MOUNTAINS AND MOLEHILLS

Mole 3Although I’ve never seen it since and have no idea what it was, I remember one childhood Saturday morning catching an archaic comedy movie from the 1940s or 50s – my memory dates it by the fact all the men in it were wearing hats – and a guy was being examined by a doctor for a neck injury. The GP told him to keep looking upwards and the ailment would gradually heal, so he exited the surgery and strolled out onto the street with his head aimed at the sky. As he made his way along, his unusual stance caught the eye of everyone he passed so that they all followed suit, gazing up in the belief the guy had obviously seen something fascinating. I guess it’s an old joke, but it was an old film and the concept still makes me laugh now. I wondered why that scene should infiltrate my head after being absent for several decades, but maybe it’s because such a vaudevillian gag now feels like it was actually making a shrewd point about the way in which a misinterpreted gesture can provoke a chain reaction to ripple through a crowd of people with remarkable ease and breathtaking pace. Perhaps it’s just a classic characteristic of herd mentality, and one ripe for exploitation.

A more scientific explanation came on a 1970s David Dimbleby-hosted programme examining the hysteria at Osmonds concerts. A psychologist spoke of how it would only take one member of the audience when Donny and his brothers hit the stage to set off virtually everyone else at the venue. He’d observed how one girl screaming triggered the girl sat next to her and she in turn triggered the next one and the sound rapidly travelled down the whole row, each girl taking on the pattern of the girls around her so the entire arena could erupt into a cauldron of ear-splitting frenzy within seconds. I suppose a similar thing happens at football matches, though the man who starts the chant does so in the deliberate hope that he will quickly be accompanied by a chorus; the fact he usually is accompanied by a chorus suggests again that herd mentality – whether consciously or unconsciously – instinctively replicates the behaviour of the lone individual so that he or she is soon cocooned by safety in numbers; and at many times over the years, numbers have equated with safety at football matches, where the lone individual would be vulnerable and exposed – especially if he’s playing away.

Just as one member of a crowd can purposely incite the rest of that crowd to accompany him in a singsong if he knows the crowd is primed to respond favourably, the herd mentality can be cynically manipulated by outsiders with an equal minimum of effort. Politicians and their affiliated media outlets have always used this tactic to smear their opponents and nudge the electorate towards ticking the right box in the voting booth; but the past eighteen months have seen the practice used to clinical effect, with the masses becoming more pliable pieces than ever in someone else’s chess game. The way in which the pandemic restrictions were successfully enforced by convincing great swathes of the public that they were barely two-dozen loo rolls away from death was such a resounding triumph for the powers-that-be that it taught them an invaluable lesson. They realised the public were far easier to push in the desired direction than they’d ever dared imagine before.

The media cottoned onto this a long time ago, of course. The press did so far earlier than, say, television (certainly in this country, anyway), for public broadcasting originating in the Reithian ethos clung to the antiquated notion of political impartiality in a way the newspapers and their blatantly partisan approach – which was utterly dependent on the leanings of the paper’s proprietor – never had any moral need to adhere to. Moreover, the populist end of Fleet Street and its unquenchable thirst for sensationalism and scandal stretching all the way back to Victorian penny dreadfuls had accelerated in the Murdoch era, taking the print medium down a dark, grubby alley that television news had yet to visit. Not being a viewer of either Sky or CNN, I personally began to notice news broadcasts on terrestrial TV adopting a more tabloid approach not so much with Brexit, which is usually cited as the moment when journalism as we used to know it doubled down into unashamed propaganda for one side or the other, but when the financial crash of 2007/08 occurred. This was the point at which I really became aware TV news had ceased reporting facts and had instead opted to manufacture drama. Sure, there had been agendas in place before, but a trend appeared to be developing that required a constant flow of drama, possibly because of satellite competition or possibly because there were now rolling news channels with 24 hours to fill.

I recall a news report on either BBC or ITV in late 2007 covering queues outside a branch of Northern Rock when word had got around that the bank was living on borrowed time; as those with accounts quietly waited their turn to withdraw their savings in an orderly fashion, a TV reporter buzzed round them desperately attempting to whip up an atmosphere of panic to support the hysterical tone of his piece for the evening news. It seemed as though he’d come looking for a replay of the scene in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ when George Bailey’s bank collapses; so, when confronted by a line of Brits keeping calm and carrying on, the reporter resorted to a presentation style owing more to ‘The Day Today’ than the kind of straightforward no-bullshit journalism British TV news was once renowned for. To their credit, the members of the crowd that day didn’t panic; but the manner of the response to Covid Project Fear last year proved how effective a constant stream of panic propaganda pumped into the public’s collective psyche via the multiple media tools of the 2020s can now provoke panic without breaking sweat.

It might not be convenient for the current storyline, but one doesn’t have to even ‘go back to the 70s’ to recall the last time we had lengthy queues and panic buying at petrol stations; it was barely 20 years ago, midway through the New Labour era, when Gordon Brown as the Iron Chancellor was portrayed on the front of a national newspaper as a caricature of an 18th century highwayman. But today’s trend of constantly evoking the Winter of Discontent or the Three-Day Week works better because that period has lived on as a potent lesson of what happens when governments lose the plot, even for those who were a long way from being a twinkle in the milkman’s eye at the time. And one can see the appeal. After all, the panic buying that emptied supermarket shelves last year is still fresh, and the current spate of empty shelves at your local Sainsbury’s can be linked to the pandemic, to the pingdemic, to the loss of lorry drivers from a poorly-paid profession with few (if any) provisions for its workers, to the ‘sudden’ depletion of energy supplies, and – of course – Brexit. Join the dots and we have the potential for a good old-fashioned Great British Doomsday Narrative. And the Great British public are responding accordingly.

Unemployment was far higher in the 70s and inflation was astronomical in a way that today simply cannot compare with – a staggering 40% in June 1975; and whereas trade unions then had the clout to routinely bring the economy to its knees, lockdown has managed the same feat in record time now. What eventually replaced heavy industry in the big provincial cities that had been built on the back of it was the hospitality industry, yet when the continental cafés, bistros, bars and leisure venues that revitalised such cities from the 1990s onwards were closed overnight in 2020, regional dependence on such businesses meant that the damage done was of a kind we’ll probably be dealing with the ramifications of for years. That’s the real crisis. Never mind – send the cameras to the petrol stations and engage in nonsensical arguments about biology for light relief. Apparently, rats suddenly deprived of the scraps of office workers when the workforce relocated to the home have now followed the money and are loitering in our U-bends. Maybe our perennial rodent shadows reckon we’re all doomed as well.

© The Editor

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MEDIA WATCHDOGGING

Does anyone still buy magazines? I used to buy plenty at one time – well, more than one time; I bought plenty for decades and then more or less stopped without realising it. Regular purchases in the 90s and into the 2000s included the likes of ‘Uncut’ and ‘Mojo’, with occasional forays into the likes of ‘Arena’, ‘Empire’ and fashion rags like ‘Vogue’ plus a few others of that nature – pretty girls catching the eye etc. Yes, magazines became increasingly expensive and there were times when I had to opt out of purchasing one or two because I simply couldn’t afford them every time, but I still splashed out whenever I could, perhaps due to the fact the habit was such a deeply engrained aspect of the shopping experience. Well, not anymore. There was no ‘moment’, no defining incident that provoked a decision to never bother again; it just sort-of happened. I stopped drifting towards the newsstands upon entering the supermarket and instead glanced for a second or two and moved on to edible goods.

For a while, I used to derive dubious pleasure from the hysteria of headlines, predicting the reaction of each individual paper to whatever news story was on the tip of the press tongue before I got to it and accurately anticipating the angle taken by every title; but even that grew boring, probably around the time of Brexit overkill. I don’t even bother now. I became weary of the repetition, I guess; just as the old mags I’d often shell-out for started telling the same stories over and over again, the newspapers never seemed to progress beyond their entrenched agendas and they ceased to even inspire detached hilarity. Okay, so I still order both ‘Private Eye’ and the ‘Radio Times’ from the last remaining independent newsagent in the neighbourhood, but that’s it; I don’t seek out anything else anymore. Those two suffice, and even then I often barely read anything other than the bare minimum, usually realising I haven’t managed that simple task come the day before the next issue is due.

For me, the decline and fall of the distinctive voice in print journalism perhaps went hand-in-hand with the rise of the distinctive voice online. Some of the opinion pieces on ‘Spiked’ piss on anything newspapers or magazines have to offer in their dying days, and the more erudite meanderings available at Maria Popova’s endlessly enlightening ‘Brain Pickings’ site have educated, informed and entertained me in ways that the clickbait interns of Fleet Street could never comprehend in their exhaustive search for jaded sensationalism and tiresome titillation. Granted, such elements were always ingredients of the traditional newspaper recipe, but they were balanced out by hard-hitting, investigative journalism and the intelligent, urbane columnists of old; ever since all that was dispensed with in print courtesy of cost-cutting and fear of post-Leveson litigation, the internet has offered an alternative. Newspapers, much like television news & current affairs, have narrowed their horizons and opted for catering to specific niche audiences for whom they can reinforce prejudices in the hope of securing continued subscriptions.

Talk of television brings me back to ground covered previously. A recent survey revealed comedy ranked low on the list of genres viewed during the various lockdowns of the last twelve months, which is no great surprise when one considers the woeful comedic output of our mainstream broadcasters. Anyone looking for a laugh would do well to steer clear of TV and – to be fair – radio, both of which are produced by a conservative clique of lame, middle-class university graduates in thrall to a groupthink mindset that has a rigid roll-call of easy targets they chuckle over as they labour under the misapprehension they’re being satirical. The public aren’t fooled and it’s no wonder; YouTube can boast the kind of viewing figures for comedy that the pitiful box-ticking elite laughing amongst themselves at the BBC can only dream of. The likes of Jonathan Pie and Andrew Lawrence have established careers as cutting-edge characters online without any TV exposure whatsoever whilst television continues to employ an irrelevant, hypocritical charlatan like Frankie Boyle and thinks it’s being ‘edgy’ by doing so.

Events beyond the control of everyone outside of government have served to curtail the live comedy circuit, forcing comedians already under-fire from the Woke orthodoxy to improvise; those for whom television was suddenly blocked as a route to stardom had begun investigating alternatives even before the pandemic brought the curtain down, and the endlessly impressive ‘Triggernometry’ on YT, hosted by Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster, continues to divide its podcasts between fascinating interviews with people who have something interesting to say (and are given breathing space to say it) and live streams in which the pair interact with their audience. Sit this next to Graham Norton’s tired old celebrity chinwag on BBC1 and it’s like comparing ‘The Little and Large Show’ to ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ in the early 80s – and I’m not just saying this because each edition of the ‘Triggernometry’ live stream begins with an opening title sequence put together by yours truly either; I did that because I was a fan and was honoured they were impressed enough to use it.

Television and the print medium stagger on, but they have dug their own grave; that said, big tech are increasingly attempting to apply the same principles that have strangled older mediums. In recent years, Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have gradually embraced the Star Chamber tactics that were once the province of the IBA and the Hays Code in efforts to clamp down on anyone daring to challenge the consensus, forcing all ‘dissidents’ using their platforms to be on constant alert as to what they say. This is a worrying, if predictable, move to those of us who have migrated from TV, radio and the press, though as a one-time YT ‘creator’ I long ago sensed which way the wind was blowing and got out, losing an audience as well as an income in the process; but the latest wave of censorship has also denied me pleasure as a viewer, removing an outlet that the established vintage mediums no longer provide.

Over the weekend, two YT channels I subscribed to and was devouring the content of have abruptly vanished. Both uploaded archive material for which the audience is too small to profit from in the shape of DVDs or streaming; both were sharing obscure or once-popular (and long-forgotten) programmes that would otherwise never see the light of day again and were doing so for purely benevolent reasons – which is precisely what YouTube was set up for in the first place. I can imagine the uploaders were confronted by constant copyright infringement excuses, but the non-profit nature of the uploads would’ve been evident to anyone coming across the channels; credit due was given and YT automatically muted any musical tracks used in the uploads the second they appeared, so all potential bases were covered from day one. Yet this still wasn’t good enough.

In one fell swoop, Silicon Valley did its Ministry of Truth act and erased all evidence of two channels that made these dark winter evenings more tolerable. I was halfway through the 1972 series of ‘Softly Softly: Task Force’ and thoroughly enjoying the old-school police procedurals of Barlow & Watt, just like thousands of other viewers seeking their own harmless entertainment away from a mainstream offering nothing but more of the same tired formulas; and now all gone. Just like that. Small mercies are something we’ve become accustomed to being thankful for this past year, so whenever another avenue of pleasure is blocked off, everything just seems that little bit greyer and duller and dismal and drab – that little bit more February-ish. Roll on springtime, eh?

© The Editor

SLIPPERY SLOPES AND SILVER LININGS

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

CUMMINGS AND GOINGS

And we’re back to life imitating art imitating life again. Yes, the episode of ‘The Thick of It’ in which feared Downing Street attack-dog Malcolm Tucker is manoeuvred into submitting his involuntary resignation as MPs cowering in the shadows suddenly emerge as fearless critics of the PM’s Rottweiler is currently being restaged for the benefit of bored viewers of rolling news channels. I guess it’s the political equivalent of those struggling theatre companies performing socially-distanced plays online because nobody can go and watch them live anymore. Maybe we can look forward to similar remakes of other classic crisis moments from British political history in order to break-up the relentless tedium of the same story dominating every day’s headlines? Perhaps Boris could commandeer the airwaves and inform us we are now at war with Germany – or he could entreat the public to rejoice at the recapture of Port Stanley.

As has been pointed out several times by various observers, ‘stir crazy’ symptoms seem to be infiltrating public discourse after two months of lockdown and are responsible for an upsurge in hysterical behaviour online. This is quite possible, though it’s difficult to tell from a cursory swipe through the output of our most vociferous tweeters, most of who have simply carried on where they left off with Brexit. Nobody really appears to be acting out of character on Twitter, for those who were already foaming-at-the-mouth fanatics have merely transferred their obsessive manic tendencies from one issue to another; and Piers Morgan never needs much of an excuse to turn his oily countenance a sweaty shade of tomato. Ditto the mainstream media, whose propensity for sensationalism and OTT overreaction has been energised anew by every coronavirus-related development.

MSM scalp-hunters got what they wanted via the story of Neil Ferguson’s not-so clandestine dalliance with his married lover; despite admirably punching above his weight re the lady in question, that particular Government ‘expert’ was forced to fall on his sword when the revelations broke, though perhaps his dodgy track record of widely overestimating the scale of pandemic fatalities should have precluded his hiring in the first place. Several other political figures and experts have also been exposed as purveyors of the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ school of hypocrisy since we entered lockdown, though now that one of the architects of the entire policy has allegedly been caught out, those with scores to settle aren’t even bothering to contain their evident excitement.

Journalists, cultural commentators, Labour MPs and – especially – ex-Ministers sidelined for their Remainer stance are screaming in unison for Dominic Cummings to quit, yet all appear to me to have a pre-existing axe to grind where the PM’s very own Goebbels is concerned; they may be selling themselves as moral spokespeople for the people, though one can’t help but feel they aren’t so much expressing outrage on behalf of Lockdown Britain as relishing having Cummings on the ropes because they dislike him and everything he represents. Fair enough; Dominic Cummings certainly doesn’t come across as a particularly likeable individual and, if the stories are true, he exhibited appalling double standards when the country was being ordered to stay at home and anyone venturing outdoors stood to be confronted by an emboldened Gestapo masquerading as policing-by-consent Bobbies.

It seems odd that a man in Dominic Cummings’s powerful position, who must boast an extremely wide social network, couldn’t have placed his child in the care of someone in London rather than driving all the way up to his parents’ place in County Durham. Lest we forget, this was at a moment when many believed driving no further than the local retail park could risk an encounter with roadblocks and a police approach towards motorists inspired by the kind pioneered by the British Army at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. And, of course, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock was castigated in the right-wing press for making a similarly lengthy journey to visit his own aged parents in Wales around the time Cummings is alleged to have committed his particular crime. Indeed, if events proceeded as the allegations made by the Mirror and the Guardian claim they did, Cummings clearly gives the impression he regards himself as very much part of the political class and therefore doesn’t have to abide by the rules and regulations laid down for the plebs. He’s hardly unique in that case, though; the political class of all colours have repeatedly shown the same attitude for a long time and we didn’t need a lockdown to highlight that. We were never all in it together.

If anyone beyond media bubbles – both mainstream and social – actually gives a flying f**k about this story, the level of their interest would probably be determined by how greatly their life has been disrupted by the lockdown. If they have lost loved ones whose last few precious moments they weren’t able to share due to the restrictions, they’re going to be upset and angry as it is; therefore, excessive media coverage of what Dominic Cummings did or didn’t do – and it being presented as a heinous misdemeanour that spat in the face of a nationwide sacrifice he himself wasn’t prepared to make – then I would imagine they’d be quite pissed off about this, and rightly so. If, on the other hand, they’ve been spared any bereavement and are just fed up with being stuck at home, chances are they’ll simply shrug their shoulders and see Cummings’s actions as one more example of the ‘they all piss in the same pot’ syndrome; their lowly opinion of the political class will merely have been confirmed yet again.

The lockdown itself and the Government message – whether it be ‘stay safe’, ‘stay alert’ or ‘do as you’re told, finish your Frosties and go to bed’ – is undoubtedly undermined by this story and perhaps might just accelerate the end of the whole saga. And there’s an irony of sorts in that those who have adhered to the lockdown with such extreme compliance that they have had their nosy neighbour habits legitimised may well have helped expose the man partly responsible for encouraging their behaviour. Mind you, some of the anonymous snitches in Durham – probably (as tends to be the case where the Grauniad or BBC are concerned) Labour activists on the quiet – did cast doubt on the authenticity of their stories by claiming they recognised the registration plate of the Cummings car; hardly likely when these are always pixelated on TV and nobody outside of the police force can find out the owner of a vehicle from one.

The media is certainly demanding we be outraged by this story, if only because the media itself is. It has fostered the ‘we’re all in it together’ narrative by relentlessly promoting the doorstep clapping and the deification of the NHS; the Government has largely followed where the media has led, and I doubt Boris would be clapping on a weekly basis and allowing the ground-floor windows of No.10 to resemble those of a primary school classroom had not the media established the social mores of the lockdown community spirit. Wicked Mr Cummings spurning those mores when the salt-of-the-earth Great British public have largely done as they were told is consequently punishable by resignation. Failing that, just lift the lockdown.

© The Editor

THE FEAR

I remember a first date once, which – though an encouraging start – turned out to be merely the prologue to another example of why my being one half of ‘a lovely couple’ is the relationship equivalent of a coalition government, i.e. an exceedingly rare aberration destined to end in tears. But I was younger at the time, so can be excused. And, anyway, she was a fascinating woman who worked for a charity and was about to jet off on a related business trip to New York. A second date was definitely on the cards, but the Manhattan outing would put it back a week or two. I resolved to pick up some kind of quirky guide to the Big Apple for her and pass it on before she packed her suitcase.

One topic of conversation that came up during the evening was a shared recollection of early 80s nuclear paranoia. She and I recalled the collective fear of those years, when pre-apocalypse tension infected the culture and seemed doomed to become a self-fulfilling prophesy; it was the age of Greenham Common, ‘Threads’ and ‘Two Tribes’. My date and I agreed such a bleak atmosphere genuinely (and thankfully) appeared to be a thing of the past – at least where the west was concerned. And when, you may ask, did this rather pleasant exchange take place? Why, to be exact, September 10 2001.

I was in a second-hand bookshop the following day when, having located just the kind of offbeat volume I’d intended, I heard something strange was happening at the World Trade Centre; the shopkeeper shrewdly informed me a fire in one of the twin towers had sent it crashing to the ground only after I’d bought the bloody book. Of course, it was no use to its recipient, as the trip to New York was cancelled and the state of global emergency she and I had perhaps unwisely relegated to the past tense suddenly re-emerged uglier than ever in the here and now. And, although the panic 9/11 unleashed unsurprisingly lasted longer than my dalliance with this particular lady, the numerous offshoots of the September 11 attacks that are still with us have sadly become part of the cultural wallpaper.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that those of us who were transfixed by the grotesque sights on our TV screens 18 years ago have gradually become immune to the horrors embodied in the events of 9/11 since. But exposure to subsequent wars and terrorist atrocities with their roots in that day could possibly have engendered a subliminal immunity so that what initially provoked genuine fear of a potential WWIII scenario is now met with shoulder-shrugging weariness. During the recent blanket coverage of the first Moon Landing’s 50th anniversary, one overlooked fact left out of the celebrations was that the viewing public of the time became bored with the great adventure so quickly that the only other Apollo mission anyone ever recalls is 13 – and that crew never even made it to their destination. When an achievement as immense as men on the moon can induce a jaded response as one lunar landing rapidly follows another, perhaps the repeated detonation of bombs in a crowded environment fails to maintain the level of shock such an appalling act warrants simply because it’s just one more atrocity in a very long line of them.

The world is far more intricately connected today than it was in 2001 – a period when social media was in its infancy and traditional mediums still had a monopoly on the way we consumed news. Indeed, the only occasion in which I can ever remember the newspaper racks being emptied in my local supermarket was the day after 9/11; everybody had clearly purchased a paper as a souvenir, just as their fathers (or grandfathers) had when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. It’s hard to imagine that happening with an equivalent incident today. I suspect many a website or search engine would crash, but there’d still be plenty of Fleet Street’s finest waiting to find a home. Then again, how long would shock linger now? Long enough for that interminable 24 hours between a story breaking and it making the physical front page? Probably not. The nature of how news is transmitted to the masses has changed so much since 2001 that the manner of its digestion has changed too – as has its presentation, presumably in order to hold the diminishing attention span of the reader. Often it seems that stories which don’t really deserve the dramatic headline ape the major event so that each and every item battling for space has to be given the full (to use a quaint old phrase) ‘stop press’ treatment.

It could be a result of living through two traumatic post-9/11 decades or it could simply be my age, but I find I don’t lose sleep over any of the news stories designed to provoke panic nowadays. I feel almost ashamed to admit it, for I realise I’m supposed to be in a perpetual state of fear – fear of climate change or Brexit or knife-crime or the far-right or the far-left or Boris or Corbyn or Trump or Putin or China or North Korea or No Deal…and yet, I’m not. However, that’s not to say I don’t care; caring about an important issue and (on occasion) being passionate about a few is listed on my membership card of the human race – and I hope that’s been evident in some of the things I’ve written here. But I don’t worry about today’s shock-horror stories, certainly not the level of worry I’m constantly told I should feel. Then again, being told how I should feel is something that media in all its current incarnations has come to specialise in.

Media of the social variety is regularly – and often rightly – castigated for its ‘echo chamber’ tendencies, and (should I wish to do so) I can certainly think of an easy way in which I could severely deplete my friends list on Facebook overnight, simply by expressing an opinion I’m not supposed to possess, let alone express. But hasn’t the new media merely learnt the lessons of the old media? Yes, Facebook and Twitter reflect users’ already established opinions back at them, confirming biases and upholding prejudices whilst discouraging discovering different perspectives; but then again, so do the Daily Mail and the Guardian. This trend could also be responsible for the current vogue in looking at an unfavourable event from a favourable angle in order to make it more palatable to those it upsets.

The remarkable success of the Brexit Party in the recent European Elections was countered by its opponents combining the split Remain vote as spurious evidence that Nigel’s barmy army didn’t actually win after all. The same tactic was applied in the wake of the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election by the other side, showing how putting the Tory and Brexit Party votes together somehow proved the Lib Dems were actually the losers. The fact that none of these combinations actually appeared as such on the ballot paper is regarded as almost immaterial when it comes to a ‘moral victory’ – or it could just be that this curious development proves how the Remainer/Leaver divide now counts for more than traditional party allegiances.

I considered using Nick Ross’s sage advice as the title for this post, and then remembered I’d used it as the title of an obituary for ‘Crimewatch’ I penned on here whenever it was that the show ended its lengthy run. As a matter of fact, I do have nightmares – constantly; and they’re horrible, far worse than any I had as a kid. But they’re all of a domestic nature, nocturnal kitchen-sink dramas featuring those I have loved and those I have lost; they don’t contain any bogeymen that dominate national or international headlines at all. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a strange place that I don’t scare easily anymore – at least when I’m awake.

© The Editor

JACK OF ALL TRADES

A year ago this week, I smoked my last cigarette; a recent clean of the spines displayed on my bookshelf reminded me how my world used to be coated in a stinky and sickly golden smudge that unknowingly proved to be as great a social deterrent as BO. But it’s only when you sometimes come across evidence of how something used to be that you belatedly realise how much it has changed. Example: A couple of years back, I purchased an archive copy each of the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph; both were printed in 1977. Twenty-odd years of colour newspapers utilising digital technology had served to erase the aesthetic memory of how Fleet Street produce once looked, felt and smelt. The bright clean reproduction of images we’ve become accustomed to (if we still bother with a physical edition, of course) when stood next to the murky monochrome equivalent from forty years ago reveals the latter as having a closer resemblance to a poor photocopy.

The old hot metal printing technique also gave newspapers a distinctive odour as well as leaving its imprint on your fingers if you held a paper in your hands for more than five minutes. Newspapers were relatively cheap in relation to other goods, but had they retailed for pennies exceeding single figures, it probably would have been taking the piss when they were hardly works of art. They were simple, unpretentious and instantly disposable objects, hence their day-after demotion to the chip shop, so it’s no wonder they were something everybody could afford. Mind you, dailies and Sundays sold so much back then that the proprietors didn’t need to charge more than 10p to make a handsome profit.

As a child, there was a strict dividing line between what parents read and what children read. Comics were for us, newspapers were for them – oh, and dad also had a few…erm…‘magazines’ stashed in a secret place that we weren’t supposed to know about. This arrangement suited my tastes, for the content of newspapers was extremely dull to my prepubescent eye bar one page – no, not the third one, but a page somewhere near the back-end of the publication, just before the sports section. This page was the nearest a newspaper would get to a comic, even if the parade of three (or four) panel strips exhibited humour not quite as basic as that in the Dandy or the Beano.

The paper of choice in our household was the Daily Mirror. Its strips included space and time-travelling strongman Garth (who always somehow seemed to visit planets whose female natives had yet to discover bras), old-school northern pisshead layabout Andy Capp (who had a fag permanently glued to his lower lip), The Perishers (which appeared to be a British take on Peanuts), and Bill Tidy’s surreal The Fosdyke Saga. All the national dailies were defined in the child’s mind by which comic strips they featured. The Daily Express could boast Rupert Bear; the Mail had Fred Basset; the Sun had Hagar the Horrible, and so on. Even the local paper had its notable cartoon characters: As well as hosting US strip Marmaduke (a Great Dane I often confused with Scooby Doo), the Yorkshire Evening Post had the bizarre home-grown character known as Alfie Apple (Yes, a walking/talking apple).

Unlike my parents, I didn’t grow up to become a loyal subscriber to any particular paper and I gradually lost touch with the strips; whenever I’ve caught a glimpse of them in recent years the inevitable addition of garish colour has, to me, removed part of their appeal. The loss of their black & white-ness is something that appears to diminish their charm, in the same way that it would be impossible to imagine any of those early 60s ‘Kitchen Sink’ movies in Technicolor. There also seems to be fewer of them, with one of the key tools in securing the next generation of readers now marginalised, mirroring the suicidal dismissal of journalists who were experts in their chosen fields, something which suggested the editors of the papers had already given up and stopped believing there was any sort of future for the medium.

As has been pointed out on several occasions here recently, the allure of the recent past and the rose-tinted hues of unavoidable nostalgia can stretch into many unexpected areas. For some reason the old newspaper strip has fired my imagination of late, and in my increasingly desperate quest to seek constant distractions from the sinkhole I fell into eight months ago, one distraction I seized upon was to pay homage to the genre by making up my own strip. So I have done. Aesthetically, it belongs to a lost world, so wouldn’t be at home in the current excuse for a format that no longer really exists. Instead, I went straight to what used to be a commercial offshoot for the already-proven success – the collected strips in book form. As the book only contains 28 separate and self-contained three-panel strips (albeit every single strip in existence to date), I’m regarding this as ‘the pilot episode’. It may never be granted a networked series, but it’s out there for me to at least try.

I’m English and I was the companion to a cat for eighteen years. These are two things I know about. Therefore, I created a cat with a suitably traditional English name – Jack – and gave him a range of familiar English characteristics to add to his own archetypal feline qualities. I gave him a best mate, a girlfriend and a nemesis. I also gave him an ‘owner’ we never see, just as adults were always absent from the world of Charlie Brown. Unlike Felix or Top Cat, he walks on all fours, but he talks like us. Be a pretty dull strip if he didn’t.

He’s not particularly original; after all, it’s not as if cats have never been turned into cartoon characters before. And I’m not an especially gifted draughtsman either; the drawings are crude and sketchy, but I could say that maybe adds to their charm. Anyway, the humour is wry, dry and droll – and contemporary, I guess, though I avoid any direct references to the news; that would only instantly date them. With the book blurb declaring ‘As seen in the Winegum Telegram’, it felt only right to include a sample…

The transference of the images from sketch-pad to printed page ironically gives them the look of having being sourced from an old newspaper, an act of serendipity that adds to the homage, I guess. Anyway, the book’s available on Amazon for a piddling £2.99 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jack-English-Cat-called-English/dp/1717944809/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533553266&sr=1-1) and might provide you with a few minutes of entertainment when you need a break from your Smartphone screen. I make less than a quid from a purchase, by the way, so I shan’t be living it up like Northamptonshire County Council when they sank a fortune into a swanky new HQ before realising it left them with nothing to fund public services. No, Jack the English Cat is not about a fast buck; I just wanted to make people smile, and this is the best I can offer right now. Life is not good and I’m not expecting my creation to be my salvation, but every little helps, as Morrison’s used to say.

© The Editor

THE SUNDAY POST

‘Sunday Bloody Sunday really encapsulates the frustration of a Sunday. You wake up in the morning, you’ve got to read all the Sunday papers, the kids are running round, you’ve got to mow the lawn, wash the car, and you think – Sunday Bloody Sunday!’

Alan Partridge’s characteristic misinterpretation of the U2 song inspired by the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry inadvertently highlights how the so-called ‘Day of Rest’ traditionally had a unique identity of its own, the genuine oddity in the seven-day calendar; but does it retain its uniqueness in an age when many shops are open all week round and a generation has come of age without an awareness or experience of what Sundays used to represent to the majority? Well, perhaps in our minds more than in reality.

It’s only natural that we associate certain days of the week with our first exposure to them; what’s interesting is how these initial associations can colour our view of them for good, and what they once represented proves to be surprisingly durable. Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that when it comes to Sunday, our image of it remains to an extent frozen in childhood amber, or at least when Sunday is imminent. More often than not, the prospect of it coming round tends to produce a weary sigh. In retrospect, that one more precious day free from school – something that should have made it as exciting as a Saturday to wake-up to – seemed to be shrouded in such an incurably drab torpor is curious; maybe Sunday was Saturday’s perennially poor relation because we knew we’d be back at school the following day, and so much of it seemed to be preparing us for that inevitability because it was so bizarrely boring.

Unless one were a farmer, clergyman, foreign language student or devotee of creaky monochrome movies about the war, television was usually best avoided; even that ordinarily reliable provider of entertainment appeared impotent on Sunday and was only generally switched-on in the middle of the afternoon so dad could watch ITV’s regional football show. The radio grabbed the spotlight from the telly as a consequence: Ed Stewpot and his set-in-stone set-list of prehistoric nursery ditties – ‘The Laughing Policeman’, ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’, ‘Nellie the Elephant’, ‘The Ugly Duckling’ et al – sound-tracked the Sunday morning experience for more than one generation.

Jimmy Savile’s ‘Old Record Club’ enlivened the early afternoon with its top ten replays from the 60s, sparking nostalgia in parents and introducing kids to classics that contrasted with the more familiar contemporary chart sounds; and as for the top 40, that would dominate tea-time listening, even if the fact that the new chart had already been covered three days before on TOTP robbed it of any drama. Still, knowing which position one’s favourite records were at made recording them onto audiotape easier (a practice that may have ‘killed music’, but came in handy when pocket-money only stretched to one single from Woolie’s per fortnight).

But such aural distractions couldn’t wrench Sunday away from the strangely soporific rituals that really made it so distinctive from every other day. This usually began with a couple of newspapers popping through the letterbox – thicker and more expensive than the weekday dailies; many households had a healthy schizophrenia when it came to Sunday reading habits. One paper would usually be the trashy titillation of the News of the World/Sunday Mirror/Sunday People brand, the kind I remember being full of call-girl confessions, Rod Stewart’s latest blonde and Princess Margaret’s latest beau; the other would tend to be the more sombre Sunday Times/Observer type, with one balancing out the other and establishing an odd equilibrium as mum and dad chose their weapons whilst defiantly remaining in bed. Of course, for those raised in a religious household, the church still played a major part in the Sunday routine – either the morning service, evensong, or the insidious institution of Sunday School, seemingly established so that mum and dad could engineer the arrival of a little brother or sister.

As far as secular upbringings went, however, Sunday was a day in which the whole family realised the advantages of spending the rest of the week leading their own lives; everyone appeared to resent the presence of everyone else. In the case of mum and dad, both eagerly embraced their designated roles; for him, this meant washing the car or attending to DIY; for her, this meant ironing or sticking a roast in the oven, where it would cook on a low light for what seemed like about six months, its aroma sweeping through the house with the creeping stealth of mustard gas and seeping into the bricks and mortar like Oxo-flavoured napalm. Occasionally, there would be variations to the routine, but even these couldn’t provoke any emotion other than shoulder-shrugging resignation.

Most of these centred around a ‘ride out’ in the car, a depressing excursion through a desolate landscape that bordered on post-apocalyptic, a journey that either led to a local beauty spot rendered ugly by rotten weather, a minor stately home, the stultifying tedium of the garden centre – and the fact that this emporium of inertia was the only shop open for business somehow intensified Sunday’s terminal dullness – or grandma’s house, where sometimes cousins would call and there would at least be an opportunity to indulge in much-needed play.

Play! Ah, yes – the one saving grace of Sunday. The generations starved of mass-marketed virtual-stimulation turned to their imaginations and transformed their uninspiring surroundings with little in the way of corporate assistance. Such activities could alleviate boredom until boredom intervened again via a bath and supper in the company of Esther Rantzen and Doc Cox. With school to look forward to in the morning, Sunday had felt like a lacklustre prologue to the resumption of the norm, a bridge between the compassionate leave of Saturday and the re-imprisonment of Monday.

It’s cruelly ironic that John Major, a man who romanticised the mythical Albion image of a Sunday, was the Prime Minister who delivered the killer blow to it. The passing of the Sunday Trading law in 1994 enabled high-street chain-stores to open their doors and facilitated the rise of out-of-town retail parks, finally making Sundays resemble every other day, at least in terms of the consumer society. There isn’t time for boredom on a Sunday anymore, and whilst many would regard that as cause for celebration, others might argue that the loss of the archaic eccentricities that once made Sunday such a unique day are worthy of mourning – even if they were bloody boring.

© The Editor

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

THE SWINGEING SIXTIES

A couple of anniversaries worth marking, I thought; a regular feature of this here blog, but always a welcome break from contemporary concerns, what with most of them being pretty grim. Today marks a decade since the UK smoking ban came into force; but firstly, fifty years ago today, the Times published an editorial that remains one of the few (if indeed the only one ever) to impact considerably on pop culture, as well as marking a significant turning point in the Us and Them battle that divided young and old in mid-60s Britain. The emergence of Teddy Boys, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Beatlemania and Mods Vs Rockers all gave rise to the belief amongst the generations that had fought in two World Wars and then ran the country that the country was falling apart at the seams.

None invoked such Blimp-ish rage in establishment circles as those shaggy-haired scruffs The Rolling Stones; their appearance alone was deemed offensive enough, but the thought that these 12-bar wonders might have any kind of influence over the young beyond simply cajoling them into buying their records seemed symbolic of the decline and fall of western civilisation. Things got worse as the Stones began to adopt a more erudite, cultured persona when the arty influence of girlfriends like Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg stretched their ambitions and aspirations beyond merely recycling the Blues. They appeared to be encroaching into the Highbrow, which was bad enough; and then they began extolling the virtues of chemical mind-expansion, something previously reserved for revered (and safely dead) intellectuals like Aldous Huxley.

Fining the band for peeing against a garage wall when the petrol pump attendant refused them access the loos was one thing; but in order to stop this repulsive revolution in its tracks, there needed to be something bigger that could bring about the desired effect. In 1967, the opportunity presented itself and the cohabitating coterie of press, police and judiciary seized upon it. The loose lips of Brian Jones in a London club, unknowingly endorsing LSD to an undercover journalist, led to said Stone being mistakenly identified in print as Mick Jagger; Jagger sued the News of the World but, like Oscar Wilde’s legal action against the Marquess of Queensberry, this response then provoked the enemy into making its move, which it did a week later.

The raid on Keith Richards’ Redlands home, interrupting the aftermath of a ‘drugs party’, has long been woven into both Stones and Rock mythology – with poor Marianne Faithfull still dogged by the utterly fabricated ‘Mars Bar’ rumour; but the outcome for Mick and Keith at the time wasn’t quite so entertaining, the former charged with possession of four amphetamine tablets and the latter with allowing cannabis to be smoked on his property. They were tried at the Chichester Assizes in June 1967 and were both found guilty, with Jagger sentenced to three months’ imprisonment and Richards to a year. They both immediately launched appeals and were released on bail after a night behind bars.

The severity of the sentences and the dubious collusion between Scotland Yard and the News of the World raised many questions. The Stones’ contemporaries reacted with a show of support, with The Who rush-releasing cover versions of ‘Under My Thumb’ and ‘The Last Time’ as a single; but the most unexpected show of support came not from Us, but Them. Sensing an injustice had been done simply to teach these loutish upstarts a lesson, none other than William Rees-Mogg (yes, father of Jacob) intervened. Rees-Mogg was the editor of the Times – viewed as a bastion of the same establishment intent on persecution and punishment where the Swinging 60s were concerned – and he made an eloquent, passionate plea in the Times’ editorial on 1 July 1967, under the title ‘Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?’

‘If we are going to make any case a symbol of the conflict between the sound traditional values of Britain and the new hedonism,’ wrote Rees-Mogg, ‘then we must be sure that the sound traditional values include those of tolerance and equity. It should be the particular quality of British justice to ensure that Mr Jagger is treated exactly the same as anyone else, no better and no worse. There must remain a suspicion in this case that Mr Jagger received a more severe sentence than would have been thought proper for any purely anonymous young man.’

Coupled with the widespread outrage amongst the young over the sentences, the Times editorial prompted the authorities to bring the appeal hearings forward and a month after being sentenced, the sentences were quashed. Mick and Keith walked away from court free men again and Jagger was more or less immediately flown by a helicopter hired by ambitious Granada producer John Birt to take part in a special ‘World in Action’ debate with three members of the establishment (chaired by Rees-Mogg), who seemed to look upon Jagger as elderly scientists would look upon a fascinating new species of butterfly. But Jagger’s easy-on-the-ear middle-class accent and reassuring, unthreatening demeanour charmed both his inquisitors and the television audience.

The intervention of William Rees-Mogg and the belated realisation by the Great British Public that maybe these demonised heroes of the young weren’t quite as great a threat to the future of mankind as the atom bomb marked a sea-change in the way the transforming society was perceived by its elder statesmen. The same year as the cause célèbre of the Mick & Keith trial, homosexual acts between consenting adults in private were decriminalised, abortion was legalised, and ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was embraced by young and old alike as Art. The affair also gifted Keith Richards, previously overshadowed in the media spotlight by Jagger and Brian Jones, the outlaw image he’s maintained ever since as the ‘soul’ of the band. There were casualties, however.

Brian Jones, targeted by the drugs squad in a separate raid and increasingly isolated within the band, embarked upon a rapid downward slide that culminated in his mysterious premature death two years later; Marianne Faithfull, denounced from the pulpit as a harlot and mercilessly mocked over the Mars Bar myth, then embarked upon her own downward slide that led all the way to being a homeless heroin addict in the 70s. But the Times stepping back from the great divide to look at it with objective sagacity was the first step towards acceptance of youth culture as a valid and relevant force within society by those too old to participate. Bar the odd moral panic over Punk Rock and Acid House, it has been recognised as such ever since, as thousands of books, documentaries and humble little articles such as this will testify.

© The Editor

THICK AS A BRICK

pc-mcgarryBack in the dark days of the Sunday Sport, if the pair of tits decorating the front cover didn’t catch the eye from the newsstand, the ludicrous headline alongside said mammaries usually did; long before the term Fake News was even coined, the Sport specialised in the silly and patently untrue. I suppose ‘Post-Modern’ could be applied to the Sunday Sport if one was inclined to be kind and view it as a parody of a Fleet Street weekend tabloid in the same way that Viz continues to spoof those trashy mags that clog-up the waiting rooms of GP’s surgeries with uncanny accuracy. These days, it’s often difficult to distinguish between the Real McCoy and the pastiche, particularly when it is the attention-grabbing headline that provokes heated debate, whether or not the causal shopper opts for the paper.

Take yesterday’s Mail on Sunday. Emblazoned across its cover was the dramatic announcement – ‘POLICE CHIEF: HEATH WAS A PAEDOPHILE’! Those that see nothing beyond that headline therefore have every suspicion confirmed. They may not even notice the ‘POLICE CHIEF’ prefix; but the headline says a former Prime Minister who never married and was never successfully outed as gay was definitely fond of little boys. There you go, job done. Mr and Mrs Public don’t need to pursue the story any further; everything they need to know is there in those four little words uttered by yet another Chief Constable from a nondescript provincial police force desperate to justify the vast expense devoted to grave-pissing. It’s there in black-and-white, in print; it’s true.

It matters not that the Mail on Sunday has actually exhibited a degree of bravery in its recent efforts at debunking some of the urban myths that have sprouted online wings where the sexual peccadilloes of dead or elderly household names are concerned; with that one crass headline, they would appear to have undone months of hard investigative work that has exposed the stupidity of the police in giving airtime to fantasists from the outer limits of the internet. To most, the word of a Chief Constable means jack shit in 2017; who in possession of half-a-brain would believe anything the police say anymore? They are inherently corrupt and terminally corruptible. Yet, some out there are willing to take the word of Wiltshire Police’s Mike Veale as Gospel. Then again, is this an ingenious ruse by the paper to highlight just how dense the men running our police forces really are?

There have evidently been no lessons learnt from the notorious ‘credible and true’ gaffe when a thick senior officer takes it upon himself to deflect criticisms of police manpower being redirected to fishing parties by making a personal opinion official before the pointless investigation has even been completed. Despite the fantasy of the so-called Westminster Paedophile Ring being utterly trashed, Mike Veale will not let it go; he claims those who have ‘come forward’ in relation to Ted Heath’s alleged hobby have made allegations that are remarkably similar. Fancy that! It’s not as though any of these tired old tales haven’t been doing the rounds in the cyber kangaroo courts for years, with members of various forums sharing their lurid fantasies and upping the satanic angle with every retelling, is it?

Mike Veale declares he has ‘120%’ conviction about the allegations against the dead PM; but even the language used advertises his level of intelligence. ‘120%’ is the language of the dim, the language of the footballer being interviewed after he’s just stepped off the pitch, like saying ‘literally’ when you don’t mean literally. Yet after the Chief Plod issued his ‘120% conviction’ to the press, subsequent PR statements from the Wiltshire Police make a mockery of Veale’s comments.

According to a police spokesman, Veale is determined to ‘ensure the investigation is proportionate, measured and legal’ and the purpose of it all is to ‘impartially investigate allegations without fear of favour and go where the evidence takes us. It is not the role of the police to judge the guilt or innocence of people in our criminal justice system’. How does that square with a Chief Constable making his prejudices public in the midst of an ongoing investigation? And are the deceased included amongst those people ‘in our criminal justice system’?

Mike Veale’s idiocy was apparent from day one, when he launched his force’s foray into time-travelling from outside Ted Heath’s former home and later denied it was a witch-hunt as the cost began to rise towards £1 million. Investigative officers even turned up at the HQ of Private Eye to peruse back issues of the magazine and see if they could uncover any suspicious references to Heath’s unmarried status; yes, I know, this is a development straight out of Private Eye’s satirical middle section, but it really happened. Where next? The home of Eric Idle because he wrote a comedy novel in the mid-70s called ‘Hello Sailor’, which featured a gay Prime Minister? Don’t rule it out.

There have been fewer easier targets than Ted Heath when it comes to this kind of posthumous character assassination; as with Jimmy Savile, he had no wife or children to take the accusers and their allies in the police and law firms to task. Also, like Savile, his sexuality was the subject of much hearsay and gossip during his lifetime; and both were disliked by many. Death and the diminishing ‘outrage’ of homosexuality as a means of ruining a public figure have simply released hounds of an even more malicious nature. And if the prominent can be ripped to shreds with such callous ease it’s no wonder the ordinary are so susceptible to the same treatment.

Come the Revolution, as Wolfie Smith used to say, maybe some of our most detestable misery-mongers will find themselves up against the wall for the bop-bop-bop treatment; added to the likes of past offenders such as Mark Williams-Thomas, Keir Starmer, Tom Watson, Liz Dux, Vera Baird, Mark Watts and ‘Nick’, we may well see the name Mike Veale. I reckon his presence could be justified, judging by his recent behaviour. I’m convinced, anyway…120%.

© The Editor