GROWING-UP IN PUBLIC

One of the many dreaded factors in introducing one’s boy/girlfriend to one’s mother has always been ‘the potty picture’. The best tea-set being dusted down and mum bizarrely transforming into an air hostess when serving it is an uncomfortable enough experience; but if the new other half passes muster, chances are the childhood photo album will then be excavated. And, naturally, every childhood photo album opens with a baby sat on a potty. Why do mothers feel the need to a) capture a crap on camera and b) show it to one’s partner decades later? It remains a perplexing aspect of parenting that non-parents like me will always be mystified by. Perhaps it’s a symbolic surrender of emotional ownership and an acknowledgement that the other half will at some point in the relationship see said partner on the loo too. As a portrait of man and woman’s mutual vulnerability, sitting on the loo is probably a greater leveller than death.

As horrific as this handover ceremony has been for generations, the one saving grace of it has been that the ritual takes place behind closed doors, only endured by those present in the room. Not for the first time, be thankful the visual documentation of your formative years was restricted to the Kodak Brownie or (at a push) the Super-8 cine-camera. Imagine you’d been born on the cusp of the millennium or immediately thereafter. The potty picture would be the opening image in your online gallery of embarrassment, shared with, if not necessarily the world, then your mother’s circle of family and friends and – as a consequence – their offspring and their family and friends.

Eight out of ten mothers (probably) think their little angel is inherently superior to any other child on the planet, so are instinctively compelled to broadcast this information to anyone within earshot; backstage at the Miss World contest must seem like a veritable picture of communal harmony compared to the level of competitiveness at the school-gates. The Yummy Mummy movement, bolstered by the celebrity mother industry, daytime TV, dozens of websites, and a plethora of ‘How To…’ guidebooks, has turned this traditional rivalry between mums into a deadly game of one-upmanship that now has an additional dimension that takes it above and beyond the parochial battlefield – social media.

Twenty-first century boys and girls are the first generation to have their entire lives so far uploaded to a worldwide database, using the lead character in ‘The Truman Show’ as a blueprint for growing-up. It’s not a pleasant thought, especially when one considers they’ve had no say in the matter. From the initial ‘aaah’ shot to appear on Facebook barely days (or in some cases, hours) after the sprog’s arrival all the way to the ‘first day at school’ shot, the internet has been utilised as cyber apron-strings by mothers too blinded by their perfect child to appreciate the future ramifications of their actions.

Another element of crass Americanisation to pollute British culture, the aforementioned ‘first day at school’ shot takes its place alongside even greater demands on the parental coffers such as the insidious establishing of ‘the prom’ as an end-of-term beauty contest; not only does the latter introduce a new financial burden previously reserved for Catholic parents and their communion dresses, it also places pressure upon the children themselves. It was bad enough when this alien tradition infiltrated high schools; the fact it has now seeped into the primary school social calendar means mothers now have yet more opportunities to earn online bragging points whilst bankrupting themselves in the process.

The generation who welcomed the internet into their lives from adolescence onwards have already become accustomed to documenting every aspect of their existence online, but the generation coming up behind them, who will have never known a time without it, have had it thrust upon them as a normal state of affairs. It’s too early to say how this will shape their self-perception in years to come, but the threat of these images remaining accessible for eternity was something as worrying as Facebook’s refusal to allow the accounts of the deceased to be deleted – until, it would appear, now.

Yesterday it was announced by Matt Hancock, Digital Minister (yes, that’s a real job title), that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation laws are to be transferred onto the UK statute book in an overhaul of Britain’s own data protection laws. The most encouraging upshot of the proposals is that it should not only be easier for people to withdraw their consent for personal data to be shared online, but it should enable people to request the removal of childhood photographs uploaded by parents years before. In theory, this could spell the end of the potty photo’s online life.

Anyone well-versed enough in cyber practices will of course be aware that it’s hardly rocket-science to copy and paste an image from the internet, so the chances are some images can be uploaded over and over again in perpetuity; but at least the proposals in this new bill might provide the unfortunate cyber star with some legal clout to get his or her own back on Mommie Dearest. The right of the individual in question to upload childhood photos of their own choice is something those of us who grew up in private already have – as the image illustrating this post demonstrates. And I will always defend that seven-year-old’s right to have worn those trousers.

© The Editor

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OVER THE RAINBOW

Amidst the celebratory coverage of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act’s fiftieth anniversary, it is certainly worth being reminded precisely how limiting the freedoms contained within the ‘consenting adults in private’ law actually were, and how these limitations made it easily open to abuse by the powers-that-be. After the Act was passed, it’s surprising to realise that more gay men were prosecuted than before it. Perhaps the understandable precautions that had been crucial prior to 1967 were perceived to be unnecessary once decriminalisation came into force; the illusion of legality blinded many to the numerous areas in which homosexuality remained criminal; it also forced the police and politicians to focus on those areas with renewed crusading vigour in the years thereafter.

A timely reminder of this uncomfortable truth came via Peter Tatchell’s excellent and eye (or ear)-opening Radio 4 documentary, ‘The Myth of Homosexual Decriminalisation’, broadcast on Saturday evening; it documented how 1967 was not so much an end as a beginning, the start of the long road to abolishing discrimination, altering attitudes and achieving an equal age of consent with heterosexuals – none of which were dealt with in the imperfect Act that came into being half-a-century ago.

Scotland, Northern Ireland, the armed forces and the merchant navy – all exempt from decriminalisation in 1967; much anti-homosexual legislation remained on the statue book for decades after 1967 and queer-bashing was a legitimate police pastime well into the 1980s. For out and proud young men today, barely old enough to even remember the last century, all of this must seem insane. The prejudices openly unleashed upon gay men and largely unchallenged by the majority of society combined with the AIDS hysteria (AKA ‘The Gay Plague’) and Clause 28 to create a climate of moral panic that would unthinkable to anyone under, say, 30 in 2017. Perhaps the inability to comprehend how we used to live has played its part in a lack of perspective where those too young to remember are concerned.

The sins of their forefathers for allowing this state of affairs to linger for so long without challenge has undoubtedly fuelled a militant bullishness amongst the young; this reaction demands the law and society in general adopt the consensus they’ve developed to serve as a severe redress to the past. It comes partly from retrospective guilt and is not unlike America’s similar response to historical racism via the slave trade and segregation. At its most extreme, the new consensus is imposed with the same level of illogical fanaticism once employed by those who upheld and endorsed the previous prejudices this consensus reacts against, portraying anyone who is white as inherently racist and anyone who is heterosexual as inherently homophobic.

But the ironic outcome can often seem like less of a striving for genuine equality between the different sexual demographics – which is surely what should be aimed for – and more of a determined campaign to ensure the poacher is elevated to gamekeeper and vice-versa. The new consensus cannot alter the past, but the slightest sign of any attitude bearing a passing resemblance to the past – however mild in comparison – dumps the wrongs of the past on the doorstep of the present. The ‘gay cake’ saga in Northern Ireland a couple of years ago seemed indicative of this mindset; a refusal to countenance that there are many out there for whom homosexuality remains a difficult concept has created a climate of intolerance that excludes debate. If you don’t embrace this consensus, you are a homophobic bigot – end of. ‘Inclusivity’ does not include those who deviate from the script.

The clamour to be seen as endorsing the consensus by political parties and other establishment organisations that maybe weren’t viewed as so gay-friendly in the past resulted in the virtue signalling of the National Trust edict stating volunteers dealing with the public at Norfolk’s Felbrigg Hall (whose last resident, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was recently posthumously ‘outed’) must wear rainbow gay pride badges. Those who weren’t comfortable with wearing them were to be relegated to the backrooms of the property. The case was taken up by certain Fleet Street tabloids and predictably labelled a right-wing cause célèbre by the likes of the Grauniad; but the sudden reversal of the edict so that wearing the badges is now optional rather than compulsory seems a more sensible compromise that recognises inclusivity should mean what it says.

Many of the archive recordings of attitudes towards homosexuality excavated for Peter Tatchell’s Radio 4 retrospective were as gobsmacking to hear as similar excerpts of unashamedly racist language from the same era; but whilst these attitudes survive on a smaller scale in private, the cheerleaders for our liberated society still turn a blind eye to one publically vocal section of it. Some of the vilest and most bigoted opinions on homosexuality expressed today emanate from Islam, yet the ultra-liberal left gives Islam the kind of leeway it won’t tolerate in any other faith, let alone secular discourse. Why? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Muslims have been designated the left’s persecuted pets; they are above and beyond the kind of criticism others are fair game for.

Of course, not every Muslim is virulently anti-gay any more than every Christian or every person without any religion whatsoever; I think most people aren’t really that bothered, to be honest. It’s just a shame the person who retains a problem with the notion of homosexuality – usually down to simple ignorance and lack of education – is lumped in with the genuinely homophobic in a rainbow that has no shades of grey.

© The Editor

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OBESITY ROLLERS

The votes have been counted and verified, and the pies have been eaten; the results can be announced! Yes, the latest statistics reveal England’s leading Fatty Town is Rotherham, followed by another South Yorkshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Doncaster; hot on their heels is Halton in the North West. Waddling its way towards the top spot, Rotherham can boast more fatties amongst its population than anywhere else in the country; just under half of the town’s entire population are overweight, with 32.6% classed as obese.

Apparently, as much as a quarter of the population of the entire UK are now obese, but even though 40.4% of the English are overweight and 24.4% obese, England isn’t as abundant in blubber as Scotland, according to the NHS; last time the NHS looked, 27% of Scots were obese, with Wales ranking at 22%. The figures that awarded Rotherham the unenviable heavyweight crown were collated between 2013 and 2016, though England’s fattest geographical region is the North East; 41.5% of Tyne, Tees and Weir-siders are overweight, whereas 27.1% fall into the obese category. The Yorkshire & Humber region runs a close second, with the East Midlands behind that.

In a sense, the statistics paint a wider picture of what our own eyes are telling us whenever we’re out and about. A couple of times this week, I’ve been sat in a friend’s car whilst she’s popped into a shop on a retail park, and as I observed passers-by, I reckoned well over half of them were what could genuinely be called fat. When I was a child, fatties weren’t unheard of, but they were certainly less prevalent than today; most classes at school had the token fat kid, and most of us had a fat uncle or aunt; though there’s no doubt they were a far rarer sight than today, almost something of a novelty.

The blame game is inevitable when such a dramatic alteration to the national character as this occurs. Using my own childhood experience, I know for sure instant and frozen foods certainly existed, though they co-existed with meals consisting of fresh vegetables and the dreaded ‘greens’ that had such an unsavoury reputation. With parents raised on the legacy of wartime digging for victory and grandparents still possessing vivid memories of days that might go by without any food whatsoever, it was no wonder the importance of greens and meals cooked from scratch remained high. This thinking also extended to school dinners; but in order to make the far-from desirable recipe of cabbage, beetroot, spam fritters, lumpy mash and hard peas remotely tolerable, the prize at the end of this gastronomic obstacle course was a pudding bathed in custard, awarded to everyone who managed to grin and swallow their way through the first course, and washed down with that most basic of table wines – water.

Anyone of a certain age will recall that the chocolate bar Milky Way used to be advertised as ‘The sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite’, with the emphasis on can. This carried clout with kids of my generation; if this statement was broadcast on TV, then it had to be true – right, mum? Therefore, it’s okay to guzzle one before teatime, yeah? It was also a canny tagline by the manufacturers because eating between meals was so frowned upon at the time that a chocolate bar sold as a sweet that wouldn’t interfere with the compulsory cleaning of the plate might just be a smart way round the unwritten rules of the nation’s children’s diet.

It’s no wonder the corner-shop did a roaring trade in penny sweets both on the way to and on the way back from school. Such cheap confectionary was within the budget of most kids (even those who helped themselves when the newsagent fatally turned his back) and wasn’t considered substantial enough to damage appetites for the next meal. The main accusation levelled at sweets was that they rotted your teeth if taken to excess, so most parents tolerated them as long as they were consumed in moderation. A proper chocolate bar boasting a big brand name or even a packet of crisps were a little pricier and therefore had an air of ‘treat’ about them, something one could look forward to perhaps once a week, though not much more often than that. They even used to print the actual price of the item on the wrapper then, as if to emphasise the gulf between it and the more accessible penny varieties stocking the shelves.

The sudden colonisation of the country by the burger-bar, something that seemed to happen from the second half of the 1980s onwards, is regularly blamed as the biggest cause of rising child obesity, and there’s no denying the proliferation of such fast-food quick-fix solutions to the headache of being a weekend dad haven’t helped. But the collapse of the old system when it comes to a daily dietary regime probably has more to answer for than the cure-all option of a Big Mac & Fries – specifically, the gradual abolition of the not-eating-between meals rule. Many of today’s parents had their childhood eating habits governed by the old order, yet unlike their own parents, have decided not to impose it on the next generation, instead turning their kitchen cupboards into an all-you-can-eat buffet. They no doubt blame McDonald’s or blame the electronic gadgets that keep their kids indoors even when the weather is ideal for playing-out. But they should really look a little closer to home, and in the mirror.

Outside of the actual food consumed, the subject of exercise is also unavoidable. One wonders how much of an impact the selling-off of school playing fields to developers and the cutting of extracurricular sporting activities have had, let alone the establishment of ‘the school run’, whereby walking to and from school has been superseded by the internal combustion engine. Throw in the reluctance of parents to let their children loose come summer holidays for fear of the prowling Paedo and it’s no wonder their offspring are waddling as much as their parents are.

Food that is deemed good for you today – sugar-free, organic and deprived of artificial colouring – is expensive and therefore only within the regular budget of the relatively affluent, whereas food that is deemed bad for you – loaded with sugar, salt and all those other tasty ingredients that clog-up arteries – is not only affordable for those on low incomes, but also more available. That the South East and London register at the bottom of the obesity chart speaks volumes, but idleness and ignorance play their part too. It is possible to eat healthily on a tiny budget; cooking healthy food is as cheap an option as opting for a pre-packaged and processed ready-meal crammed with chemicals, though why that message is failing to get through could be down to simple laziness. I myself purchased some broccoli and a courgette this morning, costing less than a quid. Carrots, cabbage, onions, lettuce and the rest remain cheaper than any packet of pound shop frozen plastic; but you can’t just bung them in the microwave for ten minutes. Say no more.

© The Editor

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SUMMER IN AUTUMN’S CLOTHING

Are policemen getting younger or are you getting older? Is the English football season kicking-off earlier every year or…no, balls to that! It is kicking-off too bloody early this time round – far too bloody early. Granted, we have another seven days before the pampered Prima Donnas of the Premier League are chauffeur driven through the gold-plated gates of their millionaire mansions and deign to breathe the same air as the common people for ninety minutes again; but that will still only be August 11. This weekend, English football’s pimp – otherwise known as television – again fires the starting pistol for a marathon that will take us all the way to next summer’s World Cup in Russia; the three Football League divisions have a week’s start on the Premier League, and their campaign opens this evening.

Domestic football is not, and never should be, a summer sport. The bi-annual international tournaments are different, and the fact we have the granddaddy of them all at the end of the 2017/18 season is perhaps why this season gets underway just four days into August. The traditional curtain-raiser to the top division’s very own marathon, the match between last season’s champions and FA Cup winners that most of us prefer to refer to by its old name of the Charity Shield, takes place on Sunday (not Saturday, heaven forbid!); and the Premier League kicks-off proper next…er…Friday.

Although there’s always an overlap between the cricket season and the football season at either end, it never feels quite right when they’re being played simultaneously; it’s an uneasy, jarring combination – a bit like listening to Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ during a heat-wave in July or anything by The Beach Boys in December. When the football season is galloping towards a (hopefully) exciting climax – with promotion and relegation places still up for grabs and everything in the balance – the second half of the season has been building up to such a frenetic pace that there’s no time to catch one’s breath. It then appears anachronistic that in the thick of this high-speed race to football’s finishing post, the first day of plodding play at Headingley is taking place, greeted by a smattering of old geezers armed with packed lunches and brollies.

The chasm between the two sports is partly the nature of the climate in which they are supposed to be played. True, rain regularly stops play in cricket during those chilly early weeks of the county game and the opening day of every football season is usually bathed in blazing sunshine; but the erratic temperament of the English summer aside, that unpredictable bridge between spring and autumn can occasionally produce the kind of weather entirely conducive to leather-on-willow, not to mention the sedate commentary of ‘Test Match Special’ rather than the hysterical castrato that goalmouth action can inspire on ‘Match of the Day’.

Both sports are so associated with the time of year in which they’ve traditionally taken place that whenever the football season impinges upon cricket’s turf, it almost makes football appear to be a narcissistic, scene-stealing actor, unwilling to allow any other member of the cast to grab the audience’s attention while he has no lines. When the England cricket team are busy playing a home Test series against South Africa, football should just let them get on with it and be gracious enough to grant them their brief moment under the spotlight before being edged off-stage by the plunge back into 24/7 fanatical coverage spanning eight or nine whole months that football regards as an entitlement. Few pay attention when the cricket season creeps into view, right at the moment when the football season is reaching its dramatic climax; yet football thinks nothing of gate-crashing cricket’s place in the sun.

If I want to evoke the sound of a childhood summer, I only have to hear the voices of John Arlott, Jim Laker or Richie Benaud and I’m there; if I want to evoke the sound of a childhood autumn or winter, I hear the voices of John Motson, Barry Davies or Brian Moore. These individual voices are as associated with a specific time of year as an Easter egg or a harvest festival. Each has its proper place and its seasonal relevance, but perhaps the way in which lines drawn in the sand that always divided the respective seasons have been blurred in recent years – particularly where the retail sector is concerned – has been compounded by the increasing extension of the overlap between cricket and football every August.

Come September, October and (especially) November, I will be as hooked as everyone else with a semblance of interest in the football season; the nights drawing in, the clocks going back and the fire being switched-on are rituals that perfectly complement the football season at its grimy, gritty best, when men are separated from the boys on muddy quagmires and teams scrap for scalps as the money-spinning prospect of the Third Round of the FA Cup hovers into view. There’s a kind of masochistic pleasure in anticipating the worst of the winter, knowing it will pass and that spring is waiting at the finishing line. If a team can survive January and February unscathed, the prize is all the sweeter come March and April.

Yes, when the Ashes are staged in Australia, they take place in the incongruous environs of a Southern Hemisphere winter; but that’s the other side of the world, and it’s permissible as a result. One couldn’t imagine county cricket being played on English pitches in November, so why should we have to invite the football season into our homes at the beginning of August, when we’re neither prepared nor bothered? It’s arrived at the party ahead of everyone else and hasn’t even brought a bottle with it, despite being able to afford an entire wine cellar. That’s just not cricket.

© The Editor

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RUDDY HELL!

I’m sure we all recall the unique interpretation of the Joint Enterprise law as practiced by teachers back in the day. One pupil has broken one of the school rules, but won’t confess to it, despite Sir or Miss’s entreaties for him or her to come forward. The teacher’s solution is to keep the entire class entombed in the classroom until the guilty pupil speaks up; the knowledge that others are aware of the criminal’s identity is paramount, but the teacher expecting these others to break the code against grassing is futile. Nobody will admit anything, so every child is punished for one child’s misdemeanours because there’s always somebody spoiling it for everyone else.

If we take this collective memory from ‘the happiest days of our lives’ and use it as a metaphor for the Government’s attitude towards online security, then Amber Rudd is the teacher and we – an estimated 4 billion global users – are the class. A few of us have been very naughty indeed, posting terrorist propaganda and Hate Speech (surely that’s for the Wiltshire Constabulary to deal with?); and Mrs Rudd’s solution is to apply the tried and tested school version of Joint Enterprise as a means of dealing with it. According to the Home Secretary, ‘Real People’ don’t want secure encryption on their messaging mediums. As she declared in the Telegraph – ‘Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way of staying in touch with friends and family?’

On the eve of her visit to Silicon Valley, the Home Secretary has been making it clear her predecessor in the post taught her well when it comes to the subject of cyber civil liberties. In her Telegraph piece, she referred more than once to that exalted demographic, ‘Real People’, a new twist perhaps on David Cameron’s more favoured ‘Hard-Working People’. One presumes these are the same Real People who reside in Nick Clegg’s Alarm Clock Britain; and in Alarm Clock Britain as perceived by Amber Rudd, those of us who don’t mind those nice chaps at GCHQ acting as internet traffic cops are Real People; those of us who do are obviously hate-fuelled ISIS sympathisers who have something to hide.

Rudd intends to challenge the most popular online services such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as Microsoft and Google, to up their game in ‘removing extremist content’. However, one man’s extremist content is another man’s democratic expression of freedom. Outside of gruesome ritual beheadings, the definition of extremist content can vary depending on our individual perspective. Naked breasts are viewed by some as a feminist statement; to others, they’re just a pair of knockers to drool over; and to others, they’re virtually pornographic and should never be seen in public. Context is vital, of course, but tits are tits. You either have a problem with them being exposed or you don’t. Twitter and Facebook often do and censure the mammary offenders whilst being a little more lenient on things most of us would regard as not quite so benign.

Rudd evidently doesn’t have the same kind of problem with the business practices of Google and Facebook as she does with some of their content. Were her justification of the nosey parker principle to be applied to some of the internet’s multi-billion dollar corporations, we’d all be able to see how they masterfully evade the paying of taxes and maybe we could have a crack at it too once we’re shown the way it works. The Government she’ll be representing in San Francisco at the inaugural gathering of ‘The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’ also doesn’t have a problem with selling arms to the very country from which the current nihilistic strand of Islam originated as it bombs Yemen into bloody submission. That some of those Great British Weapons occasionally find their way into the hands of those same nasty people (not Real ones) who are prone to aiming them back at us is quite ‘extremist’, isn’t it?

A preview of Rudd’s expected lecture…sorry, speech reads ‘Terrorists and extremists have sought to misuse your platforms to spread their hateful messages’ (unlike the Tory press recycling Jeremy Corbyn’s past ‘association’ with the IRA, then?). She will then go on to say ‘This Forum is a crucial way to start turning the tide. The responsibility for tackling this threat at every level lies with both governments and with industry…we have a shared interest: we want to protect our citizens and keep the free and open internet we all love.’ In her Telegraph piece, she claimed ‘This is not about asking the companies to break encryption…Real People often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to perfect, unbreakable security.’ Perfect and unbreakable to all but governments and their snooping secret services, lest we forget.

The Chief Executive of Big Brother Watch, Renate Samson, reacted to Rudd’s self-justifying waffle by calling it ‘at best naive, at worst dangerous’. He added ‘Suggesting that people don’t really want security from their online services is frankly insulting….once again, the Government are attempting to undermine the security of all in response to the actions of the few. We are all digital citizens; we all deserve security in the digital space.’

As part of the Home Secretary’s showy bragging about how the Government is dealing with this problem, she’s also expected to highlight how one police unit in Blightly has removed 28,000 examples of ‘terrorist content’ along with securing the closure of millions of online accounts over the past seven years. Rudd may well believe dredging up facts and figures of this nature supports her argument, but imagining any government can play at being a cyber Sgt Dixon giving mischievous Jihadists a clip round the ear-hole without stooping to snooping on everyone is pure Cloud Cuckoo Land. The only way any government can curb the antisocial tendencies of the badly-behaved internet is to apply the Joint Enterprise rule to all of us who use it. If we want to be ‘safe’, we have to sacrifice our privacy. Just be honest, Amber – or let us have a read of your emails.

© The Editor

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VIVA JEANNE!

The story goes that the American entertainment industry ruled the roost and dictated popular culture until The Beatles appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964 and then attention switched to the other side of the Atlantic. There’s a degree of truth in that, but until the Fab Four delved into Victoriana and the rich tapestry of British folk and chamber music, their look and sound was a perfect synthesis of America and Europe; Hamburg made them a band, but Paris gave them a haircut and a continental style unique to the UK. The trio of German art students (including photographer Astrid Kirchherr) who befriended The Beatles in Hamburg were war-babies whose disgust with the actions of their parents’ generation led them to look to Paris for inspiration. And Paris was the place to be at the turn of the 60s.

In the late 50s, a group of critics at the French movie magazine, ‘Cahiers du Cinéma’ – including the likes of François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol – decided they could make better films than the directors whose work they were reviewing, and once they began doing so they inadvertently created one of the most influential movements in movie history, the Nouvelle Vague. With its stark monochrome cinematography, untested actors, location shooting and documentary-style realism, the Nouvelle Vague (or ‘The New Wave’, as it was known in English), was a dramatic contrast to the majority of Hollywood’s output and inspired the up-and-coming crop of US directors who would shake Tinsel Town at the end of the 60s. It also helped kick-start Britain’s own ‘kitchen sink’ school of cinema.

Along with unknowns such as Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina and Jean-Pierre Léaud – whose careers were established via their roles in classics like ‘A Bout de Souffle’, ‘Une Femme est Une Femme’, and the peerless ‘Les Quatre Cents Coups’ – emerged an actress whose impact owed a great deal to the Nouvelle Vague, yet transcended it so that she isn’t solely associated with that particular movement and has simply become recognised as one of the premier cinematic stars of her generation. I’m talking about, of course, the great – and now, sadly, late – Jeanne Moreau.

Words such as ‘legendary’ and ‘iconic’ are bandied about so freely these days that they have achieved the same level of meaninglessness as the tiresomely ubiquitous ‘awesome’; but Jeanne Moreau, who has died at the age of 89, was genuinely legendary and iconic. Her status as such largely stemmed from her role in Truffaut’s 1962 movie, ‘Jules et Jim’. The character she played in it, Catherine, is a free spirit who forms one-third of a love triangle around the outbreak of the First World War; although the film is set half-a-century earlier than when it was made, Catherine embodies the attitude associated with the youth poised to take centre stage in the 60s. It made Moreau an overnight international star.

Predating ‘Jules et Jim’ by three years, however, Moreau had given a remarkably moving and subtle performance in Louis Malle’s ‘Les Amants’, which remains perhaps the most exquisitely romantic movie I’ve ever seen; and it isn’t remotely soppy, just real – the hallmark of French cinema’s golden age. But the worldwide success of ‘Jules et Jim’ opened doors for Moreau that led her to working with the renowned likes of Orson Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Buñuel, Elia Kazan, and Britain’s own Tony Richardson, who became so infatuated with Moreau during the two movies he made with her that he left his wife Vanessa Redgrave for her.

Jeanne Moreau didn’t abandon the cinema of her home country whilst building a career outside of France, however; she may have shared a screen with France’s other international cinematic icon Brigitte Bardot in 1965’s ‘Viva Maria’, but a far more substantial role came in 1974’s ‘Les Valseuses’. In this once-controversial black comedy, she plays a recently released prisoner who is seduced by a couple of hedonistic sexual vagabonds (one of whom is played by a young Gerard Depardieu). What makes her on-screen threesome with the pair relatively unusual even now is the fact that the ménage à trois consists of two men and one woman rather than the standard one man and two women. But it’s a scene that is oddly tender, even if it happens to be followed by one of the most awful methods of suicide to ever befall a character in a movie. Let’s just say a revolver is inserted into a part of the body only a woman could insert it into.

I remember a later role for Moreau in a 1993 BBC TV film called ‘A Foreign Field’, starring alongside Alec Guinness and Lauren Bacall, which dealt with the return of WWII veterans to Normandy, one of the last times the wartime generation were portrayed in the present tense. Although surrounded by some considerable acting heavyweights, Moreau’s part was pivotal to the drama, playing a woman two of the male characters had enjoyed romantic assignations with at the time of the D-Day landings. Again, she managed to imbue her performance with both a touching quality that made the viewer care what happened to her, as well as a mischievous aspect that showcased her talent for comedy.

Jeanne Moreau’s film debut was in 1950 – the same year Marlon Brando exploded onto the big screen in ‘The Men’ – and her final appearance was in 2012, just five years ago. Sixty-two years isn’t a bad run for a movie career, and it’s testament to Moreau that she was as good an actress as an old lady as she was when a young woman. She was pretty special and she’ll be missed.

© The Editor

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THE (SOUTH) AMERICAN DREAM

Well, voting is underway today – in Venezuela. The troubled South American nation hasn’t gone to the polls to vote for a new government, however, but a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. A few months ago, when these proposals were unveiled, an unofficial referendum was held in which seven million Venezuelans voted; 98% of them rejected the proposals, but the proposals are going ahead regardless. And Remoaners think they’ve got it bad here. The move to convene the constituent assembly followed the decision in March when the Supreme Court announced its intentions to take over the National Assembly, which is run by the opposition. Although the protests that greeted this announcement caused it to be reversed, President Nicolas Maduro was accused by the opposition of attempting to stage a coup, and it is Maduro’s determination to carry on regardless that seems to be tearing Venezuela apart, even if problems run much deeper and go back much further.

Venezuela is hardly unique amongst South American countries in experiencing ongoing difficulties when it comes to democracy, but external events have also contributed to its current crisis. With 95% of its export revenues dependent on oil, the diminishing global value of the commodity has hit it hard. Widespread food shortages have been the most devastating manifestation of the economic collapse, with figures estimating almost 75% of the population has lost an average of 8.7 kg in weight in the absence of proper nutrition, whereas only 15% of medicines are readily available. The hyperinflation that has struck the nation as of last year has seen consumer prices rise by a staggering 800% and the annual inflation rate has been estimated at 160%. As if things weren’t bad enough, the country also has an appalling murder rate.

Anyone who happens to be a regular listener of Radio 4’s wonderfully eye-opening institution, ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, will be familiar with Venezuela’s decline in recent years, though the powder keg atmosphere has finally erupted into violent protest this year and the country now appears to be at breaking point. The portrait of society in a state of collapse that ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ has documented often seems uncomfortably reminiscent of the chaotic circumstances in Germany after the First World War, the ones that created the conditions for the rise of Nazism.

Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor in the Presidential office, the late Hugo Chavez, had written the Venezuelan constitution in 1999 that his successor now seeks to overturn. Chavez used to carry the constitution around in his pocket, the ‘little blue book’ he was prone to brandishing whenever a camera was on hand. As architect of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, which had ideological allies in other Socialist South American nations such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, Chavez embodied the classic anti-imperialist revolutionary leader in a Castro vein that has regularly proven popular amongst those opposing the foreign policies of South America’s northern neighbour. When the great Socialist experiment invariably runs into a brick wall, blaming US intervention in the country’s affairs in remains the default excuse, and Chavez knew how to play that one.

The legacy of Chavez’s populist reforms, which were initiated when the Venezuelan economy was riding high on astronomical oil revenues – and included the nationalisation of major industries, excessive public spending, and the establishment of social programmes to improve the health and education of the population – began to reveal themselves in a less benign light at the point when Chavez lost his battle against cancer in 2013. They may have appeared admirable on paper, but Chavez failed to curb endemic corruption in public office and the police force, not to mention lowering the murder rate; a master of propaganda like Hugo Chavez was able to paper-over these cracks in his Socialist vision, but his successor has not been so fortunate. In many respects, Nicolas Maduro inherited an unenviable economic time-bomb not unlike the poisoned chalice Tony Blair handed over to Gordon Brown in 2007, though one suspects UK-style austerity would seem like affluence to most Venezuelans today.

Nicolas Maduro’s response to the crisis has been perceived as the President desperately trying to save his own skin rather than putting the interests of the country first. The aborted attempt to silence the opposition by taking over the National Assembly hasn’t deterred his determination to convene a constituent assembly that will have the power to override the democratic institution he failed to seize control of. Over 6,000 candidates are standing for the constituent assembly, none of them from the opposition, which has boycotted it wholesale. But while international condemnation of the election has been summarily ignored, one of Venezuela’s prominent neighbours Colombia – only just emerging from its own turbulence – has also refused to recognise the result when it comes.

The President hasn’t done himself any favours by cracking-down on more physical opposition to his power; since street protests began in April, upwards of 3,000 protestors have been detained and dozens have been killed. The most high-profile presence on these protests has belonged to ‘The Resistance’, a masked group claiming to be the protectors of peaceful protestors; they generally head the marches and are prepared to fight fire with fire when confronted by police and security guards. A ban on demonstrations hasn’t had much of an impact, with the barricades manned again on streets in the capital Caracas as the government continues to insist the constituent assembly will be the only solution to the anarchy of recent months. But Venezuela has so many more problems than that, and genuine solutions are in short supply.

© The Editor

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BACK (STABBING) IN THE USA

All too often, that celebrated US sitcom known as ‘The Trump Presidency’ hits heights worthy of a script penned by Larry David. With the disappointing departure of wacky White House Spokesman Sean Spicer, it seemed the loss of such a colourful cast-member risked the show never being the same again; lo and behold, however, the Donald hired his replacement on the same day, and Anthony Scaramucci has quickly settled into Spicer’s shoes by proving to be instantly popular with viewers. Mr Scaramucci made an immediate impact in a classic episode that saw him interviewed by Emily Maitlis, and has also maintained the tradition of washing dirty linen in public by launching a personal attack on White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus – with hilarious, as they say, consequences.

Beyond the fourth wall, the serious business of running the USA hasn’t been quite so side-splitting. Over on Capitol Hill last night, it was drama rather than comedy that dominated proceedings as the Senate debated the President’s repeal of ‘Obamacare’. This was the third attempt to repeal the healthcare act of Trump’s predecessor, and the third failure. The bill became known as the ‘Skinny’ repeal, due to it being a scaled-down version of a total repeal that it was reckoned all Senate Republicans could agree to. Had the bill succeeded, it would still have left an estimated 16 million Americans losing their health insurance within a decade as well as a 20% increase in insurance premiums for those fortunate enough to keep it.

What made the defeat an especially bitter pill for the Trump administration to swallow is that three prominent Republican Senators – Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and former Presidential candidate John McCain – voted against the bill and contributed significantly to its defeat in the process; the latter member of the trio was apparently badgered by Vice President Mike Pence for the best part of 20 minutes in a desperate attempt to get the veteran Republican to vote according to the President’s wishes, before taking his place alongside a group of enthusiastic Democrats as the bill was voted down by the tantalisingly tight margin of 51 votes to 49. Trump’s response was to claim all three Republican turncoats ‘let America down’; but for McCain in particular it was an opportunity for revenge.

During his run for the Presidency in 2008, much was made of John McCain’s Vietnam War record. After being shot down on a bombing raid over Hanoi in 1967, McCain was a Prisoner of War for six years and suffered appalling torture at the hands of his captors that has left him with lifelong physical disabilities, most famously the fact he cannot raise his hands fully above his head. McCain entered politics a decade after his return from Vietnam, but has long had something of a reputation as a ‘maverick’, not always prone to toeing the party line. His run for the Presidency in 2008 saw him lose to Barack Obama, though his cause probably wasn’t helped by the selection of the execrable Sarah Palin as his running-mate. Nevertheless, he has remained one of the most recognisable and respected Washington veterans – not that this counted for much where Donald Trump was concerned.

During the embryonic stages of his efforts to gain the Republican nomination for 2016, Trump mocked McCain’s record in Vietnam by saying he preferred ‘heroes who weren’t captured’. It should be noted that, though of an eligible age, Trump himself conveniently avoided the Vietnam draft like one of his White House predecessors, Dubya; he also didn’t enlist as a volunteer or consider joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps; as a student, he obtained four deferments and was given a further medical deferment when threatened with the draft in 1968 on the grounds of ‘heel spurs’, which was nice.

A man such as McCain, with over thirty years in politics, will have developed an extremely thick skin by now, but a crass comment along the lines of the one Trump made was bound to rankle; last night, he had the chance to give the President the finger and he took it. Trump’s avowed intention to get rid of Obamacare now seemingly stands in tatters, largely thanks to a man whose recent diagnosis with a serious brain tumour means he really doesn’t have anything to lose. That he returned to active politics just a couple of weeks after brain surgery shows he’s quite a tough cookie.

Ironically, McCain had spoken out against Obamacare and the need for it to be replaced during his re-election campaign in 2016, though by the time he came to cast a decisive vote yesterday evening, his opposition to the proposals on the table appeared to stem more from his disapproval of the clandestine manner in which the bill was prepared. McCain made a speech a couple of days before last night’s vote calling for a ‘return to regular order’ when it comes to lawmaking, so it was perhaps no surprise that – coupled with the urge to get one over the President – McCain should side with Democrats at the eleventh hour.

The ‘Skinny’ repeal compromise was regarded as the only version Republicans might be able to get through Congress; its defeat means there are no other prospective bills on the cards to repeal Obamacare; despite this, Trump tweeted in the aftermath of the vote ‘As I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode, then deal.’ At the same time, one of Trump’s early rivals for last year’s Republican nomination, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, declared ‘Mark my words, this journey is not yet done.’ It probably won’t be in the long-term, but for now it is; and the Republicans have one of their own to thank for it.

© The Editor

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A FALL BEFORE PRIDE

One of a series of programmes spread across the television networks to mark the 1967 Sexual Offences Act’s fiftieth anniversary, ‘Against the Law’ was a drama-documentary that aired on BBC2 last night. It dramatised the infamous 1954 Montagu Trial, in which Lord Montagu, his cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers and journalist Peter Wildeblood were tried on charges of gross indecency and (to simplify matters) ‘buggery’; they were found guilty, with Montagu serving 12 months and the other two 18 months. The dramatised sections of the programme were interspersed with the recollections of gay men who were old enough to have been affected by the laws surrounding homosexuality as they then stood; and men were the exclusive targets of this law. Lesbianism was never illegal in this country.

These fascinating interludes could have been jarring intrusions into the drama, but actually served to strengthen it as their reminiscences gave the viewer a clearer idea of the parallel universe Britain they inhabited and the dangers of that parallel universe colliding with ‘straight society’. In the late 50s, there were more than a thousand men in British prisons serving sentences for ‘homosexual offences’, yet the police continued to make the arrest and prosecution of gay men a priority; the brutal medical treatments offered as a ‘cure’ for the condition mirrored the establishment line that this was a sickness within society and one it was the establishment’s place to eradicate.

However, what one appreciated yet again in watching this programme was the unique classlessness of the gay underworld in the pre-decriminalisation 50s and 60s, when a peer of the realm could mix and mingle with ‘the lower orders’ in a way that had few contemporary equivalents at the time. It could be argued that the establishment’s fear of this social melting pot – existing long before the over-ground breaking down of class barriers that took place in the Swinging decade – played no small part in the ruthless campaign against gay men that seemed to reach its apogee (or nadir) in the years after the war. The Profumo Scandal of 1963 exposed the hypocrisy and double-standards of the ruling class and was crucial in the death of deference, but the Montagu Trial was also significant in that it reflected the antiquated notion of social superiors ‘setting a good example’ (in public, at least); the outcome also demonstrated a distinct divergence of opinion on homosexuality between the classes.

The prosecution, with the full weight of the police force and the then-Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe behind it, imagined the case would unite the nation in revulsion as the trial of Oscar Wilde had sixty years previously; but the assault backfired. It emerged the police were pursuing Lord Montagu in a virtual vendetta; having failed to succeed in an earlier conviction, they may have achieved their aim in 1954, but many members of the general public couldn’t see why their taxes were being spent on locking up what were (in the phraseology of the time) ‘consenting adults in private’. The ramifications of the Montagu Trial led to the setting up of the Wolfenden Committee to look into the laws on homosexuality, and although it took a further decade before the Wolfenden recommendations were implemented in law, the ball had been set in motion.

With his private life made public during the trial, Peter Wildeblood decided there was little point in pretending anymore and openly admitted he was homosexual. Upon his release, he was interviewed by the Wolfenden Committee and aired his belief that his type of gay man should be the main beneficiary of reforms to the law – that is, the type seeking to conduct his business behind closed doors with a man over-21 without fear of prosecution and imprisonment. He made clear distinctions between the camp, effeminate queens, the pederasts and the ‘straight’ gay men like himself. It was to be the third group whose voices were loudest as the campaign to change the law gathered pace in the 60s, the thinking being that the public would accept the more ‘normal’ sort as convincing salesmen for the changes; and the majority within society gradually came round to this way of thinking, ending the ‘blackmailer’s charter’ at last.

When watching ‘Against the Law’, there were undoubted parallels evoked in relation to the police prioritising of this particular offence with the more recent and ongoing pursuit of ‘historical’ sex offenders. Just substitute ‘Pansy’ with ‘Paedo’. Jonathan King himself drew the same parallels when sentenced on charges of dubious authenticity in the first such high profile case of this nature fifteen or so years ago. Comparing his conviction to that of Oscar Wilde appeared a tad egocentric when the claim was made, though subsequent witch-hunts of old celebrities – and the persistent attempts to ‘get’ the ones that were cleared of charges by marching them back into court on new ones – seem to back-up King’s comparison. And, of course, we’re only aware of the famous names doing time for historical crimes.

The 1967 Sexual Offences Act didn’t change everything overnight, however. It may have enabled gay men of the Peter Wildeblood ilk to enter into happy, long-term relationships without having to conduct their affairs in the shadows, but the police continued to crack down on ‘cottaging’ well into the 1980s (especially via entrapment) and raids on gay bars, along with the lingering belief that youth remained susceptible to corruption, was memorably chronicled in Tom Robinson’s seminal protest song, ‘Glad to be Gay’ in the late 70s. As recent as the 90s, what would now be unimaginable language and anti-gay opinions were expressed in media circles, particularly the right-wing press; they must have viewed the onset of AIDS as a God-send to give credence to such beliefs.

Today we do indeed live in a very different kind of society to the one portrayed in ‘Against the Law’, but plenty of men are still imprisoned on charges of sexual offences that a politicised police force and an avaricious legal profession pursue with the same kind of crusading vindictiveness that gay men were once the target of. Indeed, with an estimated half of 2017’s court cases centred around sexual offences and the fastest growing age category in British prisons being the over-60s, there’s no reason to exhibit smugness at society’s supposedly more enlightened attitude towards what men do or don’t do with their willies.

© The Editor

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QUIET NEWS DAYS

One of those characteristically simplistic questions children often pose to their parents emanated from my mouth as a child when I remember asking my dad what the TV news bulletins would do if one day there was no news. I can’t recall his reply, unfortunately, but I didn’t realise then that, in the event of such a freak occurrence, that itself would be the news story. Forty years on, the instant availability of news through far more mediums than were present when I posed my question means there’s never any danger of there being a day free from it. Today the news is a billion-dollar industry. TV channels entirely devoted to it have 24 hours to fill, and many stories that would hardly have been classed as such before the current industry existed make it to headline status as a consequence.

The kind of banal filler that editors of local newspapers traditionally had to cram their regional rags with simply to use up the page count now seems to have become the blueprint for rolling news channels and online news sources. Finding enough stories to fill a local paper if the locality happens to be a sleepy backwater naturally means the columns will consist of parochial obscurities, but when it comes to TV or internet channels covering international events, one would imagine there’d be no such problems with content. When hours and pages require a seemingly unlimited supply of stories, however, it does have the curious effect – especially on quiet news days – of reducing international news to the level of local news.

The number of times the comments section on some online news outlets bemoan the ‘story’ they’ve just spent half-a-minute reading and rightly dismiss it as a non-story could be applied to so much of the output that constitutes the medium, yet the perceived demand for news leads to this state of affairs. I’ve no idea what the quota of stories required for the likes of Yahoo News or Google News is on a daily basis, but there don’t seem to be enough to satisfy the demand presumably from anxious proprietors with one eye permanently fixed on the competition. I suppose there’s the argument – where cyberspace is concerned – that the short attention spans of those who scan online headlines want to see constant updates and want them in bite-sizes rather than the lengthy articles associated with newspapers, let alone what they regard as ‘news’ – North Korea or Love Island?

For newspapers, the situation is compounded by falling sales, forcing them into alternatives that deviate from actual news even further. One example is the eternally fawning aspect to coverage of the Royal Family – or at least those members of it that Fleet Street has declared to be its darlings, which is an unusual diversion from news in that I don’t really believe anyone under, say, 60 is really that bothered about William or Kate or their kids. Both broadsheets and tabloids have an unhealthy obsession with the Windsor’s that isn’t really reflective of the country as a whole, yet they continue to plaster their front covers with images of them, labouring under the misapprehension that someone gives a shit. There’s an added bonus this year, with the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death imminent, something that the Daily Express in particular must have been counting down the days to since roundabout…oh…1997. Outside of this royal brown-nosing, the papers have more recently found other ways of filling their pages.

The Sun regularly has a ‘wraparound’ on its cover, plugging some other Murdoch enterprise, whereas its film and TV reviewers tend to reserve their greatest enthusiasm for produce emanating from yet another company owned by the Digger. Similarly, broadsheets are paid handsome amounts to publish gushing PR for various nations with dubious human rights records like China or Turkey, but clumsily attempt to pass this PR off as an actual news story. When it comes to their online incarnations, papers such as the Mail tend to receive enviable amounts of visitors, even if most are drawn to the crass ‘sidebar of shame’ and its relentless slavering over scantily-clad starlets rather than the genuine headlines.

The cliché of there being a thousand-and-one TV channels in the post-deregulation age and yet there’s still nothing worth watching on any of them could also often be applied to the dazzling array of news outlets. Indeed, the sole reason for writing this post was due to my scouring these various outlets over the last couple of days and finding nothing of interest to write about. Sure, there are bona-fide news stories on offer, though most are variations upon themes I’ve covered on here many times before; the alternative is to write about the desperately sad Charlie Gard story, but I’ve a feeling that anger over doctors playing God would impair objectivity. There’s also the depressing conclusion that parents are merely the custodians of children and it’s the State that really has the final say over us from cradle to grave

Naturally, we shouldn’t forget we are in the middle of the so-called silly season as well, so there’s bound to be an upsurge of guff posing as news. Parliament is now in recess and all the political intrigues that spanned a good couple of months after Theresa May called the snap General Election have also gone into hibernation until September. No doubt something will catch my eye shortly, but for now writing about having nothing to write about is what I’m writing about.

© The Editor

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