Archive for the ‘social media’ Category

“How are you?’

“Hope you’re well…”

Two platitudes, two phrases – ok, one question, one wish – which have taken on a whole new level of seriousness and importance the past month or so.

I’m far from the first person to realise that, but it’s something that’s now pretty much universally accepted that there’s every possibility that the response to both might well not be what you were expecting to hear.

And that’s far from the only change in communications that’s arisen.

A telephone voicemail with merely “Hey, it’s [me/your brother/mother/dad]” and “call me” might previously have been just to save time.

Now it leaves, as a friend mentioned today on Twitter, an impression of trouble; you could be calling to let them know that someone’s ill, or that someone’s died.

Things that didn’t previously need to be said… now need to be said. Both to avoid confusion and to remove ambiguity… and also to reassure the other person that you are ok, that you aren’t unwell, that you don’t have bad news to communicate.

But that “how are you?” question. It’s being asked not only out of genuine worry and honest enquiry, but because most people don’t want to worry their family and friends, so unless they’re asked, they won’t say that yes, in fact, they’re feeling ill, or even, that they’re not doing so great, they’re struggling at the moment.

While we’re all still getting used to this new world in which physical presence is not only not recommended, it’s pretty impossible… we’re also having to get used to the poor substitute of video calls. Of Zoom and FaceTiming and WhatsApp and Skype and Hangouts… and any others of the dozen or so common video calling apps.

Now I’m not… old. For all my joking about feeling ancient, I’m 55. (That shouldn’t exactly be a surprise) But it does mean that I come from a generation to which video calling for the most part is not how we learned to communicate.

My son is 24. He’s been video calling his girlfriends almost since he had girlfriends. But, with a couple of rare prior exceptions, it’s only since the lockdown that he’s videocalled with his mother and me. We’ve had a couple of Zoom conversations, the three of us involved: him in Wales, my ex-wife in Barnet, and me in the flat in Abbey Road. They’ve been nice, exactly what they should be. But they’re still kind of new to me and his mum. (Less so to his mum, to be fair, since she’s been using Zoom for work.)

And despite the enjoyment we had in the chats, despite the similar enjoyment I had when FaceTiming with friends the other evening… I’m still not sure that I’m… ok with it.

Partly, of course, this is due to me being… well, me. I’m not a fan of me being on video. It’s even worse than having a photo taken.

Because, despite the annual A Life In Pictures post, I loathe having my photo taken… or at least I loathe having it taken where I don’t get to control what happens to the photo after it’s taken. There are lots of photos of me in that post. Not one of them is a photo that I do not want others to see.

I mean, I joke every year that I’ve been about as embarrassed over the decades’ old photos as I’m ever going to be, but let’s be honest: if I didn’t want the photos in the post, they wouldn’t be there.

And with maybe half a dozen exceptions, I knew each photo was being taken at the time What I detest is so called ‘candid’ photos. Because I don’t like how I look in them, although I’m frankly astonished if I come out looking anything other than horrible. Hell, I don’t like how I look anyway, but I definitely don’t like how I look in candid shots.

So you can imagine how much I ‘enjoy’ being on video when my face, with all its faults, is on display.

Shudder.

But much as the walk is worth the foot pain it’s going to cost me, so far – so far at least, being able to see friends and family is worth the dislike of being on video.

So far.

It’s good to see them, it’s good to see that they’re well. To know that when I ask “how are you?” I can see the evidence that they’re ok.

To anyone reading this, I hope that you’re well… and that you stay so.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

[Oh, before I start, just a reminder about the photos I’ve used in this blog this year. Other than shots I’ve taken myself, or have express permission to use, they come from an iOS app entitled Unsplash which supplies copyright free photos. Also on: https://Unsplash.com]

You’d think the subject of this post would have occurred to me during the amount of time I’ve spent on Twitter but no; the rising to the fore of this particular irritation was occasioned by me spending half an hour trying to wrangle a sentence, a bit of dialogue in a short story, into doing what I wanted.

Which it stubbornly refused to do.

For British readers, you have to remember in the next sentence that Americans call them lightning bugs, not – as we sensible Brits call them – fireflies. But Mark Twain once observed that for a writer

“The difference between ‘the right word’ and ‘the wrong word’ is the difference bewteen the lightning and the lightning bug.”

And while any writing I do is attempting to use the lightning rather than the firefly, I’ve spent part of today trying to use exactly the right word. And thinking about the vagaries of language.

For example, why do we listen to something, but merely read something. When I visit my friend’s place off Mainland Scotland, am I in Skye, or ‘on’ the Isle of Skye?

You know what irregular verbs are, right?

They’re when you say something like:

I’m single-minded
You’re determined, whereas
He’s an awkward bastard

Or, to steal from Yes, Prime Minister

I’ve just given an unofficial briefing
You’ve just leaked some information, and
He’s just been charged under section 2(a) of the Official Secrets Act.

What made me think of the above was when I wondered this morning, what’s the difference between “defending your actions” and “being defensive”? Or between “doing yourself down” on the one hand and “being realistic” on the other?

Where is the line between cockiness and arrogance? Or between modesty and faux-modesty. Or, I guess these days, between the brag and the humblebrag?

While some might justifiably argue that cynicism is very different to scepticism, does it matter when the two are [incorrecly] so often used as synonyms of each other?

Is gullibility merely an extreme form of open mindedness? Or are they fundamentally different?

If one is cruel when being scathing, are the two inherently linked? Can one be scathing without being cruel?

And then there’s ‘passionate’. I’ve come to intensively dislike the word, as it’s so often used as an excuse; he didn’t mean to be offensive, he’s just passionate about [insert subject matter], as if that excuses it. of ‘He got carried away and stepped over a line.… but it’s because he’s so passionate.’ Again, offered only ever as an excuse.

Or, of course the biggie… when is ‘it’ a lie?

You might think that everyone agrees: it’s when someone knowingly tells, propagates or invents an untruth, something that is, let’s face it, untrue; a falsehood.

But it’s the ‘knowingly’ that catches you out.

Can you ever know, know for a fact that there was an intention to deceive on the part of the politician you dislike? One might argue that if they’ve been corrected but continue to spread the misinformation, the incorrect statistic, the untrue information, that then they knowingly lie.

But not necessarily. They could disbelief the ‘correct’ information or could believe that the information itself is a lie. They could be fucking stupid. Any or all could happen.

In which case are they still lying?

I don’t know.

I think all you can do is form your own judgment and then act on it.

And for as much as I rail against the horror that is “…and you know it…” in a disagreeable social media post or tweet, I’ve as much faith that it’ll continue as I have in the sun coming up tomorrow.

At some point we need to start talking about how we find sources of information, fact checkers, that everyone can rely on, and everyone can cite, rather than assuming bias because we don’t like them telling us we’re wrong.
 
 
Something else tomorrow…

55 plus 40: Keepers

Posted: 26 September 2019 in 55 plus, internet, social media
Tags: , ,

I got snowed under with something else today, and need to pop into the Apple Store this afternoon for an appointment. (I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my iPhone XR but I’m getting it checked out just in case.)

So, here’s some stuff from my ‘Keepers’ photo album, with no context at all. I’ve somehow got hundreds of odd pics, some I’ve taken, odd stuff from the internet I’ve collected.

Here’s just a tiny sample.

Something else tomorrow.

Enjoy.


 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

  


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

(For part the first, click here; for part the second, click here)

Last week, and the week before, I wrote a couple of entries about how, despite the claims of antisemites and those who defend, support, and campaign for them, some imagery which they claim not to be antisemitic often is. Not always, but often.

Longer opening explanation in those posts, but, basically:

…criticising Israel [its government/politicians/polices/military] isn’t per se antisemitic.

BUT… if that criticism is expressed using the same words, the same lies and/or the same imagery, as has been used for literally centuries to demonise Jews, yeah that’s antisemitic, Israel references or no.

And if you insist on expressing your criticism by using classic, age old, antisemitic tropes and themes, antisemitic imagery or antisemitic canards…

…well then, sorry, but people – me among them – are going to justifiably say, “yeah, antisemitism”. Note that: justifiably.

Those entries, and some others in the run going forward, were addressing the falsehood, the flat out lie, that using imagery based upon age old antisemitic tropes is automagically not antisemitic if you replace “Jews” with “Zionists” or “Israel” or “Rothschilds”.

Because it is [still] antisemitic if you do that.

Yes. It really is.


Of course sometimes, the allusion is so blatant, the trope so horrifying, the imagery so repulsive, that a perfectly reasonable person sees it and has an understandable reaction of

‘What the Actual Fuck? No… I mean, surely not, no-one could actually mean that, could they!?? It must be a mistake; it must be ignorance.’

Sadly, it’s not a mistake. Sadly they do mean that.

What trope? What imagery? What allusion?

What lie?

Well, let’s talk about The Blood Libel

I’m not quite sure how long this post is going to be, while I’m currently writing it. It could be a long one, and it could end up being running into a post next week.

Because it was only when I started writing this post that I realised that there are three distinct parts to The Blood Libel as it’s been historically used, and continues to be used today.

1. The Blood Libel in and of itself: that Jews kill non Jewish children in order to take and use their blood to make Passover matzoh.

I’ll just pause for a moment to let that sink in, if you’ve not come across it before as bluntly as that.

“…that Jews kill non Jewish children in order to take and use their blood to make Passover matzoh.”

Yes. That’s a thing.

Sorry if you’re just coming to this out of the blue; I know, you were were happily reading a silly story I posted, or read my fuming about the orange poltroon or the blond bullshitter and now you’re about to have a crash course in an antisemitic libel that ranks among the most libelly, erm, libellous, erm…

Anyway.

2. That Jews celebrate the above; that Jews are specifically, uniquely and particularly, bloodthirsty.

Oh yes. That’s an old favourite, derived from 1. above but it’s absolutely staked out its own little territory over the centuries

3. That Jews harvest organs and body parts not limited to, but in the service, of 1. and 2. above.

A modern take on both 1 and 2, again, alluding back but very much of the present.

So, I’m going to take each one in turn, show historical depictions of them and then, as usual, show you the modern identical equivalents, to demonstrate that the use was, is, and always will be, antisemitic in intention and motivation.

All right then.

So…

1. The Blood Libel in and of itself: that Jews kill non Jewish children in order to take their blood to make Passover matzoh.

The canard, the lie, the bullshit, that Jews kill non-Jewish children in order to take their blood to make Passover matzoh is particularly tasteless, if that’s the right word to use.

Here’s a thing, though: the drinking of blood is a strong prohibition in Judaism. Not kidding; it’s absolutely forbidden, under all circumstances.

To pervert that into a religious obligation to drink children’s blood, is antisemitic both in tone and intent; it’s to deny Jews their Judaism by saying Judaism is itself evil and perverted; it’s maliciously false, and whats more it’s saying that Judaism is a lie that Jews know is a lie.

Tasteless barely begins to describe it.

(Perhaps appropriately and amusingly, though, “tasteless” does, in fact, fairly describe matzoh; it’s been said, with some justification, that you get more taste from eating the cardboard packaging.)

This Blood Libel stretches back over the centuries.

No, I mean it: centuries.

In 1144, almost 900 years ago, a young boy who has become known to history as “William of Norwich” was murdered. It was said, and believed by many at the time, that Jews had murdered him for… yeah, you guesssed. The image above is a supposed depiction of the scene as is this.

A century later, almost two dozen Jews were hanged after a young boy was found in a well. In the Italian town of Trent, Jews were burned at the stake, or beheaded after allegaions that Jews had killed a 2-year-old named Simon and used his blood to make matzoh.

I don’t intend to go into a full, detailed history of every example where The Blood Libel became popular among the populace, although I recommend reading up on it in detail when you have the time.

For once, Wikipedia’s article on it ain’t that bad at all. But there are better…

However, while the middle ages may have been the first traceable examples, they certainly weren’t the last.

The Blood Libel reached down through the centuries, infecting new generations and new societies.

Wherever there were Jews, there was The Blood Libel.

And wherever Jews were expelled, there was The Blood Libel.

And wherever pogroms occured, wherever Jews were murdered, wherever Jews were slaughtered, individually or en masse… there was The Blood Libel.

But the antisemitic imagery, in sculpture, in drawings, in paintings, in engravings, continued…

Those last two? Yeah, they pop up quite a bit. You’ll never guess where.

Oh, you guessed.

But surely, I hear you cry, no-one believes that now! No-one spreads that libel, no-one propagates the Blood Libel NOW? No one claims Jews kill children in order to use their blood to make Passover matzoh not NOW? Not these days?

Now, now, you really ought to know better by now.

Not all that long ago, a then Conservative Councillor from St Ives – fella by the name of Rawlinson — asked how we could “be absolutely sure that this didn’t occur in some bizarre sectlet of Judaism”.

Yep.

A serving councillor, an elected councillor, in the UK, asked that question. Of me. Well, of me and the others on CompuServe’s UK Politics Forum.

When the wrath of the Forum operators, and – to be fair – almost everyone in the Forum, fell upon him, he responded with the defence offered by all racists:

I was only asking a question…

It was an early lesson to a standard tactic used by antisemites. Not only antisemites, of course; bigots or all stripes use the faux-enquiry bullshit in order to spread their own bullshit.

Here’s a screenshot from a Facebook page entitled Jewish Ritual Murder (subtitled ‘The Truth About Jews”).

In 2014, by the way Facebook decided that the page did not violate their “community guidelines”.

It was finally deleted by them last year.

Last year. 2018.

But the past couple of years? Oh yeah, it’s still around.

And now we come to the “ah, but if I say it’s ISRAEL, it’s not antisemitic, even if I’m using antisemitic canards, antisemitic imagery, used to lie about Jews.”

You know, like saying they delight in blood, that they drink blood, that they employ blood to get what they want… that they kill to get and use the blood…

Like this.

Blood…

Blood…

Blood…

Ah, students… bless them.

 

Look, however angry, however furious, you are about Israel’s actions, the moment you start putting CHILD KILLERS on the door of a British synagogue, don’t pretend it’s not antisemitic. You forfeit that right. Because a) you’re not protesting to the Israelis, and b) you’re not showing your anger: you’re being antisemitic.

And whatever your views on Bibi Netanyahu, however you loathe and detest him, however flat out evil you consider him… if you want to condemn him… is it really necessary to go with the fucking Blood Libel?

Oh, you think it is, do you? Yeah, I’ll say antisemitic… justifiably so.

(What, you thought the vampire thing is a coincidence? Please…)

If you use or promote or even give credence to the idea that Jews kill non-Jews to use their blood to make matzoh, you don’t get to say it’s not antisemitic. You just don’t. Not without lying. Because those who do so know it’s antisemitic.

That’s why they do it.

As with last week, two final points.

So how can I criticise Israel without being antisemitic? Glad you asked. There are loads of good sites out there on the subject; I like this one, as it happens: How to Criticise Israel Without Being Anti-Semitic.

Secondly, and following on from the above, it’s so easy to criticise Israel, Zionism, and indeed capitalism, without being antisemitic, that when folks do insist on using antisemitic canards, tropes, and imagery…

…one is forced to conclude that it’s the antisemitism that’s important to them, not the criticism.

I did say that this would probably stretch into two posts; more images, on a different expression of the blood libel canard, next week.

But something entirely different, however, and distinctly more pleasant, tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

A thing did the rounds on Twitter earlier this month asking about the first social media platforms people used. I was, I’ll admit, kind of surprised when people started including their preferred early blogging platforms because I’ve never really considered blogging as social media.

I mean, I’m probably wrong. I’m certainly wrong if the responses on Twitter are anything to go by. And it certainly qualifies on some counts; I’ve just always thought what distinguished it from what I thought of as social media far outweighed its similarities. For a start, I guess, I’ve always considered social media – outside the narrow sphere of companies and global celebrities who solely use it to proton themselves and their brands – as… disposable, quick, short, small nuggets of information, slices of life, whether it be via the media of photo, video, an image, a short piece of text. And usually, if not always, has the potential, the strong potential, for interaction between content creator and those reading or viewing it.

I’ve certainly never considered it the same beast as a platform containing blog entries of a couple of thousand words, So, no, blogging has never been – for me – social media.

But apparently not, at least not for most people.

But then, things… change. Before YouTube, who would have considered video an almost every present – and easy to promote – part of social media?

In 2008, a few weeks before that year’s’ United States’ Presidential election, my then boss went to an event put on by The Foreign Press Association. My boss – a rangy Pennsylvanian with a brain roughly the size of one of the larger planets – enjoyed my fascination with US politics, and explaining the bits I didn’t fully ‘get’.

One thing I remember learning at the event: that YouTube hadn’t existed at the time of the previous Presidential election; it was created in 2005. And in three years, it had become ubiquitous enough that politcial campaigns were using it, and using it well sometimes, as rebuttal to accusations, that supporters not officially part of the campaigns, were using it as well: to produce quick, dirty and and occasionally clever attack ads.

But yeah, it was a) created in 2005, and b) fourteen years ago.

The graphic below only goes as far as 2009, so it misses out instagram, Pinterest, Quora, Snapchat, Twitch, Tinder, Vine (ah, alas poor Vine), Periscope… but it suffices for this entry.

I first got online in 1995, three months before my lad was born. My first modem was a present from my wife (we’d been married about a year by then) and I’d been studying for my accountancy qualifications throughout our engagement and marriage.

As a gift for qualifying as an accountant, she bought me a modem. Sounds harmless if you say that fast enough, doesn’t it?

Well, she says that was the reason. There’s every possibility that she married me and thereafter only saw the back of my head… as the front of it was lowered, studying, every night.

And then, after I qualified, and she saw my face… she figured she’d better find something to ensure she only saw the back of my head again… hence, the modem, the internet, and CompuServe. It’s possible, be honest. OK, more than possible.

But I didn’t start blogging until 2002. Back then, you needed an invite to join LiveJournal, and a friend supplied one; I’ve never been quite sure since whether that means he gets the credit or the blame.

Either way, I started blogging, on LiveJournal. I took a quick look at the other platforms, but I liked LiveJournal as it then was. It was incredibly easy to use, equally as easy to customise your blog, and there was a…. community… that I’d never found on other blogging platforms I’d looked at.

And it was friendly. That was what I most liked about it. Sure there were idiots and trolls and nasty people on occasion, but the worst they could do was leave nasty comments… and one quick ‘delete and block the sender’ and you”d never hear from them again. And the spam was rare.

I like WordPress, I do. For many of the same reasons as. I liked Livejournal: easy to use, easy to customise, and there are several decent ‘clients’.

But I sorely miss the community element of LiveJournal. I miss the fun of element of a community of bloggers, of actually enjoying us all being on teh same blogging platform.

I miss – though as I said the other day, it’s probably objectively a good thing – the days of blogs being repositories of everything from long form pieces to do thoughts and silliness. That last has now been taken over by Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram.

And I miss the lack of spam. Oh hell do I miss that. (It’s rare, when I check the comments on here, that there aren’t a dozen or more messages awaiting approval, all from spammers)

No real point today. No big lesson. Just something that occurred to me that I wanted to write about.

I miss doing that more often as well.
 

 

It’s Tuesday tomorrow. If you’ve been following the blog, you know what’s moving tomorrow. if not, then all I’ll say is the usual… something else tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

We’re going to start today with a meme, talk about the young, then the dead.

So that’ll be fun.

Every so often, something will do the rounds of Twitter and other social media, ostensibly just a ‘huh, kids, eh?’ But something that strikes me – on the umpteenth repetition, anyways – as something a bit… snotty. A bit condescending and inherently unpleasant.

It’ll be something like: Our children will never know the connection between these two things!

The answer, of course is usually in the replies, sometimes blatant, sometimes allowing onlookers [‘the kids’] to have an ‘ohhhhhh’ moment as the penny drops.

I’m not entirely sure when these kind of digs – for that’s how I take them – at those younger started to really bug me; I only know that they did.

The at times seemingly ever-present ‘our experiences meant more’ digs, the ‘kids have it easier these days’ nonsense, the ‘we had [xxxx], kids have [yyyy] and [xxxx] is inherently better/more valid because we had it’ rubbish. But it’s replicated in everything from politicians with their ‘we survived the war, we can survive Brexit’ bullshit, to sidebars and cheap gags at their expense online.

As for when it did start to bug me, I suspect it was after listening to a topical comedy show wherein a couple of comedians were discussing a newspaper piece about how ‘kids today’ don’t understand pre-decimalisation currency, or something similar.

The comedians made the valid point ‘why the hell should they?’

I mean, ok, if the younger read novels set in, or non-fiction about, time periods before 1971, then it might help to appreciate the terms used for the British currency of the time.

But any author now writing about that period knows most people won’t have strong memories, beyond the very personal, of pounds, shillings and pence, and will account for that. And any books of the time are… of the time. They were written during that time. And there are more than a few things that’ve changed since the 19th century; currency is one of the lesser ones.

And of course, occasionally, authors will sometimes acknowledge that readers might not be familiar with pre-decimalisation and provide… help.

(The above from Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)

In one of the later Letters from America, Alistair Cooke mentioned that it came as quite a surprise – a much needed corrective, he acknowledged – when some friends of his grandchildren didn’t know the details of Watergate. He then realised that it fell, for them, into that period of time between

  • what you live(d) through, and
  • what’s in the history books.

I was born in 1964. My first memories start in the very late 1960s, early 1970s. The history books I read at school pretty much stopped at the end of the Second World War, perhaps a couple of years later.

Anything that occurred from, say 1950 through 1968… well, that falls into that gap identified by Cooke. Much as the Boer war fell into that gap for him. He was born in 1908. The Boer War ended in 1902. It was current memory for adults when he was born, but not yet into the history books for the children as he grew older.

For me? Well… even if American history was in my school history books (I honestly don’t know) I certainly don’t recall reading anything in detail about McCarthyism until I’d left school and was actually studying US politics.

I remember reading about President Roosevelt and his successor, President Truman… but not about Eisenhower. And all I knew about JFK was that he’d been shot by someone who shared my first name, spelled the same way as well! (When I was growing up, my first name was as often spelled – for boys and girls – ‘Leigh’ as it was ‘Lee’.)

Sorry, this has drifted a bit.

But why should kids know that a pencil and a cassette tape should provoke memories of inserting the pencil, rotating it, correcting the twisted magnetic tape…? It’s not in their personal experience.

Any more than it’s in mine how to powder a wig. Or to make a crystal radio set (my dad did it when he was a kid) Or how to jive? (My mum used to dance when she was younger… a lot.) Or how to balance a budget with a ration card – my grandparents, during and after WWII. None in my personal experience. And something that was in previous generations’.

But if there’s anything that truly – to me – does raise the ‘they do it different these days’ in a way that doesn’t piss me off, but does make me wonder what the future brings… it’s people, contact with them, how they’re regarded by others, and how they’re appreciated… while they’re alive, and after they’ve died.

Or not, as the case may be.

I’m unconvinced that any generation views other people, and especially the departed, in the same way as either the previous generation or the next generation does.

A couple of generations before mine… adults were fighting in wars, different cultures, different backgrounds, different experiences, thrown together in military service. I’m certainly not suggesting it as a objectively ‘good’ thing – as a general rule of thumb, I’m against war – but it unquestionably changed how those in the forces regarded those they’d never have come into contact with otherwise. And how they regarded death at a young age.

Let’s leave death for a paragraph or two, and just stick to people.

I grew up in the 1970s; playing in the street with other kids, cycling off to the woods and hills near Luton, playing with kids you’d just met… and if you were an hour or two late back, and they couldn’t contact you – no mobile phones – the main consequence was that your mum gave you a telling off and punished you. It wasn’t called ‘grounding’ in the UK, but that was the usual punishment.

The idea that you might have gone missing if you were an hour or more late back was just never A Thing. That I’d not called them was just… naughty. But wasn’t expected, not really. And, I mean, still before the days of mobile phones, but when I went to uni, I called my parents once or twice a week.

My lad speaks to his mum almost every day; most people, most adults, I know speak to their parents very often. They speak to friends less often, but are in contact much more often, online. By text. On messaging apps.

Despite the stories of ‘everyone knew each other, everyone knew how everyone was’ back in the day, these days, people are in contact in one form or another far more often… with people they care about, and people they want to stay in contact with.

And then there’s what happens when people die.

I remember back when my brother died. After the burial, the shiva… my sister-in-law certainly had people contacting her all the time.

But my late brother himself… I have no idea how often people thought of him. Nor, on the whole, what people thought of him while he was alive. Not truly. I know what people said afterwards but it’s easy to say nice things afterwards.

At least with Mike, there was a book after his death containing tributes, what friends and family thought of him. I’ve genuinely no idea at all whether he knew it, appreciated it, before he died, though. [I’ve no doubt, by the way, that he knew how much I loved him as a brother; I’m fortunate in that at least.]

But a book about a departed one is, was, unusual. Mike’s widow wanted to do it for a specific reason.

These days? There’d be – if the family wanted – a preserved Facebook page, a tribute for people to leave online messages. People would write on their own facebooks, and tumblrs and twitter feeds that they missed him.

(And, yes, idiots would chime in with their own unwanted, unwarranted, idiocy about how they never liked him anyway.)

But that’s something that’s changed, and will change more in the future. Whenever someone dies, people say “I hope they knew how much they were loved” or “I wish I could have told them how much they mattered to me”.

(Caveat for famous people, big stars; I don’t believe for a moment that they are – completely at least – unaware of how much their work has mattered to people, nor that they haven’t been told so by many, many people.)

Flip side of all of this – and a nicer consequence of the changing ‘openness’ in society; it’s far easier, far more acceptable, to tell someone how much they – or their achievements – have mattered to you.

Sure, that’s as much for you as it is for them, but I like that people tell them, anyway.

“No one ever dies regretting they didn’t spend more time at work” is a trite remark, and in part – but only in part – true. I’m sure there are people who die regretting that.

But no one should ever die thinking that they didn’t matter. They should know – before they die – that they, that their work, mattered; to family, to friends, to people who liked them, to people who loved them. To admirers and critics alike.

So tell them.

Something else a bit more together, and a whole lot more serious, tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

(For part the second, click here; for part the third, click here)

I’ve been going back and forth on this one. But last night’s Panorama programme about antisemitism inside the Labour Party tipped the balance.

No, I’m not going to write about that today, neither the programme itself nor the details therein, save for one small reference towards the end of this post; maybe soon, but not today.

Some years ago, I wrote a piece about antisemitism in the UK, and how it’s risen, and how it’s not uncommon – some would aver often – for criticism of Israel (used as a metonym for its government, PM, military, laws, politicians) to ‘cross the line’ into overt antisemitism.

Now, whenever this does happen, whenever antisemitic criticism – not criticism itself, but overtly, blatantly, antisemitic criticism – is highlighted, you can guarantee two responses:

  1. “Oh, you just don’t want any criticism of Israel!”, and
  1. “You’re making up false allegations of antisemitism to prevent any criticism of Israel; you always do that!”

How best to respond?

Bollocks. Oh, ok, yeah, that works.

Unfettered, unmitigated, unreserved… bollocks.

(The second of those responses above is known in the UK, among the Jewish community as ‘The Livingstone Formulation’, since it’s been deployed by Kenneth-of-that-Clan for decades.)

I don’t know how often it has to be said but apparently at least once more is necessary even before I read the comments to this piece: criticising Israel [its government/politicians/polices/military] isn’t per se antisemitic. How could it be? It’s no more inherently anti-Jewish to criticise the actions of a Jewish state than it’s anti-Christian to condemn the UK government – of a still formally Christian country – for the ‘Bedroom tax’, or to criticise its Prime Minister, or to criticise the actions of the UK’s military.

BUT… if that criticism is expressed using the same words, the same lies and/or the same imagery, as has been used for literally centuries to demonise Jews, yeah that’s antisemitic, Israel references or no.

So what do I mean, when I say the ‘same imagery?

Do I mean ‘similar’? Nope, I mean the same. The same hooknosed caricatures of ‘zionists’, the same ‘gorging on blood’ images of Netanyahu (a politician I loathe, not that it should make the slightest difference) that have been used to demean, disparage… demonise Jews via the Blood Libel for centuries.

This entry, and some others in the run going forward, is to address the lie, the flat out lie, that using antisemitic imagery – based upon age old antisemitic tropes – is somehow, magically, not antisemitic if you replace “Jews” with “Zionists” or “Israel”.

Because it is [still] antisemitic if you do that.

Yes. It really is.

You want to criticise Israel? Its government, that government’s policies, its actions, its statements?

Go right ahead; I might even agree with you on the criticisms. I might not, but hey, there’s lots of criticisms on any subject with which I agree… and some I don’t.

Seriously, go right ahead and criticise away. One small thing, though: Just don’t do it antisemitically. It’s not a lot to ask, I believe. Just don’t be antisemitic. Don’t express your criticism, your condemnation, by using the same canards, the same myths, the same fabrications, the same images, used to condemn, excoriate, and falsely disparage Jews for hundreds of years in some cases, longer in others.

Don’t do it using a decades’ old, sometimes centuries’ old, antisemitic trope. Don’t do it with classic antisemitic themes, antisemitic imagery or antisemitic canards.

If you’re going to do that, then, yeah, folks – me among them – are going to justifiably say, “yeah, antisemitism”. Note that: justifiably.

So… in some blog entries over the remainder of this run, this place is going to give examples of antisemitism that – in some cases pre-dating Israel’s existence – criticise Jews and then show exactly the same modern criticism, only with “Jews” clumsily replaced by “Zionists” or “Israel”.

Ok then. Let’s get started.


Let’s start with: Cephalopods

I don’t know what antisemites have against cephalopods; I really don’t. They seem pretty harmless to me, although an octopus’s three hearts do really freak me out, I’ll be honest.

But cephalopods (the octopus, the kraken, the squid) have been used as a symbol of “Jewish power” by antisemites for over a century.

It’s used, I guess, to indicate, both the alleged secret way Jews have supposedly infiltrated everything from any established previously ‘clean’ system – the media, banks, the press, democracy – to a named county, to even a planet. (No, you didn’t misread that. Yes, I said a planet.)

And also, I guess again, that Jews somehow cling on to things?

I dunno.

Logic and facts are not two things antisemites are that fond of, I’ve found.

(Someone I know wondered a while back where all the smart, intelligent antisemites were, because they only came across “fucking idiots” online. I have some sympathy with that view, but I think that, dark humour aside, it’s giving the ‘smart’ ones far too much credit.)

But anyway, take a look at the first set of pictures below.

They’re old, really old, and are explicit in their Jew hatred.



Hitler – yeah, be fair; you knew he’d be along sooner or later – made plain his views on Jewish power, metaphorically using… oh, you guessed.

“If our people and our state become the victim of these bloodthirsty and avaricious Jewish tyrants of nations, the whole earth will sink into the snares of this octopus; if Germany frees herself from this embrace, this greatest of dangers to nations may be regarded as broken for the whole world,”- Mein Kampf

The next pic comes from that time….

(Sometimes they start with an octopus and I dunno, figure a spider is better… or they can’t draw tentacles?

But yeah, a hook nosed, caricature of a Jew. (And of course the spider has links to ‘vermin’ and lots-of-people-are-scared-of, which may form another post in the run.)

But the pics above are just half a dozen of literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of examples in history.

Oh, let me quickly address one apparent confusion among some:

Two pics:

The one on the left (on top if viewing on mobile) is the Israeli Flag. The one underneath (on the right) is the Star of David I wear around my neck, a 21st birthday present. The former is the symbol of The State of Israel. The latter is a symbol associated with Jews and Judaism back to the days of the Bible. In Hebrew, it’s not called a Star of David, but a Magen David (pronounced Moggain Dovid), a Shield of David, because that’s what was painted on the shields of King David.

The two share a six pointed star. The former has details not on the latter: a white background, a specific colour, stripes above and below.

If you use the magen david without all of the above…? Don’t pretend you’re referencing Israel; you’re not. You’re referencing Jews. And you know it.

Here’s another, more recent, picture.

Recognise anything?

Now, those who use, promote and post the pic would almost certainly – do, in fact – insist it’s aimed at Israel (the AIPAC in the background would ostensibly seem to agree.) And it may well be ‘aimed at Israel’… but it’s not only aimed at Israel. Which is the point.

It’s using age old antisemitic imagery used for centuries to attack Jews as well, and the people who created the image and those who promote it, distribute it, send it around, use it on social media, defend it… they know it means Jews.

But surely they don’t always know?

Let me introduce you to Kayla Bibby who posted the attached on social media.

OK, it’s the facehugger from Alien movies, but it’s just the latest iteration. Hey, look, there’s a Star of David… not on a flag, not with a white background, not with stripes above and below.

Huh. How about that?

But did she know that it means ‘Jews’?

Well, for once we have a concrete answer to the question. The image comes from a far right website which was crystal in its clarity that yes indeed it was about Jews. The article it accompanied described Jews – not zionists not Israelis, but Jews – as “parasitic” and said they were to blame for “financial heists of entire nations”.

Ah, but how was Ms Bibb–

She contacted the site and specifically asked permission to use it.

Ah. Yes, ok then.

Ms Bibby actively sought this image out, requested its use… from a site which specifically said it was about Jews.

(By the way, the Labour Party first said that the image wasn’t antisemitic, and that neither was she, and chose to not even suspend her; they merely issued a “reminder of conduct”. Only after outrage at this decision – and her MP, Louise Ellman, raising it at a parliamentary party meeting – was she eventually, over the original protests of the leadership’s office, suspended.)

If you use those images, any images like them, you don’t get to say they’re not antisemitic. You just don’t. Not without lying. Because those who use it know the images are antisemitic.

That’s why they use them.

Two final points to make today.

So how can I criticise Israel without being antisemitic? Glad you asked. There are loads of good sites out there on the subject; I like this one, as it happens: How to Criticise Israel Without Being Anti-Semitic.

Secondly, and following on from the above, it’s so easy to criticise Israel, and its government, ministers, military, etc., without being antisemitic, that when folks do insist on using antisemitic canards, tropes, and imagery…

…one is forced to conclude that it’s the antisemitism that’s important to them, not the criticism.

More images, a different trope, next week.

But something entirely different, however, tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Blog post titles are an odd thing. I mean, I ask ‘how are you?’ up there but, let’s be fair, there’s no way for you to respond before I continue, so it’s entirely self-serving and unnecessary.

Welcome to my blog.

As mentioned the other day, I’ve done a few of these countdowns and usually I just leap straight into them, but it’s been over two years since I’ve regularly blogged, so, a reintroduction probably isn’t the worst idea.

OK, so who the hell are you, anyway?
I’m budgie. Hello.

All right, my parents didn’t name me ‘budgie’; they may have been odd in some ways, but they weren’t that odd.

My given name, the name on my passport, is “Lee Barnett”, but I much prefer ‘budgie‘ – you’ll learn why in a moment.

I live in London, very near Abbey Road Studios. Yes, that Abbey Road Studios; Beatles, that album cover, that zebra crossing.

How near? Well, as I tell friends – whenever anything notable happens in London – if the news story doesn’t start with the words ‘Less than half a mile from the world famous…’ it happened nowhere near me.

After growing up in Luton – a great place to come from, but a lousy place to go back to – I’ve spent most of my life living in various parts of London: Ilford, Finchley, a couple of decades in Barnet, four years in Richmond… and now, since early 2017, a couple of miles’ north of Oxford Street, Central London.


I’m divorced, from a very nice lady named Laura, and together we have a son, Phil, who’s now twenty-three. That’s us over there, on the right.

He’s a lovely lad, and I’m incredibly lucky that he’s my son. Of course like any father and son, we share some interests, (comics, comedy, a sense of humour – most of the time), but most decidedly do not share others. I remain entirely puzzled as to his fascination with video games, professional wrestling, and various bands. And he remains utterly mystified by me, on a daily basis.

I’m a writer; there’s more about the writing in a moment, but yeah, that’s how I spend most of my days.

But I used to be an accountant, and in that profession, went from junior auditor, to senior auditor, to audit manager – there were a lot of audits – then grabbed the commercial shilling and ended up as a financial director of a tv channel, one of those you scroll past on your tv’s programme guide. While I rarely discuss specifics, my old profession may come up occasionally over the next few weeks, so… fair to put it out there.

I haven’t been an accountant/financial director for the best part of a decade, though.

A writer friend of mine once introduced me as “This is budgie; he used to be a very good accountant; now he’s a very good writer. The world has enough very good accountants and not enough very good writers’. As compliments go, that’s one I’ll take.

budgie’s perch?
Yeah, suppose I’d better deal with this fairly early on. The blog’s called ‘budgie’s perch’ because it seemed an appropriate title for a blog run by a fella whose nickname is ‘budgie’.

Which doesn’t exactly explain anything, does it?

‘Budgie’ is a nickname I’ve had for – blimey – over thirty-five years, now. Over thirty-five years. I’d ask ‘how the hell did that happen?’ But I can already hear Phil responding ‘that’s the way the calendar works, dad’.

But why ‘budgie‘? Well, the full story’s here, but if you want the ‘long-story-short’ version? What now, sigh, would be called the ‘tl;dr’ version?

I acquired the nickname when I was studying at Manchester Poly, and the name stuck. And though I stopped using it when I left Manchester, it recommenced when I got online in 1995…

And now? Well, far more people know me as – and think of me as – budgie than as Lee. And I much prefer that, to be honest; never particularly liked my ‘first name’, and ‘budgie’ feels more like me these days.

The full detailed story involves – in no particular order – copious amounts of alcohol, freshers, a hypnotist’s evening, and an accountancy lecture.

Yeah.

It’s worth reading.

OK, but budgiehypoth?
For twelve years, over ten British comic book conventions, comics legend Dave Gibbons and I ran a panel entitled hypotheticals. It was fairly popular, and when I was looking for a new URL for this blog, seemed a good concatenation to use.

You can see the logo we used for the panel (over there, to the side) bears a strong resemblance to the icon I use for myself online, and for this blog; Dave designed the original, and he did a ‘budgie’ version as a parting gift when we wound up the panel in 2011.

But, hey, for twelve years, I got to say I wrote scripts for Dave Gibbons. You can’t beat that.

But still… budgie’s perch?
Be grateful; the braindump I use to kickstart the writing muscles every day is named Going Cheep.

writings
Everything from being commissioned comedy for BBC Radio 4, the occasional bit for TV, a few comics stories (including writing an X-Men story) a novel entitled You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly and publishing two collections of very, very short stories in The Fast Fiction Challenge:

Both books are also available via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. e-Versions (for Kindle, Sony reader, iBooks, etc.) can be obtained – email me and I’ll supply the ebook(s) in either .epub or .mobi version on request… Volume 1 (180 stories) is £4.00, or equivalent in local currency; volume 2 (200 stories) is £5.00

I also wrote three radio shows with Mitch Benn for Radio 4, and helped out with his past few Edinburgh shows.

What else?

  • erm… My alcohol of choice is single malt whiskey, neat: Jura or The Balvenie, or occasionally Glenfiddich. I can’t really afford that regularly, so a decent blended will do; never really got a taste for beer.
  • Oh, I’m Jewish; it’ll probably come up over the next few weeks at some point. I’ve never quite sorted out my relationship with my religion; I’m still figuring that one out, and have been for, oh, 40 years or so. That caveat aired, on most things, I at least try to be rational, I try to be a sceptic, to withhold belief in something until there’s evidence. I don’t always succeed.
  • That said, when it comes to my being Jewish, and given that this blog will comment upon current UK politics, it’s more than possible that Israel might come up in discussion. Just a heads up: if you’re looking to have some fun telling me that Israel has no right to even exist, you might as well quit reading now, and go off and do something we’ll both enjoy a lot more.
  • I’m in my mid-50s, so under the laws of blogging, my physical health will probably come up at some point. Other than my fucked up foot (about more of which here), it’ll likely just the usual health comments, scares and moaning.
  • Hmmm. Health. OK, I’ve had some mental health… ‘issues’, I believe they’re sometimes called. I have no intention right now to go into detail, publicly. That may change as the next eight weeks goes by. Let’s see how scared I am by the prospect.
  • Oh, and since I mentioned fear… I’ve a few phobias. Or do I? Phobias are irrational fears and I happen to think my fear of being stung by wasps or bees is entirely rational. But spiders bigger than teeny tiny in size? Yeah, ok that might be one of the tad irrational ones.

Finally in this list of stuff you didn’t need to know about me: there are things I genuinely regret not doing. Rarely, however, are they The Big Things that people are supposed to regret: lost loves, lost opportunities in life, that one person you passed in the street, never spoke to, but have thought about every day for years…

Mine are less grand. I wish I’d learned to use a slide rule; somehow never got around to it. I wish I’d paid attention during history classes at school, but then I’d have missed the joy in later life of discovering how much fun history can be. I have a mouth organ, purchased by friends of mine after I said I’d like to learn to play. I never have learned to play it, and I really should do something about that.

I think that’s about it for now. Anything else, ask away…

Oh, and see you tomorrow when there’ll be something much less about me and more about… something else.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve used this place, been a long time since I’ve blogged at all, other than the annual A Life In Pictures update, and an equally annual post, commemorating the anniversary of my late brother’s death.

For lots of reasons, oh so many reasons, the past couple of years have been… weird; I’ve moved, lots of things have changed; lots of things haven’t, of course. Though, to be fair, that’s no different than for a lot of people.

It’s definitely been a weird time for almost everyone I know, not limited to politics. More than a few friends have had weird stuff going on in their personal lives, work lives, social lives…

Yeah, it’s been a weird few years.

And yes, it’s not like there’s been a shortage of things about which to blog, but I’ve reserved my outpourings and blathering to Twitter, for the most part.

I haven’t even kept up to date with goingcheep, which is supposed to be my daily (hah!) brain dump, something to kickstart the writing muscles .

Part of the reason I’ve not blogged, I acknowledge, is because I’d have found it impossible to do so without at least commenting upon, and probably forcefully expressing my opinion upon, the shitshow otherwise known as ‘British politics’.

There’s been a… concern, I guess… that if I did that, I’d have to comment on Labour. And that in doing so, I’d end up hurting at best, and destroying at worst, some remaining friendships.

But… I’ve been feeling the itch again, that impossible-to-scratch-any-other-way itch to blog again.

Long time followers of this blog, and of me on Twitter, will know that I’ve previously done some daily countdown blogs over the past few years.

A fifty day countdown to 2014 was the first, and as I type that, I realise that was almost six years ago, and wow, that’s scary.

Then a few months later I did a fifty day countdown to my fiftieth birthday, ending on the day before my birthday, as the day itself was spent celebrating at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A fifty day countdown blog to 2015 followed, then a fifty day countdown – mainly but not exclusively on politics – to the 2015 UK General Election. And then an aborted one counting down to 2016…

A couple of them continued after the countdown completed (with “…plus…” replacing the minus) but I often took a short break after the daily run.

And then came a whopping 75 day countdown to 2017. And I took a break… and never really came back.

You can see where this is going, right?

Well, we’re not quite at fifty days until my fifty-fifth birthday. In fact we’re currently at almost 60 days until my fifty-fifth birthday.

So a fifty-five day countdown seems appropriate. Starting on Sunday.

Why not?

Why not indeed.

So, as of Sunday, we’ll start.

I’ll start writing it, and hopefully, you’ll start reading it. What’ll be in it? To start with, a re-introduction to who I am, for readers old and new. Then, over the next eight weeks, some thoughts on the city in which I live, some personal stuff, some slice of life pieces, some thoughts on current UK and US politics, some new fiction, some old fiction, comic books, comedy, the return of the Saturday Smiles… and probably some thoughts on those for whom 2018 or 2019 was their last year on earth.

So, the usual mishmash, then.

See you on Sunday.

Yes, yes, I know, it’s been a long time since I updated the blog, but only a year since I updated this entry.

And yes it’s almost the close of the year, but it is time once again for the annual mocking and silliness to occur, with the 2017 update to A Life In Pictures.

Now… about the pics you’re going to see below: I’ve already been about as embarrassed at the shots as I’m ever likely to be, but yes, if you feel the need to go “awwww” at the cute pics of me as a youngster, or mock the pictures of me during the decade(s) that fashion forgot, feel free to do so.

Look, the whole thing started in 2004 when there was a meme going around about putting up photos of yourself when you were younger. I did it… and then continued to update it every year with more recent pics. And people who haven’t seen them before get the unfettered joy of joining in the mockery…

So, here they are, bringing the photos up to date, as of December 2017. As always, I’ve removed a couple of shots from previous years, and added some new ones. There aren’t a lot of new pics taken in 2017, but there are additional shots nonetheless. Thanks to some newly discovered photos amd some ‘technical stuff’ (you see, I know all the jargon, me) there are some surprises awaiting below, like some pics from my barmitzvah in 1977…

So, in rough order of age…

Probably the earliest photos I’ve got of me…


3 years old


Three brothers – must be around 1967 or 1968, so I’d be around 3½ years of age?


Aged 4


I’m five, I think, here.


It was 1972, ok? And I was at my brother’s bar mitzvah. I was eight.


My son takes great delight in this shot – I think I was 10 at the time.


Me at age 11


The main ‘man’ – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Three brothers – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Me and my grandmother – my barmitzvah, August 1977


We had a good cake, be fair – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Starting the dancing – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Just after my 15th birthday


August 1980, I’m 16 – yes, that is a curly perm. Shut up.


November 1982 – Freshers’ Fair at Manchester Poly


1983 – me at the PULP office, 2nd year at Manchester Poly.


Age 21, at a work leaving do, having left Manchester Poly a month or so earlier..


1985, at my brother’s wedding… at which I was best man. Yeah, 21 again.


At my dad’s 60th birthday in 1989, aged 25. Blimey, was that really almost thirty years ago?


Three brothers – 1991, I believe


1994 –  A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…


1996


September 1997, at UKCAC


Me in New York, January 1998, just after we lost Mike


Part of a formal family shot, mid-1999


June 1999 – my spiritual home


August 2000; taken by Phil – he was five years old at the time


October 2001; New York, six weeks after 9/11; visiting Ian


May 2002, Hypotheticals – not a happy Budgie


mid-2002, taken for a WEF World Wide Wednesday


Bristol, 2003. You can see the greying hair now…


July 2004 – working at the office


December 2004 – at my nephew’s bar mitzvah. See? I scrub up nicely occasionally.


Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…


August 2005 – at Brighton. First picture for ages that I’m genuinely happy with.


September 2005, last picture of the Nissan before I crashed it…


October 2005. Again, a photo taken by Phil…


April 2006, at the flat.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning.


December 2007 – at the office party, with my ‘secret santa’ gift. No, the book.


May 2008 – Phil and me at Comic Expo


May 2008 – Me interviewing Dave Gibbons at Comic Expo


October 2008 – Me and Phil, studio shot for the bar mitzvah


May 2009 – Me and Matt Jones, (pic by Jamais Cascio)


July 2009 – At the BERG 40th Anniversary Apollo 11 drinkup (pic by Matt Jones)


October 2009 – In New York, with my cousin Nikki.


November 2009 – Me and Phil at Ian’s son’s bar mitzvah.


April 2010, in Luton


July 2010, on Mastermind


August 2010, at Laura’s


October 2010, from Phil Tanner’s Photos – Mitch Benn ‘Proud of the BBC’ video shoot) The actual video’s here.


October 2010, again: at MCM


December 2010, after the office party


January 2011, at Tony and Tracy Lee’s wedding.


October 2011.


Yeah, I grew a beard in October, then shaved it off…


Laura took this one in April 2012 – not a bad shot of me, all things considered.

And then I had my hair cut…


No idea why I took this one, but it has me without a beard, anyway… August 2012

Lesson 1 about falling asleep in a friend’s house where children live. Don’t
(November 2012)


Me, at The Leveson Inquiry. The reading of the summary, not giving evidence…



Met up with an old friend, and wandered around Camden with him. A nice afternoon…


Yeah, I broke my foot…

Lost my father in October 2012 – here’s the progress of the shiva beard before trimming it down

And so to 2013…

Well, in March, I did a charity event where I wrote twenty-four stories in twenty-four hours for Comic Relief.


That’s Mitch Benn in the background, writing his comedy album, which he did also within twenty-four hours.

Phil turned up to support us…

And I got progressively more tired, and more silly, as the hours passed…

A small accident with the beard trimmer led me to shave off the beard I’d had for roughly a year…

Most people were glad I grew it back almost immediately

Later in the year, finally managed to get a photo with two of my closest friends. There’s been any number of pictures of two of the three of us, but rarely any shots of all three… until now.

Not the best pic, I have to admit, but rather pleased we managed it at all!

However, another photo was taken that night which continues to amuse me no end.

You don’t think I’m in it? Really? Look to the right. Yes, just there… that blurred shock of grey/white hair? Yeah, afraid so…

Towards the end of the year, there was something new… a mini-me. Or to be precise, I was scanned for a 3D printing of myself. Very strange to see myself post-scanning on a screen…

But that was nothing to seeing the actual result…

Here’s another shot of the 3D model, this one with Mitch (who was similarly scanned.)

In July, managed to catch up with an old friend, at his reading of The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains at the Barbican. I like this photo, entitled Two beards (old friends attached), a lot.

Here’s the difference a haircut, a beard trim and sticking my contact lenses in makes… from September 2014.

Around the same time, I wrote a post on the rising tide of overt anti-semitism in the UK, and that I’d personally faced. I used the following shot to illustrate it. I was very happy with how it turned out.

Now, this blog post, indeed this blog, is pretty much all ages, and I’ve hesitated before sticking this shot up. Not sure I’ll keep it here, but since this is supposed to be a record of me through the years… I shattered the end of my collarbone in a fall in September. A week or so later, the bruising was well and truly showing, so here it is.


This was March 2015. I have no idea where or why.


From late 2015. I think it was me trying out the new phone’s camera. It’s an odd pose, but as the foregoing shots more than amply demonstrate, that’s not a reason to exclude it.

Some time ago, the delightful Clara Benn took a shot which proved I was substantially smaller than Mitch, tiny in fact in comparison. November 2015, she proved it again…


isn’t perspective wonderful?

And so to 2016, and I’m not sure what this pic was for, in July, but it’s an odd one…


Something a bit novel for this year’s blog post; I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘filters’ on pics, whether it’s the ‘pup yourself’ Snapchat type thing, or the Prizma neon type things. But I may be changing my mind. Here’s a selfie I took for submitting with something.


The shot’s fine, as it is. Nothing great about it, nothing horrendous. But in black and white, it’s quite a nice shot, I’d say…


But when it’s thrown through the pencil/shading filter, I really like it. Weird…

<

Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the 2016, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.


And this is the shot, at the end of 2016, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…


Me and my lad, outside Distraction Club, December 2016

And to bring it smack bang up to date, here’s me, Thursday, after this week’s haircut. Hello!

Mocking may now commence.

One of the joys of having my previous blog archived and searchable (especially since every so often, a rumour does the rounds that Livejournal is shutting down) is that if I’m looking for something specific I wrote in the past, it only takes seconds to find it.

One of the drawbacks, however, is coming across old memes I wrote and either (a) wondering where the hell my mind was when I wrote it, since there’s no way I’d write that now, or (b) being faintly irritated I’m so ‘stuck in my ways’ that lots of answers would be pretty much identical.
Amusing and worrying (for the same reasons as above) though, are the responses from those reading the blog when asked to describe me in one word, or to write a sentence or two about me. Some of the compliments that I remember being genuinely flattered (and sometimes surprised) by are things that, arrogantly I guess, I can still imagine people – though not necessarily the same people – saying about me now. 

Some of them though, honestly? I can’t see being used about me other than in jest, or sarcastically. It could be, of course, that they were used in jest back then, but I don’t remember them being so.

One set of answers in particular that amused and worried me in equal proportion was a set wherein people posted anonymously. Even if I knew – or guessed – who posted the comments back then, there’re literally only a couple that I remember now. Most of the comments below, I genuinely didn’t have a clue who posted them, and to be honest,  there’s not that many folks I’m still in contact with from back then. 

But those quotes about me are, as I say, amusing and worrying:

Quotes like:
– “You look much better now than you did twenty years ago”
– “You seem like a nice chap… but appearances can be deceiving.”
– “You’re an excellent father, and not just to your son.”
– “Sometimes you are like a dog that barks at phantasms and snaps at those who’d reassure you.”
– “You’re one of the kindest people I know.”
– “Sometimes you are a little self-obsessed.”

None of which I think I can dispute that much, but I’m not sure how many people would actually say that now, even anonymously. What amuses me and worries me now of course is wondering what people would say now, if they were anonymously replying to the meme. No worries; not about to run it again, tempting though it might be to do so. 

Time once again for the annual mocking and silliness to occur, with the 2016 update to A Life In Pictures.

Now… about the pics you’re going to see below: I’ve already been about as embarrassed at the shots as I’m ever likely to be, but yes, if you feel the need to go “awwww” at the cute pics of me as a youngster, or mock the pictures of me during the decade(s) that fashion forgot, feel free to do so.

Look, the whole thing started in 2004 when there was a meme going around about putting up photos of yourself when you were younger. I did it… and then continued to update it every year or so for more recent pics…

So, here they are, bringing the photos up to date, as of December 2016. Not a lot of additions this year.But since this has now become a tradition as we approach the end of the year, and I’ve a few more people following me on Twitter and this blog, why not?

Why not indeed…

So, in rough order of age…


Probably the earliest photo I’ve got of me…


3 years old


Aged 4


I’m five, I think, here.


It was 1972, ok? And I was at my brother’s bar mitzvah. I was eight.


Another – newly discovered – shot from Mike’s bar mitzvah. 


My son takes great delight in this shot – I think I was 10 at the time.


Me at age 11


Just after my 15th birthday


August 1980, I’m 16 – yes, that is a curly perm. Shut up.


November 1982 – Freshers’ Fair at Manchester Poly


1983 – me at the PULP office, 2nd year at Manchester Poly.


Age 21, at a work leaving do, having left Manchester Poly a month or so earlier..


1985, at my brother’s wedding… at which I was best man. Yeah, 21 again.


At my dad’s 60th birthday in 1989, aged 25. Blimey, was that really almost thirty years ago?


1994 –  A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…


1996


September 1997, at UKCAC


Me in New York, January 1998, just after we lost Mike


Part of a formal family shot, mid-1999


June 1999 – my spiritual home


August 2000; taken by Phil – he was five years old at the time


October 2001; New York, six weeks after 9/11; visiting Ian


May 2002, Hypotheticals – not a happy Budgie


mid-2002, taken for a WEF World Wide Wednesday


Bristol, 2003. You can see the greying hair now…


July 2004 – working at the office


December 2004 – at my nephew’s bar mitzvah. See? I scrub up nicely occasionally.


Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…


August 2005 – at Brighton. First picture for ages that I’m genuinely happy with.


September 2005, last picture of the Nissan before I crashed it…


October 2005. Again, a photo taken by Phil…


April 2006, at the flat.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning.


December 2007 – at the office party, with my ‘secret santa’ gift. No, the book.


May 2008 – Phil and me at Comic Expo


May 2008 – Me interviewing Dave Gibbons at Comic Expo


October 2008 – Me and Phil, studio shot for the bar mitzvah


May 2009 – Me and Matt Jones, (pic by Jamais Cascio)


July 2009 – At the BERG 40th Anniversary Apollo 11 drinkup (pic by Matt Jones)


October 2009 – In New York, with my cousin Nikki.


November 2009 – Me and Phil at Ian’s son’s bar mitzvah.


April 2010, in Luton


July 2010, on Mastermind


August 2010, at Laura’s


October 2010, from Phil Tanner’s Photos – Mitch Benn ‘Proud of the BBC’ video shoot) The actual video’s here.


October 2010, again: at MCM


December 2010, after the office party


January 2011, at Tony and Tracy Lee’s wedding.


October 2011.


Yeah, I grew a beard in October, then shaved it off…


Laura took this one in April 2012 – not a bad shot of me, all things considered.

And then I had my hair cut…


No idea why I took this one, but it has me without a beard, anyway… August 2012

Lesson 1 about falling asleep in a friend’s house where children live. Don’t
(November 2012)


Me, at The Leveson Inquiry. The reading of the summary, not giving evidence…



Met up with an old friend, and wandered around Camden with him. A nice afternoon…


Yeah, I broke my foot…

Lost my father in October 2012 – here’s the progress of the shiva beard before trimming it down

And so to 2013…

Well, in March, I did a charity event where I wrote twenty-four stories in twenty-four hours for Comic Relief.


That’s Mitch Benn in the background, writing his comedy album, which he did also within twenty-four hours.

Phil turned up to support us…

And I got progressively more tired, and more silly, as the hours passed…

A small accident with the beard trimmer led me to shave off the beard I’d had for roughly a year…

Most people were glad I grew it back almost immediately

Later in the year, finally managed to get a photo with two of my closest friends. There’s been any number of pictures of two of the three of us, but rarely any shots of all three… until now.

Not the best pic, I have to admit, but rather pleased we managed it at all!

However, another photo was taken that night which continues to amuse me no end.

You don’t think I’m in it? Really? Look to the right. Yes, just there… that blurred shock of grey/white hair? Yeah, afraid so…

Towards the end of the year, there was something new… a mini-me. Or to be precise, I was scanned for a 3D printing of myself. Very strange to see myself post-scanning on a screen…

But that was nothing to seeing the actual result…

Here’s another shot of the 3D model, this one with Mitch (who was similarly scanned.)

In July, managed to catch up with an old friend, at his reading of The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains at the Barbican. I like this photo, entitled Two beards (old friends attached), a lot.

Here’s the difference a haircut, a beard trim and sticking my contact lenses in makes… from September 2014.

Around the same time, I wrote a post on the rising tide of overt anti-semitism in the UK, and that I’d personally faced. I used the following shot to illustrate it. I was very happy with how it turned out.

Now, this blog post, indeed this blog, is pretty much all ages, and I’ve hesitated before sticking this shot up. Not sure I’ll keep it here, but since this is supposed to be a record of me through the years… I shattered the end of my collarbone in a fall in September. A week or so later, the bruising was well and truly showing, so here it is.

And onto this year.


This was March 2015. I have no idea where or why.


In September, was fortunate enough to catch up with Amanda Palmer after her gig. It had been much, much too long since we’d seen each other. Much and many things were said, but never enough.


From late 2015. I think it was me trying out the new phone’s camera. It’s an odd pose, but as the foregoing shots more than amply demonstrate, that’s not a reason to exclude it. 

Some time ago, the delightful Clara Benn took a shot which proved I was substantially smaller than Mitch, tiny in fact in comparison. November 2015, she proved it again…


isn’t perspective wonderful?

And so to 2016, and I’m not sure what this pic was for, in July, but it’s an odd one…


Something a bit novel for this year’s blog post; I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘filters’ on pics, whether it’s the ‘pup yourself’ Snapchat type thing, or the Prizma neon type things. But I may be changing my mind. Here’s a selfie I took for submitting with something.


The shot’s fine, as it is. Nothing great about it, nothing horrendous. But in black and white, it’s quite a nice shot, I’d say…


But when it’s thrown through the pencil/shading filter, I really like it. Weird…

<

Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the year, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.


And this is the shot, last week, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…

And, to round off this year’s lot, and to officially mark the moment at which mocking may commence, this is me, as of yesterday, post-haircut:

No, I can’t do it.

I started to write a piece about the final Presidential Debate, and Trump’s behaviour then and later, and… and… and… no. Not today. Oh, I don’t think I’d have any problem writing about it; but I try to keep this place relatively all-ages and I found it impossible to do that. I’ll take another run at it after the weekend. 
Tech.

If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely familiar with Douglas Adams’ rules of tech:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

While I’d argue against both the age limits, and these days limit it to applications and software rather than ‘kit’, I don’t think the sentiment is far off. 

I have an iPhone 6S and an iPad Air, and carry both around with me most of the time. Or to repeat myself, I carry around two computers. 

Because that’s what they are. To misquote a line from an old advert about the Victoria and Albert museum’s café, the smaller device is a phone with quite a nice computer attached.

That’s the thing: as a mobile phone, the 6S is all right, I guess. It does the job, but I so rarely talk on the phone these days (maybe one call a day, if that); it’s primary purpose is of a small computer that allows me to listen to the radio, or music, check social media, read the news, occasionally write on (though I tend to use the bigger device for that). But a mobile phone?

I’ve had an iPhone since 2008 came out and it’s fair to say that once the App Store was created and I began to get used to “everything in the world” (as David Gorman once described the Internet) being on my phone, or at least available to it, the “phone” bit of “iPhone” became less important to me, and to most people.

Before that? I went through loads of mobile phones, about one every year or 18 months; mainly Nokia, with a few Samsung slide-phones, all of which I enjoyed using, although my favourite was still the Nokia 5210, a rubber encased thing that was just sheer fun to use.

The only phone I got that I disliked instantly and in fact returned was something called the O2 Cocoon, genuinely the only ‘bad’ tech I think I’ve ever owned. A horrible, horrible piece of shit that I genuinely cannot understand anyone thinking that it wasn’t a horrible horrible pieve of shit

But it could at least be argued that mobile phones were around before I was 35, and so Douglas’ second rule applies. And iPads are merely computers with a different input method.  

In fact, almost all tech, almost every piece of equipment I can think of… it’s been around in some form or another for a very very long time. Sure it can do more, sure it’s lighter, but… but… but… how far should I take that. Is a motorbike essentially the same as a bicycle? Is a car just a cart without a horse?

As I suggested earlier, it’s in the realm of software and applications that I find myself agreeing with Douglas Adams more and more. 

One could argue that blogging is just an evolution of the diary, and that I – as a child of the 1960s and 1970s – surely kept a diary as a young lad. And one would be utterly, completely wrong. Not about me keeping a diary, but because I did so, I know that a blog is nothing like a diary

With the rare exceptions of politicians and actors who might, in the back of their heads, think they might one day publish it, a diary was never meant to be read by anyone other than the author. If I’d thought that anyone would read my Letts’ Diaries (complete with ‘history of the world’ section), I’d never have written even half of what I wrote in it. There are women now in their 50s -classmates – who would be traumatised to know I had  crushes on them back then, for a start.

(Odd tangential thought: I wonder if people mentioned in diaries of famous people ever see references to themselves and think ‘huh, I never knew they fancied me’.)

When I started work, and was using the newer software the companies had: WordPerfect, Lotus 123 and the rest, I was always mildly amused at the older members of staff who were very happy thank you but they’ll stick with the software they knew. I’m less amused now that I find myself doing the same thing. 
I’ve forced myself to use Pages and Numbers (but still think of them as Apple’s versions of Word and Excel) on the iPad – and on iPhone when I have to – but I still miss the Excel in particular. 

I use WhatsApp and Skype occasionally, mainly – but not exclusively – for people outside the UK. But it’s still text messaging/iMessage for folks inside the UK.

Snapchat? No, really ‘not my thing’. And nor are almost all of the ‘new’ apps that are social media based. And I have no idea whether it’s the ‘new’ or the ‘social’ aspects that put me off. 

  

Looking through the apps I constantly use, with the exception of games that interest me briefly and then I delete them (I can’t remember the last time I found a ‘new’ game that I liked to the point of keeping it on the phone for more than a few weeks), they’re all either research tools or things to make day. to day life easier. Nothing there that’s ‘new’ or ‘exciting’.

Emoji. I’m sure they’re fun and all but… no. I don’t know what most of them mean, and they pop up in tweets and texts too ‘small’ for me to instantly understand them. I can cope with the ‘smiley’ and the occasional acronym – I still instinctively think <s> and <g> not :-) – but then I discovered those when I got online… when I was 31.

When I was 31.

“Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary”

Huh, what do you know? Douglas Adams was right all the time.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

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.

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.)

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.

Ah…

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. 

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.

Done.

Next problem?