It’s access all areas when you’re the guv’nor – stats galore behind the scenes here at Winegum Towers; a recent glance at the viewing figures for one random day included not just the UK and Ireland, but the US, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Russia, Iceland, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Nigeria. A league of nations indeed! Sifting through stats is actually a good way of measuring how far one’s meanderings are journeying and gives the author a real sense of having a global reach; the daily graph of how many views one receives is another handy yardstick. Some days without a new post have higher viewing figures than those with one, but it’s understandable that it can take a day or two for a post to attract attention beyond hardcore regulars. Example: The last post appeared on the 24th – 58 views on the day, 64 the following day, and 68 the day after that. Moreover, the amount of ‘likes’ a post receives can often be disproportionate both to the views it amasses and the number of comments accompanying it. I’ve long since given up trying to second-guess what kind of story will generate the most feedback, which is why I usually just put out whatever I feel like writing about and see how it goes. You can hardly ever predict these things.

Sometimes, an old post can accrue a remarkable – and, to me, inexplicable – amount of views. This week there’s been an upsurge of interest in a quite early (2015) post called ‘Video Killed the Video Star’ – 24 views in total. Mind you, I took a look at it and I thought the theme was quite relevant to the here and now; it was an embryonic critique of big tech policy on YouTube and seemed highly prescient in its predictions. The closing statement – published on 17.12.15 – reads: ‘The way things are going, YT could end up as bland and predictable as MTV within five years, completely negating its initial intent. It wasn’t supposed to be one more promotional juggernaut for record companies or movie studios, but that’s what it’s on the road to becoming.’ Interesting that I was able to foresee at least one technological and cultural development before it became the norm, probably because YT was the platform I had the most online experience with at the time and therefore could sense which way the wind was blowing. Wish I’d been wrong, mind.

Perhaps that particular post attracted unexpected attention due to something that happened this week to my YT channel that has caught me genuinely by surprise. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason over the past seven days, a platform I walked away from almost two years ago has suddenly ‘gone viral’, and I’m not being liberal with hyperbole there either – the stats speak for themselves. On one day last week, one specific video received a staggering 49,568 views in the space of 48 hours; in just one sixty minute period the day after, my channel received 6,060 views – in just a single hour! Believe me, these kinds of figures are unprecedented for me, and they’re the last thing one expects when the most recent video posted on there appeared in July 2019 – and even then, that had been the first one I’d uploaded to YT since the previous October. Therefore, it’s pretty accurate to say this isn’t a medium I’ve devoted much time to of late, and it’s somewhat disarming to be showered in euphoric praise for something I can barely relate to anymore.

At the moment, I feel like someone who was in a band that never made it, a band that split after releasing a couple of universally ignored albums, with its individual members moving on and putting the past behind them. And then one of their old numbers is used on an ad or in a movie and it suddenly starts to sell, ending up a massive hit. From getting no more than a dozen comments on videos a week, this past few days has seen me receiving upwards of 40-50 comments a day, so many that I haven’t actually got time to reply to them all and thank people for their kind words. And, it has to be said, 99% of them are kind. Sure, there are one or two compelled to express their distaste/disgust with either too-close-for-comfort satire or bawdy ‘Derek & Clive’-style humour, and these tend to divide into two camps: the ‘analytical critic’ who spends several paragraphs emphasising how much more cleverer he is than you, and the blunt grunter who keeps his opinion to a minimum of words, one of which is usually ‘shit’. I’ve been called a lefty communist and a Daily Mail reader, which is quite an impressive combination. But these are very much the exception to the rule, however.

‘OMG. This has made my stomach hurt. Absolutely brilliant’; ‘My face is hurting’; ‘Funniest things I’ve watched in a long time, possibly ever’; ‘This is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen’; ‘This is quality material the likes of which we have not seen in a very, very long time. Absolutely magic’; ‘Did want to comment, but can’t stop laughing; ‘What a find’; ‘I think you may well be a comic genius’; ‘First time I’ve ever watched these. Never laughed so much’– yes, I know that sounds reminiscent of Eric Idle’s door-to-door salesman with his range of joke-shop goods – ‘Denmark never laughed so much’ etc. – but these are merely a tiny snippet of the kinds of comments I’ve been getting and am still getting. Several have put their appreciation in the context of the zeitgeist. The majority of these videos may be old, but it would appear they’re serving as some sort of contemporary panacea when people are approaching lockdown breaking point, desperately searching online for something to take their mind off 2021 and cheer them up in a way the sterile excuse for TV comedy is incapable of in this oversensitive age. Why so many have stumbled upon my channel simultaneously is a mystery to me, but I can only put it down to communal cabin fever.

The video that seems to have become the introduction to the oeuvre for most is one called ‘Dumpton’, a pastiche of the Gordon Murray trilogy that I put together and posted three years ago, placing the characters and setting in present-day Britain. Judging by the comments of those who’ve just discovered it, my take on the series appears to be more relevant in 2021 than it was in 2018. Hot on the heels of ‘Dumpton’ is our old friend ‘Buggernation Street’. The durability of this 28-part saga never fails to stagger me, considering it ended six years ago. These days, I can often watch an isolated episode simply as a viewer, completely detached from wherever I was when I produced it in the early 2010s – and whatever I was on (WTF was I on, I often ask myself). I can laugh along with everyone else who finds it funny and I also find it amusing that many new viewers are so thrown by the multitude of potty mouths on these instalments that they assume a team of experienced comedy writers and voice artists put them together; it almost feels like too much of an ego trip to let them in on the secret that I’ve always been a one-man band.

It’s fair to say I’ve been more than a bit taken aback by this overnight interest and enthusiasm for creative projects I was most productive in between, roughly, 2012 and 2017. I may have migrated from mainstream YT to the obscure wilderness that is Vimeo, but I still produce videos of this nature every few months, generally if a funny idea comes to me – only if a funny idea comes to me, however; trying to be funny on demand would result in below-par entries in the series – besides, there aren’t enough hours in the day, lockdown or no. There’s the Telegram to attend to, I’m currently writing my first novel in two years, the odd poem is coming to me every few days that will eventually form part of a fresh collection, and it’s nice to have a little leisure time as well. I’m stuck as to how I can capitalise on this unanticipated flurry of interest when I’m not really operating in that specific creative field much these days, but it’s still gratifying to be drenched in gushing appreciation, I can’t deny it. Yet again, the consequence of shutting down society and isolating the population behind closed doors has prompted some strange and surprising developments. As Albert Tatlock might have said, ye can shove yer sea shanties up yer arse.

© The Editor


In the end, even the architect can be unceremoniously ejected from the building he designed. Following his resignation as manager of Liverpool FC in 1974, the legendary Bill Shankly’s fifteen years at Anfield weren’t enough to prevent him being politely asked to stay away from the club’s training ground when he had a habit of turning up unannounced and interfering in the running of the team by his successor (and former No.2) Bob Paisley. It was a sad postscript to a glittering career, but was at least handled with a degree of delicacy by the club. If I didn’t think they’d probably consider the comparison flattering, I’d more likely be talking of Trotsky and Stalin rather than Shankly and Paisley when turning the spotlight on the power struggle between Scotland’s two principal politicians of the past 20 years, Master Salmond and Madam Sturgeon. The former First Minister – and a man who did arguably more than any other single individual to further the cause of self-determination north of the border – may have avoided an ice-pick to the skull, but there are far more effective means of assassination in the age of cancel culture, where a smear or allegation are enough to leave a reputation in tatters.

Ever since walking away from the SNP leadership following the failure of the independence campaign in 2014, Alex Salmond has been an unwelcome spectre shadowing the increasingly authoritarian progress of Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s dictator-in-chief following her unopposed accession to the post of First Minister. Whilst the pandemic has presented Sturgeon with an opportunity to exercise her totalitarian leanings on a scale far greater than even she could have imagined in her wildest Braveheart fantasies, the persistent presence of her predecessor appears to be something she views as an encumbrance in the same way David Steel was lumbered with the lingering shadow of Jeremy Thorpe when he took over the Liberal Party in 1976. Salmond’s undignified 2018 resignation from the SNP following allegations of sexual misconduct dating from five years earlier was an unsavoury issue that provoked an investigation by the Scottish Government, albeit one Salmond himself challenged by raising legal costs (via crowd-funding) to seek a judicial review into.

It looked as though the toxic taint of such an allegation was enough to cause Salmond to be deserted by his old comrades, and the former First Minister’s determined pursuit to clear his name – something, which at times, bore more than a passing resemblance to vengeance – eventually cost the taxpayer over £500,000 in legal expenses. Salmond was convinced his one-time second-in-command and other officials at Holyrood were engaged in a ‘malicious and concerted effort’ to bring him down; he seems to have reserved his most incensed ire for Peter Murrell, SNP chief executive and – perhaps more significantly – Mr Nicola Sturgeon, with Salmond accusing him of persuading women to make the complaints of sexual harassment against him that led to the botched investigation. Salmond also claimed wee Ms Krankie breached the ministerial code more than once, accusing her of repeatedly misleading the Scottish Parliament, most importantly re the date she says she learnt of the complaints against him.

Barely two weeks after forcing the Scottish Government to admit it buggered-up the investigation, Salmond was arrested and charged with 14 offences – including rape, sexual assault, and indecent assault – and stood trial in March 2020. A fortnight later, Salmond was found not guilty on 12 of the charges, whilst one was ‘not proven’ and the other was withdrawn. What emerged from the trial was an impression of Salmond as bearing that classic trait of the ugly older man in a position of power being a bit ‘touchy-feely’ around young women, though the evidence of anything more serious was threadbare. The fact that many of the allegations came from women drawn from the SNP inner circle was something Salmond pointed to as proof of a conspiracy against him that had descended into a witch-hunt. As soon as he walked away from the court, he indicated he wasn’t prepared to go quietly. Sensing this wasn’t to be the end of the affair, a committee of MSPs was set up to examine the way the Scottish Government dealt with the complaints of sexual misconduct, though a committee comprising nine Members of the Scottish Parliament in which four belonged to the SNP and one to the Scottish Greens (regarded as being in an unofficial coalition with the SNP) hardly seemed like a balanced panel, further fuelling Salmond’s paranoia.

Salmond’s claims against Sturgeon have now reclaimed the headlines – though, oddly, not necessarily those of the Scottish MSM – following the intervention of the Crown Office in the publication of a written submission Salmond made to the inquiry; sudden redactions were made in the published account, removing details concerning the allegations about his successor misleading the Scottish Parliament. A furious Salmond retaliated by pulling out of a scheduled appearance before the committee on Wednesday; it has now been reported he will attend on Friday. Salmond’s censored submission had already been published unexpurgated on the Scottish Parliament’s website before the Crown Office decided to take matters into its own hands, which only continues to make it seem as though the SNP has something to hide. Sturgeon’s husband has twice been accused of perjury following his appearances before the committee, but calls by Scottish Tories to prosecute Peter Murrell would rest with the Lord Advocate, appointed by the First Minister herself and a member of her team to boot. Can’t really see that happening, can you?

Reports indicate that if the redacted passages were to remain intact in the public arena, they wouldn’t be allowed as evidence come the final conclusions of the inquiry; the Scottish Parliament has also given the thumbs-up to the censorship on the part of the Crown Office, which means the evidence against Sturgeon that Salmond presented to the committee has effectively been deleted by Sturgeon and her team. One wonders if the First Minister actually believes she’s Judge Dredd now – i.e. ‘I am the Law’. All this whole unedifying episode appears to have done is merely give additional weight to Salmond’s claims that the SNP, and particularly Mr and Mrs Sturgeon (or should that be Marcos?), are abusing their powers in order to suppress any opposition to their regime. More and more it is looking like Sturgeon has used every weapon in her arsenal to silence her predecessor, but as soon as he re-emerged from court a free man she must have known the failure of the modern world’s default method of destroying a public figure would mean even dirtier tricks were required.

It’s a difficult topic to approach objectively, this one. I don’t support Scottish independence, and whilst I am no fan of Nicola Sturgeon, I am also no fan of Alex Salmond. That said, as soon as Salmond was arrested and the charges against him were splashed across the media, I instinctively felt something underhand was at play; it just seemed too convenient a scenario for his successor as First Minister. The moment he was cleared of the charges, I figured Scotland’s descent into banana republic territory would gather pace – and it has. The SNP’s handling of the pandemic has hardly been exemplary, but by keeping the focus on England’s failings and devoting so much energy to portraying their nearest-neighbours as ‘Tory Scum’ – remember those goons standing on the border expressing sentiments that would be regarded anywhere else as pseudo-MAGA extremism? – Sturgeon and her cabal have managed to prevent any sustained study of their own dealings – until now, perhaps. The ghost of Scotland’s past is haunting the First Minister, but this is not the kind of patriotic phantom Nicola Sturgeon is fond of evoking.

© The Editor


FFS, I’m beginning to wonder if every organisation better known as an acronym uses it merely to make itself sound more professional and obscure the BS. The initials that constitute the name SAGE are begging to be reinterpreted in my old ‘long car journey’ game, though my own personal favourite remains the one coined by jaded troops forced to be entertained on days-off from the Second World War. ENSA stood for the Entertainments National Service Association, but so thinly-spread was the talent on offer that it was known by many an audience as Every Night Something Awful. ENSA may have given early breaks to the likes of Peter Sellers, but I’ve a strong feeling most shows began with the dreaded introduction, ‘And now, put your hands together for Tessie O’Shea!’ 80 years on, SAGE is supposed to stand for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, but could just as easily translate as…ah, well…have a crack at it yourself. Anyway, having imposed internment on the nation for almost a year, SAGE has finally presented a roadmap to the PM, four steps returning us to a normality we may not know how to handle once we get it.

This unelected cabal of control freaks and charlatans have effectively formulated policy for the PM and his team over the past twelve months; trusted with inexplicable gullibility by Ministers even stupider than them, the members of SAGE have sold their dubious expertise like some elite of ancient elders dispensing meaningless riddles masquerading as wisdom to the superstitious peasants wanting an explanation why their crops have failed. SAGE’s Susan Michie, one of the organisation’s star performers perhaps reluctant to relinquish both the limelight and the power the pandemic has gifted her, has said, ‘We now face a choice between lifting restrictions but facing what we had last year, or we open up very gradually.’ But we didn’t have a vaccine when we were curve-flattening in 2020, remember? Even though it apparently doesn’t render its recipient immune from the coronavirus or prevent the infected from infecting anyone else, the vaccine was supposed to be the key to unlock the door that society has been on the other side of for almost a year, so the admittedly impressive rollout should end the restrictions. Are we to expect the shock announcement of another variant, another mutation, right on the eve of the grand reopening ceremony?

A good deal of blame can certainly be laid at the door of SAGE, but there’s also the small matter of cronyism to be held to account. Matt Hancock rightly squirms as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (that’s MHRA for you acronym fans) investigates the awarding of a £30m contract to manufacture vials for Covid testing to a company with no previous experience whatsoever in the field of medical goods – a company coincidentally owned by the one-time landlord of the Health Secretary’s local in his West Suffolk constituency. Fancy that! Who’d have thought that the Government buggering up so much of this operation might have actually been aided and abetted in its incompetence by the entrusting of vital tasks to unqualified amateurs emanating from the old boy network? Within 30 days of any Government contracts for public goods or services worth more than £120,000 being awarded, a contract award notice is supposed to be published by law; Hancock didn’t comply. Perhaps he didn’t want the world knowing how many of these contracts quickly went to old friends, relations and donors, few of whom had a clue as to how to go about doing what was pretty important work, but at least attended the right school.

Prolonging the agony of lockdown – not to mention claiming a fair few lives along the way – certainly wasn’t helped by squandering millions on those whose knowledge of the job at hand was seemingly about as accurate as the grandiose apocalyptic prophesies of SAGE’s resident doom-monger and restriction-breaking adulterer-in-chief Neil Ferguson. In response, Keir Starmer says…er…I dunno…I haven’t heard him register a complaint about any of this…has he? The opposition frontbench has only sprung into life recently to comment on important issues, such as denouncing Priti Patel for having the gall to criticise BLM and taking the knee, the Goddamn Uncle Tom (or is it Auntie?). I heard my local (Labour) MP emphasise his party’s priorities the other day by calling for the replacement of those bigoted forms of address such as Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms with the non-binary Mx – y’know, like bleeders who produce chest-milk are now womxn, so’s not to exclude those ladies with knackers. I actually voted for him last time round on the grounds of his okay record as a constituency MP – just as I once did his Lib Dem predecessor. That won’t be happening again.

Anyway, not to worry – news tells us that lockdown is entering its final phase; even though most will only believe that when they see it, Boris has announced school’s in again as of 8 March, which is a start. Of course, school was hardly ever out for the children of ‘key workers’, those upgraded versions of the old wartime ‘reserved occupations’. Lest we forget, it’s precisely these folk that have kept the country ticking over throughout the last few miserable months, even if the country only clapped for those employed by the NHS. But I guess bin-men and delivery-men don’t have quite the same heroic ring to them as doctors and nurses on the Covid frontline. Naturally, it goes without saying that restrictions will be lifted in stages, but I still suspect each one will be accompanied by an understandable and pretty unstoppable unleashing of hysteria akin to those moments we all remember from that annual childhood event in the middle of July when school really was out for summer.

Last summer, you may recall, was when the effects of Lockdown Mk I were manifested as an irresponsible and reprehensible flocking to seaside resorts, urban parks and assorted wide open spaces to soak up the sun. The reaction of the MSM, who had a heavy investment in Project Fear, was to crank up the moral panic angle and cite it as the rise of the Covidiot super-spreading scum putting lives at risk. Actually, some who believe a different science claim that was bollocks, funnily enough. Edinburgh University-based epidemiologist Prof Mark Woolhouse says, ‘There has never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a beach, ever, anywhere in the world, to the best of my knowledge.’ Echoing his sentiments is Dr Müge Cevik at the University of St Andrews. ‘We have known for some time that only about 10% of transmission events are linked to outdoor activities,’ says Dr Cevik. ‘We had a lot of existing knowledge even when the pandemic began about respiratory viruses and how they transmit in general, and everything directs us to the conditions in people’s homes and workplaces.’

As sections of SAGE and various Ministers display a noticeable reticence in letting go, the herd immunity they imagine will only be achievable via perennial lockdowns until the end of time appears to have been achieved where it all began in Europe – the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl. According to a survey, eight months on from contracting the coronavirus, the majority of residents there remain immune. A virologist working on the study claims the immunity present in between 40 and 50% of the 900 residents last November has held firm and has protected the population from infection. November was when the town’s second wave hit, but the considerably smaller number of infections back then suggest herd immunity is achieved far quicker than many imagined. Herd immunity may have been the stated goal over here in the beginning, but the abrupt resort to lockdown curtailed that plan and has left us where we are now. But, as long as we all do as we’re told during the gradual unveiling of each step, we may even be able to ask permission to go on holiday in the summer. Don’t hold your rotten breath, but at least keep it to yourself behind that mask, LOL.

© The Editor


I think this year marks ten since I joined Facebook; after YouTube, it was the first online platform I signed-up for, and I’m pretty sure this happened in 2011. To begin with, what was for me the novelty of Facebook was reflected in the amount of times I used the site. Connecting with people in different parts of the country and indeed different countries altogether was a new sensation at the time, and I’m still in touch with a couple of people in Canada to this day courtesy of FB. Ten years ago, I used to post something at least once every 24 hours and also routinely commented on the posts of others; I was engaged with it in the way some engage with Twitter now. I guess it’s easy to forget how revolutionary having global communication at one’s fingertips for the first time felt; to me, this was like a space-age version of pen-pals. Of course, the initial novelty gradually wore off as my online life expanded to other platforms, and these days I mainly use FB for the messaging – a method of staying in touch with those otherwise unreachable, and I largely avoid public participation. I tend to post something no more than once or twice a month and even then it’ll usually be nothing more than a photograph I came across. I don’t really feel any affinity with many on there anymore, so use it sparingly.

Anyone familiar with Facebook will be equally familiar with the ‘newsfeed’, the section of the platform whereby the posts of those one follows are grouped together in one long scrolling session. Some rarely post at all – which makes their occasional missives worth waiting for – whilst others are serial posters, sometimes guilty of quantity over quality; but it’s possible to filter out ones who can clutter up newsfeed and simply leave the best of the rest. FB newsfeed is a strange place in which the latest fads and fashions of FB Friends sit alongside algorithm-generated suggestions, the majority of which bear no relation to anything I’m remotely interested in but are (I suspect) based on my age and the social demographic FB imagines me to belong to. Newsfeed is also littered with ads for both products and websites tailored towards one’s previous preferences, and ‘liking’ the odd post by a website you’ve never heard of before will immediately lead to an invitation to ‘like’ the FB page of the website, which – if you acquiesce – will then result in that being permanently incorporated into your newsfeed. There are some I honestly have no memory of ‘liking’ at all; but most of these are a quite pleasant distraction amidst the ads for cars I’ll never drive, holiday resorts I’ll never visit and clothes I’ll never wear, so I leave them there.

More often than not, these tend to be animal-related – heroic stories of dogs or cats that survived traumatic situations, and posts by zoos with various exotic beasts that can enliven a two-minute video. Following the horrific fires that engulfed Australia just over a year ago, I must have ‘liked’ a post by a wildlife reserve that cares for and has aided the rehabilitation of displaced koalas, for that has been a regular presence in my newsfeed for months; I’ve always had a soft spot for koalas ever since I briefly owned a stuffed cuddly toy of one as an infant, so that explains it. Even though I’ve yet to check, I do wonder if said posts will now mysteriously vanish from FB in the wake of a unique spat between a nation and the guardians of the big tech galaxy, one which could well be an interesting sign of things to come.

To ‘unfriend’ someone on Facebook was something I did myself once or twice a few years back, often arising from misunderstandings due to the tone of voice not always correctly perceived when written down. One cannot use italics, for example, and genuine sentiment can sometimes be mistaken for sarcasm, depending on the reader’s mood at the moment of reading. But the storms in my cyber teacup were nothing compared to events this week, when FB unfriended an entire country, i.e. Australia. A proposed law to make service providers actually pay for content on their platforms down under has resulted in Facebook taking its ball back. As of Thursday, Aussies logged on to discover the sudden absence of global and local news from FB – immediately impacting upon the approximately 17 million Aussies that use Facebook every month; this abrupt disappearing act also applied to anyone attempting to access any Australian news sites from outside the Southern Hemisphere. However, despite joining FB in condemning the proposed law as something that ‘penalises’ their platforms, Google pre-empted the dramatic move by FB and signed a deal with old Uncle Rupert’s News Corps in which it did indeed agree to pay for content. In one foul swoop, you have the schizophrenic ethics of big tech – Google standing alongside Facebook to criticise a law suggesting they pay for content whilst simultaneously paying for content. Ironically, it seems the one beneficiary of this spat is an organisation rooted in the very industry social media sites have helped bring to its knees.

Whilst most governments give the impression of being at the beck and call of big tech as much as they are beholden to the banks, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken an intriguing stance, stating that big tech companies might be changing the world, but that doesn’t necessarily equate with them running it. ‘I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues,’ he said. ‘We simply won’t be intimidated.’ International condemnation seems to back up the Aussie PM’s response whilst at the same time Western Australia’s Premier Mark McGowan compared the behaviour of Facebook to that of ‘a North Korean dictator’. FB are clearly trying to hit Aussies where it hurts, but are coming across as incredibly petty as well as petulant; they’re not exactly accustomed to not getting their own way. The fact that the FB blackout also included government health sites meant the latest Covid info was no longer available to Australian users, something that was hardly going to win hearts and minds.

The digital cartel monopolising the flow of online information has grown in influence over the past half-decade as older mediums have been sidelined. Naturally, there is envy in the air, but there is also increasing concern that too much power rests in too few hands. Stoking the fear of big tech, Donald Trump heavily hinted this was an issue he’d be dealing with during his expected second term in office; and without wishing to delve into conspiratorial waters, the way in which social media dictated the narrative of the 2020 Presidential Election – the censoring of the Hunter Biden story being a prime example – seemed to suggest a concerted effort on the part of big tech to prevent this from happening. How relieved the digital overlords must be to have a fresh (ish) face in the White House with several former big tech employees on his payroll.

Before Google kowtowed to Murdoch, Australian Senator Rex Patrick attempted to call the bluff of the nation’s dominant search engine by pushing for the change. ‘It’s going to go worldwide,’ he said. ‘Are you going to pull out of every market?’ Interestingly, Microsoft has broken rank by supporting the proposed law, saying ‘The code reasonably attempts to address the bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and Australian news businesses.’ On the other side of the world, the EU has attempted to give news sites copyright on links that appear on search engines, forcing the latter to pay for the privilege, whilst France has also been trying to tackle the issue. Whether or not any of these efforts will succeed when big tech wields so much clout remains to be seen, but I suppose these all represent the first stirrings of official opposition when there has been so little so far. Perhaps in unfriending an entire country, Facebook has taken cancel culture to an extreme from which retreat is the only way back.

© The Editor


The actor David Niven once explained how he was able to turn his talents to the written word by finding a secluded spot in his garden that would shield him from distractions; more dedicated scribes like Dickens and Dahl famously had glorified sheds erected in their gardens to guarantee privacy whilst Virginia Woolf emphasised the need for ‘a room of one’s own’. A conducive environment for jotting down one’s thoughts certainly helps the process of jotting them down, and speaking personally I can’t really complain in that the desk upon which I write faces a large, spacious window that gives me considerably more natural light when working than the gloomy ground-floor flat I used to know as home, one with a grim, grey wall to look at when opening the curtains on a morning. The wide windowsill that divides desk from window at one time served as a convenient platform for my late lamented cat to requisition as a handy sunbathing spot in the summer, but still cried out for a permanent purpose. I eventually made use of the windowsill space by mentioning to a friend with horticultural leanings that I’d quite like to acquire a couple of rubber plants.

Why rubber plants, I’m not entirely sure; childhood memory assured me the residence of Minnie Caldwell on ‘Coronation Street’ boasted a few in a hangover of that cluttered Victorian style, and I recall it always looking homely, so why not? What arrived as tiny, malnourished cuttings have subsequently become wannabe Triffids, courtesy of the abundance of sunlight and weekly watering; the two plants have outgrown more than one pot and now reside in huge ones designed for outdoor patios. Unless their flamboyant foliage is routinely trimmed, the plants tend to hog the sunlight I’d become dependent upon, but they do keep me in touch with nature; and nature is something that otherwise exclusively inhabits the world outside the window, a world that recent events have conspired to detach me (and many others) from. The plants were picked-up free of charge from a website – the name of which escapes me, but one that was set up so people could basically get rid of unwanted possessions fast without the need to wait for a buyer on eBay.

The site could have been Gumtree, though money tends to exchange hands on there. In case you weren’t aware, Gumtree is essentially an online version of the old newspaper classified section; it was established around 20 years ago by antipodean expats in London – probably, I should imagine, in the neighbourhood of Earls Court. The name was taken from the colloquial Aussie term for the eucalyptus tree, and like many websites that sprang up at the turn of the millennium and avoided crashing and burning in the dot-com bubble, Gumtree has spread its wings beyond its original remit of connecting Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans in the Mother Country to becoming an international operation, freely accessible in mainland Europe and North America. In the UK, it has an average of 200,000 motor vehicles on offer in its ‘goods for sale’ section; with stats like that, it’s no great surprise the Yellow Pages was discontinued and ‘Exchange and Mart’ ceased to be a physical publication.

However, one area that Gumtree would be wise to steer clear of in order to retain goodwill on the part of the public is the sale of animals. Whenever one is told the story of Christian, the famous lion owned by a pair of Swinging Londoners in the early 70s, the fact the beast was purchased as a cub from Harrods often seems as hard to believe as the truth of an actual lion living in a basement off the King’s Road. Yes, Christian’s status as a bona-fide wild animal adds to the surreal nature of the story of how and where he grew up, but that today’s domestic pets can be bought and sold on Gumtree with little in the way of animal welfare involved appears no more enlightened half-a-century later. With a paltry minimum fee of £2.99 (to meet the requirements of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group), Gumtree is allowed to flog cats and dogs with the barest safeguards in place for the goods being sold. The Gumtree pet policy specifies that a seller can only post two pet ads a year, though this hardly prevents sellers indulging in the piss-easy operation of opening new accounts under different names as many times as they see fit. Home visits to the sellers by Gumtree representatives to check on the condition and ownership of the animal for sale are not part of the process, so the system is unsurprisingly open to abuse.

Courtesy of our old friend Lockdown, there has been a huge increase in the sale of dogs and puppies in particular over the past few months, the price of which has gone through the roof; this in turn has led to an alarming rise in the upsetting trend of dog thefts, stealing beloved members of the family and flogging them at an extortionate rate online. It’s heartbreaking enough when a furry friend has to be put to sleep; the thought that they’re still around but have been taken from you when your back was turned has to be every pet-owner’s worst nightmare. I used to know an old lady whose cat once disappeared and didn’t come home again, despite the lady’s nightly expeditions to locate her feline sidekick; by her own admission, she never got over it. That might induce a sneer in some, but to her – she lived alone – the cat was her sole companion, her only company and dependent, the significance of which is easily overlooked by those who have always shared their lives with other people or have never known the unique bond man/woman can share with a domesticated animal. I feel sorry for them to have missed out.

Any organisation that turns a blind eye to the profits being made from inflicting upset on others – not to mention causing emotional distress to the animal – deserves a dressing down, and Gumtree needs to get its house in order. The opportunities for unscrupulous, unregistered breeders and runners of illegal puppy farms – vile canine concentration camps where the welfare of animals is the last concern – are abundant thanks to the lax policing of classified websites; moreover, stolen cats and dogs are sold in similar fashion to stolen cars, often bought by those who do so in good faith, unaware they’re purchasing someone else’s property. In many cases, the ease with which sites like Gumtree make such criminal practices painless for professional and amateur alike demands either some form of new regulation, which would probably be difficult to enforce, or should prompt Gumtree to cease allowing animals to be sold or re-homed via its site.

The removal of such ads from Gumtree would be a step forward when there are reputable shelters, charities and certified breeders that sell animals which have received full health check-ups and are sold to those who themselves have to prove their credentials as responsible pet-owners beforehand. Animals are not cars or inanimate objects that can be bought and sold indefinitely just for the sake of a fast buck with no care for the consequences. Sure, my home benefitted from the acquisition of two rubber plants-cum-Triffids that brought a little piece of Mother Nature into an abode bereft of a garden, but plants should really be the only living things one is able to purchase on sites like Gumtree. Perhaps the decline and fall of one-time go-to sources such as newspaper classified ads and the aforementioned Yellow Pages – both of which were far more regulated than their online successors – has its downside (one that goes beyond mere nostalgia) after all.

© The Editor


It’s not unprecedented for a new post to act as a virtual ‘sequel’ to an old post; indeed, there are some stories that are ongoing sagas in which multiple posts on the same subject are inevitable as the plotlines twist and turn over weeks, months or years. However, this post is (I hope) the concluding instalment of a two-parter in that it directly relates to an extremely sad story covered last August. This week, Olga Freeman was handed an indefinite hospital order after being found guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. In case you’ve forgotten, Olga Freeman was the 40-year-old mother of a disabled 10-year-old called Dylan, whose body was found at his Acton home after Ms Freeman handed herself in to police and confessed to killing him.

The nature of the boy’s condition was specified as a strain of autism called Cohen Syndrome, rendering him bereft of ordinary speech and communication skills; in other words, he was severely mentally disabled – that is, his mental development froze in infancy and remained that way as he physically grew. Children afflicted by this condition place parents and carers under unimaginable strain of a kind that only intensifies the older they become; add a lockdown to the mix and the results can be tragic.

Last summer several stories emerged that, to anyone who knows or has known a parent with a child facing such difficulties, came as no surprise; a care system for such children that was already underfunded and overlooked was evidently not prioritised when the decision was taken to close down society. Whilst the classroom of able-bodied and minded children was suddenly transferred to the home environment with varying degrees of success – often dependent upon the social demographic mummy and daddy belonged to – the children whose needs impose draining demands upon parents who struggle to cope alone were either locked-up with those parents or locked-away from them. Children in ‘respite care’, i.e. living away from home in special units that are a kind of cross between school, children’s home and (to put it bluntly) prison were abruptly separated from visiting parents, denied regular contact in an act of emotional cruelty that naturally couldn’t be explained to the confused child anymore than an ageing adult with Alzheimer’s could be made to understand why contact with their own loved ones had halted.

Anyone suffering from an affliction, condition or illness in which an intense focus on routine and repetition is a vital element of the sufferer’s mental wellbeing will naturally find it devastating if that routine and repetition is disrupted overnight. When it comes to a mentally disabled child with the temper tantrums of a toddler housed in a physical frame much older, the dangers to both themselves and to those around them when the daily pattern is dramatically altered are manifold. I read of the anguish inflicted upon such children and their parents during the initial lockdown last year, but these were all stories of separation; the alternative was just as awful.

As soon as lockdown was instigated, Olga Freeman was just one of many faced with little option but to care for her son at home, robbed of the usual welcome break school offered on weekdays, sacrificing any semblance of a life outside of her child’s demands and placing herself in his complete control, at his every exhausting beck and call. She wouldn’t have been able to sleep, eat, bathe, read, listen to music, watch television, spend extended time online, conduct a telephone conversation, forge friendships or relationships or attend to any chore the rest of us take for granted without him intervening and screaming for her attention.

Single parents of children like Dylan Freeman find that looking after them round-the-clock is hard enough at weekends or during school holidays, but when suddenly deprived of the light at the end of the tunnel that is the resumption of school, the patience of any saint would be tested to the absolute limit. If one is faced with the prospect of caring for a child with Dylan’s difficulties, every other aspect of life that even the most put-upon (or so they imagine) parents of ‘normal’ children manage to incorporate into their so-called stressful days has to be put on ice for a decade or more. They live an utterly isolated, parallel universe existence, completely out of every loop, marooned on the fringes of a society that only notices them when the child embarks upon a screaming fit at the local supermarket; to say being cut adrift from the rest of the world and entombed with an eternal infant for sole company has a deep, psychological impact on the individuals concerned would be a supreme understatement.

I suspect perhaps the only comparable trial would be a lengthy sentence detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, yet even that is comparable merely in terms of time out from the human race – and the sentence usually has a limit on it. Yes, if parents in this situation connect with each other, a community of sorts can develop, it is true; but this still means the only people they are in contact with are in the same boat as them and this is often the sole thing they have in common, forever reflecting their desperate predicament back at each other in an infinite hall of cracked mirrors.

Olga Freeman was divorced from Dylan’s father and despite the product of their union being in her custody, she had (according to the press reports) a history of depression; the CPS, an organisation which past experience has taught us to approach with caution, claimed in the week leading up to Dylan’s death his mother had ‘spoken about being a Messiah’. Whether there is any truth to that claim doesn’t detract from the fact that the boy’s mother had reached breaking point after several months of lockdown. At the Old Bailey trial – with Olga Freeman giving evidence via video-link – senior judge Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb concluded, ‘I have no doubt at all that you were a remarkably loving and dedicated mother to a vulnerable child until multiple pressures overwhelmed you and your mind was swamped by a destructive illness with florid psychotic elements’ – adding that Dylan Freeman should be viewed as ‘an indirect victim of interruption to normal life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.’

Dr Martin Lock, a psychiatrist, told the Court that Olga Freeman had developed ‘psychotic symptoms when under very heavy stress because of the Covid-19 lockdown’, pointing out that the mother’s pre-existing condition was exacerbated by the pressure of looking after Dylan and then increased with the closure of Dylan’s school, placing the burden of Dylan in her hands 24/7. It would seem Olga Freeman had persistently begged Ealing Council for assistance in caring for Dylan, though the response was sadly (and predictably) too slow and too late – perhaps the employees were busily engaged in some Unconscious Bias Training? A review of the lacklustre response is underway, though it will make little difference to either mother or son now. Whilst Prosecutor Gareth Patterson QC observed, ‘The role of the council does seem to have been a further source of stress for the defendant at what was a very difficult time’, Ms Freeman’s ex-husband Dean was critical of ‘inadequate support and funding’ of services that left some parents in his ex-wife’s position ‘without a voice’.

This whole unbearably sad story is a culmination of factors that seem to sum up so much about the shameful place our society finds itself in today. It appears mental health issues and autism in particular are fine if worn as a badge of honour in Twitter bios, feeding into the victim narrative that resurrects the ‘fashionable invalid’ of Victorian literature; but greater public awareness in the hands of celebrities and corporations hitching a ride on the latest cause only stretches so far into the less attractive, real world existence of parents pushed to the brink like Olga Freeman.

© The Editor


One unexpected side-effect of the past twelve months has been a personal chart system for famous (and not-so-famous) names as they climb up, drop down and come straight in ‘with a bullet’ re my estimation of them. I guess living so much of one’s life in the frenzied parallel universe of cyberspace – where every minor tremor is sold as a major earthquake – has inevitably provoked people into making more public statements on current affairs than they normally would, if only because in some cases there’s less company to express an opinion to in private. It’s been revealing to read the reactions to news stories that have burned brightly for 48 online hours from those who normally never venture from their fields of expertise; by doing so, they’ve often given away thoughts that ordinary circumstances would perhaps have kept hidden from the wider world; and, in the process, their chart positions have altered accordingly. Yes, there have been plenty of non-movers – I knew Piers Morgan was an arse pre-Covid and he’ll remain one post-Covid, so he’s stayed more or less where he was; yet, at the same time, there have been several notable reversals.

Although I’ve never had any great craving to revisit it since, I nevertheless used to watch ‘Little Britain’ back in the day, and I winced when David Walliams and Matt Lucas apologised for making people laugh 20 years ago, begging forgiveness from those to whom forgiveness is an alien concept; as a consequence, they plummeted down the charts quicker than a Christmas No.1 in January. Less dramatic but equally disappointing capitulations to the BLM orthodoxy from those I’d hitherto respected as attractive social media presences led to a further reshuffling of the top 20. No, I don’t have to agree with everything someone thinks or believes; I’m grownup enough to handle the fact that a few people I like have Woke leanings where some issues are concerned, just as I can be friends with people who support Manchester United or who are incurable Remainers; it doesn’t change my overall impression of them as a person unless it becomes their sole raison d’être. The problem when more hours are lived online than off is that certain beliefs can then assert themselves as defining characteristics and not just opinions that are said aloud once or twice before being put to one side. And the mood of the moment is, of course, to be utterly defined by the checklist of the consensus.

Encouragingly, this chart hasn’t simply been one in which all names are dropping down – there have been some impressive climbers too, none more so than Neil Oliver. A likeable character fronting many TV documentaries I’ve enjoyed over the years, Oliver is an energetic, enthusiastic historian making the past come alive, someone who infuses each television outing with a passionate zest for his subject that belies his age as much as the flowing hair he admirably refuses to cut. Before the pandemic, I only knew what Neil Oliver’s opinions were on Robert the Bruce or the Vikings; I had no idea what he thought about anything else. Unlike Gary Lineker, however, the current situation has enabled Neil Oliver to show he is even more articulate, intelligent and erudite when it comes to subjects outside of his usual comfort zone. In weekly dispatches posted on Talk Radio’s YT channel, Oliver has revealed himself to be something of an oracle for our times, a rare voice of measured sanity in a stormy sea of misinformation and illiberal hysteria, someone who won’t be cowed by the pressure to conform just because not doing so could threaten his career.

A good deal of what Oliver says in these chats used to be called common sense, and common sense coming from a charming, charismatic and enlightened individual. But Oliver’s common sense appears even more striking and refreshing because of the context in which it has publically emerged. This context is a time when our sacred NHS is issuing ‘gender neutral’ guidelines to midwives advising them to use terms such as ‘human milk’, ‘chest-feeding’ and ‘people who are pregnant’ lest it should be implied that only ‘biological women’ can give birth, a time when a school in Sussex has dropped Churchill and JK Rowling as house names because the former was ‘a figure who promoted racism’ and the latter does not ‘represent the school’s core values’. Just in case you’ve forgotten, the shocking Tweet that turned the ‘Harry Potter’ author into the contemporary emodiment of the evil Sir Winston helped defeat read: ‘People who menstruate – I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’ Rowling was responding to the kind of nonsensical, ‘Alice in Wonderland’-like distortion of language prevalent in the silly new guidelines for midwives, a journey into fantasy biology and rebranding of female terminology to accommodate the illogical demands of Trans-activists. What a bloody bigot.

The cynical and opportunistic adoption of Woke dogma by corporations and institutions who are pitching themselves against the vast majority of people who reject the divisive lunacy of the ideology is something that was well under way before the pandemic. The unique circumstances of the past year have merely exacerbated factors that were already bubbling away on campus and online, elevating them into the mainstream because the public were suddenly locked-out of the public space. These corporations and institutions are naturally backing what they believe to be the right horse because they see it as a means of survival when so many have gone to the wall; it’s nothing more than desperate self-preservation, and anyone who believes these bastions of the capitalist creed have undergone a social conversion is as deluded as some of the pronouncements they’ve been issuing. But, hey, place a population under house arrest for twelve months and it’s inevitable that madness will ensue.

As with many, Neil Oliver suspects he’s become afflicted with a strain of agoraphobia after a year of forced confinement. Ashamed he felt relief at not having to travel down to London from his Scottish home for a recent TV appearance, Oliver was evidently taken aback at how someone who in a normal year can find himself in an airport three or four times a week could be intimidated by the thought of making such a journey after a year out of action. ‘It’s a bit like when somebody’s suddenly confined to bed,’ he says, ‘and their muscles atrophy and dissolve away much quicker than you might have expected, and there’s bedsores and all the rest of it.’ He shrewdly opines how easy it is to slip into such a mindset when cut off from routine interaction with the world and one’s fellow man for an extended period, and makes the salient point that coming out of isolation has the potential to be a harder task than being isolated. The speediness with which the population has been institutionalised by hibernation is, he points out, something that won’t necessarily be mirrored by the time it will take for it to readjust to normality again.

Since last March, I’ve found it quite unnerving watching the rest of the world exhibit characteristics I myself have been blighted by for decades. I’m someone who, if not careful, can quickly slide into a semi-agoraphobic state if I go several weeks with no discernible social activity. If I establish a regular outlet for that, I usually improve and become more comfortable with the idea; if I slip out of the habit, however, the prospect of venturing farther afield from these four walls takes on scary dimensions that render any outing a challenge on a par with scaling Everest. Therefore, having continuous social isolation imposed upon me has placed me in a situation whereby I yearn for a return to normality whilst simultaneously fearing what that might entail. To have a public figure like Neil Oliver expressing these sentiments when so many others are going with whatever flow will keep their heads above water – even if that means sacrificing the respect and admiration of those who won’t – is at least one welcome development, one more small mercy.

© The Editor


Does anyone still buy magazines? I used to buy plenty at one time – well, more than one time; I bought plenty for decades and then more or less stopped without realising it. Regular purchases in the 90s and into the 2000s included the likes of ‘Uncut’ and ‘Mojo’, with occasional forays into the likes of ‘Arena’, ‘Empire’ and fashion rags like ‘Vogue’ plus a few others of that nature – pretty girls catching the eye etc. Yes, magazines became increasingly expensive and there were times when I had to opt out of purchasing one or two because I simply couldn’t afford them every time, but I still splashed out whenever I could, perhaps due to the fact the habit was such a deeply engrained aspect of the shopping experience. Well, not anymore. There was no ‘moment’, no defining incident that provoked a decision to never bother again; it just sort-of happened. I stopped drifting towards the newsstands upon entering the supermarket and instead glanced for a second or two and moved on to edible goods.

For a while, I used to derive dubious pleasure from the hysteria of headlines, predicting the reaction of each individual paper to whatever news story was on the tip of the press tongue before I got to it and accurately anticipating the angle taken by every title; but even that grew boring, probably around the time of Brexit overkill. I don’t even bother now. I became weary of the repetition, I guess; just as the old mags I’d often shell-out for started telling the same stories over and over again, the newspapers never seemed to progress beyond their entrenched agendas and they ceased to even inspire detached hilarity. Okay, so I still order both ‘Private Eye’ and the ‘Radio Times’ from the last remaining independent newsagent in the neighbourhood, but that’s it; I don’t seek out anything else anymore. Those two suffice, and even then I often barely read anything other than the bare minimum, usually realising I haven’t managed that simple task come the day before the next issue is due.

For me, the decline and fall of the distinctive voice in print journalism perhaps went hand-in-hand with the rise of the distinctive voice online. Some of the opinion pieces on ‘Spiked’ piss on anything newspapers or magazines have to offer in their dying days, and the more erudite meanderings available at Maria Popova’s endlessly enlightening ‘Brain Pickings’ site have educated, informed and entertained me in ways that the clickbait interns of Fleet Street could never comprehend in their exhaustive search for jaded sensationalism and tiresome titillation. Granted, such elements were always ingredients of the traditional newspaper recipe, but they were balanced out by hard-hitting, investigative journalism and the intelligent, urbane columnists of old; ever since all that was dispensed with in print courtesy of cost-cutting and fear of post-Leveson litigation, the internet has offered an alternative. Newspapers, much like television news & current affairs, have narrowed their horizons and opted for catering to specific niche audiences for whom they can reinforce prejudices in the hope of securing continued subscriptions.

Talk of television brings me back to ground covered previously. A recent survey revealed comedy ranked low on the list of genres viewed during the various lockdowns of the last twelve months, which is no great surprise when one considers the woeful comedic output of our mainstream broadcasters. Anyone looking for a laugh would do well to steer clear of TV and – to be fair – radio, both of which are produced by a conservative clique of lame, middle-class university graduates in thrall to a groupthink mindset that has a rigid roll-call of easy targets they chuckle over as they labour under the misapprehension they’re being satirical. The public aren’t fooled and it’s no wonder; YouTube can boast the kind of viewing figures for comedy that the pitiful box-ticking elite laughing amongst themselves at the BBC can only dream of. The likes of Jonathan Pie and Andrew Lawrence have established careers as cutting-edge characters online without any TV exposure whatsoever whilst television continues to employ an irrelevant, hypocritical charlatan like Frankie Boyle and thinks it’s being ‘edgy’ by doing so.

Events beyond the control of everyone outside of government have served to curtail the live comedy circuit, forcing comedians already under-fire from the Woke orthodoxy to improvise; those for whom television was suddenly blocked as a route to stardom had begun investigating alternatives even before the pandemic brought the curtain down, and the endlessly impressive ‘Triggernometry’ on YT, hosted by Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster, continues to divide its podcasts between fascinating interviews with people who have something interesting to say (and are given breathing space to say it) and live streams in which the pair interact with their audience. Sit this next to Graham Norton’s tired old celebrity chinwag on BBC1 and it’s like comparing ‘The Little and Large Show’ to ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ in the early 80s – and I’m not just saying this because each edition of the ‘Triggernometry’ live stream begins with an opening title sequence put together by yours truly either; I did that because I was a fan and was honoured they were impressed enough to use it.

Television and the print medium stagger on, but they have dug their own grave; that said, big tech are increasingly attempting to apply the same principles that have strangled older mediums. In recent years, Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have gradually embraced the Star Chamber tactics that were once the province of the IBA and the Hays Code in efforts to clamp down on anyone daring to challenge the consensus, forcing all ‘dissidents’ using their platforms to be on constant alert as to what they say. This is a worrying, if predictable, move to those of us who have migrated from TV, radio and the press, though as a one-time YT ‘creator’ I long ago sensed which way the wind was blowing and got out, losing an audience as well as an income in the process; but the latest wave of censorship has also denied me pleasure as a viewer, removing an outlet that the established vintage mediums no longer provide.

Over the weekend, two YT channels I subscribed to and was devouring the content of have abruptly vanished. Both uploaded archive material for which the audience is too small to profit from in the shape of DVDs or streaming; both were sharing obscure or once-popular (and long-forgotten) programmes that would otherwise never see the light of day again and were doing so for purely benevolent reasons – which is precisely what YouTube was set up for in the first place. I can imagine the uploaders were confronted by constant copyright infringement excuses, but the non-profit nature of the uploads would’ve been evident to anyone coming across the channels; credit due was given and YT automatically muted any musical tracks used in the uploads the second they appeared, so all potential bases were covered from day one. Yet this still wasn’t good enough.

In one fell swoop, Silicon Valley did its Ministry of Truth act and erased all evidence of two channels that made these dark winter evenings more tolerable. I was halfway through the 1972 series of ‘Softly Softly: Task Force’ and thoroughly enjoying the old-school police procedurals of Barlow & Watt, just like thousands of other viewers seeking their own harmless entertainment away from a mainstream offering nothing but more of the same tired formulas; and now all gone. Just like that. Small mercies are something we’ve become accustomed to being thankful for this past year, so whenever another avenue of pleasure is blocked off, everything just seems that little bit greyer and duller and dismal and drab – that little bit more February-ish. Roll on springtime, eh?

© The Editor


Oh, dear. Does anyone ever look at the Labour Party and not emit a weary, Hancockian sigh? And when I say Hancock, I’m not referring to Matt, but to Anthony Aloysius. Every time a story connected to the Labour Party hits the headlines, my immediate reaction evokes the atmosphere of the classic radio episode of ‘Hancock’s Half-Hour’ in which the existential dreariness of a traditional British Sunday is encapsulated in the despairing groans of the title character when confronted by yet another drab day of rest, just seven after the last one. In many respects, I think the wretched impotence and irrelevance of Her Majesty’s Opposition is perhaps intensified in that they’re not even up against an especially strong and popular Conservative Government – though let’s face it, this has been the case ever since the days of the Con-Dem Coalition ten bloody years ago; and nothing has changed.

The Party has gone from Gordon Brown to Ed Miliband to Jeremy Corbyn to Keir Starmer, losing four consecutive General Elections en route, and still appears to have learnt nothing along the way. It has been wiped out in Scotland and decimated in the North of England, and it has managed to keep the Tories in power for a decade due to its remarkable inability to address its unelectable status. As used to be the case with the England football team before their impressive performance at the 2018 World Cup, I don’t even expect to be surprised by the Labour Party’s incompetence anymore; it’s just a given now. Whenever a member of the frontbench pops up online, I no longer anticipate they’ll have anything to say other than something that will make me cringe, laugh or shake my head; yet I look at what they’re up against and wonder how they can miss so many open goals over and over again. It even gets to the stage whereby you find yourself focusing on the various tics and mannerisms of the Shadow Cabinet – Starmer’s upset Dalek voice, Angela Rayner’s lisp, Anneliese Dodds’ air of someone who would be more at home heading Islington Social Services – and apportion blame to them.

The past week has seen a development which seems to sum up why so many have abandoned the Labour Party and just how clueless Labour are in gauging the public mood. I suppose it was merely a case of serendipity that news should seep out about Sir Keir’s latest misguided attempt to reconnect with the lost voters of the Red Wall heartlands just as the nation bade farewell to ‘Captain Tom’, the 100-year-old WWII veteran whose zimmer-frame sprint around his back garden raised a fortune for the NHS last year. How it must have grated with the Corbynistas that a representative of the very social demographic they hold responsible for all society’s ills should have captured the affection and respect of that society by doing a good deed in which all the petty issues that prevent the far-left from sleeping at night had no place. Captain Tom’s efforts transcended age, race and gender, trashing the tunnel vision of the Woke narrative with one simple and admirable gesture that provoked unity rather than the division deemed necessary for The Revolution.

Yes, a week in which some SJW bright spark declared butter to be the newest addition to the ‘Things that are Racist’ shopping list simply because a supermarket own-brand featured the Union Jack on its packaging to indicate the location of its production was the same week in which an edict from Sir Keir hinted at the inclusion of the national flag on new Labour promotional material. Coming to the conclusion that the thick, illiterate bigots the Party loathes but is dependent upon for votes seem to have an inexplicable attraction to this symbol of white nationalism, the leader surmised projecting the image that Labour isn’t just a political party for university-educated, Guardian-reading, middle-class metropolitans (like him) might just be a vote-winner. It’s a wonder Starmer hasn’t announced all remaining Labour MPs north of Watford should henceforth wear flat caps and declare bread & dripping to be their favourite dish, all washed down with a bottle of Ena Sharples’ preferred tipple of milk stout, of course.

His problem is considerable because the intense dislike of the people the Party is eager to bring back into the fold permeates all of Labour’s ideological barriers. Starmer’s team includes both Ed Miliband as Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Emily ‘Lady Nugee’ Thornberry as Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade; the last time the pair were united under the same banner, Miliband sacked Lady Nugee for her infamously snooty Tweet of a white van parked outside a house displaying the flag of St George, a picture speaking a thousand words on what the Labour Party thinks of traditional Labour voters. And, at the other end of the scale, there’s Momentum. Yes, the cult which propelled Sir Keir’s predecessor to power remains a deeply-engrained malignant tumour in the dark heart of the Party, a toxic force within it that hates the nation and its people; and in the frustrating case of the latter, they continue to exacerbate that hatred because they won’t do as they’re told by adhering to the rules and regulations of the master-plan.

Just as the use of gender pronouns on a Twitter bio is the badge of a twat, any proclamation from the race-baiting branch of the Labour Party can provoke both laughter and despair. Renowned veteran Identitarian Clive Lewis MP reacted to the Party’s ‘patriotism strategy’ by echoing a colleague comparing it to the motivation behind the recent storming of Washington’s Capitol – ‘Fatherland-ism’ was the novel term Lewis coined. Any promotion of the Union Jack is invariably seen through the imperial prism of colonialism by this section of the Labour Party; whereas most people in Britain tend not to obsess on the distant past – lest we forget, the Empire actually ceased to exist before most of us were even born – it’s funny how those quick to accuse working-class scum of an obsession with the unacceptable face of the nation’s history are the ones who won’t shut up about it.

But it’s essential to their narrative that we all have our designated roles of oppressor and oppressed; gradual integration of the races with each successive generation descended from the original immigrants of former colonies has really f***ed-up this storyline, so the fanatical desire to revive division on racial grounds not only validates their viewpoint but also obscures the perennial source of authentic division within Britain – class. The fact that most ‘ethnic’ sections of society feel more British and feel more pride in that fact than the privileged elite reciting the ‘Britain is a Racist Country’ mantra must really stick in their throat. Ironically, however, it’s not as if discerning the futility of one side’s perspective means one therefore has an appreciation of the other side’s latest brainwave to dispel it.

The Labour leadership’s hapless attempts to pander to what they perceive as the patriotism of their ex-voting base is such a cynical, patronising and opportunistic move with no genuine understanding behind it; it’s like some old-school, cigar-chomping showbiz impresario giving teenage trends a cursory glance and declaring Skiffle is where it’s at when Skiffle has already taken the last train out of town. The Starmer side of the Labour Party is no more in touch with the population beyond its most enthusiastic fan-base than the Corbynites, as its tiresome infatuation with minority concerns, perhaps best embodied by Lisa ‘Trans Rights for Wigan’ Nandy, continues to underline. Put these two strands together – both of which would separately summarise why a political party cannot get into government – and it’s a heady blend of unelectable uselessness. If it were the Lib Dems, it’d be easy to dismiss as a sad joke; the fact it’s the party of Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Aneurin Bevin, Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle, Tony Benn, Roy Jenkins et al just makes it all the more tragic.

© The Editor


Not necessarily a product of lockdown – though one I can imagine flourishing during it – the plentiful YouTube videos in which young (generally black) American males watch videos of old music they’ve never heard before can be quite an entertaining way to spend a spare ten minutes. Any members of a generation raised on the kind of sterile, personality-free, pre-programmed and Auto-tuned white noise that a cursory visit to yer local Superdrug or Wilkos guarantees unwanted exposure to are bound to have their minds blown by receiving a dose of something completely different. Unsurprisingly, the most animated reactions tend to greet the unfamiliar and alien freeform wildness and weirdness of the pre-production line age, i.e. the 1970s, and some of the strangest sounds from that uninhibited ‘anything goes’ era of music generate the best responses. I watched a handful the other day wherein the viewer was able to observe unsuspecting ears ingesting ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Dutch prog-rockers Focus for the first time. Following the gentle head-nodding to the ‘rockier’ moments, the fun began when the yodelling kicked-in and jaws surrendered to gravity by swiftly hitting the floor. A fair amount of ‘WTF?’ moments were in abundance and it was a genuine joy to see the youth of today realise the youth of yesterday were far more radical than they had any notion of.

If lockdowns have achieved anything from which any crumbs of comfort can be retrieved (a tall order, I know), perhaps forcing people to look beyond their usual sources of stimulation and venture into areas that haven’t been recommended by Spotify algorithms has been one unforeseen development. Being spoon-fed pre-packaged entertainment 24/7 is an insidious trend that maybe more than one generation has now been subjected to; but if some of the YT review videos of previously-unknown songs I’ve seen are anything to go by, it would seem a few bored youngsters are tentatively stepping out of their preordained cultural comfort zones and sampling something free from the endorsement of influencers whose knowledge of pop barely stretches back a decade, let alone into that wicked old last century. It’s just a solitary example of hope that the destabilising turmoil of the past twelve months might have opened a few fresh horizons and fractured the rigid listening habits imposed upon the young by the corporate hegemony. Good on ‘em.

As for their parents, cultural exchanges don’t quite work the other way round, and it would appear many have fallen back on reliable stimulants to see them through the worst. The Office for National Statistics has this week released stats revealing alcohol-related deaths (Covid not included) have increased 16% on the corresponding timeframe from the previous year. Between January and September 2020, 5,460 fatalities attributable to drink were listed, the highest tally since records began in the surprisingly recent year of 2001. Perhaps the largest-recorded number of alcohol-related deaths coming during a period when people are locked away and socially isolated for months on end shouldn’t be a great shock; but when one considers house-arrest and fear over catching the Chinese lurgy has also impacted upon hospitalisation for non-coronavirus illnesses such as liver disease, maybe the dramatic increase is even more understandable. There has also been a constant suspension of traditional in-person support groups such as AA ever since Covid closed the country down, preventing another avenue of rehabilitation for the committed consumer of the demon drink.

In response to the stats, Professor Linda Bauld from the University of Edinburgh said, ‘These are preventable excess deaths, and are a stark reminder that there are indirect harms from this pandemic beyond the immediate threat to health and life from Covid-19.’ You don’t say! Whilst surveys conducted during the first lockdown implied intake of alcohol had initially decreased amongst many with pubs, clubs and bars suddenly out of reach, realisation that the hospitality industry wouldn’t be opening its doors again in the near future appears to have prompted a rise in consumption. Those already prone to the bottle simply turned their homes into their own private snug whilst those who had previously kept their intake at a manageable level gradually followed suit once it became evident we were in this for the long haul. Of course, in Soviet Scotland and the People’s Republic of Wales, the Puritan mindset at the heart of the bodies governing those nations has attempted to limit the sale of alcohol and ration fun on the grounds of public health; but who can blame a populace denied virtually all avenues of pleasure from seeking solace in drink? For many, there’s not a lot else to do.

One of the perennial problems with drink is the way in which its effects can be so variable. Few drugs have the capacity to inspire euphoria as well as despair, laughter as well as tears, joy as well as heartbreak. Yes, it can create a marvellous sense of camaraderie amongst strangers, inspiring communal singsongs and the loosening of inhibitions in the shy and socially reserved. But at the same time, the loosening of inhibitions can also release less appealing traits, sometimes leading to sexual assault and/or physical violence. It can erase the short-term memory as effectively as a course of ECT and leave the guilty party oblivious to their actions when under the influence; if those actions constituted some ‘mad’ albeit ultimately harmless behaviour that can enable witnesses to dine out on anecdotes for years, fair enough; but the consequences are not always so entertainingly memorable. Lock a lone drunk in a claustrophobic household with a family for months on end and chances are there won’t be much in the way of a happy outcome.

The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme that was briefly sold as a pseudo-Dig for Victory patriotic duty back in the summer may have provided the economy with a short-term shot in the arm, but it was also criticised in some quarters for promoting an unhealthy diet of the kind public health experts are constantly railing against. There has been no ‘Drink Out to Help Out’ equivalent, so drinking has remained an exclusively indoor activity throughout the numerous national and regional lockdowns over the last ten months. The stats certainly suggest long-term drinkers have continued to ride on the oblivion express whilst the train has picked-up passengers en route that would ordinarily jump on and off between stations without once considering purchasing a ticket taking them to the end of the line. But these are not ordinary times.

The aforementioned decimation of the in-person support network as well as the reluctance of those suffering from alcohol-related ailments to turn up to A&E means both the lack of outside help and the decline in emergency admissions have undoubtedly pushed up the death rate. Dr Sadie Boniface of King’s College London said, ‘Because of the way alcohol-specific deaths are defined, most of these deaths were as a result of chronic health conditions caused by longer higher risk or dependent drinking. Around four in every five alcohol-specific deaths is from alcoholic liver disease; this means the increase is not explained by people who previously drank at lower risk levels increasing their consumption during the pandemic.’ In short, the unique conditions of 2020 certainly pushed moderate drinkers into unprecedented excess, but it was the sudden removal of treatment for those already well beyond that stage that caused the rapid increase in fatalities. Sadly, the prioritisation of Covid has probably led to more deaths from innumerable illnesses that would usually receive immediate attention than anyone anticipated; yet this likelihood should have been bloody obvious from day one. A drink may well inspire a joyous burst of air guitar to ‘Hocus Pocus’ or even a bout of amateur yodelling, but it unfortunately inspires less celebratory side-effects, ones than are currently being criminally ignored.

© The Editor