Tiger TeaIt’s still August, which means it’s still the silly season. Even if Fleet Street no longer dictates the news narrative, old habits die hard and the annual glut of stories unworthy of attention any other time of the year routinely surface to grab the headlines. Not that they’re particularly worthy of attention now, mind, but I suppose it helps that there’s no shortage of uniquely grim stories competing to catch the eye; at the moment, anything that isn’t taking place at Kabul Airport feels like light relief, and the more ridiculous the story, the more it stands out. In such a climate, I guess Identity Politics and Woke ideology can always be relied upon to serve this function, for silliness seems to be intrinsic to their relentlessly idiotic rhetoric. From the unveiling of LGBT cop cars to the shocking revelations that Extinction Rebellion top brass don’t necessarily practice what they preach, it’s not hard to understand why coverage outstrips relevance, even if all these silly stories add up to a bigger picture that isn’t really very funny at all.

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise, therefore, that this week has seen some wannabe Mary Whitehouse decide that a beloved children’s book should be excised from the pre-school library due to it allegedly being guilty of portraying the female sex in a ‘negative’ light and breeding the next generation of misogynists and rapists in the process. That this claim should be associated with Zero Tolerance, an organisation which apparently has a reputation for good, positive work in helping women deal with domestic violence, perhaps shows the damage that can be done when malignant Wokery infiltrates any institution and proves utterly counterproductive as it comes to define it, holding it up to ridicule and overshadowing all the good work previously achieved. The state of Stonewall is a good example – a unifying force respected for decades and recognised as the go-to charity when it came to gay issues; but its current pollution by the divisive extremes of Trans-activism has opened up a widening schism in the gay community, alienating many high-profile supporters it could previously call upon, including veterans who fought the actual battles that mattered.

Zero Tolerance appears to be taking a similar route by diving into the Gender Identitarian black hole with some of the ludicrous claims it makes about Judith Kerr’s delightful evergreen favourite, ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’. What kind of po-faced party-pooper looks at such a book and comes away from it wondering why the tiger in question is male as opposed to gender-neutral? The charity’s co-director, Rachel Adamson, that’s who. Such books, according to Ms Adamson, ‘aren’t just stories…we know that gender stereotypes are harmful and they reinforce gender inequality, and that gender inequality is the cause of violence against women and girls, such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment.’ Imagine reading a charming slice of innocent, fantastical life like ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ and that’s your main reaction to it. What does that say about you? By attaching such serious issues to such an innocuous book, you instantly negate any proper debate on the subjects – as with calling everything racist tends to neutralise genuine racism when it appears.

Now that this cherished children’s classic is a Rad-Fem target, certain important factors about its genesis have to be conveniently overlooked in order to uphold the unconvincing argument. Judith Kerr was married to the visionary Nigel Kneale, creator of ‘Quatermass’ and the man who wrote both the groundbreaking 1954 BBC TV adaptation of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ that remains a landmark in early British television as well as the equally remarkable 1968 TV play, ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’; yet she wasn’t merely the great woman behind a great man, but was – like Clara Schumann before her – a great artist in her own right, regardless of her spouse. We clearly have to turn a blind eye to the fact her most celebrated book was a book written by a woman, and a woman who was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany to boot. But, hey – so what? Why should something that has long been (rightly) regarded as a creative triumph over extreme adversity be spared the revisionist treatment courtesy of those who have never experienced anything remotely comparable to that which Judith Kerr lived through, let alone created such a sublime work of enchanting art? And why should it come as a surprise that giving the artless a mere inch means they will take more miles than even The Proclaimers ever walked?

Of course, we are dealing here – as we always are in cases of art being tossed onto the philistines’ funeral pyre – with people who have no comprehension of the subtle nuances of the best art. They themselves cannot create, nor are they able to appreciate the creations of those who can; they only see everything through the negative, narrow prism of whichever corrosive agenda they’ve decided to attach themselves to. They cannot discern beauty in any manmade creation because it would only underline their own absence of it, not only internally, but in their inability to produce it. Anyone whose response to a work of art is not to ooze admiration and awe but to somehow see its brilliance as highlighting their own inadequacies and mediocrity should never be taken seriously as a critic. It was blatantly evident a long time ago that bestowing credibility upon the creatively clueless when they air their opinion of any art would lead to this kind of scenario; moreover, it was equally evident doing so would bolster their high opinion of themselves and give them the unwarranted confidence to eventually come for everyone and everything if unchallenged.

It is both unwise and futile to concede to their demands, for their craving can never be satisfied, however far one bends over in an attempt to placate them. Works by Enid Blyton and Dr Seuss have already fallen under the revisionist hammer without notable objections, so why should anything else be immune? However, it’s important to be aware that denying serial cancellers the right to cancel means they might just dematerialise before our eyes, for if we dare to challenge everything they surmise to be offensive or problematic and prove them wrong, they then no longer have a reason to exist; this is their purpose in life, to be on permanent look out for anything that supports their argument, especially if produced in the distant past by the conveniently deceased (‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ was published in 1968 and Judith Kerr passed away in 2019). Their lifelong work won’t be complete until we’re all as dead inside as they are, until we’re all incapable of seeing anything without twisting it into an embodiment of evil to slot neatly into the latest category of cultural Year Zero think-checking.

The organisation advocating the censuring of Judith Kerr’s classic suggests children’s libraries should dispense with brilliantly imaginative fairy tales about anthropomorphic big cats who adhere to gender stereotypes and should instead promote recommended stories featuring transgender infants and little boys who want to become mermaids. Perish the thought gender stereotypes should be reinforced in books that point out some women might like to be nurses or secretaries or even stay-at-home mothers! Unsurprisingly, this whole story emanates from a survey conducted north of the border in the Woke wasteland formerly known as Scotland, a ‘gender and diversity audit’ of over 3,000 books in 21 Scottish nurseries; the findings remind me of a booklet circulated during China’s Cultural Revolution, titled ‘Four Hundred Films to be Criticised’. I know I mentioned it just a couple of posts back, but a timely revisit to the ‘Exposure’ series I produced for YT a decade ago has sadly reminded me how much the seeds sowed in the 2010s have been reaped in the 2020s. If I had a crystal ball, I’d smash the bloody thing.

© The Editor




‘Five years, that’s all we’ve got’ – so prophesised David Bowie on the apocalyptic opener to his breakthrough album, 1972’s ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’. Five years was also the length of the sentence handed down to ‘habitual criminal’ Norman Stanley Fletcher in Ronnie Barker’s classic sitcom ‘Porridge’ – as the judge reminded viewers in his speech to the condemned man in the opening titles of each episode; voiced by Barker himself in the requisite sonorous tones, the speech concluded with the unnerving last words, ‘you will go to prison for five years’ – cue the chilling slamming of cell doors. Not the most joyous beginning for a half-hour comedy, but at least ‘Fletch’ must have gained early release on parole, as the series ended two years short of his sentence. Five is an intriguing number, though – as most enigmatic odd ones are; Enid Blyton knew that, as did Motown and the Dave Brubeck Quartet; even a crap boy-band of the late 90s got it – as did a crap TV channel that appeared at the same time. Jazzy prog-rockers Soft Machine called their fifth album ‘5’ – and then there’s David Bowie…

Bowie’s version of a five year sentence sets the scene for the arrival of the singer’s exotic alter-ego as the impending end of the world looms large; the track is laced with deliciously black imagery, including such unforgettable lines as ‘A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest/and the queer threw up at the sight of that.’ The subject of much debate at the time – and lyrics printed on LP inner sleeves were regarded as poetic riddles back in the early 70s – the song’s ultimate meaning is essentially ambiguous and can be moulded to fit the listener’s own interpretation. Taking it literally is pointless, as we all know the world didn’t end in 1977; but the fact Bowie opted for five years – rather than, say, the more expansive ten – gives the song a sense of fearful urgency in which its various disparate characters react differently to the sudden expiry date on their lives. A full ten years contains a degree of breathing space; five years has little, so you have to squeeze in as much as you can.

A five-year period can contain a staggering amount of creative purple patches: between 1971 and 1976, David Bowie released six albums of new material – including Ziggy’s saga – as did his equally prolific contemporary Stevie Wonder; between 1964 and 1969, The Beatles released eight albums of new material, whereas their equally prolific contemporary Bob Dylan released seven in the same timeframe. Go back just over 100 years before that, to when the written word was the dominant artistic statement, and take five years from literature’s golden age: the half-decade from 1847 to 1852 saw the publication of ‘Agnes Grey’, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Wuthering Heights’, ‘Dombey and Son’, ‘Mary Barton’, ‘Vanity Fair’, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, ‘David Copperfield’, ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and ‘The Communist Manifesto’. Enough landmark works there to fill a ‘proper’ decade.

Travel back a little further and we find one solitary wordsmith – as far as we know – embarking on a stellar career with an astonishing burst of creativity. In the five years between 1590 and 1595, William Shakespeare is credited with writing all three instalments of ‘Henry VI’ as well as ‘Richard III’, ‘The Comedy of Errors’, ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’. ‘Richard II’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ are also believed to have been started – but not completed – in 1595. That’s a pretty impressive run by anybody’s standards, let alone within five years. Shakespeare scholars are not the type of people to pluck such estimates out of thin air, and one can confidently assume a chronology was assembled with fairly intensive research.

Even for those whose lives aren’t measured by artistic output, a five-year period can house enough events to define a life. If we look back on especially eventful periods we’ve lived through, ones marked by that catalogue of life-changing moments familiar to the many, such as embarking on a career, moving home, marrying, siring offspring etc., these tend to occur close together and within a relatively short space of time – like five years. For example, between 1996 and 2001, I myself moved home three times and the cast of characters constituting my world chopped and changed at a rapid rate, probably more than at any other time since I’d been at school. Looking back, a hell of a lot of living – and, in some sad cases, dying – was condensed into those five years, and if it had all been prophesised beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.

Gazing into a crystal ball has rarely been less attractive than at the moment, mind; quite frankly, given the opportunity I think I’d pass. If this non-year has taught us anything it’s that the future isn’t always worth waiting for. Perhaps if crystal balls could show what’s gone rather than what’s to come, maybe they’d be more intriguing; the past – even the recent past – has a habit of being as unfathomably unreal and unpredictable as the future. Anyone who has ever perused old diaries unread since they were written can often struggle to recall half of the events documented; I remember digging out some diaries from less than ten years before when researching my book, ‘Looking for Alison’, and I genuinely couldn’t remember so much of what I’d written about actually happening – as though some gremlin had spent many a mischievous night rewriting the daily entries as I slept just to f**k my head up.

It’s possible the absence of recall when revisiting journals of a recent vintage wasn’t so much a by-product of age, but an indication of the speed at which life had been lived in the five years since the last line I read had been penned. Blurs are hard to catch and preserve in amber-coated memory. Lest we forget, it’s an accepted phenomenon that time appears to pass faster as the years going by start to pile up, just as it does for the busy man occupied by an activity whilst simultaneously moving at a snail’s pace for the bored man twiddling his thumbs. Be that as it may, why take five? Why not? Let’s be honest, the number 5 makes a refreshing change from the number 19 at the moment, anyway. And guess what – this very blog turns five in December; those of you who were present at the birth may well be hard-pressed to believe we’ve been here that long, but that’s time for you – or five years.

Even if some of the subjects discussed in the earliest posts remain perennial bugbears or have simply become much worse, there are certain aspects of life in 2015 that seem so dim and distant from the perspective of 2020 that it’s difficult to discern they were that recent. My opinions may have altered on some subjects (and rightly so, for rigidly immovable opinions are rarely the sign of an inquiring mind); but I’ve not retrospectively altered anything said in any past post to fit a current point of view – unlike Dominic Cummings with his online jottings (allegedly). Sure, a lot of horrible things happened in 2015 – as they always do; but how can 2015 not seem like a great place to be when lined-up alongside 2020? In 2015, the rocket-ship on the launchpad was Apollo 11; today, it’s Apollo 13. Bowie’s ‘Ziggy’ prologue would have had an unsettling relevance had he written it in 2015 instead of 1972, so one doesn’t even have to fall into the trap of becoming misty-eyed over some faraway year from decades ago when confronted by the God-awful here and now; five years will do.

© The Editor


Admittedly, there are perhaps far too many nights when this here medium keeps my attention, even if I intend to retire with a good book. Blame it all on bloody YouTube’s related videos bar and its annoyingly irresistible tag, ‘recommended for you’. Last night I was still watching old Queens Park Rangers games from the mid-70s at 3.00am; every time I sat through one Stan Bowles hat-trick scored on a pitch resembling Aintree the day after the Grand National, I spotted another one waiting in line for me. This happens a lot when you’re a night-owl and the allure of old football retains a particular magic absent from today’s excuse for it; at least players then could get on with the game instead of arriving with a shopping-list of causes requiring them to signal their virtue before eventually kicking-off. Ditto even cricket, as I gathered from its return to BBC TV yesterday; perhaps the Beeb only agreed to take the taking-the-knee highlights as the next phase of their plan to re-educate all the ‘Karens’ out there.

However, it is always my aim to end the day with a book, even if I sometimes leave it too late. It was never a problem when my much-missed feline companion dictated the evening schedule; she liked to be in bed by a certain time and she had a habit of staring me out around 2.00am if I was still reading. The unceasing vigilance with which she wore down my resistance simply by sitting beside the nearest lamp and fixing me with a glare that informed me she wanted the lights out never failed to prematurely curtail a chapter; but at least I was aware the earlier I began, the more reading time I’d have. After she passed away, nocturnal discipline became a little lax and I didn’t really get back into the habit of a bedtime book until I purchased a proper bedside lamp.

With my Edwardian bed designed along the lines of those in hospital-based ‘Carry On’ movies, a clip-on lamp seemed the best option. It gave me no excuse not to round off the day with a book and I have tried to break free from Brian Moore introducing one more vintage edition of ‘The Big Match’ at a reasonable hour ever since. Most nights, I manage it. Reading is one of three notable activities that the item of household furniture in question is the ideal location for – and probably the most underrated activity of the three, which is ironic considering it can often be the most rewarding. Last thing at night is the one time of the day that seems tailor-made for reading, when one’s head is cleared in preparation for sleep and there are no external distractions – no phone-calls, nobody ringing the doorbell, and (if lucky) no antisocial neighbours running through their audition for the Ministry of Sound. If there are any background noises, they can be especially selected to enhance the reading experience, perhaps the gentle tick-tock of a clock or maybe a quiet, conducive soundtrack in the distance.

Some – though not me – were fortunate to be told a bedtime story every night as a child, something that can forever associate books with bedtime in the mind thereafter; if spared this lesson, bedtime reading can begin with combing the pages of a comic via undercover torchlight and then inevitably progress to less wholesome ‘reading’ material. If one can make it to an actual book, however, it can prove an invaluable aid to sleep. Indeed, if inducing slumber is a perennial problem, reading before lights-out not only gives one something more stimulating to think about than the routine banal concerns that plague daytime, but it can also accelerate the gradual heaviness of the eyelids better than any sleeping pill. Personally, I tend to find I can surrender to sleep far easier if I’ve been reading before switching the lamp off than if not. And, let’s be honest, with so much shit polluting life ‘out there’ at the moment, what a relief it is to be able to escape into an alternate reality before the Land of Nod, one where none of 2020 is either relevant or even in existence.

Of all the books I’ve read over the past 20 years, the vast majority have been read during this precious window of the day. About six or seven years back, I sedately worked my way through ‘War and Peace’ over a period of around twelve months, and I think every line was digested with my head propped-up by pillows. I do sometimes read a little during the day, but the material is usually of the magazine or newspaper variety; when it comes to a book, it’s so much easier to give it your full attention when in bed. Moreover, as was the case with Tolstoy’s doorstopper, bedtime is the ultimate breathing space in which one can take one’s time; there’s no sense of having to rush or hurry the job up. A couple of pages or perhaps a chapter – it doesn’t matter; there are no deadlines. If a book running to over 1,300 pages takes a year to read in nightly instalments, so be it. Whoever said it had to be read in a month?

I find I switch between literary genres with each book, depending on how long the last one took to read. If I’ve just read a heavyweight novel, the next one will probably be a more lightweight autobiography; after that, I might read a collection of short stories and maybe then another novel and so on. I’m currently at the back end of ‘Boswell’s London Journal, 1762-1763’, the day-to-day jottings of Dr Johnson’s celebrated biographer, and a text that lay undiscovered for almost 200 years until unearthed and published in the 1950s. As with most diaries penned by a gifted writer, it provides a unique and authentic insight into the times in which it was written. This is early Georgian London as seen through the eyes of an alien – Boswell was a Scot at another moment in British history when the Union was going through one of its more fragile phases; the Jacobite Rebellion had only taken place less than 20 years previously and its ramifications were still being felt by Scots south of the border.

Boswell’s journal not only paints the atmosphere of the capital as it was in the early 1760s with wondrous vivacity, but his portrait of a man-about-town hobnobbing with other fascinating characters and occasionally paying the physically painful price for a bit of rough and tumble with a whore makes for a damn good read. Being able to end each day in Georgian London by proxy is certainly a better way to bid farewell to said day than enduring the less engaging place where one actually happens to be; and one can only get that in bed. That other refuge for reading – the lavatory – has its merits, though all can depend on the duration of the bowel movement; not that we all haven’t succumbed to pins & needles if the reading material has proven hard to put down; but magazines that can be snatched in dribs and drabs are more complementary to the toilet library than the book. The book belongs to bedtime.

I used to have a sensible system whereby I never owned a book I hadn’t read. When I finished one and it was time for another, I’d pop to the local Oxfam and nose around the shelves until I found something I fancied. However, in recent years I’ve been bought a lot of books for birthdays and Christmases and am still working my way through the ones I have. I don’t do badly, though; it’s surprising how many books one can read in a year as long as the bedtime routine is upheld. As far as the persistent insomniac with a penchant for extremely late nights goes, it’s the best bedtime routine there is.

© The Editor


Keith Richards once mused on the reasons why an underground sound from the segregated South crossed the Atlantic and spoke to a generation of white war babies better than any other art form in the 50s. His conclusion was that to ‘get the Blues’, one has to have suffered; and ‘thanks to Adolf’, he observed, Britain had suffered. Another Brit who got the Blues was Eric Burdon of The Animals; recalling an early encounter with Nina Simone, he remembered how the incendiary siren accosted him for having the gall to cover one of her numbers and receive more credit for the cover than she did for the original – something she perceived as classic ‘white theft’. Burdon countered her aggression by revealing his knowledge of how she herself had won plaudits for purloining songs penned by obscure bluesmen who were still working on chain-gangs whilst she was filling Carnegie Hall. Astonished that Burdon was aware of this, Simone softened; both realised they had more in common than that which society had weaponised to separate them. Music – like all art – is colour-blind.

One of Nina Simone’s most celebrated – and repeatedly played – recordings is her bombastic 1965 version of ‘Feeling Good’; both her voice and the production give the track a sexy, snazzy swagger that is jazz on a cinematic scale. But it was written by a couple of British white boys – Leslie Bricusse and his songwriting partner of the time, the multi-talented Anthony Newley. Who was culturally appropriating who – Nina Simone for covering a number penned by white songwriters, or white songwriters for writing in a style derived from the musical roots of Black America? Who gives a f**k? It’s a great song and hers is the definitive version. If popular music had adopted a contemporary Identity Politics approach to prevent the cross-fertilization of culture in the 1960s, Motown would have been confined to the ghettoes, and London would have swung to The Beverly Sisters.

When different artistic genres emanating from different cultures bump into each other and then spend the night together, the fruit of the union is often a hybrid that takes art to an exciting new place altogether. It has always been thus. It’s not about one stealing from the other; it’s about coming together and bridging unnecessary divides; realising these divisions are illegitimately imposed by the artless – just as Eric Burdon and Nina Simone recognised when music united them – is a vital bulwark against the preachers of knowing one’s place and not rising above a station one was designated at birth. To not resist is to seal art in stasis and sign its death warrant.

Attempting to enforce a cultural apartheid in which, say, the colour of the artist’s skin places them in individual boxes that they must remain locked in is a regressive restriction concocted by the creatively philistine. To use one of the most chillingly revealing phrases coined of late, the artist must ‘stay in their lane’. Within this Woke approach to art, to even imagine what it must be like to swap skins and perceive the world from the perspective of someone in another box – the ultimate expression of a creatively fertile imagination – is regarded as heresy. Ironic, really, when we’re simultaneously told that in ‘the real world’ a man can inhabit the persona of a woman and has to be accepted as female; but for an artist’s imagination to inhabit the persona of someone from a different cultural slipstream? Cancel!!!

Were I to personally adopt this credo, I could only listen to brass bands and would have to write stories with characters who are all based on myself and are forbidden to venture beyond their hometown. It ironically echoes the very attitude the practitioners of the Woke manual profess to loath – the Victorian approach to imperial rule that frowned upon the kind of mixing with the natives that the Georgian Empire-builders employed in India when they embraced the indigenous culture of the Subcontinent and took Indian wives. This insidious strain of segregation may have captured cultural institutions and media circles – the once-unmissable Radio 4 arts show ‘Front Row’ is now practically unlistenable as a result of its slavish dedication to the cause; but the art itself should be stubbornly immune, with the artist refusing to have their restless curiosity constrained by rules and regulations that have no place in art.

What I find especially concerning when one considers how creativity is suffering such an onslaught is how so few artists with clout – those who have both the financial means and critical respect to place them above blacklisting – are prepared to put their necks on the line and fight this attack. The arts can be perilous from the perspective of ‘making a living’ and it is to a degree understandable that those on the way up are worried of jeopardising their chances of future earnings; but the established have no excuses. One of the few lone voices making a stand is the novelist and columnist Lionel Shriver, a writer I regard as a real kindred spirit. The British-based American author of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ has been subjected to the full vindictive nastiness of the cultural Stasi simply because she has had the guts to challenge its increasingly ludicrous dos and don’ts, a list which is added to on a seemingly daily basis.

Lionel Shriver was stirred into action because the most extreme example of Woke thought-policing at its McCarthy-esque worst can currently be found in the field of literature. Publishers of Young Adult Fiction now employ ‘Sensitivity Readers’ to weed out anything they regard as ‘problematic’ before a book goes to print, basically doing what the Lord Chamberlain used to do back in the days of this country’s theatre censorship. Books from the classical canon have been issued with retrospective trigger warnings, whereas new releases are perused with a fine toothcomb. A couple of months ago, the likes of Oprah Winfrey were falling over themselves to praise ‘American Dirt’ by Jeanine Cummins; the book was lauded as a novel for our times in its story of a mother and her young son fleeing the dangers of Mexico and making an illegal crossing into the US. Guess what happened next.

Well, several fellow authors (who should be ashamed of themselves) took to Twitter to criticise Cummins’ ‘stereotypical’ portrayal of Mexican immigrants; and this wasn’t either professional jealousy or legitimate criticism of the kind that might emerge in a book review; this was a deliberate dig at a novelist whose Irish-Puerto Rican lineage presumably disqualifies her from using her imagination to put herself in the mind of a Mexican – y’know, just like that bigoted old Tolkien pretended to speak on behalf of that notoriously discriminated-against minority, the hobbit. Rather than defending the right of the author to write about what the hell she likes, Cummins’ publisher promptly cancelled a planned book tour in the wake of the latest tedious teacup storm. Great to know the industry is backing the writers it creams a disproportionate chunk of royalties from.

If artists could put their own professional concerns to one side and unite to fight this assault on the one thing that put them where they are, their individual futures would be ensured. As it is, by spinelessly kowtowing to a ruthless movement that will take a mile from every inch conceded to it, they are allowing the school bully to pick on the weakest kid in the class in the misguided belief that they will then be spared a kicking. But this kind of crusade has an appetite that can never be fully quenched, and it will eat up everyone in the end if everyone gives in to it. And if mankind stands by and allows its imagination to be taken away by those who have none, all art – and civilisation with it – is doomed.

© The Editor