Sunday, 30 November 2014

Dances That Dog Owners Do Do

Continuing with my doggy theme, one of my regular cycle routes brings me into contact with dozens of dog owners. The route takes me along a path that runs to the side of a public field. I know... I know... It's impressive stuff and the reason why I also run a highly successful cycling blog called 'Cycling Routes Beside Public Fields'. You might also have seen my TV series on Sky Living, where I cycle along some of the UK's most picturesque public fields in the company of the more serious Chuckle Brother (Barry).

Despite my glamorous lifestyle, I don't want you to go thinking that our field is one of those new-fangled parks you sometimes hear about with bowling green, children's swings, and council sanctioned flashers (usually called Neville). Nor is it scrubland. It doesn't have fly tipping, industrial waste or a traveller camp. It is just one of those patches of land with a good covering of grass that would lead you to think: ah, look! A field.

Having a local field is, of course, somewhat novel given that the government is selling off every patch of land to property developers. However, it provides a space where kids can go and kick a  football. Of course, it's rare that I ever see the little buggers use the field, since doing physical activity is no longer a youthful endeavour unless it involves a high chance of losing teeth on a BMX's handlebars. It means, therefore, that the field has become a place where dog owners go and walk their dogs.

Now, I admit, I have a less than passive relationship with dog owners. They usually enjoy getting in my way and mutter curses even as they smile and drag their mutts out of the way of my front wheel. I smile back as I cycle past, usually muttering something that rhymes perfectly with 'arsehole' as I go. It does mean, however, that I get to notice dog owners in their natural environment. I know dog walkers quite well. I know how they move. I know how they think. I even know their dirty little secrets.

And that brings me to my subject of today's ramble.

Have you ever noticed how it's absolutely impossible to carry something weighty at the bottom of a plastic bag without enjoying the sensation of swinging that weight around? You cannot do it. Put a potato in the bottom of a plastic bag and tell me you're not tempted to give it a good swing. And when you're dealing with potatoes and plastic bags, that's usually not a problem. It's not going to be a problem unless you replace the potato with a snooker ball, the bag with a sock and your nickname involves the word 'Ripper'.

Well, dog walkers are usually no trouble. The better sorts carry plastic bags in their pockets and these they use to scoop what is euphemistically called the 'poop'. Once they've scooped the poop, the owner usually puts a knot in the top of the bag and then they face three choices. They can take the bag home with them. They can put the bag in the provided litter bin (usually overflowing) or they can hang it from some convenient branch. The last is a very popular option and many of the trees in our town have bags of dog shit hanging from them but that, I'm afraid is the topic for another day.

It's the people who take the poop home with them that have caught my eye recently because I've noticed that they simply cannot resist the temptation of swinging their bags. They are, in fact, dancing with dogshit. And if that's not the title to BBC1's newest reality TV show, I don't know what is. Ladies and gentleman, Miss Claude Wankleman and Scoop, the Great Dane, dance the brown shoe shuffle...

I see at least one dance each week. There'll be a dog owner, thinking they're alone as they're enjoying a brisk walk and they'll be swinging their bags of dog shit as they stride. If you've never watched a dog owner swing shit, you're missing out on a fun modern pastime. Today, for example, a woman with two Labradors and a small mop shaped thing was carrying two small white plastic bag, semi-transparent, at the bottom of which I could see some healthy lumps of the offending matter. Now, if it were me, I'd probably have another bag to carry the poop bags so people wouldn't know what I'm carrying. However, I'm not a dog owner and I don't have natural rhythm. This woman definitely had natural rhythm. She was treating her bags like they were a cheerleader's pompoms. Around and around, looping them in her fingers and then with a flick they went over her elbow and then back again. She didn't know I was watching until I applied my brakes a little too hard and then she looked almost embarrassed to see her little routine with the two bags of dog shit hanging from her wrists.

So there's my tip for Sunday. Keep an eye out for dog owners do-do doing 'the dance'. Film footage would be gratefully received.

Is it disgusting? Perhaps.

Is it fun to watch? Definitely.

Would it make for a great TV show? Maybe not prime time, I would say, but definitely better than anything that's currently on ITV.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

A Black Friday Cartoon

Is it a scam? Part 2

Different day, different dog...

So not only is it a different dog, it's also a different mat and I'm also pretty certain that it was a different artist loitering over it with a brush in his hand. All of which begs even more questions that those that I posed yesterday.

  1. Is there a school of street artists who can only do dogs?

  2. Is this an organised street sand dog gang with multiple sand dog models?

  3. Why suddenly are our streets littered with these monstrous looking mounds of silica canine?

  4. Has any of this to do with immigration? Are sand dogs a cultural import from a place that has more sand? If so, then what do UKIP have to say about sand dogs replacing the usual piss-stained tramps with a polystyrene cup and a line in sarcastic thank yous?

  5. More importantly, if the send dog artists spend their entire day making sand dogs, how come they aren't improving? I think I'm becoming a bit of a sand dog expert and I can tell that this one isn't as good the sand dog from yesterday.

  6. Alternatively, if they're not spending the day sculpting the same dog, what the hell does the guy do with the rest of his day? I took this photo at 11am and, as you can see, the sand dog is already fully formed. I guess it's been like that for hours and (possibly) weeks and months if my theory is correct about the bloody things being rock solid. This guy will probably hang around until late afternoon. When I was watching him, he was waving his brush over the dog but not actually doing very much. You could say 'finishing touches' but I suspect these finishing touches last all day.

You might think I'm getting a little obsessed with sand dogs and you'd be right. I'm going to search for more in weeks leading up to Christmas. If I can find a cheap bag of sand, I might even make my own...

Friday, 28 November 2014

So is this a scam?

I'm always fascinated by street entertainers. I'm intrigued by buskers who think they're more impressive if they're accompanied by a backing track. I often find myself thinking about those strange giant figures you find scattered around cities of the North West: men of possibly Iranian descent who just stand there on their stepladders, faces painted white and in long white robes that make them look like they're twelve feet tall. They just stare off into the distance before occasionally flinching enough to make a big woman or small Liberal Democrat scream.

Among the many which fascinate me is this character who I was surprised to see pop up in our local town today. I've previously seen him in either Manchester or Liverpool or possibly both. He makes sculptures in sand. Well, I say 'sculptures' when I mean to say that he seems to make one sculpture. He always sculpts a dog, lying down, its jowls spread out, and with four big holes, two for the eyes and two for the nostrils.

Now that fascinates me. Why does he always sculpt the same thing? If you were skilled in the art of sand manipulation, wouldn't you want to stretch yourself? Wouldn't you perhaps want a bit of novelty to liven up those long cold hours kneeling in the middle of the street? Wouldn't you want to do the occasional fish, cat, giant clam? I know if it was me, I'd eventually be drawn to do a politician's face which I'd then make available to any passerby willing to pay £5 to stamp it into oblivion.

But no, this guy only seems to do dogs and that raises interesting questions.

  1. Can he only sculpt a dog?

  2. Does he only have enough sand to sculpt a dog? Would a reclining nude might be a big too far? He could be half a cup or an entire tit short of the full figurine.

  3. Is there's some religious symbolism behind the dog? Is he trying to master the form in the belief that once he achieves the perfect mutt, he'll achieve some mystical insight?

  4. Has long experience of kneeling on cold pavements in the dead of winter has taught him that people are more likely to leave money if he crafts a dog that looks particularly pitiful? If so, then I'd like to welcome this blog's new mascot: Hairball, my cute but retarded Labrador.

Not bad questions, I hope you'll agree, but not as good as the question that really leaps out.

  1. Is this a scam? Is that dog impregnated with some chemical fixative because, I swear, that this is the same dog as I've seen in other towns and cities?

Consider this scenario.

The dog is set solid. The artist probably takes it home every night carefully covered with a cloth and then thrown into the back of his van. I'll surmise even further: perhaps there are hundreds of these dogs and this character is part of a dog sculpting ring operating country wide. There is one master dog mould and it's used to produce hundreds of the little buggers in a third world factory. They are then handed out to member of the gang along with half a cup of real sand which they spread out over their work surface. To the side of the dog, today's sculptor was making a second dog but, from where I was looking, it suspiciously looked far less impressive than the first.

Consider also that the guy is clearly making good money. He has a few quid on that mat (far more than all my apps, books, cartoons have earned me today) and he can clearly afford to buy better underwear. Look at the quality of his boxers. The elastic in my underpants went months ago. Months ago!

All of which has led me to the conclusion that I should indeed quit blogging and call it day with my cartoons. Tomorrow I'm buying myself a knee pads and I'm heading out. Look out for me huddled on the street. You'll recognise me because I'll be standing over my lifelike recreation of Sigourney Weaver in her Alien vest, her entire six feet modelled in half a hundredweight of shale chippings. Feel free to say hello or throw me a little change. I'm saving up to buy myself some quality thermals with elastic that hasn't perished.

I'm dreaming big, people. I'm dreaming big.

This 'Black Friday' Nonsense

The advantage of my still getting so much Chinese spam is that it means that not every email I received this morning was trying to excite me about 'Black Friday'. Just in case you hadn't noticed, today is 'Black Friday' and I refuse to remove the black marks around those words because I refuse to allow that Yank-built bastard concept to enter into my vocabulary.

There's a falsely held belief that it was the Coca Cola corporation who invented the modern Christmas. Before Coke turned Santa red, so the myth would have us believe, he'd been some other colour, perhaps in a paisley shirt, plaid trousers, and with a dandy kipper tie. Before Cola's marketing whizzes got hold of him, Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) was Santiago Norman, bringer of the winter molluscs which we would have warded off by draping seaweed around the frame of our beds. They were simpler timers when Christmas morning was a time for bullying a hog and sticking needles in a pine cone.

Sadly, the Cola myth is all rubbish but there must be something about that particular tale which people seem to like. Or at least, certain people like. I mean, of course, that I particularly like. I like the idea that we can trace the modern Christ-free Christmas back to a time before it became a time for high tech toys and sodding the expense. It would be somehow fitting if the modern monster were the creation of a huge multinational company who didn't really have our best interests at heart.

Yet I have to accept that it is a false myth and only a madman would claim that a tyrannical billion dollar American company could, on whim, create a national holiday in honour of the god Mammon which everybody starts to celebrate by jamming their elbows into the eye sockets of the people standing next to them. There's no way a company could do that. It's just impossible.

Of course, it's equally impossible to believe that the police have been called to 11 different Tesco stores this morning where fighting had broken out among people so viciously materialistic that in the words of one woman 'I wanted a television, couldn't find a television, so I grabbed a Dyson and I'm not too sure if I want a Dyson or not'.

You have to hand it to Amazon. They're invented a new seasonal holiday which improves on Christmas which traditionally was a time when other people bought you things you didn't want. Black Friday is now a time when you buy yourself things you don't want. It's both genius and so utterly depressing.

A Cartoon About Plebgate and Chickens

Thursday, 27 November 2014

A Paddington Doodle

Just been trying out a paint package. I have about as much competence with colour as I have with black and white but since Paddington is distinctive because of his colour of coat and boots, I thought the colour might help this Theresa May cartoon.

Low Fertility

I've not given much thought to my fertility or, certainly, not enough thought that I feel like I have any need for some tips. That's why I was a bit surprised to see a pile of emails in my blog email account this morning from However, at the top of the mail is a big 'UNSUBCRIBE' link and I don't know whether I should now click on it. Would that actually unsubscribe me from something to which I never subscribed or will it simply tell the spammers that this is an active email account and to send me even more fertility tips?

SpikeOther than that, it's a Thursday. A really grey Thursday. I have a cartoon I'm not ready to post (my pen broke before I could finish it) and a 'Beginner's Guide to Unity' video that I'm not sure I can be bothered to post after realising, earlier in the week, how few people actually watch my videos and the fact that two people had downvoted my last. In fact, I'm feeling pretty grim about everything at the moment and even the lamp isn't cutting through the murk. It's partly the problem of having a big blog spike. Sunday was the biggest day I've had on the blog since 2011 and it was the biggest day simply because of one of the worst post's I'd ever written. I was about to head out on Sunday when I thought I'd just fire off a quick post about the Liverpool result. About three minutes on the keyboard, half a minute to post, and I was gone. When I arrived at my destination, about fifteen minutes later, I checked my stats only to discover that there were well over 1000 hits on that one post and it carried getting hits for the rest of the day.

There's a lesson in that but it's not an uplifting lesson. It says write quantity over quality, aim for the masses, and don't expect anybody to come back. Don't waste time with cartoons. Don't make videos. Just post rants about football and your blog will be successful.

I can't handle the modern world. I don't want to SPAM people with Black Friday offers or fertility tips. All I've wanted is a blog with a regular readership, a good number of friendly comments and the occasional to and fro of debate, and some moderate success as a cartoonist and writer. I've got none of those things after nine years of blogging. It's a really grey Thursday, I've broken the pen to my Samsung Note, and my superglue has dried up. And it that's not a metaphor for my fertility, then I don't know what is. Perhaps I am in need of a few tips after all.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


The problem with internet links is that unless you're really sharp, you really don't know where they'll take you. One moment you can be reading something really innocuous and then you're suddenly faced with some graphic uncensored horror. One of the worst moments I've ever had of that was when I was doing some Photoshopping and I needed a picture of an old man's hand. I went to Google Image search and typed 'old man's hand', adjusted the search parameters so I'd only get high resolution images, and before I knew what was happening, a high resolution image was filling my screen depicting in pixel sharp detail the decapitated head of a man lying in the road after some kind of terrible atrocity. I clicked off it before I could take it in but that's an image you never really forget. I can still see the look of surprise on the victim's face.

No less terrifying was the horror that awaited me tonight when I clicked on an apparently innocuous link. There I was, minding my own business when I suddenly found myself face to face with the Daily Mail website. I closed the browser as quickly as I could but it's really put me off the internet tonight. It backs up the sense I have that I've just had a very bad day with technology. Nothing has worked for me since I got up and I had such plans to post a Unity tutorial today. Now I feel like it's just not worth it. What can one man hope to achieve, writing a blog like this, which is a struggle to fill, when the Daily Mail just produce a website as long as that list some rare Buddhist monks are apparently making of all of God's names? I'm going to bed and hope to pick up from last night's dream where Scarlett Johansson had asked me to draw a cartoon on one of her body parts. I won't tell you which part except to say it rhymes with 'cream'.

Good night.

A David Mellor Cartoon

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Closing the Eurogamer Circle: Things I Regret After Nine Years of Blogging

I've had a couple of good day of blogging, which means that traffic will plummet today and I'll be lucky if it crawls into triple figures. Yesterday was a particularly good day because it's rare that the subject of a blog post comes to visit. I think the last person to do that was (WARNING: gratuitous name dropping ahead) Russell Mael of Sparks, who republished my Sparks comic strip on their Facebook page. That was also a good day .

Yesterday's goodness was because Eurogamer's Ian Higton responded to my caricature and post. I don't feel quite as much the misanthrope when people seem to like what I do. Yet the visit made me realise that I've been blogging since January 2006 and that things have strangely come full circle.

It has come full circle because it was a reader of Eurogamer who  gave me my first seriously bad review way back in 2006. I began blogging in the January of that year. I'd set out with a simple plan. I thought if no bugger would read my novels, scripts, stories, or jokes, then I'd bloody well give them away to anybody who wanted them. I started writing fake news stories of that type which have since become hugely popular via The Onion and The Daily Mash. One of my first stories was about Gordon Ramsey being a captain in the territorial SAS and the UK's bare knuckle champion. At some point, a dumb American lawyer found my blog and used it as evidence against Ramsey in an American courtroom. This led -- and here's the coincidence -- to a discussion on the Eurogamer website in which readers wondered where this rumour began. One persistent soul  found my story and described my site as (here I have to paraphrase) 'some shit blog which is supposed to be funny'. Took me a few weeks to walk that one off.

It's been a long nine years. In that time, I've met some good people who have remained friends, good people who slid silently away. I've seen great bloggers give up and truly bad bloggers (and even worse human beings) become household names. I've done things which I'm prou to have done but I've also done quite a few things I really regret.

  • I regret writing a collection of pornographic short stories under a false name and then getting invited to Spain by a guy living with a prostitute.

  • I regret not moving to Spain to live as a prostitute.

  • I once fooled my hero, the great Clive James, into emailing me. That email still sits in my inbox, marked as important and in text as red as my face whenever I think about how shameful my trick was.

  • I had Robert Crumb send me a drawing he did for me (wonderful) but I never knew whether he was quite in on the joke.

  • Sending Jonathan Ross my original 'Harvey Gimp: Masochist in a Yarris' cartoon strip.

  • Putting any degree of effort into getting a reply from Jonathan Ross.

  • Never writing to Hunter S. Thompson. Never writing to Stanley Kubrick. These are my two big regrets.

  • I met Ralph Steadman in London (great) but probably made a bit of an arse of myself because he couldn't understand my accent (bad).

  • Doing that Radio 4 interview. I hate my accent which makes people underestimate me. People think I'm an idiot because I sound so northern.

  • Writing a letter to the Emperor of Japan because a friend told me that I couldn't write to the Emperor of Japan. The Emperor of Japan never replied despite it costing a fortune in postage.

  • Sending a poem to Alan Alda. Alan Alda was possibly the nicest guy with whom I played my letter game and I still feel bad that I probably pushed things a little too far into the 'mildly deranged fan' territory.

  • Not doing any promotion for my book out of a misguided sense of allowing Stan to retain his mystery but really covering up for the fact that I hate my voice and I'm introverted to the point of it being a mild form of autism.

  • Not keeping in touch with friends I made through the blog for reasons linked to number 12 but I didn't realise it at the time.

  • Sending a letter to Chuck Barris, who probably didn't like getting letters but felt obliged to send my postage back.

  • My letters to Alan Bennett. I love Alan Bennett and hate to think that he ever thought me an irritating man.

  • Getting paid for so little for everything I've ever done. I've drawn thousands of cartoons and written multiple millions of words over about 10 to 15 blogs, as well as unpublished books and short stories. The shocking thing to me is that I've never been paid for a single cartoon or comic strip. There are literally dozens upon dozens of common phrases that I can type into Google and see my cartoons appear in the top line of the search results. Even 'Harry Potter naked' brings up one of my pictures but nicked and posted on Uncyclopedia.

  • Being able to do nothing about one of my ebooks appearing on a piracy site two days after putting it on Amazon.

  • Pissing off people I like and not pissing off enough people I dislike.

  • Not being able to afford the price of stamps to carry on my letter writing. When each letter began to cost £1 for two second class stamps, it was literally throwing good money away.

It's been a very strange journey yet the one thing that was my ambition when I started out and I've still not achieved. I've not had a single thing, written or drawn,  accepted by Private Eye. My sister, by contrast, has sent them quite a few tip offs about media stories they'd missed and which they subsequently used. It's depressing. In fact, it's more than depressing. It's nine years.

Wiser men would have given up long before now.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Thanks Youtubers

Damn it to buggery. I accidentally clicked on the wrong button on my Youtube account and immediately swore that I'll never again publish another thing to Youtube.

I have a very precarious relationship with the world out there. I assume that everything I do will meet with scorn, ridicule, or, at best, a mild degree of kind tolerance. I sometimes feel like those drunken hobos you occasionally see dancing in city centres when it's close to Christmas. They'll usually insert themselves into some busker's act, attracting attention by doing a drunken jig. People stop and applaud and some even throw money but not because the hobo is a particularly good dancer. People take pity on the poor fool because he's precisely that. Most days I feel like that drunken fool.

Clicking on my Youtube account led me to see the sorry figures attached to the videos I've uploaded in the past. The viewing figures are often in single figures, which has led me to vow to never do another. Worse still, my last video (which, I see that Youtube had broken and now won't allow me to upload a fixed version), had a couple of down votes, despite my asking Youtube to not permit voting. Perhaps they were rabid UKIPers who hated the cartoon but I think it more likely to people who simply hate the sound of my voice as much as I hate the sound of my voice. Sod it. My voice isn't a good voice. I thought a few videos would add a bit of variety to the blog but it's clearly not worth the effort. In fact, tonight I'm wondering, as all bloggers periodically wonder, if blogging is ever worth the bloody effort.

The Things That Make Life Feel Better Awards... No. 1: @ianhigton

Sunday was a strange day on the blog, with a tenfold increase in hits and subsequent comments. The lesson, I suppose, is to write only about football or things that engage the masses. Unfortunately, I'm at the mercy of this brain of mine and it's rare that it's in sync with what other people enjoy.

Yesterday also gave me reason to pause and reflect on how I've recently spent too much time condemning others. I've written more blog posts complaining about moronic things that annoy me than I have making recommendations about the better things that life affords. Beyond my programming and cartooning videos, the rare exceptions are a long piece I recently wrote about the novels of Joseph Conrad and a few profiles of cartoonists Ralph Steadman, Robert Crumb and B. Kliban.

It's a new week so I thought I'd start with a new 'regular' feature. At least once a week, I'll try to write something positive about the things that actually makes my days more tolerable.

My choice today is Eurogamer, which you might know (or at least surmise) is a website dedicated to video games and especially European video games. Actually, it is primarily UK based and I've been a loyal reader for over ten years. I've watched console launches and console deaths via Eurogamer. I've followed every controversy, bug hunt, and the reveal of every big new thing via Eurogamer.  I've gone through countless changes in staff, editor, and even format. I went from being amused by Ellie Gibson to learning about computer architectures with Richard Ledbetter and then enjoying the genuinely brilliant games journalism dripping from the pens of Oli Welsh and Robert 'Bertie' Purchese. Eurogamer is usually the first or second website I visit when I wake up every morning.

All that said: I'm not specifically naming Eurorgamer as my thing that makes my days more tolerable. No, my inaugural 'Things That Make Life Feel Better' award goes to @ianhigton.

And you probably won't know him.

You might, however, be dimly aware that streaming live video gameplay is growing in popularity. Sites such as Twitch rose to prominence by providing live streams of people playing computer games. I wouldn't recommend that you go and take a look or, if you do look, be sure to take a cross and a holy bible.  Without putting too fine a point on it, the people who usually stream live gameplay have made compacts with the devil to ensure that, in this life at least, they're the world's biggest arseholes. They're usually precociously loud American teens who make video games as appealing as eating the raw nuts off a fruit bat deep in the jungles of New Guinea.

The most famous streamer is a Swede known to the Youtube generation as 'pewdiepie'. If you can endure his streaming for long enough, perhaps you can figure out why he has over 32 million people following him on Youtube. (Clue: over 32 million idiots use Youtube.)

Pewdiepie's real name is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg but I'll call him Kjellberg so I don't add to his self-made myth. Other than the constant effing and jeffing (I enjoy a bit of creative swearing but his is just tedious), Kjellberg's style involves every witless gesture and slang phrase you could cull from Generation Dumb. His single most enduring characteristic is his hair. I'm guessing that 31,000,000 of his 32,000,000 viewers are young girls who like hair. His appeal certainly can't be based on his wits, intelligence, or his ability to play computer games of which he has none. Of hair, however, he is blessed. He has great hair.

The antidote to Kjellberg is Eurogamer's Ian Higton who has the advantage of being English, older, funnier, and bearing absolutely no similarity to an arsehole. He also, thankfully, has less hair. He streams his stuff in the late afternoon and early evening, which is a perfect time for me because by then my brain is usually a little fried after a day's work. I can usually stick his face in the corner of my left side monitor (which is actually an old TV converted to the cause) and the world suddenly doesn't feel so dull or remote.

Now is probably the best time to catch up with this brave new world. The popularity of these amateur operations will only increase as viewers increasingly move away from the old media, very much symbolised by the rise of Sky TV where choice came hand-in-hand with increased cost, advertising, and less diversity. Personally speaking, I prefer something rough and intelligent over something polished but bland.

Take the case of a typical Higton stream. It begins roughly around 5pm, though it's always a little late. You then hear the clattering of keys and sometimes a bit of mumbling before the man himself appears front and centre. He's usually a bit dishevelled, the picture a bit blocky until it stabilises. What follows is entirely unscripted and there's no real plan, so he'll do a rambling opening, welcome the people leaving comments on his Youtube channel, before he starts to play some new game. That's when things usually begin to go wrong. If he's not struggling with his laptop, he's struggling with some new game because -- and here's the key point -- he's not the world's greatest video gamer. Example number one: he recently started a stream of the highly anticipated 'Assassin's Creed Unity' by faceplanting from the very top of Notre Dame. Example two: Destiny multiplayer usually involves him dying a lot and blaming his video capture software. Example three: with one notable exception, his online Mario Kart sessions usually see him finish in the bottom quarter of the field and cursing his video capture software.

But that is the charm. He captures the very reason why video gaming is fun solo or with friends. It's unscripted, occasionally silly, but it has variety and never makes you feel old or odd because you can't defeat the enemy that Metro 2033 introduces in the library level and which are as rough as Patsy Kensit's elbows and as mean as a ginger Spice Girl.

Since I've introduced friends to Higton's stream, they've also become hooked and we often sit around at night rewatching older steams, still available via Youtube. I draw my cartoons to Higton dying in the background or crying in frustration when he's overtaken on the last corner of a race. It's fun, relaxing, and highly recommended. Follow him on Twitter, which is where you'll usually find details of his next broadcast. Today, at 4.30pm, he's playing Mini DayZ.

You can also find broadcasts on Platform32, his private streaming channel where things can turn a little more fruity.

Or simply stop by Eurogamer and make your days feel slightly better.

Now, was that positive enough?

As Pewdiepie would probably say: watch dis space bruders, yah know what a mint!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A Quick Letter to John W. Henry

Dear John,

Liverpool have lost again, this time to bottom of the table Queens Park Rangers. I hate to say that I'm glad but I hope it might hasten Brendan Rodger's departure from the club.

As you might know, I've never liked Rodgers. I never wanted you to appoint him. Not because he didn't play great football last year but simply because I don't like the man. I don't like his teeth, his tan, his way with words. I don't like the way he treats his players, isolating those that fall out his favour. I don't like the way he left his wife for a slimmer life with a flash car and flasher girlfriend, paid for with the generous salary you gave a man who simply impressed you with a powerpoint presentation.

I don't like his ego, the fact that he doesn't seem to recognise his mistakes. Any Liverpool fan could tell you where our mistakes lie. Balotelli oozes class but is clearly ineffective playing as a lone striker. Our midfield is weak with Gerrard, sadly, showing his age yet, I suspect, having far too much power in the changing room. Yet your man keeps substituting younger players with plenty of energy. Our defence is leaking goals but he refuses to bring in a specialist defending coach.

Not that I should care. We ditched Sky months ago and I know friends who have this week ditched Sky as well. It's partly a money thing but it's also because we've lost faith in Liverpool. I don't want to watch Brendan Rodgers, who doesn't represent the things I've always cherished about Liverpool. I'd rather watch us lose with a manager I trust than win with a man like Rodgers in charge. Perverse, I know, but the truth.

Yet, above my complaints, I still trust the owners. You're doing a fantastic job at the club and I trust you to make the right decisions. I also hope you'll recognise when you've made a wrong decision.

Get rid of Rodgers. Bring Rafa back. Give the man the chance under owners that won't stand in his way. And if that means getting rid of people at the club who were hostile to Rafa, then get rid of them as well. It might have been another bad week for Liverpool  but this is your chance to put things right.


The Dave Whelan Generation

Because I'm so busy, I find very little time to read. It means I look for alternative ways to keep my brain fed with material and ideas. I've recently been scouring the web for material by the late Christopher Hitchens, which I've discovered is usually satisfyingly long and pretty deep. It's how I've come to find myself thinking more about my own atheism, which has always been present in my life in a strong and conscious way but never to the extent that I actually gave the broader subject of atheism much notice. To me, atheism is just the most natural way to be. I never understood religion as a child and I believe I've been a firm atheist from the cradle. Nothing in my life has ever challenged that view. I've never seen a ghost or a UFO or had anything that strikes me as a moment of otherworldly magic. I would love there to be Gods and an afterlife and heaven and the ability to shoot firebolts from the ends of my fingertips or levitate through the power of my mind. I find religion interesting, have studied and enjoyed religious poetry, and I'd probably class 'The Last Temptation of Christ' as one of my favourite books. Yet my experience of the world has led me to believe that we're chemical organisms in a world dominated by unyielding and generally inert physics. If our dreams and myths were reality, then the world would be so inherently unstable that it would have collapsed millennia ago. The fact that we have something that (just about) resembles a civilisation means that the world is probably without magic.

One of the cornerstones of atheism, for me at least, is the belief in tolerance in most things. I have a fairly rational view of the world and believe that people should be allowed to get on with their lives, making the kinds of mistakes that all people make. Rather than having a misguided faith in religious dogma, I believe in free speech to the extent that I'd rather hear things that offend people than live in a society where bad thoughts remain hidden until they fester into bad actions. People have the right to offend as much as they have the right to be offended but, until bad words promote bad actions, I'm very hesitant about doing much about them.

This, of course, has limits but my limits are probably more about my 'gut' instincts and the general practicalities of life, instead of any well reasoned argument. It's more of a practical point that the hate sermons of radical religions deserve to be silenced. If we were to be entirely rational about them, we'd let them spew their bile. However, it seems sensible to cut off the generators of hate before they become something more serious.

Discounting the extreme cases, bad words should be allowed to exist and challenged with argument. People who incur our displeasure should be treated with sympathy, a degree of understanding, and then with a calm challenge by which we should hope to change their point of view. We are children of the enlightenment and, as such, we should be loyal to our rationalist ancestry. Of course, this rarely happens. A person says something which deviates by the smallest quantity from the views of the hegemony and they are immediately treated as a pariah, usually by the salivating prigs on social media. When Judy Finnigan made an intelligent point about rape a few months ago, she was widely attacked because she dared to think differently about an issue. We might say that Twitter has democratised speech but I prefer to think of it as democratising stupidly. Never have we lived in a society so dominated by the dumbest among us.

All of which leads me to the problems now faced by Dave Whelan.

Racism is one of those topics which seems to demand well rehearsed words. Newspapers such as The Guardian almost have a rulebook by which we're all meant to abide. The thought police are particularly strong around the subject of race and very few of us do very well if we avoid running afoul of their ever changing guidelines. We live in an age when the good guys have to wear black and white is the new colour of evil.

It is naive, of course, to think that we can change centuries of thinking in a generation. Even more naive to think that it actually makes a difference and that our attitudes to night time and dark places might alter if we try to disassociate the colour black from negative connotations. However worthy their reasons, you cannot simply change the neural connections in our minds that easily and this especially true when those minds are older than others,

I live close enough to Wigan to know a little about Dave Whelan's reputation. My parents knew him during the time of his life when he ran a market stall. He's apparently one of life's good guys and, as far as you can tell without knowing a person's soul, without a hurtful bone in his body. No businessman in the local area has a better reputation, not only for the way he does business but for what he's done for everybody in the local community. Dave Whelan is of that generation of northerners who are old fashioned and open to the point of being naively blunt. He's honest, sometimes speaks too quickly and at too great a length, and clearly lacks the sophistication of Guardianistas in that he doesn't keep up to date with the current politically correct vocabulary.

When I created the now-defunct 'Whelan Speaks' website which produced endless meaningless quotes, it was done in the spirit of fun. And there is an element of the comic about Dave Whelan. He talks too much and talks too readily to be taken seriously. He enjoys talking and clearly enjoys the attention of the press who indulge him because he's always good for a quote.

Unfortunately, the following were some of his recent quotes:
If any Englishman said he has never called a Chinaman a chink he is lying. There is nothing bad about doing that. It is like calling the British Brits, or the Irish paddies.

The Jews don’t like losing money. Nobody likes losing money.

Do you think Jewish people chase money a little bit more than we do? I think they are very shrewd people.

I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else. I don’t think that’s offensive at all.

It’s telling the truth. Jewish people love money, English people love money; we all love money.

The first thing to say about the quotes is that it's pretty obvious why Dave Whelan is now in trouble with the FA. The second thing to say is: is anybody genuinely surprised to hear these words from a man of Dave Whelan's generation? I submit that the sensible way of looking at these quotes is to say that they're very much those of an older generation and just perhaps you have to have an ear for these things to recognise a very common trope you often hear in these parts among that older generation.

This sound like an appeal to something that cannot be explained rationally but it is really more than that. Despite the older generation's reputation for overt racism, I believe they were a far more tolerant generation. They were the 'take people as I find them' generation, quite different to today's youth who make cheap value judgements based on anything from model of a person's phone to the brand of shoe. Less materialistic than people of today, their generation had experienced the hardships of post-War England. They can often be blunt to the point of hurting a person but, at the same time, there is a genuine kindness behind the hard words. They don't that the glib sentimentality of today, nor the equally glib expressions of outrage. My own mother can still make me wince with the things she says but in no way would I ever call her a cruel or callous, and certainly not a racist. She simply struggles to be modern. She doesn't understand that the things she said in her youth are less acceptable these days, even when they're said in a way that's meant to be kind.

Perhaps it's knowing Wigan people that makes me want to give Dave Whelan the benefit of the doubt. There is no place in the north west of England where you can find kinder people than Wigan. It's a peculiar kindness, which you might attribute to being slow witted but is really a open approach to life.

It's why I look at Whelan's words and feel a stab of sympathy. He has fallen foul of his open character and his poor vocabulary but he is also trying to say, in the first case, that language changes, which is true. Northern men of Dave Whelan's generation would have certainly said those words. The fact that he actually uses the offending words makes the point sound controversial but, bless the poor old bugger, he's trying to sound non-discriminatory. His heart is in the right place, even if his mouth leads him astray.

It is more difficult to be sympathetic to his second point but only because he uses the offensive term 'Jews' and expresses his belief in a stereotype in 'I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else'. However, to be more generous, I think the words around that show that he's attempting to offer a slightly more elevated argument in favour of money.

Whelan's greater crime, in my eyes, is offering a job to Malky Mackay, about whom you could not offer any form of defence. Why did Whelan make the appointment? Maybe it takes a truly kind person to make truly dumb mistakes. As far as his words are to be judged, they might be a little too outdated for our modern ears but we should be mature enough as a society to allow them to pass with only a mild tut of disapproval. To do otherwise is to show ourselves up as immature, hysterical, and without heart. If Dave Whelan really is one of the bad guys, then the world is in a very sorry state indeed.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Men Like Joe

Life's rarely fair. Take the case of Mr. Daniel Ware: picked out of nowhere because a passerby shared a picture of his chez res on social media and before the ink is dry on his contract with The Sun he's standing in front of the media as the representative of an entire class. He hadn't asked to be judged and it would be wrong of anybody to try to understand his soul simply by looking at him.  So, let's not make this about Mr. Daniel Ware who, according to his neighbours, is simply a 'gentle giant'. I really don't want to talk about Mr. Ware. I really don't care about Mr. Ware.

Instead, let's talk about people who look like Mr. Ware. I'm sure you won't have to look very far.

In the early hours of yesterday, Emily Thornberry resigned from the shadow cabinet (or, according to some reports, she was sacked) because she had been resorting to stereotypes about the working classes. How dare she judge a man by the flag he waves... Or so the argument begins. There's nothing wrong with people who are proud of their country and, if a man (not Mr. Ware, just a man who looks like Mr. Ware) just happens to drive a white van, then he's one of many tens of thousands who take to our roads every day in vans painted white. Maybe they represent the national average in some obscure but meaningful way. Maybe, if you wanted to take a snapshot of Britain on the 21st November, 2014, you would come away with a portrait of a man who looks very much like Mr. Ware but, obviously, isn't Mr. Ware. Let's call this lookalike Joe Anybody. Joe looks just like Mr Ware and, lucky for us, has a very similar biography.

For example, Joe just happens to sport a skinhead and have that fold of flesh at the back of his head that always makes me think of Grossberger in Stir Crazy. It makes me think of violence and warehouses late at night. Unlike Grossberger, Joe also sports a few tattoos. But there are probably thousands of men who are like Joe: heavily tattooed and also supporters of West Ham United. And just because Joe supports West Ham and has a skin head, it would be wrong to mention that English football hooliganism began with West Ham's 'Bovver Boys' of the 1960s or that they were sympathisers of the National Front and characterised by their tattoos and skin heads.

Joe also reads The Sun but so do lots of men. They enjoy looking at the women with the big tits but lots of men enjoy looking at women with big tits. He deals in cars which is a legitimate business and great for the economy. The nation thrives because of wheeler dealers. And if he happens to enjoy climbing into a cage and beating other men up, he's not breaking any laws. He simply needs to relax after a head day's wheeling and dealing.

Critics of Emily Thornberry would say that none of this matters. And they're right because clearly, none of this has anything to do with the real person Mr. Daniel Ware. Her tweet about him was reductive and crude.

However, had Emily Thornberry tweeted a picture of the house belonging to our entirely imaginary friend Joe, would we think that her stereotype was at all inaccurate?

Maybe the very worst thing you can say about Joe is that if you were casting a role for a brutish modern thug with far right sympathies, he would land the role on £120 quid a day and everything he can eat from catering. Perhaps if you were interested in modern British culture, you might also say that Joe is an example of a current and deeply troubling phenomenon. Men like Joe are the epitome of the new moronic Britain. They are the stuff of our most moronic TV, usually hosted by our favourite Joe lookalike, Ross Kemp, and with titles involving the words 'hardest', 'meanest', and 'most dangerous'. They are familiar because they're loutish and loud, muscle bound and steroid thick. They are the cretins who smash bottles on our high streets on a Friday night. You want to indulge in cheap stereotypes, then how about muscle vests, medallions, sovereign rings, ethnic tattoos, names of their numerous kids trailing up their vein-thick necks. How about pitbulls and rottweilers, broken noses, gold teeth, four by fours, road rage, gang culture, drug wars, English nationalism, football terraces, racism, hatred, violence, lad culture, pornography, rape...

Or perhaps there's another story here. Perhaps we should be more worried at the way the media rushes to appoint a skin-head tattooed West Ham supporter who happens to be a cage fighter as the sole representative of the working classes.

Is this what we've come to as a nation?

The media are cowardly stepping around the story. We live in an age when it's so easy to cause offence. Yet nobody asks if it's right to cause offence. Maybe we need to go on the offensive against men like Joe because, if you met a man like Joe in the flesh, what would you really think?

And yet in asking this, I know I could be accused of being elitist and sneering towards the working classes. Perhaps I am but I think I have the right because I am pure bred working class. Men like Joe and Mr Ware are standing as proxy for me.

But let me be clear. I don't mean that I'm working class in some kind of exotic way. I don't 'identify' with the working classes because that's a cool thing to do. I'm pretty well educated but I don't have a middle class upbringing. I'm not suddenly finding a kitsch appeal in the working classes. I see myself as working class because I am working class. I am born of working class parents. My grandparents were all working class and one of them was a Lithuanian (or possibly Russian, there remains some confusion) immigrant whose parents fled the Bolshevik revolution. I live in a working class town, surrounded by working class people and everybody I meet each and every day is working class. And what might sound strange is that not all of them are inarticulate or lazy or socialist or angry or loud or violent or tasteless or dumb or any of the stereotypes that are routinely thrown our way. Not all of us keep the brown sauce on the dining room table or wear slippers to the corner shop or eat fish and chips every night before taking our teeth out in order to suck on a bottle of Newkie Brown. Not all of us have tattoos or skinheads or gold chains or enjoy cage fighting. Of course, there are some that do a few of these things and there are people I see every day who obviously do a great many of these things. However, the majority of the people I know would simply look at Joe and give the sniff we all give to men of that type. They're the type we know only so well because the rarely whispered secret is that nobody hates the working classes more than the working classes. We know our ranks. We know our archetypes. We know the bad types.

They're found in every neighbourhood and in every neighbourhood they express the same thoughts and feelings and communicate in the very same loud boorish ways. You don't need a degree in sociology to identify them and you don't need extensive research to reach the conclusion that the type is neither typical nor average. I live next door to a fine example of the breed. I hear the anger, the shouting, the arguments that spill out into the street. I see the money they have, the success they find in a world that rewards their type. There's another up the road who looks the same, walks the same, and has exactly the same political outlook, the same hugely expensive 4x4. I could walk you to the homes of a dozen of their type and never lose sight of my own doorstep. In fact, from where I write this, I look out over a gym that is a second home to dozens upon dozens of men who all look like Joe. The town is filled with men who look like that. But are they typical? Can they represent us in any meaningful way?

This is what ultimately galls me about the coverage this story has been given this morning in the media. The most insulting part of this story isn't the shadow minister's tweet. It's the Labour leadership and, in turn, the newspapers who would defend men like Joe and hold him up as something good and noble. The insult to the working classes is to say that we're all somehow like that. And how bloody dare anybody equate me to a bald tattooed West Ham supporting white van driving cage fighter who drapes himself in the flag of St George.

Maybe -- just maybe -- Emily Thornberry's tweet was succinct and meaningful. Maybe stereotypes exist not because they're a lazy way of thinking about the world but because they're a handy way to spot the modern archetypes that exist in the real world. Maybe Emily Thornberry's tweet said something profound about England on the 21st November, 2014, a nation that abandoned boxing because it was simply too tame and took up cage fighting which is as repellent as it is bloody and brutal. The ultimate insult to the working classes is that we're not having a debate about tattoos, and muscles, and the culture of macho violence and, ultimately, the kind of men who wave the flag. What does it say about British politics when a political party is happy to damage itself and disown its own over a slightly misguided tweet, simply in order to reach out to that kind of man?

Friday, 21 November 2014

Andrew Neil: The Best Thing On TV

Even Andrew Neil and my drawing what I thought was a good cartoon couldn't prevent my falling asleep around 3AM. The by-election result should have been in by then but when Neil said 'we're now hearing 4AM', I knew I couldn't last. I knew Private Eye would reject my cartoon like they reject every other so five downbeat minutes later, I was in bed and sound asleep.

I love watching by-elections, though they always leave me with the familiar conclusion that politics is ruined by the politicians. Last night was no different. Everything was set up for a good four or five hours of political cuts and thrusts and knees to the groin. I'm always searching for TV to which there's no obvious structure. I love to watch the free exchange of ideas presided over by a host who understands the nature of debate and allows it to breathe. In that sense, I also happen to think that Andrew Neil is the best thing on the TV at the moment. Where most top presenters have a calm ease about them, they are also generally without character and rarely stray from the autocue. The best examples of that are to be found on BBC News 24. Around 5pm each weekday night, they invite some interesting individual into the studio for an interview. Things are usually reaching the point where they've moved past the bland introductions and into some fascinating material. Just when you're thinking it's getting good enough to record and watch again, the blithering suit will cut off their guest mid anecdote and hand over to the weather or sport. And you sit there thinking: why, Christ, why? Why interrupt a fascinating interview for some pre-packaged news which you'll hear five times in the next hour?

It's to Andrew Neil's credit that he rarely does that. Neil retains the rough edges of a true journalist. His jokes aren't always slickly delivered. He might not always know which camera is on but, damn it, he owns his mistakes. It means that he's best when he's working solo, adlibbing with his guests, and ignoring the protestations of the studio manager to follow a line of argument. To watch Neil is to enjoy the unexpected or, in a sense, a debate that grows organically from the subject at hand. It's just a shame that, last night, he was let down by his guests.

The coverage came in two parts. The first was the usual The Daily Politics, ruined by an appearance by the always irritating and precious Ekow Eshun. At one time, my favourite show on TV was the 'Late Review'. It was sometimes hard gnarly TV that could annoy me as much as I loved it. Then Eschun became a regular and I'd start to turn it off before the introduction. I'd not seen Eschun on TV in a long time so I was prepared to give him a chance but I was making grim mutterings by the time Eshun had finished making a point about the misrepresentation of Africa in the Band Aid single. As an argument it was stretched and predictable and, thankfully, after a few uncertain words of support from Alan Johnson, Portillo and Neil tore into it leaving Eshun sounding like he almost doubted it too. There then followed a brief but fun mike failure, nicely ad libbed by Neil and Omid Djalili, before The Daily Politics moved into election coverage and it was here that the guests proved the point I keep making about Farage.

Farage is the political equivalent of Andrew Neil. He's another who wouldn't work well with autocue. He laughs and sometimes makes bad jokes. He doesn't always have a good answer or a slick line of prepared patter to deflect difficult questions. In an age when politicians seem to be at the Mark Reckless end of the bland scale, Farage is the anti-politician who appeals to people who normally switch off when they hear the same old policy statements coming from the mouths of our professional politicians. In a sense, Farage's greatest weapon is his sheer amateurish and we British love our amateurs. We're a nation of amateur astronomers and amateur musicians, amateur engineers and amateur artists. Yet amateur doesn't mean unskilled or lacking polish. If America has the American Dream, Britain has the British Amateur, those backyard enthusiasts who teach the world a lesson or two. Farage is the Trevor Baylis of Westminster like Andrew Neil is the James Dyson of BBC2.

Between Neil and Farage, I was hoping for an evening of edgy politics and occasional bad tempers. I didn't stay awake to see if Andrew managed to interview Nige or managed to get under his skin. Instead, I stayed awake until 3AM listening to the likes of Iain Duncan Smith (still that annoying cough) trot out the usual glassy eyed arguments that appear at every by-election. Bad night for the government but a worse night for the opposition. The general election will be different. Protest votes. Yaddah. Yaddah. Yah...

Neil did his best but the show only really came alive when he was chatting with the correspondent at the count, Chris Mason, who displayed  his own brand of unscripted banter. Mason was the surprise of the evening. I could have watched five hours of just Mason and Neil but unfortunately there were studio guests and I fell asleep over my cartoon to the sound of a Tory spokesman attacking Labour on a trivial point of policy. I always say that I love politics but hate politicians. Perhaps I should amend that. I hate politicians but I love political journalists. You can keep your Strictly Come X Factors and Downton and Dec. Andrew Neil is the best thing on TV. I just wish we had a better calibre of politician to make his blood run hot.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Too Many Morons In The World

Is it libellous to call somebody a moron? How about a tosser of the highest order? A ball wart on the tick bit scrotum of humanity? A dung-fed louse squashed on the shit-smeared heel of a dribbling eunuch too mentally slow to even zip up his own fly? The gnawing offspring of brain mites hatched in warped cranium of a scabietic circus freak known as Walter the Bat-Faced Boy?

The advantage of Google web traffic dropping off this week is the certainty that I can post this picture and make these comments without the moron who drives this car actually seeing this post. Not that I feel too bad about posting the picture or for my pointing out that the driver clearly shares a few too many genes with their current partner. I don't even know why I've bothered to pixelate the number plate except I have some old fashioned notions or right and wrong. And who knows what forms of retribution a person might display when they have this level of cretinism?

Am I being unfair? I hope I am. Unfairness and words seem to be the only powers I have when not a single policeman, traffic warden or council official would be inclined to do anything about the arseholes who casually block our streets. Because, I can assure you that although this was the worst example of the kind I saw today, this photo is just one of a dozen I could have taken. I also know what response I'd receive if I made a complaint. The police say they 'try to be sympathetic to drivers' and it's 'really a council matter'. The council also try to be try to be 'sympathetic to drivers' and say it's 'a police matter'. In other words, both the police and council are full of pavement parkers and there but for the grace of a wide driveway go they.

I also know that I write from the 'privileged' position of not being a driver. I don't drive and I've never wanted to drive. I always tell people 'too expensive' or 'never had the chance' but the truth is harder to explain. It's hard to describe how I have enough trouble dealing with the world without finding my myself flying down a motorway and suddenly becoming hyper aware of my existence and experiencing some mode of existential panic. And when I'm miles away thinking of some of my usual nonsense, I am prone such moments. More prone, I would say, than your average meth drinker or weed junkie. I think it's probably better if I'm not in control of a couple of tonne of steel and airbags when I suddenly begin to doubt reality.

Yet even though I don't drive, I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that if I did have a car, I would never ever park it across the pavement. It's that old fashioned morality, you see, along with the belief that you'd really have to be one of evolution's greater regressions to lack the basic understand of how pavements work. Of course, these dimwits might argue that the road was too narrow to have cars parked on both sides of the street (true). They might argue that they have a right to park outside their own home (wrong). They might even say that somebody could just squeeze through (wrong), walk on the other side of the road (true), or even walk in the road (true). They might even say that this kind of parking doesn't really affect people like me (almost true). But what special permission do they have that allows them to force the old and infirm into the road? What right do they have to make mothers with prams and infants stray into busy roads just so these lazy bastards don't have to walk more than three feet to their car?

Anybody who walks any distance in the day knows the feeling of having to squeeze past cars, often pushing through overhanging bushes, of trying to dodge traffic should you have to venture out into the road... It's even worse when there are (often) muddy grass verges to navigate before you even get to the road because some moron has parked their nose of their car in their drive, blocking the entire pavement and kerb.

I'm not so unfair as to say that I'd shoot every pavement parker on sight. I think they should face a judge of last appeal before they ever reach that stage. Let them have one, two, or even three warnings before we demonstrate how fast moving steel tipped objects can injure mere flesh and bone. But if these pavement parkers continue to act like the selfish arsehole they are, then their contributions to the greater good would not be missed. Perhaps we could just stand them in the middle of fast moving traffic and let them experience the fear that pedestrians feel when faced down by cars and trucks. Perhaps then we can cram just one crumb of understanding into their dense Neolithic skulls.

The Amazon Void

Buying from Amazon is beginning to feel like hard work. Not that I'm in the habit of buying things that often. I'm a rare online buyer and I'm also pretty conflicted about Amazon's success.

Amazon is the elephant in the room of modern culture. It's often discussed in relatively insignificant ways, a trunk here and a voluminous grey buttock there. Rarely is it discussed as the single most important arbiter of taste in the early twenty first century. Their influence is all encompassing in books, music, film and even TV. They change the ways that companies operate and even how we live our lives. I fear that ebooks will destroy quality book publishing. I despise their long tail business economics that encourage writers to sell their books for a penny.  I worry about the monopoly they have. I miss having local bookshops. I really miss the enormous Borders Books that used to be in Warrington and which I'd visit every couple of weeks for a long coffee and a mooch. I dislike the working conditions exposed by Panorama and by this morning's Guardian. I dislike the way they now deliver on a Sunday and are helping to reshape our notions of the working week. With their new online TV service, they're slowly moving into an area where they might even start to challenge Sky or even the BBC. Next they'll be trying out drones, which might be the future but are a worrying development if the bloody things are going to start buzzing over our homes.

Really, there's no end to how far Amazon will affect our lives and I think it's only right to view them with some degree of cynicism.

Yet at the same time, like most people, I overlook all of that because they're cheap and quick to deliver. It was also recently my birthday and I found myself the owner of an Amazon gift voucher. Despite my reservations about Amazon, I'd normally spend a couple of days browsing the site to find the best use of a voucher but I'd also been having problems with a USB hub I'd previously bought from Maplin, which was periodically disconnecting and doing all manner of crazy things that were annoying me on a daily basis. Having USB problems and an Amazon voucher came together in one of those moments when I didn't think twice. I went straight to Amazon UK and bought myself an EasyAcc® USB 3.0 7 Port Charging and Data Hub. It arrived two days later and I haven't looked back. If it's possibly to have sexual feelings towards a USB hub then you might say that me and the hub have been more intimate than is good for a man who isn't built to USB 3.0 standards. Not only is it built like a Russian tank but it charges my tablet quicker than Samsung's official charger, at the same time as running half a dozen USB devices plugged into my PC.

The only problem is that Amazon now won't stop emailing me asking me about the hub. They want me to review the hub. They want feedback on their delivery of the hub. They want feedback on their feedback.

I understand why they're pestering me but I don't understand what possible benefit they think I could get from writing a review. I know other people like to write reviews (to some it seems almost as sad a hobby as blogging) and I accept that I sometimes find their reviews helpful. In the spirit of the community, I suppose I should write a review. However, where's the incentive? These companies won't sneeze without charging us the honour of witnessing it but they're happy to ask us to provide them with free content for their sites without even the smallest percentage discount off our next purchase.

It's not just Amazon who do this. Banks charge us for the slightest mistake yet we can never charge them when they make a cock up. Train companies regularly hit us with charges which cannot be challenged. Catch a peak time train with a cheap day ticket and you're lucky to get away with the skin on your back. However, when their service breaks down and you're stuck waiting two hours on a cold station, we can't do a damn thing. You can't get one bit of extra data from a mobile phone operator without them charging you for it yet we're supposed to sit down, devote time and energy to writing content for a website which earns the company billions?

Writing free content for one of the world's richest companies seems like a stupendously dumb thing to do. Yet so many people do it and there, I suppose, is the Amazon genius. It's the perfect business model.  They make the space that others fill. It's the very opposite of being creative. Filling in blank spaces  is the hardest thing in the world to do with any degree of competence. I have enough trouble filling this blog each day. I'm not about to start filling the Amazon void.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Top Maplineer Tips from the Maplin 2014 Winter Catalogue

The 2014 Winter Maplin Catalogue: A Review


Beginning with this classic pose, you really can't do better, even if it amplifies a certain rotundity around the waist of this chubby Freddie Flintoff (tip for next year, Maplin: buy baggier shirts).



I turn the page and find it disappointing to see that Maplin haven't left behind the staged poses of the previous catalogue. Two hands are definitely not better than one unless this is actually some kind of far eastern martial art.


This is better but the finger point up loses marks. What's on the end of that finger and where, indeed, does he plan on wiping it?


Another classic. The teapot is an elegant alternative but sometimes hard to carry off. Fortunately, this year's model does a great job. Both spout and handle are in the right places.

The classic again and superbly carried off. Nothing to note here so better move on.



What can I say? This is a terrible interpretation of the teapot. We can see his spout but that's a sorry excuse for a handle. The only positive thing about the post is the position of the fingers. Some might say it's a feeble attempt at pointing but he's actually demonstrating an excellent way of remembering Fleming's left-hand rule for motors. First finger: field. Second finger: current. Thumb: motion.



If you ever needed a painted fingernail example of Fleming's right-hand rule for generators this could be it. If you are looking for finger pointing, this is probably not how to do it. The eyes are looking in a different direction. I'm afraid this woman doesn't install confidence that she would know how to rewire a sink.


This is a superb example of how to pose for the portly man of the world. Casual yet with a certain intensity. This is the guy you want giving advice about pin connectors.


An odd one this and new for this year's catalogue. It's a big Morrisey and ever so homoerotic. It's clearly modelled on the painting of St Sebastian, who was the first gay icon. It's good to see Maplin reaching out to all sectors of the community.




The above is a perfect example of how not to point. The term 'pissed off' and 'wish I wasn't here' spring to mind. Would you buy a caravan recharge socket from this man? I know I wouldn't. Point me in the direction of a man who knows how to point!


This, however, says 'where's you nearest 240 volt outlet, mate?' What confidence. What elan! Well done, sir! I'll buy anything from you and use it in the bathtub safe in the knowledge that it's been double earthed!


If this year's Maplin catalogue is a bit of a mixed bag of poses, I've saved the worst for last. Two hands pointing is never a good idea and this shows why. Where is he pointing? Is that 10 o'clock or 11? Where should we look? Is one hand helpfully pointing in the direction of the other? What's he saying? It's like he's being too helpful and simply getting in his own way. The result is that he looks like he's doing a bad disco dance.

Better luck next time, Maplin!

A Nigel Farage Cartoon Containing Some 17th Century Vulgarity

Another cartoon rejected by Private Eye. The verse is from 'A Satyr on Charles II' by John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. And, yes, they did use language like that back in the 1600s.
Following it is a video of the drawing process along with my usual stream of consciousness waffling.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Free Christmas Card For Anybody That Wants One

[caption id="attachment_4491" align="alignright" width="268"]Polar Superglued polar bears[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_4487" align="alignright" width="224"]Deflated Labrador pelt[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_4493" align="alignright" width="301"]Seal Baby seal (unclubbed)[/caption]

If you're anything like me (and, if you are, then I feel sorry for you) then you won't be receiving many Christmas cards this year. I don't have a large circle of friends and those few friends I do have know that I'm an old fashioned God fearing atheist. Yet that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy sending cards. I'm one of those poor sods who actually makes his own cards which I send out and suspect people then think: bloody cheapskate, sending me this hand drawn cartoon when I wanted a mass produced Santa...

[caption id="attachment_4490" align="alignright" width="256"]Noel The Edmonds Sphincter[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_4489" align="alignright" width="245"]Immigrant Immigrant labour[/caption]

In previous years, I've adopted my Stan Madeley moustache and novelty sombrero to send cards to random celebrities. This year, however, I'm not sure what I'll do, and that's a special shame because a pile of cards have just landed on my doormat courtesy of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

I'm not sure why the International Fund for Animal Welfare thought  I might want some Christmas cards. I suspect it's their way of mocking my mild autism and low quota of friends. I'm even less sure why they think I might feel obliged to send them some money. It seems a rather presumptuous thing to do: send a person a product they've not asked for and then expect prompt payment for that product.

[caption id="attachment_4492" align="alignright" width="290"]Robin Plastic robin[/caption]

I mentioned this to somebody this morning they thought it would only be right to stick the cards back into the prepaid envelope and return them to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. However, that seems like a lot of effort on my behalf when I didn't actually want the bloody things in the first place. It's like those bastards at Cleaneazy or those bigger bastards at Avon who stick catalogues through your letterbox and get shirty when you rip them up. 'But that was my property!' they protest. To which I reply: 'the moment you stuck it through my letterbox, it became my property. Now bugger off and don't do it again'.

[caption id="attachment_4488" align="alignright" width="197"]Fancy Elk hunter's sweater[/caption]

Have I mentioned that I find it hard to make friends?

So, sending the cards back would involve effort and the charity mob would surely just repackage the cards and then send them to another poor victim. I don't want to feed this cycle of unwanted Christmas card sending.

So I have a dilemma.

Or I had a dilemma until I came up with a solution.

[caption id="attachment_4485" align="alignright" width="315"]Dogs playing with their balls Dog sniffing its balls[/caption]

If you suspect that you're going to be depressing light on Christmas cards this year or if you'd just like another Christmas card to the hundreds you're bound to receive, then drop me an email. All I need is your name and address and you can leave the rest to me (stamp). I'll personally sign each card with a name that might not be my own and then, time and inspiration permitting, I might even scribble some kind of cartoon onto the front cover. Failing that, I'll simply deface the card in some darkly humorous way that amuses me but will ensure no Christian lingers long by your fireplace.

[caption id="attachment_4486" align="alignright" width="182"]Cat Stuffed cat[/caption]

I only have ten cards so you might want to be quick if you want one of the more tasteful cards. If you want a particular card from the lousy selection on offer and displayed throughout this blog post, please indicate. The cards will be with you shortly or whenever I can get access to a post office or use a friend's franking machine when they're not looking.

The New Toothbrush

A miserable way tot start a new week but here's one of the three cartoons rejected (minutes ago) by Private Eye.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Zero Choice in a Multichannel Age: Sky TV and the Decline of Culture

I watch very little TV and yet I find it strange to admit that given how much TV I watch in a week.

When I say I watch very little TV, I mean rarely do I tune into a TV channel and watch whatever they're showing. Instead, I watch things I recorded a long time ago (and stored digitally) or I watch things I've nabbed from the internet, such as my current interest in the work of  the late Christopher Hitchens whose interviews and debates are readily available on Youtube and I highly recommend.

billcunninghamLast night, I had a chance to look over Netflix and found myself still awake at 4am after watching a double bill of excellent documentary films. The first was a sheer left-of-centre fluke that I would never have found myself watching had I not been randomly browsing through the Netflix catalogue. ' Bill Cunningham New York' is about one of those people that makes life seem better simply because they exist. Cunningham is a street photographer working for the New York Times. His interest is fashion but not the rarefied fashion of the catwalks but the fashions of the street. Yet, if that sounds precious, then I should say that fashion usually ranks up alongside with New Age goat yoga in the list of subjects that interest me the least but I was pretty quickly captivated by Cunningham's energy, his upbeat but edgy manner, and the sheer enthusiasm of the film which is about intelligent outsiders living in modern New York as much as it's about glitz, ditz, and high heels. It's a documentary I can't recommend more highly. Cunningham is just a great human being and the kind of person that should be affixed to space probes as an example of the high watermark of our kind.

rintThe second film is only available via Netflix, it being a Netflix Original. It's called 'Print the Legend' and documents the rise of the 3D printing business, particularly the rise of MakerBot. If, like me, you enjoy cutting edge technology and long films filled with great yet occasionally flawed characters, then you should give it a try. It's also, sadly, going to be the closest I get to 3D printing technology in the next decade.

If you've not tried the month's free trial over at Netflix, these two documentaries make it a compelling opportunity. And, no, I'm not getting paid to promote Netflix. This is a rare thing on the internet these days: an honest recommendation.

Perhaps it's because mainstream cinema has become so juvenile (I find myself feeling weary with anything that comes from Stan Lee's imagination) but, in the last few years, I've found myself increasingly drawn to the form of the long documentary. They seem to fill a gap in my life that normal TV no longer satisfies. Back when I had access to Sky, I'd often watch channels such as Discovery. At the beginning, they were great places to go and find long programmes about difficult or unusual things. You could watch a two hour documentary about something bone dry but interesting. They were the early days of satellite and cable and they were showing anything to fill the hours. Then things began to change. Channels that were previously happy to fill their schedule began to chase viewers. The documentary channels, previously dedicated to factual programming, perverted their terms and began to run programmes which weren't at all factual. They were shows about hillbillies talking about alien abductions and effete men scaring housewives with tales of hauntings. They were shows about three toed ancient civilisations and space creatures helping the Egyptians to build the pyramids. They were shows that would make me throw the remote control across the room and mutter darkly about crystal banging idiots intruding where they weren't wanted.

Once these abortions of programming were allowed, the factual channels also found they could run reality shows. They soon became crowded with scuff knuckled series about renovating hotrods. I look today (Sunday) and I see that the History Channel has devoted 12 solid hours of 'Pawn Stars' followed by 'Storage Wars'. National Geographic is showing 'Hitler's Jurassic Monsters' and then endless 'Yukon Gold'. Animal Planet HD is showing a solid run of 'America's Cutest Pets'. Discovery itself is showing 'Auction Hunters', followed by 'Yukon Men', 'Gold Divers', two episodes of 'How It's Made' (not a bad show but endlessly repeated), but then variously, 'Trawler Wars' (an endlessly repetitive show about fishing) and 'Mystery Investigator: Olly Steeds' who is today searching for Atlantis. Atlantis! F.F.S.

Like so many people I know, we recently ditched Sky after many years. When Sky started out in the UK, you might have paid anywhere between £10 and £30 per month for its channel line up of a few dozen channels. They now boast about 700 channels. Their most basic line up of channels is £21.50 a month but once you start down the Sky path, you quickly discover the only limit is your bank account. You need Sport channels? That's an extra £24.50 a month. Movies? Just another £16.50. Want to watch any of those in HD? Just another £5. You want more than the basic line up of channels? Well, that's £33 a month instead of the £21 but if you want one of the football club's official channels, that' s another £7. Before you know it, you're blowing through £100 a month and because you're blinded by all the choices they're offering, you forget to ask yourself once simple question:

Are you actually going to watch any of this crap?

'Choice' is one of the great scams of our age. It was Thatcher and her cronies who told us that we should always have choice because choice produces healthy competition. In the long term, there might be a case for that argument in a few limited situations. However, the evidence of the last two decades makes me question the logic. When they opened up our local bus service to competition, about five or six companies fought for the business. We endured a decade when the local bus service was provided by some very questionable companies driving buses that were apparently built by 'Death Trip Motors Inc'. We travelled around in anything from old holiday coaches to converted vans that rattled and fell apart at every pothole. That was the result of choice and competition. Yet soon the bigger companies began to buy out these smaller companies to the point where we now have two bus companies who effectively run a monopoly and charge upwards of £2.50 just to travel one stop. Unless you're travelling across the county (also £2.50), you don't use the buses  and the term local service begins to have a hollow ring when you can no longer afford to pay for local journeys. In other words: choice destroyed the local bus service which now caters to none but the few workers who have to pay the toll or pass holders who get free travel  funded by local government.

I do not doubt in the slightest that if it were not for the license fee, the very same would have happened to our TV. We're promised choice but there is really very little real choice available on Sky. Often the choices are mutually exclusive. If you're watching Nigerian TV  then you're probably not going to be watching the Irish Channel. Is Fashion One going to appeal to the same people who enjoy Forces TV or Flava TV. Now we're heading towards the rump end of the year, we've got Blissmas (Channel 376) showing nothing but Christmas rot, which is probably not going to appeal to audiences watching any one of the countless Muslim channels.  If you subscribe to LFCTV, you won't be subscribing to MUTV. If you enjoy the Gay Dating channel, you probably don't watch Babestation or any one of the endless pornographic channels where women flash their cleavage throughout the day.

The point I'm making is that unless you're a Christian Irish-Nigerian homosexual hetrosexual who is currently serving in the armed forces and looking forward to Christmas when you're hoping to get a Liverpool FC shirt to compliment your official Chelsea sex toy shaped like John Terry,  then you're unlikely to look at your TV guide and be overwhelmed with choice.

Yet not only are the real world choices fewer than advertised, so much of the remaining programming is of such a lamentable quality that you'd be hard pressed to say it's actually worth the money you spend. Those that complain that the license fee is actually a form of taxation are the same people who would happily turn our libraries into private enterprises and shrug their shoulders when the non-fiction section is ripped out in favour of a karaoke bar. They oppose the license fee on ideological grounds and not because they could deny that the BBC actually do produce (some) quality programmes that represents the best of our nation. Most of the few channels on Sky that provide quality programming are simply replaying much of the BBC back catalogue. Gold is a perfect example of that (though as if to disprove my point, today showing 'Only Fools and Horses' and 'Allo Allo'). Dave is another, though when I now look, I see it's also showing 'Storage Hunters' from 11.30am to 6pm.

To sum it up: 99% of the programming for which you are paying Sky exorbitant amounts of money is indistinguishable from bullock muck. And the very small fraction of programming which you enjoy in a month would not look as attractive if you were consciously aware that you were paying £2 - £10 an hour to enjoy it. I assume that most people who pay for the Sports package are really paying for the football, in which case, it's probably cheaper to buy tickets and attend the games yourself than pay £25 a month to watch your team who, if you're lucky to follow one of the bigger teams, might be televised once a month. Often, you'll pay £25 a month and never actually turn over to the sports channels because you're not interested in volleyball or American Football or yachting or any other of the lamentable sports they cover. Add in the cost of paying for sports channels during international breaks and the summer and the real price of following your team begins to look ridiculous.

Finally, if you do enjoy football, you also now face the competition of BT Sports. Choice might be a fascinating point of political theory but the reality is that poor football fans now have to pay two subscriptions to watch the matches which were, until recently, confined to one channel.

It's blackmail yet so many of us succumb to it. Hell, even I succumbed for a long time. Now I watch very little live TV and I collect and treasure the things I know I'll enjoy. I'm even slowly weaning myself off football, which just rots the soul as you see the excesses of these tattooed louts paraded in front of our eyes. Above all, I just try to avoid the marketing spin and the scream of the loud but banal. There's some great TV out there if only you're willing to look. Just look beyond the places where Sky precede everything with a pound sign.