As I’ve mentioned before both here and on going cheep, there are any number of skills I don’t possess. I can’t cook (more than the very basics), I can’t bake at all; I’ve a terrible singing voice, and I have no discernible musical talent when it comes to playing instruments; I can’t dance, can’t act, and although I’ve a working knowledge of HTML, I don’t get CSS at all. 

Of course I make up for all of that by being the life and soul of every party, have the third highest IQ ever recorded and am an better than excellent lover. 

(Anyone who believes any of the preceding paragraph should check their gullibility quotient immediately; it’s letting you down, badly.)

However, I don’t need to be able to play a musical instrument to know when it’s being played very, very badly. Similarly I don’t need to possess a decent singing voice to know when someone’s singing offends me with its awfulness.  

Thing is, though, if I taste something and it’s been undercooked, no one suggests that I shouldn’t criticise it unless I can produce something better. If I think someone’s performed an excuciatingly bad bit of acting, I’m not barred from saying so until I’ve dug out my Golden Globe.

And I don’t need to have stood for election to know when an elected politician is fucking it up. Nor when a government has lied. Nor when a government just… hasn’t made a convincing case. (And yes, it’s never the responsibility of anyone to be convinced; the onus is on the person doing the convincing. Always. I used to use a line at work, when someone hadn’t persuaded me to increase their budget or make an accounting adjustment of some sort: I’m not convinced… and the reason I’m not convinced is you haven’t convinced me.

So, returning to the lack of alternatives I can produce before I’m allowed to criticise something, I’d argue – though this is less certain and definitely less widely agreed – I’m not required to have an alternative policy in mind, fully worked out and peer reviewed by experts in the field in order to justifiably suggest that a suggested by others policy seems to me to be bad, won’t work and/or is just… plain… wrong. 

And when it comes to foreign policy, the requirement seems ever-present. I remain puzzled as to the ongoing and apparently permanent view that complex is bad and nuance worse. That most wonderful of documentaries, erm, sitcoms Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister made it plain decades ago: the British public likes to know who are the ‘goodies’ and who are the ‘baddies’. Unfortunately, it’s often a case of who’re the least-bad baddies. And even then, there’s no guarantee that judgement is correct at the time; often, only in hindsight do the true facts come out, and not always even then (cf Hutton, cf Chilcott, cf etc etc)  
It’s been very noticeable that both those who support bombing IS in Syria and those who adamantly oppose it have responded to criticism with “well, what’s your alternative?” as if no-one is allowed to criticise a policy proposal unless they have a fully workable alternative ready to go. And despite people protesting that it’s not simple, that it’s compolicated and complex and nuanced and difficult… the moment a side is picked, some idiots reduce your position to simplistic slogan painting. If you’re pro-bombing, then you approve of baby killing; if you’re against the bombing, the idiots say you don’t care if IS blow up half of London. 

Me? I’m entirely undecided (which in the eyes of aforementioned idiots merely makes me undecided as to whether I prefer Syrian civilians or London ones to die). I’m far from convinced that Cameron has made a good case for extending military action, but I’m equally unconvinced that there’s no conclusive case to be made; I just don’t think it’s yet been made.

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I think, though, that unless you’re as sure as you can be that military action is called for, a vote against is mandated. I’m a huge fan of the old tactic of “if you’ve two choices, one of which is irrevocable and one of which isn’t, and you’re undecided… take the latter choice. Always.” 

Even if you haven’t got an alternative.


I’ve been thinking.

I know, I know – I’ve been warned against it in the past but what can you do?

I’m a time travel junkie. Not that I actually travel in time, you understand, other than one second at a time, the way that you do as well. But I’m a time travel science-fiction junkie. Any science fiction story that involves changes to history and the effects thereto will have me cutting the story a break even before I’ve picked it up to read. The story itself may be crap – it often is – but I’ll try it out. I’m not quite the Doctor Who addict that Mitch Benn is but I’m close. (One of my favourite Mitch observations is that he was a Who fan back in the 1980s when it was crap so you can imagine how made up he is now that it’s actually good!) Yeah, I kind of dropped out during Colin Baker’s run, and didn’t really come back until Chris Eccleston. I missed McCory’s run entirely. And I treated the Paul McCann telemovie as a curiosity, no more. Still do. (I felt the six minute Night Of The Doctor was more Who than the entire movie, but hey ho.)

So, yeah, I love time travel science fiction. Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol short stories? Yeah, I’m there. Give me a collection of time travel short stories and ignore me for a while; I’ll be busy absorbing them.

And, yeah, every so often, like any fan of time travel fiction, I wonder: where would I go? I’ve no one answer; to be honest, I’m in all likelihood to come up with a different answer every time I’m asked. An historical event? I’m not so sure. Certainly not one that has happened since the advent of television. One of the weirder things I’ve come to realise is that those watching often have a better view than those there. Think of any televised gig; yeah, there’s a lot to be said for being there, but as for a view, you’d get a better one sitting at home. Mission Control, July 21st 1969? What the fuck would I do other than get in the way? Anthing prior to about 50 years ago, I’d be completely lost anyway; slang, clothing, haircuts for heaven’s sake, reliance on tech? All completely foreign.

Murder Hitler? How do I know what and who would replace Hitler wouldn’t be worse? I’ve read enough alternative history to know the only thing you know is you can’t know for certain.

But then another question occurs: what if I could go back and change some major event in my life that I regretted? Would I do it?

The answer, to my partial surprise, is always a firm “no”.

The obvious example, to my mind, isn’t spending more time with my late brother before his death. I’m pretty sure that no matter how much additional time I’d have spent with him, I’d still end up regretting that I didn’t spend more.

No, the one pivotal event in my life that I could have done something about, undoubtedly, was my degree.

Because I failed it. No, I didn’t merely fail it. I failed it as bad as if I’d have gone out of my way deliberately to screw it up. My first year at polytechnic, I did well; the second year wasn’t too bad either, though with exam results not quite as good as the first year.

Then, as my father later put it, “I forgot I was there to do a degree”. I had a great time in my final year, a really good time, but ended up throwing the degree away. (I was offered resits but due to a bad case of glandular fever, I was unable to take them up on the offer).

That was 30 years ago, and there’s no doubt that had I passed the degree, my professional life at least would have been very, very different. For a start, I would have been on the road to qualification a lot earlier; even assuming retakes, the odds are that I would have qualified a good five years earlier than I did, with the consequent affects upon my career, my remuneration, my prospects. (For years, the first major question I’d get asked in an interview would be ‘how come you failed your degree?’)



The odds are also that, for various reasons in part to do with the fact that I wasn’t qualified at the time, I would never have met Laura, the lady who became my wife in 1994, was my wife for a very long time afterwards, and who tolerated my enjoyment of online life, comics, hypotheticals, and writing. We separated in 2005 and finally divorced this year.

Not knowing Laura? That alone would put a negative answer in the frame. But no Laura equals no Philip as well. And that’s just unacceptable.

If someone offered me the chance to go back and guarantee that I’d pass my degree? I’d say “thanks, but no thanks”.

But that bit about “spending more time with Mike?” That’d be tempting, you know.

It’s been a hell of a week for; for me, some of my friends, and  the world in general. So some trivial nothings, some things to lighten the mood before you return to reality.

An old favourite, more relevant than usual, perhaps, given the opinion poll fiasco propagated by The Sun, and the internet poll re Corbyn/Cameron : Sir Humphrey Appleby schools Bernard Wooley on opinion polls

One of my favourite ever animations: Pigeon Impossible

Dammit, why not? Mitch Benn is Proud of the BBC (and so am I)

Back to more serious things tomorrow…

2016 minus 35: on being a philistine

Posted: 27 November 2015 in 2016minus

A former boss of mine used to caution folks from speaking in anger.”Make a speech in anger,”, he’d say, “and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever live to regret.” On the whole, I’ve tried to follow that advice and although like others, I often think my writing’s better when I’m angry, it’s not true. It’s just more ‘me’; there’s less of a filter between my fury and the page. 

But sometimes my writing comes from a mixture of irritation and puzzlement; I don’t understand a situation, or I don’t understand how someone could possibly think that way about that subject

Today however, is not one of those days, because although there’s plenty that angers me about various stuff going on in the world, although I’m lacking information about certain subjects and although I’m mystified about how certain people can hold certain opinions, something different today, I think. And probably something lighter tomorrow. (The Saturday Smile seemed to go over well last week, so I’ll probably repeat it.)

I promised you something on the current series (series, people, not season; we’re British, dammit!) of Doctor Who at some point and I had a piece in draft form, but then last week’s episode happened. And I want to rewatch it, and then watch the final two episodes before I give my views. To adapt the words of the great F E Smith: I will probably be no wiser, but considerably better informed.

I’m puzzled about many things in life; some of them are skills I’ve shamefully never managed to acquire. I can make a half-decent omelette and a better than half-decent scrambled eggs. I’m pretty good at defrosting things and sticking them in the oven or microwave. But ‘cooking’ or ‘baking’? No. I’m terrible at it, and I suspect that’s as much to do with my basic apathy where food is concerned. I’m quite content to make do with what’s ‘ok’. Yes, I’ve had meals in my life that I’ve absolutely loved, but I’ve never felt the slightest urge to be able to make them myself Laziness? Well, yes, of course, there’s a certain element of that; I’m a lazy person. But while I know that friends and family enjoy making food for themselves and others, I’ve never understood it myself.

On a previous blog, I used to ask people to teach me one particular skill they had, either through their job, or recereation. A teacher told me how he quickly got the measure of a classroom and identified the jokers and workers; a wine somellier gave some tips; an expert driver gave some advcie on getting out of skids. That kind of thing. I might try that again sometime. 

Ballet. I went to a ballet last weekend. Now, I went because it was performed by Kingston Ballet School and I knew one of the little girls who was taking part. And of course she was great, and all the children of her age and younger were supernally cute and it was funny and fun. That bit was, anyway. the ‘serious’ bits of the ballet? The older children, teenagers? I didn’t ‘get’ it at all. I’m sure that for those who enjoy it, ballet is wonderful and lifts the spirits, much as does opera… which you’ll have guessed by now I’m equally barren to. 

I like some classical music; I’m partial to Bach, but I think that comes from a lingering loyalty to the novel of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where it’s revealed that Dave Bowman takes comfort in Bach after he’s left alone and before he enters the… ah, spoilers, budgie, spoilers. Anyway I played some Bach and to my surprise, I quite liked it. I’ve been less thrilled by other works. And what classical music I have enjoyed, it’s been an enjoyment of having it as wallpaper music while I’m doing something else. 

So, yes, a philistine. Can’t deny it. Many ‘great works of literature’, critically acclaimed works, I’ve been bored by; many critically acclaimed and popular tv series  I’ve tried and realised I’m just not enjoying.

Reading new works, by new authors, or new works by authors I enjoy? That never gets old and nor does rereading old favourites. Like many people I know, I’ve a stack of books by my bed; for most friends they’re books to read, puchases they’ve not quite gotten around to reading yet. For me, they’re old favourites, or new books by old favourite authors.

I’m not exactly one for trying new experiences; it happens, but rarely. And maybe I’ll write about that on another day. but not today. I’ve some rereading to do.

Every so often, someone will tweet a motivational poster, and they always irritate me. I’m in agreement with those who regard them as obnoxious at best, and just wrong the rest of the time. 

Having a better than decent memory for quotes, however, I’m always reticent about using one for the sake of it; I’m very aware of the warning

“Remember – he who has a quote for every occasion will be known far and wide as a smartarse…”

That caveat aired, however, I remember Dave Sim being quoted as saying

“If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. But if you don’t really want to do something, no one can help you.”

Now although I can’t do anything but agree with the second part of that, I think the first part is, to be blunt, bullshit. 

To take one example, as regular readers know, I’ve got a bad foot; I broke it almost more than a decade ago, had a fairly major op on it, then developed further problems. I’m never gonna be able to run a four minute mile; running at all is problematic. And I’m fairly high doses on painkillers (cocodamol 500/30s, if you’re curious, 6 to 8 of them daily.)

No one can stop you? Well, if you want to give up a cubicle career to devote yourself full time to writing or drawing before you’re good enough to actually earn money from it… Hmm, well, I suspect the bank, for one, might have a word or two to say about that.

Effort does not equal results, and no matter how hard someone tries at something, sorry, sometimes people aren’t cut out for what they want to do.

That doesn’t mean that they should stop trying; it just means they have to be realistic to have other funds coming in to support them while they work towards it, but Sim’s quote seems to imply that if someone tries hard enough or smart enough, then they’ll always succeed, and bugger the consequences of the journey. In fact it goes further, it implies that everyone can achieve anything if only they want it enough.

It reminds me of the old line that it’s not difficult to make a million dollars if all that you want is to make a million dollars. An equally facile statement.

The first part of Sim’s quote strikes me as hugely simplistic, to put it mildly.

I’m 51 years old; there’s any number of things I could accomplish in whatever time’s left to me on this planet. But there’s plenty of things – whether I want them or not – that are either genuinely out of my reach through no fault of my own (I’m never going to play football for England; I’m never going to be a prima ballerina; I’m never going to win Young Musician Of The Year) or that I don’t want enough.

But yeah, I get the basic idea; there are things that are theoretically possible: write a best selling and critically accclaimed novel, learn to expertly play a musical instrument, become widely admired, revered and worshipped. (OK, maybe not that last one; I think Warren has that gig sown up for the next couple of decades.)

That most wonderful of political dramas The West Wing is, for people with an interest in American politics, a goldmine of quotes. Occasionally, I’ll use one here because it amuses me or simply because I’ve just remembered it and it made me smile. 

And very occasionally, I’ll catch an episode and a quote will leap out front and centre. Season One, Episiode 8; after a last minute ‘save’ by Josh Lyman, as a meeting between him and the President is ending, the following is spoken.

JOSH: We talk about enemies more than we used to.


JOSH: We talk about enemies more than we used to… I just wanted to mention that.

BARTLET: [pauses] Yeah…

This morning I was reading Twitter, and as so often these days, much of the domestic politics discussion is about the ongoing fallout from Jeremy Corbyn’s election and – I’d argue – pretty bad first few months as Leader of the Labour Party. Friends of mine maintain that how he’s viewed by the public is in large part down to the the media. I think that’s nonsense. Some of it, sure, but I think Corbyn’s travails are due to Corbyn himself. His appointment of John McDonnell, a not exactly uncontroversial figure himself, did at least ensure that the Shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition were in agreement about most things. But then again, that’s what always happens: a leader of a party rarely if ever gives the second most important slot to someone he barely agrees with. So I can only assume that today, the day of Prime Minister’s Questions and the Spending Review Statement (what used to be called the Autumn Statement), they were in agreement when the decision was made to give the Tories an easy day in the Commons.

On a day when, but for an invocation of Article Five of the North Atantic Treaty, the UK could be at war with Russia, days before a likely commons vote on whether to engage militarily in Syria, when Brussels is till on lockdown, and Belgium has a state of emergency, the Leader of the Opposition decided to ask several of his questions to the Prime Minister on the subject of… solar panels. And then, a couple of hours later, after George Osborne delivered a Statement that was truly remarkable for the number of U-turns, missed targets and spin, the Shadow Chancellor gave a performance that made Ed Balls’ excruciating response in 2013 look like it was written by Ted Sorenson and delivered by Demosthenes. 

I’m not sure what was going through McDonnell’s mind when he produced his copy of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, and quoted from it. I guess it was that aforementioned decision to give Cameron and Osborne an easy day. But that seems more and more typical of the current opposition. I know that opposition is intended to compete with the government, but I never before realised that it was with this government’s incompetence they were competing. You’d think that removing and damaging this Tory government is something that Labour activists, Labour members and the front bench would regard as the primary objective. Instead, the Labour party seems to regard the ‘enemy within’ as more vile. 

The problem, as others have identified, is that if you call Labour members,  MPs, hell anyone who disagrees with you “a Tory” and tell them to “join the Tory Party”, some of them probably will. And i’m not entirely convinced that increases the Labour vote. (And for those relying upon the vast swathes of people who didn’t vote in 2015, I’ve bad news for you: Radio 4’s More or Less programme looked at the available research on those who don’t vote; turns out they don’t vote in roughly the same party proportions as those who do.)  

Ellie May O’Hagen, a journalist and activist with whom I disagree far more than I agree, but whose writing I like, made the point about a recent set of polling that not only are Labour MPs more and more out of kilter with the ‘new’ membership, but that membership apears to be equally different from the voting public. And that unless both the parliamentary labour party and the membership at large do something about those differences, Corbyn’s Labour is doomed to fail.

I’ve never hidden my views as to Corbyn, both my differences politically with him and my view that he’s at best tone deaf and at worst supremely indifferent to others’ (including supporters’) anti-semitism.

But those who worship at the Church of Corbyn appear… yeah, there it is. Enemies. It used to be joked by MPs that those sitting across the chamber were your opponents; your enemies sat behind you. Sadly, now, that’s no joke. For many in the Labour Party now, those who have a different opinion to you are the enemy, and they’d rather have an ideologically pure party that loses elections than one that wins elections.

No, that’s not quite fair; they’d actually prefer that a genuine left wing government won a general election; despite the inconvenient fact that in the past 70 years, there’ve been only four outright Labour governments with a proper majority, and three of them were under Blair. Other than that, you’ve got to go back almost 50 years, to 1966 (!) So, yes, most in Labour would rather have a genuinely left wing government. However, if push comes to shove, they’ll take a genuinely left-wing opposition (with accompanying right-wing government) to a less left wing government. Going by today’s performances, they may have a left wing opposition, but what a pity they haven’t at least got a competent one.

Some years ago, I posted something online that I believed to be true. Told to me by someone I trusted, it turned out not only to be false, but maliciously so. I hadn’t lied or at least there was no intention to lie nor even mislead, but I’d at best – at best! – propogated an untruth.

It didn’t take long for the real situation, the truth, to come out, and I felt completely shitty. Not only had I abused the trust of people who relied upon me not to lie, I felt inherently shitty simply because I’d postd something that wasn’t true. While it didn’t immediately terminate the friendship I’d had with the person who told me, the event without doubt damaged it, and we were rarely in contact afterwards. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I spoke to him, and I’ve no idea what he’s up to now.

The only person who was offended by my posting, though, was the then editor of Comics International, Dez Skinn. I knew Dez slightly, from online conversations, but certainly not as well as I came to know him later on. And I was told by some people who did know him well that he was both surprised and genuinely offended by the information I’d posted. 

There was only one thing for it. As well as a public apology in the forum in which I’d posted, I called Dez and apologised to him. The wording I used was one I’ll regret to the ends of my days. After exchanging small talk, I said “I’m genuinely sorry if I caused offence…”

I didnt get any further before Dez interupted with “IF you caused offence? If…”

I took the point – I knew he was offended, so why the hell use such a mealy-mouthed combination of words?

Anyway, I apologised for causing offence, and for posting it in the first place, and Dez accepted both, with good grace.

We got on well over the next few years, to the extent that Comics International actually paid for the room hire for the second and third Hypotheticals panels in 2001 and 2002. (It always surprised people – though I don’t know why – that we had to pay for the room hire for the first few panels, until the con abolished room charging for panels.)

But here’s the thing: apologising for the offence caused isn’t enough, which is why I added the apology for the act as well; without that second part, it places the blame on the person who’s been offended, as if the original statement was fine and they’re just being oversensitive.

And we see that all the time. Livingstone tried, last week, before Corbyn got him to unreservedly apologise. His original semi-apology was to say he was sorry “if [Kevan Jones] was upset”.

It’s the same thing as saying “I owe you an apology” and then never delivering that apology. I appreciate that in these litigious days, an apology about something that’s caused measurable – and potential or actual financial – harm is problematic. But that’s not what I’m talking about. No, of course there’s no right not to be offended, and freedome of speech is never freedom of consequence arising from that speech, but it seems to many that apologising is [seen by equally many as] weakness, when I’d argue that it’s not. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t think it’s necessarily strength to apologise, any more than it’s strong not to cheat in a sport.

Admitting you fucked up is just the right thing to do.

There’s a comedian I admire, and just as importantly, like. Very intelligent fella, very intelligent comedy. He’s one of those I’ve met via Mitch Benn only to discover that my liking of his comedy is at least as much matched by my liking for him personally. Always nice when that happens. He fucked up on Twitter a while back, before we’d actually met; he tweeted an urban myth about religious Jews that shocked, offended and genuinely angered me. And I wasn’t alone. Jewish comedians, non-Jewish comedians, lots of people leaped to correct him, some politely, some… less so.

Within a couple of hours, he’d deleted the tweet, said he’d been a gullible fool, publicly apologised and hashtagged it #iamanidiot.  I don’t know a single person who regarded the apology as anything other than genuine, or treated the accompanying embarrassment otherwise. Couple of months back, I did it again. Fucked up online, I mean. I’m not a huge fan of Peter Hitchens. About the only nice thing I can say about him and his views is that he’s clear as to what he believes and isn’t concerned in the least about telling you, or how it comes over. As my late grandmother would have said, “what’s on his lung is what’s on his tongue”. 
That said, I came across a quote he’d made and used it online during a discussion. Hitchens saw it and asked when he’d said it, as it didn’t represent his views at all. I went back to my source material and… yeah, I’d not realised that the site I’d used was a satirical news site. 


So I deleted the tweet, apologised to him directly and in a public tweet. OK, so far, so… ok. What genuinely surprised me was Hitchens’ response. He genuinely couldn’t have been more understanding. “It happens”, was his general attitude, but he was very pleased at the apology and thanked me publicly for it, saying that misquotes and mistatributions online were common, while apologies were not.

I’m not suggesting that we should apologise more often for causing offence. In many cases – though not all by any means – those who proclaim offence are perfectly willing to offend others and then claim ‘freedom of speech!’ when their statements are protested. 

But, apologising for online fuckups, misattributions, untruths? Yeah, we should alldo that more often. How about we start with “every time an apology is owed” and move on from there?