A WORLD WITHOUT SUMMER

The Year Without Summer – that’s what they called 1816. Pre-Industrial Europe was in the middle of recovering from the long, lingering impact of the Napoleonic Wars and was then hit by an agricultural disaster, one that was mirrored across parts of North America and China. In Ireland, failed crops sparked famine; in Germany, they sparked riots. Switzerland slid into a deep-freeze whilst India was plunged into an outbreak of cholera as the period known retrospectively as ‘The Little Ice Age’ climaxed in catastrophic fashion. Most of the blame was laid at the door of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies, a dormant volcano that had suddenly sprung into life after a thousand years with the largest observed eruption in recorded history. Lava continued to sport forth for more than eighteen months, dispersing ash into the atmosphere that caused severe climate change, reducing global temperatures and resulting in upwards of an estimated 10,000 deaths worldwide.

The distorted colours of the sulphuric skies that Tambora’s eruption caused are believed to have inspired the distinctive smudgy shades of JMW Turner’s paintings as well as creating the apocalyptic ambience that provoked 18-year-old Mary Shelley into penning ‘Frankenstein’ when holidaying with Percy Bysshe and Lord Byron on the gloomy fringes of Lake Geneva that non-summer. Whilst such a baleful location may have suited Gothic sensibilities, no doubt there were many who perceived the dramatic alteration in the climate as a sign of God’s displeasure with mankind. Mind you, God generally lets mankind get away with a hell of a lot before he can be arsed intervening.

200 years on from that remarkable climatic event, humble little me wrote a post called ‘Something in the Air’; take a look – it’s still there. In it, I commented on a pessimistic malaise that seemed to have settled upon the world, something that was manifested via a variety of dismal news stories, the impact of which was possibly exacerbated by the instant ping of social media. Coupled with very personal crises friends of mine were simultaneously undergoing at the time of writing, it felt as though the external and internal were bleeding into one overwhelming weight on the shoulders of numerous generations inhabiting the here and now. A year or so on from that particular post, it would be nice to come to the conclusion that this was a piece of reportage chronicling a moment of madness, a missive from the dark that preceded a dawn we happily reside in as 2017 careers towards its climax. Oops!

In a couple of days, this blog will have been in existence for two years. As a writer, I couldn’t have wished for more eventful times to have been documenting on a near-daily basis. Since the inaugural post on 6 December 2015, I’ve been able to comment upon the rise of Donald Trump and the Alt-Right as well as his loud opponents on the left and those in North Korea. When I began, we were barely six months into a Conservative Government released from the constricting shackles of Coalition, yet six months into the blog David Cameron had lost an ill-advised gamble (and his job) by leading the country into a chaotic state of uncertainty it has yet to recover from. One more indecisive General Election and one more ineffective Prime Minister later, Brexit remains the ultimate barometer of division as neither Remainer/Remoaner nor Brexiteer are happy with what Government is doing in their name. And this Whitehall farce seems set to run and run well into 2018.

Of course, it is the raison d’être of online news outlets to focus on the horrible with sensationalistic relish, just as it remains so for the traditional print and cathode-ray mediums that predate them, regardless of the ‘and finally’ solace at the end of the carnage. The public wants what the public gets, as Paul Weller said almost 40 years ago (I know; it’s scary); a YT video I produced in 2014 took that line as its title whilst a catalogue of contemporary images accompanied the theme tune from the distant childhood adventures of Teddy Edward.

One of these images was of a couple kissing, under which a caption announced ‘This is Rape’. Far be it from me to adopt the guise of a twenty-first century Nostradamus, but this particular statement is suddenly relevant courtesy of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, whose latest Tweet is as good a reason as any why law-enforcers should steer clear of social media and concentrate on solving genuine bloody crimes. According to a now-deleted Tweet that has nevertheless been posthumously seized upon by the Daily Telegraph, kissing a lady under the mistletoe (something that apparently still occurs) is classified as ‘rape’ unless consent is first acquired. Say no more, twenty-seven-f**king-teen.

I don’t know what’s going on any more than you do. It’s insane, and I don’t know how we got here, let alone how we get out of it. I poke fun at it with a sardonic eye, but I’m well aware I’m just pissing in the wind, satirically fiddling as our rotten Rome burns. Over a year on from ‘Something in the Air’, the fog hasn’t cleared and people who matter to me – good people who don’t deserve the shit they’re having to deal with – are even worse off now than they were then. I try to be a tower of strength to them, but I often feel a bit of a hypocrite ‘cause I know deep down I’m as f**ked-up as they are. I could be bold and declare I start most days struggling to come up with a reason to keep buggering on and end most days unconvinced that I found one; but my ego likes to think I make a difference, so I stick around.

Simon le Bon was once ripped to shreds for carelessly describing Duran Duran as the band to dance to when the bomb drops, but part of me knows what he meant. We may be almost four decades on from a throwaway comment made in the heat of early 80s Cold War paranoia; but if this is the blog that people read before they take a leap into the unknown from Beachy Head, so be it. As long as I’m here, I’ll KBO and I’ll love a select few as I do so because they make life worth living. And I’ll still be here when you switch on tomorrow, for good or ill.

© The Editor

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THE WORLD WON’T LISTEN

Forty years ago, the most damaging verbal assault one could make upon the establishment was to say ‘God save the Queen/she ain’t no human being’; today, simply express reservations over Islam as a ‘religion of peace’ and give the thumbs-up to Brexit. To do so will earn you the same vitriolic condemnation from the establishment and expose you to an identical level of censorship. The main difference now is that the establishment is young and the dissenting voices are old. This upside-down reversal of battle lines has been a long, protracted process, building up over a generation spoon-fed a saccharine soundtrack by the Cowell industry and further sedated by social media. A consensus unquestioned and unchallenged, whether through fear of online ostracism or being lumped in with genuine extremist groups, has stifled debate amongst the young and left those with nothing to lose or prove as the only ones prepared to go against the grain. That these tend to be veterans whose key cultural contributions were made decades ago speaks volumes as to where we are now.

A couple of years back, Chrissie Hynde – feted as an embodiment of ‘Rock Chick Cool’ by a generation judging everything on a pose – spurned her unwanted canonisation by those young enough to be her daughters. She provoked Feminazi outrage with the publication of her autobiography by simply suggesting a little common sense be applied where young women on the town are concerned; and now her near-contemporary Morrissey has fired another contentious missive from his self-imposed exile across the pond, the latest in a long line of them that have served to keep his profile high as his music continues to languish in the same cul-de-sac it’s occupied since the early 90s.

Stephen has always revelled in his contrariness, memorably proclaiming ‘The Wild Boys’ by Duran Duran Single of the Week in ‘Smash Hits’ back in 1984 when he would have been expected to favour some jangly Indie ditty; and whilst he was critical of Thatcherism during its heyday, his loathing never seemed to be a convenient hitch on a fashionable bandwagon in the way it was for many members of his generation, most of whom were later happy to cheerlead for New Labour as they collected their MBEs and Knighthoods. Ben Elton never said he enjoyed the sight of Norman Tebbit being pulled from the wreckage of the Brighton Bombing, for example.

When he was lumbered with the ‘National Treasure’ albatross a decade or so ago, lionised by the likes of JK Rowling, one had the constant suspicion that such plaudits were sitting uncomfortably on his shoulders; his one-time musical soul-mate Johnny Marr publicly expressed he didn’t want David Cameron declaring ‘The Queen is Dead’ to be his favourite album, whereas Morrissey went even further in the eyes of those suddenly singing his praises by taking a big juicy chunk out of the hand that was feeding him. Should anyone have really been surprised, though? This is a man who had called Reggae ‘vile’ and ‘racist’ in the 80s and who was castigated for flaunting the Union Jack at a gig in 1992 by the same music scribes who eulogised Oasis (and Noel Gallagher’s Union Jack guitar) a couple of years later.

Unlike Paul Weller, Morrissey never embraced a particular political party, let alone a specific left or right ideology. He appeared to be above all that and, like Orwell before him, refrained from nailing his colours to the mast. Whichever stance was flavour of the month, he seemed to instinctively adopt the opposite position, and I feel his much-publicised sound-bite support for UKIP was born of the same mischievous motivation rather than a wholesale conversion to Nigel’s Barmy Army. It was just another antagonistic jacket for him to don as a means of getting up the noses of those who were patting him on the head for still being alive.

Yes, it’s true that certain wordsmiths sharing a lineage with Morrissey, such as Philip Larkin or Iris Murdoch, lurched further to the right as they aged; and one could look upon Morrissey’s opinions as belonging to the same process. On the other hand, one could view his refusal to kowtow to the consensus as another example of how his lifelong bloody-mindedness is still intact, even in the face of overwhelming pressure to conform. The furore unleashed by Morrissey’s most recent statements has provoked the kind of demands for his head on a plate that used to accompany similarly provocative comments by those half his age – in short, the kind of reaction rock stars traditionally inspired in the old. What makes today so strange is that it is the old now outraging the young instead of the other way round.

One could equally argue that without his occasional rent-a-gob quotes, Morrissey would still largely be confined to a relatively brief moment in the 80s when he represented an alternative zeitgeist to the prevailing big hair and even bigger shoulder pads that lazy revisionists evoke to sum up the whole era for those who weren’t there. At the same time, however, he no longer has to worry about the kind of career suicide such quotes would threaten twenty-something musicians with; he knows his hardcore devotees will continue to buy his output as they always have, regardless of whether or not their hero is fashionable again. If the mainstream decides it wants him, fair enough; if it doesn’t, he couldn’t care less.

With 35 years of recording behind him, Morrissey has the luxury of being able to afford nonchalance, but those thirty or forty years his junior don’t; they have to conform or they risk losing everything. At a moment when Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are cracking down on any alternatives to the accepted design for life, dissenting voices are being silenced by a ruling class that don’t want democratic debate; they want us all to think and speak the same language. It doesn’t matter what one’s actual political ideology is; we should all be allowed to express it, even if it isn’t one that everybody wants to hear. Otherwise, we’re back to burning books. And it says everything you need to know about 2017 that the only person getting the arbiters of taste frothing at the mouth is someone who arguably hasn’t been relevant for three bloody decades.

© The Editor

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ASHES TO ASHTRAYS

Authority, pomposity, hypocrisy – what I consider to be the key trio of perfectly valid targets to satirise, and the ones I persistently aim at via my YouTube video sideline; if anyone ever takes umbrage because I’ve somehow gone where no so-called ‘comedian’ on TV dares to go in these sensitive days, that’s a fault in them, not me. I don’t claim to be breaking new ground, nor do I believe I’m doing anything that wasn’t once commonplace. Maybe my stuff only appears risqué because the alternative today is so lame, having had the fire in its belly dampened by committees, focus groups and the overwhelming craving not to offend. ‘Offensive comedy’ was once the province of deliberately belligerent comics like Bernard Manning, but now any comedy that fails to adhere to the unwritten rules of what can and can’t be said is placed in the Manning or (even worse) Chubby Brown bracket.

Comedy on television used to be rather fearless and now it’s fearfully toothless – as are the broadcasters who don’t want to be battered by a Twitter storm so therefore play it safe with Michael McIntyre for the mums and dads, whilst panel shows do likewise for the kids with their virtue-signalling stand-ups. It’s a pity this is the state of affairs we’ve fallen into because there’s such an abundance of targets asking for it today, yet we’re somehow ‘not allowed’ to poke fun at them. Bollocks to that. Did Chaplin relent from satirising Hitler in ‘The Great Dictator’ at a time when the US hadn’t entered WWII and was still trying not to be beastly to the Germans? No, he didn’t. Why should we be so bloody cautious almost 80 years later?

Of course, there are always politicians, and politicians are an absolute gift to a satirist – they fulfil the criteria re the trio named and shamed at the beginning of this post and always have, bringing out the best in everyone from Swift to ‘Spitting Image’; but even then there are rules as to which of them we’re allowed to ridicule. White male Tory – fine; black female Labour – ooh, racist and misogynistic. No-go. Yet Diane Abbott offers up so many open goals, how can anyone resist? There’s no need to descend to the lazy online level of simian-based insults (which those who use them are too stupid to realise gives her additional ammunition); Abbott is such a Grade-A car-crash every time she opens her mouth that it only takes a little imagination to nail her.

In this week’s strange climate, the lines one can cross have been reinforced with renewed mortification, beginning with the outrage over Michael Gove’s Weinstein joke – which he, naturally, had to apologise for. It ends with Harriet Harman, the high-priestess of po-faced Political Correctness for the last twenty-odd years, exposing the double standards inherent in her agenda on live television as she shared the sofa with Michael Portillo on ‘This Week’. Quoting a rag-mag gag from her student days, Harperson highlighted her smug arrogance in assuming Andrew Neil wouldn’t take offence at a blatantly anti-Semitic joke before she told it. There’s no real need to recite it, as it’s all over Twitter and YT already; but had the joke been about black people, Muslims, women or ‘The LGBT Community’ (as Owen Jones likes to call it, as though it’s a stop on his bus route) and had been told by a Tory, Harman would have headed the queue demanding an apology, a resignation and a public execution.

The context in which Harperson told the joke was, ironically, a discussion on the subject of what can and can’t be joked about, but it backfired on her spectacularly. One could be generous and suggest Harman was simply stupid in telling it, though I think it’s more likely she didn’t regard its potential offensiveness as being on a par with Michael Fallon once touching Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee. It’s interesting that the main offence taken by the Labour side on social media was the fact that Andrew Neil then told his guest to shut up. What a sexist bastard! But a party whose leader has hung out with Hamas and then conducted a belated investigation into its anti-Semitic elements (the main outcome of which appeared to be Shami Chakrabarti’s elevation to the House of Lords) evidently doesn’t regard Jews as being in the same ‘worthy victim’ category as the rest of its pets. Mind you, there are so many Labour seats in the midlands and north of England dependent on the Muslim vote that it’s no real surprise.

One overlooked aspect of this week’s Westminster sex frenzy has been the contrast between the allegations levelled at politicians from both sides of the House. The Tory stories in the main seem to be ‘Carry On Conservative Party’, whereas the Labour members to have had fingers pointed in their direction sound far more serious. Only today, the party has suspended Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins pending an investigation into his conduct towards a young activist two years ago. It goes without saying that we haven’t heard every allegation yet and there could well be one or two alleged rapes emanating from the Tory camp as well; but, as ever, glass houses remain vulnerable to those a little too eager to throw stones at their neighbours.

Anyway, time for a commercial break…

© The Editor

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HANDS, KNEES AND BOOMPS-A-DAISY

Unfortunately, it’s one of the recurring stories of our times and one that it becomes increasingly difficult to say something new about whenever it rears its ugly head; once again, the headlines keep us in a state of permanent déjà-vu and the seriousness of the crime is almost diminished through terrible repetition. Sadly, we’re back where we’ve been so many times before, but there’s no way it can be avoided; the grim truth demands our attention. Yes, Damian Green allegedly touched a woman’s knee.

In other news, New York experienced a major terror incident when a Jihadist drove a van onto the sidewalk and ploughed down pedestrians and cyclists alike, killing eight of them before being apprehended. Miraculously, he wasn’t shot dead by cops and survives to face the music, though the biggest concern for some is inevitably not the bodies cluttering up Manhattan’s pavements but an anticipated upsurge in ‘Islamophobia’. Anyway, enough of that trivial little domestic business across the pond. Onto more serious matters.

The journalist and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer claimed Defence Secretary Michael Fallon once touched her knee and she made it clear in no uncertain terms what she would do to him if his hand came into contact with said body part again. Fallon withdrew. Fallon is someone who previously edged Philip Hammond in the contest to decide the dullest member of the Cabinet, yet this moment of indiscretion has suddenly and remarkably made the grey man moderately interesting. I doubt few of us would have been surprised had Boris stood accused of such a dastardly deed, but Michael Fallon? Lock up your daughters, especially if they happen to be young party activists; just ask Labour.

It’s interesting that a professional political class which has unquestionably supported DPP Alison Saunders’ cynical crusade to up the rape conviction statistics by broadening the legal definition of sexual assault is now being confronted by the ramifications of this support. The Saunders approach is all fine and dandy if some pleb has the finger of suspicion aimed at him, but the problem with legal definitions is that they’re supposed to be egalitarian and don’t distinguish between class, wealth and social standing. Granted, the ruthless cuts to legal aid have severely limited Joe Public’s ability to defend himself when confronted by an allegation of a sexual nature, but those whose incomes can feather the most exclusive law firm nests probably never imagined they’d be placed in a situation where they’d have to deal with the grim reality of everything they failed to challenge the wisdom of.

William Hague urged caution on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ this morning when it comes to believing the authenticity of every allegation aimed at a public figure, though I don’t remember similar caution being advised by Westminster when the Yewtree witch-hunt was rounding up showbiz stalwarts from the 70s and 80s; back then, the ‘I believe her’ mantra was being recited from every political platform. Operation Midland attracted more criticism in that its targets weren’t quite as irrelevant as Yewtree’s hapless has-beens, though despite a grovelling after-the-event apology from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe as the outgoing Met Chief sought to cover his back, the damage done to the likes of Harvey Proctor remains a shameful example of what can happen when the powers-that-be allow our police force to be politicised by an inherently merciless and perennially unsatisfied agenda.

The sudden downfall of a liberal left Hollywood darling like Kevin Spacey shows how when the ‘I believe her’ (or in Spacey’s case, ‘him’) rule is applied to everyone rather than a select few, it’s actually not very nice at all. Holding up a placard or wearing a T-shirt bearing a nifty hash-tag slogan is easy when you imagine you’re above the net being cast; when that net is widened and you risk being entangled in it, the experience of thousands of nonentities denied your privileges is brought into extremely sharp focus as the irresponsible gamble of not questioning the placing of a clumsy pass on a level playing field with a brutal rape is writ horrifyingly large. The system that has promoted and repeatedly failed to challenge this fallacy can eject its favoured sons without a second thought if it means the whole system risks being tarnished with the same unsavoury accusations. There must be a lot of leading men in Tinsel Town consulting their lawyers at the moment.

When OJ Simpson was on trial for the murder of his ex-wife way back in 1994/95, the defence shrewdly played the race card, garnering wide African-American support in the process as focus shifted away from the actual crime itself and onto the broader subject of US race relations; their client was rewarded by walking away from court a free man, hailed as the victim of the trial as opposed to the cause of it. One cannot but wonder if Bill Cosby had been accused of murder rather than rape that the voices noticeably silenced in their support for one of the entertainment industry’s great black pioneers might have been heard in a way they weren’t as, one-by-one, women came forward to accuse him whilst the system that had celebrated him for decades denounced him.

The ruling elite have sat back and allowed this state of affairs to develop unchecked for a long time because they imagined they were immune to it. In their desperate search for votes and eagerness to be seen endorsing various pseudo-‘liberal’ causes, they have gleefully given the thumbs-up to dubious moral movements without reading the small print; and now they are finally paying the price for their stupidity. Well, more fool them. I should imagine many little men rotting away in a prison cell on the strength of an allegation propelled towards a guilty verdict via a climate fully endorsed by the political class will be short on sympathy; and who could blame them?

© The Editor

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STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF

Ooh, where to start? A weekend of finger-pointing and retrospective accusations as summer’s ‘silly season’ is extended into the autumn has left me spoilt for choice when attempting to document the insane landscape we inadvertently inhabit. It began with that Hollywood PR exercise masquerading as a BBC TV chat-show presented by Graham Norton. Adam Sandler, one of those actors whose career provokes the question – ‘What the f**k have you ever done?’ – appeared alongside Emma ‘Miss Jean Brodie’ Thompson and actress Claire Foy, apparently placing his hand on the knee of the latter throughout the ‘interview’, something that provoked frothing-at-the-mouth hysteria on Twitter. A friend then sent me a leaked video of unknown origin in which another superstar of similar charisma – Ben Affleck – was mauling an MTV-style interviewer of Eastern European accent as she sat on his lap, a clip that climaxed with Affleck’s impersonation of a ‘spaz’. Suffice to say, he came across as an arrogant slimeball, albeit one that Tinsel Town’s system positively encourages. See also Harvey Weinstein.

This was followed by the dubious exposure of an online ‘closed group’ of ladies gossiping about various Westminster stalwarts that it’s best to avoid sharing a lift or taxi with. Lecherous old MPs groping young lobbyists, secretaries and PR trainees young enough to be their daughters? Jesus! Who knew? Call Mr Profumo! It’s not exactly Cecil Parkinson impregnating his secretary, but it’s what passes for a political sex scandal in 2017; hot on the heels of Jared O’Mara being suspended by the Labour Party following the publication of comments he made 15 years ago, we need to be vigilant, sex toys and ‘Sugar Tits’ pet-names not permitting.

Then we were told the actor who plays Todd Grimshaw on ‘Coronation Street’, the soap’s first openly gay character (currently in a relationship with a rather wet vicar on the show), has been shown the same exit door that illustrious predecessors such as Peter ‘Len Fairclough’ Adamson were shown for more serious crimes in more innocent times. Bruno ‘Todd Grimshaw’ Langley’s own crime was allegedly sexually assaulting a young lady in a Manchester night-club, though he received his cards before the allegation became a charge, suggesting the powers-that-be at Granada were waiting for an excuse to boot him out, anyway. This revelation broke more or less simultaneously with the news that a Five Live broadcaster has also been suspended on the basis of allegations he was guilty of letting his fingers do the walking where his female colleagues were concerned.

And we round off this supremely silly weekend with the convenient full-circle headline of another member of the Hollywood Royal Family being accused of a foul deed in the dim ‘n’ distant past. This time, it was the turn of none other than Kevin Spacey – someone whose off-screen activities have evaded my own personal ‘gaydar’; Spacey pre-empted an allegation of inappropriate behaviour with an underage actor in the 80s by belatedly coming out. Spacey is someone whose career has largely consisted of commendable efforts on celluloid (unlike Ben Affleck) and also included a stint as guv’nor of the Old Vic in London. Curiously, considering how ‘right-on’ the ruling elite of Hollywood are, they still have a problem with out-and-proud actors, casting resolutely straight leading men as gay characters in the likes of ‘Philadelphia’ and ‘Milk’, whereas we in Blighty have a lengthy list of gay Lord and Lady thespians, even if they tend to play it straight when cast in California.

So, what conclusions do we draw from several days of post-Weinstein allegations and accusations? Well, in the case of Ben Affleck, irrefutable evidence that he’s a bit of a prick is out there in cyberspace, so anything unsavoury levelled against him has pretty solid proof to go on re how he behaves in the company of young women. Kevin Spacey’s conduct is slightly different in that it took place before the days when everything was recorded and documented online, yet he’s still been forced into belatedly admitting his bedroom preferences courtesy of the imminent media storm. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe whatever men or women get up to behind closed doors is their own business and has no relevance to their profession unless they choose to be defined by it; personally, I don’t care if Kevin Spacey is gay or straight, but it evidently matters to media whores deprived of genuine scandal, so Spacey bows to their God-given authority before they exercise it.

Five years on from the tsunami of allegations triggered by the despicable Mark Williams Thomas’s ‘Exposure’ hatchet-job on Jimmy Savile – which served as a handy smokescreen to obscure the genuine outrage of Rotherham and Rochdale – we appear to have reached a point whereby any authentic act of deplorable misogyny aimed at the opposite sex by the male of the species has been overshadowed by the abuse of descriptive terms for actual assault, applied as they are with cavalier nonchalance to clumsy attempts at seduction, making men believe that any move on their part will be labelled ‘rape’. Perhaps it’s laying the ground for western women to adopt the burqa as a modern-day secular chastity belt, duped into the illusion of emancipation by the propaganda. Who knows? We are the dead, as someone once said. But maybe there’s life after death after all. Fingers crossed!

© The Editor

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ARCHITECTURE AND MORALITY

When the Palace of Westminster went up in flames on 16 October 1834, spawning the kind of dramatic blaze the capital hadn’t witnessed since the Great Fire of 1666, the crowds that gathered cheered as the medieval royal residence was swallowed up by the inferno; their numbers were so great they even hindered the efforts of the London Fire Engine Establishment to put out the fire, though the eleventh century splendour of Westminster Hall was mercifully saved. Were the same kind of event to occur to the architectural masterpiece that superseded the old building today, it’s feasible to suggest a similar reaction from onlookers would greet the sight. It’s impossible to separate the Palace of Westminster from its function, and that function is so despised by so many that its aesthetic prestige as perhaps the apex of Victorian Gothic architecture is secondary to what it represents.

We’ve been hearing for a long time that the building is in a dire state of disrepair, but the odd slab of crumbling stonework falling onto an MPs car is merely the tip of the iceberg. Deep in the bowels of the Palace, basements reliant on decaying nineteenth century pipe-work keeping the Thames at bay are in permanent danger of being awash with sewage. Bearing in mind what became of the Palace’s predecessor, fire is another constant source of worry, though warnings over potential disasters have fallen on deaf ears for decades because, again, of what the building represents. It has been the epicentre of British political power for almost 200 years, and its residents are reluctant to vacate it for fear that their power will be diminished, deprived of the symbolic iconography Barry and Pugin’s awesome creation radiates.

Maintenance is largely a rush job dipped in and out of during Parliamentary recess periods, but it’s a case of papering over cracks rather than giving the grand old lady the comprehensive facelift she desperately requires. It seems the Commons and Lords would have to move out for at least a couple of years if this was to be achieved, yet resistance from those for whom the Palace is a workplace is hindering such a plan. The cost of a full repair is never anything less than astronomical on paper, and MPs are concerned that their constituents will not look favourably upon them if they agree to avoid cutting corners and go for the whole restoration, regardless of the price. They’ve evidently not realised their constituents don’t look favourably upon them as it is.

There are many who say the degeneration of the Palace of Westminster can be viewed as a metaphor for the state of British politics and its sloth-like capacity for changing with the times. Some advocate a whole-scale evacuation of the location and – inevitably – a move to the sort of bland glass cathedral that litters every metropolis in England because that will allegedly encourage a less elite approach to politics, as if the Palace of Westminster not resembling a nondescript modern office block is somehow so intimidating that it stifles progression, viewed almost as an aid to eternal filibustering.

It goes without saying that London-phobic professional northerners reckon a temporary replacement should be situated in (yawn) Manchester; after all, the BBC’s relocation to Swinging Salford has immeasurably improved the Corporation’s output. But these suggestions are simply another factor in a debate that has dragged on without resolution for years, the political equivalent of a couch potato intending to clamber off the sofa and head for the loo before he pisses his pants, yet forever putting it off.

The agony recently expressed by some Honourable Members over the fact that Big Ben’s bongs are to be silenced for repair work perhaps emphasises the Westminster mindset that is incomprehensible to outsiders; this can be extended to the Palace of Westminster itself, generating a cynical response to any concerns for the condition of the building, once more seeing it as a symbol of a system that maintains the cosseted lifestyles of the powers-that-be rather than one of the nineteenth century’s great contributions to the London skyline. Of course, this is unavoidable; the Palace of Westminster was designed for a specific purpose, and that purpose experiences perennial crises when those entrusted to serve the nation appear more interested in serving themselves. It is also redolent of archaic imperial grandeur at a moment in this country’s history when such a thing couldn’t be more unfashionable; the capital is already swamped with ghastly Dubai skyscrapers courtesy of Ken and Boris cosying-up to property developers, so why not add another to house Parliament?

Words such as ‘heritage’ and ‘history’ are seemingly fine to evoke whenever there’s a royal occasion that enables the nation’s drones to enjoy a day-off from the grind of cold-calling; apply it anywhere else and you’re in deep water. From silly sods in the Grauniad calling for the demolition of Nelson’s Column because our greatest naval hero was a ‘white supremacist’ to scholars demanding our leading universities remove the majority of the country’s finest novelists from the academic syllabus for the unforgivable crime of being male and white, we currently appear to be at a cultural crossroads whereby we’re in danger of eradicating everything that made us who we are.

Architecture is as crucial to this under-fire identity as the written word, and if we’re not careful we’ll eventually end up living in a hideous parody of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, where nothing has a vintage of longer than a decade and those who are oppressed today will still be oppressed tomorrow, regardless of how they mistakenly believe replacing something old with something superficially new will somehow change ‘hearts and minds’.

© The Editor

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ALAS, POOR LAVINIA

It’s easy to forget now, but there was a time in the middle of the 1980s when all the artistic gains made in the name of 60s and 70s libertinism seemed in peril; we were on the cusp of a potential rewind back to the censorious era of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office and the Hays Code. Channel 4, which has made its early 80s name as a fearless purveyor of ‘anything goes in the name of Art’, was a frontrunner in this sudden and abrupt reversal of attitudes when it introduced its red triangle season of films circa 1986. These were movies that nowadays wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) provoke outrage, but at the time appeared shocking even by the easygoing standards of a TV station that had promoted the brief usage of an expletive such as ‘frigging’ in a primetime soap opera (‘Brookside’). The fact that characters on soaps are generally the only people in Britain who never swear was something ‘Brookside’ momentarily challenged until it became as blandly unrealistic as the rest of them.

Channel 4’s red triangle season featured TV premieres for the likes of Derek Jarman’s Romanesque gay fantasy, ‘Sebastiane’, as well as Dennis Hopper’s ‘Out of the Blue’; for those who weren’t around, the red triangle in question would be a permanent fixture in the top left of the TV screen whilst the movie aired, which allegedly served as an early warning system for the unsuspecting viewer who might switch over from something less contentious on ITV or BBC1. Most of the films screened as part of the short-lived season weren’t that different in content from what had already been shown on Channel 4 – it had premiered the infamous Sex Pistols movie, ‘The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’, in 1985, for example; but the bizarre season can be seen in retrospect as a concession to the great moral backlash of the late Thatcher era, which also included Clause 28.

Back then, most of us watching thought that such unnecessary caution would be redundant by the time we reached the twenty-first century; we didn’t bank on our contemporaries raising children with so many layers of cotton wool wrapped around them that coming into contact with the classics by the time they reached university age would necessitate a revival of the same red triangle approach that Channel 4 had pioneered in the middle of the 80s. Lo and behold, however, the loathsome ‘trigger warnings’ have now even crept upon the works of one of England’s most revered wordsmiths like the kneejerk reorganization of the BBFC rules and regulations in the wake of the ‘Video Nasty’ moral panic of 35 years ago.

Apparently, students at Cambridge have been warned that certain masterpieces penned by an obscure playwright, name of William Shakespeare, might upset them; yes, the English lecture timetables have been marked with trigger warnings that take the shape of Ye Olde red triangle with accompanying exclamation marks. One play in particular has been singled out as specifically gory – and to be honest, it does read like the plot of an archetypal 80s Video Nasty in that a major female character is raped and then has her arms amputated by her rapists as well as having her tongue cut out.

Admittedly, ‘Titus Andronicus’ is a bit of a gore-fest, though is also one of the Bard’s most invigorating works, one in which the sibling perpetrators of the crime in question receive their just desserts by being baked in a pie that is then eaten by their mother. Elizabethan audiences were seemingly less squeamish than their equivalents 400 years later, perhaps because they didn’t question the eye-for-an-eye morality that was just as evident in the nursery rhymes they’d been raised on.

In defence, Cambridge University has claimed that such warnings are ‘at the lecturer’s own discretion’ and ‘not a faculty-wide policy’, though at the same time the esteemed academic establishment has admitted that ‘Any session containing material that could be deemed upsetting (and is not obvious from the title) is now marked with a symbol’. A representative from Derby University, Professor Dennis Hayes, commented ‘Once you get a few trigger warnings, lecturers will stop presenting anything that is controversial…gradually, there is no critical discussion.’ Critical discussion, for centuries a hallmark of university life, is now something to be avoided for fear of contaminating safe spaces. The impression given that universities today are akin to nurseries for mollycoddled adolescents who shirk from anything that contradicts the world as presented to them in infancy is hard to shake off when confronted by such ludicrous censorship; and if Shakespeare is fair game for the no-platform treatment, we really are f**ked.

The kind of guidelines familiar on the sleeves of DVDs now apparently apply to plays as well; if a sensitive seventeen-year-old objects to the content of something written by Shakespeare – and even the fastidious middle-aged Festival of Light brigade let the Bard off in the licentious 70s – chances are others will feel the need to be protected from centuries-old content that is hardly comparable to the kind of ‘adult’ material they’ve probably routinely scanned online. That ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ has been removed from some US school syllabuses on account of it being ‘uncomfortable’ is a classic example of illiterate idiots taking over the asylum; as some wag on Twitter pointed out in relation to the ‘uncomfortable’ factor in Harper Lee’s modern classic, ‘that’s the point’; but if even Shakespeare is targeted in this revisionist facelift, anybody seeking to say something about the here and now has no chance.

What that says about the world we live in, a world wherein British policemen are sent out wearing nail varnish to virtue-signal their stance against modern slavery when they’re in a better position to stamp out the practice than the rest of us, is profoundly depressing. But this be 2017 in the septic isle.

© The Editor

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DR. DIVERSITY’S CASEBOOK

Although I haven’t broadcasted it on here before, around two months ago I belatedly bowed to financial pressures and switched from smoking to vaping. My opinions on the rights of, and discrimination against, smokers haven’t altered; the decision wasn’t anything to do with me meekly surrendering to the fanatical anti-tobacco lobby, an admission that they were right and I was wrong all along; the simple fact is I couldn’t afford it anymore. The rising cost of a packet of fags – £10.50 for 20, last time I looked – hasn’t been in line with the price of everything else for a long time. The fact that, depending in which supermarket you shop, you can buy three bottles of wine for the same price as 20 cigarettes will cost you speaks volumes; and the drain on my finances was too much to sustain, so I stubbed out my final fag in August.

It helped that I instantly liked vaping and, as if to emphasise this, I still have a packet of Superkings containing four remaining fags that hasn’t been touched since the day I received my first e-cigarette; after almost 30 years of smoking between 30-40 cigs a day, I suppose that’s not bad going, and I can honestly say I don’t miss it at all. If the buzz from the drag is the key hook of the smoking process, I can get just the same nicotine hit from vaping and replicate the former gesture at a fraction of the cost. The vapours don’t linger in the room, they don’t discolour the fixtures and fittings, they don’t coat my clothes in a permanent odour, and they don’t dissuade non-smoking visitors anymore.

Immunity to the smell of cigarettes was a consequence of smoking them; only since I stopped have I become aware of it. It’s still entombed in my wardrobe because there are a lot of items on the coat-hangers there that haven’t been washed or worn since I ceased; but it’s amazing how strong the smell is on others now. When out and about, I can detect a cig from quite a distance, long before I see someone smoking it; and it’s remarkable how everyone I see with a fag hanging out of their mouth seems to be the most slovenly, scruffy slob imaginable; the archaic images of Marlene Dietrich or Lauren Bacall using cigarettes as a crucial element of their effortlessly cool personas aren’t being matched by the smokers I’m seeing. By contrast, the e-cigarette is a rather sexy, stylish object and, frankly, superior in all respects.

Not that the proven health (and financial) benefits of vaping deter the tobacco prohibitionists, who see it not as an escape route from smoking but as a gateway to the practice, the fools; the same limitations on ordinary cigarettes have been unfairly superimposed onto the e-cigarette, and I’m wondering when I’ll encounter opposition to it from the medical profession. I say this because the first time I remember being singled out by a GP for smoking was in the early 90s. I can’t remember the reason for being at the surgery, but I recall the doctor asking me if I smoked; when he received a reply in the affirmative, he placed a little sticker on the front of my file, which he presumably did for all smokers. Perhaps afterwards my file was slotted in a drawer along with the rest of his smoking patients, segregated from the non-smokers and downgraded in the case of an emergency when a choice might have to be made between the two groups.

Back then, it felt like a bit of an intrusion into my privacy, though smoking as heavily as I did was obviously a health risk, and I can understand to an extent that it would probably be in a GP’s remit to hint at what I already knew – i.e. smoking wasn’t good for me. What if it went further than that, though, into private areas that (unless the visit to the surgery was related to one’s ‘rude bits’) have no relation to one’s health in the same way? New NHS guidelines apparently imminent mean that health professionals will now be obliged to ask patients over-16 what their sexual orientation happens to be. It’s both a further extension of the nanny state’s nosy neighbour tendencies and the latest chapter in the ongoing ‘diversity’ agenda that has swept through every public body of late to seemingly appease a very small section of society with a very loud voice.

Doctors and nurses will now be recommended to inquire as to a patient’s sexual orientation at ‘every face-to-face contact with the patient, where no record of this data already exists’; what is horribly referred to as ‘sexual monitoring’ will be mandatory in England and Wales by 2019. Patients will be asked ‘Which of the following options best describes how you think of yourself – straight/gay or lesbian/bisexual/other sexual orientation’; presumably, the ‘other’ is paedophile or zoophile? Might I suggest an additional response on the part of the patient – ‘Mind your own f**king business’.

Thankfully, Dr Peter Swinyard, Chairman of the Family Doctor Association, was not impressed; in his opinion, the new guidelines were ‘potentially intrusive and offensive’, adding ‘Given the precious short amount of time a GP has with a patient, sexuality is not relevant’, rightly pointing out that sexual choice affected ‘relatively few medical conditions’. On the other hand, Paul Martin, chief executive of Manchester’s LGBT Foundation, says he is ‘so proud’ of the intrusion into patient’s private lives. His organisation has pushed for ‘sexual monitoring’, as it views the change as some kind of step forward to address perceived medical inequalities for those happy to be defined by the LGBT pigeonhole. Those patients who don’t want to disclose their sexual preferences – and why indeed should they? – will be placed in the ‘not stated’ category.

This compliance with the Equality Act 2010 by the medical profession is allegedly intended to ensure no patient is discriminated against; but if someone’s sexuality isn’t advertised on their file, no rush to judgement based upon it by a doctor who might hold prejudicial views can then be made – and doesn’t that make all patients equal? A doctor’s role is to treat whatever is wrong with the patient; a doctor doesn’t need further unnecessary data that bears no relation to the patient’s presence in their surgery – unless the patient smokes or vapes, of course; and then they deserve all the stickers their files can handle.

© The Editor

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EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES

Better watch what you say in your comments today – disagree with me and I’ll be on the Hate Crime Hotline to PC PC; I’ll have you done for Petuniaphobia, and going by the new guidelines outlined by the Old Bill and their comrades-in-compassion the Clown Prosecution Service, anything can be interpreted as online abuse. Much as some find ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ the funniest thing since sliced Del Boys whilst others would rather be trapped in a lift with Kelvin McKenzie than watch it, definitions of what constitutes a cyber Hate Crime are subjective. Latest statistics reveal the CPS successfully prosecuted over 15,000 ‘Hate Crime incidents’ in 2015-16, though the Hate Crime category is so wide-ranging that it can encompass everything from a long-running vicious vendetta in which death threats are regularly tossed about to the guy who made a joke YT video whereby he manipulated his girlfriend’s dog into making a Hitler salute.

The latter not only highlights the ludicrousness of criminalising comedy (see Paul Gascoigne), but also seems to tie-in with the concerted clampdown on free speech that is well in advance of us on the other side of the Atlantic. An intended free speech rally in Boston at the weekend was gatecrashed by thousands of so-called ‘anti-fascist’ protestors, including the masked left-wing anarchists who go by the name of Antifa; following the heaven-sent Twitter comments of Mr President in response to the trouble in Charlottesville the week before, I wonder if the Donald pointed out that the violence this time round emanated not from both sides, but just the one – i.e. the anti-fascists?

Amongst numerous tasteless tactics in evidence was hijacking the death of Heather Heyer – the one fatality of the drive-in at Charlottesville; the protestors half-inched her image in the same way some here exploited the murder of Jo Cox for their own loathsome ends last year. Now the ‘movement’ has its first martyr, and even the picture of Heyer which was worn like a piece of corporate protest merchandise had a distinct look of the airbrushed Che Guevara photo that was de rigueur for late 60s student bedsits. Whatever she may have been in life, Heather Heyer has now been immortalised as a brand name for the Alt Left. Her family must be so proud.

The rally itself was intended to be unashamedly conservative with a small ‘c’, though everyone attending was naturally labelled ‘white supremacist/KKK/racist’ etc. If you’re not with us, you’re against us; there’s no moderate middle ground in this New World Order. And the world that existed before it actually didn’t exist at all; remove all physical traces of it and it never happened; get Google in on the act and cyberspace follows suit. Simple Ministry of Truth principles apply today. The intolerant McCarthyism of the SJWs has already polluted US campuses and rendered them uncomfortably reminiscent of Chinese universities during the Cultural Revolution, and this mindset has now spilled over into so many facets of American life that anyone daring to lift their head above the PC parapet is shot down in a way that would constitute a Hate Crime were it the other way round.

Back in Blighty, a naive notion of equality whereby cultural, racial and sexual differences are deemed an unnecessary weapon of division is the mantra of the moment, whereas the accompanying word is ‘fluidity’. Schools now generate the fallacy that we’re all the same – something that extends to the school sports day, whereby everyone who competes receives equal billing. Of course, the quality of education a child receives still being dependent on whether or not its parents can afford to pay for the best makes a mockery of this philosophy; and outlawing competition amongst pupils hardly prepares them for the world beyond the playground when it remains a crucial element of the rat-race. Parents that have repeatedly told their offspring how special they are have had such praise reinforced by teachers, yet the insulated Telly Tubby Land these pampered potentates are eventually released from is hardly the ideal training camp for the absence of gormless optimism that awaits them.

As recent as four or five years ago, I would’ve regarded myself as very much on the left, and while I’m a long way from the right (I remain contemptuous of IDS and Gideon), I do feel somewhat stranded at the moment – a bit like one of those athletes in the Olympics who fly under no flag. Politically, I’m stateless. The humourless, censorious finger-wagging serial banners that have taken control of the left are to me no different from the Whitehouse/Muggeridge/Longford collective that once operated from a similar standpoint on the right. It matters not to me which side of the political divide these attitudes inhabit; they go against so many of my core beliefs, and if it is the left that currently exercise these restrictions of freedom of thought and speech, f**k ‘em. I reserve the right to criticise whoever I want to, whichever party of whichever colour they represent. And I can do that without resorting to name-calling Hate Crime.

One of the unfortunate offshoots of being told what one cannot think or say is that it creates a vacuum for rational and sensible debate, one that is then filled by the egotistical gobshites and professional contrarians who love the sound of their own voices – the kind that don’t possess the intelligence or humour of a Christopher Hitchens. As these are then perceived as the only ones who express an alternative opinion to the consensus, anyone who harbours an alternative is inevitably lumped in with them. I detest Hopkins as much as I detest Abbott, so where do I go? I may have voted Lib Dem at the last two General Elections, but that was for a decent constituency MP rather than any party allegiance, and Old Mother Cable carping on about a rerun of the EU Referendum is about as relevant to me today as calling for a repeal of the Corn Laws.

Equality cuts both ways; it doesn’t mean usurping those who kept minorities oppressed and then oppressing the usurped. It should mean everyone – whatever their political persuasion – being on a level playing field and all voices being heard. But, politically, it doesn’t work that way anymore than the Tsar being ultimately superseded by Stalin meant the Romanov’s palaces were burned to the ground and the ruling class of Bolsheviks set up home in a community of garden sheds. The aphrodisiac of power is as appealing to those who don’t have it as those reluctant to let it go; and I’ll still be out in the wilderness whichever side grabs it. In 2017, however, I think the wilderness is the most interesting place to be.

© The Editor

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THE SECRET SERVICE

I’ve used the term ‘Star Chamber’ on more than one occasion as a derivative description for a clandestine collective of decision-makers operating behind closed doors – most recently with regards to the new censorious regime on YouTube. However, when it comes to decisions being made that are a good deal more serious than having one’s uploaded video slapped with a ‘not advertiser-friendly’ label, one need look no further for a genuine Star Chamber than the smug and sinister network of box-ticking, back-slapping, self-righteous do-gooders operating under the umbrella banner of social services.

Long-term readers of this blog may recall a couple of posts I penned last year (https://winegumtelegram.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/a-social-disservice/ and https://winegumtelegram.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/consensual-healing/) on the subject of a severely mentally handicapped child whose mother is a friend of mine. Her child, a ten-year-old I referred to as X, was placed in a temporary care unit for children of similar conditions last November because her single mother could no longer cope with the day-to-day demands of looking after such a challenging child alone. The authorities were reluctant to take on this responsibility (and that’s putting it mildly), forcing the desperate mother to adopt desperate measures, such as refusing to collect the child from school the day after she’d been fobbed off on the phone when begging for assistance, thus leaving the authorities with no choice but to re-home X there and then.

Since this traumatic incident at the back-end of last year, the child has been living in a temporary care unit that currently only has two other resident children; the mother has established a pattern of visiting three times a week and taking the child back to her home for a couple of hours on each occasion. These occasions usually involve allowing X to indulge in the simple pleasures that make her happy, ones that don’t come within the narrow, rigid remit as endorsed by the powers-that-be overseeing the care unit – basically enabling X to enjoy foodstuffs frowned upon by them, and exercising a degree of realism absent from the fatuous positivity practiced by the ludicrously long list of employees on the social service gravy-train trained to believe X’s condition is one that can be ‘rehabilitated’.

This training imbues its recipients with a superiority complex and emphasises parents are an irritant if they express views that are contrary to those deemed appropriate by state employees – even though the parents may have spent many years 24/7 with the child and therefore know what makes it tick. Parents are viewed as something of an encumbrance to the system because some of them can see the system is getting it wrong re their children’s best interests and are prepared to puncture the positivity balloon by pointing this out. Social services aren’t keen on those not in their exalted position of faux-authority telling them the system they’re trained to obey with unswerving subservience sucks.

When X returned to a spate of self-harming – mainly biting her arms and hitting herself on the head – these were new behaviours that began when she entered the care environment, and her mother instantly knew what the problem was. X does this when she’s bored or hungry; her capability for expressing her frustration in any way other than self-harming is virtually zilch. But no one in authority wanted to discuss or even admit that this was happening. It wasn’t until the mother presented photographic evidence of appalling bruises and bite-marks that the self-harming was actually acknowledged.

Initially, when the staff at the care unit placed food on her plate such as noodles, spaghetti or anything she couldn’t hold and chomp on like Henry VIII with a chicken-leg, she refused to partake in the meal and lost a good deal of weight as a consequence; this was due to what are called ‘sensory processing issues’, and until it was pointed out by the mother, the staff wouldn’t provide X with a replacement meal, refusing to veer from a menu that caters for a mere three children. There have been other incidents where the staff will take X swimming at a time when she would normally eat, a decision flying in the face of common sense. Very much a creature of repetitious habit as befitting the most extreme outer limits of the autistic scale, X reacts to any alteration in the schedule by reverting to her worst traits, even if (as her mother constantly points out to employees of the system) these traits can be avoided.

The entire county in which X resides has the one solitary temporary care unit for children in her condition; a fourth child who had attacked X on several occasions was recently relocated to another care unit, but this time down in Shropshire – a considerable distance from home. In a way, the process of relocation is akin to when convicts are removed from one prison to another, often hundreds of miles from where the con’s family live, thus necessitating an increase and expense in travel come visiting day. And, just as the families of prisoners have no say in where the authorities choose to dispatch their loved ones to, social services will place children wherever the hell they like if they have ultimate charge of the child; parents aren’t consulted because parents aren’t important.

Yesterday, X’s mother was belatedly informed by X’s social worker (incidentally, the nineteenth X has had in her ten short years) that the social services’ Star Chamber had held a secret meeting the day before in which they’d decided they would effectively gain power of attorney over X, absolving her parents of all rights and claims to her. The parents were not informed and no review was held that would’ve given a platform to the parents’ concerns and enabled them to express a view on future plans for X when a permanent home for her needs to be found eventually.

If this goes ahead via the intended court order, the social services can place X anywhere in the country and the parents will have no say whatsoever in the matter; X’s mother has established a routine with X that benefits X and brings a modicum of pleasure into a life that has a paucity of it; if X is relocated hundreds of miles away, all that will cease. Is this really being done in X’s best interests or is it another penny-pinching exercise conducted by overpaid, arrogant authorities whose PR machine sells the uninformed public a different reality to the one parents such as X’s mother have been battered around the head by?

Post-Savile, it would appear police and social services have swapped places. The boys in blue’s politicisation over the past five or six years, underlined by borderline-spoof Twitter accounts from obscure officers declaring their PC credentials in prioritising ‘Hate Crime’ and the rights of minorities, has seen them adopt the right-on tactics once associated with the social worker; at the same time, social services have been transformed into a veritable secret police, granted powers to swoop unchallenged on parents they deem unfit and ill-informed as though overcompensating for the numerous well-publicised failures of social services to prevent actual abuse of children. For most parents in X’s mother’s position, the social services add to the burden the child represents, something that completely contradicts their purpose.

For the last decade, X’s mother has been exposed to a side of the welfare state that mercifully few of us have to contend with, and it has understandably left her so cynical towards the state that she simply doesn’t trust the state to do what’s best for her daughter. Therefore, the only choice she can see is to take X back into her home – narrowing the scope of her day-to-day life yet again as she reverts to the role of carer and gaoler for a child whose brain will remain that of a three-month-old baby, but whose body is physically maturing as normal. Next birthday, X will be eleven. And her mother will be exhausted. Again.

© The Editor

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