Posts Tagged ‘social media’


It’s a useful hashtag, my occasional entirely self-deprecating ‘I is a idiot’ on Twitter notwithstanding. But it can mean so many different things.

Obviously, as with most hashtags, I can’t say that the first time I saw it was the first time it was used, but the first time I saw it used, well, it sticks in the memory.

A British comedian, a fairly well-known, fairly successful one then, a better known, and more successful now, comedian… made an arse of himself.

He credulously repeated an urban myth about Orthodox Jews, apparently in all innocence. To say that it was surprising is to understate it, That he repeated it was jaw-dropping.

His Jewish friends, his more educated non-Jewish friends, pretty much everyone. fell upon him with the weight of several tonnage of bricks.

And he apologised, Instantly. With a full, unreserved, completely and entirely self-excoriating apology. No self-serving ‘if I offended…’, none of the ‘I merely repeated…’

No, this was a full blown “I fucked up, I was gullible, I am an idiot.

It was the last bit that made me remember it so strongly.

I mean, I was asked about it at the time. (I didn’t know the comedian then, personally. New his work, but didn’t know him. I got to know him later, and it was a pleasure to discover that I liked him as well as his material.)

I remember being shocked by the credulity, and impressed by the apology, both its speed and completeness, but especially by the “I am an idiot”. I accepted it as heartfelt and genuine. I’ve never had occasion since to doubt either.


Sidebar: what I’m about to write about isn’t the usually humorous self-deprecation when someone explains something to me that makes perfect sense when it’s explained but that I’d never thought about before.

Example. The rules for election broadcast coverage of elections in the UK. There’s a broadcast rule that, well, as they put it, in 2015:

I knew the rules existed, but I was puzzled as to why it started at midnight-30, not at 12 o’clock precisely.

It was explained to me: it allows the broadcast media to run their midnight news, reporting on the final day of campaigning.

I thanked the person who’d explained it to me and added “I am an idiot”. It was self-deprecating and everyone understood it as that, nothing more.

That’s not what I’m talking about here.


Occasionally, I fuck up online.

No, let me restate that. Occasionally I realise I’ve fucked up, online. No, that’s not it either.

OK, Occasionally both me and the person who tells me I’ve fucked up both agree that I’ve fucked up.

Yeah, that’s better.

Now I’m not talking about being wrong about something. That happens all the time. If you’ve any sense, and any reserves of personal integrity, you correct the record and the matter’s closed.

Here’s one.

I’m not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn. Anyone who’s followed me on Twitter or read this blog will know that.

But I’ve never understood the need for disprovable, easily or otherwise, by independent third party evidence, allegations. I made a statement about him. I was shown it was incorrect in one aspect: the date I’d said the specific thing happened occurred. I immediately withdrew the tweet, and amended it, correcting the date.

I was wrong. I corrected my error. I wasn’t an idiot. I was just… wrong.

Here’s an entirely harmless but memorable I am an idiot. When I was a young child, our primary school had a local theatre group in to give a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Afterwards, there was a Q&A session. Apparently I asked in all seriousness what the medicine was that they’d given Titania to make her sleep as my kid brother wouldn’t sleep at night.

They kindly explained that it was called acting.

I was an idiot. I was very young. But yeah, I was an idiot.

Here are two more examples where I was an idiot. of what I mean with “I am an idiot”, one long before Twitter existed, one on Twitter; one entirely harmless and silly, one less so.

For a while, that same kid brother lived on Bermuda. He was learning his trade as a hairdresser, and took a job on the island to spread his wings a bit and to hone his skills with different types of hair; he was there for a year or so.

During this self-imposed exile, I visited him and we were hit by a tropical storm. I don’t think there was a causal relationship but who knows?

Anyway, we were hit by a storm. It wasn’t pleasant; it was even a bit scary. The following day, when the storm had passed, we went to the beach to have a look at the damage and enjoy the lack of, y’know, wind and rain. The beaches on Bermuda are gloriously soft, and your feet sink a couple of inches into them. That should have been my first clue in retrospect.

On the beach was a boulder the side of a small car. Not huge enough to be a truck, nor a house… but yeah, the size of a small car. It wasn’t small.

I was flabbergasted. I mean, I knew the winds had been strong but to dump a rock that size on the beach, And I expressed this astonishment to my brother… who started laughing.

I turned around to discover my brother hugging his sides with laughter, trying in vain to restrain tears of laughter.

Yeah, you just got there a second before I did: the winds hadn’t dumped the rock on the beach; the winds had stripped away the sand surrounding the rock.

Again, something I freely admit and have no problem with. I was an idiot.

Here’s one that’s less harmless. Where I was an idiot with what could have had serious consequences. No excuses, no self-serving oops: I was an idiot.

I’m not a fan of the journalist Peter Hitchens. While he’s smart, I wouldn’t deny it, I disagree with almost everything he believes, and promotes. And it would probably be best to leave it there.

Because once I didn’t.

He’d said something online that so angered me that I did something… unwise. What he’d said was so extreme, so anger inducing, that I mischievously wondered to myself whether he’d said something in the past that contradicted it. And, knowing Hitchens’ style, if he’d done so, it wouldn’t be a mild contradiction; it would be full blown.

And, delightfully, I found it. I discovered a piece from him not only directly contradicting himself, but saying that anyone who thought otherwise was an idiot. So I screenshot the contradiction and tweeted it.


Except that what I’d found was from a parody site. And I made a damn fool of myself. Publicly.

I retracted it, obviously. I apologised to him directly, and apologised in a separate tweet. (Give the man credit; he was graciousness itself when he accepted the apology and said publicly that he considered the mater closed.)

But yeah, that was stupid of me. I was an idiot, and not in a funny way, not in a good way, in a way that could have left me open to defamation proceedings.

OK, so if you’re wrong on Twitter, if you’re an idiot, how do you apologise? How do you set the record straight? I mean, how do you do it right?

There are umpteen ways of doing it badly. Deleting the original tweet, and blocking anyone who raises the subject. seems to be the current favourite. Or there’s hooking your apology on to an entirely irrelevant tweet from the person you’ve fucked over. That way you can claim you’ve apologised but no one ever sees it. Or there’s deleting it, brazening it out and claiming anyone who raises it is ‘weaponising’ the issue.

But how do you do it right? There were, for a long time, three fairly well accepted ways of doing it.

  1. Delete the original tweet, put out a new tweet obliquely referring to it without detail and issuing a form apology.
  1. Delete the original tweet, put out a new tweet retracting what you said and apologising, with an attached screenshot of the original tweet.
  1. Quote tweet the original tweet with an “I was wrong to tweet this; apologies.”

None of these ever seemed to be a good method to me. With option 1, you look like you’re trying to do the very minimum necessary and also like you’re hiding the original offence, pretending you did nothing wrong.

With the final two, you merely encourage (and it often seems this is the reason for it) others to repeat something you know if false. Because with 2., they just grab the screenshot and use that, and with 3., the original tweet continues being retweeted and QT’d, while you can say ‘oh no! Look what is happening! This is a very bad thing…‘ and pretend you’re upset at it.

The solution is pretty obvious, so obvious that one wonders why more don’t do it, and one is further forced to conclude that it’s deliberate.

That solution? Grab a screenshot, and overlay a watermark, like the attached.

That seems to work, and it’s what I’ll do if the situation requires it.

OK, one more thing to end on. One more “I was an idiot” story from my past that’s still relevant, and one more story I genuinely enjoy telling against myself.

OK, no one reading this is unaware I’ve got a fucked-up foot. When it became a fucked-up foot, the doctor prescribed fairly strong painkillers, which I still take. (At some point I’ll need a major op on the foot, but until then, the painkillers do their job, mostly.)

However, when I first started taking them, these powerful opioids, I was… worried, concerned, wary about… no, damit, I was scared shitless that I’d become addicted to them. And, after three months, I was getting more scared.

I spoke to the young lady I was then seeing, who happened to work as a drugs counsellor. She reassured me:

Of course you’ll become addicted to them; they’re addictive.

Ok, maybe ‘reassured me’ wasn’t the right verb. However, she then attempted to reassure me properly, by explaining the difference between being addicted to something and having an actual addition… “problem”.

Look, first off, I’m a drugs worker. I’ll know you’ve got a problem long before you know it…OK, I’ll tell you what I tell my clients: if you’re worried, find a day where you ‘need’ to take all eight tablets and take seven. See if you ‘live’ for the tablet you don’t take.

That made sense to me, and a couple of weeks later, I did exactly that. For three days. My foot was on fire and I took only seven tablets not six. And oh gods did I lived for that other tablet.

So it was with trepidation that I told her what had happened.

And she… laughed at me. Pretty much about as much as my brother had about the rock on the beach.

I wasn’t amused. But then she explained.

I thought you were supposed to be smart, she said. Of course I don’t tell my clients that. I told you that to prove a point. Don’t you get it? If you had a problem, you’d have taken the other pill. You’d have made every excuse to me, to others, to yourself, but you’d have taken the eighth pill. You stuck to seven not eight… merely because a friend told you to.

I was an idiot. In a good way, but yeah I was an idiot.

(Not for nothing, but the fear of losing control of the addiction remains. And years later, still on them, my GP and I discuss the matter three times a year, so that we’re both certain i) I still need the painkillers and ii) I’m not abusing them.)

So what have we learned?

I am an idiot.

No, what have we learned?

That I am an idiot, and that that’s ok… most of the time.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

Claire Quilty, on Twitter, said a while back that:

That’s relevant to what follows, so remember it; I’ll come back to it later on.

(And no, in case you’re wondering, this post has got nothing to do with antisemitism. Not directly, anyway.)


There’s a line that’s been used any number of times on telly, but I first came across it in, of all things, an episode of The Professionals. One of the lead characters is told

You’re not a very ‘civil’ civil servant, are you?

(I’m obliged to Mark Forsyth – who tweets as @inkyfool – for identifying the rhetorical device used therein as an “antanaclasis”.)

The past few years I’ve come to think the same about social media; i.e. it’s not very social a lot of the time, is it?

I’d say that I date the genesis of this observation to 2015 because that’s a convenient date for all sorts of reasons. For one thing…

And, for another…


But yeah, that’s why I date it to late 2015, although what I’m about to talk about probably (almost certainly) pre-dates that.

Social media, then.

Thing is… with the obvious exception of Facebook events, Google Hangouts, etc., it’s not very… social, is it?

And that’s leaving aside – ok, it’s not, because I’m about to talk about it… Because I’m no longer sure what qualifies as social media these days. No, not because of covid. Yes, what ‘social’ means changed during the pandemic. Changed irrevocably? I don’t know. I guess we’ll discover that together over the next few years.

But… what does ‘social’ mean?

I’m happy to reach for a dictionary at this point. (First not really about antisemitism bit; it’s my usual response when someone starts off with the ‘ah, but how do you define antisemitism, eh? Eh?’ My usual response is to point them at a reputable dictionary. Oddly, they tend to get very upset.)

But, yes, dictionary definition. Even merely as an adjective, ‘social’ has a fairly long list of definitions.


So… is Facebook a ‘social’ app? Sure. Even leaving aside the use of it to arrange drinkups and parties, it’s effectively a huge room, with dozens of people mingling and chatting with each other. Some stick to their own cliques, some do the rounds… and sometimes you get an idiot that no one invited standing on a table and shouting about the latest conspiracy theory doing the rounds.

Twitter? Yes, again. Same as Facebook… except that there’s a greater proportion of foulmouthed, drunk, or sleep-deprived, idiots.

Snapchat? And Tik Tok? I’ll take your word for it on both, as I’ve never been on them, and I’m pretty sure I never will be. (Actually, not quite true; I once downloaded Tik Tok, looked around for about ten minutes and speedily deleted the app.) But both are not for me.

But YouTube? How the hell is YouTube ‘social media’? If anything it’s a publishing platform, just as blogging platforms are – to me, at least – not social media.

It’s like those ‘what was the first social media platform you used?’ question that does the rounds every so often. I rarely include blogging or even livejournal/message boards because I don’t think of them as ‘social media’. However, apparently I’m wrong on that… or so I’m told whenever I express this view.

I mean – is this blog social media? (Checks my readership stats. Possibly ‘unsocial media’ would be a better description.)

But what I originally wanted to note that long ago time in the past when I started writing this post was a change in Twitter in recent years; it’s perhaps inevitable since we’ve gone through a shedload of contentious elections and votes and similar, resulting in more than a few populist governments. Add covid and 5G and any number of things tailor made for conspiracies…

At some point in the past few years the way we view ourselves and the way we view others has changed.

(And no, I’m not talking about the way we’ve gone from ‘those I’m politically opposed to are not good people with bad ideas but bad people with worse ideas’, something that’s taken over politcial discourse. Or at least I’m not just talking about that.)

As always, however, nothing is new; neither under the sun, nor on social media.

So, let me start with a friend a couple of decades back whose blog, on Livejournal, morphed over a period of a couple of years from a general ‘slice of life’ with other stuff frequently mentioned, into effectively a campaigning blog, with one sole aim: the abolition of greyhound racing in the UK.

That the sport (for want of a better word, my use of ‘sport’ isn’t meant to sanitise it, I promise) is cruel, wantonly cruel, knowingly cruel, is I think beyond doubt.

My friend, however, truly believed, and campaigned for, its abolition on the grounds that it was unforgivably cruel, irrendemently so.

And this is the change I’ve noticed taking over more and more of social media.

I came to realise then that she, through no overt ‘fault’ of her own, but in part because of her passion and campaigning, thought less of me

Not because I didn’t share her fury, but because I didn’t share her view that this was the most important thing to be angry about. Not the only thing, but certainly the most important thing.

And now we’re getting closer to what I wanted to write about, about social media.

Certainty, as I wrote about a couple of years ago, makes it easy to get angry; too easy, as it happens. And social media makes it easier than ever to do so.

With strangers. With people you don’t know.

With friends, however, it’s disappointment that leads to upset and anger. Usually, anyway.

And while in what we’re pleased to call ‘real life’ there are a variety of things you can do to express your anger, or upset or disappointment, all of them require some effort on your part.

Yes, yes, the last 18 months have shown the falsity of any distinction between ‘online life’ and ‘in person life’, but bear with me, ok?

Let’s say you fall out with a friend; ok, you’ve got to ask yourself what will be the consequences if you cut them out of your life, if you snub them, if you want nothing to do with them. What are you going to do when there’s a party, where mutual friends will want you both there. OK, they’ll want to know neither of you are going to ‘make a scene’, but they pretty reasonably see no reason why they should have to choose sides.

(In my own case, I choose not to attend such parties if someone with whom I’ve fallen out hugely will be there. I make the choice, because it’s better all around. No one feels like they’re walking on eggshells, they have a lovely time in company, and I have an ok time on my own.)

But, to be fair, if you have fallen out with, oh, I dunno, let’s call them Ethelred… it’s unlikely that your friends, even if they remain friends with Ethelred, are likely to tell you what Ethelred thinks about politics or sport or anything really. Your mutual friends may still stay in contact with Ethelred, but unless they’re completely thoughtless idiots, they’re not going to rub your face in it.

And then there’s social media. Where, among other things, they kind of are likely to do that.

Because if you fall out with Ethelred, and merely unfollow them, which is very easy to do – more about that in a moment – if your friends like something that Ethelred said online, they may repost it, retweet it, bring it, unasked, into your timeline.

So you mute them… yeah, that’s not gonna work, in most cases. So you block them.

Yes, you block them. Someone you were on good terms with, you erase them from your timeline, from your online life. (And if Twitetr could

Now unfollowing happens for any number of reasons: to be brutally honest, I usually assume that anyone who unfollows me hasn’t done it because I’ve overtly offended them… it’s because I’ve bored them. It’s a message “I’m no longer interested in anything you have to say”.

It stings if it comes out of the blue, but mostly it doesn’t, not with friends.

But one of the first online lessons you have to learn, and appreciate, is “never ever worry about who follows you, or why, and who doesn’t… and why.” Quickly followed by “learn to read fluent Tyop, and never highlight someone’s typos… unless the typo is very very funny.”

But blocking is something different., It’s final (usually), it’s an overt statement.

Tracy Ann Oberman ran a podcast entitled Trolled, wherein she interviewed celebs who’d been subject to trolling. What I found fascinating was that some, like Luciana Berger, rarely blocked, in part because she didn’t want the trolls to think they’d somehow ‘won’, that they’d upset her. Others like Gary Lineker took another view: they wanted the trolls to know they’d lost access to his feed because of their behaviour; ie that by their behaviour online, they’d forfeited the right to read his feed.

OK, coming back to what I started this blog with; now, I did say that it’d be relevant…

If I mention y = x + 2, does that ring any bells? No? Ah, that’s a pity. Well, it was when I came up with my own law.

I genuinely thought that might be it, that I’d never come up with another law that applied in all circumstances, universally.

And yet, over the past few years, I’ve blocked away racists, idiots, antisemitic fuckwits… and the occasional now former friend who stepped over a line I genuinely thought (and think) there’s no way back from. And I didn’t regret a single one of them.

And I’ve been blocked by racists, idiots, antisemitic fuckwits… and by the occasional friend where I stepped over a line they genuinely thought (and think) there’s no way back from. And I don’t regret a single one of them.

I know some regard blocking or being blocked as ‘a win’, but I never have. I’ve taken pleasure in some, and reluctantly agreed others’ necessity. But there’s not one I regret. Not really.

I wrote a post at the end of 2019 entitled Saying Farewell to 2019, A Good Thing in which I listed some good things that had happened in 2019, in the midst of what I considered a pretty shitty year all around. Among the fifteen items were these two:

So, far too long after I promised it, here’s a new Budgie’s Law:


All blocks, every single one of them, without reservation, without
exception, for whatever reason, no matter who blocked who…

…are ‘for the best’.

I almost called it Budgie’s Law of Social Media Exclusion, but that could be confused for when social media companies show you the door… which is a whole other post. Maybe.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I put something up on Tumblr – not on goingcheep , but on the rarely used but still extant budgie’s blatherings – , but figured I might as well record it for posterity here as well…

As I write this, I’m looking at my phone with a mixture of amusement, bemusement and mild irritation.

I just had my Twitter account locked, because I told someone who defended a tweet egregiously and knowingly falsely calling the jewish journalist David Aaronovitch antisemitic… to combine sex and travel, ie to fuck off.

David A had described the person behind an organisation as a shyster.

The organisation pretended – against every etymological sense – that this epithet was linked to Shakespeare’s Shylock, and was therefore exclusively antisemitic.

Of course it’s not. It’s not exclusively antisemitic. It’s not antisemitic at all.

And it never was.

But someone defended the tweet attacking David A as antisemitic. And once I said that it was bullshit – inaccurate, etymological nonsense and flat wrong – and they then continued to defend the original tweet calling David A antisemitic… I invited them to fuck off.

And every time he replied, defending his actions and comments, I repeated the invitation.

And – while leaving abusive comments on my blog; using different names, but all with the exact same IP address – he reported my tweets as targeted harrassment.

(Note for blog: all effectively anonymous comments are moderated, so they never went live, but I have them all saved in my ‘deleted’ folder should I later… ‘require’ them. Amusingly, they took me 1/2 a second to delete when they must have taken him several minutes to do each one.)

So Twitter has locked the account until I delete the tweets.

I’ve appealed, but we’ll see. I mean, I’m usually not that appealing in the first place, so it’s a tossup whether they agree or not.

In the meantime… ah well, such is life and all that.

EDIT TO ADD: Notwithstanding the tweets where I did, indeed, tell him to fuck off, I’m honestly bemused at these two prima facie judgments…

I’ll update this with the resolution, whatever the hell happens.

UPDATE: Twitter sided with the fuckwit. The same fuckwit who continues to leave abusive messages on here and on Twitter. Now, of course, with Twitter’s approval.

Oh, and I woke this morning to discover this:

Which, some might argue, is kind of libel-y; y’know, what with the reference to drug and alcohol abuse.

And Twitter saw no problem with it at all.

Oh. Fucking. Joy.

(There was, of course, no such apology. Like everything else from the fuckwit, that was unreserved, unmitigated, bullshit.)

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK – take a breath, budgie…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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