CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE MET KIND

LadybirdIt’s not a question I suppose is posed every day of the week, but has anyone reading this ever made a complaint against a serving police officer? I did about two weeks ago, and it was interesting to see how the police responded with such unexpected promptness, something that encapsulated the speed with which they apparently ‘resolved’ the complaint. Perhaps two factors played a part in this promptness – a) The officer is gay; and b) The officer is with the Metropolitan Police Force. The Met has had so many PR disasters over the past decade or so that a copper intimately acquainted with Dorothy accused of being bent (albeit not in the traditional cockney lingo way) is probably not something that will do much for their attempts to improve their image. Therefore, he has been exonerated; but that fact doesn’t clean up an ongoing mystery. I think I’d better backtrack a little.

My girlfriend is a married woman, albeit one whose marriage exists on paper only. Her (soon to be) ex-husband evidently has a problem with her moving on and has extended this to ‘checking up’ on me. Only, he doesn’t have the facilities on hand to do so. How fortunate for him that he has a pal in the Met! He asked said pal to do some background research on my career as a criminal mastermind, which consists of one poxy caution for a minor offence born of financial desperation fifteen long years ago. This is something I am neither proud of nor something I make a habit of bringing up in conversation; it bears so little relation to the person I am today that it is beyond irrelevant.

However, Mr Ex couldn’t resist bragging about his ‘revelation’ to my girlfriend, despite the fact she already knew about it. He even bragged as to the means by which he acquired the information, dropping his pal in the proverbial manure in the process. He probably didn’t expect me to register my annoyance at this illicit snooping with the relevant authorities, but I did.

Having sought legal advice from an acquaintance in the legal profession, I approached the Met directly rather than the IPCC, and within a day or two of my initial phone-call, I was contacted by a Met Inspector who required the details of and reasons behind my complaint before she could take the investigation further. I knew nothing of the officer in question other than his rank and his name, which was easy to remember on account of him sharing it with a former Radio 1 DJ whose highest profile period was in the 1980s – and he is also one of that illustrious club yet to be cited as a retrospective Paedo, which admittedly narrows it down a bit.

Anyway, having told everything I knew, the Inspector promised me this would not be swept under the carpet, and a serving officer using police databases to check up on an individual who hadn’t been arrested or charged with any offence since a solitary caution in 2001 was indeed abusing his privileged position. I was right in making the complaint, and it would be taken extremely seriously. A week later, I was contacted by someone working for what I presumed was a police department that trawls through digitised records not available to the general public; further details were divulged, and it was made clear to me that an investigation into the officer’s conduct was very much in full swing.

A few more days passed and another phone-call informed me that all relevant checks had been made. Apparently, the Force responsible for my arrest and caution had deleted my offence from their records five years later due to my not having being arrested for anything else after it. That’s the unknown reward for ‘good character’. This means, according to what I was told, the arrest and caution in 2001 couldn’t have been accessed by the officer against whom I was making my complaint.

There is a national database available to all Forces across the country and I wasn’t even listed on it; I am seemingly on another database that a simple shoplifting offence shouldn’t really make me eligible for inclusion on, though I was told my star-studded entry on there hasn’t been accessed recently, which would appear to clear the officer I’d complained about from rooting around it like some grubby little knicker-sniffer sticking his nose in his sister-in-law’s drawers when pretending to pay a visit to the loo at her home. A man who one imagines to be amongst the Met’s poster-boy officers due to his sexuality is not guilty, okay? That doesn’t explain one thing, however; and that is, how did the ex receive the info he used as bragging ammunition?

There is absolutely no way this – and one other personal, albeit non-law-breaking – item of information could have been accessed other than the way Mr Ex described it. The police telling me that nobody has attempted to access the info recently just doesn’t wash, I’m afraid; I can’t help but feel they’re covering their backs and looking after their own. And, as stated earlier, the thought that a gay officer could be exposed as a wrong ‘un is the last thing they need right now.

The Met representatives I spoke to were very civil and gave every impression they were there to help, but their findings don’t ring true. I won’t be taking the matter any further, as my annoyance with the actions of the officer has been registered now; but I shouldn’t have expected anything less from a Force with one of the country’s most disreputable reputations, I guess – even on a scale as small as mine. It’s certainly not a nice feeling, knowing that one foolhardy moment of weakness fifteen years ago and several hundred miles from the capital can be located by a policeman whose day-job is supposed to be policing London in 2016. A diabolical bloody liberty, if anything. What indeed would Sgt Dixon say?

© The Editor

THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME

DiscA cartoon in the current issue of ‘Private Eye’ shows a musician poised to unveil a new number for an appreciative audience. ‘I wrote this next song,’ he says, ‘in the hope that someone will rip it off so I can sue them.’ Satirical, yes, but to the point where the business of music is currently concerned. In the aftermath of the era when pop promised riches that speedily elevated its practitioners several social places via a string of hit singles, the descendants of deceased musicians who evidently didn’t have a problem with their little-known numbers bearing a passing resemblance to very well-known ones are launching suits left right and centre in order to grab a little cash from the only songs that still make a million, old ones.

Just a few months ago, a case of copyright infringement against Led Zeppelin claimed their magnum opus ‘Stairway to Heaven’ ripped off a track by an obscure 60s/70s band called Spirit. The judge ruled the similarities between ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Taurus’ were not similar enough to warrant infringement and Led Zep were not forced to surrender any of the astronomical royalties the song has accumulated for them over the last 45 years. This case followed the more famous one involving ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Got to Give it Up’; the Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams hit of 2013 – remembered chiefly for its rather crass promo video – was compared unfavourably to Marvin Gaye’s 1977 US chart-topper in a case last year. This time round, the plagiarism charge held up and Gaye’s children were awarded in the region of $7.4 million as a consequence.

An insipid peddler of trite, vapid dirges he may well be, but is Ed Sheeran a plagiarist? The heirs of Ed Townsend, the late co-writer of Marvin Gaye’s erotic ode to Percy Filth, ‘Let’s Get it On’, reckon so. They’ve instigated a lawsuit against the guitar-playing ginger crooner that claims his track ‘Thinking Out Loud’ is a little too close to Gaye’s 1973 Billboard No.1 to not be considered a rip-off. I took a deep breath and gave the Sheeran track a listen to see if I could discern comparisons with Marvin’s sensual masterpiece. Yes, Gaye’s song was clearly an influence on Sheeran’s, but you could say that about hundreds of bloody songs recorded in the last half-century. After all, what is the 12-bar Blues but the same song over and over again?

The first time a plagiarism lawsuit caught the public’s attention was in the mid-70s, when George Harrison’s worldwide 1971 solo chart-topper ‘My Sweet Lord’ was successfully sued by the composers of the 1963 Chiffons hit, ‘He’s So Fine’. The judge found in favour of the latter and Harrison admitted he was probably subconsciously influenced by ‘He’s So Fine’ when composing the song that acted as the launch-pad for his post-Beatles career. There are identical chord changes in some places, though Harrison’s claim that he was more inspired by ‘Oh, Happy Day’, a 1969 hit for The Edwin Hawkins Singers, also rings true when it comes to the spiritual mood of ‘My Sweet Lord’.

Funnily enough, Harrison himself failed to sue Paul Weller, despite the obvious similarities between his own 1966 Beatles song, ‘Taxman’, and The Jam’s 1980 UK chart-topper, ‘Start’. Perhaps he was shrewd enough to recognise an affectionate homage to his track of fourteen years previously; but those were still the days when so much money was in pop music that people didn’t necessarily have to sue to survive.

The collapse of the old-school music industry and the multi-million dollar record sales that enabled performers and writers to join the jet-set on the back of them has hit the songwriter hard. Up-and-coming artists forced to relentlessly tour in order to make a living certainly have a case should they feel someone else has ripped off their tune and is making more money from their version of it than their original managed; but when it comes to the children of dead writers attempting to make a mint from something they themselves had no hand in, I’m not so sure. Andrew Lloyd-Webber owes his most successful songs to the eighteenth and nineteenth century composers he…er…’borrowed’ melodies from, so where are their descendants, desperately seeking some golden eggs that they had nothing to do with the laying of? The way things are going, don’t rule it out.

There are only so many chords and there are only so many ways of putting those chords in a different running order; equally, each new artist that appears carries his or her influences in every song they write, which is an unavoidable state of affairs. And with genuine originality being at such a premium today, it’s inevitable we’re going to get even more soundalikes due to the fact that twenty-first century musicians have almost a hundred years of standards behind them that they have to compete with and outdo. It’s a tall order, though the prospect of each new hit being accused of ripping off another from thirty or forty years ago by people who’ve never so much as written a shopping-list is utterly farcical. And it’s setting a dangerous precedent.

© The Editor

THE RISE AND FALL OF A MEDIA WHORE

AdjemSo, after a green-fingered interlude, we’re back to Hate Crime again. I always thought Anjem Choudary was a shit-stirring prat. Nick Griffin with a beard; a rentagobshite joke conjured up by ‘Channel 4 News’ or ‘Newsnight’ to play the tediously token controversial contrarian; a caricature of an Islamic hate preacher who could have been concocted by ‘Viz’; a desperate publicity-seeking defender of the indefensible because it brought him infamy; to be honest, I half-expected him to turn up on ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ at some point, he was so pathetic in his attempts to be noticed, no better than the stars of ‘Geordie Shore’ or ‘The Only Way is Essex’ he’d be sharing the Big Brother House with. A mate of mine regularly used to wind him up on Twitter, playing on the online evidence of his far-from devout student days before he became a Professional Muslim; he rose to the bait on every occasion.

At the same time, I could see no real difference between him and those who spout the other side of the argument on the same programmes – the PC preachers, the patronising middle-class North London-dwelling spokesmen and women for ‘the working-classes’, the squeaky-voiced Feminazi Babes pleading for Victimhood as they auditioned for a column in the Grauniad. I got the distinct impression that all these sad media whores had far more in common than whatever ideological differences divided them. In some respects, I sensed Choudary was invited onto such shows simply as an amusing alternative to the insufferable right-on platitudes of the rest of them. By challenging the consensus whenever a terrorist atrocity occurred, Choudary represented a rare minority opinion; the problem was that his ego and deep desire to make a name for himself overshadowed any valid opposition he may have harboured. It generally came across as contrariness for contrariness’s sake.

Unlike Owen Jones or Laurie Penny, however, Anjem Choudary has now felt the full force of British – as opposed to Sharia – Law, convicted of inviting support for a proscribed organisation, namely ISIS, otherwise known as ‘So-called Islamic State’ or ‘Daesh’. The latter to me always sounds like a description of somebody suspected of being Welsh – ‘Hmm, he sounds a bit Dai-ish’ – but that’s beside the point. The point is that Choudary’s years of exploiting the democratic rights of a free society by advocating the dissolution of them have finally caught up with him, and he’s due to receive his sentence next month. Playing the cartoon Hate Preacher for the benefit of the media wasn’t enough to bang him behind bars, and he knew it. Therefore, the authorities spent months trying to find a way to finally silence him, and the CPS found it in Section 12 of the Terrorist Act of 2000.

Reporting restrictions have been tight around Choudary’s trial – no doubt the powers-that-be will cite the sensitivity of clandestine terrorism-related issues, whereas Choudary’s supporters will claim the veil of secrecy within the media has been imposed to obscure the fact that the charges that have been dubiously cobbled together to nick Choudary quickly collapse if subjected to scrutiny. At least we know what the charges were. Choudary belongs to the generation whose every utterance is an online footprint that can be easily accessed by those eager to bring him down, and it would appear they’ve succeeded.

Ironically, the very democratic freedoms he claimed to despise were ones he utilised after his arrest, approaching the Supreme Court in order to halt the prosecution. He failed. That was one option he wouldn’t have had if his alleged dream of the Islamic flag flying over No.10 in ‘Londonistan’ had ever come to fruition. I’ve a feeling he was toying with the media yet again when he made that claim, but too much toying has cost him his freedom now. He’s poised to experience the kind of isolation from democracy he purports to support, though it won’t be coming via Sharia Law, but British Law.

The crime with which he has been charged is encouraging the vulnerable and easily-influenced to sign-up to the nihilistic agenda of ISIS, though I have strong doubts that he ever genuinely believed in the ISIS philosophy. I think Anjem Choudary is as much a wannabe celebrity as anyone whose ultimate ambition is to grace the front cover of ‘OK!’ magazine; he merely took a different route to that facile fame. He’s not some Bond-like criminal mastermind, just a sad little publicity-seeker who found an alternative avenue to the front pages of the tabloids that spared him (and the nation) from having to get his kit off on TV.

I don’t agree with anything Anjem Choudary advocated in his numerous television appearances, but – as the old saying goes – I respect his right to advocate them. It’s evident the authorities have searched high and low to locate something they can convict him for, and it would appear they’ve found it. I can think of many in the public eye I would gladly silence if only there were an offence on the statue books they could be charged with – can nobody evoke an ancient law that can stick James Corden in Strangeways? But in the case of Choudary, one has been found. Whether or not it stands up as a genuine offence remains to be seen. I certainly won’t miss his presence, but I can’t help but wonder if this is another case of the authorities concocting a convenient charge that will remove a thorn in their side from the headlines.

© The Editor

GETTING BACK TO THE GARDEN

DinosaursRegardless of his popularity amongst elderly ladies, it’s probably fair to say that Alan Titchmarsh will not be retrospectively bracketed along with the great artists of the late twentieth century – the painters, poets, authors and musicians who left their mark on his lifetime. There is art in great gardening, though it’s not recognised as Art itself. One exception to the rule, and a man who was undoubtedly as creative and revolutionary as the more conventional artists surrounding him, was born three-hundred years ago this month. His Christian name was grandiose enough, Lancelot, but he’s more commonly known by his nickname. I’m talking about, of course, Capability Brown.

If you’ve ever visited a prominent stately home in this country, chances are you’ve seen Capability Brown’s handiwork; during roughly forty years as a working man, his elegant brushstrokes stamped his genius on the green and pleasant land and ripped up the rulebook for landscape gardening. Whereas previously, the gardens of English country houses were rigidly formal and a tad dull, little more than an afterthought to the houses themselves, Brown transformed them so that the houses were incorporated into their surroundings, one of many aesthetic features on those sweeping emerald vistas that maintain their ability to take the breath away.

Capability Brown’s reputation dipped somewhat in the Romantic era, when his designs weren’t quite wild and rustic enough for the ‘back to nature’ brigade and their melancholy follies, though it was slowly resurrected later in the nineteenth century and he is now rightly recognised as the true artist he was. As with his fellow artists, Brown was dependent upon a wealthy patron, and he ended up with one of the country’s most notable – the sovereign himself, King George III. It took another century until proper landscaped civic parks paid for by councils and corporations transplanted the kind of scenic delights Brown gifted the private estates of noblemen and royalty into the public arena, but his influence on the best was distinct.

The physical impact of the Industrial Revolution on the landscape had prompted the eventual creation of public parkland in an attempt to resurrect a few acres of the lost rural past in the heart of the city, but Britain’s role as the engine of the Empire continued to leave an inky imprint on the major industrial heartlands. By the turn of the twentieth century, social reformer Ebenezer Howard had hatched the concept of the Garden City, unveiling his master-plan in his 1898 book, ‘To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to True Reform’. In it, he pioneered a notion of a new-town that would marry the benefits of both town and country while avoiding their respective drawbacks. Howard caught the mood of the moment amongst reforming intellectuals and his ideas were put into practice with the world’s first Garden City, Letchworth in Hertfordshire, upon which work began in 1903.

Mocked and marvelled at in equal measure, the physical offshoots of the Garden City Movement nevertheless proved highly influential when it came to creating communities from scratch in the first half of the twentieth century. Letchworth was followed by the more famous Welwyn Garden City in 1920, and similar principles were used to found the post-war new-towns. The collective inheritance of the rural idyll – one that conveniently leaves out the hardship of genuine country life – is one that seems intrinsic to the British state of mind. However, when one considers that, outside of our long history of maritime commerce, we had a largely agricultural economy for centuries until the Industrial Revolution, it’s no wonder we hark back to it as a Golden Age; the rural is more deeply engrained in our our shared national genes than the urban. It was present in the famous BBC Interludes of the 1950s, particularly the potent image of horse-drawn ploughs, and is perhaps responsible for the townie part-timers who purchase rural properties they only reside in for a month or two a year whilst natives are priced out of the market.

The fallacy of a pre-industrial Golden Age was certainly a crucial theme in the 1974 ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’, in which a group of self-righteous, left-leaning Hampstead intellectuals (one of whom strangely looks like Jeremy Corbyn) combine with a group of neo-eugenics scientists and acquire time-travel to reverse history so that the world reverts to a purer age. Unfortunately, those not belonging to the clique will cease to exist, along with all of human civilisation that came after the perceived Golden Age. Needless to say, Jon Pertwee saves the day, but – prehistoric monsters and time-travel aside – the story cleverly taps into the way in which the rural idyll in theory is different to the rural idyll in practice.

The latest manifestation of the concept is the proposed (and already notorious) Garden Bridge in London, a ludicrously expensive folly across the Thames that has the potential to be either a twee tourist attraction or a white elephant in the Millennium Dome league. Heavily promoted by Boris Johnson when still London Mayor as well as his showbiz groupie Joanna Lumley, the Garden Bridge hasn’t even left the drawing-board yet, though this hasn’t prevented millions of tax-payers’ pounds being diverted into the project, regardless of public opposition to it and the impracticalities of such a daydream scheme. What an artist like Capability Brown would have made of it, let alone Margot and Jerry, we will never know.

© The Editor

ALL YOU NEED IS HATE

FFPerhaps it was only when time-travelling 21st Century DI Sam Tyler was confronted by racism in 1973 and expressed his opinion that he suspected a ‘Hate Crime’ that the ludicrousness of the term seemed more blatant than ever. ‘As opposed to an I-really-love-you crime?’ asked his guv’nor in response. Okay, so DCI Gene Hunt in the celebrated BBC drama ‘Life on Mars’ may not have been the most sympathetic or sensitive of characters, but the notion of a separate category for a criminal act based solely on ‘hate’ is a contentious one that deserves to be questioned. At the time ‘Life on Mars’ was set, there were certainly plenty of retrospective Hate Crimes being committed on British streets; the daily murders by both sides of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland could be considered so – using today’s definition, anyway.

The impression sometimes given is that Hate Crime was hatched as a catch-all umbrella label to Hoover-up lots of little offences and assemble them all in a neat package that could also encompass other ‘offences’ not already catered for by the law. Many of the actions by individuals that fall under the Hate Crime banner would once have been dismissed as little more than playground-level name-calling; it’s a definition open to abuse like few others. It’s as though officers arriving at the scene of a crime who may be bemused by the evident absence of a motive pull the Hate Crime card out of a hat because it not only makes their job so much easier; it also pleases those who demand recognition as Victims.

There are numerous subdivisions that are encompassed by the Hate Crime tag. These include racially motivated violence, transphobic violence, violence against LGBT people, violence against men, violence against women, violence against people with disabilities and so forth – all of which are horrible, but all of which are virtually identical and unpleasant crimes committed by one human being against another. Should they not simply be considered age-old acts of violence full stop? Why do they require their own little label that immediately puts them in a ‘special category’?

The need to categorise everything and everyone so that every item of information on a database can be referenced and cross-referenced to see which box it belongs in has been extended from data to people; and people are utterly complicit in this. The desire to be a ‘joiner’ and belong to an officially recognised Community seems to have superseded religious definitions in many cases as a means of self-identification, and would appear to fulfil a deep need to be a member of a crowd in a world that has been shorn of its older certainties. The advent of Hate Crime could be considered a symptom of this need.

Actively promoted by pressure groups and self-proclaimed minorities seeking a pigeonhole to comfortably slot into, Hate Crime is not only redefining genuine crimes and grouping them with incidents that should barely register as such, but it appears to be a term that is being applied to any manner of minor insults, an extension of the PC Police in monitoring free speech. The whole ‘you can’t say that’ argument has been given one hell of a boost with the inception of Hate Crime.

Nowhere is this more obvious than online, where the anonymity a fake identity provides apparently gives the troll carte-blanche to say whatever he or she likes and receive no comeback. Hate Mail existed long before email, let alone Twitter, so it’s nothing new. Technology has merely facilitated a faster means of sending abuse than it used to take when posting a letter, just as it has enabled messages of a more benign nature to reach the recipient in an instant. For those who live online and can barely survive a minute without gazing at their Smartphone, any abusive text or message is bound to have a greater impact, as this is impinging upon the central hub of their existence.

The Metropolitan Police Force is clearly taking the concerns of online obsessives into account by setting up a new unit to tackle the problem for the princely sum of £1.7m. A spokesman for the pilot project claimed there was ‘no place for hate in London’ and also used that awful term ‘zero tolerance’, which always sounds too uncomfortably reminiscent of old phrases such as ‘short, sharp shock’ or even the inappropriate application of the word ‘Tsar’ to anyone heading such a taskforce.

It is the vagueness of Hate Crime as a description and how easily it can be attached to an opinion that contradicts the current consensus that makes it such a problematic term. Any police involvement in a dispute between one individual and a Community (especially an online one) always seems an unnecessary intervention, something that grown adults should be able to deal with on their own and not go crying to the Boys in Blue about. After all, they have enough issues of their own making to deal with, such as murdering former Premier League footballers by applying 50,000 volts to them simply because they resisted being restrained. That might not be a Hate Crime, but it’s pretty bloody hateful. RIP Dalian Atkinson.

© The Editor

CEEFAX ANORAKS

vlcsnap-2016-08-13-15h54m13s246I make no apologies for this post being aimed at a certain age-group demographic. Of course, one cannot but betray one’s birth certificate in writing about contemporary cultural, political or social events; the tendency to reference the past with personal experience gives the game away somewhat, though I’d like to think I’m not strictly preaching to the converted. That said, today I unashamedly focus on the pre-internet age and will hopefully spark recognition in those who worked, rested and played in that age. I am talking technology, albeit the kind of technology that would probably leave The Kids baffled. I’m talking Ceefax.

Yes, we all remember Ceefax. Whether in its incarnation as the alternative test card to fill television downtime in the 80s with the same ‘pages’ on a loop accompanied by soporific saxophones and limp funk, or the analogue equivalent of the super-information highway, Ceefax was the nearest thing we had to the internet for sourcing information at speed before the twenty-first century. By the 1990s, I doubt any TV sets were manufactured that didn’t have Teletext facilities attached. Ceefax was the BBC brand name for their version, though it rapidly became the generic label for the whole system, despite the fact that ITV (and Channel 4) originally called theirs Oracle.

The idea of incorporating on-screen text into the television service was hatched at the BBC in the late 60s, though the limitations of technology at the time proved an obstacle to success. The concept was initially a TV answer to the newspaper ‘stop press’, whereby the latest news headlines could be quickly accessed by the viewer at a point long before 24-hour rolling news channels had been devised. Developments in electronics revived the notion in 1972, in tandem with a wish to provide the deaf with subtitles for popular BBC programmes, and Ceefax officially came into being in September 1974, promoted as a great leap forward by the likes of ‘Tomorrow’s World’, even though special TV sets would be required to receive it. As most of the nation was still getting to grips with the novelty of colour television, TV Teletext took time to catch the public’s imagination and when the IBA launched their own Teletext service not long after, the need to collaborate on an industry standard was eventually achieved in 1976, becoming known as World System Teletext.

As when the BBC Television Service came into being from Alexandra Palace in 1936, the audience for this new innovation was limited to the wealthy and industry insiders. Ceefax expanded slowly as a consequence, but by the turn of the 80s the information – on ‘pages’ – had developed beyond the original news headlines to include weather forecasts, business updates, TV and radio listings, sport, travel, recipes, quizzes, music, film and television reviews etc. Everybody of a certain age probably experienced that great moment of envy when popping round to a mate’s house and being given a guided tour around Ceefax courtesy of the flash new telly his parents had purchased. When BBC2 began to devote endless afternoon hours traditionally reserved for the test card to showcasing Ceefax, the system and its unique design-classic graphics seemed a must-have for every 1980s household. Indeed, I’m surprised Dominic Sandbrook hasn’t honed in on this fact during his current pop culture dissection of ‘Delia’s Decade’.

If for you, like me, watching a programme on a commercial channel was soured by the constant interruption of the ad breaks, Ceefax was a Godsend. The minute the ‘End of Part One’ caption appeared I would immediately reach for the Teletext button on the newfangled remote and see what was happening in the world for the duration of the advertising interlude, able to overlay the info on the picture that was being transmitted or to fill the screen with the full Ceefax experience. Then again, I’d often switch on the set solely to check Ceefax, especially on a Saturday afternoon, when it was the best way to receive updates on football scores. Before the World Wide Web, Ceefax was invaluable in accessing information at the flick of a switch.

On the other side, Oracle’s Channel 4 division (4-Tel) had a memorable music page (originally called ‘Four O’Clock Rock’) that was akin to an online music paper, featuring reviews, interviews and entertaining readers’ comments. I remember I once even had a demo tape reviewed favourably on it. Being able to see what the top 40 singles or albums were merely by pressing a button is such a given now that it’s hard to emphasise how brilliantly innovative Teletext was for this. There was an ongoing children’s serial involving a badger and his animal pals called ‘Barney’s Bunch’ as well as a cult quiz called ‘Bamboozle’, one that often revived the battered brain cells of stoned clubbers returning from raves in the wee small hours of the early 90s. By the middle of that decade, it appeared that every interest under the sun was catered for by Ceefax and its ITV equivalent. Technology couldn’t get more interactive. And then came the internet.

The writing was on the wall for Teletext, and the system was slowly wound down as the 2010s and the nationwide digital switchover approached. Indeed, it was the end of analogue TV as much as growing reliance on the internet that phased out one era of technology in favour of another. The ITV system ended in 2010, whereas Ceefax hung on for another couple of years. Sentimental insomniacs tuned in to the final ‘Pages from’ schedule in the early hours of 22 October 2012 to see the service one last time, and the apt closing tune was ‘Bart’, one that a generation of schoolchildren associated with its use as schools and colleges interval music in the 70s and 80s. It was a fitting farewell.

The news that a bunch of enthusiastic fanatics who probably should get out more (but aren’t doing any harm) have launched a nostalgic homage to Ceefax called Teefax has been compared by its spokesman to ‘restoring steam engines’; and while anyone born after 1999 will no doubt be bemused by the fuss and fascination with this archaic service, it’s always important to remember that every up-to-the-minute innovation has its roots in a predecessor, however primitive it may appear to a modern eye that never gazed upon it with awe in the absence of anything else.

© The Editor

DEATH OF A GENTLEMAN

Ted and RalphDowry – that’s a word you don’t hear much these days. Back in the age of dynastic betrothals made as business deals between wealthy families, dowries counted for a lot. In 1677, what eventually became the mother of all dowries was delivered by Mary Davies, a twelve-year-old heiress who brought to the marital table some undeveloped marshland in central London. Her husband-to-be was Sir Thomas Grosvenor, a 21-year-old Cheshire landowner and future MP for Chester. Mary Davies’s dowry included around 100 acres in a disreputable neighbourhood primarily known for its ancient fair held every May, which attracted the kind of debauched rowdiness later portrayed in paintings by Hogarth; the remainder of the land she’d inherited encompassed half a square mile stretching from Hyde Park to the Thames. The Grosvenor Estate was developed by the couple’s children after the relatively early deaths of their parents, and is now better known as Mayfair, Belgravia and Park Lane. Over 300 years later, Mary Davies’s marshland is now the most prized real estate on the planet.

It may seem somewhat anachronistic in the twenty-first century, but the most expensive areas of London largely remain in private hands, still owned by families that purchased the land three or four centuries ago. These areas were developed and built upon in the subsequent decades following their original purchase and were gradually transformed into some of the country’s most exclusive residential districts. It’s no wonder the families that originally owned the land have held onto it. The Grosvenor family, along with the Cavendish’s, the Bedford’s and the Cadogan’s, were prominent landowners during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the head of the Grosvenor family was elevated to the upper echelons of the peerage by Queen Victoria, who created the Dukedom of Westminster in 1874. The sixth holder of that title passed away from a heart attack a couple of days ago at the age of 64.

The late Lord (Patrick) Lichfield once remarked that the aristocracy are made of tough stuff, and the twentieth century saw them receive their greatest challenges. After hundreds of years in which they had essentially governed the nation, times had changed and power was no longer a given. The increased death duties levied upon the richest families in the country following the Second World War saw the demolition of hundreds of great country houses the aristocracy could no longer afford to run, robbing the British landscape of some of its most beautiful residences. Those that survived had to be adapted into tourist attractions, opening their doors to the public and creating the industry of the stately home in the process, something that helps maintain the astronomical upkeep of such houses. As caretakers of what are undeniably amongst this country’s architectural jewels, they haven’t done a bad job.

By all accounts, the Sixth Duke of Westminster was in possession of the one factor inherited wealth can imbue in the best of men that is often absent from self-made barrow-boys such as Philip Green and Mike Ashley – class. Gerald Grosvenor had an estimated fortune of £9.35 billion, making him the third richest man in Britain and relegating the likes of David Cameron or George Osborne to mere wannabes. But it would seem he had a degree of humility about him sorely lacking in those who seek to buy their way into high society and mistake material goods for greatness.

The genuine aristocracy probably have more in common with the ‘common man’ than they do the aspiring middle-classes and the social-climbing self-made men, both of whom look down on the ranks they’ve risen from with a contempt that is absent from those who’ve never belonged to them. Being born at the top means there’s nowhere to aim for, just as many born at the bottom remain there because they feel they can rise no higher; this seems to breed a shared absence of ambition that social climbers find incomprehensible. Consequently, the two social demographics within British society that know how to have a good time and don’t get hung up about it emanate from the polar ends of the social scale.

Although he attended Harrow, Gerald Grosvenor didn’t fit in on account of the Irish accent he had acquired though being raised and initially educated in County Fermanagh; he turned to the army and eventually reached the rank of Major General, finally retiring from military service in 2012. The land he inherited upon ascending to the title of Duke in 1979 included Liverpool city centre; Liverpool was a beneficiary of his philanthropy, and it is testament to the kind of aristocrat he was that he saw fit to use his considerable wealth not to open a dozen bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, but to donate handsomely to charities and, for example, to aid struggling farmers during the devastating foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001.

It’s the easiest reaction in the world to sneer at the lucky few who are born into the kind of privilege the late Duke of Westminster was born into; but none of us ask to be born and none of us can measure our own origins until we are exposed to the origins of others. That some decide to benefit the less fortunate by employing their vast wealth in ways that Flash Harry’s with a heavily-advertised Rolls Royce in the garage or a yacht in Monaco regard as anathema is to their credit. If we are to have riches in the hands of the few as opposed to the many, I would rather it be in the hands of Gerald Grosvenor than the former head of BHS any day.

© The Editor

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT CORBYN (AGAIN)

CorbynIn a week that has seen numerous prominent Republicans across the pond express their antipathy towards the man their party has chosen to lead them into November’s Presidential Election, a poll here has revealed that 29% of Labour voters would rather vote for Theresa May than Jeremy Corbyn – so that means the Tories could count on 2.7 million extra votes were the PM to call an autumn Election. As things currently stand, the Government are fourteen points ahead of Labour. Basically, what the hell is she waiting for? It’s hard to think of any Prime Minister in recent times being in such a strong position to secure a mandate; and it could well be a far more concise mandate than the one she inherited. In many respects, it’s a measure of just how weak the opposition is that the Tories were able to overcome their bitter divisions on Europe and emerge relatively unscathed in record time.

Despite widespread dissatisfaction with Jezza’s leadership both within his own party and outside of the enclosed echo chamber of party activism, it’s hard to imagine the unstoppable cult of Corbyn being brought to an end by Owen Smith. The election of six Momentum candidates onto the National Executive Committee – the last outstanding barrier to taking control of the party by the far left – means Corbyn’s neo-Trotskyist cronies now have a majority on Labour’s ruling body. This comprehensive coup even overshadows the machinations of Tony Benn and Militant Tendency to seize power in the early 80s; and if that gave birth to the SDP, what on earth will current events begat?

Despite the fact that the post-Brexit Labour frontbench seems occupied by anonymous members of the public whose place there is due to them winning a competition, the news that Andy Burnham, one of the few remaining leftovers from the last Labour Government, is to run for Mayor of Greater Manchester will leave it looking even more threadbare. Burnham has remained relatively loyal to Corbyn, hence holding onto his post as Shadow Home Secretary after the exodus following Hilary Benn’s sacking; but the chance to become the first elected mayor of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was clearly too tempting to reject in favour of sentimentally staying aboard a sinking ship until it disappears beneath the waves of mediocrity.

By the way, for those of you south of Watford, Manchester begins just after you exit the Midlands and takes you all the way up to Scotland; there’s nothing else in The North other than Manchester, of course. Oh, there is Liverpool; but that’s more or less in Ireland, anyway.

With just over a month left before the Labour leadership election, Owen Smith not only has to contend with his own absence of charisma, but the online army that Corbyn can call upon, one that recruits party members by the thousand on a daily basis, if we’re to believe the hype. Unless you happen to be a Biblical magician ala Moses, trying to stem the flow is a futile exercise; even the High Court this week ruled that the new recruits should be entitled to a vote come September. Like a lot of hip ‘n’ groovy techno-savvy movers and shakers, I am on Facebook, but I generally use it for personal messages, and my FB wall is solely an advertising board for posting links to articles on this blog and the ‘Looking for Alison’ one; when confronted by my news-feed, however – the section of the system that shows what one’s friends have been posting – I’m regularly bombarded by pro-Corbyn propaganda that provokes a roll of the eyes and a scroll of the page. There is no room for debate where the Messiah is concerned; you’re either with us or against us, and if you’re against us you’re a Blairite Tory, simple as that. This is the monochrome level the whole scenario has descended to.

I’m tempted to say ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ Corbyn is re-crowned Labour leader at the end of September, it’s impossible to envisage those within the party who don’t subscribe to the cult simply sitting quietly on the backbenches. Many of them have served in government and are quite keen to get back into it, unlike Corbyn’s disciples, whose natural (and preferred) place is in permanent opposition. The aim of the Corbyn Project is not to govern the country, which would mean having to actually engage with Racist Homophobic Islamophobic Transphobic Blairite Tories, but to look after its own clique and devote all its energies to ridding that clique of anyone who dares to venture an opinion that contradicts the Project. The future has never been brighter for the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and never bleaker for the Labour Party.

So, what happens the day after the expected Corbyn triumph on Sep 24? Liberal Democrats may be coy whenever talk of a potential merger between their depleted party and the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs is raised; and nobody has yet publicly proposed such a marriage bar vague comments by a few opportunistic old hands like Paddy Ashdown. But a Corbyn-led Labour Party and Momentum-dominated NEC is one that will be utterly incompatible with the majority of Labour MPs, not to mention the majority of the electorate. A split is surely inevitable, and what that will lead to, God only knows. Another decade of Conservative Government, probably.

© The Editor

TURNING JAPANESE…OR CHINESE

GodzillaBrits say Falklands; Argentines say Malvinas; Japan says Senkaku; China says Diaoyu. Territorial claims are funny old things, often inciting the most fervent of passions over the least obviously appealing lumps of rock. Most such claims stretch back centuries and only acquire sudden value when ownership is threatened by a rival claim, usually provoked by the discovery of something with a far greater value lurking in the neighbourhood. In the case of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, these uninhabited locations resembling the landscapes upon which Godzilla battled his fellow mutant beasts are currently at the centre of a dispute between Japan and China, a dispute placing one of the most fragile fault-lines of the Far East in peril.

The waters encircled by Taiwan, China, South Korea and Japan boast a proliferation of tiny islands that even outnumber the similarly scattered little landmasses dotted around the tip of Scotland; for Japan, the most prominent served as a convenient barrier between it and the US Army during the Second World War, though the Senkaku Islands are more distanced from the Japanese mainland, closer to Taiwan. There were no real territorial claims made upon them in the eras of the ancient Chinese and Japanese Empires; British ships referred to them as the Pinnacle Islands and their value was solely as navigational markers.

The success of Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894/5) saw the dominance of the East Asian region shift from China to the victor, marking Japan’s beginnings as a major military power that would ultimately carry it all the way to Hiroshima. Although Korea was regarded as the main prize of the conflict, it was the Senkaku Islands that were first claimed as imperial possessions in the aftermath of the War, and China didn’t seem particularly concerned. A Japanese fish processing plant was established on one of the islands, Uotsuri-shima, which remained active until WWII; the very presence of the plant on the island appeared to certify the claims that it and the neighbouring islands had been incorporated into Japan’s sovereign territory.

Even when the Senkaku Islands fell under American control following Japan’s surrender in 1945, China wasn’t especially vocal about ownership claims. China only really began to make a fuss at the end of the 1960s when the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East discovered oil and gas resources situated around the islands. Despite this potentially profitable future for the vicinity, the US returned ownership to Japan in 1971, something that prompted Chinese territorial claims to become official Peking policy. Taiwan had also been ceded to Japan in 1895, and it was the return of Taiwan into Chinese hands after the Second World War that China now retrospectively says should have gone hand-in-hand with the acquisition of the Senkaku Islands. History is certainly a flexible friend when it comes to territorial claims.

Bizarrely, some of the islands are privately-owned and are rented by the Japanese Government, though each outright purchase by Japan is regarded as a provocative gesture by China. One of the islands is used as a practice range by the US military, maintaining the presence America has had in the region ever since it funded the post-war financial reconstruction of Japan. That part of the demilitarisation of Japan involved the US taking on the role of the country’s defender in the event of any attack places America in a difficult position during the current dispute. Add the unstable spectre of North Korea to the equation and it’s plain to see how delicate the situation in the Pacific really is.

Strategically, the Senkaku Islands are situated in significant shipping lanes as well as fruitful fishing grounds, not to mention the oil and gas reserves, of course; but they also serve as a microcosm of the battle for control of the region between China and America. Over the last four years, China has deliberately flouted Japan’s ownership of the islands by sailing its ships into Japanese territorial waters and has also created the ‘East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone’ in an area covering Senkaku, one that the penetration of by non-Chinese aircraft apparently requires adherence to rules laid down in Beijing. Neither Japan nor the US have adhered to these rules.

Old enmities between China and Japan have been revived by this dispute, ones that rouse nationalist passions on both sides and ones that politicians of the respective nations seek to appease in the eternal quest for popularity. But while the world’s attention appears perennially focused on the Middle East, it is perhaps the Far East we should be keeping a closer eye on, especially when one considers that a couple of months ago three Russian warships – accompanied by a Chinese Navy frigate – sailed past the Senkaku Islands in what could well be perceived as an act of choreographed provocation. Any Russian intervention in disputes between nations rarely bodes well for a peaceful resolution.

© The Editor

WHEAT AND CHAFF

TuckerGrammar and School – what is it about the combination of those two words that provoke such frothing at the mouth? Labour’s leading intellectual of the post-war era, Anthony Crosland, didn’t mince his words in his post as Education Secretary in Harold Wilson’s first government. ‘If it’s the last thing I do,’ he allegedly said, ‘I’m going to destroy every f**king Grammar School in England’. From an early 60s Labour perspective, entry to the Grammar School system via the 11-Plus exam was symptomatic of elitism within British society, whereby the lucky ones gained a fast-track to social mobility and the losers were relegated to a lifelong manual scrapheap courtesy of the Secondary Modern, written-off as factory-fodder before they’d even reached adolescence. But was it really so bad?

History tells us that Grammar Schools in the 50s were primarily packed with middle-class pupils, whilst Secondary Moderns were reserved for the working-classes; but the 11-Plus was class blind. If a child was academically bright enough, he or she made it, simple as that. My parents were both born the same year (1943) and both emanated from similar non-socially privileged backgrounds; my mother failed her 11-Plus, whereas my father passed his. My mother, like many girls of her generation and background, wanted nothing more from life than to be a housewife with children, so the 11-Plus was effectively irrelevant to her ambitions; those that wanted more had the opportunity to achieve it (admittedly to a lesser degree than later generations of women) if they passed their 11-Plus, so the exam served its purpose.

The Labour Party that gained power in 1964 regarded this segregation of the population at such a young age as cruelly mapping out their prospects for life, which is interesting; maybe Wilson and his contemporaries sensed traditional heavy industry was already living on borrowed time and that condemning half of Britain’s schoolchildren to a dying working environment was sowing the seeds of future mass unemployment? If so, they certainly didn’t spell it out at the time. Perhaps, bearing in mind their dependence on the support of unions, they daren’t.

The 1944 Education Act could retrospectively be viewed as the midwife to the Swinging 60s. Its introduction enabled working-class Baby Boomers not to have to beg local education authorities for the privilege of a scholarship (as future Tory PM Ted Heath did) to elevate themselves above humble origins, as they would have had to have done before the War. The Act opened the doors to academia for those to whom it would previously have been barred – born troublemakers like John Lennon, for example; a candidate for expulsion, he managed to slip into Art College thanks to a teacher who saw potential that, prior to the 1944 Act, would have had no higher education outlet. Lennon wasn’t alone; most of the musicians, writers and artists who played their parts in the Pop Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s benefitted from the Tripartite System of education, and the wider world benefitted from their benefits.

The social mobility that the Grammar School and its examinational Open Sesame facilitated greatly transformed British society for the better in the decades leading up to its eventual abolition in the mid-70s; and it’s worth looking at how social mobility has declined in subsequent years. How much the eventual subjugation of Grammar Schools by Comprehensives from the 70s onwards, as well as an increasing emphasis on the ‘everyone’s a winner’ educational mindset, has contributed towards the resurgence of success based upon nepotism and the old school tie is something that requires a longer debate than we have room for here; but there’s no doubt that naive belief in intellectual equality is responsible to a degree.

The announcement that the new PM intends to increase the number of Grammar Schools in Britain in an attempt to boost social mobility has been met with predictable protests from the Corbynistas as well as the Liberal Democrats. The former, ironically, betray their Blairite sympathies with their objections. Tony’s determined effort to make universities accessible to all was a misplaced egalitarian experiment that assumed every school-leaver actually sought another four or five years of education. The lack of investment in manual labour apprenticeships and alternatives to the tuition fee treadmill showed a short-sighted appreciation of what some children want from life, making a mistake in assuming Tony’s goals were replicated across society. Yes, of course universities should be open to the bright, regardless of where they come from; but the Blair Government reforms have merely priced the academically inclined from less-privileged backgrounds out of the market and have crammed today’s universities with wealthy dimwits.

It’s no great surprise that rent-a-quote media socialists such as Owen Jones have been so quick to criticise Theresa May’s proposals; the communal philosophy of Corbyn’s left wants to reiterate that all men (and women) are born equal – which should be a given, anyway; that some want to work with their hands and some want to work with their minds is always overlooked when it comes to this rather blinkered aspect of socialist thinking. Personally, I believe the Prime Minister should be given the benefit of the doubt. Unlike her predecessor in Downing Street, she didn’t have success handed to her on a plate; and if an increase in Grammar Schools gives the less-fortunate an opportunity to achieve success currently denied them, this is something that should be applauded rather than condemned with the token jerk of a knee.

© The Editor