Archive for the ‘2016minus’ Category

2016 minus 14: real power(s)?

Posted: 18 December 2015 in 2016minus

Many years ago, I remember asking a friend what it was like, being a father? This was just a few weeks before my son Philip was born, and it was only when I held Phil for the first time that I realised what a damned fool question it was. Because, of course, there’s no way you can adequately explain it. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily better or worse than not having kids. I’ve friends who’ve made the decision not to have children; I’d never insult them by saying “oh, you’re missing out” or any such crap. It’s just… different.

And it carries on being different. While visiting one friend who’s in hospital, I caught up with someone I’ve not seen in ages. He’s got a young lad of his own. Said it (the experience) and he (the child) was so much fun… I told him, quite honestly, that he’s got more fun coming his way the next twelve months than he can comprehend; and it’s true. It’s true whether the child is two years’ old or six. Eight years’ old or ten. Of course the day the child turns 13, he’s got more hell coming his way over the next twelve months, he has no idea… But yeah, asking “what’s it like, having a child?”

In a similar way, I’m pretty sure that asking the question “what would it really be like, if super-heroes existed?” would be equally daft… because no matter what we think it would be like, the repercussions and consequences of having real life super-heroes can only be imagined, not explained.

For a start, of course, there isn’t any empirical data. Or, is that just what they want you to think?

No, best not to go down that route, I think. That way lies madness, turquoise tracksuits and a belief in the possession of  weapons of mass destruction by people just because you don’t like them.

There have been plenty of comic stories, even series, that have attempted, seriously or otherwise, to show what it would be like if super-heroes actually existed. Some of them try to show the effect it would have upon life on this planet. (This is, of course, as opposed to stories simply about super-heroes, set in the story’s own ‘continuity’.)

I’m tempted to talk about Wild Cards here, but I’ll leave that for another column. Although there was a comic book based upon the series of speculative prose books, and some well known comic book writers contributed stories, it’s not primarily a comics based series, and I’m sticking to them for this entry.

I guess at this point it becomes inevitable to mention Watchmen. But despite most people thinking of Watchmen as a super-hero book (the movie was certainly promoted that way) it’s not. With the exception of Dr Manhattan, they’re not super-powered heroes. They’re costumed vigilantes. But of course, that makes sense. In a world where super-heroes exist, it doesn’t make sense that the subjects of the book would be the only such super-powered beings, does it? Given that, Watchmen is predicated upon the existence of these vigilantes and attempts to portray the realistic consequences of their existence.

I love the book, although I do question the view that it’s a justifiable interpolation into ‘real life’. Despite my admiration for both the writing and art, I tend to the view (expressed by Peter David, I believe) that it’s realistic… right up until they stick that alien in the middle of Times Square…

But is even the earlier depiction of these vigilantes realistic? Rather than attempting to show realistic vigilantes, and their effect upon the world, I think the book predicates a specific world, and then shows how that has moulded and affected the vigilantes, which is a completely different emphasis.

So let’s reluctantly lay that book to one side, and instead take a look at my first experience of an attempt to bring superheroes into “the world outside your window”.

The use of that phrase is quite deliberate, since it was the tagline for an experiment by Marvel Comics, something called “The New Universe“. It was based upon the idea that up until 4:22 P.M., Eastern Standard Time, on 22nd July 1986, the world shown in the comic books was precisely the same as the world you live in. And then an event (“the White Event”) occurred, changing a number of people, some into heroes, others into villains. For a couple of years, the eight books in the line chronicled a standard ‘comics universe, with hundreds of paranormal’… until 1988 when, like Watchmen, editorial decided they’d had enough with the “let’s keep this the same as the world you see”… and destroyed Pittsburgh.

Which was a pity, since Barry Bonds then never got the opportunity to become the first Pirates’ player (and just the second major leaguer) in history to hit 30 or more homers and steal 50 or more bases in the same season. (See, I do research these pieces, occasionally)

OK, I’m sure there were other consequences, but once they’d destroyed a city, although it undoubtedly gave writers and artists more to play with, I always felt that the line ‘lost’ something special.

Starting a decade or so after Watchmen but continuing in various forms through twnety years’ of books, and still being published, is, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. The long delay between issues (caused early in the run by Busiek’s illness, and later by other commitments) may have led some fans of super-hero comics to miss this book. They’re nuts. There’s not been a weak issue in the entire run and Busiek constantly surprises with the way that he addresses questions that I hadn’t even considered needed asking.

Questions such as: when your childrens’ lives are at risk because of the preponderance of super-powered battles in the area, shouldn’t you move? If a petty crook found out a hero’s civilian identity, how best could he profit from the knowledge? With some people in our own society believing soap opera characters are real, what would happen if one of those people believed an actor in a television series really had super-powers? And, with no proof, how does a responsible newspaper report events including super-heroes?

A n interesting entry to the “consequences of super-powered beings on society” was Rising Stars by J Michael Straczynski. 113 children become ‘infected’, for want of a better word, in utero. Thirty years later, they’ve all become super-powered. After various events (including one going nuts and taking over Chicago as her own private fiefdom) those left decide, simply, to make the world a better place. Included in their plans are the removal of all nuclear weapons. This doesn’t please the power brokers of the planet in any way whatsoever, and the ways in which they attempt to neuter the “Specials” are chilling, and, in my opinion, absolutely believable.

Because that’s my problem with the whole idea of real life superheroes. Maybe I’m a cynic, but as others (including Sir Humphrey Appleby) have said, “a cynic is merely what an optimist calls a realist”.

Let’s take a look at some news stories and see how whether they’d have played out the same way had super-powers had actually existed.

Tyson Fury’s been in the news. Mainly because of what comes out of his mouth but his fists have accomplices. Various news stories have disclosed information various other people would have preferred they not. And in the US, politics has been a mixtures of stupidity, idiocy, irritation, and more stupidity. And that’s just the front runner in the Republican race.  

In a world of super-powers, where, say, a man can hit another man through a building, or can stop a train by punching it, or can carry a fuel tanker, of what interest to the public is it that a man can hit another man quite hard, repeatedly? Why would athletic achievement at all be celebrated when there would always be doubt in the public’s mind? Forget about special drugs, how about cheating using special powers? In the early days of Alpha Flight, the character of Northstar was an Olympic class skier… who had to give his medals back because it wasn’t believed that he’d not used his powers. In Spider-Girl‘s first story, May Parker gives up playing school basketball when she realises that it’s too easy, that she’d instinctively use her powers to win, whether or not she’d intend to.

Let’s look at news reporting. A story is leaked, fair enough. Happens all the time. But it doesn’t, you see. Not with any sensible comparison to what would happen if, say, you had telepathic reporters, or, as in Image Comics’ Phantom Jack, a reporter who can turn invisible. Even in Rising Stars, you had a character who could speak to the dead and in one memorable sequence stood in Arlington Cemetery… and screamed.
In those circumstances, you have a situation where news channels, far from having to find content to fill their allotted transmission hours, would have to pick and choose which genuinely newsworthy stories to use; talk about “a surfeit of riches”. As much as telepathic spies would change the nature of their business, how different would be the very concept of newsgathering? You wouldn’t need to doorstep, you could just stand near a political candidate, a union leader, a relative of a murder victim, to know the pork-barrel, the real wage demand, and the true views about the victim.

And speaking of deaths, what about assassinations? With super-powers in the ‘real world’, what makes you think that only the non-political would receive them? If super-powers genuinely existed, I suspect it would be a matter of weeks at most before you have the first super-powered assassination or terrorist attack. And such attacks would, inevitably, be met by overwhelming force, in the shape and powers of someone with a different agenda, be that political or social.

And what if there was only one person with super-powers in the world? What would be the temptation to think the worst of him, to assume that he’d want to take over sooner or later? As a species, we humans don’t do ‘trust’ very well. We talk about people having to ‘earn’ our trust. In a world where super powers existed? I’d give it no more than a year before the deaths started.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m unsure when admitting an issue was complex became bad. Certainly, the older I get the less I find I’m certain about things, particularly political issues. Yes, I’ve some issues where I think there’s a definite ‘right’ and a definite ‘wrong’, but far fewer than you might think. 

The recent Syria vote was a good example. I made it plain here and elsewhere that I was not convinced by the government’s case, as I saw it. That said, I never received security briefings, and I’m far from an expert in Syria, the warring sides or what is best. I’d have voted against not because I’m against bombing per se, nor inherently against military action in all circumstances but just because I wasn’t convinced military action was the right thing in this case and at this time. However, I’m not about to criticise those MPs who did receive security briefings, who do know more than I do, in reaching a decision different from mine.

Here are a couple of other things that have come up in the last week or so that I think have good arguments on either side of the divide and yet none of them convince me conclusively.

MPs under arrest should not be named in Commons, says committee
Basically, at the moment, MPs are treated differently to members of the public when it comes to being arrested. OK, in case you weren’t aware, there’s a very big difference in law, whether you’re in the UK or otherwise, between being arrested and being charged. Here’s a good explanation of the difference in the UK from the ever good UK Criminal Law Blog. However, whereas only sometimes are members of the public named on being arrested, MPs are always named on the Parliamentary daily order paper. Now, one might suggest that fair enough, if the MPs are suspected of doing something serious enough to warrant arrest, everyone – including their constituents – have a right to know. I’ve some sympathy with that view. 

Certainly, if they’ve done something – no, let’s be careful now, budgie – if they’re suspected of doing something serious enough in connection with their parliamentary duties that warrants arrest, such an arrest should be publicised. And indeed, the Commons committee says that should remain unaltered. It’s if they’re arrested in connection with something outside their parliamentary duties that the committee recommends a change. And I’m genuinely unsure where I stand on this one.

As I said above, I’ve some sympathy with the view that if an MP is arrested, their constituents have a right to know. However, on the other side of the argument is the case that an arrest isn’t proof of guilt. It isn’t any indication of guilt. No more than – in the US – an arrest or even indictment means they’re guilty. (As Alistair Cooke never tired of pointing out, there’s an astonishing number of people who believe that indictment means someone was found guilty. It means nothing of the sort.) Any person who has been arrested and then released with no further enquirers hasn’t ‘got away with it’, and more than when a person is charged and then, later, the charges are dropped. There’s nothing to get away with at that point.

(Sidebar: a lawyer pointed something out to me a while back, something about which I’d never truly carefully thought. To be gulty of something is not the same as having done it. And no, I’m not talking about being found guilty though that plays some part of it. Take murder. Most people would fairly accurately define it as the unlawful killing of someone. The important part there is unlawful. Guilt in law is perforce legal liability. If somoene has never been charged with unlawfully killing someone then they did not murder them. If someone was found not guilty of murder, then they did not murder them. They may well have killed them. In fact, that may not be in doubt. But legal liability is only tested in court.)

So, yeah, I’m genuinely unsure what my position is on this. I can see strong arguments on both sides but none that convince me.

House of Lords and the vetoing of secondary legislation 
No, it’s not as boring as it sounds, I promise. We have a mainly toothless second chamber. Which is, I suppose, just about slightly better than the Socttish Parliament and Welsh Assembly who mange quite well without a second chamber at all. But – and one can argue the merits of this till the cows come home – the House of Lords has had its power to reject legislation passed in the House of Commons severely curtailed over the past century or so. Putting it simply, the Lords cannot completely reject primary legislation (the Comons can use the provisions of the Parliament Acts to force it through, though they rarely do so, the Lords usually bows in the end), cannot reject ‘money bills’ such as budgets at all, and by convention does not reject measures in the manifesto upon which the government took office. They can, and sometimes do, reject what is called secondary legislation, which is passed through the House of Commons with less debate and obviously less scrutiny; the deal is that the House of Lords, being a revising chamber, is supposed to give it that which the Commons doesn’t. And since there’s less scrutiny, they can reject it absolutely. 

Well, they can at the moment. 

Y’see, what happened recently was the Chancellor tried to get his tax credit cuts through with as little scrutiny as possible, hence why they were presented to the House of Commons as secondary legislation. Had they been primary legislation, the House of Lords would have had a problem rejecting them. But they weren’t. And the Lords did. And governments as a rule never like having their legislation rejected by the Lords. But instead of going “damn, we should have…”, Cameron ordered a review of the House of Lords’ powers and now that review has reporters, recommending that the House of Lords can still reject secondary legislation but only once; if the commons votes again on the legislation and passes it… the Lords have to acquiesce and similarly pass it. 

And at this stage, I find myself impersonating Vicky Pollard from Little Britain: yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah but no but…

As a general rule of thumb, I think the Commons has a right to have their expressed view prevail. They are the elected chamber, for all their faults (and there are a lot of them, many of them elected). And, like it or dislike it, the Parliament Acts and the Salisbury Convention do restrict the Lords’ powers on primary legislation. It does seem on first glance that it’s an anomaly that they can prevent secondary legislation, especially when it’s the expressed will of the Commons. But then there’s the argument above: if the government want something, especially something contentious, then for fuck’s sake, do it via primary legislation. The government already has the Parliament Acts as a back up to ram it through if they need it. (I said earlier that they rarely need to; the only relatively recent examples were  The War Crimes Act 1991, The European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999, The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 and The Hunting Act 2004.)

(Amusingly, because of the Lords’ rejection of the tax credits cut and the threat of rescuing the Lords’ powers, I’ve seen many left-wingers supporting the Lords on this occasions, and many right-wingers saying their powers need to be reformed. As a commentator said, this isn’t as ludicrous as it at first sounds: you can loathe a system and want it reformed/abolished, yet still want it to act in the best interests of the country while it’s there. But the reversal of the normal positions is, as I say, amusing.)

So, yeah. No. I’m not sure. Good arguments on both sides, but I’m not yet convinced. More information on all of the above is in the links; I encourage you to click them and read.

But then hell, I encourage everyone to read more anyway.

Something more definitive tomorrow, before on Saturday the penultimate Saturday Smile of this run.

I’ve never been one for poetry. No, that’s not quite true; I enjoy the occasional poem, but only that. I’m quite prepared to acknowledge that’s from a lack of exposure rather than a considered view, reached after extensively researching the field. There are some silly pieces of verse I learned as a child, and which have stuck in my head, and – again when I was a child – there was a tradition of signing each other’s autograph books when we left secondary school. Having a signature thing to scrawl above an actual signature always made sense to me, and I stole the following to use:

Can’t think
Brain numb
Inspiration won’t come
No ink
Rotten pen
All Best wishes

My first exposure, you see, was to rhyming verse, and this was probably the first thing I remember liking so much I learned it: The Akond of Swat, by Edmund Lear


Who, or why, or which, or WHAT, Is the Akond of SWAT?

Is he tall or short, or dark or fair?
Does he sit on a stool or a sofa or chair, or SQUAT,
The Akond of Swat?

Is he wise or foolish, young or old?
Does he drink his soup and his coffee cold, or HOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he sing or whistle, jabber or talk,
And when riding abroad does he gallop or walk, or TROT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he wear a turban, a fez, or a hat?
Does he sleep on a mattress, a bed, or a mat, or a COT,
The Akond of Swat?

When he writes a copy in round-hand size,
Does he cross his T’s and finish his I’s with a DOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Can he write a letter concisely clear
Without a speck or a smudge or smear or BLOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Do his people like him extremely well?
Or do they, whenever they can, rebel, or PLOT,
At the Akond of Swat?

If he catches them then, either old or young,
Does he have them chopped in pieces or hung, or SHOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Do his people prig in the lanes or park?
Or even at times, when days are dark, GAROTTE?
O the Akond of Swat!

Does he study the wants of his own dominion?
Or doesn’t he care for public opinion a JOT,
The Akond of Swat?

To amuse his mind do his people show him
Pictures, or any one’s last new poem, or WHAT,
For the Akond of Swat?

At night if he suddenly screams and wakes,
Do they bring him only a few small cakes, or a LOT,
For the Akond of Swat?

Does he live on turnips, tea, or tripe?
Does he like his shawl to be marked with a stripe, or a DOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he like to lie on his back in a boat
Like the lady who lived in that isle remote, SHALLOTT,
The Akond of Swat?

Is he quiet, or always making a fuss?
Is his steward a Swiss or a Swede or a Russ, or a SCOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he like to sit by the calm blue wave?
Or to sleep and snore in a dark green cave, or a GROTT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he drink small beer from a silver jug?
Or a bowl? or a glass? or a cup? or a mug? or a POT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he beat his wife with a gold-topped pipe,
When she lets the gooseberries grow too ripe, or ROT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he wear a white tie when he dines with friends,
And tie it neat in a bow with ends, or a KNOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he like new cream, and hate mince-pies?
When he looks at the sun does he wink his eyes, or NOT,
The Akond of Swat?

Does he teach his subjects to roast and bake?
Does he sail about on an inland lake, in a YACHT,
The Akond of Swat?

Some one, or nobody, knows I wot
Who or which or why or what
Is the Akond of Swat!

Since then, I’ve always enjoyed rhyming verse, in all sorts of meters, and I’ve written some; some are standalone pieces, and some have been for the fast fictions; The past three years Twelve Days of Fast Fiction have have included one written in verse, and I’ve no doubt this year’s will also include at least one. I wrote two for Twenty Four Hours of Fast Fiction, but only rarel have I written in ‘free verse’.

So… Here are two more poems I like a lot, and then two of my own. Enjoy.

One of my guilty pleasures is watching El Dorado. Every so often during the movie, James Caan’s character, Alan Bourdillion Traherne – yeah, you can see why he goes by ‘Mississippi’ – recites part of a poem.

Here it is:

El Dorado by Edgar Allan Poe

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of El Dorado.

But he grew old —
This knight so bold —
And — o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like El Dorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow —
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be —
This land of El Dorado?”

“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied —
“If you seek for El Dorado.”

And The Owl Critic:

The Owl Critic by James Thomas Fields

“Who stuffed that white owl?”

No one spoke in the shop,
The barber was busy, and he couldn’t stop;
The customers, waiting their turns, were all reading
The “Daily,” the “Herald,” the “Post,” little heeding
The young man who blurted out such a blunt question;
Not one raised a head, or even made a suggestion;
And the barber kept on shaving.

“Don’t you see, Mr. Brown,”
Cried the youth, with a frown,
“How wrong the whole thing is,
How preposterous each wing is,
How flattened the head is, how jammed down the neck is —
In short, the whole owl, what an ignorant wreck ‘t is!
I make no apology;
I’ve learned owl-eology.

I’ve passed days and nights in a hundred collections,
And cannot be blinded to any deflections
Arising from unskilful fingers that fail
To stuff a bird right, from his beak to his tail.
Mister Brown! Mr. Brown!
Do take that bird down,
Or you’ll soon be the laughingstock all over town!”
And the barber kept on shaving.

“I’ve studied owls,
And other night-fowls,
And I tell you
What I know to be true;
An owl cannot roost
With his limbs so unloosed;
No owl in this world
Ever had his claws curled,
Ever had his legs slanted,
Ever had his bill canted,
Ever had his neck screwed
Into that attitude.
He cant do it, because
‘Tis against all bird-laws.

Anatomy teaches,
Ornithology preaches,
An owl has a toe
That can’t turn out so!
I’ve made the white owl my study for years,
And to see such a job almost moves me to tears!
Mr. Brown, I’m amazed
You should be so gone crazed
As to put up a bird
In that posture absurd!
To look at that owl really brings on a dizziness;
The man who stuffed him don’t half know his business!”
And the barber kept shaving.

“Examine those eyes
I’m filled with surprise
Taxidermists should pass
Off on you such poor glass;
So unnatural they seem
They’d make Audubon scream,
And John Burroughs laugh
To encounter such chaff.
Do take that bird down;
Have him stuffed again, Brown!”
And the barber kept on shaving!

“With some sawdust and bark
I could stuff in the dark
An owl better than that.
I could make an old hat
Look more like an owl
Than that horrid fowl,
Stuck up there so stiff like a side of coarse leather.
In fact, about him there’s not one natural feather.”

Just then, with a wink and a sly normal lurch,
The owl, very gravely, got down from his perch,
Walked around, and regarded his fault-finding critic
(Who thought he was stuffed) with a glance analytic,
And then fairly hooted, as if he should say:
“Your learning’s at fault this time, anyway:
Don’t waste it again on a live bird, I pray.
I’m an owl; you’re another. Sir Critic, good day!”
And the barber kept on shaving.

And finally, as promised, two of my own:

Her… And Home

She opens the door, and silent music surrounds me.
A waft of perfume strikes my senses and I’m lost.
She brings me home with a smile.
A toss of auburn hair, a feline glide across the room as she sits.
Clumsiness permeates me as I remove my coat and then –
Her eyes promise so much, and I wish.
The day is over, and yet somehow not.
Later, I watch her, sleeping, all stress removed.
The regular pattern of her breathing soothes me.
At rest, I sleep, safe.
And wake alone.

Hangover? What Hangover?

Bang! Crash! Noise!
Oh God, how much did I drink last night?
My teeth itch; my skull throbs
And why does the world look purple?
I’m sure that you’re supposed to wear
Clothes that are silent.
And how did this balaclava get inside my head?
You’re writing too loud.
Please be quiet.
What’s that you whisper?
Tonight? 8 o’clock?
Sure, why not?
Never agains are for other people.

Something different again tomorrow…

One of the things I love about London, though I’m not by birth a Londoner, is that if you walk down the street, not only will you hear a dozen different UK accents, but you’ll hear half a dozen different languages being spoken.

Let’s unpick that paragraph a bit because there may be a bit of confusion, particularly from the American readers, but I’ll get to them in a bit.

For a start, I’m not a Londoner by birth. That in itself shouldn’t be surprising; I don’t know what the research is but I’d suggest a huge proportion of the people who live and work in London aren’t from London originally. Like any capital city, it attracts folks from all over the country and indeed from other countries as well, as I’ve worked with people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as from farther climes. But no, I was born in Luton, about thirty-five miles north west of London. I don’t have that fond memories of my home town and not for nothing does the old gag exist that the best thing to come out of Luton is the M1 motorway. But it was an OK place in which to grow up in the 1970s. I was born in 1964, so don’t remember the 1960s that much. Unlike Warren Ellis, I don’t remember staying up to watch the moon landing, though I remember the fuss about it. In the same way, I don’t remember the Beatles breaking up, but I remember the fuss about it, as my older brother (the one who died in 1998) was a huge fan and was devastated.

My father though; he was a cockney, good and proper. Born without the sound of Bow Bells and all that. Occasionally – very occasionally – his speech patterns come out in me. My ex-wife Laura used to say when I got irritated or exasperated, she could hear his words and phrases coming out of my mouth, with his accent. Which always amused me because I don’t think I sounded anything like him. If I sounded like anyone, it was my brother, which was highly amusing at times (we once spent twenty minutes swapping a telephone between us, his girlfriend on the other end, while we were playing monopoly) and led to me discovering that I did actually ‘have an accent’.

I never really thought of myself as having an accent. No, really. This wasn’t the time it is now with contacts all over the place from a young age. Almost everyone I knew as a child was from Luton or London. Almost all my school friends (well the kids I went to school with, anyway) were from Luton and with the exception of some American television, most of the announcers and actors on tv were from the south. I was aware everyone else had an accent, but mine was just… mine.

At 18, I went to Manchester Polytechnic (regarded as, unfairly, a kind of a second rate university; it’s now called Manchester Metropolitan University), and although I was housed with people from all over, again, it was they who had the accents, not me. There was a Northern Irish lad, a girl from Swansea, anotehr from Derby, a lad from Rotherham I think?, another lad from Leeds. And me. About half way through my first year, Michael (the aforementioned brother) came to stay. And it hearing him chat to them, followed by the inevitable ‘you sound so much like your brother’ comments that brought home to me that yes, I had an accent. This was merely solidified years later when an American friend said I sounded like “Michael Caine on an off day”. (Which reminds me that Mitch Benn was right when he said that every impressionist of Caine does an accent and speech pattern that Caine has never done but everyone knows it’s Caine.)  

So, no Londoner I.

And yes, there are many, many British accents, despite American movies seeming to regard the UK as having only three:

– Michael Caine’s accent (or Jason Statham’s) or that abuse of the word Dick Va Dyke’s ‘accent’.
– Hugh Grant’s accent
– Sean Connery’s accent

This is a good guide, here: pay attention for less than two minutes and learn… 

But back to my love of London. So, yeah, there are a lot of British accents you’ll encounter in London. And a lot of ‘foreign’ accents and foreign tongues as well. And I love that. Seriously. 

Three of my grandparents weren’t born in the UK, but immigrated here as children with their parents. leaving aside the bullshit about Cromwell and the Jews, to which I referred in a recent post, I’m only third generation British via one grandparent (whose family had been here for several generations.) Not only am I still grateful to this country for taking them in – else I wouldn’t be here – I’m not that hypocritical to suggest that ‘this country is full’ or ‘we shouldn’t let in refugees and immigrants’. Though you’d have to be delusional to suggest that every country should have open borders, it’s equally inane to propose the controls on immigration that some want. 

Should British people be treated better than incoming people? I see no sensible reason why this should be so.

(Huh. Someone suggested to me tonight that I had an ideology. I didn’t think I had one, so that surprised me but ‘being fair to people’ probably sums it up if I have one at all.)  

Should people learn English? Yes of course they should; it’s the main language of the U.K. so yeah, but to assist them in every day life. I don’t need to understand what people are saying when I pass them in the street, and it’s none of my business anyway.

And this blog entry got away from me a bit. Something less confusered tomorrow.

I’m a huge fan of the work of the late Alistair Cooke; it’s rare that a month will go by when I don’t load up the iPhone with some Letters from America and listen to them while out on a wander. Though I’d been listening to his work – and reading his writings – for some twenty years before he died, I was never under the impression that I ‘knew’ him, nor that I would ever be fortunate enough to meet him. I would have liked to discuss politics with him, and the media, and the colours of the trees in the Fall. I suspect, however, that we would not have personally liked each other that much. Biographies of the man, and articles written about his after his death show a man utterly dedicated to his work, and a warm, wry companion, but someone without that big a sense of humour about the work. 

It may be a fault of mine, but I find it hard to genuinely like people who don’t have a sense of humour about their work. That’s not to say that such people work any harder or less hard at their chosen trade or profession than those who can tell the best jokes about their jobs. And of course, I’m excluding those who are having a rough time of it at their work, or who are doing a job they really don’t like, which can happen for any number of reasons.

One of the primary requirements for someone being invited onto the panel for hypotheticals, the panel which Dave Gibbons and I ran at the main British comics convention for over a decade was to have that sense of humour, an innate sense of the ridiculous about what they did and do for a living. And I don’t think it a coincidence that the most successful panellists were those who exhibited that during the panel.

About two-thirds of the way through the run, a very famous writer was supposed to be attending the con. This man, a very famous writer, I remind you, looked to be the perfect person to invite onto the panel; he’d written a critically acclaimed and popular SF series, and had written some well received comic books. I didn’t know this man, but in the old phrase, I knew a man who did. So I dropped my acquaintance – another comics writer, also very well known – an email. They knew all about hypotheticals, and in fact had an open invitation to appear any time they were over. My contact didn’t exactly warn me off inviting the very famous writer onto the panel but did earnestly the recommend I read some interviews with the writer. I did do and quickly realised that although the writer had a warm sense of humour about many things, he did not seem to have one about either his writing or the craft of writing itself. I never invited him onto the panel (and as it turned out, he didn’t show at the con either; personal circumstances got in the way.)

For most of my adult life, I worked either as an accountant in the entertainment industry, either as a practicing accountant doing other people’s books, or on the commercial side in a finance department. I’ careful to say that I was an entertainment accountant, not an entertaining accountant; there are many of the former and precious few of the latter. To my constant delight, I found that almost all of the ‘talent’ I encountered was genuinely as nice in person as they appeared on screen, often nicer. However, there were always the exceptions, as there are in every field of human endeavour. There are lots of people supremely gifted at what they do, who are absolute shits as human beings, whether that’s because they hold and express racist, sexist or homophobic options, are quick to anger and use their fists, hold political opinions that are – to be kind – less than progressive, or are just very unpleasant people.

It’s in politics and sports however, that it strikes me as most jarring. I follow the first with great interest and the second hardly at all. (Although I have a fond feeling for ‘my’ football team, it goes no further than being pleased when they win and displeased when they lose. I’ve seen only a handful of matches in my life and have no great wish to see any more.) But it’s within those two spheres it seems where the tribal nature of ‘fandom’ and support coincide to allow people to ‘excuse’ the personal behaviour of the ‘stars’. 

If the lead striker of, say, Manchester Athletic (yes, I know they don’t exist, I’m just using an example) a footballer of astonishing talent, came out with a comment that was at least arguably racist, many fans of the team would excuse the comment or seek to lessen its impact merely because the man is good at scoring goals. If he said something homophobic, fans would say he’d been misinterpreted at best, or agree with him at worst. If he commented on the Middle East, no matter what he said, no matter how well sourced and intelligent or ignorant and naive, fans would excuse him merely because the man is good at scoring goals. I believe this firmly, because when a footballer made a symbol widely associated with anti-semitism, the fans did excuse the footballer in question, saying he’d been misinterpreted, saying he didn’t mean it, excusing his actions.

A boxer, a man who to be honest, I’d never heard of before last week (told you I don’t follow sports) made homophobic statements. His name is Tyson Fury, and yes, that’s his real name. He’s not denied making the comments but insists their neither sexist nor homophobic. (They are.) It may be that he genuinely believes they’re not. (They are.)  It could be that he’s genuinely so unintelligent that he doesn’t realise they are. (They are.)

And his fans excuse him. His fans say he’s being treated unfairly. His fans say everyone’s overreacting. 

It reminds me of nothing so much as the excuses offered by supporters when politicians from the right, from the Conservative Party, from UKIP, from the BNP, make racist statements or by their actions attempt to reduce the severity of racist behaviour. (Yes, as I’ve mentioned previously, there’s a fair amount of anti-semitism on the left, but the home of anti-semitism, of racism, of homophobia, and of sexism, is on the hard right.) Whether it’s a UKIP MEP saying he wanted to join an EY committee on Women because “they don’t clean properly”, or another UKIP politician saying floods are attacks by God because of legalisation of equal marriage, or many, many other examples, Conservative MPs delighting in stopping Private Members’ Bills to make life better for less fortunate poeple (so many examples)… Tyson Fury is merely the latest example of a person very good at what they do, who’s also apparently a horrible, horrible person. 

I once queued up to get something signed by one of my favourite comic book artists; despite my fairly immediate discovery that he was an arrogant self-entitled shit, that doesn’t stop my admiration of his work. It certainly put me off him as a person though. 

No one is obliged to be a nice person. It’s better if they are, but no one is obliged to. No one is obliged to agree with all of my positions on anything (though I do wish they’d do so on some of them) but I’m always disappointed when someone whose work I enjoy is not a nice person. 

I’ve been incredibly fortunate that in comics, however, almost every talented person I’ve met – almost – is an equally nice person. I don’t know many politicians, and I don’t know any sportspeople. I hope I could say the same about them, but I’m less convinced than ever that’d be the case. 

2016 minus 19: being… better

Posted: 13 December 2015 in 2016minus, media

Years back, when I first started writing comedy as a non-commissioned writer for BBC’s Weekending radio show, I asked a producer how I could get commissioned. “Write consistently funnier, consistently better material than the people who are commissioned.” It was a smart answer to a not particularly smart question. 

And I suppose there’s been an element of that attitude in everything I’ve written – or at least submitted – since then. There are consistently clever, smart people out there who write consistently smart, clever pieces, stories, novels, comic books and the like. Unless I think that what I’m writing is at least as smart and clever as what they’re writing if not better, what business have I in submitting my own work? 

That question though, ostensibly sensible though it is, admittedly and mistakenly conflates quality and popularity. Despite the cynics around, the two often do go together; I may be biased but I enjoy the writing of Neil Gaiman enormously. I’ll go further: it’s rare that I read something of Neil’s and don’t enjoy it. And, I think it’s not exactly news, he’s a successful author in terms of sales. 

There are other authors whose work I enjoy who – for various reasons – are not as successful (in terms of sales) as Neil. I’m sure he’d forgive me when I say my favourite novel predates his own writing; as I’ve said before, it’s THE MAN by Irving Wallace, a novelist I bet hardly anyone reading this blog has read. I enjoy almost every one of Wallace’s books, but THE MAN is by far my favourite, combining several of my interests. 

One could argue – indeed, I’ve seen it argued many times – that while quality is subjective (being personal), popularity is objective, quantitative, in the meaning that it can be measured. Though the numbers are smaller than they once were, The Sun is still the most popular newspaper in the UK in terms of sales, because it does what it does, and what it does is still popular among those who read it. 

Is it the best newspaper around though? Well, that depends how you’re measuring ‘best’. Is the quality of its journalism abysmal? Yes, of course it is; even then though, however you measure quality, The Sun‘s is no worse than the Sunday Sport, say. But arguably, the quality of its journalism is not why people buy the newspaper. 

(For the remainder of this post, I’m specifically talking about news reporting, or reporting in general, including feature work; I’m excluding columnists. My experience of columnists is that it’s rare for folks to judge the quality of a column without conflating whether or not they agree with the point the columnist is making or the columnist’s political views. That’s an area that I may write about… But not here.)

Of course The Sun would argue otherwise, saying that their readers do prize the quality of  their journalism. To be fair to them, it does take skill and effort to write things down to the lowest common denominator, to simplify things down to the simplistic, and to prioritise celebrity peccadilloes over parliamentary politics.

But it’s that very priority of trivia and [I’d suggest] unimportant nonsense that’s the reason it gets bought. Those who buy The Sun – or at least those that only buy The Sun – aren’t interested in the fundamentals of the economy, and the detailed analysis of the Autumn Statement that came with The Guardian, The Times or The Telegraph. They have, I would suggest, little interest in the minutiae of party political manoeuvrings. Their grasp of foreign politics is, one might suggest, limited to “who are the goodies and who are the baddies?” And in many cases, they’re satisfied when the ‘baddies’ are identified as having darker skin.

What British newspaper currently has the best journalism? I don’t know, to be honest. The Telegraph has had very good sports reporting for as long as I can recall, and also very good ‘city’ (i.e. financial) reporting. Or at least the latter was true up until about three or four years ago; as Private Eye has pointed out repeatedly, the quality of that particular segment of the reporting has fallen through the floor in recent years.

The Daily Mail (a newspaper many people wouldn’t even use as toilet paper because you’d end up wiping more shit on than off) has suffered from a split personality for some years now. It’s print version is The Sun with more syllables in its words, while it’s online version couldn’t give a shit about what’s happening in. the world as long as they can identify which personality has put on weight, dresses in similar clothes to their children, shagged someone they shouldn’t have… or ideally all three.

Returning to what I started with, I genuinely don’t know what somoene who wants to be a serious journalist would do today, at what publication they’d aim. I do know that if they want to write material that is as good as or better than what’s out there, it’s a lower bar than it’s been in a long time.

And so we reach the end of another week, and with rare exceptions, I don’t know anyone who’s had a good one, let alone a spectacularly good one. Bah.

And so, as seems now to be welcomed – by me if not necessarily by anyone else – here are some more videos to provide just a moment or two of light relief.

Songtaran Carols – Strax (the wonderful Dan Starkey) ‘entertains’ us with his take on Christmas Carols

I’m pretty convinced Sir Humphrey’s argument here for Trident is the same one currently used by the Ministry of Defence, and has been used continuously for decades…

I know many folks are aware of the classic Who’s On First sketch, but also, I doubt many have seen it in full. Let me fill that gap…

Something different tomorrow…

If you do even a brief search online you can find quotation after quotation from famous authors about the joys of deadlines. Not everyone regards them with the same mixture of bemusement and horror as the late Douglas Adams who famously commented that he “loved deadlines, especially the whoosh as they fly by.” Others have stated time and again that a deadline is the best cure for writer’s block. 

In a previous life, when I was first a practicing accountant and later a financial director (for the Americans reading, that’s a CFO on this side of the pond), my professional life was structured around, relied upon, and surrounded by, deadlines. Deadlines for accounts to be submitted to the taxman, to Companies House, to clients. VAT Returns had strict deadlines by which time they required submission. And reviews of sets of financial statements also had individual and cumulative deadlines. 

At the same time as the above, I had umpteen personal and writing deadlines. When I wrote an online comics column, the deadlines were a little more fluid, but not much. Ideally, the column needed to be submitted 36 hours before it went live. Occasionally, that dropped to 24. On more than one occasions, my editor received the column an hour or two before it went live. She was a very nice person and treated me much better than I deserved. 

When I started the fast fiction challenge, the idea was, every year – I wrote about 100 or so a year for some years – I’d write an average of one a day. Occasionally I’d skip a day, in which case, two were written the following day. That always seemed vaguely unsatisfying and eventually, it got to the point where it irritated me to the extent that when I did the final set of yearly stories, in 2010, I made a fateful decision.

In June 2010, I was invited to take part in an online project to create something each day in June. So, thirty days. Some people created works of art, some people created music, some people created fiction; one person, to my knowledge, wrote potted biographies of family and friends. I decided to write fast fiction, under the rules of the fast fiction challenge. Thirty days. I could do that. No matter what else was happening in my life, I would write one story a day, to answer one fast fiction challenge a day. For thirty days. 

As I approached the twenty-fifth story, I realised I had quite a few challenges that would go unanswered if I stopped at thirty days. So I extended it. And then at fifty days, extended it again, still writing one tale a day. At one hundred stories, I considered stopping, but decided against it.

I finally drew a halt in the mid one hundred and thirties. I still had almost a dozen stories to write, but I decided to call a halt at one hundred and fifty stories; For the last handful, I invited specific people to end of the challenge. And then it was done: one hundred and fifty stories in one hundred and fifty days, one every day, (some of them admittedly written in the wee small hours before I crawled into bed, and one of them written after a humiliating experience when I really really did not want to write anything.)

And that was it. I was done. Doing and dusted. Until 2012, when I write twelve in twelve days for Christmas (about more of which here.) At least with the fast fictions; I’ve continued to write in other formats. 

But I’ve written few, very few, short stories. I’m not sure why. I’ve written one novel, and have two more which are… slowly progressing. I’ve a graphic novel adaptation that is progressing slightly faster and a three-part screenplay for something that I’m less convinced than ever will work. And I’ve plots and outlines and too much else.

So, I’m not sure why I promised an old friend last week that in addition to the Twelve Days of Fast Fiction that I’d write two short stories before the year end. But I did. And I will. 

2016 minus 22: not for me

Posted: 10 December 2015 in 2016minus, religion
Tags: ,

I was reading this week’s Jewish Chronicle and came across a reference to this: “The bishops of England and Wales have appealed to Rome to change the Good Friday prayer for Jews as it is said in the Extraordinary Form”. Basically, for a long time the Catholics were encouraged (let’s be kind, budgie) to pray for the conversion of Jews. Vatican Two got rid of that bit, but Benedict (the one who retired/resigned?) put it back in. So the bishops are asking the current Pope to take it out again. No bishops have suggested yet that after in, out, in, out, they then shake it all about. But we can hope.

Now everyone has their ‘hot button’ issues, and this is kind of one of mine. I wrote yesterday that I don’t tend to get involved in religious discussions online, despite me following a number of both atheists and religious people (people of religion?). Religion itself isn’t a hot button issue for me, not in general; there are, however, a couple of topics in the field that do somewhat bug me. And one of them is those… people… who think that I should, how can I put it, not be Jewish but be another religion, and what a surprise, they’ve got one for me that’ll suit me just fine.

Mitch Benn in his current tour (“Don’t Believe A Word”) makes the good point – well, he makes lots of good points – that many of the proselytisers don’t engage in Arguments Of Fact but instead Statements Of Truth, one of the most insulting of which is “you know the Truth; you just don’t to want to admit it.” And this is where my ire starts to rise. Because what I’m told again and again – have been told again and again throughout my adult life by this bastards – is that the reference to messiah in the Jewish holy books is a reference to Jesus, that I know this – all Jews know this apparently – and as a result, I should accept Jesus into my heart.

I don’t like people sitting at the coffee table I’m using, so you can just imagine… OK, a bit of levity. But no, at times I just wish I had something clear precise and easy to use to slap them down. You know, a bit like when I did years back when faced with one of them on a tube train. So I wrote one.

Reasons why Jesus isn’t the Jewish Messiah

Here are the requirements, according to Judaism, for the messiah. Jesus did not fulfil them. Sorry:

  • World Peace (Isaiah 2:4; Ezekiel 39:9)
  • Universal Knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9; Jeremiah 31:33)
  • Construction of the Third and Final Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28)
  • End to Disease and Death (Isaiah 25:8, 35:5 & 6)
  • The Dead will Awake to Everlasting Life* (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 22)
  • Ingathering in Israel (Isaiah 11:12, 43:5-6; Jeremiah 16:15, 23:3)
  • Material Help for Jews (Isaiah 60:5, 60:10-12, 61:6)
  • Eternal Joy for the Jewish People (Isaiah 51:11)
  • Jews Sought for Spiritual Guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
  • Burial for the Enemy Dead (Ezekiel 39:12)
  • Drought of the Egyptian River (Isaiah 11:15)
  • Yieldings of Fruit Monthly in Israel (Ezekiel 47:12)
  • Inheritance for the Tribes of Israel (Ezekiel 47:13-14)
  • End of Evil and Sin (Eze. 37, Zeph. 3, Zech. 13,Mal. 3, Isa. 60, Jer. 50)
  • Prophecy will return (Joel 2:28)
  • Life of ease (Isa. 49:23, 60:10-12, 61:05)
  • Extraordinary vegetation (Isa. 51:03, Eze. 36:29-30, Amos 9:13)

Additionally and specifically the ones we think of the most when speaking of Moshiach:

Maimonides wrote extensively on Moshiach and what is to be expected of him. The Rambam said following:

Moshiach is to be born of human parents. He is a man like all are. He will have to accomplish the following:

  1. He, Moshiach, will renew the Davidic dynasty
  2. He will build the 3rd Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple)
  3. In his days all statutes will return to their previous state (sacrifices, jubilee and sabbatical a.s.o)
  4. Three more cities are to be added to the cities of refuge
  5. He will gather the dispersed of Israel

So if a King will arise from the House of David who is learned in Torah and observant of the mitzvot (as in the oral and written law) and if he compels all of Israel to walk in the way of Torah and fight the wars of God, we may, with assurance, consider him to be Moshiach.

If he succeeds in above and builds the Temple in its place and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is definitely Moshiach. Jesus is 0 for 5. Jesus ain’t that person.

(* No, the proliferation of Zombie and Vampire movies doesn’t count.) 

Now, I’m not suggesting that the above will shut them up; nothing ever shuts them up. I’m not suggesting either that their minds can be changed; once again, quoting the philosopher Benn, “it’s impossible to reason someone out of a position they weren’t reasoned into.”

And now you know why I rarely write on religion.

I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to popular culture, particularly television, I’m somewhat at odds with my friends. Many shows they like, I don’t, and sometimes – rarely – I enormously enjoy a show which those people kind enough to good-naturedly  tolerate my eccentricities and foibles  find tiresome at best and at worst just plain boring.

But that’s fine, that’s what friends do. We differ about things; some are trivial, some rather more important. A friend of mine maintains his belief that male circumcision is child abuse; we long ago decided never to discuss the matter. Another friend of Irish heritage and I similarly decided many years back never under any circumstances to discuss Oliver Cromwell. To him, whatever else the Lord Protector did, Cromwell determinedly, and with great effect, attempted genocide of the Irish people. To me, whatever else Cromwell did, he’s the bloke who let the Jews back into England 365 years after they’d been expelled by Edward I in 1290. It’s perhaps understandable that we don’t debate the matter.

(Sidebar: a friend once said that one reason why her and her partner ‘worked’ was because they agreed on all the important stuff. Have to say that on many things, important and otherwise, I’ve always enjoyed the intellectual disagreements me and my friends, me and my partners, have had.)

But as I say, that’s with friends. Online, it’s a different matter. I follow just over 300 people on Twitter. I used to follow more, but did a cull a while back to about 200; it’s slowly crept up again organically, which is how it should be. When it gets too many for me to keep up with, I’ll do another cull, I imagine. 

But as to who I follow, well, I’ve only a couple of indicatory rules that guide me; they’re not conclusive, but they operate as a kind of working guide. If I know you, if you’re interesting, if you tweet about things in which I’m interested… odds are I’ll follow you. If I don’t know you, it gets a tad more complicated but not much. Again, if you’re interesting, if you tweet about things in which I’m interested… and especially if you’re recommended by someone whose judgement I trust, yeah again, odds are you’ll get a follow from me. Of course that doesn’t mean that if I don’t follow someone, they’re uninteresting; as often as not, it’s just because they tweet about things in which I’ve little or no interest. 

(In the wee small hours of the morning, that’s what I tell myself to explain why people I’d expect to follow me… don’t. But then again, that’s one of the first rules to follow on Twitter if you want to remain even relatively sane: never wonder why people you’d expect to follow you… don’t, while people you’d never expect to follow you… do.)

Rarely, very rarely, I’ll follow someone who never interacts with their followers. They’re probably the rarest of accounts I follow. The one that immediately springs to mind is Rachel Maddow’s ‘official’ account. As far as I know, she doesn’t type the tweets herself; it’s used solely to promote her show and to link to information about political stories that her show covers.

But mostly, I follow people who interact with their followers. Not to the point of never tweeting original material, but folks who at least acknowledge their followers exist.

Note that at no point in this piece have I suggested that they need to have the same views as me. Sure, you’d probably anticipate that in many cases they do, but not always. Not evemn close to always. The to and fro of Twitter, the cut and thrust of genuine debate* that occurs means that if I want to learn new things, there’s absolutely no point in just following the people with whom I agree.

(Nothing about non-tweeters’ commentary on Twitter annoys me than the suggestion that serious debates don’t happen on Twitter; they do… they happen all the time.)

There are a number of atheists I follow and also a few religious people. I doubt I’d agree with any of them, especially since my personal views vary on a day to day basis. I’ve already mentioned popular culture – and yes, that Doctor Who post is coming, I promise – but let’s just take three things about which it’s astonishingly easy to disagree online: politics, politics and politics… By which I mean global politics, domestic politics, and party politics.

Global politics: Despite long dead Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill’s protestation and mission statement that “all politics is local”, it isn’t. I’ve never hidden my support for Israel as long as that support is understood to mean, and is limited to, the continuance of the State of Israel as a political entity. That’s it; everything else is up for negotiation as far as I’m concerned. And despite some seeming to think that all criticism of Israel is anti-semitic in motive and nature, that’s as stupid and wrong an assertion as stating that none of it is. The metonym of using a country’s name to mean the government of that country may be a useful shorthand but it confuses as much as it helps, if it helps at all.  I’ve said in the past and for the avoidance of doubt now restate that I think the current Prime Minister of Israel is a thug, a bully and brings shame to his country on a regular, a depressingly regular, basis. And some of Cabinet go further, making statements that I believe are not only despicable and racist but should forever bar them from office. Of course criticising a government of Israel, a policy, a military action, individual Israelis isn’t inherently anti-Semitic’ nor does criticising any of those make you ‘anti-Israel’ any more than criticising David Cameron, the bedroom tax or the extension of bombing into Syria makes you ‘anti-British’. BUT if you use anti-Semitic imagery and tropes to criticise Israel, it doesn’t stop being anti-semitism just because you slap “Israel” or “Zionism” on the image instead of “Jew”.

OK – take a breath, budgie…

You might imagine that given the views expressed above, there are some people who disagree with me. And you’d be right. The only dealbreaker for me is the support to which I referred to above. If someone wants the State of Israel destroyed as an entity, someone wants the country obliterated, abolished… removed… Then yeah, I’m not interested in anything else they have to say. And not only will I not follow them, they’re likely to be blocked from following me. (Amusingly, on another subject, someone made the comment the other day to me that blocking people was a personal attack. Yes, seriously. They didn’t seem to understand that their freedom of speech carries with it my freedom not to listen. Similarly, as I learned from the sage that is Kurt Busiek a long time back: restriction of venue is not restriction of speech.)   

But leaving Israel aside, there are plenty of things going on in the world that I’m going to disagree with people about. As long as they have a case to make (i.e. they’re not just spray painting slogans) and are not abusive or liars, I’ll listen. And if they’re interesting while they make this case, they’ll often get a follow. Doesn’t matter which country they’re from, which subjects are their own personal interests. Whether I stay following of course is a different matter. 

Domestic Politics: I’ll leave aside the individual coalitions we call political parties for a moment; I’ll address them in a moment. I’m more concerned here about the Big Picture: the processes of our politics, the cross-party subjects and the media. I know – and follow – at least a couple of people who think that parliamentary democracy is the wrong ideal way to govern our country. I disagree, but I’m always interested in what they have to say. I follow people who condemn our constitutional monarchy as an institution and also those who regard it as an essential and irreplaceable part of the British system. I follow some who while they think think the House of Lords isn’t perfect, it’s better than anything else that would replace it, while other people I follow would abolish it tomorrow if they could. I follow people who read the Daily Mail, while others wouldn’t use it as toilet paper (on the grounds you’d wipe on more shit than you’d remove.) I can’t stand talent shows, celebrity based or otherwise, nor so-called reality television, and I thank whatever deities there may or may not be for the ability to mute hashtags relating to either. Doesn’t mean I don’t value the tweets and opinions on other matters of people who do like them.

Again, my point is that as long as you have a case to make, and do so without abuse nor lies, odds are I’ll follow you or at least I won’t mute or block you.

Party Politics: For most of my adult life, as I’ve related elsewhere, if I’d have had to have placed myself somewhere on the party political spectrum, I’d probably have lumped myself in with that particular area of politics occupied by Kenneth Clarke, and Michael Heseltine, and back in history a bit, that similarly occupied by Peter Walker and Francys Pym, by Jim Prior and Anthony Barber. But over the past ten years or so, I’m genuinely unsure whether I moved politically or the parties moved politically and I stayed where I was. Certainly during the last five years, I found myself more and more attracted to the Labour Party, despite their leader who I believed was well intentioned, but suffered from what was once called “the Kinnock Effect”, i.e. you just couldn’t see him as Prime Minister. Well, I couldn’t anyway. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Labour didn’t stand a chance in my constituency (seriously – at the 2010 election, the candidate got about 10% of the vote) so in 2015, I voted for the candidate with the best chance (as far as I saw it, anyway) of unseating him. More fool me; the Conservative candidate – on a static turnout of 76% – increased his vote, his vote-share, and inevitably his majority; from just over 4,000 to a shade over 23,000. My MP is Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative Party’s candidate for mayor.

However, as I’ve previously related, when the results of the general election came in, I was so sickened that I was determined not to allow my future inaction to be one reason why the conservatives won again in five years. So I joined the Labour Party. And we all know how that went.   

Anyway, my point is that before I joined, during the time in which I was a member, and afterwards, I’ve always followed people on Twitter from the left, and for most of the time, hell for almost the entire time, I’ve disagreed with them and vice versa. A couple of names are worth mentioning. If you peruse the comments to this blog, one name will come up repeatedly in reply to many of the political entries I’ve written. His name’s Steve Townsley and twenty-off (twenty very odd) years back, he ran the first politics message board in which I participated, first as a member and then later helping Steve and his successor run it. In twenty years, I don’t think we’ve agreed on much about anything politically. But I wouldn’t pass up reading his views for a moment. I don’t think that either of us doubt the other’s sincerity on holding our respective views, and I would suggest with equal certainty that neither of us think any less of the other when we disagree. (By the way, Steve, after twenty years, I think I get to say at least once that “you’re wrong and I’m right.” Let me know when’s good for you.)

Owen Jones is a writer, opinion columnist and journalist (he’s very specific though: he’s not a news reporter; his pieces appear in the opinion pages) with whom I suspect we would agree a lot about trivial things and disagree fundamentally about some pretty major ones. But I like how he writes, I like how he argues a case, and I’d very much like to meet him one day so we can agree how wrong I am. I genuinely cannot imagine unfollowing Owen on Twitter; he’s one of the few pundits I regard as essential reading.

There are plenty of other people I like enormously online (and hope that we’d like each other were we to meet, which is not beyond the realms of possibility since we have in each case mutual friends) and who are far to the left politically of me. I rarely agree with them. They rarely agree with me. We occasionally go at it, arguing about this or that. But they’re always polite, always courtesy, always have a case to make, and always make it. And that’s why I carry on following them, because I like to read well made arguments.

There’s one final comment I should make regarding muting and blocking, and it’s an admission of cowardice on my part. There’s one person who through no fault whatsoever of their own tweets about a subject that I find genuinely difficult to deal with; that’s solely down to me and my own hangups. This is a person I genuinely don’t want to offend, and it’s pure cowardice on my part that stops me unfollowing them. So they’re muted.

I’ve had a shitty day so far; long story which you’ll be very grateful I’m not boring you with. Trust me on that.

Here are twenty quotations I like; some I like because I wish I’d said them, some speak truth, and some just appeal to me for no reason whatsoever.

“In his ninetieth year, he could afford to be agreeable to everybody, though he tried valiantly to resist the inclination.”
— Alistair Cooke on Frank Lloyd Wright.

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion of one writer to alter another’s draft.”
— H G Wells

“The first draft of anything is shit.”
–Ernest Hemingway

“A man you’d follow anywhere, if only out of curiosity.”
— Alan Coren on Boris Johnson

“When children have their noses in books while the Universe is telling them to come out and play, we know something is going badly wrong.”
— journalist Sue Nelson commenting about a teacher who couldn’t take his class to see an annular eclipse.

“The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move eyeballs again… His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.”
— Kingsley Amis on hangovers (in Lucky Jim)

“A hard man to ignore… but it’s worth the effort.”
— Barry Cryer on Robert Kilroy-Silk

“If a politician murders his mother, the first response of the press or of his opponents will likely be not that it was a terrible thing to do, but rather that in a statement made six years before he had gone on record as being opposed to matricide.”
— Meg Greenfield

All romantics meet the same fate someday. Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe.
— Joni Mitchell

Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.
— Orson Welles

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
— Steven Wright

The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.
— H. L. Mencken

“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.”
— Alistair Cooke.

“Bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear to be busy when they are writing and because the memos, once written, immediately become proof that they were busy.”
— Charles Peters

“Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.”
— A. S. Neill

“The future, according to some scientists, will be exactly like the past, only far more expensive.”
— John Sladek

“A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.”
— Robert Frost

“I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.”
— Mark Twain

“I feel that events have forced us to become enemies. What a pity we couldn’t have got to know each other under happier circumstances. Then we could have become enemies of our own free will.”
— David Nobbs (from A Bit Of A Do)

And – especially since I write a blog:

“It is not a bad idea to get in the habit of writing down one’s thoughts. It saves one having to bother anyone else with them.”
— Isobel Colegate

Something else tomorrow.

Once again, we learn that old songs can mislead us. Not only did four Liverpool lads entirely mislead us as to the ease of living in an ochre underwater conveyance, but it turns out that you don’t shake it all about after you’ve been in and been out repeatedly. At least not according to David Cameron and the Conservative Party who want to shake the EU up a bit before deciding whether we’re to remain in the organisation or to leave it.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the ongoing irritations about the British political system (other political systems exist, with their own irritations) is that over the past few years, it’s developed into a competitive sport; points are scored not by achieving something but preferably by ensuring that your opponents look foolish. To that end gaffes are played up as if they were of great importance rather than genuine mistakes; as a result, apologies which should put the matter to bed won’t be made, even if they should   end the matter… won’t be made because they wouldn’t end the matter.

We’ve seen this a lot in the past few weeks, even leaving aside the odious comments made by Gerald Kaufman and Ken Livingstone about which I wrote a week or so ago. But since they were from the left, let’s look at an equally odious comment from the right. 

David Cameron made a comment at a ‘private meeting’ which he must have known would be leaked, suggesting that at least some of those who were voting against the government motion to extend bombing into Syria were “terrorist sympathisers”. As a matter of fact, I’m sure he was right… that some of those voting against… were terrorist sympathisers… as the word terrorist is commonly understood.  

Let us be clear: the comment was aimed at Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. Let’s not pretend otherwise and it’s foolish and mendacious of Cameron et al to pretend otherwise; it was meant to imply that Corbyn and McDonnell were sympathetic to terrorist organisations right now, and one specific terrorist organisation that’s in the news right now as well. 

Let me be equally clear about something else: I don’t think for one moment that anyone voting in the House of Commons the other night sympathised with Daesh, Islamic State, ISIL, ISIS or whatever the designation of choice currently is. Seriously, I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell sympathise with ok-let’s-stick-to-Daesh at all. In any way. I’ve no doubt they genuinely believe that bombing is not only ineffective but counter-productive. I may have many disagreements with both gentlemen, but I am certain that they voted from and for their consciences, and for and from the best of motives.

Let me further be clear about one more thing: without in any way reducing my certainty on either of the two preceding paragraphs however, both are terrorist sympathisers; it’s just not Daesh with whom they sympathise. It’s the IRA, and Hamas, and other armed organisations for whom they’ve expressed sympathy for, and supported, and honoured, and praised in the past. And when I say “in the past” I just mean pre- their apotheoses into the two most senior people in the Labour Party. I don’t mean the distant past either. Both gentlemen have expressed support within the past ten years for Hamas, and slightly longer ago, both made no secret of their admiration for the IRA.

That said, Cameron was an idiot to say what he said, and should have taken the first, the second and any other opportunity to make it clear that he didn’t think anyone had sympathy with Daesh. He was wrong not to. And his apology should not have been of the “I’m sorry if I offended anyone” type but of the “I was wrong; it was a foolish thing to say; I unreservedly apologise.”

But then that would have been the sensible and proper thing to do. What would have been even more sensible and even more proper would have been not to say it in the first place.

But then that would have taken a level of common and uncommon sense to which many of today’s politicians can only aspire. 

I genuinely believe that most politicians enter politics out of a sense of public duty and the vast majority of them maintain that attitude for many years. It’s only a pity that for many of them, it’s faded long before they attain any senior position within their respective parties.  

Returning to the opening lines of this entry, sometime within the next year (long before the close of 2017) there’ll be a referendum on whether or not the UK should stay in the EU, or leave it. To say that it’s an important decision is to understate it; however, I fear that by the time we reach the referendum debate proper, the overwhelmingly vast majority of those voting will have long made their mind up, concluding not through mature reflection on matters of import, but making their mind up depending upon which campaign has scared them more. 

And no matter the result, those who do regard politics as that most competitive of sports will sit back, tot up their winnings and losses, and celebrate the gullibility of the voters.

I know, I know – I’d planned what I was going to write for today’s entry; I even hinted at it yesterday, but no. Not today. I need to do some more careful thinking on it. And yes, I know that me thinking carefully about things is not always the best plan, but hey, I should at least try it on occasion, nu?

So, instead of that, this… something else for a Sunday evening. A while back, in another place (Livejournal), I used to do Q&As fairly often. For whatever reason – in part because the fashion for them has thankfully if not died, then at least suffered a setback – I’ve rarely done them here. But why not, for a change? Why not indeed. So below are a number of question asked of me over the years, and my current answer were they to be asked of me now. Fair enough?

OK… let’s see how this goes. 

Call me curious. Why do you write?
Either because I have a story I want to tell, or to meet a challenge, (self-imposed or external), or something occurs to me that I have to get down… in order for it to make sense to me. And sometimes, the format itself gets in the way. A story won’t work in prose, but it will as poetry, or only as a scrupt.

Who will play you in the film about your life?
No one would be daft enough to take on such a career-ending role.

Why are you called ‘budgie’?
A long story that you used to have to get me very drunk to tell, but now…? The full story’s here.

Why are you such a grouch?
It’s obligatory. Comes with my membership of the Curmudgeonly Club.

Furthest you’ve ever been from where you were born?
Singapore. Flew there, stayed six hours, flew back. Long story. Not as long as the flight, though.

Biggest regret of 2015?
Having low expectations, and failing even to live up to them.

Where did the idea for the Fast Fiction Challenge come from?
I hadn’t written anything for a while, and I was chatting with a well-known writer friend, saying I needed something to get me “hungry” about writing again… I came up with the idea for the fast fiction challenge and he said it would certainly get me writing… but I’d hate myself after about twenty… but I’d still write them. Well, I didn’t quite HATE myself but after about 100 I wondered whether I’d burn out. 700 of the buggers later, I’m still wondering.

Why do you pretend you don’t know when someone’s interested in you when you obviously do?
Erm, we’ve obviously never met.

Do you think of yourself as “Budgie” or “Lee”?
Oh, good question… Depends on the circumstances; with comics people, or people who I’ve met via online contacts, almost always as “Budgie”. At work, it was “Lee” or occasionally “Mr Barnett”, which I loathed. I’ve never really liked “Lee” as a name; as an androgynous name, I occasionally got letters addressed to “Miss Barnett”. Amusing as an adult, painfully embarassing as a teenager.

If you could change one thing about yourself whether it be physical or not, what would it be?
Physically? Full body transplant.
Mentally? An injection of “grow up” serum.

What is your favourite word?

Which writers do you find inspiring and / or influential?
I can’t think of any writers I’ve found inspiring as in emotionally inspiring, but inspiring me to write? Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Peter David, David Morrell, Irving Wallace. Influential? Oh, a bit from everyone, though something longform I wrote was described by a friend as being heavily influenced by Douglas Adams’ style.

Please pass on an important piece of advice about life.
Two pieces of advice: (1) Learn from your mistakes; regret ’em, but don’t brood on them. (2) Accept that life is an ongoing series of ‘well, it seemed like a good idea at the time’,

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge?
I tend to assume that someone who’s intelligent in one area will be equally intelligent in others. And I become unfairly (and obviously) disappointed when it proves not to be the case.

Who would you most like to meet?
There are any number of people with whom I’ve corresponded online that I’d like to meet, including some that have become friends. Celebrities? Stephen Fry, Peter David, Jon Stewart, Jeremy Paxman, in the main so I can tell them how much I’ve enjoyed their work.

Would you ever consider running for political office?
Absolutely NOT!

What is the first thing you notice about people?
Their face. I’d like to say their eyes, but it’s their entire face.

Do you believe in ghosts?
Nope, not at all. I think that those people who do are… misguided.

Which is your favourite song that you would choose to sing at a karaoke bar?
I wouldn’t. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

If you were to be famous, what would you like to be known for?
As the disreputable and slightly embarrassing father of a very talented son.

Have you ever had cosmetic surgery?
Heh, no. You think I’d choose to look like this?

Pretend you live in a world where everyone wears real, physical masks all the time. Halloween masks, masquerade masks, and so on. What would your favorite mask look like?
Completely blank, like that of THE QUESTION.

What do you do if you forget the name of someone you’ve just been introduced to?
I’ll usually apologise and admit it…

What is your favorite pizza topping(s)?
Sweetcorn, Pineapple, Extra Cheese.

Tell me: One strength. One shortcoming. One plan of action. One goal. One fear.
One strength: determination, not stubbornness.
One shortcoming: stubbornness, not determination.
One plan of action: under no circumstances ever say ‘next year has to be better than this year’; I’ve been burned before on that.
One goal: make it through this year relatively unscathed.
One fear: the confirmation of other fears.

What’s your favorite black and white movie?
Always have problems with favourite movies, because I have different favourites depending on genre. So I’ll say probably Casablanca as a serious movie, and Duck Soup as a comedy. (As it’s the Christmas season, and as an aside, can’t stand It’s a Wonderful Life. At all.)

What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up?
Had loads – I was a telly addict growing up; ’twas a family joke. But my earliest memories of ‘must-watch’ tv were Doctor Who, Magpie (a kids’ magazine programme), The Banana Splits, Thunderbirds and H R Puffnstuff.

What do you wear to bed to sleep?
A duvet.

What song always makes you happy when you hear it?
Not sure about ‘happy’, but Walking on Sunshine by Katriona and the Waves always makes me smiled when I hear it.

Are you afraid of the dark?
Not at all, but then it’s never given me a reason to be afraid of it. So far.

Have you ever used a gun?
A ‘real’ one? No, and no eagerness to do so.

What three television characters do you wish were real so you could hang out?
The characters I most like on tv are almost without exception characters that I’d really not like to spend that much time with in real life, and I’m pretty sure they’d not want to spend time with me either…

Name three things you hate doing.
Rarely ‘hate’ doing anything, but I’m a lazy sod – hate doing anything the “hard way” if there’s an easy way of doing it…

But, as a general rule of thumb?

(1) Even when my foot allowed it (long story), I loathed dancing. Hated it. Not only cannot I not dance, I’m far too self-conscious – I cannot get it out of my head that everyone’s looking.

(2) I hate seeing photographs of me, or to be precise, I actually don’t mind it when I’m posing for a photo, but I detest being photographed when I’m not expecting it or when I don’t know about it. I think that in my adult life there’s maybe, MAYBE, been four ‘candid’ photos taken of me where I look anything approaching ‘ok’. The rest? I’d rather they never existed.

(3) I hate having to be polite on occasions when I know I should be polite but I really don’t want to have to be, including when I receive a compliment that I either know or suspect is ‘fake’.

Can a man and a woman who find each other attractive (physically, intellectually…), be just friends and stay friends?
Yes, they can. Finding someone attractive, mentally and/or physically does not mean you desire them sexually. I’ve several female friends I think are incredibly attractive, intellectually and/or physically; that doesn’t mean I want to take them to bed. There are all sorts of entirely valid reasons why even if people do find each other attractive, the relationship will stay “friends only” or “just good friends”, or however you want to describe it: one or both people being attached, being separated by distance, etc. (Of course there’s always the possibility/probability/likelihood* that while they both find each other attractive, one or both won’t have a clue the other DOES find them attractive.)

[*delete as appropriate]

And also on that note: is it possible to be friends with someone you’ve got a crush on?
Yes, as long as they don’t have a clue you’re crushing on them. If they know? No, I don’t think it’s possible, or at least advisable, at least not for me. There’s a BUT coming. And here it is: BUT I’ve always considered “crushing” as unrequited. The moment it becomes reciprocated, that’s not crushing… that’s fancying each other, and you’re foolish if you don’t do something about it, circumstances allowing. But unrequited crushing? If someone wants to let me know they’ve crushed on me, fine… I won’t stop them, but me? No, I’d never let someone know.

What’s the favourite fast fiction you’ve written
It changes every time I think about it

Do you think writers are too in love with themselves?
Oh hell, no. I think most writers don’t like themselves very much at all.

Do you like being your age or would you rather be a different age? Why?
I don’t mind being my age; I just don’t like FEELING my age.

What would you like to see written on your gravestone?
Seriously? Merely my name and the dates of my birth and death.

Jokingly? “To Be Continued…”

Do you have a partner/significant other? Does s/he support your writing?
No, I don’t. I’ve been single for some years; many, many years in fact. Many, many, many… you get the point, I hope.

Can you recommend a coffee?
I always recommend a coffee. It’s a rule.

Would you like to know what your future holds or would you rather wait and see what happens ?
There are times I’d like the former, but on the whole, overwhelmingly the latter.

Can’t see the point in knowing what’s going to happen; either you give up the concept of TRYING at that point, of effort itself, OR if you genuinely saw the ultimate consequences of every action you took, you’d go insane… OR you’d constantly seek to change the future.

I think either way, you’d go nuts pretty quickly, in one way or another.

What’s the furthest you’ve ever traveled?
Travelled for work to Singapore… was there six hours and flew back again. It’s… a complicated story.

This is a question from my 3 year old: Can dogs fly? I’m guessing his next question will be: Why not?
It depends how hard you throw them.

If you could write any comics character (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, etc.) which one would it be?
This is the genuinely the first answer where I didn’t recognise the person who wrote the answer last time around. My answer now (‘about bloody time,’ I can hear a Mr Ellis of Southend growl) would be my own characters. That’s who I’d like to write. There’s one graphic novel adaptation I’m working on which is someone else’s character and it’s enormous fun. But yes, my own characters please.

Are you a good friend?
I suspect not, but you’d have to ask my friends about that.

If I lived in the UK would you date me?
I’ll even date you if you’re not in the UK. Neolithic? How close am I?

What is your idea of a truly romantic evening?
I’m not a romantic person. Really.

Which Doctor is “your” Doctor, and do you think the ‘new’ Doctors live up to their predecessors?
“My” Doctor is the Third Doctor. I barely remember the Second Doctor; it’s John Pertwee’s Doctor who was the first I watched properly and yeah, he’s “my” Doctor. I think all of the ‘new’ Doctors have lived up to their predecessors and then some. Mind you, I’d had loved to have seen the earlier Doctors with the production values they have now. Wow.

If you had another child, what would you name him/her?
No idea – I don’t intend to have any more children. By the time I’d want any more, I think I’ll be “too old”, in my opinion. I don’t think it’s fair to children if the parents are too old; you’re increasing the odds massively that you won’t be around when the child is still relatively young. However, had I had another child, a boy would have been named after my late brother, Michael.

Who is the strongest person you know?
Couldn’t narrow it down to one person; so many people I know have triumphed – or are struggling to do so – against horrible things that have happened to them, that I couldn’t narrow it down to one person.

What song do you want played at your funeral?
I’ll likely have a traditional Jewish funeral. At those, at least in the UK, there’s no music played.

Who’s your favorite Star Trek Captain?
MacKenzie Calhoun

What are you reading at the moment?

Would you ever do a bungee jump?
Not even if world peace depended upon it. I have a distinct fear of, you know, dying. As Jack Dee said, there’s no ‘grey’ in bungee jumping if it goes wrong… just a big red smear.

Favorite Number? Season? Jewish Festival? Day of the week? Month?
Number: 1729
Season; Spring
Jewish Festival: Probably Chanukah, but no real favourite.
Day of the week: don’t really have one
Month: November, because it contains my son’s birthday.

Do you like your handwriting?
Depends which handwriting you’re talking about. When I deliberately write neatly, yeah, I quite like it. The rest of the time it’s a scrawl that I’m faintly embarrassed about.

Atheism is becoming more acceptable. If God doesn’t exist, why did the concept of his existence become almost universal?
Well, while not entirely accepting the premise of God not existing, but for the sake of argument: because early man needed SOMETHING to explain why the sun came up and what the lights in the sky were.

Well, that was nice.

It’s odd; as we approach what marketing people, movies and shops insist is ‘the happiest time of the year’, fewer and fewer people I know are having anything close to a ‘good time’ right now. Not everyone I know falls into this; indeed, a friend just got engaged and I know she, her fiancée and their families are thrilled and very happy indeed. And further, their friends are all delighted for them. On the other side of the coin, however, I’ve friends that are going through pretty shitty times and I’m less than filled to overflowing with the compliments of the season. However, more on that tomorrow, I think.

Today, let’s go back to the saturday smile, some videos to hopefully lighten your mood for a few minutes; I’m not promising anything other than watching them might shift the gloom for a short while. And I hope that it does.

after watching A Touch Of Cloth, it’s impossible to watch police procedurals the same way again. From long ago, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis make it impossible to watch old war movies the same way again either.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the BBC. And, recently, an old promo did the rounds based upon the “what did the romans ever do for us?” routine from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Less circulated these days but equally as good is this promo – also from some time ago – about children’s television. How many do you remember…?

Remember Porridge? Norman Stanley Fletcher and the crew? A BBC ‘mockumentary’ series entitled Life Beyond The Box examined what happened to favourite characters after their time on our screens ended. Here are two clips from the one about Fletcher et al.

The first reveals whatever happened to McLaren, played by Tony Osoba

And whatever did happen to Fletcher…?

Back tomorrow…

2016 minus 28: idle curiosity

Posted: 4 December 2015 in 2016minus

Well, bone idle curiosity since I’m too lazy to come up with anything else today. So, a dozen thoughts and questions, to which I want responses and answers. Yes, after three weeks of writing this, you do some work, readers:

  1. What’s the best current reasoning why the US moved to mm-dd-yy format from the British dd-mm-yy. I’ve heard lots of guesses, and many suggestions, but what’s the latest theory?
  2. I wonder what the NRA’s equivalent would be in the DC or Marvel universes? I know that both in Marvel’s Civil War (the comic book storyline at least) there was a Congressional impetus for the Superpowers Registration Act, but would there be a well funded – by various supervillains – campaign that “powers don’t kill people; people kill people”?
  3. What is the oldest cliché in the book?
  4. Come to that, what was the commonly used predecessor of ‘the best thing since sliced bread’?
  5. Having recently reread it, Dez Skinn was right; a far better title for the John Cleese co-written “True Brit” (What if Kal-El’s rocketship had landed in England) would have been Fawlty Powers.
  6. If nobody buys a ticket to a movie performance, do they still show the movie? Similar question: what if it’s a performance in the theatre?
  7. If a doctor had a heart attack while doing surgery, would the other doctors in the theatre work on the doctor or the patient?
  8. How does hair know which length to grow to? (i.e. why is the hair on my hair longer than the hair on my body? And similarly, what’s the evolutionary reason for underarm hair?)
  9. How come refrigerators have little lights in them but freezers don’t?
  10. When undertakers dress a corpse for viewing, do they put underwear on the corpse?
  11. How often do ‘crime reconstruction’ tv shows receive telephone calls identifying the actors as the real purpetrators of the crime that the police are looking for?
  12. And finally – one that’s always bugged me: the invisible woman is in a room with no windows and non-reflective walls. The only light is a single bulb. She turns the bulb invisible. Does the room go dark? What if the walls are reflective?

OK… go.

When it comes to British politics, it’s said that activists have long memories and the public short ones.

I think there’s a lot of truth in it, much as football supporters have long memories of their teams’ wins and losses and the public couldn’t really give a damn who scored, if they scored and indeed what the result of the match was.

Margaret Thatcher left office twenty-five years ago and while the influence she had on British politics can’t be understated, those who care deeply about her time in office and her legacy care very, very deeply. But anyone under the age of 30 probably won’t remember her as Prime Minister, let alone the arguments, policies and debates of her time. My lad’s 20, and has had an interest in politics (encouraged by me) since he understood what politics was. But he was born a mere two years before Tony Blair’s Labour won their first general election and so he’s only really had  experience of three Prime Ministers: Blair (who left office when he was 12), Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Me? I remember – just – Ted Heath as Prime Minister; he left office when I was 10, but my main memories are those of Mike Yarwood impersonating him to comedic effect. Wilson was my first Prime Minister, but only for a couple of years before Sunny Jim – James Callaghan – took over, and it’s his administration – 1976-1979 that I really remember as my ‘first’. It wasn’t a particularly great time, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an exciting one for someone to be introduced to politics.

For a start, there was the assumption of power. Within a few years of me being interested in politics, the PRIME MINISTER RESIGNED and someone took over without having been elected through a general election. (Of course, my aforementioned son had a similar experience in 2007, seeing Gordon Brown take over as Prime Minister, similarly unelected by the public.) 

At the time of Callaghan’s winning the Labour leadership and thereby the premiership, the fact that he’d not won a general election under his own mandate didn’t bother me in the slightest. 

By the time Brown did it, I was well acquainted with the British constitution way of doing things and I’d seen it happen often enough (Wilson → Callaghan, Thatcher → Major, Blair → Brown) that it didn’t bother me constitutionally but it still gave me a twinge of ‘this shouldn’t be the way’.

We have a parliamentary system; we maintain the polite fiction that every MP has his or her own mandate; an elegant inevitability leads us to the leader of the party that can alone 0r with other parties maintain a parliamentary majority. And that person? That’s your prime minister right there.

But I couldn’t put force my immaterial uneasiness into something more tangible until Lynne Featherstone (one of my favourite MPs; disclosure, I knew her before she was an MP) said it. Of course Brown had the right to be Prime Minister under our system with a small caveat: if he persued policies in government that were not in the manifesto under which he party stood for power in 2005? Then he should “go to the country” as the old phrase has it, i.e. he should call a general election.

That was it. That was what was bugging me. And I felt at ease once again; the system should work; it didn’t, but it should.

And then of course, the coalition came and blew all of that out of the water. And us new kids on the block who’d never encountered a genuine coalition government in our lifetimes got slapped in the face by reality.

The one thing the coalition government proved beyond peradventure was that any government, any government, was not only not obliged to get their manifesto into legislation, but could junk huge swathes of it, and pursue policies for which they arguably-at-the-very-least had no mandate.

Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems dumped parts of their manifesto during the coalition negotiations. (Anyone who suggests the Tories didn’t lose anything is either kidding themselves or kidding you.) Both agreed to policies they’d spent the previous few weeks atacking as hopelessly naive at best and catastrophic at worst.

What still boggles my brain though, what still mystifies me, is how they could put into the coalition agreement policies that were in neither manifesto. That just… no. No. No. Our system is manifestly broken when that can occur.

For a time when I genuinely thought that coalition governments were likely to be with us for some time. The 2015 general election result could have been a blip back towards majority government before a return to coalition, but Corbyn’s apotheosis made that impossible in my view. If he goes before the next general election and Labour see fit to elect someone the public could think of as a Prime Minister in waiting, it’s still possible. But I think it unlikely. I think we’re stuck with a Conservative government for at least another 10 years.

But at that if not ‘more hopeful’ then ‘less unhopeful’ time, I suggested that part of the problem was the manifesto itself, and offered a possible solution. As currenly formatted, the manifesto offers too much to the public and has become so devalued as a document that no one – politicians nor public – think the whole thing will be implemented. (Even with a majority government, the current Tory lot are having problems legislating their manifesto in full; it’s almost as if they expected to have to junk some of it in coalition negotiations.)

We’re only seven months through this five year parliament. During that time, 

– the government have already had to drop a major treasury issue ‘costing’ over £3bn;

– the Labour Party is beyond the opening skirmishes of a civil war between the activists and the parliamentray labour party, and between the PLP and the leader;

– accusations of bullying – in different circumstances – in both main parties;

– The previous third party of British politics could now hold parliamentary meetings in a decent sized minivan

– The current third party change their views on participation in parliamentary votes with the wind

– we have an EU referendum coming up the campaigning for which will be as vicious as the Syria vote  

I opened this piece by saying it’s often held that party activists have long political memories and the public short ones. I truly when, at the next election, the parties offer their manifestos, how much of the result will hang on the reverse; on how long the political memories will be of the public, and how short the memories will be of the activists.

Not exactly a thousand, not even nearly, but as in “a picture tells…”

I’ve never been happy with how I look. Sure, as a child, I looked cute, but then most children look cute in pictures. Some don’t, but most do, especially since the photographs that parents put up online are those in which their children do look cute. I’ve often said that my lad Phil (unaccountably known to some as ‘Philip’) was lucky that Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist when he was a toddler, as his utterings would undoubtedly have been foisted upon you as friends of mine are wont to do with their own. The very best of these, though I may biased are @ThingsGretaSays, @StuffAstridSays and @tallulahlouise.

I did have Livejournal from 2002 and yeah, there was the odd (some very odd) photos of him put online; most of the pics, though, were of the ‘awwwww’ variety, often as part of a birthday entry, emphasising how he’d grown, and changed over the years.


And since I’m approaching – not quite there folks, but it’s getting closer – the time when I’ll update my “A Life In Pictures” post, I’ve been thinking of visual images today.

Particularly, I’ve been thinking of the single image by which people choose to represent themselves online: their avatar, icon, profile pic. Call it what you will; I’ll stick with ‘Twitter pic’ for Twitter and ‘profile pic’ for anything else, I think. Whether it’s facebook, twitter, Blogger, WordPress, or any number of message boards, everyone has the opportunity to use an image to represent them… or of course to not use an image and stay with the default image. On Twitter, it’s an egg. (I don’t know why Twitter uses an egg, unless it’s some kind of reference to an unborn bird, and Twitter’s brand logo is a bird? I suppose that makes as much sense as any other explanation.)

If you do have the default ‘egg’ as your twitter pic, it’s generally seen as a sign that either you’re a newbie and haven’t got to grips with Twitter yet, or that it’s a deliberate attempt to remain anonymous so you can be as offensive as you like. After almost eight years on Twitter, they’re fair assumptions.

Most folks I follow on Twitter fall into one of three categories where their Twitter pic is concerned (I’m excluding brands who – fairly obviously – use their own brand’s logo):

(1) the account uses a picture of themselves, the person who operates the account. Most journalists use a headshot, often the headshot that accompanies their pieces, in print or online. Many of my friends do the same. I don’t think anyone can justifiably object to this as a working principle. It combines the advantages of an explicit statement that this is who I am and of I’m standing behind everything I say. Occasionally, folks – John Rentoul is a prime example – will use a headshot, but a photoshopped one in an amusing or self-deprecating way. Again, perfectly reasonable.

(2) the account holder is a writer or artist; in these cases, many of them will use a pic of a piece of work they’re promoting or of which they’re particularly proud. Takes a while sometimes to get used to the new pic when they swap for a more recent work, but again, completely understandable.

(3) something entirely unrelated to them; an image they just… like. I would say I’m puzzled by this but I’m not really; it’s often less about what they’re showing, and more about what they don’t want to show… i.e. their own face. Now, there people are in the main not attempting any form of anononymiuty; their bios will usually show links to their blogs, their personal sites (where there often are pics of themselves). They just don’t want to have their face as their Twitter profile pic. 

I guess on Twitter, I fall into that third category, but with an element of the second, and even a smidge of the first (at a real stretch).

As I said above, long ago, I had a Livejournal account and I had the oppportunity to use for each blog entry one of up to several hundred images; I had this option, but rarely used it. Very rarely; I used a headshot for the main blog entries; the headshot changed every year or so when I had a new one I liked. For posts specifically about comics, I used a drawn headshot of me that appeared in a friend’s comic book. For posts specifically about an online column I wrote an image I created (later to see fresh life as the main icon for the going cheep tumblr account I maintain.) And for posts about hypotheticals, I used the image designed for it by Dave Gibbons, my collaborator on the panel.

See, many years ago, I ran (from 2000 to 2011) with Dave a panel entitled hypotheticals at the then main British comics convention. If you know all about it, fine; if not, well I may write about it further at some point. The first year’s panbel didn’t have an image. When we were invited back the following year, not having a logo seemed somehow wrong, so I created one, rough and ready. It did the job but wasn’t exactly… erm… good. Dave then came up with a superb logo, and that was the image then used to promote the panel; on t-shirts, on bookmarks, online. 

After we did the final panel, Dave sent me an amended version of the hypotheticals logo, just as a thank you for the work I’d done on the panel over what turned out to be 12 years (neither of us expected it to last anywhere near that long). And it’s that logo I now use for most of my online life; it’s the image I use for Twitter, for my ‘main’ tumlr account, for this blog and for most if not all of the few message board to which I still belong. It’s become even more relevant the past few years since I left the world of financial director-ing with the inevitable consequence that the proportion of people who know me by any other name has fallen through the floor.

So, yeah, it’s budgie and that’s a pic of… budgie.

I don’t hide what I look like, even though I’m still not exactly delighted with how I look in photos, but then again, you’ll all soon see how I look in photos now, how I looked in photos as a child, and then again how I look(ed) as an adult soon, won’t you…?

2015’s update to A Life In Pictures – coming soon (whether you like it or not.)

I’m working on a couple of blog entries that could be controversial and so I want to get them ‘just right’ before I go ahead and post them. In one case, any delay is due to wanting to be sure I’m entirely accurate on a couple of points, so I’m taking a wee bit of extra time to confirm. In the other, it’s me deciding whether or not to his ‘post’. 

And so, while we’re all waiting for me to make up my mind, I’m off out tonight to a regular monthly event, but which will be more event-y than normal. The Christmas Distraction Club. 

The Distraction Club was set up over four years ago now – in April 2011 – by Mitch Benn, together with his band The Distractions (Kirsty Newton and Ivan Sheppard) and Matt Blair. The goal of the club, as they say “is to bring you an unmatched evening of music and comedy that no other night can bring you.”

And they deliver, month in, month out. With guests from Rich Hall to Carly Smallman, and including Ria Lina, Josie Lawrence, Loretta Maine, Arthur Smith, Jay Foreman, Rachel Parris, Jonny and the Baptists, Neil Innes, Guy Pratt and more. 

Usually, the guests will do three or four comedy songs, with the headliner doing half an hour or so. 

For Christmas, however, there are usually 20 or so guests, they all do one song each and the evening always, always overruns. 

And yes, since it started in 201, there have been four previous finalés, with everyone grabbing a line of a Christmas favourite. Here they are from 2011, 2012, and 2013; sadly there wasn’t a great quality 2014 version.

BUT to make up for missing 2014, here’s Kirsty Newton with Bohemian Rhapsody… I’m sure that you’ll agree that more than makes up for it.


I’ll be seeing 2015’s show tonight. It will be very very good. 

Back with something more serious, but probably less important, tomorrow.

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 posted 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 freedom 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 all do that more often. How about we start with “every time an apology is owed” and move on from there?

There aren’t many blogs I read on a ‘whenever they’re posted’ basis. Most of my reading is ad hoc; I see a link on Twitter or on my feedlist of choice, I click on it, read it and am amused, shocked, horrified or – sometimes – bored. Those last tend to be the rarest not because I’m particuarly discerning in my reading, but because recommendations from people I respect tend not to bore me.

That’s not a guarantee, of course, but it’s uncommon at the very least. 

But there are two blogs I read regularly, definitely on an ‘as posted’ basis. Both are written by very intelligent people with whom I disagree about any number of things, but their writings – esecially when they’re blogging – never cease to interest me.

One’s a long-standing friend, so long-standing in fact that our friendship predates the birth of our respective children, both of whom are now in their twenty-first year of life. (Oh gods, they’re 20, boss…) His name is Warren Ellis and his daily, or near as dammit, brain dump is called Morning, Computer. It was the inspiration for going cheep but as you’d expect, it’s far more sensible, far better written and far, far stranger.  (Oh, and Warren has a weekly newsletter which is unique among such things in that I actively look forward to it arriving. Warren will no doubt take this as proof that I am doomed. You can subscribe to Orbital Operations here.)

The other is someone whose brain and intelligent comedy I’ve long admired. I’ve only met him a couple of times and briefly then which is a pity, since he’s one of those people I suspect I’d get more intelligent by osmosis just by hanging around him. His blog entries are as much stream of consciousness as anything else; they’re whatever he was thinking about right at that time, often written in a hurry when he’s on the way home from a standup gig, or in a dressing room. He’s Robin Ince and he blogs here. People on Twitter are, I suspect, fed up of me pointing them towards his blogs with an accompanying though entirely redundant “this is very good, by Robin Ince”.

Both of these gentlemen share one further shame; they’ve both partaken in The Fast Fiction Challenge, Warren several times (he never learns), and Robin was kind enough to give me a challenge when I wrote 24 short stories in 24 hours for Conic Relief in 2013

I might as well say here and now that yes, it’s probable, but not definite, that Twelve Days of Fast Fiction will happen this year. I’m still mulling it over but at the moment, there seem more reasons to do it than not. And people are starting to ask about them. So that’s nice. 

2016 minus 40: war talk

Posted: 22 November 2015 in 2016minus

Winston Churchill. Not often I agree with the old bugger, but he did have a way with the words.

This, from My Early Years:

Let us learn our lessons. Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The Statesman who yields to war fever must realise that, once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

Antiquated war offices, weak, incompetent or arrogant commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations — all take their seat at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war. Always remember, however sure you are that you can easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.

129 words, but it does kind of sum it up, doesn’t it?

It’s a quote I’m thinking of more and more in recent weeks, as the ramp up to military action in Syria takes hold of our government.

I’ve said any number of times that I’m very glad I’m not an elected politician, whether locally or on the national stage. Apart from me never standing a chance of being selected – my past wouldn’t pass even a cursory vetting* – the decisions they have to take? Well, I’m pleased that I don’t have to take those decisions.

[*Small sidebar: I recently saw the advert below; I was genuinely amused at the idea of applying, and then appalled at the idea of undergoing the necessary – and fairly deep, I’d imagine – vetting procedures that would accompany the role. Shudder.]


Back to the decision-making. A while back, when I lived in Barnet, I became friendly with a young local councillor. We weren’t friends at all; we only ever met each other because we shared two preferences: a particular coffee-shop in Whetstone, and cigarettes. But, every so often, we’d see each other, share a table and chat for a bit. It’s not a huge secret that North London is, basically, Conservative territory, and while I shared some political views with the councillor, we differed about far more. But since I’ve always been far more interested in the process of politics than in the policy areas, we got on well enough. Occasionally, he’d relate a war story or two from a local council meeting or sub-committee. If ever I had any doubts as to the devil’s alternatives that councillors face on a regular basis, he permanently cured me of it. 

And MPs, ministers and secretaries of state have to deal with bigger issues every day of the week. I’ve an enormous amount of respect for elected politicians, or at least the roles they occupy in our democracy. That some (I don’t believe it’s ‘many’, as some do) are in it for what they can get out of it says more about them than it does the system. That others enter parliament with the best of motives and are seduced into less savoury practices again says more about them.

A vote to authorise military action, to go to war, may not be the hardest decision a politician has to take, but it’s got to be up there in the top two or three. To send people to fight on the country’s behalf, in some cases to die for the country, while you sit in parliament, with the trappings of benefits of ‘power’? Yeah, that’s a decision I’m happy to leave to others, and if it’s cowardice to think like that, then yeah, I’m a coward.

 One of the stranger things about being an accountant, as I used to be, is that it was – it may still be – a ‘reserved occupation’. Business, and the managing of it, was regarded as so important that qualified accountants were exempt from national service, i.e. fighting in the war. That seems somehow… wrong. Many accountants presumably shared my view, as my former profession supplied many people to the military in both World Wars, but another thing I’m pleased about is that I never had to make that decision. Given a ‘get out of military service free’ card, would I have used it? I don’t know, and I’m glad I never had to find out.  
Today’s Sunday Express had the following front page:
I may not be the only person who, upon seeing that, was convinced that ether the generals misunderstood the question, or the newspaper misunderstood the answer. What’s next? That “it’ll be over by Christmas”? As Churchill said, “The Statesman who yields to war fever must realise that, once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

I truly hope he was wrong. But I fear – and know – he was right.

I used to do this fairly regularly; after a week of blogging, just put something trivial up here. And after the week we’ve been through, I think no-one would really object to a moment, or a few minutes anyway, of light relief. And if they did object, to be honest, they’re less than likely to be reading this thing anyway.

So, a couple of light relief videos: some comedy, and an old favourite.

  John Bird and the late John Fortune explain the sub-prime mortgage credit crunch


Up until the early 20th Century, you could actually sue someone for breach of promise, which was a common law tort. Now to be fair, it was pretty much limited to the breaking of an engagement by a man, an engagement and promise to marry then being a legally binding and enforceable, though in practice rarely actually enforced, contract. (In Jewish Law, the marriage still is a contract, by the way…)

I think they should bring back “breach of promise” as a legally enforceable concept; not in respect of promises to marry, and not for everything, but for one specific thing: any recommendation online or by email, or any plea by those methods, that has anything like:

“watch this show/play this clip… you’ll love it, I promise!”

I wouldn’t like to think how many times I’ve read such an exhortation and guarantee, and you know what? I don’t love it most of the time. Sometimes I smile, sometimes I groan, but most often, my reaction is “well, that’s two/five/ten minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.”

So, a new proposal, I think anyone who recommends something with that level of certitude ought to set aside a small sum, say a couple of hundred punds (or equivalent in local currency) that those who rely upon such a promise may claim against if indeed they don’t “love it”.

As a side effect, I suspect that it would rather speedily reduce such recommendations to things that are genuinely good, rather than 95% of the things I currently get recommended which I don’t find funny, or even amusing.

(Of course, one problem with the above is that to sue, you have to prove financial loss. How to prove that, or even measure it. I suppose you could use your salary as a guide, but then – if you’ve done it during the working day, your employers would want the cash… hmm, in the words of Fagin via Lionel Bart, “I think I’d better think it out again…”)

We could then go further; “10 things you didn’t know about [insert subject matter]!” Well, what if I do know some, indeed, most of the items in that list? “You’ll be surprised about…[insert subject matter]!” Well, what if I’m not only unsurprised (look up the definition of surprise, folks) but entirely unastonished?

Clickbait is an abuse of the entirely natural human phenomenon called curiosity and the entirely modern phenomenon of “what am I missing? What does everyone else know that I don’t?”

Modern etiquette has evolved right along the ubiquity of online life, and has only accelerated with the growth of social media.  I should be able to claim. I’d phone to complain but then what happens if I lose the signal?

Which leads me onto a second complaint about modern etiquette which perplexes me. Whose responsibility is it to call back when a phone conversation is interrupted by a lost signal? 

For once, the other day, I was using my mobile phone as a phone (it’s notable that I rarely do this; it’s far more often used as a mobile computer or camera than a telephone). I was chatting away when the signal was lost. Don’t know if it was ‘my’ signal or theirs that was lost; it doesn’t really matter, and unless it was due to one of us going into a tunnel or a lift, unlikely that we’d ever know. But anyway, I called her back and got her voicemail. And it occurred to me, as it usually does in such circumstances: what if it’s going to voicemail because she’s calling me back?

So, I think there should be a new rule: if you lose the signal while talking to someon, the person who originally made the call… calls again. Simple solution. Also takes account of what happens when you call someone who’s got not credit left on their phone – if you lose the signal, you know that you’ve got to call them again, and if they’ve got no credit, then they know you’ll be calling them back.


Next problem?

The “willing suspension of disbelief” is of course a necessary part of the contract between the writer of fiction and reader. The writer agrees to produce as “real” a world, situation and environment as possible, and readers agree for their part to willingly suspend their incredulity while enjoying the work in question.

This unspoken agreement between writer and reader works very well, and has done for centuries, if not longer. In fact, it works so well that like Shakespeare’s comment that some customs are more “honoured in the breach then in the observance”, you only realise you’ve partaken in this unspoken agreement when you’re forcibly required to unwillingly suspend your disbelief. 

There can be any number of things that disturb your willingness to suspend your disbelief. First and foremost there’s bad writing. Bad dialogue, bad descriptive passages, ludicrous plotting; all singly or together can remind you that this is fiction, that the characters aren’t ‘real’ and – at least in my case – that inevitably leads to the question: why should I care what happens to them?

Occasionally, real life intervenes. Whether real life experiences show up poor research on the part of the writer, or a writer – through no ‘fault’ of their own – creates a situation that fails to resonate with the reader or resonates too strongly. I lost a brother to a specific medical condition. If I ever see that condition portrayed on screen or in a novel, the comparisons and contrasts to real life make it almost impossible not to wrenched out of the fictional world. 

But without doubt the easiest way for a writer to disrupt the flow flow of willing disbelief suspension is to write contemporary fiction and date it with a link to actual personalities and events.

I’m thinking primarily – but not solely as you shall see – of serialised comic book fiction here. Comic books have always had a problem with time. I don’t mean a problem with time travel; that’s a whole other matter which I’ll probably come back to at some point. 

But super hero comic books set in America cannot resist the urge to link to specific Presidents  sooner or later. Both Marvel and DC (and they’re still, as they have been for a long time, the two big players in superhero comics) have had storylines involving the ‘current’ president. Which kind of makes sense when the books are designed to be disposable episodes and makes no sense at all when they’re intended to be read and reread and collected and bound and paperbacked and ‘absolute edition’ed. 

For all the grief that the Superman line got when they made Lex Luthor President, and for all the failures in the stories that followed – and their were many – I thought it a brave and clever choice and the stories still work better and disrupt that suspension of disbelief a lot less than reading a story featuring Bill Clinton as President, when that story is supposed to have only happened a decade or so back…

Of course it’s not only comic books. 

Any novel set in the future, where the future is now in the last? (1984, I’m looking at you. 2001: A Space Odyssey? You sit in the corner with 2010: Odyssey Two.) I’m not entirely sure why I don’t have this problem with books set a century ago, even if they were contemporary when they were written. I suspect it might be because they are set so far away from my own personal experiences (hey, I’m old but I’m not that old) that I have no idea whether or not the situations portrayed are ‘real’. That said, I think I’d still be thrown out of the story were, say, the novel to portray a famous personage at odds with everything I know about them. 

It’s always a shock – although it shouldn’t be – when while watching an old tv programme or movie and a ‘current’ date is shown, or even worse when a programme set in the “future’ identifies the year in which it is set… and it’s now years, decades, in the past.

It still comes as a surprise when I watch UFO and realise from the opening credits that it’s set in 1980. Or the programme that told you from its title that it was set in 1990. But without doubt the worst is when you see a programme or a movie and its stated incidentally.

Take Callan, the fourth series of which I’m currently rewatching. In the first episode, (during which David Callan has been captured by the KGB and is being interrogated) he’s shown his gravestone – his Section has written him off and – at this time – have buried ‘him’ both figuratively and literally.

The depressing bits?

1. Callan was 41 when this episode takes place. 41. That’s a a full decade younger than me. Bloody hell- I’m much much older than Callan was.
2. If he was still alive, he’d be 84. Callan at 84 doesn’t bear thinking about.
3. The only way to make it ‘better’ is if he’d have been killed before now…

Something less depressing tomorrow.