The spectre of the Poll Tax Riots tends to shadow any civil disobedience that spills onto the streets of London to this day, but anyone old enough to have a good memory of events that took place in the capital 30 years ago will know few since have matched them in terms of anarchic ferocity. As ever, context counts for a great deal, and the riots that took place on 31 March 1990 were another chapter in a lengthy sequence that stretched back to the Grosvenor Square shindig of 1968. The ugly collision between police and protestors in the aftermath of an anti-Vietnam War march as demonstrators massed outside the US Embassy came as a shock to the general public at the time; although London in particular has quite a history when it comes to ‘the mob’ – encompassing everything from the Gordon Riots of 1780 to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 – the immediate post-war period had been relatively quiet when it came to outbreaks of public disorder with a political or ideological bent.

Even though the phrase ‘reading the Riot Act’ refuses to go away, the actual Riot Act itself had been repealed in the UK just the year before the Grosvenor Square incident of 1968, presumably because it was felt society as a whole was less prone to erupt into spontaneous public violence than it had been at the time of the Act’s introduction in 1714. By and large, it was. Yes, there had been serious racial trouble in Notting Hill in 1958 as well as clashes between police and ‘ban the bomb’ demonstrators in Trafalgar Square in 1961, but the kind of widespread anarchy that led to troops shooting dead around 285 members of the public during the Gordon Riots was seen very much as past tense. The Riot Act hadn’t been literally read in England since 1919, and the need to issue a vocal warning to twelve or more who were ‘unlawfully assembled’ was deemed irrelevant to the modern age. Ironically, it was only after the repeal of the Riot Act in 1967 that the kind of civil disorder familiar to 18th century Britain resurfaced.

The upsurge in industrial disputes that came to characterise the 1970s often led to volatile picket-line incidents – with the worst being at the height of the Grunwick Strike in 1977; but there was also football hooliganism, National Front marches, the 1976 ‘race riot’ during the Notting Hill Carnival, and not forgetting the virtually daily battles between the British Army and the citizens of Belfast and Londonderry. Within a decade, the sight of battalions of Bobbies wading in with truncheons and then progressing onto full riot gear with shields became a commonplace image on news broadcasts; the 1980s merely continued the trend, with the inner-city riots of 1981 and the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5 being amongst the most memorably incendiary. Therefore, the Poll Tax Riots appear perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the times. As most of the more serious examples during this period were sparked by grievances centring on social, racial and financial inequality, it was no surprise that rioters spilling out of Trafalgar Square in 1990 smashed the windows of and set ablaze various symbols of the great divide such as car showrooms, wine bars and night-clubs. After all, the Poll Tax itself was seen as the legislative manifestation of this divide.

Even before she became Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher appeared in a party political broadcast during the October 1974 General Election and announced it was her intention to get rid of the rates. As a system of taxation for funding local government, the rates were a levy on property rather than people and were one of those obsessive subjects devoted Tory voters tend to fixate on with an almost autistic intensity. Mrs T took her time, though; the rates weren’t eventually superseded by the Community Charge until she’d been in power for a decade, and the new tax – which was no respecter of social circumstances, with the same fixed rate for everyone, regardless of income – proved to be the first nail in her coffin. Scotland was used as a guinea pig for what became colloquially known as ‘the Poll Tax’ the year before its introduction in England and Wales, further cementing the Tories as the enemies north of the border. There were widespread refusals to pay and by the time the Poll Tax was UK-wide in 1990, an opinion poll revealed 78% were opposed to it. Although the likes of the Miners’ Strike had been an early example of Government and media colluding to generate polarisation that would aid the desired outcome, there was a substantial consensus on the Poll Tax that placed its supporters very much in the minority. When most of a Prime Minister’s Cabinet are amongst the opposition to an unpopular policy, chances are it ain’t gonna work.

Mrs Thatcher was deposed by her own party within eight months of the Poll Tax Riots and her successor as PM John Major announced his intention to scrap the tax in his inaugural speech. Even if the riots of 31 March hadn’t happened, the tax was so universally reviled that it was destined to be put out of its misery, anyway. However, it was telling that, although many who took part in the riots were those that always turn up at a demo with aggro in mind (and continue to do so), the anger directed towards the police that day seemed fairly general amongst all present. The notorious Special Patrol Group had opened eyes at Grunwick in 1977, but when Thatcher had cynically bussed in Met reinforcements to bolster the local constabularies struggling on the picket-lines at Orgreave, it was a disastrous PR exercise for the police that considerably altered the way in which the wider public saw their law enforcers. The view of the police long held by the country’s immigrant communities – that of them being a de facto government private army, which was precisely the concern of Brits that delayed the introduction of a police force for centuries – now became the default setting for many; events this year appear to have solidified such a view of the boys in blue.

There were shades of the Poll Tax Riots back in the summer, which was ironic considering the humiliating and nauseating deference shown by the police towards the BLM protestors, creating an atmosphere that laid bare officers’ political leanings and gave the green light to Antifa to deface and desecrate their surroundings in a famously ‘peaceful protest’. But even if the BLM event couldn’t quite match the Poll Tax Riots in scale (as neither could Saturday’s anti-lockdown protest in the same location), the potential for something comparable is certainly in the air – and the police aren’t helping matters. Their blatant favouritism, taking the knee on one cause and putting the boot in on the other, is something they don’t even try and hide anymore. Along with the petty, Jobsworth elements that the pandemic has brought to the fore, and the ‘check your thinking’ cyber division, the image of the police as a Gestapo Woke militia actively avoiding fighting actual crime is stoking as much resentment as the Government’s latest hapless measures to combat Covid-19.

What distinguishes this year’s incidents from 1990 is the polarisation of opinion that owes more to the unholy marriage of media and Government characteristic of the Miners’ Strike than it does to the orthodoxy of opinion on the Poll Tax. Government can play on fears they deliberately engineered to ensure compliance, using crass and immoral threats of overwhelmed hospitals or dying grannies dropping like blue-rinsed bluebottles after a five-second hug from a grandchild; this divide-and-rule tactic is working along Remainer/Leaver lines in that the population is split, but the diminishing trust in our leaders to get us out of this almighty mess is undoubtedly on the rise, and another six months like the last will probably break the patience of even the most law-abiding saints. One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy devotee of Piers Corbyn or David Icke to regard the brutal removal of civil liberties as an outrage that cannot be indefinitely tolerated; and when the people feel powerless, they will grab any semblance of power they can; history has shown us if that means rioting, they’ll do it. It’s probably safe to say we ain’t seen nothing yet.

© The Editor


Time to digress again – and why not? As with the B word last year, each post about Identity Politics or the pandemic requires at least 48 hours’ breathing space before my exhausted ire can summon up the requisite energy for a fresh assault on the subject, so today’s digression treads a familiar path – if taking an unusual starting point. Anyway, as a small child I resided in a ‘Coronation Street’-style neighbourhood in which the traditional corner shop run by a grumpy old man was still a permanent fixture; for those kids with an appetite for escapism that couldn’t be satisfied by penny sweets, these claustrophobic emporiums often included a revolving rack crammed with American comic-books featuring eye-catching covers designed to provoke the pestering of purses in the possession of mothers. These glossy imports were also a little pricier than their home-grown equivalents on account of the full colour contents, so it helped to have a few good deeds in the bank.

The October 1971 issue of ‘Jimmy Olsen’ (subtitled ‘Superman’s Pal’, just in case the reader didn’t realise) had a US cover price of 25₵, but one that featured the UK price of 7½p stamped on it – presumably by customs & excise. Such purchases were something of a treat on account of the cost, but children tend to value their treats – or did when they were few and far between – and this particular treat imprinted itself on my consciousness via its characteristically vivid illustrations by the great Jack Kirby. The story as best I can remember it involved the Man of Steel (Jimmy Olsen’s pal, lest the reader forgot) somehow stumbling upon an Earth-like world plagued by characters resembling the classic Universal Studios stable of horrors – Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Werewolf, etc. – which had evolved for real on account of old movies being beamed onto the planet from outer space and taken as a design for life from the Gods.

As was commonplace in the comics industry back then, good ideas tended to regularly recur when the author ran out of new ones; this plot was a rehash by Jack Kirby of a ‘Fantastic Four’ story he’d co-penned in the 60s, though that one concerned a parallel world developed along the lines of 1920s Prohibition-era Chicago, a planet evolving into a society run by gangsters. I suppose one could say the story was a sharp satire on the way in which cinema influences actions in the real world as some imitate what they see on screen and then cinema gets the blame – an accusation that was certainly made in the 30s and 40s whenever certain crimes were said to be inspired by a specific film. The irony here was that the Golden Age of the Hollywood gangster picture – primarily the province of Warner Brothers and one that made Edward G Robinson, James Cagney and George Raft household names – was born of holding a mirror up to the contemporary criminal element; art imitated life and then life imitated art.

The only reason I’m thinking of this is due to the ongoing narrative of my DVD lockdown library once again. Having been through every TV series on the shelf, I’ve just moved onto movies and I fortunately have an abundance of these films, most of which I haven’t watched for several years. The gangster flicks in the collection lean heavily towards the pre-war monochrome ones, especially if Cagney stars. I find him a mesmerising, incredibly charismatic actor whose on-screen presence transcends all the famous tics and gestures that were as crucial to every 1970s TV impressionist’s act as Frank Spencer impersonations. When I was a kid, Cagney was still one of the world’s most instantly recognisable movie stars, even if he’d long since retired from the business by then; regular screenings of his old films dominated BBC2’s ‘Saturday Cinema’ institution, the sole alternative to wall-to-wall sport during my childhood. His electrifying performances in classics such as ‘Public Enemy’, ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’, ‘The Roaring Twenties’ and ‘White Heat’ aren’t remotely stagey, even though they pre-date the Method school; he so convinces as a cold-eyed hard man that it’s no surprise he struggled to escape the typecasting these roles inevitably led to.

‘White Heat’, the movie climaxing with the legendary line ‘Look ma, top of the world!’ as Cagney’s psychotic crook with an Oedipus Complex, Cody Jarrett, is poised to be blown to smithereens, had elements of the gangster picture of the 1930s, but brought it firmly into the present day – 1949 – by incorporating tropes of Film Noir, the genre that had taken the crime story down an intriguing dark alley. In Noir, the focus shifted from the gangster to the private eye or police detective, and the main obstacle to nailing the bad guy tended to be the femme fatale, an alluring female figure of ambiguous moral character who often ensnared both hero and villain along the way. The femme fatale was the talkies’ successor to silent cinema’s bad girl, the Vamp, and provided numerous actresses with an entrée into the A-list; indeed, so career-defining did these roles become for some of them that it proved difficult to evade the long shadow they cast. The extensive attention to lighting that Hollywood reserved for its female stars at the time – the kind we’d now only really associate with still photography – helped seal the images in iconic amber forevermore.

Although Barbara Stanwyck in 1944’s ‘Double Indemnity’ gloriously exposed the avaricious bitch at the dark heart of the femme fatale and Rita Hayworth in 1946’s ‘Gilda’ portrayed the character at her most breathtakingly vivacious, my own personal favourite is Veronica Lake, she of the famous peek-a-boo haircut that was much later taken to a lop-sided extreme by Phil Oakey of The Human League. The trio of movies Lake made alongside Alan Ladd between 1942 and 1946 – ‘This Gun for Hire’, ‘The Glass Key’ and ‘The Blue Dahlia’ – saw this exquisitely elegant, languid blonde bombshell make the femme fatale as alluring as ever but gave the archetype a sympathetic, human quality that made it possible to fall in love with her without the perennial worry of waking up after a night of passion to discover she’d done a runner with your wallet. Veronica Lake undoubtedly has the femme fatale look, but her disarming ‘girly’ voice suggests a soft centre beyond the untouchable exterior; one gets the impression that the femme fatale front is a tool she’s developed in order to survive.

Having established herself as one of Hollywood’s most distinctive screen Goddesses, Veronica Lake then had to forego the hairstyle that made her stand out at the request of the US Government, concerned that its popularity could prove a safety hazard for women working dangerous machinery during wartime. However, so associated was she with this specific look that its voluntary sacrifice to the war effort actually had a detrimental effect on her career. She also suffered a couple of personal tragedies in the loss of a child and divorce; she then began drinking heavily, perhaps as a response to the less-than-sympathetic treatment stars received in the era of the all-powerful studio system, gaining a reputation for being ‘difficult’ on set. Offers dried up, and by the early 50s she was declared bankrupt, fleeing to New York where she descended into a sad cycle of drunkenness and dead-end jobs. She resuscitated her career in periodic bouts on stage and even played Blanche DuBois in Bromley in 1969. I so want to believe a certain resident of Bromley at that time saw this performance and was then inspired to copy her old image for the LP he released the following year, ‘The Man Who Sold the World’; but we’ll probably never know.

Veronica Lake died in 1973 aged 50 of acute kidney injury after having been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. But did the Veronica Lake who still smoulders as the celluloid embodiment of my kind of woman ever really die? Of course not, no more than Cagney or Bogart or any of them; they’re immortal – and just as they wove a fair few dreams that offered something other than Frank Bough or Dickie Davies on drizzly Saturday afternoons 40-odd years ago, they retain the magical power to divert and distract when it’s most needed. For that alone, those of us in the gutter looking up at the stars are eternally indebted.

© The Editor


The once-popular soap ‘Downing Street’, having taken a backseat of late, has recaptured the public’s imagination in recent weeks. The dramatic downfall of Dominic Cummings – the JR Ewing/Nick Cotton/Alan Bradley bad guy of the series ever since his unforgettable entrance as the Vote Leave villain of 2016 – has been one notable ratings-grabber; the sudden rebranding of Carrie Symonds as the Lady Macbeth of No.10 (a role so memorably defined by the legendary Cherie Blair back in the 90s) is another – and her character’s life-affirming ‘journey’ has come a long way since she was portrayed as being in an abusive relationship; the arrival of another privately-educated metropolitan posh girl character in the shape of ex-‘Newsnight’ hack Allegra Stratton as Boris’s new press secretary means Carrie now has an ally she can go riding and discuss pressing Woke issues with. The introduction of fresh faces into a long-running series is vital to its survival and to keep the audience interested.

Thankfully, we can still thrill to the ongoing saga of the programme’s resident Alexis Carrington-like power-bitch Priti Patel kickin’ ass at the Home Office for a bit of old-school excitement, even if it now has the strong scent of just another desperate plotline designed to win back audiences wooed away by the new kid on the block, ‘Covidnation Street’. This gate-crasher has also affected that other never-ending soap set in and around the inner-M25 intrigues of the wealthy political class called ‘Champagne Socialist Street’; that show even had to scrape the anti-Semitic barrel in order to get viewers interested again. Alas, the departure of the cult character Jezza and the arrival of bland new leading-man Keir Starmer has seen a loss of student viewers and the series is struggling in the ratings.

There’s a degree of competition from US imports like ‘Pennsylvania Avenue’, though the imminent exit of that show’s most popular villain, Donald Trump, and the return of veteran character Joe ‘Blake Carrington’ Biden, just seems like an uninspired move by producers to rekindle some of the old magic. North of the border, STV provides its own serial called ‘Holyrood’, in which a comedy Minister proposes people should be arrested for something offensive they said out loud in the privacy of their own homes, whereas the long-running Welsh language soap with the unpronounceable name on S4C now features a country sealed off from its neighbours, reduced to an extreme Royston Vasey where not only will you never leave, but you’ll never get in either. The lockdown plotline has run through all these shows this year, but the Welsh one has taken it and run with it to the point whereby bored viewers have begun switching off in their droves.

It’s a curious form of escapism, this; because it doesn’t venture into the fantastical or supernatural, it could almost pass for reality – if reality itself hadn’t become so removed from what we’ve always recognised as such. Perhaps we’re receiving a revival of the Westminster soap opera because the MSM senses there could be a nostalgic desire to reconnect with the memory of reality now that what passes for reality feels closer to a Dystopian JG Ballard novel as Chernobyl ensembles dominate the urban catwalk. According to the current headlines, Westminster is apparently an exciting powder-keg of old-fashioned melodrama that isn’t dominated by those depressing real world totems of 2020 such as mask-wearing, social distancing, social isolation, shop closures and suicides; it looks like life used to be, albeit slightly heightened. As if to maintain this theme, the prospect of the annual ‘Worst Winter Since 1963’ (along with the similarly recurring favourite, ‘Crisis Christmas for the NHS’) promises the traditional seasonal plot in which several outcomes have been filmed and the audience is left wondering which leading character might meet an untimely end; it should keep the country distracted and the broadcasters happy.

After all, ‘Downing Street’ ratings have plummeted ever since the heights of the BAFTA-winning Brexit narrative, a slow-burning plot which gathered pace over three years and reached a climax with the classic ‘Proroguing Parliament’ episode last year. Even the drama of a leading character on his potential deathbed a few months ago failed to win back the audiences of old. However, enough time has passed and enough brows have been beaten to ensure these audiences are now far more pliable and trained to respond in a Pavlovian manner to whatever morsels of rationed fun the PM deigns to throw in their direction. As astonishing a revelation as this may be, quite a few people actually spend Christmas alone most years and consequently aren’t especially concerned with the festive season and the nonexistent flood of family and friends into their chilly homes. These folk might not be overwhelmed with gratitude that they’ve been given permission to breathe for a couple of weeks in December, knowing full well the drawbridge will come crashing down on life again as soon as we enter January. Not everyone has yet to succumb to the Stockholm syndrome symptoms that render our leaders benign captors in whose hands our lives gratefully reside.

Let’s not spoil the show by focusing on those antisocial saddoes, though. They received enough attention before, back when we were reliably informed that loneliness and social isolation were more damaging to an individual’s health than smoking, excessive drinking or a bad diet. We don’t hear that so much now, do we? No, suddenly being afflicted with alienation from one’s fellow man is a design for a healthy life and staying safe. Don’t love, don’t touch, and stay away from everybody just in case you kill them. Even if your granny’s already dead, you could still kill her, so steer clear of her grave. You are King Midas with the Plague and must never come into contact with anyone ever again. Lock your door, save the NHS and go back to the Westminster soaps; boo and hiss Priti; cheer Carrie; and count down the days to Christmas as though you’re sharing a mulled wine with Noddy Holder.

And, lest we forget, there’s a Happy New Year hovering on the horizon in the shape of The Vaccine! That’ll sort out the men from the boys – or the rams from the ewes. A rushed-released serum injected into the bloodstream of a grateful nation without the due development and testing that any successful antidote to a virus has traditionally required; sounds sound. And, of course, it will henceforth be the badge of honour that grants its wearers access to the life they’d previously been able to access quite easily without the need for a Government-sponsored syringe stuck in their arm; those who express reservations as well as those who are vehemently opposed – file alongside Brexiteers, Tory Scum, Nazis and assorted racists, naturally – will be blacklisted and excluded from the Christmas party.

The vaccine stamp of approval looks set to be the American Express of inoculations, guaranteeing unlimited entry to everywhere for those eagerly volunteering to be drugged into obedience – a drug administered by yet another private company owned by someone who went to school with Matt Hancock or is married to a member of his family instead of being handled by the GPs who once saw their patients as people rather than numbers. Those who refuse shall henceforth be cast out into the wilderness; they shall be barred from patronising the corporate chain-stores that will be the sole retail outlets mysteriously still standing in the dust-settled, curve-flattened future. Not to worry, though – ‘Downing Street’ will keep our spirits up in the same way Gracie Fields did in WWII; stay tuned.

© The Editor


I used to have a rather childish (though intentionally time-consuming) habit when on long, boring road journeys of inventing the combination of words behind acronyms of obscure businesses passing by the window. It goes without saying that each had to consist of ‘rude words’ or at least silly mixtures that made no sense; in most cases, I’d have no idea what the real words were, but I knew they would seem extremely dull by comparison. For example, LTN might stand for Lesbians Terrify Nonces – when in actual fact it stands for Low Traffic Neighbourhood. I know which I prefer, but then I’m not possessed by misguided righteousness that says placing roadblocks in residential areas to effectively outlaw the internal combustion engine there will somehow save the planet. The green lobby has been instrumental in the giving over of sections of the queen’s highway to those genial and generous road-users known as cyclists, though its enthusiastic endorsement of public transport has been somewhat hampered by the relentless reduction of bus services, not to mention the astronomical price of train fares. The Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme is its latest brainwave, even if – as ever – those who suffer most at its hands are those for whom the motorcar is not a luxury item but a livelihood.

Certain neighbourhoods in London – not the wealthiest ones, by pure coincidence – have been subjected to the LTN treatment and the measures have begun to encroach into other big cities of late. LTN is largely imposed upon the people who live in these locations without prior consultation and redirects traffic back onto the main thoroughfares, leading to increased congestion and consequently more air pollution as vehicles pump out their poison in gridlocked queues that extend the rush hour and make the lives of motorists as miserable as those of pedestrians. A street subjected to LTN makes getting in and out especially difficult for car-owners who live there as well as small businesses whose premises are essentially on wheels; it can also severely impede the rapid response of the emergency services, with ambulances confronted by a sudden roadblock forced to find an alternative route; it can then literally be the difference between life and death. In short, it is the little people who are being punished for the crimes of corporations and conglomerates; those whose vehicles are vital to their survival are not responsible for climate change, yet the vehicle in its extortionate electric incarnation is only within the price range of those who don’t rely upon it to make a living.

At a time when small businesses are struggling enough as it is for obvious reasons, the kind of wet dream Caroline Lucas must wake-up from every morning is not necessarily what most people have been waiting for this Government to promote with a fanfare; but that’s what has happened this week. The unveiling of a 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ – basically a bit of environmentally-friendly recycling of a discarded policy found at the back of Gordon Brown’s old Downing Street desk – couldn’t have been more ill-timed. Like the LTN schemes, Boris’s ‘Net Zero’ agenda is something that will be given the green light (pardon the pun) without the need to consult those whose lives it will most impact upon. And, needless to say, those whose lives it will most impact upon probably aren’t known for their handsome donations to the Conservative Party coffers.

It seems when the dust has settled on the economic apocalypse that has already begun, the only companies left standing will be the corporate behemoths, reducing the free market to an exclusive private members’ club; maybe it always has been, though it used to be sold (certainly back in the Thatcher era) as something that would open doors to wannabe entrepreneurs and any aspirational sort with a bit of ambition. But cynically adopting fashionable causes is now second nature for our corporate overlords, whether plastering the rainbow flag on their logos or showing ‘solidarity’ with BLM, so as long as they sing from the same green hymn-sheet, we can all clap for corporations. The fact that the kind of green policies usually advocated by opportunistic administrations are ones that tend to benefit a small and already affluent minority at the expense of the rest is something that either eludes its advocates or simply exposes their absolute disregard for the potential losers. After all, how many times do we have to be lectured on the evils of air pollution by jet-setting celebrities to realise how the general approach to environmental issues chiefly consists of the haves telling the have-nots to do as they say and not as they do?

A pushy salesman from British Gas turned up at my door a few weeks back, informing me a smart meter will be installed; I never requested one beforehand or was given the impression there and then that I had a choice, though a swift phone-call to the landlord informed me it wasn’t compulsory; I could contact British Gas and let them know I was content with the current arrangement and didn’t desire a replacement. As things stand, I take my own meter readings; I’ve had enough dubious estimated readings (and suspiciously high bills) from energy suppliers in the past to be sceptical when it comes to any allegedly foolproof upgrades in which I have no participation. But at least I had the option to cancel, even if it wasn’t immediately apparent to me. Replacing domestic boilers with expensive ‘heat pumps’ and phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles – all of which form part of Boris’s (or Carrie’s?) green revolution – will not require consulting those affected; the plan can simply go ahead free from any democratic process.

Then again, it’ll probably never happen. We’ve had a green revolution from every government of every colour for the past 20-odd years, with cheerleaders of the calibre of Peter Mandelson, Ed Miliband and Chris Huhne paying the same old lip-service to the green lobby and provoking sublime indifference in the electorate. None of it amounted to much – and, of course, who can forget David Cameron coming over all Lawrence of Antarctica with the huskies? Perhaps that image above all others emphasised the style-over-substance nature of what is usually proposed. At the same time, the fact Boris chose to announce this exciting news – with the potential beneficiaries minimal and predictable – in the middle of an economic meltdown perhaps underlines once again just how much the majority matter to the powers-that-be. Why on earth would anyone beyond the green obsessives and the Church of St Greta greet such an announcement with anything other than ‘Oh, not now’?

When electricity pylons first appeared on the landscape, I’ve no doubt many bemoaned them as ugly blots that despoiled the scenic appeal of the rural vista. Today, they’re so obligatory it’s difficult to imagine the landscape without them; the still-surreal spectacle of wind-farms provoke a similar response in the here and now to the one pylons once did, though I’m rather fond of the abstract apparitions and feel they blend in sympathetically when it comes to marriages between nature and technology. Whether they serve any purpose other than conveniently ticking a green box is another matter; ditto solar panels on rooftops. Yes, there are undoubtedly too many vehicles on the road today, though redirecting traffic down increasingly fruitless routes has been a central feature of urban redevelopment ever since the doomed designs for towns mapped out in the 1960s. There should be a way to balance the needs of those for whom the motorcar is a tool of their trade with improving the environment. I’ve a feeling this latest one isn’t it.

© The Editor


Say the name ‘Grundig’ to anyone of a certain age and the electronics company that was Germany’s first true post-war success story will instantly evoke memories of reel-to-reel tape recorders. Grundig was ahead of the competition in getting what had previously been the province of recording studios, radio stations and sonic pioneers such as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop onto the domestic market in the 1950s and 60s; but the Germans had been at the forefront of magnetic tape technology before the Second World War – indeed, the Nazis made full use of such technology when relaying propaganda across Europe. The advances that enabled tape recordings to be broadcast over the airwaves in audio quality indistinguishable from a live transmission were unearthed by the Allies when liberating Radio Luxembourg at the fag-end of hostilities, and once peace was achieved Grundig was established as a leading manufacturer of both radios and television sets; but it was the tape recorder for which the company became best known in the UK.

I remember as a child the novelty of hearing my own voice played back on my granddad’s reel-to-reel, a machine he kept on a shelf in what passed for a front parlour, the room generally reserved for visitors and special occasions. He seemed to use the tape recorder primarily to record from the radio – mainly music, but I also recall him having reels of Open University programmes when he was studying (appropriately enough) German. As there were no visible means of connecting the two machines, recording from the radio entailed placing the tape recorder’s microphone as close to the wireless as possible and gesturing for anyone else in the room to be silent for the duration. As I got a little older, I was trusted to play with the tape recorder on my own without breaking it, and I tended to produce my own spoof radio programmes rather than recording the real thing. It goes without saying I’d love to hear what I did, but I should imagine the reels were recorded over once I’d returned home. My granddad only ever appeared to have a limited number of them and never seemed to buy new ones.

By the time the audio cassette gradually superseded the old Grundig reels as an easier and cheaper means of recording, I acquired my own portable tape recorder; I picked up where I’d left off from my granddad’s machine by continuing to produce my own ‘programmes’, but I also recorded a good deal from TV and radio – favourite shows and chart hits from the Sunday institution of the teatime Top 40. What became colloquially known as ‘the mix-tape’ evolved from this practice; more than one generation got into the habit of not simply recording entire LPs on the spanking new hi-fi units with built-in tape decks, but putting together a unique compilation of tracks by different – or the same – artists. By the early 1980s, the widespread accessibility of home recording – despite the music industry warning it was ‘killing music’ – meant any music fan in the country would have dozens of what were effectively their own personal equivalents of the old K-Tel albums on cassette. Just as the advent of the VCR took control of one’s viewing habits out of the hands of broadcasters, being able to make one’s own compilation cassette gave the listener a sense of liberation from record companies deciding the running order.

The fact that most public libraries had a record section back then meant it was possible to tape what might be the one track worth hearing on an album without having to pay for eleven duff ones; this could then be incorporated into the latest mix-tape. Pre-YouTube or Spotify, tracking down rarer material could be an expensive business, one that would require endless fruitless hours spent in stuffy second-hand record shops, so record libraries were essential to compiling the mix-tape. Sometimes, the mix-tape was famously used as a new tool of wooing, competing with the old standbys of chocolates and flowers and sparing the besotted suitor from having to serenade his sweetheart from below her balcony. Speaking personally, if I ever passed on mix-tapes to anyone they tended to be friends I was hoping to introduce to music I wanted them to love as much as me. If this was appreciated, I’d become more ambitious and make multi-artist mix-tapes based around a particular genre or theme; this now tends to be the formula for every mix-tape I make, though the format has changed. Today, the ‘tape’ is a CD; I realise even this makes me sound prehistoric to anyone under 40, but I like my music on a physical object, and being able to burn discs on my PC has enabled me to compile the most sonically satisfying mix-tapes I’ve ever put together.

The mix-tape can often mean a ‘dream album’ that the music business would never sanction becomes a reality. The cream of the solo material issued by the ex-Beatles during the first twelve months after the split – containing the likes of ‘Instant Karma’, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, ‘My Sweet Lord’ and ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ – actually makes for a pretty bloody good Beatles album that never was; but it is the multi-artist mix-tape that remains the cottage industry standard – and it is often gathering together the more obscure and unknown under one thematic umbrella that can produce the most rewarding listening experience. In some cases, bedroom compilers of the mix-tape have graduated to the real world and have made officially issuing such compilations a worthy sideline career. Chief amongst these are two I’ve mentioned several times before, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of St Etienne. The series of thematic albums they’ve released over the past five years have put the legitimate seal on the concept of the mix-tape once and for all.

A good friend has forwarded several of these to me, beginning with ‘English Weather’, an album that captures a musically diverse moment at the uncertain opening of the 70s by placing little-known tracks by known (if esoteric) acts such as Caravan, Camel, John Cale, and Van Der Graaf Generator alongside the likes of The Orange Bicycle, T2, Aardvark, and Belle Gonzalez. The ensuing musical tapestry brilliantly invokes an imaginary provincial afternoon somewhere in 1970, watching the rainfall through the window and daydreaming of a sunny Nirvana called California. Equal care has been taken with the packaging of the album, which comes wrapped in a series of poignant photographs of 1970s Leeds in a state of perennial demolition taken by Peter Mitchell. Although this album inadvertently ended up as the soundtrack to an especially traumatic personal period for yours truly, it nevertheless remains alluringly atmospheric, as does its recently-acquired sequel, ‘Occasional Rain’, in which Traffic, The Moody Blues, Argent and Yes share space with none other than Granny’s Intentions. They just don’t name bands the same way today.

Other albums in the series I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire include ‘The Tears of Technology’ (turn-of-the 80s synth obscurities), ‘76 in the Shade’ (the perfect musical accompaniment to memories of the Long Hot Summer), and ‘Tim Peaks’, a blend of moody 80s, 90s and relatively contemporary unknowns that combine to create the hazy background soundtrack to a laidback evening in the company of friends as the wine flows and the head swims. The whole is always greater than the disparate sum of its parts where these albums are concerned; the compilers have the knack of selecting perhaps the one great song that some of the more obscure acts produced and when lined up alongside each other they constitute a fine testament to the story of the mix-tape. And it’s a story that has nothing to do with subjects I am exceedingly weary of. For today at least, I’ll deal with one of them via a different vehicle as I disappear to compile my next mix-tape…

You Ain’t Black! from Johnny Monroe on Vimeo.

© The Editor


One of Radio 4’s characteristically idiosyncratic gems leftover from another era is ‘Bells on Sunday’, a brief programme broadcast just before the Shipping Forecast last thing every Sunday night – or early Monday morning, if you prefer; for most of us, the day ends when we switch the light out, not when the clock says another day has already begun. Anyway, if half-a-minute of pealing is appealing, this is the show for you. During Lockdown Mk I, when the nation’s church bells were silenced in synch for the first time since the Second World War, the programme continued with repeat broadcasts and you could barely hear the join. Something was definitely missing, though. Even with the absence of traffic enabling the volume to be turned up on the birdsong, the villages that cities briefly transformed into for the first few weeks of that strange period still seemed incomplete without that most quintessential sonic hallmark of the traditional English village, the ringing of the bells.

The nearest House of God to me featured on ‘Bells on Sunday’ a couple of years ago, but not being a church-goer meant I’d never had cause to set foot in it. I hadn’t even seen it up close, for the church stands a considerable distance from the busy main road from which it can be seen; even though I’ve become a virtual annual visitor to the community centre attached to the church when it doubles up as polling station for every election or referendum, this building is not exactly next-door either. Feeling a little stir-crazy the other day, I stepped outside, walked with no destination in mind, and eventually found myself a stone’s throw from the church purely by chance; so, I decided to finally stroll up and take a look. Why not? I always find anything built in the 19th century worth looking at, and believing or non-believing doesn’t really come into it. John Betjeman – who was a believer – seemed to derive pleasure from visiting unassuming parish churches, but he had the option of studying the interior as well as the exterior. I didn’t.

The church building was characteristic of numerous late Victorian urban churches, low on the fancy Gothic trimmings, un-showy but sturdy; it reminded me of those affiliated to some of the early schools I attended. Even someone like me, raised in a relatively secular fashion, has distinct memories of Harvest Festivals and so on forming part of the school year, and we were encouraged to acknowledge them as important, even if our church-going outside of term time was restricted to the odd family wedding. There was a cricket pitch in front of this church that only revealed itself upon approach, and an accompanying sign warning canine visitors were not welcome on account of them leaving distinctive donations to church funds on the field of play. I took a customary walk through the churchyard round the back and couldn’t help lingering on some of the graves; however, I always feel as though I’m intruding upon someone’s private grief if the interred person died within living memory, so I tend to move on to the neglected Victorian headstones where the inscription is crumbling away and wild vines are beginning to drag the edifice into the earth. Yet, that was the extent of my exploration. The church, like so many at the moment, was closed to the public.

It’s ironic in a way for, bar the token triumvirate of christenings, weddings and funerals that draw the punters in, most C-of-E places of worship would serve as ideal examples of social distancing in action. Outside of the big three occasions, general church attendance in this country is fairly pitiful, and buildings designed to hold hundreds often struggle to attract dozens. Maybe the panicky church authorities feared flocks suddenly swelling with those seeking answers in such uncertain times and thus risked being blamed for a surge in infections. Whatever the reason, churches were quicker to close their doors than almost any other institution and did so with a surprising absence of fight. I reckon an England in which the people were deprived of churches as well as pubs would have appalled Orwell. As Eric Blair was aware, both have provided heavenly and earthly bread for rich and poor alike since medieval Merrie England, and both tend to experience a rise in custom during times of crisis because they are needed – and the powers-that-be usually recognise their importance to the people. Not in this crisis, however. The Established Church absolved itself of a role at the heart of the community right at the very moment when it could well have reclaimed some of its relevance.

Having skipped a significant date in the Holy calendar like Easter, the onset of a second lockdown has at least prompted some church leaders to belatedly demand the right to public worship – both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have signed a letter to the Government saying as much; rumours of ‘secret’ church services taking place without permission of the authorities inevitably summons up the spectre of priest-holes and the enacting of clandestine ceremonies risking arrest and imprisonment that were a familiar feature of British life during the religious wars of distant centuries. Even the observance of Remembrance in small towns and villages across the country last Sunday was policed by overzealous officers keeping the lepers away; alas, if only they’d carried Extinction Rebellion banners (or, better still, BLM placards), the parishioners would have been greeted with compliant law enforcers on their knees. Policing by consent of the few as opposed to the many by the PC paramilitaries formerly known as the police force is pretty much generally acknowledged by the public now; but the Church itself has been susceptible to a degree of it of late.

The old image of the trendy vicar seems to have been upgraded so that his latest incarnation is that of a rainbow flag-waving, gender pronoun-using, white guilt liberal Woke curate more eager to position himself as a cheerleader for the latest fashionable causes than doing his duty. A few have been active online, seemingly oblivious to the significance of the sacraments to committed Christians, busily singing the praises of virtual services via Zoom. Not exactly consolation to those for whom the Eucharist is a sacred in-person ritual that cannot be conducted via a screen; but these left-leaning, right-on clergy are so committed to lockdown – and the most fanatically pro-lockdown voices are largely on the left – that they seem to have forgotten what they’re in the job for. Their narcissistic virtue signalling makes them as blind as police and politicians to the fact that fringe issues affecting a tiny minority of people are not major concerns to their core audience; their obsession with these issues is alienating this core audience at a moment when its ongoing devotion in an increasingly secular society should be rewarded.

The politicisation of certain branches of the Church of England (mirroring some in the Church of Rome) has been to the institution’s detriment during this crisis – indeed, something of a missed opportunity to reconnect with those beyond the devoted flock. Confronted by padlocked gates rendering sanctuary off-limits, the non-church-going public might simply conclude that these stone temples which no English hamlet is complete without actually do just exist to host christenings, weddings and funerals; and competition from registry offices and (more recently) tacky hotels is placing the wedding function under threat as it is. Therefore, if these ceremonies are severely regulated under the new rules and can take place elsewhere anyway, there’s no real need for churches to be open, is there? What else are they actually there for? At times like these, such questions should have been answered by the Church itself; and yet it has blown it. Amen.

And on the subject of religion…

Scottish Football Results from Johnny Monroe on Vimeo.

© The Editor


An incumbent US President loses office and goes down in history as a one-termer. No, I don’t mean Donald Trump; I mean Jimmy Carter. The same fate that has just befallen the Donald befell the Georgian peanut farmer exactly 40 years ago; and though, on the surface, the two Presidents have little in common, both swept to power as populist outsiders challenging a Washington orthodoxy in which the American electorate had lost faith – Carter in the wake of Watergate and Ford’s pardoning of Nixon, Trump appealing to the ‘deplorables’ left behind by the metropolitan political class and its queen regnant, Hillary Clinton. November 1980 came too soon for the personable Carter; the botched, aborted rescue of the US hostages in Tehran had damaged his popularity and reputation just a few months before and Ronald Reagan exploited it on a wave of patriotic, God-fearing fervour. Had Carter received an additional year’s breathing space, he may well have recovered; but unpredictable events can unsettle a political career right at the very moment when sailing appears plain; just ask Boris Johnson.

In November 1980, Americans and the rest of the West may have found the contest between the man in the White House and his born-again, movie star opponent intriguing, but many were more fixated on what was happening in the US city of Dallas rather than Washington. Wealthy oil magnate JR Ewing had just been gunned down by an unknown wannabe assassin and the world asked the question ‘Who Shot JR?’ Weirdly enough, the shots turned out to have been fired by Bing Crosby’s daughter, and that’s the point when we remember we’re talking about an entirely fictitious crime that nevertheless proved to be an early example of global water-cooler television. Less than 20 years earlier, a far more successful assassin had changed the course of American history in Dallas, but the imaginary shots fired in the city that November ricocheted around the world with a speed that suggested an appetite for violence was fine as long as nobody got hurt.

Just a matter of weeks later, a pop cultural giant who had emerged from self-imposed exile was on the receiving end of real gun crime; but there was precious little hint of the tragedy around the corner for John Lennon in November 1980 as he released and began to promote his first new recordings in five years. A decade less than twelve months old was still at that fascinating stage new decades stand at when their character has yet to form and there remain several optional routes to choose from; if the world of 1980 belonged anywhere, it was the late 1970s, with a hangover of stories from that era retaining their relevance. A murderous spree that had served to cast the North of England in a chillingly dark light, one which undoubtedly feels characteristically ‘1970s’, had spilled over into the 80s as the odious spectre of the Yorkshire Ripper continued to haunt women of that sprawling county – and 1980 saw a barbaric last hurrah for this hideous reign of terror.

The man behind the insidious myth seemed to taunt the police in the same way his Victorian namesake had a century earlier simply by evading capture and carrying on killing. His twelfth known victim, 47-year-old Marguerite Walls, was killed on 20 August; he then tried – and failed – to kill three other women: Uphadya Bandara in Leeds on 24 September, Maureen Lea in Leeds on 25 October, and Theresa Sykes in Huddersfield on 5 November. Peter Sutcliffe’s final grisly addition to a roll-call of 13 known murders came on 17 November when he killed Leeds University student Jacqueline Hill, leaving her body on waste ground behind a shopping parade in Headingley. The initial narrative perpetuated by West Yorkshire Police that this grotesque urban bogeyman primarily targeted prostitutes had already been contradicted by the 1977 murder of 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald in Chapeltown, Leeds – a girl who was a shop-worker rather than a sex-worker; the fact that what turned out to be his final victim was the second student he had attacked within the space of a month confirmed every woman in the region was a potential victim – though every woman in the region already knew it.

It took just over a month after the murder of Jacqueline Hill before Sutcliffe was finally caught. Arrested in January 1981 when the car he was driving was found to be bearing false number plates, he was taken to Dewsbury Police Station and was questioned – not for the first time, it turned out – about the Ripper murders simply because he fitted the profile. The discovery of murder weapons discarded at the scene of the arrest when Sutcliffe had been allowed to go for a pee by the arresting officers implied this was more than just another cruising punter; two days later, he confessed he was indeed the Yorkshire Ripper and he was charged within 24 hours. An appalling catalogue of killings spanning five years had been extended into the new decade not only by the blinkered ineptitude and prejudice of the police, but by the inadequate systems for storing and collating information as well as the undeniably damaging red herring of the ‘Wearside Jack’ tape.

It seems hard to believe now that Sutcliffe could have killed as many as he did and got away with it for so long; but one could say the same of Harold Shipman, Fred West or Dennis Nilsen, his contemporaneous serial killers. Along with their equally awful predecessors Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, all are now deceased, with Peter Sutcliffe joining them in that rather hot location reserved for the worst mankind has to offer as of – perhaps fittingly – Friday 13th. We have Covid-19 to thank for the killer blow, by all accounts. His death also comes just four days short of the 40th anniversary of Jacqueline Hill’s murder. Sutcliffe lived the 40 years he robbed her of, 40 years in which she could have enjoyed a dozen wonderful life experiences whilst he was shuttled from prison to prison and a gory industry sprouted around him. To be fair, though, the media generated that industry when he was busy killing by giving him such a salacious nickname; it was no great surprise it thrived during his lengthy incarceration, but the region he terrorised for five years didn’t buy into it. His name remains one spat out rather than spoken and he is just as loathed there now as he was when finally nicked for his crimes. The sense of disgust and hatred towards him there is no less vociferous than in January 1981. Time doesn’t heal everything.

I pass the site of Jacqueline Hill’s grim resting place most days; without knowledge of what happened there, few would give this undistinguished plot of land a second glance. Up until around a decade ago, it still looked the same as it did on the day Jacqueline Hill’s body was discovered, no different from the film footage that turns up in the endless documentaries, the overgrown and untendered spot packed with police furtively looking for clues. Then it was eventually converted into a private car-park for employees of the various businesses lining the shopping parade it stands behind; as befits lockdown, there are no vehicles parked on it today, and I fully expect someone to anonymously leave a bouquet of flowers at the gates next Tuesday; they often do periodically, though next Tuesday has a particular poignancy. That Peter Sutcliffe should exit a mere four days beforehand perhaps gives it an additional emotional punch. But if doesn’t really need one. The accompanying photograph I took this morning on the surface says nothing, but knowing a gruesome chapter in the history of the region drew to a bloody close there says something. After all, the fields where some of the nation’s most brutal battles took place centuries ago are similarly placid places today, giving no hint of the terrible tales they could tell. But there remains something in the air there, for sure.

© The Editor


Bloody hell, talk about painting yourself into a corner. To come up with a title like that at times like these implies there are reasons to be cheerful when the gut reaction of most right now would be to declare there aren’t actually any reasons to be cheerful at all. I must admit I can’t really think of any that come straight outta 2020. What about straight outta the 30-odd years after the end of the Second World War, though – the timespan that still feels like home? If this wretched century can do one thing to suggest there are reasons to be cheerful it is by enabling the past to be seen again via the technology of the present. The insularity that has been imposed upon the majority this year has exacerbated personal viewing habits that would’ve probably have served me well without a lockdown; however, the circumstances unique to 2020 seem to have provoked a binge on the familiar that has little precedence.

Some opt for Netflix, whereas in 2020 I’ve sat through the following box-sets: ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Strange World of Gurney Slade’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘Department S’, ‘Jason King’, ‘The Protectors’, ‘Budgie’, ‘Colditz’, ‘Softly Softly: Task Force’, ‘Callan’, ‘Special Branch’, ‘Public Eye’, ‘The Sweeney’, ‘Angels’, ‘Casanova’, ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, ‘Out’, ‘The Sandbaggers’, ‘Shoestring’, ‘Steptoe and Son’, ‘The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin’, ‘Law and Order’, ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ – all since March, and that’s not even mentioning numerous one-off productions or documentary series that have filled out my own private schedule. Sometimes, such as these nuclear bunker moments, it pays to have amassed a library of archive TV; the fact that I’d seen all of these shows before didn’t really matter, because there’s a ‘Painting the Forth Bridge’ factor that means whenever you’ve done the lot, it’s time to go back the beginning. All very sad and pathetic, I know; but if you don’t build shelves or knit, what else you gonna do to unwind? I only ever feel alive when I’m creating, and I can’t think of any better way to experience facsimile living during downtime than by remembering how we used to live.

After revisiting the contents of the library, the good thing about being online is the prospect of stumbling upon something absent from that library, and I was momentarily cheerful this morning when I found an old Fred Dibnah programme on YT. I genuinely lost all sense of time, instantly enraptured by the fearless Bolton steeplejack ascending a chimney he was laboriously demolishing by hand. Anyone whose palms become sweaty watching John Noakes’ famous climb up Nelson’s Column needs to see Dibnah manoeuvring his way from ladder to chimney-top as he clambers over shaky scaffolding and wobbly planks positioned God knows how many hundreds of feet above ground. No safety harness to prevent him plummeting to his death, not even any gloves to combat the cold; once in place, he chips away with his chisel, lights another cigarette, and dismantles the brick edifice with the same artisan dignity as the man who erected it a century earlier. The gentle manner of the demolition is almost like Dibnah is showing his respect for his predecessor in a way that simply blowing it up doesn’t.

These films radiate so many different layers of melancholy – melancholy as the industrial landscape that made Britain the workshop of the world was being rapidly erased along with the nation’s global standing; melancholy that doorstep sandwich-chomping, fag-smoking, beer-drinking blokes like Fred – from a time when no working man had a weak handshake – are not so much a dying breed now but an extinct one; and melancholy at the realisation that so many restrictions have been placed upon freedoms which had been hard-won by the generation before Fred, freedoms that have been removed gradually by the generation after him, sneakily and slowly so that few noticed. What we are seeing now, however, is the blatant and ugly acceleration of that process courtesy of a pandemic that waives the previous hesitancy that anticipated resistance. I guess the problem with dependence on the riches of the past to provide sustenance for the present is that cheerfulness is always one step away from melancholy because there’s no escaping the fact it’s all gone.

To borrow a phrase I used in an earlier paragraph, ‘How We Used to Live’ is also the title of a wonderful 2013 film put together by Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley, they of long-running musical ensemble St Etienne, and a film I watched again last night. It could almost be seen as a visual companion piece to Wiggs and Stanley’s superb CD compilations of overlooked and obscure gems from the nation’s neglected record libraries such as ‘English Weather’. It takes ‘travelogue’-type Technicolor footage of London from the Festival of Britain to the end of the 1970s and paints a poignant portrait of the capital as it was before money moved in and natives moved out; the footage is the kind that comprised Pathé and Movietone cinema fillers in the 50s, 60s and 70s but in this case is primarily lifted from similar shorts dispatched to the colonies and not shown in the mother country. Eschewing straight chronology, the film instead mixes the eras together in a delightful dreamy collage accompanied by a suitably lugubrious narration from Ian McShane and a complementary St Etienne soundtrack. Anyone who has a soft spot for old London needs to see it.

Again, however, the viewer comes away from the viewing experience somewhat overwhelmed by sadness. It’s not just the vintage cars or the way people are dressed or even the way the city looks – i.e. before it was scarred by bland glass towers that could slot into any non-dom billionaire’s ghetto on the planet; no, the impression the footage gives is more a lost world of community, consideration, shared values and, I guess, simple politeness – the people’s manifestation of the political consensus that collapsed in the 80s. What the images magically generate is a less rude, obnoxious, ignorant, aggressive, selfish and self-centred country, not to mention less authoritarian; all the worst human characteristics that Thatcherism and Blairism at their most nakedly avaricious legitimised are absent from the Britain of ‘How We Used to Live’. Yes, the exquisite stitching together of the footage could be accused of manufacturing an imaginary past, but it actually works in the same way memory does, far more effectively than if it was a conventional chronological documentary.

Having seen the unnecessary prevention of the public from marking Remembrance Sunday last weekend – and with every day seeming to bring one more despotic and undemocratic curb of civil liberties proposed or introduced by the UK’s devolved administrations under the guise of ‘saving lives’ – one can’t help but compare the world of ‘How We Used to Live’ to the world we’ve allowed to be remade and remodelled by such appalling individuals and not end up wondering how the hell we went from that to this. Of course, you can’t go back, only forward – but forward to what? I’d like to look upon this period as a periodical trough, yet it’s more tempting to view it as the last row of lights going out as it becomes increasingly difficult to detect any reasons to be cheerful on the horizon. Oh, well; if nothing else, documenting decline and fall makes for more gripping reading than trying to describe rise and shine, I suppose, so what am I complaining about?

© The Editor


Donald Trump has never courted the favour of those beyond his most enthusiastic hardcore fan-base (for whom he can do no wrong), so his unedifying behaviour in the face of imminent electoral oblivion was never going to win him any support outside of that fan-base; nor should his response have come as much of a surprise. Whether rooted in genuine fact or not, the President’s conviction that he has been robbed of a second term by the easily-corruptible archaic process of the US electoral system isn’t even receiving the backing of Fox News, which tells you everything you need to know. At the time of writing, Joe Biden has been declared the winner but the Donald hasn’t conceded defeat. And, of course, we wouldn’t expect Trump to bow out gracefully; such an act simply isn’t in his nature. Indeed, one could say it is that very nature which has served to squander a golden opportunity to wrestle control from the global elites that are now in a stronger position than ever; Trump’s four years in power can be written off as a temporary blip, a people’s revolt that was successfully suppressed due to the people’s champion being the wrong man from day one.

Trump was destined to blow it by virtue of his personality; a coarse, pig-ignorant, narcissistic egotist, schooled in a business jungle that prizes such attributes, was never going to appreciate or understand the exceedingly precious gift that fell into his lap when he’d successfully capitalised on the dissatisfaction of a disenfranchised populace left behind by the Davos/Bilderberg globalism clique – all the rustbelt peasants long since discarded by Washington and Wall Street and in desperate need of a spokesman to invest their hopes in. What do they do now? The Democrats can overlook the fact that their diversity narrative was contradicted by a greater proportion of ethnic minority votes going to the Republicans; they have their victims back where they want them and can continue pedalling the Identity Politics agenda that they cannot see will alienate them even further from the majority who do not view the world in terms of oppressed and oppressor. Now the project can proceed uninterrupted, especially when grandpa’s dementia quickly causes him to step down so a Woman of Colour can step up and take over without the trouble of being elected.

Ultimate power therefore remains with the dominant tech and corporate overlords, a cartel Trump would certainly have broken had he been handed a second term; their complacency was shaken in 2016, first by Brexit and then by Trump, and they vowed they wouldn’t get fooled again; and they haven’t been because they were up against a man too stupid to realise his good fortune. His paranoid and combative attitude towards his opponents gave them the green light to echo that attitude; what was the impeachment farce or the ‘Russian interference’ saga if not the mirror image of Trump’s own disdain for fair-play? Trump has consistently proven to be his own worst enemy throughout his presidency, so that even if his claims of electoral fraud in various states were indeed proven to be a bona-fide conspiracy on the part of the left-leaning, illiberal ‘liberals’ controlling every institution in the west, he’s cried wolf too many times to win a sympathetic audience other than the one that thinks the sun shines out of his orange ass.

The inescapable truth is that all of the Anglosphere – UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand – has now been fully absorbed into the pseudo-Marxist dogma whereby those claiming victimhood with the loudest voices are appeased, courted and pampered and the rest are cultural cannon-fodder; it’s not exactly a coincidence that these are the nations that have taken the most severe authoritarian approach to the coronavirus and have relished stripping away civil liberties in the process. Here in Blighty, mental health and disability charities are attempting to overcome the mask-wearing public’s hostility to those lucky souls spared the mask on medical grounds by suggesting the wearing of a badge; the ‘sunflower lanyard’ of the Hidden Disabilities charity has been proposed to identify the legitimate exemptions; why not just settle for the Star of David and have done with it?

As the brave new world of anti-racism advocates racial segregation that effectively revives the same Jim Crow laws that sprang from the figures immortalised in bronze which were hauled from their plinths by Antifa mobs, it’s funny how the further along the progressive road the far-left travels, the closer it edges to the fringes of the far-right. They meet in the middle and the beneficiaries are few while the losers are many. Not that this is evident to those too busy dancing on the Donald’s freshly-dug grave, deluded in their belief things can only get better simply because the wicked witch is dead. There is no such thing as a Biden-ite or Biden-ism; the old theory in football that one team didn’t win the league so much as their closest rivals lost it has never rung truer in a political arena in which one man becomes President not because anyone believes in him but because they despise his opponent.

Anyway, the pattern of this US Presidential Election is merely the latest symptom of a toxic trend that has its roots much further back in time than is generally recognised. The foundations for the vicious polarisation as exemplified by Democrat/Republican or Labour/Tory or Remainer/Brexiteer or pro-Scottish independence/pro-Union or pro-lockdown/anti-lockdown, in which an opposing opinion is not simply an ideological opponent but THE ENEMY (as the Germans or the French once were to Brits), were laid during a witch-hunt that began almost ten years ago. The great Paedo Panic that came in the wake of the Jimmy Savile ‘revelations’ effectively kick-started ‘cancel culture’, as anyone daring to question the accepted narrative then had the finger of suspicion aimed at them; it established a consensus built on fear that few were prepared to speak out against – and virtually none in the mainstream media were – because people were scared of the consequences. Only when a respected veteran broadcaster still in his prime such as Paul Gambaccini was targeted, and had the nerve to speak out, was the world prepared to listen.

Prior to Gambo’s platform enabling the wider public to be exposed to the truth of the witch-hunt, numerous online folk – most of them of my acquaintance at one time or another – had been bravely highlighting the flaws in the argument and had suffered the appalling brickbats of the trolls for their sins. Ageing celebrities may have hogged the headlines when seized upon by the pitchfork-wielding mob, but hundreds of unknown, innocent individuals and their families had their lives turned upside down too; and while the false allegations were pretty serious to begin with, the entrenchment of this approach as a means of destroying lives and livelihoods has descended into the realm of the ridiculous after a decade. It seems it was only a small step from losing one’s job and being publicly vilified following unproven allegations of sexual assault to losing one’s job and being publicly vilified for tweeting that men in drag can’t menstruate.

The introduction of DBS checks worked on the assumption those seeking to work with children were subconscious paedos just as Unconscious Bias Training now works on the assumption that anyone white working in the corporate world is a subconscious racist. The past was already being discredited and edited a decade ago, only nobody noticed when the genesis of the great revisionist exercise was focused on old editions of ‘Top of the Pops’. And my, how far the project has progressed since then. Post-BLM, in a world where the whole of western history and all of its achievements has now been declared evil, racist and deplorable, the decks have been cleared for a wholesale rewrite; prepare for social media to be awash with gloating Woke separatists, emboldened by Biden’s victory and seeing it as a means to implement even further an agenda that will continue to detach the minority from the majority and make a mockery of ‘healing a divided nation’; Identity Politics thrives on division. Just muse on what a wasted opportunity to give the majority a true voice the last four years have been.

© The Editor


Once upon a time, I was in love with Joanna Lumley – for about a month, anyway. Sweethearts to children are no different from any other fad; boredom soon sets in and one pretty face is swiftly superseded by another, whether classmate or unattainable pin-up from the small screen. But it was fun while it lasted. In her breakthrough role of Purdey in ‘The New Avengers’, Joanna Lumley had what was once a prerequisite for a pop cultural icon – a distinctive and unique haircut; indeed, my attraction to Ms Lumley as Purdey remains one of the few occasions in which I’ve been attracted to a woman with short hair; but she was blonde, and after many subsequent years distracted by other shades, I eventually came home. Anyway, with ‘The New Avengers’ instantly installed as a Friday night fixture, pre-VCR days required being in the room when it aired; unfortunately, this necessity clashed with Bonfire Night festivities early in the series’ run. My protests fell on deaf ears and I was dragged along to a firework display because it was clearly what I was supposed to enjoy at that age. I probably sulked a bit, though I did get to see the ‘lost’ episode in the end, albeit a full ten years later during a repeat run.

I suppose Bonfire Night as an event has the greatest appeal to younger children; I don’t recall getting that excited about it after the ‘reluctantly foregoing Purdey’ incident of 1976, though occasional visits to public displays – usually in the grounds of working men’s clubs – continued for a few years thereafter. These were punctuated by the back garden private display, generally the most anticlimactic events of all; and it never helped that it was usually raining and freezing. The sulphurous odour in the air on November 5th does, however, remain one of the year’s signposts, even if the trend today seems to be to hold the public displays on the nearest Friday or Saturday to the actual day. Like anyone who lived a 70s childhood, fireworks were also heavily entwined with the shock-horror public information film portrayals of Bonfire Night; we were guaranteed never to forget the damage these miniature explosives could do in the wrong hands, though that didn’t prevent unscrupulous newsagents flogging bangers to the kind of ruffians who patrolled the playgrounds of Britain like prepubescent Al Capones.

Not having any four-legged pets as a child, the impact of fireworks on cats and dogs didn’t intrude into my own world until an adult; I then saw for myself what a torrid time they can have of it come November 5th – something not helped when one resides in (as I did at the time) a densely-populated urban neighbourhood with a good few weeks of constant explosions both before and after Bonfire Night. My cat in particular was less spooked by big bangs than by the shrieking, screeching whizz often accompanying them. Keeping an unsettled pet company indoors when four walls and double glazing prove pitifully ineffective at soundproofing made me feel quite useless in my protective role; it also fostered an irritability with the availability of fireworks to the general public. Some may regard the banning of their over (or under) the counter sale and limiting them to official, regulated public displays as a symptom of ‘political correctness gone mad’; but it’s one British tradition I actually wouldn’t mind being governed by the strictest of health & safety measures.

Bearing in mind its historical significance and fiery political roots, is it pure coincidence that Boris chose November 5th to plunge the country into its second nationwide lockdown, using the same emotional blackmail and discredited stats as before? Of course, during Lockdown 1 everybody had a great time, nobody started believing Twitter was real life, nobody rioted and nobody died, so this is evidently a laudable policy. In Lockdown 2, I should imagine firework displays – either public or private – will be cancelled along with Christmas, and it’s gonna be such fun. Mind you, fireworks as a metaphor can be applied to any news story unrelated to that luckless terrorist Guy Fawkes. Right now, a country that doesn’t celebrate the foiling of a plot to blow the English Parliament to kingdom come is in the middle of an inferno that has already spanned several months and seems set to span several months more. Whilst we nasty Brits beat them to it by burning down the White House way back in 1814, today’s flames may still cut a swathe along Pennsylvania Avenue before the year is out, and a remake of the 2000 debacle between Dubya and Gore could well constitute the climax of the democratic process before the ugly aftermath is over. It’s gonna be such fun.

Ah, yes – fun. Remember that? There’s an uncomfortable TV interview with Sid Vicious filmed shortly before his death, one in which the interviewer asks him what he’d like to do in the coming months. Vicious replies, ‘I’d like to have fun’; it’s a curiously childlike reply, yet oddly affecting when remembering he was barely 21 at the time and succumbed to a fatal heroin overdose not long after. Maybe that was his idea of fun by then, though having lived in that world a long, long time ago, I don’t recall much fun myself bar the occasional shot of the blackest strain of gallows humour. And perhaps I was ahead of the game; there’s as much fun floating around these islands at the moment as can be found in your average crack-den on a bleak midwinter’s afternoon. The external world has finally caught up with my internal one and I can’t say it’s something that imbues me with a sense of satisfaction. Call me naive, but I expected better.

And how cruel this of all days was selected as the latest doomed D-Day by a gaggle of intellectual dwarves and their ‘opposition’ numbers, for Purdey or no, there was once a kind of magic to November 5th. If its aroma was one of sulphur, its taste was a toffee apple or a slice of parkin, and its place as a bright light on a childhood calendar otherwise only illuminated by individual birthdays and communal Christmas was assured. Maybe the dangerous elements so driven home by public information films added to its unique status; if a TV drama happened to feature a Bonfire Night storyline, you knew in advance a child was going to be maimed by a firework in it. At least one ‘Coronation Street’ episode from the 70s saw this happen, and the ‘Blue Peter’ team would always remind the audience to ‘take care’ on the edition closest to November 5th in a manner that still appears sincere. The message has now become characteristic of an all-year-round catchphrase for our own times – one that shares the same sentiment but is often said with the kind of conviction that accompanies ‘Have a nice day’.

The tactics the Central Office of Information employed to scare the public into submission on November 5th are now employed for less benign purposes, and at least there were laughs to be had with the PIF melodramas as you spotted minor actors who’d appeared in ‘The Sweeney’; there may have been a Project Fear factor involved, but there was no Project Browbeat, Defeat and Demoralise. Masks may shield a smile, but just look at the eyes – ain’t no laughing to be found there. Yes, there was once magic on this day, and however much magic is trashed and tarnished by events and their orchestrators, the things we hold closest to our hearts are fiercely immune to it; they can’t take away everything. Sparks have flown and the Earth has moved on November 5th; toffee apples have been scoffed, Catherine wheels have failed to spin, hands have been held and dreams have been woven. Take a bunch of bangers, Boris and Sir Keir; I know you’re both extremely thick, but I don’t need to tell you where you can shove them. Dream on.

© The Editor