DaltreyNietzsche may have infamously declared ‘God is dead’ in 1882, but the decades since his incendiary declaration seem to have proven that you can’t keep a good (or bad) God down. Like David Bowie, it would appear He can take many forms; and the kind of worship that was once reserved for stone icons of Christ or the Virgin Mary was gradually transferred to mere mortals as God resurfaced in numerous new guises to suit whatever God the prevailing climate craved. In the second half of the 20th century, God found his most unlikely outlet in the pop cultural figurehead, whose message was transmitted to the young masses via the global communication tools denied the Messiahs of previous epochs. Come the 1960s, young working-class (or lower middle-class) boys who were expected – and were expecting – to follow in their fathers’ footsteps suddenly found themselves in the eye of a fanatical storm that understandably both swelled their own sense of self-importance and left them spiritually empty once undreamed-of riches and material goods were acquired.

In the post-‘Sgt Pepper’ landscape of the late 60s, when Pop had been rebranded as Art, a definite sea-change amongst its leading (and most intelligent) practitioners took place. Yes, the pursuit of female flesh and recreational substance abuse remained high on the list of song subjects, but the revolutionary fervour that gripped the western world from around 1968 onwards reflected a growing awareness by youth of their own potential and powers. Youth turned to their messengers for guidance, and the messengers – who were no more clued-up than their disciples – nevertheless did their best to deliver answers. Rather than advocating an external revolution, however, most turned inwards and sought to make sense of a journey for which there was no roadmap; for some, this was manifested as an embrace of Eastern philosophy. After The Beatles had set the trend by kneeling at the feet of the Maharishi, The Who’s Pete Townshend found his own guru in the shape of Indian mystic Meher Baba; some of what he absorbed then fed into what remains his most popular artistic achievement, the Rock Opera, ‘Tommy’.

Having not seen it for several years, I recently caught Ken Russell’s visual white-knuckle ride that is his 1975 movie of ‘Tommy’ and was instantly aware of how the near-religious following the rock stars of the era attracted was being cleverly addressed on screen. Of course, this was no isolated wakeup call; ‘Privilege’, the 1967 film starring Paul Jones, drew parallels between traditional worship and the new religion of Pop, and faith was reborn as a legitimate vehicle for a hit record with the likes of George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’, giving it a hippie makeover that rendered it far cooler than Cliff Richard at his most evangelical. For black artists raised in the Gospel chapel, this was nothing new, though – in the case of, say, Marvin Gaye – it often had to be squared with thoughts of a more carnal nature, making for a fascinating listening experience. By the early 70s, it had spilled over onto Broadway, with the cosmetic counter-culture of ‘Hair’ superseded by ‘Godspell’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, both of which took this premise to the ultimate extreme by portraying Christ himself as the original rock star.

With the so-called ‘Jesus Freaks’ of the period now tainted by the blotted copybook of the Manson Family, the dark side of this new religion not only presented the cults of the Alternative Society in a negative light, but it gave the musical manifestations of what was happening a far sharper edge. Ziggy Stardust was Bowie’s ideal of the ultimate Rock God, comprising all the elements of those who had risen and fallen in the previous decade and cranking them up to eleven; but the fact that the narrator of his 1972 album’s title track admits ‘When the kids had killed the man, I had to break-up the band’ suggests it can only ever end in tears, something that had already been chronicled in ‘Tommy’. When Ken Russell took Townshend’s musical odyssey and placed it on the big screen six years after the release of the LP, the characteristically pessimistic mid-70s setting seemed more relevant to the tragedy of the story than the idealistic 60s, a time when Pete Townshend’s spirit had yet to be blunted by the bottle. There’s a telling sequence in the film where the sick and afflicted are shepherded into a church, praying to an icon of Marilyn Monroe that recreates her famous ‘up-skirt’ pose from ‘The Seven Year Itch’, as though Ken Russell recognised the way in which the mass media had made idols of mortals that, like Christ, were capable of transcending mortality – something mirrored in Tommy’s post-fall ‘resurrection’ at the climax.

Around the time of the movie’s release, the phrase ‘Rock God’ had become common currency to refer to the superstars of the era, though whether Jimmy Page posing with his twin-necked guitar or Robert Plant preening beside him, the conscious attempts of Pete Townshend to somehow deliver a philosophical message to the faithful had been largely abandoned in favour of pure – albeit enjoyably flamboyant – entertainment. Rock had now become a straightforward career choice rather than an accidental spiritual journey. The devotional worship remained, but the search for an answer appeared to have been effectively discarded. When the deliberately primeval Punk Rock gatecrashed the party a year or two later, the more pressing issues confronted by a generation too young to have experienced the seismic shifts of the 60s were favoured over the luxury of pondering ‘Why are we here?’, something that perhaps could only really be asked by a musician once he can sit back and observe the fruits of his labours.

After Punk, the entertainment factor of the most globally successful rock stars became one of their key selling points. Social concerns would periodically surface in the lyrics of less frivolous acts, echoing a recurrent tradition stretching back to Bob Dylan’s ‘Protest’ period; but there were no real further attempts to elevate pop music to Art by seeing it as something on a higher plane than simple self-expression or showbiz. Yes, there was Michael Jackson’s notorious attempt to present himself as the Messiah at the Brit Awards in 1996, though Jarvis Cocker’s impromptu intervention was the perfect antidote to such dubious pretentiousness. And pretentiousness seems to be the usual insult aimed at the period in pop when the likes of ‘Tommy’ were greeted with reverence by broadsheet reviewers. Maybe it simply belonged to a moment impossible to recreate, for that level of intense idolatry had never happened in pop culture before – at least not in quite the same way; okay, so there’d been Valentino and Sinatra and Elvis, but not the self-contained writer, musician and performer bringing their own personal vision to the masses and being put in a position it must have been difficult not to be consumed by.

The Gods of today appear to have been grouped together from a wide range of professions under the umbrella term, ‘celebrity’. They can be actor, athlete, online influencer, model, musician, royalty or reality TV star. The level of attention and scrutiny afforded these usually uninspiring figures can often be quite baffling to those of us who can’t see why any of them – unlike Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison or David Bowie – are remotely interesting. But they supply an evident need for someone to worship in the absence of any form of conventional religion that ticks the same emotional boxes. The God that Nietzsche penned the obituary of may have vanished from the day-to-day lives of most, but He is still with us, and still commanding the adoration of millions. He just wears different trousers these days.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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VicarPhase One: The Pandemic; Phase Two: Climate Change; and now, Phase Three: Our old friend, Terrorism. There’s plenty out there to maintain a state of panic, and the Islamist branch of the terrorist business has never gone away; it’s merely been marginalised by the musical chairs of Project Fear. But its turn has come again – first with the murder of MP Sir David Amess and then last weekend with an intended attack that was aborted outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Mind you, you wouldn’t necessarily know this was an Islamist attack if you’ve followed the story on the MSM. ‘Don’t mention Islam’ has become the contemporary version of ‘Don’t mention the War’; Islam appears to be the most offensive swear word of all in the aftermath of every incident of this nature now – the word that patently ought to be said, yet won’t be by police or media.

The linguistic gymnastics performed when it comes to statements made following each such assault on home soil is laughable when the missing word is the most conspicuous elephant in the room. This ludicrous avoidance also stretches into Parliament, where the entire horrific event wasn’t considered a significant enough issue for MPs to raise during PMQ’s, apparently; perhaps the ‘I’ word might have had to be mentioned. Imagine if, during the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign of the mid-70s, mainstream news reports had focused on the ‘mental health issues’ of the Republicans perpetrating the atrocities in Birmingham and Guildford, and neither police, press, television or radio mentioned the word ‘Irish’. It would’ve been utterly ridiculous, yet this is essentially the manner of the reportage that has accompanied the last couple of high profile incidents both caused by asylum seekers who came to this country from overseas war zones rooted in Jihadi rhetoric and were sufficiently enamoured of their adopted country to slaughter its citizens.

The fact a man trying to gain asylum in England for seven years was apparently attempting to detonate a bomb at Liverpool Cathedral on Remembrance Sunday suggests someone not entirely converted to the British way of life. Thanks to the quick thinking courage of the cabbie whose taxi the wannabe bomber was travelling in, a bloodbath was averted – though the failed Jihadist blew himself to smithereens right outside a maternity hospital, which is a gruesome enough spectacle, if not quite the spectacle the bomber anticipated. But, however much the reality seems to have been twisted into a less incendiary narrative, the terror alert has still been raised as a consequence of last weekend’s events; and now we have to be ‘vigilant’ (the PM’s word) when it comes to mentally-ill Christians. That’s what Emad al-Swealmeen was, of course.

Anyone still desperate enough to claim asylum in the wake of rejection will grab at anything offering the promise of such a decision being reversed. Step forward the Church of England. In a move that is hopelessly naive at best and downright dangerous at worst, the state religion has been converting Muslims that the Home Office doesn’t regard as a safe bet for residency in the hope that the conversion will convince the authorities to let them stay – regardless of the reservations that prompted the application being turned down, as was the case with the Liverpool bomber in 2014. This practice, which has been taking place largely under the radar for several years, has seen hundreds of asylum seekers signing up to the faith in the belief it will secure British citizenship. Sorry, but I can’t help thinking of the Python sketch in which Adolph (AKA Mr ‘Hilter’) and his inner circle are hiding out in a seaside B&B, plotting their comeback at the Minehead by-election whilst posing as Brits – ‘Ah, yes! Bobby Charlton! Chip and fish on the Piccadilly Line!’

Emad al-Swealmeen’s 2017 conversion to Christianity took place at the very same seat of worship that seems to have been his intended target last Sunday. At least this enabled security forces investigating the incident to claim the motive for the attack ‘remained unclear’; yeah, why would a ‘Christian’ be en route to a Christian church on a Sunday carrying an explosive device? It’s one hell of a mystery. The Church of England interfering in the asylum process seems to be an extension of the Left’s ring-fencing of Muslims as their favourite oppressed pets, and whenever one of their pets lets the side down by attempting the occasional massacre it f***s up the narrative to such an extent that we end up with the frankly mind-boggling kind of retarded reporting we’ve received over this particular case, which is akin to the turning-a-blind-eye excuses aired in the midst of Stalin’s purges during the 30s.

Not unlike the way in which members of the SS tried to avoid capture by disguising themselves as prisoners when the death camps were liberated at the end of WWII, the more extremist factions of Islam make allowances for the ambitious Jihadist to blend in with the enemy by adopting his faith and convincing him all thoughts of Jihad have been expunged by Jesus. Emad al-Swealmeen had arrived here without a passport and posed as a Syrian refugee before it was discovered he was actually from Iraq; in order to bolster his appeal following asylum rejection, he embarked upon the Alpha Course, a five-week induction into the Christian faith that the asylum seeker evidently reckons looks better on their file. Well-meaning do-gooders working to assist asylum seekers – some, though not all, connected to the Church – are undoubtedly helpful to genuine applicants with genuine grounds for asylum, but it’s inevitable that their best intentions and naivety are going to be exploited by charlatans and those with a less benign aim in mind. The shocked and surprised reactions of those who’d assisted al-Swealmeen in his ‘conversion’ spoke volumes as to just how wilfully in denial these people are.

The ‘lone wolf’ storyline seems to be the familiar plot we’re being fed, portraying the bomber as a mentally disturbed individual operating in a vacuum, placing emphasis on his spell being sectioned after an incident involving a knife. Yet, one wonders if he really was a solo artist; someone permanently appealing against the decision to reject an asylum application and presumably claiming some form of state benefit is hardly in a strong financial position, which makes one wonder how he could afford to rent a second flat that appears to have been used as his secret bomb factory. Hard to believe he didn’t have some assistance, really – but don’t expect any great revelation. The ‘open borders’ mantra, one that doesn’t distinguish between economic migrants, refugees fleeing persecution or wannabe Jihadists, remains the main jingle when it comes to the majority of Westminster, and it’s a policy that can never weed out the bad apples and ensure only those with a genuine case get through. It seems like a recipe for disaster on paper, and in practice it’s pretty much proven to be so.

However, you probably won’t hear many air that opinion in the MSM; and the problem with a ‘don’t go there’ taboo is that no proper discussion or debate can then take place, leaving it to fall into the laps of extremists from the other side whilst those who have manipulated the scheme can plot away undisturbed. The abuse of the system has not gone unnoticed, but it takes two to abuse it. Priti Patel herself railed against it earlier this week. ‘It’s a complete merry-go-round,’ she said. ‘And it’s been exploited. It has been exploited quite frankly by a whole professional legal services industry that has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day in, day out at the expense of the tax-payer through legal aid.’ When it comes to blood on hands, it seems there’s plenty to go round. Amen.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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Spanish Inquisition‘God is dead’ Nietzsche infamously proclaimed in 1882. He was issuing a then-provocative statement within the context of a wider discussion; but as a snappy slogan it was inevitably misconstrued by his critics and appropriated by atheists whose righteous conviction in their chosen belief system can often make them as sanctimoniously zealous as the followers of the faiths they decry. Religion, whether worshipping a living God or a dead one, always divides as much as it unites, with rival factions of the same faith having a habit of engaging in never-ending family feuds that can cost hundreds of thousands of lives when elongated over decades and, in some cases, centuries; and then there are the opposing faiths that routinely square up to one another every few years in order to prove whose God is bigger than the other. So many religions, so many Gods, so much unnecessary bloodshed – no wonder so many societies are secular today compared to the past.

A modern multi-faith democracy has to accommodate all of these spiritual ideologies, yet whereas the ultimate judgement as to which religion takes priority over the rest is traditionally in the hands of those following the dominant faith (for they tend to hold all the power), if secularism is their common currency, favouritism can be influenced by other factors. Whilst most would argue the majority of Brits today inhabit a secular world that mainly only acknowledges two Christian festivals – Christmas and Easter – this is still technically a Christian country, albeit one our Christian forefathers would sometimes struggle to recognise as such. To take the changing, diverse nature of the nation’s worship on board, our law-makers have done their best to ensure none of the myriad religions on offer today is discriminated against; however, there can be shades of an Identity Politics approach at play when ring-fencing faiths that aren’t associated with any of the British traditions which are now criminally unfashionable.

The foot-soldiers of the law-makers are dispatched to enforce those laws, and the undeniable existence of two-tier policing is evident in the way ring-fencing a minority at the expense of the majority produces one rule for one and one rule for another. Just as few MPs of recent years have seen active service in the armed forces compared to previous generations of politicians – therefore making it far easier for them to deploy troops when they have no notion of what operating in war-zones really entails – there probably aren’t many honourable members who’ve been policemen or women. I should imagine passing some ill-conceived new law is simple enough if you’re safe in the knowledge that you personally won’t be sent out onto the streets to enforce it; and if you’ve never been in that position, your grasp of the realities of doing so is probably limited to watching one of those ‘Police Camera Action’-type cheapo docs on Channel 5. Moreover, if those making up the rules have none of the inbred loyalty to Christianity that a Christian country implies, they won’t necessarily exhibit sensitivity towards its worshippers in the same way they might with other (more politically beneficial) faiths.

An illegal gathering of individuals outlawed by Covid restrictions – we’ve all seen such gatherings dispersed in an often-OTT manner by the police in online videos shot by those present; this is what we’ve come to expect. Not so in Batley, however. An illegal gathering outside a school there included the likes of Shamima Begum’s lawyer and was organised by an organisation which has apparently received effective sponsorship from the local branch of the teaching union – something that might further explain the silence and absence of support for the teacher now in hiding from the intolerant bigots who believe he didn’t show the followers of their faith the respect they’re not automatically entitled to. An illegal gathering breaking the restrictions the rest of us have to abide by and the incitement of religious hatred – two issues that surely should have led to police wading in and dispersing, no? No, of course not. Contrast this with events on Good Friday when the Met gate-crashed a service at a Polish Catholic church in South London with such brutish and arrogant insensitivity it was a wonder they didn’t declare ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!’

A scenario impossible to imagine being enacted in a mosque – and it would be no more enlightening or laudable a spectacle there than in a synagogue or a Methodist chapel – the interruption during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at Christ the King Polish church in Balham doesn’t require a devotion to the faith in question to send shivers down the spine. On the widely-circulated video, the leader of this glorified Gestapo makes the most of his moment in the spotlight by showing the worshippers who is boss. ‘You are not allowed to meet inside with this many people under law,’ he declares. ‘At this moment in time you need to go home. Failure to comply with this direction to leave and go to your home address ultimately could lead to being fined £200 or, if you fail to give your details, to you being arrested.’ It was like a scene from a movie set in the post-Reformation 16th century, when Catholic practices were outlawed in England and forced to be secretly staged in clandestine priest holes in constant danger of being raided. One might almost imagine we have a fresh network of spies dotted about the country reporting suspected services to the authorities. Perish the thought.

The protestors in Batley were not in the process of commemorating a Muslim Holy day – which may have led to an understandable softly-softly approach by the police; they were denouncing an ‘infidel’ and placing him in fear for his life with their vile rhetoric as they forced the closure of a school. The worshippers at the church in Balham, on the other hand, were celebrating the most solemn day in the Catholic calendar; and the police deliberately brought it to a close halfway through by striding into the church wearing their size-nines and barking their orders at the small congregation from the altar. This was a service that was being streamed online and had, according to reports, complied with the regulations at a time when the coronavirus is declining in the capital; that the police didn’t even have the decency to wait until the service was over would have robbed them of their melodramatic money-shot, one they clearly imagined would emphasise their authority and instil fear into those considering breaking the law. Yet it just made them look even more like an out-of-control private army drunk on its new powers.

As a long-term, prominent immigrant community in the UK, Poles have historically set up home here after fleeing persecution under totalitarian regimes that weren’t exactly tolerant of their faith. That a Polish church in particular should have been singled out for this unedifying treatment seems an especially damning indictment on the way in which two-tier policing is now dispensed in this country as well as highlighting a glaring lack of insight and understanding as to the kind of ghosts such an incident can evoke. Immigrant communities and their descendants carry the scars of their ancestors, packed into the collective suitcase when departing the homeland and then passed down the generations as part of the family silver, helping to forge a shared identity. Worship can often form a key element of this identity, yet one doesn’t have to be a believer at all to find the clumsy actions of the police in Balham a fairly shameful desecration of that worship which would be just as bad were it applied across the board to all forms of worship. That it isn’t being applied this way makes a mockery of both the law and the law enforcers, neither of which are generating the feeling that we’re all in this together. Because we’re clearly not.

© The Editor


The sanctity of the confessional undoubtedly upholds its mystique. Indeed, a clichéd plotline of many a detective drama is the frustrated copper trying to persuade a priest to hint at what was said between him and a suspect, despite the refusal repeatedly stressed by the man of the cloth. For the alleged suspect, knowing there is someone with whom he can share his demons safe in the knowledge the recipient’s lips will be sealed thereafter is evidently a rare comfort. But the confessional is more than merely an over-familiar trope routinely dredged up to embellish works of fiction. To anyone raised outside of the Catholic faith, the confidential confines of the confessional is perhaps one of the Church of Rome’s most alluring and attractive elements, though I appreciate the luxury of choice for non-believers is not necessarily something many chained to tiresome and intrusive religious rituals may view quite so benignly. Many years ago, a friend of mine confronted by a taxing personal dilemma that burdened her with more information than she could handle considered popping into the confessional just to get it all off her chest; but being utterly agnostic meant she too only knew the routine from the movies and bemoaned the fact there wasn’t a secular equivalent available – and an optional one at that.

Although some Anglican branches boasting Anglo-Catholic orientation have a similar set-up, it’s a wonder this particular aspect of Catholicism didn’t become a cornerstone feature of Protestant worship in Britain; it seems especially pertinent to the old British reluctance to wash dirty linen in public. A TV show such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ could never have existed half-a-century ago, for example, with the exposure of private family secrets used as a selling point completely alien to the traditional British character; a more fitting version of the programme produced at one time would have been more accurately titled ‘Mind Your Own Bloody Business’. How many of us grew up in families with shadowy figures on the fringes of photos whose names had been consciously forgotten, rumours whispered out of the ear-shot of children, contradictory evidence on clandestine birth certificates, a mysterious absence of a marriage licence and so on? The thought of all that airing on a primetime TV programme was anathema to those sensibilities. Yes, it is certainly an improvement that these secrets apparently can now be said out loud within families, but broadcasting them is still a step too far for some – though a lot seems to depend on which generation one belongs to.

Reading a description of the hotel facilities facing those forced to self-isolate at great expense upon returning to the UK from abroad, the inclusion of a TV set in the tomb – sorry, room – was clearly mentioned because it’s a given the item is as much a necessity as a bed. I haven’t been in a hotel room for a long time, but I can’t imagine a TV set would be much comfort in my confinement; it’d probably make me feel worse, receiving a horrifying premonition of a care home future in which I’m left to vegetate before endless gardening, cookery and antique exercises intended to extend inertia. Raised on seaside holidays in which the B&B boasted a communal ‘television room’ to serve that particular need, the novelty of a set in each individual room wasn’t something I encountered until my first visit to the States in 1980. I actually couldn’t wait to switch on back then, excited to see how different the service was. Looking back, I can see now that the dubious thrill of a hundred channels transmitting 24/7 was a glimpse into what awaited British viewers – as was the content.

One programme that stands out in the memory was so at odds with what I was used to that it almost seemed like a parody. I remember a weak steak of piss with a Gilbert O’Sullivan haircut sat around in a circle with maybe half-a-dozen people who were quite willing to discuss intimate problems and more than willing to burst into tears, leading to the inevitable ‘group hug’. My response to this conspicuous expression of emotions was laughter, but more so discomfort, feeling as though I was eavesdropping on something that I felt should’ve been conducted in private rather than public. It was probably some local PBS channel watched by fewer viewers than the number of people it took to produce the programme, but the apparent benefits those participating appeared to have received from the ‘therapy’ to me were outweighed by the very English threat of ‘everybody knowing their business’. I didn’t see the appeal for either participant or viewer. This was a new strain of television in which the confessional had opened its doors, a dream come true for that urban and suburban bogeyman (and woman), the nosy neighbour.

Previously better known for her small (but effective) role in ‘The Colour Purple’ and soon to become better known for the merry-go-round of her Liz Taylor-like weight loss/weight gain routine, Oprah Winfrey’s day-job was the host of a TV chat show specialising in audience participation. This wasn’t ‘The Generation Game’ or ‘That’s Life’, however; members of the public weren’t present to compare carrots to penises or make fools of themselves on the potter’s wheel; they were there to share things that had previously only been shared with intimate confidants and trusted friends – not only with everyone else in the studio but with millions watching at home. It would’ve been easy to write this off as an alien ‘Americanism’, but the sheer strangeness of such an approach to personal problems naturally gave it a car-crash cachet with British viewers, and British TV decided to have a crack at it.

Suddenly, from the mid-80s onwards, we had ‘Kilroy’ on BBC1 and ‘The Time, The Place’ on ITV. Then we had ‘This Morning with Richard & Judy’, ‘Trisha’, ‘Vanessa’, and probably numerous others long-forgotten in which people were encouraged to confess every sexual or mental hang-up in public. As Brits were making use of extended broadcasting hours by waiving rules on subjects that could and couldn’t be discussed before the watershed, the Americans were taking the format into extreme areas with the grotesque bear-baiting of ‘The Jerry Springer Show’; and, as had happened with the Oprah brand, we copied the format, lowering the bar way beyond anywhere the bar had ever sunk before by installing Jeremy Kyle as the gatekeeper of Bedlam so everyone could poke fun at the freaks. By now, reality television had already shown the narcissist and the exhibitionist that a lack of shame was no impediment to fame and fortune; but running parallel with this was the supposedly more dignified one-on-one interview conducted in earnest tones, a way for established celebrities to beg forgiveness for their misdemeanours and salvage their careers. Every household name from Frank Bough to Michael Barrymore followed in the footsteps of Princess Diana by adopting a faux-reserved manner to confessing their sins in public

Which brings us full circle, to the summit meeting of a woman who could lay claim to instigating this pernicious trend and a man who married his mother; the latter isn’t to be taken literally of course – after all, Jeremy Kyle has now been banished from the small screen; but you know what I mean. Considering areas where this here blog has ventured on occasion, I nevertheless deny it is also a symptom of such a trend. As a writer, I regard myself as operating in a particular tradition whereby the artist informs the art. Every novel has a sizeable slice of the novelist in it, ditto the poem and the poet, ditto the polemic and the polemicist – and I do all three. No cards are being played to elicit sympathy in the process, and there’s a world of difference between self-expression via the written word and holding out the emotional begging-bowl whilst sat in a Californian garden large enough to host gymkhana events. But this is an age in which the cameraman is closer to gynaecologist than priest and the confessional operates an open door policy in the arena of social media.

© The Editor


One of Radio 4’s characteristically idiosyncratic gems leftover from another era is ‘Bells on Sunday’, a brief programme broadcast just before the Shipping Forecast last thing every Sunday night – or early Monday morning, if you prefer; for most of us, the day ends when we switch the light out, not when the clock says another day has already begun. Anyway, if half-a-minute of pealing is appealing, this is the show for you. During Lockdown Mk I, when the nation’s church bells were silenced in synch for the first time since the Second World War, the programme continued with repeat broadcasts and you could barely hear the join. Something was definitely missing, though. Even with the absence of traffic enabling the volume to be turned up on the birdsong, the villages that cities briefly transformed into for the first few weeks of that strange period still seemed incomplete without that most quintessential sonic hallmark of the traditional English village, the ringing of the bells.

The nearest House of God to me featured on ‘Bells on Sunday’ a couple of years ago, but not being a church-goer meant I’d never had cause to set foot in it. I hadn’t even seen it up close, for the church stands a considerable distance from the busy main road from which it can be seen; even though I’ve become a virtual annual visitor to the community centre attached to the church when it doubles up as polling station for every election or referendum, this building is not exactly next-door either. Feeling a little stir-crazy the other day, I stepped outside, walked with no destination in mind, and eventually found myself a stone’s throw from the church purely by chance; so, I decided to finally stroll up and take a look. Why not? I always find anything built in the 19th century worth looking at, and believing or non-believing doesn’t really come into it. John Betjeman – who was a believer – seemed to derive pleasure from visiting unassuming parish churches, but he had the option of studying the interior as well as the exterior. I didn’t.

The church building was characteristic of numerous late Victorian urban churches, low on the fancy Gothic trimmings, un-showy but sturdy; it reminded me of those affiliated to some of the early schools I attended. Even someone like me, raised in a relatively secular fashion, has distinct memories of Harvest Festivals and so on forming part of the school year, and we were encouraged to acknowledge them as important, even if our church-going outside of term time was restricted to the odd family wedding. There was a cricket pitch in front of this church that only revealed itself upon approach, and an accompanying sign warning canine visitors were not welcome on account of them leaving distinctive donations to church funds on the field of play. I took a customary walk through the churchyard round the back and couldn’t help lingering on some of the graves; however, I always feel as though I’m intruding upon someone’s private grief if the interred person died within living memory, so I tend to move on to the neglected Victorian headstones where the inscription is crumbling away and wild vines are beginning to drag the edifice into the earth. Yet, that was the extent of my exploration. The church, like so many at the moment, was closed to the public.

It’s ironic in a way for, bar the token triumvirate of christenings, weddings and funerals that draw the punters in, most C-of-E places of worship would serve as ideal examples of social distancing in action. Outside of the big three occasions, general church attendance in this country is fairly pitiful, and buildings designed to hold hundreds often struggle to attract dozens. Maybe the panicky church authorities feared flocks suddenly swelling with those seeking answers in such uncertain times and thus risked being blamed for a surge in infections. Whatever the reason, churches were quicker to close their doors than almost any other institution and did so with a surprising absence of fight. I reckon an England in which the people were deprived of churches as well as pubs would have appalled Orwell. As Eric Blair was aware, both have provided heavenly and earthly bread for rich and poor alike since medieval Merrie England, and both tend to experience a rise in custom during times of crisis because they are needed – and the powers-that-be usually recognise their importance to the people. Not in this crisis, however. The Established Church absolved itself of a role at the heart of the community right at the very moment when it could well have reclaimed some of its relevance.

Having skipped a significant date in the Holy calendar like Easter, the onset of a second lockdown has at least prompted some church leaders to belatedly demand the right to public worship – both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have signed a letter to the Government saying as much; rumours of ‘secret’ church services taking place without permission of the authorities inevitably summons up the spectre of priest-holes and the enacting of clandestine ceremonies risking arrest and imprisonment that were a familiar feature of British life during the religious wars of distant centuries. Even the observance of Remembrance in small towns and villages across the country last Sunday was policed by overzealous officers keeping the lepers away; alas, if only they’d carried Extinction Rebellion banners (or, better still, BLM placards), the parishioners would have been greeted with compliant law enforcers on their knees. Policing by consent of the few as opposed to the many by the PC paramilitaries formerly known as the police force is pretty much generally acknowledged by the public now; but the Church itself has been susceptible to a degree of it of late.

The old image of the trendy vicar seems to have been upgraded so that his latest incarnation is that of a rainbow flag-waving, gender pronoun-using, white guilt liberal Woke curate more eager to position himself as a cheerleader for the latest fashionable causes than doing his duty. A few have been active online, seemingly oblivious to the significance of the sacraments to committed Christians, busily singing the praises of virtual services via Zoom. Not exactly consolation to those for whom the Eucharist is a sacred in-person ritual that cannot be conducted via a screen; but these left-leaning, right-on clergy are so committed to lockdown – and the most fanatically pro-lockdown voices are largely on the left – that they seem to have forgotten what they’re in the job for. Their narcissistic virtue signalling makes them as blind as police and politicians to the fact that fringe issues affecting a tiny minority of people are not major concerns to their core audience; their obsession with these issues is alienating this core audience at a moment when its ongoing devotion in an increasingly secular society should be rewarded.

The politicisation of certain branches of the Church of England (mirroring some in the Church of Rome) has been to the institution’s detriment during this crisis – indeed, something of a missed opportunity to reconnect with those beyond the devoted flock. Confronted by padlocked gates rendering sanctuary off-limits, the non-church-going public might simply conclude that these stone temples which no English hamlet is complete without actually do just exist to host christenings, weddings and funerals; and competition from registry offices and (more recently) tacky hotels is placing the wedding function under threat as it is. Therefore, if these ceremonies are severely regulated under the new rules and can take place elsewhere anyway, there’s no real need for churches to be open, is there? What else are they actually there for? At times like these, such questions should have been answered by the Church itself; and yet it has blown it. Amen.

And on the subject of religion…

Scottish Football Results from Johnny Monroe on Vimeo.

© The Editor


There’s a familiar thread running through social media at the moment that dismisses and demonises anyone uncomfortable with the canonisation of a certain 16-year-old; it’s one of many examples designed to deter any critique of this specific consensus, accusing anyone with the nerve to compose one as being entirely motivated by hatred of the girl’s gender as well as her cause. Personally, I’ve nothing against either, but I reserve the right to ask questions. However, to challenge the accepted narrative immediately brands the challenger a climate change-denying misogynist – or something along those lines, anyway. Of course, this is a weapon utilised on a depressingly regular basis today, a means of closing down debate with a simplistic insult. Dispute the perceived collective wisdom of anything and the instant retort is the kind of shaming that places one alongside the likes of Piers Morgan and Katy Hopkins – and who would relish a threesome with them?

Anyone querying the deification of Greta Thunberg is immediately attacked as picking on a little girl, yet surely expressing concern at the unhealthy overexposure this teenager is receiving – both from the politicians fawning at her feet in the same opportunistic fashion they once reserved for Mother Theresa, and the absent parents whose care of an apparently autistic adolescent seems to be severely lacking – shows more humanity than encouraging the ongoing and irresponsible adoration of someone occupying such a dangerous spotlight. The elevation of Greta Thunberg to messiah-like status seems to be confirmation that, for some, the climate change issue has morphed into a religious movement. I also find the promotion of Thunberg to her current omnipotence disturbingly reminiscent of an old-school child-star – and we all know what became of many of them.

Like so much of what constitutes contemporary discourse, however, we have been here before. During the similarly-confused early 70s Age of Aquarius, the rejection of orthodox faith by hippies resulted in a multitude of alternatives, one of which was the Divine Light Mission. This organisation had its roots in India, but found a receptive audience in the West when its leader, Prem Rawat – under the hereditary title of Guru Maharaji – was hailed by his disciples as ‘the second Christ’ at the tender age of 15 and made publicised tours of the UK and US, including the overhyped ‘Millennium ‘73’ festival at the Houston Aerodrome. Rawat was essentially Billy Graham in a kaftan, a post-Maharishi beneficiary of the hunger of western youth disillusioned with western panaceas for spiritual guidance, and he briefly managed to attract the patronage of several prominent counter-cultural personalities who carried clout among his target audience.

It certainly is a recurring trend that when a society experiences a destabilising and traumatic sequence of shake-ups to the established order that groups emerge to embrace and promote a cause with zealous fanaticism. It happened after the English Civil War, when numerous Puritan cults took possession of a people suddenly robbed of God in human form (i.e. the beheaded King); and it was no great surprise there was a resurgence of this fad following the cultural upheaval of the late 60s, when the materialistic trappings of the consumerist society were found to be spiritually unsatisfying. Traditional Christianity had been sold as the answer in the same way as soap powder to children of the 50s, so that couldn’t be relied upon. Heads turned to the East, and the East exploited the craving. The presence of sects-cum-corporations such as the Divine Light Mission confirmed the deep desire for something approximating the false security of religion in a secular society; and it would seem the climate change bandwagon fulfils that inherent longing today.

We hardly reside in the most secure of times, so it’s no wonder this pattern has resurfaced, nor is it a surprise that an unlikely individual has been pushed forward as a figurehead for those susceptible to the power of nightmares. Trump, Bo-Jo and Jezza don’t exactly inspire confidence, so why not a Scandinavian schoolgirl in pigtails? There always seems to be a need for Jesus whenever the world goes through one of its periodical spells of uncertainty, and with the man from Nazareth perennially reluctant to embark upon his much-heralded comeback tour, someone has to fill the void. But there should be room to question the wisdom of devotion without being shouted down in a manner that suggests the devoted aren’t quite as secure in that devotion as they’d like to convince us. Yet their approach in silencing anyone expressing a healthy instinct to ask questions is common currency.

A week in which the ghost of a dead politician was cynically and shamelessly exhumed as a desperate means of injecting some emotional weight into a point-scoring contest was further confirmation of this tactic’s current success. Who is going to continue an argument when the name of Jo Cox is evoked to instantly kill debate? And MPs eager to dispatch a Commons clash as a clip to bolster their Twitter standing need to condense a complex issue into a sound-bite for the social media masses, so deliver their contribution in the best Oscar-winning manner to satisfy the nature of the beast. Any deeper nuances are sacrificed to the quick-fire MTV-edit style of a movie trailer and the drama of the one-liner.

Accepting everything and questioning nothing has never been part of my makeup, though in times such as these, refusing to accept either side as sole owners of the moral high-ground and reluctance to be claimed as the darling of one over the other can leave some people puzzled. I’ve been accused of right-wingery on here, just as I was labelled a lefty when I wrote for another blog; I’m happy to be called both, because to me it means I’m neither. And that says I’m doing something right. This is evident in the content of the collected volumes I shall now plug as though I’m no better than a Hollywood whore on the Graham Norton Show…

Volume One is divided into three chapters: 1) Village Idiots (Westminster, Brexit and beyond the bubble); 2) Those We Have Loved and Those We Have Lost (Pop and the personal); 3) It Was a Very Bad Year (Posts from the edge). Volume Two boasts five chapters: 1) Pop Life and Death (Overtures and obituaries); 2) The Wild West (Once upon a time in America); 3) Listen to the Banned (Censorship, culture wars and the politics of identity); 4) Overseas Development (And now for the rest of the world); 5) It Could Be Yewtree (False allegations, fishing parties, witch-hunts and hysteria). Volume Three has four chapters: 1) Part of the Union (Beasts from the East and European empires); 2) Social Insecurity (The department of ill-health or homeless under the hammer); 3) War in Europe (A multicultural mainland and the Great British Jihad); 4) The Home Front (The Disunited Kingdom of Little Britain and Northern Ireland). And finally, Volume Four is down to a trio: 1) Shit-storm (Referendums, Elections and the weak in Westminster); 2) Apolitical Interludes (Pop culture eats itself – and everything else); 3) (Almost) Everything but the Brexit (The bubble & squeak of all essays).

If you’re concerned as to the potential transience of the digital medium – not to mention intimidated at the prospect of slogging through four years’ worth of posts in search of a favourite essay that can now be accessed via the flick of a page – maybe one of the volumes is for you. But don’t dawdle; we might not have much time left…

© The Editor


yodaIt doesn’t quite carry the same dramatic weight as an evil intergalactic empire, but the forces of the Jedi have been vanquished…by the Charity Commission; that august institution may not be headed by a heavy-breathing psychopath in a black cowl and cape, but it has successfully rejected desperate appeals for Jediism to be registered as a religion. And this is despite 177,000 people listing that as their faith on the 2011 Census – more than listed Rastafarianism, which itself took decades to be accepted as a religion (something many still dispute).

There are many ways of looking at this demand on the part of ‘Star Wars’ devotees. It could be viewed as one more dispiriting example of ‘Kidult-hood’ and the clinging to the totems of childhood in a wilful reluctance to grow up rather than finally stashing the toy-box in the parental attic; it could be viewed as a characteristically quirky prank on the part of agnostic Brits refusing to take such a question seriously; or it could be viewed as evidence that even if orthodox religion has been rejected by vast swathes of the population, the need to look up to the stars for some form of salvation still exists; just as the mythology of Ancient Greece and Rome, the Norsemen, Christianity and Islam provided comfort in the past (and continues to in the present where the latter two are concerned), the craving for celestial beings to worship seems to be an instinctive human desire.

Prior to the release of ‘Star Wars’ in 1977, science fiction as a cinematic genre had, as with most others in that last Golden Age of Hollywood, a distinctly adult feel to it. Movies from the first half of the 70s with a futuristic or sci-fi slant, such as ‘Soylent Green’, ‘Rollerball’, ‘The Omega Man’, ‘Westworld’ and ‘Logan’s Run’, reflected the maturity of sci-fi that came in the wake of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Even George Lucas himself had followed the trend with his 1971 directorial debut, ‘THX 1138’, another in a long line of Ballard-esque Dystopian views of the future that bore little relation to Lucas’s wish to revive the ‘space opera’ serial of the 30s, ‘Flash Gordon’.

Lucas’s failure to acquire the rights to ‘Flash Gordon’ resulted in him developing his own equivalent over a three-year period, and when ‘Star Wars’ finally arrived at cinemas, the absence of competition in terms of big-budget adventure films for all the family enabled the movie to clean up at the box-office. In the mid-70s, it was only really the ‘disaster’ strain of cinema that pulled in the punters, with the likes of ‘Earthquake’, ‘The Towering Inferno’, ‘Jaws’ and the ‘Airport’ series; but the craze had run out of steam by 1977 and Lucas’s timing was perfect.

It’s undeniable to see now that the revolutionary blend of a simplistic B-picture plot with cutting-edge special effects created the formula that remains with us today where the ‘Blockbuster’ picture is concerned; the only real difference is that, almost forty years on, space Cowboys & Indians have been superseded by superheroes. The crucial distinction between ‘Star Wars’ and the franchises that have pursued the same path since 1977, however, is that almost from the very beginning there were some who took the lightweight fun very seriously indeed.

News footage of the queues outside the cinema when ‘Star Wars’ arrived in Britain at the end of 1977 shows a sizeable proportion of young men in their late teens and early twenties present as well as the expected children (who, like me, had received advanced warning of this event via promotion in American Marvel comics); the presence of over-18s suggested an audience that George Lucas hadn’t anticipated. I remember going to see the film as a ten-year-old in early 1978 and it defined that year for me as a childhood fad. The merchandise swamped the shops, from bubblegum cards, comics and stationary to the ridiculously expensive action figures, though I never owned any of the latter.

By 1979, I’d moved onto something else, as tended to happen with me then; I was actually becoming more interested in pop music and the 99p seven-inches assembled into their chart positions on the wall of my local Woolies. I did go to see ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ in 1980, an eleventh hour childhood moment on the cusp of adolescence, but by the time ‘The Return of the Jedi’ hit cinema screens three years later, not even Princess Leia’s slave girl outfit could tempt me back; my prepubescent fascination with the George Lucas universe has never been rekindled.

I realise my experience as a brief ‘Star Wars’ fan is not necessarily the common route many have taken once exposed to the saga. Imaginary worlds such as those created by Tolkien already had a dedicated adult following of largely male fanatics before ‘Star Wars’, but Lucas’s invention has spawned even greater fanaticism to the point whereby some use it as a design for life; attempting to elevate the cult of the Jedi, the movie series’ monastic Samurai-like warriors, to the level of an actual religion, is perhaps taking things a little too far. Although the man-made mythology of the Jedi is no more fantastical than that of actual bona-fide religions, one can’t help but wonder why the world needs another religion when the ones we’ve had for thousands of years have hardly left a legacy of peace and harmony.

The decision of the Charity Commission to turn down charitable status for the so-called Temple of the Jedi Order seems like a victory for common sense, though when one studies the myths and legends of the ‘legit’ faiths that have far more followers than the Temple of the Jedi Order can boast around the world, there’s not much to separate them. Until some bright spark invents genuine light sabres, the Jedi’s capacity for violence would at least be subdued in comparison to the competition; and Jedi Jihadists remain restricted to a galaxy far, far away, which can’t be bad.

© The Editor