TUNNEL VISION

Considering all the cynical baggage accumulated on life’s journey, retaining a little lingering magic in relation to a specific source of childhood fascination doesn’t do any harm; even if utterly illogical, it serves a purpose as a welcome interlude from the grown-up grind. I’ve often found that magic via the London Underground. Yes, we’re all aware of its numerous faults and no sane person would use it during the rush hour unless work made doing so an unavoidable necessity; but for me it’s the nearest non-Time Lords can get to owning a Tardis. You arrive in one station, jump on the train, you arrive at another station that looks like the one you just left, you travel up the steps and you’re in a completely different corner of the capital without having witnessed the route from A to B as one would over-ground. I’m well aware of the science, but it’s still magical to me.

However, from its innovative inception in 1863, the London Underground has regularly inspired as much dread in some as it has magic in others. A train service that could travel below the surface of the great metropolis naturally provoked shivers; perhaps it was the thought of people being ferried about in a neighbourhood previously reserved for the dead. These kinds of associations have continued to exert an influence over popular culture’s view of the Tube, something the numerous abandoned lines and ‘ghost stations’ have aided and abetted.

The 1967 ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘The Web of Fear’, played on these old superstitions by taking Patrick Troughton’s Doctor and his companions deep underground, where the alien Yeti were plotting world domination; and anyone who has seen the 1972 horror movie, ‘Death Line’, will never have heard the familiar Tube phrase ‘Mind the Gap’ in quite the same way since. But there have also been occasions in which genuine horrors have visited these subterranean departure lounges; and while they remain amongst the most used suicide sites in London (643 were attempted across the network in the decade from 2000-10), death has often struck without premeditation.

Bethnal Green 1943, Moorgate 1975 and King’s Cross 1987 – three stations and three dates that marked a trio of disasters. The first was an awful accident, a stampede to Bethnal Green Tube Station’s wartime use as a makeshift air-raid shelter when the crowd mistakenly believed an air-raid was taking place; 173 were crushed in the panic, mostly women and children. It’s believed to be the largest single loss of civilian life during WWII on the home-front. The cause of the Moorgate tragedy of 1975 remains disputed, though many have accepted the driver drove into the tunnel end beyond the platform, killing himself and 43 passengers in an act of suicide. The King’s Cross fire of 1987 killed 31 and was thought to have begun when a lit match or cigarette ignited debris beneath the wooden escalators that were subsequently replaced; the incident also marked the start of a more rigorous enforcement of the Tube’s smoking ban.

There have also been more deliberate attempts at slaughter below street level. The IRA had a crack as far back as 1939, during a mainland bombing campaign that tends to be overshadowed by other events of that year; their more well-known assault on the city from 1973-76 saw various stations targeted, though the intended roll-call of casualties was mercifully small. It wasn’t until the 7/7 attacks of 2005 that the London Underground was the scene of a successful terrorist outrage, with an overall death-toll of 52. For many, the carnage of 7 July 2005 served as a good reason to avoid the Tube altogether, though as we have come to belatedly realise this year, any location in which crowds of people are liable to gather will suffice. Perhaps it’s the instinctive fear of being trapped underground that imbues this particular method of transport with such horrific resonance for many.

Today’s events at Parsons Green seem to have been the work of an amateur or maybe the mechanism simply cocked-up at the crucial moment. The home-made device was planted in a bucket inside a carrier bag in a carriage travelling along the District Line from Wimbledon and was detonated as the train was pulling into the station; its detonation appeared to cause what has been described as a ‘wall of fire’ that left 22 commuters with burns. Taking place at the height of the rush hour (around 8.20am), the device was obviously designed to provoke greater damage than it turned out to and police have already claimed to have identified a suspect via CCTV footage.

I think we can all probably write the script of what follows next, though the surname of the suspect and the mosque he frequented will remain a mystery until all is eventually revealed as the event continues to play out on rolling news channels for the next 24 hours. The well-oiled counter-terrorist machine rattled into action minutes after panicked passengers exited Parsons Green and the obligatory COBRA summit was arranged in record time. But will any of that mean we can sleep easy in our beds? Well, I reckon those of us who don’t suffer from insomnia probably do so regardless of whatever lunacy is currently gripping the waking world. The real concern surrounds public, rather than private, places.

For some it’s simply a convenient means to get from one part of London to another; for others it’s an unnatural incursion into a netherworld that should never have been disturbed; for some it’s a nightmarish, claustrophobic approximation of life as a sardine; and for others it’s one of the greatest engineering achievements those ingenious Victorians left behind for us. It’s all of these things and more, both good and bad. All that life can afford, as Dr Johnson might have said.

© The Editor

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THIS YEAR’S MODEL

It says a lot about ‘terrorism fatigue’ that the latest atrocity – 14 dead in Barcelona to date – is something I’m struggling to write about without being overwhelmed by déjà-vu. Spain hasn’t experienced this kind of attack since the appalling Madrid bombings of 2004, but Blighty hadn’t undergone anything on the scale of 7/7 until Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge in our ‘Spring of Discontent’ earlier this year. By the time the third of these casual massacres came around, the media clichés were becoming familiar enough to induce the kind of reaction that dilutes the brutality of the slaughter and renders it almost on a par with all the other eye-rolling headlines that newspaper proprietors concoct to arrest falling sales figures.

The censorship of the gruesome reality is part of the game. There was an almighty storm on Twitter last night in which some thought it vital to show images from Barcelona whereas others regarded doing so as insulting to the people who lost their lives. Key to their recruitment policy, ISIS don’t spare the gory details in screening the aftermath of allied bombing raids on innocents abroad; seeing pictures that news outlets prefer not to show us has an impact that the Jihadi mindset responds to with a sense of vindication for their own retaliatory actions. What, one wonders, would the response in the west be were our broadcasters to practice a similarly uncompromising disregard for the editor’s scissors in the wake of another terrorist incident? Perhaps their very worry as to what response it might inspire is significant.

Whereas television news initially picked up the fearless baton from cinema newsreels and broadcasted the grim warts-and-all facts in vision from the 60s through to the 80s, recent trends have seen oversensitive censoring that leaves the reality to the viewers’ imaginations. Footage of Nazi death-camps may not have emerged until six years of conflict were already reaching their climax, but the horrific sight solidified hatred of the Germans for a generation and offered further justification for the Second World War, even if it was hardly still needed by 1945. Programmes this week marking the 70th anniversary of the partition of India have screened archive film of the bloodbaths in the wake of the British exit from the Subcontinent, yet it’s almost as though the grim images being in monochrome and from so long ago means they’re permissible in a historical context – akin to a false admission that this kind of brutality is something the civilised world left behind more than half-a-century ago.

Hearing of one more massacre on European soil and being denied the evidence transforms mass murder into an abstract concept and distances it further from the gut reaction images naturally provoke. When the world was shown the 1982 butchery at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, Israeli troops absolving themselves of responsibility led to impassioned demonstrations in Tel Aviv that spilled over into Israel’s parliament; merely hearing of what had happened probably wouldn’t have inspired the same level of outrage as seeing the images did.

But seeing the hideous truth of precisely what it is Jihadists are capable of would tarnish the fatuous script Theresa May recited with routine precision last night – the whole ‘standing with…’ speech, which has no doubt already been accompanied by complementary appropriation of the Barcelona FC badge as a makeshift profile picture on social media. The pat sentiment of this speech, echoed across Europe in the respective languages of all the other leaders who recycled it, says nothing about the issue and fails to address it because to address it would leave the harmonious Utopian narrative in tatters. Jeremy Corbyn’s dismissal of Sarah Champion for having the nerve to say a fact out loud is symptomatic of this brush-it-under-the-carpet and don’t-frighten-the-children attitude which is fine for an ostrich but won’t prevent another atrocity in another European city before the year is out.

Unrelated on the surface, though sharing the same spirit, are the increasingly fanatical demands by the Puritan militants to remove public monuments to long-dead American heroes whose philosophies are out of kilter with contemporary mores (no surprise when most have been deceased for over a century). Confederate generals are the current target, though one enlightened online idiot apparently advocated the blowing-up of Mount Rushmore yesterday. Considering the first handful of US Presidents were slave-owners and that the White House itself was built by slave labour – something Obama at least acknowledged with a refreshing absence of froth in his mouth – means any rewriting of American history on this level will require the removal of a good deal more than a statue of Robert E Lee from the landscape.

The Taliban or ISIS destroying ancient antiquities and Islamic iconography that they find offensive or insulting to their twisted take on the faith is no different from what is being allowed to take place in America at the moment; to condemn one and condone the other is hypocrisy of the highest order. These are not the symbolic gestures of revolutionary rebellions emanating from a subjugated populace breaking the chains of totalitarian bondage, but the product of those indoctrinated in the ideology of fanaticism. Whether on an American campus, in a Middle Eastern Jihadi training camp, or inside English churches under the reign of Edward VI, it matters not; the motivation is the same, and it is this unswerving tunnel vision that drives the greatest threats to freedom of thought, speech and living we are confronted by in 2017.

© The Editor

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SUMMER IN THE CITY

‘Forces of anarchy, wreckers of law and order: Communists, Maoists, Trotskyists, neo-Trotskyists, crypto-Trotskyists, union leaders, Communist union leaders, atheists, agnostics, long-haired weirdos, short-haired weirdos, vandals, hooligans, football supporters, namby-pamby probation officers, rapists, papists, papist rapists, foreign surgeons, head-shrinkers – who ought to be locked-up; Wedgewood-Benn, keg bitter, punk rock, glue-sniffers, Play for Today, squatters, Clive Jenkins, Roy Jenkins, up Jenkins, up everybody, Chinese restaurants…’

The famous rant from ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’ by Reggie’s unhinged ex-army brother-in-law Jimmy (a man forever experiencing a ‘bit of a cock-up on the catering front’) is counteracted by Reggie himself, who points out the kind of people Jimmy’s proposed right-wing private army will attract – ‘Thugs, bully-boys, psychopaths, sacked policemen, security guards, sacked security guards, racialists, paki-bashers, queer-bashers, chink-bashers…rear-admirals, queer admirals, vice-admirals, fascists, neo-fascists, crypto-fascists, loyalists, neo-loyalists, crypto-loyalists.’

The figures of hate may have changed in forty years, but an equivalent rant could easily be penned today, whether one’s parting is on the left or on the right. The level of anger and awareness of his own impotence in changing the world for what he perceives to be the better that’s implicit in Jimmy’s rant forces him into contemplating a doomed military coup, albeit an unspecified idealistic one he knows hasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of success; but he’s willing to give it a go, anyway, because there’s nothing else keeping him alive but hatred. It’s the sole emotion that makes him feel anything anymore. He’s been laid off by the army, the only profession he ever knew; he’s redundant and looks around at a society he doesn’t recognise, and hatred is the one thing he’s got. That at least retains its relevance.

There are a good few people in society today whose passions are fuelled by hatred in the absence of anything else, propelled towards extreme actions by the media message (or holy book) they decide supports and validates their viewpoint. There are many more that mercifully baulk at extreme actions but nevertheless focus on what they regard as the source of their misery with an intensity that is as illogical as it is understandable. John Lennon’s bitter recollection of the petty arguments that marred the ‘Let it Be’ sessions – whereby a bum note by one Beatle is responsible for why another Beatle’s life is lousy – highlights a simplistic blame game that appears to be the default mindset of many right now. Angry people in North Kensington blame government; angry people in Birstall blame immigration; angry people on London Bridge blame western civilisation; angry people in Finsbury Park blame Allah.

The gloomy prognosis of Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation counter-extremism think-tank is that both far-right and Islamic extremists threaten a virtual civil war if events of the past month are allowed to escalate further. ISIS-inspired or sponsored attacks are designed to polarise and Nawaz predicts they’ll continue to do so unless certain fundamental issues are addressed; and if trying to address them is greeted with cries of racism or Islamophobia (usually from non-Muslims on the left for whom Muslims are their pet Victims) then we ain’t get gonna get anywhere. ‘The desire to impose Islam and the desire to ban Islam are simply two ends to a lit fuse that can only lead to chaos,’ says Nawaz.

It doesn’t help that it’s so bloody hot at the moment either. Excessively warm weather doesn’t itself provoke chaos, but it can exacerbate simmering tensions; it did in 1976 at the Notting Hill Carnival, just as it did in Brixton and Toxteth in 1981; and, lest we’ve already forgotten, a host of cities across the country in 2011. All occurred during the uniquely claustrophobic cauldron of an urban English summer, when people are denied the need to breathe that the wide open spaces of rural areas afford their residents. The current heat-wave comes at an extremely perilous and unstable moment in this nation’s modern history.

The tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the indecisive General Election result, the weekly terrorist atrocities, the Brexit negotiations, the perceived indifference to austerity by those untouched by it – all ingredients in a combustible recipe that has the potential to boil over; and bringing in COBRA to keep an eye on the kitchen won’t necessarily turn down the temperature. Let’s hope we’re in for a cold spell, then.

ISIS destroying ancient monuments in Syria and a Momentum stormtrooper burning two-dozen copies of the Sun on social media may be worlds apart, but both are demonstrations of the same self-righteous arrogance and forcible imposition of a belief system that criticism of is forbidden. After the last terrorist incident – though I am losing track of them now, to be honest – I wrote a post I opened with a quote from Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919): ‘Freedom is the freedom to think otherwise’. That quote should be scrawled on campus walls, inscribed on the first page of the Koran, and carved into the front door of 10 Downing Street. The majority of people in this country probably agree with the sentiment, but those that don’t have the loudest voices. And they’re angry.

BRIAN CANT (1933-2017)

Only three weeks ago I penned a post in tribute to childhood giant John Noakes and mentioned how Noakes’ memorable persona was in the ‘daft uncle’ tradition so prevalent on children’s television in the 1970s. A name that cropped up in this post was that of Brian Cant; and now Cant too has gone. He was the same age as Noakes – 83 – and was held in the same affectionate esteem by those of us who watched him as kids.

One of the longest-serving presenters of ‘Play School’ – for a staggering 21 years – Cant also starred in its more madcap Saturday afternoon incarnation, ‘Play Away’, for 13 years; but it was narrating Gordon Murray’s ‘Trumptonshire’ trilogy of ‘Camberwick Green’, ‘Trumpton’ and ‘Chigley’ that earned his reputation as the owner of golden vocal chords that remain music to the ears of anyone for whom those magical little shows were pivotal to the pre-school experience. Along with Oliver Postgate, Richard Baker, Arthur Lowe and Ray Brooks, the voice of Brian Cant is one guaranteed to instil serenity in a way few pharmaceutical indulgences can.

We need our daft uncles more than ever right now, and they’re leaving us. It’s shit growing-up.

© The Editor

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THE AGE OF ANXIETY

In many respects, last week’s inconclusive General Election result was the perfect outcome for our indecisive times. Nobody seems to know what’s going on and what little we do know hardly fills the heart with joy. TV politicos and leader writers are frothing at the mouth because it’s undoubtedly dramatic, and chaos always makes for a far more gripping story than stability – strong or otherwise. But for many beyond the bubble, it’s the latest in a seemingly never-ending sequence of unsettling events imbued with uncertainty. A sweeping generalisation, perhaps, but mankind’s instinctive solace in dependable routine – as deep-rooted in its instinct as that of the animal kingdom – is in a permanent state of flux due to circumstances we appear to have no control over.

The surprising result of last year’s EU Referendum provoked just as much champagne cork popping as it did despondent despair; the election of Donald Trump as US President had a similar impact. At the same time, the ongoing efforts of Remainers to delay the implementation of Brexit or to even overturn the outcome altogether has led to renewed paranoia and panic on the other side that the euphoria of the Leave success will be cancelled out by the vested interests of higher powers; equally, the persistent attempts to impeach Trump by his many enemies more or less from the moment he was sworn-in on the steps of the Capitol Building has served to strengthen the vicious divisions his entrance into the presidential race sparked off in the first place.

The 24/7 howl of protest emanating from social media, itself a medium apt for the here and now in its deceptive illusion of community and friends that rarely (if ever) meet in person, is the cry of those powerless to do anything else to make their grievances heard. I suppose Twitter or Facebook could have been just as fitting a forum for the silent majority during past crises that remain in living memory for some – in 1940 or 1962, for example – but its presence today in societies that have seen their traditional structures and certainties whittled away by economic and global forces seems as predetermined as Brexit and the Donald. Even from a distance that can still only be measured by months, it already appears evident that 2016’s two seismic political earthquakes – the EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election – could only end one way.

The central premise of the contemporary narrative is Project Fear. Whether in the hands of Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, ISIS or home-grown Jihadists, Project Fear has enough visible entrails leading back to its origins to fill a ten-hour Adam Curtis series, yet few care about the cause; the effect is what worries most. Footage of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal or the carnage suicide bombers and machete-wielding white van men leave in their wake sits alongside Trump’s undoing of hard-fought legislation designed to extend the lifespan of the planet or Theresa May’s desperate desire to cling onto power by doing deals with bigoted Ulstermen, presenting a resounding ‘f**k you’ to those who can do little to prevent further destabilising of their world other than scrawl graffiti on a wall or wave a placard or simply wait for the light relief of a commercial break.

Yes, the false idyll of advertising has always sold the same unattainable dreams; after all, in 1965, Bob Dylan sang ‘Advertising signs that con/you into thinking that you’re the one/that can do what’s never been done/you can win what’s never been won’. More than half-a-century on, however, in an era of rising prices, static wages, food banks and empty houses too expensive to live in, they somehow seem more insulting and more frustrating than they ever did before because those dreams feel more unattainable than they ever did before. Every blinding white smile or smug motorist to grace our billboards and TV or Smartphone screens is spewing a sack-full of salt into our open wounds and then employing a scrubbing-brush to rub it in.

But, like ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ or ‘The Voice’, this is supposed to be our aspirational alternative to doom ‘n’ gloom; and watching some hapless wannabe being told that their future is the pound shop check-out till rather than Glastonbury after all gives us the opportunity to laugh in unison at the deluded fool who reached for the stars and landed in the gutter. We can ridicule the little man because the big man is too detached from our reality to strike a blow on target.

A report that appeared on FB last week claimed couples were considering not having children because ‘the world is so f**ked-up’; I thought of when my own parents were born, in the middle of the Second World War, and came to the conclusion that seemed a poor excuse for neglecting to sire offspring when there are so many blatantly sounder reasons for not doing so. Yes, the babies born during WWII largely arrived thanks to randy servicemen making the most of a 48-hour pass or restless wives enjoying a one-night stand with a GI, but I’m pretty sure the belief that the world was f**ked-up carried more weight back then than it does now. Then again, maybe they had something we don’t.

Perhaps the crucial element during the war was the recognition of a greater good that required the setting aside of minor gripes and divisions in order that it could be fought for. In the years following 1945, many who were there spoke of those times with a nostalgic glow that often seemed baffling to those born long after it was all over; but it’s possible the genuine sense of community arising from everyone working together for the same admirable objective – rather than the superficial virtual community of social media, which is an online asylum for the angry, lonely and confused – opened a brief portal into a different and more desirable model for society that sealed up thereafter.

At the moment, the world has the same sudden disorientation of a child whose parents have just separated; the past is a comfort blanket while the present is scary and the future is too frightening to contemplate. It won’t last; these periods never do. But living through it can be a bloody hard slog.

© The Editor

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OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish-German Marxist revolutionary of the early 20th century, once said ‘Freedom is the freedom to think otherwise’. One could argue the outsider is the embodiment of this philosophy, especially when outsiderdom is not so much choice as instinct. Being an outsider within society is often triggered by an instinctive response to the herd – a response that rejects them. For me, it began at school. The majority of my classmates wearing a certain item of clothing and a particular haircut or being into the same band made me want to go in the opposite direction. I don’t really know why; that’s just the way I am. It wasn’t a contrarian’s approach, spurning whatever was popular just for the sake of being ‘different’; it came from a place I trusted, one that had a deep-rooted aversion to uniformity, whether in terms of a dress code or opinions.

I appreciate for many people this is an alien reaction to the consensus; most feel comfortable belonging to a community of like-minds, all thinking and dressing the same, all listening to the same music, watching the same TV shows and movies, eating the same food, reading the same books, and choosing the same enemy. Authority particularly likes it when uniformity is embraced; control of a large demographic is far easier when that demographic embraces uniformity, when it unthinkingly complies with the rules that govern uniformity without question or complaint.

Being an outsider can undoubtedly be an isolating lifestyle, and the downside is that many outsiders’ natural antipathy towards the herd can sometimes manifest itself in worrying ways. Many of the perpetrators of high-school massacres in the US are long since detached from their classmates and grow to detest them to the point whereby the only way to achieve a sense of victory over them is turn up at school with an AK47 and slaughter them. The symptoms of alienation usually follow a linear train of thought in such cases, one that was exploited with sinister cynicism by a mysterious organisation in the 1974 movie, ‘The Parallax View’. A journalist played by Warren Beatty stumbles upon the clandestine Parallax Corporation, which is training political assassins by recruiting disaffected outsiders and appealing to their isolationist stance by telling them how special they are and how everyone else isn’t.

To dehumanise one’s opponent is, of course, one way in which a soldier can be persuaded to kill another human being in combat without being stricken by guilt at taking a life. Similarly, those that prey upon the lonely outsider encourage this separateness from the herd yet simultaneously offer an alternative community to the one they’ve rejected – as long as they’re prepared to submit to its ground-rules. Religion, generally one on a cult level or one that is perceived as a minority faith, is exceptionally skilled at exploiting this state of mind. It could be Jim Jones or Abu Qatada acting as the charismatic spokesman for the faith; but it can be sold to the recruits in possession of a persecution complex as a faith with a persecution complex; and the outsider now has an official seal of approval to punish the persecutors.

Of course, Islam is far from being a minority faith, and though it may now be the second largest religion in the UK, it still accounts for a very small percentage of the population; moreover, the percentage of that percentage that follows the most extreme and nihilistic version of Islam (the one that has its origins in the land of our good friends, Saudi Arabia) is even smaller. However, perhaps with only Irish Roman Catholicism in the 1950s comparable in the way it can exercise control over its followers in terms of demanding absolute submission to its doctrines, Islam can be a cradle-to-grave lifestyle guide encompassing moral, legal and educational needs that instil a sense of outsiderdom and isolation from non-Muslim Britain – whether deliberate or accidental – even if the majority of its followers are ordinary individuals who would no more contemplate blowing themselves up in a crowded room than you or I would.

But the outsider nestled within the secure parallel universe of British Islam is far more dangerous than the hairy-palmed teenage Twitter troll because he is prepared to step out of the bedroom and enact his fantasies. Many of us feel the material status symbols the west tells us we need are for those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing; but we don’t feel compelled to murder consumers because they don’t share that view. The extremist convert, on the other hand, already feels an outsider due to the separatist manner of his upbringing, and conversion to ‘the cause’ exacerbates his own personal sense of outsiderdom even further.

The news that several far-right thuggish dimwits have been arrested for posting videos of themselves advocating murdering Muslims is hardly something that will cause any of us sleepless nights; though as BBC presenter Stacey Dooley discovered when she spoke to some of the Radical Islamic protestors marching through her hometown of Luton five years ago, equally vile messages being spread by those at the forefront of the demo were being tolerated without fear of arrest. But this has been happening for a long time; remember the public book-burning when ‘The Satanic Verses’ was published? Yesterday it emerged that one of the three perpetrators of events in London at the weekend had appeared in a Channel 4 documentary last year, playing the ‘in plain sight’ Jihadist taunting a policeman on camera without being nicked; perhaps Eddie Izzard’s beret had been knocked off somewhere down the road and the copper in question was en route to that emergency instead.

One of the Muslim voices heard on the national news in the days following the attacks in London came from a trainee female lawyer who bemoaned the lack of integration and increased separatism of Britain’s Muslim population; she made a salient point, yet contradicted it by being clad in full burqa uniform with niqaab veil, seemingly unaware that dressing like the Bride of Vader serves as a barrier to integration for many. Apartheid imposed either within or without cannot create for real the inclusive harmonious Britain on display in the arena housing last Sunday’s Manchester memorial concert. Most outsiders can reject it without the need to blow it up or attack it with machetes; but not all.

© The Editor

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OPERATION GROUNDHOG DAY

Yes, we’ve been here before, and not that long since either. As a matter of fact, the way in which I heard of events in London late last night was more or less identical to the way in which I heard of events in Manchester just under a fortnight ago, right at the point whereby I was winding down online for the evening. I won’t even use the word déjà vu because it seems such a cliché, but at the moment it feels as though we are living in a permanent rolling news channel, with atrocities on a loop; the media barely has time to get over blanket coverage of one incident before the next one comes along with all its attendant visual signposts recycled once again.

I actually avoided the real rolling news channels this time round because the manner of reportage is too close to the style I spoofed on a YT video a week or so ago. Part of me was also worried I was beginning to become jaded with it all, in the same way US television viewers did with the Moon Landings after Neil Armstrong’s one small step. But the pattern is well established now, as much for the media as for the perpetrators, and the worry is that we become so accustomed to terrorist attacks that they lose their power to shock. It would be sad if the kind of fatigue sets in that is often the response to the latest gun crime incident in the States, though incessant exposure to the same TV presentation and the same newspaper headlines can make this possible.

What happened on London Bridge and around Borough Market brought a disturbing new interpretation of the phrase ‘White Van Man’ to the colloquial table. Having been confronted by the considerably rarer tactic of the suicide bomber as a means of fast mass murder in Manchester, the public were reunited with the same haphazard approach to Jihadi brutality as occurred on Westminster Bridge in March – a vehicle deliberately driven into pedestrians, followed by knife-wielding lunatics emerging from it to wreak havoc in the name of Allah before being gunned down by armed police. What comes next we can already write the script for.

COBRA will reconvene; the PM will issue the same platitudes and promises from the Downing Street lectern; Fleet Street editorials will either preach tolerance or advocate internment; arrests around the country will be made; the terrorists will be named and FB profile pics of them will be unearthed as their road to martyrdom will raise few eyebrows; some on social media will question the timing of events and enter into conspiracy theories as to how they will benefit the Tories; we will be constantly reminded Islam is a peace-loving faith; and on and on it goes before the next attack.

Right now, it’s impossible to say if this is a co-ordinated sequence of assaults on the UK conducted by individuals in touch with each other at the planning process or if one attack inspires another in spontaneous copycat incidents, though the latter seems more likely; the chillingly clinical team effort that Paris experienced a couple of years ago was closer to a guerrilla operation; this still has the feel of DIY amateurishness. But it’s indisputable that after a decade of relative immunity to the bloodshed enacted on mainland European soil it now appears the twelve-year armistice since 7/7 is well and truly over. Are we in the thick of an Islamic equivalent of the IRA bombing campaign of the mid-70s or is it mere coincidence that all these attacks have taken place in such quick succession? Nobody knows yet; but whether the climate of fear one presumes the Jihadists intended to create will influence the thought processes of people going about their daily lives remains to be seen.

Of course, the timing of the incidents, so close to a General Election, means what began as the Brexit Election is in danger of becoming the Terror Election. National campaigning has been suspended by at least the Conservatives and Labour for today as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives last night, though business as usual will resume tomorrow; when we’re just four days away from the nation going to the polls, the campaign has no choice but to continue. It’s difficult to predict what kind of impact the current onslaught may or may not have on how the electorate decide to vote, for at the moment it seems whoever happens to be occupying No.10 on Friday is pretty powerless to prevent this from happening all over again.

I suppose it’s inevitable that the compulsory mouthpiece of social media is awash with opinions and reactions that reflect the confusion of the generations that have come of age with no memory of the last time this country was in a state of high alert. When the IRA were inflicting their own nihilistic ideology on mainland Britain, a large majority of the population had lived through the Second World War and didn’t scare easily. As far as the UK is concerned, the 1990s was a relatively peaceful decade to be born into when compared to the couple that preceded it; and even 9/11 as a game-changing event is something that now happened sixteen years ago; one would have to be at least twenty to have a clear memory of it.

Therefore, as easy (not to mention lazy) as it is for someone of my age – as well as slightly younger and slightly older – to react and respond differently to each incident, with less sense of feeling the world is going to Hell in a handcart, it’s worth acknowledging there are a lot of people out there who have no precedents to fall back on. These are indeed unsettling times, but they don’t alter my own personal outlook on the good, the bad and the ugly inherent in my fellow-man. Let’s just keep buggering on.

© The Editor

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KORAN ABOUT THE HOUSE

I’ve never been in a mosque, but I’ve never been in a synagogue either. Although I was raised in a secular household, I am familiar with one branch of the House of God on account of having to attend endless childhood weddings and christenings; these were churches of the austere Protestant variety, however, rather than the camp Catholic model. I’ve no idea if the ambience is as chilly and, frankly, boring in the showrooms of other denominations, but with all my C-of-E education coming via the dullest lessons at school, I think my agnostic outlook was sealed from an early age. Drawing a picture of Pinky and Perky at the Crucifixion in the infants was probably a telling indication that I recognised a fairy tale when I heard one.

On last night’s edition of ‘Question Time’, a member of the audience brandished a leaflet he swore blind he’d been handed at an open day at Didsbury Mosque, at which the father of Salman Ramadan Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was once a regular. What he read from the leaflet sounded like classic Radical Islamic propaganda, denouncing western immorality in a language that implied such immorality was deserving of severe punishment. A veteran of the same mosque sitting a few rows down denied he could have received such literature at Didsbury, but the man was adamant.

The general impression given is that there does seem to be something of an ‘It weren’t me, guv; I weren’t even there’ culture prevailing through many of the mosques that have harboured the hate preachers and fundamentalist shit-stirrers in the UK over recent years. Either nobody saw or heard anything or their eyes turned blind through choice; however, not knowing the interior structure of mosques, I’ve no idea if the guilty parties retreat into special recruitment rooms. But the climate of fear when it comes to informing in many Muslim communities seems almost reminiscent of Sicily or even Belfast during the Troubles; events in Rotherham and Rochdale appear to back up this Mafia-like control the worst offenders have over the populace and why the police steer clear.

Then again, it has emerged that Salman Ramadan Abedi’s extremist views and support for ISIS had aroused enough suspicion within his own community that he had been reported to an anti-terrorism hotline, something I imagine would put those who reported him at considerable risk should they be identified. As a result of these calls, Abedi was known to the security services; but police manpower being deployed to keep an eye on potential Jihadists would severely stretch the police manpower required for historic fishing parties into the sex lives of dead celebrities and politicians, so it’s no wonder the likes of Salman Ramadan Abedi could further his ambitions free from surveillance. Many police officers may have been laid off in the wake of Government cuts to the country’s forces, but deciding the priorities for those that remain is something the police themselves have to answer for.

The internet has also resurfaced in the blame game this week. Online outlets such as Facebook and Twitter certainly operate on curious moral grounds. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had her FB account suspended after posting a photo of herself holding a Supertramp LP over her chest; the sleeve of said album featured nothing but a pair of tits on it. Similarly, the entertaining Twitter ‘Whores of Yore’ account initially had a profile pic which was a portrait of Nell Gwyn showing a nipple; the painting hangs in the National Gallery for all age-groups to see, but was evidently too outrageous for cyberspace, and the offending nipple had to be removed for the account to continue. On the other hand, Facebook and Twitter don’t appear to have similar problems with inflammatory language or violent videos promoting opinions that somewhat contradict the Utopian New Age worldview shared by Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow visionaries.

So, yes, mosques and websites have been under the spotlight yet again this week, though few have mentioned HM prisons, which seem to be the real recruitment centres when it comes to home-grown terrorists. The escalating convictions for those planning terrorist attacks since 7/7 means many prisons have a far higher Muslim population today than has been the case in the past, and the brutally alienating regime behind bars means birds of a feather naturally flock together.

A young Muslim prisoner who may be serving a sentence that has no Radical Islamic element to it is befriended by another Muslim prisoner who recommends one way to stay safe from the psychos, the druggies and those who take a shine to a pretty face is to spend his time exclusively with other Muslim prisoners. Segregation and indoctrination ensue, and said prisoner is released with a head pumped full of Paradise and those oh-so alluring virgins.

Armed police and even bloody soldiers – both of whom have had their numbers severely depleted by the same Government that now requires their services to enhance ‘Project Fear’ for the public – are currently highly visible on the streets of Britain; but they’re guarding the stable door when the proverbial horse has already bolted. No wannabe Jihadist would contemplate an ‘incident’ when there’s such a show of force; better to strike when nobody is looking. No matter how heavy an armed presence Bobby and Tommy present this weekend, the only strike I expect to see at Wembley tomorrow will emanate from the foot of Diego Costa.

© The Editor

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VIRTUOUS SIGNALLING AND OTHER CONSPIRACIES

There’s an uncannily accurate episode of ‘Steptoe and Son’ in which one of Albert’s aged siblings snuffs it and the extended Steptoe family gather like ghouls to see which of the deceased’s possessions they can get their hands on. Each is arguing that they’re more deserving of recognition in the last will and testament than the other as they took more time out to wait upon the deathbed beforehand. We’ve all been there and we’ve all seen how such occasions can bring out the worst in people; but there’s no denying that many present at these events really enjoy a good funeral, especially when they’re getting on and the options for funerals re family and friends increase. For some, it’s the highlight of their diminishing social calendar.

I only bring this up in that I was reminded of it when trawling through social media yesterday, with Facebook in particular clogged-up with glib virtue signalling as FB folk fell over each other to see who could shout the loudest as to how much they cared about what had happened in Manchester. One could be generous and say that this is the only method of expressing sympathy for those who have never known a time without the medium, although most of the posts I saw were from people not much younger than me; equally, one could say it serves a purpose in stating the bleedin’ obvious for an echo-chamber audience that otherwise have no other means of agreeing that Manchester was a pretty bloody horrible tragedy, end of.

But whatever genuine feelings of sorrow in some cases provoke the need to advertise one’s upset, it was hard to escape the feeling that many were doing what was expected of them, living by the unwritten rules of Facebook etiquette whenever a good terrorist incident occurs; and I couldn’t help come to the conclusion that a vast amount of FB members love a good terrorist incident. As long as there’s a hash-tag attached, the opportunities to promote one’s empathy and humanity are abundant.

Slogans of solidarity with Manchester; FB profile pictures redesigned to demonstrate this solidarity – even though (unlike Paris 2015) few incorporated the national flag into the imagery (bit racist, perhaps?); endless token ‘our thoughts go out to…’ posts; a few ‘Bring back our girls’-type photos of DIY placards being held aloft, which must come as comfort to those who lost loved ones at the Arena; and a discernible sigh of relief that something major and horrible had happened that gave the Facebook army the chance to relive the Diana hysteria yet again, hi-jacking the grief of the people who were actually bereaved. The excess of wallowing in it all I found quite nauseating, though even this was superseded by some suggestions by the most pathetically paranoid Corbynistas that the whole event was somehow timed to derail the upsurge in Labour support that had occurred in the days leading up to it. Give me strength.

No better, however, was the behaviour of Fleet Street’s finest, with tales of the Telegraph ruthlessly pursuing the sibling of someone killed in Manchester; the lines from Elvis Costello’s peerless ‘Pills and Soap’ sprang to mind – ‘They talked to the sister/the father and the mother/with a microphone in one hand/and a chequebook in the other/and the camera noses in to the tears on her face.’ Pretty reprehensible, though we don’t expect anything else from the press, even if it wasn’t from the tabloid end of the market this time round. And as for the boringly obvious Katie Hopkins on Twitter – yes, dear; we know you’re a professional contrarian by now, so stop being so bloody predictable.

Not great timing in terms of receiving the kind of coverage one would expect, but the death of Sir Roger Moore coming when it did provided an interesting contrast with social media’s response to events in Manchester. I feel compelled to comment on his passing because he was somebody I knew of from an early age, someone I watched in ‘The Saint’ and ‘The Persuaders’ as a small child, and someone whose seven films as 007 spanned the mid-70s to the mid-80s, still the longest run of any Bond. The last three movies might not be up to much, but the first four remain amongst the most entertaining outings for a character the likes of which the nation could do with for real right now.

I never met Roger Moore in person, but as with many of the personalities we encounter on the big or small screen, he played a minor albeit enjoyable part in my life via his career as an actor whose action man roles were always served-up in an arch dressing; he never took himself too seriously and he acknowledged the ludicrousness of James Bond by sending him up as his run in the part was extended. His Bond movies might be too tongue-in-cheek for some, but they’re a hell of a lot more fun than any starring Daniel Craig.

Anyone who never met Roger Moore in person, but who spent ninety minutes in his company when he was doing his job, is understandably prompted to express sadness at his death or comment upon it online. It’s a natural reaction when a public figure we were fond of dies; they may remind us of childhood or a happy period of our lives; if they’re a musician, we might associate one of their songs with a cherished moment that hearing a snatch of the key melody again might briefly return us to if only in mind rather than body. However, when it comes to multiple deaths of people we’d never heard of while they were alive, whose contribution to our lives wasn’t even of a minor nature, who cares what we think?

‘Our thoughts go out to…’ may indicate one is ‘on side’ and part of a virtual community that cares, but it means f**k all to those who have suffered as a result of what happened in Manchester. The mass craving for mourning that now has a vintage of 20 years has been expanded by social media to the point whereby one wonders how its most vocal and visible proponents would cope if they themselves experienced personal bereavement. One wouldn’t wish that on anybody, but the difference between mourning for someone you never knew and someone you did is vast; until that happens, on they’ll go, endlessly recycling long-distance grief in a circle of vicarious cyberspace sharing, too preoccupied with narcissistic point-scoring to notice soldiers taking up permanent positions on the street in the transformation of Britain from elected democracy to armed camp.

© The Editor

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THE BALLROOM BLITZ

There are post-war precedents, though to be fair, mercifully not many. The highest number of fatalities during the brutal IRA mainland bombing campaign in the 1970s was the 21 killed in the Birmingham Pub Bombings of November 1974; this atrocity was topped by the 7/7 attacks in 2005, which claimed 52 lives – the highest number of fatalities on British soil since the Second World War. Now, added to the litany of mass murders in peacetime Britain is last night’s explosion at the Manchester Arena. As I started writing this around an hour after first hearing about it, 19 deaths had been reported; coming back to finish it off after a kip, the body-count had risen to 22. Echoes of the massacre that occurred in Paris in November 2015 are inevitable, coming as it did at a music venue packed with thousands seeking an entertaining night out.

During the ‘War on Terror’ we seem to have been living through ever since 9/11, Blighty has been fortunate in that incidents of this nature have been relatively minor, largely restricted to a small handful of deaths caused by amateur Jihadists lacking the ammunition to do damage on a large scale. The 7/7 bombings were unique in the level of their co-ordination and execution, but nothing comparable in terms of fatalities had been seen in over a decade until yesterday. Whether that suggests this country’s security forces are better at their jobs than their continental equivalents or that multicultural integration has been achieved with a greater success here than in any mainland European nation is open to debate. However, neither proposal prevented what happened in Manchester.

As I’m neither a 12-year-old girl nor the father of a 12-year-old daughter, I confess I’d never heard the name Ariana Grande until news of events at the US singer’s Manchester gig broke; I suppose that name will now be immortalised in the worst manner imaginable, forever associated with an incident that she herself had no hand in. From what I can gather, she sounds the type of production-line pop star that US showbiz specialises in, the kind of Miley Cyrus marionette that attracts young teenage girls to her shows, many of whom (it would seem) are amongst the dead in Manchester.

I suppose for some present the concert would have been their introduction to the live music experience and most will have been chaperoned there by a parent. For the same age group flocking to scream at The Osmonds or David Cassidy 45 years ago, the biggest worry would have been the possibility of being crushed at the front of the stage. Nobody back then envisaged this kind of horrific outcome when attending something as frivolous as a pop concert.

The suicide bomber, whilst a popular employment option in the Middle East, is an industry that has never really caught on in a big way outside of Islamic war-zones. It could be that job satisfaction resting upon the likelihood of death serves as a bit of a deterrent, despite the Paradise pension scheme and its appealing clause concerning available virgins. The suicide bomber business has done its best to establish European branches via online salesmen, though the UK’s response has mostly consisted of recruits travelling abroad as the brickies did in ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ rather than working from home. The 7/7 bombers were the exception rather than the rule here, which is why the fact that the incident at the Manchester Arena being triggered by a deranged individual wearing the latest Middle Eastern explosive ensemble is such a shock.

From what is known so far, the suicide bomber pressed the detonator in the foyer of the Arena just as the audience was beginning to leave the concert; his presence as the cause of the chaos was backed-up by eyewitness reports of nuts and bolts scattered across the area and the unmistakable odour of explosives in the air. It’s possible he was operating alone, though the suspicion that he may be a member of a network whose other members may well be plotting a similar operation hasn’t been ruled out. Unlike 7/7, the majority of these incidents in the UK – whether the murder of Lee Rigby or recent events on Westminster Bridge – have been the handiwork of individuals as opposed to a team; this particular incident would have required considerable planning, though that doesn’t necessarily mean one wannabe Kamikaze couldn’t have done it on his own.

When one thinks of the large-scale public events that have taken place in this country since 2005 – Royal Weddings, Jubilees, the 2012 London Olympics – the fact they’ve passed by without any contribution from the suicide bomber sector could be viewed as a triumph over such nihilistic interventions. But perhaps these events were a tad too obvious, attracting an intense police presence and security service planning months in advance; a pop concert by a singer in Manchester that few over 30 have even heard of, on the other hand – well, who would have expected that? The element of surprise appears to be an essential aspect of this kind of project.

The General Election campaign has been temporarily suspended, flags are flying at half-mast, the TV news channels are replaying the same images and reporting the same stories on a loop again, social media is awash with virtue signalling, and world leaders have issued their commiserations and condemnations; the pick of the latter was undoubtedly Donald Trump’s description of the perpetrator in the plural as ‘evil losers’. And that’s about it at the moment; not a lot else to add other than it’s shit innit.

© The Editor

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A BRIDGE TOO FAR

Viewed now almost as an appendage to Parliament, Westminster Bridge was once a tourist attraction for all the right reasons. During the construction of the original in the 1740s, the fact it was only the second major bridge erected in central London since Roman times provoked both excitement and opposition. The latter came from the Thames watermen, whose taxi service ferrying people from one side of the river to the other was perceived to be under threat; for centuries, old London Bridge, that marvellous medieval bottleneck crammed with houses and shops and permanently congested with traffic, had been the sole man-made edifice enabling the Thames to be crossed without the need for hailing a boat.

The sudden appearance of a new bridge was so novel a sight that during one of the periodical winters when the Thames froze over and a frost-fair was held on the river, the incomplete piers of Westminster Bridge served as part of the entertainment as visitors paid to stand atop them for a unique view of the city. This version of Westminster Bridge survived for just over a century before the current model replaced it, but it remains the oldest working bridge still in use in the capital.

Moving on, say the words Westminster Bridge to TV viewers of a certain age and chances are they’ll think of that iconic shot of the Daleks from the 1964 ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’; the Time Lord’s arch-enemies gliding along the bridge with Big Ben behind them seemed to enhance their menace. A Surrey quarry masquerading as an alien landscape was one thing, but the natives of Skaro intruding on home territory convinced children they could turn a corner and run into a Dalek on their own high-street.

Of course, Westminster Bridge has now been added to the annals of infamous London locations on account of events that took place there yesterday, effectively erasing all past associations from the popular imagination. The Daleks are the kind of fantasy embodiment of evil we can understand and be excited by, just as we can Dracula or Darth Vader; but the greatest evil, as always, is harboured within man himself, not the creatures he creates. Patrick McGoohan got that when he revealed Number One in the controversial climax of ‘The Prisoner’ as being Number Six all along.

Any individual who can deliberately drive a car into a random selection of pedestrians and then stab a man to death either because he was wearing a particular uniform or simply because he got in the way inhabits a different league altogether, one that provokes repulsion and bewilderment because it bears so little relation to the evil of fiction that we’ve been familiar with ever since being told the story of the Big Bad Wolf’s encounter with Little Red Riding Hood as children. The real bogeyman isn’t a comfortable caricature, but too close to the realities of the dark side in all of us. Just make sure you get his name right.

Yes, it seems apt, considering the topic of the previous post, that the rush to be first with the facts following yesterday’s incident resulted in a catastrophic faux-pas on the part of ‘cool’ Channel 4 News, which tries so hard to be the ‘Magpie’ to Newsnight’s ‘Blue Peter’. With veteran host Jon Snow at the helm, a man who seeks to combine the broadcasting gravitas of David Dimbleby with the wacky tie wardrobe of Richard Whiteley, ably assisted by both Cathy Newman (a woman whose serious news presenter credentials have often been undermined by the occasional glimpse of stocking-top – check YouTube for evidence) and Krishnan Guru-Murthy (a man whose fat neck seems in constant danger of absorbing his entire head), the programme was caught out as it jumped the gun far too early in the aftermath of the afternoon’s confusion by naming the assailant.

Unfortunately, the man they named – Trevor Brooks AKA Abu Izadeen, a disciple of fellow jail-bird Anjem Choudary – happens to be serving a prison sentence at the moment and therefore couldn’t have been behind the wheel on Westminster Bridge. But he’s a fat ‘coloured’ bloke with a big beard, so the cock-up is understandable, eh? Sacrificing fact-checking and journalistic integrity in order to be first off the blocks in the perennial battle with Sky and the Beeb, Channel 4 News blew it big time and became a Twitter laughing-stock last night, even removing the offending section from the sixty-minute delay of the Channel 4 +1 service so their glaring error couldn’t be watched again. But the damage was already done.

As expected, the trickle of misinformation that occupied the hours following yesterday’s events was eventually superseded by a clearer picture of what happened and who was actually involved. The dead have been named, as has the perpetrator of the incident, and his name isn’t either Trevor Brooks or Abu Izadeen, surprisingly. It should serve as a warning to rolling news channels and all media outlets that deal with the news to make sure they get their facts right before broadcasting them, though I doubt they’ll take heed of the warning; the competition is too intense and the self-inflicted pressure to get a scoop to the public before the competitors do so precludes any old-school attention to detail.

© The Editor

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