shadow of. If the band that exemplify the supremacy of that supernova are The Beatles, the only comparable solo act in terms of a body of work whose influence stretches way beyond the parameters of its art-form is Bowie. Like Marilyn Monroe, Rudolph Nureyev or even George Best, Bowie was unique – an artist in a field of one, often imitated, never equalled. After all, these special people only come in ones and when they’re gone they aren’t replaced, for broken moulds, as with Humpty Dumpty, cannot be put back together again.

But we have the work; it’s still here even though its creator has gone, and it’ll still be here when we’re all gone too. Time may well flex like a whore and fall wanking to the floor, but he won’t erase that magic preserved on plastic. David Bowie is dead, but David Bowie simultaneously lives. And he always will.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.co.uk/shop/buch/48495#beschreibung

THE AUTON INVASION

Auton InvasionMidway through the final season of ‘Breaking Bad’ (I knew I’d get there in the end – no spoilers, please), it was a nice surprise to see British actress Laura Fraser appear; I’ve long been an admirer of her ethereal beauty, and eyeing the delicate presence of life’s graceful fingerprints on that radiant countenance only adds to her natural appeal. It shouldn’t have really come as a surprise to find her on a hit US series; the renaissance of American TV that began with ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Six Feet Under’ a decade ago has been enhanced by a roll-call of British thespians who are in demand not merely for their acting abilities, but because they actually look their age. If a casting director needs a character in their 40s, 50s or even 60s with no visible glamour, they’re not going to cast their net in Beverly Hills because American actors have a phobia over faces that read like a well-thumbed novel. It’s no coincidence that the likes of Judi Dench or Helen Mirren grab so many leading roles in Hollywood movies; yes, they’re good at what they do, but they also convince as mature ladies.

The acclaimed ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters recently exhibited some of his own artwork, including a self-portrait in which the Divine director imagined what his face would look like if he was a resident of California – a hideous airbrushed masque that he confessed would be regarded as normal in Hollywood. He admitted visiting friends in Tinsel Town every couple of years can lead to an initial lack of recognition when his ringing of the doorbell is answered, so accustomed have those who reside there become to the constant upgrading of one’s features to keep Father Time at bay, regardless of how bizarre they appear to those outside of the self-contained Neverland of the movie industry.

There’s a vast chasm of difference between someone who looks good for their age and someone who looks neither young nor old, but some strange waxen hybrid of youth and experience. During Hollywood’s first Golden Age back in the 30s and 40s, the cinemagoer was deceived by the artistry of the lighting men on set, whose tireless efforts transformed ageing actresses into ageless icons of otherworldly beauty; some, such as Marlene Dietrich, famously did their bit as well. The German chanteuse would pull back the skin on her cheekbones and apply tape to her temples to hold her stunning profile in place and thus maintain the illusion as her flesh began to sag. At the time, plastic surgery was still largely an emergency medical procedure employed to reconstruct the damaged faces of young men blown away on the battlefield. The notion of it as a vanity tool was unheard of.

Subtle tricks of the trade for those working in the entertainment world were still in use during the 60s, though a close-up could reveal many an unwelcome wrinkle. Doris Day retired from movies at the end of that decade, and a late 60s TV special recently repeated revealed a refreshing mosaic of lines around the eyes of America’s virginal sweetheart when the camera moved in a little too intimately. With youth in the ascendancy, anyone over 30 was acutely aware of their perilous position and either withdrew from the public eye or slapped on the cosmetics with a shovel. By the 1970s, the growing popularity of ‘nose jobs’ and advances in what used to be called ‘sex changes’ expanded the portfolio of the plastic surgeon and many began to set up shop in Hollywood, realising a vast cast of established actors were keen to extend their youth into middle-age.

What began as a desperate attempt to stretch the lifespan of paranoid movie stars then reached into the arena of anyone possessing more money than sense, and not merely those in apparent need of work. As Cher revived her musical career in the 80s, the dusky, sultry temptress of the 60s and 70s morphed into a strange alien being with the complexion of a baby’s bottom, setting a trend that was followed by the biggest solo star of the same decade. Michael Jackson remains perhaps the most notorious victim of plastic surgery as the wide-nosed black-skinned boy with the afro mutated into an androgynous pale-face in a straight wig and a nose that gradually shrank down to a pair of unprotected nostrils.

Blinded by a combination of vanity and self-loathing, Jacko’s residency in his own facsimile childhood bubble to compensate for the real childhood showbiz denied him made him vulnerable to unscrupulous surgeons who knew when they were onto a good thing. The impact of their butchery on his countenance was evident until the day of his death, but anyone seeking to follow in his famous footsteps doesn’t appear to regard his face’s fate as a deterrent.

Dead or Alive frontman Pete Burns is the most notable Jacko clone in terms of how his face has been remodelled by the knife, but isolated aspects of the full process have surfaced in several unlikely areas of the acting profession. The swollen ‘trout pout’ fish lips that have left many a household name resembling someone trapped in a hall of distorted fairground mirrors led to Lynne Perrie being sacked from her long-running role as Ivy Tilsley on ‘Coronation Street’ and have also permanently disfigured the naturally pretty face of Leslie Ashe. But it is among those in less need of surgery – the young – that the pernicious influence of cosmetic preservation has made its mark over the last decade or so.

Breast and even arse enhancements have been taken to ghastly new levels of artificiality by the emergence of celebrity Brides of Frankenstein such as Katie Price and the odious Kardashian clan and it is now commonplace for young women to regard boob or bum jobs as being as normal a procedure as a trip to the dentist. As for those we are now forced to call ‘transgender’, the caricature of female features many view as essential have created some monstrous parodies of women who would once have been condemned to a life on the freak show circuit. Lest we forget, however, the most extreme examples of plastic surgery as well as the more familiar tight-skinned Botox devotees are all the way they are through choice.

When Joanne Harris, the author of ‘Chocolat’, attended the Academy Awards ceremony with Juliette Binoche as the movie adaptation of her novel was nominated for Oscars, she remarked the show was like school prize-giving day at Madame Tussaud’s. As plastic surgery gradually becomes more accessible to everyone incapable of boasting the wages of a Hollywood A-lister, it’s a prize-giving day we all seem destined to attend.

© The Editor

SHADOW LANDS

CorbynBeing Leader of the Opposition, like being Vice-President of the USA, must be a thankless task; it’s the political silver medal, No.2 in the charts, the runner-up as opposed to being the winner. Legendary Leeds United captain Billy Bremner reflected the frustrating failure of his team to win as many trophies as they deserved by titling his ghost-written autobiography, ‘You Get Nowt for Being Second’, and he had a point. I couldn’t help but think of that when hearing of the protracted Shadow Cabinet reshuffle undertaken at a snail’s pace by laidback Labour boss-man Jeremy Corbyn over the past few days. Does anyone outside of the Westminster bubble really care?

Ever since Hilary Benn’s headline-grabbing speech during the recent Commons debate on Syria – when the Shadow Foreign Secretary earned a euphoric round of applause while passionately opposing his leader’s viewpoint – rumours have been rife that Citizen Corbyn planned to ‘take out’ the lingering neo-Blairite faction of his frontbench team once the New Year came around. Although Benn remains in his somewhat fragile position, acutely aware any further public contradictions of Corbyn policy might cause him to lose it, heads have indeed rolled.

The most notable casualty of the reshuffle is Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle; her appointment seemed odd considering she was pro-Trident, in direct opposition to the man who appointed her; but it apparently reflected Corbyn’s desire to break the mould by surrounding himself with a diverse range of opinions. Perhaps the danger signs were there when Ken Livingstone was recruited to join Eagle in a review of the party’s defence policy. She’s been replaced by Emily Thornberry, the ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ Jenni Murray who was sacked from Ed Miliband’s shower during the last election for sneering at the working-class in an infamous ‘white van’ tweet; crucially, she’s anti-Trident, which will make Red Ken happy and also serves to rubbish Jezza’s ‘new politics’ manifesto.

Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden has paid the price for criticising Corbyn’s response to the Paris Attacks and for his association with the less enlightened wing of the Stop the War coalition. McFadden’s sacking has provoked the resignations of two other frontbenchers, Jonathan Reynolds and Stephen Doughty, whereas another resignation came in the shape of Kevan Jones, who quit following Maria Eagle’s dismissal. Eagle has now been shunted down to Shadow Culture Secretary, replacing Michael Dugher (yes, I’m scratching my head at some of these unknown knowns as well). Dugher’s parting gesture was to rebuff suggestions he was sacked for incompetence and disloyalty by tweeting ‘I’m not sure it’s sensible for the leader and his office to get into a debate about loyalty or competence’.

When slouched on the frontbench with the look of a man waiting for the minibus to take him to the daycare centre, Corbyn’s closest companions always appear to be ‘This Week’ comedy socialist Dianne Abbott and Paedofinder General Tom Watson, neither of whom inspire much in the way of confidence outside of Momentum, the twenty-first century equivalent of Militant, the Trotskyist group that helped keep Labour out of power in the 80s. Corbyn’s brief ambition to have his frontbench represented by some of those who aren’t rooted on the far-left of the party appears to have been a short-lived experiment. This reshuffle has promoted MPs more in tune with Jezza’s thinking and therefore makes Labour look more unelectable than ever.

The main surprise when Corbyn was elected Labour leader was his apparent willingness to heal the evident divide within his party by inviting his ideological opponents to join his team; even though Andy Burnham was the lone fellow rival in the leadership contest to accept the invitation, most of the Miliband mob refused to serve under Jezza; and those that lingered from the previous leader’s crew didn’t compromise their view of Corbyn’s principles once installed on the new-look frontbench, prompting talk of an SDP-style defection to the depleted Lib-Dems.

That hasn’t yet happened, but as the casualties of this week’s reshuffle all belong to what Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell dismissed as a right-wing clique, reducing further any evidence of opinions that don’t compliment those of the leader, we now have what could be called a left-wing clique fully in charge of Labour’s fortunes, for the first real time since the Michael Foot era; and we all know what that led to.

A split is already present, but a challenge to Corbyn and his pitiful posse of deluded disciples now seems a question of not ‘if’ but ‘when’. Considering the fact that Labour were obliterated in their Scottish heartlands at the last election and they didn’t poll much better in the rest of the country, it was undeniable some form of drastic change was required to make the party a formidable challenge to a Tory Government that are currently doing what the hell they like (and are only being taken down a peg or two by the mass of Lib-Dems in the Lords); but a left-wing coup isn’t the way forwards; it’s the way backwards. And the Tories know it all too well, which is why they’re looking even smugger and arrogant than usual at the moment.

So, this is ‘the new politics’ – and let’s not confuse the new meaning of that vacuous phrase with the one used at the formation of the coalition in 2010: An online army of gullible young recruits to the cause who have been hoodwinked into believing the Labour past is the Labour future, as well as those veteran socialists who have re-emerged having learned nothing from the last thirty years, eager to rekindle naive dreams that are even more unrealisable in 2016 than they were in 1986. Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to press the red button clearly doesn’t apply to his own party, whose self-destruction he and his team are busily engaged in while those who don’t subscribe to Dave and Gideon’s vision despair.

© The Editor

GLASS HOUSES

RobespierreFar be it from me to revel in the misfortune of another, but there are times when Karma works wonders and some get exactly what they deserve. An MP who shall remain nameless has been publicly exposed as the wanker that anyone with half-a-brain already knew him to be, and anyone with half-a-brain is ecstatic at the exposure.

A man who had applauded the unveiling of a plaque intended to honour the memory of a deceased fellow honourable member – regardless of the unseemly rumours that had circulated around him for decades – abruptly changed tack within a couple of years and sought to raise his own obscure little profile by hitching a ride on the historical abuse bandwagon. Sensing which way the media wind was blowing and seeing another nondescript backbencher from the same party rising up the ranks courtesy of a moral crusade based on hearsay and unsubstantiated gossip clearly served as a light bulb for this most undistinguished passenger on the Westminster gravy-train. The crass opportunism was so blatant it was embarrassing, but he embarked upon it nonetheless, happy to lavishly embellish something that ‘Private Eye’ had uncovered with a little less sensationalistic relish as far back as the 1970s.

Curiously, at the same time he was outing dead MPs as incurable corrupters of illegal flesh, he was parading through the tabloids with a virtual child bride himself – a woman with two notable assets that she promoted via social media in a manner that mocked her position as a local councillor. They were a joke, a Netto John & Yoko whose collective imaginary back-stories could have powered the Jeremy Kyle Show for a good twelve months. Strangely enough, he chose not to publicise some of the sordid episodes in his previous married life that have now infected the same column inches he dominated just a year ago as a campaigning white knight.

As so often occurs when the male menopause singles out a woman for attention whose age is closer to one’s daughter than one’s ex, it all ended in tears as the fallen Madonna with the big boobies flew the nest, having torn apart her own family beforehand thanks to opting for the abuse angle to elicit sympathy rather than ridicule. Abandoned and still condemned to the opposition benches, he consoled himself by ‘sexting’ an adolescent moose whose age, according to the repositioned goalposts he himself helped move, now falls into the category of childhood. The woeful fantasies of the single middle-aged man surfaced online, reflecting his inherent stupidity – as though nobody would store them away! – and now they have come back to haunt him in the most humiliating manner imaginable.

His former spouse has added to the humiliation by succumbing to the journalist’s cheque book and revealing all; whether true or not, the descriptions of his numerous unedifying sexual predilections have done further damage to the excuse for a reputation he possessed. A man who has spent the past couple of years pointing the finger should have known any tabloid tales of dubious bedtime antics were bound to provoke ‘other victims coming forward’ and – surprise, surprise – the latest headlines concern a rape allegation. Why didn’t he see this as the inevitable outcome? Because he’s a f***ing idiot. One could say he was dragging politics into disrepute, though it’s hard to imagine a more disreputable profession than politics other than banking. Nevertheless, his ludicrous antics in the squalid soap opera he’s presided over haven’t exactly done much to improve the image of politics. That the same former spouse washing the marital linen in public has also been accused of past dodgy activities herself just adds to the seedy saga and drags politics even deeper into the dirt when few thought that possible.

For someone who was so eager to put the boot in, to throw stones, to piss on graves and to sully the reputations and legacies of those not around to defend themselves, putting surviving family members through untold agonies and exposing them to unfavourable media attention in the process, the spectacular downfall currently playing out in the pages of the dailies and via the same medium he conducted a sleazy little ‘courtship’ on has an irony that goes way beyond mere delicious. There’s an old showbiz adage that says one should be careful who one shits on whilst ascending the ladder because one doesn’t know if one will meet them on the way back down. This horrible individual didn’t care where his effluence landed when he saw a chance to promote his career, and now he is covered in his own crap. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer twat.

© The Editor

REALM OF THE CENSORS

article-2408548-1B905CFE000005DC-901_634x432[1]I’m not entirely sure when I became aware of Mary Whitehouse and what she represented; she was on TV a lot during my childhood, and I must have heard she’d complained to the BBC about ‘Doctor Who’ at the height of Tom Baker’s golden ‘Gothic’ period in the mid-70s, when there was a macabre element to the Time Lord’s adventures that had more than a hint of the Grimm fairy tales. Too scary for young ‘uns was her opinion; I worked that much out, but couldn’t understand her point of view. I loved all things horror and fantastical at the time, and it was the only programme on the telly that covered such subjects before my bedtime. Why would she want to deny me that?

As I got a little older and acquired a wider knowledge of TV history, I realised she’d been around a while and her objections to broadcasters (largely the BBC) always focused on stuff that was worth watching, whether ‘I Claudius’ or ‘Play for Today’. There was a sizeable amount of crap on TV in the 70s as well, yet she never seemed to complain about that – only the quality. Once in my teens and learning of ‘Oz’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘The Romans in Britain’, I discovered she’d disapproved of all those as well. Basically, anything that was worth bothering with in every contemporary medium – TV, cinema, theatre, publishing – Mrs Whitehouse wanted to stop it. I suppose it was a compliment to the writers and the producers whenever she raised an objection; it was a sign they were doing something right. The Goodies were so pissed off by the fact she gave their show the thumbs-up that they parodied her in one episode, hoping she’d change her mind.

Even beyond Mary Whitehouse, I found out quite early on that a good deal of what I liked was intensely disliked by others. The British comic ‘Action’ seemed exciting, but IPC had to cease publication when the moral minority crucified it for its violence in the press. I could see a bomb blast in Ulster on the news and I knew the difference between real violence and that depicted in the pages of a comic; but others seemingly couldn’t. The year that ‘Action’ in its original, uncut incarnation vanished from the newsagents ended with The Sex Pistols being declared public enemy number one for saying words on television that my friends and me said every day in the playground. Again, moral uproar and demands to ban this filth dominated the headlines; in the case of Johnny Rotten & Co, it worked only in a live context; their records made the top ten and they even showed ‘Pretty Vacant’ on TOTP.

Video nasties were next on the agenda, but attempts to impose censorship upon cinema stretched back to its earliest days in this country; the foundation of the British Board of Film Censors in 1912 brought such strict guidelines into force that there was no British equivalent of German Expressionism on the silver screen during the silent era; the BBFC would never have allowed it. Theatre being a far older medium, it had been subjected to censorship since the early eighteenth century, appointing the Lord Chamberlain to act as judge and jury until as late as 1968. Publishing also finally grew up in the 1960s, following the successful outcome of the Lady Chatterley trial and the belated legal availability of numerous books that had been banned from these shores for decades; nine times out of ten, these were books worth reading.

The growth of the home VCR in the early 80s not only rendered the old ratings system of U, A, AA and X redundant, but a glut of schlock horror titles could be seen by the whole family over and over again; power was taken out of the hands of The Man and he wanted it back. He eventually got it when ratings were introduced to videos and we even had Simon Bates roped in to warn us of the potential dangers if we ignored the label. ‘Sexual swear words’ indeed. Granted, some of the titles that had constituted the video nasty scare were cheap and horrible exploitation pictures that look even worse now than they did at the time, but that wasn’t the point.

Current attempts to roll back many of the more liberal advances in culture are not coming from the old, but the young. This is a significant change where serial censors are concerned, yet once again I ponder on the strange fact that those of us who often find our tastes under attack never adopt the same tactics. There’s a hell of a lot on TV, in the press, at the cinema, on the radio and so on that I find abhorrent and appalling; but I simply don’t watch it, read it or listen to it. It’s not hard to do; it’s easy. I appreciate these things have an audience and they’re welcome to each other. What have I to gain by seeking to deprive people of pleasures that are alien to me? Ignoring those pleasures is a good deal less time-consuming than trying to ban them. Why can’t everyone come to this conclusion? It seems such a given.

Anyway, for an alternative comment on the conundrum, try this for size…

© The Editor

SKETCHES OF JANUARY

PilotNew Year’s Day on the beach whilst elsewhere the bush burns; that’s January 1 in Australia; a touring England cricket team thrash the hosts on their home ground beneath blazing sunshine; that’s January 1 in South Africa. It never sounds quite right, but that’s the consequence of living one’s life in Northern Europe. Although ice and snow have been thin on the British ground this time round, that’s not entirely unusual; the Dickensian White Christmas shoved down our throats by television and cinema only existed in Dickens’ childhood as he endured the final years of the Little Ice Age, an era that ended circa 1850. All the same, many of the hallmarks we associate with the opening of a year are in place.

The trees are naked, their bare branches akin to talons scratching the colourless, cloudless sky; breath is a visible emission that makes every outdoor conversation reminiscent of a Rick Wakeman gig at the Empire Pool; pigmentation is pale or pink, depending on the strength of the wind; a day never gets going, looking like evening in the morning; people drink more when confronted by a gloomy Scandinavian ambience (like the Scandinavians all year round), while the New Year’s Resolution is a fruitless exercise in combating seasonal depression. The enforced Yuletide jollity, when the law of the land specifies it’s legit to behave in a manner that would lead to arrest any other time of the year, has already faded and faces have reverted to blank canvasses of indifference to their fellow-man, no longer obliged to treat every stranger like an old chum.

The fortnight when businesses shut down and nobody can be reached on the phone mercifully comes to an end and normality is resumed after a few shaky days of hangover-nursing, weight-watching and acclimatisation. Surprisingly, New Year’s Day has only been a public holiday in this country since 1974 – though sparing us the sight of zombie-like employees stumbling about the workplace on January 1 wouldn’t necessarily have been cause for much celebration on that first day off, coming as it did when Ted Heath’s Three-Day Week officially began. Perhaps the holiday was merely instigated as a means of pacifying the public and preparing industry for the tough times ahead. Now that New Year’s Day is so fixed in the national psyche as one more twenty-four hour period in which only those involved in the January Sales make the effort to get out of bed, its relatively recent origins are understandably lost in the mists of time.

Mind you, the January Sales themselves no longer have the element of uniqueness they once possessed, not in an age of Sunday trading and the insidious introduction of the pre-Xmas consumerist hyperbole of Black Friday. A memorable ‘Coronation Street’ storyline in the 70s had luckless Hilda Ogden sleeping overnight outside a Weatherfield department store, determined to get her hands on a colour television set. Of course, Hilda being Hilda, by the time she woke up the next morning, the store had already opened and she was beaten to the ultimate symbol of contemporary acquisitiveness by another housewife desperate to keep up with the Jones’s. Besides, January 1 has been rendered unremarkable in the shopping calendar now that the Sales tend to begin proper on Boxing Day.

At one time, the minute Christmas Day was over, ITV was flooded with ads for holidays, as though being bombarded by images of sunny climes was the only way in which Brits could cope with the frosty imminence of January. Even if the avuncular thumbs up of Fred Pontin reminding those prepared to gamble on the unpredictable British summer that they had to ‘Book Early’ is the only one that sticks in the memory, the BBC also had its Sunday teatime ‘Holiday’ programme incongruously airing when whole weeks would pass by without sunlight. Presented by Cliff Michelmore, who always gave the impression he was far too lofty a broadcaster to sully his hands with such populist trash, the show never felt to me like a window on the summer – more like rubbing your nose in the fact that the season was still many long months away. It also formed part of that dreary BBC1 Sunday line-up along with ‘Songs of Praise’ and ‘That’s Life’, both of which seemed to serve as a proto-trigger warning that the weekend was over and it was school in the morning.

The first Saturday in January traditionally plays host to the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, when the big guns from the Premier League are drawn against lower-league ‘minnows’ and the kind of David & Goliath shocks so beloved of excitable match commentators are on the cards. Get ready to relive Ronnie Radford’s 1972 rocket for Hereford against Newcastle, not to mention Mickey Thomas’s similar thunderbolt for Wrexham against Arsenal in 1992 – perennial replays that the month would be bereft without, even if the quagmires upon which those moments of individual inspiration took place have been condemned to the same football graveyard as rattles and terracing.

‘Getting through’ January is almost viewed as a test of British grit; anybody who absolves themselves of the endurance is ostracised and regarded as a coward. As Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan made the fatal mistake of attending a summit of world leaders in the Caribbean as the rest of the country endured the 1978/79 Winter of Discontent and the electorate punished him for it the following May. The British like to feel their suffering is shared equally. But once January is over, we’re stuck with February, a nothing month with something of an identity crisis, neither one thing nor the other, not even good enough to stretch to 30 days; only in March, with the dawning of spring, does the veil lift and (to paraphrase George Harrison) the smiles return to the faces. That longing for sunshine does rob the year of at least two months, however; rather than grinning and bearing it, maybe we should make the most of it while it’s here. Yes, it’s cold, wet, dark and miserable-looking by the accepted standards of what constitutes natural beauty. But there is a beauty there; it just doesn’t conform to the narrow definition of the travel brochures.

© The Editor