TALKIN’ ‘BOUT MY CANCELLATION

Casper‘I pms at these,’ is not perhaps a statement that will be forever enshrined in the annals of great quotes. The person who said it went by the name of shazza, whoever shazza may be. But shazza is nevertheless a notable figure to me, for his/her comment was the last to ever grace a video on my YouTube channel, the final person provoked into saying something after enjoying one of my offerings on a platform that had twelve long years of providing satirical and/or bawdy entertainment for the masses who were incapable of raising even a moderate titter at the woeful excuse for comedy that television serves-up these days. Unfortunately, the history that shazza made with this brief comment on the most recent instalment of ‘Buggernation Street’ is a history that has been erased from the books, for Sillycunt Valley’s very own Ministry of Truth has excised yours truly from the platform as of late Wednesday evening. I’m not playing the victim here, btw; I just figured you might find this story interesting.

Long-term readers of the Winegum or viewers of my channel might recall I walked away from YT in 2019 after a dispiriting couple of years in which all my videos were demonetised as several others were blocked and banned; I stopped uploading new material, but left what was still on there for those that routinely watched the same favourite videos over and over again. As far back as 2016 I was noticing pernicious changes creeping into YT as the corporate world belatedly became aware of the platform’s potential to sell ‘product’ and began issuing copyright strikes left right and centre at the independent creators who’d made YT what it was in the first place; I even wrote an early post about it, one that still attracts views, and this was penned when I used to receive an admittedly small income from YT – not much more than around £150 a year. Then, overnight, all the videos I received that income from were demonetised. The new regime was making its insidious presence felt.

Rick Beato, an American record producer with an informative and engaging YT channel, recently issued a video in which he berated Don Henley from The Eagles for whining over ‘loss of earnings’ due to fans sharing snippets of Eagles tracks on YT. Beato correctly pointed out the absolute pittance of royalties Henley could claim should anyone dare insert fifteen seconds of ‘Hotel California’ into a video would be something to put Spotify to shame – a handful of cents at the most. He went on to underline the ludicrousness of this farcical copyright circus by playing a few bars of the piano intro to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the wrong key ala Les Dawson simply because he couldn’t even play the proper bloody melody himself without being slapped by a strike, let alone using the actual Queen recording on the video. This has been one of the moves that have reduced YT to merely another corporate tool, yet so dominant is the platform when it comes to its specific market that it continues to put other video platforms in the permanent shade. It remains the go-to medium, just as the BBC used to be whenever a major news story broke.

In a way, this is the double-edged sword of YT – as a creator, one is hampered and restricted by the rules and regulations that require expert navigation in order to avoid a copyright strike; yet, at the same time, one is guaranteed a huge audience that no other online video platform can compete with. Despite my reservations, this was the main reason I returned to YT after a two-year absence in 2021; I simply couldn’t ignore the massive upsurge of views and tsunami of new subscribers that appeared to have been a side-effect of lockdown. It would’ve been foolish to spurn this unexpected and enthusiastic fan-base eager for new videos, so I gave them what they wanted by reviving what became my signature series, ‘Buggernation Street’. No new episodes of this Derek & Clive-like take on the early 70s incarnation of a rather well-known TV soap opera had been produced for six years, but once I was back on the grubby cobbles it was as though I’d never been away.

Of course, the filth for which ‘Buggernation’ is infamous is all in the mind – it’s down to the often-horrific imagery that materialises in the viewer’s head as a consequence of the dialogue I insert into the characters’ mouths. There’s no on-screen nudity or sex of any kind in a single episode of the 42 that ended up being produced; it’s merely suggested in the most explicit manner possible – and it makes people laugh at the same time; indeed, how could they not laugh at the thought of Maggie Clegg treating Alf Roberts to a spot of water-sports or poor old Stan Ogden being forced to bend over as Hilda shoves a police truncheon where the sun don’t shine? It’s patently ridiculous and that’s what makes it work as comedy. The simple suggestion of something depraved going on behind the net curtains is enough to provoke the viewer’s imagination, and the viewer doesn’t need to see on screen what’s being described. Putting any of that on screen would lead to an instant ban and it would be rightly labelled pornography – especially as the YT of today has clambered up on top of the moral high-horse and laughably appears to regard itself as a barometer of family-friendly decency.

When YT took it upon itself to remove my entire channel without warning – rather than ban a handful of videos I could have easily uploaded to another outlet like Vimeo – their reasons for doing so suggested the images placed in their heads by ‘Buggernation Street’ were too much for their fragile sensibilities; they then, like some satanic abuse fantasist, appeared to believe they had actually seen these images in my videos. ‘This account has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy on nudity or sexual content.’ There was no nudity, and any sexual content was of a purely verbal nature – end of. I pointed this out when I appealed, but their response was ‘YouTube is not the place for nudity, pornography or other sexually provocative content’. Yeah, that’s why I didn’t upload any. Just in case I mistook YT for CBeebies, I always ticked the box stating my videos were for adults only, YT’s equivalent of the old-fashioned X certificate. But, of course, their decision had f**k-all to do with nudity or pornography.

Ever since my channel began attracting viewing figures that elevated it above the best-kept-secret cult it had been for a decade, it was undeniably brought to the attention of the Identity Politics Gestapo that run all media today. And what probably signed my YT death warrant was a video that mocked all they hold dear, a spoof BBC1 trailer for ‘Wokeday Evening’. The glaring difference between YT and other video platforms was never better highlighted by the viral success of this particular video. It had originally been published on Vimeo a couple of years ago and attracted virtually no attention at all; remixed and expanded, I decided to temporarily shelve my ‘Buggernation’-only principles when it came to YT uploads and enabled ‘Wokeday Evening’ to be seen by the widest possible audience. Views shot through the roof as it was tweeted by numerous media personalities not exactly beloved by the Woke mafia, and I would imagine a sizeable number of complaints were registered with the YT upholders of online standards, double and otherwise.

Not only can I not start another channel on YT, but I’m also prevented from subscribing to anyone else now; I can’t even comment on or ‘like’ the efforts of others. In YT terms, I am officially a non-person, of whom all traces have been wiped. The thought of adopting a new identity and sneaking back on there is not one I relish, for nothing will have changed; I’d only be confronted by the same bullshit that provoked my two-year exodus in 2019. YT must have missed the money they made from cramming ads into my videos during my absence, but they’ve made a hell of a lot more from me over the last twelve months. Well, f**k ’em. They ain’t making any more. And, if nothing else, I now know from personal experience that cancel culture is not some right-wing fantasy; it’s for real, alright.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

HAPPY TALK

Rob SquadIn a year or so of what has been an exceptional era of doom ‘n’ gloom – indeed, one that appears to be getting even doomier and gloomier by the day – people have naturally devoted a great deal of their spare time to seeking escapism and entertainment, just as they always do at such times. Hollywood provided it during the Great Depression of the 1930s and television did much the same in the economically chaotic 1970s. Beyond subscriptions to (or illegal accessing of) Netflix, YouTube has served this function for many of late. I myself have been a beneficiary of this desperate desire to be entertained, with my own YT channel experiencing a phenomenal upsurge of views. In some cases videos produced almost a decade ago have been discovered and applauded as though they were brand new. I’ve lost count of the number of kind words that have flowed my way from grateful online explorers who seem to regard my back catalogue of silly, satirical and near-the-knuckle videos as some sort of welcome oasis in a very dark desert. It caught me by surprise, to say the least, but it is gratifying to have the work I’ve put in over several years belatedly appreciated by a bigger audience than I’ve ever enjoyed before.

I’ve made my own discoveries during this period as well, many of which I’ve written about on here before – YT channels such as Triggernometry, Joolz Guides, Jago Hazzard, John Heaton, Reuben the Bulldog, Oliver the Beagle and numerous others I subscribe to and find much more informative and entertaining than the majority of the drivel served up by mainstream broadcasters these days. I also once mentioned the ‘reaction’ videos, a subgenre on YT that seems to have undergone a massive expansion over the past twelve months. There appear to be hundreds of these channels now, whereby the hosts listen to a piece of music most of them have never heard before and we receive their instant reaction followed by them trying to put into words what they’ve just heard. On paper, it doesn’t sound too engaging, but a lot depends on the personality of the host and how well they’re able to engage the viewer. Some are better than others and some are fantastic.

I’ve recently fallen in love with an American couple who present a channel called ‘Rob Squad Reactions’. Jordan and Amber are married twenty-somethings who are unapologetic about their ignorance of music most of us have heard forever. What makes them so likeable, however, is their ravenous appetite to be educated; they receive recommendations from subscribers and give these recommendations an eager listen, without prejudice and with a completely open mind. Songs and artists we tend to assume everyone knows inside out are often utterly unknown to them, yet they don’t dismiss what they don’t know; instead, they embrace the unknown and want to learn. It’s a refreshingly joyous experience watching them listen to a standard and seeing the first-time impact on them; often, it enables the viewer to hear the song in a new light too, sharing the sensation with the pair as they’re knocked out by what they’re hearing. They also have a habit of nailing what makes a song magical in a way that relentless exposure to it gradually erodes; I often find myself remembering my own emotions when hearing the song for the first time, emotions that repetition had removed.

Watching several of their videos in a row, one sees the rapid development of a genuine appreciation of music and musicians made before their own time; they routinely comment on how musically diverse and adventurous artists were forty or fifty years ago, with their versatility and ability shaming the uninspired push-button nature of so much mainstream music produced today; and it’s only through listening to these 20th century sounds that this has really dawned on Jordan and Amber. It makes one wish that this kind of musical education was rated as highly as some prioritised subjects on the school syllabus, though I suppose that might result in the decline and fall of the profitable industry which produces the fast-food junk that passes for pop in 2021 as its consumers become aware they’re being force fed pap.

Most of all, though, what makes this channel such a gem is that Jordan and Amber themselves radiate such positive, unpretentious joy. They really do sparkle as a couple and come across as genuinely lovely people. It’s interesting that Amber wasn’t present in the earlier videos; Jordan on his own is likeable enough, but the channel really springs to life and stands out from the competition once his relentlessly upbeat other half joins him. I was compelled to pay tribute to them as, whilst I’ve told some tales from the Taliban this week, I couldn’t bring myself to write about last week’s massacre down Plymouth way simply because sometimes even I can only take so much. It’s probably no wonder I find Rob Squad Reactions so addictive at the moment, just as some can’t get enough of ‘Buggernation Street’. Both, it seems, are needed for the same reason.

AUSTIN MITCHELL (1934-2021)
Richard & AustenOn the day Brian Clough’s brief and tempestuous stint as Leeds United manager came to an abrupt end in September 1974, Cloughie took part in a memorable television confrontation with his nemesis and the man he’d replaced at Elland Road, Don Revie. What followed remains an electrifying clash between two men whose antipathy towards each other is evident, yet both are able to articulate their point of view without interruption from the programme’s presenter in a way that simply wouldn’t happen today. The presenter was Austin Mitchell, then one of the co-hosts (alongside Richard Whiteley) of Yorkshire TV’s nightly regional magazine show, ‘Calendar’.

Mitchell’s skills as an interviewer are underlined when, after asking Clough and Revie several questions, he’s smart enough to realise the guests are more than capable of grilling each other; they do so in such a compelling fashion that Mitchell slowly pulls back and lets them get on with it for the best part of ten minutes without him interjecting. Can you imagine any presenter of, say, ‘Newsnight’ in 2021 showing similar journalistic expertise or lacking the ego to keep schtum for such a long time? No, me neither.

In the first half of the 1970s, Austin Mitchell experienced the curious fame unique to the regional TV star at a time when ITV’s individual regional identities were extremely strong. He was a household name throughout Yorkshire, yet beyond its borders was pretty much unknown. It was a shame, looking back, that Mitchell wasn’t a national TV presenter because he was an intelligent, charismatic and witty host of ‘Calendar’, capable of covering serious news events – such as reporting from the scene of 1973’s Lofthouse Colliery Disaster – and simultaneously engaging in the kind of silly stories about odd local customs or generic eccentrics that became a hallmark and cliché of regional television in the 70s. But rather than make that leap from regional to national telly, Austin Mitchell instead abandoned a career in broadcasting for politics.

Whereas Brian Walden made the opposite journey – moving from the Labour backbenches to present the Sunday lunchtime political show, ‘Weekend World’ – Austin Mitchell quit TV and was elected MP for Great Grimsby at a 1977 by-election following the death of Foreign Secretary Anthony Crosland. Mitchell described himself as a Gaitskellite, and as a politician he certainly seemed to belong to that old-school intellectual socialist tradition; along with his journalistic background he was also an academic, having being a university lecturer in New Zealand in the 60s, and was a prolific author. He was a solid constituency MP for 38 years, retaining the humour often evident during his ‘Calendar’ days by once briefly changing his surname to Haddock in order to highlight the plight of the fish that was part of the staple diet of his seafaring constituents. They really don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

WE’RE ONLY HERE FOR THE FEAR

Scream SupermarketAh, technology. Where would the pandemic have been without it? Across the pond, the sinister clique that routinely reanimates the cadaver of Joe Biden and periodically wheels him out before the cameras of the subservient charlatans masquerading as journalists is hard at work. Sleepy Joe’s team are currently conspiring with their big tech paymasters to ensure anyone banned from one platform for spreading ‘misinformation’ – particularly of the coronavirus variety – will be banned from all of them; what constitutes misinformation, of course, is (in these oh-so polarised times) utterly subjective; one man’s truth is another man’s fake news and all that. But for judgement to be in the hands of the privileged few controlling the flow of media traffic, both social and mainstream – a cyber star-chamber to whom we have no right to reply – is an extremely worrying scenario where those antiquated freedoms involving speech, thought and expression are concerned. In today’s doublethink society, misinformation essentially translates as opinions those on the ‘right side of history’ disagree with – and they are the people with the power to cancel any dissenting voices far more effectively than any fanatical serial censors starting another petition.

Barely a year ago, for example, to air the theory that Covid-19 might actually have emanated from a Chinese lab was enough to guarantee instant dismissal from YouTube, Facebook or Twitter; now it is an acceptable mainstream opinion – though many who spread the word before were banished for daring to express it and remain so. Hell, it’s almost as if this de-platforming thing is just being used as a convenient means of silencing voices our online lords and masters don’t want us to hear. If only certain governments of the past had thought of similarly ‘robust enforcement strategies’ (to quote Biden’s press secretary), eh? The previously-mentioned declaration of the increasingly unhinged Woke dictator posing as the New Zealand PM springs to mind – the one whereby Jacinda Ardern last week essentially told the people of her nation to dismiss any online information not endorsed by her; ignorance is strength, as someone once said.

Over here, those dim enough to have signed the Faustian pact of the Covid NHS app are finding that their every outdoor move being tracked and traced is rather limiting their freedom – fancy that! According to the most recent stats, 530,125 ‘alerts’ have been sent to users so far this month, ordering them to immediately self-isolate for 10 days; they tend to receive them if they’ve been anywhere that all the other Smombies signed-up to the app have congregated at; and the app knows where you’ve been and where you are because you voluntarily handed that info over. Hey, it’s like a mobile HAL! What is being called a ‘pingdemic’ is adding yet another layer of crisis to the hospitality industry in its struggle to recover from lockdown; restaurant, café, and bar staff are being randomly targeted by the ping of the app, forced to drop everything and hide away for a fortnight – in many cases leaving owners of such businesses with little choice but to close their doors once again when they’ve barely reopened them.

The ‘Staycation’ summer holiday boom envisaged as the saviour of under-fire seaside resorts is being severely threatened by the ‘pingdemic’ – Cornwall alone received over 4,000 ping commandments in the first week of July, right at the point when the county was expecting the influx of tourists to begin. And it goes without saying the accuracy of the NHS app cannot be questioned; after all, it’s not as though the Government has a track record of useless tech, is it? But at least naming the app in honour of the beloved national religion was as inspired a move as naming a nihilistic political movement after a valid statement few would dispute. Criticism of the NHS app could be perceived as criticism of the NHS, and that would be perilously close to heresy.

Interestingly, both the PM and Chancellor of the Exchequer have been pinged after coming into contact with Sajid Javid, yet after initially announcing they wouldn’t be self-isolating in the work environment following the Health Secretary’s coronavirus infection, criticism forced them into a U-turn and now they are. Funnily enough, Javid picked up the Chinese lurgy on a meet-and-greet visit to a care home, those Covid breeding grounds apparently ring-fenced for protection by Javid’s illustrious predecessor.

Boris and Sunak’s initial decision to evade the punishment crippling the rest of the workforce echoes the waiving of quarantine rules to accommodate UEFA and FIFA bigwigs flown in from no-go corners of the globe to enjoy the prawn cocktail privileges at Wembley Stadium last weekend. The contrast between their elevated luxury cocoon and the ticketless drunken hordes storming the venue down below is a microcosm of the two-tier Covid society; the fact that the hooligan minority were in such a state by the time the Euros final kicked-off was helped by the virtual all-day sale of alcohol in London, yet who can blame beleaguered pub businesses trying to maximise profits after being pushed to the brink of extinction by first lockdown and then post-lockdown restrictions? On the eve of ‘Freedom Day’, the crowds at Wembley and Wimbledon will be added to by a full house at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix today, no doubt providing the doom-mongers with fresh evidence for their Ides of March prophesy the day before unshackling.

At the same time, a curious trend has been reported this week, one that suggests the European nations with the largest vaccination intake have all experienced a fresh upsurge of Covid cases whilst the 15 lowest vaccinated countries haven’t. In short, those with the highest level of vaccinations also now have the highest level of infections; weird innit. Cyprus has the highest case count per capita in the world, yet prior to the latest wave had already given the majority of its population the jab; Malta has the Western world’s highest rate of vaccinations, yet the infection rate has shot up since the rollout. Israel decided to investigate and its findings were that Israelis whose only immunity came from vaccination were more likely to be infected than those who had been previously infected and had developed a natural immunity to the virus. Perhaps the misleading daily roll-call of cases as opposed to deaths – which are rapidly diminishing – should cease forthwith; all it seems to do is intensify panic and continue to vindicate the advice of advisors shortly to be rendered redundant.

Indeed, a seemingly renegade SAGE associate has thrown a spanner in the narrative works by rubbishing claims of face coverings as effective coronavirus protection. Dr Colin Axon, an expert in the field of ventilation, says masks are little more than comfort blankets that do next-to-nothing to reduce the spread of Covid particles. According to Dr Axon, the official cloth masks contain holes that cannot be seen by the naked eye but are apparently 500,000 times bigger than yer average Covid particle. This unwelcome opinion was published just as supermarkets appear set to recommend their customers continue to shop in masks (even if they can no longer legally demand it of them) and the Government’s own ‘Freedom Day’ guidance agrees – as does London Mayor Sadiq Khan when it comes to the Tube. My own personal feeling is that most people – at least to begin with – will indeed continue to mask-up in Sainsbury’s. I certainly don’t think we’ll be back to where we were last year before masks became mandatory; twelve months of forced face-covering will have left too strong a legacy of fear to persuade every shopper to add their mask to the latest fatberg.

For a man with a track record of changing his mind at the eleventh hour, one hopes Boris sticks to his guns and doesn’t abruptly cancel tomorrow. The Project Fear apocalypse we were promised when we exited the EU has now been rescheduled for 19 July – according to some online sources, anyway. Ah, technology. Where would the pandemic have been without it?

© The Editor

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

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

BUILDING SITES

SpiderI’ve almost forgotten now, but around six or seven years back I set up my first website; it was essentially established to sell a DVD box-set of ‘Exposure’, my satirical take on Operation Yewtree hysteria. The 14-part series was the first I’d posted on YouTube that wasn’t so much a slow-burner as an overnight sensation, so it had a guaranteed fan-base. Online, ‘Exposure’ had scored viewing figures I’d never previously achieved and had put me in touch with many like-minds who turned out to be much-needed kindred spirits. Unfortunately, the DVD didn’t sell in the numbers that the persistent requests for it suggested and I eventually closed the site, having sold perhaps less than a dozen copies. I’d never really thought about a website again until a few months ago, when the sudden and thoroughly unexpected upsurge of interest in my video output swelled the ranks of the biggest audience my numerous creative outlets can call upon.

Although I know for sure there have been a few curious crossovers, my respective audiences are generally ignorant of one another. Some follow my output on YT and Vimeo, some read this here blog, and there are even some that occasionally buy one of my books; I know of some who have tried all three, but I’m conscious that there are probably thousands to have devoured the likes of ‘Buggernation Street’ who aren’t aware there’s such a thing as the Winegum Telegram (scandalous, I know) or that I’ve penned and published novels, poetry collections, essays, non-fiction and so on. I suddenly felt I was guilty of doing something I detest in contemporary media, i.e. the splitting and streaming of different interests into specialist ghettos rather than offering an abundance of choice under one all-encompassing umbrella. Why not construct a solitary basket for housing every egg? Hey! Didn’t I once have a website?

Whereas my first website was devoted to one project, this new effort would contain the lot – features on my books, my videos, this here blog, and – of course – ‘Buggernation Street’. I figured as the YT audience is by far the largest, it made sense to lure the crowd to the website by giving them the humour they’re familiar with and then when they’ve wiped the tears from their eyes and put their split sides back together, they might just wonder what else I can do. With this in mind, I thought it might be amusing to invent an entire back-story for the Telegram, very much in tune with the kind of thing the video viewers would expect. In this parallel universe version of the blog, the Winegum Telegram enjoyed a century as a physical publication before becoming online only as of December 2015 (when the enterprise actually really began).

In the alternative history of the Winegum Telegram, it was launched in 1915 with Lord Kitchener as the first cover star and was founded by ‘Victor Lucas’, a confectionary tycoon responsible for inventing the modern Winegum. He recruited writers of the calibre of W.C. Armitage (who wrote under the penname ‘Shanks’) as well as Beatrice Liberty-Bodice and Apollo Arkwright. When Victor Lucas Jr superseded his father as captain of the ship on the eve of WWII, he steered the publication into its most successful era sales-wise. In the 1950s, only the Beano sold more copies, though with talented scribes such as Anthony Polari, Sylvia Harris-Tweed and Oliver Buslingthorpe, that’s no great surprise. The Telegram remained in the control of the Lucas family until industrial unrest characteristic of the turbulent 1970s left the publication vulnerable to Aussie media magnate Barry Possum, who bought the Telegram in 1982 and put his stamp on it by remaking it in his own image. Yes, it almost sounds believable.

Winegum 5 - CopyI surmised one way to enhance the illusion was to illustrate it by presenting a range of past ‘front covers’ from the publication’s physical era – issues portraying landmark events from the last 100 years, covering everything from VE Day to the Coronation, from JFK’s assassination to the Moon Landing, and from New Labour to 9/11. I can’t deny I had a jolly good time creating them and tried to make them look as convincing as possible. Again, the end result could almost be real. It’s quite a fancy little fantasy, anyway. However, I bring the reader very much back into this reality at the end of the feature by giving them access to a selection of genuine Winegum stories that might serve as an appetiser for following the blog should their curiosity be sufficiently piqued. But this particular section of the website, which I focus on here for obvious reasons, is just one element of something I hope will help make the site one of those you lose track of time on. We shall see.

I began work on the website in April and yesterday, after two months’ hard work building it up, I finally regarded it as being ready to go. Of course, it will be routinely added to, but for now the basic foundation stone is there for the world and his wife to point at. The home page capitalises on the trio of different online guises I’ve used over the years by speculating whether Johnny Monroe, Victoria Lucas and Petunia Winegum are three separate individuals or simply the shared aliases of the same criminal mastermind, and then the separate categories are lined-up for perusal: Profile, Books, Videos, Blog, Verse, Buggernation Street. The Profile is dominated by a spoof Grauniad evisceration of yours truly and a button that – if clicked – takes the visitor on a tour of imaginary charity shop LP purchases which are, naturally, in the worst possible taste. The presence of buttons to be clicked that then place the reader on a fresh page comes into its own in the Books section, in which the cover of each published book of mine is shown; anyone wanting to know a little more can click said button and will be treated to a description, a review by a reader (if there happens to be one other than me), and an opportunity to buy the chosen volume on Amazon.

AnnualI also employed the buttons to great effect on the ‘Verse’ section, in which four poetry collections are previewed via a trio of sample poems from each one – all of which had to be one-page poems for reasons of space. If you like your verse in bite-sized slices, they give you a taste of what to expect and rival Milky Way as a sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite. The button facility also proved handy for the Buggernation Street page, enabling me to do a separate ‘memorabilia’ feature that serves as a further example of my fondness for fiddling with the past; front covers from a range of magazines one would have seen on the shelves of newsagent’s in the mid-70s are all given a ‘Buggernation’ twist. If the thought of living in a world where Albert Tatlock was the cover star of ‘Jackie’ or Len Fairclough got the same gig for ‘Look-In’ appeals, I suggest you pay it a visit. I appreciate some reading this won’t know what the hell I’m on about, but taking a look will help if that’s the case, and that’s what the website is all about, I guess – introducing those who only know one thing I can do to another.

This might seem like an extended advertisement for your humble narrator, but there’s even a page on the website that effectively is precisely that; if you remember ye olde high-street supermarket Fine-Fare, you might be surprised to see some of the items it used to sell by taking my name in vain. Anyway, as a welcome interlude from Covid, Identity Politics and the rest, I thought I’d publicise the website in a post on here and encourage you to pay it a visit. You might be pleasantly surprised and healthily horrified in equal measure.

© The Editor

THE SKELETON KEY

SkeletonThere are many advantages to having one foot in the analogue age and the other in the digital; but perhaps the best is that you come to the latter as a fully-formed adult having avoided growing up in public. At one time, the only individuals whose lives were ‘Truman Show’-like open books from birth were the children of celebrities or those at the front of the queue when it came to Royal Succession; with the advent of social media, the goldfish bowl previously reserved for the unenviable elite has expanded to become a global housing estate. It’s now customary for parents-to-be to post scans of their foetuses, followed by galleries of their newborn cherubs, and then for each stage of the toddler’s evolution to be documented online. The narcissistic assumption that everyone beyond family is as captivated by the process as the parents used to be manifested as an exclusive treat for the luckless physical visitor, condemned to perusing a photo album featuring a thousand-and-one variations on a boring theme. Today, however, the whole world can share in this dubious honour.

And, of course, as junior comes into the world cyber-literate, it is second nature for him or her that every phase of their development will be performed on the cyberspace stage, even when they wrestle a degree of control from mummy and daddy. In this climate, every proclamation, observation and statement that might later lead to personal embarrassment is something that can henceforth be invoked by anyone. By contrast, those born on the preferable side of the digital divide can rest easy in the knowledge that only the few comprising our circle of friends and acquaintances at the time were exposed to any toe-curling embarrassments – and most have probably long since forgotten them. Thoughts expressed in private diaries seen only by the author were secure in their anonymity and, unless captured on video or audio, any such thoughts aired publicly were transient moments as ephemeral as a theatrical production seen by nobody but those present at the performance. The ‘digital generation’ have no such get-out-of-jail card; their equivalent moments are preserved forever.

Anybody with the merest semblance of curiosity about life does not remain rigidly set in stone when it comes to their views and opinions; as you learn and experience more of what life has to offer, one’s perspective on all it can afford alters and adapts to the new surroundings. Therefore, the person I am today is not the person I was as recent as five years ago, let alone twenty-five years ago and certainly not forty-five years ago; in the case of the latter, it would be exceptionally odd if I hadn’t changed, for I’d be the oldest schoolboy in the world. I never trust anybody whose views and opinions freeze around the age of 18 and remain the same thereafter – probably the main reason why I was never convinced by Jeremy Corbyn, who still emits the naive air of a gap-year Marxist (which perhaps explains his appeal to adolescent graduates). I have very little evidence of what I thought and believed at 18, though the fact the archive is so depleted reflects the fact I was the sole curator of it; nobody else was interested enough to keep records and there was no digital platform in existence at the time to preserve the documentation on my behalf. Thank God for that. The memory is enough – and I can keep that to myself.

Okay, so it’s not as if I was a card-carrying member of the National Front or in the Rick Astley Fan Club – my crimes were not so diabolical; but I remember thinking, saying and writing things down at 18 that I couldn’t disagree with more today. Yet, that’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, it’s perfectly natural and normal that I should now be of the opinion that I knew f***-all at 18, because I didn’t whilst simultaneously thinking I knew everything. That is the prerogative of the teenager, and I’m wise enough now to cut him some slack and not condemn him retrospectively. As far as the wider world is concerned, I was born at some point in the early 2010s and whoever I was before that is irrelevant to the person cyberspace knows as Victoria Lucas or Petunia Winegum or Johnny Monroe. It doesn’t matter. It has absolutely no bearing on who I am now unless I choose to pen a post like this, in which I am drawing on my pre-online life to make a point. And even then, none of you knew me before I appeared online, so I could be simply spinning a yarn and taking artistic licence with my own personal history; who’s to know, and what does it really matter? There is no contradictory proof either way, so I remain the curator, director and dictator of my own archive.

It doesn’t seem that long since Jared O’Mara, the Labour MP who’d ousted Nick Clegg at the 2017 General Election, was suspended from the Party when a series of decade-old comments he’d made online resurfaced. These juvenile opinions on everyone from Girls Aloud to gays to Danes and Spaniards were characteristic here-today/gone-tomorrow observations of the cyber-literate millennial unfortunate to have their typical teenage bullshit stored away for a rainy day without them realising it. The cockiness that comes with early adulthood is generally mirrored in the instant reaction to issues or personalities of the day, a reaction that tends to emanate from the gut rather than the head. The 21st century is especially cruel in that it never forgets and rarely takes into account that whatever gut reaction yer average 18-year-old might make at the time doesn’t necessarily mean that remains his or her reaction to the particular topic under discussion for all eternity. And in the unusual instances when it does, one can safely assume that the individual in question has none of that curiosity for life which is essential for growth, maturity and wisdom.

The pious contemporary practice of holding every adult responsible for whatever they said when they were still a work-in-progress adolescent has made the headlines again this past week in the case of England cricketer Ollie Robinson. The 27-year-old vice-captain of Sussex was just days into his international Test career when ‘offensive tweets’ dating from almost ten years ago were dredged-up and have now resulted in Robinson being dropped from the England team after a solitary cap. Robinson was unlucky to be selected for his country smack bang in the middle of British sport’s across-the-board ‘Wokeification’; this is a moment when England football manager Gareth Southgate fails to grasp precisely why genuine football fans are booing the misguided, middle-class governing body’s attempts to uphold the virtue-signalling gestures it could get away with in empty stadiums. Ollie Robinson is being held to account for allegedly ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ online comments he made back in 2012 and 2013, and one has to wonder what possible relevance they might have to a man in his late 20s who one presumes has changed his perspective a little since he was 19.

Robinson made the customary public apology when the archaic tweets surfaced, and even the Sports Minister Oliver Dowden had accused the ECB of going ‘over the top’ in suspending Robinson for something he said so long ago. But perhaps the most telling example of where we are now came via the comments of the England captain Joe Root. ‘We all have to keep looking to educate ourselves,’ he said, ‘trying to be inclusive as we can, and keep making everyone feel comfortable to play the wonderful sport we have.’ ‘Educate ourselves’ – how fittingly Critical Race Theory; let’s start from the belief that everyone is racist and work our way back from that, eh? Were Ollie Robinson dim enough to stand by whatever he said as a teenager, he’d be deserving of a slap on the wrist; but he’d have to be pretty bloody dim if he did, and it doesn’t seem he is. Not that this matters, though. The assumption appears to be that everyone’s closet is crammed with skeletons, even if we’ve not opened its doors for a decade or more. The fact those skeletons are in there indicates we are all perpetual sinners – for if the evidence is online, it must be true.

© The Editor

UNFRIENDLY FIRE

I think this year marks ten since I joined Facebook; after YouTube, it was the first online platform I signed-up for, and I’m pretty sure this happened in 2011. To begin with, what was for me the novelty of Facebook was reflected in the amount of times I used the site. Connecting with people in different parts of the country and indeed different countries altogether was a new sensation at the time, and I’m still in touch with a couple of people in Canada to this day courtesy of FB. Ten years ago, I used to post something at least once every 24 hours and also routinely commented on the posts of others; I was engaged with it in the way some engage with Twitter now. I guess it’s easy to forget how revolutionary having global communication at one’s fingertips for the first time felt; to me, this was like a space-age version of pen-pals. Of course, the initial novelty gradually wore off as my online life expanded to other platforms, and these days I mainly use FB for the messaging – a method of staying in touch with those otherwise unreachable, and I largely avoid public participation. I tend to post something no more than once or twice a month and even then it’ll usually be nothing more than a photograph I came across. I don’t really feel any affinity with many on there anymore, so use it sparingly.

Anyone familiar with Facebook will be equally familiar with the ‘newsfeed’, the section of the platform whereby the posts of those one follows are grouped together in one long scrolling session. Some rarely post at all – which makes their occasional missives worth waiting for – whilst others are serial posters, sometimes guilty of quantity over quality; but it’s possible to filter out ones who can clutter up newsfeed and simply leave the best of the rest. FB newsfeed is a strange place in which the latest fads and fashions of FB Friends sit alongside algorithm-generated suggestions, the majority of which bear no relation to anything I’m remotely interested in but are (I suspect) based on my age and the social demographic FB imagines me to belong to. Newsfeed is also littered with ads for both products and websites tailored towards one’s previous preferences, and ‘liking’ the odd post by a website you’ve never heard of before will immediately lead to an invitation to ‘like’ the FB page of the website, which – if you acquiesce – will then result in that being permanently incorporated into your newsfeed. There are some I honestly have no memory of ‘liking’ at all; but most of these are a quite pleasant distraction amidst the ads for cars I’ll never drive, holiday resorts I’ll never visit and clothes I’ll never wear, so I leave them there.

More often than not, these tend to be animal-related – heroic stories of dogs or cats that survived traumatic situations, and posts by zoos with various exotic beasts that can enliven a two-minute video. Following the horrific fires that engulfed Australia just over a year ago, I must have ‘liked’ a post by a wildlife reserve that cares for and has aided the rehabilitation of displaced koalas, for that has been a regular presence in my newsfeed for months; I’ve always had a soft spot for koalas ever since I briefly owned a stuffed cuddly toy of one as an infant, so that explains it. Even though I’ve yet to check, I do wonder if said posts will now mysteriously vanish from FB in the wake of a unique spat between a nation and the guardians of the big tech galaxy, one which could well be an interesting sign of things to come.

To ‘unfriend’ someone on Facebook was something I did myself once or twice a few years back, often arising from misunderstandings due to the tone of voice not always correctly perceived when written down. One cannot use italics, for example, and genuine sentiment can sometimes be mistaken for sarcasm, depending on the reader’s mood at the moment of reading. But the storms in my cyber teacup were nothing compared to events this week, when FB unfriended an entire country, i.e. Australia. A proposed law to make service providers actually pay for content on their platforms down under has resulted in Facebook taking its ball back. As of Thursday, Aussies logged on to discover the sudden absence of global and local news from FB – immediately impacting upon the approximately 17 million Aussies that use Facebook every month; this abrupt disappearing act also applied to anyone attempting to access any Australian news sites from outside the Southern Hemisphere. However, despite joining FB in condemning the proposed law as something that ‘penalises’ their platforms, Google pre-empted the dramatic move by FB and signed a deal with old Uncle Rupert’s News Corps in which it did indeed agree to pay for content. In one foul swoop, you have the schizophrenic ethics of big tech – Google standing alongside Facebook to criticise a law suggesting they pay for content whilst simultaneously paying for content. Ironically, it seems the one beneficiary of this spat is an organisation rooted in the very industry social media sites have helped bring to its knees.

Whilst most governments give the impression of being at the beck and call of big tech as much as they are beholden to the banks, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken an intriguing stance, stating that big tech companies might be changing the world, but that doesn’t necessarily equate with them running it. ‘I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues,’ he said. ‘We simply won’t be intimidated.’ International condemnation seems to back up the Aussie PM’s response whilst at the same time Western Australia’s Premier Mark McGowan compared the behaviour of Facebook to that of ‘a North Korean dictator’. FB are clearly trying to hit Aussies where it hurts, but are coming across as incredibly petty as well as petulant; they’re not exactly accustomed to not getting their own way. The fact that the FB blackout also included government health sites meant the latest Covid info was no longer available to Australian users, something that was hardly going to win hearts and minds.

The digital cartel monopolising the flow of online information has grown in influence over the past half-decade as older mediums have been sidelined. Naturally, there is envy in the air, but there is also increasing concern that too much power rests in too few hands. Stoking the fear of big tech, Donald Trump heavily hinted this was an issue he’d be dealing with during his expected second term in office; and without wishing to delve into conspiratorial waters, the way in which social media dictated the narrative of the 2020 Presidential Election – the censoring of the Hunter Biden story being a prime example – seemed to suggest a concerted effort on the part of big tech to prevent this from happening. How relieved the digital overlords must be to have a fresh (ish) face in the White House with several former big tech employees on his payroll.

Before Google kowtowed to Murdoch, Australian Senator Rex Patrick attempted to call the bluff of the nation’s dominant search engine by pushing for the change. ‘It’s going to go worldwide,’ he said. ‘Are you going to pull out of every market?’ Interestingly, Microsoft has broken rank by supporting the proposed law, saying ‘The code reasonably attempts to address the bargaining power imbalance between digital platforms and Australian news businesses.’ On the other side of the world, the EU has attempted to give news sites copyright on links that appear on search engines, forcing the latter to pay for the privilege, whilst France has also been trying to tackle the issue. Whether or not any of these efforts will succeed when big tech wields so much clout remains to be seen, but I suppose these all represent the first stirrings of official opposition when there has been so little so far. Perhaps in unfriending an entire country, Facebook has taken cancel culture to an extreme from which retreat is the only way back.

© The Editor

PET SUBJECTS

The actor David Niven once explained how he was able to turn his talents to the written word by finding a secluded spot in his garden that would shield him from distractions; more dedicated scribes like Dickens and Dahl famously had glorified sheds erected in their gardens to guarantee privacy whilst Virginia Woolf emphasised the need for ‘a room of one’s own’. A conducive environment for jotting down one’s thoughts certainly helps the process of jotting them down, and speaking personally I can’t really complain in that the desk upon which I write faces a large, spacious window that gives me considerably more natural light when working than the gloomy ground-floor flat I used to know as home, one with a grim, grey wall to look at when opening the curtains on a morning. The wide windowsill that divides desk from window at one time served as a convenient platform for my late lamented cat to requisition as a handy sunbathing spot in the summer, but still cried out for a permanent purpose. I eventually made use of the windowsill space by mentioning to a friend with horticultural leanings that I’d quite like to acquire a couple of rubber plants.

Why rubber plants, I’m not entirely sure; childhood memory assured me the residence of Minnie Caldwell on ‘Coronation Street’ boasted a few in a hangover of that cluttered Victorian style, and I recall it always looking homely, so why not? What arrived as tiny, malnourished cuttings have subsequently become wannabe Triffids, courtesy of the abundance of sunlight and weekly watering; the two plants have outgrown more than one pot and now reside in huge ones designed for outdoor patios. Unless their flamboyant foliage is routinely trimmed, the plants tend to hog the sunlight I’d become dependent upon, but they do keep me in touch with nature; and nature is something that otherwise exclusively inhabits the world outside the window, a world that recent events have conspired to detach me (and many others) from. The plants were picked-up free of charge from a website – the name of which escapes me, but one that was set up so people could basically get rid of unwanted possessions fast without the need to wait for a buyer on eBay.

The site could have been Gumtree, though money tends to exchange hands on there. In case you weren’t aware, Gumtree is essentially an online version of the old newspaper classified section; it was established around 20 years ago by antipodean expats in London – probably, I should imagine, in the neighbourhood of Earls Court. The name was taken from the colloquial Aussie term for the eucalyptus tree, and like many websites that sprang up at the turn of the millennium and avoided crashing and burning in the dot-com bubble, Gumtree has spread its wings beyond its original remit of connecting Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans in the Mother Country to becoming an international operation, freely accessible in mainland Europe and North America. In the UK, it has an average of 200,000 motor vehicles on offer in its ‘goods for sale’ section; with stats like that, it’s no great surprise the Yellow Pages was discontinued and ‘Exchange and Mart’ ceased to be a physical publication.

However, one area that Gumtree would be wise to steer clear of in order to retain goodwill on the part of the public is the sale of animals. Whenever one is told the story of Christian, the famous lion owned by a pair of Swinging Londoners in the early 70s, the fact the beast was purchased as a cub from Harrods often seems as hard to believe as the truth of an actual lion living in a basement off the King’s Road. Yes, Christian’s status as a bona-fide wild animal adds to the surreal nature of the story of how and where he grew up, but that today’s domestic pets can be bought and sold on Gumtree with little in the way of animal welfare involved appears no more enlightened half-a-century later. With a paltry minimum fee of £2.99 (to meet the requirements of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group), Gumtree is allowed to flog cats and dogs with the barest safeguards in place for the goods being sold. The Gumtree pet policy specifies that a seller can only post two pet ads a year, though this hardly prevents sellers indulging in the piss-easy operation of opening new accounts under different names as many times as they see fit. Home visits to the sellers by Gumtree representatives to check on the condition and ownership of the animal for sale are not part of the process, so the system is unsurprisingly open to abuse.

Courtesy of our old friend Lockdown, there has been a huge increase in the sale of dogs and puppies in particular over the past few months, the price of which has gone through the roof; this in turn has led to an alarming rise in the upsetting trend of dog thefts, stealing beloved members of the family and flogging them at an extortionate rate online. It’s heartbreaking enough when a furry friend has to be put to sleep; the thought that they’re still around but have been taken from you when your back was turned has to be every pet-owner’s worst nightmare. I used to know an old lady whose cat once disappeared and didn’t come home again, despite the lady’s nightly expeditions to locate her feline sidekick; by her own admission, she never got over it. That might induce a sneer in some, but to her – she lived alone – the cat was her sole companion, her only company and dependent, the significance of which is easily overlooked by those who have always shared their lives with other people or have never known the unique bond man/woman can share with a domesticated animal. I feel sorry for them to have missed out.

Any organisation that turns a blind eye to the profits being made from inflicting upset on others – not to mention causing emotional distress to the animal – deserves a dressing down, and Gumtree needs to get its house in order. The opportunities for unscrupulous, unregistered breeders and runners of illegal puppy farms – vile canine concentration camps where the welfare of animals is the last concern – are abundant thanks to the lax policing of classified websites; moreover, stolen cats and dogs are sold in similar fashion to stolen cars, often bought by those who do so in good faith, unaware they’re purchasing someone else’s property. In many cases, the ease with which sites like Gumtree make such criminal practices painless for professional and amateur alike demands either some form of new regulation, which would probably be difficult to enforce, or should prompt Gumtree to cease allowing animals to be sold or re-homed via its site.

The removal of such ads from Gumtree would be a step forward when there are reputable shelters, charities and certified breeders that sell animals which have received full health check-ups and are sold to those who themselves have to prove their credentials as responsible pet-owners beforehand. Animals are not cars or inanimate objects that can be bought and sold indefinitely just for the sake of a fast buck with no care for the consequences. Sure, my home benefitted from the acquisition of two rubber plants-cum-Triffids that brought a little piece of Mother Nature into an abode bereft of a garden, but plants should really be the only living things one is able to purchase on sites like Gumtree. Perhaps the decline and fall of one-time go-to sources such as newspaper classified ads and the aforementioned Yellow Pages – both of which were far more regulated than their online successors – has its downside (one that goes beyond mere nostalgia) after all.

© The Editor

MEDIA WATCHDOGGING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Editor

OUR FRIENDS IN THE EAST

There’s something uncomfortably reassuring about China and Russia being portrayed as evil ‘super states’ run by dictators reminiscent of Bond villains. Such images correspond to a traditional narrative that’s far easier to understand in these relentlessly confusing times, when so many threats to global stability are either anonymous (terrorism) or literally faceless (Covid-19). We know where we are when the bad guys are clearly defined and they represent an entire nation rather than being those stateless invaders failing to recognise borders such as an invisible virus or Jihadist organisations with secret cells dotted across the world. This week, the narrative has been upheld with accusations of cyber interference on the part of the Kremlin in the British democratic process and by the UK Government belatedly deciding Huawei poses a threat to national security if allowed to take control of the country’s 5G network. Both Moscow and Beijing have refuted the accusations against them, but – to paraphrase dear old Mandy Rice-Davies one more time – they would, wouldn’t they.

The fresh allegations re Russia concern what appears to be the official ‘hacking branch’ of the Kremlin called APT29, which almost sounds like a cuddly Soviet equivalent of R2-D2; I can visualise ATP29 resembling C-3PO’s little sidekick, only painted red and bearing the hammer & sickle on his tin chest. If only. Anyway, this professional outfit of dedicated cyber spies and agent provocateurs are the same unit accused of interfering in the 2016 US Presidential Election; this time round, they’ve allegedly tried to eavesdrop on the research into finding a vaccine for the coronavirus, not only here but in the States and Canada as well. If they’d wanted to know, surely it would’ve been more polite simply to ask? After all, we’re all supposed to be in this together, aren’t we?

To have the Russians and the Chinese as the bad guys again means we know where we are, even if the crimes they’re being accused of today are firmly rooted in the 21st century. Russia’s tech mischief also extends beyond the Kremlin’s in-house boffins to other Russian-based hackers who do this sort of thing for a living. These unnamed infiltrators were this week outed as having ‘sexed-up’ secret Whitehall documents that fell into Labour hands and gave Jeremy Corbyn the opportunity to make his claims about plans to sell off the NHS to the US during last December’s General Election campaign. Of course, nothing appears as-if-by-magic in politics; timing is everything, and to have the Foreign Secretary publicly naming and shaming the Russian state in this way comes on the eve of the publication of the so-called ‘Russia Report’.

The Novichok incident of 2018 – when the sealing-off of Salisbury probably acted as a useful training exercise for where we are now – seems to have triggered a more thorough response to growing concerns about a malignant Russian presence in British political life. This eventually prompted the compiling of information to form the core of a report into the case against Russia by the Intelligence and Security Committee, a cross-party group of MPs independent of Government. And the Government has been sitting on this report for over six months now. Yet the sudden rush of Dominic Raab to speak of Russian hacking when no public accusations have previously been made due to an absence of evidence implies the findings of the committee may indeed confirm the rumours and suspicions that have been flying about for a long time. But why the delay?

Earlier in the week, the Government’s attempts to interfere in the process were pretty blatant when they tried to hand the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee to…er…Chris Grayling. Yes, you can stop laughing at the back; we all know Grayling is unquestionably the most incompetent individual ever to stumble into running a Government department, with a track record of disaster unprecedented in Westminster history; but he’s a Friend of Boris. So, perfect man for the job of heading a supposedly impartial, non-partisan committee to scrutinise the findings of the intelligence and security services when a long-awaited report into the extent of Russian influence in UK politics is finally poised to see the light of day, a report that might have a few embarrassing things to say about the relationship between the Conservative Party and millionaire Oligarch donors. Additionally, Raab connecting Russia with Labour could be viewed by a cynic – heaven forbid – as a pre-emptive strike by the Government to deflect any findings that suggest the Russian connection is greater on the blue side of the House.

Some backstage manoeuvring by Labour and SNP members of the committee resulted in a ‘coup’, with the installation of Conservative MP Julian Lewis as chairman instead; and Lewis’ reward for blocking the Government’s choice was the removal of the party whip. In other words, if you’re not gonna play ball then I’m taking my ball back. Whether or not the extent of Russian interference is dramatically exposed, simply hinted at or disappointingly redacted when the report surfaces remains to be seen; but the Government’s actions this week certainly suggest it might make for an interesting read.

I know everything pre-Covid feels like a hundred years ago now, but some of you may remember the sacking of Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary in May last year. Williamson was pressurised into walking the plank by Theresa May after he was blamed for the leaking of information from the National Security Council regarding the dangers of allowing China’s Huawei to run Britain’s 5G mobile network. Although Williamson denied he was responsible for the leak, the matter shone the spotlight on the relationship between the Chinese Government and Huawei, not to mention the stupidity of handing over the running of the entire system to a company suspected of acting in the interests of Beijing and its habit of eavesdropping on those using its technology.

Tellingly, it has required far more hostile measures taken by the US against Huawei to force the UK Government to make its mind up. This week it was announced equipment produced by the Chinese company will no longer be available to UK mobile providers by the end of the year and all 5G kit will have to be removed from networks by 2027. At the time of Gavin Williamson’s dismissal, the National Cyber Security Centre denied any sign of Chinese state activity in Huawei software, whereas now he NCSC has altered its opinion and has ‘significantly changed’ its security assessment of Huawei. Not before time, one might conclude.

Just like the wicked Cold War villains of old, both Russia and China are in a position at the moment whereby they essentially believe they can do what the hell they like and there’ll be no comeback. Russia can dispatch a couple of cathedral tourists to liquidate one of their exiled countrymen to have fallen foul of Vlad; China can tear-up the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and suppress democracy in the same way they would on the mainland; and that’s not even mentioning the sinister Xinjiang re-education camps for Uyghur Muslims – sorry, I meant Radical Islamists – which are carrying on regardless of international condemnation. But, hell, if you want old-fashioned bad guys, I guess you have to take the rough with the smooth.

© The Editor

GAVIN IN STASIS

I must admit, it is hard to attribute anything approaching a heroic act to a member of Theresa May’s Cabinet; one cannot avoid being suspicious and seeing self-promotion as the motivation behind every move made in public. ‘Will it help make me look good before the electorate and boost my impending leadership bid if I’m photographed alongside an autistic adolescent in pigtails who has somehow become the poster-girl for climate change?’ and so on. It’s so difficult not to be cynical about politicians today that even when one of them might actually have done something for purely selfless reasons, crediting them with it is a tough call tinged with suspicious reservations.

The sacking of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been officially justified because he was named as the source of the leak surrounding the National Security Council’s discussion over the Chinese Government’s telecommunications wing, Huawei, being invited to get its feet under the UK’s online table. Williamson denies this rather serious allegation whilst Jeremy Hunt has become the latest Minister to undermine the PM’s (non)authority by suggesting a police investigation wouldn’t be out of the question, contradicting Mrs May’s own decision not to pursue the matter beyond firing Williamson. If the ex-Defence Secretary is guilty, why did he do it when he must have realised the potential damage it could do to his political ambitions? Could it actually have been that extremely rare Westminster beast, a case of conscience over career?

Let’s face it, Gavin Williamson is not an easy man to warm to; then again, name me a member of the Cabinet who is. I know we’re all born with the face God gave us, but Williamson’s ego does seem to be etched on his smug countenance; I may be doing him a disservice, but to me he has the arrogant air of an office-worker celebrating promotion with a trip to a lap-dancing bar, where he probably waves a wad in a young lady’s face in expectation of a blowjob. His attempts to cultivate a Mandelson-like ‘Dark Arts’ image have been cringeworthy from the off. From his pet tarantula to his ‘ooh, you’re hard’ boast that he had ‘made’ Theresa May and could therefore just as easily ‘break’ her, Williamson’s role as the mastermind behind May’s leadership election and then organising the bribery of the DUP gave rise to his reputation as Kingmaker, and he appeared to be a man May couldn’t manage without – until now.

The Tory Chair of the Defence Select Committee, Dr Julian Lewis, was one Williamson ally speaking up for the deposed Minister last night. Dr Lewis pointed out that Williamson wasn’t the only member of the Cabinet to express reservations over the wisdom of awarding contracts to corporations answerable to a Communist regime not averse to keeping tabs on its citizens. Unsurprisingly for someone who has enthusiastically embraced any form of internet snooping since her days as Home Secretary, the PM was in favour of allowing Huawei to play a part in this country’s 5G network – something no other western leader has even contemplated; by all accounts, Williamson was appalled by this development and appears to have risked his role in Government (and possible rise all the way to the top job) by passing on his concerns to Fleet Street.

I would hesitate to call the information leaked a ‘sensitive state secret’; it appears to be more a case of where the information was leaked from – a body established during Cameron’s tenure, somewhere Ministers and officials could discuss clandestine topics free from the public gaze; and what could be more clandestine than offering the Chinese a chance to buy into Britain’s internet system? No wonder they wanted that one kept under wraps. But, as Julian Lewis rightly stated, the nature of the information Gavin Williamson is alleged to have leaked hardly places him in the same treasonous league as Kim Philby or George Blake. What Williamson has done – if indeed, he has done it – is to spill the beans on just how shamelessly willing our senior elected representatives are to flog anything to the highest bidder, free from any principles or sense of scruples; as long as they can make a mint from outsourcing, they’ll do it. Just look at who replaced ATOS with the contract for the notorious DWP disability assessments – an equally loathsome US corporation short on sympathy for the ill and infirm called Maximus; and the less said about Grayling’s ferry fiasco, the better. Should ISIS put in a bid to run all primary schools in England and Wales, they’d probably be in with a shot if their bid was juicy enough.

Williamson’s promotion from Chief Whip to Defence Secretary seemed to begin the process of his gradual detachment from the PM’s inner circle, especially when he became a tad prone to the odd gaffe and earned the nickname of ‘Private Pike’ among some of his less generous colleagues. If he was responsible for the NSC leak, it’s hard to see what he had to gain from his actions being uncovered other than alerting the rest of us to the seriously worrying shit that goes on behind closed doors at Downing Street, as opposed to the silly in-fighting and backstabbing we’re used to hearing about. And, if that was what happened, he deserves credit – however begrudgingly we give it him.

Another Tory MP, Adam Holloway, made a wider point in relation to Williamson last night, stating how he believed contemporary politicians just aren’t up to it, whatever the challenge presented to them might be. Ministers find themselves in positions of power they simply aren’t qualified to do justice to, lacking both leadership skills and any talent beyond generating sufficient hype around them in the manner of a band desperate for a record deal; how else can we explain so many ‘name’ MPs who have risen without a trace in the past decade? A former military man, Adam Holloway said most of the current Cabinet would be ‘very unlikely to rise to the rank of General’; it’s certainly hard looking across both benches in the Commons and seeing anyone with the heavyweight clout of a Benn or a Thatcher. Or perhaps past politicians were forged in different ages that deserved different leaders; despite the grimly serious issues facing the country, we appear to have reaped the harvest of the 90s, when style triumphed over substance in all facets of public life.

The fact a figure as friendless as Theresa May can fire someone who was once such a vital ally suggests the embarrassment of this particular leak must have been acute for the Prime Minister, even when one considers the Cabinet Office has shown itself to have the consistency of a sieve over the last couple of years. Williamson’s dramatic dismissal and possible breach of the Official Secrets Act may well be as ‘unprecedented’ as media folk kept claiming yesterday, but the leak is merely emblematic of a chaotic Cabinet environment with a grasp of authority reminiscent of St Trinian’s. The timing of this latest unwelcome headline from the PM’s perspective, on the very eve of possible obliteration in the local elections, suggests Williamson’s alleged crime is a little more serious than some that have resulted in sackings of late; but yet another enemy on the backbenches could be just one more nail in the Maybot coffin. Not all bad news, then.

© The Editor