Sterling20 years ago this September, England’s footballers lined-up to play Germany in Munich for a World Cup Qualifier and the omens weren’t great. The corresponding home fixture had taken place almost a year earlier and was memorable for all the wrong reasons – it was the last-ever game played beneath the old Wembley twin towers, England manager Kevin Keegan quit after the game, and the Germans won 1-0; oh, and it also pissed it down. The occasion was a far-from fitting send-off for the Empire Stadium. By contrast, Germany hadn’t lost a match at Munich’s Olympic Stadium for almost 30 years, and they’d only suffered defeat once in their previous sixty qualifiers – and that had been for the distant 1986 World Cup. With the exception of a 1-0 win in the group stages of Euro 2000, England’s competitive record against their old rivals since 1966 was pitiful and few anticipated anything other than a hammering for the visitors. However, in one of the all-time great England performances, Germany were blown away 5-1 in their own backyard.

This unexpected result raised expectations for England supporters beyond anything resembling realism for the forthcoming World Cup and also elevated relatively new manager Sven-Göran Eriksson to a lofty status he didn’t entirely warrant. So euphoric was the response to the 5-1 victory that it even inspired a dire hit record by ‘comedy’ duo Bell & Spurling; but at least the inaccurate line in the song that Eriksson ‘looks like Jimmy Savile’ should secure its place in permanent oldie oblivion. The 5-1 score-line was regarded by some as a national morale-booster, but just ten days after the fixture 9/11 happened and all the optimism for the future the result had generated evaporated overnight. Suddenly, the future didn’t seem such a great place after all.

Fast forward to yesterday’s England Vs Germany game in the delayed Euro 2020 tournament and the 2-0 win for the home team against the old enemy was again viewed in some quarters as precisely the tonic the country needed. The situation now is very different from 2001, however. One wonders why the nation required a morale-booster 20 years ago. What did we have to complain about? Nobody bar a few trainee pilots knew what was just around the corner, the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (and their endless ramifications) hadn’t yet happened, and – best of all – there was no coronavirus pandemic. To employ a well-worn line beloved of the elderly, we didn’t know when we were well-off. Yet, after the kind of twelve months and-a-bit we’ve just endured, a victory by the England national team over a country that has pooped so many English parties over the past half-century – 1970, 1990 and 1996 in particular – probably was a good thing, if only because it meant those that care had something to cheer about again.

That last week before the War on Terror kicked-off and ushered in the modern age was the closing chapter of a decade of relative global stability and general optimism. It seemed to be the point at which the trend of each successive generation being better off than the one preceding it ground to a halt. Various unrelated elements were gradually conspiring to bring about this state of affairs – and it’s fair to speculate the good life was living on borrowed time for the second half of the 90s; but the single horrific incident of 9/11 now retrospectively feels like the symbolic full stop that ended one epoch and began another. Nothing that has happened since then has been worth celebrating in the way the demolition of the Berlin Wall or the end of Apartheid was – there’s been nothing comparable to what those events represented. Instead, what Adam Curtis labelled ‘the politics of fear’ has become the ongoing pessimistic narrative. Two decades of relentlessly negative headlines concerning Islamic terrorism and a climate apocalypse have combined with the establishment of battle-lines in which issues such as Brexit, Trump and Identity Politics are the divisive ammunition the entrenched sides hurl at each other. And then we get Covid, lockdowns and the imposition of a Communist Chinese design for life on the West.

In this respect, a trivial breather such as the England football team inflicting a well-deserved defeat on one of its oldest international rivals is bound to be embraced as a sign that things can only get better. Indeed, with more fans at Wembley than we have so far seen in this competition and some even engaging in communal celebrations without masks, things looked almost ‘normal’ yesterday. But, of course, they’re not. Even if England were to defy the odds and go on to win the tournament, it will only be a joyous respite from what we’re living through. Lest we forget, the executive boxes at Wembley will have been crammed with dignitaries for whom the restrictions the rest of us are still being forced to endure were quietly waived. Exemptions for the wealthy and powerful aren’t merely exclusive to UEFA bigwigs either.

The inevitable resignation of Matt Hancock – a man who could (and should) have been fired for far more damaging crimes than indulging in a bit of how’s-your-father with one of his taxpayer-funded aides – highlighted how some are being spared that which they preach to the plebs. New rules regarding ‘senior executives bringing economic benefit to the UK’ were sneakily announced by the Government this week. For all Sajid Javid’s efforts at making an instant impact in his new job by declaring all restrictions should be lifted by the middle of next month, until then those of us who don’t hold VIP status should be made aware that those who do are already enjoying the kind of freedoms that we all took for granted and shouldn’t by rights be denied us in a supposedly-free society.

According to these two-tier rules, ‘you may be permitted temporarily to leave quarantine for coronavirus in England if you are a senior executive in a business’. These include ‘multinational executives – executives based overseas who are part of multinational firms and visiting their UK subsidiaries or branches’ and ‘international executives – executives of overseas companies normally based overseas who are seeking to undertake exempt activity in England related to either making a financial investment in UK based business or establishing a new business within the UK’. So, that’s thee and me excluded, then. Any mention of the word ‘executive’ instantly evokes a certain loathsome type who would describe himself as such, and that type was best represented in a Fry & Laurie sketch around 30 years ago when Hugh Laurie played a smarmy businessman insistent on referring to the breakfast lounge of the hotel he was staying at as ‘the executive breakfast lounge’ simply because it made him sound more important than he actually was. As satire, I think it retains remarkable relevance.

The doom-mongering Mekon of SAGE Prof. Chris Whitty, fresh from his unsettling encounter with members of the public who – depending on which source you believe – either heckled him or simply requested a selfie, is now safely back in his bubble and issuing pessimistic predictions of autumnal lockdowns, so we’d best enjoy this little moment of permitted euphoria while we can. However, as much as politicians may like to hitch a ride on the England football bandwagon in the hope some feelgood vibes might rub off on them – and as removed from the terraces as the whole corporate carnival of Euro 2020 (21?) might be – the joy many feel at the win over the Germans is a purely spontaneous celebration born of hereditary national pride utterly detached from knee-taking and rainbow flag-waving and all the other officially-sanctioned gestures granted by a ruling elite who actually despise such simple, non-ideological patriotism. So, whether you give a shit or not, make the most of it while it lasts. And hopefully it will last longer than Saturday’s Quarter Final against Ukraine in Rome.

© The Editor

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JusticeFew professions failed to fall under the TV sitcom spotlight in the 1960s and 70s – everyone from bin-men to bus-drivers and rag & bone men to teachers received the treatment; whether down on the factory floor or marooned in middle-management, there was a virtually guaranteed series on BBC1 or ITV that would mine the comic potential in the workplace and supply a strong ensemble cast of eccentrics and archetypes. Perhaps the trend was able to flourish for so long because there was a greater variety of ways one could earn a living back then; a contemporary sitcom set in a call centre or an Amazon warehouse probably wouldn’t inspire quite the same hilarity, though I’m sure it’s already been commissioned by the BBC3 Diversity & Inclusion Committee. The workforce gave sitcoms from British TV’s Golden Age a seemingly limitless source of comedy, whereas drama had a far narrower set of tools with which to work; drama in the era of ‘On the Buses’ or ‘Please Sir’ was unsurprisingly confined to jobs imbued with dramatic potential – the police, private eyes, surgeons, the intelligence services and, of course, the Law.

The most popular legal drama on television in the 60s had been an imported one, ‘Perry Mason’ – starring a pre-‘Ironside’ Raymond Burr as an LA-based criminal defence lawyer. Despite the relative grittiness of the programme compared to the more escapist fare many Hollywood studios were producing for TV at the time, to British viewers the programme still had the inbuilt glamorous sheen that all American filmed series seemed to have. By contrast, when Granada’s lunchtime legal drama, ‘Crown Court’ debuted in 1972 for a good decade-long run, the fact it rarely set foot outside the courtroom and concerned itself with those in the dock rather than a star lawyer gave the series a more recognisable reality. ‘Crown Court’ was on TV all year round in the manner of an ongoing soap, and it became as much a part of the childhood wallpaper whenever off school with a sick-note as ‘Pebble Mill at One’, ‘Farmhouse Kitchen’, ‘Paint Along with Nancy’ and a bottle of Lucozade.

Despite its slot in the schedules being some distance from the watershed, ‘Crown Court’ was serious, grownup drama, written and acted to a standard far higher than that of the Aussie soaps gradually imported to pad out ITV’s afternoon hours. A case would span three episodes screened on successive days and legend has it the non-Equity members of the public making up the jury had no idea what the conclusion of the case would be during the recording. Although the characters of the barristers and the judges became familiar, the constantly changing cast in the dock and the witness box helped ‘Crown Court’ remain fresh and probably contributed to its durability. Owning all available episodes on DVD has enabled me to enjoy and appreciate a series I was too young to enjoy and appreciate at the time; it’s very ‘wordy’, as all series set in this genre naturally are. But courtroom dramas don’t date as much as their more action-packed contemporaries due to the fact the scenario itself doesn’t really change.

With the peerless ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ not beginning its own lengthy run until 1978, one of the most successful legal dramas preceding it had an unusual angle (for the time) in that its central character was a female barrister: ‘Justice’ ran from 1971 to 1974 and starred the former big-screen actress Margaret Lockwood, trademark beauty spot and all. ‘Justice’ was produced by Yorkshire Television and whilst the series had the aforementioned novelty of focusing on a woman, it was still primarily set in the familiar location of the courtroom. YTV’s second legal drama of the era was more original in that it centred on a solicitor, a profession that the courtroom-based legal dramas tend to reduce to footnotes in the overall picture. ‘The Main Chance’ ran from 1969 to 1975 and starred John Stride as David Main, a hot-headed young lawyer recruited by a Leeds-based firm of solicitors, dividing his time between their northern HQ and their London office. This clever device meant the series could be simultaneously provincial and metropolitan.

One of the pleasures of viewing a series whose popularity at the time hasn’t survived beyond its time is that it comes free from cultural baggage when you view it; as much as I enjoy the continuously popular TV shows of old that have remained well-known and well-watched ever since their original broadcast, it’s always fascinating to unearth one of those neglected gems that inhabit the archival no man’s land between the perennially celebrated and the permanently derided. ‘Well,’ say some, ‘TV’s so-called Golden Age may have given us The Prisoner and The Sweeney, but it also gave us Mind Your Language and Love Thy Neighbour.’ What about ‘The Main Chance’, though – or ‘Public Eye’? Unfairly rarely mentioned, yet fresh in their unfamiliarity when approached from the ignorant perspective of another century.

In the case of ‘The Main Chance’, it’s interesting to see elements of the more flashy, superficial series produced by the likes of ITC present – the mini-skirted dollybirds, the dashing lead, the driving theme tune and even (in series one, at least) the presence of the delectable young Kate O’Mara, for once playing a part that doesn’t require her to effortlessly press the button marked ‘Sexy’ (even though she undeniably is). However, these are merely surface trimmings. When it comes to the storylines, give or take one or two excursions into the private lives of the rich and decadent, ‘The Main Chance’ deals with down-to-earth cases the far-from wealthy are often confronted by; David Main as a character may have an account on Savile Row (one presumes), but he’s a grammar school boy from Leeds who worked his way up the ladder and therefore retains a degree of compassion for the little people.

Many of the hallmarks of 70s TV drama that the nanosecond attention spans of the contemporary Smombie viewer would struggle to cope with – in particular long, extended scenes not cut like an MTV video – are prevalent in ‘The Main Chance’, though to me these are strengths; this is intelligent, adult fare that unfolds at a sedate pace befitting the seriousness of the storylines. The dialogue is surprisingly spiky, though; David Main has some cracking putdowns in his armoury of insults and his arrogance costs him dear in his personal life as often as it enables him to succeed in his job. Playing the good cops to his occasional bad one are Henry and Margaret Castleton, father and daughter partners in the firm employing Main. There’s also Main’s flirty secretary Sarah, with whom he has an on-off relationship. As with Australia in the 80s and Scandinavia today, there must have only been around two-dozen thespians working in British TV fifty years ago, for the instantly recognisable supporting cast of character actors that appear in virtually every series produced in the 70s routinely appear in ‘The Main Chance’, though they help root it in solid, dependable ground. Even Robin Askwith turns up in one episode, playing an especially nasty young thug and managing to keep his trousers on in the process.

I admit I was initially attracted to this now-obscure series due to it being produced by YTV, and the likelihood of places from my childhood featuring in the scenes shot on location was an incentive to check it out. However, it’s mainly studio-based and that’s where it most shines, allowing the quality writing and acting to come to the fore. As someone who only ever samples present-day terrestrial TV in that brief two-hour window of an evening when there might actually be something worth watching, my off-line viewing habits late at night tend to fall into nightly screenings of vintage shows on DVD, and ‘The Main Chance’ ticks all the boxes for me. As even this post demonstrates, sometimes it’s necessary to have a day (or night) off from 2021.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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Postcard 3Well done, Matt Hancock. Credit where credit’s due; the Health Secretary has at least publicly apologised for breaking social distancing rules, even if he hasn’t done likewise for breaking his marriage vows. Considering his way of spurning social distancing was to snog and grab the arse of his ‘close aide’, I would’ve personally thought the ramifications for his marital status mattered more. Mind you, he’s a Tory Cabinet Minister and it’s fair to say that strange breed do have something of a history when it comes to this sort of thing. And, of course, he’s not any old Tory Cabinet Minster; he’s one of Boris Johnson’s Tory Cabinet Ministers, which means pretty much anything goes except your job. It was evident from the recently-released private messages between Dominic Cummings and the PM that Hancock had been nominated as the patsy for any failures associated with the Government’s pandemic policy; he will carry the can come the day of judgement, and the longer he stays in his post the likelihood of another f**k-up is fairly strong, so I guess the Health Secretary can sleep a little easier tonight – in the spare room, naturally.

Boris has apparently accepted Hancock’s apology, and whilst this could be viewed as akin to the kind of public backing under-fire football managers receive from their club chairman on the eve of being sacked, if the plan is for Hancock to shoulder the majority of the Covid blame then the PM is not likely to dismiss him just yet. Not that Boris himself has much of a moral leg to stand on considering his own extramarital track record, nor in his ‘flexible’ approach to social distancing as seen at the recent G7 summit in Cornwall. Photos of the gathered world leaders not exactly adhering to the ridiculous rules and regulations us plebs are still honour bound to observe in the name of ‘safety’ hammered home the difference between VIPs and me & thee, if it even needed to be hammered home. It’s not as if we didn’t already know it.

Hot on the heels of Michael Gove being spared post-foreign travel isolation, the bigwigs from UEFA and FIFA flown in to gorge on prawn cocktails in the Wembley executive boxes haven’t had to jump through any of the myriad hoops any ‘un-important person’ has to endure when arriving from abroad; but we’re told the Euros will be abruptly relocated to the land of the free that is mainland Europe if we don’t bend the rules for football’s international dignitaries – and they’re all renowned for their virtue and probity, anyway, so it’s not as if we shouldn’t receive them with the red carpet and accompanying grovelling. No, we don’t really need to see shots of mask-free FIFA gangsters quaffing champers as the England players deliver their latest lecture on how racist we all are to be reminded of our place in the scheme of things, I suppose.

Any Brit hoping to travel in the opposite direction to said dignitaries won’t be welcomed in quite the same way. In a move absolutely not remotely related to any ongoing punitive punishment by European leaders for Brexit, Frau Merkel and Monsieur Macron have demanded the EU impose quarantine restrictions on British visitors in order to prevent the potential spread of the Narnia Variant on the Continent. Brits can actually set foot on French soil at the moment free from self-isolation as long as they have the double vaccine passport on account of our place on France’s amber list, though Germany has quarantine restrictions for British tourists and wants the rest of Europe to fall in line. However, the likes of Greece and Spain – which have always been favoured destinations for Brits due to their ownership of the sun – are less likely to follow suit if they want to continue having a tourism industry. Either way, crossing the Channel this summer hardly seems worth the effort, so why not holiday at home, eh? Fine – if you can afford it.

Back when the worst night of the week for the television schedule always seemed to be Sunday – reflecting the unique boredom of the day of rest, I guess – one of the main offenders for me was the BBC’s long-running ‘Holiday’ programme. The period of the show I most remember is the one when comb-over king Cliff Michelmore presented and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ was used as the theme tune; indeed, it took a good few years before George Harrison’s joyous ditty finally shook off its drab Sunday teatime associations in my head as a consequence. The programme aired in the winter months for the same reason travel agent ads suddenly bombarded every ITV commercial break as soon as New Year’s Day was out of the way; the aim was to look ahead (and book ahead) to the summer, but reports on exotic climes the majority of viewers wouldn’t be able to afford somehow seemed to emphasise the chasm between sun-kissed beaches and chilly January Blightly even more. For most of my childhood, holidays equated with home soil, and every permutation from caravanning to camping and from Butlin’s to B&B’s was sampled for a week – or two, if it was a particularly lousy summer.

For obvious reasons, holidaying at home is one of the few remaining options open to those who don’t happen to be VIPs yet still feel entitled to a break again after a year off in 2020. It’s no great surprise, however, that an industry no different from many others in that it suffered financial meltdown during lockdown has capitalised on circumstances by raising its prices way beyond what holiday-makers would ordinarily expect. A week for a family of four at Center Parcs apparently costs more than a Caribbean vacation this year; a holiday let in Cornwall is up 30% on 2019, whilst Skegness has increased its prices by 40%; even the traditionally cheap choice of the caravan park will charge a family of four an average of around £1,800 for a week. Donna Brunton, a nurse from County Durham, had booked an all-in holiday for her family at a four-star beach hotel in Malta for the princely sum of £2,500 and was then forced to look closer to home as an alternative. ‘A holiday park in north Cornwall was quoting £3,699 for the four of us to stay seven nights, self-catering in what looks like an upmarket caravan,’ she said in a Guardian exposé on the economic realities of ‘Staycation’.

Ever since taking one’s child out of the classroom during term-time for a holiday became a crime, owners of cottages, campsites and hotels in coastal resorts have become accustomed to hiking prices during the school summer holidays; added to that routine this year is an additional increase making the most of the fact that fewer families will be leaving the country in July or August. Having said that, avoiding the obvious tourist spots is as useful a tip in the UK as it would be were overseas restrictions not in place. One can’t really blame the travel industry for exploiting the climate after a fairly fallow year (to put it mildly), and if people are not going to use their imaginations by flocking to the same old locations, it’s inevitable the prices are going to rise considerably – and it seems most of them are already fully booked-up for the school’s out season.

Whether or not father of three Matt Hancock will be enjoying a family holiday this year is not something the Health Secretary mentioned in his statement earlier today; I suspect that decision will be down to Mrs Hancock. But the fact he followed in the footsteps of the SAGE soothsayer Neil Ferguson in sacrificing social distancing for a spot of hanky-panky with a married woman at least shows he’s human. Someone needs to tell him we are too.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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Bernard BresslawAlthough it’s always been intrinsic to the Great British Summer, it’s nonetheless still going to take time getting used to the return of Wimbledon next week after two years’ away. Politicians and media types may well be doing their utmost to convince us things are all-but normal again, but those of us at street level know this is bullshit. The resumption of annual events in the sporting calendar is, I suppose, a good way of projecting the illusion of normality, though it’ll be interesting to survey the composition of Centre Court a fortnight from now to see how many empty seats there are and how many of those filled are filled by punters looking like they’re poised to perform a surgical operation; that’s not normal, and let’s not pretend otherwise. Anyway, after a cancelled 2020, a regular viewer of the drama at the All-England Club such as yours truly will have to reacquaint himself with the stars of the sport now that many of the names that have dominated tennis for the last couple of decades have either hung up their racquets or are nearing game, set & match for good.

Having experienced something of a Golden Age over the last 20 years, the men’s game seems to be in something of an uncertain interregnum at the moment, with no real eye-catching challengers to the ageing triumvirate of titans who aren’t yet being edged off the court in the way they surely should be by now. In the past, when the chaps seemed to be going through the motions, I often turned to the women’s game; it was far more entertaining to tune into the girls during the deadly dull Pete Sampras era, though I’d be hard-pressed to name more than three or four top women players at the moment. Perhaps it’s time to relax the rules a little, to place tennis in line with other sports that have decided possession of a vagina is no longer a prerequisite to compete in women’s events; if one’s testosterone level is low enough, you’re in, luv. An apparently average weightlifter who goes by the name of Laurel Hubbard struggled to shine when competing against his fellow fellers – until he decided to declare himself a lady in 2012 and his/her career suddenly took off; Hubbard has now been selected to represent New Zealand in the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Let’s be honest – it would have to be one of the English-speaking nations to have taken this unprecedented step; after all, only the Anglosphere appears to have bought into this bullshit. Watching the opening moments of the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, what a relief it was to be spared a visual lecture when the Italy and Turkey teams responded to the referee’s whistle by kicking off the game rather than striking a pose implying they were about to ask for each other’s hands in marriage. The mother tongue of Planet Woke is English – sad but true. When the FA proclaimed in no uncertain words that anyone booing the taking of the knee was racist, the participating teams from mainland Europe must have rolled their eyes along with the majority of football fans in this country. The first England fixture at Wembley saw the usual misguided virtue-signalling entered into, yet the fact the Croatia players didn’t follow suit made England’s insistence on slavishly sticking to the pose look even more stupid. And fans booed, of course. Maybe they’d just come to watch some sport as opposed to a party political broadcast.

Anyway, the presence of a ‘Transgender’ athlete in Tokyo will be, I guess, viewed as another victory for the Identitarian crusade as the politicisation of sport continues unimpeded. It’s interesting that the first sport affected by this issue to fall under the global spotlight is one notorious for the less…er…feminine attributes of its participants. Those of us old enough to have memories of Iron Curtain countries participating in Olympic events, when the likes of the GDR entered female athletes so pumped-up with performance-enhancing chemicals that many of them were more masculine than the athletes competing in the male event, won’t be surprised that weightlifting has led the way in the bending of biological qualification. Apparently, the IOC guidelines specify that surgery is not necessary as long as a transgender athlete’s testosterone levels remain below 10 nanomoles per litre for a full year; this doesn’t appear to take into account the standard female levels of testosterone average between 0.3 and 2.4 nanomoles per litre, suggesting there is immediately an advantage for male competitors competing against female ones. And that’s not even mentioning all those aspects of physical male development from puberty, those of height, weight, muscle and bone density – which non-surgery transgender types still carry – that make a man (whether or not he decides he’s now a woman) a far stronger individual than any natural-born woman.

There are many sports whose sex-segregation has always seemed to me like a hangover from another era, ones I often feel should be open for men and women to compete against each other on a level playing field – golf, for example; or snooker; or darts; maybe even Formula One. None of these are exclusively dependent on physical strength, a quality that will always give a man advantage over a woman. If female jockeys can compete against their male counterparts – and win, as was demonstrated at this year’s historic Grand National – I don’t really see why the sexes should be divided in any of the specific sports mentioned. In the more athletic events that emphasise the physical prowess of the participants, however – and the headline-grabbing ones at the Olympic Games tend to be these – women’s sport is in danger of being reduced to a laughing stock. By all accounts, the moving of the goalposts in track & field at high-school level in the US has resulted in a predictable success rate for boys identifying as girls; the actual girls are naturally a bit miffed by this, seeing potential paths to Olympic glory being suddenly blocked by blokes. So much for Girl Power.

New Zealand’s transgender hero (heroine?) Laurel Hubbard is 43-years-old; I suspect he/her wouldn’t have got anywhere near selection for Tokyo in his/her former guise, yet the fact a competitor in their early 40s has got there at the expense of a genuine female weightlifter in her 20s highlights the farcical nature of allowing past-it men to take this backdoor route to the Olympics and depriving women in their prime of the opportunity in the process. Does that seem like a fair example of the Olympian ideal, let alone a triumph for feminism? Of course, weightlifting being an individual – as opposed to team – event means we have yet to see the extreme ludicrousness of this trend, though it’s only a matter of time. I can’t help thinking of the Python sketch in which John Cleese plays a brain-dead, knuckle-head boxer whose big fight comes against a little girl in pigtails (played by Connie Booth); the fight itself basically consists of Cleese repeatedly flooring his hapless opponent with one simple punch over and over again.

When tennis legend Martina Navratilova spoke out against what was happening, she was exposed to the full force of trans-activist trolldom, which just goes to show even someone who arguably did more to raise the level of athletic excellence in women’s sport than anyone before or since – and did a hell of a lot to forward the cause of gay people in sport, lest we forget – is not immune to being shouted down and silenced. A separate transgender category in sport would seem a fair compromise, though would this enable Laurel Hubbard to grab gold? Any TV sports presenter or commentator confronted by the sight of the New Zealander strutting his/her stuff with the weights in Tokyo will probably feel as though they’re commentating on a state funeral, over-mindful of not saying the wrong thing or making light of the sight for fear of being delivered their P45 the following day. So they will have to pretend this is just, like, normal – as will the team covering Wimbledon when greeted by half-empty stands peppered with masked punters sat in isolation from one another. As Jimmy Greaves used to say, it’s a funny old game.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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SpiderI’ve almost forgotten now, but around six or seven years back I set up my first website; it was essentially established to sell a DVD box-set of ‘Exposure’, my satirical take on Operation Yewtree hysteria. The 14-part series was the first I’d posted on YouTube that wasn’t so much a slow-burner as an overnight sensation, so it had a guaranteed fan-base. Online, ‘Exposure’ had scored viewing figures I’d never previously achieved and had put me in touch with many like-minds who turned out to be much-needed kindred spirits. Unfortunately, the DVD didn’t sell in the numbers that the persistent requests for it suggested and I eventually closed the site, having sold perhaps less than a dozen copies. I’d never really thought about a website again until a few months ago, when the sudden and thoroughly unexpected upsurge of interest in my video output swelled the ranks of the biggest audience my numerous creative outlets can call upon.

Although I know for sure there have been a few curious crossovers, my respective audiences are generally ignorant of one another. Some follow my output on YT and Vimeo, some read this here blog, and there are even some that occasionally buy one of my books; I know of some who have tried all three, but I’m conscious that there are probably thousands to have devoured the likes of ‘Buggernation Street’ who aren’t aware there’s such a thing as the Winegum Telegram (scandalous, I know) or that I’ve penned and published novels, poetry collections, essays, non-fiction and so on. I suddenly felt I was guilty of doing something I detest in contemporary media, i.e. the splitting and streaming of different interests into specialist ghettos rather than offering an abundance of choice under one all-encompassing umbrella. Why not construct a solitary basket for housing every egg? Hey! Didn’t I once have a website?

Whereas my first website was devoted to one project, this new effort would contain the lot – features on my books, my videos, this here blog, and – of course – ‘Buggernation Street’. I figured as the YT audience is by far the largest, it made sense to lure the crowd to the website by giving them the humour they’re familiar with and then when they’ve wiped the tears from their eyes and put their split sides back together, they might just wonder what else I can do. With this in mind, I thought it might be amusing to invent an entire back-story for the Telegram, very much in tune with the kind of thing the video viewers would expect. In this parallel universe version of the blog, the Winegum Telegram enjoyed a century as a physical publication before becoming online only as of December 2015 (when the enterprise actually really began).

In the alternative history of the Winegum Telegram, it was launched in 1915 with Lord Kitchener as the first cover star and was founded by ‘Victor Lucas’, a confectionary tycoon responsible for inventing the modern Winegum. He recruited writers of the calibre of W.C. Armitage (who wrote under the penname ‘Shanks’) as well as Beatrice Liberty-Bodice and Apollo Arkwright. When Victor Lucas Jr superseded his father as captain of the ship on the eve of WWII, he steered the publication into its most successful era sales-wise. In the 1950s, only the Beano sold more copies, though with talented scribes such as Anthony Polari, Sylvia Harris-Tweed and Oliver Buslingthorpe, that’s no great surprise. The Telegram remained in the control of the Lucas family until industrial unrest characteristic of the turbulent 1970s left the publication vulnerable to Aussie media magnate Barry Possum, who bought the Telegram in 1982 and put his stamp on it by remaking it in his own image. Yes, it almost sounds believable.

Winegum 5 - CopyI surmised one way to enhance the illusion was to illustrate it by presenting a range of past ‘front covers’ from the publication’s physical era – issues portraying landmark events from the last 100 years, covering everything from VE Day to the Coronation, from JFK’s assassination to the Moon Landing, and from New Labour to 9/11. I can’t deny I had a jolly good time creating them and tried to make them look as convincing as possible. Again, the end result could almost be real. It’s quite a fancy little fantasy, anyway. However, I bring the reader very much back into this reality at the end of the feature by giving them access to a selection of genuine Winegum stories that might serve as an appetiser for following the blog should their curiosity be sufficiently piqued. But this particular section of the website, which I focus on here for obvious reasons, is just one element of something I hope will help make the site one of those you lose track of time on. We shall see.

I began work on the website in April and yesterday, after two months’ hard work building it up, I finally regarded it as being ready to go. Of course, it will be routinely added to, but for now the basic foundation stone is there for the world and his wife to point at. The home page capitalises on the trio of different online guises I’ve used over the years by speculating whether Johnny Monroe, Victoria Lucas and Petunia Winegum are three separate individuals or simply the shared aliases of the same criminal mastermind, and then the separate categories are lined-up for perusal: Profile, Books, Videos, Blog, Verse, Buggernation Street. The Profile is dominated by a spoof Grauniad evisceration of yours truly and a button that – if clicked – takes the visitor on a tour of imaginary charity shop LP purchases which are, naturally, in the worst possible taste. The presence of buttons to be clicked that then place the reader on a fresh page comes into its own in the Books section, in which the cover of each published book of mine is shown; anyone wanting to know a little more can click said button and will be treated to a description, a review by a reader (if there happens to be one other than me), and an opportunity to buy the chosen volume on Amazon.

AnnualI also employed the buttons to great effect on the ‘Verse’ section, in which four poetry collections are previewed via a trio of sample poems from each one – all of which had to be one-page poems for reasons of space. If you like your verse in bite-sized slices, they give you a taste of what to expect and rival Milky Way as a sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite. The button facility also proved handy for the Buggernation Street page, enabling me to do a separate ‘memorabilia’ feature that serves as a further example of my fondness for fiddling with the past; front covers from a range of magazines one would have seen on the shelves of newsagent’s in the mid-70s are all given a ‘Buggernation’ twist. If the thought of living in a world where Albert Tatlock was the cover star of ‘Jackie’ or Len Fairclough got the same gig for ‘Look-In’ appeals, I suggest you pay it a visit. I appreciate some reading this won’t know what the hell I’m on about, but taking a look will help if that’s the case, and that’s what the website is all about, I guess – introducing those who only know one thing I can do to another.

This might seem like an extended advertisement for your humble narrator, but there’s even a page on the website that effectively is precisely that; if you remember ye olde high-street supermarket Fine-Fare, you might be surprised to see some of the items it used to sell by taking my name in vain. Anyway, as a welcome interlude from Covid, Identity Politics and the rest, I thought I’d publicise the website in a post on here and encourage you to pay it a visit. You might be pleasantly surprised and healthily horrified in equal measure.

© The Editor


Wollstonecraft BabychamLittle girls and ladies who’ve been through ‘The Change’ – presumably the two female demographics the manufacturers of alcoholic drinks should henceforth aggressively target. Women of ‘childbearing age’ are now apparently verboten, at least according to the ever-dependable World Health Organisation, so sales of the most prominent ‘lady drinks’ are destined to plummet unless the prepubescent and postmenopausal are encouraged to swarm into their local off-licence. That’s right – the WHO didn’t say ‘childbearing women’, but ‘women of childbearing age’. As girls are able to become pregnant once they start riding the menstrual cycle and can pretty much keep popping them out until they hit the menopause, that’s a pretty wide area to make an alcohol-free zone.

The World Health Organisation hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory over the past eighteen months, so the timing of this bizarre recommendation seems especially odd, particularly when it stands to reduce the WHO to an even more contemptible laughing stock than it already is. The response to the proclamation has been pretty universally derisive; the WHO was accused of paternalism and sexism, both of which seem fairly accurate accusations. The ongoing infantilisation of women has taken numerous fatuous forms over the last few years, often emanating from a position of seeking to protect the precious little shrinking violets from the malevolent male of the species. However, it sometimes feels like the Suffragettes never happened, so patronising and Victorian have many of the proposals been, and this latest laughable WHO advice is treating women like the archetypal ‘sickly child’ of the 19th century novel.

Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th century author and thinker routinely (and rightly) cited as the Godmother of feminism, railed against the way in which young women continued to be treated as children both socially and legally in her landmark 1792 book, ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’. Her passionate and groundbreaking work is an ideological foundation stone unearthed during each successive feminist wave, yet were she around today Wollstonecraft would see in this WHO recommendation precisely the same condescending tone women of her era were confronted by whenever they sought to assert any sort of independence as befitting a fully-grown adult. Amidst increased marginalisation by the loud, screeching voices of trans-activism and the capitulation of institutions, public bodies and the corporate world to this unhinged take on biology, women are now being informed that their childbearing years – essentially the prime years of their lives – should be years of teetotal temperance, presumably so they can perform their sole duty as breeding machines.

Almost 30 years ago now, a friend of mine who was a smoker didn’t pack in the habit during her first pregnancy; the baby was healthy when born and it appeared the impact of cigarettes on the womb was nonexistent. Around a decade or so later, a friend of a friend who also smoked when pregnant often spoke of the ‘dirty looks’ she received if lighting-up in public when carrying such a prominent bump. Move on another decade and-a-bit and it’s hard to imagine a woman having the nerve to grab a quick fag in private when with-child, let alone in public. My point is that smoking during pregnancy is now such a social black-mark against the mother-to-be that it has practically been outlawed. Drinking when pregnant doesn’t provoke quite the same horror in the observer, but it’s still regarded as ill-advised and reveals potentially bad parenting skills. The WHO proclamation unsurprisingly references this, recommending that ‘appropriate attention’ should be given to the prevention of drinking ‘among pregnant women’ – which is what you would expect them to say – but then adds the more contentious inclusion of ‘women of childbearing age’.

Christopher Snowdon from the Institute of Economic Affairs didn’t mince his words. ‘This is classic World Health Organisation idiocy,’ he said. ‘Not content with repeatedly dropping the ball on Covid-19 and dishing out awards to politicians for banning vaping, it now thinks most of the world’s women should abstain from alcohol. The idea that it is unsafe for women of childbearing age to drink any alcohol is unscientific and absurd. Moreover, it is none of the WHO’s business.’ One wonders if any of the experts who put this WHO recommendation together are mothers of young children for whom a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day is such a vital shot of medicine that it should probably be available on prescription. Even the chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, whilst sticking to the ‘drinking when pregnant is bad’ narrative, was critical of the WHO advice. ‘Drinking alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy…can be very damaging for a foetus,’ said Dr Richard Piper before going on to add that it was ‘vital we balance this against each adult’s right to make informed decisions about what we do with our bodies, no matter our age or sex.’

Joining in the chorus of disapproval was the Portman Group, which regulates alcohol in Britain. ‘We are extremely concerned by the WHO calling on countries to prevent drinking among women of childbearing age in their latest action plan,’ said chief executive Matt Lambert. ‘As well as being sexist and paternalistic, and potentially restricting the freedoms of most women, it goes well beyond their remit and is not rooted in science. It is wrong to scaremonger in this irresponsible way and associate women’s alcohol-related risks with those of children and pregnant people.’ He could have done without saying pregnant ‘people’ – the word ‘women’ would have sufficed; but the fact even organisations like the Portman Group and Alcohol Change UK have reacted in such a manner perhaps shows what an own-goal this WHO ‘action plan’ really is.

A current storyline on ‘The Archers’ concerns the alcoholism of young mother Alice Aldridge; the character drank during pregnancy and the baby was born premature, thus enforcing the public health edict that drinking when pregnant can be damaging for one’s baby. Had the WHO’s ‘global alcohol action plan 2022-2030’ concentrated on that as well as the children and teenagers it also mentioned as the groups who should be dissuaded from hitting the bottle, few would’ve batted an eyelid. However, to include women alongside babies, kids and teens – regardless of whether or not they intend to have a family – seems to bracket women back in the same infantile limbo they occupied during Mary Wollstonecraft’s lifetime.

NHS advice on alcohol consumption is awash with the familiar language of ‘units’, recommending that not exceeding 14 of them a week is the act of a responsible drinker. Apparently, that translates as 10 glasses of wine (low-strength) or half-a-dozen pints of beer (average-strength). A recent study revealed binge-drinking remains an issue for one in three adults; despite regular claims that today’s adolescents spurn the practice in comparison to their predecessors of 10-20 years ago, it would seem the grownups still like a binge – particularly those at extreme opposites when it comes to incomes. ‘Highly-educated women’, AKA the middle-class Alice Aldridge types, are also cited as being most at risk. Were the World Health Organisation not possessed by the same crusading moralistic zealousness that appears to afflict every institution with a remit for improving public health, maybe people could actually be persuaded to alter their more unhealthy habits; as it is, by overreaching this remit and extending even further into the private sphere, any sensible suggestions are lost amidst the anger and derision this latest WHO missive deserves.

© The Editor


Tom CourtenayWell, anybody who fell for that clearly hasn’t learnt anything from the Covid narrative – and if you haven’t learnt anything by now, you never will. Only an idiot foresaw an uninterrupted march towards 21 June in the expectation the last lingering lockdown vestiges would definitely be lifted; of course that glorious liberation has been postponed; anyone with half-a-brain knew a new variant would appear on the eve of Freedom Day and the SAGE boffins would throw a spanner in the works right at the point when their unelected influence over Government policy was threatened. Putting back the final removal of restrictions by ‘a month’ was apparently based on scientific advice re the Narnia Variant – ‘thousands of potential deaths’ or so they say; cheers once again, Professor Ferguson. Incidentally, as the official christening of variants now shies away from naming the latest one after its country of origin, I’ve decided that every new addition to the variant pantheon will henceforth be named after an imaginary realm on this here blog. What the MSM used to call the Indian Variant and now refers to as the Delta Variant will be known as the Narnia Variant at Winegum Towers.

I suppose one could feel a modicum of sympathy for those who did fall for it, but only a modicum and no more. Twitter has been abundant in video statements from the likes of Matt ‘Cockers’ Hancock over the last 24 hours, all emanating from last year and all full of ‘it’ll be over by Christmas’-type promises as evidence of taking each forecast – good and bad – with enough pinches of salt to sculpt a Biblical pillar. When it’s down to Theresa May to make a speech in Parliament that absolutely nails the futility of the Government/SAGE approach, you know the game is up. Anyway, perhaps that tediously familiar phrase ‘herd immunity’ should really be applied to the unquestioning adherence to the advice that the herd entered into with the best of intentions, placing misplaced faith in their elected representatives to deliver. The immunity of the herd is immunity to common sense, willing to sacrifice long-term freedoms for short-term gain, handing over personal data via vaccine passports in order to enjoy a social activity that won’t kill them, never once considering that this info will be collated, catalogued and inevitably leaked.

The pressure to conform has always been a prominent element of every society, especially those that purport to be free ones; basically, they’re far easier to govern if everyone does as they’re told – only, don’t let on this is the case. In a free society, the herd is gently persuaded into conformity not through the strong-arm tactics of a police state, but through subliminal social manipulation, something particularly effective if there’s a moral tone. Pandemic Britain has seen conformity take on a pseudo-patriotic quality in which opposition to conformity is almost regarded as treasonous. The pressure to conform in this unhealthy atmosphere has infiltrated all aspects of daily discourse so that individual choice is secondary to the collectivist consensus, and any deviation from it is tantamount to criminal.

The doctrines of the coronavirus consensus have been embraced by some as choice, whereas many others have opted out and simply submitted. Following the guidelines, shopping your neighbours if you suspect them of not following the guidelines, taking the vaccine even if in doubt, disowning your unvaccinated friends, clapping for the NHS, living in fear for your life and so on and so on; I sometimes wonder if anyone who has stuck religiously to all the advice has actually come out the other end feeling it was a worthwhile endeavour – or are they now too far gone to evaluate their sacrifice? The herd adapts to whatever demands are placed upon it as a misguided means of self-preservation and survival, but imagined safety in numbers often means insulation from those aspects of life that make it worth living. What we have seen over the past year or so has been an extreme example of the state selling conformity as a panacea, though the practice has always been there.

I recently watched the 1962 film of Alan Sillitoe’s ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ for the first time in quite a while, and it has a lot to say on the struggle to resist conformity. The author took the corruption of the amateur ethos central to the Olympic ideal and used it as a metaphor for how the integrity of the individual is sacrificed to the continuation of a society that has done him few favours. The Borstal boy played by Tom Courtenay finds a personal, internal freedom when his athletic ability elevates him above his miserable home life, the petty crime sprees that resulted in his incarceration, and the incarceration itself. The Borstal Governor, however, is essentially training him like a racehorse in order to win a cup on a sports day event against a public school, with Courtenay’s individuality subsumed by him representing the entire institution – just as the society outside its wire fences demanded his submission to a communal conformity.

The sports day sequence itself has an antiquated pomp and circumstance that now looks like the dying breath of the Empire; the film appeared just a couple of years after the end of National Service, and the fact Tom Courtenay had his acting apprenticeship interrupted by the pointless peacetime exercise of playing soldiers perhaps gives his inspired casting an additional edge. Compulsory conscription – rather than voluntary – was a contemporary example of state-sponsored conformity, though Courtenay’s character also sees the era’s ‘you’ve never had it so good’ consumer boom as merely another illusion of freedom, memorably setting fire to a pound note as his mother goes on a spending spree after receiving the money bequeathed to her by her late husband. While the rest of the family sits mesmerised by the novel new television set, the pre-Borstal Courtenay only feels alive when he’s thieving.

As his time at Borstal progresses, Courtenay’s character gives every impression his contempt for authority has been softened by the privileges bestowed upon him when training for the race; yet when he’s within a few yards of the finishing line on the day, he deliberately stops running and allows his posh-boy opponent to catch-up, overtake him and win it. His final and most devastating act of defiance is sealed by a knowing smile aimed at the furious, humiliated Governor. Some are baffled by this ending, but it always made perfect sense to me. After being dispatched to Borstal, it’s the only ‘fuck you’ opportunity the character has left to him.

Another name for Borstal was ‘approved school’, and whilst it’s closer to a cross between a prison and army barracks, there are parallels with state schools of the period. Today, there’s a lot of concern regarding what some view as the ‘Woke indoctrination’ apparently rampant in the education system; were I a parent, I’d probably be concerned too. But to me schools have always been conformist training camps, teaching children to grow up to become good little obedient citizens – Pink Floyd pointed that out over 40 years ago, after all. The majority of kids I was at school with were indoctrinated, it’s just that the ideology then was a different one; but the aim was the same. I rebelled and resisted, and I’ve no doubt there are kids today doing likewise. The rebels are always in the minority, for the majority prefer the herd mentality. I can understand its appeal – I suppose life must be far easier if you simply go with the flow, just as it can be far harder when you instinctively rebel and resist. But I do believe it must be even harder to follow that path today – and, of course, there was no social media when I began my own journey on that path, one which will stretch way beyond 21 June.

© The Editor


Huxley OrwellLast time I re-jigged my bookshelves, I decided to deliberately set aside one shelf solely for books I hadn’t read. I figured stacking the unread together side-by-side would mean whenever I finished a book, I could then return to said shelf and the next one would be patiently waiting for me without my having to root around in various drawers or cupboards, trying to locate a book I half-remembered owning and fancied taking a look at if only I could find it. Bringing some order to proceedings means such a system is a bit like having a miniature public library in my own home, one of which I am the solitary member. Selecting the book – the one that will be sufficiently engrossing to maintain my concentration for probably a good few months – reminds me of when big-money punters are presented with a line-up of delicious damsels of the kind you only get in cinematic portrayals of brothels. I really am spoilt for choice; but at the moment, roundabout a quarter of the shelf’s residents now remain unread, and this week I reduced the unread numbers anew by picking a fresh one out, a 1939 novel by Aldous Huxley called ‘After Many a Summer’.

The blurb on the back of this Penguin Modern Classics edition printed in 1974 proclaims the story is ‘at once grotesque and realistic, farcical and reflective, of an attempt on the part of a rich man to prolong the span of human life indefinitely’. I’m only three chapters in, but the intriguing set-up already has me hooked; and while I don’t want to read any critical assessments or reviews of the novel until I finish it (spoilers etc.), I’m pretty certain the mysterious millionaire who lives in a Californian castle and plans to ‘prolong the span of human life indefinitely’ has more than a touch of William Randolph Hearst about him – or John Paul Getty or Howard Hughes, or any one of the numerous self-made American men that created a large cultural, political and financial splash in the first half of the twentieth century, many of whom I presume Huxley must have personally encountered and observed following his relocation to Southern California in the late 1930s.

Anyway, there was one utterly minor and innocuous, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene I read in the book today that caused the unwelcome spectre of the here and now to gatecrash the escapist 30s ambience – and I really resent the fact it had the temerity to appear. A couple of characters met for the first time and shook hands; so what, eh? Had I read that sequence at any other point of my life, I would barely have given it a second thought and would’ve immediately moved on to the next sentence. But what the hell was my instant reaction when I read it in 2021? Well, I thought of the characters not observing social distancing and actually making physical contact with one another – no gloves, no masks, no hand sanitizer; shit, they weren’t even members of the same household. F**k! It’s really come to this. How pathetic. That’s what more than a year of Project Fear propaganda seeping into and corroding my psyche has done. And I’m ashamed to say it also sometimes barges its way into a movie or TV show from the late, lamented lost world before Covid when I virtually visit – even when the whole point of going there is to get away from here.

I don’t want this way of living to become so normalised that it contaminates the past as well as the present; but if some zealots get their way, it will pollute the future too. Yes, stand aside for a moment, Professor Neil Ferguson, and step forward Professor Susan Michie of University College, London – another member of the motley SAGE crew and a repeat offender when it comes to dispensing increasingly unhinged advice. She has made it clear she will be more than happy for the ‘emergency’ restrictions imposed upon individuals to keep them in a state of perpetual paranoid panic during the pandemic to continue for the rest of our lives. Not for her any optimistic projected deadlines when coronavirus measures can finally be lifted and life can try to reclaim normality – no, Prof. Michie wants us all to ‘stay safe’ until we breathe our last; and chances are that won’t be too distant, because the prospect of restrictions being permanent instead of temporary will probably provoke many into bringing that last breath about far earlier than intended. Prof. Michie has even dismissed the vaccine as the so-called ‘silver bullet’ that can diminish the threat of the virus – something which must come as great comfort to those who made themselves ill submitting to it after the likes of Michie’s crackpot cult demanded everyone must have it pumped into their bloodstream, whether vulnerable to the virus or not.

On the subject of individual responses to living in the shadow of Covid, Prof. Michie has spoken of ‘the behaviour of social distancing, of when you’re indoors, making sure there’s good ventilation or if there’s not, wearing face masks and hand and surface hygiene. We’ll need to keep these going in the long term and that will be good not only for Covid but also to reduce other diseases.’ Well, it beats building up an immunity system in the time-honoured natural way, I guess. Prof. Michie’s vision of this design for life without living is all about normalising it; she compares the wearing of masks and social distancing becoming second nature to the way in which donning seatbelts or picking up dog-shit have now become second nature. ‘It’s not going to be a huge big deal, the kind of behaviours we’re talking about,’ she says. Prof. Michie doesn’t shy away from this ‘long term’ agenda, and her definition of ‘long term’ is ‘I think forever to some extent because this isn’t going to be the last pandemic’. Brilliant. And it goes without saying that we all want to live in Michie-World, don’t we, kids?

The long-trumpeted ‘Freedom Day’ of 21 June – when we can all express gratitude to our glorious leaders for allowing us to exercise civil liberties that are a right in free, democratic societies – is now predictably in doubt courtesy of the latest invented variant; but the benevolent Prof. Michie evidently has the good grace to keep selflessly planning our futures on our behalf, bless her. And if her recommended sacrifice of individual freedoms, opposition and dissent for the greater, communal good sounds suspiciously…well…Communist, perhaps it’s no real surprise to discover that Prof. Michie is a leading light in the Communist Party of Great Britain and was – according to ‘The Spectator’ – known as ‘Stalin’s Nanny’ whilst an Oxford student, which sounds a suitably cuddly nickname; she was also once married to one of Comrade Corbyn’s advisers. When you’re made aware of all that, her notion that we should remain isolated in social bubbles until kingdom come and suppress any questioning of lockdown wisdom doesn’t seem so radical; it just feels very Soviet – or, more fittingly, Chinese.

Implementing a pandemic strategy developed by a Communist State in Western democracies – and witnessing the complete compliance of the populace – must have filled Susan Michie’s heart with joy. She’d praised China’s hardline approach in a tweet even before the West copied the model, and the overnight media careers of previously (and rightly) anonymous boffins that the implementation of this model gave rise to are something that many of them are clearly reluctant to relinquish – Prof. Michie included. Well, I don’t think I have any other unread Huxley novels standing on my special shelf, though perhaps I won’t need to read them if I have; I’ll just take a cursory glance at the news headlines, for there are the latest works by Huxley, and Orwell, and JG Ballard; turns out they weren’t novelists after all – just journalists with crystal balls.

© The Editor


SkeletonThere are many advantages to having one foot in the analogue age and the other in the digital; but perhaps the best is that you come to the latter as a fully-formed adult having avoided growing up in public. At one time, the only individuals whose lives were ‘Truman Show’-like open books from birth were the children of celebrities or those at the front of the queue when it came to Royal Succession; with the advent of social media, the goldfish bowl previously reserved for the unenviable elite has expanded to become a global housing estate. It’s now customary for parents-to-be to post scans of their foetuses, followed by galleries of their newborn cherubs, and then for each stage of the toddler’s evolution to be documented online. The narcissistic assumption that everyone beyond family is as captivated by the process as the parents used to be manifested as an exclusive treat for the luckless physical visitor, condemned to perusing a photo album featuring a thousand-and-one variations on a boring theme. Today, however, the whole world can share in this dubious honour.

And, of course, as junior comes into the world cyber-literate, it is second nature for him or her that every phase of their development will be performed on the cyberspace stage, even when they wrestle a degree of control from mummy and daddy. In this climate, every proclamation, observation and statement that might later lead to personal embarrassment is something that can henceforth be invoked by anyone. By contrast, those born on the preferable side of the digital divide can rest easy in the knowledge that only the few comprising our circle of friends and acquaintances at the time were exposed to any toe-curling embarrassments – and most have probably long since forgotten them. Thoughts expressed in private diaries seen only by the author were secure in their anonymity and, unless captured on video or audio, any such thoughts aired publicly were transient moments as ephemeral as a theatrical production seen by nobody but those present at the performance. The ‘digital generation’ have no such get-out-of-jail card; their equivalent moments are preserved forever.

Anybody with the merest semblance of curiosity about life does not remain rigidly set in stone when it comes to their views and opinions; as you learn and experience more of what life has to offer, one’s perspective on all it can afford alters and adapts to the new surroundings. Therefore, the person I am today is not the person I was as recent as five years ago, let alone twenty-five years ago and certainly not forty-five years ago; in the case of the latter, it would be exceptionally odd if I hadn’t changed, for I’d be the oldest schoolboy in the world. I never trust anybody whose views and opinions freeze around the age of 18 and remain the same thereafter – probably the main reason why I was never convinced by Jeremy Corbyn, who still emits the naive air of a gap-year Marxist (which perhaps explains his appeal to adolescent graduates). I have very little evidence of what I thought and believed at 18, though the fact the archive is so depleted reflects the fact I was the sole curator of it; nobody else was interested enough to keep records and there was no digital platform in existence at the time to preserve the documentation on my behalf. Thank God for that. The memory is enough – and I can keep that to myself.

Okay, so it’s not as if I was a card-carrying member of the National Front or in the Rick Astley Fan Club – my crimes were not so diabolical; but I remember thinking, saying and writing things down at 18 that I couldn’t disagree with more today. Yet, that’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, it’s perfectly natural and normal that I should now be of the opinion that I knew f***-all at 18, because I didn’t whilst simultaneously thinking I knew everything. That is the prerogative of the teenager, and I’m wise enough now to cut him some slack and not condemn him retrospectively. As far as the wider world is concerned, I was born at some point in the early 2010s and whoever I was before that is irrelevant to the person cyberspace knows as Victoria Lucas or Petunia Winegum or Johnny Monroe. It doesn’t matter. It has absolutely no bearing on who I am now unless I choose to pen a post like this, in which I am drawing on my pre-online life to make a point. And even then, none of you knew me before I appeared online, so I could be simply spinning a yarn and taking artistic licence with my own personal history; who’s to know, and what does it really matter? There is no contradictory proof either way, so I remain the curator, director and dictator of my own archive.

It doesn’t seem that long since Jared O’Mara, the Labour MP who’d ousted Nick Clegg at the 2017 General Election, was suspended from the Party when a series of decade-old comments he’d made online resurfaced. These juvenile opinions on everyone from Girls Aloud to gays to Danes and Spaniards were characteristic here-today/gone-tomorrow observations of the cyber-literate millennial unfortunate to have their typical teenage bullshit stored away for a rainy day without them realising it. The cockiness that comes with early adulthood is generally mirrored in the instant reaction to issues or personalities of the day, a reaction that tends to emanate from the gut rather than the head. The 21st century is especially cruel in that it never forgets and rarely takes into account that whatever gut reaction yer average 18-year-old might make at the time doesn’t necessarily mean that remains his or her reaction to the particular topic under discussion for all eternity. And in the unusual instances when it does, one can safely assume that the individual in question has none of that curiosity for life which is essential for growth, maturity and wisdom.

The pious contemporary practice of holding every adult responsible for whatever they said when they were still a work-in-progress adolescent has made the headlines again this past week in the case of England cricketer Ollie Robinson. The 27-year-old vice-captain of Sussex was just days into his international Test career when ‘offensive tweets’ dating from almost ten years ago were dredged-up and have now resulted in Robinson being dropped from the England team after a solitary cap. Robinson was unlucky to be selected for his country smack bang in the middle of British sport’s across-the-board ‘Wokeification’; this is a moment when England football manager Gareth Southgate fails to grasp precisely why genuine football fans are booing the misguided, middle-class governing body’s attempts to uphold the virtue-signalling gestures it could get away with in empty stadiums. Ollie Robinson is being held to account for allegedly ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ online comments he made back in 2012 and 2013, and one has to wonder what possible relevance they might have to a man in his late 20s who one presumes has changed his perspective a little since he was 19.

Robinson made the customary public apology when the archaic tweets surfaced, and even the Sports Minister Oliver Dowden had accused the ECB of going ‘over the top’ in suspending Robinson for something he said so long ago. But perhaps the most telling example of where we are now came via the comments of the England captain Joe Root. ‘We all have to keep looking to educate ourselves,’ he said, ‘trying to be inclusive as we can, and keep making everyone feel comfortable to play the wonderful sport we have.’ ‘Educate ourselves’ – how fittingly Critical Race Theory; let’s start from the belief that everyone is racist and work our way back from that, eh? Were Ollie Robinson dim enough to stand by whatever he said as a teenager, he’d be deserving of a slap on the wrist; but he’d have to be pretty bloody dim if he did, and it doesn’t seem he is. Not that this matters, though. The assumption appears to be that everyone’s closet is crammed with skeletons, even if we’ve not opened its doors for a decade or more. The fact those skeletons are in there indicates we are all perpetual sinners – for if the evidence is online, it must be true.

© The Editor


BardotEver since the world and his wife were banished outdoors so that every mothballed bar, restaurant, pub and café could tentatively reopen, the pariahs for whom outdoors had become the officially designated space under ‘normal’ circumstances have found themselves being pushed even further onto the periphery of the action. And now, they’re about to be pushed so far away that they’re barely involved at all. Yes, I’m talking about polite society’s ultimate bogeyman, the smoker. I may no longer belong to that marginalised elite – having crossed over to the safer and cheaper (yet also smeared) community of vapers almost four years ago; but I was a smoker for enough decades to still feel aggrieved on the smoker’s behalf when he’s being singled out yet again by the powers-that-be. For me, the demonisation of smokers over the past few years has been a dummy run for the recent erosion of wider civil liberties that the pandemic has accelerated; and observing the gleefully spiteful removal of smokers’ rights seems to be an interesting – not to say worrying – premonition as to what will eventually befall everyone else before long.

Five local authorities – three Labour-led and two Tory – are doing their utmost to bring about the outlawing of smoking altogether by outlawing it in those undesirable corners of city centres that smokers had previously been relegated to; now that ‘decent’ customers have been herded towards the pavements courtesy of Covid restrictions, the thought of them mixing with those depraved smokers has provoked new measures. The City of Manchester, Northumberland County Council, Newcastle, North Tyneside and Durham have all banned smoking on the extended exterior premises of restaurants, pubs and cafés. Nobody gave a f**k when smokers were shivering alone in the shitty weather from 2007 onwards, yet now that the European-style ‘pavement café’ culture that Tony Blair was so eager to introduce during his time in office has been thrust upon every venue where people pay to eat and drink, pavement-dwellers’ lives suddenly matter and smokers are shoved aside yet again – and this time from a place they never wanted to be to begin with.

The collective amnesia that grips the country whenever we enjoy a warm spell is evident in the overnight proliferation of shorts, skimpy ensembles, sandals and sunburn in every open space, and whilst eating and drinking outside is fine in such conditions, this is England lest we forget. Perhaps earmarking 21 June as D-Day was done with the changeable climate in mind, curtailing the remaining restrictions in the hope we get there before the heavens open for the rest of the summer. Still, even when diners and drinkers migrate back indoors, the pavements currently cluttered with tables and chairs will remain verboten to the smoker. As we should know by now, authorities that taketh away do not giveth back. Hot on the heels of the five that have already implemented the policy, Oxfordshire will be the next local authority intending to forcibly exile the smoker to the outer rim of the social world as part of what is described by Oxfordshire County Council as a ‘strategy to make the county smoke-free by 2025’.

A statement from Oxfordshire County Council outlines the imminent pavement café smoking ban as merely one element of a far wider project that will include discouraging smokers from lighting-up both in their cars and in their homes. Mind you, anyone dim enough to follow such guidelines in those defiantly private spheres will probably be wearing a mask at the time, anyway, so a crafty fag would be something of a challenge. ‘Oxfordshire has set itself an ambitious aim to be smoke-free by 2025!’ the PR gushes. ‘Our tobacco-control strategy further outlines our smoke-free 2025 plans, which includes creating healthy and family-friendly smoke-free spaces.’ Fine – have your ‘healthy and family-friendly smoke-free spaces’, but bear in mind not everyone has a family, let alone kids, and many that do actually visit pubs in order to get away from them; pubs are not supposed to be bloody McDonald’s. Moreover, some people quite remarkably make their health a personal issue of autonomous choice – I know, incredible isn’t it? – rather than pass the responsibility on to either local or national government along with every other right to have been handed in to them like lost property.

If non-smokers are catered for and segregated from smokers in a smoke-free environment which they have chosen, is it therefore not fair and proper for smokers to have their ‘zones’ in which they can assert their individual rights too? I always thought the old system of smoking rooms or sealed-off sections in pubs and restaurants was a fair compromise to accommodate both parties; what we got in 2007 was something that told half the patrons that their custom wasn’t welcome; no wonder pub attendance plummeted swiftly in the years immediately after the ban came in. Yes, as a now ex-smoker, I perfectly understand the objections of those who don’t want their clothes and hair to be polluted by the powerful aroma of tobacco, but as long as smokers and non-smokers have their own socially-distanced corners – and particularly if they’re in the open air – that shouldn’t be an issue. I still believe smokers are entitled to consideration instead of persistent, petty punishment.

You would think, of all businesses brought to their knees by Covid, the hospitality industry would be going out of its way to welcome anyone back through its doors – or onto its pavement; and I suspect it probably would do were it not for anti-smoking zealots on local councils imposing their own sanctimonious agenda on businesses that desperately need to attract punters, not alienate them anew. The timing of this decision beggars belief, to be honest; you’d have thought the authorities could have at least waited for the hospitality industry to get back on its feet again before placing additional pressures on a business model that has suffered enough of late and is still struggling to attract pre-lockdown numbers because of that. I haven’t been to a pub, café or restaurant in this unappealing Brave New World, though everything I’ve heard of the experience doesn’t seem to make it worth bothering with anyway – and I haven’t lit a cigarette since 2017.

‘It’s no business of local councils if adults choose to smoke,’ says Simon Clark or pro-smoking lobby outfit Forest. ‘And if they smoke outside during working hours, that’s a matter for them and their employer, not the council.’ True enough, but we all knew the emergency measures acquired by authorities at the height of the pandemic would give them a newfound sense of their own power over the public. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the chance to diminish the rights of the smoker even further has been seized upon when those doing so have become drunk on moral crusading; if people can’t be nicked for sitting on park benches anymore, at least they can be nicked for lighting up. And it’s a safe bet they’ll get away with this one because everybody now hates a smoker.

At home, if the only remaining smoking friend of mine craves a cig when he visits, I ask him if he’d mind smoking it in the hallway outside the flat; I sit with him and don’t wag my finger once, so it’s not as if I’m playing the leader of the local council. I just don’t want the scent of baccy back in the flat when it took me so long to expunge all lingering traces of it – and the minute I stopped smoking, my sinuses lost their immunity to the stench, so I would notice its reappearance. But we’re talking about the interior of my poky little home here, not the open air, and not the public space outside business premises where nobody actually lives. There’s a difference. I’m not condemning my friend for retaining the habit and I’m not making a moral judgement by requesting he step into the hallway. Besides, I’m all-too aware that the vaper is already in the sights of the same zealots who have demonised the smoker. In the current climate, complacency can seriously damage your health.

© The Editor