Posts Tagged ‘55 minus’

People seemed to like the weekly ‘couple of stories from the vaults’, so I’ll continue them for a bit.

Some more fiction today. These weren’t easy to write and both took some time for the ideas to come into proper focus, but I was pleased with each when I was done. I hope you enjoy them.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Here are two very different tales.


Title: Results May Vary
Word: animated
Challenger: Cath Tomlinson
Length: 200 words exactly

Everything else could be explained away, but there was no simple justification for his use of hair dye. He hid it behind a loose brick in the stone fireplace, one of the objects in the large house of which he’d once been most proud. It was to this concealed hollow that he’d returned the dye moments earlier, now that it had done its job.

Before he set out, he followed the traditions he’d developed in the long ago: firstly, open the small notebook and count which trip this was, making a notation to denote another journey; next take a quick look around, as if to imprint the image upon his brain, just in case he’d never see the place again. Finally, a single word: “please.”

He triggered the device, (no longer fair to call it experimental), and a whirling shimmering maelstrom appeared in front of him, a myriad of animated effects swirling around the outer edges. He stepped into it, travelling back to the same day, as he had 941 times before, to ask her to marry him, hoping that this time she’d say yes.

He had been 27.

She was still 25.

By now, of course, he was 62.

© Lee Barnett, 2005

Title: Assignment Rights, Certificate Seven
Word: vituperative
Challenger: Larry Young
Length: 200 words exactly

The youngster looked up at the tall, grey haired man as the latter loomed over him. After six similar exercises, it had come to this.

Hands shaking, he gave his work to the gaunt unsmiling figure, who accepted it with a grunt and gestured to the young man that he should sit.

Seeing nothing upon which to plant his behind, he stood uneasily, until a long thin hand angrily indicated the dirty, dusty floor, in which he sat, eagerly.

He was rewarded with a scowl. A short time later, he saw a raising of eyebrows and could detect upset and, dare he suspect, anger?

The sheets of work were thrown at him with great force as the other man rose up. And up. And up, seemingly huge and deliberately self-important.

There was a brief silent pause, before The Scathing began. Merely vituperative and vicious at first, it rapidly got worse.

And then, suddenly, it was over.

He was ushered from the great man’s presence and left to contemplate for a while, as tradition demanded.

A short time later, he was taken to receive his qualification and certificate to become A Writer, having been through The Ordeal Of The Bad Review.

© Lee Barnett, 2005

Something else tomorrow…

It’s my fifty-fifth birthday today. Which should, and will, I suspect, come as no surprise to anyone reading this.

I’ve absolutely no intention of blogging about anything serious, nor on subjects profound.

I’ll merely a relate a tale I’ve previously told on Twitter… but since it is my birthday and I’m now well into my mid-fifties, I get to retell favourite anedotes occasionally. Or more than occasionally. Look, those are the rules; I didn’t make them up.

So this occurred the back end of 2018, after November’s Distraction Club. On the way back to Richmond, where I was crashing overnight, Mitch Benn and I stop off at an all night shop to pick up some shopping.

I pick up a few items and go outside to vape for a bit while I wait for Mitch to complete his shopping.

A car draws up, playing very loud music; a couple, both 20-somethings in the car. The woman jumps out, and as she exits the car, I catch the very end of the young fella saying “…well, I don’t know! Ask the old man…”

Whereupon she approaches me and is about to speak when the man shouts “NO! IN THE SHOP! ASK THE OLD MAN IN THE SHOP… not that, erm, er, er, young man.

The woman immediately stops short, mouth opening and shutting like a goldfish, struggles a moment on whether or not to apologise, then sort of mumbles a very quiet ‘sorry’ and scoots past me.

I look at the fella in the car.

He looks at me.

I… I… I… Sorry, mate…

“No problem,” says I, hugely and genuinely amused at his embarrassment.

He puts his head in his hands. “Young man. YOUNG man…”

“It’s fine, I say.

We chat for a moment, then Mitch comes out and we leave, while I’m struggling not to double up with laughter.

I just about make it to the car before doing so.

So, from one old ‘young man’ to the rest of you youngsters, here are some quotes about birthdays and aging.

“I remember when the candle shop burned down. Everyone stood around singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ ”
‪—‬ Steven Wright

“If you live to the age of a hundred, you have it made because very few people die past the age of a hundred.”
‪—‬ George Burns

“Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself.”
‪—‬ Tom Wilson

“You’ve heard of the three ages of man – youth, age, and “you are looking wonderful.”
‪—‬ Francis Cardinal Spellman

“You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely.”
‪—‬ Ogden Nash

“What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.”
Harley exec, quoted in Results-Based Leadership

“Never too late to learn some embarrassingly basic, stupidly obvious things about oneself.”
Alain de Botton

“The years between 50 and 70 are the hardest. You are always being asked to do things, and yet you are not decrepit enough to turn them down.”
T.S. Eliot

And, finally, from John Glenn:

“For all the advances in medicine, there is still no cure for the common birthday.” ‪

Have a good Saturday, all… and thanks for reading. You’ve made an old a young man very happy.

Not really part of the series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday today, but if you want to read the series, you can see the posts in the run by clicking here.

David Allen Green, who tweets as @davidallengreen, will occasionally quote-tweet some bit of news and merely append the single word: “Well.”

It can mean anything from a gentle “I told you so” to “I wrote about this, you know” to a “yer never gonna believe this, folks, but…”

But often, it’s just a “hey folks, this is interesting.”

And that’s how I intended the title of this post until I started writing it and realised it additionally meant a few other things.

For a start, I’m ‘well’. Which I wasn’t completely sure I would be on this day when I re-started the blog eight weeks ago.

With the exception of the annual A Life In Pictures post, and one about my late brother on the anniversary of his death, I’d last blogged in January 2017… two and a half years ago, and a fair bit has changed since then; for me, for politics, for everyone and everything.

And here I was, not planning on a gentle re-introduction to blogging; no, I chose to commit to a daily blog for fifty-five days.

Which doesn’t sound an awful lot… until you have to do it. I fully expected that I’d get about ⅔ of the way through, and chuck it in¹, decide it’s not worth it², decide the readership wasn’t responding in any way at all³, decide that hardly anyone was reading it⁴…

To which I can now respond, at the end of the run:

¹ I didn’t

² It really was worth it. Not for all of the posts, I’ll admit, but for many, for most, of them, yeah. I enjoyed writing them and I believe some people enjoyed reading them.

³ If I hadn’t known in advance that the ‘responding to blogs’ thing had for many gone out of fashion – comments often come in reply to the promo tweet, not the blog itself – I’d have been worried. But with the exception of very popular bloggers, the days of getting a couple of dozen replies on the blog to an interesting entry are long gone. At least for anyone not on Medium. (I only realised, well over half way through, that I should have grabbed a Medium account and cross-posted to that… I might do something with that idea at some point; get a Medium account, and cross post the ‘important’ posts.)

⁴ Other than when I knew a post was getting some traction on Twitter, I didn’t even check the blog stats. And I didn’t promote the blog on Facebook, for the simple reason that I’m not on Facebook. Amusingly, I got almost no click throughs from Tumblr. Posting the links to that was, probably, a waste of time.

So, how did it go?

For me? Great. I got to stick – near or less – to the plan I’d had when I started: some old fiction, some Saturday Smiles, some commentary on London, some on British politics, some on American politics, some on antisemitism.

Some stuff didn’t work out, of course. I intended to put up more brand new fiction. That only happened the one time, though I maintain that most of the stories I put up, readers would probably not have seen before, or at least not remembered seeing.

It does bug me a little that I never got around to publishing Part The Fourth in the series within the run dealing with antisemitic imagery. It’ll come at some point, but I don’t know when right now.

Which leads me to another thing and…


Actually, before I write that bit, I should have said this upfront. Apologies if this entry is a little more disjointed than usual, if it flows from one paragraph to the next a bit less than is my habit.

It’s just after 8am as I’m writing this, and I’m currently sitting outside a coffee shop in Edinburgh, on Princes Street.

I didn’t sleep as much as I’d hoped to on the overnight journey, so I’m a little bit fried. And I’ve a full day planned in Edinburgh: seeing a couple of shows and then having a wander, feeling the city again, remembering how I get from A to B.

So, again, sorry if this rambles a bit. I’ll edit it a bit for clarity and typos, etc., before I hit post.


Anyway, back to what I was saying. Yeah, this is the final post in the run of blog entries leading up to my fifty-fifth birthday, which if you’ve been paying attention and have even the slightest understanding of, y’know, numbers… is tomorrow: Saturday 17th August.

I’ve genuinely no idea right now whether I’ll post anything tomorrow. There’s a part of me that says ‘sod it; give yourself a day off’ and another part that says ‘Oh, come on, even if it’s just some quotes you like about birthdays, post something‘.

And then…?

I would take a few days off after that; I’m in Edinburgh for the fringe, after all, and I want to enjoy myself without having to post something every day.

The problem with that is… that’s that’s exactly what I said after the 75 day countdown I did at the end of 2016, leading up to New Year’s 2017: ‘take a few days off, budgie enjoy the break, then come back refreshed’.

And I did take a break. Which lasted two and a half years.

Again, I haven’t decided what I’ll do yet. My gut says I’ll continue to post, but less dense posts than in this fifty-five day run of entries. The occasional deep dive into something, sure; the irregular observations on the shitshow known as ‘British politics’ or “American politics’.

(I remain convinced, by the way, that UK politics and US politics got drunk on 31st December 2015, and they bet which of them could fuck up more over the next five years. Every few months, one of them gets an opportunity to up the stakes. And takes it.)

But I doubt I’ll blog every day. We’ll see. (Might do the first ten days as ’55 plus’. Again, we’ll see.)

But I’ve enjoyed writing again, I’ve enjoyed making the words do what I want, and saying what I wanted to say.

There were some surprises during the run, I’ll admit. I’ve never been one for recommending things to other people, or at least not a set of things. Recommending a book or a tv show, yes. But “ten podcasts I like” or “ten old movies I can happily rewatch”? No. However, I really enjoyed doing the half a dozen entries in which I did precisely that. And from messages I received, the pocket recommendations for each movie, podcast, individual tv episodes, some people enjoyed them as well.

(Small mea culpa; didn’t occur to me that if I was doing 10 recommendations, then with adding in the intro, you’re talking 2,500 to 3,000 words per post. Silly me.)

I didn’t exactly enjoy doing the ‘antisemitic imagery’ posts, but I thought them necessary; I’d been planning on doing something along those lines for a couple of years. And I’m pleased they’re done, easy to read I’m told, and achieved their aims.

One of the aims, of course, was to provide a reference source, for me, and for others, in the same way a post I wrote in 2014 – 50 minus 3: Israel, Gaza and anti-Semitism in the UK – has done for many.

I did enjoy digging out and showing the musical comedians in the Saturday Smiles, introducing them to people who didn’t previously know their work.

And I thoroughly enjoyed resurrecting some fiction from the vaults… and presenting you all with a brand new story. I’ve three other brand new stories that I didn’t post during the run… maybe they’ll appear here in the future.

Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed reading the run.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m now in Edinburgh, for the Edinburgh Fringe. Until 2011, I’d never been to the Fringe, I’d never been to Scotland, in fact. But I’d had a rough year, a very rough one, and close friends arranged for me to spend three days up in Edinburgh in August. Both to catch up with an old friend who’d rented a house up here for the month and invited me to stay, and to introduce me to The Fringe.

Despite the fantastic comedy and entertainment, going by the usual ‘me being me’, I shouldn’t enjoy Fringe. Genuinely. It’s made up of lots of things I don’t like: huge crowds everywhere, enforced jollity, and everywhere’s uphill. No, seriously, everywhere. You walk uphill to a gig, come out and think ‘well, at lest it’s downhill back, yet somehow this Escher lithograph of a city makes you walk uphill again.

(The Escher line is Mitch Benn’s; it’s wholly accurate.)

But everywhere being uphill causes me an issue with my fucked up foot.

So I shouldn’t have enjoyed it.

But I did.

I loved it. And I returned to Edinburgh to celebrate my 50th birthday in 2014. And made it back in 2015, not for my birthday though. And in 2016. And… and… and you get the picture.

This is my seventh visit in nine years, and my sixth consecutive visit. I love the Fringe and I love coming to Edinburgh. I see friends I haven’t seen in a year, I see great comedy, and I spend an awful lot of it laughing. Fringe is very, very good for me.

And this year, for the first time since 2014, I’m here for my birthday. No idea what I’m going to do for my birthday; I’m not doing the drinkup I did for my 50th, but I’ll see what occurs.

I have three Edinburgh Fringe traditions – hey, it’s my seventh visit; I get to have traditions:

First tradition: The first show I see is Mitch Benn’s. And the last show I see is Mitch’s show, again. Not only because he’s one of my closest friends, and I love his work, but it’s they’re perfect bookends to my visit to this fair city. I could make a list of what I owe to this man, how much I respect and like him, and how grateful I am that he’s my friend and occasional collaborator.… and it’d take until Sunday to finish.

Second tradition: There’s a coffee shop I discovered on my first visit in 2011. Couldn’t find it in 2014, but rediscovered it in 2015. And I’ll visit them while I’m up. They’re very nice people in there, they make great coffee and it’s just… nice, you know? Nice is an underrated attribute and quality. We should prize it when we find it.

Third tradition: Twice during my stay, I see comedians I’ve never seen before. I’ll find myself with a few hours to spare, I’ll check on the app what’s on… and I’ll pick one almost at random. So far, I’d say I’ve been lucky enough on average to have a two-in- three hit rate, two of the three are good, one of the three… really isn’t.

Actually, there’s a fourth tradition I’ve just realised. At some point, I’ll find myself in Bristo Square just after midnight, really, really, really wanting some chips.

OK, I think that’s about it.

Thanks for reading. Not only today’s but any of the posts you’ve read.

Fifty-five days. Fifty-five posts.

This post is the final post 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.

Housekeeping note: I was planning on completing Part the Fourth today – after parts the first, second and third – of the series on antisemitic imagery but a confluence of events got in the way.

So, yes, it’s coming, but I don’t know when. Can only offer my apologies, once again. It’s proved tougher to complete this one than I anticipated. Partly because the imagery is so upsetting, partly because its too easy – I’ll acknowledge – to see image after image and then mistakenly include one that’s not antisemitic, assuming that it draws on the same imagery. I want to be accurate, and if that means taking a bit longer, then so be it.

Besides, something occured in British politics today which genuinely interested me, and I’ve been reading up on it a bit. So I figured I’d write something on it today, and save Part The Fourth for sometime later.

I doubt I have to explain to anyone reading this either what Brexit is or why it’s been a complete clusterfuck from start to finish. As mentioned previously, to deliver what was promised by the Leave campaign, and by those who pledged to deliver the result of the 2016 referendum would be impossible.

Not a rhetorical conceit, a flat statement of fact: it’s impossible to do so.

In part because to deliver what was promised, all that was promised… what was pledged, all that was pledged… would be self-contradictory. And everyone, well, pretty much everyone, acknowledges that.

The British public was promised a golden age, with dozens of trade deals signed, with no deleterious consequences, [nearly] all the benefits of membership, an extra £350m a week for the NHS, tariff free access to the Single European market, no huge job losses, massive investment into the UK… the list goes on and on. Basically only Good Things, and No Bad Things.

Take tariff free access to the single market. We were promised that tariff free access, while reducing immigration from the EU, even though the EU maintained that ‘the four freedoms’ – including free movement of labour – were inseparable; you want one, you get the other three as well.

There are umpteen videos of leading Brexiteers assuring that no one wants to leave The Single Market.

Here’s just one.

But what do we have? A statement from the Brexit Secretary that “There should be adequate food“. And assurances, based on nothing but a hope and a prayer – oh, and £25m – that medications will continue to be available in the event that the UK leave the EU without ‘a deal’.

Of course, what “a deal” means has changed somewhat since 2016 and 2017, when the Article 50 notification – the official start of ‘we’re leaving’ – was delivered to the EU. Back then, it meant that by the time the negotiation period ended in March 2019, both the UK and the EU would know under what terms we were leaving the EU, and under what terms our relationship with the EU would continue.

Now? Over two years later? It means the former, with a possible transition period during which the EU and UK would continue to negotiate the future relationship.

So even had the Withdrawal Agreement (and associated Political Declaration) passed in parliament, the UK – and the public – would still not know what the future relationship would be. I mean, we’d know what both sides wanted it to be… but we absolutely would not know, nor would anyone, what any final relationship would be.

And that’s not the only phrase that has changed meaning since 2016/2017.

At the time, no one talked about “No Deal”. It was… well, not inconceivable, but unthinkable to many. Even those who kind of advocated it didn’t call it that. They called it a “Hard Brexit”.

Now you can argue back and forth whether they meant a No Deal, or merely a more favourable-to-UK deal than was ever truly possible, but either way, no one was pushing a complete cessation of every clause in every relationship we have had thus far.

Without going through how we ended up here, where are we?

We’re just eleven weeks, seventy-seven days, from leaving with No Deal. It continues to amaze me just how many people continue to believe that it’ll never happen “because there’s no majority in parliament for the UK leaving with No Deal.”

Whoever’s in government – and I’ll come on to that in a moment – they don’t need a majority favouring a No Deal Brexit for a No Deal Brexit to occur.

The current law mandates – subject to something else happening – that the UK leaves the EU on 31st October 2019 without a deal. The phrase you need to remember is “by automatic operation of law”.

It’s kind of like me jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute. Now, there are plenty of things that could prevent me, after a short period of time, going splat. Someone could jump after me and hand me a parachute which I successfully use. Someone could jump after me and grab hold of me, and we both use the same parachute. Spock and McCoy could pilot their ship and save me just in time from being sucked out into space. No, wait, different situation.

Anyway, you get the point. Unless something occurs to save me… I go splat.

And unless something occurs to stop No Deal Brexit… No Deal Brexit is what happens. By that automatic operation of law I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago.

Doesn’t matter how often people protest, doesn’t matter how many symbolic votes take place in Parliament, doesn’t even matter if everyone knows there is a majority for something else, unless a binding vote takes place in parliament, mandating the government to do something else, which will involve legislation passing through both Houses of Parliament…

Now that something else could be A Withdrawal Agreement, though it’s not looking likely, with the current government shitting on the current agreement from a huge height, and the oposition parties not liking it either, for their own party or policy specific reasons.

That something else could be a general election; the EU has indicated that they’d be ok with another delay to the process, another postponement of the leaving date, if a general election was called.

That something else could be the government revoking Article 50 and abandoning Brexit in its entirety, though that’s about as likely as Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson campaigning for George Galloway.

(My personal preferences – though they’ll never happen – would be for either Article 50 to be revoked and that’s an end of it, or at the least, revocation followed by a public inquiry and another referendum in, say, three years… using that three years to agree a future relationship and if no agreement, no official agreed position, then put it to bed. But if wishes were horses, eh?)

Or the ‘something else’ that could change matters could be the government changing and doing… something else that gets the majority of the House of Commons going along with them.

And that’s what people are talking about this morning.

Because Jeremy Corbyn has sent a letter to other opposition party leaders and it’s got people talking about a GNU, a Government of National Unity.

Not the first time the idea’s come up, and not the first time enthusiasm for it has overwhelmed people’s natural scepticism at politicians professing insistently that they’re ‘doing the right thing for the country’ when it personally benefits them.

Even ignoring, temporarily, my own views on Jeremy Corbyn’s personal complicity over antisemitism inside Labour, basically, what the letter asks, what his supporters demand, is that we trust Jeremy Corbyn.

And there’s a problem with that.

Not merely over antisemitism, not merely over his numerous other faults as a politician, as a party leader, as a person, but over his position on Brexit.

Corbyn has spent much, maybe all, of his political life as what was – for a couple of decades – usually described in the Tory Party as a “Eurosceptic”. He’s never liked the European Economic Community, which became the European Community, which became the European Union. He’s wanted the UK to leave for decades, and said so, repeatedly. Pretty much every step he’s taken, with the occasional blip, as party leader has been to reinforce that position and that impression.

He’s promised one thing, then not delivered. He’s promised that the party membership is supreme, then ignored their wishes. He’s tried every trick in the books, and created a few, to avoid his party membership cottoning on to the simple truth that:

Jeremy Corbyn wants, has always wanted, the UK to leave the European Union… and if that’s without a deal, then ok, that’s just fine and dandy by him.

Now some have argued, with some justification, that there’s another reason for his wanting to leave, beyond pure ideology; it’s the ‘let the Tories fuck everything up and then people will flood to the Labour Party begging ‘please save us’ and we will save them.’ I say ‘justifiably’ because that’s been a Labour position over many elections. Not every election; occasionally there’s a campaign that says ‘come to Labour because we can make life better for you’, but the ‘The Tories made things worse, fucked everything up… but we will fix it’ has been the usual message.

And of course, that plays well with a chunk of the membership and country unaware of Corbyn’s actual views and policies.

So, whatever your views on the concept of a government of national unity, yes, it’s a minor point, but what struck me forcefully was the implicit (and sometimes explicit) suggestion that those of us who loathe & detest Corbyn, and regard him as fundamentally untrustworthy should, on this occasion, on something he’s been previously proven to be untrustworthy… trust him.

And I don’t. At all.

I don’t believe he voted Remain in the EU Referendum. I don’t believe his claims that he worked hard for Remain. I don’t believe him, nor trust him. At all. About anything.

And it’s not – as others have suggested – because of the suggestion that he wouldn’t leave as Prime Minister once in. There’ll be a majority of the House of Commons that would undoubtedly bring his caretaker tenure to an end at some point, leading to a general election.

My lack of trust has to do with what he’d do while Prime Minister. For he doesn’t have ‘to do anything’ to get the brexit he’s wanted for decades. In fact, he has to do precisely… nothing. If he got the job in late September, say, it wouldn’t be difficult to stall for a few weeks… claiming he’s negotiating in good faith and then not doing so.

And then, come October ‘gosh wasn’t it a pity?’ the Corbyn acolytes will cry, as the UK leaves without a deal by the aforementioned ‘automatic operation of law’.

But does a lack of Corbyn in Number Ten prevent the idea of a Government of National Unity, stop it in its tracks?

Well, I have to say, sadly, yes, I think it does. As others have observed, he is – like it or not – leader of the opposition. You’re not going to get Labour MPs openly suggesting, publicly stating, that they don’t trust their leader to be PM. It’ll kill them before and during any general election campaign. The Tories would replay videos of Labour MPs saying ‘don’t make Jeremy PM’ for weeks. And it’d certainly trigger deselection campaigns for any Labour MP. The only way out would be for them to follow Berger and Leslie, etc., and leave the party.

And to be blunt, if they’ve not left the Labour Party yet, they’re unlikely to now, over this.

But could Kenneth Clarke or Harriet Harman do the job? Sure, but they’re not going to get the job, for the reasons immediately above.

What about Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson’s call for a GNU?

Well, it’s great, but it’s what third parties do, and though I’ve been very impressed by her leadership of the party thus far, the call was far more for the impression it gives than in the hope that it’d achieve anything.

So we’re in a situation where the people who first called for a GNU can’t form one. The person who now wants a GNU can’t even unify his own party, and the people who don’t want a GNU have no other solutions.

Oh. Joy.

Oh, and the calls for and against have more to do attacking the people who disagree than the idea itself.

Which brings me to the final part of this post.

Some have been a bit upset at the Lib Dems calling for a government of national unity, but not one headed by Corbyn, the official leader of the opposition, and indeed her previous statements that she’d never go into coalition to form a Corbyn-led labour government. And others have been upset at the Labour response of reminding voters that the Lib Dems – and Swinson herself – were in government with the hated Tories from 2010 to 2015.

Me? I genuinely don’t have a problem with either party making those attacks on the other.

Any more than – apart from the hypocrisy – the Conservatives having a pop at Labour antisemitism, Labour over the past 40 years exploring Tory divisions over Europe, the Tories back in the 1970s and 1980s seeking to damage Labour over trade unions’ behaviour, or any party ‘weaponising’ – a horrible word – a weakness in the other party.

Well, a perceived weakness, at least, whether or not the weaknesses actually exist. (Always amuses me and irritates me, in equal measure, that political adverts in this country are specifically excluded from the truth and fairness rules in advertising.)

Exploiting perceived weaknesses in another party’s policies, positions, or people are what political parties do.

To complain that a party you don’t support is doing it to one that you do, while supporting your party doing it to them is hypocritical. But again that’s what party supporters do.

If your only objection to a Government of National Unity is that Corbyn would be PM, then you care far more about Corbyn not being Prime Minister than about any GNU to solve the Brexit clusterfuck. And if you’re only interested in a Government of National Unity if Corbyn’s in Number Ten, then you’re similarly more interested in Corbyn being PM than in anything a GNU could [try to] do to stop a No Deal Brexit.

Be honest about that, at least?

I have no issues with a GNU; I just don’t think one’s achievable without Corbyn. And I don’t trust that any GNU under Corbyn could – or would – do anything to stop Brexit, with or without a deal’.

As a coda: I was reminded when I saw the acronym GNU – Government of National Unity – appear today, that British politics does like its animal acronyms. After GOAT [Government of All the Talents] and the COBRA Committee [named after Cabinet Office Briefing Room A], we now have GNU. I wonder what else we’ll get in the weeks ahead.


Something else tomorrow, the final post in this run… some reflections on blogging, and possibly something on Edinburgh, which I’m travelling to, overnight.

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.

OK, on the past few weeks, I’ve written about stuff I like re-reading or rewatching, about individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, I’ll happily rewatch.

But given how much audio I listen to, it’s kind of surprising to me that I’d not mentioned that at any point… No, not albums; I rarely listen to a whole album. Very occasionally, but only very occasionally.

I mentioned last week the podcasts I’ll repeatedly listen to; in effect, I treat them like audiobooks.

But there are also podcasts that release new episodes on a regular basis, and I’ll listen to them when released. Not every episode, maybe, but most of them. Many of them are episodes of radio shows from the BBC, and many of them are from radio 4, my natural radio home for as long as I can recell.

As I said last week, the BBC for the longest time insisted on calling such releases ‘downloads’, which makes kind of makes sense since their podcasts are usually downloadable versions of radio shows that have been previously broadcast on the network.

So here are some podcasts that I listen to whenever they release a episode.


MSNBC evening podcasts.

A while back, MSNBC started releasing podcasts of their shows. I don’t listen to every episode of every show, but it’s rare that I don’t listen to a couple of them every day.

I regard the entire slate as excellent listening to get a feel for what’s going on in US politics. Chris Matthews is more aggresive as an interviewer and a presenter; Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow are both policy wonks and it shows; they’ll break down a policy step by step. And Lawrence O’Donnell is fantastic about analysis of what stuff means. But all are excellent at communicating the important issues, with humour and style and knowledge. I don’t always agree with their stances – only very rarely with Maddow, to be fair – but I’ll take knowledge and depth over always agreeing every bloody time.

They usually have guests for an interview or two, or a panel of guests. Again, almost always good… except when they have people on who’re running for office. (I’m not sure what happens to great presenters when they have people running for office on the show. They… lose something, and when it’s someone they obviously like, the interviews can be less than good.)

But all four shows are great.




The Westminster Hour

The one radio show, or podcast, that I regard as truly essential to understand, appreciate and ‘get’ British politics. Presented with superb skill and depth by Carolyn Quinn, it’s 45 minutes of news, updates forecasts and explanations of what the hell has been happening in the past week, and what’s likely to happen in the week to come. Rarely does the show have front bench spokespeople for the parties, but there’s always an MP from the main parties, and often MPs from other parties as well. You get a feel for what the parties think without having to swallow the usual pre-packaged bullshit the official representatives of the parties spout. And it may be merely my own view, but I think you get a bit more honesty as well. There’s never been an episode when it’s been a waste of time listening, and more often than not I come away with a deeper appreciation of this thing or that political topic. There’s also a magazine element, where they’ll look back at history of Parliament, or of British politics. Superb from start to finish.

Piennaar’s Politics

Also a great show on British politics, this 45 minute show is far more of the ‘official spokesman’ type where front bench politicians put, and defend, the party’s official position. But worth it nonetheless for John Pienaar’s skillful demolition of that position. Pienaar gets away, week after week, with inviting politicians on, convincing them that it’ll be a cosy chat, and it’s only afterwards they realise just how much he took them apart. But he’s reasonable – play fair with him, he’ll play fair with you. Sadly, as the show demonstrates on a weekly basis, too many appear thinking – due to his manner – that Pienaar is an easy touch and that they can bullshit. They cant, and he usually shows them why not. Super research on his part often shows where politicians have reversed positions (or their parties have). If there’s any cautionary caveat, it’s that Pienaar appears to value determination on sticking to a position, despite the obvious flaws in that position, as something worthy. But always worth listening to.


More Or Less – behind the Statistics

I like numbers. I’ve always felt comfortable with them. As a concept as for what you can use them for, and how you can use them. I detest their misuse. And if any or all of the forgoing applies to you, you’re going to love More Of Less. Two versions (one for Radio 4, 28 minutes; the world service version is only 9 minutes.) Both are excellent and are often of the “we saw this statistic reported in the news: ‘82% of people named John have poor eyesight; here’s why that’s nonsense'” type. OK, that’s a trivial thing but what about “82 families own as much as ½ the population of the planet” or “a million people visited food banks in the past quarter”… More or Less takes a look at the numbers that surround us, the numbers which are reported, and checks out whether they’re accurate, if they’ve been reported accurately, or – sometimes – whether they’re just utter bullshit, because they’ve been misinterpreted, or the methodology is bullshit, or whether they’re accurate, but meaningless. Tim Harford usually presents – the fella who does the 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy I mentioned last week. Always excellent, always engaging, never boring. Seriously, the show is fun, in a way most people don’t believe numbers can be. Let them prove those nay-sayers wrong. 92% of people agree with me. (They don’t.)

Citizens of Nowhere

There are plenty of podcasts out there where a couple of comedians just chat about… stuff. Important stuff, maybe, but stuff nonetheless. And usually it’s something to do with comedy. To my mind, none of them do it with the cleverness, experience, smarts and just sheer anecdotal ability of Nick Doody and Carey Marx. Whether it’s antisemitism, or the Edinburgh Fringe, or comedy tropes, or whether it’s ‘funny’ to throw stuff at people, whether it’s justified protest or violence… they always make you think, and that they’re funny as hell as well only helps.

Partly Political Podcast

In no way a direct contrast to Citizens of Nowhere, this hour long podcast from comedian Tiernan Douieb concentrates on the comedy. Not a line he’d use to describe the show, but I’m reminded of the line once said about Weekending… takes a long hard look at the weeks news.. and pisses on it from a huge height. Tiernan is very funny, writes scathingly funny material about current affairs, and usually interviews someone – with various audio qualities, it has to be admitted – who knows a lot about… something. Whether it’s the junior doctors’ dispute with the Health Department, or refugees or international trade, the Northern Ireland abortion debate or more esoteric subjects like attack journalism and the specifics of foreign aid. The interviews are always clever and fun, and the ‘what’s happened this week?’ introductions are clever, funny, silly and biting.

Political Thinking

I’d never really thought of Robinson as an interviewer. He’s a great politics explainer and was a good political editor for the BBC, but he’s really very good as an interviewer of politicians and political figures, getting them to reveal a lot about their backgrounds, politics, their history and their outlook. You may not like everyone he interviews, but you can”t help but be fascinated by them and especially when Robinson gets them to acknowledge that they were wrong about something in the past. Not perfect interviews by any means, but most of them are very, very good,

Now three short ones, all from Radio 4, all bite-size chungs, perfect for a ten or fifteen minute walk to or from the shops. or


Inheritance Tracks

Simple thing: pick a song you’ve inherited from your parents and one you’d choose to pass on to your kids, or the next generation, anyway. And talk a bit about both songs and about why you inherited this one and pass on that one. The editing is superb, as you never hear the questions, just the answers, and so it’s entirely personal, the person talking to a nebulous ‘audience’, but it never feels like a performance. It sounds more like you’re listening to the middle of a chat between friends who’ve known each other for decades. There are hundreds of personalities and celebes who’ve taken part… and it’s just lovely radio.

A Point Of View

This took over the Letter from America slot after Cooke died and it’s basically half a dozen ‘thinkers’ – journalists, writers, philosophers, academics – in turn, one per week, taking about 12 minutes to set out a case for something, and giving their thoughts on the matter. Some of them, I’ll admit, I see who’s doing it, and skip that week, but several people who do it are flat out excellent. Will Self is superb at the job, talking about everything from walking, to euthanasia, to addressing the lies told by politicians. The occasional piece from US academics take the show from very good, to excellent, especially when they comment on British politics.


Exactly what it says on the tin. This is a quick 15 minute profile of someone in the news. Usually, with the odd comment from someone, or several someones, who’ve known them for years, attempting to explain how the person in the news got to be the person they are. Whether it’s a leading politician, someone who heads up one of the world’s biggest companies, or just a celebrity in the news. Great fun, clever writing and you do learn stuff about people you didn’t know before.

The penultimate post tomorrow. And, unless plans change, a biggie.

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 Tuesday so you’re no doubt expecting a couple of tales from the vault, two more more fast fictions.

Well, dear reader, you’re getting some old fiction, two stories, but not fast fictions; since this is the final week of the run, something a bit different.

Two stories from 2011, both a tad longer than the fast fiction format, but neither of which are long reads.

The first was written because it was Tuesday. No other reason.

The second was written to be originally published at midnight. Again, no other reason.

It’s Tuesday. Enjoy…



I bloody hate working on Tuesdays.

Tuesday is my usual day off, you see; a day when I can enjoy the fruits of my labours. On Tuesdays, every Tuesday, I relax and surround myself in the results of my endeavours.

Monday is my busiest day, usually. But not this week. Oh, I know, were I to look in my diary for yesterday, I’d see the notation indicating a meeting.

10:45am Mrs Johnston. Outside 13 Albermarle Street.

It’s there, still, written in clear black ink upon Monday’s page. On Mondays’s page, you understand, despite it having to be postponed until today.

It annoys me when people don’t turn up for meetings. After the effort I undertake in order to ensure the meeting goes to plan, and the satisfaction I take in planning a presentation, it annoys me. I plan it for days in advance, trying this opening and that upon myself in the mirror at home seeking to answer one simple question: which approach will garner me most sympathy?

For if I have their sympathy and trigger that need so many have merely to make life easier for someone else, then I’ve got them. Then I’ve captured their interest.

And the rest is usually easy.

But such planning requires precision and consistency from, you’ll understand, both parties. I research those with whom I’m meeting with carefully. Any changes in behaviour or attitude will perforce require changes in my presentation style and content.

Take Mrs Johnston, as I’m about to. She drops her children at three different schools, meets friends for coffee every day for about an hour (never less than 50 minutes, never more than 67) and then returns home. She then leaves to do the rounds of school pickups at 3:00.

So, if I want to get her attention, the best time is after leaving her friends, on the way home.

But yesterday, she apparently had a minor traffic accident, so she drove a different way home.

Which meant that I was forced to abandon the meeting, waste the rest of the day when I would have been skinning her, and today, when I should have been wearing her, relaxing and surrounding myself in her, I’m waiting outside 13 Albermarle Street, the bonnet on my car raised, rehearsing my approach for when her car appears.

I’ve wasted a whole 24 hours when I could have been enjoying my work.

Ah, her car is rounding the corner. Excuse me. I have to go to work.

Even though it’s a Tuesday.

(c) Lee Barnett, 2011

Now take a breath. In. Out. Take another.

Good. For to go from one person’s world to another needs a breath or two.

It’s no longer Tuesday. It matters not what day it is. For it is midnight…



I knew that it was midnight.

Though I carried no timepiece, I could tell that it was midnight, and I carried on walking.

Past what had once been busy shops, and what were now empty houses I continued my trek, walking.

Sometime before, I’d lost the need for sleep. Or had I? I no longer remembered sleeping, but sometimes, occasionally, I seemed to start suddenly as if waking from a light slumber. But the memory faded soon enough.

It was midnight.

I shifted the small backpack until it was more comfortable, and strode forward, kicking up dust with every step.

I slowed as I approached a large piece of rubble in my path, and then stepped around it. There was a brief moment of surprise at the lightening of the sky as the heavy clouds parted for just a moment and an unaccustomed feeling of warmth struck me before they closed again, and the world darkened once more.

A grunt of acknowledgement from my own mouth mildly surprised me as I rounded the edge of the building and saw the clock tower ahead, its hands permanently moulded to the clock-face.

The nuclear weapons had struck at precisely twelve o’clock, and every clock, watch, and electronic time-keeper had frozen at that moment.

I turned and looked behind me. Another town where no-one had survived.

What was that? A hundred and seven?

I paused at the town boundaries, muttered the usual regrets, and walked on. The next town was ahead, somewhere in the distance.

I knew I’d get there by midnight.

© Lee Barnett, 2011

We’re almost at the end now; three entries left in the run.

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.

Smear – unhelpful fact

‪    — ‬How to speak like a Corbynite: a helpful guide, Michael Deacon

When Theresa May announced in April 2017 that she planned to seek the House of Commons’ agreement to call a general election – hours after the message coming from ‘Number Ten’ had been no general election – I was far from the only person who viewed both the forthcoming campaign and election with dislike and distaste.

And, of course, viewed the eventual result drenched in the same sentiments.

Of course, May had on many previous occasions insisted that there’d not be an early general…

On the same day that the Commons voted to indeed hold an early general election, a lady who became known as ‘Brenda from Bristol’ famously summed it up for many: “You’re joking. NOT ANOTHER ONE?! Oh for God’s sake, I can’t, honestly – I can’t stand this.”

Indeed, her exasperation and frustration were shared by most of the people I knew; no one thought an election would solve anything. The government was trying to do the impossible and few thought that an election would make the impossible thing any less, y’know… impossible.

Well, no one other than Theresa May and her staff at Number Ten Downing Street, of course. And what do you know? It turned out that ‘everyone else’ was right and she, and they, were wrong.

So, yeah, I disliked the 2017 election. And I knew I would the moment it was called.

But I wasn’t dreading the election in the same way as I’m dreading the one we’re likely to have in the next year.

Whether it’ll be the first autumn/winter election we’ve had in almost fifty years, or whether it’ll take place in Spring 2020, an election is likely on the way. With an official working majority of one in the House of Commons, and an unofficial majority of who-the-fuck-knows-what-the-fuck-it-fucking-is – a technical parliamentary term, you understand – parliament is effectively paralysed.

Strictly speaking, of course, under the terms of the Fixed-terms Parliaments Act – a piece of legislation I naïvely supported when it was created – we already know the date of the next election.

It’ll be on 5th May 2022, five years after the previous election in 2017.

I don’t know anyone, however, who thinks that this pisspoor shitshow of a government and this toothless, impotent and incompetent parliament, will last until then. The FTPA does of course foresee situations, and permits a couple of circumstances, in which an election can take place earlier.

May used one of these in 2017 (the House of Commons votes by a two-thirds majority of all MPs) to get her early election. I find it fascinating, by the way, that it’s ⅔ of all MPs, as in you need 433 MPs – ⅔ of the 650 elected – to vote in favour, rather than merely ‘⅔ of MPs voting’. The authors of the Act really really wanted to ensure that both the government and the main opposition wanted an early election before getting one.

The other way an early election can, no must, be called is if a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the government is carried, and in the ensuing two weeks, no one – neither the current government nor the Opposition, nor anyone else – can command the ongoing confidence of the House.

So, yeah, under either one of those two circumstances – both of which I suspect we’re going to face in the next year – we have an early election.

Last week, I wrote about how anger often brings certainty. A certainty that’s unwarranted, to be sure, but certainty nonetheless.

I ended the piece with the following:

I’m dreading a general election. Honestly. One’s likely to occur this year, and if not this year, then next.

And I’m dreading it, and the campaign that leads up to it.

It doesn’t anger me. It doesn’t infuriate me. It scares me.

And I suspect, before this run of blog posts is done, I’ll write about why.

Ok, time to write about why.

Long time readers of this blog may remember the following three blog entries.

From May 2015… it’s my party and i’ll cry if I want to…

From July 2015… ABC: Anyone but Corbyn

From September 2015… congratulations, mr corbyn… and goodbye

In the first, I related how, after 30-odd years of adulthood with an intense interest in politics but somehow without joining a political party, I’d finally done so. I laid out why, where I stood politically, and why Labour was the party I’d joined.

Towards the end of that piece more than four years ago, I wrote the following:

I’m not suggesting that people who voted Tory are evil, nor that they have no compassion; merely that they were wilfully or otherwise ignorant of the policies the government now seeks to introduce. Because if they voted knowing full well the policies that will now be put before Parliament, then I honestly don’t know what to say.

It’s an old, and usually false, saw to say that “I haven’t left the party, the party left me”, but for me, this government has done that for me.

I can’t see how the Tories will move back to the centre-right ground, its natural home I’d venture to suggest, within the next fifteen to twenty years. Which means that it’s Labour for me unless or until they have a policy or party leadership that renders a potential Labour government as toxic to me as the Conservative Party now is.

Sadly, overwhelmingly sadly, history has shown me that’s possible. I just hope it doesn’t happen for a long, long time.

I’ll just repeat that last bit:

Which means that it’s Labour for me unless or until they have a policy or party leadership that renders a potential Labour government as toxic to me as the Conservative Party now is. Sadly, overwhelmingly sadly, history has shown me that’s possible. I just hope it doesn’t happen for a long, long time.

So, yes, I joined the Labour Party mere hours after it became obvious that David Cameron’s Conservative Party had won the 2015 election with a working majority; barely, but yeah, he had a working majority. And scarcely had the election results sunk in when the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, resigned.

How quickly did he resign? Well, my ‘welcome to the Labour Party’ email still had his photo attached, even though, by the time it arrived, he’d already resigned.

So, an hour or so after I joined, the Labour Party was already planning their next leadership election.

Nominations ran from [effectively] that moment until 15th June. And by then, I’d attended several constituency Labour Party (CLP) meetings, and quite enjoyed them.

The constituency in which I lived – Richmond Park – had never had a Labour MP; at the recent general election, the Labour vote had been at 12.3%. So it wasn’t exactly as if Richmond Park Constituency Labour Party ‘made a difference’ as to Labour’s position in the country. In truth, the seat had jumped back and forth between the Liberals/Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives for decades.

The CLP contained people from ‘the left’ of the Labour Party as well as people from the ‘right’ of the party, and all points in between, and had fairly vocal advocates of each position; in some ways, the make up of the local party was exactly as it should be; there were debates and some heated ones, but no more nor less than I’d expected, or wanted.

And then the leadership contest occurred. And everything changed.

I appreciate that as a new member, only a month or so into it, it’s kind of weird to say ‘everything changed’ when I only had two or three meetings under my belt.

But it’s true.

Everything changed. Where previously there had been heated debates, now there came nastiness, and allegations of cowardice, of callousness, or not being ‘true’ to Labour. Where there had been discussion and mild distaste for others’ positions, now there was utter contempt for the other position. And most of the nastiness and the contempt came from one faction within the CLP.

Because Jeremy Corbyn had entered the contest to be leader.

And while at that time, I had no doubt that he wouldn’t have approved of the nastiness, would in fact have decried the venom, which accompanied the positions taken by his advocates, I quickly realised that wasn’t the case. I came to the conclusion that while he might not have approved, he certainly had no issue with it.

Which brings me to the second of the posts above.

Now, I’d been aware of Jeremy Corbyn since the mid-1990s, I guess. At least I don’t remember paying much notice before that. I knew that an MP, a Labour MP, had invited convicted IRA members to the House of Commons after the IRA bombed a Brighton hotel and tried to assassinate the Prime Minister and a chunk of her cabinet, but I doubt I recalled that it was Corbyn who’d done so.

And I knew that a Labour MP had chaired a conference calling for the Labour Party to kick out (‘disaffiliate from’) Poale Zion (Great Britain) – the previous name of the Jewish Labour Movement – in the 1980s, but again, I didn’t recall it being Corbyn who was the Chair.

But when I ran CompuServe’s Jewish Forum, and helped run the UK Politics Forum, in the mid- to late-1990s, his name cropped up every so often, alongside that of Ken Livingstone, Paul Flynn, and a few others of similar political views. He was one of the ‘I see no reason to support the party leader just because he’s leader’ lot, the blatant hypocrisy of which is mildly amusing now, in retrospect.

And by 2015, I was well aware of his policy positions and his – at that stage, I still thought – complete and supreme indifference to others’, including his supporters’, overt and snide antisemitism.

I didn’t at that stage think that he was personally antisemitic, merely that he regarded antisemitism in others as… I dunno, as having a pimple on their nose, or crooked teeth, or having bad breath. Not ideal, perhaps, but certainly not a genuine problem, certainly not a deal-breaker. Their antisemitism, their blatant and clear antisemitism, was entirely irrelevant as to whether he supported that person, liked that person, campaigned for that person, called them ‘brother’ and ‘comrade’.

But I found myself more and more questioning my position, struggling to maintain it.

As more came out, as more evidence was revealed, of his wilfully ignoring the antisemitism of those who he supported, defended, campaigned for… I found it harder and harder to maintain my ‘he’s not antisemitic; he just doesn’t care if someone else is’ position.

But anyway, even if that position was accurate, as someone else asked me: would he ignore another form of racism? Would he accept it in his supporters, and in people he supported, if they didn’t like people of colour, say? Would he regard it as a deal breaker?

Because if the answers to those question are No, No, and Yes… well, then he’s treating Jews differently, discriminating against Jews… and there’s a word for that.

The hypocrisy became more obvious, and clearer, with every example. Here’s one: he utterly and unreservedly condemned anyone appearing on a platform with Nick Griffin, one time leader of the racist British National Party. There was no excuse, he maintained, for sharing a platform with him. “No one,” he said, “should be sharing a platform with an avowed racist and an avowed fascist.” Oddly, though, as Corbyn’s history showed time and time again, he had no problem at all sharing platforms with overt antisemites.

“Ah,” his supporters say, “he does that solely to challenge them.” Equally and appropriately oddly, there’s no record of his challenges. Funny that.

So I wrote that second post, laid out some issues I had with Corbyn, and said that I wouldn’t, couldn’t, vote for him, and that if anyone did, they were siding with his views on antisemitism. Or – at the very least – they were saying ‘I don’t care’ about his views on antisemitism and on Jews.

One thing that started to piss me off, and my upset only grew, was that he never criticised his own supporters for antisemitism; he never told them not to, or at least not in any way that supporters or critics took seriously, or were meant to. He spoke about antisemitism – once he had to – only ever in the abstract, criticising antisemitism and antisemitic acts without condemning those who carried them out, without calling those who committed those acts, said those things, posted those images, antisemitic.

And then I started noticing that he never condemned anyone as antisemitic. He’d say they were wrong, that he disagreed with them, but not that they were antisemitic, not that they were antisemites. It was kind of like watching someone condemn a lynching without criticising the KKK as racists. (NB the ex-Grand Wizard of the KKK openly praised and praises Corbyn re claiming his election as leader was a sign that people were recognising “Zionist power” and “Jewish establishment power”.)

A month later, I got the opportunity to speak to Corbyn, on a Radio 4 phone in they held with all the Labour Party leadership candidates.

I came away from the phone call even more convinced that at best – at best! – he didn’t give a shit about others’ antisemitism. He cared that no one identified him as an antisemite, but his supporters?

He claimed, repeatedly, that any antisemites didn’t speak for him, but as others have observed equally repeatedly, but with far more justification, the antisemites are convinced that he speaks for them.

And as to whether he personally was antisemitic?

Well, I wrote the following hypothetical offer to those who claim he’s not.

A right-wing MP, proud to be on the hard right of the tory party never makes an overly racist statement himself… but platform shares with known racists, hosts them in parliament, says it’s his pleasure & honour to host his friends & it’s a pity the govt banned other white pride racists (he thinks that a big mistake). He gives tv interviews to affiliates of white power organisations, and defends white pride people as “honoured citizens” “dedicated to peace and justice”.

This man on the hard right of the Tory party makes statements against racism, but only in the abstract, condemning lynchings but never criticising those who carry them out. The closest he comes is saying in interviews that he doesn’t always agree with them.

This right wing Tory MP says a man who wrote that “blacks are racially inferior & want to take over the white race” is an honourable man and he looks forward to having him for tea at the Commons.

What would you say of this right wing Tory? Racist or no?

(And if you’re British, and the name John Carlisle springs to mind reading that, well, you’re not alone…)

But here’s the thing: all of the stuff in that hypothetical above? There are direct parallels to stuff Corbyn’s done, said and advocated.

And that was before blatant, clear, evidence started coming later out of his personal use of antisemitic tropes.

(And as previous posts in this run have shown, use of an age old antisemitic trope, a classic sterotype, used to demonise Jews for centuries doesn’t cease to be antisemitic merely because someone says ‘zionist’ or ‘israel’ instead of ‘Jew‘.)

But anyway, Corbyn won the leadership, convincingly. Wasn’t even close.

And, as I’d discussed with the chair and secretary of the CLP, I resigned from the party, four months after I’d joined it. I quit a few hours after having been in the hall watching him win the leadership. And I wrote about why here, in the third post above; in sadness, slightly scared, but mainly upset.

I resigned because I could see what was about to happen, what was going to happen.

I resigned because I knew from that moment that antisemitism would no longer be an automatic deal-breaker for membership in Labour, nor even to hold appointed or elected position within the Labour Party.

I resigned because I couldn’t stomach the idea of belonging to a party led by a man who welcomed antisemites, who campaigned for them, defended them, supported them.

And, since 2015, he’s continued to do so. He’s continued to defend antisemites, continued to campaign with antisemites, continued to defend antisemites, to call them comrade and brother, and to let his advocates, his surrogates, promote antisemitic conspiracy theories, to trivialise antisemitism, to allege conspiracism… and not done a single, meaningful thing to stop them.

Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected Leader in 2016.

And despite losing that general election he won in 2017, he’s still there.

And he’s likely – despite the huge number of times over the past two years that I’ve been assured otherwise – to be there, leading Labour, at the next election.

Because every time more evidence comes out of his personal actions, his own defences of antisemites, there’s always an excuse.

  • “No, no, he didn’t mean that,” his defenders will say, after previously maintaining that he’s a decent honest man who always says what he means, and means what he says.
  • “No, no, he didn’t lie; you misunderstood his statement.”
  • “No, no, the moment he found out that Paul Eisen was a holocaust denier, he stopped attending his [non-holocaust related] events. The photos of him attending afterwards? Smears!”
  • “No, no, he doesn’t agree with the person who promoted the Blood Libel; he just defended and campaigned for him”
  • “No, no, he didn’t say ‘Jews’ don’t understand irony despite living all their lives in Britain, he said ‘zionists’ don’t even though that made no sense whatsoever…”
  • “No, No, he doesn’t agree with the antisemitic statements made… and he said so at the time; It’s just an unfortunate coincidence that no records exist of that…”

And “how dare you attack an anti-racist?”

Yeah. Right. An anti-racist (except when it comes to antisemitism) who’s spent his life speaking out against racism (except when it comes to antisemitism) and who condemns racists (except when it comes to antisemites) and who called racists… racist! (except when it comes to antisemites)

And Labour continues to re-admit antisemitic member, after antisemitic member, continues to lift the suspensions of antisemitic councillors and activists, and those who do get expelled? Labour never says they’re ejected because they’re antisemitic.

And activists, Corbyn fans, continue to blame Jews for the antisemitism and claim it’s mostly malicious claims.

And that’s mostly why I’m dreading the election. (See, you didn’t think I’d get back to that, did you? Ah, ye of little faith.)

Because after four years of Corbyn-led Labour, I just don’t believe that anyone with the slightest interest, or who’s paid the slightest bit of attention, is unaware of Corbyn’s at best apathy towards, and supreme indifference to, other’s antisemitism, and his personal complicity and use of antisemitism. I just don’t believe it.

Which means that if people are voting Labour they either a) don’t care about all of that, b) they actively agree with it, or c) they think it’s a price worth paying to get Corbyn into Downing Street. None of those fills me with anything other that unfettered dread and unmitigated fear.

Corbyn supporters aren’t short of fucking good reasons to not vote for the Tories. Hell, I agree with most, the overwhelming majority, of those reasons. They’re very good reasons to not vote Conservative.

But I’ve got a pretty fucking good reason to not vote Labour while Corbyn et al run the shop.

And that’s mostly why I’m dreading the election.

Before any election campaign has even started, I’ve already been accused that by not voting Labour, by not trying to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister, I’m choosing ‘the jews’ over the poor, the disabled, the ill… which of course ignores that there are poor Jews, ill Jews, disabled Jews.

Before any election campaign has even started, I’ve already been accused of being a paid Israeli agent, of knowing that Corbyn’s a decent, honest man, and of maliciously making up claims of antisemitism inside Labour.

During Corbyn’s tenure as party leader, I’ve been told that even if I believed Labour was antisemitic ‘head to toe’ (not a claim I’ve made) that as a Jew I should still vote Labour “because the Tories are worse”. Think about that for a moment: I was told that, as a Jew, I should vote for an antisemitic party.

Through the looking glass? We’re through a whole fucking factory of mirrors.

And that’s mostly why I’m dreading the election.

Because while, right now, I might – just about – be able to handle the idea of someone I know and like voting Labour, I genuinely don’t know if I can handle, if I could handle, people I know and like advocating others to vote Labour, working for Labour MPs, campaigning for Labour, campaigning to put Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten Downing Street.

It’ll end friendships. It will damage, fracture, and end some of my friendships, people I’ve been friends with for years… in some cases, decades.

Because at best, they’ll effectively be saying “I don’t care about antisemitism against you and yours, budgie” “or well, yes, it’s not nice but it’s a price worth paying to get Corbyn and Labour into Number Ten”.

And at worst they’ll be saying “I agree with him when he uses antisemitic tropes about ‘hidden hands’ of influence and when he supports antisemites.”

But yeah, that’s why I’m dreading the next election.


It’s Tuesday tomorrow. If you’ve been following the blog through the run, you know what’s occuring tomorrow. if not, then all I’ll say is the usual… which is, of course, “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.

There’s a lovely exchange in the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special

The Doctor: [Pointing to frozen Abigail Pettigrew] Who’s she?

Kazran Sardick: Nobody important.

The Doctor: Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. You know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important before.

The exchange occurred to me when looking around for something to write about today and not coming up with anything. I’ve six days’ – including today’s – worth of posts to complete this fifty-five day run of blog posts, and I already knew what’s going to be in four of them.

Which left me today’s and one more day. And… I blanked.

Had to happen sooner or later, I guess… and although I started a post, I quickly realised that it needed a bit of research to do it properly (which I’ll do tonight and tomorrow morning) so that’s tomorrow’s post taken care of.

(Just in the causes of housekeeping and transparency, what I have planned at the moment:
Monday’s post will be on UK politics, particularly why I’m dreading a general election, which I promised at the end of last Monday’s post
Tuesday’s will be the final couple of fast fictions from the vaults
Wednesday’s should be about podcasts
Thursday’s is planned to be the delayed ‘part the fourth’ about antisemitic imagery
Friday’s… well, that’ll be the final post in the run, and will probably be a hotchpotch: some thoughts about blogging in eneral, something about Edinburgh, and something… well, you’ll have to wait and see.)

But back to ‘important people’.

I promised you way back – when I started this run of entries – a new story, a new piece of fiction.

I’ve never delivered on that promise so far.

So here’s something new. A story barely anyone has read before.

Here’s a story about someone important.

Kind of.


Goodbye, and Farewell

“Do you mind if I sit?”

I looked up under the brim of my cap at the woman who’d asked the question, then lightly waved towards the empty chairs.

“Is that a yes or a no?” she asked, tilting her head slightly to one side.

“Feel free,” I said

“So you don’t mind?” she concluded, “I have your permission?”

“Sure,” I said, and gestured to the chairs again, noticing for the first time that several of the other tables outside the coffee shop were free. Oh great, I thought, she wants to talk to me.

“Why thank you,” the woman said, then carefully positioned her cup of tea on the table, placed her full shopping bag by the side of the chair – her chair, now – and hefted herself into one of the chairs. There was an audible sigh and then she smiled at me. Some smiles are pleasant, some unpleasant, and their nature has more to do, I’ve found, with the person upon whose features they are laid than the matter at hand. This woman’s smile was… empty. There was no emotion there, nor in her eyes. Or at least in the one of them, as the other was milky. The smile slowly faded and what was left was equally bereft of meaning.

“And here we are,” she said.

I offered what I thought was a polite smile and returned to my paperback. For a few minutes, I was aware of her breathing and the occasional slurp of liquid. Then, “good book?”

I raised my eyes from the book, glanced in her general direction for a moment, but only for that long. “Yes,” I replied, “yes it is.” Then looked away quite deliberately.

Silence again, then, “Oh good,” followed by “you should always have something good to read, don’t you agree?”

I folded the book over my finger and said “well, yes, it helps if one has something…”

“I didn’t say ‘one should have something good to read’,” she interrupted. “I said ‘you should…’ And I’m pleased you have something to read. Very pleased. Oh yes.”

“I’m so pleased that you’re very pleased,” I said without looking at her, not quite irritated but enough to edge the words with a patina of sarcasm.

“Oh you are, are you?” She asked. Her voice was flat now, but I didn’t care. I just wanted peace and quiet and I was achieving neither.

I opened the book again, noted the page number and closed it. I drained my coffee and pushed my chair back. OK, enough, I’d find somewhere else to read. Then a shadow fell over the table and an old large man, in that way buildings have of being old and large, was by my side. He was tall and wide, his complexion that of a drinker, pale red which I guessed matched the original colour of what remained of his hair. Almost entirely white now, there were faint stains of ginger.

“May I sit?”

I almost said I was just leaving but caught the sudden look of intense interest on the face of the already seated woman and paused, unsure why. “You may sit,” I said after a moment, feeling foolish, and watched the man somehow fit onto one of the chairs, next to the woman.

“How are you?” the man asked the woman, his deep brown eyes moving away from me for the briefest of moments before returning to focus on me. His head didn’t move during this, just his eyes; neither did it move even the slightest in acknowledgment as the woman in a barely animated tone complained about the cost of hot beverages and the difficulties of finding a good book.

“That’s good,” the man said when she had finished, or at least paused for breath.

“That’s good,” he repeated.

“Mmmm,” she said.

I pushed the chair back into place, my mind already on other things. “OK, goodbye,” I felt obliged to say before I left, and was surprised when they both expressed apparent astonishment at the words, each for different reasons.

“Are you leaving? So soon? I’d hoped…” the woman asked.

“Are you sure you don’t mean ‘farewell’?” the man asked.

“Yes” and “if you prefer”, I replied to each in their turn, almost but not quite shaking my head.

“It’s not what I prefer, no, no, no.” the man said, his voice calm but determined.”But they would be the right words to use. Yes, yes, of course yes. Wishing us ‘goodbye’ is… inappropriate; surely you of all must know that.” The man’s ruddy face had coloured, darkening, and I was sure I’d offended him somehow, but could not imagine how.

“All right.” I said, “Farewell, if that’s what you think is… appropriate.”

“What would be appropriate would be for you to sit down,” came a new voice from behind me. I turned my head and saw a young man, maybe a teenager, possibly slightly older, was standing there. He was taller than me, a little, and shared that same look as the others, one of polite interest that meant nothing, before I had in some way or another upset them.

“Thank you, but I think…”

“No, thank you,” he interrupted me and smiled a meaningless smile at the others who in turn reflected a smile back at them. “I take it that I can sit…” And he did so, without waiting for me to reply.

I tried to leave or at least I thought I did; instead I pulled out the chair I’d recently occupied and was soon sat again.

“That’s fine, just fine,” the newcomer said. “Now, introductions, I think…?” He nodded at the woman.

I opened my mouth to object but for some reason heard myself saying, “All right, if you insist”.

Again, the younger man nodded in perfect agreement. “Yes, just fine. You should know who we are at some point, I suppose.”

The woman lifted a hand to her ear and scratched it before sighing and lifting her teacup to sip at it. “Livvy,” she said. And sipped again.

There was silence for a few minutes then the newcomer, with a good-natured tone in his voice that sounded entirely temporary, prompted her further.

“My name is Livvy,” she eventually continued. “And many, many years ago, so many years ago, I lived in a garden.”

There was silence again, and I desperately wanted to leave these three strange people, but all I could do was listen, and watch and occasionally make a sound of polite interest.

The old man scratched her other ear and said “Go on, Livvy. You know what to say. Come on now.” His tone was kind but firm.

“I know,” the woman said, batting his hand away. “I know.” She looked at me, her milky eye pulsing slightly. “I had to leave home. You know how it is.”

I did. I’d loved my family but there was never any true affection between us. And I’d been bored with my home town. As soon as I’d been able to, I left for the city, and when I’d had my fill of that place, I moved onto another, and another.

“I couldn’t stay,” she said, her voice growing quiet, but more confident. “I was his first, you see, and when…” She shook her head, “well, things were never the same after that.”

“What happened to the father?” I heard myself and there was a moment of genuine laughter from all three; unpleasant, harsh laughter that cut through me.

The younger man patted Livvy’s hand. “Tell us the rest,” he said. ‘Tell him the rest.”

“I had it hard after I left. Things were never the same.”

“You already said that,” the large man said and was rewarded by a look of spite from the woman. “Yes, I know. I have to say it again so he’ll…” she pointed at me. “After all, you never listened to me.”

“Yes, I did,” he said, after a long moment.

She lifted her hands to her mouth, then swallowed. He looked back at me. Then she said, “We had children, who loved each other.”

That must have been nice, I thought; I had a brother. He was ok, but a bit of a creep. Anything to please mummy and daddy. You know the sort.

“And then… I lost them both.” A tear rolled down her cheek, then another. She wasn’t sobbing; this was a pain from long ago and while she mourned, she no longer grieved.

There was a polite cough from the younger man sat next to me. “Yes, well, that’s all well and good, but…” He ignored a sudden look of pure hatred from the man. Interesting, I thought, and wondered why it would be so.

The older man moved about on the chair as if suddenly uncomfortable. “Red,” he said.

“No,” the younger man interjected, “your real…”

“Red will do for our purposes,” the old man said, firmly and his tone brooked no dissent. His rheumy eyes focussed on each of us in our turn, daring us to disagree.

The younger man looked almost amused at this, but then waved a hand in his fellow’s direction as if it was no longer important.

“I too had a family, once. Until I threw them away.”

The bluff matter of factness of his statement was shocking given his kindness to the woman as she had struggled to speak.

“I care for no-one and want nothing other forget. I tried…” His aged voice faded for a moment before regaining some strength. “I tried, Lord knows I tried,” I possibly might have imagined a momentary smile then, “until they snuck back when I least expected them to.” He stared at me, a deep long stare. “That’s the thing about memories, you see. They never leave. They hide, waiting for you in the darkened alleyways of your soul.”

My head was hurting. My body ached, suddenly. My tongue felt heavy and under the cap, my scalp itched. My hand crept upwards for the briefest of moments before I caught the amused eye of the younger man and I placed my hand on the table. I didn’t want to show weakness in front of him. It felt incredibly important that I not do so.

The older man was looking in the distance. I wondered whether it was miles or years he was looking through then a meaty hand slammed down on the table, just missing mine. “This is important, boy.”

“OK,” I said, not understanding why.

“Goodbye? You dared to wish me goodbye?” His voice grew louder and his complexion darker. Even his hair seemed to grow redder as his anger expressed itself. “You?”

“Calm down… Red, he didn’t know,” the younger man said, and the older man’s anger subsided, slightly. “He could have, he should have,” then his upset appeared again, but in the form of irritation. “It’s not fair he doesn’t know. He must know.”

“And that’s why we’re here,” the youngster replied.

The woman spoke for the first time since Red had… the word ‘testified’ sprung to mind, but I didn’t know why. Almost casually, too casually, she asked me “do you know the difference between goodbye and farewell?”

I shook my head then said “I’d have thought they were the same thing. ‘Good’. ‘Well’. They’re the same kind of thing.”

“But ‘bye’ doesn’t mean the same as ‘fare’, does it?” There was a sudden craftiness to her voice I disliked and I turned away from her, back towards the old man named Red.

“Listen to her,” he said, with barely restrained fury. “Listen to…” He caught himself and finished “just listen to her.”

Livvy leaned forward. “Farewell is a wish that the other person ‘fares’, that is travels or experiences, ‘well’, so a hope they experience good fortune. Goodbye doesn’t mean that. No, it doesn’t mean that at all.” She giggled slightly, a jarring sound.

“All right,” I said.

“No,” the young man said, “not all right at all. She’s quite correct. Goodbye is a contraction. You know what a contraction is?”

“Yeah, ok, whatever,” I said and once again tried to leave. The man placed his hand on my shoulder. It burned and I pulled myself away.

“You’re staying right here,” he said, not impolitely but as a statement of fact. “For the moment, anyway. So, you’ve met Livvy and Red,” he said. “I’m Sonny.”

“Hardly how I’d describe you,” I said, surprised at myself.

To my greater surprise, he laughed; he seemed to find it genuinely funny.

“That’s good,” he said, “that’s clever. But you were always so clever, weren’t you? Not sunny,” he pointed at the sky, “Sonny’s my name, well, nearly, anyway, and as much as you’re getting from me at the moment.”

“Let me guess, you had a family as well,” I said. I was angry at him now, angry at all of them. And my head hurt.

“I did.”

“Going to tell me all about them, are you?”

“No,” he said. Just that. “No.”

There was another long pause before he said, “you are.”

He leaned forwards, placing his elbows on the table, and steepled his hands. “Livvy mentioned contractions a moment ago. You’re not an unintelligent fellow. Of what do you think ‘goodbye’ could possibly be a contraction?”

I didn’t know. My head felt like it was splitting open. And they sat there, Livvy and Red looking at me patiently, their demeanour calm, Sonny’s condescending and irritating. I wanted to hit him.

And I didn’t know why.

And then I did. Suddenly.

And I knew who Livvy was. And who Red was. And ‘Sonny’.

“Hello Abel,” I said.

“Well it took you long enough,” my brother said, his condescension in full swing. He always had been an irritating little bastard. Quite literately since our parents never formally married.

My father looked well for his years, I suppose, but I’d never met anyone else as old so who knew? I idly wondered when my mother had lost her eye.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“Just to remind you. They,” he gestured around us, “may have forgotten you, but we haven’t. And never will. And neither has He.”

I reached under my cap and scratched The Mark. “I’ve not forgotten,” I said, almost petulantly.

“Sure you have,” he said, “otherwise you’d have realised it was time to move on. You’ve been here too long, and you’ll get caught. You’re getting sloppy, brother.” He looked towards the coffee shop, the empty coffee shop, the one with the CLOSED sign on it. “The police will discover them in the morning, you know. And you can’t get caught. Too much to explain.”

I laughed for the first time. “And that’s why He sent you? Because He doesn’t want me to have to explain why no one can harm me?”

“That’s why he sent me. Mother and Father came…” He paused, and pain flashed over his features “…because they missed you.” He sat back in his chair, the smugness once again radiating from him. “Oh, you can go now.”

I stood and walked away without looking back.

The last thing I heard was my mother saying “God be with you, son.”

I don’t think she meant it as a curse. I’ve already got a bigger one to carry around.

© Lee Barnett, 2019

See you tomorrow, with 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.

Last time this 55 minus run, one final Saturday Smile.

Long before I started the countdown blogs, every so often, on a Saturday, I’d put up some YouTube videos or some single panel editorial cartoons, or even some ‘funny newspaper headlines’… some silliness, anyway.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant. Indeed, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

And after the week we’ve all had, we deserve much silliness; so here’s six bits of silliness.


Most love songs are all about the wonder, the majesty of Love. Here’s Howard Reid, on the other hand, with A Dull Practical Love Song

And Nick Doody with his A Mediocre Love Song

I love Time In A Bottle as a song. It’s just about perfect. The only thing that could improve it is a muppets version. So here’s the muppets’ version.

And while we’re talking about great songs, here’s Cher with The Shoop Shoop Song.

An old favourite, for those who haven’t seen it… and for those who just wish to watch it again: Pigeon Impossible

A less silly one from Mitch this week, but equally important; I pull this out whenever there’s an election coming up, but it’s always relevant. Have you registered to vote? well, you should, shouldn’t they, Mitch?

See you tomorrow, with 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.

OK, on the past few weeks, I’ve written about stuff I like re-reading or rewatching, about individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, I’ll happily rewatch.

But given how much audio I listen to, it’s kind of surprising to me that I’ve not mentioned that at any point… No, not albums; I rarely listen to a whole album. Very occasionally, but only very occasionally.

If I listen to music, odds are it’s my favourite songs from an artist, or a soundtrack if I’m listening to an album.

The stuff on repeat that I listen to is often adaptations of books and plays. I’ve listened to the Radio 4 version of Lord Of The Rings so many times… much my favourite, and the Radio 4 versions of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy are not necessarily my favourite versions, but damn, they’re both very good.

Or podcasts. (What the BBC for the longest time insisted on calling ‘downloads’, which makes sense since their podcasts are usually downloadable versions of radio shows that have been previously broadcast on the network)

Note: these aren’t the podcasts I listen to when a new episode is released. There are some I listen to regularly, whenever new episodes are released, and I’ll talk about them next week.

The list below contains the podcasts I’ll save once listened to, and then I’ll listen to them again, on another occcasion. And again. And again.

And I realised earlier this week that I’ve got at least ten.

So why not?

Oh, by the way, the titles and images are linked to the Apple podcasts. Obviously other podcast apps and stores are available. But I trust that if you’ve read so far, you know how to find podcasts.…

OK then. In no particular order:



When I first got online, back in the distant and now ancient times of the mid-1990s, I found a home on CompuServe. And once there, I learned about trolls. All of the above is true, and entirely useless these days since the word meant something different back then. A troll wasn’t in my experiences back then someone who disparaged a single person, nor someone who posted obscene messages about someone, nor someone who had a political point – legitimate or otherwise – to make. They were shit-stirrers, people who came into the Jewish Forum to proselytise, who went into the Police Forums to claim all police were bastards, who went into comics forums to claim all comics people were immature babies… And as a general rule of thumb, although there were many of them, they weren’t ‘a group’, with a single aim, other than to disrupt. There were plenty of words to use for people who did post racism and homophobia and who did target individuals, but it wasn’t ‘troll’. But as I say, that was in the dim and distant past. Trolls these days seek out people of an opposing view and shit on them; whether it’s by posting racism/antisemitism, or just because they don’t like a celebrity’s political position, or religion, or that they’re gay, or trans.

Tracy Ann Oberman is an actress. (She was in Eastenders, and Doctor Who, and Friday Night Dinner, and plenty of other things, but if you’re reading this, you’ll probably recognise her from those.) She’s Jewish, and a few years ago, the trolls, the antisemites took objection to her saying ‘enough. I will not put up with this any more’. She’s got experience of trolls, and this podcast – about 40 minutes per episode – is her interviewing others who’ve been trolled. How do they deal with it? What do they think of their trolls? Is there any commonality? Is there anything to learn from others’ experiences? Have you ever trolled yourself? And is it better to block, or mute. And why? They’re always fascinating discussions – yeah, discussions more than interviews, to be fair. In the main because I find myself pondering the same questions, partyciley the ‘block or mute?’ one. My own answer for that is simple: whichever I think will piss off the other person more. Tracy Ann talks to Luciana Berger and Gary Liniker in one episode and their completely different ways of handling it are fascinating to listen to. (Liniker deliberately blocks on the ground that ‘you no longer deserve to read my feed. I want you to know that you’ve been blocked. Berger on the other hand mutes, so they waste their time unknowingly whingeing into the ether…) Other guests include Frances Barber, David Baddiel journalist Oz Katerji, and Al Murray.

The History of Rome

I don’t know when I first learned about Rome. Probably at school, when I learned about the emperors. Then, later, I discovered the tv series (and bought the book) of I, CLAVDIVS. And was fascinated but no more. Then, a few years ago, someone recommended this podcast to me. And I was hooked. 180 or so short-ish episodes, it starts out at about 15 minutes per episode but end up at about half an hour per show. It commences with the legend of the founding of Rome, and through episode after episode tells you the legend, what bits are true, or true-ish anyway, and what’s just pure fiction. You’re 50 episodes through it before we even get to Augustus, and not a minute has been wasted. Mike Duncan is an engaging presenter, sticks to what’s known, or what’s come down through history anyway, and only occasionally editorialises. And it’s because they’re so occasional that when they come, he makes them matter. His views on the ‘wicked stepmother’ trope attached to Livia are worth listening to. As is his that story about “That story about this general? That may sound familiar? Yeah, it didn’t happen… instead the noble and heroic feats of Lucius Liminus that took place 300 years earlier were attached to this fella because a) Rome needed a hero and b) hardly anyone remembered Liminus,..”) The podcast is educational, informative and entertaining. I listen to it at least once every couple of years.

Sport and the British

I’m not a sporty person. Not only do I not take part in sport, nor do I watch much sport. I really don’t like it that much at all. (And yes, before you ask, it’s a lot to do with how I encountered it at school. Shudder.) So why do I love this podcast – 30 episodes of about 13 minutes each – that Clare Balding did for the BBC in 2012 preparing for the London Olympics? Because they play a glorious trick on the listener. It may be called Sport and the British, but there’s precious little actual… y’know, sport occurring in it. There’s the occasional sound effect, sure. But in the main, it’s a history podcast, that happens about be about the history of sport. And it’s fantastic. Covering dozens of sports, and sporting fixtures, it shows how sports started, how they developed, why they developed in the way they did, introducing the listener to names they might have faint memories of, and explaining why that’s so. And covering subjects such as the splits between professional and amateur, between men and women, between sports created for adults and sports that developed from schools. And throughout, where the British influenced, where British influence remains, and where it no longer does. The perfect length for a series like this, I recommend it to everyone, sports lover or no.

50 Things That Made The Modern Economy

I mentioned Mike Duncan as an engaging host. And he is, but he’s an aloof statue compared to Tim Harford, The Financial Times‘ Undercover Economist. Presenter of Radio 4s More Of Less, about the use and misuse of numbers. This podcast is fairly self-explanatory. Harford gives a potted history of things that affect (more than ‘made’, although it’s a moot point often) the modern economy. Sometimes the affect is obvious – the barcode, banking, paper money, the contraceptive pill, tax havens; sometimes the item chosen is a bit ‘huh?’ But Harford takes you through it step by step until you realise the item – the Haber-Bosch process, the shipping container, the disposable razor, pornographers, the spreadsheet – has very bit as much a consequence on the modern economy as… well, as the humble brick or double- entry bookkeeping. It’s entertaining, informative and you learn a shed load of new information every 12 minute episode. Thoroughly recommended. (We’re on season 2, right now, 50 more things, and it’s every bit as good as season 1.)

The Reith Lectures Archive

The Reith Lectures started in 1948, and were commissioned by the BBCto mark the contribution made by Lord Reith, the BBC’s first director-general. Every year, the BBC invite a leading figure to deliver a series of four or five lectures on the radio. And they’re glorious. My personal favourites, which I’ve listened to so many times are the 2003 lectures by neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran about The Emerging Mind, but even in the past few years, you’ve had Grayson Perry on Playing To The Gallery, Stephen Hawking on Do Black Holes Have No Hair, and this year’s by Jonathan Sumpter on Law and the Decline of Politics were among the best I’ve heard. Each lecture’s about half an hour, and there’s often a Q&A afterwards, which is always interesting. My favourite columnists, my favourite pundits, are the ones who make me think, whether or not I agree with them. These lectures always make me think. Download and enlighten yourself on stuff you’ve never thought of… you won’t regret it. 

Bag Man

Rachel Maddow is my favourite US presenter on US politics. A self-confessed policy wonk, her nightly tv show is fantastic… if you’re interested in US politics. And the same applies to her first podcast. It’s about a US Vice President caught up in a pay-for-play scandal; corruption. corruption at the highest level of US government… while the President is also caught up in obstruction of justice and Watergate. I’m a student of Watergate and yet I was completely unaware of most of what Maddow lays out in this seven part documentary about Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s first VP. The episodes – about 40 minutes each – are gripping, contain interviews with many of the people who were tracking down the corruption and set the scene superbly. Not a sentence is wasted. Maddow doesn’t treat it nor present it as a thriller, but with the material herein she could have. It was a wise decision not to do so. The mixture of matter of fact presentation contrasted with the shock felt by the investigators as they unconverted more and more… contrasted again by the White House – consumed with Watergate – having to deal with this as well? Beautifully laid, out superbly presented. A slice of recent-ish American history you didn’t know about, but really should know.

This, by the way, is the only podcast series in this list that I listened to, then immediately listened to the run again, to catch what I missed, or hadn’t realised how important something was, the first time.

David Baddiel Tries To Understand

I like David Baddiel. I like him on Twitter; I like his work, his writing. And he was very kind to me once when I needed some advice. That said he’s an idiot. He freely admits as much in this series of 15 minute episodes when he tries to understand… something. What? Well… Electricity, say. How it works. Why it doesn’t fall out of the the sockets. How it’s created, and how it gets from the generator station to his computer. Or ‘derivatives’. The financial instruments. What the hell are they? And when people buy them, how do they operate? Or Wifi. Or ‘the cloud’. Or The US Electoral system. Or Bitcoin. Or The Kardashians. What are they? Why do people care? Why should people know?

Either way, David tries to understand them. Some of the episodes are about things I know about. It’s a useful check for me, to know whether the subject of the episode – treated exactly the same as in others – is explained correctly. It is. Sometimes David does begin to understand. Sometimes he doesn’t. They’re fun to listen to, and you too might understand something you previously didn’t. Like TV broadcasting; how does the tv show get from the studio to your tv? Or crying? Why do we cry?

All the subject are suggested by people on Twitter. David sorts through them and then picks subjects that a) he doesn’t understand, b) he thinks the audience might not either. Then he is.. educated. And finally he explains it back to the person who asked, sometimes with more success than on other occasions.

The Mitch Benn Music Podcast

Not a surprise in the least, this one, is it? I’ve previously mentioned The Distraction Club. In part, Mitch and the others set it up because you don’t tend to see more than one musical comedy act on a comedy bill. It’s as if promoters think all musical comedy acts do the same material, have the same style, are the same. The Distraction Club is a comedy evening that puts the lie to those views. And this podcast does the same. Mitch puts out a request on Twitter: send me original comedy songs. Only two rules; you must own the rights to the song, and no filking, no ‘funny words to someone else’s tune’, a derivation of the first rule, to be fair. And then Mitch puts together a dozen of the best he’s been sent, links them, and puts out an episode. And it’s great. It’s funny, silly, smart as hell and you get to listen to comedy songs you won’t have heard before.

The Moral Maze

This is probably the closest I get to the original ‘one-offs’ that this series of posts started as. As there are episodes of those show that I can relisten to repeatedly, while others I listen to once, then never again. But the show itself is clever, and at least until relatively recently, provides as much light as heat into a moral discussion on everything from ‘should we trade with other countries, despite their human rights’ abuses’, ‘is religion more important than treating everyone with respect?’, ‘the right to offend vs the right not to be abused’, the morality of leadership’, ‘what IS the moral duty of MPs?’ And so much more. The moral arguments about abortion, the death penalty, is it moral to lie for the ‘right’ reasons? The morality of international aid, of equality, of taking a holiday… of the public sector. Of social housing, of the welfare state, of war.

Four panelists quiz four ‘expert witnesses’ on the morality of their positions.

It’s rarely anything other than fascinating. And often makes you ponder the morality of your own position.

Round Britain Quiz

There are three Radio 4 quizzes that share this podcast, and they’re broadcast consecutively. Brain of Britain, I’ll occasionally listen to when it’s broadcast but only occasionally. Counterpoint – a music quiz – I’ll even less occasionally listen to; it’s really not my thing. But Round Britain Quiz, I’ll listen to whenever it’s on, and I’ve saved previous series to listen to for pleasure. The questions are fiendish, the answers complicated, and the irritation of the contestants at themselves when they missed a clue, or just couldn’t find the right word, or couldn’t remember who wrote that, or sung. this, or acted in the other… Glorious.

Something different tomorrow. It’s Saturday so the last of the Saturday smiles. And it should be a good one as well…

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.

Some maintain that it’s unfair to accuse a politician of lying, because lies require the intention to speak or write an untruth. I agree with that second bit, but not always with the first.

And, yes, with some politicians, some falsehoods, it’s difficult if not impossible for a member of the public to know whether the politician did know they were being untruthful. A common phrase these days is ‘you can’t see into their soul’.

True. With many public figures, politicians among them, I’ve no wish to see into their soul. Not without industrial strength disinfectant handy for afterwards.

So, yes, with some politicians, some untruths, it is genuinely difficult to know whether the politician did know they were promoting bullshit.


Some… not all.

And we’re under no obligation to give a political a benefit of the doubt they no longer deserve if they’ve repeatedly made a claim, and the claim has been repeatedly and comprehensively debunked, proven false, taken apart, taken out back and shot.

I entitled this blog entry He lied and lied and lied; it’s a headline from the Guardian. I’ll confess that I’m mildly but truly curious how many, or indeed whether any, of you remember to who that quote refers without seeing the image below.

For those of you who either don’t remember, or are too young to remember, it was a front page headline in June 1997, referring to Jonathan Aitken, a former government minister, who’d been caught out in a scandal and tries to lie his way out of it.

(Unsuccessfully as it turned out; he served seven months of an eighteen month prison sentence for perjury.)

I was reminded of that front page yesterday evening when I saw a tweet from Duncan Jones. It set my mind bouncing around memories, and thoughts, and recent discussions, until, as the process sometimes does, I had ‘a lightbulb moment’, when something finally ‘clicked’ in a way it hadn’t before.

I’m neither naive enough nor stupid enough to pretend that there was ever a Golden Age of British politics when politicians always spoke the truth, and never told the odd porky.

But the time when an MP would, of course, apologise to the House of Commons if they ever uttered an untruth in the Chamber is long gone. The days when a minister would at least offer to resign because they had conveyed a fact that wasn’t accurate are so far in the past that it’s mostly regarded as almost quaint to wish they’d return.

Even ignoring the big orange poltroon who lives in the big round room in the big white house, and remaining on this side of the Atlantic, the blond bullshitter is far from our only politician who apparently regards lying as merely another tool in the modern politician’s armoury.

It’s not limited to any one party, nor any one political faction, nor even any particularly political personality. It’s an equal opportunity tool, grabbed by, and used, by politicians across the British political spectrum.

The tweet that set me thinking was this one:

And, reading it, a large penny dropped.

Again, leaving the past to the past for a moment, that’s what the problem today – well a problem, anyway – is:

Politicians – and their most passionate, their most vocal, supporters – no longer regard lying as… ‘cheating’. They don’t see politicians lying, by which I mean ‘intentionally telling or promoting untruths’ as ‘cheating’.

Instead it’s rhetoric, or hyperbole, or even justifiable because the point they were making was important.

Whether it’s

  • ‘health tourism’ (doesn’t exist, or at least it’s tiny), or
  • ‘No, we won’t call a general election’ (the morning that you did), or
  • ‘I didn’t attend that meeting with those people’ (there are photos, mate), or
  • ‘I didn’t falsely claim expenses’ (ok, but the police think you did… and so did the jury in your trial)
  • “Nothing’s changed” (after you completely abandoned a manifesto pledge days after it was published)
  • ‘Turkey’s going to join the EU soon’ (no, they’re not), or
  • “The UK sends £350m a week to the EU’ (no, that’s the gross amount, not our actual contribution’, or
  • ‘People knew they were voting for No Deal when they voted ‘Leave’ (no, they fucking didn’t)
  • ‘I said zionists’ (yeah, but everyone, critics and supporters alike, knew you meant ‘Jews’)

Lies are explained away as somehow never lies. It’s never… cheating.

Except, of course, it is; you’re gaining political or personal advantage by promoting an untruth in service of getting what you or you or party want. That is, after all, what most political lying is all about.

“The other party wants to do [xxxxxx]” – when they’ve previously denied it. So, one of you is lying…

“No, no, we’ve no plans to do [yyyyyy]” – when there are policy papers showing exactly that

“The minister said [zzzzzz]” when not only was that taken out of context, but there’s no possible context in which it’s accurate.

“No, I say what I mean. I meant what I said. There’s no hidden meanings with me.” Followed a week later by “No, I didn’t mean that. That was just politically collegiate language. What I really meant was…” Again, one of them is a lie.

So, if we know why politicians lie (because it’s very useful, and they usually get away with it), why did it start being ok with their supporters for them to lie, and to take a lead from their politicians, and politically lie themselves?

For if you’re told you’re not cheating by lying, why not continue to lie?

Why not indeed?

And why do politicians think it’s not cheating?

Well, The Labour Party’s always had a touch of the ‘We Are Good And Just And Moral Because We Are Labour’ about it. That’s nothing new. But it’s made it far easier at various times for Labour and their supporters to justify behaviour and actions that they’d vehemently condemn in other parties. For if We Are Good And Just And Moral, then any criticism of Us, any condemnation, must perforce be Bad And Unjust And Malicious. And any tactics, any methods, even intentional lies, are more than justified… against the Bad And Unjust And Malicious.

The Tories have turned that around, of course, taking the conclusion, making it the premise and going from there. Because the Conservatives regard Labour as inherently Bad And Unjust And Malicious Because They Are Labour, any action taken against them, any decrying, any lying is justified. For if Labour are Bad And Unjust And Malicious, taking those actions is by an elegant inevitability Good And Just And Moral.

See how it works?

Both arguments are bullshit, of course, whichever premise you start from. But they do allow lying about the other lot to be trumpeted as something condonable, and even on occasion praiseworthy.

No doubt they’d argue: no, t’s not cheating; it’s just politics…

I’ve mentioned this example before, but bear with me.

It’s pretty well universally acknowledged that the government’s administration of health assessments for benefits eligibilityhas been, was, and is a disaster, a clusterfuck of legendary proportions.

But, a while back, a statistic started doing the rounds that surprised and horrified even those who supported health assessments: 10,600 people had died within six weeks of their claims ending.

And the DWP itself admitted that 10,600 people died ‘within six weeks of their claim ending’, didn’t they? Well, yes, they did, in official stats.

As many people pointed out, however, 10,600 number isn’t the number of people who died within six weeks after their claim ended. That 10,600 included people who died and then their claim ended… because they’d died. 

Now, given that a number of people who were on the benefits suffered from very serious physical or mental disabilities, it’s not the hugest surprise to discover that some of them died while receiving the benefit. And then their benefit, obviously, ceased.

How many died while receiving the benefit? I’ve no idea – the DWP statistics didn’t separate them out. Could have been 5,000, could have been 10,599.

No-one knew. The only thing anyone knew for certain was that some of those 10,600 died before their claim ended, which tells us that of the 10,600 people who died within six weeks of their claim ending, fewer died after their benefits ended than was claimed by the statistic doing the rounds..

Again, how many? No definitive number; could have been 1,000, could have been 5,000.

And here’s where it got ugly, very ugly. Because if you pointed that out, you were decried by those who were justifiably and passionately upset, angry and furious, at the system, so [rightly] angry at any deaths, that they abandoned, no jettisoned, any requirement for accuracy and claimed that it didn’t matter whether the 10,600 number was accurate or not, and by insisting on accuracy, you didn’t care about those who died.

(A false dichotomy, right up there with “if you dare to criticise Jeremy Corbyn, you dpon’t care about the poor, the sick, the ill, the disabled’. But British politics loves the false dohotomy; it’s baked in now.)

But it’s because people cared about those who’d died that they/we thought it was important to use accurate numbers, numbers that the supporters of benefits health assessments couldn’t attack as false, as inaccurate, as bullshit.

But no, we were the bad guys. For supporting the government, apparently.

And that’s leaving aside the astonishing number of out of context stats that do the rounds, attached to an image of a politician.

I recall an attack on Margaret Hodge by a prominent Corbyn supporter on Twitter; a pic of Hodge, with the comment attached that her salary and personal expenses from 2010 to 2015 were £1,044,829. The critic found this amount “outrageous”.

Fortunately, such a claim was easy to check, thanks to MPs’ expenses being online, and searchable. Of the amount, (over five years) roughly £336k was her MP’s salary. £552k of the rest was for other people’s salaries, another 154k was for rent for her MP’s office, and about £1.5k for travel. Over five years.

A picture may tell a thousand words, sure; nowhere, however, does the observation claim the words are accurate.

Again, when I and others pointed this out, we were at fault for doing so. When I pointed out that the salary Hodge received was the same as Corbyn received for that period, the response was… less than ideal, claiming that Corbyn had the lowest expenses of any MP. (Untrue, by the way.)

I can’t think of a single instance in which a politician or activist using a false statistic or misattributing a quote, or indeed, misquoting, brings anything beneficial to the discussion.

If the truth is inconvenient or the unaltered facts don’t back your case, then maybe, just maybe, it’s your case that’s at fault. 

But that can’t be the position, can it?

Well, not for many.

For remember, that false dichotomy writ large: ‘our side can do no wrong’. Occasionally, that’s not quite true. Sometimes, people do see the faults in their own side… and then excuse them, defend them, trivialise them, either because the other side is “worse” or because they take solace in an adaptation of Stephen Decatur’s line from the late 18th Century: “my party right or wrong, but my party”.

I struggle at times to decide which is worse: not caring it’s a lie, or knowing it’s a lie and promoting it anyway. Either way, it’s cheating.

Mitch Benn summed the current situation up quite nicely recently with the attached, which he entitled Political Ethics (2019 version).

Every so often, I ask online whether people think it’s acceptable for a politician to lie, to flat out lie.

You know what? I think people lied when responding. I only hope is that they didn’t congratulate themselves for doing so.

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.

OK, on the past few Fridays, I’ve written about stuff I like re-reading or rewatching, about individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies I’ll happily rewatch.

I’d planned on doing two more… on this Friday and next Friday… and then realised that I was rapidly running out of days to do it if I want to finish on “55 minus 1” next Friday. Especially since, if plans go to… well, go to plan… I’ll be in Edinburgh on Friday 16th, and no doubt I’ll use that entry to write about that, and maybe some thoughts on blogging in general.

Yeah, now we’re into the final ten, that earlier schedule seems… less than ideal.

But I enjoyed doing them, far more than I expected to, so somehow I’m going to fit three more sets of ‘this is what I like, and recommend’ into the run: one today on slightly – but only slightly ‘less old’ movies I’ll happily rewatch; one on podcasts I listen to again and again; and – since I just thought about podcasts and I don’t think I’ve written about them before, one on the podcasts I currently regularly listen to.

So, today, let’s talk about the ‘less old’ movies.

When I did the previous two posts, I deliberately limited the movies in them to films released before I was born, so I never saw them – never could have seen them – in a cinema.

There are, were, plenty of good movies, of course, released after I was born but before I could probably or realistically have seen them – and/or remembered seeing them – in the cinema. I was born in August 1964, and none of the movies listed in the aforementioned posts were released after July 1964.

OK, now everyone differs, of course; some people swear blind they remember stuff from when they were three years’ old. Some folks say they have no clear memories before the age of about six.

Me? My earliest memory is being hugged by a relative. I remember her as huge, and she had a dark blue house coat. That’s it. That’s my earliest recollection. Auntie Dora. She was my grandmother’s cousin as I recall. She also died when I was about three. And as first memories go, it’s not the most impressive, be fair.

And it’s not even a clear memory. An impression of ‘being safe’ is about the only additional information I have to disclose.

But my clear memories? They start at about five years’ old. And the first film I remember seeing in the cinema was released in late 1969. Which fits.

I probably saw a movie or two before then, but I don’t remember it. And while that movie’s not in the list that follows (it was Paint Your Wagon, if you’re curious) I think it’s reasonable to add an entirely arbitrary couple of years to the arbitrary ‘time period’ and limit the movies below to movies released between August 1964 and the end of 1971.

So here are ten movies – released between August 1964 and December 1971 – that I’ll rewatch for the pure, unfettered pleasure of watching actors act their stocks off, a story that keeps you engrossed, dialogue that flies off the screen, and cinematography that almost makes you moan in delight . Of course there may be, probably will be, spoilers, but come on; they’re 50 years old; you don’t get to whinge about it.

(As with last Friday’s post, I’ll end each movie below with a line of dialogue that I like from the movie.)

OK then. In no particular order:


Planet Of The Apes, 1964

Given my interest in science fiction, and the movie itself, there was no way this wasn’t going to go on the list. In fact, when I first thought ‘how about some ‘old-ish’ movies, rather than just ‘old’, ie before I was born, this was the movie I was thinking about including. Oddly, I came across the story before seeing the film. Marvel Comics did an adaptation of Planet Of The Apes in comic book form. Except back then, they didn’t bother to get the image rights to the actor, so my first introduction to astronaut George Taylor didn’t look anything like Charlton Heston. But I didn’t know that at the time. I just loved the story, loved everything about it. I was probably too young to appreciate the cynicism inherent in the character, and the journey he as a character makes; I was too enthralled by the world created within the pages of the comic.

A team of human astronauts crash onto a planet, far from Earth, somewhere after the year 3000, where the dominant species is one of talking apes; their society has castes, based on the type of ape they are – chimpanzees are the scientists, orangutans the politicians and leaders, gorillas the army. All bar one of the astronauts are killed shortly after arrival and… Oh, other humans? They, we, are there, mute and hunted. We’re not treated as pets, we’re regarded as pests. And with Taylor’s arrival, well, the brown smelly stuff hits the round whirly thing.

All of that I got from the comic book.

And then I saw the movie.

And was captivated from the very first moments. Again, I’m unsure how old I was when I saw the movie, but now I got the cynicism, now I got saw the journey Taylor goes through, now I saw him as a reflection of a ‘civilised’ man faced with what he sees as an utterly uncivilised society. I’ve seen Planet of the Apes lord knows how many times, and every single time I get something new from it. Every single time, I notice an allusion I’ve previously missed. And the final scene never fails to hit hard, no matter how often I’ve rewatched it. There’s not a bad performance in the movie, and there’s no lesson, no warning – not really; a shocking movie on a shocking subject, that hits home every time. A classic.

Dr. Zaius: You are right, I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself.


My Fair Lady, 1964

Released October 1964, so it slides in, just. Pretty sure I saw this for the first time at school, one of those ‘last day of the school year’ things. Oh, I’m a sucker for a great musical, beautifully produced, and the only thing that stopped me including Guys and Dolls in the previous posts was the presence of Marlon Brando in the movie… shudder. Well, with My Fair Lady, they got pretty much everything right. I don’t even have a problem with Marnie Nixon’s dubbing for Audrey Hepburn. Never seen Julie Andrews in the role, so no idea whether she would have been better as Eliza, but Hepburn is magnificent in the role. Rex Harrison and Wilfred Hyde-White are gloriously old-fashioned, as the roles call for. And the songs. My heavens, the songs. Almost every one is an ear worm, every one of them has a tune you could whistle (even out of tunedly, as I do) and Stanley Holloway is… well, he’s Stanley Holloway. I’ve never actually seen Pygmalion on stage, so I’ve no idea how much of the dialogue is direct from the original stage play, but this is simply a masterclass of ‘how you do a musical’ on screen. (My only problem with it, as others have identified, isn’t with the movie, but with the plot of the musical itself. She should never have gone back to him at the end…)

Eliza Doolittle: The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.


2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968

As with Planet of the Apes, there was simply no way this could not be on the list. I’ve given up wondering whether I watch it now merely to enjoy the movie as a movie or whether it’s so I can sit their slack-jawed at the mastery of the medium of film, the sheer imagination slapped onto the screen, the wonderful cinematography, the special effects that haven’t’ dated (some have, but not many), or just to marvel at the conviction every actor brings to their role. Some changes from the novel, sure, but none that harm the movie, and a couple that flat out improve the story. Everything in this movie has a purpose. There’s not a wasted line, a wasted scene, a wasted shot.Ambitious, sure. Over-ambitious, occasionally. But what a movie, what a score, what a set of performances. Oh, and what a perfectly reasonable sounding, yet homocidal, computer in the form of HAL, voiced by Douglas Rain. Oh, and the monolith. What a wonderful cinematic image: flat, black, unknowable.

Three parts in this movie: pre-humans, followed by that jump cut from tossed bone to space-ship, The mundanity of space travel, followed by a thriller… and a psychedelic show leading towards a very strange hotel room before…. The End.

The story certainly wasn’t the first sf I’d come across where aliens would be… different to humanity, in ways we couldn’t predict. But to be so different, so unknowable. If you’ve not seen this movie, you’ve missed out. If you’ve seen it, there’s more to see.

(Not for nothing, but the sequel, 1984’s 2010: The Year We Make Contact, is also flat out excellent, but for very different reasons.)

HAL: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.



In The Heat Of The Night, 1967

I loathed this movie when I first saw it. I hated the racism of one of the lead characters, of the entire town in which it’s set. I saw it purely as a whodunnit, and nothing more than that. I wanted the lead characters to like each other…

I was young. I’m no longer young. I was immature. I don’t think I’m as immature now. I was an idiot. OK, I’m still an idiot, but not about this movie. I missed how necessary the brutality of the racism was to the story, how inherent the dislike of the protagonists are to the characters themselves, how the step by step revelations bring the strengths – and weaknesses – of all the characters to the fore. Poitier was never better (with the possible exception of the same year’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, which almost made it into the list but just didn’t make the cut), and Rod Steiger is wonderfully repellent. The true respect they show for each other as actors throughout the movie, and as characters only at the end…. it’s a privilege to watch. As a study of people who really don’t like each other but have to live with each other, work with each other, and obey the niceties and not-so-niceties of the time, it’s a wonder. Oh, and it’s a pretty good whodunnit police procedural as well.

Chief Gillespie: I got the motive which is money and the body which is dead.



The Lion In Winter, 1968

There’s nothing like an accurate retelling of history to make a great movie. And this is nothing like an accurate retelling of history. But it is a great movie. Based on a stage play, which for once is odd to me, for the scenery, and the settings, both inside and out, are so much a part of the movie, that for once it’s difficult to imagine the story without it. It’s Christmas 1183, and Henry II (a delightfully over the top, but necessarily so, Peter O’Toole) has summoned his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine from prison, and his three sons, to his castle for Christmas, and to decide the succession. Katharine Hepburn is regally… Well, she’s Katharine Hepburn, she was rarely anything else. The sons, played by Anthony Hopkins, John Castle and Nigel Terry are distinct characters, each with their own plans. Timothy Dalton as Philip II of France plays a significant role as well. And it’s completely fiction. There was no Christmas family get together at Chinon in 1183. But the performances, the direction and the script – gods alive, the script! – take hold of you from very early on, and don’t let your attention wander for one iota.

There’s not a single character in this movie who trusts another single character, and it’s a genuine pleasure to watch the plots, the arguments, the fury, and the reluctant admiration most have for the others. As characters, you understand. As actors, the trust they have for each other is immediately apparent, and lasts throughout. In some of the scenes, some of the scenery chewing scenes, one doesn’t know quite how this actor or that actor, managed to not be acted off the screen… and then a second later, it’s the other actors who are witness to fury and passion and fantastic acting.

It’s one of my favourite movies, and it’s historical nonsense, but a great, great movie.

Henry II: I’ve snapped and plotted all my life. There’s no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once.



Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, 1969

I’ve no idea when I first heard of Butch Cassidy. Nor of The Sundance Kid. I was fascinated by the old west as a kid, and read every western novel, watched every tv western. So I’ve no doubt I was aware of them before I saw this movie, knowing that there were more legends than accuracy in the telling. And to be fair to the movie’s makers, they didn’t even pretend that this was an accurate retelling of the story of the two outlaws. I suspect they reached back to a line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and went with ‘This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend’. And boy, did they ever. Butch and Sundance – played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford – are easy going, ruthless only when necessary, and portrayed less as outlaw protagonists than as outright good guys who just happen to be bank robbers. But this movie is about friendship and two men whose way of life, whose lives, are coming to an end. Whoever Robert Parker and Henry Longbaugh were, whatever they were like, you can lay odds they were nothing like the Butch and Sundance portrayed; no more than Etta Place was the demure schoolteacher played by Katharine Ross.

But as I say, they don’t pretend it’s anything other than a story about the old ways of the West slowly dying, and as a story about that, it’s fantastic. I’d say that the ending – a classic of a movie ending – pretends to be the truth no more than the rest of the movie, but you know what? That’s not true; in the last few minutes, there’s some truth showing on screen. Whether it’s what happened, I don’t know. But the legend becomes the fact.

Butch Cassidy: Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.



The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, 1965

From lighthearted fare to something less affable. Less affable? That’s unfair. There’s no amiability in this movie, no kindness, no gentleness. Nothing but unfairness. This is about as blunt and hard as you can get, and Richard Burton portrays the doomed agent Alex Leamas with exactly as much cynicism for life, for his work, for his job, as required. Exactly as much. For he’s a spy, playing dirty, under orders from ‘Control’, the same ‘Control’ television viewers got to barely know from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

But here he’s at the peak of his power and authority, and he sets Burton’s character a nasty task, which Burton only semi-reluctantly agrees to: to pretend to defect so he can leak disinformation. His contempt for the job comes to the fore, and you’re never quite sure, for much of the movie, how much of it is pretended. This is a world where people don’t tell you ‘don’t trust anyone, including me’; they take it as a given that that’s the case. For they don’t trust anyone either. And a man who never trusts can never be betrayed, only disappointed. You care about the characters in spite of them, not because of them, and the ending, the inevitable ending, is less depressing than satisfying in a way that unsettles.

Alec Leamas: She offered me free love. At the time, that was all I could afford.



El Dorado, 1966

Another western, but this one absolutely light-hearted in tone, deliberately so. A semi-remake of Rio Bravo (also starring John Wayne, but with Dean Martin in that one, Robert Mitchum in this), but based on Harry Brown’s novel The Stars In Their Courses, this one is tailor made for the roles Wayne wanted as he got just a bit older. James Caan is superb at the young man who can’t – not won’t, can’t – use a gun, but needs to win a fight, and Charlene Holt lights up the screen every time she appears. The plot is a fairly simple one: gun for hire (Wayne) with an old injury turns down a job out of professional courtesy for the local sheriff, an old friend, later hears someone else took it, and goes to help his mate… who’s now a drunk. That’s pretty much it, and you can guess how it goes from then on. Along the way, Wayne’s character picks up Caan’s.

The movie’s set pieces are what raise this from just another western to something I’ll happily rewatch whenever it’s on telly. The staging for each is immaculate, the gun play exactly what you want in an western, and Mitchum plays ‘vulnerable’ surprisingly well. I’ve heard that Mitchum was told ‘there’s no plot, there’s just characters’, and that’s unfair, but not hugely so. It’s an enormously fun movie, from start to finish, and after seeing this, it’s a damn pity Wayne and Mitchum never acted together again.

Sheriff J. P. Harrah: What the hell are you doin’ here?
Cole: I’m lookin’ at a tin star with a… drunk pinned on it.



M•A•S•H, 1970

Not for the first time, I was introduced to a movie I then came to love by my big brother. Mike loved this movie and sat me down to watch it. And I’m not sure which of us was more delighted that I shared his huge enjoyment of it. Based on the original novel, and sticking very close to it (which understandably the ensuing tv series ran away from fairly quickly), this is a fantastic movie about the dark humour necessary to survive a war while remaining relatively sane. I’d add the relatively, since the movie – and novel – makes clear these are brilliant war-zone doctors, yet as people there’s something missing in all of them.

If you’ve only seen the TV show, you’ve a shock coming your way when you encounter Sutherland’s Hawkeye, Gould’s Trapper John and Tom Skerritt’s Duke (a character omitted from the show). You do discover the origin of ‘Hotlips O’Hoolihan’s nickname, but some of the stuff that goes on stresses that these people – all of them – are under incredible pressure, and how they deal with it…? Well, maybe you’d have to be there to understand. Because I’ll happily appreciate it as a viewer without understanding it in the least.

These aren’t people I’d like to know, but they’re people I’d want as my doctors. The movie is entirely episodic, and the better for that, showing the chaos of war zone emergency surgery, punctuated by the pauses that never last.

Altman made a fantastic movie, which is funny, heartwarming (honestly!) And chaotic as hell. Recommended without hesitation.

Hotlips O’Houlihan: [to Father Mulcahy, referring to Hawkeye] I wonder how a degenerated person like that could have reached a position of responsibility in the Army Medical Corps!
Father Mulcahy: [looks up from his Bible] He was drafted.



Fiddler On The Roof, 1971

Ah, what can I say about Fiddler of the Roof that others haven’t said with more wit, eloquence and heart? No idea. But it’s one of my favourite scripts, and it’s one of the best translations from stage-to-screen of any musical I’ve seen. A couple of songs have been cut, as have a couple of sub-plots, and more than a couple of characters. But it works beautifully. The score is, as you’d expect, wonderful. And the central performances – hell, every performance – is spot on.

But of course it’s Topol’s movie; as Tevye the milkman, in a place and time when that meant delivering milk out of the barrels into each home’s jugs frmo a horse and cart, he’s just about perfect. His discussions with God are a combination of philosophy and self-serving whinging. And they’re perfect. He’s a man who lives by tradition, and will not break it. But he’ll bend. And bend some more. And bend some more. Each time swearing this far but no more until he find he cannot, or will not, bend once again. Norma Crane as his long suffering wife is heartbreakingly good.

I find, as I get older, my ‘favourite’ song from the show changes. Where once I thought it ‘ok’, Topol’s and Crane’s rendition of Do You Love Me? is now one of my favourite pieces of any movie.

I watched it was some young, non-Jewish, children recently, kids of close friends. While some of the background required explanation, and the occasional jewish tradition needed explaining, the explanations were as pebbles to a mountain. They ‘got’ the movie, loved the songs, and cared for the characters. So will you.

Young Jewish Man: Rabbi, may I ask you a question?
Rabbi: Certainly, my son.
Young Jewish Man: Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!


Something different 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.

Some more fiction today, a couple of particularly fun tales, and for once, I actually remember the ease with which the ideas for these two came to me.

The first seems obvious in retrospect: the alliteraton of the title and the challanged word. The second took some time to get just right, but again the title gave me a mental image around which I formed a tale.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

(Note: [via Livejournal] as the challenger merely means it was from a no longer current Livejournal user])

Here are two very different tales.

Mark Twain is reputed to have said that. for a writer, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. (‘firefly’, for non-Americans.)

Rarely was that more true for me than with the first story. You’ll see why.


Title: Barbecued Babies
Word: bulbous
Challenger: Sarah Houlton
Length: 200 words exactly

The rain ran rivulets down the wet washed windows, leaving long smears and streaks. She never noticed it, as she anxiously approached the bluff brick building.

“Morning, Mister Monkton”, she suggestively slowly said as she woefully walked unwillingly into the huge hallowed halls of the Association for the Advancement of Alliteration.

“Hello Helen,” he quickly came back with, taking her torn ticket and then scribbling his scrappy signature.

With a superbly stunning smile, she actively aimed herself at the enormously elegant elevator, and saw his sad sallow facial features definitively disappear from view.

When she reached the fifty-fourth floor, and the delicately decorated doors slid silently apart, she heard the howl of hysteria, loud and lurid laughter that presaged problems.

Speedily sloping soundlessly along the long crowded corridor, her opulent office awaited. And once inside, she was stunned senseless by the view of the violet vision therein. It vexed her.

A bulbous mass – botanical, Browallia. Presented in purple, the florid flower festered.

Standing still, she swore, then sighed and slowly sat. Sitting, she searched for her incredibly inconvenient in-box, overflowing with obnoxious officialdom.

The abysmal advertising had to suddenly cease, she decided, desperately.

After all, inflammable infants caused complaints.

© Lee Barnett, 2005

Title: Raindrops on Leaves
Word: darkness
Challenger: [via Livejournal]
Length: 200 words exactly

The foyer of the holo-recreation area looks pretty swish. But then it would, wouldn’t it?

I wonder, as I’ve done before, what’s real, but I chicken out of touching anything to check. I’m pretty sure they rely on that: everyone being too self-conscious in front of the other patrons.

I turn around slowly, looking at the other customers. It has never actually occurred to me before, but how many of them are real? And how many of them are wondering the same thing about me?

I hear my name called and saunter over to the reception desk, sliding my hand over the reader, paying for my entrance.

There’s a brief hum.

I arrive in the darkness of a suburban garden; it’s raining, soft gentle rain.

And there’s a tree.

At least they all think it’s a tree – it’s apparently the best the technicians could design, based upon old images from lots of family videos archaeologists had recovered.

Brown wood with a green covering, now soaking wet from the rain. Can you imagine what this must have been like back in the day?

A representation of real wood: never fails to impress me.

Apparently, it’s from the type called gardinus shed.

© Lee Barnett, 2010

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.

Long before I started the countdown blogs, every so often, on a Saturday, I’d put up some YouTube videos or some single panel editorial cartoons, or even some ‘funny newspaper headlines’… some silliness, anyway.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant. Indeed, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

And after the week we’ve all had, we deserve much silliness; so here’s six bits of silliness.


While we in the UK always vote on a Thursday, in the US, they vote on a Tuesday. John Oliver sometimes asks How Is This Still A Thing? Here he is asking the question about that voting on a Tuesday thing… 



John Fortune and John Bird – the Two Johns – did fantastic mock interviews with ‘people of power’; sadly, many of them aren’t on YouTube. Joyfully, many of them are. Here they are discussing investment banking. 

It’s just about possible, I guess, that somoene reading this blog has not seen Four Candles. Written by Ronnie Barker, as Gerald Wiley – and there’s a story of its own – it remains one of the finest comedy sketches ever broadcast. Whether you’ve seen it or not, watch it in wonder.


And since we’re reaching back into history, here’s Morecambe and Wise with The Breakfast Sketch, more commonly known as “Oh, the one they do to ‘The Stripper'”

Again, from when they were much, much younger, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis make it impossible to watch British war movies in the same way again, with an explanation of Spot The Stiff


A bit more recent for this week’s from the always present Mitch Benn. Think Pluto’s still a planet? Mitch has your back

See you tomorrow, with 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.

(For part 1 of ‘one-offs’, about individual television episodes I will rewatch whenever they’re shown, click here; part 2, about individual issues of comic book series, is here. Part 3, about television pilots, is here. And part 3½ about old movies is here.)

In the posts above, I wrote about individual episodes of tv shows, and long running comic book series, and pilots that I’ll rewatch or reread whenever I teh opportunity presents itself.

And then I blew the format by using it as an excuse to just talk about ten movies – all of which were made before I was born – that I’ll rewatch whenever they’re on tv.

I specifically limited it to movies released before I was born, so I never saw them – never could have seen them – in a cinema.

And it wasn’t difficult – there were a lot of great movies made before I was born, in 1964.

There are plenty of good movies, of course, released after I was born but before I could probably or realistically have seen them – and remembered seeing them – in the cinema, say 1965 to 1971. And I might do some of them next week.

But today? Well, here are ten more ‘old’ movies – released pre-August 1964 – that I’ll rewatch for the pure, unfettered pleasure of watching actors act their stocks off, a story that keeps you engrossed, dialogue that flies off the screen, and cinematography that malmost makes you moan in delight . Of course there may be, probably will be, spoilers, but come on; they’re at least 60 years old; you don’t get to whinge about it.

OK then. In no particular order:

Seven Days In May, 1964
The first ‘conspiracy’ movie I remember seeing, and I saw it long before I understood anything about ‘Senators’ or ‘committes’ or eve the separation of powers. I just watched, thrilled at the great acting, the easy to follow plot (well, plots, to be fair; the sub-plot is every bit as good as the main plot it serves) and the the dialogue sparkles.

(Actually, that’s a thought. Should have done this before, but oh well. I’ll end each recommendation with a line of dialogue that I like from the movie.)

Anyway, the main plot is simple: a US President wants ‘peace with the enemy’, thinks it’ll benefit everyone. Senior army people think that’s bullshit – you can’t trust the enemy; they’re the enemy – and attempt a coup. A junior military officer stumbles over the plot and… well, you can guess the rest. But you can’t. Because there are enough twists and turns, and clever scripting, and presenting the ‘goodies’ as not always that good, and the ‘baddies’ as not always that bad. It was remade in 1994 with Sam Waterstone, Jason Robards and Forest Whitaker, but with no disrespect to those fine actors, Frederick March, Burt Reynolds and Kirk Douglas as the originals were all astonishingly good. The themes of the movie are betrayal, and when it’s a noble – not merely good, but noble – thing to betray something, or someone, for a greater good. Astonishing acting, astounding writing, and the harshness of the black and white cinematography still impresses today.

Eleanor Holbrook: I’ll make you two promises: a very good steak, medium rare, and the truth, which is very rare.
Singin’ In The Rain, 1952
From one area of ruthlessness – politics and the military – to another, the move from ‘silent movies’ to ‘talking pictures’ is depicted with class, humour, music, dance and some very, very funny comedy. I’ve seen all three of the main actors do better work, it’s true, but rarely when all three main leads were so damn good in an ensemble piece.

And let’s not forget Jean Hagen who absolutely nails her unpleasant role as Lina Lamont, and isn’t acted off the screen in any way by any of the three leads. I don’t know about whether she should have won, but, my heavens, Hagen earned her ‘best supporting actress’ Oscar nomination. There is a plot – the aforementioned move from silent to sound movies – but its less important than the set pieces, the joy expressed by all the lead actors and the wonderful production values. Everyone cared about this movie, and it shows.

I watched it recently with some children who’d never seen it before; was genuinely curious as to whether the class, the style, the fun, would translate . Every joke landed, ever bit that was supposed to be impressive was to them, and they absolutely loved it. Some movies, no matter when they’re set, are timeless. This is one of them.

Lina Lamont: I gave an exclusive to every paper in town.

The Maltese Falcon, 1941
A proper old-fashioned – in the best of ways – private eye whodunnit, complete with red herrings, murders, good guys, bad guys, gunsels, betrayals, a femme fatale, and a great story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Bogart and Astor are great onscreen together, and Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre are just about perfect as villains about as different from each other as they could be. All looking for a black statuette of a falcon. There are double crosses, of course, and in the best traditions of film noir, there’s no one you can completely trust.

The police are the only – and I stress that – the only fairly disposable characters in the movie. But they’re intended to be. Bogart’s character was described by the novel’s author as “Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been, and, in their cockier moments, thought they approached.” And it shows in his performance. He’s not a man to like, but he’s a man you’d hire to get the job done, and you’d never have any idea of the cost to him of doing it. There’s just nothing wrong with this movie. It’s glorious.

Brigid O’Shaughnessy: I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve been bad, worse than you could know.
Sam Spade: You know, that’s good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we’d never get anywhere. 

King Kong, 1933
I’ve no idea when I first saw this movie. I know I was young, very young, and that I saw it with my big brother. And that both of us were flat out astonished and amazed that I wasn’t scared at any point. Instead I was thrilled. I was utterly thrilled, and enthralled by the story, the acting, but most of all by the special effects. I was old enough to know that Kong wasn’t ‘real’, but young enough to believe that he could have been. I certainly don’t remember thinking of Fay Wray as Ann Darrow as ‘attractive’; I was too young for that. I do recall thinking how brave she was… so y’know, maybe that comment about me not thinking Kong was ‘real’ was a bit of self-serving justification. The movie’s, the story has, been remade several times, but there’s nothing that comes close to the original for thrills and for sucking you in to the movie.

It was made in 1933, eighty-six years ago. And the special effects stand up today. Sure they’re a little rough and ready compared to CGI today, but when you’re watching it…? You don’t care. You’re – or at least I am – wholly in love with the story, the acting, the dialogue, and the completely real portrayal by every character on screen. And yes, I include Kong in that. If you’ve never seen the original, make time. It’ll be worth it. Robert Armstrong as the film producer Denham is worth the price of admission (as they used to say) on his own.

Police Lieutenant: Well, Denham, the airplanes got him.
Carl Denham: Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.

12 Angry Men, 1957
when movies are made of plays, there’s an instant temptation to take advantage of the medium to stretch the story outside the limitations of a stage. (The obvious example that springs to mind is A Few Good Men. I’ve never seen it onstage but I know that lots of scenes ‘outside’ in the movie take place in offices and rooms in the play.)

This movie, however, resists that. Almost all the movie takes place inside one room, the jury room, as the jury enters, to deliberate whether someone committed murder. Eleven jurors – the credits list them solely as Juror 1, Juror 2, etc. – for various reasons are ready to quickly vote ‘guilty’. One juror differs, thinks the young man on trial for murder is not guilty, and won’t change his mind. The movie, over the next hour and a half, shows the deliberations, shows why each of the eleven think the kid is guilty… and slowly, but inexorably, juror 8 (Henry Fonda) argues, cajoles, and one by one, changes each juror’s mind as to whether the young man is guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt‘.

All of the jurors have their reasons, some more intellectual than others, some more emotional, some more justifiable, some more rational… Even when you know that juror 8 will prevail, even when the penny drops what’s happening, the intensity of the dialogue, and the close atmosphere inside the room, brilliantly depicted by the actors and the direction by Sidney Lumet, keeps you watching, seeing how it’ll happen. And juror 8 doesnt do all the work. There are a couple of moments when an entirely trivial comment or action by another juror triggers a thought that switches yet another juror’s vote. The pressure builds and doesn’t let up. And the emotional roller coaster in the room is no more than I’d imagine in some audience members. A brilliant movie, brilliantly acted.

Juror #6: You think he’s not guilty, huh?
Juror #8: I don’t know. It’s possible.

The Third Man, 1949
There’s very little to like about The Third Man. It’s not as if there are any characters who come out of the story as appearing good, or moral, or just. So you look for the flaws. And wow are there flaws. But they’re flaws that grab hold of your attention and shake it until you’re wondering whether the flaws are what makes someone interesting, and asking when do flaws become irredeemable? And further: are flaws irredeemable. Orson Wells as Harry Lime is a man made up of nothing but flaws, and yet, and yet, that’s what makes him interesting. Take away the flaws and you’d have someone empty. Jospeh Cotton’s character also has flaws but they take a while to identify, and you’re kind of disappointed in them and him when they come to the surface. While Alisa Valli’s character? Well, you know she has flaws, but you’re never quite sure what they are, and just when you think you do, she proves you wrong, by revealing another. This is their movie. Oh, sure there are other actors, other great actors, but it’s these three who are the centre of the movie, which is weird since Harry Lime, despite being the subject of the movie, doesn’t actually appear for some time, for some long time.

Flaws; they make a person, and they break them. And that you’re not sure which character I’m talking about is why the film is so damned good.

Anna Schmidt: A person doesn’t change just because you find out more.

Kind Hearts and Coronets, 1949
Every Saturday on the blog, I recommend silliness. Indeed, I regularly do so on Twitter. For all the harsh truths that surrpinds us, for all the shittiness around and abroad, sometimes you need some silliness in your life. Hell, we all need more silliness.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present for your consideration: Kind Hearts and Coronets.

The plot is delightfully silly, yet perfectly rational. Presented in flashback as a man, played by Dennis Price, awaits his hanging for murder, the movie relates how he – in order to inherent a fortune – decided to kill everyone in his extended family who would inherit first. All the characters he intends to murder are portrayed by the same actor: Alec Guinness. And all are eccentrics, all slightly nutty, most elderly, all exaggerations of classic tropes: the Reverend, the general, the Banker, The murders are equally exaggerated and both simple and simplistic.

And considering this is a cold blooded serial killer we’re watching in action, it’s hard, genuinely difficult, to feel badly towards him. It’s not so much that we want him to succeed. Indeed, there’s a wonderful, genuinely wonderful twist, in the final moments, and no it’s not that it was all a big misunderstanding – it’s far far cleverer than that. But as I say, it’s not that you want him to succeed, but you do want to see what he does next, how he accomplishes the next murder. Guinness is sublime in more than half a dozen different roles; each very different, each very much part of a family. (The story goes that he was offered four of the roles and asked if he could play all of them…) The script sparkles, the direction is gorgeous and the sets are just about perfect. Silliness exemplified, and recommended without the slightest iota of hesitation.

[Louis Mazzini just murdered his relative, Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne, who was distributing suffragette literature from a balloon over London]

Louis Mazzini: I shot an arrow in the air; she fell to earth in Berkeley Square.

The Manchurian Candidate, 1962
Another conspiracy tale, but a very different one, with very clear goodies and baddies. The goodies are good, the baddies are evil. Is there such a thing as evil? Watch this and you’ll answer yed. But, and here’s why this movie is so bloody good, the killer isn’t the evil; those who make him one are. A group of soldiers return from a war; they were saved from certain death by their captain, who becomes a national hero. Which is odd, because while they’re certain beyond doubt that he’s the finest human they know… they also remember him as being disliked, being cold, being aloof. And why are the soldiers having nightmares about being tortured when they weren’t? And why is the hero, being groomed for the right marriage, the right political career, suffering blackouts… during which people inconvenient to his future are being killed.

The original ‘brainwashing an assassin’ movie with an added ‘let’s brainwash a load of others to say he’s just wonderful’ bit to ice the cake. Angela Lansbury as his mother, who knows a lot more than she lets on, James Gregory as her husband, a politician on the make, a gullible drunkard. And a pack of playing cards plays a central role, both in the plot and as a symbol of something that’s both exactly what it seems, but also so much more. As a representation of the main characters, that can’t be beat.

Bennett Marco: Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

To Catch A Thief, 1955
As a ‘by the numbers’ movie, To Catch A Thief can’t really be beaten. The plot is by the numbers, the direction is pretty pedestrian, the sets are… nice but ok. So why will I rewatch it? Cary Grant and Grace Kelly; the pair of them on screen set the screen alight. I’ve never been completely convinced by the romance they’re supposed to be having but the friendliness – and the sheer pleasure they’re having acting with each other – comes through strong, strong enough that it’s an equal pleasure watching them play off each other. The other actors are all solid as well, and with only a couple of exceptions, every sentence of dialogue either moves the plot forward or tells you something about the character. There’s enough suspense to keep you wondering what happens next, although the final revelation of the true thief isn’t exactly earthshocking. The basic plot of a retired cat burglar discovering someone else is impersonating him, using his style, and being forced to find out who is, as I say, pretty by the numbers but it’s fun to watch, and fun to feel part of.

John Robie: [to Frances] Not only did I enjoy that kiss last night, I was awed by its efficiency.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire, 1961
British science fiction went through a very ‘matter of fact’ stage in the late 1950s and early 1960s; several films showing ‘ordinary people doing ordinary jobs’ facing weirdness and strangeness. What marks The Day The Earth Caught Fire as something special is how the strangeness is portrayed, as something happening to the characters rather than then being involved with it. The main characters work for a newspaper and it’s through their efforts that we discover what’s happened… and what has happened is that various weapons tests have tilted the Earth on its axis. We watch the journalists, and the editor, put the story together, while seeing their flaws as people contrasted with their skills at their jobs. Chasing leads, getting the quotes right, doing the research, this is as much a movie about working for a newspaper as it is about the earth losing a battle against science. The final scene of the movie shows two editions of the newspaper ready to go to print: one if the attempt to ‘save the Earth’ succeeds, one if it doesn’t. Edward Judd is amazingly good as a newspaperman who used to be very good, but hasn’t been very good for quite some time, and Loe McKern is glorious as his friend, colleague and fellow scribbler. It’s very British, very 1950s, and very good indeed.

Peter Stenning: I’m not up on my sci-fi. So, we’re orbiting towards the sun, but how many billion light-years…
Bill Maguire: If that’s true… I’d say there’s about… four months.
Dick Sanderson: Before what?
Bill Maguire: Before there’s a delightful smell in the universe of charcoaled mankind.


If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s coming tomorrow. Something light, something fun, something very silly. See you then.

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.

Unexpectedly on a Thursday, and especially only two days after I already did a couple of stories from the vaults, due to various reasons, here are another two.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

But as you’ll have noticed from the title of this entry, what follows are two stories with the same word to be used.

Not only that, you’ll notice they have the same title.

Two stories, with the same title, the same word. Something’s going on, shurely?

Well, what’s going on are two stories, answering the same challenge.

It only ever happened twice… where I had to write a brand new story answering a challenge I’d already answered.

The second occasion was for an entirely different reason. This one, however… this was in retrospect a weird one, but at the time, was… well, it was also weird but another type of weird.

My wife and I had just split up, a few weeks earlier.

I’ve no idea whether or not that was on my mind when I wrote the first of the stories below. But once I’d written it, I knew I couldn’t publish this first story as the response to the challenge.

Because, as you’ll see, the inevitable and perfectly reasonable conclusion would be… that it was autobiographical.

It’s not; it’s really not. My now ex-wife and I are on great terms; saw her this afternoon for a coffee, as it happens. She’s still one of my favourite people on the planet.

The protagonist of the first version of the story, however…

Title: She Killed Me Twice
Word: enigmatic
Challenger: Tony Lee
Length: 200 words exactly

The first time she killed me, it was with cruelty.

The cold blooded severing of our lives, as she announced she was moving out. She looked around our apartment, summing up six years of togetherness with an apathetic gesture signifying that it had no meaning to her. The look of contempt in her eyes was chilling, made worse because of the utter yet enigmatic lack of expression on the rest of her features.

She took out her keys and one by one, removed any of them that had the slightest link to us. The sound they made as each one hit the table will remain with me for life.

One final look around the place, her eyes sweeping the room and passing over me as if I was of no greater import than a television or a curiously designed lamp.

And then she was gone, leaving me with the detritus of a life, wondering how to recover, how to go on.

Then the telephone calls started, so concerned about how I would ‘survive’, the patronising tone rubbing salt into the still open wounds of my heart.

The second time she killed me was with kindness.

Cruelty was easier to bear.

© Lee Barnett, 2005

See what I mean? Yeah, that version of the story went into a drawer and only saw print much, much later.

Anyway, the challenge remained publicly unanswered… So I wrote the following: the same title, the same word, an entirely differnt story.

I like both stories. I hope you do as well.

Here’s the second story.


Title: She Killed Me Twice
Word: enigmatic
Challenger: Tony Lee
Length: 200 words exactly

She was so excited when the box arrived that it was as if she was a child again, rather than a grown woman.

“It is, it is!” I heard her shriek at the front door, from where I sat, in the living room.

She brought the box in through the hall way and placed it in front of me with pride, the usual expression on her face, a conflation of enigmatic shyness and utter pleasure. Ever since she had opened the first one five years ago and had cut into the complimentary copies, she was wary about opening it herself.

Since then, prudence and superstition (and writers tend to be more superstitious than the average person) had mandated that I open up the parcel for her. I did so, removed the top edition and retreated to the couch to read while she examined the rest of the copies of her latest whodunit novel.

I didn’t do too badly this time around, I decided three hours later; looking at the victims, their names, foibles and eccentricities, I’d only been put to death twice. That was the lowest since the second book. I must have been on her good side that month.

© Lee Barnett, 2005

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.

More old fiction today, a couple of favourite tales, and for once, I actually remember writing them; I even remember getting the challenges, coming up with the stores, playing with them to get them just right, and the enormous fun I had writing these two.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Enjoy them…

Title: Official Workplace Sanctity Manual
Word: chrysalis
Challenger:Jen van Meter
Length: 200 words exactly

The firing squad was scheduled for seven in the morning, an hour after dawn.

The flood of legislation since the revolution was staggering: in its first hundred days, the government had rewritten thirty thousand pages of law, reversing eighty years of employee protection in three short months. And like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, the country was suddenly different from before. This butterfly had claws, however: it was now illegal, among other things, to take a holiday, to ask for a pay rise, to even work less than six days a week.

The new office procedures manual had only been in operation for eight months, but already thirteen staff had been sent to solitary confinement. This was only the fifth execution though. She glanced at the charges, projected on her wall: “Overt fraternisation.”

She’d smiled at her colleague. And that was all it had taken to be reported. And not much more to be convicted.

She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, tired beyond belief. She wondered how long it would be before they came for her. She hoped it wouldn’t be too long: it was illegal to cry for more than six minutes a day.

© Lee Barnett, 2006

Title: Dancing to Silence
Word: articulated
Challenger: Regie Rigby
Length: 200 words exactly

It was three o’clock in the morning and the moon cast its light over the almost deserted area that was formerly a drive-in movie theatre.

The stands which for so many years had broadcast the soundtrack of the motion picture playing were long gone, as was the screen upon which the visual images had appeared.

A pair of lights stabbed the darkness and the silence was disturbed by the arrival of a thirty tonne lorry.

The driver parked and, leaving his lights on but switching the engine off, he jumped from the cab. Brushing himself down, he lit a cigarette and waited. A few minutes later, another lorry, this one carrying twenty tonnes, arrived.

Over the next thirty minutes, fourteen more arrived, their drivers nodding in recognition at each other.

The oldest of them was fifty, the youngest just nineteen.

As the last of them arrived, the rest assumed their positions. The one who had arrived last set up the short wave transmitter and they all put on their bulky headphones.

And, in a darkness lit only by the glare of sixteen articulated lorries, and in what appeared to be perfect silence, the New Mexico Drivers’ Ballroom Dancing team practiced.

© Lee Barnett, 2005

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.

Regular readers of this countdown blog – and indeed previous countdown runs – will know that by the time I’m a couple of weeks through it, the breakdown has started.

I don’t mean my breakdown – that happened several years ago, and some day I might even feel ok blogging about it – but the pattern of the blog.

We’re now at the stage where readers know what to expect: Tuesday, you’ll get some fiction; Thursday, we’re in the middle of the antisemitic imagery stuff; Friday, a list of content (tv, comics, movies) I enjoy; Saturday, well, we have the Smiles.

Which leaves three days a week when I’ve got to sit down in front of a blank screen and decide on what to write, on which subject to opine.

And, walking to a coffee shop in Kilburn, I was playing with various ideas in my head, wondering whether this subject or that topic, or this item of news, or that piece of tech would be worth a few hundred words.

(Answers: no; yes, but not today; definitely yes at some point; probably not.)

And then I walked into someone in the street. Quite literally. My body collided with theirs.

My fault entirely. I have to stress that, and you have to understand… the lady in question was completely and objectively free from blame and responsibility for the collision.

And yet, when I apologised, she shushed me immediately. No, no, she insisted. It had been her fault. She hadn’t been looking where she was going.

I demurred: it was wholly and solely my fault, I protested.

Nonsense, she continued, my fault entirely.

This continued for about thirty seconds before we grinned at each other, and moved past each other, her to continue into Sainsbury’s, me to head for Costa, and coffee.

I’d never felt more British in my life. Or rather more “English”

Which is weird because I don’t usually ”feel’ English. Not as a thing, an important thing.

John Cecil Rhodes may have once said to Lord Grey:

You are an Englishman, and have subsequently drawn the greatest prize in the lottery of life.

usually misquoted as

To be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life. 

but Rhodes supported aparthied, and Hitler liked him, so maybe not the best fella to cite if you’re proud of being English.

But it did set me thinking about being English, and British, and European.

I’ve written previously, when the government were considering making public servants – people who work for or are paid by, the state – swear an oath of allegiance to “British values”.

As I and others pointed out at the time, enforcing the swearing of an oath to British values is, in and of itself, pretty self-contradictory to British values. It’s not what we do, it’s not the kind of thing we like. Other countries may insist that their people carry identity papers, and swear loyalty and all that, but our constitution – such as it is – is built around the principle of “we leave you alone and you leave us alone, ok?”

Yes, of course there are oaths sworn in the UK; the military swear oaths, politicians swear oaths, and the general public do so in court. But in the latter case it’s an oath to tell the truth, not to pledge allegiance to a nebulous collection of nonsense called “British values”.

I kind of like the idea that British values aren’t easily codified, and indeed, if you asked ten different people you’d get fifteen different answers. (Not because we like arguing; we’re just useless at maths.)

But with the unavoidable juggernaut of shit that we chose to name “Brexit” rumbles towards us once again, the concept of what it means to be British, or English, or… European, has been asked.

I’m not sure how I identify myself these days, in that respect.

Or rather, I kind of know how I identify myself; I’m just not sure that if I was questioned as to why, I could come up with anything beyond “Because I do” as an answer. And that’s a shitty answer to anything, and should be restricted to those occasions when it’s either said to a toddler, or a toddler’s the one saying it.

Do I feel European? Not really. Not in any meaningful way. I’ve barely travelled to Europe in my life, something I faintly regret but again not in any measurable, meaningful, way. And unlike many of my friends, I don’t speak a European language beyond a paltry smattering of German and the occasional word in French I remember from school.

I don’t speak any languages, really, other than English, although I can get away with fluent Rubbish when called upon to do so. I can understand some written Hebrew and even speak a teeny tiny bit of it… and the occasional Yiddish phrase, in the same way as I know some Latin phrases. Doesn’t make me anywhere close to fluent, and I’m at as much of a loss when listening to people speak fluent Irvrit as I would be hearing someone speak fluent Mandarin.

But do I feel a commonality with the French, or the Dutch, or the Germans? Not really. I’ve not visited any of their countries, and I bet I’d feel like a complete stranger if I did.

I mean, I’ve been to Russia, on work; spent a week there in 2006. I never felt anything other than a stranger there, although I did have the opportunity to feel several strangers while there… but that’s another story for another time.

Don’t get me wrong; I like that the UK is – still is, just – ‘part of Europe’, both politically and geographically. And I certainly voted to Remain in 2016.

But I didn’t vote to remain because I felt a strong link to Europe, nor that I felt everyone in Europe was my brother, or any such nonsense.

I voted Remain for the simplest (some might argue simplistic) of reasons.

If we stayed: we kind of, sort of, maybe, with a tip of the head, and a squint… knew what would happen. OK, we didn’t know everything, and the stuff we did know, we weren’t completely sure of, and the stuff we were sure about, we didn’t like it all. But again, we kind of ‘knew what would happen’.

If Leave won, no one had a fucking clue what would happen.

(One of the single best things during the Scottish Independence Referendum was Andrew Neil’s documentary a couple of weeks earlier, when he asked campaigners for independence what happened if Scotland voted Yes. The overwhelming conclusion was ‘no one has a fucking clue…’ Beyond ‘Scotland would leave the union’, no one had a clue what would happen. Plenty of hopes, plenty of desires, but no one could say THIS would happen or THAT would follow.)

And that was my view on the EU Referendum. All the promises…? None would be kept, none could be kept, because they relied upon other stuff happening… which wouldn’t happen.

So, no, I don’t ‘feel’ European in any meaningful way.

OK, so how about “British”? Do I feel British?

Well, leaving aside my 30 second apologyfest with the lady earlier this afternoon, I’m not entirely sure that I do. Not especially, not particularly. I mean, ok, I am British. But I’m very sure, I’m certain, that other people could identify what about me – beyond my accent – makes me “British” and why I should feel British.

“English”? The same applies. I was born here, and I’ve spent almost every day of my life in England. A few, rare, trips to Wales, and a total of about two months in Scotland. A few trips abroad. So I’ve nothing really to compare it to. I’m British, and I’m English, but I don’t ‘feel’ British nor English. I just feel like… me.

OK, so what about London? Do I feel like a Londoner? I suppose if pushed… I do, in a way. But I wasn’t born here. And yes, I’ve spent most of my adult life here, but I was born in Luton; despite Luton airport’s formal name, it’s not in London. Indeed it wasn’t even called London Luton Airport when I lived there; the name change was in 1990, five years after I left the place.

But again, it’s daft for me to ‘feel’ like a Londoner, because I’ve no idea what that truly means.

Unless it merely means “feels a connection to”.

But it can’t be that.

Surely it can’t just be that.

Because I spent a week in Maui, on my honeymoon. And I still ‘feel a connection’ to it because of that. I spent ten days in Antigua, ten much needed rest and recuperation days, back in 2011 when I was a complete mess, physically and mentally, and the holiday helped, a lot. I’ll always feel a connection to the place in gratitude.

How about, “ah, but are you proud of the place?”

Then… no. Not Antigua, nor Maui. But not Britain nor England, either. Not especially. We’ve done some pretty shifty stuff over the centuries. In fact, given some of the stuff Britain has done over the centuries, I’m not entirely sure anyone should be that proud. But plenty of people are. Just as others are proud of being Australian, or American, who maintain that their country is the greatest country on earth… Really?

New Yorkers are proud of New York, most of them I know, anyway. Plenty of people are proud of their cities. I know people who are proud of Liverpool, and Edinburgh, and Brighton, respectively.

But while I’m proud of London that we, on the whole, welcome visitors and hell, we elected Sadiq Khan, we also as a city elected Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. There’re times I’m proud of London, but not always and as A Thing.

I mean, I lived for four years in Richmond, well in Ham. And I very very much like Richmond Park. Definitely feel a connection to it. But ‘proud’ of it? No.

I’m proud of my son. And I’m proud of the things my friends have achieved, and I’m proud of the strength people I know have shown under incredible pressure and in horrible circumstances.

But that’s in part because he is my son, and they are my friends and they are people I know, like and personally care about.

But the country? Britain? England?

The country’s sportsmen and women… the country’s representatives in any number of fields? Not particularly. Not at all, in fact. Not really.

So yeah, I’m English, I’m British, I’m European.

Why, if I don’t ‘feel’ like any of them, do I claim those identities?

“Because I do.”

Damn. I really need to find a better answer to that.


See you tomorrow, with the usual Tuesday fare.

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.

I love the English language… I’m just not so keen on those who misuse it.

Actually, that’s not true; I quite like people who misuse it in gloriously, wonderfully, absurd ways. When they make language do stuff it’s not supposed to. When they combine words in a way that breaks all the rules, but somehow… works. There are plenty of writers who I’ll read for the sheer pleasure at what they do with words, how they treat sentences, how they spoil the reader with superbly written paragraphs.

I merely don’t like the misuse of language when it’s incompetently done, when it’s been achieved through ignorance, or malice, or stupidity.

But on the whole, yeah, I like language, and I take pleasure in the glorious ambiguities that can arise from time to time.

There’s a building around the corner from where I used to work. On the door was the legend:

This door is permanently alarmed.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I wanted to go up to it and say “Boo!“.

Similarly, not far from where I live is a roundabout with traffic signals; on each of the traffic signals is attached a sign that reads:

Part Time Traffic Signals

I surely can’t be the only person who wonders what they do on their days off…?

I was thinking today about language, particularly about why ‘in’ and ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ aren’t followed by prepositions:

I was in the room; the UK is inside the EU; the UK will be outside the EU.

But out is.

I was out of the room.

And I long ago gave up wondering whether one is on the island of Skye or in Skye.

But while I have just about managed to restrain myself on every occasion from grimacing when someone uses “decimate” to mean utterly destroyed – when the word means to “reduce by 10%” – there are some words and phrases that still annoy me when they’re misused.

Let me agree: I’m not talking about misuse through misspellings. Sure, they irritate but for an entirely different reason.

But folks who type ‘effect’ when they mean ‘affect’, for example; as often as not, it’s just a misspelling, or an autocorrect.

Typos, again, I have less of a problem with. For all the ‘the world is divided into two types’ gags around, one that’s invariably true is the division between those who’ve made a typo in an important document or popular social media post. and those who merely haven’t… yet.

After all, surely one of the first skills that anyone acquires online is the ability to read fluent tyop.

No, it’s the actual misuse of words that bugs me; the use of a word to mean something other than what it, y’know, means.

And yes, of course words’ meanings can and do change though the decades, through the centuries, through common usage.

But when a word is flat out incorrectly used, it… bugs me. It irks.

Mark Twain once said that for a writer, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.

But that’s really about choosing just the right word, using a word that ‘works’ for the piece of writing, using not ‘claimed’ but ‘asserted’, using not ‘criticised’, but ‘condemned’, using not ‘damp’ but ‘moist’.

Twain wasn’t opining about using ‘bemused’ as a synonym for ‘amused’. The former means ‘bewildered’, not ‘found it funny’.

Here are some more that literally figuratively bug the hell out of me.

And yes, let’s start with that one: literally, when it’s used for emphasis. “I was literally over the moon”. No, you weren’t. You may have been using it to emphasise how delighted you were, how happy you were at an event, or a result, or even your own achievement, but unless you were either in a spacecraft, or are Superman, you weren’t literally over the moon.

Disinterested, to denote lack of concern, or to show you’re apathetic about something. The word you”re looking for is ‘uninterested’. Disinterest means you’re unbiased; you have no personal stake in it.

Imply vs Infer. As a general rule of thumb, the speaker/author might imply, while the listener or reader infers.

Similar to Nauseate vs Nauseous. Again, general rule of thumb? Someone or something else¹ might nauseate you² so that you feel nauseous.

Begging the question, when you’re suggesting a new question, or when you mean ‘raises the question, suggests an additional question’. Say that instead. Say it ‘raises the question’ or ‘of course that suggests an additional question’. just don’t write that begs the question’. Because ‘begging the question’ means a statement is inherently assuming something, and you’re questioning the assumption. “The politician said I should trust him because he’s a politician”. The statement inherently assumes that politicians are trustworthy, and begs the question.

Enormity doesn’t mean huge, at least not other than extreme evil, or extreme badness.

Reticent doesn’t mean reluctant, at least not unless it’s because the person is restrained or overly shy.

Ironic means weirdly incongruent, not funnily inconvenient or coincidentally unfortunate.

And now the two biggies. The two that will have me swearing at the television whenever I hear a politician – for it’s usually, politicians at fault – utter the words:

REFUTE DOES NOT MEAN DENY. At least not in and of itself. Refute means to prove with evidence that an accusation is incorrect. (It doesn’t imply the accusation was malicious, by the way.) Again… to refute something is to prove it false. To deny something is true, to claim something is false, with or without evidence, is to ‘rebut’ something.

I’ve pondered on occasion why so many seem to have a problem with this.

I don’t believe – as some have suggested – that politicians who use ‘refute’ know they’re using it incorrectly, that it means ‘to prove false’ but are banking on their supporters (and critics alike) either

  1. not knowing, or
  2. accepting that the politician can prove it but is saving their proof for another occasion.

I just think they think that ‘refute’ sounds more ‘official’. And theyr’e too lazy to use the proper word.

Also, while we’re here:

UNACCEPTABLE DOES NOT MEAN UNFORTUNATE. If something’s unacceptable, then it means, with an elegant inevitability, that you will not accept it.

If you then, reluctantly or otherwise, behave in a manner that – in every material and measurable way – is exactly how you would act if you eagerly consented… guess what? Turns out you don’t find it unacceptable at all.

Because you fucking accepted it.

Again, politicians think that ‘unacceptable’ is a good word to use. Because it sounds strong, it sounds decisive, and it sounds firm… unyielding.

That it’s incompetent and lazy use of language is less important to them.

Yes, yes, I know – politicians being lazy or incompetent?

Now there’s a shock.

And here’s one that doesn’t bother me in the least: fewer versus less. I genuinely don’t care about it. (Note that I don’t say ‘I could care less’; if I ‘could care less’, that means I currently care about it a great deal.)

But while there are rules about using fewer and less, there are plenty of occasions when the rule just doesn’t work, or an exception has been artificially created to let it work.

If I’m estimating how far it is to Manchester from London, I won’t say that it’s ‘fewer than 200 miles’; it’s ‘less than’, or – to be honest – under. And it’ll take less than six hours to drive there, not fewer.

See you tomorrow, with 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.

¹ this blog entry, for example
² you, the reader

Long before I started the countdown blogs, every so often, on a Saturday, I’d put up some YouTube videos or some single panel editorial cartoons, or even some ‘funny newspaper headlines’… some silliness, anyway.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant. Indeed, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

And after the week we’ve all had, we deserve some silliness; here’s a few bits of silliness from some of my favourite musical comedians.

Obviously Mitch Benn goes right at the top this week, expressing some frustration with the people who wanted something, got it, and then blame everyone else for it being shit

Here’s Richard Stilgoe, ably assisted by Peter Skellern, with a song about the Church of England: Mrs Beamish


Rich Hall is smart, funny, nice, and loves what he can do with language. Of course I like him enormously. I always think of this song as ‘Goddamn Working Dog’, but it’s officially titled The Border Collie Song

Carly Smallman is funny, filthy and lovely. And here she is on being self-employed: Ten Minutes of Work


Nick Doody is one of smartest comedians, hell, he’s one of the smartest people I know. Wickedly funny, with a weird way of looking at the world. Here he is on Clowns

And here’s another of Stilgoe’s songs, performed by the mezzo-soprano Liz Ryan. I love this version of the song… the tale of Joyce The Librarian

I’ll return to the usual ‘not solely musical comedians’ for next week’s Saturday Smile but I’ll probably do another one, since there are so bloody many good muscial comedians out there.

If you want to see some of them, and can be in London on the first Tuesday night of the month¹ come along to The Distraction Club. We’ve got lots there…

See you tomorrow, with 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.

¹Not the first Tuesday in August; everyone’s up in Edinbugh for the Fringe. But the rest of the year, first Tuesday of every month, we’re at The Phoenix, Cavendish Square, W1. Doors open at 7:30pm

(For part 1 of ‘one-offs’, about individual television episodes I will rewatch whenever they’re shown, click here; part 2, about individual issues of comic book series, is here. Part 3, about television pilots, is here.)

In the posts above, I’ve mentioned tv shows or long running comic book series, and that an individual episode or issue will… stand out… for some reason; the guest star will knock it out of the park, the writing or art on that issue will particularly impress, the specific plot will reward rewatching or rereading. So I’ll often rewatch or reread.

It occurs to me that in these days of franchise movies, of movies having continuity with other movies – or even tv series in the case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – there’s something comfortable in rewatching old movies where they tell a story from start to finish.

By old, let’s say 60 years ago. That’s a nice round number, and it was before I was born, so they qualify as ‘old‘.

OK, they qualify as ‘very old‘.

All right, ok, they were made before I was born, so they qualify as ‘ancient, oh my god, so old, fuck me, budgie, did they have movies back then?‘ Happy now?

None of the movies below, that I enjoy rewatching whenever they’re on telly were made after 1959.

(And yes, if you’re thinking this is a pitiful attempt to just list ten of my favourite ‘old’ movies that I’m trying to show horn into the ‘one offs’ thing, you’re not wrong. But hey, its” my blog, so there!)

So here are ten ‘old’ movies that I’ll rewatch for the pure, unfettered pleasure of watching actors act their stocks off, a story that keeps you engrossed, dialogue that flies off the screen, and cinematography that malmost makes you moan in delight . Of course there may be, probably will be, spoilers, but come on; they’re at least 60 years old; you don’t get to whinge about it.

OK then. In no particular order:

A Matter of Life And Death, 1946
I’m pretty sure I first saw this film at school, one of those ‘it’s the end of the school year, you can all watch a movie in the assembly hall’. Anyway, I remember watching it as a child. And although I’m sure I got different things from it, I enjoyed different elements of it back then – I’m certain I couldn’t have given a damn about the central love story, for a start – the charm and the grace of the movie hit me as strongly then as it does every time I watch it. David Niven is glorious in his role as a wartime bomber pilot, about to very obviously die when his plane crashes, and he jumps from his plane without a parachute when he… doesn’t. Die, that is. He survives, and the reason why is, as the movie goes on to demonstrate is either because heaven made a mistake, and he slipped though their ever so efficient system… or he was just lucky. And the rest of the movie very much doesn’t tell you which is the ‘right’ answer. Niven’s character has a brain tumour that is giving him delusions of him having to fight his case that since he did survive, he should get to continue his life. And heaven argues against it. There’s even a trial, with historical characters arguing against him, while his surgeon tries to argue Niven’s case. It’s become famous not only because of the glorious performances but because of the cinematic decision to film/ the ‘real world’ in colour, and the ‘Other World’ in black and white. (Not quite accurate; all the scenes were filmed in colour, but the Other World bits omitted the colour part of the Three strip technicolour part when processed.) Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey and Marius Goring somehow manage not to act everyone else of the screen, as does Kim Hunter in a perfectly judged performance. I think she has the hardest role in the movie, and he pulls it off with style and class.
The Dawn Patrol, 1938
There had been a previous version of The Dawn Patrol, in 1930, like this version based on a short story. But this version is just perfect. It’s about the terrible inevitability of both death, and the impossibility of terrible decision making making. I don’t mean terrible as ‘wrong’ but as ‘unpleasant, seriously, horrifying’. The movie starts as it ends, with a man in charge of a Royal Flying Corps squadron in the First World War, receiving new recruits, sending them up, knowing that some of them won’t return. Not ‘won’t return from a mission sooner or later’, but knowing with absolute certainty, that of the men he sends up, men he knows aren’t ready for it… some won’t return from that mission. The major in charge, Basil Rathbone, used to be ‘one of the lads’. But now he’s in charge. And he’s hated by Eroll Flynn and David Niven for his uncaring attitude, his ‘we follow orders, so send them up’ attitude. (Of course, they don’t know that he does care, but he has a job to do.) Then Rathbone leaves and promotes Flynn to the job… and Flynn quickly discovers why Rathbone’s character did what he did, and his friendship with Niven falters, then fractures, then dies. Eventually of course, Flynn is replaced… by Niven. And Niven discovers the truth of command. The movie ends with Niven telling the new recruits who’ve just arrived, with hardly any experience in the air… to be ready for the dawn patrol. There have been plenty of other movies that cover the same subject material (Aces High springs to mind) but The Dawn Patrol did it better and with both more heart and more ruthlessness.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir, 1947
I went back and forth on this one, since there was a tv series in 1968, with Edward Mulhare and Hope Lange in the lead roles, but it was effectively a sitcom, and so under my rules it’s an entirely different thing. Look, I bloody love this movie, so it’s in. A widow with a young daughter moves into a cottage that used to be owned by a seaman, who long ago killed himself… and is reputed to be haunted. It’s a love story and Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison were never better than as the genteel widow and the rough and ready seaman. Over a decade, before he realises he’s harming her by not letting her live her life, he shows his feelings and she shows hers. She becomes a writer, telling ‘his’ stories, and they become closer still… until, until… He leaves, to let her live her life for herself. Or at least he says he does, and waits… And waits. George Sanders as a particularly loathsome ladies man is wonderfully lizard like, and the supporting cast and crew don’t put a step wrong. But it’s the central performances that raise this movie from ‘Yeah, ok, ghost falls in love with human…’ to ‘oh my god, this is just wonderful’. I find it genuinely impossible not to rewatch this if ever it’s on.

Great Expectations, 1946
Another one I first saw at school. Great Expectations has always been a weird one for me. I saw this at school, and loved it. Then I was forced to read it at school… and hated it. I’ve never been a huge fan of Dickens’s writing (with the notable exception of A Christmas Carol), and I suspect being forced to read Great Expectations at the age of 14 is a large part of the reason why. But pretty much everything I don’t like about the book is either cut, or reinterpreted, or just made alive by this movie. And yes, it’s been filmed lots of times, has been shot as a period piece and as a modern piece a couple of decades back. But none of them for me have the skill, wit and talent involved as this movie does. John Mills as the young, then slightly older, adult Pip shows all the charm, arrogance and ultimate folly, you’d expect from an actor of his calibre. David Lean’s directing is smart and shows the light touch you’d hope for. Jean Simmons and Valerie Hobson as Estella (child and adult respectively) shine off the screen. Miss Haversham is suitably pitiful and pitiable, bitter but apologetic by the end. And Finlay Currie is the flat out scariest Magwitch there’s ever been… this is an objective fact. Oddly, the only character who comes over to me as less than he could have been is Alec Guinness’s Herbert Pocket, and I’ve never been able to figure out why. But that’s a small price to pay for this wonderful movie.

Casablanca, 1942
Where do you start with Casablanca? One of the most quoted – often inaccurately quoted – movies ever made… it’s a glorious, wonderful, movie with humour, seriousness, suspense, and satisfaction. Bogart as the now utterly cynical nightclub owner Rick Blaine, minding his own business, catering to whoever… surviving. He’s a survivor, and that’s all he cares about. And he doesn’t much care for that either. He’s friends, well maybe friends is too strong a word, with the local police chief, a cheerfully corrupt Claude Raines (who’s quite clearly having the time of his life in the role), less friendly with the thieves and criminals in the city, but on ‘polite’ terms with the Germans occupying the city. As long as no one bothers him, as long as no one causes him inconvenience, Rick is if not contentedly living, then at least miserably… existing. And then even that is turned upside down as an ex-lover, who abandoned him walks into his nightclub with her thought-lost husband and begs him for help. And what he does, how he does it, how his life changes… is the movie. Oh, there’s plenty else that goes on, but it’s a character study of a man brought low, but who survives, stops existing and starts living again. And as a character study of a place, a person, a man who doesn’t want to be a hero, isn’t a hero in fact, how he rediscovers a world outside his nightclub where he’s been hiding from life… it’s rarely been done better, and never with such class and style.

Duck Soup, 1933
Trying to identify which is my favourite Marx Brothers’ film is a bit like asking which is my favourite single malt whiskey. Sure I may have a favourite, but the others are pretty damn good as well. In Duck Soup, however, everything can together perfectly as a movie… it’s not only riotously funny, it not only showcases each of the brothers’ talents, not only is the script a delight… but it’s shot beautifully, letting the visual gags breathe. The plot involves Groucho’s character – Rufus T Firefly – being appointed leader of the small, bankrupt country of Freedonia, in order to continue to get financial aid, and a neighbouring country senidng in Chico and Harpo as spies to get dirt on Firefly so their ambassador can romantically pursue Margaret Dumont’s character, who is supplying the financial aid. So there IS a plot… but, as always, that’s just an excuse for everyone to have an an enormous amount of fun.

The Philadelphia Story, 1940
I quite like the later High Society as a film, but I love the original. Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey. with a sparkling script, easily as quotable as Casablanca’s, and with flawed characters that somehow are more attractive as characters because of their flaws. Katharine Hepburn is more imperious than at any time until her later Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion In Winter (another of my favourite ever movies). I’ve seen it described as a love story, but it’s not; not really. It’t a story about love, about falling in love, discovering that’s not enough, and wanting the other person to change… not realising that even if that happened, that’d not be enough unless you also change.

Mind you it’d get onto any of my favourites list simply for the line spoken by one hungover character: “This is one of those days that the pages of history teach us are best spent lying in bed.

The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, 1954
Another Bogart movie and althought he’s unquestionably the star of the movie, and his performance superb, he’s not the reason I rewatch. In fact, whisper it very quietly, the scenes with Bogart aren’t my favourote parts of the movie, by a long way. It’s Jose Ferrer as the smart, not entrely sympathetic, lawyer, Van Johnson as a main character facing court martial, and Fred MacMurray playng against type as a good old fella, love and soul of the party, smart, a fella you could trust… who turns out to be a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work, cowardly and self-centered beyond belief. At the centre of this movie is ‘doing the right thing is never as simple or risk free as it appears, and if it seems so, you’re wrong’. A disliked captain is relived of command during a naval engagement. Should he have been relieved? Was it jealousy, concern, over-reaction? Or was it only but always merely a judgment call… and – if so – was the right all made?

Witness For The Prosecution, 1957
Another trial movie, but this one is set almost entirely around the trial. Tyrone Power is an American accused of killing a woman for her money, and his wife – Marlene Dietrich – goes into the witness box to voluntarily testify against her husband… causing Charles Laughton, her husband’s barrister to go that extra mile to discredit her…. Which he does, proving she perjured herself out of malice towards her husband. So why doesn’t he feel satisfied? Strong story, clever performances, with one of the best twist endings ever committed to film. Wonderful. I can’t say that this was Laughton’s greatest ever performance – I’ve rarely seen him deliver a i performance – but I particularly love his portrayal as a famous and deservedly respected barrister heading towards the twilight of his career, enjoying the legal argument and the cut and thrust of cross-examination… and thinking he’s aware of his own limitations but as with so many great men, wholly but sadly mistaken.

Citizen Kane, 1941
For all its faults – and there are many, and for all that its plot makes no bloody sense whatever, this is a masterpiece in keeping you watching; the acting is first rate, the dialogue makes you pay attention every second it’s on, and there are so many little bits that in a few seconds portray in detail without a word. Whether it’s physical distance between a husband and wife as an analogy for the increasing emotional distance, or the long shot turning into a dingy nightclub the morning after the night before via going a rainy window, there’s not a moment of this film that hasn’t been thought through. Ostensibly an examination of a life, it’s actually a pretty good look what what people want others to see of them. The dialogue varies between pedestrian and pithy, between clever and cocky. But damn, when it delivers, it delivers in style.
Y’know, I reached the end of this post and could have easily written another about another ten… maybe next week, but with same rules applying: their existence must pre-date my own.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s coming tomorrow. Something light, something fun, something very silly. See you then.

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 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…


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.


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”.


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.




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.

Bit of housekeeping first: it came as quite a surprise the other day when I realised I’m now more than half-way through this fifty-five day countdown. After a couple of years of not blogging at all, it’s been a genuine pleasure to write these entries; I hope some of you at least have been enjoying them.

Three and a half weeks to go, by which time – if current plans pan out – I’ll be posting the final entry while on the way to Edinburgh, after which I’ll be spending a week at the Edinburgh Fringe.

But there’s still a couple of dozen posts to go, of course, before we’re there.

So, as I write this, I’ve got BBC News on in a small window at the the bottom right of the screen. Theresa May has just handed in her resignation to Her Majesty The Queen, and Boris Johnson is on his way to meet HMQ and accept her invitation to form a government.

There’s nothing I could write that would truly convey the contempt in which he is held by much of the British public; the clowning persona he tries to portray long ago wore out its welcome, and if there’s anything that continues to puzzle me about Johnson, it’s not about him, but the few who still regard him as anything other than a manipulative unqualified, disqualified, sack of shit.

A few years ago, a series of “‘what my family & friends think I do’ versus ‘what I actually do'” graphics did the rounds.

Mitch Benn and I created the following, which has remained truer than I’d wish:

It was John Oliver, I believe, who commented that he and Trump both look like incompetently created clones of each other. And while Johnson is unquestionably objectively smarter than the orange poltroon, they each have their own malleable relationship with the truth, and with objective facts.

There are, however, marked and important differences: with the orange poltroon, one knows that the provably false untruths that he tell cease – for him – to be untrue. He says them, therefore they are true.

The only calculated bit of it is that he carries on doing it because it bloody works, with his base, with his support. They not only don’t care that he lies, they like it.

I’m unsure if there’s any other elected politician in the US or the UK for whom that’s true in the same way.

For Boris Johnson knows he’s lying. Let’s not pretend otherwise. He knows what the truth is, and discards it quite deliberately when it’s convenient to do so or when it’s just… easier to do so.

Johnson’s relationship with the truth is one of dog to lamppost: if he needs to piss over it to make his life even marginally easier or more confortable, he’ll do so, and feel quite satisfied afterwards that he’s done it.

Some of the time, sure, it’s a precise, calculated lie, uncaring whether or not anyone notices, wholly apathetic as to the complaints of others who might reasonably prefer that politicians stay at least within shouting distance of accuracy, precision and correctness.

He lies on these occasions because the truth, the objective facts, are inconvenient to him. He knows the facts, he just won’t let them – as the old saw has it – interfere with the story he’s telling.

And they’re told to make him the hero, to make him the Truth Teller.

Important to remember that he’s the hero in his own mind, the mark of villains through the centuries.

On other occasions, Boris Johnson lies because the truth is just too much hard work; he doesn’t care to find out the facts because the lie serves his purpose just as well, if not better.

The nonsense last week about the chilled fish is a good example of this. Johnson claimed, while waving a sealed kipper around, that it had been given to him, via the editor of a national newspaper, from a fish smoker on the Isle of Man, who he stated was “utterly furious”.

“After decades of sending them through the post like this he has had his costs massively increased by Brussels bureaucrats who are insisting that each kipper must be accompanied by a plastic ice pillow,”

“Pointless, pointless, expensive, environmentally damaging ‘elf and safety’,”

Except that the claim was, of course, unfettered bullshit.

The advice that says that foods that need refrigerating must be kept cool while they are being transported – potentially packed in an insulated box with a coolant gel or in a coolbag – is not only British government advice, the Isle of Man moreover isn’t in the European Union.

Johnson could quite easily have found something that the EU does that could be argued is oppressively bureaucratic, something that he could at least make a case for, while sticking to the unvarnished facts.

But it would be far too much hard work for him to do that; why not just lie about it? why not indeed?

And 90,000-odd Conservative party members agreed with him. Why not indeed?

(Some of them very odd, let’s face it.)

And then there are the casual, unnecessary lies, the untruths that spew from his lips because he doesn’t see the harm in them, because ‘everyone lies’. These lies that Boris Johnson tells… they’re not calculated so he – specifically him – benefits. Well, not solely that anyway. They’re told just ‘for a laugh’, just for the sake of lying, just for shits and giggles, or to get him through the speech, the interview, the statement.

And on the rare occasions when he’s held to account? Then he lies his way out of it with yet more lies.

After his comments – when Foreign Secretary – about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe led to her facing an increased prison term, he lied about his own culpability. When he got caught out having an affair, he lied to his party’s then-leader, resulting in his sacking.

And Boris Johnson has just become Prime Minister.

I’m not about, by the way, to have a pop at how he was elected, as in ‘I can’t believe that the members of a politial party get to choose the Prime Minister!’ We have a parliamentary system in the UK, with all that that implies. Yes, this is the first time that it’s been a Prime Minister who was elected by the memebrship and who immediately took over, but the ‘party chooses a new leader who becomes Prime Minister…’ has happened before and the usual thing is that a new Prime Minister doesn’t call an election. When Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair, he didn’t even face a leadership election; he just took over. When May took over from Cameron, she got the job by default as the other candiate stood down.

Yes, it’s a shitty system, but if you wouldn’t have called for an election when Callaghan took over from Wilson, when Major took over from Thatcher, when Brown took over from Blair… try to restrain your hypocrisy just a tad, eh?

As it is, my own position is that of Lynne Featherstone (now Baroness Featherstone) after Brown took over from Blair:

A new PM, implementing the same manifesto/policies? No need for an election; our parliamentary system doesn’t suggest nor require one.

A new PM, who abandons the manifesto upon which the government’s mandate rests, and who pursues policies not of the previous government, not indeed polices from the manifesto? To not call an election drives a coach and horses through the spirit, if not the letter, of our parliamentary system.

When I was in the hall of the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, and witnessed Jeremy Corbyn become Labour party leader, I tweeted the single word: “Fuck.”

When I watched on television Boris Johnson, in the same venue, win the leadership of the Conservative Party, the same sentiment seemed appropriate.

But now? With Johnson as Prime Minister, our Prime Mimister? The Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury?

Well, I think Barry Ween says it best:

Boris Johnson: primus inter mendaces¹

Something else tomorrow, something even more upsetting, something deadly serious, and something that I suspect will upset more than a few people with its content.

See you 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.

¹ first among liars

Some more old fiction today, a couple of stories that not many people will have read, and almost certainly, no one who’s started following me in the past decade or so.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Occasionally, I’d play with the format… as you’ll see in the second of the two tales below.

One of the delights of pulling these from the vaults has been the fun of rediscovering just how much I enjoy playing with words.

Title: A Wild Ima-djinn-ation
Word: discontent
Challenger: Lisa Jonte
Length: 200 words exactly

It had been dozens of decades since I’d last been summoned, but then, a few months back, she’d found it: the glass bottle with the stopper.

And of course, since it had been filthy, she’d rubbed it with her sleeve.


And once again, as so often before, I had to assuage my new mistress’s discontent.

But this one was clever, oh so clever. She didn’t make a wish at first, but asked me lots of questions as to likely consequences. She even asked what wishes other people had made, and whether they’d been happy with the results. Two thousand years, and no one’d realised that they could ask that.

I’d say Damn her, but that’s already been taken care of.

After I’d answered all her questions, her first wish was simple:

“I wish for everything that will make me happily content.”

And, of course, I had to grant the wish, in the most efficient and speedy manner possible.

Four months later, she’s had no need to use her other wishes, indeed she can’t.

The human doctors call it a “persistent vegetative state”.

Such parochial beings, these humans.

But she’s happy, deep in her mind.

Well, she’s content, at least.

© Lee Barnett, 2007

Title: And For A Sequel
Word: ranunculus
Challenger: Livejournal Elfie
Length: 200 words exactly

And once again, the stranger came;
He came most ev’ry year.
To make a sound, and look around
But mostly to drink beer.

    He’d sully forth, first East then North
    And end up in our place.
    He’d get right drunk, with beer he’d sunk
    Through the hole at the end of his face.

But as he fell, he’d curse and yell,
For times of long ago.
And with each glass, (he’d swear, his last)
My, how the tales did flow.

    He’d tell of things, forgotten things
    Of centuries gone by.
    And challenge those, with woeful prose,
    Who’d call each one a lie.

To folk in town, he was a clown
And no more need be said.
They’d heard before, these tales of yore
And to their homes they sped.

    Then came that day, the first of May
    When spring was in the air.
    The stranger’s heart, it gave a start
    And muscles deep did tear.

He hit the ground, without a sound
The stranger bit the dust.
The doc was called, the body hauled
With very little fuss.

    Permission granted, the man they planted.
    The priest said “dust to dust”.
    Upon his grave, the priest did lay
    Some sweet ranunculus.

© Lee Barnett, 2005

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.

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 promote 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 political 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.

A very long time ago, I wrote some comics: three stories in Trailer Park of Terror, and one issue of X-Men Unlimited. Well, half of an issue.

Well, that’s quite not fair, to me. I’ve written more comics stories, including a graphic novel; Those stories, however, were the stories that were published.

Actually, here’s a quick ‘story behind the stories’ tale.

In the latter story, I got to write some X-Men characters, which was fun. And I’m still pleased with the story, even though there was an… incident involving the final panel.

At the time, Juggernaut was trying to be a good guy, and Cyclops was headmaster of Xavier’s school. The story explained how Juggernaut ended up on staff; there’s more to it than that, including Wolverine ‘testing’ Juggernaut’s temper, in every sense of the word. The tale ended up with Cyclops and Juggernaut shaking hands.

Just that, with appropriate word balloons.

Except that’s not what saw print.

Why it didn’t see print wasn’t my fault, nor the artist’s – the incredibly talented Travel Foreman, who made my writing look good. It was a… mistake… by Marvel.

When I got the pencils through, from Marvel, there were individual panels where I was grinning like a loon.

Not only because of the quality of the art, and how Travel had precisely got what I’d intended to convey when writing the script, but also because he’d drawn some additional things into the panel, things that were so obviously gags that they would be (and were) removed when it was inked and coloured: the occasional humorous word balloon, for example.

The reason I know they were removed was because they were removed; both the inked and coloured pages I saw didn’t have the silly stuff in them.

And one of the bits of silliness ‘gags’ was a sparkly heart behind the final panel, which was a shot of a handshake between Scott Summers and Cain Marko.

Here’s the unlettered, but inked and coloured panel, as sent to me by Marvel:

So all was well and good.

And then the comic came out… and the final panel, as it saw print?

Hrm. Yes. Neither Travel nor I were, as you’ll appreciate, exactly overjoyed at the re-appearance of that damned heart….

And more than one reviewer said that they loved the story, but ug, that last panel…

In the interests of fairness, though, I have to say that Stephanie Moore, the editor on that book, was an utter delight to work with throughout and I can only imagine that someone else in production had a complete brainfart when they put that damned heart back in…

You know, I don’t have many “behind the scenes” stories about my short career in comics (for obvious reasons), but I think you’ll agree that’s a doozy…

(As for why they are shaking with their left hands, well, that’s partly mine, and partly Travel’s fault. The panel description was ambiguous at best, as I recall, and Travel drew it with them shaking hands right-handed. it was only afterwards that we realised that the panel had to be flipped in order for the word balloons to be able to be read in the right order…)

I’m still quite happy with the opening page though.

Anyway, back to the main thread of this post.

There are loads of comics characters that I’d have loved to have written stories for.

Sometimes, I’ll admit, it’s because I wanted to write “a Batman story” or “a Superman story”. Which is absolutely the wrong way to approach it. Unless you’re hired to write them, obviously. As a general rule, if I have a story to write, the idea comes first then ‘who needs to be in this story’.

But sometimes it’s been me accepting my own fun challenge: “can I write a story that’s absolutely a Batman story or a Superman or a Captain America or a Fantastic Four story that doesn’t betray the basic tenets of the character… but that DC or Marvel would never in a million years publish?

(Odd that I’ve never, however, managed to come up with an idea for Batman that would qualify for both, to my satisfaction, but it’s surprisingly easy to do it for Superman. I wonder if it’s because in order to do so, it’s easier to come up with a workable story in which Superman’s circumstances are ostensibly permanently changed than it is for Batman.)

I’ve written some just for fun; never been submitted; occasionally I’ve referred to them as examples that’d never go anywhere, but mostly, just for fun.

But here are two WFH/licensed characters I’d actually want to pitch stories for. (No detailed story ideas in what follows, for all sorts of reasons, including, I guess, legal.)

While in no way at all denigrating the fantastic work done by the creators of some fantastic comics over the decades with Dick Grayson, I think I’ve only rarely enjoyed comics where he’s the lead character.

Mainly because no one seems to know what to do with him. An obvious step when taking over a book or a character is to change things. Well, writer after writer has changed where he lives, what aspect of his character on which to concentrate, who his friends are, and – so I understand in the latest iteration – his name and personal history. After being shot in the head, he’s come to, groggy about the details, thrown away much of what previously mattered to him, and now goes by Ric Grayson.

As the ‘role’ of Robin has been taken on by first one character then another, then another, DC took the decision to make each of those who’ve worn the ‘R’ specialise in one thing or another. Tim Drake was almost as good a detective as Batman, but nowhere near as accomplished in other spheres. Damien Wayne is almost as good a fighter as Batman, but… Jason Todd was almost as, perhaps more, ruthless as Batman but…

And Dick Grayson retrospectively became the superlative athlete (understandable given his in story background), who could fight quite well, and was a better-than-ok detective.

That never made sense to me. He was the first trained by Batman, and Wayne would have tried his damndest to give him every skill at the best level.

There’s an old one-shot (done as an issue in the Titans Solo run, as I recall) in which Batman is captured by a bad guy… and Dick Grayson finds him… by being smart, by being clever, by being… a detective. Another issue – early after Tim Drake was introduced – had Grayson training Drake in how to observe. Just that: how to… notice things.

I can get that DC want to keep Batman the best (in the Batman circle of books, anyway) at everything, but with due respect to the others who’ve worn the Robin outfit, the Dick Grayson I’d want to write would perforce inherently acknowledge Batman’s superior skills in most things, sure, but would go out of his way to train himself so that no one else would easily make that mistake.

I’d want to write a Nightwing who combines all the skills he learned, and just do the job differently. He could effectively be a clone of Batman, but he chooses not to. Using all the skills but just presenting in a different way to the observer. For the past however long it’s been, he’s not had that choice.

Modesty Blaise
Yeah, the big one, the single character I’ve wanted to write since I first read her stories. Also the single character over whom a superbly talented writer friend of mine – a lovely, kind woman – would cold-bloodedly, and with forensic skill, maim me in order to deservedly get the job herself.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see new, clever, fun stories about Modesty Blaise, Willie Garvin, Steve and Diana, Sir Gerald… and I’m sure KellySue would write far better stories than I could even dream of. (If you’ve not read her work, you’re missing out. I’d unreservedly recommend Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly without hesitation.)

But gods yes, would I love to have the chance to write the characters, to create a gloriously depraved yet entirely logically consistent set of bad guys for her and Willie Gavin to encounter, fight, and defeat.

There’s so much unexplored history there, so much you could delve into while telling a ‘current’ story, so many ways you could who just who the characters are and why they matter, to each other and to the reader. and, my heavens, I’d love to write the relationship between Willie Garvin and his Princess.

Besides, hopefully, we’d get more Jamie McKelvie art to salivate over, and that’s never a bad thing.

Oddly, I saw the kitsch 1960s Modesty Blaise movie was on telly the other night. Its’ unremittingly awful 99.4% of the time, but I’d quite forgotten that at one point Monica Vitti dresses up as Modesty from the strip: black outfit, chignon, bow, quiver. She looked fantastic in the classic outfit.

It genuinely made me sad all over again that they’d not, that they’ve never, made that movie.

And that they probably never will. (I’ve not seen the Tarantino My Name Is Modesty movie, which is a kind of prequel, taking place before she meets Willie Gavin, nor the 1982 Modesty Blaise US tv pilot, where both Modesty and Willie are… Americans. Yeah… No.)

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.

Long before I started the countdown blogs, every so often, on a Saturday, I’d put up some YouTube videos or some single panel editorial cartoons, or even some ‘funny newspaper headlines’… some silliness, anyway.

After a week of blogging, I figured everyone, myself included, deserved something trivial and silly on a Saturday.

Note that I don’t say “unimportant”.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant. Indeed, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

So… some silliness, from some of my favourite musical comedians.


Here’s what Siri would have been like in the 1980s. (Actually, I think it’s more acurate for the early 90s, but I’ll take what I can get…

Got small kids who won’t go to sleep? Howard Reid has the perfect song for you… A lullaby


I doubt there’s anyone who’s both a) reading this, and b) hasn’t ever seen this before, but this is always worth a rewatch: Comic Relief does Doctor Who


And while we’re on the subject of Doctor Who, this glorious piece of wonder is beautifully executed: Celebrating 50 Years of American Doctor Who


Wrong time of the year for this, but I don’t care; I love this one… Yeah, Mitch Benn had a wish for us all as we entered 2019: A Happier New Year

See you tomorrow, with 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.

(For part 1 of ‘one-offs’, about individual television episodes I will rewatch whenever they’re shown, click here; part 2, about individual issues of comic book series, is here.)

In the posts above, I’ve mentioned ‘baddie of the week’ tv shows or long running comic book series, and that an individual episode or issue will… stand out… for some reason; the guest star will knock it out of the park, the writing or art on that issue will particularly impress, the specific plot will reward rewatching or rereading.

And of course I’ve previously written of Budgie’s Law of Popular Television: y = x + 2.

But in that latter post, I kind of breeze past the shows I do like, while mentioning that if it’s got a great pilot, that’s a very good sign; if not, a good omen in a different way.

Its not conclusive, of course, but it’s certainly indicative: if the pilot doesn’t grab me, chances are good that I won’t stick with the show. Not guaranteed, of course, any more than if the pilot does impress me, it’s a guarantee that I’ll love the show, and stay with it despite the occasional bum episode every show has.

But as a rule of thumb, it’s generally paid off.

And since the past couple of weeks on a Friday, I’ve written about individual episodes, individual comics, that have impressed me, here are ten tv pilots that definitely impressed the hell out of me. And in all bar one example, I stuck with the show.

Pilots are an odd thing. They have to introduce the characters, and the plot, set up the rest of the first season, make you care about each of those elements… and still tell a story that entertains. All in an hour¹.

Some pilots cheat with the ‘make you want to come back next week’ by slipping in a final 30 second scene cliff hanger… Hill Street Blues jumps to mind. After an entertaining hour¹, the final few seconds show two beat cops we’ve come to know, and individually like or dislike, entering a building looking for a phone. But its a drugs den… and then guns are pulled and we see them both shot several times… they fall to the ground… fade to black.

Not the first show to pull that stunt, but probably the first to become famous for it.

As with the individual episodes and issues, there are far too many to give an exhaustive list; but here are ten that spring to mind without even breaking sweat; seven dramas, three sitcoms.

Warning: there are spoilers in the rest of this post, of course.

The Blacklist
One of the best pilots I’ve ever seen, bar none. The concept is a clever one, the setup explained in the first few minutes, and it’s an ‘everything changes’ moment. And from that instant, it’s non-stop. The number four on the FBI’s most wanted list – a facilitator for criminals – walks into the FBI and surrenders; states them he knows about a terrorist attack that’s about to take place, and he’s there to tell them all about it but that he’ll only talk to a named newly-qualified FBI profiler. the attack attempt duly takes place, it’s averted… and then he says “that’s just the first”. He has a list of criminals – the Blacklist – the FBI don’t even know about. And the FBI work with him – on occasion, it seems for him – to capture them. Great concept, great writing, so bloody much happens in the first episode of the series, you have to pay attention. But it’s the performances of James Spader and Megan Boone as the criminal and profiler that make this pilot something special. It’s their show, and their performances keep your attention throughout. Spader is having the time of his life, and acts everyone else off the screen. Everyone apart from Boone, that is, who somehow manages to hold her own against him. Both of their characters have secrets, both discover yet more. And yes, there is a ‘WTF? Ccome back next week…’ moment right at the end. I’ve seen the pilot loads of times and there’s not once I’ve not spotted something new in the rewatching.

The Last Ship
I can’t recall another show where so damn much happens in every episode. It isn’t so much that there’s a twist in every act of every episode, although there are a lot. More than the writing is so dense, the military dialogue is both enthralling and delivered crisply. I’ve no idea how accurate it is, by the way. I don’t care it seems accurate and that’s good enough for me. And the actors are aided by the military setting in that respect. Every line either tells you something about the characters, or advances the plot; not a wasted line, nor a wasted gesture. So what makes the pilot so damn good? Because it starts as it means to go on: a routine military exercise testing equipment in radio silence for months at the South Pole, while a couple of scientists research bird populations. Everything’s going normally. Until Russian helicopters and snowbikes turn up, try to kidnap or kill the scientists. And then The Reveal: a virus has swept across the planet, killing half the population. The scientists are looking for the original strain of the virus, that one of them believes is in the permafrost. It’s perfectly timed, perfectly acted, gorgeously written. I don’t think I’d like to know any of the characters in person; none of them are particularly likeable but damn, they do know their jobs. And again, a ‘WTF? Ccome back next week…’ moment right at the end.

Reaching back into pre-history here. Or at least it seems that way. I recently rewatched the pilot of 24, the very first time they’d tried the ‘events occur in real time’ stunt, writing around the ad breaks, starting at midnight, and following characters through the next 24 hours. If two or more things were happening simultaneously, you got a split screen, and it was often used as a technique to move from one scene to another, or to reopen the action after the ad breaks. The main character, Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, wasn’t yet the ‘superhero’ he later became. He wasn’t as prepared to break every law going ‘for his country’. Not quite as prepared to go for the torture-first-ask-questions-later. He was a good agent, not a great one. And that showed. He made mistakes. He found himself being used… and panicked as he didn’t know what to do. And while the good guys weren’t all good, the bad guys were pretty much all bad, and mistakes had consequences. But we didn’t know that in the pilot. We didn’t know much at all. But that ticking clock (or beeping clock, anyway) kept the tension high from about ten minutes in.

House MD
Gregory House, as introduced to the audience, was unpleasant from the off. He was rude, in pain, older than he wanted to be, didn’t suffer fools at all, and was brilliant at what he did. And he didn’t give a shit about patients; he wanted to cure the disease. Actually, that’s not true, either. He wanted to figure out what was causing the patient to be ill. Once he knew, curing them was just what he had to do to keep his job. I’d say the pilot made it clear that he delegated ‘caring about the patients’ but he didn’t. not really. He viewed the junior doctors in his department with mild contempt for caring about the patients as much as the disease. The pilot sets all of this up, sets up the conflicts, has a great medical mystery, and a suitably great guest star as the patient. But it’s Hugh Laurie who steals the show. As the lead character, he’s almost instantly unpleasant, brilliant, and a character you care about almost against your better instincts. I can take or leave most episodes of House, the overwhelming majority in fact, but I’ll rewatch the pilot whenever it’s on.

True Detective
Certainly one of the more original pilots on the list. Takes place in two time periods, present and past, the latter being revealed in flashback while two retired detectives are being interviewed on camera by current day detectives about an old case. The two retired detectives haven’t spoken for years, and make it plain they never actually liked each other much. The acting is the thing here. Oh, the writing is glorious, the dialogue wonderful, but it’s the acting of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, playing effectively two different characters each, their characters in 1995, and again in 2012, when they’re very very different people. (Later in the series, they also portray the characters again, as they were in 2002.) But there’s no doubt at any point of the convincingness of the portrayals in any time period. I find it impossible to not watch to the end of the episode once I’ve started watching. And every time I watch, I’m more impressed with both the acting, and especially how generous both Harrelson and McConaughey are in their scenes, with each other and other actors. And even the “WTF’ moment at the end, perfectly delivered by McConaughey seems so casually delivered that you wonder what the hell this is… but you know you want more.

The Crossing
This is the one. This is the one that tested my “if it’s a good pilot, I’ll stick with the series”. And ultimately failed the test. Great concept, good writing, good enough acting. And at the end of the pilot, I wanted to know ‘what happens next’. Setup is a couple of hundred people are rescued on a beach from the ocean; when asked where they come from, they tell the lcoal sherif and authorities they’re escaping from the war… a war that hasn’t happened yet.. As I say, great concept. And yet I gave up after four or five episodes. It felt like all the smart writing was done in the pilot, and even the actors knew it. Could have been great – the pilot still is great, but oh my.

Jonathan Creek
An hour and a half – it’s BBC so it’s genuine 90 minutes, not 70 plus ads – a fella who designs illusions for a magician gets caught up when his boss is interested romantically (for want of a less discreet term) in someone involved in an ‘impossible crime’ mystery. And then teams up with an freelance investigative journalist to solve it. and it just works. Most of the clichés are subverted, the ‘it’s simple when you know the trick’ often isn’t, the kind of mind that thinks up this stuff isn’t necessarily someone you want to know, and both lead protagonists aren’t really that sure – in the pilot – whether they even respect each other, let alone like each other. At one point, challenged to do so, Creek – Alan Davies – makes scale models to prove that the victim’s ex-wife could have committed the murder undetected. And then reacts with scorn when the journalist – Caroline Quentin – exclaims ‘so she did do it!’ Of course not, Creek says. There were so many ways it could have gone wrong, so many times the plot would have fallen apart.. he did it merely as an intellectual exercise to see if the ex-wife could have. The dialogue sparkles, Davies and Quentin are a delight on screen and Anthony Stewart Head as Creek’s illusionist boss, the guy on stage, is delightfully repulsive. I was hooked from the start, and stayed with the show for years.
OK, so those are the seven dramas. Now for the sitcoms. Sitcoms can go one of two ways, in general. They can go the ‘everything has changed; this is the start of a journey for a character, or set of characters’ way.

Frasier did that, introducing the characters to the audience as well as to the protagonist as he moved across country. But they had to; as a spin off, there’s no other way of marking the series as something ‘new’. Same as they did with Rhoda, a spinoff from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. They did it in The Good Life, showing the character first in one situation, then changing the circumstances and seeing what happened. Same with Man About The House. And then there’s Dad’s Army, where you show the characters meeting and seeing how the situation develops. These are the true situation comedies, where the comedy arises from the situation in which the characters find themselves.

Or… the audience can join the characters mid-situation. Nothing’s changed… except that now the audience is being invited to observe. Most ‘family sitcoms’ rely on this, whether you’re talking about Steptoe and Son or Roseanne.

Of course, sometimes, rarely, sitcoms manage both; a familiar situation except for a new character joins at the same time as the audience. But in these, still, it’s the situation that brings forth the comedy.

No surprise then that two of the three pilots below go that route; it’s the smartest – to me – way of doing it, with the most comedic options.

But sitcoms still have the same problems to solve as dramas, only in half the time: they still have to introduce the characters, and the plot, and leave you caring enough about both that you want to come back next week.

The best sitcom pilot ever. I’ll brook no dissent on that. If you think otherwise, then either you’ve not seen the Cheers pilot or you’re wrong.

Every important character gets their moment, every character gets their laughs. Not one of the characters can be mistaken for another, and not one of them has the same speech patterns cadence or style as another. Four main characters, two or three minor ones, a couple of whom get bigger roles as the series progresses. But for the pilot, just the four main: a former ball player who owns the bar; his former coach – getting on in years, mentally; a waitress; a woman abandoned in the bar by her cultured professor, (who’s her boss and fiancée) in the first episode… (he goes back to his wife). She takes a waitress job at the end of the pilot (offered mostly out of pity) while she figures out what the hell she’s going to do now. The gags start in the first minute of the show, and keep going every bloody moment throughout. The introductions for each character are spot perfect, and the casual style of the acting doesn’t imply lack of care. The actors work hard to be so causal and that you can’t fully appreciate it at first speaks volumes for their skill. Stunningly good work. And it’s a genuine pleasure to rewatch whenever I get the chance.

Just Good Friends
One of my favourite sitcoms, and one of my favourite pilots. Setup is simple and clever: two people out on separate disastrous ‘dates’ (she’s taken someone out from the office as a nice gesture; he’s out on a proper date) bump into each other, speak politely. Then the penny is dropped suddenly on the audience: he jilted her five years’ earlier, and they’ve not seen each other since. And it starts from there. Paul Young and Jan Francis are just superb as the two protagonists, both completely messed up in their own ways. she reluctantly at first still likes him. He still likes her. And despite friends interference, despite parents’ interference, they try to make whatever the hell they have now… work. The gags flow fast and furious – it’s written by the same fella who wrote, among other things, Only Fools And Horses the pacing of every scene, let alone every episode, is perfect, and you care about the characters while your sympathy shifts from one to the other and back again. And, uniquely for a sitcom, it had a cliffhanger, or a coda, at the end of every episode. The credits would role over one of the characters doing… something (lighting a cigarette, or walking across the road)… and then the credits would fade, there’d be a final couple of lines… and then the end. Every episode was wonderful, and the pilot started it all, perfectly.
Yes, Minister
Yes, well, this was an obvious one. This shouldn’t be here, really. Not really. The opening credits are awful as is the theme tune. They changed it immediately for the familiar Scarfe credits and Westminster tune for episode 2. But you have to shudder and put them to one side because the show starts as it means to go on… and the show truly, truly gets every bit of comedy from the situation: new minister, already in place civil service, the clash of the political will and the administrative won’t. Not the first sitcom set in a ministerial department, and certainly not the first ostensible servant is really the one in control sitcom or drama, but this one works because Hacker as the minister isn’t an incompetent fool. He’s a politician who’s completely out of his depth, sure. But even in the first episode, he realises that quickly, and realises both the advantage of having the civil service, while the danger of them as well. Every performer is perfect for the role they play. And even now, having watched it dozens of times, it makes me laugh.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s on its way tomorrow. See you then.

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.

¹ Yeah, ok, just in case this comes up. An hour of commercial television time isn’t an hour of real time, unless you’re talking about a show that pretends it is, like 24. It’s anywhere between 42 and 48 minutes, depending on when it was made, whether it’s the US or UK. And a ½ hour sitcom is actually about 21 to 24 minutes.

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

Last week, I wrote a piece 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.

Longer opening explanation in that post, 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, yeah, folks – me among them – are going to justifiably say, “yeah, antisemitism”. Note that: justifiably.

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

Or, say, “Rothschilds”.

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

Yes. It really is.

So let’s talk about The Rothschilds

Ah. Yeah. I suppose this was an obvious and inevitable one to do.

Don’t know who they are? They’re a very wealthy family. Like lots of others.

They’re also Jewish. Like not quite so many others.

Like not quite so many other people.

On a slight tangent, the true number of Jews in the UK, in the US, on the planet(!) has become more widely known in recent years, but even now, people usually hugely overestimate the number of Jewish people in the UK.

Intelligent, sensible people, when asked “how many Jews do you think there are in the UK?” often, surprisingly often, get the number not only wrong, but wildly so.

I’ve asked friends of mine on occasion.

Just the straight questions: how many Jews are there in the UK? (And if they’re from Scotland or Wales, ‘how many Jews live in your country?’)

Stop just for a second, if you need to, and take a wild guess.

OK, guessed?

Well, the numbers suggested to me over the years by friends, by people I know, have ranged from ‘a million’ in the UK, to ‘…three million?’. A million and a half is the usual number offered. For context, that’d be about 2 percent of the population.

And in Scotland? A very Scottish, very smart, friend recently admitted he didn’t have a clue, but said he’d be ‘amazed’ if it was 250,000 Jews in Scotland, but that was his top range guess. (Higher than the usual suggestion of around 150,000. 150,000 is about 2½% of the Scottish population)

A Welsh friend recently suggested 15k for Wales, about the average offered to me for Wales; about half a percent of the population.

The actual numbers? About 280,000 Jews in the United Kingdom, under half a percent of the total population.

In Scotland? Under 6,000 Jews live there, almost all of them in Glasgow and Edinburgh; that’s about 0.1% of the Scottish population

In Wales? 2,000… in total; about 0.06% of the population of Wales.

Anyways, as I always say when I’ve spent longer on a digression than I intended.

Anyways… back to The Rothschilds.

For once, we have a pretty definite date for the creation of a specific antisemitic myth. Not the whole ‘Jews and money’ thing; that goes back more generations, more centuries still, and maybe I’ll do a post on that later.

But The Rothschild ‘myth’, and its use as a specific antisemitic trope, dates back to 1846, thirty years after The Battle of Waterloo.

Yeah, almost 200 years. It’s nothing new, and the pretence that using “Rothschild Zionists” means that the term isn’t antisemitic fools no-one, David Icke… but then, of course, it’s very much not meant to.

There’s a pretty good – and understandable – history of the trope, the lies, the provable falshoods, here: The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?

My only quibble? It hasn’t been dismissed, not at all; for, sadly, the libel and antisemitic trope is still alive and well.

But let’s go back into history for the first set of images.

Remember the first pic in the Cephalopods post last week? Here it is again:

Now look at the following three pics, all of which pre-date the establishment of The State of Israel in 1948.

See any familiar names?

That’s a caricature of… James de Rothschild.

How about in the following?

So, a centuries old antisemitic conspiracy theory about the wealthiest family secretly controlling banks, governments, countries.

Let’s bring it up to date.

(Note the ultimate puppet-master in that last one. It’s notable that as some – not all, but some – have realised that ‘shit, they’re on to us if we use ‘Rothschilds’… they’ve switched to using the name of Soros… but yeah, even then it often comes back, in the end, to guess who?)

Here’s a modern post using a “Jews stabbing in the back’ image from the end of the first world war… Of course they had to make it even more specific, because why wouldn’t they?

Oh, and the numerous “The Rothschilds own all the media organisations!” as well.

And then there’s this, still doing the rounds today.

Huh. A reference to Waterloo; what, you thought the ‘Napoleon’ reference was a coincidence? It’s never a coincidence.

Oh, by the way, I wasn’t exaggerating for effect when I said it’s still doing the rounds today.

The wording on the image of Jacob R – the nonsense about central banks, the financing north sids of wars, the 500 trillion dollars (I’ve seen it with ‘500 trillion pounds’ as well) – has been comprehensively debunked so many bloody times, and yet somehow that hasn’t stopped the bullshit being propagated.

Because of course it doesn’t. Debunking antisemitic tropes, smears and libels, never stops the antisemitism. Because antisemites like being antisemitic. I’m surprised how often that point is missed.

If debunking antisemitism and antisemitic tropes stopped antisemites being antisemitic,

  1. there’d be no antisemitism any more and
  2. my hat¹, life would be a lot easier for Jews.
  3. Antisemites wouldn’t be able to be antisemitic; and they really, really like being antisemitic.

(¹No, I don’t own a hat. No, I’m not going to buy a hat. Stop telling me to buy a hat!)

Here’s another image, this one on Facebook, reposted by a Labour councillor in October 2016. Look familiar?

An Australian candidate for the Senate had posted something similar, in the same October:

And in 2017? A serving Labour councillor – and former parliamentary candidate… oh, and a confirmed ‘it’s not antisemitic if you don’t say JEWS!’ Labour member…

He posted it saying it “had a lot of truth”.

And then protested that he wasn’t antisemitic.

Thing is, if you use or promote any of the images above, you don’t get to say they’re not antisemitic. You just don’t. Not without lying. Because those who use them know they’re antisemitic

That’s why they use them.

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.

More images, a different trope, a very, very nasty one, 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.

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.