Rovers PianoGiven the date, I suppose some horror-themed piece is appropriate, but I’m of the wrong generation to invest much interest in Halloween. ‘Trick or Treat’ was an imported Americanism that was imported too late for it to have constituted part of my childhood, with my only awareness that such a tradition even existed back then coming via a ‘Charlie Brown’ cartoon; those early animated outings for Charles M Schultz’s creation tended to premiere around the time of prominent US holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween etc. – and consequently the occasion formed the backbone of the storyline. Once we were into autumn, Mischievous Night and Bonfire Night meant far more over here than Halloween, though both seem somewhat diminished now; the one-time excitement surrounding the latter has been subdued by increasingly tighter restrictions on the sale of fireworks, whereas the former seems to have vanished altogether.

Such a consumerist cash-cow is Halloween today that the carnival is perhaps the major pre-Christmas excuse to go on a bender in fancy dress – though anyone who lives in a student neighbourhood will know it doesn’t take much to encourage that kind of activity. There are probably those – Goths, quite possibly – who take it much more seriously and no doubt mark the event by holding black mass ceremonies in graveyards at midnight, but for most it’s just another children’s festival extended into kidulthood. Obviously, the unique situation of the past eighteen months means any occasion reminiscent of what pre-pandemic life was like is desperately seized upon with even greater fervour than before, so expect social media to be awash with images of Halloween parties and piss-ups. I don’t remember anyone ever really taking photos of bonfires back in the day, and there was certainly never any photographic record of the pranks committed on Mischievous Night – which is a shame, for some of the things I can remember getting up to as a kid were worthy of being preserved as photos. Now it’s possible to document one’s entire day and share it with the world, it’s sometimes easy to forget the vast majority of experiences at one time were only recorded in memory.

Travel back maybe a century and-a-half and we arrive in the last period of history before it was possible to preserve an event in ways we take for granted today. Photography and then moving pictures revolutionised the documentation of the human experience, but just as innovative was recorded sound. I read a piece by Kierkegaard recently in which he expressed his love for Mozart; I considered the date that the renowned Danish pioneer of existentialist philosophy passed away (1855) and realised he shuffled off this mortal coil just two years before the earliest known recording of the human voice, which was made by Parisian Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. I thought about how lucky we are in the oh-so sophisticated early 21st century with how we can satisfy our craving for instant music compared to that of Kierkegaard and not just his own generation, but all the generations that had come before him.

If Kierkegaard wanted to hear a particular favourite by his favourite composer, he either had to wait until an orchestra was in town and hope the piece in question would be in their set-list, or he’d have to become accomplished enough to play it on the piano himself, and perhaps accompany a few friends who were competent on stringed instruments to the point whereby they could play said piece simply in order to hear it. Mind you, chances are he’d know enough people competent on stringed instruments to make assembling such an ensemble nowhere near as great a task as it’d be today; even roping someone in to make a vocal contribution wouldn’t be that difficult – after all, numerous adaptations of Jane Austen novels over the years have familiarised us with the fact that a post-dinner tradition was the accompanying of a pianist with a song; it was part and parcel of a social gathering in the same way that a contemporary equivalent would see the host simply sticking on some recorded music to play in the background. If this type of musical ‘turn’ was part of the middle-class evening-in for generations, the appeal of a singsong round the Joanna was no less strong lower down the class chain, and if not in the home then certainly in the local hostelry.

The presence of a piano as a commonplace item of household furniture may have long gone now, but it was still a lingering fixture during my parents’ 1950s childhoods from everything I’ve heard; the ‘public house’ upright piano was just as obligatory in the standard working-class residence as the middle-class one well into the halfway point of the 20th century, at least up until the modernist social housing revolution that created streets in the sky and dispensed with all the archaic furniture associated with the past. Being in possession of a modicum of musicianship wasn’t regarded as a novelty prior to that; I would imagine the majority of adults could bang out a tune on at least one instrument, which is maybe why the mid-50s demand for guitars from schoolboys inspired by Skiffle was treated as a natural phase by parents who forked-out the HP payments with no awareness whatsoever as to how they were acting as midwives to the cultural revolution of the 1960s by default. Today, the only children who can pick up an instrument and play it are largely those fortunate to attend a school where music lessons aren’t regarded as a luxury – and most adults probably know more people who can’t play an instrument than people who can.

With the actual playing of music one of the most accessible ways of hearing it, it’s no wonder record sales charts didn’t really capture the public imagination until the late 50s, when the sales of vinyl discs began to exceed those of sheet music for the first time. Sheet music had been a necessity for a century where those seeking to hear their favourite tunes were concerned, but the mass availability of said tunes on disc negated the need to replicate them and therefore negated the need to learn how to play them as well as the need for an instrument in the house to play them on. And almost 70 years after the first singles chart being published in the New Musical Express, we now don’t even need our music on a physical object.

It’s so easy to take for granted that when you undergo a sudden craving to listen to a specific piece of music today, you know you can access it within a minute of that craving; you can pull out a CD or LP from your own personal collection or you can go online and access it via Spotify or YouTube. Before recorded sound made all that possible, you would’ve been faced with no choice but to submit to the aforementioned means of accessing music that had always been in place for all of history up until that point. Yet even with the innovation of radio in the 1920s, playlists were still in the hands of the broadcasters; if you wanted to hear a particular favourite tune on the wireless, you’d have to write in to a programme to request it – and even then there was no guarantee they’d play it. Of course, you could go out and buy the record, but it wasn’t possible to buy every record you wanted; they could cost quite a bit, particularly LPs – hence the taping of the Sunday teatime charts onto a cassette, something that gradually evolved into a ritual for more than one generation.

As a teenager, one tended to listen to a good album or single with a dedicated intensity absent now, probably because it was the only record one could afford for a month or two and therefore it was played to death in the absence of choice. If lyrics were available, they were memorised, as was the whole package – sleeve, label and all. When you can instantly access any music you want, that level of commitment is simply not there. It ceases to be quite so valuable, and you can’t really care in quite the same way when it’s all on an iPod. Oh, well; such is progress. And I’ve no doubt Kierkegaard would’ve taken it. Not arf, pop-pickers!

© The Editor




Haters‘It’s not censorship when a private company decides to remove you from their platform. You don’t have an inalienable right to a Twitter account.’ So spoke the social media account of one Gary McGuiggin from a position of smug detachment in June 2020. A year or so later, in response to the 24-hour deletion of the YouTube account of ‘progressive’ left-leaning online news outlet Novara Media, the same account declared, ‘Whether or not you agree with what we publish, it shouldn’t be the whim of giant tech companies to delete us overnight with no explanation.’ Fancy that. It’s apparently okay if Talk Radio’s YT channel vanishes in the blink of an eye for daring to question the Covid consensus or if a former US President is permanently censored, what with cancel culture being a figment of the right-wing imagination and all that; but Voltaire’s oft-quoted line re freedom of speech is evoked yet again now that those for whom empathy only comes into play when their own platform is abruptly removed have felt the full force of that which they have long been in denial of. Yes, the incredible revelation that big tech is a tad too big for its boots has finally hit the left and we all have to erupt in collective outrage at the news. Pity we didn’t do so when supposedly ‘right’-leaning outlets were receiving the same treatment for months.

Not unlike the way in which Rad Fem tactics have now been turned on Rad Fems themselves via the Trans lobby, the sudden utilisation of cancel culture against those who foolishly imagined they were immune from its toxic touch has been a lamentable but sadly necessary act, if only to make the previously-unaffected aware that nobody is ring-fenced once a series of illiberal victories have been achieved. Amazing as it may seem, the news that giving an inch means a mile or more might be taken by those for whom compromise and capitulation is never enough has opened the blind eyes of the chattering-classes now that the realisation has dawned that tossing them a few token right-wing scraps won’t satisfy the ravenous appetites of the serial censors. Once they’ve acquired a taste for it, they won’t settle for crumbs.

Of course, anyone with any knowledge of the past will know this has all happened before. The McCarthy witch-hunts of 1950s America had begun with rooting out reds under the bed and eventually descended upon the unimpeachable reputation of FDR, trashing the legacy of a revered President as those falling under the spotlight of the fanatics they’d supported belatedly came to realise that nothing was ever enough for them. It shouldn’t take the overnight disappearance of a prominent pro-Corbyn, ultra-Woke mouthpiece before those who had been content to observe the muting of opposing voices decide this kind of thing is bad news; but it would appear it has to happen to them before they realise it’s not a good idea to silence freedom of speech in a democratic society. Fine if the speech being censured is speech that doesn’t chime with your own ideology, but apply the same principles to yours and it’s suddenly out of order. Well, tough titty, mate. It’s not advisable either way. But perhaps yesterday’s events re Novara Media can serve as a contemporary cultural equivalent of the decisive moment in 1975’s ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ when Davros pleads with his creations to have pity just before they exterminate him.

The fact that an established comedian such as Dave Chappelle over in the States has roused the ire of frothing-at-the-mouth Trans activists simply for daring to tell a few jokes should have been a warning sign in itself; footage of protests outside Netflix HQ in which the mental mob included a screeching harpy repeatedly screaming ‘Repent, muthaf***er!’ at an opposing voice should have been enough to convince anybody with half-a-brain that these people are pseudo-religious zealots that can never be appeased. The reaction to Chappelle’s recent Netflix special has been predictably disproportionate, for as far as I know the comedian himself didn’t spare anyone from his latest routine – just as predecessors such as Dave Allen, Billy Connolly, George Carling or Lenny Bruce never did; that’s comedy for you. That the only ‘persecuted minority’ to take umbrage at Chappelle’s act should have been the Trans lobby is interesting, considering this particular lobby has the whole of the corporate Western world on its side, not to mention every non-corporate institution (see LGBTXYZ Cars in the British Police Force, let alone ‘rainbow’ zebra crossings); that’s some persecution. Chappelle himself, a prominent black celebrity in the States, has even been accused of ‘white privilege’ by these purveyors of the insane dogma that characterises the most fanatical fanatics, and surely that tells you all you need to know about where we are – a world in which even august medical institutions like the Lancet can’t bring themselves to use the word ‘women’ in their literature just in case they might offend the self-appointed spokespeople of a few chicks with dicks.

As has been pointed out in recent posts, past groups pooling resources to stem the tide of ‘liberal’ progress tended to emanate from the middle-aged and the conservative right, whether religious Republicans across the Atlantic or suburban Tories over here. They were traditionally seen as upholders of authoritarian opposition, eagerly sponsoring the relentless pursuance of The Rolling Stones for their recreational drug use in the 1960s or cancelling every date on the first nationwide Sex Pistols tour ten years later. Their antipathy towards the changing of the guard was generally rooted in the increasing insecurity of their own fixed worldview, seeing power slipping away from their grip as everything they’d complacently held dear since the triumph over fascist forces in the 1940s was gradually deconstructed by war babies keen to build their own society from the uninspiring ashes they’d inherited. Back then, powerful opposition groups controlled the press, the mass media and every organisation with any clout in the country – just like their inheritors do in 2021, something that brings the victim mentality so beloved of the 21st century Puritans into question.

Today’s equivalents are less easier to define in quite the same way as one could define those of the 60s and 70s; what were once seen as positive and radical organisations such as Stonewall have now become far more reactionary than their predecessors. Most have evolved into an illogical establishment prioritising and elevating favourite minorities over a far wider demographic, inadvertently re-establishing all the barriers that had been torn down in the lengthy fight for gay rights, just as so-called ‘anti-racist’ groups in the US appear determined to revive racial segregation. Challenge any of them and you will feel the full force of those who are making a living from division and want to retain the current status quo as strongly as the elderly ladies and gentlemen did when they sought to crush the ungrateful yobs of half-a-century ago. Funnily enough, their predecessors also coloured their hair, albeit preferring a blue rinse to the pink shades favoured today; but I digress.

That the baton of authoritarian censorship should have been passed from right to left over the past decade hasn’t sat easy with those of us who would once have regarded themselves as left-leaning in the belief that one side was more conducive to freedom of expression than the other. But as the Labour Party carries on screaming for the reintroduction of the most severe pandemic restrictions and its leader thinks it wrong to state the biological fact that women have cervixes and men posing as women don’t, it’s no wonder the Party is being deserted by the masses and now only speaks for a narrow, metropolitan minority that won’t tolerate the questioning of its dubious wisdom. That one of its most vocal online mouthpieces should now have fallen to the same censorious (and previously-tolerated) practices of big tech that has already wielded its power over mouthpieces from ‘the other side’ has maybe – finally – awoken the left to the dangers of selective free speech. We can but hope.

© The Editor




Bleep and BoosterThe awful, inescapable sensation that we’ve been trapped in one long, drawn-out year since around March 2020 was something I expressed to a friend the other week when trying to recall a recent event, unable to remember if it occurred this year or last. As someone whose memory can be uncannily precise where childhood is concerned – to the point whereby I often catch a snatch of a melody and within seconds can accurately locate not just which childhood year the song was a hit in, but the month it charted – it’s not unusual to reach a certain age and find years much closer to the here and now have a habit of blurring into each other. It’s probably due to the fewer ‘first time’ experiences one receives as more miles are accumulated on the clock, invariably sticking to recognisable routes rather than veering off into uncharted territory. Childhood, by contrast, is nothing but first time experiences, with each one making a deep impression that naturally stays with us; I suppose having them all happen in quick succession means the clarity of the period as a whole remains strong in recollection, whilst the wider gaps between such occurrences as one gets older means there’s less for memory to hang on to.

However, as my opening sentence testifies, the ability to distinguish one year from another has been uniquely exacerbated by the events we’ve been living through ever since Boris made his initial address to the nation from his Covid bunker. I certainly can’t recall the distinction being this difficult before, though I did wonder if it was like this during the War – not for the troops fighting overseas, but for those on the home front. I would imagine the day of Chamberlain’s broadcast to the nation on the wireless in 1939 right up until VE Day almost six years later could easily have felt like one long, drawn-out year to those who lived through it, mainly on account of all the usual signposts being plunged into suspended animation for the duration. After all, how do we usually measure a calendar year? Sure, we have the seasons laid out before us, but unless one is agriculturally-minded, the changing of the seasons amounts to little more than an aesthetic backdrop to events of greater significance or (when it comes to winter) an impediment in getting from the urban A to B.

The creeping dread that we’re careering backwards towards another f***ing lockdown and/or the reintroduction of restrictions won’t enable that sensation to be dispelled. Whilst many rushed back into socialising with all the ravenous desperation of a besieged population suddenly liberated from their isolation when the original restrictions were belatedly lifted, I myself didn’t properly venture out for the first time until a couple of weeks ago. On the eve of Lockdown Mark I, I’d attended an open mic poetry night at a local arts centre, which I wrote about at the time; then the drawbridge came down and that was that. Tentatively inquiring if the open mic night had resumed after a year and-a-half of seclusion, the printed literature confirmed it had. I turned up on the scheduled evening in question, only to be greeted by a bemused response; a few frantic phone-calls from helpful staff eventually informed me said literature was in error and said open mic night was merely a Zoom event, something that didn’t exactly entice me.

After 30 years of loyal service, I’d finally abandoned ‘Have I Got News For You’ following the inaugural (and abysmal) Zoom edition during the first lockdown; the prospect of an open mic night resembling either that or one of those shambolic council meetings with everyone talking over one another or constantly breaking up didn’t fill me with joy, so I left it at that. At least I was back home in time for that evening’s episode of ‘The Archers’. Anyway, that was something of a damp squib after eighteen months away from any form of socialising, but yesterday I sat in a car for the first time since the first lockdown, rejoining my dog-walking friend on her rounds. For more than a decade, this was a weekly institution and its sudden removal from my routine when we were ordered not to leave our homes left a sizeable social gap in my week and took some getting used to. I still haven’t set foot in anyone else’s house yet, but I suppose that’s the next thing to tick off the list.

Mind you, am I looking at a brief window in which to tick this off the list before we revert to where we were and the moment has gone? Is the clock poised to be reset as we re-enter Covid Groundhog Day and the never-ending year that began in the spring of 2020 is extended into infinity? In his new role as Health Secretary, the man with the perfectly spherical head Sajid Javid can’t really do any worse than his predecessor, but he’s fallen back on the same tactic of issuing threats masquerading as advice that evidently worked so well for Matt Hancock. He reckons MPs in the Commons chamber should ‘set an example’ by donning their masks; he seems to think that would send out a message, which it would – albeit not the message one imagines Javid is thinking of. The disappearance of mandatory masks has been one of the few positive signs of recent months; those who choose to keep them on are perfectly entitled to, whilst those who choose not to are no longer regarded as contaminated scum – not by anyone with half-a-brain, anyway. Having compulsory mask-wearing normalised anew by MPs wouldn’t help reinforce this welcome perception.

Javid’s threat is that spurning face coverings could lead to a return to restrictions – see what he’s doing there? Yup, he’s laying the ground for their reintroduction by placing the blame at the feet of me and thee; restrictions return and it’s all our fault for not wearing masks (which we no longer have to) – get it? Presumably, most Honourable Members have been double-jabbed, which was supposed to insulate the recipients from dying of the coronavirus should they contract it; indeed, it was supposed to negate the need to hibernate from society and to not have to wear a face nappy when venturing into that society. Ah, but it’s boosters we need now! Triple-jabbed, if you like. That’s what Sajid is urging; otherwise it’s Plan B – no, not the noughties rapper but the resurrection of restrictions. ‘It’s going to hit us all!’ declared Javid at a press conference this week when referencing rising cases as winter hovers on the horizon – along with the annual NHS crisis, of course.

As with the run-up to Lockdown Mark I, the decision is in the hands of the people as to how many precautions they take. And presumably, when the restrictions are reintroduced, the people rather than the Government will be to blame for not wearing masks 24/7. It goes without saying their reintroduction would otherwise never have happened. ‘We need to be ready for what lies around the corner,’ said Javid in relation to the latest Covid variant remixes laying in wait for the mask-less masses. ‘Our ongoing programme of booster jabs is so important,’ he said. ‘We’ll do what it takes to make sure this pressure doesn’t become unsustainable and that we don’t allow the NHS to become overwhelmed. This pandemic is not over. Thanks to the vaccination programme, yes, the link between hospitalisations and deaths has significantly weakened, but it’s not broken.’

Few dispute this nightmarish scenario is far-from over, though the largely successful vaccine rollout and the minor miracle of it being achieved without armed Covid marshals marching reluctant recipients to the nearest needle has helped put society a step closer to the former even keel than at any point since this shit started. Retreating back into the dead-end of lockdowns would not be the fault of a fatigued population struggling to put the pandemic behind them and rebuild their lives, but a government that has run out of ideas. A new vision is needed for this problem, not repeating the mistakes of the recent past – whether we’re talking 2020 or 2021; and that’s even if we can spot the difference between the two.

© The Editor




Satanic MajestiesI came up with a new variation on the ‘drinking game’ concept the other day after hearing an overused entry in the Woke dictionary once again uttered on Radio 4. I call this fresh twist on the format ‘the slavery game’. One doesn’t need to have the station on all day to play this game; indeed, I heard the word ‘slavery’ within a mere fifteen minutes of listening this morning. It so got me in the mood that I almost switched the radio off and stuck ‘Brown Sugar’ on the turntable. As a song, ‘Brown Sugar’ is now half-a-century old, but the fact it takes the topically triggering subject of slavery and plays with it in a salacious manner characteristic of the turn-of-the-70s Stones means it’s fallen under the spotlight of 2021’s moral watchdogs. The moral watchdogs of 1971 were no more amused by its themes either, so it’s not as if the song hasn’t been criticised before. 50 years back, however, they were the middle-aged conservative right and found the young Stones an affront to all they held dear; their contemporary equivalents are firmly on the left, and young where the Stones are old, but their determination to take offence – especially at any art that predates their new world order – is so far-reaching that even the artists themselves cower under their power.

Along with ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, ‘Brown Sugar’ is one of the guaranteed certs in a Stones set-list – or always has been. No more. The decision has been taken to drop the number from Stones shows, and even if the reasons given evade accusations of self-censoring capitulation to the critical consensus, I can’t help but feel the Stones of ’71 would’ve responded to calls for ‘Brown Sugar’ to be banned with a couple of sticky fingers aimed in the direction of Mary Whitehouse. The Stones have far less to lose now than they did 50 years ago, when a cross-Channel flight from the taxman to stave off bankruptcy meant they were in a considerably more vulnerable position; but today’s financially secure incarnations have decided to give an inch in the hope no mile will be taken. Dream on. Expect ‘Stray Cat Blues’ and ‘Under My Thumb’ to be next on the hit-list. Oh, well; anyone who wants ‘Brown Sugar’ can still access it, and I’d rather hear the original 1971 record than see the remnants of the band play it live in 2021, anyway.

Purely by coincidence, I’ve recently been augmenting my ongoing reliance on Classical as an in-house soundtrack by revisiting the Stones back catalogue, specifically the period which is for me their ‘golden era’, covering the five years from 1966 to 1971. Some of their most celebrated singles and albums emanate from this remarkable run, including what remains an unfairly maligned and misunderstood LP – more than any other in the band’s lengthy canon; it also happens to be the one I can’t seem to stop playing. It’s become something of a tradition on here to follow a heavyweight story with a post looking back at a vintage TV series that happens to be my box-set of the moment; but I don’t often apply the same tactics to my listening habits. Why not, though? Today, I’m talking about a 1967 LP by The Rolling Stones called ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’.

Firstly, I love the title; ‘Satanic Majesties’ soon became a clichéd description of the band to summarise that bleak era at the end of the 60s when an apocalyptic aura seemed to surround them, but the title of this album is of course a play upon the ‘Her Britannic Majesty’s’ segment of the old British passport. A sense of humour was actually quite a strong element of the band at this time, something that the subsequent descent into darkness shortly thereafter tends to obscure. Anyway, this was a record that had a very difficult gestation, for 1967 was not an easy year for the band. It opened with a mixed reception to the album ‘Between the Buttons’, swiftly followed by the infamous Redlands drug bust and the very serious prospect of long-term prison sentences for Jagger and Richards; the ramifications of this raid were to dog the band for the rest of the year, but they clearly found solace by retreating to the recording studio and…well…getting stoned. It was the Psychedelic high summer, after all. Mick and Keith were in attendance at Abbey Road when The Beatles recorded ‘A Day in the Life’ and Jagger was also present during the live TV broadcast of ‘All You Need is Love’ as well as dragging Marianne along to a Maharishi summit; Lennon and McCartney returned the compliment by singing backup vocals on the Stones’ superb ‘We Love You’ single, which was released ahead of (though sadly not included on) ‘Satanic Majesties’. The rivalry between the two bands was largely press-generated, for there was a genuine sense of kinship, an ‘Us and Them’ attitude that the pursuit by Scotland Yard solidified.

The undeniable influence of the Fab Four on the Stones during this period isn’t really reflected in ‘We Love You’, which is an exhilarating if scary journey into the dark heart of acid-infused paranoia via Brian Jones’ mastery of the mellotron; the band even filmed a brilliantly sardonic promo video in which Mick and Marianne were portrayed as Oscar Wilde and Bosie. By the time the Stones’ second album of 1967 was finally ready for release at the end of the year the Beatle influence was mostly evident in the front cover of the LP. Whilst The Beatles had been portrayed as Carnabetian bandsmen on the ‘Sgt Pepper’ sleeve, the Stones came across as slightly seedy pied pipers surrounded by all the gaudy trimmings of the dressing-up box. The original front cover idea of a nude Jagger being crucified was deemed a step too far even for them, so they settled for their own novel 3D take on the brand – and even hid the individual Beatles’ faces amidst the lysergic foliage. The criticisms levelled at the album tend to begin with the sleeve, yet the actual contents bear little resemblance to John, Paul, George & Ringo’s cultural landmark.

Accusations of bandwagon-jumping and being too late to the Psychedelic party to make an impact don’t take into account the pressures on the band throughout its drawn-out recording. The album probably would have appeared far earlier had these pressures not got in the way, but in retrospect it’s a miracle they managed to produce anything at all. Endless court appearances, the overhanging threat of prison, the internal trauma of Keith Richards stealing Brian Jones’ girlfriend (Anita Pallenberg), and Jones’ own slide into addiction can’t have helped, yet the end product sounds nothing like ‘Sgt Pepper’ and indeed nothing like any of 1967’s other British Psychedelic milestones by the likes of Pink Floyd or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. ‘Satanic Majesties’ exists in a uniquely exotic and mesmerising sonic bubble that places it in a field all of its own, one that the Stones themselves never ploughed again and few others have emulated. Personally, I think it represents the high watermark of the period in which the band were eager to spread their wings and were brave enough to venture into uncharted territory.

Bar a couple of extended jams that reflect both the spirit of the age and the consumption of the substances that went with it, the album is far stronger than popular opinion would have anyone believe. The space rock excursion of ‘2000 Light Years from Home’ and the adorable melodic riches of ‘She’s A Rainbow’ make it worth investing in, but the likes of ‘Citadel’, ‘2000 Man’ and ‘Lantern’ are wonderfully underrated songs that really work in the context of the blissfully rewarding earworm of a trip that playing the album from start to finish adds up to. There’s even evidence of that aforementioned humour in a hidden track known as ‘Cosmic Christmas’ – a nightmarish slowed-down instrumental of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ – as well as in the music hall-meets-cabaret club finale of ‘On With the Show’. The band themselves routinely dismiss the LP and write it off as a self-indulgent exercise, yet I don’t know many people who don’t love it. It may well be the runt of the litter, but it stands up as the last glittering, risk-taking example of the Stones being prepared to throw caution to the wind and spurn the whole crippling notion of pop music as a rigid, restrictive series of genres and categories in which everyone stays in their lane. Over half-a-century on, I think the record-buying public didn’t know how well off they were.

© The Editor




Amess MurderI’ve only ever encountered my local MP in his surgery the once; it was around six or seven years ago and I made the appointment whilst working on my book, ‘Looking for Alison’. I needed help accessing London crown court records from the early 1990s and I’d hit so many brick walls with the courts themselves that I turned to my elected representative as a last resort. I should’ve approached him earlier, for his Parliamentary clout opened doors I hadn’t been able to and enabled me to bring the curtain down on an especially difficult chapter in the research. The location of his surgery was a community centre I’d visited several years before due to it hosting a pre-school playgroup that came in handy when I was babysitting my then-girlfriend’s infant daughter. Never having had cause to meet my elected representative before, I’d imagined MPs had special, purpose-built surgeries like GPs up until that point; but temporarily renting somewhere for a fortnightly or monthly meeting with constituents made sense. The fact that the chosen venues tend to be places where members of the public congregate – rather than, say, official constituency party premises – also helps cement a connection between elected and electorate that Honourable Member status often negates.

The estrangement of MPs from the people can give the appearance of being an unbridgeable chasm. If, say, the MP has a pro-Remain stance and the majority of his or her constituents are Brexiteers, there is an instant schism; moreover, too much time spent in the Westminster bubble and mistaking Twitter for a barometer of public opinion can falsely inflate issues that are minority concerns into major causes – something the Labour Party’s suicidal pandering to Trans activists who only represent a tiny section of the ‘Trans community’ has shown in recent years. I’ve never had a local MP who happens to be a Cabinet Minister, but such figures must seem even more remote should that be the case; yet the tradition of every MP – even those whose most publicised encounters are with VIPs – submitting to less newsworthy encounters with their humble constituents probably serves as the sole means of keeping the more high-flying Parliamentarians a little grounded. This was brilliantly portrayed in ‘In The Loop’, the movie version of ‘The Thick of It’, when Tom Hollander’s Minister for International Development is preoccupied by transatlantic affairs yet has to endure a Northampton constituent (played by Steve Coogan) moaning on and on about a ‘bloody wall’.

Perhaps the unique tradition of the MP’s constituency surgery is maybe the only opportunity we the voters have to approach our representatives and see the men or women behind the hype; it certainly offers us a more human vision than the less genuine performance that comes when they’re electioneering or avoiding answering questions on ‘Newsnight’ or the ‘Today’ programme. I can only speak of my own personal experience in that the solitary surgery meeting I had paid off and the MP in question earned my vote at the following General Election; the fact he ended up losing his seat is beside the point, for I appreciated the chance to communicate my particular problem to him – something it’s surprising how many people out there are unaware they have the right to.

From all accounts, it would seem a backbencher of almost 40 years’ vintage like Sir David Amess was the kind of MP his constituents felt they could approach in such a manner and he would make the effort to help them if they needed it. The essential importance of such a role for an MP cannot be underestimated, especially in times like these, when politicians can so often give the impression of being utterly detached from the everyday concerns of their constituents. MPs shouldn’t be bracketed alongside movie stars or pop stars, surrounded by minders and only glimpsed by the public for a few seconds as they disembark from chauffeur-driven cars and evade the crowds to dash indoors; all that does is reinforce the opinion of them as a cosseted elite a breed apart from the man and woman in the street. Following yesterday’s events, some of David Amess’s fellow MPs have called for an end to the face-to-face surgery; another veteran MP, Sir Bernard Jenkin, has claimed the tradition is increasingly irrelevant now that Zoom conferences have become the norm in so many businesses and the in-person constituency is something he regards as ‘frankly not really necessary’. The reaction of Jenkin could be seen as an understandable knee-jerk response in the wake of a shocking incident, but I think to abandon such a vital form of communication between elected and electorate would be a mistake.

When I attended my one and only surgery, it was before the murder of Jo Cox by a constituent – which, of course, took place in the street and not at her actual surgery; I recall there was just the MP and his PA present, no minder or armed police officer, and I wasn’t searched before entering the room just in case I happened to be carrying a concealed weapon. I was surprised, in a way; I thought I might at least have to pass through the kind of security check one gets when entering a magistrates’ court, i.e. having to empty one’s pockets and so on. There had been serious physical attacks on MPs prior to Jo Cox, most notably Labour MP Stephen Timms, who survived an attempted murder by an Islamic extremist stabbing him with a kitchen knife at his surgery in 2010. A decade before, Lib Dem MP Nigel Jones had been attacked at his surgery by a constituent wielding a Samurai sword; Jones survived the attack, but his assistant was killed. Post-Jo Cox, I suspect security was probably tightened-up at surgeries, but balancing the need for personal safety and the rare opportunity to confront constituents remains a tricky one for MPs.

Sir David Amess held a fortnightly surgery in his Southend constituency and on the fatal day the surgery was taking place in a Methodist church; his assailant was apparently stood in a queue to see the MP inside the church and emerged from the line when his name was called armed with a knife. The unnamed 25-year-old man stabbed Amess several times, and though the MP was rushed to hospital it would appear he died at the scene. The killer is believed to be a British national of Somali heritage and after several hours of speculation, the murder of David Amess has been labelled a ‘terror incident’, suggesting there was some political or ideological motivation on the part of the murderer. This in itself is nothing new; the 2010 attack on Stephen Timms was carried out by a Muslim woman incensed by the fact Timms had voted for the invasion of Iraq, whilst we all recall the far-right/white supremacist leanings of the man who murdered Jo Cox.

Unless we’re simply talking about a mentally disturbed individual whose internal demons will be manifested as a violent act without the need for a ‘cause’, it was perhaps inevitable such an association would rear its ugly head. Naturally, there have been some on social media who have blamed the increasingly incendiary atmosphere in British politics ever since Brexit; and while I personally don’t think some politicians help by disengaging their mouths from their brains when opportunistically scoring points, I don’t really believe one can hold, say, the gormless ‘Tory Scum’ rant of Angela Rayner any more responsible for the death of David Amess than some of Nigel Farage’s more inflammatory comments on the eve of the 2016 Referendum somehow provoked the murder of Jo Cox. Yes, the atmosphere in and around Westminster – and the way in which the public receives edited highlights deliberately edited to feature the most ‘dramatic’ moments – can generate disgust and apathy, but for most that would simply be translated at the ballot box via a protest vote or an abstention; the less balanced mind can take a different route, though the chances of MPs encountering a mind travelling that route at their surgeries is mercifully rare, and this horrific incident shouldn’t curtail what remains one of our democracy’s more levelling traditions.

© The Editor




Shops 2As Boris takes a break, the crumb of comfort that Carrie might have packed a portable vice for his balls in her luggage doesn’t really compensate for the ongoing fall-out from the past eighteen months. Beyond the bubble the PM and the other residents of Westminster Village inhabit, the ramifications of their actions on the rest of us since the spring of 2020 continue to affect the way in which lives are led. Angry motorists physically manhandling the same middle-class sit-down protestors with too much time on their hands that the police provided tea and biscuits for are not so much manifestations of climate change denial – more an act of desperation on the part of those whose businesses were brought to their knees by the obliteration of the economy during lockdown; clinging on for dear life, the last thing they need is further disruption from activists fighting for the luxury of loft insulation. The schism between those who had a ‘good pandemic’ because their lifestyles weren’t dependent upon everything lockdown took away and those who couldn’t survive without setting foot outdoors is perhaps more glaring now than ever before. Yet, how much of this is being addressed by MPs entrusted to report on the Government handling of the pandemic in its initial stages?

Probably a tad too early and not exactly ‘independent’ (we’ll have to wait one more year for that), the kind of thing the press is fond of labelling ‘a damning report’ appears to have reserved its most severe condemnation for the timing of Lockdown Mk I (far too late) and the NHS Test and Trace disaster (a badly-executed waste of money). The latter criticism seems pretty justified, for the entire operation felt like a microcosm of this particular administration’s reliance on the old boy network. Regardless of its canny theft of the NHS brand name at a time when the institution was approaching the status of a state religion, the Test and Trace scheme was, of course, in the hands of a private company headed by a Tory Peer hardly in possession of a glowing CV. An estimated £37bn was squandered on this project, belatedly set up in haste when infection rates had already soared to a daily 2,000. The urgent need for results and the failure to bring on board those with superior expertise in favour of people who happened to have been at school with Matt Hancock’s brother-in-law amounted to little more than dispatching a locksmith to attend to the stable door when its equine occupants had already bolted.

Local test and trace schemes run by regional public health directors were relative successes compared to the centralised operation overseen by Serco, and the fact the ‘official’ NHS Test and Trace outfit chose not to involve those who had seen action on the frontline during the outbreak of the coronavirus – i.e. from the public sector – and relied upon the less hands-on experience of those from the detached private sector it was more familiar with jeopardised the kind of quick fix the taxpayer inadvertently paid for. As the report concluded, ‘Vast sums of taxpayers’ money were directed to Test and Trace, justified by the benefits of avoiding further lockdowns. But ultimately those lockdowns happened.’ Yet even if one acknowledges the king-size cock-up that was NHS Test and Trace as one of the shabbiest episodes of the whole affair, it still doesn’t match what was undoubtedly the single biggest tragedy of this whole period – the return of infected pensioners from hospital straight back into the nation’s care homes.

The way in which an already-marginalised section of society was treated with such cavalier contempt by the authorities was really brought home once more in a recent, rather harrowing ‘single play’ drama on Channel 4 called ‘Help’, which brilliantly documented the writing-off of some of society’s most vulnerable citizens as collateral damage in the overall pandemic picture. I delayed watching this for a couple of weeks, sensing it’d be heavy going; it naturally was, but I’m glad I watched in the same way I’m glad I watched the equally hard-hitting episode of ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ dealing with the decline and fall of Yosser Hughes. This all-too real fictitious account of the way in which the elderly were abandoned even made me think of Harold bloody Shipman. Watching a documentary on the deranged doctor last year, the ‘how did he get away with it for so long?’ question was easily answered by the fact his victims were essentially invisible and not regarded as particularly important; Shipman targeted old ladies, just as Dennis Nilsen targeted promiscuous gay men, Peter Sutcliffe targeted prostitutes and Fred West targeted unwanted teenage runaways – all inhabitants of the fringes; by contrast, the killing spree of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley was mercifully brief because their victims were instantly missed – young children from happy families. When it comes to ‘soft targets’, however, it seems some remain the same as they had been when nobody was taking note of the high body count in Hyde.

On the subject of lockdown, the consensus in this report follows the MSM one that it came too late. The belief in herd immunity and the reluctance to sacrifice the intended reputation of Johnson’s Government as a libertarian administration could probably explain leaving such a heavyweight extension of state power as lockdown till the eleventh hour, but the response of many in media circles to this critical aspect of the report is telling. After all, they hysterically clamoured for lockdown in the first place, heaping pressure on politicians too easily swayed by media of both mainstream and social persuasion and susceptible to the loudest voices; that the majority of those advocating the complete hibernation of society would be amongst the least badly affected by such a move didn’t eventually prevent a Government eager to please the electorate capitulating to the demands of a cosseted elite. Yet even when lockdown came, the Government still viewed it as a move to minimise the spread of the virus rather than taking a nihilistic, Australia-style ‘Zero Covid’ approach; it evidently seemed the better option was to stagger its effects across the year, thus avoiding a ‘lump-sum’ surge threatening to overwhelm the NHS. The second wave experiences of countries that locked down hard and fast in the first wave were far worse than the UK’s in terms of death tolls.

The criticisms in this report are, overall, fairly valid, though it would appear the main conclusion is that the generally successful vaccine rollout and uptake almost wipes the slate clean. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything less in a 151-page document emanating from a Commons committee, though. Hannah Brady of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice organisation says the report is ‘laughable’, claiming it to be more interested in ‘political arguments about whether you can bring laptops to Cobra meetings than it is in the experiences of those who tragically lost parents, partners or children to Covid-19. This is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face.’ To be fair, this report is a bit like a comprehensive critique of the Second World War being published in 1946; we’re still not out of it and one cannot help but feel there are still innumerable stories to be told. Even if one personally avoided bereavement, chances are many relationships and friendships have been fractured and damaged by events – in many cases, beyond repair; and it’s hard not to feel resentful towards those who took life-changing decisions that changed the lives of others more than their own.

Naturally, anyone naive enough to expect any rolling heads as a consequence of this report should know better when so few rolled at the time. Even Matt Hancock was only shown the door when caught on camera indulging in a spot of buttock-clutching with his PA; had that disturbing image not made it to the front pages, he’d probably still be Health Secretary today rather than being promoted to the UN’s Special Representative for Financial Innovation & Climate Change. Yes, crime pays.

© The Editor




Rick JonesThe two encounters may have been 30 years apart, but I count myself lucky to have met two presenters of ‘Play School’ and ‘Play Away’. Johnny Ball I stumbled upon whilst he was filming something on the street in the late 1980s and Julie Stevens I chatted to at one of the vintage TV events the Kaleidoscope organisation used to stage in a Stourbridge hotel. The pair often presented the BBC’s pre-school mainstay together and regularly formed part of the gang on the show’s slightly more grownup – albeit considerably sillier – sibling. As with the classic ‘Blue Peter’ line-up, the surrogate aunts and uncles who appeared on ‘Play School’ and ‘Play Away’ still radiate nostalgic hues whenever they’re recalled by anyone whose formative years were spent being babysat by them. Their association with a unique, womb-like security that life rarely returns to once we graduate from the nursery means they will always claim a special shelf in the memory bank. The likes of Brian Cant and Derek Griffiths are in possession of legendary status for those of a certain age, and the exotic folk singer Toni Arthur even managed to stir something in the little boys watching that none of them were prepared for at such a tender age. As an adult, meeting anyone who played their part in weaving these dreams is a real privilege, one of those rare opportunities to simply say ‘thank you’.

Like many of the other presenters whose big break came via ‘Play School’, Johnny Ball spread his wings into other areas of children’s television, most memorably with an inventive programme that managed the difficult achievement of making maths fun, ‘Think of a Number’. Although his days hosting kid’s shows were more or less over when I encountered him in person, Ball was still a familiar face on the box at the time and instantly recognisable. I remember me and the friend I was with being somewhat star-struck when we spotted him, and we dashed off to the nearest WH Smiths to purchase a pen and notebook for that pre-selfie must-have, the autograph. We made it back to the corner where he was filming, relieved he hadn’t gone, and waited for a break in the recording to approach him. Mercifully, no infant illusions were shattered and he proved to be a genuinely pleasant person, more than happy to sign his name and engage in a brief chat.

Weirdly, I’d only recently picked-up a 70s LP called ‘Bang on a Drum’ that featured the ‘Play School’ and ‘Play Away’ performers singing the sort of songs routinely heard on the shows, as well as a few oddities characteristic of the time. I recall one song sung by presenter (and former member of 60s Merseybeat-type band The Four Pennies) Lionel Morton called ‘Come to the Shops’, which, with a slightly more psychedelic arrangement, could have passed for a whimsical slice of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Mention of this album prompted a few reminiscences by Ball of the LP’s recording. Amongst those involved in the process was Rick Jones, a Canadian whose time on ‘Play School’ predates my memory but who would shortly be immortalised for my generation on another iconic show. Ball confessed the hirsute, hippyish Jones had been off his tits on a few unnamed substances during the making of the album, and somehow that didn’t come as a surprise.

Rick Jones had surpassed his fame as a ‘Play School’ presenter when he progressed to a series in the ‘Watch with Mother’ lunchtime strand as of 1972, ‘Fingerbobs’. Like most of the programmes that were screened in that post-‘Pebble Mill at One’ slot, ‘Fingerbobs’ ran for just one series of 13 episodes, yet repeat screenings for the best part of a decade created the impression in the memory that hundreds were produced. How to describe it? Well, Jones – always dressed as though he had just been hitchhiking to Kathmandu with The Incredible String Band – sat behind a desk like a stoned newsreader and addressed the viewer with the assistance of Fingermouse.

Fingermouse was basically a glove with a paper mouse head stuck on the knuckles; the host made no attempt to hide the fact Fingermouse was essentially just his hand, yet he would dispatch the creature to collect various bits and pieces to bring back and inspire a story. As a child, I admit I did wonder how Jones and his rodent hand went their separate ways, for we were led to believe the presenter remained at his desk whilst we followed a seemingly severed Fingermouse out and about with other glove animals including a tortoise, a dove and even a scampi. But disbelief was successfully suspended and a gloriously eccentric imagination took over.

Also being a gifted musician, Rick Jones infused ‘Fingerbobs’ with a soundtrack that is as much inseparable from the imagery as Ry Cooder’s slide guitar is with ‘Paris, Texas’ or the zither of Anton Karas is with ‘The Third Man’. You can’t think of the programme without hearing the Fingermouse song or the incidental music threaded through almost every scene. The programme was one of the few BBC series of the period not produced in-house but by an independent company called Q3 of London – also responsible for other fondly-remembered series such as ‘Teddy Edward’ and ‘Crystal Tipps and Alistair’; although as heavily associated with the early 70s as both those two – Jones’s sartorial style is very much rooted in time and place – ‘Fingerbobs’ nevertheless ran regularly on the BBC until 1984, claimed by more than one generation of children as its own. It was also aided in its on-screen longevity via the advantage of being shot on film, therefore giving it a good reason for avoiding the widespread wiping of videotaped programmes in the BBC at the time.

Rick Jones appears to have been part of that great creative migration to London that took place in the Swinging decade, though he fittingly emanated from a city in Ontario named after the UK capital. Many of the ‘Play School’ presenters were either actors or musicians, and Jones was one of those who often whipped out his guitar on the show; through the archive editions that survive from his era, it’s possible to hear the warm tones of Jones’s soft, soothing voice receiving a prominent airing during his stint on the series, though he had a wider canvas to work with when it came to ‘Fingerbobs’. Outside of his TV work, Jones made further use of his musical talents as a member of a country rock group called Meal Ticket, who played on London’s celebrated pub rock circuit in the mid-70s. I’d love to picture them sharing a bill with Toni Arthur delivering one of her spooky folk numbers or Derek Griffiths indulging in a funky workout of ‘The Wibbly Wobbly Walk’, but I’ll have to leave that one for the parallel universe.

Rick Jones’s death from cancer at the age of 84 was announced a couple of days ago; it somehow feels right that he passed away in San Francisco, for it’s hard to think of a more spiritual home for an artist of his generation. Yet it was on these shores that his potential as a storyteller was fulfilled, a time when even children’s television was shaking off the shackles of the 1950s and embracing the spirit of the age. Whether John Noakes breaking the class barrier and showing RP the door or fantastically out-there, imaginative shows such as ‘Vision On’, this period remains the gold standard for kid’s TV, gifting younger viewers an abundance of riches that even the relentless rolling by of decades since hasn’t erased the impact of. And Rick Jones, allegedly passing round a spliff as he, Lionel Morton and Johnny Ball were shot in silhouette as the three kings during a ‘Play School’ telling of the Nativity, stands out as one of the pivotal figures of this genuine Golden Age, exuding humour, charm and a knowing cool that only a musician of the era could bring to the table. Legend.

© The Editor




GaslightWith its recurring habit of remaking foreign films – albeit usually ones produced in a foreign language – Hollywood sometimes attempts to eliminate all traces of the original movie for fear it will steal the remake’s thunder. In 1944 MGM was so determined its version of Patrick Hamilton’s stage play ‘Gaslight’ would be regarded as the motion picture version that it attempted to erase the existing prints of the 1940 British adaptation, even wanting to incinerate the negative. Happily, it didn’t succeed and the first film survives as a wonderfully atmospheric example of old-school British cinema shot entirely on a studio set that cleverly recreates a middle-class Victorian street; it reimagines a London square in the late 19th century with the same aesthetic inventiveness as David Lean reimagined the city’s slums in his take on ‘Oliver Twist’. The film stars Anton Walbrook as a sadistic controlling husband convincing his emotionally fragile wife she’s losing her mind, and is an enjoyable melodrama that nevertheless has some genuinely dark moments. Memorably claustrophobic as the virtually imprisoned wife played by Diana Wyngard becomes riddled with doubts about her sanity, it appears to be the source of a term now routinely used online, gaslighting.

The term gaslighting is recognised in psychiatry as an occasional symptom of interpersonal relationships – particular married ones – when one partner seeks to cover their extramarital tracks by infusing their other half with doubt over the alleged infidelity of the guilty party. Mind games between couples have long been familiar to relationship counsellors, but it took until the 1980s and 90s before gaslighting was acknowledged as a potent tool of psychological abuse, dependent upon an unequal power dynamic in which one partner holds the emotional upper hand and therefore has the strength to exacerbate the vulnerability of the other. The dramatic potential of gaslighting has also seen it become a staple storyline of soap operas, bringing the practice to a larger audience – such as in the abusive marriage of Helen Archer to the domineering Rob Tichener in ‘The Archers’ back in 2016.

In the context of relationships, gaslighting is not always the exclusive province of a blatantly wicked cad like the one played by Anton Walbrook in the aforementioned 1940 movie. It can often be a subconscious tactic used by one half of a partnership without necessarily seeking to reduce their partner to borderline psychosis; but it can inadvertently fuel underlying paranoia and doubts that were already present before the relationship even began. When one’s perception of reality is thrown into instability, the impact upon those with an existing grip on reality that could be described as tenuous – those whose relationship ‘rock’ served as the sole seemingly stable factor in their life – can be disastrous. Trust and faith in the sincerity of what people say and do can be a casualty of this infiltration of endless doubt into every discourse so that nothing is what it initially seems anymore.

If we broaden the scope of the term beyond the therapist’s walls, it can encompass any form of manipulation that persuades the manipulated to doubt their perception of a given situation. A type of gaslighting has long been a psychological weapon of warfare used to trash the certainties of the enemy in the righteousness of their mission, and has also been seized upon by totalitarian regimes as a means of controlling a peacetime population. Moreover, there’s no question gaslighting has been utilised during the pandemic to terrify the global masses into compliance. The flurry of misinformation that has permeated both social and mainstream media over the past couple of years has left many not really knowing who to trust or which path to take – pro-vaccination or anti-vaccination, pro-lockdown or anti-lockdown – so that division is rife and divide and rule is able to follow its familiar route in neutralising the prospect of mass disobedience towards the anti-democratic commandments of democratically-elected governments. One only has to look at the example of Australia to see this at its most extreme.

These lessons in gaslighting’s political effectiveness haven’t been lost on gatecrashers either. BLM have done it too – forcing the colour blind to see colour before everything else in a way their absence of prejudice never did until the relentlessly racist ‘anti-racism’ propaganda seeped deep, aided and abetted by utterly uncritical media reporting and endorsement. The imported idea of British society being some imaginary hybrid of Apartheid-era South Africa and an American Confederate State has no connection to reality for most in this country, but the fallacy is slowly becoming embedded in the public’s psyche, sowing division where it had never been before – and inculcating doubt. ‘Am I racist?’ is a question born of such reprehensible gaslighting. The infiltration of corporations and public bodies by the irredeemably toxic Critical Race Theory via compulsory Unconscious Bias Training, not to mention the transformation of the educational system into glorified CRT indoctrination, is breeding a generation convinced this is fact. When nothing is real, anything is.

The beginning of 2020 through to the end of 2021 has seen a traumatised population primed to be ‘triggered’ by gaslighting tactics on the part of both government and ideological movements such as BLM or Extinction Rebellion, and the policy appears to be working. The people of the Western world are now in an abusive relationship with their respective powers-that-be, coerced victims of the former’s gaslighting so that they now react to every ‘crisis’ with panic, hysteria and fear for their safety; compliance and unquestioning obedience seems the only safe option for many who just want an easy life – and that suits the gaslighters. We’ve gone from lockdowns and attendant coronavirus issues such as masks and vaccines to the imagined injustices exploited by BLM to the ongoing climate change apocalypse to rises in energy bills and taxes as well as the sudden shortage of HGV drivers that has in turn led to petrol shortages and empty supermarket shelves. And each has sparked varying degrees of panic. Job done.

Vaccine passports may have been – for the moment – abandoned as a China-style catch-all means of tracking and tracing the movements of the people 24/7, but evidence of one’s jab or non-jab are nonetheless being used by some businesses and institutions. The prospect of under-staffed professions being further depleted because some employees have the temerity to resist state-sanctioned medical intervention and therefore risk dismissal is a real one; and this is a tactic that hasn’t really been used since the Contagious Diseases Act of 1864. That was legislation designed to protect the armed forces from venereal disease, enabling police to arrest women on the suspicion of being prostitutes (mainly in ports and garrison towns) and giving doctors the right to initiate invasive medical examinations that no suspect had the right to resist; at the end of it, she’d be issued with a card certifying whether or not she was clean or unclean, and this would determine whether or not she’d be accepted back into polite society or would be blacklisted forevermore. Sound familiar?

When one thinks of how conditioned the people have become to receiving orders – remember that bizarre period when orders were effectively issued on a daily basis at SAGE press conferences – it’s no wonder those who remain resistant to them and are stubbornly continuing to think for themselves have been demonised. A pliable population successfully persuaded that they’re no more capable of rational independent judgement than a child is bound to react violently to the obstinacy of those who won’t play ball. The fact a ‘show me your papers’ rule has now been passed (albeit by the narrowest of margins) in the People’s Republic of Wales – opposed by every major party bar freedom-loving Labour – could either be an outrageous aberration or a victory for gaslighting that even those of us who fail to see the sensual appeal of sheep should be concerned about.

© The Editor




If the Labour Party hMoggas excelled in the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot discipline of late, we shouldn’t forget the Tories are just as expert at this particular event. Whereas Labour’s vote-winning idea of reclaiming the Red Wall is to embroil itself in a Lewis Carroll-like nonsensical strain of Identity Politics (guaranteed to woo Brenda of Bristol back to the fold), the Conservative Party cannot help itself from alienating the members of the electorate it borrowed in 2019 by reverting to type, pedalling an outdated Home Counties view of the vulnerable as a drain on the nation’s resources. They don’t need to do it anymore, for they’re no longer dependent on the patronage of the Murdoch Empire to secure them a majority; yet the default position remains falling back on archaic assumptions that the prejudices of the traditional Tory shires must be catered to at all costs. Following in the clumsy footsteps of Iain Duncan Smith, another beneficiary of inherited wealth by the name of Jacob Rees-Mogg has enhanced his reputation as ‘Minister for the 18th century’ at the party’s annual conference with a casual dismissal of the needs of those who always stood to lose the most from the aftermath of the past year and-a-half.

At a point when National Insurance increases, rising energy prices and inflation are poised to dig deep into the piggy banks of the people least able to afford them, Reese-Mogg has been especially indelicate by issuing the far-from helpful advice that benefits are not ‘an insurance scheme’ during a conference debate on the cuts to Universal Credit; and when such statements emanate from a man not exactly familiar with the harsh realities of juggling household bills every month, they serve to reinforce the antiquated stereotype of both the uncaring Tory and the underclass dole-scrounger – despite the fact that upwards of 40% claiming benefits are actually in work. The impending end of the weekly £20 ‘Covid boost’ on Universal Credit has been criticised by some within the Conservative party, with an estimated 80,000 people on the cusp of poverty as a consequence, many of whom have been unable to earn a full wage for the past eighteen months due to lockdowns and Covid restrictions.

When it’s speculated that over £1,000 could vanish from the household income of the most affected, the Tories don’t do themselves any favours as saviours of ‘hard-working families’ when some of their Honourable Members engage their mouths without considering what comes out of them might sound like to the less privileged. The latest Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey claims the loss of the £20 uplift will be made up via a mere two hours additional work – a theory she obviously won’t be called upon to test out in person; meanwhile, the ongoing death toll of rejected disabled claimants declared ‘fit for work’ continues to cast a toxic shadow over a system that those with the power to change seem unwilling to change, perpetuating the perceived lack of empathy Ministers tend to exhibit towards those most in need of help. At the same time, the resumption of landlords being able to evict tenants who have fallen into rent arrears courtesy of lockdowns finds one-third of renters unable to keep up payments laying the blame squarely at the door of the pandemic policy.

Those who happened to be between jobs at the time of Lockdown Mk I weren’t eligible for the furlough scheme if they had voluntarily left their previous position rather than being laid off by lockdown, heaping further pressure on individuals and families sucked into a cycle of debt that wasn’t their own doing. Robert Jenrick, the former Housing Secretary, had said in May that no one should lose their home as a result of the pandemic, yet as soon as the ban on bailiff evictions ended that same month, people began losing their homes. 555 private and social landlord hearings in the county courts of England and Wales were observed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism during the summer, with 270 of them ending in an outright possession order and 88 of those orders citing the financial impact of Covid as the main factor in falling behind payments. There was such a backlog of hearings that most lasted barely ten minutes, which is hardly adequate time to contest a case or to decide someone’s immediate future. Despite the fact that the MPs on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee last year could see the direction the wind would take come the end of lockdown and recommended the law being changed so that judges would have discretion when it came to a fair and fitting verdict on each individual case, the Government ignored their advice.

A married couple recently profiled on the BBC News website had just become first-time parents on the eve of the first lockdown and went from a monthly income of £2,000 when both were in full-time work to surviving on £150 maternity pay during the interminable wait for a Universal Credit payment for the suddenly unemployed male breadwinner. Their rent stood at £450 a month and the inevitable happened during lockdown, with them eventually reaching £4,000 in rent arrears; served with a Section Eight order – giving a landlord grounds for repossession if the rent arrears number two months or more – the pair are now preparing for eviction. They are not alone. The swift turnover of hearings at the nation’s county courts – where possession orders can be stamped and certified in less than five minutes – makes for sober reading when it comes to the fate of those suddenly plunged into society’s relegation zone, few of whom fit the irrelevant old image of the ‘lifestyle choice’ scrounger of George Osborne’s imagination.

Another case covered in the BBC report concerned a woman whose usual job as an agency-employed executive PA was curtailed by lockdown; residing at a one-bedroom property in Hammersmith with a monthly rent of £1,600 meant her slide into rent arrears of £24,000 didn’t take long, though the case going against her at the local county court also left her having to pay £604 in interest as well as her landlord’s legal costs of £3,000. This individual has since found another job, but her credit rating is now as bad as the aforementioned married couple, who no longer have any savings to pay a deposit for a new home. The average rent arrears in the cases observed at the county courts by the Bureau of Investigate Journalism in July and August was around £6,500, though some far exceeded this amount. Naturally, the situation is also a headache for landlords themselves, with some tenants exploiting the crisis and playing the Covid card even when the pandemic has no bearing on their arrears, leaving courts often unable to distinguish between the ones who can’t pay and the ones who won’t.

As with every element of the inevitable fallout from closing down the economy for months on end since the spring of 2020, the already-delicate housing crisis was destined to ricochet through countless lives once payback time arrived; but such scenarios can be cruel levellers. I recall a TV report on Spain’s economic crisis in the wake of the financial crash of 2007/08, wherein many holding traditionally well-paid, middle-class jobs such as teaching were just as likely to be found sleeping on the streets or squatting in derelict properties as the more conventional casualties of capitalism one would sadly expect to be in dire straits. When people play by the rules, toe the line, pay their taxes, work hard and provide the backbone of the orderly society they venerate, some form of reward is anticipated, and that doesn’t necessarily have to translate as extreme wealth but simply not having to worry about their home being repossessed or never having to claim benefits. The Government on whose watch such people plummeted down the social ladder needs to remember the shock to the system these valuable members of the electorate have suffered will linger for a long time, and the way it publicly articulates its opinions on their predicament ought to be handled with care.

© The Editor




IMG_20211001_0001As someone who can now perhaps be regarded as the founding mother of modern cancel culture, Mary Whitehouse cast her net far and wide in the 1970s after springing to prominence as the high priestess of provincial opposition to the Swinging 60s. If what was known as The Establishment did its utmost to stem the tide of permissiveness and moral decay by using its in-bred influence to target pop aristocracy with drug busts that promised prison sentences, Whitehouse represented the middle-class, conservative voice of sanity for the W.I. backbone of traditional Great British values centred around deference, the Church of England and the Queen. Once established as a household name with clout, Whitehouse tackled pornography, X certificate cinema, the theatre, gay rights et al; anything she perceived as a threat to her worldview fell under her outraged gaze and she embarked on a fresh campaign to ban it. Either allied with fellow moral crusaders like Lord Longford and Malcolm Muggeridge under the Festival of Light banner or working as head of her National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, Mary Whitehouse’s ravenous appetite for stamping out liberal decadence eventually meant her disapproval became a badge of honour for those she pursued. One of the UK’s leading ‘girlie magazines’ was even amusingly named after her.

However, Mary Whitehouse’s first love was always the BBC. It’s interesting that the Whitehouse torch has today been picked up by the other side, so that the demographic she would have viewed as the enemy 50 years ago is now the one upholding her traditions; yet at the height of her powers, the Beeb – and particularly its television output – was at the vanguard of Britain’s Cultural Revolution. Yes, she was especially infuriated by the ‘Wednesday Play’ brand of gritty, groundbreaking drama, but she also found what she regarded as the increasing coarseness of sitcoms objectionable. ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ was a favourite target, though a memorable episode responded to her criticisms by making Alf Garnett a self-confessed supporter of the Whitehouse mission. By the early 70s, she even had a go at programmes produced for a family audience that could count the majority of the country’s children amongst their viewers. ‘Doctor Who’ attracted her attention during this period, though Whitehouse was not alone in feeling the show was taking the fear factor too far.

‘Terror of the Autons’ was a 1971 adventure for the Timelord in his Earth-exiled incarnation of Jon Pertwee. This story dealt with the invasion plans of an alien intelligence and centred on its ability to control plastic; it was able to breathe life into shop window mannequins as well as manufacturing ‘Autons’, humanoid figures it could animate to pose as the real thing. The scene that landed the series in hot water concerned two policemen the Doctor and his sidekick Jo had accepted a lift from; when the Doc became suspicious, he reached out to one of the coppers and ripped the rubber mask from his face to reveal the blank, featureless countenance of an Auton! The memorable scene that followed on a classic quarry location involved the fake policemen taking pot-shots at our heroes, emphasising nobody could be trusted in this scary new landscape, not even the humble Bobby on the beat. Mary Whitehouse was suitably outraged that the bedrock of her orderly society was being presented as a potential threat to the nation’s children, but the police authorities were equally furious that their attempts at convincing kids a policeman was the one grownup stranger they could trust were being undone.

Marianne Faithfull once reflected that the drugs bust she and the Stones were subjected to in 1967 trashed her naive faith in the police as the ultimate paragons of fair play, the line she’d been fed since childhood; but within a decade the dubious activities of coppers higher up the food chain had become headline news with exposures of across-the-board corruption at Scotland Yard. That a TV show such as ‘Doctor Who’ should even tap into this, albeit accidentally, is interesting, yet the slow erosion of trust in the police force that was once a given has never really gone away. If anything, it has continued apace with a succession of highly-publicised scandals, each one serving to erode that trust even further. The past decade has lifted the lid on the kind of corruption that often makes the bent bastards operating at the Yard in the 70s seem rather quaint by comparison, and the Met has remained the standard bearer, whether via its incestuous relationship with News International or its appalling collusion with the likes of the repugnant Carl Beech and its practice of fitting up innocent men as paedos. Credible and true indeed.

Even if we put the laughably desperate ‘Woke’ leanings of the force to one side for a moment and ignore the LGBTXYZ Cars, the way in which the police freely interpreted lockdown restrictions last year stretched the lingering vestiges of trust on the part of the public to breaking point; this as much as anything else successfully persuaded the masses that if the boys in blue are policing by anybody’s consent, it is not that of the masses but the powers-that-be. Sticking to the nation’s premier force and its illustrious track record, we can see that under the disastrous stewardship of Cressida Dick the Met has plumbed new depths of unaccountability. Calls for the Met’s head to quit are something many have been demanding for a long time – and for reasons other than the activities of Wayne Couzens taking place on her watch; yet the publicising of one especially rotten apple is more than enough for that demand to be renewed.

The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer was shocking enough, but the revelation that he abused his position of trust, enticing his victim by flashing his warrant card and staging a mock arrest on the grounds of breaking Covid restrictions in order to carry out his sickening crime, has tarnished the force’s reputation even further. Had Wayne Couzens been an ordinary member of the public his crime would be reprehensible enough, but that he should have been a member of a profession that still bases its reputation upon trust somehow adds a grotesque layer onto his vile actions. One could argue his rare punishment of a whole life sentence was reached because of this, for it’s doubtful a young woman walking down a quiet street alone would have voluntarily consented to depart with a complete stranger had he not played upon the inherited belief in the probity of the police. Of course, the politicisation of this particular murder in a way that has heaped shame upon all of those who have indulged in such shameless exploitation hasn’t helped, yet some of the shit that has hit the fan in the wake of it beggars belief.

Cressida Dick now apparently recommends any woman stopped by a lone plain-clothes policeman should hail a passing bus (should one happen to be passing) on the off-chance he should be a rapist in disguise. If this is the case, how the hell can anyone in a vulnerable position be expected to trust a stranger whose warrant card is no longer a guarantee of safe passage? The stories that have emerged since the sentencing of Wayne Couzens suggest he was a career predator with questionable behaviour that triggered few warning signs as he was transferred around Home Counties forces with no vetting system in place. According to some sources, he had even been nicknamed ‘The Rapist’, which is unnervingly reminiscent of how Peter Sutcliffe had been nicknamed ‘The Ripper’ by co-workers at the haulage firm he was employed by long before he was finally outed as the real deal. But, again, the fact Couzens was a serving police officer utterly undermines any remaining trust in the institution even further. And if the police cannot be trusted, who can be? Maybe, in her own roundabout way, Mary Whitehouse was asking the same question half-a-century ago. Sadly ironic innit.

© The Editor