Thursday, 30 April 2015


Okay. I've had a cup of coffee and my mind has settled. I don't feel quite as dog drawn out bad as I felt yesterday.

It's been a strange business, dealing with my now no-longer missing Guardian Witness cartoon. Years ago, when I was first writing my first Spine blog, I'd post daily Photoshops. This was before Photoshopping images became known as 'mash ups' or became so prevalent that everybody and their whiskery-soaked aunt began doing them. My blog was nominated as one of Yahoo UK's 'Finds of the Year'. I had a few other minor whoopee moments. My work appeared occasionally on the big political blogs and in a few newspapers.

About that time, I became friendly with a journalist who worked for The Guardian. He asked his editor if they'd accept any of my Photoshops. The message that came back was that they'd love to but they were deeply concerned about image rights. Since my Photoshops were made up of other images, they couldn't publish my work for fear of breaking some third party's copyright. Around this time, one of my photos appeared on 'Have I Got News For You' and I spent a crazy afternoon sourcing the images for the people at Hattrick Productions. The people whose photos I'd used were paid well for their photos. I didn't receive a bloody thing.

It was that which made up my mind. I made a vow that I'd never again be at the mercy of third parties. I would diligently uphold the copyright laws and I wouldn't borrow a single thing to do my work.

It's meant losing out on a lot of the exposure you get when Photoshopping. I saw other people getting huge followings on Twitter with pretty poor quality Photoshops but I gritted my teeth. I wanted to do something better. I wanted to do something more worthwhile. And, thus far, I've been fairly loyal to my principals. Most of what I did from that point on was my own work, with perhaps the main exception being a photo of Richard Madeley which I used for my Stan Madeley project. Yet even that was probably sourced and paid for.

All of which makes it so bloody ironic that the Guardian withheld my cartoon because they thought I'd nicked it!

It's more ironic when you consider that the majority of photos on those Witness pages obviously use borrowed images. There's one there that largely contains a screen grab from the John Carpenter film 'They Live'. I don't know if Universal Pictures really care about lightweight 'borrowing' from their movies but this is the problem with the copyright laws as they stand. just how transformative does something have to be before it becomes transformative?

The other side of the problem is that the Photoshop culture is slowly killing the market for real cartoons. Photoshops have a veracity that you never get with ink. To appreciate a cartoon, you have to be a fan of cartoons and that requires imagination, an aesthetic sense, and perhaps even a certain refinement. To appreciate a Photoshop, you merely have to eyes to see. Photoshops are an easy laugh. Even bad Photoshops still have the power to impress because they hint towards a twisted version of reality.

The final problem is, of course, money. I shouldn't have sent my cartoon. I know that. It's to demean the art of cartooning. If somebody like me is willing to give his work away for nothing, I'm contributing to a culture where people are expected to work for nothing. Yet I want the exposure. I want my cartoons seen by people.

Sigh... I really do have a book I want to finish writing. I want to finish it before the year ends. I should go and write some proper words. And maybe later today, I might draw another cartoon.

The Guardian Really Really Really Hates Me (Well perhaps not)

[Update. So it turns out that they'd thought I'd nicked the picture! Which is ironic when you think about it. Most photoshops are produced by people nicking their source images. It's why I stopped Photoshopping and why I started to cartoon and spent the last four years learning the craft. Only, now my pictures aren't getting published because people think I've nicked them. I owe an apology to the people at the Guardian Witness. It's my fault for using an email account to catch SPAM.]

Okay. So, confession time. If you've read the blog for any length of time, you might have guessed why I was so utterly pissed off yesterday. And, yes, it had to do with The Guardian.

Let me go back 48 hours to the moment something caught my eye over at my favourite daily newspaper / the paper that occasionally just rubs me the wrong way. The Witness section were asking for alternative election posters. Well, you know me (I hope). You'd know I wouldn't be able to resist and indeed I couldn't. I immediately decided that I'd draw them a poster about my disgust at the way that David Cameron has treated Scotland, threatening the long term stability of the Union for a short term electoral gain.

I knew what I wanted to draw so I sat down early Tuesday evening and I started pencilling in some shapes. After an hour, I had the rough outlines of the cartoon fixed. Over the course of the evening, I then began to refine the lines as I normally do. It's a long process but I find it relaxing. I then started in on the cross hatching and by about midnight the pen work had been done.

Next morning I did the colour work. Then I captioned it and did a final clean up to remove any remaining marks. It was a cartoon that had taken me about four or five hours to finish because, as I keep explaining, I'm not a natural. I have to work hard to get anything looking half decent and that means dedicated all my free time in an evening to drawing a single cartoon.

Yesterday lunchtime, I posted the cartoon here. Then I tweeted it (it got one retweet, I think), put it on my Flicker account, and then on my yet-to-be-finished 'showcase' blog.

All that done, I submitted it to Guardian Witness.

Two hours later, it hadn't appeared so naturally I thought my submission had gone wrong. So I sent it again.

Nothing happened.

By 8pm last night, it still hadn't appeared.

Wasn't there by midnight.

Wasn't there by this morning.

Then around 11am, there was an update! Dozens of images started to appear. The entries had obviously been submitted over the past 24 hours.

The update lasted about half an hour, at the end of which: my cartoon was still not there.

So I sent an email to Guardian Witness. They didn't reply.

As I publish this around 12.30pm, it has still not appeared.

Now, I know you could say 'probably a technical fault'. You could say 'mere oversight'. None of that matters. All I know is the effect this has on me. It's why I was so utterly depressed yesterday. This situation is so symptomatic of my life. I just don't 'get it'. I think many of the things I do are of a reasonably high quality. My cartoons are not as good as I'd like but I'm still learning. I'm so much better than I was three years ago. Hopefully not as good as I'll be in another few years. Yet as I exist in the here and now, I don't think the cartoons are shamefully bad. What's more: I think they're a hell of a lot better than the puerile and (frankly) amateurish stuff you see over on the Guardian's Eyewitness boards. Yet please don't get me wrong. There's some good stuf over there. There's even some sublime work. I noticed that the great Beau B'Dor has even been posting there. Yet this morning there was nearly a full page of work by XXXXXXXX and, no offence intended to XXXXXXX but can you really tell me that this:

[Image removed. I shouldn't be picking on a guy just because my cartoon was (initially) rejected.]

Is more publishable than this?

It's a bad place to be. Frankly, if my work isn't good enough to give away to a page that publish nearly everything sent to them, I'd rather not shame myself producing third rate cartoons. This is why I'm not drawing today. My confidence is absolutely bloody shot to pieces. I think I might even need more doughnuts...

Down from the doughnuts...

No cartoon today but I did write this for The What and They Why. It's about the business of drawing a cartoon each day, a job I singularly failed to do yesterday thanks to the complete collapse in my self-confidence.

Speaking of which, I'm still recovering from yesterday's excessive doughnut consumption. I should feel ashamed but I don't. I'm just thankful that I don't drink otherwise last night would have been one hell of a binge that I'd have really regretted.

Today I want to figure out a new plan. I need to organise my work. Ideas about 'the book' are still rattling around in my head and two days work has still not got the structure right. If I can figure out the structure of what I'm doing, hopefully the doing of it will just be a matter of the usual thinking, researching, and writing.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Microsoft Build and Doughunts

If I drank, I'd drink. But I don't. So fed up, I bought myself a bag of doughnuts at Tesco. Now geeking out and I don't bloody care...

This sodding world...

Hubris hit me hard today.

ToryAd It happened because I was quite pleased with my Tory election campaign poster cartoon (right). Pride is always a foolish place to begin. Pride cometh before the fall. Or in this case, before a crushing sense of reality.

I'd finished the cartoon and I'd posted, cross posted it, Tweeted it, sent it various places where cartoons are sometimes published. In other words, I did everything I usually do and then a little bit more because I'd put more effort than normal into the cartoon.

And the result of my efforts was worse than nothing. My actions managed to dry up visitors to the blog. Traffic nosedived. The places I sent the cartoon completely ignored it. Twitter ignored it.

It's a horrible feeling. Truly horrible. It's like contributing to a debate and the other participants completely ignoring your contribution, preferring to waffle on about something you think far less interesting. It's frustrating, I guess, because people seem to want Photoshopped images of Nick Clegg wearing testicles for earrings.

I'm lost. Utterly lost.

I'm going for a bike ride to clear my head. I'd been looking forward to today. It's the Microsoft Build conference and rumours are that Microsoft might release details of their new Surface Pro 4. It was going to be my next 'David has a dream machine he can't afford but will happily spent the next year gazing at it in PC World'. Days like today make me wonder why I'd ever need one. I should go back to Photoshopping my cartoons and reclaiming two hours of my life every day from the effort of drawing. Or I should quit completely. I mean: if the world doesn't want cartoons, why the hell draw them?

The Newest Tory Campaign Ad

Monday, 27 April 2015

Clogged Nozzles

No cartoon today. No writing either. My mojo is gone. It happens occasionally and the causes are usually the same: a mixture of real world intrusions and the old lack of enthusiasm. I'm also worried  why the hell the blog is getting hits from inside Maplin HQ on my Maplin catalogue post. I guess I can I expect letters/emails from solicitors telling me to take it down... They wouldn't be the first.

Today I have paperwork to do. I hate doing paperwork and have been putting it off. I'm also feeling very indifferent about my work. I might turn my attention away from the blog and cartoons and podcasts. None of them seem to do me any good. I've dusted off the manuscript to a half-written book which I've been thinking about finishing. I reread the opening last night and I thought it still the best thing I've ever written. If I can capture the fire I had when I wrote that first half, I think a week or two of solid focus and I might be able to push it towards the 60 or even 70 thousand work mark. I don't know. Perhaps thinking that is simply another way of avoiding this pile of paperwork.

I hate paperwork. Paperwork is usually a way for the system to remind you about the scale of your failure. It also makes you turn on a printer you've not used in months and I now find that most of my nozzles are clogged. I hate clogged nozzles almost as much as I hate the paperwork I expect them to print. It's probably going to be a day of clogged nozzles in one form or another.


Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Spine Election Podcast - Episode 6

After a long week and a few delays due to my being off on various jaunts, I've finally edited together the latest podcast. I'd like to thank  Bella Sassin who lent a real touch of professionalism to this production. Her acting makes me sound like the slow guy who hangs around the village well in eighteenth century novels set in Ireland.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Why the hell Aston Villa?

The list of things that count as a 'brain fade' is pretty long. Forgetting the dates of battles, wars, victories, births, deaths, exams and appointments are just the beginning. It would be understandable if you forget your mother's noodle recipe or the contents of that brown cardboard box on the top shelf in your shed. You might forget your National Insurance number or ever your car number plate. It's easy to forget the name of films or books, even though you might claim they're a favourite. It's easier still to forget the name of that actor you like who only plays bit parts in films but always does with a certain manly swagger. In that case, you're probably forgetting the name Ed Harris or Scott Glenn. Really, the list of things it's okay to forget is extremely long and varied. But nowhere on it does it include the name of your football team.

I mean nobody, not even the recently lobotomised, forgets the name of their football team. It just doesn't happen. Not even as a verbal slip. You don't suddenly say 'Manchester United' if you mean Liverpool, 'Everton' if you support Leeds. It's not simply a trick of a tired brain. You don't have one thing in mind and accidentally say it, like you might say to somebody, ' pass me the knife' when you meant spoon but you just happened to be holding a knife when you reached for the word. Those things are understandable. Forgetting your football team is about as likely as forgetting your own name. Never is my life have I introduced myself 'Eric' or 'Bruce' or 'Norma'. I'm certain about that. 100% of the time I say that my name is David.

I wouldn't image that David Cameron would ever introduce himself as Eric, Bruce or Norma Cameron  either, which makes it so hard to believe that today told an audience in Croydon that his favourite team is West Ham. For years he's been telling us that it's Aston Villa and how he is the nephew of a former Villa chairman who took him to his first match when he was 13.

The significance of the story is bigger than the details. What I love about this gaff is that it's an apparently trivial mistake which might have big consequences. It's the kind of story that will click with large portions of the electorate. It's hard to judge a man based on economic predictions or the well practised spiel of a campaign speech. It's much easier to judge what you think about a man who suddenly forgets which team he supports. Had this happened in any pub across the land, the victim of the 'brain fade' would be ribbed about it for months, years, perhaps even the rest of his life.

So, why did it happen?

It happened, I think, because of the character of the man. It is a small point but I think it reveals so much about Cameron and his convictions or, more precisely, lack of convictions. I've never seen him as a true conviction politician. Thatcher was deeply ideological. Blair less so but still in a large part driven by convictions. Brown was deeply rooted in his convictions that came through his Presbyterian upbringing. Cameron, I think, is almost completely lacking in deep political thought. To put it in slightly wet terms: politics seems to be a convenient point on his life journey. It was easy for him to go from Eton to Oxford and then into the world of Conservative politics. Leadership came just as easily. David Davies was tipped as the next leader and then Cameron gave a speech behind closed doors which turned everything around. And with typical Cameron luck, he rose to the leadership at a time when the Labour Party had exhausted the ideas of one generation and a world economic collapse compounded their problems, meaning that a change in government was always likely to happen. I can't think of any party leader who went quite so quickly from obscurity to Number 10 via the ballot box.

His current 'brain fade' makes me think of Libya and the fall of Gaddafi. As revolutions go, it was a fairly easy one for a Prime Minister to cope with. It was easier still to head to Benghazi and take some of the credit and make some vague promises and we know how that turned out. We should only be lucky as he made that speech that he didn't praise the people of Syria or Liberia or even West Ham.

The gaff happened because I doubt if Cameron is invested in following Aston Villa with the passion of a true football fan. 'Aston Villa' is just the convenient tag that he can scrawl in that blank box whenever he has to answer the 'Favourite football team' question on his regular Q&As with the readers of Heat magazine.

Yet one question remains. Why the hell did he pick Aston Villa?

I can't get over the feeling that it's just a shrewd political calculation. If I were a politician who was particularly prone to taking the popular angle and always wanting to be seen on the side of the majority, who would I claim to support?

According to a recent Guardian article, the biggest three teams in the UK  are Liverpool (15.21%), Arsenal (15.03%) and Manchester United (14.6%). However, at least two of those teams are great rivals. To support United or Liverpool would stain your character for supporters of the rival team. You might gain respect in the eyes of one 15% but you'd lost it in the eyes of another 15%. Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal all have strong rivalries, as do teams such as Everton, Manchester City, and Leeds.

I suspect that a wily politician would choose a team that's well known but not so successful that it has bred much resentment. Does Aston Villa fit that profile? It has the fifth highest in terms of major honours among English clubs but hasn't won the top division since the 1980-81 season. Is it vanilla enough to be the team that breeds the most apathy in the league? I suspect it might. Choosing Aston Villa means that Cameron is only alienating the supporters of West Brom and Birmingham City in a heavily Labour supporting part of the country. Hostility towards Aston Villa doesn't reach across the country in the same way as you find deep resentments about other major teams. In political terms, it's as neutral a choice as it's possible to find in the top division. The votes he would potentially lose are votes which would probably be Labour in the first place.

Well, that's my theory. I have no way of knowing if it's real or not. I just expect the Tory party's media unit to now go into overdrive to prove that Cameron is a true Aston Villa fan. Expect to see the buttock tattoo before the end of the campaign. In the case of any other politician, I would have written that line thinking it a good joke to end. In Cameron's case, I'm not so sure it's a joke.


To the person asking if the Conservatives can win in St Helens South

Friday, 24 April 2015

Coming down from the Spire

I always rub my boots on the back of my trouser legs before I walk into these places. In poker terms, it's what's known as 'a tell'. I also suppose it's a ridiculous thing to do. People don't really judge you by the shine of your toecaps but my toecaps have no shine and I always feel absolutely ashamed by them. I feel an overwhelming wish to explain and confess my life to these people when I arrive on their doorstep, as though I can somehow justify myself by my writing, my books, my cartoons, or my education. Yet none of that matters. No matter how many degrees you have, books published, or blog posts read, they only judge you by one criteria and, in my case, it's a criteria accurately summarised by the shabby state of my boots.

In the last few years, my boots have trod the carpets in too many hospital receptions. For reasons too complicated to go into, I've spent half a decade accompanying my sister to her various appointments. I could give you a long medical history but books the length of 'War and Peace' are no longer in vogue unless they're about spanking, dwarves, or both. The flash non-fiction version of the story is that my sister has some problem which the NHS are still struggling to identify. We occasionally see consultants privately but that route is a truly horrifying financial strain. So we bounce through the system.

This week, she's felt so ill that she became desperate and desperation usually means expense. She decided to have her blood tested done privately. Nine months ago, a consultant requested that certain tests be done and we had them done on the NHS. They're tricky tests, which require all manner of arcane magic that you normally only see done in vampire movies starring Wesley Snipes. So we had blood samples taken at the local GP's surgery and the local GP's surgery proceeded to lose the blood samples. We only discovered this after waiting six months for the results. Naturally, we had the tests repeated but, three months later, we've still not got the results and nobody has a record of what happened to the samples. Which is why we decided to have them done again but this time privately, meaning the results should be available within a week.

Yet all of that is mere backstory to explain why I was up at seven o'clock this morning and sitting in traffic-locked taxi cab in the heart of Warrington by eight. What I wanted to write about was the experience of 'going private' from the perspective of the guy sitting next to his sick sister who nobody is willing to help. I thought it would be fun to do that because the contrast is so enormous as to be faintly comical, whilst it also says so much about our country and our culture.

Yet this isn't going to be about medical procedures. I rarely go in 'the room'. This is just my perspective on the experience of somebody sitting waiting outside and drawing cartoons whilst trying not to feel too out of place whilst surrounded by people from a different plane of existence. And, believe me,  their extra-planar credentials are never in question.

Take, for example, this morning and the woman sitting across from me. She was clearly 'in the money' and her buttocks obviously knew their way around a Caribbean Lilo. Even her shins were wrinkled from the sun. I've never seen wrinkled shins before. I never knew shins could wrinkle. And I mean wrinkle more than anything in this world could wrinkle with the exception, perhaps, of Keith Richard's scrotum. I was thinking of drawing her shins, Robert Crumb style, or at least including them in a future cartoon. They really need immortalising. That woman's shins are the sort of thing that, once witnessed, inform an artist's vision for the rest of his life.

She was with her husband who was of that upper-managerial type that dominates the landscape south of Warrington: red faced, elderly, and in his best weekend golf gear despite it only being a Friday. I've worked for the type. They dress for golf on a Friday but still turn up at the office to remind their employees that, whilst it is still only Friday, the boss is free to play golf.

As I noted all this, a replica of the gent walked in: same clothes, stance, attitude. This one looked like my favourite art critic, Brian Sewell, a scarf wrapped around his neck in a fashion that you rarely see men adopting since Oscar Wilde made it passé at the same time as he invented sodomy around the start of the last century. It's all typical stuff for Tory heartlands and by that I guess I mean the wrinkles, the scarves, and the sodomy. I later spent the thirty five minute ride home talking to the taxi driver about politics. We'd struck lucky and found the only taxi driver in the country who is as big an Andrew Neil fan and This Week as myself and he was happy to talk about the general election. He pointed out all the Tory signs (not even posters but proper on-a-stick-stuck-in-the-herbaceous-border signs) and explained how Warrington South is a marginal being fiercely contested by the sitting MP David Mowat. The Tories are clearly pouring their hedge fund cash into the area. The signs were like triffids peering out of every expensively trimmed garden hedge otherwise shielding the expensive houses from the road.

I suppose it's wrong to say that all these people all the same but there's much that's shared between the residents. They are no doubt good people but representatives of that Britain that is succeeding. They're the people doing well out of the economy and their money is sensibly being put to good use looking after themselves inside the private healthcare system. I don't dislike them. In many respects, they're people like myself: cultured, quiet, believers in politeness and some notion of right and wrong. The gulf between us is perhaps more about outcomes, opportunities and, of course, service.

For example, when I go to our local GP's surgery I usually deal with some nose-breathing servant of Sauron, who can barely restrain her utter distain for me as though I'm a wood elf from a Murkwood slum. In contrast, go privately and you get to meet The Most Beautiful Woman In The World and, if that sounds like an exaggeration, let me assure you that it's not. It happens too often for it not to be a universal truth about private healthcare. Private hospitals have a direct line to God. This morning, the Most Beautiful Woman In The World had an American accent, hipster glasses and a Monroe air. She should have been in movies. Scarlett Johansson has the face of a blistered dingo compared to her.

That is something I sometimes find as shocking as I find it profound. Reflect deeply on Fate and you see that there's so little that separates each of us except for a few twisted threads of DNA and a whole lot of circumstance. How often do you see Hollywood stars interviewed and asked 'what would you be doing if you'd not become a movie star?' 'Oh,' they'll smile, 'I'd be frying chicken in a mall and giving everybody listeria'. Audiences laugh yet behind the laughter is the realisation of a greater truth. It's the tragedy of that person who should be a movie star but is trapped working in reception somewhere. It can whither a man's soul if he contemplates it too long. It was like our taxi driver who was articulate, knowledgeable, and passionate about politics. He was perfectly suited to a life representing the people of Warrington but, instead, he is scraping a living driving around his home town whilst a chartered accountant born in Ruby serves as his local MP.

I suppose, at some point, the whole thing became an act of self-reflection and I began to feel so utterly sob-wrecking depressed as I sat there, staring at my shabby boots and contemplating the parts of this that I hadn't worked out until later. Life is about the fairy tales we're told and the fairy tales we believe, such as the one about 'hard work bringing just rewards'. I've always worked obsessively hard but I now see it as vile malicious bullshit whispered in our hamster ears so we'll keep running in the wheel. It all comes down to a toss of a coin, the turn of a county border, the direction that water once ran off an upland field and decided the course of a river through the heart of a county. Life might be there to direct as we will but it can only be steered so much. Sometimes there are greater forces limiting your options. Sometimes there are simply no options.

So, I as sat there, I listened to the hum of Sky News in the background, periodically broken by the beguiling accent of the TMBWITW in the hipster glasses which I tried hard to ignore because it would mean looking that way and burning my soul on something no mortal eyes should really see. And for a brief moment, I did wonder what life's like in that world or even if that world is real and not imagined.

Is it real if you pay people to be kind, considerate, and display such good manners that they ask if you'd like a cup of coffee whilst you wait? When asked by hipster movie star, I said 'no' because I really appreciated the gesture but I wouldn't put somebody to such trouble. Besides, I might have blurted out something crazy like the entirety of Byron's 'She Walks in Beauty'. Yet had fate been different, I might have been the type of person to click my fingers, wink and say 'Sure thing, gorgeous, because the world is my playground and I can afford the fees!'

But people like us can't afford the fees and therein lies the difference.

I didn't say 'yes'. I just remembered the details. I noticed the way the chairs seemed to have lost their plumpness and had been laid low by overuse by big behinds. They weren't as comfortable nor luxurious as those in Chester's Nuffield and nothing seemed as relaxing. The place was darker with too much noise and too many patients crowded next to the reception, so that those of us waiting could hear too much about other people's ailments. Thankfully, there was free wi-fi available without the need to go ask movie stars for passwords, so I searched the surprisingly responsive web for source images of ugly politicians and I doodled a picture. Then I watched a doctor arrive in his sports car and, in that moment, the whole experience was perfectly summed up.

Doctors in private healthcare don't look like NHS doctors. Doctors in the NHS look like the nerd you knew at school who went into medicine, started to earn a fortune, and likes to remind the world that they were bullied in school but now they hold the power.

Doctors in private healthcare look like the guys who used to deal out the beatings in school. I watched one arrive and he utterly fitted his fitted suits with their ridiculously Apollonian proportions. He also had a 'fuck yeah, life is good' swagger which matched his features, wide and flat like something peeled from a movie poster. He looked like cricketer Graham Hick, a less scarred version of Harrison Ford. Again, you could argue about fate dealing him a bad hand but it's hard to feel quite as despondent when that person is a high wizard of healthcare driving a pornstar sports car and with a complete Mastery of the Elements vibe. I didn't feel so bad that he won't be the next Indiana Jones. I didn't even look to see if the receptionist swooned as he walked past. That would have been too much to bear. Because private healthcare might be there to improve your health, but, deep down, none of this makes you feel good. You might have a good soul but you know what you look like naked and it's not a pretty. Your body goes out where his goes in and in where his goes out. You're at opposite ends of the colour chart. If you were colours by Dulux, you'd be 'Bjork alabaster'. He'd be 'Tom Jones circa 1974'. It's all so utterly demoralising.

It would be easy here to be bitter and surmise that he'd be bad at his job but you could tell the opposite. Watching his manner as he greeted his first patient, I saw the biggest difference of the day. The last NHS consultant my sister saw spoke to her for about five minutes, scribbled something on a sheet, and dismissed her with a cursory word. Six months wait for five minutes of indifference and I was left to deal with all the tears and the hurt. These guys come out and greet you with a warm handshake. They smile and ask you how you're doing.

Try to imagine that. Doctors who ask you how you're doing...

It's a sad measure of our country's decline when you don't expect such things. Sadder still when these things only happen when you pay for them.

Greek Debt Cartoon

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

One of those posts, more like a diary entry...

Not stopped today except to type this and even this can hardly be called stopping.

The day didn't begin well when the fire alarm woke me at 7am. It sounded for about four seconds before it fell silent. Yet in the four seconds, I'd jumped out of bed and stood there like a startled rabbit whose brain couldn't understand the beams of the oncoming lorry.

I'm not sure why fire alarms are quite so loud. Ours is wired into the mains, so it has plenty of juice to produce its ear breaking scream. I'm certain it's not good for the health and I'm also sure that it serves no real purpose. If it had been slightly quieter, I might have had the capacity to think rationally and escape the building. As it was, I was more concerned with the noise that I was with any potential fire. I couldn't have been more disarmed if a SWAT team had just lobbed stun grenades through the window. I was ready to 'assume the position' and tell them everything they wanted to know.

I'm also completely uncertain why it went off for four seconds. I suspect it was to mark the execution of some bug that had crawled across its circuitry and fried in a small but loud puff of the divine soul. Of course, the fact it did go off without reason, now makes me nervous that the same will happen again. Maybe it's linked to that fact that we're now in the season of the bug.

The rest of the day has been consumed with what are euphemistically called 'jobs' but in real life amount to those terrible routines we're all locked into once it hits spring. I even mowed a lawn, which is among my least favourite of chores on account of the fact that mowing a lawn for the first time in the year encourages the bloody lawn to grow even quicker. This will now turn into a fortnightly routine which my good conscience won't allow me to stretch to once a month. Then I fixed things that I'd been putting off fixing for the entirety of winter. Naturally, this involve a quality of blood lost from my right index finger. Then there was programming, web fixes. And amid all that, posting today's cartoon which has earned me about two hits. Well worth the effort...

Anyway, my next podcast is nearly finished. I've recorded my part and I'm delighted to say that I've found an extremely able volunteer who has agreed to voice a second part and highlight how badly I act. Hopefully it will be edited together sometime in the coming days. I think it's one of the best yet but who am I to judge these things?

Head down. Keep going.

An Al-Baghdadi Cartoon

Monday, 20 April 2015

Meet Paul Richardson, My Conservative Candidate for St Helens North

Busy writing a podcast so I wasn't intending on posting to the blog today. Also, I fell asleep drawing last night's cartoon. Must try harder...

The good news is that my voting slip just arrived and I was surprised to see that our Conservative candidate is local.

I know! I'm really lost for words. I was ready to be so cynical about the whole operation...

Of course, when I say local, I mean a 142 mile hop, skip and one ruddy big jump 'local'. I live in the St Helens North constituency and the poor bastard the Tories have put up for election lives in Tring in Hertfordshire. Not a person I've told today hasn't curled over in laughter at the news. You couldn't make this stuff up.

Here's a picture of Paul Richardson standing outside our Town Hall in St Helens. I haven't visited St Helens in a couple of years, which says much about the town and the geography of our constituency. Posing beside one of their flower beds was never going to win me over...

The first thing to say note about the picture is that nobody in these parts wears a jacket like that. It's a beginner's mistake, of course. People need to tell Paul to do more research. Go with something neutral which doesn't reek of privilege and class. When locals see that kind of jacket, what we really see is this:

The second thing to note is the way he stands. If I'm not mistaken, that's the pose of a man about to heel it back to his Audi so he can get back home.

Perhaps I'm being too cynical. I genuinely have no gripe with Paul Richardson. He's probably a good man doing an honorable thing. He's trying to make a difference. Perhaps Paul Richardson actually lives or works inside the constituency. He claims to have 'spent so much of my life here'. Maybe he was born here but lives in Hertfordshire. Perhaps he'd be a fantastic MP who would work hard to improve our region.

Or maybe he's just in it for the experience because the Tories know that hell will go polar before anybody other than Labour (or, maybe in years past, the Lib Dems) could win in these parts.

Yet none of that matters to me. I'm pretty centrist in my political views. Over the course of my life, I've voted a whole variety of ways. My vote is always winnable. All that I ask is that a political party doesn't treat me with utter disdain by dropping some aspiring MP into the region just so he can get a sniff of a real voter. Are there really no Tory candidates who might be more suitable? Maybe one who was... I don't know... Perhaps born in the North? I'm not even asking for a candidate from a local town. Perhaps just one of the surrounding counties? Maybe even Liverpool or Manchester? Seriously, there's no county more certain to raise the local ire than sodding Hertfordshire...

And while I'm mocking the Tories, I should note that Labour aren't above this kind of shameful game. The MP for St Helens South has, until recently, been Shaun Woodward, who I doubt spent a single night under the small terraced house he bought in the town.

All of it shames the system and shows that my election is really over before it began. The parties don't take this constituency seriously. I might as well tear up my ballot form. I'm going back to writing my podcast. Even in a small insignificant way, it's the only way my voice will be heard at this election.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

So I tried to write the most vicious thing about Katie Hopkins youcould hope to read today

Katie Hopkins is a large blank in my life and I intend to ensure that blankness continues after today and this single post. I don't read 'The Sun' and I've rarely (to point of it being never) watched 'The Apprentice'. I only knew about her because I'd previously noticed that sensible people seem to hate her with a deep happy intensity.

I had no opinion about Ms. Hopkins until I read what she'd written yesterday about the situation off the coast of North Africa. It was pretty strong stuff but I was sadly not surprised. It wasn't eloquent in any way. As far as firebrands go, it wasn't particularly scalding. The article contained essentially mundane ideas presented in a mundane way by what is quite obviously a mundane mind.

I thought I might write a response in a more fiery fashion but about three seconds into my attempt I realised that I couldn't bring myself to call for the Royal Navy to sink Katie Hopkins off the coast of Gibraltar. I couldn't write any line that suggested that I'd be indifferent if I saw her corpse bobbing up and down in the sea. I'm better than that. Unlike Katie Hopkins, I've retained a touch of humanity. I would not want to wish her ill.

So, instead, I thought I'd try a different line of attack and I began by drawing a picture that I hoped any of her defenders might find offensive. Should you not see it attached to this brief essay, it's of a bony Hopkins, her withered teats sagging over a malnourished body, her legs splayed apart as Hitler crawls from the stretched vagina. Had I better skills, Hitler wouldn't have been alone. I wanted Stalin, Pol Pot, and every tyrant I could recall crawling from her bloodied chamber.

I would guess they might find the cartoon offensive because they would fail to understand my point which is about how Hitler came into existence. Culture presents Hitler as a monster beyond the context of the early twentieth century. You rarely (if ever) hear anybody talk about Hitler's mother or family (Norman Mailer's novel, The Castle in the Forest, being one notable exception), presumably because it's inconvenient to conceive of such evil being born in a human way.

Yet Hitler was born like all of us in a sudden flood of blood and embryonic waters and his ideas were born in similarly crass and messy ways. People wrongly attribute the evil ideology of the Nazi regime to the writings of Nietzsche but that, again, is to push them to the sidelines as the warped ideas of  an intensely mad intelligence gone awry. Hitler was not Nietzsche. His morality was cretinous, dumb and servile to a completely fictitious notion of Teutonic history, fed to him via German Romanticism. He succeeded not because he had better wits than the rest but because he rode to power on an ugly popularism which swept through a largely unthinking Germany only too happy to attribute its problems to its most vulnerable members.

It's why we should not simply be insulted by the kind of lowbrow mean-spirited hate spewed by the vapid Katie Hopkins. It's why we should not simply marginalise her for the barbaric troll she is. She is something new that we've not seen before, or, at least, haven't seen for a very long time. She is making money and fame by putting a flame beneath people's fears. She speaks a language that divests humanity of that vital quality that makes us more than flesh and blood. Instead of speaking about lives lost, families ruined, individuals dying in a terribly tragic way, she has reduced the argument to lumps of meat rotting on the shore. She is not serving a public good by supposedly speaking truths that nobody dare speak. She is harming the public good by replacing our natural compassion with an artificial fear, manufactured anger, and a supposedly 'comic' indifference. It's a long time since we've had such a public commentator use language that dehumanises vulnerable people in such a way. Hopkins' language is not simply toxic. It is the diseased language of the sociopath, a person who feels no empathy and is capable of doing great evil.

Her sport is obvious. She throws her saddle on a problem and rides the poor beast until blood is frothing with snot in its dead distended nostrils. Migration of the North Africa is a problem that any commentator has the right to address. The arguments against immigration are similarly valid, as are arguments that suggest that people attempting to cross the Med should be turned back. None of that is beyond debate. It is the very matter of the debate we should be having.

Yet to talk about human beings as 'feral' and 'cockroaches' is something beyond rhetoric. It is dangerous. To talk dispassionately about 'coffins', 'bodies floating in water', and 'skinny people looking sad' is the language of a severely diseased mind that should not have a public forum in which to spread such a morally bankrupt message. It is a message dangerously voiced because there are others who revel in such language, who are susceptible to the festering ideas of inchoate totalitarianism. They are the people with a deep moral sickness that leads them to groups such as Isis, where human brutality has found a new dispassionate host. They are the people willing to lead mobs to the gates of the lawmakers and demand satisfaction in blood.

Can nobody see that terrors begin not with mad eyed loons but with figures who profess respectability and the common good? What history has taught us in every century of our existence is that evil is not beyond us. It is within us always and we must guard carefully against the fools who would tempt it out in the name of entertainment, fame and wealth.

So, let me end with a plea. Don't read 'The Sun' so long as this hag faced screeching scagbitch is getting money for her bile-filled screeds. Don't make fear popular again. No action is justified if the victims of that action are somehow considered less human than we are. Beyond her well tamed hair, her glitzy TV smile, and soaked-in-brine tan, Katie Hopkins is a soulless harridan of neo-fascist propaganda. Her confident swagger, the jaunty turn of her head at the top of the page, the slight glow she exudes: it's all a facade that disguises a pitiful human being. I was tempted to reach for the worst words I know to describe her but I decided that would be to stoop to her level. She is somebody about whom I would never wish ill. Just somebody who I hope finds help, illumination or (failing that) censorship, before her sickness infects that yobbish unthinking segment of our society who would do bad things in the name of decency and the common good.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

These 10 Hollywood stars were born with tusks

I don't know who first said that all writing is an expression of loneliness so I suppose, in a way, I said it first. Writing is, after all, the most alienating experience a person can have without being forced to visit Ipswich on a Sunday.

I think of writing as the act of standing naked at a hotel window. Very few people would ever think of standing naked at a hotel window or, at least, you don't go 'junk free' unless you're an exhibitionist or you hold a Scandinavian passport. Writing makes you feel vulnerable and putting those words into a public space feels like it should be a very risky thing to do. However, like standing naked at a hotel window, you're probably not understanding the context of your public exposure.

I often look at the vast expanse of windows in the big hotels I find around the cities I occasionally visit. From the point of view of looking at the hotel, you'd be hard pressed to spot which window frames a naked person gazing back at you. Of course, nobody will ever read this so perhaps now is the time to confess that I only look at the windows in hotels hoping to see one of those glamour models looking back down at me as she poses for some candid shots. In all the years I've been engaged in this noble enterprise, I can sadly report that I've never seen a glamour model looking back down at me. I've seen the pictures on the internet so I know that kind of thing happens quite a lot in hotel windows. I've therefore come to the conclusion that I'm looking at the wrong hotels or simply looking at the wrong time of day.

Yet whilst I struggle to spot the beautiful models pouting and bending, the people who do pose in hotels windows probably believe that everybody can see their nakedness yet the reality is so very different.

What I'm trying to say is that writing a blog feels like standing naked in one of those windows. The reality is that there are a billion other windows and that nobody is actually looking back at you or reading what I write. I could yawn, stretch my arms wide, rock back and forward on my heels like so, my pen and pencil case swinging back and fro in the breeze and nobody can see a thing. It's would be liberating if it weren't so damn depressing because, frankly, what is the point of standing naked at a window if not a single person knows that you're there? It's that age old philosophical question: if you wiggle your junk in a forest and nobody sees them wiggling, does your junk even exist? The answer, of course, is that of course it bloody exists and the judge will also take into consideration the twenty two other indecency charges before deciding your sentence.


When I was pimpled and naive, the fashion among my generation was to wear ridiculously tight trousers and big puffy jackets that I never did own. I came from a relatively poor working class family where every penny counted. Yet I was at school with the sons of local farmers and businessmen who had their own cars at thirteen and everything at fourteen that a fourteen old boy could every possibly wish to own.

I had none of those things. I had normal straight-legged trousers and some humble non-inflatable coat which therefore made me one of the unfashionable kids deserving only scorn and the occasional beating for being so deflated and straight-legged. My pants didn't cut off the circulation to my testicles and my coat was black when the fashion was for lime green with vanilla blazes. I imagine now that there are men my age suffering for the fashions of their fashionable youth. I like to think of some old schoolyard nemesis being told that his testicles were damaged by the drainpipe tight trousers he wore all those years ago and that's the reason why his lime green bud earphones pop out every time he crosses his legs.

As an adult, I think back on the misery of those years and realise that, oddly, my fashion back then was exactly what was subsequently considered cool. If I'd been born a decade or so later, I'd have been the coolest kid in the school. I looked and dressed like Kurt Cobain before grunge was acceptable. I was also dressing like a hipster in reefer jackets and desert boots long before either of them became the norm. I'll probably be wearing them still when they drop out of fashion again but I really don't care. Because I was so miserably aware of fashion as a teenager, I've never followed fashion as an adult. My natural instinct is to turn away from anything that's popular and that really sets me at odds with the internet.


The two threads of this barely cogent essay are really one and the same. It's about the writer's need for attention when the reality is that having the instincts of a writer makes you as popular as a septic cold sore in a cramped locker room.

There are some bloggers, of course, who are read and are popular. They're very often the kind of bloggers whose faces appear on the TV news above the caption 'Writer and Critic' or 'Editor of the Harvard Nose Review' or 'Scholar, Lover, Highly Gifted on the Flute'. They're the self-confident types who seem to emerge from university at the age of 24 and walk through the door of The Spectator and straight onto our TV screens with a fully formed world view. Watching the election coverage, I'm shocked by how many of that type there are out there and how they all look and sound the same. The men have narrow lofty heads, great teeth and bland Oxbridge opinions; the women have big broad faces and expensively casual Chelsea hair which they have to keep stroking over an ear whilst explaining the bleeding obvious. It's the breezy confidence they have and the certainty that they all have fresh minty breath and body odour undetectable by a bomb squad dog. Today they're dictating the news agenda, tomorrow they're announcing their retirement from Twitter due to continual abuse  which they then turn into a 2000 word article that wins them the Pulitzer and 24 hour protection from Special Branch.

Journalism has entered into the Buzzfeed age where everyone is playing the same schoolyard game. I long to be one of those cool people but my trousers aren't tight fitting. I guess I'm still too straight legged.  Yet that also means that I don't want to join in. I want to write long rambling essays that aren't structured around lists. I want to give my articles titles that are uncool and don't immediately attract a reader with a false promise of some amazing revelations about butter. I don't want to ever find myself posting an essay titled:

'These 10 Hollywood stars were born with tusks' [Damn! Failed again!]

'See the woman with Dick Tracy walkie-talkie tits'

'Eighteen ways to train your knees to launch you over a car!'

'Scientists plan to soundproof Canada'

'Read the secret Vatican evidence that the Pope is Korean'

'Do your earlobes prove that you're descended from the Russian Royal Family?'

They're fun titles, of course, but they're too easy to write...

'Turn your nut allergy into your super power'

'Man born with big toe that resembles Billy Crystal'

'What your arsehole says about your career choice.'

If none of my madness makes sense, it's because I don't expect anybody to gaze this direction and find me standing here ball-shine crazy in my hotel window. I write too often that I hate blogging but it's not the blogging I hate. It's not the effort of writing, the struggle with words, the lack of a theme or even a conclusion. I don't even mind standing here naked. I don't feel particularly fragile or exposed or compromised or any of those things that an ordinary person would probably feel if they confessed these muddled things.

The reason I find myself hating blogging is that sometimes it just reinforces the loneliness. A blog is the corner of the school field where the lonely writer goes to gaze through the iron railings wishing they were somewhere else when, deep down, knowing that they really want to be back with the cool kids. Back with the privileged few, in their tight trousers and lime green puffy jackets with vanilla blazes, whose dumb inarticulate cries rally their adoring fans for yet another assault on anybody or anything that dares to be different or strange.

Coming Soon...

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Harrison Ford Shaped Hole

There's nothing I can say about the new Star Wars trailer that hasn't already been said by people much nerdier than me and with a much better collection of action figures (and all, no doubt, still in their original packaging). For the record, I don't actually own any Star Wars action figures and I don't think I even owned any of the official merchandise, with perhaps the exception of some old dusty paperbacks and a super deluxe collector's edition box set of the original VHS tapes probably now not worth shelf dust.

Anyway, I sat down today to watch the new Star Wars trailer and my first conscious thought was about the opening shot of the Star Destroyer, lying ruined in a rocky desert on some unknown planet. I should imagine on the big screen it will have the same 'wow' factor that the opening shot from the original movie apparently had on audiences in 1977. That shot established mythology, history, scale, wonder and was just possibly the most evocative way of introducing the series beyond the familiar strains of John William's score.

My second thought was about that strangely mangled Darth Vader helmet. I think it's because it seems to have strange teeth that I found it slightly creepy but also mildly amusing. For no explicable reason, I thought 'melted Chuckle Brother' and I now can't get that image from out of my mind.

What followed, though, really told me nothing about the movie. More X wings flying through water, men whooping, a noticeably young, pretty but (I thought ) bland set of casting choices, vaguely defined bad guys with red light sabres, and the whole thing having a slightly modern vibe, with chromium troopers reminding me of the original series of Battlestar Galatica. And none of that really excited me.

Then I heard the voice I recognised and I felt a shiver.

Sure, he's looking older but he's in no bad shape. I know this is Harrison Ford pre the plane crash Harrison Ford but I'm not sure if it's the post-broken ankle Harrison Ford. I know my Fords but I struggle to identify vintages to that level of specificity.

This leads me to my revealing and slightly sad confession of the week: I've been checking for progress reports on Harrison Ford every morning since he went propeller-first into a golf course. I've probably not missed a day checking Google for news. On quite a few days, it might even be the first thing I do when walking up, sometimes even before checking my email. I know. I know. It's pathetic. I can't explain myself. I didn't even realise that I was this much of a Harrison Ford fan.

Yet there's always been something about Ford which defies logic. There are certainly better actors out there, many with more personable personalities. And though Ford is the star of some great movies, he has also, admittedly, made some stinkers too ('Hollywood Homicide', 2003). He's an actor who seems to have a particularly difficult sense of his best qualities and sometimes seems to go out of his way to infuriate his fans. For a time, he thought of himself as romantic lead, making many of his fans (myself included) pull out our hair in frustration. I mean, what the hell was he thinking when he made 'Sabrina' (I'm not even going to bother looking up its year)? Then there was 'the earring', which, I confess, I've never totally excused or accepted. There was no rhyme nor reason behind it, so I resorted to telling myself firmly postmodern arguments such as 'well, he's ironically commentating on his place in male culture... He's so far over on the manliness spectrum, he's started to come back around the other way...' Or something like that...

Ford has often been his own worst enemy, which is itself an endearing quality. It's only recently that he's been anything other than dismissive about 'Blade Runner', a film celebrated for its production design but a film I only go back to because of the stars: Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, and Daryl Hannah and, well, just about every speaking role in the film, filled with exceptional talents. People talk about the look of the film but I maintain it's the cast, all of them great, but the whole thing is held together by Ford.

Ford is best when he's not the straightforward hero. Sure, I love Indiana Jones and I'll watch the new Star Wars films with eager anticipation. But they're franchises and I rarely get excited by marketing. They're certainly not the films I reach for when I'm having a bad day or week and want to cheer myself up. My favourite Harrison Ford movies were not even blockbusters when they were released and they aren't even all that highly rated now except by myself. My favourites are movies like 'Frantic' (1988) and 'Patriot Games' (1992), films that are generally forgotten but, for me at least, are better because they lack the lights and show.

They have Harrison Ford and Ford fits the shape of my world. He's complicated and truculent, largely hostile to the spin machine that operates everywhere these days. He plays the lead without the swagger you get in most movie leads these days. I'm sure he knows which is his 'best side' but I hope he'd never dare suggest as much to a director of photography. Ford is a man of the short quip, the demoralising put down, the cutting admission that he's been lucky in a bat shit crazy world. As he was recently quoted to have told actor Oscar Isaac about 'flying' in the new movie: 'It’s fake. And it’s in space, so none of that applies, really.'

The defining quality, I guess, is that ability to express our very modern frustrations. He shines when trying to explain his troubles to inept policemen or bureaucratic officials. My favourite Ford moments are those when he's struggling to explain the world. I love the way he manhandles John Mahoney around the office in 'Frantic', sticking his fingers into his ribs imitating a gun. It's an almost bullying  physical presence but a presence made bullying by the inability of the world to follow his logic.

So when Harrison Ford crashes an old World War 2 plane on a golf course, the world asks why he's flying such junk around in a residential area. My answer to that is: I don't care and I hope he doesn't care either. The scar on the golf course is like the scar on his chin and (no doubt) the scars now on his head. People do dumb things that are fun and there's no point in trying to apply health and safety to the human spirit. It's a just a fact of the real world that people like doing the sometimes crazy things that define us as people. Screw Justin Beiber and screw his tattoos that mean nothing beyond his vain ego. It's the real scars that mean everything.

So, when I check first thing every morning, it frustrates me to not really know how Harrison Ford is doing. Yet I accept the reasons why nobody really tells us about his progress. I find it frustrating but, at the same time, I find it reassuring that he's not become the victim to the witless TMZ generation. He's not been pursued into his local grocers when he's buying beer or lactose free yogurt. Knowing about the earring was too much for me. I don't want to see him in yoga bottoms. I want to think that Ford is the few ordinary guys in an extraordinary business. He has something that no special effect or clever piece of production design can replicate. What he brings to a film isn't polish. It's something that's harder to define but is more essential. The second Star Wars trilogy films were fun, enjoyable (I'm one of their few defenders) but they were always lacking something. It was the Ford quality. For want of a better phrase, it's knuckle spit. It's that great big 'screw you' attitude that an otherwise bland uniform world would hammer out of all of us.

Currently it feels like there's a Harrison Ford shape hole in the world. I just hope he's doing well and will soon be fit enough to fill it again.

Friday Notes

Posting my 'daily cartoon' the next day is the worst part of drawing them. Firstly, it's a mark that you're finished with one and that you have to start another. Secondly, you hope for feedback saying it's the best cartoon you've ever drawn when the reality is that it's barely looked at and, even when it is looked at, it's often passed over with a shrug of the shoulders. This feels particularly bad when you do happen to think that it is the best cartoon you've ever drawn...

Last night's was one of those rare cartoons when I thought I'd ticked my personal boxes. Perhaps I'm just pleased because my cross hatching worked out and that the cartoon tried to say something. I don't know if I can judge. The left side could do with more work and I'm not satisfied with colour. It looked good in black and white but colour, for me, distracts. Yet colour is expected so I needed to add some...

I've been providing some cartoons for Tim Marshall's new venture over at The What and the Why. Because the focus is on international affairs, I've been trying to spot cartoons with a world theme. It's not always easy but it's helpful to me because it forces me to draw things and people I wouldn't normally be drawn to satirise or even think about. Today's cartoon was different. A vain president jailing cartoonists would always draw my attention. Apparently Turkey's Erdogan doesn't like to be ridiculed (explanatory BBC news report in the link), which seems like an eminently good reason to ridicule him. My first attempt was probably a stretch too far. I started drawing jowls and, naturally, I thought I'd see how far I could take them. By 11pm last night, I realised I'd probably taken them too far so I tried again.




As I redrew the majority of the cartoon, I watched the challenger's debate from earlier in the evening, followed by hours of analysis. Some of it made sense. Much of it didn't. The parties were engaged in their typical spin operations and sometimes even the strongest will struggles to avoid following their bad logic down the rabbit hole of political bias.

I thought the biggest loser of the evening was (surprisingly) David Cameron. I hadn't expected the Prime Minister's absence to hurt him so bad. Yet listening to him claiming credit for the debate earlier in the day was simply nauseating. He spoke of unblocking the logjam when he'd been the cause of the logjam in the beginning. It made the resulting debate feel like justice in that it was an hour and a half of solid government bashing. No having somebody on the stage to defend their record might well be one of the biggest miscalculations of the election. It was bruising stuff.

Of the participants, my verdict was as follows.

Ed Miliband

Miliband didn't need to do much and just stay clear of trouble. He'd won the evening by simply turning up. What followed was, to use a cricket metaphor, a display of playing every ball with straight bat. He never looked like edging a ball to slip but, then, his opponents were hardly steaming in with their fastest deliveries. He ensured his victory at the end by challenging Cameron to a debate. It was a win-win move. If Cameron refuses, he looks week and undemocratic. If he accepts, Miliband gets to debate with Cameron who seems singularly uninterested into entering into any democratic process. From Cameron's point of view, he can't win either way but I think he stands more of a chance by debating.

Natalie Bennett

I can't explain why I have a soft spot for Bennett. Everything should go against her: that accent, those policies, a few woeful performances in various media spotlights. Yet each time she stands up to speak, I find myself surprised by how much I both like her and how much I agree with her. She was the only person to speak up for people who are too sick to be considered 'hardworking'. That, for me, spoke volumes. I know the Green manifesto is filled with risible nonsense. Andew Neil has done enough this election to prove that. However, Bennett has a knack of speaking about things which the other parties don't address. Not sure any of that makes sense but I'm not sure I can explain why Bennett keeps impressing me.

Leanne Wood

Wood attempted to relive her success of the opening leader's debate and she probably suffered for that. She seemed eager to lay into Farage, no doubt knowing it was the thing that she was praised for the last time they met. Beyond that, she spoke to her audience in Wales and about that I'm not really qualified to comment. She doesn't have that connection to English voters that Sturgeon has oddly seemed to have fashioned.

Nichola Sturgeon

People have constantly praised her performance throughout the campaign's debates but last night was the first time I sat up and thought she was something special. She repeatedly had the best answers on the night, though perhaps too few hard questions were directed her way. I can see why she appeals to so many. She has become the face of the election and has replaced Farage as the fashionable outsider that non-voters would like to vote for if they're in England and will vote for if they're north of the border.

Nigel 'Nige' Farage

Not so much a one-trick pony as  a pony who has learned a few good tricks which he performs every time he's trotted out onto the national stage. Last night was more of the same from Nige. His tactic is clear. He wants to lose the studio but win the living room. Turning on the audience was probably a masterstroke. He obviously needed the boos to make his point. He wanted to portray himself as the man who speaks for the common folk who never get their opinions aired on TV. He summed it up with his line about 'I say what many of you are probably thinking'. He effectively acknowledged that ninety percent of the people in the room would dislike him and never vote UKIP. He took that fact and turned it to his advantage, reaching out to his core voters to remind them why UKIP is different to the rest.


Turkish President Erdogan (Cartoon)

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Election Notes

Okay. Today's cartoon finished and posted. Now time to write some words...

Another of the many frustrating parts of the election coverage is the way the media seem to be giving the most attention to the generally slack jawed and indifferent. I suppose it's  'news' that some people have no interest in politics but I'm not sure it's really important news. It's certainly a fact not worth repeating in every single news item.

The always excellent Emily Maitlis spent a good portion of last night's Newsnight wasting her quality heels wandering around some London hotspot asking smirking idlers about the party manifestos. It reminded me of being back in school when the teacher would ask the snot-nosed gibbon at the back of the room if he knew the name of the title character of 'Macbeth'. They would give the same shrug, the same creeping smile, eyes looking to friends for affirmation that their stupidity was admirable. And last night the exercise was similarly pointless and taught us nothing except that David Cameron should stop turning his beady eye towards the north when he starts talking about the shiftless.

There is, of course, a difference between wilful ignorance and ignorance that comes naturally. I believe only one guy had read a manifesto, which doesn't surprise me or, at least, surprised that Maitlis found at least one. I haven't read a manifesto and I don't intend on reading a manifesto. Manifestos aren't meant to be read. They're meant to be brandished like a holy book, waved above the head as though you're holding Dumbledore's grimoire or, as Maitlis correctly explained, finally opened but only when you want to prove that your government has gone back on its pre-election promises.

At this election, the manifestos don't even amount to any of those things. The manifestos are written by parties who don't believe they'll get into government and therefore are promising us the earth because they know that the juicy parts can be knocked out as soon as they enter into coalition negotiations. I imagine the first words out of David Cameron's mouth the morning after the election should he win a majority would be the words 'Shit... What did we promise!?'

Which takes us back to the news.

Today The Guardian are in the nation's most apathetic constituency which, surprisingly not, is up here in the North in Manchester Central. I sometimes wonder whether these reporters are setting out to find the story they've already written. I'm constantly depressed that the media in London talk about 'ordinary' folk being turned off politics. I'm not sure how I'm not myself 'ordinary'. I know a lot of ordinary people who talk about the election. It's just that the media never turn a microphone in their direction.

There can be no real surprise why so much of the nation is turned off politics and it has nothing to do with a person being ordinary or not. It goes to the heart of why Scotland has turned so much in favour of the SNP, which I'm certain should try to get the word 'independence' into their title, if only so that we'd be able to call then SNIP. Supporters of SNIP (for that's what they effectively are and what they effectively want) are clearly a generation tired of rule from Westminster and feel particularly aggrieved when their vote does not dramatically alter the government. Last time, Scotland voted in favour of Labour but got a Tory government delivering austerity. Yet the same is true of much of northern England and Wales. One Nation Toryism really has disappeared and the last government produced a Two Nation Toryism. It's everyone south of Birmingham and then the rest of us.

What you get is a sense that large portions of the country simply don't matter in this election. Where I live, the seat was decided generations ago. I might as well not vote or vote for whoever I like because the result will be the same. I suppose it's liberating knowing that you can vote Green or go Monster Raving Lunatic without any consequences but it's also pretty depressing. It means that there's no real campaigning going on. Nobody visits us and we are left with that familiar feeling that the election is being run by people who really don't care about the people. Tonight, I notice, David Cameron won't be attending the leaders debate. It's what he wanted, of course, and he clearly didn't want to attend the two 'debates' (or pitiful excuses for debates) that have already been held. This is the first time I've thought an election was being run by politicians some of whom are even less enthusiastic than the bloody listless public. In a way, I find my opinions hardening around those attitudes rather than the policies. I want to vote for politicians who show the passion and engagement with the public. Not politicians who slyly creep around the country meeting their loyal activists and sticking security personal in the face of some brave soul who dared put a little spice into the general election sing a slightly risqué song on his ukulele.

The Ubiquitous Nick Clegg Cartoon

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

An Aside About the Indie's Attack on UKIP

A brief aside before I go back to drawing tomorrow's cartoon...

The worst thing about this election is not the leaders who refuse to mix with real people. Nor is it the Tories announcing cynical spending plans after years of 'austerity' (thereby proving, I think, that 'austerity' was merely a word which helpfully disguised the natural instincts of Thatcherite conservatives to reduce the significance of the state).  No, the worst part of this election is the crass attempts by the media to swing public opinion.

The Telegraph have perhaps been the worst for this, which barely a day passing without some headline screaming out about the virtues of the Tories and the horrors of Labour. Yet the left leading papers are also as guilty and the following is perhaps the worst example I've seen so far.

I would not, myself, vote UKIP, but I think if you're going to disagree with them, then you have to disagree with them on substance. You don't start running the kind of entirely risible story The Independent currently have at the top of their website.

I've done a fair bit of Photoshopping in my life and I can tell when a picture have been doctored in order to make it fit a composition. I've done this kind of job myself many times, making a bookcase stretch further. It's done to make the picture fit the page and not, as the Indie claim, to make Nuttall look 'more educated'.

They even claim that the book he's reading is an 'illustrated picturebook', which I guess is meant to suggest that he's reading a children's book. Thirty seconds of research shows it's actually 'a brief well illustrated history of British Rebels and Reformers from the medieval period and the Peasants Rebellion of 1381 to the Industrial Revolution and the 19th century and Anti-Slavery, the Luddites, Chartists, and other reforms to the turn of the century with the Fabian Society and others.' It just happens to have illustrations.

Now, I know that in the grand scheme of things this is a nothing story. I know it's a small thing. I guess that I'm the only person this annoys. Yet I don't see how anybody can complain about Putin manipulating people's fears through the media in Russia, whilst we in the UK are currently experiencing exactly the same on a daily basis. Aren't we supposed to be better than this? And if we can't believe something as trivial as this, how on earth can we trust them about the more serious matters?

The Russian Boats in English Channel

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

What Classless Society?

I've had a few emails in the past few days from people asking about my accent. At least two thought that I'm from Yorkshire.

I didn't think much about it until I read this morning an excellent interview with the actor Christopher Ecclestone who hails from Salford just down the East Lancs from here. He talks about class in the UK and I liked particular the way Ecclestone talked about himself. 'I was a skinny, awkward-looking bugger with an accent, as I still am,' he said, in words I've probably used a few times to describe myself. 'Bugger' is a word I find myself using quite a lot. It's distinctly part of the vocabulary of the North West of England.

Yet it's what Ecclestone went on to say that is more significant. 'British society has always been based on inequality, particularly culturally,' he explained. 'I’ve lived with it, but it’s much more pronounced now, and it would be difficult for someone like me to come through.'

I lingered on this paragraph because just the other day I was discussing with a friend if we really live in a so called 'classless' society. I have never been an advocate of 'Class War' and my politics have never been so far to the left that I'd ever consider myself 'left wing'. Yet I maintain that the past five years has seen class divisions grow even deeper. I'm even more aware of my own alienation from British culture where a privileged elite enjoy the arts and the rest of us scrape around looking for greater meaning amid the closed libraries and non-existent gallery space. I write a lot of essays, books and poems, draw my bad cartoons whilst pretending I'm not attempting to be 'arty', and I study culture through multiple sources. I have so many qualifications I've made myself largely unemployable. You could argue that I'm deeply cultured except I don't exist in that world where such things are cherished. I live in a deeply working class town where I'm very much the oddball, the outcast, and clearly unwanted. It's the rich BT engineers who rule the town. They have the money. They dictate our culture or lack thereof.

Yet I digress slightly. I've read a few times in the past twelve months of some London-based social critics proclaiming that we're now living in an age without class. I suppose to David Cameron, the UK does look classless. I imagine it looks amazingly homogenous if you surround yourself with friends from Eton.  Yet that's not my perception of the UK. Nor, it would seem, is it the perception of one of our best actors.

It goes back to the problem of people not recognising my dialect. It would never have occurred to me that anybody would confuse the Lancashire and Yorkshire accents, any more than somebody would mistake a Newcastle accent for the accent of Cornwall or Birmingham. Yet perhaps the confusion is actually not that surprising given than the accents on the TV tend to be of a very narrow range. There are little bits of the Welsh accent, quite a lot of Scottish, occasional Geordie or Brummie, and once or twice you might hear a Scouse twang. Yet really the rest is just that same flat English of the estuaries or what Ecclestone calls the 'milky, anodyne culture'.

At a tangent slightly: on The Daily Politics a couple of mornings ago, Andrew Neil made passing reference to the Labour Party's manifesto launch taking place in Manchester. Neil suggested that Labour were only doing so to avoid scrutiny from the press. This led to a big family debate and I found myself on an unusual side of the argument.

Normally, I defend Neil to the hilt. There's no journalist I admire more. Yet on this small matter I thought he was wrong. My argument ran: 'Why shouldn't Labour launch their manifesto from Manchester? Labour are strong in the north and we're as much a part of the electorate as anybody in London'.

I was being naive, of course, and Neil was right. All the main political journalists are based in London and though they could travel easily to Manchester, there were possibly fewer of them up north to ask questions of the Labour leader. Yet if Andrew Neil was right in fact, he was wrong in spirit. And that's what I'm trying to argue here today.

I never think of myself as having much of an accent. I don't really think much about accent. I watch a lot of TV news. I enjoy debates and newspaper reviews. I enjoy the Neil triumvirate: the Daily Politics, the Sunday Politics, and This Week. I watch Question Time and the new show hosted by Tom Bradbury on ITV whose title escapes me. I watch the Daily Show and Bill Maher's weekly panel talk show. I don't consciously think accent. Yet when people think I'm from Yorkshire, it makes me realise how little my Lancashire accent is really heard on TV. When it is, it's usually the twisted perversion of an accent coming from the mouth of Johnny Vegas. (Incidentally: I really like Vegas but I hate how he represents our area. It feels like he plays the stereotype that confirms people's worst prejudices about a boorish uneducated North West.)

This might be a trivial point but I'm not entirely sure that it is. Individuals don't form opinions. Opinions are formed as if in a collective consciousness, as good points are repeated and carried forward by people engaged into the community debate. So, for example, I might watch the news and see Kevin McGuire on Sky News say something I agree with. I hear somebody repeat that on the Daily Politics and the idea hardens into a personal opinion that I might repeat. It enters into the public debate at multiple points and the arguments circulate around it, help develop and refine it, and then the whole mass of ideas moves on as new opinions are generated.

Yet what I notice is how many of the people engaged in that debate live in a closed intellectual biome. Even those like McGuire who speak with an accent do so from a somewhat privileged position. For example, you rarely hear from somebody from Eccles talking about their experiences living in Eccles. Newspaper reviews have the same London suburbanites speaking from a very limited worldview.  The news agenda is incestuous; set by people whose outlook is formed by living a few miles around Westminster, or, more broadly, within driving distance to the main TV studios. It means that their perceptions of culture are different to the rest of the country. They view public transport differently to how people might view it if they live in a poor town in Yorkshire or in the Scottish borders. They are the people who think, for example, that to enjoy culture, those of us in the North can simply hop on a train and visit London. Logically, they might make sense but they lack the practical experience of trying to do that which would demonstrate why it's impossible. They wouldn't know, to further my example, that trains into London in the morning are prohibitively expensive, whilst trains to the North in the morning are astonishingly cheap. Trains out of London are prohibitively expensive late in the day, whilst trains into London late in the day are cheap. It makes it easy to travel out of London in the morning and home at night. It's nearly impossible to do it the other way around. People in London can explore the rest of the country cheaply but those of us in the north are economically restricted from accessing our capital city. You have to travel on a late afternoon train, travel home in the morning, paying for a hotel overnight. It's hardly a 'day out'.

This is just one example of many I could use. My point is: as I've noted before, it's remarkable and deeply depressing how politics and political debate is largely confined to people with London identities. I was no fan of either men but, unlike the 1980s, there are no figures like Derek Hatton or Arthur Scargill to provide a different view of reality. Why do none of our big cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, and Newcastle have people who are recognisably part of the city like Boris Johnson represents London? Where are the social critics giving the point of view of the North West or Manchester or Warrington? There simply are none.

Classless society? I suppose it is if you completely ignore nine tenths of that society and act like the poor buggers don't exist.

A Jean Marie La Pen Cartoon

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Bad Cartoons and New Blog

My rule is that I draw whatever my best cartoon idea is by 11pm.

I rarely have time to draw during the day. If I did, I think my cartoons would be infinitely better. It means that I have to confine my drawing to late night. I sit down about 11pm and watch the day's political programs, which usually means anything I can find hosted by the simply remarkable Andrew Neil. Election time is great for a political junkie such as myself. It means I can put aside about three hours of listening/watching the debate whilst drawing the next day's cartoon. It's always a worry that I won't last the cartoon. I need to have it nearly finished before I begin to feel sleepy because I never want to be left finishing a cartoon the following day.

Last night, I didn't have any great ideas for a cartoon. Some days are like that. I'd struggled all day to find a story that really clicked in my mind. I struggled to make a connection between two stories. I knew I wanted to draw the Clintons but it was only at midnight that I'd settled onto an idea I had about the Apple Watch, which, I think, was launched yesterday. I thought of Hillary using the watch to cover Bill's open mouth, given that Bill's open mouth will not be one of her best assets in the forthcoming election. It probably doesn't work but that's the nature of the game. You learn by your mistakes more than you learn by your successes.

I think my failure to come up with a better gag was down to my having eaten a cream cake earlier in the day. I rarely eat cream cakes and I think the 'Cream Crisp' had disagreed with me. I had lost all energy, which is always my key indicator for when I've eaten something bad. Then, when I slept, I had the craziest dream. It was the kind of dream that you don't shake off by simply waking up, walking around the room, or banging your head against the wall. When I went back to bed, I had exactly the same dream. It carried on all night. Nigel Farage was inside the Minecraft universe. 4.30 this morning it was really freaking me out.

Today I want to crack on and put the Clinton cartoon behind me. I want to follow Stu's advice and split this blog apart. I've been wanting to do something like this for a while but never before had I such a clear sense of what I want to achieve. Part of it, I guess, is sheer egoism. I realised the other day that I should put my name more prominently in the title. I should try to be more professional about what I do and try to keep my doubts and grumbles away from the things I produce. I should try to promote my work and try not to promote my gripes with everyday things. I suppose I'd previously thought of myself as merely being an 'honest blogger' and that anybody who might enjoy my more 'polished' work, might also appreciate when I'm just being myself. But I guess life isn't like that. You have to present yourself as something better than you really are.

So, hopefully, by Monday, my new blog will be up. Anything I produce which I think is quality, will go over there on my new 'Cultivated Weirdness' blog. The Spine will continue to host the more 'prickly' side of my character and anything specialised like my occasional obsessions with programming. I'll see how things go for a month or so. Perhaps there won't be much difference. I'm hoping that being more myself will help me to invest more time into writing funny things. Perhaps I'll do more podcasts. I guess I'll see how I feel once I realise that I'm getting two hits a day...

Hillary Clinton's Apple Watch Cartoon