The FoolBookmark it – like most, I’ve found it’s the best way to locate a video you saw online if you want to watch it again; I didn’t take my own advice with one I caught a few months back on Twitter, so I shall have to recount it solely from memory. Anyway, in said video somebody was discussing the difference in content between the Chinese version of TikTok (Douyin) and its more familiar Western equivalent, pointing out how the former bombards its young audience with videos of young people engaging in what one might call ‘heroic’ pursuits, i.e. achieving something that looks impressive on camera and evidently took months (or years) of hard work and training to realise. These are generally athletic enterprises, but a particularly prodigious musician could figure too, for example – essentially anything that has an aspirational feel to it and presents the viewer with positive images of their own demographic. Naturally, this can be regarded as rather traditional Communist propaganda rebranded for the online age; but the comparisons with the images of themselves that Western subscribers to TikTok receive were interesting – as is the fact both versions are Chinese-owned.

The TikTok more familiar in this corner of the globe routinely serves up images of idiocy and stupidity, full of infantile pranks and silly stunts – and outdoing the previous holder of the most viral video means upping the tomfoolery ante just that little bit further each time. In the pre-TikTok era, a quaint old-fashioned vehicle known as ‘a television show’ sufficed when it came to this kind of thing, most memorably a US import called ‘Jackass’. This series ran on MTV from 2000 to 2002 and sometimes staged stunts of such breathtaking ridiculousness that it did admittedly contain a few genuinely funny moments; but the joke did wear thin rather quickly. Unlike mainstream British shows fronted by Noel Edmonds or Jeremy Beadle in the 80s and 90s – which targeted unsuspecting members of the public who’d been set-up by family and friends – ‘Jackass’ reserved its often painfully dangerous idiotic acts for the hosts of the series; they could go where no prankster had gone before because they were mostly doing it to themselves.

In the wake of the popularity of ‘Jackass’, the rapid improvements in mobile phone technology enabled copycat stunts inspired by the series to be staged and shared; as the World Wide Web began to take shape and its usage became more widespread throughout the noughties, these DIY ‘Jackass’ videos received wider exposure and made the viewer realise they too could grab their fifteen minutes if they could only do something even more stupid than the video all their friends were watching. However, a darker turn was taken with the advent of so-called ‘happy slapping’; this was a mercifully brief fad in which idiots with cameras on their mobiles rejected the self-inflicted violence of ‘Jackass’ and instead turned themselves into psychotic Jeremy Beadles, physically assaulting innocent members of the public for cheap – not to say dubious – laughs, and then posting the end results online. Of course, the more maliciously stupid took this further and committed GBH in their desperate desire for the tawdriest kind of fame, so dim that they didn’t seem aware that by capturing their crime on camera they were making the job of the police a hell of a lot easier.

These activities were ripe for satire when satire still had a platform on television – mocked in the likes of ‘The Thick of It’ and ‘Nathan Barley’ as well as parodied by Charlie Brooker when he invented moronic imaginary TV shows mirroring the parallel idiocy gathering pace in reality television, such as ‘Sick on a Widow’. Charity then got in on the act, taking the basics of the craze and attempting to render it harmless fun – remember the inane ‘ice bucket challenge’, whereby celebrities and politicians poured a bucket of ice-cold water over themselves on camera to raise money for a noble cause? Less harmless was the development of the death-defying ‘selfie’, which in many cases didn’t actually defy death at all as numerous numpties posed precariously on cliff edges or skyscraper ledges without any safety nets. Unfortunately, this remains bafflingly popular and stories of reckless fools who didn’t live to enjoy their ‘fame’ are still fairly commonplace. If one were to compare these with the stunning physical artistry of Philippe Petit, the tightrope walker who famously engaged in a high-wire walk between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre in 1974, the chasm is as wide as the distance from one twin tower to the other; indeed, Petit’s achievement, something he couldn’t have attempted without years and years of honing his craft, is closer to the kind of achievement celebrated on Douyin than the instant (and often posthumous) fame of the artless and talentless encouraged to seek the quick route to recognition without putting the hours in on TikTok.

The aforementioned ‘Nathan Barley’ was a 2005 collaboration between Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris that tapped into what one might call ‘the Jackass generation’ as they infiltrated the London media world; one of mainstream TV’s last acts of satirical savagery, ‘Nathan Barley’ exaggerated (though not much) the arrested development of these kidulthood bell-ends and their utter absence of self-awareness when it came to just how stupid they were. What seemed to be amusingly spoofing a group of fresh archetypes pretty much unknown beyond the North Circular Road 20 years ago, however, gradually revealed itself as a prophetic observation of the shape of things to come, alas. The proud dumbness of media idiots at the turn of the century slowly turned out to be a view of the future – or the present as we know it, where acting stupid or simply being stupid is a badge of honour. The ‘Dumb Britain’ segment of Private Eye, which reproduces mind-bogglingly thick answers to questions on daytime quiz-shows, is either testament to this pride or a damning indictment of our educational system over the past couple of decades.

Bar the annual final fling for the ageing David Attenborough, what remains of mainstream TV appears to have surrendered entirely to this mindset. On my increasingly rare forays into the no-man’s land of primetime BBC1 or ITV, I’m struck by how everything now feels like a children’s programme. Hyperactive presenters talking in the kind of overexcited manner once the province of Timmy Mallett and speaking to the audience as though addressing a classroom of special needs kids appears to be the currency of the ‘family show’ these days, whilst the golden years of ‘Grange Hill’ in the early 80s resemble something by Harold Pinter in comparison to contemporary soaps and other pre-watershed melodramas. In an age with instantly accessible archives, we don’t have to mistrust a cheating memory either; watch any of a dozen editions of ‘John Craven’s Newsround’ on YT and it comes across as more grownup than ‘Newsnight’, let alone the early evening bulletins. No wonder anyone with half-a-brain has abandoned the mainstream these days – if the dwindling viewing figures are anything to go by.

We’ve had one day a year dedicated to the fool since at least the 14th or 15th centuries, though its precise origins are inexact; 1 April has undeniably produced some memorable scams over the years, with the one everybody seems to reference being the infamous ‘Panorama’ report on ‘the spaghetti harvest’ in 1957. But 365 days a year dedicated to the fool is probably something no skilled hoaxer ever foresaw. If ByteDance, the company that owns Douyin/TikTok, is selling Western youth the idea that being a fool is cool whilst simultaneously selling Chinese youth an entirely different message, what does that say about the future age when the fools and their oriental equivalents come of age? If recent trends continue, the fools may never come of age at all, and in that case they’ll need some parental guidance; if the only grownups in the room are Chinese, more fool the fool.

© The Editor





80 DaysI’ve often noticed a list of around 20 incidents that may or may not form part of the life experience routinely appears on Twitter, whereby the user is encouraged to count the number of said incidents they themselves have encountered. They usually consist of things like ‘Have you ever been arrested/ridden in a stolen car/had a tattoo/had a one-night stand/taken illegal substances’ and so on. One item absent from this list is ‘Have you ever travelled in a hot-air balloon’, to which I would sadly answer in the negative, for I’ve always fancied it. I guess my fondness for this uniquely serene form of air travel was piqued by childhood exposure to a memorable episode of ‘Mr Benn’, whereby the gentlemanly hero’s latest adventure via the costume shop is to take part in a Victorian balloon race; naturally, one of his opponents is a moustache-twirling villain who cheats, though the bad guy obviously gets his comeuppance in order to prevent him from stealing the race – and Mr Benn ends up winning it. As was characteristic of this perennially charming series, the depictions of the balloon race itself are exquisitely sketched, and seductive enough to provoke a craving in the viewer to follow suit. Despite their somewhat archaic qualities – and lack of speed when compared to the flying machines that came after them – balloons retain an appeal that reflects the need for life to occasionally slow down a little, something that was brilliantly captured in the Jimmy Webb song that gives this post its title; this has not always been the case, however.

Amongst the many memorable images that stand as a visual legacy of the propaganda war against Napoleonic France, there’s a marvellously imaginative illustration depicting how the French would engineer an invasion of Britain. Along with the expected sailing fleet, the picture shows an embryonic Channel Tunnel through which enemy troops charge, tapping into time-honoured fears that such an enterprise would find Britannia’s borders repeatedly breached by the Continent’s undesirables. Also adding to the paranoia, the skies are littered with balloons. A relatively new and novel method of transport that was still associated with adventurous aristocrats attempting to outdo each other in setting records and staging audacious bets, the balloon’s potential as a weapon of war was nevertheless rapidly recognised. Considering the first cross-Channel balloon journey was staged in 1785 (by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Dr John Jeffries), it’s no wonder this groundbreaking invention was viewed as a possible addition to naval and military advantage in the gruelling global conflict between Britain and France that spanned the first 15 years of the 19th century.

After a short spell as novelty playthings for the rich and reckless, balloons soon comprised the first tentative steps in the evolution of aerial warfare, a development that would gradually reduce the need for traditional and extensive human cannon fodder. Whilst the superior speed of the modern jet fighter and cruise missile may have eventually superseded the more sedate pace of the balloon, the original airborne vehicle had long since proven it had other uses – primarily as an ideal tool for intelligence-gathering. The French had observed the movements of the Austrian Army from the air as far back as 1794, and though the aircraft into which such balloons evolved – the airship – had an extremely brief period as the military’s prime weapon for aerial bombing, the balloon itself had largely been utilised as a means of spying on the enemy during conflict, such as in the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War in the second half of the 19th century.

Now that the hi-tech 21st century is well into its third decade, one imagines the well-established use of drones and spy satellites would have long since rendered the humble balloon as little more than a museum piece when it comes to eavesdropping on the opposition. However, North America suddenly appears to be receiving several unwelcome visitors in the skies; and it seems rather fitting that China, with its pioneering role in the ancient origins of ballooning, should be named and shamed as the suspected culprit behind this unexpected resurgence of balloon espionage. In the past ten days, US fighter jets have shot down three unmanned high-altitude balloons sailing over American airspace – in South Carolina, Alaska and Michigan – as well as one in Canada. Such is the mystery surrounding these flying objects that, along with the accusatory finger aimed at China, there has also been speculation of ‘extraterrestrial’ involvement; the Pentagon initially didn’t rule it out, though the White House was quick to quash this fanciful element of the story. ‘There is no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns’, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. ‘I wanted to be sure the American people knew that and it is important for us to say that from here.’

John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, claimed the object downed on 4 February was a spy balloon, though the three subsequent balloons only posed a threat to aircraft rather than anything (or anyone) on terra-firma, and were shot down for that reason alone. Despite the claims of Mr Kirby, the possibility the other three balloons may have been conducting surveillance has not been officially ruled out. The sketchy descriptions of all four suggest objects far removed from the familiar pleasure cruisers most of us still associate balloons with being, as well as differing from standard weather balloons employed as a means of monitoring the climate. The first certainly appeared to fit the accepted criteria of a spy balloon, described as a solar-powered craft 200 ft tall and possessing surveillance equipment and antennas. The second sounds more mysterious, though – said to be the size of a small car; the third was apparently cylindrical, and the fourth was described as an octagonal structure. No wonder the UFO rumours are taking their time to die down. Moreover, the search for debris that could provide experts with a clearer picture of what they’re dealing with is being hampered by the fact most fell from the skies over remote terrain, but it is at least contributing towards heated speculation.

In comparison to the aircraft that superseded the balloon as a military weapon, the slower speed of the balloon gives it an advantage in hovering over the area of interest for a more sustained period; as well as being a far cheaper and dispensable flying object, balloons used for surveillance can also fly at an altitude way above the average heights routinely used by both military and civilian aircraft – a fact which somewhat contradicts the reasons given for shooting down three of the four balloons to have visited the US this past week or so. Commercial airliners typically fly at around 40,000 ft, whilst fighter planes tend to operate in the region of 65,000 ft. High-altitude balloons on the other hand can fly as high as between 80,000 and 120,000 ft. Up, up and away indeed.

In an age that has seen the advancement of technology for surveillance purposes grow increasingly ingenious in hiding its presence from those being spied upon, it seems somewhat strange for China – if indeed China is responsible – to launch something as visible as balloons into American airspace. However, one of the theories doing the rounds is that whoever is responsible for the presence of the balloons over North America sent them on their way as a means of highlighting the shortcomings of US security in the air. The US Government hasn’t responded to this ‘test’ (if indeed it was) by acknowledging its failings; instead, by pointing the finger at China, relations between the two superpowers have hit a bit of a rocky patch, with an American diplomat cancelling a planned visit to Beijing next week; in response, China has issued claims that the US has sent at least 10 similar balloons into Chinese airspace in recent months. Whoever turns out to be responsible for this surprising incursion, it’s all a long way from Mr Benn’s balloon race, and a reminder that even the most seemingly benign form of air travel still has the potential to be weaponised, however ‘beautiful’ the balloon might be.

© The Editor





7 SamuraiIt tends to be a given that most works of fiction which imagine the future usually offer an exaggerated vision of the times in which they were written, reflecting the hopes and – more often than not – the fears of the here and now. Numerous elements of a book such as ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ become more worryingly prescient the further we travel from the Cold War nursery that inspired it, though its source material is still unmistakably 1940s Europe. Equally, whilst Anthony Burgess ingeniously kept ‘A Clockwork Orange’ relevant for each generation of teenage hoodlums by inventing slang for his gang of Droogs, their actual genesis was in the moral panic that accompanied Britain’s original adolescent bogeyman, the Teddy Boy. Trying to second-guess what will happen next involves observing the most concerning present day developments and projecting them forwards, imagining how their progress will continue along a similar path, morphing into even more horrific manifestations of their contemporary incarnation. I guess today there are several schools of thought that maintain this tradition, depending upon where one stands on the pressing issues.

For example, by now we’re accustomed to the relentless Doomsday prophesies of the more extreme wings of the climate change lobby, and their forecast rarely varies from the worst case scenario; then there’s the Covid branch of the soothsayer’s union, who only ever seem to see the virus in terms of how many bodies their fevered imaginations can picture; and, of course, there are those who envisage the control of the individual by the State moving closer to the Chinese model as our civil liberties are eroded by successive legislation cloaked in the guise of benign intervention. It goes without saying that images emerging last week of people unable to leave Guangzhou due to the Chinese authorities remotely switching their Covid digital QR passport from yellow to red ought to serve as a warning of what can happen when the individual surrenders the majority of their autonomy to the State; and it’s easy to foresee the leaders of the West pushing for the same powers in the not-too distant future. Then again, every gallows has its humour; after all, it’s hard not to laugh at the utter absence of self-awareness in a risible figure such as Justin Trudeau, declaring his solidarity with protestors in China whilst failing to discern parallels with the way he took back control from Canada’s truckers by first demonising them and then freezing their bank accounts.

If, rather than looking forward, one were to momentarily look back perhaps seven years to December 2015, the pattern of events that brought us to where we are now is easier to discern than predicting the pattern that will take us to December 2029 – even though we instinctively know the direction of that pattern will be a progressively darker one; the feeling is all-but irresistible, yet who can blame us after what we’ve been through over the past seven years? Can anyone seriously argue the world is a better place in 2022 than it was in 2015? One might even come to the conclusion that things have only got worse every year from 2015 onwards. Mind you, what’s interesting is that anticipating the next seven years as something even more awful than the last is far from being the pessimistic prognosis of a wannabe Nostradamus in the wilderness; it’s pretty much become the consensus. The future is now only sold to us as a negative, with a daily roll-call of crises-to-come that hardly make getting up in the morning something worth waiting for; it’s no great surprise so many children are terrified that the Earth will be reduced to a barren wasteland by the time they come of age. Optimism in the future no longer sells.

I think I tried to convey that in a recent post titled ‘Heart and Soul’; this was inspired by watching an old ‘day in the life’ primary coloured-portrait of London from the early 60s called ‘All That Mighty Heart’; it’s the kind of film short that sticks rose-tinted spectacles on the viewer without the viewer’s consent, yet if one can manage to avoid being seduced by the naive nostalgia the film radiates, there’s still no getting away from the fact that it oozes a wonderfully refreshing self-confident optimism in the future – optimism in better homes, better living and working conditions, better roads, better transport, better public amenities, better leisure facilities, and a better life. I suppose the era in which it was produced, long before the ambitious Utopian visions of town-planners collapsed into the rubble of Ronan Point, give it that joyous energy; a generation who had fought the War and a generation that had grown up in the shadow of it took a quick glance over their shoulders and then understandably saw the future as a better place than the past. And they believed it was within their powers to make it so. Maybe that’s why this kind of film can seem such a breath of fresh air when looked at today, a time when we’re so worn down by the MSM generating nothing but negativity when it comes to the day after tomorrow.

Okay, so we overcome one crisis; give it 24 hours and there’ll be another to keep us in a state of agitated anxiety, perennially worrying if it’ll be the next virus that kills us or if hypothermia will beat the virus to it or if the planet will burst into flames and incinerate us before we even get to cannibalism. The cost-of-living crisis is currently being marketed as though it’s the first suffered by a wide cross-section of the British public since the 1970s, though whether we are going through boom or bust there will always be people who are struggling to make ends meet, just as there are always those who are doing alright, Jack – like the landlord of Matt Hancock’s local. Yes, some did indeed have a ‘good pandemic’. Fair enough, he might have had to settle for a knighthood rather than a PPE contract in a brown paper bag, but Chris Whitty is now warning us that this winter’s annual ‘NHS in crisis’ story will consist of multiple deaths arising from all the life-saving diagnoses for cancer and other fun diseases that were sidelined by diverting resources into the likes of empty aircraft hangars called Nightingale hospitals; whose fault was that, Professor Mekon?

Ditto the alarming deaths of children from Strep A; the reintroduction of social interaction in the school environment is being blamed by ‘experts’, yet perhaps if the kids hadn’t been unnecessarily kept away from each other and clad in masks by paranoid parents in thrall to Project Fear, maybe their immune systems would have been sufficiently developed to resist the bacterial infection. Yes, all of these upbeat headlines skimmed from a cursory glance at our beloved news outlets at least bear a relevance to the general tone of this post; but to get back to where we were a few paragraphs ago, what’s all this about December 2015? Well, I didn’t select December 2015 as a random date; the eagle-eyed and long-term amongst you may have realised the Winegum debuted seven years ago this month as of Tuesday just gone (incidentally, this post was ready and waiting to be posted on the actual anniversary, but ongoing ‘internet issues’ prevented me from fulfilling the bloody deadline). Anyway, I struck gold beginning this enterprise when I did; from a purely writing perspective, I couldn’t have wished for a more turbulent time to be documenting and commenting on; it has certainly been a remarkably eventful period of our recent history, and I recognise good fortune when I see it.

Had the last seven years been materially comfortable, culturally static, politically stable and free from drama on both the home front and the global stage, they might not have added up to much in the way of either writing or reading. I suppose if I can put often-unpleasant personal experiences during that timespan to one side and reflect on 2015-2022 solely in terms of ‘art’, I have absolutely no complaints. Duran Duran once infamously claimed they wanted to be the band the people were dancing to when the bomb drops; well, if you’re still up for reading the Winegum Telegram in your cave as you shelter from your plague-infected friends & family, shivering in the perma-winter or sweating in the perma-summer of tomorrow’s killer climate, I’ll keep buggering on.

© The Editor





Peng ShuaiIt must be great being China; I mean, you can literally get away with anything and nobody’s going to stop you. Perhaps only Vladimir Putin alone also knows how good that feels. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough – only, no one will and no one does. You create a deadly virus, you somehow let it slip out of the lab and spread across the globe, and then – as a totalitarian state – you devise an inhumane method of placing your citizens under constant surveillance and/or house-arrest and every free, democratic nation around the world follows your lead. What’s not to like? And now China has flexed its muscles even further on the international stage by removing one of its leading sportswomen from public view, just like that – because it can. Why, all she did was make online sexual assault allegations against a former vice-premier.

35-year-old Peng Shuai, one-time women’s doubles world number one and a Wimbledon winner in that category alongside Hsieh Su-wei in 2013, has effectively vanished following the allegations made on the Weibo social media site. They were made against Zhang Gaoli, alleging the senior CCP official tried to force her into having sex after playing tennis at his home. The allegations, which have subsequently been removed from the site, appeared on 2 November; and Shuai hasn’t been seen since – unless one believes the email (credited to her) that was released last week in which ‘she’ retracts the allegations and claims she’s not missing but is merely keeping out of the public eye by relaxing at home, a claim supported by some unconvincing photos that accompanied the missive. A few days later, Chinese state media released a clip apparently featuring the reclusive star having an evening out at a restaurant, which is certainly a new twist on the traditional hostage video.

So, the official line from the CCP is that there is no story, Peng Shuai is not missing, and serious allegations against one of the party’s highest-ranking figures are not worthy of comment. Across-the-board denial has been the response whenever questions have been asked by outsiders, with a blanket ban in effect on Chinese media outlets. ‘I have not heard of the issue you raised,’ said China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. ‘This is not a diplomatic question.’ His response has been deleted from the Chinese Government’s official website, so it therefore never happened. A similar bout of feigned ignorance afflicted the pages of the CCP’s Global Times. ‘As a person who is familiar with the Chinese system,’ wrote editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, ‘I don’t believe Peng Shuai has received retaliation and repression speculated by foreign media for the thing people talked about.’ ‘The thing people talked about’ – interesting wording; no surprise about the wording, however, when one considers this story doesn’t exist in the Chinese media landscape.

The Women’s Tennis Association is not exactly satisfied with these excuses for explanations, threatening to withdraw from the Chinese tournaments that constitute a money-spinning section of next season’s tour unless Shuai resurfaces soon; the WTA’s male equivalent – along with some of its most notable members – has also voiced concerns as to her whereabouts after airing the allegations. Both the UN and the White House have issued statements condemning the situation, whilst over here there have been calls for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics – probably unlikely, but China does like to contradict the critical narrative via grand gestures that paint it in a positive light, like its spectacular staging of the Olympic Games in Beijing back in 2008. Any such boycott could potentially damage the global brand, though it’ll most likely end up little more than a dent on account of the few who I imagine will follow through on their threat.

After all, how many of the virtuous footballers taking the knee and wrapping themselves around the rainbow flag will extend their stunning and brave solidarity with the oppressed people of the planet into the next World Cup, where they’ll be guaranteed a global platform? In case you’ve forgotten, FIFA received enough weighty brown packages under the table during the bidding process to award the competition to that renowned haven for LGBTXYZ (and women’s) rights, Qatar – y’know the Middle Eastern kingdom whereby effective slave labour has been busily building the required stadia whilst the authorities have been sweeping a fair few insignificant workforce fatalities under the carpet. Hmm, difficult dilemma facing yer average international footballer, that one.

Maybe it’s just easier indulging in your vacuous gesture before kick-off at every game in the Premier League rather than risking losing your place in the national side should you question the narrative. Moreover, why take the chance of your face being removed from all the products you sponsor when they’re being sold in some of the world’s most profitable marketplaces – ones that unfortunately happen to be the kind of places that have no respect whatsoever for the personal freedoms you’re so keen to promote unless doing so threatens your own luxury livelihood? At least you’re being seen doing the accepted ‘right thing’ week in-week out and that’s enough – even if it makes not the slightest bit of difference to a serf baking beneath the Qatari sun as he installs another executive box for FIFA officials.

Sport being such a huge generator of huge wealth for its highest-paid practitioners is always the sting in the tail of a sportsman or woman acquiring a conscience, where blind eyes are turned to genuine suffering if it jeopardises the career to raise the subject. Some do have the balls to go out on a limb and make a stance, but most prefer to merely make the token gestures and not offend the goose laying their golden eggs. On a positive note in this particular case, some of the leading names in tennis have at least nailed their colours to the mast where Peng Shuai is concerned – everyone from Billie Jean King to Novak Djokovic; but we shall have to wait and see what happens next if she fails to appear in public again. Not that Shuai is the first notable athlete to disappear from view, mind.

Ugandan hurdler John Akii-Bua won his country’s first ever gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics, yet was discovered in a Kenyan refugee camp eight years later; despite receiving a hero’s welcome following his Olympic success, the collapse of Idi Amin’s regime in 1979 forced him to flee Uganda, and it took the intervention of his shoe manufacturer Puma to intervene upon his discovery before he was released to work for the firm in Germany. Ironically, considering his nation was ruled by such a bonkers and dangerous despot at the time of his triumph, Akii-Bua received the patronage of Amin and his disappearance, for once, wasn’t down to Mr President. If only the same could be said for Peng Shuai.

An interesting non-critical voice has come from the International Olympic Committee, though perhaps it’s no great surprise considering it could give FIFA a run for its money in the honesty stakes. An IOC statement said they had ‘seen the latest reports and are encouraged by assurances that she is safe.’ There you go. But Peng Shuai remains out of sight for the moment and the serious sexual assault allegations have yet to be investigated. It’ll be interesting to see how far China tries to take this or if it has actually underestimated the international response it has provoked and the whole business has been a step too far for a country that has grown used to doing whatever the hell it wants without having to face any real consequences.

© The Editor




DoomwatchAs political slogans go, ‘Follow the Science’ was a useful default phrase whenever the shifting sands of SAGE pushed the Government into one more U-turn in the Covid U-bend last year. The scaremongering boffins feeding the PM their flexible advice on what to do and what not to do in order to stay safe, save lives and prop-up the NHS evidently felt able to chop and change on a whim because they were science people and whatever they said was therefore scientific; any challenges to their wisdom – though the MSM largely avoided those, anyway – could be rebuffed by essentially saying this is the science and you simply follow it, end of. It’s just as well the voices questioning the validity of the science were few and far between when it came to mainstream platforms, and their small numbers meant they could easily be written off as crackpot conspiracy theorists. It’s a neat way of silencing your critics, but killing potential debate with one word or a phrase is very 2020s, of course. Question Identity Politics and you’re far-right or racist (or maybe being one means you’re both); question the Trans issue and you’re a Transphobe; question Islam and you’re Islamophobic and so on.

One would think anyone so fanatically committed to a cause would be prepared to argue their case with a convincing and persuasive argument; but dogmatic fanatics are not rational, logical individuals who can defend their corner with rationality or logic, which is why they tend to resort to name-calling, trolling, abuse, cancel campaigns etc. They’ve twigged that most will accept their position just because they can scream louder than the opposition – and it’s not a nice sound, after all. Not that one has to scream where Covid issues are concerned, however. ‘Jean in Suffolk’, a listener participating in a Talk Radio phone-in the other day declared ‘Vaccinations should be compulsory for everyone. Some people have to be protected from themselves.’ In a similar vein, an online friend of mine from one of the overseas Anglosphere territories posts daily updates that read like government propaganda bulletins; I wouldn’t have previously credited them with such slavish subservience to the official line, but maybe I too often make the mistake of assuming everyone of my acquaintance has the same instinct as me to question and be suspicious of anything that emanates from a government department. I didn’t put that instinct on hold in 2020 and I’m certainly not doing so now.

At the moment, it feels as though we’re sleepwalking into a very scary place indeed and that sleepwalk is unimpeded by those one would expect to step back and see the bigger picture had they not been cowed into compliance. For example, I’m not quite sure how anyone could realistically defend some of the moves being proposed in that most frighteningly authoritarian pandemic police state, Australia; but somebody must be or else they wouldn’t be happening. According to a report issued last week, ‘People in South Australia will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The State will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person.’ No, that wasn’t written by Chris Morris, nor was it adapted from an embryonic manuscript for ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ that Orwell abandoned because he felt it was too far-fetched. It’s for real.

Pre-Covid, the so-called quarantine app is something that few would have been surprised to hear was compulsory in China, but a Western democracy? Perhaps the manner in which the democratic nations of the free world have taken so easily to Chinese ways reflects the gradual and deepening infiltration of Western government, business, industry, media, academia and institutions by the mighty Yuan over the last decade or so – something that has been achieved with the kind of impressive stealth a neutral could admire were it the work of an evil genius in a Bond movie. I suppose you know the aim of the infiltration project has been all-but achieved when controlling the populace in the style of an unelected Communist plutocracy suddenly doesn’t seem such a bad idea to Western leaders after all. With the curve still defiantly un-flattened, the Government here is now renewing the ‘emergency’ Covid legislation for another six months. Say no more.

And how’s following the science going amidst this adoption of pseudo-totalitarian rule? As a mantra, Follow the Science was so ubiquitous for so long that it’s interesting to see how its most enthusiastic advocates are now choosing to disregard the science because it doesn’t fit their agenda. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (the JCVI), an independent expert advisory panel of almost 60 years standing, was turned to by the Government to provide its usual advice and recommendations, this time on the subject of vaccinating children aged 12-15. The conclusions of the JCVI were that jabs at that age weren’t necessary; this wasn’t what the Government wanted to hear, so it asked them to reconsider; some JCVI members resigned in protest, but those remaining stood by their conclusions, which the Government has apparently decided to overrule by testing out their chosen stance in that ever-dependable arena, the Court of Public Opinion.

But the JCVI are a scientific body, one which presumably follows the science; in response to its recommendations, ones based on scientific calculations, the Government seems determined to push ahead with vaccinating children, despite medical and scientific advice from the experts stressing the opposite. Mind you, this is an administration that appears committed to vaccine passports even though vaccines don’t prevent transmission, so insisting those who least need to be jabbed should be jabbed (and applying emotional blackmail via their trusty MSM support network) isn’t as shocking a move as it might have once seemed. And, as ever, there’s always more going on than receives publicity. An NHS vaccination memo slipped out a few days ago in which the question ‘Is there a financial supplement for vaccinating eligible 12-15 year olds?’ was accompanied by the following answer: ‘Yes. In addition to the £12.58 item of service fee, a further supplement of £10 can be claimed per vaccination dose to eligible children and young people aged 12-15.’ Well, it’s one way of saving the NHS, I guess.

Let’s face it – scepticism is an entirely natural reaction now. Who has broadcast the Covid message? Politicians and the mainstream media. Who has enforced it? The police. None of these institutions have exactly covered themselves in glory over the last 10-15 years, so it’s no wonder so few trust them anymore. One might as well expect yer average Afghan to trust the West after abandoning them to the Taliban. The cynical exploitation of the unique and often frightening situation of the last year and-a-half by those in power has been unforgivable. Certainly, a government engaged in so many anti-democratic abuses of civil liberties under the convenient cloak of a pandemic should provoke mass defection to the opposition, yet this is where there’s so much cause for despair.

Under normal circumstances, one could endure a terrible government because the thought of kicking them out and replacing them with something better is always there; yet when one looks across at the Labour Party in the realisation that they’re the sole realistic alternative to the Tories, one is immediately aware there is no alternative anymore. They’re just as awful, if not worse. But perhaps at a time when so much choice is being taken out of our hands, that’s the abysmal excuse for choice we still have left. Hey, Biden’s a pitiful President, but at least he’s not Trump! Hey, Keir Starmer’s a pitiful Prime Minister, but at least he’s not Boris! If only there was some scientific formula to solve this conundrum, we could follow it.

© The Editor




Over the past few days, we’ve received two reminders of how societies bereft of basic civil liberties and intolerant of criticism or dissent operate. In Saudi Arabia, the women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months for ‘spying with foreign parties’ and ‘conspiring against the kingdom’. One of the prominent campaigners to demand Saudi women be granted the considerable privilege of putting their feet on a pedal and steering a wheel, she had already been detained for over two years without charge; even though her sentence is to be backdated to her initial detainment in May 2018, her potential early release on parole will come with the caveat of a five-year travel ban and a three-year threat of a return to prison should she be deemed to be committing the same ‘crimes’. Loujain al-Hathloul claims she was tortured and sexually harassed during the period before her sentencing, and whilst her case is an undoubted abuse of human rights, it falls into a familiar middle-eastern tradition that could happen at any time.

A case more pertinent to the unique conditions of 2020 occurred in China when Zhang Zhan, a ‘citizen journalist’ who had posted online critiques of the Chinese Government’s response to the embryonic pandemic in Wuhan earlier this year, was sentenced to four years. Eight whistleblowers have already been punished for criticising how the CCP dealt with events in Wuhan, but Zhang Zhan received a wider audience via her videos and blogs reporting on the situation and challenging the party line. Found guilty of spreading ‘false remarks’ and ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, Zhang has been on hunger strike since June and, following in a proud tradition established over a century ago to treat Suffragettes protesting the same way, she has been force-fed by her captors courtesy of the good old nasal tube. The manner of punishment dished out to both Loujain al-Hathloul and Zhang Zhan should serve as a potent lesson in how a West we are constantly being told is an utterly oppressive place to live has some serious competition for that accolade in other corners of the globe. But maybe our own democratically-elected overlords are the ones learning that lesson.

A government beholden to scientific and medical advisors whose sudden elevation to positions of power has given them carte-blanche to let their fantasy totalitarian blueprints for society run riot is not one any of us should invest our trust in. The general population is not so dim that it can’t calculate the positive effects of the measures introduced to prevent the rise in coronavirus infections that it has endured for the best part of ten months are, at best, minimal. In terms of achieving their overall aim, they just don’t bloody work. If incessant lockdowns, social distancing, the wearing of masks, the cancelling of ordinary social pursuits and the prevention of mingling with family and friends did work, the virus would have been severely downgraded by now – the magic vaccine not withstanding; instead, with the evidence of these policies’ failure all around us, the Government and its motley crew of megalomaniac cranks and quacks are ramping up the restrictions with a dangerous blend of desperation and self-righteousness. Tier 3 wasn’t enough, so Tier 4 came along; and now we’re informed Tier 4 is no good either. How many Tiers does it take to change a light-bulb?

When the public were gearing up to put the restrictions on temporary hold for a few days in order to enjoy Christmas, the ‘mutant strain’ (which had been held in reserve for just such a moment) was suddenly detonated to justify cancelling festivities. How convenient. And, if the latest Tiers produce the same results as all the ones before, who’s to blame for the rising infection rates? Well, not ‘the science’, obviously; no, it’s all the fault of those members of the public who aren’t doing as they’re told, of course. One doesn’t have to venture far into any shopping parade to realise the majority are observing the rules; the idea that the naughty minority disobeying the rules are a big enough section of the population to affect infection rates is laughable, but let’s not let that get in the way of passing the buck and absolving Government and the likes of SAGE from any blame, shall we? Yup, it’s our old default friend, divide and rule again. Point to dying grannies on trolleys in hospital corridors and then point to the nominated guilty parties to neutralise any deviation from the narrative. Question or criticise and you’ve got octogenarian blood on your hands. It’s your fault that new box of Werther’s Original will now never be opened, you sadistic, seditious traitor.

The apocalyptic prophesises of a ‘Covid Catastrophe’ pale next to the grim reality of the ‘Lockdown Catastrophe’, a killer which will have far more catastrophic ramifications for decades if the disastrous approach applied so far isn’t abandoned soon. The Doomsday predictions which repeatedly emanate from that deluded, fantasist clown Neil Ferguson sound more and more like an administration and its crackpot advisors scraping the bottom of a propaganda barrel to legitimise the continuation and strengthening of newfound powers it doesn’t want to relinquish. No, we’re not Saudi Arabia or China – that goes without saying; but where are we going if we stay on this path? Hardly towards a freer democratic society. Look at what we’ve already surrendered without a fight over the last few months, based on the pretext that each sacrifice was for the greater good. This time last year, would any of us have believed the extent of what we’ve given away in 2020? And where the hell will we be this time next year if this situation carries on?

The media lapdogs’ abandonment of their duty to question the wisdom of Government policy in 2020 perhaps reflects the manner in which newspaper proprietors and TV broadcasters have dispensed with their most authoritative and independent voices over the past decade; you can’t move on Fleet Street for the chattering of chickens that have come home to roost in the derelict newsrooms of every once-great paper. If any public service is struggling to cope with the demands placed upon it in the current crisis, chances are it’s because budgets have been annually slashed in a relentless tide of underinvestment that never anticipated a time when it’d be needed again; similarly, don’t expect any media outlet to abruptly regain its long-lost mojo when all the journalists whose talented pens put those outlets on the map have been pensioned off or simply sacked over the last few years. It’s no wonder the MSM response to this situation has been so supine and spineless.

All the most measured, rational, intelligent and eloquent responses this year have been found online. Yes, Twitter has a lot to answer for, but highlighting the worst offenders on social media as evidence that cyberspace is as much a stew of deliberate misinformation, lies and biased bullshit as any medium of older vintage is like holding up ‘Love, Actually’ as evidence that all British cinema is shit. In fact, one cannot but admire the true voices of sanity and reason that have fought for the right to be heard in a climate that has seen big tech try to silence any dissenters that have dared to question the prevailing and suffocating orthodoxy. The mere fact those voices have dared to speak and have made so many isolated individuals genuinely feel they’re not alone in 2020 has been the sole crumb of comfort and sliver of hope for a future that this God-awful year has offered. And, as long as those voices can continue to be heard in 2021, there is hope that twelve months from now we won’t find ourselves living in an offshore suburb of Riyadh or Beijing, bereft of any proof of who we used to be or who we really are.

© The Editor


There’s something uncomfortably reassuring about China and Russia being portrayed as evil ‘super states’ run by dictators reminiscent of Bond villains. Such images correspond to a traditional narrative that’s far easier to understand in these relentlessly confusing times, when so many threats to global stability are either anonymous (terrorism) or literally faceless (Covid-19). We know where we are when the bad guys are clearly defined and they represent an entire nation rather than being those stateless invaders failing to recognise borders such as an invisible virus or Jihadist organisations with secret cells dotted across the world. This week, the narrative has been upheld with accusations of cyber interference on the part of the Kremlin in the British democratic process and by the UK Government belatedly deciding Huawei poses a threat to national security if allowed to take control of the country’s 5G network. Both Moscow and Beijing have refuted the accusations against them, but – to paraphrase dear old Mandy Rice-Davies one more time – they would, wouldn’t they.

The fresh allegations re Russia concern what appears to be the official ‘hacking branch’ of the Kremlin called APT29, which almost sounds like a cuddly Soviet equivalent of R2-D2; I can visualise ATP29 resembling C-3PO’s little sidekick, only painted red and bearing the hammer & sickle on his tin chest. If only. Anyway, this professional outfit of dedicated cyber spies and agent provocateurs are the same unit accused of interfering in the 2016 US Presidential Election; this time round, they’ve allegedly tried to eavesdrop on the research into finding a vaccine for the coronavirus, not only here but in the States and Canada as well. If they’d wanted to know, surely it would’ve been more polite simply to ask? After all, we’re all supposed to be in this together, aren’t we?

To have the Russians and the Chinese as the bad guys again means we know where we are, even if the crimes they’re being accused of today are firmly rooted in the 21st century. Russia’s tech mischief also extends beyond the Kremlin’s in-house boffins to other Russian-based hackers who do this sort of thing for a living. These unnamed infiltrators were this week outed as having ‘sexed-up’ secret Whitehall documents that fell into Labour hands and gave Jeremy Corbyn the opportunity to make his claims about plans to sell off the NHS to the US during last December’s General Election campaign. Of course, nothing appears as-if-by-magic in politics; timing is everything, and to have the Foreign Secretary publicly naming and shaming the Russian state in this way comes on the eve of the publication of the so-called ‘Russia Report’.

The Novichok incident of 2018 – when the sealing-off of Salisbury probably acted as a useful training exercise for where we are now – seems to have triggered a more thorough response to growing concerns about a malignant Russian presence in British political life. This eventually prompted the compiling of information to form the core of a report into the case against Russia by the Intelligence and Security Committee, a cross-party group of MPs independent of Government. And the Government has been sitting on this report for over six months now. Yet the sudden rush of Dominic Raab to speak of Russian hacking when no public accusations have previously been made due to an absence of evidence implies the findings of the committee may indeed confirm the rumours and suspicions that have been flying about for a long time. But why the delay?

Earlier in the week, the Government’s attempts to interfere in the process were pretty blatant when they tried to hand the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee to…er…Chris Grayling. Yes, you can stop laughing at the back; we all know Grayling is unquestionably the most incompetent individual ever to stumble into running a Government department, with a track record of disaster unprecedented in Westminster history; but he’s a Friend of Boris. So, perfect man for the job of heading a supposedly impartial, non-partisan committee to scrutinise the findings of the intelligence and security services when a long-awaited report into the extent of Russian influence in UK politics is finally poised to see the light of day, a report that might have a few embarrassing things to say about the relationship between the Conservative Party and millionaire Oligarch donors. Additionally, Raab connecting Russia with Labour could be viewed by a cynic – heaven forbid – as a pre-emptive strike by the Government to deflect any findings that suggest the Russian connection is greater on the blue side of the House.

Some backstage manoeuvring by Labour and SNP members of the committee resulted in a ‘coup’, with the installation of Conservative MP Julian Lewis as chairman instead; and Lewis’ reward for blocking the Government’s choice was the removal of the party whip. In other words, if you’re not gonna play ball then I’m taking my ball back. Whether or not the extent of Russian interference is dramatically exposed, simply hinted at or disappointingly redacted when the report surfaces remains to be seen; but the Government’s actions this week certainly suggest it might make for an interesting read.

I know everything pre-Covid feels like a hundred years ago now, but some of you may remember the sacking of Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary in May last year. Williamson was pressurised into walking the plank by Theresa May after he was blamed for the leaking of information from the National Security Council regarding the dangers of allowing China’s Huawei to run Britain’s 5G mobile network. Although Williamson denied he was responsible for the leak, the matter shone the spotlight on the relationship between the Chinese Government and Huawei, not to mention the stupidity of handing over the running of the entire system to a company suspected of acting in the interests of Beijing and its habit of eavesdropping on those using its technology.

Tellingly, it has required far more hostile measures taken by the US against Huawei to force the UK Government to make its mind up. This week it was announced equipment produced by the Chinese company will no longer be available to UK mobile providers by the end of the year and all 5G kit will have to be removed from networks by 2027. At the time of Gavin Williamson’s dismissal, the National Cyber Security Centre denied any sign of Chinese state activity in Huawei software, whereas now he NCSC has altered its opinion and has ‘significantly changed’ its security assessment of Huawei. Not before time, one might conclude.

Just like the wicked Cold War villains of old, both Russia and China are in a position at the moment whereby they essentially believe they can do what the hell they like and there’ll be no comeback. Russia can dispatch a couple of cathedral tourists to liquidate one of their exiled countrymen to have fallen foul of Vlad; China can tear-up the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and suppress democracy in the same way they would on the mainland; and that’s not even mentioning the sinister Xinjiang re-education camps for Uyghur Muslims – sorry, I meant Radical Islamists – which are carrying on regardless of international condemnation. But, hell, if you want old-fashioned bad guys, I guess you have to take the rough with the smooth.

© The Editor


When several 5G masts were attacked during the early pre-lockdown panic, images of pitchfork-carrying retards reverting to primitive superstitions were instantly evoked – y’know, the kind that spot a train in the distance and cry ‘Iron horse! Tis the Devil’s work!’ All the backwoods backwards clichés employed in everything from ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘Deliverance’ to ‘The League of Gentlemen’ came to the fore, even though the source of this misguided hysteria was the ultimate contemporary tool, i.e. our very own global Speakers’ Corner. Even without the odious David Icke (and online channels that shamelessly promote him to boost their revenues), cyberspace is hardly short on wild conspiracy theories or fiction presented as fact; but so much internet output is geared towards confirming whatever one already chooses to believe and disbelieve that it’s no real wonder this is the case.

Crackpot writings on the Holocaust or the Moon Landings were once restricted to discredited historians and scientists whose works were in the hands of a tiny minority of pseudo-academic fruitcakes; but, as we have seen over the past 20 years, the spread of information via the 21st century’s superhighway means everything can now reach anybody. While those who propagate insane, nonsensical theories may be as deluded and demented as their hardcore devotees, they have nevertheless cannily tapped in to something that reaches a far wider audience – the destabilising uncertainties of our times, wherein nothing appears to be as it once seemed. Exploiting a climate spiked with cynicism and disillusionment courtesy of successive exposés of actual corruption at the highest levels of society’s institutions – politics, royalty, the church, the police, the press – the conspiracy theorists long ago twigged that when the people believe nothing, they’ll believe anything.

The guilty parties to blame for this situation, for abusing their power and presuming their wealth or status would insulate them from exposure, cannot be surprised at the monster they’ve created. Every politician caught with his hand in the till or his trousers round his ankles, every priest preaching damnation to sinners and then found fiddling with an altar-boy when the service is over, every public health ‘expert’ extolling the merits of social distancing to the masses and then discovered spurning them in private, every police commissioner turning a blind eye to grooming gangs whilst ‘checking the thinking’ of the person behind a tweet questioning the crazed logic of a trans-activist – all plant seeds of despair, despondency, anger and outrage in the minds of the public and tell them nobody holding a position that was once imbued with respect can be trusted anymore. When there are no moral barometers, people seek a truth that reinforces their suspicions, whether it’s true or not. They need something reassuring to cling to.

So, it’s no great leap of the imagination when the world is placed in unprecedented suspended animation that many desperately looking for an answer will fall for any tall story. The more governments try to cover their tracks and withhold as much as they can from their populace, the more they leave themselves open to accusations both wild and legitimate, and China is an obvious target in the current situation. Despite protracted arse-licking on the part of the World Health Organisation and Google employing the kind of censorious approach to associating Covid-19 with China as certain sections of the left adopt whenever anyone dares to criticise elements of Islam, it’s inevitable China’s undoubted culpability in the coronavirus pandemic will not only receive genuine and warranted examination, but will also provoke fantastical theories sold as the truth.

Yet, even when one takes a step back from the more extreme allegations aimed at exposing the causes behind something that has left the people of the world dazed and confused and feeling like they’re not being told everything, the impact of the lockdown has exacerbated the inherent mistrust and dislike of one’s neighbours that is always just below the surface of many, pushing it beyond the pale in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances. For all the doorstep clapping and pots-and-pans-banging that supposedly sums up the ‘we’re all in it together’ coronavirus community, the simultaneous snitching that has evolved from traditional curtain-twitching has played into the hands of police forces loving the new powers to extend their jurisdiction in dealings with the man, woman, child and rough-sleeper in the street, which is hardly the basis for a jolly Blitz Spirit.

And there are also the ‘lockdown fundamentalists’, those who not only call the cops if they catch sight of more than two pedestrians at a time outside their homes, but who have taken it upon themselves to take more direct action. I suspect the same yahoos who regarded 5G masts as evil transmitters of the yellow peril are responsible for the latest guerrilla tactics in the unlikely environs of North Yorkshire. Home-made ‘man-traps’ – gruesome blocks of wood packed with nails – have been discovered in various woodlands in Cleveland that are now routinely used as locations for allocated daily strolls and meanders by householders needing to get out of their houses. These horrible objects have led to warnings for the public to be vigilant when venturing into the likes of Margrove Woods and Guisborough Forest; and police in the region have apparently spoken to an unnamed ‘former parish councillor and retired teacher’ who admitted to being responsible for what was described as a blockade of branches and rocks on a cyclist trail.

I have a feeling the North East probably isn’t unique when it comes to such OTT means of preventing people from making the most of what little outdoor life they can grab. Police have apparently stepped up their patrols of the affected locations, but the initial online police ‘shaming’ of isolated dog-walkers wandering the vast open plains of Derbyshire perhaps didn’t help matters and only served to fuel the fire in the bellies of the easily unhinged. A steady diet of corona-news, whatever the media medium, is not especially healthy even for those of us not prone to hammering nails in blocks of wood and then scattering them in woodlands frequented by more members of the public than usual; but the relentless cycle of doom ‘n’ gloom on a loop becomes for some a disturbingly addictive justification for their antisocial actions.

Personally, I can handle all this stuff in small doses. I haven’t cut myself off completely from news outlets, for it’s helpful to know what’s happening out there – and it’s obviously necessary when it comes to writing one of these posts. But you can have too much of a bad thing. Whatever our individual circumstances, we’re all living with aspects of this on a daily basis even when we’re not checking headlines; and we need a breather – well, many breathers, to be honest. It’s just a bummer if we decide to take a breather by strolling through the woods and end up in A&E, no doubt occupying a bed that could be occupied by someone infected with a certain virus that the lockdown fundamentalists would regard as more deserving. Now, that’s ironic, Alanis.

© The Editor


As someone whose intended blissful slumber is plagued by an inordinate amount of nightmares, it’s no surprise that most of them are so bloody awful that they’re always an immense relief to wake-up from. I recently had one in which I was out walking on a public park with a friend; as we were casually ascending a fairly steep hill, we heard an almighty bang and ran to the top of the hill to be confronted by the iconic atomic mushroom cloud on the landscape. Right there and then, I knew the game of life was up. But the fact my subconscious selected such an arcane image to represent death perhaps gives my age away. Having lived for half-a-century, I belong to the last post-war generation whose Doomsday narrative was scripted by the Bomb, the toxic shadow that fell over everyone born in the first 25-30 years after Hiroshima. For us, the Bomb took on the role played by the Four Horsemen for centuries before. It defined the end of the world in one instantly unmistakable image.

The last time the Bomb loomed large as the embodiment of the apocalypse was in the 1980s. From Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’ to the BBC’s terrifying ‘Threads’ and from US TV’s ‘The Day After’ to Raymond Briggs’ ‘When the Wind Blows’, the Bomb was so prevalent in the culture that there was a general feeling it would probably drop sooner rather than later. The curtailment of the Cold War appeared to put paid to this long-running paranoia, but all that happened was that plenty new forms of paranoia queued-up to take their turns and fill the void in the public consciousness.

Along with Radical Islamic terrorism, Global Warming swiftly seized the spotlight from the Bomb, and despite perennial competition from the former, it is the latter that has comprehensively claimed this century’s Doomsday narrative. I certainly didn’t spend the majority of my 80s days worrying about imminent annihilation courtesy of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal, and I don’t blame the personal ‘mental health issues’ that began to ferment during that period on it either. It was always an abstract threat that people knew they were powerless to prevent; the first you’d hear of it would be three or four minutes before it happened, by which time it would be far too late to alter your fate. So, why worry? But perhaps the fact the Bomb should resurface in a nightmare almost 40 years later demonstrates how deep that horrific sight remains buried in my psyche, a hereditary sleeper cell bedded before I was born.

One wonders what apocalyptic imagery will feature in the nightmares of today’s kids and teens 30 or 40 years from now. I’m posing this question on their behalf because most of them don’t believe they’ll be around 30 or 40 years from now. That’s what they’ve been told by those they turn to for responsible reassurance. There have been reports recently that the excessive coverage of the Climate Change debate within the media and the promotion of it by parents and teachers as indisputable fact is leading to serious sleep deprivation and depression in their children. The relentless exposure given to the scaremongering of the movement’s most vocal figureheads and constant ‘if we don’t act now, we’ll all be dead in a decade’ threats is understandably having a worrying impact on those too young to realise their parental role models don’t actually have all the answers.

The religious cult that parts of the Climate Change movement has developed into over the past couple of years at times reminds me of various extremes on the fringes of the Christian Church, those Armageddon-worshipping lunatics actively praying for the onset of The Rapture. One is dismissed as the deluded death-wish of pliable minds susceptible to warped interpretations of the Holy Book, whereas the other is sold as a scientific certainty that cannot be questioned. To do so is heresy and punishable in the eternal damnation of a global funeral pyre that will consume us all unless Sainsbury’s stop selling their fruit and veg in plastic food bags. And while the world’s attention is overly focused on something only corporations and conglomerates really have the power to do anything about, more old-fashioned and reliable threats are constantly playing their part in curing the problem of overpopulation.

I read one report that the source of the so-called Wuhan coronavirus – y’know, the one that’s gone…erm…’viral’ – had something to do with the Far East’s bafflingly enduring belief in the healing powers of rhino horns and the like. If this is payback for the loathsome trafficking of endangered species for dubious medicinal purposes that are rooted in superstition, it’s easy to think that it serves them bloody well right. But, of course, we shouldn’t perceive an entire nation or race of people as a single entity; remember we’re talking about over a thousand individuals who have died. Actually, despite so much attention being given over to the contemporary Doomsday narrative, the epidemic that began in Wuhan demonstrates that new strains of traditional viruses which periodically wipe out vast numbers of people on the planet have been getting on with it.

In the early 2000s, the SARS virus outbreak – which is believed to have originated from wild animals sold as food at markets in China – killed an estimated 774 worldwide; the Ebola virus – which was first identified as far back as 1976 – was responsible for over 11,000 deaths in West Africa between 2013 and 2016; swine flu killed more than 2,000 in India in 2015. And ancient plagues the western world has largely eradicated continue to regularly reappear elsewhere, thriving in places prone to poor sanitary due to poverty, natural disasters or wars. Cholera, for example, has had several outbreaks in Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East this century; over a thousand died of it in Yemen as recent as 2016-17; more than 4,000 in Zimbabwe in 2008-9. However, even those figures pale next to the staggering 9,000-plus killed by the disease in Haiti since 2010. Ever get the feeling the Doomsday narrative is being recited from the wrong manual?

Well, at least the response to the current coronavirus has been pretty prompt. Parts of China have been effectively quarantined in efforts to contain the virus, though with international travel to and from mainland China now so commonplace – especially during Chinese New Year – the rapid spread of it was inevitable before an epidemic was acknowledged. Over 40,000 cases have been confirmed in China alone, whereas the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have also been hit. Surprisingly, the highest number of confirmed cases outside of the Far East so far has been in Germany.

Brighton businessman Steve Walsh, unfortunately labelled the UK’s ‘super spreader’, is said to have unknowingly infected 11 other people with the virus following a sales conference in Singapore and then a skiing holiday in the French Alps. Sealed-off in an isolation unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Mr Walsh is now more or less recovered by all accounts. To date, the only recorded deaths from the coronavirus outside of mainland China have been one each in Hong Kong and the Philippines respectively, so that suggests the worldwide prevention operation is currently working to plan. Genuine nightmares are the mind’s unrestrained demons running amok when we have no control over them; the waking world, on the other hand, has a degree of control over events – the kind we cannot command during sleep. It just sometimes requires a little redirecting to discern where the real nightmares reside.

© The Editor


A good deal of what has constituted headline news over the past few days has been covered here before, and even if a story develops and takes on a different shape, a commentator can struggle to add something new to what has already been said. The nature of the Winegum – preferring to put most of what needs to be said on a subject into one post or perhaps a handful spread over several weeks – means there has to be a dramatic development in order for a fresh perspective. I suppose I could’ve written something about Prince Andrew; but I did that back in August.

Granted, HRH’s unprecedented act of television hara-kiri on Saturday night perhaps warranted a post; but social media spent most of the weekend doing what social media does best when it responds to a story by putting its most waspish hat on. I didn’t feel it was possible to top the endless spoof reviews of the Woking branch of Pizza Express. There were references to a surprising absence of sweat when enjoying an especially spicy pizza, a pizza that made such a deep impression it remained engrained on the memory whilst all around it utterly vanished, including meeting pretty young girls and having one’s photo taken with them. And at least we all now know what to do when ending a friendship – simply ceasing contact and ignoring their calls is not the way to do it; instead, you spend four days as their house-guest. Oh, and if you happen to be one of the world’s most recognisable public figures, with guaranteed Paparazzi snappers on your tail, you go for a stroll in Central Park. Stupid or arrogant? From everything I can gather it seems Prince Andrew is an unappealing blend of both.

Whether or not he enjoyed an intimate moment with a 17-year-old girl – an ‘action’ (as he would put it) that even US law (unlike the media) recognises as the action of a pederast rather than a paedophile – Andrew came across as a little boy who had done something naughty and would not take the George Washington route by owning up to it, instead digging himself a hole that grew deeper with each denial. Unlike Diana’s self-pitying confessional back in the 90s, Andrew didn’t come across as someone wanting the world to feel sorry for him – more someone who imagined the audience to be even stupider than him by believing him; and there’s nothing quite so funny as someone who thinks he’s smart and blatantly isn’t.

Just over 20 years ago, not long after Andrew’s equally nauseating ex had been exposed as a toe-sucker, brother Brian was present during the gift-wrapping of Britain’s final Far East imperial possession for its nearest neighbour. Despite Prince Charles’ scathing observations on 1997 events in Hong Kong, the transition itself was a smooth one; arranged well in advance, it had none of the spontaneous drama that had redrawn the map of Europe eight years earlier. Yes, there were bloody moments in Romania, though the brutal reprisals were mercifully brief; in East Germany, the armed enforcers of the system stood by and let it happen because they knew they were beaten. Just a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, there had been a reminder that people power can be ruthlessly crushed on the very streets it sprang from – a watershed that exacerbated nerves over the prospect of Hong Kong being absorbed into Mother China’s suffocating bosom.

A memorable episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which the family accompany Marge’s ugly sisters to Beijing in order to adopt a baby sees Homer wander into Tiananmen Square and come across a plaque that reads ‘In 1989, nothing happened here’. That was probably not far from the official Chinese line for a long time, but the shadow of the student revolution that never was has no doubt lingered at the back of revolutionary Hong Kong minds ever since. Hong Kong youth born after the Handover, let alone the Tiananmen Square Massacre, know the potential risks involved in standing up to China, yet it would appear that many of them spearheading the current insurrection in Hong Kong now feel they have nothing to lose. There certainly appears to be a strain of nihilism governing the actions of some, and it’s difficult to see their brave stance ending in anything other than tears.

After months of disruptive protests, the siege of the Polytechnic University in Kowloon has taken events onto a scary new level. Watching scenes shot behind the campus barricades on TV, I was reminded not only of the improvised rebellion that marked the outbreak of the Northern Ireland Troubles fifty years ago – echoes of the DIY petrol bombs hurled from rooftops at the RUC; but the use of catapults recalled medieval sieges. So bizarre was the sight, I half-expected the protestors to launch a dead cow at the Hong Kong police from the battlements in the manner of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. It was both darkly comic and disturbingly frightening, for you can foresee the awful outcome – and I suspect the 100 or so still rumoured to be holding out can too. It’s all so horribly inevitable.

Many have attempted to escape the fortress since the siege began on Sunday, but few have managed it; the police have completely encircled the campus and claim that over 600 of the protestors have surrendered. This was after police retaliated to the catapults and petrol bombs with tear gas. Around 20 years ago, I remember a resident of the shared house I lived in charging indoors in the middle of the night having evaded arrest (for what, I cannot recall); unfortunately for him, before he slipped their grip the boys-in-blue had sprayed some mace-like substance to disable him. He’d still managed to get away, but his face was on fire; as I watched him furiously splashing water on his pained countenance, I moved a little too close and was smacked in the kisser by a stinging force-field that caused me to immediately pull back. If that’s just a miniscule taste of what tear gas can do, its employment in Hong Kong shouldn’t be seen as the police treating the protestors lightly.

Of course, the constant fear throughout all of this has been the anticipation of reprisals from mainland China, though so far China – probably mindful of international opinion – has shown remarkable restraint, leaving the Hong Kong police to handle things. It’s possible the ending of the siege at the Polytechnic University could be the beginning of the end of this current wave of protests, though if it isn’t one wonders how much longer China will allow the situation to go on. And when one looks at the Kowloon campus and the fate awaiting those still there, it does tend to put the pathetic, privileged complaints of western students into perspective; this is real life or death stuff, not quibbling over the offensiveness of bloody pronouns.

Probably having one eye on post-Brexit trade deals, the response from the British Government over the chaos in the old colony has been somewhat muted; however, despite our intentions to uphold the ‘one country, two systems’ promise of the Sino-British Joint Declaration we were party to, there’s very little Britain can do. Besides, there are other political distractions over here at the moment. We have the first televised head-to-head of the General Election to look forward to on ITV this evening, restricted to a strict Boris Vs Jezza clash, with the High Court having rather amusingly denied Swinson and Sturgeon the chance to add some anti-democratic Scottish spice to proceedings. So, once again, it’s dumb and dumber. And if that prospect is as depressing to you as everything else hogging the headlines, let’s lighten the mood with two pictures of a kitten that sleeps like a human. Spread the love…







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