XRI don’t believe you can tell someone else how to live their life unless you’ve lived their life. I said that to someone recently about a well-meaning friend whose advice can sometimes be dispensed in a manner that often comes across as slightly condescending; it’s not from a position of assumed superiority, but simple ignorance of what it is to walk in my shoes. We all know people who make this mistake – and, hell, parents are as guilty as any friend could ever be; but on the whole the advice, however poorly expressed, is generally coming from a good place. It’s mildly irritating because, as the radical psychiatrist RD Laing once said, ‘Within the territory of ourselves, there can be only our footprints’; but we usually let it go on account of recognising the fact that no offence was intended. Perhaps it irritates more in the present climate due to finding ourselves in a virtual epidemic of condescending advice emanating from public figures; and what makes their condescending advice especially hard to stomach – aside from the holier-than-thou manner of its dispensation – is that most issuing it don’t practice what they preach. Throw hypocrisy into the mix and one reaches the point whereby anything these public figures say, even if it should make sense, is received with resentment and contempt.

Politicians, of course, specialise in this field. Margaret Thatcher famously yearned to ‘roll back the power of the State’ and David Cameron expressed similar statements 30 years later; yet the posh pig-f***er presided over a government that continued the interference of the State in the private sphere that had accelerated under Blair and Brown. Advice on how the masses should live their lives increased on Cameron’s watch – even if the majority of this Nanny State interventionism probably emanated from the Tories’ Coalition partners for the first five years of Cameron’s premiership. Maybe the finger-wagging Lib Dem line on telling people what to do infected the Conservative Party far deeper than many realised and could well be the one lasting legacy of the Con-Dem administration. Although the Labour Party in England and the SNP north of the border remain the worst standard bearers of this mindset, neither shared power with the Tories at Westminster, and neither were consequently able to exert the kind of influence the Lib Dems appear to have exerted over government policy that affects the greatest number of people in these islands to this very day.

It goes without saying the unique circumstances of the past eighteen months have intensified this approach; the old – and fondly-recalled – Public Information Films produced by the Central Office of Information (until the Coalition Government abolished it in a fit of Austerity pique) were both unintentionally entertaining and genuinely scary, yet the pseudo-PIFs we’ve endured throughout the pandemic – along with the ‘advertising campaign’ of posters on the sides of bus shelters – have felt closer to old-school Eastern Bloc propaganda in their unambiguously threatening tone, not necessarily suggesting the recommended route is a wiser one than the alternative, but telling the viewer there is no alternative and that they will effectively burn in Hell if they don’t comply. If they were still around and had been hired to run Covid Project Fear, the Kray Twins couldn’t have delivered a more persuasive argument to the sceptic.

Mutual respect is always a better starting point than one party demanding respect with menaces, and it’s difficult to take any advice on board when it comes from somebody one has absolutely no respect for whatsoever. I think I’ve perhaps reached the age where I hold almost all politicians in complete contempt, so when a politician tells me how to live my life, my back is instantly up. Even if one removes the Covid factor, there’s still no shortage of issues that should be down to the personal choice of the individual and have nothing to do with the State whatsoever. The SNP entering into partnership with the Greens – yet another political party that embody all the worst elements of this patronising lecturing and hectoring – is one of the most natural marriages in politics for we-know-what’s-good-for-you authoritarianism masquerading as social progress. An administration that proposes making saying something ‘offensive’ in the privacy of one’s home a criminal offence and advocates infants being able to change their genders in the classroom without recourse to parental consent or consultation is approaching the apex – or nadir – of State interventionism where it’s neither wanted nor needed. Yet, even if this is quite possibly the most extreme example to be found anywhere in the UK, it often feels like barely a day goes by without one more edict from on-high that is aimed at everyone in Britain, parent or no. And it usually comes from those who are eventually exposed as shameless hypocrites.

My gut response to any politician interfering in something they have no place interfering in is to turn the tables, to tell them okay, so I’ll do as I’m told if you follow suit; so, don’t fiddle your expenses or shag your PA when you’re a married man or snort coke when you’re forever warning us how dangerous drugs are. But we all know they’ll carry on regardless because they are born to rule and we are born to be ruled – by them; therefore, they are entitled to special privileges. To be honest, if they want to flout the rules behind closed doors, I really couldn’t care less because I couldn’t care less about them; it’s just when their public persona contradicts their private one that I really resent their unwelcome presence behind my own closed door.

Former Grauniad journo and ‘Newsnight’ reporter Allegra Stratton, a bezzie mate of Carrie Johnson (née Symonds), was until April this year the Downing Street Press Secretary and now works as spokesperson for Alok Sharma, President of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (AKA COP26), scheduled to take place in Glasgow this November. I shouldn’t imagine the numerous VIPs pencilled-in to attend will be arriving for the conference by ship, hot air balloon or horse & cart, and Ms Stratton and her new boss were recently named and shamed as drivers of diesel cars. This mode of vehicle is now regarded as one of the worst on the roads in terms of pollution – far more than petrol-driven cars – yet who would even give a f**k what type of cars such figures are reluctant to surrender in favour of more eco-friendly, carbon-neutral models if they weren’t so eager to lecture the rest of us on how we’re responsible for the death of the planet?

Probably the best example of hypocrisy exposed of late was that of Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook. She was outed as another diesel car driver, and laid bare her eco warrior credentials by claiming it was the only way in which she could take her children to and from rugger practice on a Sunday due to poor public transport. And it won’t have escaped your attention that this is the week in which no one’s favourite bourgeois anarchists have apparently received permission from London’s impeccably unbiased authorities to resume the disruption of life in the capital with their tedious theatrics, bringing traffic to a standstill on London’s bridges and provoking the ire of the ordinary working people that ER couldn’t give a shit about unless they’re prepared to submit to a fire & brimstone sermon – probably via ‘the magic of dance’.

Maybe even more than Covid restrictions, preaching one thing in public and practicing another in private is a recurring own goal when it comes to green issues. Just ask Prince ‘air miles’ Harry. In fact, why bother? I wouldn’t think twice about any of these arseholes if they just got on with living their luxury lifestyles and stopped pretending they have a social conscience when in reality their contempt for me and thee is even greater than ours for them.

© The Editor

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

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Tiger TeaIt’s still August, which means it’s still the silly season. Even if Fleet Street no longer dictates the news narrative, old habits die hard and the annual glut of stories unworthy of attention any other time of the year routinely surface to grab the headlines. Not that they’re particularly worthy of attention now, mind, but I suppose it helps that there’s no shortage of uniquely grim stories competing to catch the eye; at the moment, anything that isn’t taking place at Kabul Airport feels like light relief, and the more ridiculous the story, the more it stands out. In such a climate, I guess Identity Politics and Woke ideology can always be relied upon to serve this function, for silliness seems to be intrinsic to their relentlessly idiotic rhetoric. From the unveiling of LGBT cop cars to the shocking revelations that Extinction Rebellion top brass don’t necessarily practice what they preach, it’s not hard to understand why coverage outstrips relevance, even if all these silly stories add up to a bigger picture that isn’t really very funny at all.

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise, therefore, that this week has seen some wannabe Mary Whitehouse decide that a beloved children’s book should be excised from the pre-school library due to it allegedly being guilty of portraying the female sex in a ‘negative’ light and breeding the next generation of misogynists and rapists in the process. That this claim should be associated with Zero Tolerance, an organisation which apparently has a reputation for good, positive work in helping women deal with domestic violence, perhaps shows the damage that can be done when malignant Wokery infiltrates any institution and proves utterly counterproductive as it comes to define it, holding it up to ridicule and overshadowing all the good work previously achieved. The state of Stonewall is a good example – a unifying force respected for decades and recognised as the go-to charity when it came to gay issues; but its current pollution by the divisive extremes of Trans-activism has opened up a widening schism in the gay community, alienating many high-profile supporters it could previously call upon, including veterans who fought the actual battles that mattered.

Zero Tolerance appears to be taking a similar route by diving into the Gender Identitarian black hole with some of the ludicrous claims it makes about Judith Kerr’s delightful evergreen favourite, ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’. What kind of po-faced party-pooper looks at such a book and comes away from it wondering why the tiger in question is male as opposed to gender-neutral? The charity’s co-director, Rachel Adamson, that’s who. Such books, according to Ms Adamson, ‘aren’t just stories…we know that gender stereotypes are harmful and they reinforce gender inequality, and that gender inequality is the cause of violence against women and girls, such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment.’ Imagine reading a charming slice of innocent, fantastical life like ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ and that’s your main reaction to it. What does that say about you? By attaching such serious issues to such an innocuous book, you instantly negate any proper debate on the subjects – as with calling everything racist tends to neutralise genuine racism when it appears.

Now that this cherished children’s classic is a Rad-Fem target, certain important factors about its genesis have to be conveniently overlooked in order to uphold the unconvincing argument. Judith Kerr was married to the visionary Nigel Kneale, creator of ‘Quatermass’ and the man who wrote both the groundbreaking 1954 BBC TV adaptation of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ that remains a landmark in early British television as well as the equally remarkable 1968 TV play, ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’; yet she wasn’t merely the great woman behind a great man, but was – like Clara Schumann before her – a great artist in her own right, regardless of her spouse. We clearly have to turn a blind eye to the fact her most celebrated book was a book written by a woman, and a woman who was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany to boot. But, hey – so what? Why should something that has long been (rightly) regarded as a creative triumph over extreme adversity be spared the revisionist treatment courtesy of those who have never experienced anything remotely comparable to that which Judith Kerr lived through, let alone created such a sublime work of enchanting art? And why should it come as a surprise that giving the artless a mere inch means they will take more miles than even The Proclaimers ever walked?

Of course, we are dealing here – as we always are in cases of art being tossed onto the philistines’ funeral pyre – with people who have no comprehension of the subtle nuances of the best art. They themselves cannot create, nor are they able to appreciate the creations of those who can; they only see everything through the negative, narrow prism of whichever corrosive agenda they’ve decided to attach themselves to. They cannot discern beauty in any manmade creation because it would only underline their own absence of it, not only internally, but in their inability to produce it. Anyone whose response to a work of art is not to ooze admiration and awe but to somehow see its brilliance as highlighting their own inadequacies and mediocrity should never be taken seriously as a critic. It was blatantly evident a long time ago that bestowing credibility upon the creatively clueless when they air their opinion of any art would lead to this kind of scenario; moreover, it was equally evident doing so would bolster their high opinion of themselves and give them the unwarranted confidence to eventually come for everyone and everything if unchallenged.

It is both unwise and futile to concede to their demands, for their craving can never be satisfied, however far one bends over in an attempt to placate them. Works by Enid Blyton and Dr Seuss have already fallen under the revisionist hammer without notable objections, so why should anything else be immune? However, it’s important to be aware that denying serial cancellers the right to cancel means they might just dematerialise before our eyes, for if we dare to challenge everything they surmise to be offensive or problematic and prove them wrong, they then no longer have a reason to exist; this is their purpose in life, to be on permanent look out for anything that supports their argument, especially if produced in the distant past by the conveniently deceased (‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ was published in 1968 and Judith Kerr passed away in 2019). Their lifelong work won’t be complete until we’re all as dead inside as they are, until we’re all incapable of seeing anything without twisting it into an embodiment of evil to slot neatly into the latest category of cultural Year Zero think-checking.

The organisation advocating the censuring of Judith Kerr’s classic suggests children’s libraries should dispense with brilliantly imaginative fairy tales about anthropomorphic big cats who adhere to gender stereotypes and should instead promote recommended stories featuring transgender infants and little boys who want to become mermaids. Perish the thought gender stereotypes should be reinforced in books that point out some women might like to be nurses or secretaries or even stay-at-home mothers! Unsurprisingly, this whole story emanates from a survey conducted north of the border in the Woke wasteland formerly known as Scotland, a ‘gender and diversity audit’ of over 3,000 books in 21 Scottish nurseries; the findings remind me of a booklet circulated during China’s Cultural Revolution, titled ‘Four Hundred Films to be Criticised’. I know I mentioned it just a couple of posts back, but a timely revisit to the ‘Exposure’ series I produced for YT a decade ago has sadly reminded me how much the seeds sowed in the 2010s have been reaped in the 2020s. If I had a crystal ball, I’d smash the bloody thing.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294


Charlie WattsUntil today, the last time a member – or former member – of The Rolling Stones passed away was well over 30 years ago. He was Ian Stewart, who’d been the casualty of Andrew ‘Loog’ Oldham’s brainwave to package the Stones as the ‘Anti-Beatles’; a six-piece was too close to a jazz ensemble, whereas five worked on the pop scene (as Dave Clark had already proven). And if anyone clearly couldn’t be moulded into the image Oldham had in mind, it was the tall, burly Stewart. It helped that a permanent keyboard player was deemed a superfluous luxury; besides, it was quickly evident the band’s sound didn’t need augmenting on stage, for the volume of screaming that began to greet each performance once the Stones progressed from R&B club to provincial theatre drowned the sound out anyway. However, Ian Stewart was no Pete Best; he was shifted sideways to road manager and remained a permanent member of the band’s entourage up until his death. I recall his passing provoked one of the all-time great so-tasteless-it’s-brilliant headlines in Melody Maker, ‘Key Stone Cops It’.

Behind the scenes, Ian Stewart was an important figure; but as far as the public were concerned, he was a footnote in the Stones story. Not so Charlie Watts, whose death at the age of 80 has been announced. Watts was the urbane jazzman who somehow found himself the drummer in the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band when his detached demeanour often implied he’d have been happier playing before a few hundred punters at Ronnie Scott’s rather than thousands in some vast arena. If Mick Jagger is the celebrity salesman for the band and Keith Richards is the keeper of the musical flame, Charlie Watts has always been the solid rock outside of the spotlight, the Stones’ equivalent of the old Arsenal back four.

In the middle of the 1970s, when the band was beginning to make serious money for the first time thanks to the growth of stadium rock and astronomical album sales, they were actually on the brink of collapse. Mick Taylor, replacement for Brian Jones, had quit; Jagger had joined the coke-snorting jet-set with Bianca; Keith was sleepwalking his way through the day doped-up to the eyeballs; and Ronnie Wood had yet to become a permanent member, still being best known as Rod Stewart’s sidekick. The band’s public image as decadent tax-exiles provided the best excuse for the arrival of Punk Rock, and if it hadn’t been for Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, the drum ‘n’ bass team keeping the train on the tracks, chances are the Stones would’ve been derailed for good around this time. The two of them were that important.

Bill Wyman earned his eventual notoriety during another fallow period in the 80s and finally departed the band in the early 90s, whereas dependable Charlie Watts was always there whenever the remaining members reconvened for a tour or album. As the decades flew by and the Stones adapted to their advancing years by fleshing out the sound on the road with additional musicians, Charlie Watts’ reserved parking space behind the drum-kit was as vital to the band’s composition as Jagger’s breathless gymnastics and Keith riffing away with a fag hanging out of his mouth. It may have taken his impressive staying power for his long-term contribution to the band to be belatedly recognised, but Charlie keeping time at the back, just as he always had, was as necessary a part of what made the Stones work as any of the more celebrated factors. But then, a man who was married to the same woman from 1964 until his death was evidently in possession of something special his bandmates lacked.

The manner in which hit records were recorded in the early 60s often relegated the rhythm section to a place so low in the mix that they seemed to emphasise the hierarchy within a musical unit. Improvements in the recording process and the high profile afforded the likes of Keith Moon and Ginger Baker both on record and on stage dramatically changed all that by the end of the decade, yet Charlie Watts – not unlike Ringo Starr – remained defiantly un-showy; one could never imagine Charlie indulging in a ten-minute drum solo, for example. He knew what his job was and he did it. Only when listening closely to the classic run of Stones singles and albums from the mid-60s to the early 70s can one really discern just how quietly inventive a drummer Charlie Watts really was. Following the lead of their genre-crossing rivals from Liverpool, the Stones flirted with a wide range of sounds and styles during this invigorating period; the eclectic musical gifts of Brian Jones helped expand the band’s horizons, presenting Charlie Watts with constant challenges in finding the right rhythm; but he always managed it.

Watts and Wyman appeared content to concentrate on the music and let their more extrovert bandmates dominate the spotlight for the first 20 years of the Stones; but whereas Wyman finally made his way onto the front pages in a way that didn’t necessarily reflect very well on the bass-player, Charlie continued to shy away from the gossip columns. Even when he unexpectedly developed a serious drug habit in the 80s, he didn’t do so in the tabloid glare, keeping it within the family and successfully getting through what he himself referred to as his midlife crisis. He certainly didn’t fit the stereotype of the rock star that Keith Richards had copyrighted as a public image – even if Keith eventually allowed his considerable erudite side to become more well-known; instead, Charlie Watts’ laconic, self-deprecating humour helped keep the band as grounded as it was possible for such an institution to be. Rock scribes might still like to experience a vicarious thrill telling tales about the on-the-road excesses of old, but without Charlie heading up the rear, the whole circus could easily have disintegrated into an almighty mess.

Like many of those belonging to the generation of Brits whose creativity shaped the 60s, Charlie Watts was from a working-class background (son of a lorry driver) and benefitted from the-then educational system by progressing to art school; his post-college career as a graphic designer ran parallel with his sideline drumming for jazz and blues combos, though even after joining the embryonic Rolling Stones as their permanent drummer at the beginning of 1963, he continued to dabble in art. His cartoons could be seen on the back cover of the 1967 Stones LP, ‘Between the Buttons’, and he later helped design many of the band’s stage sets. He also stayed loyal to jazz and blues, regularly playing with musicians specialising in such sounds whenever the Stones took one of their extended sabbaticals. These sabbaticals have become ever more extended in recent years and Charlie even had to admit he wasn’t physically capable of fulfilling another touring schedule pencilled-in for the back end of this year and had pulled out. His health had previously been a concern in the mid-2000s when he was diagnosed with throat cancer, but he went into remission and the band resumed business once he was well again.

A uniquely sharp dresser even when other members of the Stones were succumbing to some of the worst sartorial crimes of the 80s, Charlie Watts’ distinctive visual style remained rooted in the sharp-suited jazz era that was always his first love, and his wry detachment from the tiresome mythologizing that goes hand-in-hand with the heritage rock industry was always a breath of fresh air. In the best British tradition, he never took himself too seriously; but when it came to his profession he was, in the words of a friend on Facebook tonight, ‘a pro’. Damn right he was.

© The Editor

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

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R + JWorking my way through ye olde ‘Exposure’ series for the first time in at least five years as I upload it to my Patreon site, I came across one instalment in the series the other day that was rather chilling in its Nostradamus-like prescience. This particular episode, produced roundabout 2013/14 (but no later), was a spoof of Channel 4 News and featured a lead story that perhaps explained why satire seems to be so thin on the ground these days. Basically, it announced the government had introduced a new law whereby saying something considered ‘offensive’ in the privacy of one’s home was now a criminal offence, and failure to report knowledge of such a heinous act was also illegal. I did wonder if Nicola Sturgeon had watched said video when it was on YouTube almost a decade ago and thought ‘Hey, that’s not a bad wee idea’. How can one compete in 2021, when reality has replicated parody?

Any prediction of future events in a work of satire is usually accidental; satire by its very nature exaggerates real life and subverts current events by offering a ridiculous slant on them. If current events eventually develop along lines suggested in a satire that was intended to imagine the most outrageous interpretation of, say, contemporary political policy, chances are the satirist is not directly responsible and those who are have no sense of humour. All kinds of wild scenarios are dreamt up in the name of satire, whether the Ministry of Silly Walks or the insane, nonsensical headlines on ‘The Day Today’. I certainly didn’t seriously foresee any government would actually propose a law in which such a subjective subject as causing offence would be pivotal to the increasing encroachment of the state into the private space. But, hey ho, we are living in even stranger days than we were a decade ago, when the foundations for these strange days were being laid and I was evidently picking up on what was happening – without realising where it was going.

One theme that runs through ‘Exposure’ is the infantilisation and mollycoddling of the young, something I continued in a video produced not long after the series ended, and one that remains on YT. This was a trailer for a new BBC3 service known as ‘Uni-Zone’, an Open University-like slot featuring ‘safe space’ learning complete with specially doctored courses and trigger warnings. Academia may have suffered the most high profile pollution of its purpose by this mindset, but the arts have fallen to the artless like the rest of our cultural institutions; the whole raison d’être of literature – especially fiction – is being strangled by it, and now the theatre has retreated back to the sterile playpen of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, wherein any play perceived as possessing the power to ‘trigger’ a delicate audience is trailed by not merely an onstage announcement before the production begins, but an entire leaflet listing potential ‘triggering’ moments.

A trigger warning, like a movie bearing an X certificate back in the old days, subliminally primes the viewer to expect something disturbing, so anything that appears – however innocuous – can be interpreted as such. Just as those who view the world through the prism of racism see racism in literally everything even when it isn’t there, telling an audience beforehand that they are destined to be disturbed by what they’re about to receive more or less guarantees they probably will be. If one were to take this approach to England’s most revered playwright, one might imagine the likes of ‘Titus Andronicus’, with its rapes, mutilations and cannibalism, would be the first to fall under the triggering spotlight. However, it is his most celebrated love story that has been wrapped in blood-stained cotton wool and served-up to what the producers anticipate as an audience of fragile snowflakes – and at the most prestigious Shakespearean venue of them all, the Globe. Boys and girls, prepare to be traumatised for life…by Romeo and Juliet.

Perhaps it’s telling that the only facet of the play one might consider potentially disturbing to a modern audience – the fact that Juliet is supposed to be thirteen – isn’t considered disturbing enough to the producers, who have instead jumped on the mental health bandwagon and concentrated on the tragic ending. The revised rules of cinematic entertainment under this new world order specify gay characters must be played by gay actors, trans characters by trans actors, disabled characters by disabled actors and so on; the whole point of acting, of one person adopting the identity of another and convincing an audience they are that person for the duration of the performance, is suspended and sacrificed for ‘authenticity’; if live theatre is to emulate the illogical logic of cultural appropriation, the climax of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ therefore demands the onstage suicide of the two leads every night, surely? That’d be correctly authentic for spectators unable to grasp the concept of pretence that is acting, yes? But no! It’s not two fresh faces for each performance! It’s the same ones – and that means they don’t really kill themselves. I want my money back!

However, just in case an audience fails to discern that what they’re watching isn’t genuine – as though they might mistake each confrontation between Montagues and Capulets taking place before them as akin to stumbling upon a mass brawl in a pub car park – the production’s checklist issues the reassuring declaration that everyone is actually pretending. What? I don’t understand. ‘Near the end of the play,’ says this helpful guide, ‘when Romeo drinks poison, the actor pretends to vomit and convulse. This is not real and he is not hurt.’ What? I don’t understand. Apparently, ‘at the end, Juliet shoots herself. This is not real.’ What? I don’t understand. ‘There is stage blood and vomit in this production. It is not real.’ No! ‘There is stage fighting in this production. The violence is not real and should not be copied.’ But isn’t this supposed to be real? What can all this possibly mean? If what we’re seeing isn’t real, what is it? Has some sadistic bastard invented some horrific new art-form to torment and torture us?

Amazingly, this production isn’t aimed at an audience of primary school infants – who might perhaps struggle to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not when it’s taking place outside of their internal imaginations – but proper grownups, or at least the almost-grownup (AKA millennials). Patronising them and crediting them with so little intelligence that they have to be told everyone onstage is pretending makes one wonder what the producers thought their potential punters imagined they were doing when finding themselves sitting in a theatre to watch a play. Even some laughable Legz Akimbo-type student theatre group touring schools and staging little plays about ‘issues’ wouldn’t stoop so low as to assume their audience couldn’t tell the difference between real life and acting. ‘Romeo and Juliet’, like most works by the Bard, is rooted in universal themes allowing for unlimited interpretations over the centuries; the flexibility of their themes can be attuned to whatever happens to be happening within contemporary culture, and in that respect I suppose this particular telling of the star-crossed lovers’ tale is upholding the tradition.

Helpfully, the info sheet accompanying the production offers any distressed audience member the comfort blanket of further info available at the box office, which is presumably now a branch of the Samaritans. A spokesperson for the Globe has stated the 2021 version of the play intends to ‘address problems young people face today’, almost as though no previous generation of young people have ever faced any of the problems the play is based around. ‘As we’ve chosen to focus on mental health,’ the spiel went, ‘we want to provide information to those who may need it.’ In other words, the entertainment factor has been sucked out of the play and what we’re left with is a glorified public information film for the mentally retarded.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294


Rob SquadIn a year or so of what has been an exceptional era of doom ‘n’ gloom – indeed, one that appears to be getting even doomier and gloomier by the day – people have naturally devoted a great deal of their spare time to seeking escapism and entertainment, just as they always do at such times. Hollywood provided it during the Great Depression of the 1930s and television did much the same in the economically chaotic 1970s. Beyond subscriptions to (or illegal accessing of) Netflix, YouTube has served this function for many of late. I myself have been a beneficiary of this desperate desire to be entertained, with my own YT channel experiencing a phenomenal upsurge of views. In some cases videos produced almost a decade ago have been discovered and applauded as though they were brand new. I’ve lost count of the number of kind words that have flowed my way from grateful online explorers who seem to regard my back catalogue of silly, satirical and near-the-knuckle videos as some sort of welcome oasis in a very dark desert. It caught me by surprise, to say the least, but it is gratifying to have the work I’ve put in over several years belatedly appreciated by a bigger audience than I’ve ever enjoyed before.

I’ve made my own discoveries during this period as well, many of which I’ve written about on here before – YT channels such as Triggernometry, Joolz Guides, Jago Hazzard, John Heaton, Reuben the Bulldog, Oliver the Beagle and numerous others I subscribe to and find much more informative and entertaining than the majority of the drivel served up by mainstream broadcasters these days. I also once mentioned the ‘reaction’ videos, a subgenre on YT that seems to have undergone a massive expansion over the past twelve months. There appear to be hundreds of these channels now, whereby the hosts listen to a piece of music most of them have never heard before and we receive their instant reaction followed by them trying to put into words what they’ve just heard. On paper, it doesn’t sound too engaging, but a lot depends on the personality of the host and how well they’re able to engage the viewer. Some are better than others and some are fantastic.

I’ve recently fallen in love with an American couple who present a channel called ‘Rob Squad Reactions’. Jordan and Amber are married twenty-somethings who are unapologetic about their ignorance of music most of us have heard forever. What makes them so likeable, however, is their ravenous appetite to be educated; they receive recommendations from subscribers and give these recommendations an eager listen, without prejudice and with a completely open mind. Songs and artists we tend to assume everyone knows inside out are often utterly unknown to them, yet they don’t dismiss what they don’t know; instead, they embrace the unknown and want to learn. It’s a refreshingly joyous experience watching them listen to a standard and seeing the first-time impact on them; often, it enables the viewer to hear the song in a new light too, sharing the sensation with the pair as they’re knocked out by what they’re hearing. They also have a habit of nailing what makes a song magical in a way that relentless exposure to it gradually erodes; I often find myself remembering my own emotions when hearing the song for the first time, emotions that repetition had removed.

Watching several of their videos in a row, one sees the rapid development of a genuine appreciation of music and musicians made before their own time; they routinely comment on how musically diverse and adventurous artists were forty or fifty years ago, with their versatility and ability shaming the uninspired push-button nature of so much mainstream music produced today; and it’s only through listening to these 20th century sounds that this has really dawned on Jordan and Amber. It makes one wish that this kind of musical education was rated as highly as some prioritised subjects on the school syllabus, though I suppose that might result in the decline and fall of the profitable industry which produces the fast-food junk that passes for pop in 2021 as its consumers become aware they’re being force fed pap.

Most of all, though, what makes this channel such a gem is that Jordan and Amber themselves radiate such positive, unpretentious joy. They really do sparkle as a couple and come across as genuinely lovely people. It’s interesting that Amber wasn’t present in the earlier videos; Jordan on his own is likeable enough, but the channel really springs to life and stands out from the competition once his relentlessly upbeat other half joins him. I was compelled to pay tribute to them as, whilst I’ve told some tales from the Taliban this week, I couldn’t bring myself to write about last week’s massacre down Plymouth way simply because sometimes even I can only take so much. It’s probably no wonder I find Rob Squad Reactions so addictive at the moment, just as some can’t get enough of ‘Buggernation Street’. Both, it seems, are needed for the same reason.

Richard & AustenOn the day Brian Clough’s brief and tempestuous stint as Leeds United manager came to an abrupt end in September 1974, Cloughie took part in a memorable television confrontation with his nemesis and the man he’d replaced at Elland Road, Don Revie. What followed remains an electrifying clash between two men whose antipathy towards each other is evident, yet both are able to articulate their point of view without interruption from the programme’s presenter in a way that simply wouldn’t happen today. The presenter was Austin Mitchell, then one of the co-hosts (alongside Richard Whiteley) of Yorkshire TV’s nightly regional magazine show, ‘Calendar’.

Mitchell’s skills as an interviewer are underlined when, after asking Clough and Revie several questions, he’s smart enough to realise the guests are more than capable of grilling each other; they do so in such a compelling fashion that Mitchell slowly pulls back and lets them get on with it for the best part of ten minutes without him interjecting. Can you imagine any presenter of, say, ‘Newsnight’ in 2021 showing similar journalistic expertise or lacking the ego to keep schtum for such a long time? No, me neither.

In the first half of the 1970s, Austin Mitchell experienced the curious fame unique to the regional TV star at a time when ITV’s individual regional identities were extremely strong. He was a household name throughout Yorkshire, yet beyond its borders was pretty much unknown. It was a shame, looking back, that Mitchell wasn’t a national TV presenter because he was an intelligent, charismatic and witty host of ‘Calendar’, capable of covering serious news events – such as reporting from the scene of 1973’s Lofthouse Colliery Disaster – and simultaneously engaging in the kind of silly stories about odd local customs or generic eccentrics that became a hallmark and cliché of regional television in the 70s. But rather than make that leap from regional to national telly, Austin Mitchell instead abandoned a career in broadcasting for politics.

Whereas Brian Walden made the opposite journey – moving from the Labour backbenches to present the Sunday lunchtime political show, ‘Weekend World’ – Austin Mitchell quit TV and was elected MP for Great Grimsby at a 1977 by-election following the death of Foreign Secretary Anthony Crosland. Mitchell described himself as a Gaitskellite, and as a politician he certainly seemed to belong to that old-school intellectual socialist tradition; along with his journalistic background he was also an academic, having being a university lecturer in New Zealand in the 60s, and was a prolific author. He was a solid constituency MP for 38 years, retaining the humour often evident during his ‘Calendar’ days by once briefly changing his surname to Haddock in order to highlight the plight of the fish that was part of the staple diet of his seafaring constituents. They really don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

© The Editor

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US EmbassyWhen one sees images of helicopters carrying the remaining American nationals from the US embassy to the airport in Kabul, it’s all-but impossible for anyone with any knowledge of past military follies to not see the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 all over again; the pictures of ignominious flight are all-but identical, despite the laughable denial of the White House. The skies above abandoned embassy compounds discoloured by smoke rising from the frantic burning of documents, and scenes of chaos as those who can get the hell out get the hell out are horribly familiar; one month short of 20 years since the event that embroiled America and its allies in Afghan affairs, any progress achieved in those tumultuous two decades was effectively wiped out in barely 24 hours as the capital of Afghanistan capitulated to the Taliban. The revitalised Islamic Mafiosi oozed such arrogance that they even paused to take in their triumph at the gates of Kabul as they encircled the city. They spoke of a peaceful transference of power, though promises of an amnesty for those who had worked for the deposed government have been greeted with valid scepticism, for it’s not as though the Taliban are an unknown quantity.

The sense of panic and dread on the streets for Afghan civilians in the nation’s capital as the Taliban approached the city with frightening speed has parallels not only with how it must have felt awaiting the arrival of the Vietnamese People’s Army in 1975 but the similarly tense anticipation of the incoming Khmer Rouge in neighbouring Cambodia that same year. How hard it is to put one’s self in those shoes when it’s so beyond the realm of lived experience on these islands. It’s something nobody in this country has come close to feeling since 1940 and it mercifully ended up not happening then after all. It’s sometimes difficult to relate to that feeling when no one has experienced it for real on British soil for almost a thousand years; it’s an utterly alien sensation, the kind one can only try to imagine with genuine horror. However, so commonplace is this sensation in many parts of the world, there must be an awful sense of déjà-vu for those old enough to remember the last time it happened in Afghanistan.

One of the main differences between the weekend’s events in Kabul and the ghosts it evokes is that, whereas the Communist North Vietnamese troops and Pol Pot’s forces were entering arenas they’d long craved but had never captured, the Taliban are the ambassadors of Afghanistan’s very own Groundhog Day. 20 years after US troops and the Northern Alliance chased them out of the capital, they’re back. A fragile political harmony in this precarious patchwork of a nation evaporated overnight as hundreds of Kabul’s citizens queued outside banks to withdraw their life savings; women who had got used to life without the burqa were desperately trying to get hold of one; the Afghan Army that Joe Biden confidently declared would hold back the Taliban once Western forces exited fell like the proverbial dominos; the country’s President Ashraf Ghani did a runner as his negotiations with warlords laid in tatters as one-by-one they too either fled or surrendered to the Taliban; and the roads out of Kabul were crammed with instant refugees to add to the hundreds already displaced by the Taliban’s race to the capital, refugees telling tales of Taliban atrocities as Afghan summertime is reset to 1996.

An important point, I guess, is that the Taliban don’t exist in a vacuum; without widespread support at home and in surrounding countries, they couldn’t have achieved what they’ve managed over the past couple of weeks. During their previous stint in charge, they banned music, dancing, cinema, painting and photography and relegated women to the status of infantilised property; and if some hadn’t missed living in this medieval theme park, the Taliban’s particular brand of ‘toxic masculinity’ wouldn’t be back in vogue. Then again, the Middle Eastern mindset tends to admire what it perceives as strength and despises what it perceives as weakness; there’d be no talk of an athlete’s ‘courage’ in running away in tears from the Olympics after a bad performance, vaguely citing mental health issues; that would be contemptuously viewed as the embodiment of weakness. The insular West busily undergoing a cultural crisis appears to have forgotten the rest of the world doesn’t think like we do, which is perhaps why the appeal of Putin to many Russians or that of the Taliban to many Muslims is so hard for many Westerners to get their heads around.

The leaders of Western nations who’d sacrificed hundreds of their countrymen’s lives to remake Afghanistan along democratic lines reacted to the situation with a series of spineless statements that barely disguised the dejection those nations feel when witnessing events in Kabul. Boris Johnson said, ‘It’s very important that the West collectively should work together to get over to that new government…nobody wants once again for Afghanistan to be a breeding ground for terror.’ And nobody in the West will be able to prevent it from becoming precisely that. But foreign investment in Afghanistan remains a vital component of its future – and the kind of foreign investment that has facilitated the current coup. For example, the Taliban has had a safe passage in and out of neighbouring Pakistan over the last 20 years – and without that it would arguably have been impossible for the organisation to regroup and rebuild to the point where they’ve been able to stage this admittedly stunning comeback in barely a fortnight.

One also shouldn’t overlook the support of Qatar either; indeed, this grotesque Absolute Monarchy was the location where the doomed Afghan government met with and tried to persuade the Taliban to stick their promises of an orderly transition of power, free from reprisals and ill-treatment of refugees. Now is probably an opportune moment to remember that this Arab autocracy and shining observer of human rights will be hosting the next World Cup. I wonder how many footballers quick to take the knee today will exhibit selective deafness on political issues as we approach 2022. Indeed, how many of them will echo the great Johan Cruyff’s principled refusal to play in the 1978 tournament because he opposed the Argentine military Junta? Nah, I’m not holding my breath either. Some are holding their breath and crossing their fingers right now, but I doubt if many women or girls in Afghanistan are; even those not born the last time the Taliban controlled the country will be aware that Sharia Law tends to single out the fairer sex for special treatment.

All those who were so eager to interpret the television adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ as some sort of parable for Trump’s America – even going so far as to don the distinctive Handmaid outfit at anti-Donald demonstrations – were in wilful denial that the one place on the planet where the fictional and brutal portrayal of female subjugation rang true was in a hardline Islamic state. The upcoming Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will see Margaret Atwood’s story play out in real time once again, but of course the Western luxury of being able to pick and choose one’s heroes and villains will turn a blind eye to the plight of women under the oppressive restrictions of the Caliphate because that doesn’t fit the narrative. Women as ministers in government? Well, that can be consigned to history for starters, as can virtually every other progressive step forward for women’s rights in Afghanistan, which was one of the few genuinely positive gains to have emerged from the post-Taliban era. Going, going…gone. Just like the Western expedition into an often ideologically unfathomable alien landscape where one man’s sunset is another’s sunrise.

© The Editor

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Roland RatThe British television landscape today may well be something of an overcrowded shantytown, but barely 40 years ago it was still a wide open space with just a smattering of broadcasters sprinkled liberally enough not to spoil the view; when new people moved into the neighbourhood it was therefore front page news, and Channel 4’s arrival in 1982 was like a group of left-wing squatters setting up camp in a rural Tory parish, frightening the old ladies with their effing and blinding at all hours and shouting ‘Power to the people!’ at the vicar. However, within just a couple of months of the uproar and disruption the arrival of Channel 4 provoked, attention shifted to another new broadcasting venture destined to be beset with problems – breakfast television. After a handful of regional ITV experiments in the late 70s, the Beeb were first to go nationwide with a concept utterly alien to a British viewing public accustomed to being awoken by the humble wireless, with the ‘Today’ programme and the Radio 1 breakfast show traditionally attracting the largest audiences. Novelty value alone might temporarily persuade the masses to try the telly as a side-order with their Rice Krispies, but could it become as ubiquitous a feature of the schedules as in the States?

The BBC recruited one of their heavyweight anchors in the dependable shape of Frank Bough to head the team of ‘Breakfast Time’; future coke-snorting escapades in lingerie notwithstanding, Bough was a consummate broadcaster, a veteran of both ‘Grandstand’ and ‘Nationwide’ as well as a go-to man to present great sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup. Bough’s seniority was balanced by poaching the glamorous newsreader Selina Scott from ITN as well as promoting Nick Ross from BBC2’s ‘Man Alive’; oh, and David Icke was there as well. Anyway, ‘Breakfast Time’ was launched in January 1983 to generally favourable reviews, though many anticipated the cosy sofas and pullovers being usurped by ITV’s rival service, ‘Good Morning Britain’, produced by new company TV-am. If the Beeb had opted for a broadcasting bastion by electing Frank Bough team captain, TV-am went one better by assembling some of the most recognisable faces on British television at that time.

The so-called ‘Famous Five’ were Michael Parkinson, David Frost, Anna Ford, Angela Rippon and Robert Kee; and with a line-up like that, what could go wrong? Well, it didn’t help that the intended launch date of June 1983 was hurriedly brought forward to prevent the BBC getting too settled in the time slot. The same failure to negotiate royalties and rates for advertising with Equity that had left the ad breaks during the first couple of months of Channel 4 crammed with public information films also affected TV-am, severely reducing advertising revenue at the time of the station’s re-jigged and rushed launch date of February. TV-am were also thrown by the BBC’s unexpectedly casual approach to presentation on ‘Breakfast Time’ and didn’t have time to develop a similar style. ‘Good Morning Britain’ seemed stiff and starchy, there was little or no on-screen chemistry between any of the Famous Five, and ratings rapidly went into freefall.

TV-am off-camera quickly became a compelling soap opera far more interesting than any of its televised output, with high-profile sackings and a dramatic boardroom coup at the company making those first few traumatic months of the station a gift for Fleet Street. Although TV-am’s unlikely saviours turned out to be Anne Diamond, Nick Owen, Greg Dyke and – above all others – Roland Rat, the chaotic beginnings of breakfast television on ITV served as a lesson to any future broadcasting endeavours which imagine simply throwing together a bunch of household names assumes their very presence will ensure quality TV when that ain’t necessarily so. Am I alone in seeing the ghosts of TV-am currently haunting the latest television station to have been launched with familiar hyperbole, only to undergo similar problems both on and off-screen? I’m talking GB News.

The much-heralded ‘Anti-Woke’ alternative to the mainstream news output of the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky, GB News was as dependent pre-launch on Andrew Neil and his impeccable broadcasting credentials as TV-am was on David Frost in 1983. Like Frost before him, Andrew Neil is perhaps the premier political interviewer of his generation and one of the few people in British television with the kind of clout and CV to ensure the prospect of GB News would generate interest in anticipation of a serious, valid and much-needed fresh voice on the overwhelmingly left-leaning landscape of television news in this country. Hopes were high that this could be not so much the ‘alt-right’ UK equivalent of Fox News that its somewhat hysterical pre-launch detractors on social media predicted, but a non-partisan option for people happy to hear all sides of a debate rather than the same old hymn-sheet everyone else was singing from. The ratings on the opening night seemed to vindicate the hype but then, as with TV-am, things began to go wrong.

In its early days, TV-am suffered several on-screen cock-ups that made it appear amateurish and cheap, none more so than in its infamous coverage of the 1984 Brighton Bomb at the Conservative Party Conference. Whilst the BBC had camera crews on hand to transmit the drama to the nation, TV-am had to make do with the voice of John Stapleton on the telephone, giving the station the look and feel of an insignificant regional ITV company rather than a national broadcaster. Meanwhile, GB News has undergone its own persistent ‘technical issues’ that have made the station something of a laughing stock in terms of is ramshackle presentation; like TV-am before it, GB News was launched prematurely and, just as TV-am struggled to receive revenue from advertising at the time of its launch, GB News has had its own problems with advertising, experiencing a withdrawal of numerous Woke-friendly companies unwilling to advertise their wares on the station. And, just as the Famous Five quickly vanished from ‘Good Morning Britain’ when viewer numbers plummeted, Andrew Neil has gone AWOL from GB News, fleeing across the Channel barely a fortnight after the station’s launch as ratings often fell below zero.

Stories of backstage tensions between Neil (also chairman of the station) and the GB News chief executive (and ex-boss of Sky News Australia) Angelos Frangopoulos have abounded ever since Neil’s extended holiday; the resignations of senior executive producer Gill Penlington and director of programming John McAndrew – allies of Neil and boasting enough of a serious news pedigree to give the station credibility – have also strengthened the hand of Frangopoulos in his alleged ambition to push the station further to the right. Sliding ratings seem to have been arrested by recruiting Nigel Farage to host his own show; and whilst it could be said that Farage might turn out to be GB News’s very own Roland Rat figure, sources continue to insist Andrew Neil will be back in September.

By the back end of the 80s TV-am’s style proved successful enough for the BBC to abandon its sofas and re-launch ‘Breakfast Time’ as a televisual equivalent of ‘Today’, going down the hard news road. However, despite winning the favour of Mrs Thatcher during a notorious industrial dispute in 1987 and turning its fortunes around, TV-am still lost the ITV breakfast franchise in 1992. It’s very much early days for GB News – even now it’s only at the same point in terms of time on-air as TV-am was at in April 1983 – so rumours of its death could be said to be greatly exaggerated. At the same time, for many the presence of Andrew Neil was a signal that this station could well be worth investing in. Without him, is it merely a TV version of Talk Radio? Perhaps as long as the anchor is away, the jury will remain out.

© The Editor

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ScroogeWhilst trying to put it as politely as possible, it’s still difficult to put it any way other than: ‘What the f**k did they expect?’ If you as the powers-that-be spend the best part of a year and-a-half persuading people that coming into contact with their fellow man in an enclosed space could very well lead to their imminent death, should you be surprised that, after eighteen months of ingesting a relentless stream of Project Fear propaganda that has reduced every Lucy to a Linus, they don’t all rush back to that enclosed space? After all, they’ve foregone bidding farewell to loved ones on their death beds; they’ve foregone funerals, weddings and gatherings of every imaginable nature; and they’ve done all this whilst being exposed to the fact that Matt Hancock and his wandering hands – not to mention St Obama and his birthday bash – have ignored said propaganda and have carried on regardless whilst continuing to preach the mantra of mask-wearing, double-vaccinated social distancing. The powers-that-be seem to have forgotten that trust is earned, not God-given.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s entreaties to Britain’s workforce to return to its traditional workplace now that the pandemic has been jabbed into a mask-free safe space appear to be mysteriously falling on deaf ears – I wonder why? As has been pointed out previously, there are many amongst our cultural commentators and political movers & shakers who have enjoyed a ‘good pandemic’ – those metropolitan, cosmopolitan sages whose regular missives from the North London frontline have been dispatched to the barbaric provinces as a design for life in the wake of their own belated realisations that filing copy from a gated community is preferable to commuting on pleb-polluted public transport.

As long as essential deliveries to their doorsteps continued to be carried out by the great unwashed under the guise of ‘key workers’, this lockdown thing wasn’t such a big deal after all. If anything, it opened their eyes to the possibilities of an economic model in which the old-fashioned workplace could be reserved for the minimum-wage proles and they themselves could issue each fresh proclamation from the comfort of their family-friendly suburban enclaves. The problem now beginning to surface is that they’re not the only ones in the country who’ve had the veil lifted.

Unsurprisingly, the Freedom Day message has failed to connect with the majority of the people whose blood, sweat and toil ordinarily keeps the economy ticking over. The naive anticipation of a rush back to the public workplace post-19 July has not materialised, funnily enough. The furlough scheme probably helped, but there’s a little more to it than what was effectively a newfangled state benefit paid out to those in actual employment. Could it be that those expected to return in their droves after over a year of forced adjustment to a lifestyle in which the work and home environments have become interchangeable have actually realised the futility of their working lives as they existed pre-2020? Or could it be that permanent exposure to a 24/7 tsunami of pandemic propaganda via media of both the mainstream and social variety has left them terrified of their own shadows – a dubious wartime government tactic that is proving difficult to shake-off in this brave new post-war world?

Most sane folk regarded the lifting of lingering lockdown measures in July as an overdue necessity, though we shouldn’t forget that many had been so severely psychologically affected by the experience of the past year and-a-bit that the thought of suddenly setting foot in mask-free, overcrowded environments has been received with abject horror. Visiting the local supermarket is now a scary enough prospect; the thought of returning to an office full of people that requires a journey on a mobile sardine tin is a bridge too far. Government and its irresponsible advisors only have themselves to blame. Yes, some of us view all media outlets with scepticism and thinly-veiled contempt, but the majority accept the broadcast message as Gospel; this Gospel preached the same mantra for well over a year and the mantra was absorbed to the point whereby the unvaccinated are now regarded as unclean or selfish (© Michael Gove) and a threat to the future security of the nation; to therefore expect those who have unquestionably adhered to every edict to drop everything and pick up where they left off at the beginning of 2020 by mixing and mingling in a contaminated social situation is a tall order.

An anonymous Cabinet Minister quoted in the Daily Mail has criticised workers who have shied away from a return to the workplace and has aired his/her opinion that anyone preferring to work from home rather than the office now that it’s no longer mandatory should have their wages deducted and that failing to do so means they’re enjoying ‘a de facto pay rise’. ‘People who have been working from home aren’t paying their commuting costs,’ declared this expenses-claiming voice of reason. ‘If people aren’t going into work, they don’t deserve the terms and conditions they get if they are going into work.’ Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock that Ministers are especially affronted by this lacklustre response to Freedom Day because it’s directly affected them on account of civil servants being noticeably reluctant to toe the government line, leaving Whitehall short on Bernard’s if not Sir Humphrey’s. Even old IDS has been prompted to comment, ‘Civil servants need to get off their backsides and into the office, and they need to do it pretty quickly.’

‘Hybrid’ is the current terminology to describe those workers who split their working lives between the office and home. Rishi Sunak is apparently not keen on ‘remote’ workers or ones with a foot in both camps, urging the young to resume their places in city centres as the impact of their absence is beginning to be noted by the Treasury. But why should they? If the past twelve months or so has shown anything it is that a vast swathe of professions that were always deemed to require workplaces can be undertaken from the comfort of home – mid-morning pyjamas and all – and the inbuilt fear of coming into contact with strangers (vaccinated or no) has left many workers reluctant to heed the Chancellor’s call. Again, whose fault is that?

The great working-class moniker of Zachary Gauge belongs to someone whose job title is that of UBS analyst. ‘You can’t operate offices at just 10 percent occupancy,’ Zak observes. ‘From September time, we’ll start to get more of a feel of what that actually looks like. Most people will have had two jabs and that’s the point – the corporate world will start to take more of a hardline approach to people coming back into the office.’ Zak shouldn’t neglect the impact of the so-called ‘pingdemic’ when it comes to his forecast either; the effect of Smartphone commandments ordering workers to abruptly self-isolate at the drop of a hat is playing its part in the economic fortunes of the nation at the moment, of course; any cursory glance at sparse supermarket shelves will tell you that, extending any expected recovery well into the autumn and beyond. But, as I so succinctly put it at the beginning of this post, what the f**k did they expect?

According to the stats, near enough a quarter of the working population worked from home in the month of July, whilst those who made the journey from home to workplace for at least one day in the week dropped from 61% to 57% – and the whole Freedom Day hype probably won’t alter the stats much in the coming weeks. Too much terror has been drilled into the work-age population to expect them to revert to the pre-2020 default position when it comes to earning a living. In order to ensure compliance, their heads have been battered by ‘The Science’, and wiping those heads clean of all that SAGE scaremongering so that they will resume drone-hood like nothing ever happened is pure pie-in-the-sky. Reaping and sowing – it’s a funny old game, innit.

© The Editor

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MinersAnyone familiar with social media will be aware that one’s Facebook newsfeed can be a little like the virtual equivalent of passing a long, long sequence of billboards on the street. Some of the products being plugged have been memorised by the algorithms as items one has previously favoured whilst others appear out of nowhere; these appear because FB thinks they’ll appeal to the demographic it calculates the user belongs to – a calculation generally based on age, noted preferences, sex and so on. They’re routinely way off the mark for me personally and I tend to feel quite satisfied that this smart arse technology doesn’t know me as well as it reckons it does. Imagine your other half buying you an album for your birthday by a band that you’ve made it clear for years you absolutely hate. Well, it’s kind-of like that, but funnier. Mind you, videos, ads, links and promo material for charities or websites I sometimes don’t even remember ever giving the thumbs-up to regularly materialise in my newsfeed.

For example, over the last four or five years I’ve been receiving daily videos from a dog-walker in there – usually very charming and inoffensive shorts featuring the lady’s pooches having fun and that’s all, nothing more dramatic than that. I’ve no idea how these videos turned up in the first place, but I could think of a dozen others that I must have once clicked ‘like’ on and they’ve never forgotten. A similar tactic is used in an older cyber medium, that of the email. I’m not averse to signing e-petitions if I feel a particular cause is worthy of attention, but I often receive emails from groups I’m pretty sure I’ve never given any indication I support. I remember during the lead-up to the 2016 EU Referendum I was constantly receiving emails from the Remain lobby and yet I’d never once declared what my preferences were via any online platform, not even on the Winegum. To be honest, I hadn’t made my mind up for the majority of that campaign, anyway; I guess they were just chancing their arm in the hope I’d nail my colours to the mast.

In a similar vein, throughout Comrade Corbyn’s fun-packed tenure at the helm of the Labour Party I received emails from ‘Team Labour’, most of which I deleted without even opening. To be honest, emails of this ilk aren’t much different from Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking at the door and not being able to take a hint when you don’t answer it. In fact, even though Jezza has gone, I’m still receiving occasional emails from Team Labour and received one today. This time I opened it solely on the basis of the headline, feeling I could refer to its contents in this very post. It came as no great surprise to see the message was related to a casual and characteristically clumsy remark made by Boris Johnson on the subject of the pit closures programme undertaken by the Thatcher Government way back in the 1980s. Boris spent a couple of days north of the border, and singing Maggie’s praises on Scottish soil perhaps wasn’t a great idea to soften the hostility of the Scots towards the Prime Minister; that was gaffe No.1. Gaffe No.2 was to imply the pit closures were inadvertently responsible for pointing the way towards a cleaner, ‘greener’ future. One can imagine how that went down in old mining villages, many of which languish beneath the broken bricks that once formed part of the ‘Red Wall’.

The post-war decline in heavy industry was a painful, protracted process for a country that had established itself as the workshop of the world via heavy industry. In many ways, that decline characterised the second half of the twentieth century for Britain, and though the inevitability of it was something that successive governments tried and largely failed to manage with a degree of delicacy, perhaps in the end it would take a less sentimental and ruthless approach to finally put the beast out of its misery. That ruthlessness was maybe at its most nakedly brutal in the mining industry, a drama that played out over a period of around 15 years, reaching a peak (or nadir) with the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85. I’m not going to paint a black-and-white picture of heroes and villains here, but I will say that it wasn’t so much the loss of the industry as everything that had been built up around it that drove the deepest stake into the heart of those communities, communities that in many cases have never recovered and were effectively abandoned when the local pit closed.

Because nothing of any equivalent meaning and substance superseded the industry that had served as the glue holding such communities together for generations, the incredibly potent legend of the elite working-class heroes that were the miners has continued to exert a powerful grip on those parts of the country most affected by the loss of the pits. It’s not unlike the memory of an ex-girlfriend lingering as the gold standard of girlfriends when those who came after her failed to live up to her lasting impact. For many people of a certain age in the north of England, mining remains ‘the one’ and shiny bland business parks and call centres occupying cleaned-up land once blackened by the pit just isn’t the same. Not only do such ‘replacements’ fail to provide their employees with the same sense of having earned every penny of a good job well done that heavy industry tended to give its workers, but none come with the extended social network that surrounded an industry like mining – all of which vanished when the industry did.

Of course, the majority of these mining heartlands were also Labour heartlands, and the Left loves its legends; indeed, everything the Left has to shout about usually happened 40 or 50 years ago. The Miners’ Strike was the defining battle of the class struggle for the Left in the 80s – and the fact the Left lost the battle somehow makes it all the more perfect because it means the struggle didn’t end there; even if Identity Politics have now replaced class, it’s important the struggle is perpetual. Just listen to how the 2017 General Election remains referenced by Labour MPs as though it was a great victory on a par with 1945; if Corbyn had actually won that would’ve ruined everything; he’d have been on level pegging with Tony Blair, FFS!

Anyway, for those who were actually on the picket lines during the Miners’ Strike, the passage of time hasn’t really happened. I heard an ex-miner and veteran of Orgreave speaking on the ‘Today’ programme in response to what Boris had apparently said and his response was littered with references to Ted Heath, Thatcher and Arthur Scargill; but he evoked those ghosts as though they were all still contemporary political figures, as though they and the battle for that industry remained present tense. At one time, the likes of ‘the Germans’ were spoken of in a similar way by the generation that had fought the Second World War, decades after Peace in Europe had been declared.

The day after the last General Election and the complete collapse of the Red Wall, I saw a left-leaning friend who couldn’t comprehend the fact an acquaintance of hers had voted Tory. ‘And his father was a bloody miner,’ she said. The fact that, at that time, the Miners’ Strike had been 35 years before was irrelevant; this was clearly something each successive generation had to carry with them, even if the Tory turncoat in question had been born after 1984. Lest we forget, though, the Strike itself had exposed fault-lines in the social structure of pit villages as demonstrated by the divisions it opened up in families, divisions that have often never healed since then. Leave/Remain, Pro-vax/Anti-vax, Striker/Scab – perhaps the legacy of the Miners’ Strike is more relevant to modern Britain as a whole than just inherited bitter memories of betrayal and defeat in specific corners of Yorkshire. All of which means public servants of a certain colour still need to tread carefully when evoking it, even if treading carefully is beyond such an ungainly individual as Boris Johnson.

© The Editor

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Blow UpFour days tends to be the average maximum between posts on here, though I have nothing to really say today – nothing concerning the usual suspects, that is. I haven’t been sufficiently motivated by either Covid-related stuff or Identity Politics to compose a post since the last one; and that’s how it usually works – I never intentionally sit down and think ‘I must write something about coronavirus transgender racism.’ Whatever gets written usually just appears; it’s rarely premeditated, but I know when a post is on its way. Inspiration when it hits is a bit like seeing the Bat Signal in the sky; suddenly, without warning, it’s there and I spring into action. Well, when there is no Bat Signal hovering over Gotham City that’s generally when we get to the four-day mark. I can’t even default to my familiar standby of reviewing an obscure TV series from the 70s today, as I’m not currently watching one of them that I haven’t already written about on here. However, rather than this ending up being the shortest Telegram from the Winegum of all time, I shall instead ramble and meander a little, just as I sometimes do when I venture outdoors.

Of late, I’ve found ‘the walk’ that we were all encouraged to indulge in during Lockdown Mk. I (as a means of presumably preventing the nation from sinking into couch potato obesity) has become something I succumb to maybe just once a week, mainly because I’ve more or less been everywhere within walking distance now. I suppose I’m more amenable to the idea when it’s a nice day, naturally, and after a few drizzly and chilly interludes bearing a closer resemblance to October rather than August, the weather feels summery again. Therefore, today I decided to embark upon a stroll with no specific destination in mind; I did, however, find myself being drawn back to a location I’ve walked round several times this summer – the empty grounds of a nearby university campus. I say empty only in relation to its term-time tenants, for most students are obviously absent this time of year. Indeed, much like the hospital staff on the episode of ‘Yes Minister’ who don’t feel the need to fill their workplace with actual patients, I can’t help but note what pleasant places campuses are without students getting in the way.

With the majority of this particular campus having being built in the 19th century, it does have an easy-on-the-eye aesthetic appeal in terms of its architecture, and the vast expanse of greenery surrounding the buildings also adds to the ambience. The grounds border a public park, which means the whole site conjures the illusion of being somewhere a long way from an urban environment; the fact it’s not much more than ten minutes on foot from my front door proves that it’s a lot closer than the serene mirage suggests, however. What also plays its part in making this place such a pleasant spot to stroll through is the fact the absence of students reduces the noise levels. This time of year, the campus is like a benign vortex, a silent oasis that it’s hard to believe is just a stone’s throw from a ridiculously busy thoroughfare; living on said thoroughfare means most of the day the only sounds that penetrate my den are manmade: car engines, car horns, car alarms, in-car sound systems, and more than anything else, sirens – bloody sirens. I therefore notice it when I’m somewhere that has none of these sonic abortions, and the campus in question has none of them.

The phrase ‘Whispering Grass’ may evoke memories of Windsor Davies and Don Estelle if you’re of a certain age, but it also fits this place. That’s how lovely it is when all you can hear other than birdsong is the gentle ripple of the lawns in the breeze; what we would call silence can only really be referred to as such when it has something to be compared to; and when compared to the cacophony I’m accustomed to most days, this is silence. But, of course, it’s not silent; it’s merely softer than the norm, and it’s blissful. There are tennis courts in the grounds, but they’re all bolted up and packed away until the more sporty students return; there’s also a space that looks big enough to contain a fair-size football pitch, though the whispering grass there isn’t currently short enough for a proper kickabout and there’s no markings present; I suspect that’ll be attended to by September. That none of the areas catering for students into sporting pursuits are maintained as such when they’re away means these areas are amongst the most quiet and utterly deserted on campus. Anyone familiar with the scenes in seminal Swinging London movie ‘Blow-Up’ when David Hemmings’ photographer character wanders through an empty park without any dialogue or background music getting in the way will recognise just how striking the sound of ‘silence’ is; in fact, this part of the campus reminds me a lot of those scenes bar the bit where he finds the body in the bushes.

The only other people I tend to see out and about up there are either mothers with pushchairs and toddlers who are at that age when they want to walk rather than be pushed, or dog-walkers. I saw a walker with a six-strong pack a couple of weeks back and laughed to myself when I spotted the one dog that every pack has, the obstinate bloody-minded one in possession of selective deafness, the one who always drifts just that little bit too far from the rest, the one whose name is called out more than any of the others; he had a bell on his collar precisely for that reason, I guess. He also caught my eye on account of him being a miniature schnauzer, which happens to be one of my favourite pedigrees; this breed usually produces memorable characters and I used to know one who was indeed just that. It didn’t surprise me that the pooch in this pack stubbornly doing his own thing happened to be a miniature schnauzer.

A cartoon in the last issue of ‘Private Eye’ pictured a man walking a dog being asked by another man what breed it was, to which the dog-walker replied ‘Dunno, I only got him so I don’t look like a pervert when I’m down the park.’ I got the joke because it is true one can feel a tad self-conscious when walking through a park alone and without even a canine companion; I probably feel this more so because there have been times when I’ve had dogs and my presence in the park has therefore seemed ‘legit’. Bereft of a dog, I ordinarily wouldn’t be there, but ever since the first lockdown there’s been a greater impetus to be out for reasons other than simply shopping. That said, self-consciousness when one doesn’t have a dog matters less when strolling through a quiet campus; for all anyone knows, I could be a post-graduate drifter with no home to go back to – or even a slightly eccentric tutor.

There’s a definite out-of-season seaside town vibe to a campus in the summer, though I should imagine anyone else who ventures into this delightful vacuum in July and August will be as conscious as me that our little secret garden won’t be secret for much longer. Once the gates of academia are reopened, the character of the campus will inevitably alter and it’ll cease to be such a tranquil retreat till next summer. I feel a bit like Looby Loo, knowing she can only dance around when Andy Pandy and Teddy are elsewhere; the minute she hears them returning, her brief window of self-indulgence slams shut and she reverts to a lifeless ragdoll. Never having been a student myself, I’ve only understood the appeal of dreaming spires as I’ve matured; and though this campus isn’t Oxford, it nevertheless has a similar atmosphere I’m partial to, as long as it’s empty of students. Hope you didn’t mind this meander, by the way; I’ve never considered travel writing on account of not doing much in the way of travelling (bit of a hindrance, that), so this is as near as I’ll get for the moment.

© The Editor

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