Monday, 28 December 2015

The local solicitor, darts & school

I've nicked/borrowed/finagled a chair. No idea if it will be comfortable enough to keep me writing until I sort out a proper replacement but I'm giving it a try.

Apropos of nothing, I noticed via Twitter that a local solicitor sponsors a darts 'star' as well as a charity run in the name of a local rugby player. I know nothing about either. I live in an area dominated by darts and rugby but especially the latter. To the south we have Warrington, to the north lies Wigan, and to the west is St Helens; all three powerhouses in the world of big men running into each other nostril first. I've never seen the appeal. I hated rugby at school where I lost a few too many nails grabbing the shirts of louts barrelling past on a cold winter morning on a field frozen into a solid bed of iron slag. My school celebrated sporting achievement over anything else, which perhaps explains why it was one of the worst places for academic development. I only ever started to perform half decently at exams once I got away and had the time and space to teach myself about the world.

My school was one of the worst in the country when I was there and a few years later was bulldozed because the local education authority thought it was simply better to start again. Oddly enough, my school was around the corner from that local dart-supporting solicitor and I would have passed them every day. I now rarely venture into that corner of the town, possibly because it reminds me of bad academia and rugby, both of which holding a special place in my hatred. The school is now an academy that claims it is 'Working together to inspire excellence guided by Christian values'. Christian values... They never learn.

It's apparently a 'good school' but that's according to Offsted, which means it's misleading. Offsted changed the goalposts recently and with a classic piece of Orwellian trickery, they renamed the lowest acceptable grade 'good'. So, when you see a school claiming to be 'good', you should know that it means 'acceptable' or one step above requiring improvement.

But I digress...

My lack of rugby knowledge makes me reflect on how the culture of the local area is largely non-existent. No book shops but a dozen tattooists. You wouldn't get local firms sponsoring a writer and occasional cartoonist. You wouldn't get them sponsoring a novel or non-fiction book. Would it be snobbish to suggest that both might have more value than the results of obese men throwing darts? Yes I know... Even if it is snobbish, it's important to support the world view you think the best and I think bookish culture is more important than sporting culture. Yet, as a nation, we seem to disagree. The news will report any old tosh that David Beckham spouts yet would ignore more meaningful contributions from experts. Meanwhile I live in a town where I wouldn't get a job reporting on the local free newspaper and have to write a blog instead...

I feel my brain moving into my usual self pitiful areas. Perhaps this chair might be okay...


Boxing day my new chair bust. Six months old and the seat has cracked and the bolts affixing it to the stand has fallen out. On close inspection, I see the seat was made from cheapo plywood. For an £80 chair, it's depressing but also depressingly familiar. My chair is the single most important part of my writing. If I'm uncomfortable, I can't get drift away into my mental zone. I can't get into my zone, I can't write. If I can't write, the blog doesn't get filled.

Not that anybody will miss me but it means I won't be writing anything until Amazon come and pick up the old chair, issue a refund, and I can buy a replacement. No idea how long all that will take but the chair I'm currently sitting on makes my back hurt after five minutes so I'm typing this and heading off.

In the meantime, recent words largely ignored over Christmas. Here I moan about an archbishop acting like a politician and here I moan about a politician acting like an archbishop. Here I jibber on about panto.

Finally, here I expend a serious amount of effort into explaining the Trump shrug.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

Unpublishing the popular

Is it okay to unpublish a blog post you wrote years ago when you were feeling pretty down?

I personally don't think it is. I largely write this blog (when I remember and/or have time) because it's a place where I can be open about my feelings. Yet, sometimes, I think I come across as looking bitter or cynical. I'm not, or, at least, I'm not always bitter and cynical but I have both qualities within me like I expect everybody has it within themselves to rage against the world on occasion.

The blog post I wish I could unpublish is one I wrote about Private Eye. I've not bothered sending cartoons to Private Eye in a very long time but I feel slightly embarrassed that people (often successful cartoonists) leave comments having read some invective I wrote when in some particularly dismal frame of mind.

A second blog post I'd like to unpublish is about sand dogs. Last week, the story was picked up by a website which was itself picked off by a few local newspapers, who seemed to adapt the story word for word. Last night the hits peaked again. That story has now been picked up by the Daily Mail who even quote me. I am now an authority on sand dogs based on one very casually written blog post I thought nobody would care to read.

In January I'll have blogged for 10 years and I'm known for only three things: how to unblock Rotring pens, a moaning blog post about my inability to get cartoons into Private Eye, and a post about sand dogs. Not one of these I would consider my 'best moment'. Sadly, all my 'best moments are largely unread, including my book.


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Republicans, Star Wars & Biscuits

Over at TW&TW I'm talking about the Republican debate.  It's also why I'm struggling to work. It's only six o'clock and I usually work until 7, have a few hours rest and then write into the early hours. Feels like I could go to bed now. Staying up until 4am was not the sensible way of watching the debate but there's something about live political events that I can't resist.

I have written and polished about 2000 words today, the article I've just linked to and something for elsewhere (I hope). Next I'm tempted to write about Cameron and Corbyn at PMQs today. Seemed a nasty little session and there's much I'd like to write. However, dimly aware of Christmas looming. I've not done a thing about it and I've not even drawn a card this year. Not sure if I will. I've managed to de-Christmas myself more and more each year and this year I just look on it as a normal week, albeit when nobody will be in contact. I could get lots written. Perhaps I should put it to some good use and write something long. I don't know... I'm tired. I can only manage vague thoughts tonight.

Writing long pieces every day, either for TW&TW why or elsewhere, is such fun but it feels utterly rotten when you know that nobody else seems to care what you've written. Sometimes I feel like I'm just too prolific but I find it hard not to write. I like feedback, emails from strangers. So rare it happens. I think it's a sign of people's essential indifference to anything and everything. Only when I was writing as Dick Madeley did they really care what I said. I could have written anything and they'd have crawled over glass to speak to me. As myself, even my best is rarely good enough. An odd thing about people, once you realise it, or perhaps just an odd thing with Richard Madeley fans.

I'd love to see the new Star Wars movie, mainly to avoid some bugger spoiling it for me. I suspect some prat like Jonathan Ross will pop up on TV and give the game away. Not sure I'll be able to last until it appears on DVD but, at the same time, not sure about the cinema. I understand it's damn pricey.

Part of always doesn't want to see the new Star Wars movie. I feel like I'm being sold something I don't want to buy. I guess I'm just suspicious of Disney. This is nostalgia harvesting and I'm sure I don't want to be part of it.

Then I see Harrison Ford interviewed on Sky News. Maybe I do want to see it. I want to see the new Blade Runner too, though I doubt if Scott could pull it off again. Part of Blade Runner's brilliance is that it is flawed and the technical difficulties make it what it is. I suppose it's a bit like Jaws, in that the lousy mechanical shark made the film better because Spielberg had to adapt...

Hmm... I enjoy writing like this straight into the blog. The pleasure of the ramble...

The women in Tesco were wearing antlers today. Not sure if I consider that a perk of the job or a public humiliation. I was tempted to say something like, 'you want to have a doctor look at that' but I expect they hear that all day long. Like that episode of the Simpsons when he visits a car show and says to the model standing there 'do you come with the car' and she laughs like she's never heard it before. Then somebody else walks up and asks the same thing and she laughs identically to before...

The family across the road have decorated their house with white fairy lights. They have them blinking at something like 10hz. Every time I open the curtains or step outside I feel like it's enough to induce a fit. Why do people do that? It's not as though they can see it themselves? Not sure it's not an aggressive act and I shouldn't respond.

Why do people only eat tiny cheeses at Christmas? I love tiny cheeses and would love to eat them all year around.

I did buy a Christmas box of biscuits today but realised only too late that they're normal biscuits but in a tin. I think I've been tricked into buying a large tin.


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Hitch and America

A new piece written today to commemorate the death of Christopher Hitchens and what he might have thought about the sad spectacle of the Zadroga Act in the US.

I suppose because I've been writing more serious pieces than comedy this year, my tendency to pick up Hitchens' writings has been more pronounced. I've always loved his work and have done so since I realised that he has good tastes . Yet until Hitchens made his move to the right in politics, I was always doubtful about him as I am about ideologues of any kind. It was important for me that he changed his mind about a great many things and, if we're honest about this, at the expense of much ridicule. The willingness to adapt his thinking to new information was stronger than any of his arguments, even those where I found myself in agreement. I suppose he followed in the footsteps of his great hero, Orwell, another great English essayist who died too early from his addiction to tobacco.

Speaking of Orwell, I foolishly had a thought the other day and wondered how much a complete set of Orwell would cost. I thought, perhaps less than £50. Now I've done my research I realise that the complete set runs to 20 volumes and a single hardback volume costs £50. That's £1000 for the complete writings of a man who spoke most eloquently about inequality and the British poor. Such a grim irony about that.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Cameron's Christmas Card

Over at TW&TW I've written a piece about the rhetoric of evil. Meanwhile here, I thought I'd make David Cameron's Christmas card look a little more festive.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Sand Dogs Revisited

A quick blog post in my current fashion of writing quickly and straight into the browser window. Apologies for typos.

As is usual, I have three articles open in my word processor at the moment and I'm trying not to lose my thread in any of them. However, I wanted to quickly revisit the sand dog controversy. Brief catchup: I wrote this blog post a year or so ago. I think I might well have been the first person to raise the issue of sand dogs and whether they are fake. That post is one of those that have brought most hits to the site, having been linked to countless times over the years. Indeed, a few months ago, realizing that this was 'an exclusive' I tried to pitch this very story to various news outlets and nobody was interested. Typical. Now it's been picked up by the mainstream media and this blog is getting hundreds of hits by the hour. I'm being cited as the chief cynic as to the veracity of the sand dogs.

What makes this particularly ironic is that in Liverpool the other day, I watched a guy carving a sand dog and I watched as he definitely 'cut'into part of the sculpt to pull away sand. That's not to say there isn't a scam going on but the examples shown in this Quirker and this  Metro piece are, to my eye, real sculpts. They also look infinitely better than the examples I've seen dotted across the North West. You'd have to be really cynical to believe that the guy who also added the puppies to the dog was anything less than an artist. The guys I see working the local market are no artists.

Not that I'm really bothered one way or another. I've long since realised that there are more interesting things to talk about. And on that score, I recommend you head over and read my George Galloway article.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Galloway, Twitter & Christopher Hitchens

Over at CapX, I'm removing my gloves and laying into George Galloway and his habit of blocking anybody who disagrees with him. Here is the graphic I doodled whilst writing the piece.

On Waiting, Tim Kreider & Ralph Steadman

Well, my newest disappeared down the email chute a few minutes ago and I now have the nervous wait for judgement. Normally when I finish an article, I feel little except the excitement of what I'll write next. The article I've just sent away is different. It's something I must have been mulling over writing for a long time. When it emerged, it came out better than I hoped.

I am a lousy judge of my own work. The things I like, usually others ignore. The things I write quickly and very throwaway, usually attract attention. This article might attract attention because it has an edge and is partially a defence, homage, commemoration of Christopher Hitchens who dies almost four years ago, 15th December 2011. It might go unremarked but I'd put it up in the top 5% of things I've ever written. To have it rejected would, I think, make me go 'ouch'.

I also drew a cartoon for it or an illustration, depending on how lofty you view the difference between the two. And the illustration was also one of my better efforts. I've always worked well when I have confidence. When I'm down, I can barely punctuate clearly. The illustration will probably go unused and I'll end up posting it here. I was told this week by a reader over at TW&TW that they find the combination of writing and cartoon too much. Not sure why it should be the case. What difference does it make if a writer is also the illustrator. Perhaps it's just because it's such a rare conjunction. Now I think about it, I can only think of Tolkien (not a great illustrator, in The Hobbit, but always sad to see his line drawings replaces in special editions), Mervyn Peake (whose wonderful illustrations for Gormenghast are as dark and twisted as his prose), and then the brilliant essayist and cartoonist, much under-appreciated and, I guess, little known here in the UK, Tim Kreider.

[Scratches head. Opens browser. Hits links to Amazon. Types in 'Twilight of the Assholes' and clicks purchase.]

How stream of consciousness is this? Anyway, it's going to arrive in three days. I had a £10 voucher from my birthday sitting there for two months and I never had any idea what to buy until that moment I thought about Kreider whose website I used to visit daily. I always intended on buying his book but, as is life, simply forgot. Great cartoonist and fine writer. He did, if I recall correctly, a really close analysis of a Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, which is worth a read if, like me, your a bit of  Kurbrick obsessive and think people really never understood the brilliance of that film. I remember sitting in our university common room trying to explain my theory about the use of colour whilst people looked at me like I was crazy trying to rationalise a film with so much female nudity. I am, of course, crazy but that's another story...

Where was I? Oh, yes. Kreider and other writer/illustrators.

No doubt there are more but those are the three that immediately spring to mind.

There is a fourth, of course, but to list him would be to cheat a little. Ralph Steadman is a pretty fine writer and it's easy to overlook the wonderful texts that accompany his drawings. My favourite of his books is his Freud and I'd be hard convinced to say that he has ever done anything better. Hmm... Perhaps his Da Vinci book.

Speaking of Steadman, I was in Waterstones in Liverpool the other day and saw his new book 'Nextinction'. I hate to say it but I find it a little bit depressing every time I see one of his pictures of a 'boid'. Not that they aren't wonderful but... Well, I wish he'd do something else. This is now two huge books of boids and, I'll be honest, I couldn't like the first enough to buy it (plus they are both hugely expensive and usually far outside my finances). I know the environment is something we should care about but if only he'd get back to drawing humans in all our ugly glory.

Ah, in the space it's taken me to write this (straight into the browser, unedited as usual), my article has been accepted for publication, possibly this weekend. Hoo-rah! I'll now take a deep breath and start the next, though knowing my chances of writing anything better (in my eyes, at least) is very slim. But we live in hope...

Thursday, 10 December 2015

How not to conduct a debate about Donald Trump

Wednesday felt like a long day. In various ways, it felt like I was having the same conversation over and over again. It was a conversation about freedom of speech and people seems incapable of grasping the simplest point: that people have the right to their opinions and, so long as they fall within the law, nobody has the right to silence them. What's so difficult about that?

Well, I'll tell you what's wrong with that. People is what's wrong with that...


People: Donald Trump is an idiot and needs to be silenced.

Me: Donald Trump is an idiot but he has the right to say what he likes so long as it is within the limits set by the law.

People: But he's an idiot.

Me: Indeed he is.

People: And he shouldn't be allowed to say what he did.

Me: No, he should be allowed to say what he did. It's just that you disagree with what he said which is to your credit because he's clearly an idiot.

People: So why are you trying to censor me?

Me: Sorry?

People: You're trying to censor my right to tell him to shut up.

Me: No, I'm protecting your right to tell him to shut up but also protecting his right to keep talking.

People: This makes me so angry. We need to ban him from the country!

Me: Justin Timberlake makes me very angry. Can we ban him from the country as well?

People: You can't compare the two.

Me: Are you now banning me from comparing the two?

People: You admit that Trump is an idiot and I say he makes me angry so why can't we ban him?

Me: Because he has a right to speak unless he has broken a law.

People: You're clearly a fascist.

Me: I don't know how you reach that conclusion...

People: Because you agree with Donald Trump.

Me: I don't agree with Donald Trump. I think he's an idiot.

People: So why don't you agree to banning him?

Me: Because if we banned people who are idiots, most of us wouldn't get back into the country every time we went on holiday, got horrendously drunk, and woke up wearing somebody else's underwear.

People: Look. I've drawn a Hitler moustache on Donald Trump.

Me: Why?

People: Because he's like Hitler.

Me: You mean he's killed millions of people?

People: No.

Me: Started a war?

People: No.

Me: Implemented a program of genocide?

People: No.

Me: Then why is he like Hitler?

People: Because he wants to ban Muslims from America.

Me: Hitler never banned Muslims from America.

People: But he wants to do something very similar.

Me: Well, there you have a point...

People: I win!

Me: .. but not quite. Trump actually wants to ban terrorists from entering the USA.

People: But he specifically said all Muslims.

Me: No, he said all Muslims until the government can figure the problem out.

People: You're splitting hairs.

Me: I'm trying to accurately describe Trump's stupidity so we don't misrepresent something that is already a very controversial issue.

People: Look, nobody likes what he said. Why would you want to defend him?

Me: Because I don't like bullies of any kind. I don't like bullies who wish to persecute Muslims but I equally don't like bullies who wish to ban everything that they happen to disagree with.

People: Look, I don't have time to debate this now. I suggest you go look at the petition.

Me: I don't want to look at the petition and I never asked to debate this...


A few minutes then pass and then my Twitter following drops by one.


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Two about Trump

Two new articles over at The What & The Why. The first, written Monday midnight, was a response to Donald Trump's nonsense and, for the record, was then republished over at Capx. The second was a response (and cartoon) to people's response to Donald Trump's nonsense.

As is usual, I'm writing my own blog straight to the screen. I need to get other things written today and can't spend too much time phrasing things well here.

What I will say about the Donald Trump outrage is how poorly liberals have emerged. In the past, I've been accused of being a liberal myself and, in some senses, I'm happy with the label. I'm all for gun control in the US and I'm critical of austerity here in the UK. I'm also opposed to Trump, though I try to look on him without allowing my emotions to cloud the issue. He is wrong on so many things but the best way to respond isn't to demand that he be banned from the UK or that honorary degrees be stripped from him. For want of a better word, that all seems so damn childish.

I got into a protracted Twitter conversation today in which I probably didn't make myself clear. I worry that people see my defence of freedom of speech as being a defence of Trump. Of course, it must be that to some degree because it is his speech that would be restricted if the bans came into force. Yet I am no defender of Trump's ideas, merely his right to express his point of view. Some people seem to find that difficult to understand.

Monday, 7 December 2015

New Week, Old Problems

Writing is rarely my problem. Drawing isn't either, so long as I have the time and energy. Some days I might struggle to come up with a decent joke but that too is usually linked to tiredness and not thinking about the joke early enough in the day.

My main problem is simply finding places to send my work. I am not a great networker and, what's worse, I am plagued by insecurities. The combination is bad in the sense that I read all manner of rebuke in a failed email. It's the lonely side of the business, though writing is always a lonely line of work. You write to communicate and, hopefully, have communication back but it rarely ever happens. Most days it feels like yelling into a very deep and bleakly black hole. You're lucky to hear an echo.

I have three essays written and one good cartoon but I expect they'll go the way of most: disappear into my 'Essays' folder, never to again see the light of day. I could blog them but, really, it's the ultimate admission of failure. Perhaps it's the weather that drives me to this mood. It's been dark for weeks and I should, in truth, bang on the SAD lamp. I think it works when I do but until I do I doubt if it can be anything as simple as that. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Why is Johnny Depp allowed to torture on the NHS?

A few years ago, a relative underwent major surgery. It was a bad time but eventually came the moment when we could visit. 'So,' I said, once the greetings were done and tears shed, 'is there anything I can do?'

'Yes,' replied my relative, 'you can turn that [flipping] TV off!'

A monitor on an arm positioned above her bed was looping a video of Andrew Lansley saying how much he cared.

'It's been hell,' she confided. 'That [fool] has been driving me crazy and the nurses say that they're not sure if they're allowed to turn that [rearward facing cavity] off!'

I was shocked and angry but, like many people at the better end of  a period of anxiety, happy not to make too much of a fuss once my relative returned home.

Fast forward a few years. Fast forward, in fact, to a few weeks ago when another of my nearest and dearest found themselves in hospital undergoing major surgery. An anxious week ended on the Friday when I could finally visit.

I found said N&D sitting in a corner of a completely empty white room but the view from the window was spectacular, with the hills of North Wales visible in the distance, the spires of Liverpool's twin cathedrals away to our distant right. However, her chair had been pushed into a corner with no view at all. After the usual greetings were done and tears shed, I said something dumb like 'so how's it been?'

'Waking after the operation was hell,' she replied. 'I could barely move or speak. I had tubes down my throat and I was in pain. But the absolute worst part of it was having that [blooming] TV screen looping the trailer for a Johnny Depp movie all night long.'

I was intrigued. 'Which movie was it?'

Her face soured. 'Mortdecai.'

Ye gods! I thought. Then this truly is a case of state-sanctioned torture.

My N&D proceeded to explain how she'd tried all ways to avoid looking at the screen. Around 4am, she'd even tried to turn over, hardly advised after major organ removal. Finally, after about twelve hours, she found the strength and lucidity to ask a nurse to turn the screen off which they thankfully did.

I don't suppose there's much coincidence about these two anecdotes. I expect it's a common experience of patients subjected to bedside TV screens that endlessly loop the banal punctuated by the brash until they break a person's will and force them to pay for an exorbitantly expensive service. Personally, I don't hold Johnny Depp culpable but neither do I claim he's entirely innocent. He and the NHS are complicit in the wilful torture of patients. Overstatement, you say? Well, how do you think the CIA breaks the will of terrorists? They force them to watch the most toxic kind of TV played on a loop and, I don't care who you are, everybody eventually breaks if they're forced to watch Mortdecai. It's also wilful because it would take such little effort for the hospital authorities to make it obligatory that screens are turned off until a patient requests that they be turned on.

What does this also say about the role of the market in the NHS? It hardly makes the case that patients' care take priority over profit. Hospitals charge the sick more for one day's TV than prisoners have to pay for a week's viewing. How expensive can it really be to provide a free but basic service to patients? In this day and age when most of us own a screen in the form of a tablet or phone, it needn't involve huge capital expenditure. The BBC at the very least could be made available via the kind of wi-fi service provided for free in coffee shops and libraries. When a member of the local patient liaison service explained to me how the family of one ill patient had to spend over £50 a week in order that they could have TV and wifi access, it made me wonder quite who this service is meant to serve: patients,  shareholders, or politicians.

However, that is tangential to my point because all of that is about choice. What isn't about choice is when the sick in our hospitals are treated as a captive audience. There is no matter of choice when patients wake up, heavily sedated, often unable to move, their dreams and reality confused and made even more nightmarish by looped drivel serviced by the likes of Hospedia and Patientline. Forget politics and the ideological battle of free market versus state control. Think instead of common humanity. Stop treating serious illness as though it's an advertising opportunity. Patients deserve better and so, incidentally, does Johnny Depp.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Blood, Insomnia, Dreams Part 2

Just to add detail to a day that was already bad... Quick recap: Insomnia due to job worries and then close member of my family had bust her nose, right across the bridge. I'd gone to the rescue, done all I could, clean the wound which looked nasty but not quite stiches-nasty. Then I'd bandaged it and mopping up. Then had to go replace the medical supplies that I'd used up and buy a few that we'd need to help the wound get better.

So I jumped on my bike, cycled across town, and locked up my bike outside the shops. Quick dash around to get what's needed and headed back to my bike.

My bike is a new bike so I lock it with two locks. One goes around the frame and back wheel. Another around the front wheel. The rear lock is one of those U locks. The front one is a chain and padlock.

I take off the back U lock and then reached for the padlock.

I froze.

I stared at the padlock.

That wasn't my padlock.

My mind rushed with confusion. I tried my keys just in case I was mistaken. But no. The lock wasn't my bike padlock.

Then it struck me. To get my bike out, I have to take off the chain that locks the shed. That chain is also fitted with a padlock. And that was this padlock. The padlock whose key I never take out with me.


The only part of this that involves luck is that I knew a friend was due to visit the doctor. I rang her. Yes, she wasn't far. So, run across town, jump into her car, drive home, pick up the keys, drive back up town to unlock my bike so I could then cycle home.

By then, it was dark. The traffic was bad and I was bloody knackered not having eaten a thing all day due to the blood, the insomnia, and the rest. To add insult to injury, when I pulled my bike out of the bike rack at Tesco, it dislodged a trolly which then proceeded to demolish all the other bikes. Took me five minutes to untangle them and get the stood up again.

I swear that I've been cursed.


Blood, Insomnia, Dreams

My morning was entirely consumed by a medical emergency. So much so that it's now 2pm and I've only just put on my socks. A member of the family tripped on the pavement and the impact of her face smashing into a concrete flag caused her glasses to cut the bridge of her nose. It fell to me to patch her up, mop up the blood, and otherwise run around providing help. Don't think it's a cut large enough to need a stitch but, for a time, wasn't sure.

Anyway, by the time that was done, I came to my office to do some work. I'd already been awake since 5am having one of those rare bouts of insomnia caused by the stress of now being without regular income. I need to find a job or sell just one or two articles a month. Sounds easy but the reality of writing (and to a lesser extent cartooning) is that words lack value when the market it over-saturated with dross. Towards that goal, I have realised that I've been going about it all wrong. It's why I couldn't sleep. My mind was filled with new plans. Today was meant to be the start of a new routine except the accident happened, I now need to go out to get some medical supplies and, well, such is life...

I thought I'd take a ten minute gap to blog but, when I sat down to write, emails began flying into my inbox. Overnight there was a SPAM attack on this blog which my SPAM protection had failed to stop. I had to spend give minute deleting emails from Ravi, Cecep, Arran, Carmen, Ninate, Daniel, Jorgel, Maureen, Auxilia, Jennifer, John, Patrick, Yomaire, Nilotpal, Toprak, VCR, Bahdim, Adm, Wanami, Osigwe, Maria and all the rest...

All of which is my way of saying: I don't think I'm ever destined to do what I want in life. Write and draw. Don't want to be a millionaire. Don't want a car or holidays or even glory (though a little appreciation goes a long way). I just want to be able to write my articles, the occasional book, and to fill both with my cartoons. Was that really too much to dream? Today it really does feel like I was aiming for the moon.



Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Syria vote: a little reminder...

Cameron, Erdogan & Gollum

Over at TW&TW, I've written a quick piece about the whole 'terrorist sympathiser' controversy.

As is usual, that piece of writing took some time. Here on my blog, it's brain to fingers time. Excuse the typos.

It's a horrible fact that people tend to prefer two minutes of effort on Photoshop than two hours of effort with a pen and ink. Photoshop is too easy and although the results can look good, the joke is often less cerebral. A good Photoshop gag leads you into the unreality of the situation you've created. A cartoon requires that moment longer for the joke to establish itself. It belongs in a different realm of the imagination than does the Photoshop which is aiming for realism.

All that said, I had to do a quick Erdogan picture. The guy is a menace. Not only does he shoot down Russian aircraft and then try to hide behind the coattails of NATO, he is locking up cartoonists who dare ridicule him. It's chilling to think of how many years in prison I'd probably get for posting this image.

A David Cameron Cartoon

A new cartoon about which I can say very little other than: well, I liked it.

I drew it late last night after hearing Cameron's 'terrorist sympathizers' comment. I'm currently trying to write up my thoughts about that, so I'm not going to repeat them here.

It's a grey day. I'm watching some of the debate but trying to work. One of those days when I really wonder why I bother.  Posted the cartoon to Twitter: not a single retweet or like. I don't have a great number of followers so perhaps it's expected. Perhaps I just don't know the public mood. I can only respond to how feel and I feel that Cameron too often thinks and acts without thinking. Perhaps it's just crap.

I don't know...

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

About ISIS, Christmas and Sprouts

Okay, today I've just posted a new article over at TW&TW asking if there's any way that ISIS can emerge from the current conflict with something resembling a victory. My intention to get anything else finished today flew out the window the moment I realised I had to do some shopping.

All the usual shops are in the Christmas spirit already. I've not been in the Christmas spirit for about ten years. There have been times when I used to mildly look forward to Christmas but that's whenever I've been trapped in some deadend job. Christmas was always an excuse to do my own thing for two weeks. In periods of self-employment, Christmas is just a thing to get in the way of my doing the things I really love to do: writing and cartooning. When working, Christmas was time for the Work's Christmas Meal and I've always tried to avoid those whenever I can. Those I've gone to have been horrible drunken affairs filled with people not very funny when sober but even worse when drunk. Since I don't drink, I tend to sit there feeling unwelcome and utterly bored.

People naturally assume that I'm miserable. I'm not. Most of the time I'm a clown who doesn't need alcohol to warp my reality. I find my reality warped enough. I'm also consistent. I think it would be hypocritical of me to criticise the religions of other people if, at the same time, I was wearing reindeer antlers or celebrating the birth of a guy I don't believe was immaculately conceived and rose from the dead.

What annoys me most of all about Christmas is that I'm not so dim that I can't see what's going on. The shops have computer systems that just rotate the stock on certain days. There's a mechanical indifference about these seasons and it's usually people with the least money that spend the most 'for the children'. It's sad as it is predatory. And though people think I hate Christmas because I'm a 'Scrooge', I actually hate Christmas because I see people made unhappy because of the false illusions of happiness forced to us at Christmas. I despise those John Lewis ads, which have become 'a thing' each year. They are nothing but illusions wrapped around illusions. The food looks good when photographed but, in reality, is probably stone cold, the steam is liquid nitrogen, and the colour of the turkey is probably painted on. I really don't want to live my life by other people's lies.

Lastly, I hate people using Christmas to say how much they hate sprouts. Everybody hates sprouts except for me. I love sprouts. If I could chance Christmas, I'd change it to a sprout festival. And, yes, in case you haven't guesses: I'm still typing this rubbish straight into the browser window and not doing a jot of editing. So if there were any typos in any of the above, I'm sorry. I now need to go write something that might (in theory) make me enough money to eat my favourite vegetable this Sproutmicklemas.


Monday, 30 November 2015

Monday's Corbyn Cartoon

Such a grim morning. It's 11am and all the lights are already on. Normally November is my favourite month but this past four weeks have been nothing but rain. Not that I dislike rain. Given a choice I'd choose rain over sun. I'm wired strangely in that respect. But an entire month or rain and/or gales... It would be a relief to see a little daylight. Even my solar powered watch has died on me and when I'm not wearing it I leave it sitting on a table where it can be sure to catch the sun.

Today I have to write, only I have no idea what I'll write about. It's not often that is happens that I sit down without some idea I've been thinking about for days. My ambition this week is to tray a new sending a pitch to a magazine I've not yet pestered with my ideas. My job now is to find an idea worth pitching. That's not so easy when it's so dark my body is telling me it's time to go back to bed.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

New Jeremy Corbyn cartoon and a bit about my nightmares

I suppose I should know the name of the storm that's currently raging but, as I explained last week, happy not to know. It feels more primal this way. And speaking of primal: my dreams are getting worse. The previous night's were bad but last night they were genuine nightmares, something I so rarely have. I had at least two last night. In the first, a relative rang to ask me about Plato and the colour yellow. I know nothing about Plato or the colour yellow but recollect muttering something about Platonic ideals. I then found myself in some college talking to him on the phone when a woman told me off for discarding a sheet of A4 without covering it. I swore and left the college but discovered I didn't know where I was. I was in a bus terminal and a woman with bright red hair told me I was in London. I was utterly lost. There was a lot more to the dream than this: including a ride in the back of a taxi in which the driver was amassing a ball of Haribo tantastics, one of which turned into a rainbow striped worm and tried to get into my shoe.

At some point, I  woke up and when I fell back to sleep had the second nightmare. I was rushing to catch a flight from the local airport (which was conveniently at the local railway station). We landed in the Far East and racing through streets chased by locals who had been painted white and with sharpened teeth (I'd been reading an article about George Miller and Mad Max before I went to bed, which at least explains this bit). The whole thing then became a nightmare about Ken Loach films which I can't quite understand or fully remember. It was in black and white and at one point involved my parachuting off a viaduct and landing in a barrel of water where I met a bunch of hippies including a young Helen Mirren.

Needless to say, I really don't understand any of the above. Perhaps if I did, I wouldn't have explained it in such great detail... Any psychoanalysts out there who can see through the mud, I'd be very grateful for an explanation. The bit about the worm really freaked me out.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

A Goodbye Grant Shapps Cartoon...

An otherwise lazy day which wasn't as lazy as I intended to make it when I got up this morning. Wrote every day last week but was feeling it by the time I settled down last night. Intended to have a complete day off, except last night I had a very strange and vivid dream about being at the local market where Tony Beets (from TV's Gold Rush) had a second-hand book stall. It was probably a nightmare, if I'm honest. I could see books I wanted but couldn't afford. By the time I woke up this morning at 7am, I was eager to work. Wrote a bit and then I drew this but the day never got brighter than a dim murk so the effort is 50%. Yet I felt I had to mark the resignation of Shapps, who has always struck me as one of the least pleasant political operators. There's a type of politician who always get my back up. They tend to be the self-made millionaires whose self-made status is founded upon something quite unpleasant. Perhaps that explains the Beets dream whose success is earned through hard work. I've always wanted a beard like Tony Beets and the hands too to prove that I work and I work hard. Yet I have neither. No evidence. Just cartoons like this or essays that few read.

Did I mention how dark it's been today? I think it's time to break out my lamp and dose myself with some happy rays.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

On John McDonnell, spam & not much more...

Welcome to the place I like to think of as The Arse End of Nowhere. I'm again blogging daily in that I've managed to blog for six successive days and a few more before that My new technique of typing straight into the editor window helps. It stops me falling into my best habit of editing for hours. The down side is that this is not how I usually write. This is me at my worst. Unedited. Unpolished. Unstructured.

Today, I recommend my new article about John McDonnell. You can read it over at The What & The Why. There's also a cartoon and a bit of Photoshopping. I was quite pleased with all three.

Meanwhile, back here at TAEON, I'm under SPAM attack. That's the worst of coming back to a blog. I've lost what few regular readers I had but I've gained a place on the lists of sites that Spammers use. I've had four emails today asking me if I'd like bulk buy traffic cones from China. Three fake comments got through my defences and tried to sell you plastic straws (also from China). I also seem to have found myself on some list of business people in the North West and they keep asking me to attend a networking session at some local hotel starting at 6am in the morning. Even if I was a business man looking to network, I would not get up at 6am in the morning. It's an unGodly hour and even if I am unGodly, I'm not getting up that early.

My piece about Dawkins is coming along slowly. Phrasing things just the right way can be pain. I'm constantly trying to anticipate how my words can be misconstrued by people deliberately looking to misconstrue.

Also trying to find a job or work, which is soul destroying given that I only want to write and draw. People my age usually have careers around them or behind them. I just have years of strange and questionable accomplishments. I joke with people that I'll end up sweeping the streets but, really, I think that's probably aiming too high. All the good street sweeping jobs will have gone. What jobs for somebody hugely overqualified for most things, no track record in other things, and a whole lot of skills that nobody would want this end of the country? I couldn't even work for a local newspaper since my skills aren't exactly suited to detailing the drama of a chimney pot falling down. This time next year, I'll be lucky to be living in a tent.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

On Robert Mugabe, Richard Dawkins, & Jeremy Corbyn

Over at TW&TW I'm talking not too seriously about Robert Mugabe and his wheels.  I even drew a cartoon which took a ridiculously long time to cross hatch...

Meanwhile, I'm again writing this blog post quickly. It will be unedited and published straight to the blog in the spirit of my new blogging strategy.

Today I've been trying to get my mind around the question of religious tolerance with specific interest in the Twitter battle that Richard Dawkins has found himself waging. I'm not sure I'll be able to knock my words into a decent essay but, if I do, I think I'll have explained something that I've repeatedly found difficult to explain. Briefly: I worry that we are losing sense of free speech in the name of tolerance. We have been so indoctrinated by certain liberal values that too many people seem incapable of simple logical thought. Dawkin's is also victim of an obvious anti-intellectualism at work in the UK. Our great scientists and thinkers are lauded in America. In the UK, we barely hear a peep from them until they're being hounded by the slobbering mob, spluttering with half-conceived indignation. It's time that we can have serious debates in this country without people sending up distress flares every time somebody challenges something we take for granted.

I was, however, a bit distracted by the House of Commons. I noted with some incredulity that John McDonnell took out his Mao at the Dispatch Box today. It beggars belief.

My politics are neither to the left nor the right. I like politicians of both sides of the House and dislike with equal impartiality. I've always had mixed feelings about Corbyn. He never struck me as a guy to rouse my enthusiasm but, when he won, I could see why people voted for him. He's not political in the way that Cameron is political. He's difficult, odd, unpolished. I like that he debates, even when I disagree with his points. He feels sincere in the things he says and doesn't fall into the tropes of typical career politicians. He makes good points about subjects such as mental health. Yet he also makes huge mistakes, even if he makes them for the right reasons. Not leaping up and fist pumping when asked if he'd bomb Syria was, in truth, an adult response. Yet the media can spin it too easily. He needed to pump the air and shout 'hell yes' because the media know no other response.

McDonnell made, I think, the biggest political miscalculation since Michael Foot's donkey jacket. If the electorate worry about your Marxist credentials, you do not take out Mao's Little Red Book in the House of Commons, even if the point you are making is a sensible one. The point about the Tories selling our power infrastructure to the Chinese was a good one. McDonnell should, however, have realised that the symbolism of the image is worth more than his words.

Yet the problem goes deeper. That he would quote from the book suggests that Mao figures quite largely in his political thought processes. That should be enough to convince anybody that New Old Labour is not working. I understand why people would how that it could but, really, Labour voters need to decide if they want power or their principals. England and particularly Middle England will never vote for a left wing party. Not because people even understand what left wing means but simply because the media will tell them that 'left wing' means trouble.

In a better world, we would all be deeply invested in politics and unaffected by media bias. However, we live in this world. The media will never allow Corbyn to succeed and there is nothing to suggest that in the next four years the media will become less important in the way people make their decisions. After a four weeks media blitz, Labour will be lucky to emerge with a vote in the high teens. McDonnell's performance today should convince Labour's grandees that this is an experiment doomed to fail. For the sake of democratic politics we need a viable opposition. There's no point wasting four years to discover this sad fact. From where I sit today, whoever leads the next Tory government will be walking into Downing Street. Irrespective of your politics, that's not good for democracy and not good for the nation.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Turkey, Hitchens & Maher

Funny how events on the other side of the globe change your plans. Yesterday I wrote a light-hearted piece which I hoped would see the light this afternoon. Then the news changed my plans and over at TW&TW I've written a very quick piece about Turkey shooting down the Russian jet.

In contrast to that piece, I'm again typing this straight to the blog. No editing. No polishing. But given a couple of hours extra thought, I'm still shocked at what Turkey has done. Whatever way you look at the mess of the Middle East, you realise that so much of it runs across national borders and into ancient ethnic feuds. Turkey seems to be facing huge problems. It has to decide on which bank of the Bosporus its loyalties lie. I can't imagine many people in NATO feel reassured about today's rash act. The one fault in having a common defense is the assumption that other nations share your values. I'm not entirely sure what values Turkey has at the moment under President Erdoğan. This is the guy who was jailing cartoonists who dared to criticise him.

'Sharing values' reminds me that last night I watched a couple of very old episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher. Real Time is probably my favourite TV show because the UK has nothing like it. Nothing has the passion but also the insight. It's unafraid of being intelligent but also confused, which is the perfect starting place for debate. It's sometimes outrageously angry and a perfect example was the second episode I watched from the mid 2000s. Christopher Hitchens was one of the guests and there was a wonderful moment he turned to the audience and flipped them the bird, as they say in America. He seemed to love deliberately agitating the audience over their views towards Middle East. Hitchens, you might remember, was firmly in favour of the war.

Sadly, Hitchens is no longer with us. We still have the war. Everything we see today grew out of the decisions we made back then but I try to understand why Hitchens was so wrong. And it does seem to me that he was largely wrong. In many respect, his instincts were correct. Yet, on reflection, it's Bill Maher who seemed to be the prophet, warning us that we had no place in the Middle East. Hitchens was driven, I guess, by a greater sense of moral outrage. He couched his arguments in the terrors of the Saddam regime. He talked about liberating people.

Where he went wrong, I guess, was in having too much hope for humanity and underplaying the malevolent force of religion. I don't suppose it's much of a surprise that it was his atheism that first attracted me to read Hitchens. Few writers have written as powerfully about the faults of religion but Hitchens was far too rational. He trusted that people given freedom would choose democracy. The fact is that rationality is something that can't be imposed and it can't always be taught. As Turkey today proved: sometimes people just make extremely dumb choices.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Talking Anonymous, Cartoons, & Rafa Benitez

Over at TW&TW, I've been talking about hacking and the Anonymous collective.

Meanwhile, here I'm still typing straight into my editor window as part of my new drive to blog more regularly. I've realised that if I do this for five or ten minutes a day, there's no desire to edit, polish, or just labour over the work of blogging. Straight from brain to blog and damn the results. Nobody reads it anyway. Anything that I really labour over will be published elsewhere. Let this be a proper blog.

Today I intend to write about dictatorships. I'm also drawing an illustration which I've about 70% finished. I've decided to stop colouring my cartoons. It was making be pretty depressed. It's other people who tell me that cartoons have to be in colour. It means that I'd changed my habits and didn't bother with cross hatching. Yet I'd forgot that I'm doing this mainly for myself and I love the look of cross hatching. I love the look of a finished cartoon when it's just black and white. A little colour can set it off but I've not been enjoying the long time it takes to draw a full colour cartoon. Cross hatching probably takes longer and is more pschologically challenging but at least I love the result.

So what else has grabbed my attention other than the bloody cold weather?

Oh, yes. Looks like Rafa's going to be sacked by Real Madrid. It's said but expected. Nobody in their right mind would want to manage Madrid. The club has a horrible culture and horrible way of dealing with its managers. Plus I don't buy into Galácticos. What is the point in buying all the best players? There can be no pleasure in winning and every misery attached with losing and even drawing. Surely the point of being a fan of football is that you follow the development of your team. If you're always 'there', at the end point, then where is the pleasure? I also can't stand Ronaldo. I suppose it's one of those great philosophical divisions of our day: Ronaldo or Messi. Myself, I'm a Messi man. Give me the football and sod the mechandising and hype.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Memes, Thoughts, Livingstone & Corbyn

It seems obvious to say it but a meme is not the same as a thought but I'm saying just that over at TW&TW.

Sunday. Not much to say but I'm typing straight to the blog again. No editing. No polishing to make this flow or funny or even remotely entertaining. This is raw data from my brain to yours, should you exist.

Today I'm writing and later I might well be drawing. Not sure what I'll be writing or drawing but currently intrigued by the notion of being a 'bigot'. A bigot is 'a prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from his own.' I saw a video on the LBC website of the Labour party MP John Mann accuse Ken Livingstone of being a bigot. He kept repeating the word throughout the exchange and, by the end, I wasn't quite sure what he meant. I'm not sure that Mann knew what he meant. If being a bigot is somebody who intolerant of other people's opinions, then I'd guess that most people are bigots. It's the basic human condition and I'm thankful that it is. I would hope I'll always be a bigot, intolerant of the opinions of fools.

I'm writing this quickly, with no research, but I assume that bigot has started to be applied more widely. Mann was using is as though accusing Livingstone of holding some outmoded notion of mental health. Ken had said in a recent interview that shadow defence minister Kevan Jones 'might need psychiatric help'.

I have no real thought out position on the 'pschiatric help' comment except to ask if it would have been treated any differently if he's said the guy was 'bonkers' or had 'obviously been hit over the head'? We could quite easily pull language apart and find all manner of affront buried in there. Is a parent telling their kids that it's 'bedlam in here', demeaning the old hospital of the same name? Livingstone's comment was more direct than that, of course, but it's this kind of petty political correctness that is the greatest danger to anybody wanting more civilized debates. If we can't use the vocabulary of 'madness', then we can't really say anything at all except to push it into the shadows and pretend that it's not a very normal aspect of the human condition. Again, I'm writing this quickly and might well be wrong.

The main reason I note this spat is that it's precisely the kind of thing that I assumed would happen as soon as Corbyn got elected. I've said it before and I'll repeat it here again: it's not the big issues that will bring Corbyn down. It will be the squabbles about the correct etiquette around opening a door when both men and women want to get through it. It will be deciding who sits where at the table and ensuring that the lunch isn't offensive to anybody in the room. Corbyn will be defeated by undergraduate politics. And that is a shame because, in some respects, he does bring a welcome maturity to politics. I've enjoyed seeing him make Cameron squirm at PMQs. I also like politicians that don't given glib answers to questions that were deliberately set up to produce a glib answer. I like that Corbyn is breaking the usual rhythms of political reporting. Yet, I also know, he's a disaster for democracy. We have no viable opposotion in the UK and that is dangerous, unhealthy, and plain foolish. In Labour heartlands people will love him but for the voters who float and decide matters, he is not and never will be the answer.

Lastly: hugely impressed by Liverpool's victory last night. Not just the result but the performance gives me hope for the future.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Weather, Adele and Bob Dylan's scary moustache

Over at TW&TW I'm talking about the weather and the Met Office's new scheme to name our winter storms.

Beyond that, my day has been slightly absorbed by Adele who I tried my best to ignore until one of her songs lodged itself somewhere behind my cerebral cortex. I've been unable to shake it and it's stopped me getting any work done all day. Every time I sat down to write, I could hear the words 'When the rain is blowing in your face / And the whole world is on your case / I could offer you a warm embrace / To make you feel my love'.

It took me about an hour of not really thinking about the song before it struck me that I'd heard heard those lyrics before. I think that's what had been nagging away at me in the back of my mind. Think nasal and gruff. Think Bob Dylan.

I like Dylan but, like many people, love his early stuff and have moments of indifferent and liking about his later work. Never had a problem with him going electric. Blonde on Blonde is probably my favourite album of his, high in my favourite albums of all time. Never really followed him once he went country. Returned to him whenever he goes more back into the blues but there's something about Dylan that scares me just a little. I think it's the mustache. Those thin top lip moustaches do scare me. Even Ron Mael scares me, though I love Sparks.

Unlike Ron Mael, Dylan never really made it through my defences to become one of those cherished artists a person defines their life by. Never been a musician I really keep tabs on. Tom Waits, Sparks, P.J. Harvey, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Paul Simon (though, really too middle of the road for my tastes, I love the sound of his guitar and his early song writing). There are musicians I keep closest to me. I can never hear enough Natalia Merchant. Her voice just intoxicates me. Leonard Cohen I love but not really when he's performing live. Too many tours. Not enough new albums.

Dylan, though, scares me.


I'm talking about the weather over at The What & The Why.

Friday, 20 November 2015

On a day on non-existance

I had another of those difficult days today when, for reasons that I just cannot fathom, the world went completely silent on me.

Normally my inbox is alive with emails of one kind of another. Today: nothing. Not a single one, despite my sending quite a few. It feels like I don't exist.

Hello? Do I exist? I'm sure that I do but, then again, is anything certain?

I wish I was Donald Trump. He seems to exist and, what's more, he's always very certain about it.

No doubt my non-existence is partly down to my losing my 'website designing' job. Or, at least, my job lost me. In truth, it wasn't a job as much as regular freelancing work which, month on month, was paying less and less. I finally decided that the people exploiting my good nature should start paying me a half decent wage for my services. Naturally, when I asked them to, the company decided that my services were no longer required. Interesting how that works.

On the positive side, I have more time to write this month. Next month: sweeping the streets.

Being exploited for your services is, sadly, the way of the world. Unless you are 'at the top' of any line of work, then you really are at the bottom. In a world economy there's always some amateur around the corner willing to undercut the professionals.

Word to the young: set you price and don't deviate. Of course, you're just as likely to end up as unsuccessful as me. But at least you'll still have your pride.


This is obviously also true in the world of writing. Some places do pay. Some don't. Some say they do and then they don't. Some say they don't and then they do.

But most of the time they don't.

It's why the silence feels particularly uncomfortable today. I've been writing solid for three days and have four articles finished that I think are quality. Trying to place articles is like trying to throw a cat up a chimney. Even when you nail the throw, the bloody thing comes back covered in soot and with its claws extended. I don't know why I carry on except I guess people wouldn't recognise me if my face wasn't scratched to hell.

I have to avoid the temptation of dumping 'failed' articles here. I want to be read but at what cost? I'm no charity but the world expects every writer to write for charity. I still occasionally get emails from strangers asking me to draw a cartoon for some website with a huge readership that they promise will give me exposure. When I ask to be paid they never reply. My life in precis form.

Regarding my writing, I'm pretty certain all of this is my own fault. Were I to start again, I would not try to write well or aspire to think intelligently. I would have learned to write quickly and to think little.

But that sounds presumptuous of me. I'm not even sure that I can write or think particularly well. All I know is that I can do neither quickly. 2000 words a day is about my limit if I'm going to polish those words. Polishing is all of the writing or it is for me. The business is hard and takes it out of me. I wish it didn't but it does.

I was reading Orwell (again) today and wondered to myself how he must have worked when there was no word processor around to hone his prose. How must he have done it? How would any writer have written (or how to they still write, given that some do still use typewriters) when the thing on the page is not something you can then pull into shape? I assume he did it through laborious retyping and then retyping again.

Will Self, I know, still uses typewriters. I should really see if I can find anything he's written about his process. Myself: I doubt if I could work that way. I write quickly but edit slowly. Perhaps I should write more slowly and edit very little.

That, I think, has to be the key. Most things I read at newspapers and magazines are clearly written in a rush. Nobody cares that they are. Facts are rarely checked that well, especially at some of the broadsheet's websites. The Independent tonight had an article about De Niro's new film. It looks terrible (Dirty Grandpa)  and was definitely not directed by Larry Charles, who did direct Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Borat and Bill Maher's Religulous.

The Independent has become a woeful website, suffering from the worst kind of Buzzfeed syndrome.

On a more positive note, for a brief moment this week, my name featured on the same page as Will Self over at The New Statesman.

Is it sad to admit it was a career highlight? Well, excuse my French: fuck it. It was.

I rarely swear but always edit. I've broken one rule. Might as well break the other and publish this unedited. Let it be the mess I'll look back on to remind me never to post when I don't exist.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Atheism, Hitchens, Orwell & Michelle Visage

Over at The What & The Why, I'm talking about the Paris attacks and making broad points about the whole troubled mess. I accept it won't be to everybody's taste but that was deliberately so. My views are atheist, sceptical, but also, I hope, humanist. Despite being cynical about most things, I'm no nihilist. I do believe in goodness, virtues, and human beings. We can do great things only we too often attribute those great things to God or gods when we should attribute them to ourselves. I expected a little flak and there was some criticism but nothing that convinces me that a sceptical approach to life isn't the best.

I suppose I should also have read some Christopher Hitchens before trying my hand at a full-on atheist argument. However, I didn't. Time to get Arguably down off the shelf. Not sure what it's doing up there. It's another of the books which usually sit in the only tidy part of my desk by the side of my monitor. I miss Hitchens terribly, especially at times like these when his clarity and anger meant so much. He was good TV because he was bad TV, in the sense that he was not anodyne or always kind but intellectually fierce and independent. He cut through the bullshit and made me wince at the things he would say. We do too little wincing these days. Or, at least, the wrong kind of wincing.

I have been reading a lot of Orwell recently. I hadn't read his essays in a while, though his collected best are always sitting in that favored spot on my desk. However, my old edition was falling to pieces, with half the pages having come loose. I was recently bought a new copy as a gift, which I'm cherishing and using as a little motivational reading before I start hammering the keyboard every morning. Last week I reread 'The Lion and the Unicorn' and thought it remarkable how little England had changed to the one he described back in 1940. I cannot stop going back to this passage. Something about it has been niggling away at me for days.
It follows that British democracy is less of a fraud than it sometimes appears. A foreign observer sees only the huge inequality of wealth, the unfair electoral system, the governing-class control over the press, the radio and education, and concludes that democracy is simply a polite name for dictatorship. But this ignores the considerable agreement that does unfortunately exist between the leaders and the led.

I've been wanting to write about something that happened when I visited Waterstones in Liverpool the other day; the strange experience of walking in to see a book signing by some American TV starlet called Michelle Visage and then seeing the prices of the newest Penguin books. It keeps reminding me of Orwell, perhaps some secret agreement high up in our culture that ensures that the crass is abundant and cheap and anything quality kept exorbitantly high. I suppose I shouldn't be too critical. Michelle Visage has over 200,000 followers on Twitter. I can't be bothered to break past 200. She is what humanity craves and, I guess, given a choice between following Visage or some supernatural god, I would have reluctantly choose to follow Visage. Damn! Never let it be said that atheists choose the easy route.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Why long American elections are a good thing

Over at The New Statesman, I'm arguing in favour of the long election cycle in American politics and why we in the UK should begin to take our politics more seriously.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Cameron's Podium and Clickbait

More things I've been writing. Over at TW&TW I've been talking about Cameron's podium performance. Earlier in the week, I was talking about good newspapers being influenced by clickbait culture...

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Sorry but I think I would have thrown that egg myself*

The problem with an old-fashioned egging is that it lacks political nuance. Last Sunday's assault on Young Conservatives in Manchester has quite rightly been greeted with universal disapproval by the media and it doesn't really matter that 60,000 people didn't hurl eggs. One chose to vent their anger in yolk form and it was wrong, not least because this act of free-range stupidity gave the Tory party the perfect story against which to define themselves at the start of their annual conference. They can now claim to be the party that doesn't hurl eggs, or, at least, not outside the context of a dining club hazing.

Conflict is hardly new when the Tories come north. Political debate in this part of the country is a snarling business but that emanating from the left often seems more snarl than substance. Jeremy Corbyn can ask for gentler politics and Topman himself from collar to cuff but the crowd at protests will usually attract some braid-wearing pert-nippled class warriors with a good arm, lucky aim and a misguided notion of free speech.

Yet amid the sham outrage and sham counter outrage, I noticed something very familiar about the video titled ‘A Tory just got EGGED!!’ when it popped up on Youtube. I recognised the scene of the 'crime'. I spent years working in an office just around that corner on the edge of Chinatown. I've stood where the Tories stood and know how tempers run hot in a city that often feels like it has more Bez tribute acts than it has Tory voters.

Because I know the corner so well, I wonder how those Young Conservatives found themselves standing at that junction of Portland Street and Oxford Road. It's the latter road that channels protest marches that routinely run out of the university precinct to the south. That corner is the closest point that protesters get to the security barriers protecting Tory attendees. You'd have to walk a few minutes back towards Central Library in order to reach the Midland Hotel and further still to reach the conference venue.

It makes it hard not to question the motives of those Young Conservatives when they picked that spot to openly wear their conference passes (against the advice of event organizers) and to wave copies of The Telegraph, conference brochures, and pictures of Margaret Thatcher. These are perfectly legal things to do, of course, but perhaps not wise in the middle of an anti-austerity march unless your intention is to provoke the other lot into proving what a despicable bunch they can be. And, as usual, somebody in that other lot was only too happy to oblige.

The result is online sniping between the hard left and hard right. The left justifiably feel they have statistics on their side because it was only one among 60,000 who committed the terrible deed. The right justifiably feel that they have morality on their side because they claim the right to dress how they like and walk the streets unmolested by egg yolk. Yet it's hardly partisan to point out that the Young Conservatives seemed delighted to have provoked that response.

Manchester has many virtues but bow ties are rare and the v-necked sweater with old-school tie is not a look that wins many friends. Seen through my eyes, at least, the Young Conservatives looked just that: very young and very Conservative. I would also argue that you don't need to be on the political left to have a visceral reaction to the smugness of youths flaunting their privilege in a context in which others are protesting genuine poverty and government policies that are leading to the deaths of vulnerable people. Given the anger, the noise, the passion of the moment, I'd have been hard pressed not to lob an egg myself. Except, sitting here coolly and rationally, I also know that I wouldn't. Or perhaps I would. That's the problem with passion. It makes reasonable people do things they would regret and often those things are far worse than throwing an egg. The bigger question is why people attend a political march carrying eggs in their pockets and it's in the premeditation that my sympathy for the protesters ends.

The difference between passion and premeditation is, I suppose, at the heart of my argument. It's the premeditation of protestors looking to hurl eggs and the premeditation of the Young Tories looking to stoke the anger of the crowds. Yet the story also expresses a deeper reality about the Tories annual pilgrimage to Manchester. That they tend to hold their annual conferences in Labour heartlands makes as much sense as Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom hosting the Last Night of the Proms. The whole thing feels like a premeditated provocation on a scale grander than either the Young Conservatives or Dim Eggthrowers could ever hope to organize. It implies a reach into cities and regions that simply doesn't exist or is overstated. In the north, the Tories are largely successful in areas of affluence, the suburbs on the outskirts of major conurbations where gardens are large and every shadow cast by leaf or Range Rover. Elsewhere they are the second, third or even fourth choice party. For a few days, they might fortify themselves inside a heavily protected compound in central Manchester but the security only highlights how removed they are from ordinary Mancunians and how much effort they need to expend to truly understand the city, the people and its culture.

And that's what the story highlights to me. Throwing an egg was unconscionable but what the Young Conservatives were throwing back was cheap, snide, and self defeating. It was a militant distain about the cares of average people who will never know or enjoy their privilege. It was a lack of compassion, consideration, or conscience that only encourages more people to take to the streets and make the divides in our society feel deeper and more wilful than we've ever known them in our lives.

Whilst the Left need to identify the anarchists and trouble makers polluting their message through violence, the Tories need to rethink their own strategy and stop countenancing the fetishism of cruelty sometimes displayed so overtly by their youth.

* The title of this article was obviously intended as 'clickbait' but that doesn't actually stop some people from thinking that I would throw an egg or I'm defending the people that do throw eggs. I wouldn't throw an egg. I've never thrown an egg and I can't conceive of a context in which I would throw an egg. I'm not saying that I'm incapable of throwing an egg. If the conditions were perfect and I lost my temper and happened to have an egg in my hand, I can't be entirely certain about my actions. But, generally, I disapprove of all egg throwing and general misbehaviour with eggs.


Friday, 2 October 2015

Guns, America and Me

Another terrible shooting at an American school. Hard to really understand how America can ignore a problem that affects them every single day. However, I've tried to do that over at The What & The Why, where I've written something about America's gun culture and how it affects all of us.


Feeding Fires Elsewhere

Over at The What & The Why, I'm talking about Russia, Syria and the American response and you can still read my piece about American and British satire over at The Spectator. Today, I intend to write about guns, Goldsmith, and/or the Peeple app, two of which I'm not entirely convinced are real. I also have a cartoon to finish, though finite hours in the day might restrict myself to getting only two of these things done.

I also want to write about the plight of Liverpool Football Club but I think it might hurt too much. It would turn into a 2000 word rant about Brendan Rodgers who is slowly destroying the club and also destroying the faith I originally had in John W. Henry and FSG. Thankfully, I've largely stopped watching football to save myself the pain. Last night's match was supposedly terrible to watch and I'm glad I saved myself the trouble by doing something else. I can handle bad results. Losing is as much a part of football life as winning. I just can't handle the stupidity of a manager who repeatedly plays people out of position, then hangs them out to dry when he blames them for a bad result. Not only is it not how you manage a team, it's not how you manage people. Whatever is going wrong at Liverpool feels like it's the manifestation of a very peculiar psychology, the warped ego of a Teflon manager who constantly seems to slip around the blame and watches it stick to others. I'm not even sure about the players they've bought. There doesn't appear to be a coherent structure to the team. Are we looking to play fast football or football involving crosses and a big bugger waiting between the goal posts? All I see is a horrorshow, like the end of Heart of Darkness as Kurtz's madness infects everybody.

I'm unapologetically a fan of Benitez and it's good to see him doing well at Real Madrid. If you haven't got the funds to buy the best players, it's sensible to buy the best brains. Now Madrid have both, they look unstoppable. As Benitez proved at Liverpool, sometimes the best structure can beat the best individuals.  You pretty much knew how his teams would play. Sometimes it was heartlessly rational but it was rational. Liverpool are currently a irrational team but also a team without the heart. I fear for their season.

Hmm... First 200 words of the 2000? I'll stop there. I also need to find a cheap wireless mouse online. I've been bought an Android TV box for my imminent birthday but it has the world's worst remote control. However, with a mouse, it works wonderfully and looks like it might be a adequate replacement from aging WD Live which for some unknown reason stopped working properly last week.


Thursday, 1 October 2015

A Tale of Two Satires

I wrote this piece about British and American satire which you can read over at The Spectator.  I expect I'll catch all kind of merry grief from people in the comment section, which is why I never ever look at what people say in the comment sections. If you did, you'd never write another thing. I should add that I do like Have I Got News For You as light entertainment. As satire, I just wish it took off the gloves and gave the establishment the occasional bloody nose. The show is never better than when Hislop turns to the audience and gives them a spontaneous lecture about the abuses of power.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Friday, 25 September 2015

Sam Smith: Writing's on the Wall

It is an indication of how much I really wanted to like Sam Smith's James Bond theme that I initially thought I liked it. I'd seen a link on the website of The Guardian and clicked it only to find myself being asked for my Spotify login. I don't have a Spotify login. I don't want a Spotify login. Even if I did, I damn well don't want a Facebook account so I can get myself a Spotify account. So I headed over to Youtube, typed in 'Writing's on the Wall', and clicked on the first picture of Sam Smith.

I started to listen. The song was at once somehow familiar. My first thought was that I didn't dislike it but I began to suspect something was wrong when, after about thirty seconds, Mr. Smith still hadn't start to sing. That's when I realised it was a fake. About half an hour later, I finally found a proper link.

I started to listen. The song was at once somehow familiar. My first thought was that I didn't dislike it. I began to suspect something was wrong when, after about thirty seconds, Mr. Smith has started to sing. That's when I realised it was a fake.

This is another of the fake James Bond themes, written by somebody trying to write a James Bond theme and producing something that's deep in the desert of pastiche. It's something I've noticed over the course of the past few Bond films. I think the woeful Madonna effort, for the absolute worst James Bond film (Die Another Day), made the producers wary about letting artists have too much freedom when it comes to the Bond themes. Their response was Chris Cornell's 'You Know My Name' for Casino Royale, full of sweeping strings and penetrating guitar riffs, which felt like a proper stab at writing a Bond theme. Yet it also felt like just that. An attempt at writing a Bond theme.

Bond films have passed off quite a few pastiches for the real thing. I often think the problem stemmed from David Arnold taking over the music direction for the Bond movies. Arnold professed himself a Bond obsessive, deeply influenced by the music of John Barry. I always liked his enthusiasm and love for the Bond movies but, at the same time, to these very cloth ears of mine, it always felt like he was directing his energy into something other than the song. The most obvious example was the Arnold song, sung by K.D. Lang over the closing credits of 'Tomorrow Never Dies'. Some say it was better than Sheryl Crow's 'Tomorrow Never Dies'. As a Bond song, it might well be true. As a song, however, I can't help but think that Crow's is far superior.

And that, I think, is the problem. There's a difference between writing a good song and writing a Bond theme. When the artists set out to write a great song, you usually end up with a great theme. When they set out to write a Bond theme song, you get something that's not quite as good.

'Another Way to Die', the theme to Quantum of Solace, is a fine example. The Bond riff is very evident from the outset but Jack White struggles to adapt it to his style, producing a song that was at once blues and grunge and sometimes all over the place.

'Skyfall', by contast, was just a great song which is a great song outside the content of the film's opening credits.

Sam Smith's effort is far from the worst Bond theme (take that bow, Madonna). Nothing wrong with the orchestration. Nothing much wrong with Sam Smith's voice in that years of listening to Sparks has tuned my ears to the falsetto. Lyrically it is as bland as lyrics get: a schmaltzy list of ballad clichés hastily written down (twenty minutes to write the song, Smith claims) by somebody steeped in schmaltzy ballad clichés.

Second, third, and then fourth listening, I found it growing on me but, really, not so much that I think Smith has justified the filmmakers made in giving him the honour. Smith has the wrong kind of voice for a James Bond theme or he has the right kind of voice for a James Bond who is has become the ultimate metrosexual, as obsessed with his skin cream as the Bond in the novels was obsessed with his cars and women. I don't see this changing any time soon. Might as well try to get used to it. You can't change the world, which might as well be the title of the next James Bond film.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

A Donald Trump Cartoon

The Alarm Clock That Woke America

It all began with 14 year old Ahmed Mohamed and the clock he built.

He takes it into his school in Irving, Texas on the 15th of September, 2015. He shows it to his engineering teacher who praises his work but suggests that he not show the clock to other teachers but keep it in his bag. Later that day, the clock's alarm goes off. Ahmed's English teacher asks to see the clock and is so disturbed by its appearance that she alerts authorities. The police arrive and Ahmed is taken into custody, primarily because he cannot explain why he's built the clock. He is detained for bringing a 'hoax bomb' into school. There follows a national outcry against his arrest. Ahmed is embraced by the large 'maker' community, the hugely creative generation redefining invention through 3D printers and rapid prototyping, and he becomes a symbol for the institutionalised Islamophobia in America. Now a cause célèbre across the States, Ahmed is invited to the White House and the President compliments him on his 'cool clock'.

So far, Ahmed's story makes for a self-contained fable we might recognise. It's the American Dream writ bland. Young creative type, the stuff of which America is made, builds something notable through his own ingenuity. His genius goes unrecognised in his hillbilly school, which instead looks at the colour of his skin and his oh-so-familiar surname, and forms an equally oh-so-familiar judgement. Thankfully, not all of America is so prejudiced and that enlightened part of the nation does what it does so well: it rallies support through social media. Mohamed is released from captivity, goes to Washington and meets the President. God bless the spirit of Horatio Alger. God bless the US of A.

Yet if that were the story, it wouldn't be noteworthy. We'd accept it as believable but slightly hackneyed, especially if presented by Hollywood. IMDB 5.5. Not bad for a quiet night in with the kids.

Look deeper, however, and you begin to see the narrative twists. It makes a different story if you know that the clock was constructed inside an aluminium briefcase. Since clocks are meant to be seen, assembling one inside a briefcase does seem odd and perhaps even provocative. After all, we can't escape the cultural connotations of a clock in a briefcase. Wile E. Coyote shakes a ticking briefcase and you expect that he'll soon have a large lump of Monument Valley on his head. So were the police right to arrest young Amhed Mohamed? Is it at least understandable why they might begin to take an interest in his briefcase?

Before you decide, let's now add another twist to the tale. It now appears that Ahmed didn't actually make the clock. It wasn't so much constructed as disassembled. He had taken an old 1986 digital clock, stripped away the casing to expose the internal mechanism which he then attached it to the inside of the briefcase. Ahmed isn't a 'maker' as much as a 'meddler' who was lucky not to treat himself to some good ol' Texas justice courtesy of the exposed 120 volt transformer.

You begin to see, I hope, how at each stage, facts beget ignorance beget more facts beget tales, tropes, myths, assumptions and, soon, a whole lot of ugly politics.

For instance, when Richard Dawkins highlighted this last fact about the disassembled clock, Twitter outrage ensued. The very fact that it was Dawkins's tweeting about the clock located Ahmed's story inside an ongoing saga in which Dawkins's atheism is seen as an aggressive challenge to religious dogma. Dawkins points out the facts I've outlined above but, for many people, the existing narrative was already far too compelling. It was as though Dawkins had just stood up in the final reel of The Empire Strikes Back and explained why Luke couldn't possibly be Vader's son based on the DNA record. The disassembled clock fitted the narrative of Dawkins's as popularist naysayer. It didn't fit the romantic narrative of the young engineer and his home made clock.

Depending on where you choose to direct your focus, Ahmed's story is either about a young protagonist and his misguided actions or it's about a broader reality in American culture. The more you believe it's about Ahmed's surname, his Sudanese background, the procedural details of his detainment, the more polarised the issue and the same old voices begin to frame the debate. Sarah Palin became involved last Friday when she squawked 'That's a clock, and I'm the Queen of England'. To which you are compelled to reply: but it is a clock. It's just not the idealised notion of a clock that Palin prefers alongside her idealised notions of American, Muslim, or, indeed, Queen.

Yet, in truth, nobody but Ahmed knows why he dismantled a clock and put it inside a suitcase. His mind will be a messy nest of cultural influences, teenage angst and spirited imagination. Really, it's of no significance why he did what he did. Despite whispers of political motives and the influence of family members, in all likelihood it's probably just the dumb kind of thing that most kids do at that age. Much more telling is why the story around Ahmed has become more complex than any clock. The story has multiple interpretations, each vying for the status of accepted truth. Mohamed is at once innocent, knowing, naive,  harmless, malicious, exploited and exploiter.

It might be a long time until another story quite like that of Ahmed Mohamed and his clock comes along, meaning so much, so differently, to so many different people. For now, it is fascinating to view the fractures in American society through such a multi-faceted prism.