There have been a lot of Twitter knickers in a twist over the past 48 hours; then again, it’s hard to think of a time when there aren’t. The globe’s favourite social media platform for the outraged and offended has rarely observed such a thing as a Sabbath, and the polarising political climate in Britain since June 2016 has seen Twitter established as the battleground that never sleeps. Every development instigated by one side of the Brexit divide is fought at its most furious by the other not in the Commons, but in cyberspace; and after Tuesday’s coming together of Remainer MPs – despite the amusingly delusional Jo Swinson’s refusal to accept the candidacy of the Leader of the Opposition in the event of one unelected PM usurping another – the bursting of their bubble by Boris 24 hours later sent melodramatic hysteria into unmissable overdrive.

First of all, there was Brexiteer outrage at Remainer attempts to sabotage democracy as an effective Second Referendum/Revoke Article 50/Scrap Brexit coalition belatedly emerged; then there was Remainer outrage at Brexiteer attempts to sabotage democracy by proroguing Parliament and denying debate on the issue until there’s not enough time left to stop the No Deal Apocalypse. Both opposing parties are claiming ‘The People’ as their own, even though the people in question are merely those on their respective sides of the barricades; those who voted the wrong way can go whistle or at least submit to a course of re-education to understand why they’re in the wrong and the other side is in the right. Over three years on, and Cameron’s toxic legacy is more divisive than ever; indeed, it’s hard to see any potential resolution between the warring factions at all. A shame Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are no longer around to bring everyone together.

However, thank God so many of the entitled egomaniacs fuelling the divisions remain oblivious to how stupid (and inadvertently entertaining) they are. Paul Mason played a manic street preacher preaching to the converted in a video aired on ‘Newsnight’ before appearing in the studio, predicting Poll Tax Riots-style civil unrest as the inevitable outcome if his side don’t get their way; and this after his side have constantly decried the other side for intimidating Remainer MPs outside Parliament, as though the other side’s notion of expressing their democratic right to protest somehow lacks the ‘purity’ of his side’s right to do likewise. To emphasise his working-class credentials, Mason invoked the fighting spirit of his hometown Leigh, conveniently overlooking the fact that the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan (to which Leigh belongs) voted 63.9 % Leave in 2016; but maybe Leigh has suffered the same post-industrial dismissal by the political class – the one that Mason’s attitude upholds – as neighbouring Bury; no wonder such places remain defined by what little they have left, like their football clubs…

John McDonnell, a man whose approach to taking on his opponents is juvenile at best, was also on hand with the microphone at the impromptu alfresco shindig in the wake of yesterday’s Downing Street announcement, as was Diane ‘abacus’ Abbott and Keir ‘Plastic Man’ Starmer. Nobody present could be left in any doubt that those who have facilitated the longest unbroken Parliamentary session since the Civil War are outraged. Such outrage was noticeably absent from the Remoaner camp when an electronically-tagged convicted criminal who just happened to be a Labour MP played her part in disrupting democracy by casting the decisive vote a few months ago, of course, and what of Mr Speaker himself? Little John has hardly been a bastion of impartiality, has he? But it’s okay ‘cause he’s one of us. The hypocrisy is hilarious.

I should imagine the PM probably had the proroguing plan ready and waiting for the right moment and he certainly seems to have timed it to perfection, ensuring Brenda’s seal of approval just one day after the parade of smug, holier-than-thou signatories to Jezza’s proposal queued-up on camera to sing from a shared hymn sheet at last, united in their righteous conviction. When the other side try to enact the will of the majority, that other side divides; when they try to enact the will of the minority, they unify; when the other side tries to prevent those responsible for blocking a democratic decision for three years from continuing to do so, it’s a coup; when they attempt to put together a fantasy ‘Caretaker Government’ of hand-picked losers for the purpose of reversing that democratic decision, they’re saving the nation.

It’s handy that we’re on the eve of the 80th anniversary of Mr Chamberlain’s declaration of war, for the tireless and tedious evocation of ‘fighting them on the beaches’ by Brexiteers not even old enough to have been Mods or Rockers in the 60s is a baton that has now been grabbed by the other side. After rightly ridiculing the irrelevant summoning of the Dunkirk Spirit by their opponents, some prominent Remoaners have once again decided when they do the same thing it’s not the same at all. ‘You will not destroy the freedoms my grandfather fought two world wars to defend’ tweeted Hugh Grant – not from beaches littered with bodies; ‘Weep for Britain. A sick, cynical and brutal and horribly dangerous coup d’état’ added Stephen Fry – not from a dead and long-abandoned Lancashire mill-town.

Perish the thought that politicians might be motivated by cynical self-interest, of course; the possibility Boris Johnson could be seeking to hold onto his job via his recent actions is as appalling as the possibility Jeremy Corbyn could be seeking to steal it via his recent actions. No, as ever, the moral high-ground is always with whichever guys you have decided are the good ones.

A three-week suspension of Parliament by the PM is standard procedure in the early autumn, allowing the party conference season to progress free from its star performers being recalled to Westminster for an emergency vote; adding a couple of weeks to the usual break is not really surprising considering the circumstances. Neither is the fact that by doing so, all those who endorse the decision are going back on what they’d said on the subject just a few weeks or tweets ago. They’re being led by Boris Johnson, don’t forget. After imagining they’d pulled a master-stroke in managing to temporarily gather all No Deal opponents under one united umbrella, the Remainer brigade are now confronted by the inevitable fact they have even less time to finally kill a democratic mandate than they thought. No wonder they’re upset. They’re going to take it to the streets, apparently; I wonder if Jon Snow will be on hand to count the number of non-white faces when they do.

© The Editor


The only member of the Royal Family I’ve ever seen in person is no longer a fixture of said institution on account of the Grim Reaper. She was Princess Margaret, the Queen’s ‘Swinging’ sister who married a hip photographer and had a fling with a failed pop singer who became a gardener; she also (allegedly) had a penchant for marvelling at the notorious measurements of actor-cum-villain John Bindon – if the gossip from her one-time Caribbean hideaway of Mustique is to be believed. Anyway, nothing so scandalous informed the occasion in which I observed her zoom past in a black limo en route to open a new primary school around a mile from my own seat of learning at the time (1977). To me, she resembled an old-school movie star – like Greta Garbo; my memory tells me she was wearing white gloves and shades; but my memory is probably being its usual cheating bastard self.

Princess Margaret was easy to warm to depending on what you want from the lucky sods on the Civil List. If a hedonistic party animal who invites the likes of Peter Sellers into her bed, but also finds time to do her duty on behalf of charity and can be gently ribbed by the Pythons in the form of ‘the dummy Princess Margaret’ ticks the requisite boxes, so be it. Actually, that’s pretty fine by me. I always imagined Margaret would’ve been pretty entertaining company, not so heavy on the faux-social conscience lecturing that entered the House of Windsor with a certain Diana and appears to have infected the next generation with the kind of condescending designs for life best left in the ridiculous hands of Gwyneth Paltrow and co.

Then again, Brenda’s own children have been rather problematic in the public arena over the decades. Princess Anne came across as a bit of a saucy deb in her youth, but marriage and childbearing quickly gifted her with the sour-faced equine expression she’s worn (along with that curious Edwardian hair) ever since; Prince Edward has had to live with ‘It’s a Royal Knockout’ as his greatest cultural contribution for over 30 years; and what’s left to say about Brian that hasn’t already been said since his investiture as Prince of Wales half-a-century ago? Which leaves us with the man the Murdoch press once always referred to as ‘Randy Andy’. Ah…

In terms of content, the snippet of video footage from 2010 that emerged a week or so ago of Prince Andrew poking his head through the doorway of Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan residence and waving goodbye to the kind of young lady that tends to be mysteriously attracted to silver-haired millionaires doesn’t say much, really. It’s more about the context, shot as it was after said dead ‘playboy’ had already served a custodial sentence for soliciting prostitution from a minor and was a registered sex offender as a result. Bearing that in mind, one could say Andrew’s presence even at the time was questionable; in the light of more recent events, however, it looks ill-advised, to say the least. But, then, the Duke of York is not a man renowned for sound judgement.

There’s his on/off relationship with the equally unlovable Sarah Ferguson; the fact that the taxpayer footed the bill for the wedding of a daughter so far back in the line of succession that there’s more chance of Helen Mirren or Olivia Colman becoming the real Queen than her; and then there’s his dodgy acquaintances and business associates, the kind of company even Mark Thatcher would baulk at keeping. Jeffrey Epstein was merely one of many, though one with the potential to be the most damaging (even during his lifetime), regardless of the fact that the media still doesn’t recognise the distinction between paedophile and pederast.

What the rumours currently encircling Prince Andrew have proven yet again, however, is how much easier it is to believe the worst of an unloved public figure than a beloved one. When it comes to the House of Windsor, few elder members of the dynasty do themselves any favours in the eyes of the public, and Andrew is said to be the most pompous, self-important and arrogant of the lot, which – again – isn’t difficult to believe. He always strikes me as a bit thick, to be honest. The popularity he achieved back in his bachelor days as a soldier boy seems a very long time ago now; but let us not forget we are almost four decades away from both the Falklands War and Randy Andy’s brief, if sensational dalliance with actress Koo Stark, so that’s no surprise; the decades since have not been kind to Andrew’s public image, though he only really has himself to blame. The sordid stories doing the rounds at the moment seem to be being given credence mainly because Andrew rubs so many people up the wrong way.

For every person who regarded Jimmy Savile as a selfless charity fund-raiser and amusing eccentric, there were just as many who viewed him as a slightly creepy egomaniac with a remarkable absence of talent; both opinions held sway during Savile’s lifetime, though only one has been accepted as fact since his death – with other ‘offences’ posthumously taken into consideration, of course. Similarly, Andrew’s one-time friendship with Epstein, a figure whose after-life is being documented in terms that are now so boringly familiar, has given carte blanche for the resurfacing of long-standing grievances with a man it’s admittedly hard to like.

It goes without saying that the tabloid press is having fun with this story, but conspiracy theories and speculation naturally spread with far more speed online. Facebook in particular – which these days feels increasingly like the regional TV station to Twitter’s network channel – has seen an amusing abundance of the ‘I always knew he was a wrong ‘un’ attitude over recent days in relation to Andrew, with many commentators I’ve read lazily going along with assumptions that support their own lowly opinion of the man under the spotlight. As far as I can gather, no one in the real world (as opposed to cyberspace) has accused Andrew of anything on the alleged scale of his deceased acquaintance, just a discredited allegation he had ‘sexual encounters’ with the then-17 year-old Epstein masseuse Virginia Roberts/Giuffre back in 2001, something Andrew himself has unsurprisingly denied.

Personally, as long as he hasn’t done anything that has caused anyone serious harm, I couldn’t care less what a posh, pampered twit like the Duke of York gets up to behind closed doors. I can’t say I’m especially interested in him, even when his name is scandalously attached to the current contender for the Harvey Weinstein bogeyman-of-the-moment award. But I guess his unwise association with Epstein has played into the hands of Fleet Street’s endless baffling obsession with the Windsor’s and rekindled the press’s ceaseless determination to convince us we’re all so fascinated with the family that we want to read about them constantly. As far as I can see, we’re not.

© The Editor


As someone currently in the thick of manic creative hysteria – don’t think that’s a recognised syndrome, but it should be – I can sympathise with the increasingly-detached-from-reality mania afflicting the Remainer majority at Westminster; well, to a point. My own experience is of hammering at this bloody keyboard for hours at a time, desperately trying to transcribe the relentless flow of words pouring out of my fevered head with the same speed they appear in it; even when I take a break and try to unwind with brown bread and eggs (hearty meals not being conducive to the condition), I have a notepad beside me, for I cannot switch off. I’ve been like this for about a fortnight now, and it’s exhausting as well as mind-altering. You really do inhabit a world of your own making, one in which normal rules do not apply. It would seem I’m not alone.

Over the last three years, attempts to overturn the result of the 2016 EU Referendum by the losing side have gone from street protest to Project Fear to Second Referendum to where we are now, a new video game called ‘Fantasy Prime Minister’. In this, the player gets to choose which MP he or she would rather have in 10 Downing Street than the man who’s been there for less than a month. The player can pick from the incumbent Leader of the Opposition ol’ Jezza or the Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson; they can pick the sole Green in the team, Caroline Lucas; or they can even opt for a couple of veterans who were never elected leaders of their respective parties, Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman. Once a prospective PM is selected, the player then engages in a series of gripping constitutional crises, battling for the right to replace an unelected premier with an unelected premier.

In order to derail what appears to be a determined No Deal ‘crashing out’ (© ‘Newsnight’) policy being pursued by Boris and the Brexiteers (great Merseybeat band name), Remainers have this week scaled unprecedented peaks of foaming-at-the-mouth fantasies they seriously believe will rescue us from ruin in the event of Boris being defeated in an expected no confidence vote. A Government of National Unity is one phrase we’ve heard a lot, but a country as disunited as ours currently is means such an administration would require representation from both ends of the great divide to truly unify; and nobody proposing the National Unity concept is proposing that. A Government of Remain Unity would be more accurate. When Caroline Lucas put forward her amusing idea of a middle-class ‘mumsnet’ Cabinet led by her in full headmistress mode, the only issue her side of the divide took with the notion was the absence of ‘women of colour’ from the line-up. The mind-boggling undemocratic ludicrousness of the proposal wasn’t a problem, apparently.

National Unity was much-discussed in the inconclusive wake of the February 1974 General Election, but Ted Heath’s proposals for coalition with Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberals floundered and Harold Wilson led Labour back to power with a minority administration. An actual peacetime ‘National’ Government comprising members from all three major parties had, of course, existed from 1931 until the outbreak of the Second World War; and though initially led by Labour’s Ramsay MacDonald, it was overwhelmingly Tory-dominated, as would’ve been any Heath/Thorpe coalition in 1974 and as indeed was the coalition led by Lloyd George in the aftermath of WWI. We don’t even have to go back that far to discern the imbalance in most coalition administrations and how the ultimate aim is more a case of the largest party keeping out the opposition rather than any noble aspiration to save the nation.

Jeremy Corbyn’s brainwave of playing the part of a caretaker PM to prevent the Halloween deadline coming to pass before then calling a General Election which he assumes he will win is bonkers, but at least he is the leader of the second largest party in the Commons. He is, however, dependent on disgruntled Tory backbenchers to achieve this aim, and while Enoch Powell may have advocated voting Labour in 1974, today’s Remainer Tories feel this is a rebellion too far.

Anyway, Jezza’s own ambiguous stance on the EU has been a hindrance to any successful exploitation by Labour of the Conservative divisions over the issue, and this clearly rankles with Jo Swinson, who doesn’t seem keen on the prospect of Corbyn at No.10, even if it means another Brexit delay is more likely. But then, the Lib Dem leader has been quite brazen that it’s her intention to prevent Brexit altogether, so merely kicking the date we leave back into the long grass yet again just isn’t good enough. The notion of giving the gig to Clarke or Harman is seen by Swinson as a genuinely realistic alternative to Corbyn. I mean, yes, good old Ken is the Father of the House and everyone’s favourite jazz-loving, hush puppy-wearing Tory uncle; but get real. As for Ms Harperson – come on!

But this is where we are. So intense is the panic amongst the hardcore Remainers now, nothing is deemed too fantastical. Caroline Lucas included Nicola Sturgeon in her fantasy Cabinet, and the First Minister isn’t even an MP. Why stop at nominating a prominent Remainer who at least happens to be a politician (albeit in the wrong parliament), though? Why not send out the call to Gary Lineker? Brian Cox? Greta Thunberg? And, no doubt, Chuka Umunna would be up for it too – how many parties has he been a member of this year? Anyway, this dream Guardian Government would revoke Article 50, reverse the Referendum result and deliver the same kind of ‘fuck you’ to 17 million members of the electorate as they themselves received three years ago. Lest we forget, the electorate will have no say at all – just as they didn’t when Boris succeeded Theresa. Why let such unnecessary annoyances like the electorate get in the way of democracy, though?

Considering we’re marking the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre this week – an event regarded as a watershed moment on the long and winding road to universal suffrage – it’s ironic that we’re currently watching politicians attempting to seize power (or hold onto it) without any involvement from voters at all. With the Government reduced to a majority of one, of course, it’s inevitable we’ll see a General Election before the scheduled date of 2022, probably before the end of this year; but what happens in the months leading up to the hustings appears to be being scripted by Chris Morris. I might regard myself as a bit fanatical at the moment – and if anyone could observe me during this breathless creative process they’d probably conclude I’m a bit ‘frazzled’. Compared to that lot down Westminster way, however, I feel confident I’d receive a clean bill of health. If I could get an appointment at my local GPs surgery, of course. Which, needless to say, I can’t. Welcome to 2019. It’s mad.

© The Editor


At the back end of last year when I told a couple of friends I was starting work on my first new novel for over twelve months, a cursory summary of the story’s set-up from me prompted two different replies. ‘Oh,’ said one. ‘You mean like Planet of the Apes?’; ‘Oh,’ said the other. ‘You mean like Animal Farm?’ Well…er…sort-of, but not quite. A bit like the former, the tale takes place on an earth in which humans are not the dominant species and one of our animal cousins rules in our place; and a bit like the latter, I’m using the deceptive smokescreen of a kind-of farmyard fable to tell a serious story about an important contemporary issue. Then again, neither comparison quite matches.

Long-term followers still recall my spoof ‘Exposure’ series on the old, original version of YouTube, in which I satirised the Yewtree hysteria by having the men from the Met round-up children’s TV puppets of the 1970s instead of the decade’s ageing celebrities. It was a tactic that enabled me to say far more than I perhaps would’ve been able to get away with even in the less censorious online era of 2012-14. With this in mind, I decided that in finally addressing one of the most pressing (not say depressing) stories of our times via the vehicle of the novel, one way to do so was to adopt a not dissimilar approach. Yes, this is my ‘false allegation’ book, but in order to try and explain how the situation that embroils the lead character came about, I had to create a fitting backdrop.

The whole ‘Woke’ culture of Identity Politics is something I’ve tackled both on here and on YT (just before their new policy forced me off it), but I’ve never done so in fiction before. Satirising it seemed a given, so I went for it. However, the world of ‘The Kamikaze Harvest’ is dominated by the politics of Species rather than Identity, as this is a world ruled by cats and dogs. They don’t walk on all fours; they’ve evolved from that in the absence of humans and are anthropomorphic creatures blessed with everything that we take credit for – both good and bad. Canines were the supreme species for centuries, but have recently been usurped by felines, driven in part by the rise of Species Politics and ‘Radical Felinists’. They also have their own religious zealots, worshippers of an Ancient Egyptian Goddess known as Bastet. And you don’t f**k with Bastet.

It doesn’t take a genius to see through the true targets of this ploy, but there are so many aspects of 2019 which seemed ripe for satire that I realised I could place my cast of characters in our insane society and take artistic licence by just tweaking it ever-so slightly. For example, the story begins with the lead character (a black mongrel name of Max) being released from an eighteen-month spell behind bars for expressing an inappropriate opinion on an internet forum. As a result, he’s placed on the Speech Offenders’ Register for life and returns to a world in which cats have extended their powers by exploiting the trusting nature of canines even further. With universities, social services, the police and the judiciary all preaching the Species Politics mantra, feline-only shortlists have ensured the best jobs are now awarded on species grounds rather than merit, and Max has a lifetime of menial labour to look forward to.

Max has to endure a CBS (Canine Barring Service) check before he can re-enter the workplace – to ensure vulnerable cats and kittens are safe in his dangerous presence; and the best this former head librarian can manage is to be employed by a cleaning agency, to empty the litter trays of his cat overlords. One of his clients is Fenella, a leading feline rights lawyer and a household name via her publicised prosecutions of once revered and respected dogs. She initially treats him with utter indifference until he displays unexpected honesty and catches her by surprise in a way that causes her to reassess her prejudiced attitude towards canines.

Max believes in equality between the species rather than simply replacing one in a position of power with the other; but his is a discredited view. Dogs have been demonised as the embodiment of primitive savagery, not to be trusted – despite their inborn ‘privilege’. This opinion, enforced through the pedigree media and its chattering classes, not only preaches the philosophy that dogs should be in a permanent, self-flagellating state of guilt over the inherited crimes of their ancestors; but it overlooks the fact that cats, in their nightly hunting of rodents, are far more ruthless animals. But the propaganda promotes the latter as Victims, and this encouragement of victimhood amongst felines eventually leads to a mentally-disturbed cleaning client of Max informing the police that he’d brutally attacked her five years previously.

Needless to say, the police take the Victim’s allegation as ‘credible and true’, and it is only when Max is muzzled and escorted to the local nick following a Sunday lunchtime raid on his family home that he is made aware of just how deeply Species Politics have penetrated the ruling class. He calls feline barrister Fenella for help and she shocks her devoted felinist fan-base by coming to his rescue and agreeing to defend him in court. What follows is a high-profile test-case for the gains of ‘the revolution’ as one of its pin-up girls turns traitor and comes face-to-face with her professional nemesis whilst Max’s freedom hangs in the balance. On the strength of a deluded fantasist, he stands to lose his liberty as Fenella struggles to build a case against his accuser with the police pursuing a non-disclosure-of-evidence policy in favour of ‘the Victim’.

Yes, I’m taking an unusual route to tell a serious story. Much black comedy is derived from imagining what cats and dogs would be like in humanoid form, how they would behave in human ways yet retain traits we recognise from our four-legged versions. When Max cleans various feline homes, he takes note of how the floors are littered with objects the homeowners have pushed off surfaces for no palpable reason; when he spends an evening in his room alone, he entertains himself by chomping on a bone for a couple of hours before receiving a visitor and then engaging in conversation. They’re still cats and dogs at heart, but they’re also us.

I may have chosen to tell this tale in a rather eccentric way, but the main subject is not treated remotely light-heartedly. Perhaps I figured I could lure a few unsuspecting readers in by tricking them into thinking this was just an intriguingly silly story in which cats and dogs rule the world, before hitting them with the realities of a situation that has affected – and continues to affect – thousands of innocent people in this country, some of whom I have known. We shall see. Someone had to write about it, and I’ve chosen to do it my way. Check it out…

© The Editor


Every politician who ascends to the ultimate seat of power seeks to impose their own values and ideas upon the premiership, and though all talk the talk when taking office, few actually have the genuine vision and skill to make real their radical proposals. Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia from 1682-1725, was one of the legendary historical rulers whose ambition was largely realised, especially the cultural revolution he recognised as necessary if his vast lumbering empire was to be dragged out of the middle ages. Influenced by his tour of Western Europe and exposure to Enlightenment thinking, he returned home determined to instigate change. But along with all the political, social and scientific overhauls, there were more instantly noticeable aesthetic alterations; he had taken note of European style, particularly how all the leading figures he was introduced to were clean-shaven.

Imposing heavy taxes on the wearers of beards in Peter the Great’s Russia is perhaps one of the more seemingly trivial changes introduced by this reforming Romanov; but he saw the removal of hardcore facial hair – a long-standing tradition in Russia – as key to his country moving closer to the great nations of Europe by presenting its ruling class as indistinguishable from the French, Austrian or English. A century later, the Prussian hero of Waterloo, General von Blücher, caused a stir during the celebrations in London following Napoleon’s defeat simply by wearing an elaborate moustache at a time when face fashion remained smooth. The Regency Dandies had never seen anything quite like it, and von Blücher set a trend amongst military men of a certain rank that defined them thereafter.

Another German, Prince Albert, was perhaps instrumental in popularising the old upper-lip ‘hairy bogie’ during his high-profile stint as appendage to Queen Victoria. By the middle of the 19th century, moustaches were becoming visible and fashionable adornments on the male countenance; and even if they weren’t, gargantuan whiskers certainly were. Then the beard – for so long a symbol either of idleness or insanity in England – began to sprout on the chins of the powerful and influential. By the back end of the Victorian era, beards had blossomed into huge bushy beasts – impenetrable pubic forests that made every proud owner look ten years older and ten stone heavier.

These thick, dense thickets of fuzz could be worn by everyone from a sporting hero of the masses like the cricketer WG Grace or the age’s great scientific mind Charles Darwin. Indeed, it’s hard to think of an eminent Victorian bereft of a beard; a big beard appeared to signify the virility of Empire and the imperial supremacy of the British. On a more frivolous level, the legacy of von Blücher was also expanded upon as we entered the Edwardian era, when extravagant moustaches re-emerged more outrageously flamboyant than ever – the kind later to be seen under the noses of Jimmy Edwards and Sir Gerald Nabarro as a means of distinguishing both from the spotless visages of their contemporaries.

The final Prime Minister whose face was framed by an archetypal Victorian beard was the Marquess of Salisbury, who left No.10 in 1902 (though we may have a more austere example of the beard renting the property soon – if nobody has confidence in Boris, that is). The last PM to have merely a moustache was Harold Macmillan; he may have stepped down from office in the year that Beatlemania broke, but Supermac had earned his spurs in the distant trenches. Indeed, if we take a rare look at the First World War in purely aesthetic terms, it’s interesting to note how heavy facial hair was one of the minor casualties of the carnage. As a consequence, the Roaring 20s were largely clean-shaven, with the pencil-thin moustache being the sole concession to the former masculine trademark.

For around half-a-century, the beard retreated into a kind of shadowy cult existence; often, it implied an intellectual elitism, usually worn by academics, playwrights or earnest folkies. There was a mini-revival among students inspired by both the fad for ‘Trad Jazz’ and the charismatic firebrand Fidel Castro at the turn of the 1960s; but the beard didn’t really return to the faces of the young on a wider scale until the end of the decade. Once The Beatles gave notice to the Mop Top era by growing moustaches, the razor blade was suddenly downgraded as an essential item in every gentleman’s bathroom cabinet.

Amongst the numerous variations on offer in the hirsute hippie era, the Zapata had its moment – eventually becoming synonymous with such contrasting icons of the age as Peter Wyngarde and David Crosby – whereas the beard came to be regarded as an indication of revolutionary radicalism whilst also regaining its old quasi-religious symbolism, as seen on both Maharishi and Manson. By the beginning of the 70s, however, the ubiquitous beard was much as home on the effete chin of an Open University lecturer as it was on the huge blubbery jawline of Giant Haystacks. Even the defiantly androgynous Glam Rock had an unlikely beardie-weirdy in the shape of the larger-than-life Roy Wood.

Post-Punk, the beard represented the old guard as much as the gatefold sleeve of a Yes concept album, and the 1980s was relatively hairless as far as the face went; not until the ‘designer stubble’ craze at the end of the decade did young men looked upon as style icons feel brave enough to forego a shave again. The breakdown of the rigid rules and regulations governing the length of hair and the height of hemlines that began in the 90s (and has continued to this day) probably happened because popular culture finally reached a point where everything had been done before and there was nothing new left to say; suddenly, we entered a pick ‘n’ mix age in which the distinctive looks of recent decades could coexist simultaneously, albeit all stripped of their original context. The reappearance of the beard on young chins certainly wasn’t accompanied by a revival of the tribal significance it had possessed in the 60s; then again, nothing in the culture had tribal significance anymore.

Some men who grow a beard keep it for life – I’d never have known an uncle of mine hadn’t been born with one until I saw a photo of him in his clean-shaven youth, for example; others try it, don’t like it, and never try it again. I myself have never been drawn to it; sideburns are as far as I venture into that area, and being aware of their occasional itchiness makes me wonder how Hipsters or Imams manage to avoid their facial fungus becoming not only a nest for nibbling mites, but a repository for scraps of snacks. Not sure how women feel when their bearded men are amorous, though I should imagine the bushier breed are maybe preferable to the bristly brand; anyone whose stubbly father inflicted ‘chinny pie’ on them as a child could possibly have developed an understandably lifelong aversion to the latter. Women are remarkably adaptable to the individual image whims of their menfolk, however.

As far as most are concerned, a beard today symbolises little at all because its wearers are so varied. It can be worn by humourless Indie musicians, New Age gurus, ex-boy band members seeking to be taken seriously, movie stars aiming to prove their thespian mettle, slovenly students, old hippies, young hippies, and fat dads of both the urban and suburban variety. It has been, like every other fashion accessory of the last fifty years that began as a statement, utterly assimilated into the culture so that any sighting of one induces nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘whatever’. Amazing how many paragraphs the subject can generate during the silly season, mind…

© The Editor


Adolescence may well be a transitional phase for both body and mind, but there’s also a uniquely sartorial chameleon element to this odd interlude between childhood and adulthood that is crucial to finding who you are; it’s as though you need to sample a series of brands on the shelves of the cultural supermarket before you eventually find the one that fits, the one you’ll most probably stick with for the rest of your life (most usually pick their favourite at some point of their 20s). Of course, some remain admirably restless and resist ‘settling down’ with the same pair of trousers, whereas others – from the geriatric biker to the retired stockbroker – located their comfort zone forty or fifty years ago and have stayed there.

As a teenager, the swift shift from one social group to another – gravitating towards those with shared interests and passions – is marked by the taking-on of each new clique’s appearance with unconscious ease. It’s very much a natural adolescent habit for teenagers to instinctively tailor their look to match the crowd they’re with; and for all the adolescent claims of ‘individuality’, the pack mentality inculcated in the playground creates a craving for like-minds and the desire for a tribe to belong to outside of the school gates. It also helps if the new hair colour or item of clothing that earns membership of said crowd meets with parental disapproval; all part of the necessary severance of the apron strings, even if the economic climate of this particular century means the ever-changing wardrobe is usually funded by the Bank of Mum & Dad.

Looking back, I think I wore around half-a-dozen completely contrasting hairstyles (of various lengths and colour) between the ages of 13 and 23, all of them usually prompted by falling in love with a band or youth subculture; unfortunately, my own personal experience was of a constant failure to find anyone else who shared a love of whatever prompted the annual visual regeneration, but most are lucky and locate a ‘set’. Even so, I do recall certain acquaintances I had in the 80s who I’d bump into maybe once or twice a year, and every time I saw them they’d changed radically from our previous encounter just a few months before. That doesn’t really happen at any other time of life.

It goes without saying that the longer you live, the lengthier can become the gaps between bumping into acquaintances; and if there has been a radical change in their appearance when your paths cross again, it’s usually not one they’ve chosen (unlike during adolescence). Once you reach your 40s – or 50s – the main differences you notice when reuniting with people you knew 20 or 30 years before are the wrinkles, the waistline and the grey hairs (if there’s any hair left). Perhaps one reason why some recall their teenage years with fondness is that it was the one time of their lives when they felt in control of their destinies, a time when they had yet to succumb to hopeless defeatism via the demands of the workplace, they hadn’t been worn-out and wearied by children, and they remained a long way from being at the mercy of the aches and pains that accumulate with the passing decades.

Nonetheless, such chameleon traits are not the exclusive province of adolescents. Some continue to utilise this ability to blend into their constantly changing surroundings when it comes to relationships, so that each new partner has a different version of the same person that their predecessor had. Sensing the kind of man, woman or non-binary individual one’s latest other half is subconsciously searching for can result in a subtle alteration from what the previous partner required. We often notice it in the recently-divorced when arm-in-arm with their post-‘decree absolute’ lover, looking distinctly different from the way they dressed when alongside their ex. A change of image can therefore result in both partners visually complementing one another for the duration of their relationship, settling into items of clothing they’d never before worn or expressed a preference for. Not necessarily ‘they look just like two gurus in drag’, but John & Yoko understood – as indeed did the first wife in the Lennon marital bed; Cynthia admitted adopting a ‘peroxide Parisian’ look in the early days of her relationship with John mainly because she was aware of his lustful yearnings for Brigitte Bardot.

This strange way in which lovers or spouses can suppress their own identities in order to keep their other half happy was brought home to me when I was researching my book about a dear departed friend name of Alison (veteran readers may recall the story). Her son told me of a point in the 1990s when she’d hooked-up with a bit of a flash twat who lived somewhere in the Little Venice neighbourhood of London; he noticed his mother seemed to be adopting this guy’s taste for material goods in a way that had never been a hallmark of her personality before. He recalled her sudden interest in ‘designer gear’ with both bemusement and amusement, for it appeared so out of character with the woman he knew.

Alison’s experience makes me aware that – if they’re not careful – some risk being solely defined by their other half, as if they were unwittingly conditioned into sacrificing personal development in favour of constant companionship from too young an age, forever refashioning themselves to suit whoever they happened to be with. Should their voluntary role as an appendage come to an end, perhaps the fear of trying to survive without that clear definition – and being suddenly confronted by the unnerving absence of a personal identity outside of a relationship – propels them straight into ill-advised dalliances with unsuitable successors. Alison was a parent too, another factor by which women in particular can be exclusively defined in denial of who they might actually be. The Alison I knew seemed to be very much her own person, but she had lived alone for a number of years by this stage, so that might have helped her become the unique and original individual I remember. Anyway, I digress once again.

As I was saying, the cliché of time moving at a slower speed when younger could probably account for the breathless pace of the constant changes of image and tastes that can characterise adolescence; so much is crammed into a relatively short space that the memory tends to recall months as years and years as decades. I know from my own experience how the period from around 1983 up to roundabout 1993 (which retrospectively feels like a quarter-of-a-century) saw so many alterations in appearance that it’s just as well I never had a passport. Chances are I’d have confused more than one customs official when switching his gaze from photo to person.

At about 40, I felt as if I’d found the character I’d been putting together for 25 years, albeit one who remains a work-in-progress; there’s always room for improvement, though I have my sartorial side sorted now. If Fenella Fielding had managed to persuade Peter Wyngarde to have a crack at batting for the other side just for one night of passion, I’d probably have been the product of that fantastically louche liaison. Who says dreams die when you turn 21?

© The Editor


I remember a first date once, which – though an encouraging start – turned out to be merely the prologue to another example of why my being one half of ‘a lovely couple’ is the relationship equivalent of a coalition government, i.e. an exceedingly rare aberration destined to end in tears. But I was younger at the time, so can be excused. And, anyway, she was a fascinating woman who worked for a charity and was about to jet off on a related business trip to New York. A second date was definitely on the cards, but the Manhattan outing would put it back a week or two. I resolved to pick up some kind of quirky guide to the Big Apple for her and pass it on before she packed her suitcase.

One topic of conversation that came up during the evening was a shared recollection of early 80s nuclear paranoia. She and I recalled the collective fear of those years, when pre-apocalypse tension infected the culture and seemed doomed to become a self-fulfilling prophesy; it was the age of Greenham Common, ‘Threads’ and ‘Two Tribes’. My date and I agreed such a bleak atmosphere genuinely (and thankfully) appeared to be a thing of the past – at least where the west was concerned. And when, you may ask, did this rather pleasant exchange take place? Why, to be exact, September 10 2001.

I was in a second-hand bookshop the following day when, having located just the kind of offbeat volume I’d intended, I heard something strange was happening at the World Trade Centre; the shopkeeper shrewdly informed me a fire in one of the twin towers had sent it crashing to the ground only after I’d bought the bloody book. Of course, it was no use to its recipient, as the trip to New York was cancelled and the state of global emergency she and I had perhaps unwisely relegated to the past tense suddenly re-emerged uglier than ever in the here and now. And, although the panic 9/11 unleashed unsurprisingly lasted longer than my dalliance with this particular lady, the numerous offshoots of the September 11 attacks that are still with us have sadly become part of the cultural wallpaper.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that those of us who were transfixed by the grotesque sights on our TV screens 18 years ago have gradually become immune to the horrors embodied in the events of 9/11 since. But exposure to subsequent wars and terrorist atrocities with their roots in that day could possibly have engendered a subliminal immunity so that what initially provoked genuine fear of a potential WWIII scenario is now met with shoulder-shrugging weariness. During the recent blanket coverage of the first Moon Landing’s 50th anniversary, one overlooked fact left out of the celebrations was that the viewing public of the time became bored with the great adventure so quickly that the only other Apollo mission anyone ever recalls is 13 – and that crew never even made it to their destination. When an achievement as immense as men on the moon can induce a jaded response as one lunar landing rapidly follows another, perhaps the repeated detonation of bombs in a crowded environment fails to maintain the level of shock such an appalling act warrants simply because it’s just one more atrocity in a very long line of them.

The world is far more intricately connected today than it was in 2001 – a period when social media was in its infancy and traditional mediums still had a monopoly on the way we consumed news. Indeed, the only occasion in which I can ever remember the newspaper racks being emptied in my local supermarket was the day after 9/11; everybody had clearly purchased a paper as a souvenir, just as their fathers (or grandfathers) had when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. It’s hard to imagine that happening with an equivalent incident today. I suspect many a website or search engine would crash, but there’d still be plenty of Fleet Street’s finest waiting to find a home. Then again, how long would shock linger now? Long enough for that interminable 24 hours between a story breaking and it making the physical front page? Probably not. The nature of how news is transmitted to the masses has changed so much since 2001 that the manner of its digestion has changed too – as has its presentation, presumably in order to hold the diminishing attention span of the reader. Often it seems that stories which don’t really deserve the dramatic headline ape the major event so that each and every item battling for space has to be given the full (to use a quaint old phrase) ‘stop press’ treatment.

It could be a result of living through two traumatic post-9/11 decades or it could simply be my age, but I find I don’t lose sleep over any of the news stories designed to provoke panic nowadays. I feel almost ashamed to admit it, for I realise I’m supposed to be in a perpetual state of fear – fear of climate change or Brexit or knife-crime or the far-right or the far-left or Boris or Corbyn or Trump or Putin or China or North Korea or No Deal…and yet, I’m not. However, that’s not to say I don’t care; caring about an important issue and (on occasion) being passionate about a few is listed on my membership card of the human race – and I hope that’s been evident in some of the things I’ve written here. But I don’t worry about today’s shock-horror stories, certainly not the level of worry I’m constantly told I should feel. Then again, being told how I should feel is something that media in all its current incarnations has come to specialise in.

Media of the social variety is regularly – and often rightly – castigated for its ‘echo chamber’ tendencies, and (should I wish to do so) I can certainly think of an easy way in which I could severely deplete my friends list on Facebook overnight, simply by expressing an opinion I’m not supposed to possess, let alone express. But hasn’t the new media merely learnt the lessons of the old media? Yes, Facebook and Twitter reflect users’ already established opinions back at them, confirming biases and upholding prejudices whilst discouraging discovering different perspectives; but then again, so do the Daily Mail and the Guardian. This trend could also be responsible for the current vogue in looking at an unfavourable event from a favourable angle in order to make it more palatable to those it upsets.

The remarkable success of the Brexit Party in the recent European Elections was countered by its opponents combining the split Remain vote as spurious evidence that Nigel’s barmy army didn’t actually win after all. The same tactic was applied in the wake of the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election by the other side, showing how putting the Tory and Brexit Party votes together somehow proved the Lib Dems were actually the losers. The fact that none of these combinations actually appeared as such on the ballot paper is regarded as almost immaterial when it comes to a ‘moral victory’ – or it could just be that this curious development proves how the Remainer/Leaver divide now counts for more than traditional party allegiances.

I considered using Nick Ross’s sage advice as the title for this post, and then remembered I’d used it as the title of an obituary for ‘Crimewatch’ I penned on here whenever it was that the show ended its lengthy run. As a matter of fact, I do have nightmares – constantly; and they’re horrible, far worse than any I had as a kid. But they’re all of a domestic nature, nocturnal kitchen-sink dramas featuring those I have loved and those I have lost; they don’t contain any bogeymen that dominate national or international headlines at all. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a strange place that I don’t scare easily anymore – at least when I’m awake.

© The Editor