There’s an illuminating interview with Frank Zappa from the 80s on YouTube in which the late lamented musical polymath explains how the 60s counter-culture was able to flourish on major record labels because the guys running them were happily detached from ‘the scene’. They were honest in admitting that they didn’t understand what was happening, but as long as it sold records they didn’t care; therefore, they shrugged their shoulders, took a chance and signed-up every long-haired freak they could find. Zappa claims the rot set in when the old cigar-chomping suits retired and were superseded by hip young ‘experts’ who regarded themselves as the voice of The Kids; this presumed expertise was based on an arrogant cocksure confidence in their own ability to judge what would and wouldn’t sell because their ‘finger-on-the-pulse’ credentials meant they knew what was best for the record-buying public. But, as Zappa wryly observed, ‘the person in the executive chair may not be the final arbiter of taste of the entire population’.

This came to mind again after I viewed the latest ‘Newsnight’ opinion piece masquerading as balanced impartiality, leaving me to conclude that Emily Maitlis genuinely believes she’s Ed Murrow denouncing McCarthy now. To simply say the BBC’s TV news output has descended into a left-wing version of Fox News is too lightweight an observation; no, it’s clear these people think they’re on an ideological mission of a kind that not only exposes an insular London-centric outlook that presumes the rest of the country shares their enclosed worldview, but contradicts a founding principle that was crucial to – and justified – the contract between the BBC and its audience. The viewing public have no choice in subscribing to something they’ve always been told will present both sides of the argument, for the sweetener in the bitter licence fee pill was always that the dominant political groupthink within the BBC wasn’t supposed to contaminate content. For all Paxman’s pioneering of the bullish prosecuting barrister interviewing technique, I never got the impression he was nailing his colours to a particular political mast; he was as brutally unforgiving with Alistair Campbell as he was with Michael Howard.

Forty or fifty years ago, the BBC was run by its own equivalent of the old record industry ‘men-in-suits’; surviving programme-makers, producers and writers regularly recount the battles they engaged in with these characters, yet they are simultaneously generous in their praise of how, once a point had been made, they were largely left alone to pursue their artistic visions uninterrupted – and they knew the end result would be broadcast to an audience of millions. The retrospective spotlight tends to fall on the drama auteurs of this era whenever it’s up for discussion, but it wasn’t merely the likes of Ken Loach or Dennis Potter who benefitted; even groundbreaking comedy was allowed to flourish free from editorial interference. The individual Pythons have often recalled how the vague proposal for their first series was rewarded with 13 shows, basically ‘go off and do what you want’. No focus groups, no adherence to any box-ticking ‘diversity’ agenda, and no ‘offence monitors’ checking their thinking before transmission.

The men-in-suits are long gone now, of course; and in their place are the same kinds of conservative ‘hipsters’ Frank Zappa watched taking over the music business. The drying-up of new output that has characterised mainstream television since the lockdown suspended production has highlighted how desperately out-of-touch the regimes at our principal broadcasters really are – and not just in their blatantly biased approach to the news. Things almost appear to have reverted to that drab period at the turn-of-the 80s when the radical potential of what became ‘Alternative Comedy’ had yet to be grasped; the prime-time line up today seems as tired and irrelevant as then. For Graham Norton, read Larry Grayson; for Ant & Dec, read Little & Large; for all those allegedly ‘cutting edge’ panel shows supplied with a production line of identikit comics cracking the same formulaic gags, read ‘The Comedians’. Trump and Brexit have simply supplanted Irishmen and mothers-in-law. Even Charlie Brooker has undoubtedly lost it now; his recent and ill-advised return to the ‘Screenwipe’ platform that established his reputation ten-fifteen years ago sadly showed how his sharp satirical precision has been terminally blunted by success and domestic bliss.

For all its faults, YouTube has provided a genuine alternative to mainstream TV for me during the lockdown, but the channels I regularly follow on there are channels I was already following before anyone had heard the word Covid-19. It’s testament to how the balance of power has shifted that a genius creation such as spoof news reporter Jonathan Pie can sell out a theatre with a live show without having first made his name on television, as was the traditional route; in fact, I can’t ever recall having seen him on the one-eyed monster in the corner of the living room once; he’s done it all online. 30 years ago, he would have been given his own show on BBC2 – not today. And there are other characters on YT who would no doubt have had similar TV fame in the past – characters such as ‘Joolz’, an engaging eccentric in a bowler hat who takes the viewer on tours of numerous London locations and does so with wit, panache and endearing style. I look forward to his latest video outing in the same way I used to look forward to favourite TV shows when the BBC or Channel 4 made TV shows that could actually become favourites.

Another channel I follow on a daily basis is one called ‘Triggernometry’. Hosted by gleefully anti-Woke outcast comedians Francis Foster and Konstantin Kisin – the latter achieving a modicum of mainstream fame a year or two ago when he refused to sign a pre-gig document informing him what subjects he wasn’t allowed to make fun of – this channel consists of interviews with fascinating figures that the MSM increasingly avoids. Alongside more recognisable ‘outspoken’ characters such as David Starkey, Peter Hitchens, Melanie Philips and Douglas Murray, the pair have also interviewed everyone from ostracised anti-Corbyn Labour union man Paul Embery to level-headed trans critic of trans activism, Rose of Dawn; the subject matter tends to cover every burning issue of the day and the pair not only ask intelligent, insightful questions, but they give their guests the breathing space to answer them – and in the process, the ensuing discussion can actually make the viewer think. It’s the nearest thing I’ve seen in recent years to the old ‘Face to Face’ programme and is the kind of concept that would’ve been instantly snapped up by BBC2 or Channel 4 at one time – not today.

I guess my disillusionment with mainstream TV is reflective of the age in which I was raised and what it then provided. I have a similar attitude towards contemporary pop music; I still expect it to regularly reinvent itself and challenge me anew every two or three years because that’s what it did when I was growing up, yet everything I hear that’s ‘new’ sounds like something I’ve heard before. But it says more about the people running the institutions that once acted as facilitators for the groundbreaking and the fresh that the audience in search of such stimulation turns away from them in order to find it today. Mind you, if the nightly Two Minutes Hate from ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ has now become a reality as people are encouraged to stand on their doorsteps to boo Boris for 120 seconds, I suspect I can second-guess what will fill the ‘Clap for Our Carers’ slot once it finishes its current run. They’re welcome to each other.

© The Editor


And we’re back to life imitating art imitating life again. Yes, the episode of ‘The Thick of It’ in which feared Downing Street attack-dog Malcolm Tucker is manoeuvred into submitting his involuntary resignation as MPs cowering in the shadows suddenly emerge as fearless critics of the PM’s Rottweiler is currently being restaged for the benefit of bored viewers of rolling news channels. I guess it’s the political equivalent of those struggling theatre companies performing socially-distanced plays online because nobody can go and watch them live anymore. Maybe we can look forward to similar remakes of other classic crisis moments from British political history in order to break-up the relentless tedium of the same story dominating every day’s headlines? Perhaps Boris could commandeer the airwaves and inform us we are now at war with Germany – or he could entreat the public to rejoice at the recapture of Port Stanley.

As has been pointed out several times by various observers, ‘stir crazy’ symptoms seem to be infiltrating public discourse after two months of lockdown and are responsible for an upsurge in hysterical behaviour online. This is quite possible, though it’s difficult to tell from a cursory swipe through the output of our most vociferous tweeters, most of who have simply carried on where they left off with Brexit. Nobody really appears to be acting out of character on Twitter, for those who were already foaming-at-the-mouth fanatics have merely transferred their obsessive manic tendencies from one issue to another; and Piers Morgan never needs much of an excuse to turn his oily countenance a sweaty shade of tomato. Ditto the mainstream media, whose propensity for sensationalism and OTT overreaction has been energised anew by every coronavirus-related development.

MSM scalp-hunters got what they wanted via the story of Neil Ferguson’s not-so clandestine dalliance with his married lover; despite admirably punching above his weight re the lady in question, that particular Government ‘expert’ was forced to fall on his sword when the revelations broke, though perhaps his dodgy track record of widely overestimating the scale of pandemic fatalities should have precluded his hiring in the first place. Several other political figures and experts have also been exposed as purveyors of the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ school of hypocrisy since we entered lockdown, though now that one of the architects of the entire policy has allegedly been caught out, those with scores to settle aren’t even bothering to contain their evident excitement.

Journalists, cultural commentators, Labour MPs and – especially – ex-Ministers sidelined for their Remainer stance are screaming in unison for Dominic Cummings to quit, yet all appear to me to have a pre-existing axe to grind where the PM’s very own Goebbels is concerned; they may be selling themselves as moral spokespeople for the people, though one can’t help but feel they aren’t so much expressing outrage on behalf of Lockdown Britain as relishing having Cummings on the ropes because they dislike him and everything he represents. Fair enough; Dominic Cummings certainly doesn’t come across as a particularly likeable individual and, if the stories are true, he exhibited appalling double standards when the country was being ordered to stay at home and anyone venturing outdoors stood to be confronted by an emboldened Gestapo masquerading as policing-by-consent Bobbies.

It seems odd that a man in Dominic Cummings’s powerful position, who must boast an extremely wide social network, couldn’t have placed his child in the care of someone in London rather than driving all the way up to his parents’ place in County Durham. Lest we forget, this was at a moment when many believed driving no further than the local retail park could risk an encounter with roadblocks and a police approach towards motorists inspired by the kind pioneered by the British Army at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. And, of course, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock was castigated in the right-wing press for making a similarly lengthy journey to visit his own aged parents in Wales around the time Cummings is alleged to have committed his particular crime. Indeed, if events proceeded as the allegations made by the Mirror and the Guardian claim they did, Cummings clearly gives the impression he regards himself as very much part of the political class and therefore doesn’t have to abide by the rules and regulations laid down for the plebs. He’s hardly unique in that case, though; the political class of all colours have repeatedly shown the same attitude for a long time and we didn’t need a lockdown to highlight that. We were never all in it together.

If anyone beyond media bubbles – both mainstream and social – actually gives a flying f**k about this story, the level of their interest would probably be determined by how greatly their life has been disrupted by the lockdown. If they have lost loved ones whose last few precious moments they weren’t able to share due to the restrictions, they’re going to be upset and angry as it is; therefore, excessive media coverage of what Dominic Cummings did or didn’t do – and it being presented as a heinous misdemeanour that spat in the face of a nationwide sacrifice he himself wasn’t prepared to make – then I would imagine they’d be quite pissed off about this, and rightly so. If, on the other hand, they’ve been spared any bereavement and are just fed up with being stuck at home, chances are they’ll simply shrug their shoulders and see Cummings’s actions as one more example of the ‘they all piss in the same pot’ syndrome; their lowly opinion of the political class will merely have been confirmed yet again.

The lockdown itself and the Government message – whether it be ‘stay safe’, ‘stay alert’ or ‘do as you’re told, finish your Frosties and go to bed’ – is undoubtedly undermined by this story and perhaps might just accelerate the end of the whole saga. And there’s an irony of sorts in that those who have adhered to the lockdown with such extreme compliance that they have had their nosy neighbour habits legitimised may well have helped expose the man partly responsible for encouraging their behaviour. Mind you, some of the anonymous snitches in Durham – probably (as tends to be the case where the Grauniad or BBC are concerned) Labour activists on the quiet – did cast doubt on the authenticity of their stories by claiming they recognised the registration plate of the Cummings car; hardly likely when these are always pixelated on TV and nobody outside of the police force can find out the owner of a vehicle from one.

The media is certainly demanding we be outraged by this story, if only because the media itself is. It has fostered the ‘we’re all in it together’ narrative by relentlessly promoting the doorstep clapping and the deification of the NHS; the Government has largely followed where the media has led, and I doubt Boris would be clapping on a weekly basis and allowing the ground-floor windows of No.10 to resemble those of a primary school classroom had not the media established the social mores of the lockdown community spirit. Wicked Mr Cummings spurning those mores when the salt-of-the-earth Great British public have largely done as they were told is consequently punishable by resignation. Failing that, just lift the lockdown.

© The Editor


What is referred to as ‘real-time’ rarely impinges upon long-running works of fiction; for example, if the chronology of our world was applied to ‘The Simpsons’, Bart would be roundabout 40 now; but he remains frozen in a no-man’s land somewhere between pre-and post-pubescence because that’s his character for life. A rare instance of real-time seeping into a successful animated franchise came with the third instalment in the ‘Toy Story’ series. Reflecting the decade-long gap between II and III, Andy – the little boy whose toy-box had provided the movies with their non-human stars – has aged several years and is now poised to leave home for college. However, he remains emotionally attached to his childhood playthings and reluctantly surrenders them to the young daughter of a neighbour at the eleventh hour. Even when Andy knew it was pointless holding on to his toys when they’d simply be stuck in the attic rather than being enjoyed by another child, he still found it tough to let them go. But it can be tough letting go when something becomes entrenched even though its relevance has expired – whether childhood toys, a failing marriage…or a lockdown.

A couple of weeks back, when we experienced a sustained bout of warm weather on the eve of Boris’s revised instructions to the people, I mused on how much longer the people could be kept indoors. Many were already beginning to seep out of their fortresses, lured by the sun and prepared to gamble with the threat of arrest if it meant alleviating boredom in the open air. Why not, they thought – after all, the NHS wasn’t overwhelmed, the Nightingale pop-up hospitals were all-but empty, and the members of society who were actually experiencing the coronavirus as the genuinely lethal plague we’d all been led to believe it was would have been just as vulnerable to it had the country carried on running as normal. Nobody was going to die because a few people sat around in a public park.

Although the elderly had been earmarked as the most at-risk from day one, the fate of many was sealed with or without the lockdown on account of so much focus being given over to the NHS. Such was the fear generated by the nightmarish prospect of hospitals swamped with coronavirus casualties, anyone admitted with symptoms would be swiftly dispatched back home once through the worst in order to avoid congestion. And that’s all fine and dandy if you’re heading back to your own place – not so if the virus is still in your bloodstream and you’re returning to a care-home that is effectively an all-you-can-eat buffet for Covid-19 to feast upon.

The short-sighted approach to the care-home issue seems to me to be the single biggest cock-up in the litany of them that the mainstream media is so fond of reciting. But, hey, the Peston’s and Kuenssberg’s are having fun scoring points as their ratings are flying high, so it’s to be expected, I guess. Whether or not the Government has made an almighty mess of everything – and, let’s face it, this particular administration is not exactly crammed with intellectual heavyweights or inspiring political giants – endless comparisons with the approaches of other nations to the coronavirus, especially in Europe, seem pointless when each country has its own unique set of circumstances to deal with. A one-size-fits-all approach to this crisis just doesn’t work, not even within the borders of one nation; as I’ve said before, there has to be a point whereby recognition is given that some parts of the UK are more at risk than others, and the easing of restrictions needs to reflect this.

Giving back the freedoms taken away from the people may well be something some in authority are reluctant to do, for sure; in many respects, this troublesome electorate that goes against the political class by voting Leave and then having the nerve to kick the main Remoaner offenders out of Parliament has finally been rendered powerless and is utterly at the mercy of its overlords at last. But when one considers the economic collapse that the Government is now confronted by as a consequence of events, it’s difficult to see what it gains from prolonging the lockdown; getting society fully functioning again is in No.10’s best interests as much as it is anyone’s, and the last thing a man so concerned with how history will remember him as Boris Johnson is will want as his Prime Ministerial legacy is a Suez, an Iraq or a 2008. That’s exactly what his tenure in Downing Street will amount to if this goes on much longer, however – indeed, it may already be too late; but he’ll surely seek to minimise the damage if he can. Yes, the country’s police forces might mourn the passing of their temporary stint as Brownshirts, but a Government elected with a whopping majority and able to boast record levels of employment just five months ago is hardly likely to stand back and watch it all go up in smoke overnight.

At the moment, it feels the lifting of the lockdown – even if a gradual and protracted process – will not so much struggle to re-establish normality because of any reluctance of the authorities to relinquish control, but will be stymied by the fear the Government instilled within the majority of the population to bring it about in the first place. Scaring the people into observing the containment of Covid-19 was naturally enforced by the closure of most shops, businesses and places of entertainment; but so effective has this particular Project Fear been in its impact on the behaviour of the general public, who knows what the long-term damage could be? People might want to go back, but are they capable after two long months of this? Socially distancing in the sun is one thing; returning to the workplace and indoor public spaces whilst simultaneously trying to maintain that distance could prove to be one hell of a headf**k. There’s the danger many have become so institutionalised to the two-metre lockdown lifestyle that it could take years to properly pick up where we left off.

Of course, some are more eager to settle back into the old ways than others. Those elements of the middle-classes that lean to the left have had a good war so far and it’s no surprise they’re amongst the most vocally opposed to the lockdown being lifted. In political terms, their true ideological leader is Nicola Sturgeon, but they have to make do with the boring barrister south of the border, who at least has the backing of the unions – and the unions are another long-redundant section of society that are relishing reclaiming the spotlight, especially those representing the teaching profession. The middle-class environment might suit home schooling, but sending their kids back to school isn’t something some parents can choose to opt out of; if schools do reopen in June, they have to reopen for everybody – and the parents that most need them to reopen are being denied that at the moment. There may well be legitimate concerns on the part of teachers themselves, but the spat that has overshadowed the issue this week almost feels like another extension of the polarisation that has characterised discourse over the past couple of years. And no child will benefit from that.

It really was a case of damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t at the end of March for this Government. I don’t really think they had much option but to take the path they did; the MSM certainly wouldn’t have relented from claiming the blood of every fatality was on Boris’s hands had the lockdown not come into effect, yet it was destined to be a no-win scenario even if this administration was the most capable and talented in living memory. The U-turn over the health immigration surcharge on non-EU migrants has the feel of another capitulation to media pressure from a Government so concerned with public perception as it balances on the economic precipice that it is willing to bow to any demand if demanded loud enough. Some might argue that’s what it did two months ago. Yet however bumbling and stumbling it appears to approach every challenge, it now has another tough choice confronting it that is every bit as tough as the one confronting it two months ago. But whoever said government was easy?

© The Editor


For those in the know, there are a couple of memorable stories from the original ‘Star Trek’ series and the Jon Pertwee era of ‘Doctor Who’ in which Captain Kirk and the Doctor follow the same path by slipping sideways into parallel universes – ‘Mirror, Mirror’ and ‘Inferno’. What is now an over-familiar sci-fi trope still seems fresh and novel in these interesting twists on the respective formulas both programmes tended to rely on; the unnerving encounters with darker incarnations of regular cast members are one intriguing element – and the usual good guys are invariably evil when this freak occurrence takes place; just in case the viewer doesn’t twig quick enough, Spock is gifted with a sinister beard and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has an eye-patch and a scar. However, it is the world these characters inhabit that provides the most fascinating aspect of the adventures.

The Enterprise looks roughly the same, but in this dimension it is a warship belonging to a brutal intergalactic empire, whereas the version of Britain Pertwee’s Doctor finds himself in is a militaristic fascist republic. Both stories play upon the ‘what if?’ factor, pondering on possibilities had global events taken a different turn; and, of course, these events were still fresh at the time ‘Mirror, Mirror’ and ‘Inferno’ were produced (1967 and 1970), when the world was less than 30 years away from the collapse of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy – warnings from recent history transplanted to an alternative present.

I only thought of these two classic examples of two classic series at their best because I keep noticing those movie posters you see pasted on the sides of double-decker buses. Normally I tend to roll my eyes when greeted by any sign of the latest multimillion-dollar dump Hollywood has decided to take on the world’s cinemagoers; but the current ones are catching my eye on account of them not being quite right. Whereas they usually change with such rapid regularity that one rarely sees the same poster on a bus for more than two weeks running, I recently realised the movies being promoted via public transport at the moment were either released way back in February – and have therefore already been forgotten and wouldn’t normally still be there – or give a release date in April/May that never actually happened due the lockdown.

It’s an extremely minor equivalent of suddenly slipping into a parallel universe, but seeing posters for movies still unseen that declare they were premiered at the nation’s picture houses on dates when they weren’t is a weird one, akin to the disorientating differences a character in a genuine parallel universe experiences. Well, it’s as close as I’ve come, anyway. That’s what happens when you queue outside supermarkets situated on a main road and aren’t distracted by a Smartphone screen. I can quite easily pass the minutes by simply pretending I am indeed in a parallel universe where buses don’t lie and those movies did indeed premiere as planned, showing now at a cinema near you; and then I contemplate the queue and the two-metre separation between each person in it and realise this universe is probably far stranger than a parallel one as it is.

Actually, the movies being plugged on those buses may end up representing an even greater financial disaster than they ordinarily would if they had been released and failed to break even at the box-office. Yes, many will be swallowed up by a costly black-hole courtesy of the pandemic, though lockdown aside, the fate that awaits the majority of the over-hyped bilge vomited out by Tinsel Town is generally down to the clueless halfwits behind them gambling everything on what the public will take to. It happens across all creative industries, of course – movies, TV, publishing, music; a hit suddenly appears from nowhere that the people running these industries didn’t predict and then there’s a rush to repeat it in order to capitalise on the success, a rush that swiftly tests the patience of the public with the new craze. There may be an entire army of experts employed by movie studios, TV companies, publishing houses and record labels who reckon they can both anticipate and manipulate what the public will or won’t buy, but the truth is that few ever accurately do. Even if I take my own humble example when it comes to this here blog, it’s near-impossible to guess what will provoke a response and what won’t.

Access to Winegum stats is a behind-the-scenes privilege of ‘Petunia’; they not only inform me in which countries on the planet I’m receiving the most views – India and Cambodia make regular surprise appearances alongside the more expected nations – but they also let me know which posts are pulling the punters in; and there are some vintage ones that keep appearing in the list with such regularity that I’m often baffled by their appeal. Yes, I’m well aware there are certain topics I might choose to write about that I pretty much know in advance will appeal to a particular Twitter audience because they happen to be a pet subject with a passionate crowd who Tweet a lot; equally, when Twitter isn’t especially interested, I may receive an above-average flurry of comments on the post itself without attracting a single retweet.

But for me, the subject matter is more or less secondary to whether or not I personally consider the post a well-written one that makes its intended point as perfectly as I can manage it. There have been times when I’ve put one out and I look at it again and reckon I was too tired when I wrote it or I rushed it when I should’ve taken a bit more time and improved the prose. And then I find it keeps surfacing in the list of most-viewed posts, perhaps two or three years after it was published; just because I might not rate or care for a post doesn’t mean I’m necessarily in the right; if somebody out there likes it, in a way that’s all that matters. Indeed, there are many posts I rate extremely highly and think read just as well today as when they were written; and yet nobody else took to those ones. It’s completely random sometimes.

There’s quite an early one about corporal punishment called ‘The Back of My Hand’ that simply won’t go away, and one I wrote about the trans issue – specifically in relation to children – called ‘Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha’ has been achieving as many views over the past couple of months as anything new I’ve written. I’ll concede that I think the latter is perhaps as good a piece as anything I’ve written on that subject, but I still can’t quite understand why it continues to reel ‘em in. But that highlights my point, I suppose; you really can’t guess what’ll impact and what won’t. I’ve written books I (and others) thought would make my name and they never did – ‘Looking for Alison’ being the prime example.

I seemed on the cusp of recognition with that when I was interviewed for Radio 4’s ‘iPM’ show at the time of the book’s publication, and I recall after the interview I had a free cab-ride home laid on for me by the BBC. I exited said taxi without paying a penny and had a brief sense of what it must be like to be Alan Yentob. It’s easy and understandable to decry ‘how the other half live’ and, let’s face it, we all do it; but even the tiniest glimpse into that world makes one realise how easy it is to fall into its luxurious embrace. I know why there were cries of outrage over author Neil Gaiman travelling all the way from New Zealand to Scotland, but I equally know if I were in his position I’d have probably done the same. Why not, if you can afford it? Maybe there’s a parallel universe where we all can…

© The Editor


When several 5G masts were attacked during the early pre-lockdown panic, images of pitchfork-carrying retards reverting to primitive superstitions were instantly evoked – y’know, the kind that spot a train in the distance and cry ‘Iron horse! Tis the Devil’s work!’ All the backwoods backwards clichés employed in everything from ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘Deliverance’ to ‘The League of Gentlemen’ came to the fore, even though the source of this misguided hysteria was the ultimate contemporary tool, i.e. our very own global Speakers’ Corner. Even without the odious David Icke (and online channels that shamelessly promote him to boost their revenues), cyberspace is hardly short on wild conspiracy theories or fiction presented as fact; but so much internet output is geared towards confirming whatever one already chooses to believe and disbelieve that it’s no real wonder this is the case.

Crackpot writings on the Holocaust or the Moon Landings were once restricted to discredited historians and scientists whose works were in the hands of a tiny minority of pseudo-academic fruitcakes; but, as we have seen over the past 20 years, the spread of information via the 21st century’s superhighway means everything can now reach anybody. While those who propagate insane, nonsensical theories may be as deluded and demented as their hardcore devotees, they have nevertheless cannily tapped in to something that reaches a far wider audience – the destabilising uncertainties of our times, wherein nothing appears to be as it once seemed. Exploiting a climate spiked with cynicism and disillusionment courtesy of successive exposés of actual corruption at the highest levels of society’s institutions – politics, royalty, the church, the police, the press – the conspiracy theorists long ago twigged that when the people believe nothing, they’ll believe anything.

The guilty parties to blame for this situation, for abusing their power and presuming their wealth or status would insulate them from exposure, cannot be surprised at the monster they’ve created. Every politician caught with his hand in the till or his trousers round his ankles, every priest preaching damnation to sinners and then found fiddling with an altar-boy when the service is over, every public health ‘expert’ extolling the merits of social distancing to the masses and then discovered spurning them in private, every police commissioner turning a blind eye to grooming gangs whilst ‘checking the thinking’ of the person behind a tweet questioning the crazed logic of a trans-activist – all plant seeds of despair, despondency, anger and outrage in the minds of the public and tell them nobody holding a position that was once imbued with respect can be trusted anymore. When there are no moral barometers, people seek a truth that reinforces their suspicions, whether it’s true or not. They need something reassuring to cling to.

So, it’s no great leap of the imagination when the world is placed in unprecedented suspended animation that many desperately looking for an answer will fall for any tall story. The more governments try to cover their tracks and withhold as much as they can from their populace, the more they leave themselves open to accusations both wild and legitimate, and China is an obvious target in the current situation. Despite protracted arse-licking on the part of the World Health Organisation and Google employing the kind of censorious approach to associating Covid-19 with China as certain sections of the left adopt whenever anyone dares to criticise elements of Islam, it’s inevitable China’s undoubted culpability in the coronavirus pandemic will not only receive genuine and warranted examination, but will also provoke fantastical theories sold as the truth.

Yet, even when one takes a step back from the more extreme allegations aimed at exposing the causes behind something that has left the people of the world dazed and confused and feeling like they’re not being told everything, the impact of the lockdown has exacerbated the inherent mistrust and dislike of one’s neighbours that is always just below the surface of many, pushing it beyond the pale in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances. For all the doorstep clapping and pots-and-pans-banging that supposedly sums up the ‘we’re all in it together’ coronavirus community, the simultaneous snitching that has evolved from traditional curtain-twitching has played into the hands of police forces loving the new powers to extend their jurisdiction in dealings with the man, woman, child and rough-sleeper in the street, which is hardly the basis for a jolly Blitz Spirit.

And there are also the ‘lockdown fundamentalists’, those who not only call the cops if they catch sight of more than two pedestrians at a time outside their homes, but who have taken it upon themselves to take more direct action. I suspect the same yahoos who regarded 5G masts as evil transmitters of the yellow peril are responsible for the latest guerrilla tactics in the unlikely environs of North Yorkshire. Home-made ‘man-traps’ – gruesome blocks of wood packed with nails – have been discovered in various woodlands in Cleveland that are now routinely used as locations for allocated daily strolls and meanders by householders needing to get out of their houses. These horrible objects have led to warnings for the public to be vigilant when venturing into the likes of Margrove Woods and Guisborough Forest; and police in the region have apparently spoken to an unnamed ‘former parish councillor and retired teacher’ who admitted to being responsible for what was described as a blockade of branches and rocks on a cyclist trail.

I have a feeling the North East probably isn’t unique when it comes to such OTT means of preventing people from making the most of what little outdoor life they can grab. Police have apparently stepped up their patrols of the affected locations, but the initial online police ‘shaming’ of isolated dog-walkers wandering the vast open plains of Derbyshire perhaps didn’t help matters and only served to fuel the fire in the bellies of the easily unhinged. A steady diet of corona-news, whatever the media medium, is not especially healthy even for those of us not prone to hammering nails in blocks of wood and then scattering them in woodlands frequented by more members of the public than usual; but the relentless cycle of doom ‘n’ gloom on a loop becomes for some a disturbingly addictive justification for their antisocial actions.

Personally, I can handle all this stuff in small doses. I haven’t cut myself off completely from news outlets, for it’s helpful to know what’s happening out there – and it’s obviously necessary when it comes to writing one of these posts. But you can have too much of a bad thing. Whatever our individual circumstances, we’re all living with aspects of this on a daily basis even when we’re not checking headlines; and we need a breather – well, many breathers, to be honest. It’s just a bummer if we decide to take a breather by strolling through the woods and end up in A&E, no doubt occupying a bed that could be occupied by someone infected with a certain virus that the lockdown fundamentalists would regard as more deserving. Now, that’s ironic, Alanis.

© The Editor


Alas, poor Michael – we knew him well; we all did. Twenty-odd years’ sterling service to forecasting the weather and all anyone ever remembers is the day he got it wrong – yes, the 1987 hurricane. I can’t help but wonder if Mr Fish has been hired as one of the Government’s endless advisers, providing the info they place such faith in as they map out our collective future. We are now informed it’s okay for us to reunite with friends and relatives in a public space, as long as we maintain social distancing guidelines – though lovers separated for seven weeks by the lockdown are hardly likely to adhere, let alone in a public space. But we can sunbathe! Yes, after a weekend in which coppers desperately sought to exploit the uncertainty of the public one last time by giving it their final Gestapo routine, the rumours dripped into Fleet Street were confirmed, to a point.

When engaging in what has become a weekly ritual of walking a friend’s dog on Saturday, I stepped out into the nearest thing spring has to a heat-wave and found the woods previously reserved for the canine-friendly were beginning to be colonised by ‘others’. These were the hibernating-breaking folk I’d seen online via the videos of those whose careers are built upon deliberately antagonising (and recording) the police’s response to the general public – only, there were no boys-in-blue to be seen; maybe they only appear when there’s a camera present. Anyway, the ‘others’ weren’t doing anything but basking in the sunlight; even if there was never any guideline stating such an activity was illegal, we’ve still all heard about people being moved on for committing that precise non-crime. And yet, there they were, just because it was warm. As I progressed on the dog-walk, I began to wonder how much longer the lockdown could realistically be enforced. The people have been patient, but that patience has a time limit in the absence of signs that give a glimmer of optimism.

Then came Boris again – a month-and-a-half on from his landmark broadcast in which we were told to stay indoors – and he issued an update that appeared to declare it was now okay to spend as much time outdoors as one liked; no longer would our constitutionals be rationed; we could sunbathe without fear of being moved on and we could congregate in groups – even engage in non-contact sports – as long as we refrained from touching, hugging and kissing. A nation cheered and then a nation’s weather took a turn for the worse on cue, hence the reference to Michael Fish; surely only he could be blamed for the alteration in the climate when the go-ahead had been given to make the most of it? No, let’s not hold him responsible for this one. As far as I’m aware, Michael Fish has not been recruited to the advisory panel – nor has he issued any orders for the plebs to submit to whilst he himself does otherwise by receiving his married lover. Perish the thought.

Whereas the PM’s first television address to the nation was clear and unambiguous, his follow-up yesterday seemed like one of those disappointing ‘Star Wars’ sequels that those who care about such things are forever expressing their dismay with – a long, drawn-out build-up fuelled by pre-release hype and then the inevitable anticlimax. Like everyone else, I watched last night expecting to hear some changes announced that would serve as the first tentative steps back to normality; and, like everyone else, I came away not quite knowing where we stand. There appeared to be some confusion as to when those who can’t work from home should or could resume their place in the workplace; some thought Boris was talking about Monday morning; then it was made a little clearer later that he meant Wednesday. Of course, we’re now being advised to avoid public transport and travel to work as a pedestrian or a cyclist; however, unless one happens to live on Coronation Street – where everybody’s workplace is a mere handful of yards from their doorstep – this is easier said than done; and what if you don’t own a bike? I can’t help but feel this has been proposed by people who’ve never had to use a bus to get to work.

Yesterday’s broadcast seemed to confirm the doubts about the Prime Minister many have often harboured, doubts he had seemed to successfully dismiss with his previous broadcast and his own personal battle with the coronavirus. But he appeared all bluster-and-little substance yesterday, delivering a muddled message that left most no more certain as to what they now can and can’t do than they knew before. It probably hasn’t helped that the trumpeted co-ordination between the four constituent countries of the UK seems to have diverged somewhat, with Ms Krankie in particular emphasising that ‘Stay at Home’ will remain in force rather than the more vague ‘Stay Alert’. We can now apparently drive any distance within the borders of England, but should motorists cross into Scotland or Wales, they may well be turned back…I think.

It looks as though schools will still have to wait a month before they can consider opening their doors again, and even if this is initially reserved for infants, the legacy of the lockdown means many parents are expressing reluctance to allow their precious darlings to come into contact with those of other mothers. Considering attending school has been mandatory in England and Wales since the 1870 Elementary Education Act (1872 in Scotland), the fact that parents keeping their kids from school is now being portrayed as optional rather than something punishable in law is certainly an unforeseen development – especially at a time when some parents have been famously fined and threatened with prison for taking their children out of school during term time simply to go on holiday. Or maybe it’s only optional when middle-class parents are the guilty parties?

Businesses, particularly the hospitality industries, didn’t receive the all-clear to begin trading again from the PM – not until July at the earliest, anyway. Some cafés near me have been serving takeaways on the doorstep, and I don’t really see why bakeries and other similar emporiums on a small scale can’t reopen if supermarkets can trade; the same two out/two in rules can easily apply for customers. Indeed, my local branch of discount store Wilkos has adapted to the situation by seemingly persuading their staff they’re actually patrolling the Berlin Wall; the relish with which they have embraced walkie-talkies and mock-military uniforms – and the amusing swagger these novelties have inspired – has undoubtedly made the lengthy queuing process a tad more entertaining.

The locking of the stable door long after the horse has bolted re the new quarantine rules at airports is belated, to say the least, and the mothballing of the Nightingale mega-hospitals due to lack of patients either says the Government strategy has worked – or that the lockdown was a futile exercise from the off. Who knows? None of us probably will until all of this is a distant (not to mention surreal) memory, as in ‘Do you remember when…’ At the moment, however, the luxury of hindsight feels like a long way off.

© The Editor


Yes, it’s refreshing to write about something that isn’t the C word; it’s just a pity that in doing so I’m bidding farewell to the greatest showman of them all – the first and finest embodiment of an outrageous archetype hotwired into the pop culture of the last half-century. Indeed, there’s a direct line that goes backwards from, say, Marilyn Manson – encompassing the likes of Prince, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Mick Jagger, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the young Elvis Presley – before finally arriving at Year Zero in the incomparable person of Little Richard. His passing comes as the earnest, preachy, lecturing bores who have colonised what remains of Rock have failed to grab a baton that was once passed from one generation to the next in a manner that implied there would always be at least one young and virile incarnation of Little Richard’s blueprint on the go; but so be it. Maybe the death of the man himself at the grand old age of 87 was perfectly timed, for he saw the whole saga from beginning to end.

Perhaps the legacy of Little Richard today is less evident in the musical genre he helped create than in the successful mainstream infiltration of the drag scene that initially gave him carte blanche to express his penchant for the flamboyant and effeminate. From the unlikely TV career of RuPaul to the adoption of visual tropes by the likes of Lady Gaga, something that was very much an acquired underground taste in the early 1950s is now very much over-ground and in yer face. And, at a time when a camp young man caked in cosmetics had to become a larger-than-life, cartoonish showbiz star to avoid being lynched by Middle America – and that’s not even addressing the colour of his skin – the whole non-binary mix & match that has become a chic affectation of contemporary youth is quite feasibly another element of the modern age that wouldn’t have been possible had not Little Richard put outré ambisexuality on the map over 60 years ago.

How he looked was just part of the explosive package, of course. There was the voice as well – a raw, unrestrained scream of joyous euphoria that blew the elegant croon of the tuxedo-clad song-stylist out of the mid-50s water. It’s almost impossible if you weren’t there to imagine what it must have been like to have heard that voice without any prior reference point in 1956 as the string of hits upon which Little Richard’s career was built thereafter followed one another into the staid Hit Parade. ‘Tutti Fruitti’, ‘Rip it Up’, ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Lucille’, and others – all of which were lyrically subversive celebrations of lascivious sexual practices – rejected that strain of the Blues that wallowed in self-pitying sob stories and instead revelled in its more profane aspects. And, as with Chuck Berry, Little Richard’s speeding-up of the Blues helped the faster, more urgent rhythms of what became Rock ‘n’ Roll cross the racial divide of segregated America by appealing to a generation of white adolescents eager for a soundtrack reflecting their post-war restlessness.

The musical background of Richard Wayne Penniman is a familiar one for a southern black boy born in the early 30s – the church and Gospel. His brief and premature retirement from showbiz just a couple of years after his first hit saw him retreat to his original comfort zone when the juxtaposition of his hedonistic lifestyle and his faith became too incompatible to sustain. He announced he was going to pursue a career in the ministry and would only record and perform Gospel music from then on; and with Chuck Berry in prison, Jerry Lee Lewis in disgrace, Buddy Holly in the cemetery and Elvis in the army, Richard’s retirement was in synch with the general opinion that Rock ‘n’ Roll had been little more than a fad whose era had come to a natural end. However, its popularity hadn’t waned outside of the US, and Richard was persuaded to embark upon a tour of the UK in 1962 – an experience that persuaded him to ditch the Gospel and return to the more secular sounds his audience wanted to hear.

For some of the dates on that 1962 tour, he was supported by an unknown beat combo from Liverpool; they also supported Richard in Hamburg. The band – whose name momentarily escapes me – had a bassist prone to the occasional fair stab at the characteristic Little Richard vocal style in one or two numbers, though Mr McCartney wisely used it sparingly. As the 60s progressed and the acts for whom Little Richard had been an early inspiration gradually eclipsed him, Richard’s backing band proved to be a canny learning curve for future stars, including Billy Preston and – for a brief period – Jimi Hendrix. The short stint Hendrix enjoyed as a band-member was allegedly curtailed by Richard’s concerns over being upstaged by his young guitarist, who had certainly learnt the art of showmanship from the master.

By the turn of the 70s, the roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll were enjoying something of a revival, culminating in the spectacular ‘London Rock ‘n’ Roll Show’ staged at Wembley Stadium in the summer of 1972 – the first such occasion in which the twin towers had played host to a non-sporting event. On a line-up that featured more or less every surviving rocker from the first 50s wave bar Elvis, Little Richard did his best to outshine Chuck Berry at the top of the bill; and the priceless film recording of the show contains segments of interviews with Richard that serve as a reminder of how the character he had cultivated was as much a force of nature offstage as on it. Indeed, the belated realisation of just how entertaining a personality he could be if given the opportunity to shine before the camera provided Richard with a profitable income as a chat-show guest throughout the 70s and well into the 80s. His huge contribution to the blurring of gender and racial lines in popular culture also began to be recognised as the family tree of flamboyance he planted decades before bore a continuous flowering of fruit.

Richard himself was engaged in a lifelong struggle to reconcile his urges with his faith, seeming to seesaw between being out and proud and denouncing his inclinations; but one only has to see a clip of him from his breakthrough period and to place him in the context of conformism and conservatism that characterised the mid-50s to realise what a fearless, risqué trailblazer he was. Just compare Richard’s original version of ‘Tutti Fruitti’ with Pat Boone’s lame and lifeless cover and one is immediately made aware of what he was up against. As Lemmy later commented: ‘How hard must it have been for him: gay, black and singing in the South? But his records are a joyous good time from beginning to end.’

As far as we’re aware, the death of Little Richard has no associations with any virus emanating from the Far East, which is itself a curious relief in the daily roll-call of Covid-related fatalities. Let’s not forget he was 87, after all, and he’d lived the kind of life most of us would find exhausting to live vicariously via a work of fiction, let alone in his shoes. To have outlasted almost all of his contemporaries is testament to the limitless energy that remarkable individual generated; and his reputation is assured as a man who lit innumerable fuses that have led to so much of what has kept us entertained for over 50 years. As he himself said, A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom…

© The Editor


When it comes to the senses, they all have their merits; but taking one away – if they’re all in working order to begin with, of course – can damage in ways it’s easy to underestimate. Most of us have had one particular sense removed against our will during the current scenario, and though it does have something of a problematic reputation if misused, it nevertheless provides us with some of the most electrifying sensory stimulations available if applied correctly. I’m talking, naturally, about touch. Enforced social distancing from fellow pedestrians can’t necessarily be blamed for putting touch out of action in that it shouldn’t necessarily have been utilised when it comes to complete strangers on the street or in the supermarket, anyway – indeed, abusing this particular sense in such a situation is where its problematic reputation stems from. At the same time, the suspicion that now surrounds each individual we keep a two metre distance from in our rationed outings has intensified the perception of touch as a poisonous sense that needs to be curbed – which is a shame.

After all, though Proust rightly cited the power of taste when describing his Madeleine Moment, touch can provide us with equally evocative sensations that take us back in personal time. Inanimate objects from childhood are invested with remarkably potent sensory powers if we make contact with them again as adults, though the effect of touch can be just as effective when it comes to articles that have no such associations and simply feel good when our fingers grace them. It’s no wonder that the blind place such prominence on the impact of touch, let alone relying on it to read. When it comes to instant internal responses, touch is pretty much in a league of its own. Think of bubble-wrap, or the especially luxuriant fur of a dog or cat, or Plasticine, or silk, or – yes – a lady’s knee; all provide a hit to the pleasure domes of the brain like few other senses can deliver with such speed.

When Alex is conditioned to respond negatively to his aggressive tendencies following Ludovico treatment in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, the humiliating demonstration before dignitaries he is forced to endure as evidence the technique works includes one scene where a topless girl approaches him; his instinct is to reach out and grab her breasts; then the sickness hits and he recoils in agony. But the fact that the overwhelming urge to grope her was the first thought to enter his head when he laid eyes upon her was an indication of how pleasurable the reward of touch is for the individual concerned – even though it simultaneously provokes the opposite feeling in the person for whom touch is unwelcome and uninvited. But the pattern of Alex’s life as a teenage hoodlum has been the wholesale embrace of pleasure, so it’s only natural touch forms a central element of that. His crime is to take what he wants when he wants, and that includes any stray devotchka he happens to stumble upon.

It goes without saying that few would advocate using touch with such carefree abandon as that wicked little droog, though that hasn’t prevented those who wouldn’t from being accused of doing so in the compensation climate the western world has descended into over the last couple of decades. The institutionalised fear of touch has been drilled into at least one generation by powerful lobbyists for certain causes, and has transformed the abuses of touch from the exclusive province of dirty old men to anyone – i.e. male – coming into contact with children or the opposite sex, placing them under instant suspicion as potential paedos or rapists in a refashioned brand of Original Sin. The implementation of CRB checks and the ‘#BelieveAllWomen’ mantra have been the sad outcomes of submission to this corrosive mindset, leading to the toxic atmosphere of mistrust and conviction of ulterior motives so prevalent on campus today. Students are taught to fear physical attraction at a time when their hormones crave it, and the insidious innovation of consent forms that reduce perfectly natural instincts to prospective criminal acts on behalf of one participant is a sorry development that has nevertheless prepared the ground for where we are now.

With the mixed-sex workplace similarly infected with anticipation of the predatory groper, the imposition of social distancing wasn’t such an impossible task to persuade the populace to adhere to as it might have been, say, thirty or forty years ago; yet we conversely live in an age where the hug has become as commonplace a greeting as the traditional handshake – two expressions of touch between people that have now been socially outlawed. All the locations where touch has an outlet to indulge – pubs, cafés, restaurants, concert venues, football grounds – have been closed down to avoid individuals physically connecting with other individuals through touch. The general consensus of touch being a thing of evil is thus cemented.

The hospitality industry is one that has seriously suffered during the lockdown, and even when restrictions are tentatively lifted, the problems of how to accommodate ongoing fears of touch mean returning to normal will probably take longer than mere months in comparison to other businesses. Tables in restaurants being reduced and stationed further apart than usual will minimise the amount of customers that can be admitted on any given evening, which will obviously lead to a drop in profits and no doubt many eating houses going to the wall even if they make it to a re-opening night. I myself can’t say I’m either a regular restaurant or pub-goer, but it’s nice to know both are there if the need arises. I feel sorrier for those with social lives that these places form a crucial backdrop to.

Indeed, imagine if today was your birthday and you were the kind to celebrate such an occasion by making the most of the myriad venues that cater for those kind of events; okay, so a night-in alone might be the best some of us can expect when happy returns are allegedly many; but for social animals restricted to quarters, the prospect of not only being deprived of eating out but of not being able to receive the visitors one would naturally anticipate if housebound must be a bit of a bummer, to say the least. What you’re being deprived of more than anything else is touch, and extended periods being deprived of touching another human being can have the habit of not necessarily associating the sensation with fear, but of a gradual drop in one’s emotional temperature; one can become something of a ghost.

Considering it took until several years after the end of the Second World War for so many of the privations the conflict imposed on the home-front to be returned to pre-war normality, any expectations of a swift resumption of where we were before the lockdown once it ends is naive. And with Matt Hancock getting all Lord Kitchener by insisting it’s our ‘duty’ to sign up for Smartphone apps tracking our movements, state control of individuals is in danger of becoming an entrenched given. But it is the perception of touch as something imbued with inherent evil – a belief already gathering pace even before Covid-19 entered the fray – that is one of the most poignant casualties of this calamity.

© The Editor


Today should have been May Day Bank Holiday, but it was postponed – not for the obvious reason, but because it’s been rescheduled to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday. Still, one can’t help but feel that a delay of four days isn’t long enough. It’s a bit like being one of those unfortunate kids born in the second half of December, those whose aunties hand them a present and say ‘This is for your birthday AND Christmas’. Most people are off work, and a Bank Holiday is a day when workers are given a treat by being given…a day off work. Surely it would’ve made more sense to have simply shifted the Bank Holidays that appeared smack bang in the middle of the lockdown to a later point in the year? But, one can’t really blame those whose job it is to plan public holidays for failing to anticipate a situation few saw coming; this situation is too strange for that. And it also continues to place the months, weeks and even days leading up to where we are now in a weird fabrication of immense distance.

However, history has taught us that this ‘optical illusion’ of memory has a habit of recurring whenever a life-changing event occurs and the world on the other side of the event suddenly feels much further away than it actually is. Think of how the last summer on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War is often portrayed as the golden swansong of an Edwardian age that was instantly plunged into luminous amber by those finding themselves on the Western Front. Of course what they’d left behind must have suddenly seemed magical. Certainly a conflict that began on horseback and ended in tanks did indeed serve as a watershed between one era of warfare and another, but this can feasibly be expanded to encompass a wider contrast between the world of 1914 and the world of 1918, one that stretches way beyond the battlefield. It’s no wonder the Edwardian age remains bathed in an alluring glow – though one perhaps viewed from the perspective of the officer class; war stopped play of a cricket match in which all the players were gentlemen.

Across the Atlantic, the three major bombshells that had the greatest impact on the American psyche between World War II and the present day were Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy and 9/11. The first was undoubtedly a shock to the American public; it brought a policy of isolationism to a dramatic end overnight, though Roosevelt had hardly been detached from events in Europe behind the scenes; what the Japanese attack on the US Navy in Hawaii did was to curtail the facade of non-engagement. But the US officially entering WWII didn’t necessarily worsen life for Americans who weren’t drafted; compared to here, the home-front in the States was probably better than it had been before 1941, so there wasn’t much yearning for the lost world that existed prior to Pearl Harbor. If anything, looking back to the Great Depression from the perspective of an economy energised anew by the war effort negated the kind of nostalgic longing for the recent past that the British experienced during the First World War.

JFK’s assassination is another matter altogether. Today, it tends to be viewed through the prism of the conspiracy theory industry; had David Icke been around at the time, he’d no doubt have got in early – though his removal from YouTube over the weekend says more about the Google Thought Police and the intolerance of the Silicon Valley worldview than it does about a man that anyone with half-a-brain recognises as an irrelevant fruitcake. Anyway, as for the President who bit the bullet on 22 November 1963, the trauma that hit the US over the death of a man who represented far more than he ever delivered instantly mythologized the Kennedy Camelot in a way that has proven remarkably resistant to no end of damaging revelations ever since. The orphaned youth of America may have been coaxed out of mourning by The Beatles – whose landmark debut on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ took place just two-and-a-half months later; but as the decade unfolded with the black hole of Vietnam and further traumatising assassinations, looking back to the perceived innocence and optimism of the early 60s and harbouring a grievance that the nation was robbed of a hope it has never regained was a comforting illusion that endures.

With 9/11 – an event that dragged more than just the one nation into its toxic orbit – the rapid realisation that the world had become a less nice place gradually shone a more benign light on the 20th century’s last decade. All those truly horrible elements of the 1990s – from bloodshed in the Balkans to genocide in Rwanda – were overshadowed in reminiscences that airbrushed the worst from the picture, and the 90s was refashioned as the Indian summer of a safe, peaceful planet in which things could only get better. The end of the Cold War, the Kyoto Protocol, Gazza’s tears, Bill Clinton receiving blowjobs in the Oval Office – hell, we’d never had it so good. By 12 September 2001, it already seemed like a hundred years ago – a fun and frivolous era when all we had to concern ourselves with was whether or not Blur would beat Oasis to the No.1 spot.

The dawn of a new age’s first task is to instantly distinguish itself from what immediately preceded it; but when that new age is a dark one, what immediately preceded it inevitably appears shiny and bright – and better – by comparison. Naturally, the Edwardian era seemed preferable to the carnage of WWI; naturally, the young President cut down in his prime felt like the murder of the American Dream he’d embodied; and naturally, the 1990s came across as a less bleak and far more hopeful period because it was a brief bridge between one Cold War and another. And now we find ourselves in a fresh time of uncertainty and unease that is painting the normal we knew before Covid-19 decided to extend its influence beyond China’s borders as not only eminently desirable, but as something we lost a long time ago – far longer ago than is actually the case.

It may well be that the only thing in 2020 that we have to fear is fear itself; but the abrupt loss of so much we invariably took for granted and the sudden change to the majority of lifestyles has had the effect of making many feel as though where we were pre-lockdown was some dim, distant Golden Age we can never get back to. It’s amazing how quickly one becomes accustomed to the changes, too. Just in the way a scene from a movie barely a decade old might already seem strange should it feature characters smoking indoors, I’m starting to marvel at the absence of social distancing in any drama I watch and have to remind myself that this situation hasn’t always been the case. It just feels like it has. To claim that the past is beautiful and the present is beastly (nice turn of phrase to justify the title, eh?) might be stretching the truth; but if it were in my power to turn back the clock, I probably wouldn’t say no.

© The Editor


Events in Michigan a few days ago confirmed my long-held opinion that the lunatic fringes of both the far left and the far right have far more in common with each other than they do with the rest of us. Extreme beliefs expressed via extreme behaviour are pretty much the same, whatever the ideology – whether a mob in Iran calling for death to America or western Woke students besieging a campus, demanding the removal of someone or something that triggered them. Intimidation in numbers and the promise of violence when the perpetrators lack both the vocabulary and ability to debate are universal tactics. The far left’s anarchists tend to come from the privileged middle class whereas the far right’s are largely blue-collar; but both manifest their grievances in a remarkably similar manner when mobilised. The difference between, say, Antifa and the protestors who surrounded and then entered the state capitol building in Lansing was weaponry; the latter included an armed ‘militia’, taking the demonstration to another level.

In case you missed it, a group of right-wing demonstrators calling themselves ‘patriots’ (a hardly-coincidental echo of the label adopted by the rebels kick-starting the American War of Independence) had gathered for the latest protest against Michigan’s response to Covid-19 on Thursday. Once inside the capitol building, their intentions to gatecrash the House Chamber were only prevented by an impenetrable wall of state police, much to the relief of the elected representatives on the other side of the door. The main target of the protestors’ ire appears to have been Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer – who happens to be a Democrat; and the decision of a court a month ago that Whitmer’s directives do not infringe on the constitutional rights of Michigan citizens lit the fuse for the state’s most gung-ho, huntin’/shootin’/fishin’ sons and daughters to take to the streets. Like their far left opposites, they tend to be defined by whatever they’re against, and need little in the way of prompting; the lockdown was the gift they were waiting for.

The fragile relationship between Washington and several US states – a situation exacerbated by a President not renowned for his diplomacy – has been stretched to breaking point ever since lockdown measures were imposed. Michigan currently seems to be home to the most vociferous opposition to pandemic policies in the hands of individual state governors, and it’s notable that the majority of those participating in Thursday’s ‘American Patriot Rally’ had been galvanised by what they perceived as enthusiastic support from the President. Mind you, when the Donald exceeded his customary irresponsibility by tweeting ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN’, it’s no wonder they reckoned they had legitimate grounds to act as though engaged in their own little revolution.

The UK’s lockdown has had its opponents, but a few isolated piss-ups behind closed doors hardly rank with some of the protests seen across the Atlantic these past few weeks. Closer to home, perhaps only certain segments of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland can compete with some Americans’ fanatical adherence to centuries-old designs for life, such as 1791’s Second Amendment – the right to bear arms. Beyond such circles, gun-toting is hardly guaranteed to gain sympathy for any grievances, reinforcing as it does specific stereotypes of inbred hicks and rednecks. But those with the mindset that sees no wrong in carrying firearms regard any impositions on their freedoms as an excuse to reach for the rifle, reacting in a way that implies theirs is the sole community on the planet to have a lockdown imposed upon it – as though it has been singled out for especially punitive treatment because of its beliefs rather than a global health crisis affecting everybody.

The ringleaders of Thursday’s events call themselves Michigan United for Liberty; their manifesto declares it has ‘the right to work to support our families, to travel freely, to gather for religious worship and other purposes, to gather in protest of our government…’ Yes, all reasonable expectations for the citizens of a democratic society, and ones we can all agree with – BUT – as we are all aware, we are not currently living in normal circumstances; the freedoms expressed as a given have been suspended for a reason. Not that the close-knit crowd spreading their germs amongst each other in Lansing appeared to have recognised this, despite residing in a state that has seen Covid-19 claim the lives of more Michigan folk than the 3,000+ that spurned social distancing to congregate on Thursday.

Lest we forget, amidst the unprecedented mood of the moment, America is still focused on a certain upcoming Presidential Election, and Michigan happens to be a so-called ‘swing state’, which has resulted in many Republicans effectively endorsing lockdown-breaking protests in Michigan and other states where votes are required. It might seem anachronistic that a state such as California staged similar protests on Friday; after all, think of California and most think of San Francisco or Hollywood, which are hardly renowned as hotbeds of right-wing radicalism. But perhaps the sheer size of so many American states is easy to forget, and the small pockets of lefty liberalism that dominate discourse are able to do so because they have the largest platform to get their message across. As with the cultural and media elite here, the over-abundance of like-minded voices in control of such institutions can give a lopsided impression that they are the majority when they’re very much not.

Some US states, such as Georgia and Maryland, have seen the people take matters into their own hands without any discernible opposition from local authorities; small businesses confronted by the economic abyss, like barber’s and family-owned cafés, have reopened whilst still observing basic guidelines. This doesn’t seem irresponsible; the lockdown was never going to kill the virus, anyway, but merely minimise its initial impact and therefore prevent it from overwhelming hospitals and medical centres in one fell swoop. A gradual lifting of the most severe restrictions for those whose livelihoods could otherwise be lost should the lockdown continue much longer feels like the sensible approach to take, and those whose businesses have tentatively resumed are a long way from gun-toting, MAGA cap-wearing shit-stirrers looking for a fight.

Population density has a large part to play in this crisis, and as lockdown measures are eased, such factors need to be taken into account. Over here, for example, a blanket approach for the whole country has its limits; yes, London being the overpopulated metropolis it is obviously needs restrictions in place longer than, say, Cornwall does; this also applies to the vastly varied US states. And as the left lionise their latest pin-up in the saintly shape of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, it should remember how small the population of New Zealand is compared to the majority of the world’s great cities; maybe it should also remember how Aung San Suu Kyi was similarly worshipped until relatively recently and might consider reining in its tendency towards deification. In short, it’s easier to proudly unfurl a low body-count when one presides over more scattered communities than teeming urban cauldrons. And it’s easier to digest a valid point without having to do so at gunpoint. Yee-hah, y’all.

© The Editor