Monday, 24 February 2014



I don’t want to ignore the blog at the expense of the app but, over the weekend, I definitely became more serious about the work I’m doing with Android. I actually found myself adding comments to my code. It’s a small thing but it tells me that I’m passed the stage where I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. As you can see from this snippet, I’m actually writing completely new code and I need the comments to remind me what all the parts are doing.

It’s strange to be programming again. This project started out as an intellectual distraction. Could I really get something running on my Android tablet and could it actually do something I might find useful? I could and I think that it is. Useful to me, at least, and I’m already using it as it was intended. I’m also now at the stage where I can see the faults of my original design and I’ve started to rectify them.

One of the problems I’ve tackled today was the variety of screen sizes in the devices that run Android. Every device out there seems to have a different sized screen or different pixel densities. That’s a problem because I’d like my little App to work on a wide variety of devices so I need to be sure that I’ve built software capable of adapting to different environments. That’s not as easy as it sounds, if, indeed, it sounds easy at all. It’s the sort of thing that could easily leave me chewing on the business end of mental ward by the end of the week…

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Android Programming: Day 3… Bright Colours

Yesterday morning I was pretty delighted by my progress and intended to make my humble app a little more functional. This morning I’m just exhausted. Yesterday was crazy ambitious even by my standards of blindly leaping into things without quite knowing what I’m doing.

The problem began when I tried to implement at file open dialog box. Whoa, I hear you cry and I agree! I’m moving into the exciting stuff really quickly but I have things to do and my file open dialog box was where I left off yesterday.

You know the sort of thing I’m talking about: you click ‘load’ and a window appears asking you to select a file. I thought it would be easy. Usually one of the easiest things to program is the file open dialog box and that’s because you don’t actually write software using a programming language. Well, you do but using a ‘programming language’ is like saying that the entirety of your speech is made up of English and it contains words and grammar which you understand. It is true that programming involves knowing that language but much of the basic functionality of any piece of software is actually created by using something called the API, which is the application programming interface. To continue the English analogy, it’s like saying that a writer has lots of newspaper articles that are already written for them and which they can quote. In software terms, these are libraries of functions that provide many of the basic building blocks of the app. For example, somebody has usually created a simple-to-use building block which displays a file open dialog box. You tell the computer to go and create the dialog box and you wait for it to come back with the name the user selected. You don’t actually know anything that happens – the ‘new folder’ option or ‘sort files by name’. You simply say ‘I need a file name, get one for me’ and the computer's demon returns with a ‘as you requested, master’ and lays both the directory and file name at your feet.

So, adding my file open dialog box was my next step. Except one of the very few things that Android is currently missing is a built-in file open dialog.

Yesterday, after writing my enthusiastic and critically acclaimed blog update (nearly three people read it) I clearly faced a dilemma. Write my own file open dialog, find one somebody had already created, or do something else.

Writing file open dialog boxes is miserable and I wasn’t going to spend my day worrying about one of the ideas I had for my App which wasn’t actually necessary. I decided instead that what my app needed was more whiz bang. I decided to look at the graphic functions of Android. I was hesitant at first because that’s heading into games programming, which I assumed would be really difficult. However, pretty quickly, I’d created a screen and had some things flying around.

By 4am this morning, I’d designed a new layout for the app, produced yet more things flying across the screen and a functioning button which makes a satisfying click noise. Today I intend to add another button, make my buttons indent when I click them, and then I want to produce more graphical magic before I then link the whole thing into a facility to interact with the wider world. For the first time, I actually think this app might have a future beyond my little world where it does something solely for my amusement and utility. I beginning to hope that others might enjoy it. In fact, I can see there being at least another ten or eleven people in the entire world who might want this app and that would be at least £5 or 6£ in my pocket if I sold if for fifty pence.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Android Programming: Day 2... (Yes, this blog post is really going to be that exciting!)

Sadly, there’s been no word from Joleen, she of the big boobs and even bigger butt, but I have managed to create a SQL database inside Android, so you needn’t be too downhearted.

[Counts to three before he opens his eyes and looks to see who’s left in the room…]

If you’re still reading, it means you’re one of the better few who are less interested in pornographic internet SPAM and more interested in a misguided dabbler’s attempts to wrap his brain around Javascript. How easy is it to develop an app to run in Android, you ask? I’d say surprisingly easy, though the Android SDK running on Eclipse does create a functioning ‘Hello world’ App for your as soon as you install it. So in that sense: it’s very easy. In some ways, it’s actually easier than developing software for the PC, especially if you have an Android device plugged into your machine. The updated app code runs straight on the device so you get fewer of those ‘bugger, I’ve just crashed my PC’ moments you get when developing things for the PC.

I started this little ‘project’ about two days ago and I already have an app which does quite a bit more than say ‘Hello world’ and it’s running on my old Android phone which has become my unofficial test bed. I also have it running on my tablet but since I use that almost constantly, it’s not as easy to keep it plugged into the PC and it won’t be until my new ultra-cheap-but-long micro-usb cables arrive from China.

I don’t exactly know why I’m writing an app except the other day I was searching for something to do a specific task related to my cartooning. Not being able to find anything suitable on the Play Store, I began to wonder how difficult it would be to simply write it myself. I used to program databases after I did my computer degree – which, I should add, taught me next to nothing about programming – and before that I’d been a complete computer junkie making simple games with even simpler graphics. Every meaningful thing I’ve ever known about programming has been self-taught yet I’ve never truly taken the time to learn Object Orientated programming and what little I know about Javascript is based on my somewhat limited knowledge of C. I am an old school programmer completely out of his depth with newer code. In the past, I’ve often written simple things to run inside a web browser, to change the various random phases on this blog, for example, but I’ve always wanted to know how to develop a proper app. My cartooning hasn’t been going so well – no bugger seems to ever like anything I draw – and my writing is at a standstill given that the agent still hasn’t replied yet it’s probably a little too soon to send the book elsewhere. My enthusiasm for blogging is also at a new low and my ‘real’ work is just destroying my will to live. What better time to add another string to my bow?

The last couple of days have been about information overload and absorbing as much as I can. I’ve been selectively reading chunks from different huge tomes on Javascript written by clever people who don’t know how to write. That’s not to say that they’re incapable of writing but they’re incapable of writing for the audience to which the book has been marketed. The best I’ve found so far is ‘Android Apps for Absolute Beginners’ by Wallace Jackson, which has become my new Bible and I’ve read from cover to cover. Last night I also attempted Jeff “JavaJeff” Friesen’s ‘Learn Java for Android Developers’, which I thought I didn’t necessarily need but hoped it might help me remember the stuff I’ve long forgotten. About half way through an early chapter, I fell asleep and woke up to realise that I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Only a few pages earlier, I’d been told how to declare a variable and then I was suddenly deep into the murky territory of inheritance, polymorphism, and upcasting.
Following the cast, the contract’s reflexivity, symmetry, and transitivity requirements are met by only allowing Points to be compared with other Points, via expression p.x == x && p.y == y.

Sometimes clever folk need somebody a lot less clever to put a hand on their shoulder when they get excited and ask them to rephrase that for people without a doctorate in abstract logic. Of course, the fault might well be my own. I’m a terrible student since I never attempt the examples they write in the course of these books. I always want to get to the meat of the business. I get frustrated having to read five pages about how to change the colour of text, which is the sort of thing I tend to figure out quite easily. More difficult for me was learning how to open new screens from the main screen. It was obvious in the end but it was the kind of top down structural approach to software development I really needed at the beginning. Had they said that an Android app is made up of many ‘Activities’ which are essentially concurrent and each declared in their own file, I might have had a better idea of what I was doing.

I don’t think learning things my way is necessarily bad. It forces me to have an active knowledge of real programming rather than the kind of passive knowledge you get by simply reading other people’s code. I believe writing is best learnt by writing and speaking a language best learnt by speaking a language. Programming is best learnt by getting the hardware to do what you want it to do. My app might not break any records and surprise people with its originality but it will do what I want it to do and that’s a better achievement than simply producing the same code as you could have downloaded from your tutor’s website.

At this point, my ‘App’ is like some kind of Texas Chainsaw hillbilly with pieces chopped from different places and stitched together. Yet it actually does what I wanted and I’m delighted it works. I only have one functioning button, a menu system which deletes the database and then restores it by reading in data from text files, and my Settings page only reports things about the database just to assure me that the database actually exists. I wasted three hours yesterday trying to figure out why my database wasn’t being created only to later discover that my database existed and was fully populated with fake data but my ‘checkDbExists’ routine was flawed.

Christ… Does anybody find this kind of rambling blog post interesting? I’m not bright enough to actually write a meaning post about Android programming but I’m too dumb to realise I should just shut up and get back to it.

Today I’d like to figure out how to open a file selection dialog to import and export data. Later, I’d like to allow them to modify records and then start extending the functionality to the actually things I’ll hopefully find useful.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


Joleen found me via Facebook, though I don’t really use Facebook but she was excited nonetheless. She thought I was cute, though my picture doesn’t appear anywhere. But that was okay. She wanted to share some hot photos with me because I’m a ‘babe’. That was her word not mine but I do accept that I could be considered a ‘babe’ by some. Some like Joleen... You see, she’s just a free spirit with big boobs and an even bigger butt, apparently, though I’ve not seen them or her. She assures me that she knows how to use them but use them for what? I facetious want to ask but we’re not yet that close. She only emailed me this morning.

Now I don’t know what to do. The thought of a woman with big boobs and an even bigger butt is intriguing but I’m not sure I could overlook her bad spelling. When she told me to ‘click bellow’, I thought we were about to embark on a discussion about an angst ridden novelist. What if she’s also misspelled 'big boobs' and 'bigger butt'? She might actually have big books and lager gut. Do I really want to read Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa in the company of chubby women? I’ve had enough of that in my life.

I suppose I’ll find out soon. Joleen wants me to look at her private photos. She has (30) of them, though I don’t know the reason for the unnecessary (parenthesis). Perhaps it’s a sexual thing. She gave me an opportunity to click a link to a website called I admit I was intrigued so I clicked, expecting more girls like Joleen with big butts and even bigger boobs which they know how to use. I was taken to a company called, who are ‘a global provider of smart networking and communications solutions for machine-to-machine (M2M) applications.’ There they are again. The mysterious parentheses. It definitely has to be some strange twisted sex game. Grammatical gimpery, the sadomasochistic binding of letter upon letter. It makes no sense to me.

Nothing makes sense of me. I didn’t blog yesterday, which was the first day I hadn’t blogged in about two months. I didn’t expect to blog today. I thought I’d just walk away from the web which depresses me with all the Joleens who contact me when the people I hope to hear from just walk on by. Still no reply from the agent, the editors, or anybody… Perhaps the book is just a bad idea. I can’t draw for shit...

Yesterday I spent twelve hours reading books on Java programming. Late last night, I made my first Android app, which, unlike my experiments in programming, actually did something I’ve always wanted in an app. I loaded it again this morning and it made me smile. It’s a nice idea and I intend to learn more so I can make it better. I need to figure out how to create an SQL database under Android but it looks horribly difficult. I’ve not programmed seriously in such a long time. It’s hard to get back into the zone. I’ve never really liked Object Orientated programming with its broadcasters and listeners triggering events. I miss the days of straightforward loops, functions, and procedures. However, I’ll persevere. When I’m finished, I might feel like blogging again but I don’t know. I mean once you’ve met a woman like Joleen…. Assuming, of course, that Joleen is a woman.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Vegetable Slicing and the Symbolic Castration of Ant & Dec

AntandDecMen of the world unite! Either Ant or Dec has chopped off the top of his thumb and, oh, what a fine time it is to be a man, when the best among us has done what we all aspire to do: sing a song of manhood replete with sharp kitchen gadgets and a willful disregard for reading the instructions.

But you might have already grimaced over this story and know that it was actually Ant who suffered the injury whilst using a vegetable slicer to prepare dauphinoise potatoes for Dec. I only typed ‘Ant or Dec’ because I can’t honestly tell one receding hairline from another standing a foot to the right. In my mind, it’s the high-foreheaded hydra that’s one thumb down on the day and has only three thumbs remaining.

It’s a strange world where this story features so highly in the news. It’s probably why, as I gazed over the morning papers, I wondered why I continue with this sad pretence of blogging. The truth is that had I not written a piece about ‘Flappy Bird’ in the past week, traffic to this blog would be at an all-time low, with today setting a chilly record. Meanwhile, The Guardian promotes Jack Monroe like she’s the incarnate truth of blithe poverty; the happy-clappy survivalist and expert prepper for a country that’s just about getting by on one Ryvita a day and the occasional shapeless grape we find squashed beneath our empty freezer. That’s not to say I don’t like Jack Monroe, her backstory, or how she’s passionate about eating cheaply. It’s just that she’s so different to me that she constantly demonstrates how I’m doing everything wrong…

So, here goes. Aim for the mainstream, David. Aim for the mainstream…

How to cheaply feed a family of four with one thumb joint taken from popular TV presenter, Anthony ‘Ant’ McPartlin and some bloody-stained veg sliced unreasonably thin… First, take one TV presenter (£20 million a year, available at your local broadcaster), wash his thumbs, and apply one sharp blade to the top knuckle…

But I have to stop this sham right there. It would be fine if I could but I just can’t carry on and I’m increasingly tired of newspapers that can. It’s not just The Guardian that does it, of course. They all twist stories to fit their particular narratives. The Guardian just happens to have the best free web presence and politics I don’t totally object to, so I’m still drawn to reading it and feeling dismayed and utterly disappointed by the predictability of their content; how they try to link every celebrity story into a restatement of their perpetual themes of the surveillance society, poverty, gender politics… Especially gender politics…

Perhaps it’s just these jaded eyes but journalism seems to have become home to every third-rate academic willing to add another floor to the elaborate Babel that stretches skywards towards a feminist utopia that really isn’t up there. But perhaps a tower is far too phallic, no matter how much my metaphor might droop. Let’s make it a deep cave disappearing down towards some core dark truth.

Yet what surprises me the most is that I’ve never been entirely hostile to gender studies. I never thought it a paradigm shift to realise that gender is not absolute. Gender study is very prevalent in literary theory where it has become an often repeated observation that a writer such as D.H. Lawrence had a feminine sensibility. Once you accept that kind of distinction, the rest of it follows fairly easily. Even if I never thought much of Kristeva’s work (a writer who clearly hates to be understood), I’ve always quite liked Hélène Cixous’s way of making her point.
I write this as a woman, toward women. When I say "woman," I'm speaking of woman in her inevitable struggle against conventional man; and of a universal woman subject who must bring women to their senses and to their meaning in history.

If Freud could argue that we are defined by our childhoods, it seems only reasonable to conclude that the things we do, the words we choose to write, might also be influenced by our bodies, hormones, the very way we respond to the base urges of our gender.

The problem is that some places aren’t ready for the reconstituted male, men who agree with the broad arguments of feminism and simply wish to move on. We have to continue to play the role of the proxy bastards, out to keep women down and establish the patriarchal order. It’s not a part I wish to play but I’m doomed by my place in the patriarchy.

Last week’s Question Time was a perfect example. Tessa Jowell was on the panel with Dr David Starkey, George Galloway and others. They were debating whether the accused should be given anonymity in rape cases and Jowell was generally against it lest it discourage more women to come forward. It was a strange argument but typical of the ‘two wrongs do make a right’ logic that sometimes passes for progressive thinking. Rape has been under-reported for centuries and it’s only relatively recently that the law has taken the proper steps to recognise its severity. Yet should centuries of abuse, mainly by men, now justify a new kind of injustice that overlooks the rights of the individual if they just happen to be male? Even when acquitted, the accused are never cleared of the suspicion of guilt. Rape is a sentence that is handed down as soon as an allegation goes public. Does a belief in ‘innocent until proved guilty’ make me a typical man or simply somebody who believes in equality? Sometimes, in wanting justice to be blind, it feels like I’m not demanding the fashionable bias.

To me these things seem logical but perhaps logic isn’t as important playing the gender game where everything hinges on what we have between our legs. I expect articles in the papers this week explaining why Ant shouldn’t be mocked for losing his thumb, how it either reveals the emergency of a new masculine identity or reinforces the old stereotypes that says that men are useless around the kitchen. Brighter folk might even tell you that Ant didn’t chop off his thumb but symbolically took off the top inch of his penis. Perhaps they’re right. I really haven’t thought about it enough to disagree except to say if Ant was slicing vegetables with his penis, then he was asking for trouble. By now, I’m just confused. Perhaps his thumb is or really isn’t his dick and I don’t know my arse from my elbow. I nearly didn’t blog today and tomorrow I might not even bother.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Movie Poster for a Modern Classic



Terrible, I know...

Another Michael Gove Cartoon


Monday. I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing. I didn’t intend to draw another of these ‘Great Figures of State’ cartoons, though I liked the idea of doing a series of them and I thought it would give me chance to learn new skills. I’m trying to teach myself to be less kind in my drawing. I finished this Gove cartoon last night, thought it was done, and then immediately realised this morning that I'd been too kind to the man. I've tried to rectify that as much as I can but the result still makes him look too attractive

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Great Figures of State: George Osborne

OsborneI drew a quick Nixon caricature for yesterday’s blog post but I was so underwhelmed with the result that I decided not to publish it. It would have looked woeful at the head of a post where I was also going to reproduce Nixon caricatures by Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman. The reason my caricature was weak was probably because I just feel no particular vehemence towards Richard Nixon. So many great movies and books have been made and written about Nixon that I’m fascinated by him, even if I wouldn’t have liked his policies had I been born by the time he came into power.

After yesterday’s failure, I thought I’d try to draw somebody I dislike and having read Martin Rowson’s brilliantly scathing piece about George Osborne in The Tribune, I realise that there was only really once obvious candidate.

I don’t think of myself as being ‘of the Left’ but neither do I think myself any ally with the Right. I’ve been interested in satire for so long that I tend to feel that it’s not really my place to belong to any side. I’m somewhere in the middle but my allegiances aren’t strong. When Labour was in power, I saw things I disliked about them and I longed for a change in government. Now the Tories are in charge, I see things wrong and I long for a change in government. The fact is: I probably just question the lot of them. Politics has many fine people working for our good but there are too many charlatans and careerist politicians happy to tie down a safe seat on a good wage.

It’s the careerists who I despise the most and Osborne is the ugliest toad in the pond. I suppose we are always tempted to think of our Chancellors as being nasty but Osborne has managed to out-nasty every Chancellor I can remember. It’s not that there hasn’t been a political argument for austerity but austerity too closely fit with an ideological narrative that the Tories were ready to unleash on the nation. Rather than give us austerity with a certain reluctance, they were gleeful in the way they talked about cuts and tightening our belts. Austerity is an easy thing to preach when you’re the son or daughter of wealthy parents and when you emerged from your private education primed to pick whatever course you might want to take through life. Osborne chose politics with the same kind of detachment that other people choose to become doctors or lawyers. There’s no real life bearing down on his decision. No need to take that job stacking shelves in Tesco ‘until somebody better comes along’. For most of us, nothing better ever does come along. Life is no fairy tale and the good guys rarely win.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Nixon's The One: Review

NixonTitleWatching the third part of Sky Art’s sublime ‘Nixon’s The One’ last night, I realised that the show really isn’t about the words. It’s about the silences.

The words themselves are the actual words taken from the secret White House tapes that Nixon recorded during his time in the Oval Office. Yet rather than focussing on the big issues that made the Nixon presidency so memorable for good but mainly bad reasons, the show’s producers have chosen the odder more personal moments that were more revealing of the man. That, essentially, is the essence of the show. It’s about Nixon himself, a strange creature of paranoid tendencies yet occasional moments of softness and calm who found himself elevated to the highest position in the country. It’s about a man incapable of preventing his deep character flaws from poisoning that office and who couldn’t stop his demons from taking hold when his weaker angels should have prevailed.


Harry Shearer’s version of Nixon is a measured and brilliantly clever performance which is might otherwise be easy to spot because of the prosthetics which could otherwise push this Nixon into the territory of the comic caricature. Nixon has been played many times before on film but I don’t think ever this well. Anthony Hopkins, Frank Langella, and Dan Hedaya have played Nixon before with various degrees of weight and comedy, but I think Shearer has managed to find the right balance. It is lightly comic without it heading into the area of the grotesque you see in the contemporary cartoons by, say, Steadman or Scarfe (below). Scarfe reduced Nixon to his jowls and nose (often bomb shaped) and Steadman had him shitting explosively whilst making a speech. This Nixon isn’t that figure, so vilified by liberals, and rightly so since it’s hard to see how that Nixon could ever have won office. This Nixon is easier to understand; a charismatic bumbler who constantly doubted his own power and thereby gave in to his delusions of persecution and victimhood.

The third episode of the show’s run saw Nixon visited in the Oval Office by religious figures Billy Graham and Oral Roberts. It’s the visit by Roberts that stood out, dominating the second half. Roberts, played brilliantly by John Guerrasio, speaks almost non-stop for the entire ten minute scene and Nixon is reduced to the role of the weaker other, unable to get in a word but trying his best to act  presidential.

It’s all about the flickering force smile, the licking of the lips, the puffing out of the cheeks, and it’s in these silent moments that Sheerer is at his best, capturing Nixon’s mannerisms perfectly through the strange backwards lean of the stance, his head pushed forward to emphasis the roundness of the shoulders. As Roberts begins to lecture Nixon about the power of television, Nixon is reduced to sitting holding his cup of tea, looking both engaged and bored, acting the convivial host but failing magnificently as his eyes gaze into the distance. It’s a sense of Nixon as the victim of circumstance; a deeply flawed man in an office that is beyond his character to carry off. The ten minute scene perfectly conveys why I find this what makes this series so compelling.

I’m used to seeing Nixon as the epitome of the corrupt politician. I recognise that Nixon here, the Nixon that Hunter S Thompson described as ‘a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad.’ Yet with hindsight, the show makes me wonder if that is really a fair assessment. Perhaps there is a case for saying that Nixon was the best President that America ever had. His figure looms so large over all politics since the 1970s precisely because he taught us a valuable lesson. He was the politician that taught us to mistrust our politicians and to remember that the office doesn’t change the man. It merely magnifies their frailties, their faults, and the essential corruption that we all share but are rarely placed in a position to recognise.

NixonSteadman ScarfeNixon

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Hairy Cornflake Effect


I shouldn’t eat cheese late at night, though it's rare that I do. I can’t recall the last time I did eat cheese so close to my bedtime but around 10pm last night I was offered a quality cheese and I couldn’t resist. It was a lovely crumbling Wensleydale flavoured with cranberries, though I shouldn’t wax too lyrical about the creamy texture. My accent already makes me sound like an extra from Wallace & Gromit  without my mentioning my cheese fixation.

I’d heard, of course, all the myths about what happens when you eat cheese late at night. ‘Don’t have nightmares!’ I was warned but, like the fool I am, I laughed it off. I had a couple of hours of cartooning to do before I’d go to sleep. The cheese would have worn off by then. But an hour later, I was restless. I couldn’t finish the cartoon. It hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped (right). I’d wanted to draw Dave Lee Travis as one of those storms on a nautical map but it didn’t look quite right. I was also enormously tired so I gave up, sure that nothing would disturb my solid seven and a half hours.

Yea gods! How wrong could a man be? I woke up in the middle of the night plagued by a large hairy man dressed as Donald Duck chasing me through a Nigerian housing development. I escaped thanks to the intervention of Tony Soprano and the adventure rapidly moved to the home of the Boston Red Sox where my blog had been taken over by venture capitalists and I was swamped by boxes containing everything I’ve ever done on The Spine: all the files, the words, the pictures... The whole thing was a fiendish mess of half-recognised associations – cartoons I intend to draw, people I know but in unfamiliar places, jobs I need to do or have recently finished. But all of it was given a sick and powerful twist by the late night Wensleydale flavoured with cranberries.

Why is it that you can wake up from a bad dream, shake your head and think ‘Wow! Glad that was only a dream’ yet no sooner do you put your head back down to your pillow than your brain resumes the horrorshow as though you have no control over it? That was my night. Waking relieved and then falling back into the same tormented dreams.

Now I’m awake the whole thing seems ridiculous and every part of the riddle makes complete sense. The thing I wanted to blog about this morning seems almost trivial by comparison with  dream. The hairy man chasing me was clearly meant to be Dave Lee Travis and he was dressed as Donald Duck because I have to draw a cartoon today about a duck. The dream moved to the Boston Red Sox because their owner, John W Henry, also owns Liverpool and today I also have to draw a cartoon for the fanzine and the deadline is tomorrow.

None of which is significant to the point I wanted to make which was this: I know next to nothing about Dave Lee Travis. I know he’s a DJ, bearded, known by his initials or by the nickname ‘the Hairy Cornflake’ and he’s a favourite of Burma's pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, Aung San Suu Ky. He’s just been the latest celebrity to face trail relating to allegations of a sexual nature. In the case of Travis, he faced accusations of groping women and yesterday he was found not guilty on 12 counts and it’s not yet known if he’ll face retrial regarding the remaining two.

What I find astonishing is the media’s response to the story. Over the last few days, thousands of people have suffered from the storms and have been forced out of their homes by floods. Some of our most valuable historic buildings are now under water (though that has given rise to this stunning picture). Trees have fallen on cars and power lines have been damaged leaving whole communities without power. Trains from north to south of the country have been forced to stop and it’s impossible for travelers to get to Cornwall by train. Another storm is meant to hit today and the government is struggling to keep on top of the whole sorry mess which might (or might not) have been made worse by funding cuts to the Environment Agency. The country hasn’t seen a national emergency like this is perhaps half a century or more and the government has been hit by infighting and the worst kind of political gamesmanship. Could this be the most obvious example of Global Warming or is it just one of those freak winters that might hit us once a century? Questions haven been asked and the country awaits the answers…

Yet all it took was the acquittal of a radio DJ to bump the national story from the headlines.

DLT was the lead on most newspaper websites as I went to be last night and you only need look at the morning newspapers to recognise the power of celebrity in this country. A celebrity name is even more powerful than that of Mother Nature herself, who sadly, never had her own game show or got her tits out on Channel 5, otherwise we might listened to what she had to say long before now.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

Winter Sport


Not my best but last night I was hugely tired and my eyes were aching, probably from too much drawing.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Two Bogies in a Storm

Tonight, as I sit under this Red Alert issued by the Met Office, I've been watching 'Treasure of the Sierre Madre', which I'm pretty certain is my favourite film of all time. I'm a big John Huston fan and I don't think he made anything better than this, though he made some quite a few classics including 'The Man Who Would Be King' which is another of my favourites. What makes the Sierre Madre so special is possibly the performance of Walter Huston which keeps the film together as Bogart slowly unravels over the course of the two hours. I suppose I watch it as an adventure film but really I love it as an allegory about greed, corruption, and the psychological damage caused by both. The novel by B Traven is great too if you can find a copy. (Ah! I checked on Amazon and you can and what's more, seem to have changed their website. It now contains a 3D image of the book and it opens when you hover over it!)

The weather feels a bit like it's John Huston incarnate. I've been hunkered down from the storm that's been rolling up the pavements and folding all the trees in half, I also drew this doodle of Bogart. Rare that I actually draw something like this but when I do, for some reason, I always seem to find myself drawing Bogart. I drew a Bogart picture a couple of years ago. I remembered it being in one of my sketchbooks so I went back to compare them. I'm not sure if it's possible to deduct anything from these since they were both drawn as distractions. Perhaps I've improved, perhaps I'm not getting any better, perhaps I've gone backwards. I don't know. I pretty such I prefer the new Bogey (top) over the old (bottom) but I figure I've still got a long way to go.







Storm Latest: Cameron Ready To Make Tough Decisions


Cartooning Hell: Even A Rejection Would Be Nice

Plenty of outgoing emails this morning and, so far, only one automated response suggesting that I’d managed to hit the nerve feeding raw photographs from field reporters straight into a newspaper’s command centre. My cartoon will clearly find the wrong person. I need to try again another day with another cartoon. Meanwhile, I'll have to throw last night’s effort away now that its moment has passed.

One of the biggest struggles I seem to face is simply finding the right person to talk to. Newspapers don’t list the contact details of the cartoon editor and newspapers increasingly don’t publish any email addresses of their staff. It’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed as the separation of them and us gets ever larger. It’s as if news operates at a level above that of your common man; a conviction that grows stronger every day as the people who make news always seem to know the people who report the news.

The paradox is, of course, that the media continually tell us that they’re listening. They go to great lengths to throw up their Twitter handles and to tell us to get in touch, but that’s one of the problems I realised about Twitter a long time ago. Behind this supposed utopia where everybody is equal is a great publicity machine working against our ultimate emancipation. Because social media feeds the media with free content (‘Hey! Send us your photos of the storm [whispers] but don’t expect to be paid’) it allows them to stop listening, stop seeking professional services, and to keep the controls inside a very tight circle in the heart of London.

I come from a family of news obsessives and once 24 hour news started, we rarely watched anything in the day followed by the BBC News at 6pm, 9pm and Newsnight on BBC2. Sky News used to be the best news channel but they reduced their service to a rolling 15 minute cycle of perhaps 3 news items and the BBC has become our regular source of information. It’s a shame. Sky News used to be something compelling and really special; as special, in fact, as Sky’s sports coverage or their 3D service, which I’ve had chance to glimpse a few times and is amazing at its best. They also had some of the best young journalists and come the day that the BBC retires the great John Simpson, Sky News have his ideal replacement in the even greater (in my opinion) Tim Marshall.

But I digress. Sending cartoons, articles, and books away in the hope that somebody will be willing to take a moment and look at them can be a shocking business for your self-esteem. I’d always been prepared for rejection. I’ve had enough in my time and I welcome rejection when somebody actually tells me what I'm doing wrong. However, nothing ever prepared me for the reality of the silence.

To break into the news circle as either a cartoonist of writer is extraordinarily frustrating. I end up sending work to vague sounding inboxes such as ‘the news’ or ‘tellusabout’ or simply ‘contact’, which probably aren’t read by anybody .

I thought writing books hard work but nothing was like the hard work of trying to get somebody read the damn things. It’s the same with writing essays and drawing cartoons. Selling them is the horrible side of the business when it should really be the easiest. I started last night cartoon’s about 5pm, worked on it at a relaxed (dare I saw blissfully happy) pace through the night and started to apply colour about 9pm. I was finished about 2am. It sounds like a long time and result isn’t going to set the world alight but then, I’m still learning and the time I take is time I put aside to learn this craft. Last night I also discovered that I can do a couple of things with my technology that I previously thought impossible. I wish my craft could make two breakthroughs a night. I should do some night school course on how to draw, though the thought of having to sketch some local hobo in his posing pouch doesn’t fill me with excitement given that very few of our local hobos look are as sexy as Kate Upton. But then again, neither are many cartoonists… It’s a cruel world.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Finest Thing

If you read my blog regularly (allow me to enjoy that small fantasy), you'll know that there are many things that annoy me about the internet and about culture in general. I'm a hardened cynic in most things. Yet, occasionally, the internet can offer up a genuine surprise and you see something that just gives you a little lift and makes you believe that there might just be some small hope for our species. This video is, I think, is an example of one of those those little lifts. You could argue it's an easy thing to do. You could say it felt a tiny bit orchestrated and that it was questionable if he he could have found a more suitable 'victim'. But, damn it, I had real tears in my eyes after watching it.

The Square Root of -1

Christ, I think I just have luck so complex and bad that it can only be expressed as the square root of a negative number.

I woke up this morning about 7am with an idea rattling around in my head. It was a really good but obvious idea but the best ideas usually are the most obvious. So, with the room in darkness, I felt around for my Note, which is never far from me, and I jotted down the idea before the screen burned itself onto my still dim retina.

Later on when I was awake the idea still looked good on the screen, so after I’d finished my other work and dispatched the resulting corporate video to remote regions, I got stuck into the task of writing eight hundred words. By about two o’clock, I thought I had something very readable and which made a few good and occasionally funny points. It was precisely the kind of thing I’d like to read, though that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Now, the obvious part of my good idea wasn’t just the subject. It was also the idea I’d had about sending my article to a place where it might be more readily accepted than other places I’ve been sending my work and where I’ve been ignored a dozen times in row despite their website asking for content, saying how interested they are in different points of view, and wanting to encourage new contributors...  So I sent it to this new address and within ten seconds I had a reply

The reply said that their office is closed for almost the entire month of February.

In the words of Sparks: ‘Balls!’

I see that The Independent has finally printed a cartoon yesterday of Eric Pickles as a flood defence. I drew mine last week so I suppose it was only time before somebody else came up with the gag. ‘Balls!’ is all I can exclaim a second time and now the melody is stuck in my head, I guess I’ll have to listen to the album. I wouldn't mind but this is the second time in seven days when I've drawn a cartoon which had exactly the same gag as a cartoon that appeared in a national broadsheet some days later. I should perhaps take that as a positive or as evidence that the universe is essentially malicious and likes to torture its victims slowly .

Positives of the day: the hits are still coming in from Egypt where Richard Madeley has found new popularity. I wish I could search Facebook to see who posted the link but among the many things that Facebook does badly is the ability to search its content. I guess it will have to remain a riddle, as difficult to solve as the one involving the lack of positive emails arriving in my inbox.

Big in Egypt

The internet is sometimes just strap-yourself-in crazy. Overnight I became a big player in Egyptian cyber activism.

I say ‘big’ meaning a few thousand page views shortly before midnight. I say ‘I’ meaning Richard Madeley became a big hit or rather, something that ‘Uncle Dick’ wrote some time back attracted some attention.

Back when I was wide-eyed and fun to be around, I wrote hundreds of thousands of words for the ‘The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society’ and one of my favourite posts was called ‘Uncle Dick’s Guide to Becoming A Good Twitterer And Making Your Life Complete’. Last night somebody linked to it from Facebook and hits from Egypt and the Middle East didn’t ease up for a good couple of hours. About 1am, I was so excited I felt like climbing a lamp post and firing off a flare gun.

That’s the thing I was saying about the internet... What with it sometimes being strap-yourself-in crazy.

But what baffles me is: why Egypt?

Why Twitter?

Why, indeed, Richard Madeley?

Might Richard Madeley suddenly find himself the face of the Arab Spring or Summer or, judging how things have been going recently, Winter? And why did this post interest somebody enough for them to link to it? Did my cynicism about Twitter suddenly hit a chord? Are Egyptians waking up today realising that their liberation isn’t complete because they’re not following Richard P Bacon? After all the positives said about Twitter being the tool of freedom, has the liberal intelligentsia over there suddenly realised that it’s actually just a great big marketing scam taken over by the Bieber fans and his corporate puppet masters? Could Stephen Fry be set to become the new President of Egypt? I honestly believe they could do worse.

That’s one of the interesting things about writing a blog. One day you’ll be perusing the stats and you’ll see a sudden influx of traffic from some obscure forum dedicated to Philip’s head screwdriver collectors. They’ll have linked to something you’ve written and (usually) be giving you hate for having written something ignorant about the business end of a pump-handled screwdriver. Some sharp type will write something like ‘oh, it’s just some crap blog written by a hammer-friendly arsehole’ and you’ll wince at the insightful analysis. ‘Arsehole?’ Oh, they know me so well!

It’s why I rarely follow the links back to their source. It’s why I’m not interested in learning why Egyptians are interested in my Twitter post. The last time something like this happened, the traffic was coming from ex-pats living in Tunisia and I’d apparently hurt their feelings and some of them wanted to see me lynched or raise the issue with the local Embassy. It never worried me that they might actually carry their threats out. Egypt, however, is a different proposition…

Perhaps I should look.

Perhaps I should consider a disguise.

Oh God! What have I done?!

Monday, 10 February 2014


Floods everywhere and never have I felt this lucky to live on high ground. I once read that we live at the same level as the top of Blackpool Tower, which seems the place to be now that The Flood has started. It's good to know that when the Flood waters recede, the only people left on the planet will be fans of the Chuckle Brothers or Roy Chubby Brown.

The talk is about climate change, of course, but I blame a far greater menace in the form of Alan Titchmarsh. Ours is one of the last gardens around here that isn’t covered by ornamental stones inspired by his gardens. I imagine that the rest of the country is the same. The country is suffering skin suffocation, like the Bond girl in Goldfinger, with just a small gap at the base of the country’s spine where the water can leak away. Of course, the other thing I don’t hear many experts point out is that flood plains usually exist for a reason and just because somewhere doesn’t flood for a decade or more, doesn’t mean it doesn’t flood regularly according to geological age. Not that it helps the pool souls I see being ferried out of their homes in rubber dingies and deposited before the Sky News cameras. But then, just because you’ve not been shown trying to climb out of a rubber dingy wearing your old pyjamas in the past ten years doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen regularly according to the Sky News calendar…

Here in the dry (but cold), what should have been an easy matter of sending off a manuscript suddenly turned ugly when Thunderbird popped up with a message, pointing out that the sample of the book was a whopping 31 megabytes.

I built this PC for video editing and rendering 3D graphics, so I tend to forget how big my Word files can get. I’ve packed the book with drawings – I think there were about eighty at the last count -- which means the sample probably had about 30. That wouldn’t have been too bad but now I come to look at then, every single one was 2000 pixels wide, probably a megabyte in size. I spent about two hours slowly bringing the sizes down until it was a more reasonable sample. I still removed a few drawings to get it to a size that wouldn’t seize up the agent’s inbox.

Anyway, the manuscript is gone. All I can do now is wait for a reply or The Deluge, and I'm not entirely certain which will come first.

The Flappy Bird Leaderboard: A Roster of the World’s Biggest Scoundrels?

flappyThere are lots of things to be angry about. Barely a day passes when I don’t open a newspaper and heave a heavy curse about humanity’s propensity towards wickedness. The world is filled with high profile people it’s easy to despise and some of them rightfully deserve the title ‘World’s Biggest Scoundrel’: Vladimir Putin, Nick Griffin, George Osborne, Bieber. Yes, you heard me right. I said ‘Bieber’…

Yet I don’t want to talk in terms of people who display unique qualities of malignancy. I’m trying to highlight that infernal leaning within human nature itself. I’m talking about people possessed by the need to spoil and destroy. I don’t even mean the poor wretches who, for example, robbed the Pharaohs’ tombs, destroying priceless works of antiquity in the process. They were at least looking for gold to help feed their families. The Nazis destroyed irreplaceable works of art but even that was driven by an ideology, abhorrent though it was. That’s not to say they didn’t do evil but their evil was precipitated by a reason. Even flooding, fracking, and Channel 5 have their reasons.

All acts of human wickedness seem to have their origins in some dark twisted motive. All, that is, with the exception of one…

Nothing explains the actions of those festering blisters of scrotal tissue that so smugly sit towards the upper tiers of the Flappy Bird leaderboard. They are the pimpled scourge who have destroyed the game for no obvious reason. Flappy Bird might be the world’s most annoyingly addictive game offering a trivial distraction involving tapping a screen to steer a small bird through gaps in a scrolling series of green pipes. But let’s not understate the crime. Unlike Dungeon Keeper, Flappy Bird is a free game that doesn’t try to steal the inheritance off every child by addicting their parents to minion slapping and gem mining. It’s just offers them a fiendishly difficult challenge before they gloat about their scores among friends and the world at large.

My highest score on Flappy Bird is 43. Bloody heady stuff, I know, though my average score is in the more humble lower fours. When I scorched my way into the record books with 43 (I look at that number now and still can’t believe how hot my form was that day), I was so proud of my achievement that I immediately accessed the game’s leaderboard, expecting to see my name glowing in the global top 10.

Sadly, I wasn’t even in the top 100. I wasn’t even in the top ten thousand.

The game currently has four million players and the top score is currently held by somebody called Jack. Jack’s score is: 9,243,372,036,854,776,000. Impressive, I think you’ll agree. By my back-of-the-knuckle reckoning, Jack steered his flappy bird through 9,243,372,036,854,733 more green tubes than I fluked, by which I mean, of course, ‘skilfully negotiated’.

Now, I grant you that some of these numbers are a bit too heavy to throw around so early in the week. To save you the trouble of wrapping your brain around the score that wasn’t a remarkable 43, let’s reduce it to something a little more manageable. If the Green Tubes of Doom were passing Jack’s flappy bird at a more-than-generous rate of one every second, then 9,243,372,036,854,776,000 seconds is equal to 153,722,867,280,912 minutes. That’s 2,562,047,788,015 hours or 106,751,991,167 days or approximately 292,471,208 years. In other words, Jack has been playing Flappy Bird for 292 million years or nearly 100 million years before the landmass known as Pangaea began to divide into the continents we know today. If that’s still too big a concept to comprehend, it was 50 million years before the Ice Age or fifteen minutes before the Tories made their last sensible policy announcement about global warming. Given that Flappy Bird first appeared on the Apple store in May 2013, I don’t think I need to check with lawyers before I suggest that Jack might just have been cheating.

Jack’s not the only villain out there flapping his bird in our general direction. The 100th placed person has a score of 2,147,483,647, which equates to a more reasonable 68 years but still means they had to start playing in the spring of 1946, which is pretty unlikely, however addictive Flappy Bird happens to be. Upwards of two thousand million seems to be the score you’ll need to get in order to be in the global top 1% of Flappy Bird players (approximately the top 40,000), which means that either 1946 was a very good year for Flappy Bird or websites detailing the methods of cheating have been doing good business in the past few weeks.

Now, I accept I’m not going to ever hit that target without cheating and I’m not complaining simply because my honest 43 hasn’t been properly recognised with an MBE in the post. It worries me that Flappy Bird’s creator, Nguyen Ha Dong, has now taken the game down. Before the data is lost forever, we should at least find a good use for the global Flappy Bird leaderboard.

Never before has humanity had a resource this powerful: a database of the biggest louses, weasels, and scabietic vermin on the planet. I’d be surprised if the NSA haven’t already saved it to a pen drive. This is a handy pocket sized list of everybody with that flawed gene that drives them to cheat. Employers should have access to the leaderboard when they’re about to fill a post demanding trust, unless, of course, they’re bankers or MPs, in which case they’ll probably use the leaderboard as their talent pool. You want to know where future scandals are going to begin? Just look at the Flappy Bird leaderboard to find the future despots and villains, the corrupt officials, the arch criminals, the people who will usher in the world’s doom accompanied by an avatar of themselves looking suitably smug. If the Pyramids, the Moon Landing, or the last PJ Harvey album are examples of the astonishingly great and beautiful things that humanity can accomplish, then the Flappy Bird leaderboard shows us at our worst.

Sunday, 9 February 2014


Posting this two minutes to midnight, just in time to save the day and say that I blogged. I didn’t post earlier, though I had big ambitions this morning. I wrote 1000 words and I thought they were good words, so I sent them elsewhere. Crazy optimism strikes again! The result was the usual silence but it made me feel better about myself. My new proactive attitude won’t last too long. They never do. At some point, I’ll just fall back into my chair and give a world weary gasp, as if to say: I’ve tried enough and I can’t try any more.

The manuscript of the book is almost ready to send away to an agent. I’ve spent the day refreshing a few of the earlier illustrations in the book, to give it (and them) as much chance to impress. Tomorrow will be the first time I’ve sent this particular book beyond my circle of friends. I expect silence will follow. It usually does but keeping trying is half the battle I face.

Tomorrow, I’ll probably post the piece I’d written for today but sent away to be ignored by those clever sophisticated city folk in that there London. Perhaps I’ll also write something new but I don’t hold much hope. The work I spent last week doing came back needing alterations. Unfortunately, the kind of alterations that are being demanded will require the entire project to be done again. I feel dispirited, as usual, primarily because the whole mess is not of my making. I followed other people’s instructions when I should have followed my instincts. Tomorrow I hope to follow my instincts and get the whole thing done in a day.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Slim Hope

I’ve already put in four solid hours today and I really should take the time to stop and write a blog post.

Yesterday was so busy, I finally fell asleep around 1am, drawing a cartoon as I tried to watch a Rob Brydon comedy in the background. I blame his sonorous Welsh accent for relaxing me. I slept through the night and woke up at eight and jumped straight out of bed with new determination to get this book finished.

Elberry kindly read the draft a week or so ago. He liked some of it, really hated other parts, but that hadn’t prompted me to get the book finished. Elberry’s response had more of the opposite effect. I began to think I should dump it.

However, yesterday was a very day strange. My sister’s computer woes hadn’t improved and she was losing work. It made business sense to replace it so, long story short: I found myself heeling it into Manchester to pick up a desktop Mac. Not my ideal choice (I’m firmly a PC man) though it was a beautiful machine and perfect for somebody who isn’t interested in learning to use a PC and needs reliability. Nearly killed myself carrying it back though...

However, I took the chance of a trip out to browse my favourite bookshop, the Waterstones on Deansgate, where I spotted a new hardback on the humour shelves. It made me give a gasp of frustration. It wasn’t like the book I’ve written, but there were enough similarities to make me believe that my book is eminently publishable. I’m as certain as hell that it’s funnier and would appeal to a much bigger audience than this other book.

So first thing this morning, I tracked down an agent who has worked with the publisher. A quick look at their website suggests they’re open to manuscripts and they seem to have a sense of humour, so long as I can put together a good cover letter.

Then I went to town on my manuscript, liberally cutting it where Elberry had suggested (deleting the entire introduction and preface), tweaking other bits to reduce the more surreal humour, and otherwise trying to get a strong 20,000 words together which I can send away and perhaps attract interest in the other 30,000 words I’ve written and the 20,000 I probably need to write.

I have to put the effort in. My other work is driving me crazy and I’m now at my wit’s end with worry. The problem of working with small companies is that they don’t operate through the power of delegation. Every piece of work I’ve done lately has been wrong. I’m told to do one thing, which I do well, and then I’m told to do something else based on what seem like spurious reasoning. It means I’m constantly redoing work and constantly wasting hour upon hour upon hour. If I could just sell one manuscript, then I could relieve myself from this bloody torture. Hence, my busy morning and my determination to use this weekend to properly fashion this manuscript and at least see if it has some value. It’s a slim hope but slim hopes are all that I seem to have left.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Storm Update Cartoon



I’m beginning to wonder if I actually exist. No, no, don’t start poking your fingers into the screen to prove that I’m here. This is a metaphysical riddle that has its origins deep in the Gmail intestines. I know I’m sending out articles and cartoons to different places but no bugger ever bothers to reply. Well, that’s a lie. Today I got an automated response from The Guardian, which must mean that I exist at an electrical level. Computers do respond to me, though this week that also means throwing errors my way. The laptop I downgraded earlier in the week to Windows 7 really hated Windows 7 and began crashing twice an hour. I’ve moved it back to Windows 8.1 and thought it was working fine. I handed it back to its owner who reported a critical error inside fifteen minutes. I have no idea why. I’ve scanned the disk for errors and now I’ve updated the BIOS to the current version.

But back to the question of my existence... If my emails go out and computers are passing them between point A and point B, why are the people at every point B ignoring me? Perhaps my work is just substandard but is that a reason to be so rude? Why can’t they just indulge me with a patronise pat on the head and say ‘not today, thank you’. Perhaps my standards for politeness are higher than those people in positions of authority. I don’t know… The silence is so much worse than flat rejections.

I do know that I’ve just been paid (two days late) and some strange quirk of the international banking system means that I’ve been royally screwed for the third month running. It’s making the effort I spend in doing the work completely unreasonable and probably untenable. I might jokingly say I’m working for pennies an hour but it sometimes feels that bad. It never makes any sense to me that the more qualifications you get, the less you earn. It feels like my PhD has damned me to poverty and ridicule. It makes no sense except, perhaps loving literature as I do, I have an overextended sense of individual freedom. I’m tempted to quit but there’s a huge degree of flexibility about this work. It allows me to write and cartoon, two things I’d lose if I abandoned this freelance work. That said, any reasonable person would ask: why do you do it? So, I’m now keeping an eye on all the old job websites. I should start throwing my CV around companies in Manchester or Liverpool. I should camp out outside one of those ultra-hip design companies with a fantastically skewed name, a degree of humour, and a casual dress code, about them except my instinct is to give my current people one more chance. Damn my loyalty. Damn my loving my liberty.

All of which amounts to a bad day. Did I mention that this was the cartoon I sent off to The Guardian and to which I got no reply. Was it that bad? I don't know. Guess I'll never learn...

From Steve Bell to My @MartinRowson Moment and then Nixon’s The One

I drew a cartoon for today but I liked it so much that in a moment of deluded arrogance I sent it off to The Guardian’s Comment is Free hoping the catch the attention of the cartoon editor. Had I the email address of the cartoon editor, I might feel I had a slim chance of a reply but, as it is, I launch into this adventure with blind optimism. I was inspired to do so by today’s cartoon by Steve Bell, which used a similar ‘Cnut’ joke I used yesterday. They say that great minds think alike and all that or perhaps it’s just vulgar minds that think alike.

Speaking of truly great but vulgar minds, the wonderfully vulgar Martin Rowson followed me on Twitter yesterday. It might not seem like a big thing to you but when you’re stuck here in the north, far from the epicentre of world events and you’re struggling to keep your brain from going into sleep-mode whilst you edit a ten minute video of still photographs of a Nigerian housing estate, the fact that you’re followed by one of your favourite cartoonists just keeps the dark thoughts from the door.

rowson_gulliverI’ve written many times about Rowson and how his panels on display at the Cartoon Museum would have been the highlight of the day had that same day not included the chance to meet Ralph Steadman. Meeting Steadman was amazing but it was my trip to London that made me a true Rowson fan. I loved his Tristram Shandy and Gulliver’s Travels (though I preferred the pages where he used ink rather than paint) and I have some of my favourite panels scanned and hanging from my walls. One of my favourite TV shows of recent months was on Sky One when Rowson was in a particular savage but eloquent mood during his In Confidence interview with Laurie Taylor.

Anyway, my day will be more mindless video editing but checking my inbox every two minutes to see if The Guardian have replied. If they’ve not replied by late afternoon, I’ll post the cartoon here and you can appreciate the crazy level of optimism I had during the moments I sent it and just seconds before the self-doubt began to creep in.

Finally, a reminder to myself as much as anybody to watch Sky Arts 1 at 9pm tonight. It’s the second part of Nixon’s The One. The first part was simply the best thing I’ve seen on TV in a very long time.

Okay, I have an inbox to check…

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Modern King


Yesterday I spent the entire day making a video as part of my ongoing commitments to the real world. At the moment, hope doesn’t spring in my life. It trickles… It is ball breaking work and I’ll be spending today doing the same, trying to make a sequence of still images look half presentable in an eight minute video without resorting to every video transition in the book. It means cutting the images to music and finessing the whole thing. It also means I’ve not had chance to write anything new in 48 hours and, when I’m in a mood to write, not writing makes me mean tempered and irritable. I have things I want to write. Last night, I dreamt I was letter writing again and it was fun. That’s what I’d like to do today: write some insane letters and send them off. Instead, I’m contenting myself with posting this ogre of a caricature, drawn before I fell asleep last night. I haven't got the knack of using colour. I don't like using colour but I think everybody has to use colour these days. I just wish I had more time and energy to invest into it. Instead, I’m now going to turn off my brain. This mean tempered monkey needs to get back to video editing.

[Updated version. I originally titled this King Canute but realising that the ancient spelling is actually Cnut, I thought it more fitting for its subject.]

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Things Here and Elsewhere

If you click here, you can read another 'View from Civic Hall' I wrote for The Pangolin and I drew this for 'Red All Over The Land'.

Drunk Caller


A New Michael Gove Cartoon


Too much? Maybe it is but Gove rubs me up the wrong way. The notion that pupils should be in school more goes against everything I think about education. There is a need for progressive reform but there's nothing progressive about what Gove proposes. I could write a thousand words on this but I'm tired, it's nearly 3am and I'm sitting here waiting to finish installing Windows 7 on a laptop. It's taken me about ten hours today to clear Windows 8 from this damn machine, some of which I used drawing as various things installed, rebooted, and generally took their time. I despise Windows 8 but I have discovered that the one thing worse than keeping Windows 8 on your PC is trying to bloody delete it from your PC... However, I think it's done. I prey it's done. God help me if it isn't...

Monday, 3 February 2014

A Summary Judgement About Judgements

Well the week woke early and immediately leapt out to bite me. Emails came pinging into my inbox around 7am, work being thrown at me from a low cowardly angle whilst a relative chose this morning to inform me that her laptop has finally swallowed its own tongue trying to run the monstrosity that is Windows 8. I can see myself spending the afternoon recovering work, installing Windows 7, the long process of reinstalling all the lost software... It means the plan I’d made for today is now pushed back: an essay I’d hoped to finish today won’t get finished today and the manuscripts for two books I’ve been writing won’t be arranged on my desk so I can decide which one to work on next. I won’t get to draw anything and a couple of things I’d hope to write for the blog just won’t get written.

However, I have time to say that the weekend’s developments regarding Woody Allen are depressingly predictable. I wish I had time to write about this more carefully. Obviously, I don’t know what might or might not have happened in one particular attic a world and ten years away and I accept that my opinion is skewed by my being a Woody Allen fan since I first saw ‘Take the Money and Run’, the very first VHS tape I bought when I was about the age of fourteen. I don’t want to deny the power of Dylan Farrow’s letter to a New York Times blog, but, at the same time, Robert B. Weide’s article over at The Daily Beast is a powerful defence.

It means that I simply don’t know. All I can do – and the only thing I think it is proper to do – is retain the right to hold a man innocent until proven guilty and that’s what I will do. Yet I will say that there’s something horrible being played out in the media and that too many commentators are again using a specific case in order to further their own skewed generalisations.

I don’t see anything wrong with saying ‘wait for a judge and jury to decide’ yet in some quarters that is seen as being tantamount to defending the accused over the victim. As some point, the word ‘accused’ has become conflated with the word ‘guilty’. Is it too much to say that there is a definite anti-male agenda in the media and the world at large? I’m not so sure.

But if there is, it’s understandable why. Public opinion rarely delivers a nuanced argument. For centuries public opinion allowed rape to be dismissed as a relatively minor crime. In many cultures it was seen as a crime against property and the rapist was forced to pay remuneration for damages caused. Paedophilia too has also been treated as something the rich do as part of their being rich. You don’t have to look too deep to find the evidence. The letters between John Cam Hobhouse and Lord Byron reveal quite a bit about their attitudes towards paederasty as practised in Albania at the start of the nineteenth century. Even as recently as the 1970s, TV revelled in the sexism of office culture where slaps on the backside and vulgar comments were accepted as office fun and banter. The ugliness of the recent Andy Gray / Richard Keys ‘tits out for the lads’ video shows that it has still been happening until quite recently and I have no doubt that it continues.

Of course, there is a world of difference between paedophilia and sexism, though sometimes you’d wonder if the media appreciate the difference. My point is that cultural attitude to these things has changed but that doesn’t mean we should start acting as a partial witness, eager to make up for years of ignorance by destroying every man about whom these allegations are made. Just because Jimmy Saville got away with things for so long doesn’t mean we should find others guilty in his place based on insubstantial evidence.

Yet it’s human nature that we will form judgements about these things. Very few of us don’t love gossip and it’s the truly virtuous person who can ignore the speculation on Twitter about the next celebrity to be arrested in the Operation Yewtree investigation. It was the same when superinjunctions were being leaked over the internet. There was no point in arguing points of law over the roar of the mob. Yet there’s something so very wrong in a system when a person’s reputation can be forever ruined by an unproven allegation. Anonymity for the victim is the minimum we can expect in these cases but shouldn’t there also be anonymity for the accused? Even if proven innocent, the accused are never truly proven innocent. Suspicions always remain.

And that’s the problem with the case of Woody Allen. It’s too complicated for the Twitter crowd to understand. In many ways, there’s no place where the law is less suited to be decided. Imagine if judges were forced to hand down their judgments handed down in a 140 characters or less. Some will say that Woody Allen gets away with things because people conflate the art and the artist. You could argue that he is being found guilty for exactly the same reasons, that people are choosing sides not on the merits of the evidence but because of his films, which many people dislike with a passion and others, equally, love without reservation. For me, the current development isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. The statute of limitations means that this business can no longer be played out in a courtroom. This story will be played out before the mob and that’s the only truth I know of this whole sorry business. It’s an ugly place to be in these so called enlightened times.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Problems of a Go-To Guy

I’m no graphic designer and I have no formal training in graphic design. I do, however, know how to use Photoshop pretty well and I can get pretty polished results very quickly. It means that one of the job’s I’m unqualified to do but I occasionally get asked to do is the job of designing company logos.

Usually these informal ‘commissions’ come to me through friends or friends of friends and I’ve become the go-to guy when people need a logo designing within a day that should have been done months earlier through a professional design agency. I’ve now designed logos for various small enterprises for too many years to count. I’ve designed logos for TV production companies, consultants, accountants, hotels, and even a park. How I get stuck with this work is always a surprise because, in my scheme of the world, I assume that if a project costs hundreds of thousands of pounds to build, it should really have a professional designer working on the logo. It shouldn’t be left to a friend of a friend to come up with a design the night before an important meeting.

But that’s what usually happens. I’ll get contacted at the last minute to make a logo for barely enough money to buy myself a hot meal and the client will demand the kind of results that would normally take a team of highly paid designers three months to put together with a budget of thousands. Obviously, my efforts will fall well short of what the professionals would produce but, in my defence, I’d say not by such a big margin to justify their high wage or, indeed, my own pitiful retainer.

I’ve read some theory of design but very little of it makes much sense to me except the only obvious golden rule: keep things simple. In fact, in many respects it’s the only rule I know about design. Logos can be especially ruined if they try to do too much. Colour should be carefully managed and shape shouldn’t be too complex. The world’s great logos are always simple. It’s the bite out of the Apple apple: a bite so simple that doesn’t even have teeth marks. Disney is three black circles in the shape of Mickey’s head. Shell just has a simple yellow shell with a thick red stroke around it. Audi is four linked circles in a row. Nike is just a black tick. Think about that: the biggest sports goods manufacture just uses a simple black tick.

And that’s the reason I enjoy working on logos. There’s an intellectual game to had in finding some simple way to convey a message through a shape. My most successful logos have been just that. They’re the ones for which I retain the most pride. However, they’re rarely ever the finished product. Problems always arise when I send my logos off and others start to have an input.

For example, I might submit something like the following, but before you cast you eye down the page, I should add in my defence that I just created this in about a minute and a half for the purpose of this blog post. LOGO1

The name ‘Quadrant Media’ is made up, came to me after about a second’s thought, and the logo took about as much imagining. There are things wrong with this logo. Given an hour or two, I know I'd come up with something better. Yet having said that, this was the first idea I came up with and usually the best ideas come first.

So imagine the scenario: I’ve worked late into the night and, at 4am, I’ve finally sent off a number of logos to a client. One company demanded something like ten distinctive variations in about as many hours. It was crazy and a very long night with some very weak variations.

I always hope they’ll simply choose my favourite and that will be the end of the job once I’ve sent them a high resolution rendering of the graphic.

Most of the time, that is the end of the story but in about one case out of five, it’s only the beginning…

That’s when clients have people of their own, who also claim to be adept at Photoshop and they will begin to modify my design. I’m unaware of all this, of course. Sometimes they’ll do it alone. Sometimes a committee will form around some desk where some poor shmuck has to take the suggestions of executives and translate them into an updated logo. So, remember, the logo I submitted might have looked something like this.

But a week later, I’ll get an email along the lines of, we liked your work but we modified it to match our company livery. This is the result.


Okay, I might overstate their efforts a little but it's generally along these lines. And it’s at this point that I run full pelt into a wall hoping to reach that blessed state unconsciousness where the stupidity of the world doesn’t affect me. God knows, I try to preach to people that simplicity is best and that only a 13 year old girl is impressed if you have 12 different fonts on your page and imbue everything with an outer glow effect. I try to explain how Sir Jonathan Ives is right to hate skeuomorphism and not everything looks better with a drop shadow and a queudo-3d bevel effect complete with lens flare. Yet none of this makes any difference. These things continue to happen and I continue to suffer in silence. It’s the problem of being the go-to guy. I’m the first guy whose opinion can be ignored.


Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Laughs-a-Day Ratio

NixonThere’s something clearly wrong with my mental wiring. I’m not laughing at the right things.

Twice in 24 hours I’ve noticed myself clicking on links to things proclaimed ‘hilarious’ and my response to both examples of hilarity was to not laugh once.

The first example of hilarity was something on the front page of Flipboard on Android. It was a ‘hilarious’ article about cats in the same poses as male models. I’d find the exact link to the page but there’s enough of this cat crap out there that I’ll simply link to another of these depressingly popular memes.

The second thing was a link from Laughing Squid to a video of Conan O’Brian pawning off his old memorabilia. Again, I didn’t even break into a smile but that’s pretty typical of my response of Conan. I’ve always found him the least funny of the American late night hosts. He reminds me of Jack Whitehall, here in the UK: a rich kid who decided he wanted to be a comedian, without actually figuring out if he was actually funny (he isn't). Letterman I adore. Jon Stewart too is brilliant, though it can depend on his writers and The Daily Show’s newest are among some of the poorest, resorting to knob gags night upon night. I used to think Stephen Colbert the best of the lot but his mock-Republican act where he pretends to promote products is blurring too much with reality and he’s now actually promoting the products he pretended to be promoting, if that makes sense.

However, that is to digress...

I was talking about my not laughing at things. I’m sure this happens more often than I’ve previously noted but last night I did notice and I noted it. That got me to thinking about the things I have laughed at. In fact, I intend to keep a record of the next 24 hours and see if I do laugh as often as I think I laugh. Perhaps I don’t.  Perhaps my self-awareness is completely awry. I thought myself a person who laughs quite a bit, enjoys comedy, and has a generally comedic outlook on life. But perhaps that’s not actually me.

In the past 24 hours, the things I’ve laughed at included Sky One’s new Nixon drama, Nixon's The One, starring Harry Shearer at his sublime best. It's just the finest thing I’ve seen on TV in a very long time; existing in that zone of interesting, unique, clever, witty, intelligent programming I sorely miss.

I probably watched the Nixon show because earlier in the night I’d snorted a genuine amount of laughter when reading ‘He Was a Crook’, Hunter S. Thompson’s obituary to Nixon from my Modern Classic’s edition of ‘Fear and Loathing in Rolling Stone’.

A third good laugh came from Reddit where I spotted that somebody had linked to my Bieber post, describing it as: ‘there are so many things wrong with this article.’

Except for those three instances, the only other laugh I had was earlier in the evening when a friend had told me a funny story about their work day. I’m sure I laughed at other things but the rest of my day has already entered into the realm of the misremembered and hazy.

So, this is my mission for today. It’s now eight minutes past two in the afternoon. I’m going to see if I can keep a track of the times I genuinely laugh in the next 24 hours. I’m laughing already. I already know this is an experiment destined to fail.