WHO’S THE DADDY NOW?

ArchieA TV interview Paul McCartney gave to Russell Harty in the early 80s contains an anecdote from Macca that underlines how the parent/teacher relationship has often been a strained one. In it, he recalled how the young George Harrison had been caned at school in a manner that appeared extreme to his father once he saw the wound, even in an era wherein most dads regarded corporal punishment as not only a necessity but a good thing. Apparently, Mr Harrison turned up at school the following day, entered the classroom, asked the teacher if he was the man who’d scarred his son, requested the teacher step outside for a quiet word, and then laid him out with a single punch. As McCartney remembered, little George’s old man was unsurprisingly an instant hero to the kids who were witness to this incident, and I’ve a feeling no police or lawyers were dragged onto the scene thereafter; this was simply how men resolved disagreements back then. Mr Harrison had made his point and that was the end of the matter. In theory, parents and teachers work in consort to ensure a child receives the best education and is eased back onto the right path should they stray; in practice, the two parties can sometimes vary in their beliefs as to how much influence the other should exert over the child, and as Paul McCartney’s colourful recollection proves, this is no new development.

Having been lumbered with home schooling during lockdown and simultaneously observed the lingering negative effects on their child’s education due to the unnecessarily lengthy disruption of it, I do wonder how sympathetic parents really are to teachers adding their names to the endless round of strike action. Of late, the balance of power over the child has been gradually tilting in favour of the teacher, with some parents consciously feeling their natural and traditional rights slipping out of their hands. The negative perception of the family unit widely held within what one might call ‘Woke’ circles preys upon their paranoia when they suspect many of their child’s teachers subscribe to this ideology, and could well be enthusiastic salesmen for it. Under-fire parents are increasingly mistrusted as guardians and protectors, liable to steer their child away from the current consensus promoted by the teaching profession, as it is by all other institutions in thrall to it; the parent is coming to be viewed as an obstacle to indoctrination.

The gender zealots represent a serious assault on parenting, when parents are criticised for denying their kids the right to opt for new pronouns at best and surgery at worst if they suddenly decide they’ve been born in the wrong body; the so-called ‘transgender child’ is a sinister fabrication that appears to be one more concerted effort to wrestle authority away from the parent, and the fact some schools and/or individual teachers seemingly endorse this pernicious development gives cause for further concern on the part of parents. Numerous reports have claimed some schools have allowed pupils to change gender in the school environment without their parents even being notified; in several cases, parents have been prevented from finding out what lessons their children have been taught on ‘gender identity’ in sex education classes. There is the understandable worry of involuntary indoctrination when it comes to this particular issue, with the teacher acting as substitute parent and filling the child’s head with the fantasy reality of the Trans activist.

Were I a parent myself, I’d no doubt be concerned if confronted by this scenario, and I sympathise with every parent who is. At the same time, however, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of parents out there who see nothing wrong with this dubious trend and are more than happy that the curriculum now mirrors their own belief system – and any parent who disagrees with it is naturally a right-wing, transphobic bigot. It certainly sounds like a manipulative exploitation of the pliable infant mind with a specific dogma that such an undeveloped mind really shouldn’t be exposed to, and one that simply didn’t exist when the majority of us were enduring ‘the happiest days of our lives’. On the other hand, hasn’t involuntary indoctrination always been crucial to the school experience? Haven’t those who attend, say, Catholic schools always had the Good Book drilled into them against their will? And whilst the Bible admittedly contains many a memorable story, there’s no more proof any of those tales are rooted in truth than the most fanciful Trans twisting of biological fact is. One could almost argue nothing has really changed in the classroom bar the nature of the ideology.

The different dogma drilled into me as a school-kid was enforced with the same degree of inflexible, authoritarian vigour as is employed for today’s dogma. For all the talk of indoctrination children are now being exposed to, I’d argue indoctrination was just as pivotal to education back then; what are schools anyway but training camps to breed obedient little citizens? Back then, it was obey and submit to any adult in a suit or uniform; don’t answer them back, bow down before their authority – whether teacher or parent or policeman or priest – and never, under any circumstances, question their right to issue commands; they don’t need to earn your respect, for they engender it in you through fear and intimidation. That’s the same sadistic educational model that stirred enough long-term resentment in someone like Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to eventually come out in a damning indictment of the schooling system such as ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. The fact the song sat atop the UK singles chart for five weeks over the Christmas period of 1979 suggests its observations still rang true with school-kids 20 years on from Waters’ own school-days – and, as one of them at the time, I can confirm they most definitely did.

The enforcement of the ideology that parent and teacher largely shared in my own childhood was done so with absolute conviction on their part; there was never a doubt in their minds that they were right and anyone who opposed their philosophy was wrong. In this sense, their unswerving conviction was identical to the immovable righteousness that runs through the upside down, opposite ideology of today, the one that reverses the players and replaces the parent at the pinnacle of the moral pyramid with the child – aided and abetted by the teacher. Even when the products of campus rebellion against the old order eventually entered the teaching profession in the shape of the bearded ‘hippie generation’ of teachers that began to appear as the 1970s progressed, once absorbed into the system they were just as quick to wield the cane as their older colleagues, which suggested the power invested in the teacher corrupted even those who professed to detest it.

Despite the shared beliefs of that era, there were still differences between parent and teacher that divided them. My own old man always mistrusted well-spoken, well-educated types he encountered on parent evenings, dismissing them as ‘clever’ and perhaps reacting in a manner that reflected his self-confessed grudge against his social ‘betters’ as well as his longstanding difficulty with authority, something that had hampered his own schooldays. He never punched a teacher on my behalf like George Harrison’s dad, but his opinion of some teachers he met at my school was often no better than mine. Still, I had to accept their authority and abide by it – and the use of corporal punishment was deemed a more effective deterrent than the naughty step. Of course, some kids emerged from this system scarred but unscathed in their opposition to it, whereas others who had never questioned it fulfilled the contract and did indeed become obedient little citizens. I should imagine there are a fair few being schooled right now who are resistant and will be released no more convinced or converted than they were when in the thick of it. For the majority, however, we won’t know for another few years yet just how damaging the current model will prove to be.

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SECOND-HAND NEWS

LiberaceIf you’re especially enchanted by vinyl collections that include everything from the ivory-tinkling of Liberace and Mrs Mills to orchestras conducted by either André Previn or James Last – not to mention numerous brass bands and even long-forgotten dance twelve-inches from the early 90s – chances are the record section of the humble high-street charity shop is your favourite corner of said Aladdin’s cave. I’ve uncovered the occasional gem over the years in such locations, though more often than not the LPs crammed in the racks resemble the kind of budget label kitsch yer granny owned and you never heard her actually play. I would imagine the majority of albums that end up in charity shops are amongst the last items standing once family locusts have stripped the home of their recently-deceased parent; unwanted, unfashionable, and – in the case of the Black and White Minstrels – unplayable, these house clearance leftovers remain the staple diet of the charity shop record section, but are also accompanied by the cassette and the CD, with both formats largely echoing their vinyl siblings in terms of terminally-unhip content.

Sharing the enclave containing the shop’s record section are shelves stuffed with DVDs, and their plentiful presence is yet one more pointer to the transient nature of technology; introduced to the UK market a mere 25 years ago, the DVD is already regarded in some quarters as being about as relevant as the 8-track cartridge, what with streaming and downloads all the rage these days. Personally, I prefer my sound and vision on physical objects that cannot be edited or censored by over-sensitive broadcasters, but most movies on those shelves tend to be products of Hollywood’s past decade or so and are therefore both undesirable and unwatchable. Sure, there are the occasional box-sets of decent enough TV shows that one watched at the time without any great craving to watch again, but a large proportion of the motion pictures represented on DVD are what were once referred to as ‘straight-to-video’, i.e. films that had no cinema release due to not being very good.

True, there have been times when rich pickings have been sourced in charity shops, though these were transitional moments between old and new mediums. For example, there was a period in the mid-to-late 80s when men of a certain age were persuaded to re-buy their entire record collections on CD, dumping the vinyl versions at the nearest Help the Aged or British Heart Foundation emporium; I remember purchasing numerous classic albums for next-to-nothing during this fruitful era, and had a similar experience when the VHS made way for the DVD. As with CDs, the DVD was a pricey successor in the beginning, and for those who couldn’t afford either newfangled format, the sudden influx of first LPs and then VHS tapes into charity shops meant collections could be extensively added to with little in the way of expense. Such is the pace of change, however, that charity shops – whilst still accepting vinyl in light of the format’s renaissance as a hip listening tool – will no longer accept VHS tapes. Old enough to recall a time when new VHS releases were priced at well over £20 each on the elite shelves of the most upmarket stores, it’s somewhat strange to see the lifespan of the format has been so brief that even the charity shop won’t act as the elephant’s graveyard for an item that every home once owned in abundance not so long ago.

Books remain something worth checking out in the charity shop, though it often depends on how large the branch is. My local Oxfam is a dependable library of the best the written word can offer, whereas the smaller charity shops in the neighbourhood favour ghost-written ‘biographies’ of daytime TV presenters or celebrity cook books that are reasonable Mother’s Day gifts if nothing else. Meanwhile, clothes are usually the first things the visitor to a charity shop is confronted by, and I’ve bought my fair share of sartorial bargains now and again in such places, albeit not for quite some time. After all, most charity shops sell whatever was fashionable three or four years ago, and there’s no appeal for me personally in the sidewalk catwalk of this century. Perhaps the thought of wearing clothes once worn by somebody else was responsible for the stigma that attached itself to charity shops for a good few years; to some, the prospect of being clad in anything that previously contained the body of a stranger is anathema, and charity shops were regarded by these folks as repositories for smelly old rags nobody with any decency would be seen dead in.

Of course, many people who bought their clothes from charity shops did so because they simply didn’t have the money to buy brand-new gear; but some began to patronise them not because they were skint but because they were skinflints, too tight to fork-out for outfits they could easily afford and instead opting to slum it as a means of saving cash they were hardly short of. At the same time, the cultish popularity of charity shop goods amongst the young led to some being rebranded as ‘vintage’, the difference being a fair few quid could be slapped onto the items, thus pricing out the traditional hard-up patrons in the process. I recall one local charity shop being revamped in this manner, receiving a chic makeover and ramping up the price of goods to reflect their new vintage status instead of their past ‘junk’ tag; it closed about six months ago, though I did pick-up an LP by one of the acts mentioned in the first paragraph during its final day of trading for the sum of 5p, probably the first time I’ve bought anything for a mere shilling in about forty years.

The aforementioned stigma once associated with charity shops lingers to an extent, with their omnipotence on the high-street viewed as indicative of the high-street’s decline; however, recent falls in living standards have forced many into reassessing their prejudices and realising the charity shop may well be the only alternative to the chain-store rapidly moving away from their financial reach. London’s Brent Cross Shopping Centre has this week acquired a so-called ‘pop-up’ shop scheduled to be open for a month; masterminded by Red or Dead founder Wayne Hemingway, what is called a charity super-market resembles an old-school department store in size, though its contents would be familiar to any regular visitor to the local PDSA outlet. Stats quoted by Hemingway’s partner in the project, Maria Chenoweth, suggest the appearance of a larger-than-usual charity shop in such a cathedral of retail as Brent Cross is a sign of the times. ‘When you look at the demographic of people who are shopping in charity shops,’ says Chenoweth, ‘it’s the people who are leading the way in thinking’; according to Chenoweth, 65% of people in the country are dressed in second-hand outfits at least once a week, implying the old stigma is losing its grip on the popular imagination in the face of harsh economic factors.

Apparently, the site the charity super-market has taken over till the end of February was previously a Topshop, which is telling; many of those to have passed through its doors so far have done so with a ‘sustainability’ agenda in mind, preferring to donate their pennies to charities in exchange for goods rather than continuing to feed the corporate chain-store machine. Wayne Hemingway also sees the increasing interest in second-hand goods on the part of the young being reflective of other aspects of their lives, such as struggling to pay the rent and the simultaneous realisation that they might not own their own home before their 40s, if ever. There’s also the eBay element, so engrained in younger generations – i.e. a charity shop bargain could be resold online at twice the price it cost in the shop, thus bringing in a few more extra quid. Wayne Hemingway is hopeful this particular pop-up model can effectively go ‘on the road’, popping-up in other cities across the country and being akin – in his own words – to ‘the fair coming to town’. Perhaps if more people than ever now need charity shops as much as we’re being led to believe, a pop-up should become permanent.

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HOBSON’S CHOICE

ElectionThe MSM response to the so-called ‘Twitter Files’ that were unveiled during the final few months of 2022 exemplified the way in which new and old news outlets reside in parallel universes that rarely crossover. The BBC and Fleet Street focus on each (admittedly plentiful) example of Elon Musk’s somewhat eccentric behaviour ever since taking over the single biggest influence on public discourse over the past decade, upholding the accepted narrative portraying the bonkers billionaire as a right-wing threat to all we cherish rather than highlighting his stated intent to make Twitter an open forum for opinions of all persuasion by both restoring dubiously-deleted accounts and uncovering the truth of the site’s previous moderators in keeping a lid on storylines potentially damaging to those on ‘the right side of history’. The fact that the FBI and Big Tech conspired to suppress the Hunter Biden story and sought to discredit the lone New York Post from reporting it during the run-up to the 2020 Presidential Election in order that it wouldn’t damage Sleepy Joe’s campaign is a revelation arguably on a par with Watergate, yet the pitiful coverage it received in the MSM is testament to how our fat controllers filter the output we are delivered on a daily basis and decide which particular viewpoint will best preserve their hegemony.

I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised; indeed, it’s difficult not to be cynical when reporting on anything of this nature now. The default response to any such revelation is to shrug one’s shoulders and expect nothing less from the powers-that-be; so, those who vigorously monitor the feed we receive online have been complicit in a cover-up – what else do we expect from society’s string-pullers? Don’t they all share a communal urinal? It matters not what one’s personal belief is of The Donald and the fruitcakes he has a habit of attracting; the fact that his opponents stooped even lower to ensure he didn’t secure a second term in office by convincing the public that a story which could threaten Biden’s chances of sleepwalking into the White House was nothing more than an irrelevant slice of hysterical hype on the part of the opposition – or an example of ‘Russian interference’ – is outrageous. But the masses buy it, just as they queue-up at the crack of dawn to buy the self-pitying, petty memoir of a privileged ginger whinger. The public have been sufficiently indoctrinated and respond accordingly when called upon.

But I suppose this is a trend to which most are now accustomed; after all, so much of what constitutes our instant exposure to world events is fashioned by those who have a particular perspective, and this is the one that provides us with our limited choice of opinions. The excessive MSM coverage afforded issues that had largely been resolved before being revived by the far-left of political persuasion on both sides of the pond neglects to mention that their recent resurgence is due to the left’s need to be engaged in a permanent state of war. Without a battle to define it, the left suddenly becomes redundant and no longer has any purpose; and when all the great civil rights struggles of the past were won by the most discriminated-against minorities with the largest numbers, the left found itself relegated to the fringes, let down by the proles who refused to do as they were told and reduced to recycling the kind of nostalgic warfare characteristic of the Corbyn cult. The left was effectively unemployable when someone like David Cameron could embrace a cause such as gay marriage, so it required a revival of the old struggles to render it relevant again.

The left seems to require constant conflict to justify its existence as an alternative to the supposedly-staid ‘other side’, which allegedly upholds old-school traditions (despite legitimising causes the left once had exclusive copyright on), so what better way to reclaim the opposition front by reviving racial tensions, regardless of whether its approach seems more geared towards reinstating segregation than being true to the doctrines of Martin Luther King and his belief that the content of a person’s character matters more than the colour of their skin? Class has been noticeably sidelined as an issue of division, perhaps because so many of the loudest voices waving placards emanate from elite academies and look down their noses at the uneducated plebs who remain mysteriously resistant to ‘the message’ – much easier to hone in on race and sexuality. Graduation is followed by the implementation of the campus dogma in office and boardroom in order to impose it on the masses more effectively. And then there’s a career in politics. After all, the Labour Party is attuned; it doesn’t want those at the bottom to rise above their lowly position, needing them to stay put so it can pat them on the head and rush to their assistance; ‘Don’t worry; we went to university and write columns for the Guardian – we’re cleverer than you, what with you being retarded yahoos.’

The left has its favourite causes – Palestine being the perennial, of course; but a one-time vital issue such as women’s rights has been severely usurped by misogynistic trans-activists, and with the latter being minority ‘victims’, the former has been abandoned by its previously-dependable foot-soldiers, left to its own devices and risking demonisation as it challenges the left’s favouritism. The pet projects of the left – whether Islam or Trans – threaten a serious reversal of the progress made by women’s rights in the past, and whenever that progress is placed in peril by proposed legislation favouring ‘gender identification’ – as in Soviet Scotland – natural-born women belatedly realise how much they’ve been shafted by their former allies. But the left can’t budge on this issue; it has committed itself. After all, women’s rights campaigners today show one of the left’s favourite causes in a bad light, and that light reflects badly on the left itself – and on its biology-denying leaders.

As was succinctly pointed out in a recent ‘Triggernometry’ interview with women’s campaigner and author Helen Joyce, many men posing as ‘legal’ women under new laws tend to go a little overboard with the cosmetics, thus emphasising their approach to femininity is a fetish of the kind that used to kept behind closed doors; as a rule, regular cross-dressers – and whatever happened to that word? – don’t pretend they’re genuine women at all and adopt a look low on the over-sexualised parody of the female sex that those demanding to be recognised as women often favour; ditto those who actually go through the full gender reassignment surgery and show a commitment above and beyond a mere fashion statement. A celebrity cross-dresser or ‘transvestite’ such as Eddie Izzard used to apply that label to himself at one time, whereas now he likes to masquerade as a woman whenever the fancy takes him, reducing the female identity to a series of stereotypical accessories that can be adopted or discarded at will. Yet, it’s not so easy to dismiss a dilettante like Izzard as a delusional fantasist when his fetish threatens to be enshrined in law.

I do wonder, though, if the SNP’s seemingly nihilistic embrace of this particular cause – which risks alienating vast swathes of potential voters – is merely another cynical addition to their independence agenda; the expected legal challenges of the UK Government to the bill gives them further ammunition to portray Westminster as English oppressors interfering in Scottish affairs. Perhaps it’s not so far-fetched to think such a thought when one is all-too aware that moral scruples are not part of the political armoury; but at a time when extremists of both left and right appear to have filled the voids left behind by politicians pandering to the few instead of serving the many, the abandonment of the majority in the middle is a serious failing that only adds to the general world-weary air of despair with our elected representatives and their ideological paymasters. Come the next General Election, the overwhelming desire to evict the current shower from office will certainly be tempered by the sobering realisation that doing so simply passes the parcel to a different kind of awful.

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HUMANE RIGHTS

Logan's RunAlthough forming part of the Dystopian future narrative so commonplace in pre-‘Star Wars’ sci-fi films of the 1970s, ‘Logan’s Run’, the 1976 movie starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter, contains an element in its storyline that is both telling of the era in which it was produced and prescient to where we are now. The citizens of the sealed society housed within a self-contained dome to keep them safe from the polluted air outdoors receive an implant in the palm of their left hands as babies; this implant changes colour as they age and when it begins to blink as they approach 30, they are forced to undergo voluntary euthanasia in an elaborate ceremony attended by crowds in a manner recalling a sporting occasion. At the time the film was made, 30 was viewed as a key cut-off point in a pop culture still trading on the Bright Young Things of the 60s, all of whom were remarkably creative individuals whilst in their 20s – and many of whom died before they made it to 30; 30 being the age at which citizens are deemed over-the-hill and therefore need to be ‘renewed’ seems logical for the era.

However, it is not only the presence of a dubious inorganic implant that sits uneasily in a present day that often speaks in all seriousness about the alleged ‘benefits’ of such implants; the euthanasia aspect of the movie – and the normalisation of the subject – is another element that is a little closer to home today than it was in the mid-70s. Switzerland has been promoting its controversial Dignitas clinic and its assisted suicide programme for the last 25 years, though it has strict criteria for potential patients, requiring sound judgement and the ability to take one’s own life – and it has to be said the majority of those who fork-out for a one-way ticket to Zurich are usually suffering from terminal illnesses that would otherwise result in a long, slow and painful death few would deny them release from. Since its formation in 1998, over 3,000 people have chosen the Dignitas method, capitalising on the fact that Switzerland is – along with Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands – one of the few countries in Europe to legalise voluntary euthanasia. A small handful of other countries in the world have also introduced a ‘right-to-die’ system, including Canada, which is now officially the world leader in assisted suicide, accounting for 3.3% of the country’s deaths.

Dignitas does accept sufferers of severe mental illness who wish to end their own lives, though such cases tend to be in the minority, and – depending on the severity of the patient’s condition – can present a more problematic scenario in determining whether the volunteer is sufficiently of sound mind to make such a judgement alone. The issue of mental illness has also recently surfaced in the proposed extensions to Canada’s own euthanasia programme, with many feeling the assisted suicide legislation is moving a little too fast for its own good as it is repeatedly sold as yet another ‘progressive’ policy of a kind that the administration of Monsieur Trudeau is seemingly obsessed with inflicting on its people. And, let’s be honest, the thought of a government legislating for those with a psychological sickness to be ‘put to sleep’ is a little too, shall we say, Nazi Germany for most to stomach.

Unlike the Nazi euthanasia industry, which selected physically and mentally disabled inmates of institutions for the treatment mainly because they were viewed as a blot on the Third Reich’s ideal of Aryan perfection and had no say in the matter, Canada’s right-to-die business plan emphasises choice is paramount and nobody would ever be put to sleep against their will as part of some mass social cleansing scheme. The motivations for the programme are sold as a compassionate and humane way of ending unnecessary suffering, though it has to be noted that many of those responsible for Nazi Germany’s programme made similar claims when forced to answer for their crimes against humanity at Nuremberg. Naturally, nobody is making a case for Canada’s assisted suicide system as being a reincarnation of the Nazi blueprint, but it does seem to be widening the net of qualification a tad too wide for some.

In Canada, there is already a worrying trend for state-sponsored suicide to come across as a virtual ‘lifestyle choice’ for those who are confronted by poverty and economic hardship, with euthanasia viewed by some as an option when life doesn’t appear to offer anything worth living for. Stories of volunteers for MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) who are struggling on the breadline, often afflicted by conditions that aren’t life-threatening but aren’t deemed serious enough to warrant sympathetic help from the state, have increased in recent months. Many doctors and psychiatrists in Canada are concerned that some patients experiencing a rough patch in their lives are being seduced by the idea of euthanasia as a panacea for their problems. With a poll last year reporting that a third of Canadians are facing mental health difficulties probably intensified by the country’s excessive Covid restrictions, perhaps it’s no surprise that euthanasia is increasingly regarded as an alternative; after all, one of the hallmarks of clinical depression, for instance, is that the sufferer has a job on perceiving any glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel. For those who can’t afford expensive psychiatric treatment from a decent therapist who can convince them the black clouds aren’t permanent, assisted suicide can appear attractive.

Of course, suicide can be viewed as the only way out of a crippling social situation such as loneliness or depression by many without the need for an official government programme to do the job on their behalf; but concerns over the proposed expansions of MAID even from doctors who actually work within the system and perform assisted suicides is growing. Dr Madeline Li, a Toronto-based psychiatrist, says ‘Making death too ready a solution disadvantages the most vulnerable people and actually lets society off the hook; I don’t think death should be society’s solution for its own failures’, whilst Marie-Claud Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, says ‘Leaving people to make the choice to die because the state is failing to fulfil their fundamental human rights is unacceptable’. Indeed, one Canadian newspaper has referred to the trend as ‘opt-in eugenics’.

In the case of the disabled and mentally ill, plans to expand the criteria for MAID have also met criticism from UN human rights experts, three of whom put their criticisms in writing to Canada’s federal government, suggesting the plans risked planting the idea in the heads of the disabled that death was a preferable substitute for disability. A story emerged last year that a Canadian war veteran and paralympian requested a wheelchair ramp be installed in her home, only to be offered the choice of assisted suicide as an alternative by a Veteran’s Affairs case worker – the fourth such disabled veteran the case worker suggested this to. All of these factors have raised public awareness of the planned extension of the voluntary euthanasia laws and have led to a pause in progress in order to allow further consultation with the medical profession; but the pause may only be temporary as abandoning the plans could be regarded as legally unconstitutional. That’s the problem when such a questionable human right is enshrined in law.

Revelations of the financial benefits for the Canadian healthcare system also cast a somewhat sinister shadow across the issue; a 2020 report by the Canadian government found $13,000 per euthanized patient had been saved under the original criteria for MAID qualification – i.e. sufferers of a terminal illness; the report estimated the plans to extend the criteria to include those not suffering from a terminal condition (far higher in number) could increase individual savings to as much as $50,000. Voluntary euthanasia will always inevitably be a contentious area with the ever-ready potential for abuse, and needs to be approached with caution; but in the rush to gratify every clamour for human rights that comes with the domino effect of appeasing each separate group in turn, Canada risks taking a ‘progressive’ step too far.

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THE AGE OF DECADENCE

CaligulaNew Year hangovers aren’t simply physical after-effects characteristic of 1 January; 2023 so far still seems bogged-down by the headlines from last month, many of which were covered in the previous post a week ago. Lack of Winegum action has been in part due to spending a good four solid days on a new instalment of the filthily evergreen ‘Buggernation Street’, now firmly settled in its new home on my Patreon channel; but the aforementioned absence of fresh output on here can also be blamed on a general lack of inspiration arising from the news. Of course, alongside the catalogue of strike action and the annual ‘NHS on the brink’ story, the MSM has been mystifyingly in thrall to the vain, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing public therapy of a ginger whinger; as one half of a couple worthy of comparison to Posh & Becks or Peter Andre & Jordan in terms of class, the ‘spare’ has been flogging his ghost-written misery memoir across newspapers and TV channels that should know better for what feels like the entirety of 2023 to date. The tabloid quarter of Fleet Street professes to despise said twosome and routinely hammers this point home; yet it simultaneously stops at nothing to devote ludicrously disproportionate coverage to them. Both they and the MSM are engaged in an unedifying spectacle akin to watching a pair of pissheads scrapping on the pavement to get at a fiver they’ve just spotted hovering over a grate.

I don’t intend to add to the circus any more than I would write a post about the Kardashians, Amanda Holden or Carol Vorderman – other similarly uninteresting celebrities that the mainstream media appears to believe we all find endlessly fascinating. But I will just say that it was like attempting to extract blood from the proverbial stone getting my grandfather to talk about what he did during the Second World War; yet, had he claimed to have killed 25 Germans in one fell swoop, I doubt I would have believed him and may well have correctly concluded he’d probably spent six years in the Catering Corps, with his most testing time of the conflict coming when he had to feed a dozen hungry troops with just a couple of tins of Spam and a packet of powdered egg. If the stupidity of Henry Charles Albert David Windsor is such that his nauseating naval gazing blinds him to the fact that bragging about how many members of a still-active terrorist organisation he slaughtered during his stint serving granny & country isn’t necessarily wise, so be it; but that doesn’t necessarily earn him the ‘poor you’ sympathy he clearly craves from the self-indulgent victimhood of a wealthy, titled plank.

This has also been the week of an archetypal social media story involving a Police Force writing to a Twitter user and demanding he or she (or ‘they’) attend an interview – and presumably a ‘re-education’ lecture – concerning a Tweet that committed the apparently-blasphemous crime of criticising the prevalence of the ubiquitous rainbow flag; the fact doing so isn’t a crime in law – yet – didn’t prevent Inspector Knacker from behaving as though it is and evidently hoping the said criminal was unaware of the fact. Considering the current climate, which sometimes feels like waking up in a world you’d rather not be living in, what more opportune time to revisit the BBC’s landmark 1976 production of ‘I, Claudius’? Here is a peerless and prescient portrayal of a once-great society on the cusp of collapse into decadence and then destruction; we witness that collapse through the ruling Roman dynasty and their Mafia-like machinations to rule at all costs. Served-up as perhaps the last great television event of the era in which television was the prime medium for telling stories with intelligence, wit and panache, ‘I, Claudius’ is littered with unforgettable set-pieces, spiky dialogue and characters that linger in the collective memory almost half-a-century later.

The cast list alone of ‘I, Claudius’ demonstrates how the reputation of British TV for attracting the cream of the acting crop was at its zenith in the mid-70s: the young Derek Jacobi making his name as the stammering, shambling lead character; the malevolently mesmerising Sian Phillips as the scheming Empress Livia, arguably the most memorable bitch in television history, and a woman who will casually poison the competition to clear the path for her ungrateful son Tiberius (George Baker) to succeed her husband as Emperor; and not forgetting Brian Blessed at his booming best as Augustus. Along the way we encounter numerous then-current as well as future familiar faces such as Patrick Stewart, Ian Ogilvy, John Rhys-Davies, Stratford Johns, Bernard Hepton, Margaret Tyzack, Kevin McNally, Bernard Hill, Peter Bowles, Patricia Quinn, Norman Rossington, and even Christopher Biggins as an especially noxious Nero. But perhaps no other cast member – with the honourable exception of Sian Phillips as Livia – leaves a greater mark on the production than John Hurt as the dangerously insane Caligula.

Fresh from his breakthrough into household name territory via ‘The Naked Civil Servant’, Hurt plays the psychopathic Caesar with the correct amount of genuinely disturbing menace, yet is equally hilarious in a part that another actor could easily have tipped into melodramatic farce. Caligula’s sadistic madness and conviction he is a God merely renting a human form turns those around him into either sycophantic toadies or (as in the case of ‘Uncle Claudius’) forces them to think on their toes, watch what they say, and learn to anticipate the unpredictable whenever in the Emperor’s company – as kids hoping to avoid a beating often do when finding themselves alongside the school bully. Caligula famously promoted his horse to a senator in one of his milder expressions of lunacy, but his more deviant whims were inflicted upon Rome simply because he decreed it, however much the Romans realised he was tampering with the natural order of things by normalising all that was beyond the pale. No doubt if Caligula had added paedophilia to his depraved list of legalised perversions, he’d have reclassified paedophiles as ‘Minor Attracted Persons’ – as indeed a member of another contemporary Police Force did just a week ago.

Caligula’s inevitable downfall at the hands of assassin’s blades comes in the wake of impregnating the sister he married and then – believing himself to be Zeus – following in the God’s footsteps by cutting out the foetus and eating it. The episode that climaxes with this gory scene was originally even gorier, but BBC bosses wilted under the onslaught of outrage from Mary Whitehouse and her comrades-in-offence and censored the offending sight of Drusilla bleeding to death from her horrific wound when the series was repeated. Although the scene in question can never be restored on account of it being lost on the cutting room floor, the edited version actually works much better in that seeing Claudius’s horrified reaction as he gazes upon the carnage is brilliantly effective without needing to see something our imagination has already pictured in all its grotesque glory.

Claudius is eventually the last man standing following the murders of most of the imperial family and is proclaimed Emperor against his wishes; but being perceived as a fool for most of his life due to his physical afflictions has saved his skin and also means he is able to document the saga of his brutal clan for the benefit of future generations. More or less each episode opens and closes with the elderly Claudius almost acting as a geriatric Edgar Lustgarten introducing the latest instalment of a bloodthirsty story, the likes of which has continued to echo throughout every TV series dealing with dynastical intrigues ever since. But ‘I, Claudius’ itself is perhaps the high watermark of a period that had begun with ‘The Forsyte Saga’ a decade earlier, one in which writing, production, direction and acting overcame the limitations of a studio set and managed to manufacture a uniquely compelling halfway house between theatre and television rather than aping cinema, as the small-screen does today. We may not see that era again on TV, but I expect Caligula to return as President or Prime Minister of somewhere soon; the climate seems particularly sympathetic to him right now.

© The Editor

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NAME THAT CRISIS

MoppAs we currently reside in a winter wonderland, the NHS is naturally on the brink of collapse. This annual event – one that usually dominates the headlines of news outlets less than sympathetic towards the Conservative Party every January without fail – is making its yearly appearance at the moment, counteracted by evidence from the other side of Fleet Street concerning how many millions our most beloved of institutions squanders on the likes of ‘diversity coordinators’ and so on, thus depriving frontline nurses of wage increases they’d otherwise not have to strike for. But the narrative that traditionally opens a New Year tends not to recognise this strand of the storyline; it’s far easier to pin the blame on ‘evil Tories’ because black & white heroes and villains translate the myriad intricacies of the morbidly obese and unmanageable behemoth of bureaucracy the NHS has become into a more digestible bite-sized tabloid snack. Of course, there are always a few dependable Blimp-like Tories who will gladly provide sufficient fodder for the Mirror and the BBC by coming out with a reliably stupid quote to uphold the narrative, though these tend to be detached backbenchers who are all with Bupa anyway.

Unless one’s health takes a dramatic turn for the worst, most of us are mercifully spared from placing our lives in A&E hands; if we find ourselves afflicted by a seasonal sniffle that simply won’t go away, the nearest GP’s surgery tends to be the sole port of call – or at least used to be. Anyone who’s attempted to secure a doctor’s appointment during the past three years will probably have found sweating it out or self-medication is a preferable option. Sob stories from GPs have become commonplace in recent times, though most patients find it difficult to express sympathy after being placed on hold for hours when forced to book an appointment over the phone from the crack of dawn onwards, with an ailment hardly eased by exposure to some tortuous Auto-tune earworm or an ad on a loop demanding the listener purchases an app that will no doubt deliver a diagnosis in a Stephen Hawking accent.

The last time I managed to gain an in-person audience with a GP around a year or so ago, I recall being the sole person in a waiting room about as active as a Nightingale Hospital until a guy walked in and approached the counter to make an appointment; he was informed he needed to do so over the phone and proceeded to produce his mobile and ring the receptionist in front of him; observing this farce, I felt as though I’d walked into a Python sketch. Despite the absence of patient competition, I still had to sit for the best part of fifteen minutes before a doctor deigned to appear; this was one of those multi-GP surgeries where one rarely sees the same doctor two visits running, so I did wonder what the multiple medical men and women employed there were busying themselves with whilst I twiddled my thumbs in the deserted waiting room. Playing a round of poker, perhaps?

Ever since every illness – both life-threatening and merely annoying – was deemed by the likes of SAGE to be secondary to Covid, the majority of hospitals, clinics and GP’s surgeries seem to have obediently followed the Government-recommended lead, albeit without readjusting their priorities now we’re through the worst of it. And what thanks do they receive for their obedience? They get Chris ‘Mekon’ Whitty predicting mass deaths courtesy of all those undiagnosed fatal illnesses that were placed on ice because the medical profession did as it was told. Indeed, how many vital members of NHS staff were faced with the threat of losing their jobs barely a couple of years ago because they were resistant to the vaccine and exercised their rights as citizens of a supposedly-free country to opt out? Remember the smear campaign aimed at discrediting this perfectly democratic decision, one spearheaded by Government propaganda and supported by numerous sections of the MSM? Yes, like any institution of such an unwieldy size, the NHS has its dutiful servants and it has its avaricious freeloaders; I suspect the latter would have remained in place, continuing to draw their sumptuous salaries as middle-management parasites, and wouldn’t have shed a tear over the loss of those further down the food-chain whose presence can actually make more of a difference to a patient than a course in diversity training. But in this infantile narrative, we were made very aware as to who the heroes were and who the villains were.

I think, for a lot of people, some of the more extreme attitudes that the pandemic exposed were quite an eye-opener; it certainly served to show a few true colours that had been previously clad in the colourless brand of sheep’s clothing bearing a ‘tolerance’ label, i.e. the whole #BeKind brigade who anyone with half-a-brain can now belatedly recognise as the charlatans they always were – the allegedly liberal who are actually acutely illiberal, just like the so-called anti-racists or anti-fascists are amongst some of the most bigoted, intolerant, narrow-minded and downright nasty haters out there. And, as undemocratic and draconian as some of the legislation rushed through Parliament by a Conservative Government was, don’t forget it was supported all the way along by Labour and the Lib Dems – and if it was criticised at all, the basis of the criticism was that it wasn’t severe enough in curbing civil liberties. After all, we saw for ourselves just how severe it could’ve been in England via those constituent countries of the UK with administrations supposedly of the Left.

In a way, though, the unpleasant side of human nature that either surfaced through genuine fear or simply exploited the fear of others in the most unseemly manner was a symptom of more than a mere freak occurrence like the pandemic. I recently viewed an archive interview with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Marty Feldman and Dennis Norden – all of whom were sharing a dinner whilst discussing comedy writing; as the get-together was staged at Christmas, the festive subject cropped-up and Feldman made a potent point as to the way strangers react to one another for just a handful of days out of the 365 the year offers us. He noted that people have to be ‘artificially stimulated to behave like human beings’, going on to say that ‘We have to be aware that this is the day when we behave like civilised people’. Whenever some TV telethon in a ‘Children in Need’ vein raises a whopping amount, there’s always tangible surprise expressed at just how selflessly generous people can be towards the less fortunate, yet should it really be a surprise? Sadly, the fact that it is greeted as a surprise speaks volumes. To be wished a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year on the street by a stranger for one week in December isn’t an uncommon event; to be bid good morning on the street by a stranger any other time of the year certainly is.

Every public demonstration of ‘community’ and ‘we’re all in this together’ during the pandemic, such as standing on a street corner to applaud the NHS, came across as staged-managed, like an organised ‘fun’ event for kids at Butlin’s; none of it appeared organic or spontaneous; one almost got the feeling it had been hatched by Dominic Cummings as a means of getting the people on side, a less negative approach than the divide & rule tactic of shaming those who opposed pandemic policies like lockdown or mandatory masks. The pitifully small resistance to so much of what was imposed upon us during this period – and how that resistance was demonised by those who played right into Government hands – is something it’s hard to forgive or forget. Whether or not the NHS is actually in a genuine crisis again or whether this is just another strand of propaganda designed to oust one political party in favour of another cut from the same rancid cloth is something we’ll probably find out in a year or two. Mind you, as Jonathan Meades shrewdly pointed out in his study on jargon, politicians of every colour have more in common with each other than they have with normal people; and the truth we believe is the truth we receive.

© The Editor

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ONE LAST THING…

VWOne strange tradition that never fails to deliver is that of a year entering its final days and the Grim Reaper embarking upon a frenzied period of visiting famous names; for Death, the climax of the twelve-month calendar usually consists of breakneck house-to-house calls as though he’s required to fulfil a specific celebrity quota before 31 December and always leaves it till the last minute. Indeed, he left it so late this year that he ended up calling on two exemplary figures in their chosen fields on the same day, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Brazilian football legend Pelé. The latter’s battle with cancer had been publicised and his hospitalisation routinely referenced during the recent World Cup, when Lionel Messi became the latest player to wear the crown that the man born Edson Arantes do Nacimento had copyrighted from the age of 17; in contrast with an anticipated passing that had felt inevitable for several weeks, news that Vivienne Westwood has also died came as more of a surprise, with few beyond her inner circle aware she was fatally ill. Born within six months of each other, one was a king and one was a dame, and both left an indelible mark on 20th century pop culture that will long outlast their mortal remains.

At a time when access to football played beyond Europe was minimal to say the least, the World Cup was the only real window to the global game available to football followers in the UK and on the Continent – and even then it could be something of a logistical challenge for it to reach British and European screens. If the tournament was staged in South America – such as Chile in 1962 – the fact that broadcasting’s satellite age was still a twinkle in Telstar’s eye meant games would be shot on film and then rushed to a waiting plane; in 1962, TV viewers over here had to wait an unimaginable two days after the Final itself was played before they actually got to see the match transmitted on the BBC. Four years earlier, at the least the contest was a little closer to home, staged in Sweden. This was just the sixth World Cup tournament, and up to that point the Jules Rimet trophy had only been held aloft by three countries – Uruguay, Italy and West Germany. Brazil had reached the Final on one solitary occasion – 1950 – and had suffered an inconceivable loss on home soil to Uruguay; they felt it was their destiny to win, but despite their dazzling flair, Brazil never seemed able to leap that final hurdle to immortality. And then, in 1958, they unveiled a prodigy.

In 1958, the 17-year-old Vivienne Swire had relocated from her birthplace in working-class Derbyshire to begin student life on a jewellery course at Harrow Art School; on the other side of the world, Edson Arantes do Nacimento – who had emerged from a poverty-stricken corner of Sao Paulo – was the great discovery of Brazilian club Santos and was a year into his international career when the World Cup in Sweden came calling. Rapidly on his way to becoming a household name in his own country, Pelé (having adopted the time-honoured Brazilian tactic of going by a nickname) was Brazil’s secret weapon in 1958. Although he didn’t make his debut until the third and final group game, by the time the team entered the knock-out stage – which in those more manageable days of just 16 teams was the Quarter-Final – he scored the only goal against Wales; in the Semi-Final Vs France he netted a hat-trick and the rest of the world sat up and took notice. In the Final, he scored twice as Brazil hammered the host nation 5-2 and finally fulfilled their destiny by getting their hands on the most coveted prize in football. Overnight, the teenager had become a global superstar.

Four years later, Pelé’s reputation had grown to the point where Santos had received numerous tempting offers for their greatest asset from a string of eager English and European big guns – including Manchester United and Real Madrid – but had held firm, with the Brazilian Government declaring him an official national treasure in order to prevent his export. He kick-started Brazil’s defence of the World Cup in Chile with the expectations of a nation weighing heavily on his shoulders, but suffered an injury early in the tournament and played no further part in the contest; despite Brazil retaining the trophy without him in Chile, Pelé fared even worse in England in 1966, exposed to the worst ‘professional tackles’ of the era as he was kicked out of the competition by Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders; the holders exited at the group stage and Pelé vowed to never grace the global stage again. Whilst all this was happening, Vivienne Westwood had walked out on her first marriage (from which she took her surname) and had set up home with Malcolm McLaren, a partnership that would prove fruitful for both. Although earning a wage as a primary school teacher, Westwood was already designing her own clothes, and by the early 1970s she and McLaren had opened a boutique called Let It Rock on Chelsea’s King’s Road, one that specialised in vintage Teddy Boy gear from the 50s.

As Westwood and McLaren were establishing themselves on the King’s Road, Pelé had relented from his decision of 1966 and was back in the Brazil line-up for the Mexico World Cup in 1970. Like Maradona in 1986 and Messi in 2022, this was Pelé’s chance to justify his reputation before a global audience, and he – and his team – didn’t disappoint. Even now, over half-a-century later, that Brazil side is still acknowledged as arguably the finest team ever to win the competition; indeed, so overwhelmed were FIFA by Brazil’s performance that they allowed them to keep the Jules Rimet trophy forever as they became the first country to capture it for a third time. Yes, Pelé was the star man, but he was ably supported by players whose names evoked Renaissance artists – Jairzinho, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto – and who played with an artistic flair unparalleled in the history of the game. Prior to the Final, the game of the tournament came between Brazil and defending champions England; Brazil won 1-0, but the match is chiefly remembered for Gordon Banks’ miraculous save against Pelé – as memorable a moment as Pelé’s attempted goal from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia. Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 in the Final, with the opening goal coming from the man himself; it was Pele’s last game in the World Cup, retiring from international football a year later and resisting efforts to coax him out of international retirement in 1974.

By the mid-70s, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren had renamed their boutique ‘Sex’ and had begun selling the kind of fetish gear normally unseen outside of Soho backrooms; Westwood was certainly ahead of her time, considering such gear is now commonplace with gimps on dog-leads entertaining toddlers on Pride parades. They then tapped into a craze amongst impoverished London art students (including a certain Johnny Rotten) for wearing ripped clothes held together by safety pins; the two strands combined and created the Punk look, which – when stitched to the music produced by the band McLaren managed, The Sex Pistols – ended up selling a lifestyle. It was the springboard for Westwood to become Britain’s most renowned and radical young designer, and she never really looked back. As Punk was bubbling on the King’s Road, Pelé had done the unthinkable and relocated from Santos to the US, helping to launch the North American Soccer League in the colours of the New York Cosmos. Hip Americans who were finding football a hard sell instantly warmed to the fact a black man was considered the planet’s finest footballer, and even though Pelé was arguably past his best at 35, he still outshone most of the competition on the stateside field of play and didn’t finally retire for good until 1977.

Whether an elder statesman still selling his sport around the world or an established fashion designer attaching her profitable name to whichever cause she sought to promote, both Pelé and Vivienne Westwood had become global brands by the time they simultaneously bowed-out of the spotlight and both are pretty much irreplaceable, however many pretenders to their respective crowns they survived in their lifetimes and will continue to withstand in death.

© The Editor

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AROUND THE WORLD IN 365 DAYS

Old Father Time2022 – yet another one of ‘those years’; yes, this glorious century hasn’t exactly been short on them, and if you, like me, had a fittingly crap Christmas then you won’t be sorry to see the back of 2022, even if 2023 is hardly loaded with optimistic anticipation. When a year is characterised by chaos, chances are the chaos is as prevalent at the top as it is at the bottom, and we certainly had that in abundance from our ‘betters’ this year. The fact that 2022 saw the UK led by three different Prime Ministers – including one who had the shortest run in the history of the office – suggests either those at the top are keeping up with the rest of us, or they’re largely responsible for the chaos, depending on how one apportions responsibility. But when one recalls the year began with the fall-out from the Partygate affair that eventually led to Boris’s premature exit, and that by the autumn his immediate successor managed to set off alarm bells in the City – provoking an even more premature exit – then looking to leaders for leadership proved an utterly futile exercise, fracturing even further the already fragile faith and trust in our elected representatives.

And then, the Health Secretary overseeing the pandemic response turns himself into a tawdry celebrity with a staggering absence of shame and guilt in a desperate attempt to court redemption; who in their right mind could respect an unprincipled worm like Matt Hancock, a man whose actions seemed as emblematic of the corrupt, degenerate decay at the amoral heart of an amoral administration as Boris Johnson himself? If that’s the way those at the top behave, perhaps it’s no wonder those of us who reside closer to the bottom express nothing less than absolute contempt for them – and no longer have any belief in their ability to make our lives better; and if they can’t, who can? That can’t really be good for democracy. But it’s not as if the UK was alone in being exceptionally ill-led in 2022. Out in the colonies, Monsieur Trudeau reacted to a grass-roots challenge to his authority by unleashing every verbal weapon in the Woke arsenal to demonise and discredit the protesting truckers and their supporters; he even stooped to freezing their bank accounts, exploiting the vulnerability of a monetary system the public has been bludgeoned into depending on and using lessons learnt during the pandemic, when those doubting the wisdom of lockdowns and untested vaccines were smeared as enemies of the people.

Closer to home, in Soviet Scotland, the even more authoritarian and illiberal SNP pressed ahead with their plans to allow men who simply ‘identify’ as the opposite sex to be legally recognised as women – surgery not included – after a mere three-month trial period. Hot on the heels of wee Nicola’s attempt to push for yet another independence referendum being rendered null and void without Westminster’s say-so, the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill not only faces potential legal challenges in the rest of the UK, but could prove to be an Identitarian step too far, certainly if the uproar amongst women’s and children’s rights campaigners is anything to go by. One hopes it might belatedly alert the more English-phobic Scots that their nasty nationalist darlings don’t necessarily have their best interests at heart. The long-overdue revelations of the crimes committed in the name of ‘diversity’ by the likes of the butchers at the Tavistock Clinic and the pseudo-paedophilic charity Mermaids had at last enabled dissenting voices to finally be heard without censorship, yet the SNP turned a blind eye to all this, displaying greater sympathy towards the ‘human rights’ of male sex offenders than in preserving natural-born women-only spaces.

The ‘empowerment’ of confused adolescents by such a bill is a dangerous development that threatens to set back progress just at the point when it was finally being made; the scandal of Tavistock and its ilk was gaining exposure as endless stories of children brainwashed into believing gender reassignment was the answer to all their teenage problems were being heard, yet the SNP bill fails to acknowledge the damage done just as it fails to recognise Transgenderism in its most superficial form is effectively the latest adolescent cult. Online videos of schoolboys in makeup undergoing ‘period pains’ in their bedrooms is a sick trend that recalls devotees of fanatical religious sects being possessed by the Devil; however, unlike past tribal loyalties with a short sell-by date, any emotionally disturbed teenager buying into this particular cult and paying the ultimate price with life-changing surgery can’t simply bin the clothes and haircut that served as the visual hallmarks of the cult once he or she moves on to the next one – as teenagers are prone to doing; and the SNP bill ignores the evidence to appease its rainbow flag-waving activist friends. Mind you, those activists now have such a deep foothold in so many of our institutions that the 2+2=5 dogma they espouse is in danger of becoming legal fact; even revered dictionaries have capitulated to this fantasy reality, further adding to the sense that the West is rapidly disappearing down the toilet.

No wonder Vladimir Putin doesn’t see the West as an obstacle to his imperial ambitions; in his own way, Vlad is as much a fantasist as the Trans activists or the Net Zero climate zealots vandalising works of art, and he’s getting away with it as much as they are; only a couple of days ago, yet another former ally who had the nerve to question Putin’s Ukraine adventure ‘committed suicide’ via the familiar leap from a skyscraper window; I wonder why Putin’s enemies never just opt for the old gas oven or bottle of pills, eh? Funny, that. But while Vlad disposes of his foes on foreign soil completely unchallenged, he found that his assault on Ukraine received its most devastating setback not from the timid West, but from the courageous Ukrainians themselves. The perfectly natural wave of sympathy for the innocents exposed to the merciless march of the Russian war machine led to Brits who just a few months earlier weren’t even allowed to visit each other being encouraged to open their doors to Ukrainian refugees; less public sympathy was reserved for illegal economic migrants hailing from the war-less environs of Albania as the unscrupulous people-smuggling trade appeared to be one of the year’s few boom industries. Whether Rwanda is the answer is another matter; sadly, the Channel has rarely been kind to opportunists.

If Vladimir Putin was shaken out of his complacency by the unexpected resistance of the Ukrainian people, Iran’s similarly ruthless rulers were equally taken aback by a rebellion on home turf, largely led by incredibly brave young women publicly trashing the symbols of their oppression – something that was again met with notable silence from the gutless West. And when overseas protests did receive tacit support from the West, such as those that occurred as a result of China’s futile attempts to maintain a ‘Zero Covid’ policy, that support came from none other than Justin Trudeau, incapable of discerning the parallels between the inhumane authority of the Chinese Government and his own approach to both the truckers and the coronavirus. Indeed, having been presented with unimagined control over their own people during the pandemic, it was unsurprising that many Western leaders have been reluctant to relinquish the powers they’d acquired, continually extending their over-reach into the private lives of their citizens in an insidious trend that needs to be resisted.

Back home, a series of strikes by both rail and postal workers served to gift additional joy to a British public already browbeaten by a surge in fuel costs, though at least the whole ‘cost of living’ narrative has provided the MSM with a boost to the flagging Project Fear plotline. The fact that the one certainty of 70 years’ vintage should breathe her last in the middle of all this chaos seemed almost symptomatic of a year in which nothing and no one could be relied upon or trusted anymore. 2022 was a year bereft of certainties, and after the last twelve months, only a fool would confidently reach for the crystal ball and predict what comes next.

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MESSI PLAYED QATAR

MessiConsidering the nature of events over the past two or three years, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves in a time when the World Cup Final is staged seven days before Christmas Day; the topsy-turvy, upside-down nature of where we are now expects nothing less – ditto the fact that (against all odds) a tournament rightly mired in controversy from the off climaxes with a match that ends up being one of the most edge-of-the-seat contests anyone can ever remember, one that also confirms a 35-year-old is officially acknowledged as the planet’s finest footballer. After all, the natural order was shown the door when this dismal decade was no more than a couple of months old, and ever since then we appear to have been living through a strange age when anything that had previously been logically written-off as fringe lunacy now goes – an era in which double-speak, thought-crime and 2+2=5 are the new normal; and questioning this trend is verboten in polite society. Not that Lionel Messi will be complaining; he’s finally got his hands on the one trophy that has always eluded him in a professional career that began as far back as his league debut for Barcelona in 2004. A lot of the talk over the past month has been focused on ending that career on a high, but there are a small handful of precedents should he care to dip into the history books.

The legendary Stanley Matthews played his last game for England at the age of 42 in 1957 – 23 years after his international debut; the fact he didn’t retire from football altogether until the age of 50 in 1965 is all the more amazing when one remembers he belonged to a generation of players whose careers were interrupted by six years of World War; moreover, he was unfortunate to be playing at a time when England’s performances at the World Cup never matched up to pre-tournament expectations. Lionel Messi has himself experienced many occasions during his five World Cups when the hopes of a nation have rested on his shoulders, shoulders weighed down by the burden of carrying average talents unworthy of his boots; but soldiering on eventually paid off. Due to his quiet, unassuming manner, Messi’s fame within the game has never really transcended football in the way of his flamboyant contemporary Cristiano Renaldo – nor indeed the ghost who haunts Argentina’s international side, Diego Maradona. But perhaps the additional crowning glory to Messi’s career has been to finally achieve global pop cultural status.

On Sunday’s field of play, Messi’s reputation was up against a young contender in the shape of his Paris Saint-Germain teammate, Kylian Mbappé of France. The other 20+ men on display almost seemed superfluous next to the God-like genius present in the feet of these two, certainly if pre-match hype was to be believed; but it was Messi who lived up to that hype in the first half, scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot and inspiring his side to a 2-0 lead that appeared unassailable to the lacklustre defending champions. France’s unexpected comeback towards the end of the game, levelling things at 2-2 and coming close to a shock victory in the dying light of normal time, revived a match that looked to be smoothly careering towards a preordained conclusion. But, as with the late West Germany equaliser that enabled 1966 to loom so large in the collective memory of all Englishmen, extra-time proved to be the making of the 2022 Final; and a game that seemed to contain everything had other echoes of 1966 too. There was Messi’s second goal (making the score 3-2) momentarily disputed at having crossed the line, and there was Geoff Hurst’s 56-year-old record finally being equalled as Mbappé scored a hat-trick, with a late penalty bringing the score to 3-3.

Okay, so it was eventually decided on penalties; but this wasn’t the contrived climax to one of those drab, fun-free Finals of recent years (1994 and 2006 spring to mind) – instead, it served as the only fitting icing to a nail-biting drama unparalleled in the footballing memories of most watching. And, whilst there may have been an interminable wait between the winning penalty and Messi being handed the trophy by a FIFA President who clearly didn’t want to let go of it (not to mention the player of the tournament being inexplicably draped in what resembled a see-through negligee from a 70s sex comedy), in the end the script penned by celestial hands was upheld and Argentina were recognised as world champions for a third time. A month ago, such an outcome had seemed pretty unimaginable, not least due to the fact Argentina had begun their campaign humiliated by the first of many upsets the contest produced, losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia. Gianni Infantino, the same FIFA President who evidently wanted to bask in Messi’s magic glow on the podium, had opened proceedings with a bizarre press conference in which he responded to justifiable criticisms of the Qatar setting by declaring, ‘Today I feel Qatari; today I feel Arab; today I feel African; today I feel gay; today I feel disabled; today I feel a migrant worker.’ He didn’t add, ‘Today I feel President of an institutionally corrupt organisation that will bend over for any country with enough cash to roger it senseless and drag the sport through the mud.’ But you can’t have everything.

Opening in a key so low only Paul Robeson had previously been there, the 2022 World Cup prompted a generous amount of somewhat belated questions on the part of mainstream TV presenters and pundits from their executive boxes in stadiums built by slave labour prior to a ball being kicked; once the football actually began, anticipation over which players would choose to stage a protest was as widely discussed as any proposed performance on the pitch. As has been said before, however, there was always the 1978 example of the great Johan Cruyff, who opted out of that year’s World Cup in Argentina on account of refusing to condone the country’s ruling military junta – though none of today’s soccer superstars decided to follow suit. Despite rumours that the England team would honour their manager’s Woke credentials once again by running on the field bedecked in rainbow armbands, they restricted themselves to the jaded knee-taking ritual; that this virtue-signalling ceremony is well past its sell-by date was highlighted in an amusingly ludicrous manner when England played the USA, and the American players – who had started the whole thing in the first place – remained standing whilst the England team knelt before them; one could almost see it as a metaphor for the ‘Special Relationship’.

Sure, the German players added to the checklist of virtuous signals by indulging in a spot of pre-match mouth-covering before another embarrassing exit at the group stage, but the one visual statement made by a team that represented genuine bravery rather than the superficial ‘stunning and brave’ accolade routinely awarded to millionaires making a token gesture to ensure they remain on the Right Side of History was made by the Iran team. Their incredibly courageous decision to remain mute during the playing of the Iranian national anthem took balls, especially when one considers their families back home risked reprisals from the powers-that-be, let alone what might await the players themselves upon their return. In some respects, this memorable moment couldn’t be topped, and the focus more or less settled on the sport itself thereafter. And there were various surprises along the way, none more so than Morocco’s remarkable progress to the Semi-final, disposing of favourites such as Belgium, Spain and Portugal en route.

But, of course, whatever sour taste so much of this World Cup leaves in the mouth, at least it enabled Lionel Messi to fulfil his destiny; and I suspect that incredible Final will be the lingering memory of a tournament that should never have happened yet eventually served as a novel distraction from all the other cheery issues of the moment that are bringing so much joy into our lives. And all will recommence again three-and-a-half years from now in North Korea…er…sorry, North America. Well, you never know with FIFA…

© The Editor

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SPIRIT OF ’78

DiscontentAs if the past two or three years haven’t been difficult enough, yet again it’s the hospitality industry that’s being punctured by the sharp end of the latest crises. Footage of empty bars, bistros and restaurants in central London this week were mainly blamed on just one of the seemingly myriad industrial disputes of the moment, that being staged by rail workers. Naturally, this is the time of year when organised parties descend on such venues and get the festive cash tills ringing; but after being brought to its knees by lockdown and then being forced to limit its custom due to the inconvenience of social distancing regulations once reopened, hospitality is now confronted by endless cancellations and the non-appearance of impromptu punters due to the fact that commuting has been severely impacted of late. Much like the Labour Party, one almost gets the impression a union leader such as the RMT’s Mick Lynch isn’t so much concerned with improving the lot of the working man as he is with scoring political points over a government not necessarily in tune with his own worldview. That’s not to say the Conservative Party hasn’t provoked a good deal of this – far from it; but while the current stalemate produces no winners, losers are abundant – whether they be small businesses struggling to make ends meet or simply the browbeaten general public, confronted by even fewer reasons to be cheerful as the chain reaction of industrial action goes viral.

Right now, the roll-call of ongoing or imminent strikes seems to expand on a daily basis. We’re already feeling the effects of rail and postal workers withdrawing their labour at a time when we’re most dependent on it, but the Christmas & New Year schedules promise everyone from nurses to Border Force officers to bus drivers to baggage handlers to junior doctors to driving examiners to teachers to university staff and civil servants will at some point be declaring ‘Everybody out!’ 10,000 ambulance workers are also set to strike, though considering how long one has to wait for an ambulance to arrive these days, one wonders if anyone will actually notice. Of course, now we’re in December, the Royal Mail being afflicted by this virus is the one industrial dispute that is already proving to be a more effective souring of the seasonal spirit than a ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ Xmas special. Ever since the knock-down sale of the Post Office by Old Mother Cable during the Coalition years, the split between it and the Royal Mail has hardly been a roaring success, with the scandal that saw the false imprisonment and ruined reputations of hundreds of sub-postmasters during the Horizon IT affair emblematic of this centuries-old institution’s decline and fall.

As used to be the case with the music business (and remains so with the publishing industry), Christmas is the one period of the year when a public now largely content to spend its money and time online actually gets off its arse, fuelling an upsurge in productivity where Pat and his black & white cat are concerned. Therefore, it doesn’t take a genius to calculate this is the most opportune moment for postal workers to strike. Sure, when it comes to birthdays, many today prefer the instant method of issuing a meme, message or humorous image on the likes of Facebook or Twitter to mark the occasion rather than the antiquated ritual of buying a physical card and popping it in the post box; but Christmas remains the one exception to the new rule, whereby season’s greetings are still dispatched the old-fashioned way. And then there’s also the gifts requiring packaging, carried to the counter of a post office now often reduced to an appendage to a supermarket or shop or – in the case of my own ‘local’ – a library. This annual ceremony is entered into by millions up and down the country, and those millions expect their parcels to be delivered to the recipients at least before 25 December. I wonder how many of those millions saw the images from the Royal Mail’s main depot in Bristol yesterday.

The photographs highlighting a backlog of packages so immense that it has spilled beyond a building no longer big enough to house it included a shot of a fox wandering amongst the undelivered goods open to the elements; the accompanying story also suggested rats have been feasting on the overspill. Although the Royal Mail responded by claiming parcels at the depot are ‘moving very quickly through the centre and on to the next stage of their journey’, an anonymous member of staff at the Bristol Mail Centre told a different story, rubbishing an idea to cover the exposed parcels by pointing out ‘It would have to be the biggest tarpaulin in the world as everything has been ruined’; a spokesman for the Communication Workers Union said, ‘This backlog will take a month to clear…if you post a first-class letter or parcel today, hand on heart, I do not know if it will get there before Christmas Eve – that’s the truth, but it’s not what people are being told.’ Reports indicate hand-delivering cards is becoming an alternative, with trust in the Royal Mail diminishing due to the strikes; but not everyone lives within walking distance of a card’s destination. What if the recipient resides at the other end of the country – or in another country altogether?

Inevitably, images of the mountainous backlog offering urban vermin an early Christmas treat revive memories (if you’re old enough to have them) of the piles of uncollected refuse that contaminated pavements 44 years ago during what is remembered as ‘The Winter of Discontent’. For three months between November 1978 and February 1979, Britain gave every impression of falling apart at the seams with a series of private and public sector strikes bringing the country to a grinding halt. Everyone from bin-men to hauliers to NHS staff to gravediggers downed tools and took up placards to picket the workplaces they wouldn’t return to until receiving a pay rise. For several days in the run-up to Christmas, the BBC temporarily shut down, with its TV output off the air and the then-four national radio stations combining into an uneasy mix of a solitary network service; meanwhile, small screens in the Yorkshire TV region were blacked-out for the entirety of the festive season. ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ was the Sun’s headline response to PM Jim Callaghan accusing the press of being parochial as he came into the cold from a summit meeting with other world leaders in the Caribbean, a costly moment of misjudgement on a par with Gordon Brown’s ‘bigoted woman’ comment over 30 years later.

The swingeing measures of Callaghan’s Labour Government to combat spiralling inflation had exasperated the Party’s natural allies in the unions and, in turn, the actions of the unions alienated vast swathes of the electorate with time running out on a Parliament that had been in session since October 1974. Having been denied the right to vote by Callaghan’s decision to abandon an autumn Election, when that Election eventually arrived in the spring, memories of the winter were still fresh and the public instead took a gamble on Mrs Thatcher. Labour wouldn’t be in office again for 18 years. Compared to the bleak chaos of 1978/79, current events appear lightweight – at least for the moment. But this certainly feels like the most severely the public have been tested by industrial turmoil since that period, coming as it does hot on the heels of an endless run of doom ‘n’ gloom designed to sap the spirit.

After one Christmas that was all-but cancelled and then one which was given the green light at the eleventh hour, the prospect of returning to pre-pandemic festivities was deemed by some as the antidote to recent trials; yet now even that prospect is in peril courtesy of union moves that ultimately prove counterproductive in garnering public support, however much most agree on the uselessness of this Government and the unfair distribution of wealth on its watch. The blame game is naturally in full swing, but although there remains a niggling suspicion that the excessive coverage given to the cost-of-living crisis is in part another offshoot of the Project Fear narrative, the impact of real strikes on real lives is indisputable, not to mention making those lives even more boring than they already are.

© The Editor

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