TTFN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor
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THE GOOD-TIME GIRL NEXT-DOOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

A WORLD WITHOUT SUMMER

The Year Without Summer – that’s what they called 1816. Pre-Industrial Europe was in the middle of recovering from the long, lingering impact of the Napoleonic Wars and was then hit by an agricultural disaster, one that was mirrored across parts of North America and China. In Ireland, failed crops sparked famine; in Germany, they sparked riots. Switzerland slid into a deep-freeze whilst India was plunged into an outbreak of cholera as the period known retrospectively as ‘The Little Ice Age’ climaxed in catastrophic fashion. Most of the blame was laid at the door of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies, a dormant volcano that had suddenly sprung into life after a thousand years with the largest observed eruption in recorded history. Lava continued to sport forth for more than eighteen months, dispersing ash into the atmosphere that caused severe climate change, reducing global temperatures and resulting in upwards of an estimated 10,000 deaths worldwide.

The distorted colours of the sulphuric skies that Tambora’s eruption caused are believed to have inspired the distinctive smudgy shades of JMW Turner’s paintings as well as creating the apocalyptic ambience that provoked 18-year-old Mary Shelley into penning ‘Frankenstein’ when holidaying with Percy Bysshe and Lord Byron on the gloomy fringes of Lake Geneva that non-summer. Whilst such a baleful location may have suited Gothic sensibilities, no doubt there were many who perceived the dramatic alteration in the climate as a sign of God’s displeasure with mankind. Mind you, God generally lets mankind get away with a hell of a lot before he can be arsed intervening.

200 years on from that remarkable climatic event, humble little me wrote a post called ‘Something in the Air’; take a look – it’s still there. In it, I commented on a pessimistic malaise that seemed to have settled upon the world, something that was manifested via a variety of dismal news stories, the impact of which was possibly exacerbated by the instant ping of social media. Coupled with very personal crises friends of mine were simultaneously undergoing at the time of writing, it felt as though the external and internal were bleeding into one overwhelming weight on the shoulders of numerous generations inhabiting the here and now. A year or so on from that particular post, it would be nice to come to the conclusion that this was a piece of reportage chronicling a moment of madness, a missive from the dark that preceded a dawn we happily reside in as 2017 careers towards its climax. Oops!

In a couple of days, this blog will have been in existence for two years. As a writer, I couldn’t have wished for more eventful times to have been documenting on a near-daily basis. Since the inaugural post on 6 December 2015, I’ve been able to comment upon the rise of Donald Trump and the Alt-Right as well as his loud opponents on the left and those in North Korea. When I began, we were barely six months into a Conservative Government released from the constricting shackles of Coalition, yet six months into the blog David Cameron had lost an ill-advised gamble (and his job) by leading the country into a chaotic state of uncertainty it has yet to recover from. One more indecisive General Election and one more ineffective Prime Minister later, Brexit remains the ultimate barometer of division as neither Remainer/Remoaner nor Brexiteer are happy with what Government is doing in their name. And this Whitehall farce seems set to run and run well into 2018.

Of course, it is the raison d’être of online news outlets to focus on the horrible with sensationalistic relish, just as it remains so for the traditional print and cathode-ray mediums that predate them, regardless of the ‘and finally’ solace at the end of the carnage. The public wants what the public gets, as Paul Weller said almost 40 years ago (I know; it’s scary); a YT video I produced in 2014 took that line as its title whilst a catalogue of contemporary images accompanied the theme tune from the distant childhood adventures of Teddy Edward.

One of these images was of a couple kissing, under which a caption announced ‘This is Rape’. Far be it from me to adopt the guise of a twenty-first century Nostradamus, but this particular statement is suddenly relevant courtesy of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, whose latest Tweet is as good a reason as any why law-enforcers should steer clear of social media and concentrate on solving genuine bloody crimes. According to a now-deleted Tweet that has nevertheless been posthumously seized upon by the Daily Telegraph, kissing a lady under the mistletoe (something that apparently still occurs) is classified as ‘rape’ unless consent is first acquired. Say no more, twenty-seven-f**king-teen.

I don’t know what’s going on any more than you do. It’s insane, and I don’t know how we got here, let alone how we get out of it. I poke fun at it with a sardonic eye, but I’m well aware I’m just pissing in the wind, satirically fiddling as our rotten Rome burns. Over a year on from ‘Something in the Air’, the fog hasn’t cleared and people who matter to me – good people who don’t deserve the shit they’re having to deal with – are even worse off now than they were then. I try to be a tower of strength to them, but I often feel a bit of a hypocrite ‘cause I know deep down I’m as f**ked-up as they are. I could be bold and declare I start most days struggling to come up with a reason to keep buggering on and end most days unconvinced that I found one; but my ego likes to think I make a difference, so I stick around.

Simon le Bon was once ripped to shreds for carelessly describing Duran Duran as the band to dance to when the bomb drops, but part of me knows what he meant. We may be almost four decades on from a throwaway comment made in the heat of early 80s Cold War paranoia; but if this is the blog that people read before they take a leap into the unknown from Beachy Head, so be it. As long as I’m here, I’ll KBO and I’ll love a select few as I do so because they make life worth living. And I’ll still be here when you switch on tomorrow, for good or ill.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

US, THEM AND THE REST

One of the key – and, yes, (sorry) iconic – moments in one of my favourite movies, ‘Blow-Up’, comes when David Hemmings’ Swinging London photographer attends a druggy party with the hip set and he runs into one of his top models, played by an actual 60s top model, the exotic Veruschka. Under the impression she couldn’t make one of his shoots because she was otherwise engaged, Hemmings says ‘I thought you were supposed to be in Paris’, to which the stoned beauty replies ‘I am in Paris’.

Personally, I haven’t physically been in Paris for over 30 years, though I’ve regularly been there in a Veruschka sense; even stone-cold sober, I know where she’s coming from. I guess we’ve all imagined ourselves in surroundings we regard as more conducive to the people we feel we are. Combating inverted snobbery and the ‘know-your-place/don’t-get-ideas-above-your station’ default mindset intended to protect the little people from overreaching their origins is something anyone emanating from an estate will be familiar with; but visiting Paris in one’s head is often the only option. Others, of course, judge greatness by the amount of material goods they can call their own, believing ownership of such items somehow elevates them into a higher social strata because those who can match the goods to an equivalent bank-balance are who they aspire to be; get the goods and you can manufacture the impression of affluence. And making an impression is half the game today.

It’s been a staple diet of mainstream TV for well over a decade, whether in property porn shows, ‘Come Dine with Me’, the Essex/Chelsea un-reality programmes, or the ‘I-wanna-be-famous’ Cowell approach – presenting the viewers with an ideal it implies they can attain and make them better than their nearest neighbour. All feed into the same necessary fantasy generated by the National Lottery because knuckling down and putting the hours in can no longer guarantee an actual escape route, whether doing it academically or working your way up the corporate ladder. Today’s resignation of all four members of what is known as ‘The Social Mobility Commission’ is being cynically dismissed by some as political point scoring, bearing in mind one of the most prominent voices on the panel was ex-Labour Minister from the Blair era, Alan Milburn. But the Tory Peer Baroness Gillian Shephard has quit with him.

In his resignation letter to the PM, Milburn wrote ‘the Government as a whole is unable to commit the same level of support’ to social mobility as it claims to do with education; he also addressed Theresa May directly when he wrote ‘I do not doubt your personal belief in social justice, but I see little evidence of that being translated into meaningful action.’ Milburn expanded his reasons behind quitting a post he has held for five years on ‘The Andrew Marr Show’, when he blamed the Government’s all-encompassing focus on Brexit as relegating other important and pressing issues to the bottom drawer. The Commission is intended to oversee the Government’s attempts at ‘freeing children from poverty and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential’, though Milburn compared this to ‘pushing water uphill’.

The Government has responded to the decision of the Commission by saying Milburn’s tenure had reached its natural conclusion and that it would be getting fresh blood in. Even though Milburn claims Education Secretary Justine Greening wanted him to remain in the post, Greening herself toed the Government line re the ‘fresh blood’ remit and has stuck to the positive script despite the publication of a report by the Commission last week that pointed out ‘political alienation’ and ‘social resentment’ as well as the indisputable divisions the EU Referendum result exposed to a far wider audience than had acknowledged them before.

The oft-aired theory of London as an economic citadel separated from the rest of the country – particularly old industrial heartlands, isolated rural outposts and neglected coastal enclaves – also formed part of the Commission’s report. None of this will have come as a surprise to anyone outside of the capital (or at least its booming boroughs), but perhaps the Government will only listen when they’re told so by a committee they set-up; mind you, it doesn’t even sound like they’re listening to this one.

The report studied all of England’s 324 local authorities and upheld the postcode lottery syndrome, even if it proved to be far more widespread a division than a straightforward North-South split. West Somerset was down at the bottom of the league table, for example, and the likes of relatively wealthy Crawley and West Berkshire also performed poorly when it came to their most vulnerable sons and daughters, exhibiting a greater gap between their high and low earners. Wages, limited career prospects and the chances of anyone starting life from a lowly position being able recover from it were important factors in the report, and as a collective region, the East Midlands came out worst of all. Newark and Sherwood in Nottinghamshire were found to be the poorest performing local authorities, with anyone there from a disadvantaged background less likely to rise above it than anywhere else in the country.

Some of Alan Milburn’s recommendations in the review of ‘Left-Behind Britain’ sound like stating the bleedin’ obvious, but even if they were implemented we’re probably talking another generation before they’d show any impact, and who knows how much rarer social mobility will have become by then? Really, when one strips away familiar factors – including disproportionate levels of immigration in some areas that have further limited job and housing opportunities, not to mention savage cuts to social services – at the root of it all is the same thing that has always been at the root of this problem: class. The old saying ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ remains the mantra for getting on in this country. Not enough of us know the right people, and most of us never will.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

SHOP TILL YOU DROP

As I’ve stated on more than one previous occasion, online shopping has been a Godsend for me, liberating me from having to make the dreaded trip ‘into town’ – especially this particularly appalling time of year. Only this morning, dashing down the aisles of my local Sainsbury’s in search of something to invigorate my jaded appetite, I received my first exposure of 2017 to the soundtrack that pumps out the same old seasonal songs on the same old loop until any lingering nostalgic affection for the individual tracks in question is finally, belatedly, obliterated. Yes, even ‘Fairytale of New York’, perennially held-up as the ‘Cool’ Christmas song, is beginning to grate after 30 years and is now firmly settled alongside Noddy, Roy, Greg and Jona as an earworm only marginally less unwelcome than the Radio 1 ‘mix-tape’ my new neighbour plays at 4.30am every weekend to obscure the bottom-spanking sex sounds emanating from her flat door.

I rarely make the journey into the nearest city centre now; until I stopped smoking I was mainly making the journey solely to purchase cheap tobacco from a small shop I frequented for the best part of fifteen years – baccy that supplemented the 40 cigs a day I was addicted to. Since I switched to vaping, I’ve been spared the fortnightly trek, and now I have no reason whatsoever to set foot there. A recent conversation with a friend on the horrors of physical shopping made me realise that I literally have nothing to venture into such an arena for anymore. All the shops that lured me there for the majority of my adult life have gone.

Memories of childhood city centre shopping outings mostly consist of being reluctantly dragged around ‘mum stores’ such as M&S and C&A, sterile feminine emporiums with little or no appeal for a bored boy; appeasement came as a reward before the bus-stop, when the bookshelves of Boots or WH Smiths would provide momentary portals to more exciting alternatives.

Once free from the maternal jackboot, locations that would provoke exasperation in mothers were ports-of-call on adolescent wanderings around the same square-mile – second-hand record, book and magazine shops situated down seedy side-streets off the previously beaten path, emitting intoxicatingly musty odours and manned by grubby geezers or shady ladies with mouths as foul as the enticingly archaic stench produced from the piles of yellowing 70s NME, Sounds and Melody Maker issues or LPs from record collections offloaded in the wake of the thirty-something CD exodus that such shops specialised in. Emerging from these divinely dark caves, one’s fingers were as dirty as the neglected corners of the town they were hidden away in.

The mainstream choices weren’t really mum-friendly either – mainly Virgin and HMV, which were initially as deliciously ‘alternative’ as the aforementioned independent specialist shops in the first half of the 80s, at least. If there was a colour scheme, it was sex-shop black; even the staff looked like they should be in bands, albeit The Specimen or The Slits; one pink-haired vamp was a particular personal incentive for making Virgin a regular haunt of bunking-off sessions during the last desperate days of school – sessions that would sometimes inadvertently lead to encounters with other truant wastrels dressed in uncharacteristic ensembles that would never be permissible in the place we were supposed to be attending. Of course, I didn’t ‘chat-up’ the pink-haired vamp behind the counter; I didn’t know how. But I occasionally wonder what became of her.

The shop sold videos too! ‘The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’ was on sale in there – and they’d never broadcast that on the telly. It’d cost you around £25 to see Sid Vicious strolling through Paris and offending the natives, mind; and you’d also have to wade through the VHS/Betamax debate in order to work out if your primitive family VCR would play the bloody thing. It was all academic, though; the tape was way out of your pocket-money league, so all you could do was study the packaging and wish YouTube into existence 20 years early.

By the time the HMV morphed into just another mall monstrosity aimed at game-boys, and Virgin briefly became known as ‘Zavvi’ – or the more common nickname, ‘Spazzi’ – there were other reasons to venture into the city centre, such as bookstore Borders. Books, CDs, a café, and another alluring female member of staff to moon over – that was a good enough reason to make it an essential stop-off point on a circuit that remained a fortnightly routine. And then came 2008. In a matter of months, the small list of shops that still made shopping bearable for me suddenly vanished. The disappearance of the traditional singles chart display in HMV and ‘Zavvi’ had already curtailed a 30-year habit that made 2007 the final year I bought a physical single, but now all the other stores that had constituted the map of my shopping ceremony had gone.

The news that Toys R Us are preparing to close a quarter of their 106 UK stores, leading to the loss of hundreds of jobs, is the latest casualty of online shopping’s ascendancy almost a decade on from the 2008 crash. Although it wasn’t a shop I frequented, the announcement marks the latest development in a seemingly ongoing saga in which the ease of purchasing goods via eBay or Amazon has supplanted the undesirable experience of mulling around stores with one’s ears polluted by archive Xmas ditties and one’s person constantly confronted by the fat, sweaty crush of other people. It’s one more sign of our changing times, but one I don’t necessarily mourn the loss of. I left it all behind a long time ago.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1