Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sheep Joke

Another blog-free period has come to pass. Largely due to me being struck down by a bout of humility that has left me doubting the point of typing words in a public place.

That’ll pass.

Quite quickly I imagine.

In the meantime I’ll recycle this old joke …

Knock! Knock!

Who’s there?

Interrupting Sheep

Interrupting She… ?


Friday, May 27, 2005

Midnight Taxi

midnight taxi
Originally uploaded by peppermintrock.

Isn't Flickr just like the best thing ever ...

Signs of Crime

Every time there's a spate of burglaries and muggings on my street a new crop of crime prevention posters mysteriously appears one morning, like mushrooms. This is the latest.

‘You are entering a SmartWater Detection Area. Police in Lambeth are encouraging people to mark their belongings with this product’

I'm not sure what SmartWater is. I suppose it's a commercial product. Presumably the Metropolitan Police are on a commission. Now that would be an interesting revenue model - Don't do job properly = More commission from endorsing products bought by people worried about crime.

Nice ...

In recent years London has become a city filled with garish nonsense signs. Signs designed to ward off compensation claims. Signs telling you you can’t sit down, drive, park, take pictures, walk, talk or breathe. Signs for all occasions. None of them very nice or in any way helpful to Joe Public.

My personal favourite sign genre is the classic bright yellow ‘Murder Board’, set out by the police asking for witnesses or any information about nastier crimes. Thoughtfully set up at the crime sites, they act as a handy marker and reminder of just how dangerous particular neighbourhoods are.

There are always a couple of good ones within convenient walking distance from my front door. I started collecting them for a while until it got too depressing.

Now, apparently, the police are thinking about doing away with their Murder Boards. Not because crime is under control or anything silly like that but because of concern that they generate public anxiety while adding little or no benefit to police investigations …

“We are considering whether there are better ways of seeking information, which are more reassuring for the public. The boards go up where it is thought they are needed but they sometimes don't come down quickly enough... If we do still use them, should we not have follow up boards saying 'we solved this'?"

This observation probably comes from the same people who have decided that local residents can’t ask police for information about crimes committed in their area. On a couple of occasions I’ve asked the local police to tell me how many burglaries and assaults have taken place along my street over the previous twelve months. I was basically told to bugger off on the basis that such information would be misleading and counter-productive. Misleading and counterproductive for who?

Mugging rates in South London are up 40% on last year. Forty nine people were shot in London last month, three of them died. That’s up from twelve shootings in April 2004. The head of the Metropolitan Police was on the radio yesterday saying that much of the increase in street robbery was due to people wearing white headphones, identifying themselves as people carrying items worth stealing. Beyond any reasonable level of doubt, the head of the Metropolitan Police is a dick.

Yes, the Metropolitan Police Force and its new 3 Point strategy for fighting crime ...

1. Own nothing worth stealing
2. Don't walk the streets at night
3. Convince yourself there isn't a problem

I’d say we have a problem. And some arse thinks that if they take the signs away we’re not going to notice. Or maybe they just don’t have enough signs to keep up.

PS On a brighter note. The very fragrant Londonist site covers this story and links to an interesting Flickr group. A few weeks ago I mentioned in a blog posting that organised tourist walks of Jack the Ripper murder sites were a bit of a rip(per)-off as none of the original buildings remain. Someone else was clearly thinking along the same lines and posted this informative sequence of photos here. Tacky yes, but nicely composed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I’ve just read a fantastic story from the BBC reporting that recent research conclusively demonstrates a link between failure to understand sarcasm and learning difficulties. This explains so much and is music to my ears, plus there’s the added bonus of one of the finest illustrative graphics to have graced my VDU for a long time - ‘How the Brain Comprehends Sarcasm’. A modern classic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Dull of Soul and Tired of Life?

Samuel Johnson once said

"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

William Wordsworth once wrote after crossing the Thames 'Upon Westminster Bridge' …

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty;
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theaters, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

These two guys were big London fans. Johnson, in particular couldn’t understand why any civilised man would choose to live anywhere else. Wordsworth too enthused about the City’s virtues. Yes, William Wordsworth, author or my all-time favourite line of bad poetry …

This thorn you on your left espy;
And to the left, three yards beyond,
You see a little muddy pond
Of water, never dry;
I've measured it from side to side:
'Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.

Being rich probably had a lot to do with their positive attitude to London. The process of well-off people romanticising my home town, in complete disregard to how the majority live their lives, has a long and noble pedigree.

I was daydreaming about the Wordsworth poem on the bus a while back. I couldn’t help wondering if he would have been so inspired if he were in my shoes in 2005, rather than a chauffeur driven carriage in 1802

Upon the 436 to Lewisham, via the shanty towns of Camberwell, New Cross and Peckham by William Wordsworth …

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty

… no, probably not.

A few days after later I got to thinking about Samuel Johnson whilst Tracy was telling me a story about something that happened to her on the way to work.

I was thinking about this particular Johnson quote ...

A country gentleman should bring his lady to visit London as soon as he can, that they may have agreeable topicks for conversation when they are by themselves.

Tracy's agreeable topick of conversation was that she walking to work when she passed a tramp sitting at a bench near a bus stop. He was bleeding profusely from the face.

Tracy: Are you alright?

Tramp: Someone has just kicked me in the head

Tracy: Shouldn’t you go to hospital?

Tramp: The police are chasing after the man who kicked me. They’ve just left me here

Tracy: Can I help at all?

Tramp: Do you have any spare change?

Tracy: #*$%£!!!

Serves her right for being so soft. She's lived here long enough to know better.

Mmmm ...

Yes Sam, London indeed offers all the experiences and conversational topics you are looking for from Life, plus that little bit more on top.

And if anyone is curious to know what the major part of London really looks like and feels like, they could do a lot worse than starting at this collection of photos here.

Monday, May 23, 2005


Another reason why I was up at 5.30am writing my last entry, and the reason why I haven’t written again for a few days since, is that we were waiting to hear some news about a close friend of Tracy’s who was sick in hospital.

We heard the news a few hours later. She had died.

She was 36.

All sorts of thoughts race through your head when someone close to you dies, particularly when that person is young.

Tracy took the news badly at first but that subsided after a couple of days. To be honest, I’m not quite sure she’s accepted what has happened. Tracy was chatting with her friend at her bedside on Sunday. A couple of days later she was gone. But Tracy hasn’t yet had to confront the reality of that passing.

If the process of assimilating bad news really can be broken down into a five stage, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance process, Tracy’s still stuck on first base. For many reasons, I’m not looking forward to the cremation service later this week.

Grief is a deceptive emotion. On the face of it you are feeling and expressing sorrow on behalf of the person who has died. But, on reflection, that just doesn’t stack up. That person is gone. Either way, whether you believe or disbelieve in survival of consciousness after Death, it simply doesn’t make sense feeling bad on their behalf. They really do not care any more.

Grief, and I don’t mean this in a judgmental way, is a selfish process. It’s about that which is lost to the living, not to the dead. Most of the time, if young enough or strong enough, we eventually learn to live with our new reality without the person we have lost and invest in that new reality. Some people, usually the old, never adjust and live the rest of their lives faced with a permanent vacuum. Having said that, there are some holes that can never be filled, however young and adaptable you might be. How do you fill the gap left by a parent or the love of your life? How do you deal with the second half of your life, when there are more people leaving than joining you?

Growing old can really be a pisser but, as I like to say, it’s usually better than the alternative.

Death, particularly untimely death, stirs up other emotions as well as a sense of loss. If you’re older than the person who died there’s a sense of guilt as well. Why is it you have enjoyed five, ten or however many more years of life? Are you using that time well? Was there something you could have done to help that person in some way? Were you a good enough friend, partner or son when they were still alive?

And then, of course, there’s you own sense of mortality. Over a meal with a couple of friends last week we drifted onto the subject of passing forty, as I have just done. We all agreed that little within ourselves had changed as a result of reaching that milestone save one very significant thing. We no longer felt immortal. When you turn 40 you hope that this is just the halfway point in life and that you have many productive and enjoyable years ahead of you. However, unless you’re pretty stupid or highly accomplished at self-deception, you also realise that after 40 you’re fair game for the Reaper. A terminal lump or a telltale twinge could appear for the first time on any given morning and no one, least of all yourself, would have the right to be the least bit surprised. If you die younger than 40 it’s a tragedy, after 40 it’s a shame.

There are also a couple of other, less usual, emotions I’m feeling after hearing the bad news last week.

Anger and shame.

You see, it doesn’t look like our friend died from what she went into hospital with in the first place.

She died from an infection. Whether it was contracted in the hospital or not is unclear. Maybe we’ll never know. Hospital staff have learned to be quite coy in discussing such matters.

My own father spent the better part of seven months in hospital last year. He underwent major surgery to remove his cancerous bladder and, to our surprise and gratitude, pulled through surprisingly well. Then the infections started. He was in and out of hospital, mostly in, for six months. He came close to death at least a half dozen times. And throughout that time I kept thinking ‘Why can’t they keep him free from infection long enough to get better and get out of this place. What the f*ck is going on here.’ It was like torture, and it went on and on. My father is a tough and stubborn man who had the full-time support of a very dutiful, extended family. Other, less fortunate, people would have just died.

Our hospitals are death traps.

Even according to triple-spun government figures, something like 5,000 – 20,000 people die in the UK from hospital contracted infections ever year. Something like 100,000 people contract infections without dying. I’m not sure anyone knows what the true figures are. I have no doubt that there is a problem. My own experiences and those of nurses I know and have met over this last couple of years leave me in no doubt of that.

So, when a friend of ours dies in a UK hospital from an infection, I can’t fight back the nagging thought that, if she was in a hospital back home in New Zealand, she might have made it this time. I shouldn’t even be saying such things and I would never dream of airing such thoughts to her family but the suspicion is there in the back of my mind.

That’s reason to feel angry and shameful isn’t it?

The fourth richest country in the World and we can’t keep our hospitals clean. We spend countless billions on machines, drugs and surgery yet people are dying from lack of basic hygiene.

It’s fucking medieval.

I’m certainly not blaming the nurses. Almost without exception they are fantastically dedicated people. Nor do they consume much of the colossal amount of money spent on our health service. Most are paid less than, say, London Underground ticket collectors who are considerably less well-trained and much less pre-occupied with the welfare of their fellow creatures.

But someone is to blame. Someone is wasting all that money. Someone is pursuing a twisted set of priorities.

Underlying all that anger and shame is the thought of my government and its behaviour. I think of all the billions of pounds and other resources expended on the domestic ‘War on Terror’. And I wonder how even more deranged and expensive all that nonsense would be if terrorists were killing 5,000-20,000 people in Britain every year, rather than the current rate of none per year. And then I wonder if Tony Blair or any of those people who rule us would ever die, or expect to die, as a result of piss poor hospital hygiene…

Somehow I doubt it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I don't care if he's slime - I want George Galloway's babies

So here I am sitting at my PC…

It’s 5.30am

I went out for a curry last night with a couple of guys I used to work with. They fed me beer and spicy food whilst I outlined how I would strike down those who had wronged me in the past, all at the same time, Godfather style.

It was a damn fine evening.

But here I am at this ungodly hour quite unable to sleep. It’s not that the curry damaged me per se, I’m far too hard for that, but I can still feel its fire in my stomach and in my limbs. It is as if my very arms are coursing with lava. I can’t sleep. Maybe I’m a superhero. Curry Man! A house special jhalfrezi and lager powered force for good in an increasingly troubled world. That would be fun. Mind you, I'm a bit old to be finding out stuff like that these days.

We partook of our meal at our usual haunt; the Ravi Kebab on Drummond Street near Euston Station, the thinking man’s Brick Lane. With all of the rich curry flavour you’ve come to expect but with none of the pissed-up City workers and too cool for school trendies that so blight Brick Lane

Drummond Street is also less exclusively Muslim than Brick Lane and features a smattering of Hindu style vegetarian restaurants, side by side with places offering meatier, more Islamic, fare. It all seems to tick along well enough with few, if any, border disputes and little or no talk of nuclear exchanges between opposing restaurants. Sadly, Drummond Street offers little opportunity to use that Sunni and Shia joke I’ve been working on lately…

And naturally, given our location, the subject of the Official Opposition to the Labour Government came up in conversation.

Yes, George Galloway MP

At the last count he was outnumbered by something like 645 to 1

There’s a film in his story somewhere and Schwarzenegger surely is the man to play George. If only he wasn’t a State Governor … or a Republican...

‘Arnold Schwarzenegger IS George Galloway. They deposed his friends in an illegal war. They tried to frame him for a crime he did not commit. Now he’s heading to Washington and he’s looking for payback’

‘I’m coming fer yer Tonee Blairrr but furst I’m gunna chin those wankers in America and then I gunna take yer down yer blood stained wee bustard.’

George is clearly trying to achieve what no British act has managed since the Beatles and Sheena Easton. He’s trying to crack the lucrative, but difficult, American market. Many have tried, from Oasis to Robbie Williams, and only time will tell if George has the necessary star potential. He’s started off well though.

When George was elected pretty much every politician and media pundit wrote him off as a self-serving creep who would fail to represent his constituents. Barely a couple of weeks after being elected he’s sitting in Washington calling the American administration a bunch of lying, corrupt, murderous scum on national television.

Part Exodus, part A Team, you could almost hear George saying to himself ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ as he lit his enormous celebratory Havana cigar afterwards.

And rightly so. The US Investigation into the ‘Oil for Food Scandal’ is a shameless attempt to demonstrate that everyone who stood against the Iraq War; the UN, the French, the Russians, Galloway, did so to line their pockets. The conclusion of the investigation will be ‘The US was forced to go to war because these people broke the sanctions. Therefore the War and the death that went with it is their direct fault’. That’s the plan and kudos to George for peeing in their pool.

It is a very big pool though.

You really do have to laugh at the quality of the forgery that supposedly implicates George in the Oil for Food scandal…

What the f*ck is that? My two year old niece could do better with a pair of plastic scissors and some paper glue. They’ve got to be kidding…

Not only are our intelligence services too stupid to actually plant some WMDs in Iraq, they're employing irredeemable retards in their forgery sections. Forget about morality for one moment, there's a very serious value for money issue here.

I genuinely don’t care if Galloway is a self-serving slimeball. He’s the only person saying what needs to be said, out loud and in the plain. As well as being the right thing to say it’s also damned fine sport to watch. I want more. Lots more.

I would hazard to guess that the majority of his constituents are well-impressed with George’s progress to date.

Let’s not f*ck about here, both the American and British governments ARE pursuing an anti-Muslim agenda. All this talk about our governments only targeting a few bad apples is bullshit. It’s a Crusade and Dubwa has used that term on more than one occasion.

It’s a partly a Crusade for oil but also an attack on religion. An attack on religion that should worry us all greatly, believers and non-believers. But I’ll leave that for another post.

In the meantime I’ve got an mp3 of selected George highlights on my player and I might even get round to jazzing it up a bit with some remixing and a backing track at some point…

‘Proven fact, mother of all smokescreens, contrary to your claims, contrary to your claims, on a pack of lies, lies, lies, lies’

Yeah baby

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Road to Nowhere pt2


After writing yesterday’s post I spent a little time reading up on the latest developments in viral marketing.

Viral marketing is all about 'exploiting pre-existing social networks to produce exponential increases in brand awareness, through viral processes similar to the spread of an epidemic'.

The Holy Grail of viral marketing is to achieve, that other buzz term, a ‘tipping point’ when awareness of their product breaks into the mainstream, takes on a life of its own and becomes completely self-transmitting and self-replicating.

Obviously, viral marketers don’t actually introduce real viruses into society, though they’d like to, and are probably working on some right now. No, until recently they’ve restricted themselves to coming up with 'amusing' screensavers, on-line games and other e-content that they hope people will pass onto like-minded friends within the same target demographic.

Most of that stuff is rubbish though isn’t it? Personally, whenever I get an automated email referred to me by a friend entitled 'Have you seen this?' or 'Great New Game' I trash the fucker. Life is far too short to sit there downloading tedious Shockwave flash movies and lacing my PC with cookies. Usually.

Anyway, most of this supposedly hot new marketing thinking is just the same old stuff dressed up in different trousers. Publicity stunts, product crazes and catch phrases have been with us since the year dot. Ah, the days of space hoppers, slinkies and those sweets that exploded in your mouth drawing blood in the process. What was that stuff called again? Oh yes, Space Dust.

Having said that, there are some marketing developments that do seem genuinely new. I’m particularly taken with the concept of neuromarketing which, amongst other things, involves connecting people to brain scanners and seeing which bits light up when they drink cans of Coca Cola and Pepsi. You can see where the guys doing this work are headed from a few choice quotes that tickled me…

"...researchers suspect that the inescapable influence of marketing does more than change minds. It may alter the brain."

"They seek to understand the cellular sweetness of rewards and the biology of brand consciousness. In the process, they are gleaning hints as to how our synapses might be manipulated to boost sales, generate fads or even win votes for political candidates."

"They have glimpsed how the brain assembles belief."

"They have begun to obtain the first direct glimpses of how marketing can affect the structures of the brain."

"We think there are branded brains"

Sounds like fun research and I reckon they’d make a lot more progress if they could get to work on political prisoners and other undesirable elements imprisoned in the 3rd World somewhere.

The problem for advertising people is that most of us, particularly the better educated and more media literate, react negatively to someone trying to force-sell us shit.

One of the real joys of Eastern Europe in the early 1990s and parts of the undeveloped World through to this day was marvelling at the crude advertising standards companies could get away with…

‘Increase the size of your manhood! Eat Snickers! King Size

‘Unhappy? Drink our beer!’

‘Buy our brand of cigarettes and attractive young women will want to have sex with you’

I remember sitting in a hotel room in Manila a few years ago awe-struck by the commercials on a local TV station. Two stick in the mind. The first was for a pill that would make your children grow to be as tall as Western children within a few months, featuring tape measure-wielding Europeans in lab coats, carrying out a controlled experiment on a group of Filipino school children. The second was for a brand of vaginal deodorant that portrayed a succession of virile looking young men crinkling their noses as they passed a distressed matronly 40-something woman sitting at a typewriter. In the second half of the ad, after applying said vaginal deodorant, she looked much happier surrounded by a group of half a dozen studs fighting to chat with her. My Filipino is poor but I got the impression at least one of them was saying 'Wow! You're so much more attractive now that your muff doesn't stink'.

Now, in the West, we’re far too clever to be fooled by cack like this aren’t we? Well, maybe not that clever. But we have seen it all before. The challenge to the marketers is to package their message in a format we don’t suspect and deliver it from a completely unexpected direction.

In short, they have to become even better liars.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Road to Nowhere pt1


One of the things I’ve noticed now that I’ve passed Life’s halfway mark, hopefully just past, is that a lot more is coming out of my head than going into it.

That’s only natural I guess. The senses are beginning to dull, the number of available brain cells gradually diminishing and what storage capacity remains is already full. Being older also gives you more perspective. You are able to classify ‘new’ experiences based on similar experiences from your past. You start to perceive patterns and rhythm. There are a finite number of stories under the Sun and you’ve learned a fair few of them in the course of your travels.

So, instead of asking ‘Why? Why? Why?’ like a child, you find yourself stalking people at social occasions, or the Internet, and crying out ‘Bastards! Bastards! Bastards!’. Only you can’t shout as loud as you used to.

It’s the natural order things.

Being older means you’ve also had time to see the future realised

… and see what a let down so much of it is.

No personal jet packs. No Elixirs of Youth. No paperless offices. No leisure society. No Peace Dividends ...

and is it just me or is everyone working longer hours, doing increasingly tedious, soul-destroying, and insecure jobs that we'll all have to continue to do till the day we die? Only we can't because we'll be made redundant long before then and have to spend the last twenty five years of our lives eating dog food.

I don't remember those developments being predicted in Tomorrow's World.

I’m also old enough to remember when we British used to laugh at other countries and congratulate ourselves for having the good sense to be born somewhere as wonderful as Britain. How we laughed at the state of French public lavatories, chuckled at images of Japanese commuters packed into trains like sardines, sniggered at the same Japanese people working out their frustrations by watching sadistic game shows, and pitied America, a nation of obese, brain-dead consumers, glued to their couches, slurping down processed shit and watching endless TV commercials.

We’re not joking about that stuff anymore are we?

It’s all gone a bit pants really. And, I swear, people on the street seem unhappier than at any point that I recall in my lifetime.

Hands up anyone who doesn’t think consumerism has something to do with it.

… and all the advertising that goes with it; ad after ad after ad.

Take television advertising. In recent years programs have been getting shorter and ads have been getting longer, and louder. It’s getting to the point on some channels that we have genuinely half-forgotten what we were watching by the end of the commercial break. Attention spans being what they are these days, the TV Channels really ought to start each program segment with a quick recap of the story so far. A few times recently I’ve taken to standing in front of the box during commercial breaks and performing little erotic dances or a few rudimentary coin tricks to keep Tracy amused but I’ve given up on that because she won’t take her turn.

I thought it was a cracking idea though. Shame.

So we end up watching the ads. Fortunately for me, I see my own basic insecurities as being a key part of my character and am therefore immune to 99% of all TV advertising. I’m a tubby, balding short arse and came to terms long ago with the basic truth that no product would ever change that reality, and nor would I want it to. Tracy is less resistant so I occasionally have to throw a blanket over her head or feign a violent coughing fit. The Sirens’ call is strong and there is no beeswax or stout rope in the house. There was a time when I would switch channels during ads but the TV companies got wise to that and they synchronise their commercials now.

There’s one ad on at the moment that annoys me above all and, no, it’s not the one for the singing chick and frog ring tones (alternative version here – it’s extremely obscene and plays through your speakers, so don’t say I didn’t warn you). No, there’s something even nastier and more insidious than that.

It’s the one for a new women’s magazine, Easy Woman or Woman’s Lebensraum or something like that. I’ve deliberately forgotten what it’s called. The ad features a group of women giving their order to a waiter in an upmarket restaurant …

‘I’d like the perfect pair of black trousers’

‘I’d like celebrity gossip’

‘I want lipstick that never smears’

‘I want a small handbag that can carry all the shit I’ve bought’

and toss like that

Not one of them has to good sense to ask for the perfect anti-depressant prescription for those tricky moments when buying lots of mass-produced junk leaves them feeling all empty, desolate and lonely; particularly when the credit card bills come through.

It’s not that this ad is any worse than all the other ads and TV shows out there. It’s just that, to me, it is so typical of all the other ads and TV shows out there that I hate it so very, very much.

Themes and ideas that won’t be explored in a television advert or program near you today, or any other day, currently include …

  • How to feel worthwhile as person without spending any money

  • Plastic surgery fools nobody and usually leaves you looking like a dickhead. Don't bother

  • Have you stopped still and really looked at a flower lately?

  • If you are nice to people they are nice back. Why not try and avoid being an arse on the train or in the car today and see how that works out for a change

So, what’s the deal? Am I advocating that everyone should be forced to watch It's a Wonderful Life (alternate non obscene, bunny version here), The Shawshank Redemption and Forest Gump whilst strapped in a chair under the influence of suggestive drugs; Clockwork Orange style?

Well, actually, yes.

And, as special reward for getting to the end of this post, here's a link to pictures of people who use their pets for transport.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Why people look at pictures pt1

Well, yesterday’s critical post about cats went down a storm.

… almost too easy.

Blog postings from the same series currently in the pipeline include:

  • Urban cyclists? Worse than cats?
  • iPod ownership and the demise of individuality (Part 37)
  • Are you daft enough to believe in Fair Trade coffee?
  • Glaciers? Who needs them?
  • Why everyone should vote Conservative / Republican

And then there’s the one about people who frequent photography forums, pontificate about the superiority of their £3,000 lens collection and then fill the forums up with pictures of their pets taken in their back gardens.

That’s more of a speciality post, admittedly.

But then I get to pondering upon the broader subject of what kind of photos do I, and others, actually enjoy looking at.

The short answer to that question is easy. People generally only enjoy looking at pictures they’ve taken themselves or pictures of themselves...

I may have mentioned this story before but a friend visited me once, shortly after returning from a driving trip along the West Coast of America (you know who you are). He popped a cassette of his travels in my VCR. The high point of the tape consisted of a long clip of film of the view through the windshield as he drove, slowly, from one end of the Golden Gate Bridge to the other. My friend was clearly thrilled to relive this classic footage in my company whilst, at the same time, I was soundlessly mouthing the words ’Why are you doing this to me? Why?’

The full, non generalised, answer to the question as to why people look at other people's imagery is a tad more involved and best broken down into chunks:

Why do amateur photographers take pictures?

  • As a record
  • As a means of artistic expression
  • Because they’re perverts

Why do amateur photographers display pictures?

  • Because they think they’re great, want to be discovered and pack in their day job
  • Because after spending thousands on equipment and processing they can’t think of anything else to do with them
  • As a form of artistic expression
  • Because they’re perverts

In this respect, sites like Flickr are a fantastic alternative to the pre Internet destination of 99.5% of all photographs – an old shoebox in a cupboard somewhere. On the subject of Flickr, there is clearly some motivational overlap between photo sharing and personal blogs. Though, I’d say there’s a wider range of impulses behind personal blogs; cries for help, the search for kindred spirits, voices in heads, late night insomnia attacks, and all the rest. Even if the intention is there, only a very skilled photographer would be able to communicate a personal blog style message purely through imagery. Having said that, community style photosharing sites like Flickr and their interactive commenting systems might change that. Mmmm, I wonder what a Cry for Help Photosharing site would look like? Maybe I should give one a try.

Why do people look at amateur pictures?

  • Out of a sense of politeness because you asked them to
  • To see images of themselves
  • Out of a sense of curiosity or wonder
  • Because they’re perverts

Because I’m a photo nut I DO look at other people’s pictures, out of a sense of curiosity and wonder. When I am looking at those pictures I am constantly, and subconsciously, asking myself 'why did that person take this picture and why are they showing it to me?'

Motive counts for a lot and comes through in a photograph. A technically poor photograph that reflects the sense of humour or humanity of the photographer or the subject will always be intrinsically more interesting than technically better images captured by, or of, tossers.

To be continued - when I’m feeling more erudite than that last sentence.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005



I’ve just realised that the last post could be construed as anti-cat or anti-cat owner. Big mistake.

The last thing I want to do is get on the wrong side of cat lovers. Off the top of my head can think of several reasons why I should be more scared of them than, say, Al Qaeda:

  • There are more of them
  • They are more fanatical
  • They have even more contempt for human life
  • They really are part of a shadowy international network
  • They talk to themselves
  • Given that they usually don’t have kids or go out very much, they are very well funded
  • They really can blend in unnoticed with the rest of society, well mostly

I was cleaning up my back yard a couple of weeks ago when a couple of workman called to me from the top of a building in the middle distance

Workman: ‘Hey mate!’

Me: ‘Yes’

Workman: ‘There’s a lost cat standing on your wall looking at you’

Me: ‘Yes, I can see it’

Workman: ‘The owner’s coming down to get it. Could you…’

Me: ‘What?’

Workman: ‘… keep it there with you’

Me: ‘How?’

Workman: ‘Its name is Seamus’

Me: ‘And?’

Workman: ‘Call it to you’

Me: ‘ Yeah right’

I stare at cat

Me: ‘Seamus. Seamus. Here boy’

Cat blinks unknowingly

Me: ‘Seamus. Seamus’

Cat licks its inner thigh, Saunters off to next garden

Cat owner appears (female, mid thirties) on other side of fence. Proceeds to call out the name Seamus in squeaky voice many hundreds of times. Seamus sits on next door neighbours’ picnic table throughout; 100% unresponsive to its 'owners’' pleadings. Stef gets bored. Goes back inside. Seamus presumably not retrieved as the local area is plastered with posters offering a reward of £150 for its return. Picture of Seamus shows a nondescript tabby cat, same as countless millions of nondescript tabby cats out there.

The moral of the tale? However intellectually challenged Seamus might be, ‘Duh, what’s my name again?’, this is but nothing compared to its owner. Seamus obviously doesn’t give a f*ck, yet mummy is willing to fork out 150 nuggets for its return, even though she could pick up Seamus II from a local pound for nothing. Seamus II would look the same as Seamus I, be just as unaware of its given name and be just as likely to come home in the mornings.

I’ve got no problem with cats, any more than I have with any other animal. It’s the owners that baffle me. They are so committed to their pets. They bestow human qualities on them. They talk to them. They decorate their houses with cat-related objets d’art of breathtaking mawkishness and sentimentality. Meanwhile Mr Tibbles just sits there licking its arse.

Sometimes, Mr Tibbles might trundle outside and slaughter a few furry animals for sport, toying with their twitching carcasses for an hour or so just for a laugh, before going back inside to continue with the important business of licking its arse.

Mmmmm, how many animal lovers have I heard solemnly regurgitate the line ‘Man is the only animal that kills for sport’ ...

UK cat density is currently something like 226 per square kilometer, that’s 500 times greater than in the wild. UK cats accounts for the death of something like 300 million small mammals and birds a year. The only creatures cats won’t go for are rats, they’re too pussy, which is one reason why we share London with 70 odd million rats; that’s about 10 each. When I was a lad gardens, even urban gardens, were havens for all sorts of wildlife. Now there’s nada. Unless you consider watching cat turds drying slowly on balmy summer days as being at one with nature. I’ve done my bit though and bought an infra-red triggered sonic cat scarer for my patch of earth. It works a treat. The only downside being that exposure to it leaves me open to suggestion and becoming involved in Presidential assasination plots, but it’s a price worth paying.

Anyway, I don’t get it at all. Cats are not people. And turning to them as people surrogates is a bad sign.

But, no, the last thing I want to do is get on the wrong side of millions of cat owning sociopaths. So, just to demonstrate my total, and completely insincere, impartiality on the matter of cat ownership here are a few links…

For Cat People

Kitten Cuteness Ratings

For Dog People

Shockwave flash kitten shooting game

For Both

Cat Buckaroo

No Sh*t Sherlock pt1


I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.

This is not the same thing as saying I’m a big fan of detective stories.

The attraction of the Holmes myth lies more in the character of Holmes himself than in his problem solving skills. Sherlock represents and idealised view of the British ruling class of his time; rational and unemotional, yet incorruptibly committed to basic principles of decency and fairness in a detached, aloof kind of way. Holmes represented the perfect judge, senior civil servant or colonial administrator. Deep down people liked to believe that people like Holmes were running the show and in charge of their well being.

Recently, I’ve been kicking around the idea of updating Holmes for our own times. It’s not that easy. Simply transplanting his character into the 21st century wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t fit. Crafting a revised character based on our expectations of those who rule today would invariably result in a parody. These are much more cynical times than Conan Doyle’s.

And then there’s the wee issue of Sherlock’s deductive powers.

Almost all of the short stories begin with Sherlock meeting someone for the first time and deducing that person’s full history and occupation just based on visual clues present in that person’s attire, physical condition and mannerisms. In a hand-made world populated by engineers, tailors and farmers you can see how that would work but how would it play in our times? Everything we wear is mass-produced. Nothing lasts long enough to bear the marks of our character. Most of us sit in front of a PC for a living.

That’s a problem.

But my biggest problem in resurrecting Holmes is more fundamental than that. My biggest problem is figuring out how to distinguish a deduction from a rant.

In one of the Holmes stories, Sherlock concludes that the owner of a discarded hat is obviously an intelligent man. The hat is quite large and Sherlock logically deduces that big hat equals big head equals big brain equals intelligence. This is not the Holmes-meister’s finest hour and, even as a twelve-year-old reading the stories for the first time, that deduction niggled me. Clearly, I reasoned, there’s a very fine line between being a master of forensic analysis and an opinionated old fart. Holmes and the lunatics who accost people on public transport have an awful lot in common.

‘Madam, judging by the cut of your thong, the Japanese tattoo just to one side of your all too visible bum-crack, your grating accent and the irritating ring tone emanating from your wireless telephone I can deduce that you are indeed a daft slag. I have resolved therefore to insult you loudly on the top deck of this omnibus.’

The World around us is just jam-packed with an infinite number of visual clues to causal connections. Every object, every person, every event occupy their particular point in space and time as the result of being at the end of a chain of events. This is obvious enough. However, things start to get really fun if you are male, getting on a bit and under some degree of stress. Your take on causal chains becomes quite noticeably different to everyone else’s.

I was sitting with my Dad in hospital last year. He was suffering from a blood infection he’d picked up in the hospital, on drugs, far from happy and semi-delirious. An advert for dog worming pills was playing on the television. All of a sudden, Dad sat up in his bed and started spitting and shouting about ‘f*cking people in f*cking council houses’. He ranted for a good five or ten minutes. Once he had calmed down we talked through where he was coming from. The deal was this:

  • The advert for dog worming pills featured large dogs
  • Many owners of large dogs come from low-income social groups
  • Large dogs are expensive to own
  • My Dad ran his own shop and paid tax for 50 years
  • … just so people from low-income groups could keep large dogs

Now the logic of this line of thought was pretty flawed throughout but my Dad had just had his bladder whipped out and was full of MSSA (just like MRSA but not eligible for inclusion in the official figures), so I let it go. I however did go home wondering if I would end up like that in thirty years time.

Fast forward a few months. I was in my back yard this weekend. I love this time of year. All the seeds I potted a few weeks ago are beginning to poke through the Earth. I sometimes stare closely at them for minutes on end just marvelling at the miracle of new life. These seedlings are my babies. And just like real babies, I generally lose interest in them as they get older. However, for the moment I am their guardian.

And it is for that reason I am pissed off with almost everyone on my street and generally hacked off with 21st century social trends.

Yes, I have turned into my father thirty years early. Nor do I have the excuse of major surgery or serious infection. My reasoning went like this:

  • My seedlings are being eaten by snails
  • There are lots of snails in mine and neighboroughing gardens. I’m talking bucket loads
  • The snails thrive because there are no natural predators i.e. birds
  • There are no birds because cats have eaten them all
  • There are so many cats because my street is largely occupied by people who have turned to cats as surrogate partners, friends, and children

Ergo my plants are being eaten because I am surrounded by people with empty lives. I could go even further and correlate the number of snails in my garden with the rise of consumerism and the historical collapse of the family unit. I could spin a whole thesis out of it. Graphs and all.

Sherlock would have been proud of me.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Tremble before the awesome power of Ghinger!

So, there I was watching the election coverage at small number o’clock this morning.

Suddenly, and from out of the blue, one of the BBC reporters casually dropped the line that some of the newly elected London Labour MPs 'are off to join a celebration party in a secret location where they will join celebrity New Labour supporters such as Chris Evans, Eddie Izzard and Mick Hucknall'.

Obviously, this story was only covered after voting had closed. Forget the Iraq War and all the rest of the stuff, the thought of voting for the same party that zany Chris, Eddie and Mick do would have wiped Labour’s majority away in the blink of an eye.

And before anyone accuses me of gingerism, some of my best friends have the same complexion as satsumas, they just don’t happen to be arses with it.

A little later on in the morning, the deputy leader of the Scottish National Party was interviewed. Her name is Nicola Sturgeon. Fantastic! Now that Alex ‘the D is silent’ Salmond is back in charge of the SNP, the people of Scotland have an historic opportunity to vote for a party led by two people named after fish.

Conservatives take note. Now that Michael Howard has announced he’s standing down as their leader, Conservatives should take a leaf out of the SNP’s book and rename all prospective candidates with suitably aquatic surnames. For some genuinely inexplicable reason names like David Herring, Theresa Trout, Michael Bream and Geoffrey Carp come to mind. Shame about Sturgeon being taken though. That’s a good one. Mind you the Tories are playing a clever game with their fondness for leadership contests. At this rate everyone in the country will have a crack at the job before the decade’s out and then at least some of us will feel obliged to vote for them.

Sadly, several hours after voting closed, I found out about a party that I would certainly have voted for instead of the Liberal Democrats. They weren’t fielding a candidate in my area but I would have gladly moved just to get the chance to support them. Yes,

The Church of the Militant Elvis Party

They had some cracking policies. I particularly enjoyed this one:

When elected our MP would like to go the Antarctic, stand in front of the icebergs and shout "Stop Melting You Big White Bastards". It won't do much good but it's more than Bush & Blair are doing

Can I 'help' you?

Our local polling station, like most others, is a shabby uninviting sort of space. The atmosphere is all very muted and low key; almost as if something biologically necessary but shameful is taking place. Most polling station officials are quite old and occasionally smell of stale urine.

There is more of the feel of a seedy public lavatory or pornographic bookshop than anything more noble. Being issued with a flimsy piece of paper before being ushered into a secluded cubicle only adds to that feeling.

A little festive bunting would go a long way. Garish Soviet-style posters of local people heroically casting their votes would also pump up the ambience a little.

I was thinking these thoughts whilst waiting outside for Tracy to cast her vote. I also whipped out my camera and took a few photos of the entrance.

One of the semi-incontinent, packed-lunch eating, cardigan wearing officials standing at the doorway approached me

Woman: ‘Can I help you’

Stef: ‘No thank’

Woman: ‘I was just wondering what you were doing taking pictures of the polling station’

Stef: ‘That would be because I want some photographs of the polling station. Why do you ask? There’s no law against it’

Woman: ‘I was just wondering’

Stef: ‘I’m waiting for my partner to cast her vote and I’m taking some photographs. If you have a problem with that I’d like to know why?’

She walked off. None the wiser as to the true nature of the threat to democracy I presented.

At first sight this might seen to be a trivial encounter. An election official checking out the potentially suspicious activities of a suspicious looking man with a camera. But I don’t think it’s that trivial at all. I take a lot of pictures and have become accustomed over the last four or five years to an increasing degree of low to medium level hassle whilst going about my lawful business. Not from the police though, who on several occasions have supported my right to take pictures. No, the hassle comes from the burgeoning swarms of 2nd tier lackeys that infest our streets and public places; parking wardens, laughably pathetic security guards, CCTV and speed camera operators, and all the rest of that crap.

There seem to be two motivating factors at work. Firstly, many of them sense that someone with a professional looking camera is looking to take their scalp in some way, which naturally suggests that they have something to hide. The second factor is potentially more worrying for the long term.

They genuinely believe I might be up to no good.

Ten years ago the sight of a bloke standing outside a polling station taking pictures of the signs would have encouraged little to no curiosity whatsoever. People might have asked you about the gear you were using or where you were going to use the picture but they wouldn’t have questioned your motivations for taking the photograph. Photography was considered a legitimate passtime in its own right. People wouldn’t be suspicious of your motivations because they simply couldn’t conceive of any dubious motivation on the photographer’s part.

Well, that’s all gone into the toilet hasn’t it. This War on Terror bullshit is so very, very insidious and pervasive. After all, I might have been planning a terrorist attack on the polling station. It’s a Fearful and Cowardly New World and Everyone gets the chance to be a suspect. Hitler would have been creaming his jeans at how easily and quickly an entire population can have its entire worldview warped.

What a difference four or five years make and God knows what’s in store for us over the next four or five years.

Greedy or just plain stupid?

Aside from the lack of proportional representation in this country there’s one other glaring issue with our current election system here in the UK…

Greedy and stupid people get a vote too.

One thing that struck me time and time again whilst listening to members of the public being interviewed during the course of the campaign was just how focused they were on their own immediate self-interest. Their voting decisions were based on crude calculations of the net benefit to them, usually financial benefit, of each party’s package of proposals.

A thoroughly depressing spectacle that means political parties are forced to compete with each other by offering give-aways; funded at the expense of one group of another, society as a whole, or the environment. It’s no surprise that issues such as pensions, civil liberties, global poverty, nuclear power or the environment barely got a serious mention throughout the entire campaign.

The War in Iraq DID get a lot of air time but, at the end of the day, it wasn’t seen as a pivotal issue. Even people who disagreed strongly with the War ended up voting for Labour, presumably taking a long, hot shower immediately afterwards. A word of advice to those people, particularly all those Labour MPs, who supported the War against their own consciences – it’ll never wash off, you self-interested, spineless bastards.

And, on top of the greed, there’s the stupidity thing.

One of those lessons in life that creep up on you one day as an adult is the very simple observation that there are some really seriously stupid people out there.

As a child you grow up familiar with the thought that all grown ups are quite sensible and can be allowed too operate heavy machinery, that sort of thing. And, as with many child hood misconceptions, this belief is often retained through to adulthood. But then there come those moments in life when something happens that reminds you that all those really stupid kids at school grew up, haven’t changed at all and are now reproducing.

And voting.

There really must be an awfully large number of stupid people out there. Maybe that’s why the schools are so rubbish. Maybe that’s the plan.

How else can you explain Tony Blair having the cheek to deliver, and getting away with, some of the lines he’s been using these last few weeks?

The Iraq War is a prima facie example. Imagine someone is on trial for killing his wife and has consulted Blair’s Bumper Book of Bullshit before conducting is own defence. How far would he get with such high-octane arguments as:

‘Look, I cut her almost three years ago now. Isn’t it time we drew a line under the whole affair and moved on? That was then. Now is now. And I think we should all be looking forward to what I can achieve as a widower rather than constantly harping on about the past.’

Or how about the classic …

‘OK, I could have let her live but the bitch was asking for it. I’ve never criticised people for saying I shouldn’t have cut her up. I respect their point of view. But they should respect the fact that I had a decision to make and I made a decision.’

So, what’s it going to be? Has my nation become cynical and greedy or is it just plain stupid? Or is it both?


Well, that’s over with for another four or five years

And what a very interesting four or five years it is going to be. All those issues that weren’t discussed during the election campaign are going start crawling out from under the carpet whether we, or our politicians, like to think about them or not. It’s not going to be fun.

The two of us in our household spent some time mulling over whether to vote or not yesterday. Ours is a strong Labour seat and voting Liberal Democrat as we decided to do would have been an exercise futility. There are several lines of thought as to whether to vote or not in these circumstances:

  • If everyone thought the same as you and stayed at home there would never be any change
  • In the absence of proportional representation, your vote is a wasted vote and all you do by voting is endorse a flawed system
  • No, your vote isn’t wasted as it adds weight to calls for a proportional type voting system
  • It all depends as to whether there is anything interesting on the tele or not

In the end we decided bugger it, went to the polling station, marks were made, and our forms (presumably) counted before being passed on for recycling. At no point did either of us feel buoyed up with the joys of living in a democracy. Why should we? There are millions of people throughout the country who have voted for second place parties for their entire lives and whose vote has never truly been reflected in the composition of government. It says a lot about our current voting system that nobody ever thinks about implementing it in any of the countries turning to democracy for the first time. British style, first past the post systems for Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa? Don’t be silly.

I wrote about this in a blog entry a couple of months ago and my predictions turned out to be spookily true. All that money spent on campaigning. All that piss and wind. All for a result that was 100% predictable months in advance …

61% of eligible people voted. Of that 61%, 36% voted labour, 33% voted conservative, 23% liberal. Which yielded 356,198 and 62 seats respectively. These figures throw up all sorts of interesting observations, none of which appear particularly democratic

  • Labour secured 36% of the vote but won 55% of the seats
  • Liberals secured 23% of the vote but only 10% of the seats
  • Labour beat the Conservatives by 3% of the vote. That 3% yielded 158 additional seats. That’s a quarter of all seats
  • 2% of the eligible voting population gave Labour an absolute majority over all other parties combined

To call this poor is an understatement. To claim a mandate for national government after securing 22% of the available vote and only 2% more than your nearest competitor is an insult to us all.

Our system made a lot more sense back in the days when politics was a straight fight between labour and capital and there were only two main opponents. That isn’t the case any more and we should change the system. This won’t happen of course. Both the main political parties are bought and paid for by vested interests and the last thing they will permit us is actual democracy.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Flags pt3


Tracy was feeling run down a couple of weeks ago and we agreed that she needed a couple of days away from London. When the two of us first met we used to trip regularly around the country. We do very little of that these days. High travel and accommodation costs, traffic congestion and a terrible rail service have combined to take the fun out of travelling the UK. The few times we do go away for the weekend we travel to Europe. Bizarrely, a two day trip to somewhere like Brussels, staying in a discounted five star hotel, works out cheaper than staying in a crappy guesthouse in Lyme Regis for the weekend. Go figure.

Anyway, Tracy wanted to get away and suggested a weekend in Antwerp. I countered by suggesting that we go somewhere really foreign and exotic instead. I suggested Great Yarmouth …

Yes, Norfolk, the English Louisiana. It’s flat, it’s marshy, people don’t travel much, and children with big ears and extra fingers abound. A popular destination for people on boating holidays that is just begging for a remake of Deliverance to be set there.

Quoting directly from the Great Yarmouth tourist guide:

“Greater Yarmouth buzzes with events throughout the year. On the sporting front, there is the World Indoor Bowls Championship in January and the horseracing fixtures run from April to November. The Yarmouth Stadium present greyhound and stockcar racing all year. Festive events include a special Christmas show at the Hippodrome Circus and the Christmas Fayre, where you can track down those perfect Xmas gifts at the craft fair with a Scandinavian twist. Great Yarmouth has a rich and proud maritime heritage and once boasted being the one of the wealthiest town in Britain on account of its prosperous herring industry. In 1724 Daniel Defoe was compelled to say that the town had "the finest quay in England, if not Europe".

Without committing an extensive travel diary to the web the most characteristic features of our two days in Great Yarmouth included:

  • Staying in the hotel which Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield. Our room retained many original features from Dickens’ time; including the bedding, electrical fittings and washing facilities. The bookshelf in the Lounge area contained two tatty Agatha Christie novels and the John Player Golf Yearbook 1974.
  • An extensive seafront lined with old people staring out to sea contemplating Death
  • A tired pier (Soundtrack: Early 1980’s hits, especially Yazoo)
  • Numerous seedy arcades (Soundtrack: Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre)
  • Several run down pubs (Soundtrack: Walking on the Moon by The Police)
  • Many boarded up business
  • A strong multicultural presence consisting of one Chinese takeaway and a curry house
  • Tired cafes occupied by old and middle-aged people drinking cups of boiling hot tea
  • No sign of a Starbucks all day
  • Shops selling usually hard to find items such as gollywogs, air pistols, Chinese fireworks and flick combs
  • The all-pervading smell of stale cooking oil

There was no sense of playful post-modern irony about the place. This was how it was. Nor was there any mystery as to the source of stale fat smell. Yarmouth is infested with dozens of makeshift chip stands and is unquestionably the alfresco fried potato eating capital of the World. During Saturday lunchtime in particular the entire population of the town turned out onto the streets to eat chips. Hundreds and hundreds of people eating chips. At one point I stood in the centre of Yarmouth market square and everyone in my field of view was either:

  • Waiting to buy chips
  • Eating chips
  • Smoking
  • All of the above,

OK, that’s not strictly true. One couple was eating doughnuts. We tried a few ourselves and they tasted, to no-one’s surprise, like sugar coated, jam-injected chips.

It was clear that Yarmouth’s extensive port facilities and the huge expanse of agricultural land that surround it are straining at full tilt just to keep the town supplied with the potatoes and vegetable oil necessary for its continued existence

So, what’s my point?

Those two days in Yarmouth were like stepping back 25 years in time. The last time I encountered such retro-shock was during disco night in a pub in Rotherhithe a few months ago.

Being old enough, but only just, to remember how things used to be I managed too spoof the folks in that South London pub and in Yarmouth into thinking I came from the same planet that they did.

The truth is I don’t.

With notable the exception of isolated pockets such a Rotherithe, you’ll see more change in 12 months in London than in 12 years in somewhere like Great Yarmouth. The majority of people who live in places like this, and there are still millions of them, haven’t a f*cking clue what’s going on. They are white, monocultural and very English. Our ruling class hates them. And they face a dismal future in a multicultural society where the only culture frowned upon is their own. The Great White Tribe is going the way of the dinosaurs and everyone knows it.

Some of them are a little pissy at the thought of that.

Flags pt2

Someone commented on my previous post about how strange it was that someone could be considered racist for displaying their national flag in their own country.

Let’s be specific here.

We’re talking Britain here.

Let’s be more specific

We’re talking England.

I can think of no other country on Earth where people feel that they cannot display their national flag.

Now, the explanation given for that is because the Union Jack and the Cross of St George have been hijacked by racists and fascists, tarnishing their image.

That’s bollocks though isn’t it.

Plenty of other countries have extreme nationalist parties that display national flags but residents in those countries haven’t abandoned their symbols of nationhood.

Nope, ultra right groups in the UK picked up our flag after it was dropped by the mainstream. They didn’t hijack it. No-one was holding it.

Without repeating thoughts I have already expressed, it’s fairly clear to me that the new British establishment has a streak of middle-class guilt and self-loathing running right down its Chablis-swilling back. According to this strain of thinking the British are xenophobic and narrow minded, live in a country with a uniquely shameful history, their society and institutions are outdated and, above all, we never ever forget The War. World War 2 that is, not that other War.

Now we’re really talking bollocks.

Britain is the most ethnically diverse nation in Europe, possibly the World and it is the mother, or saviour, or both, of pretty much every democracy in that World. People are strapping themselves to the underside of freight trains to get here.

… and we’re ashamed of our flag.

The debate on whether we should integrate further with the European Union is a fine example of our supposed xenophobia and narrow mindedness. Apparently, we’re not to keen on signing up for more Europe because we’re a nation of insular Little Englanders. Umm, that would be the same European Union that seriously doesn’t want to admit Turkey on the basis that it’s full of Muslims. By my reckoning, even if you believe that the British are still obsessed with 1945, that puts us about 270 years ahead of the rest of Western Europe. The Ottoman Turks were turned back from the walls of Vienna in 1683 which, as bigoted race memory goes, leaves even the Irish and the Scots far behind.

That Neo Nazi sticker I commented on in my earlier post represents, in part, an extreme expression of a reaction against this curious self-loathing some of the British have for their own identity. Let’s be quite clear. I’m absolutely not condoning fascist thinking but I do think it’s sensible to try and understand the drivers behind it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Flags pt1

Well, there hasn'€™t been much musing from this particular PC for the last few days. I'€™ve been spending my valuable displacement time scanning and archiving pictures from half a lifetime ago and uploading some of them onto Flickr. It'€™s quite a strange experience poring over old photographs; mulling over what was, what might have been and realising that, yes, you are now older than you ever dreamed of being.

I'™ve also spent some time reading through other folk'€™s blogs and looking at their pictures. I'€™ve been exclusively in produce rather than consume mode for some time now and narcissism is never a healthy thing.

And then I came across this photograph on Flickr ...

Originally uploaded by Pete Ashton.

Not very nice is it.

The guy who originally posted the picture mentioned that he'€™d seen it on a bus stop in Birmingham. He described how he was in two minds about tearing the thing down; eventually deciding that, yes, he would.

A few people then commented that this was an excellent thing to do and thoroughly justified.

I couldn'€™t help myself.

I dived in.

Without repeating the comments I made there, the gist of my point was that freedom of speech cuts both ways and the true test of a free democracy is how prepared we all are to have people express views we fundamentally disagree with. Obviously there is a limit. Incitement to violence goes beyond free expression but, short of that, in a truly free society more or less anything should go.

Even fascist thinking.

Sorry, that'™s the way it is.

One commentator took exception to my position and argued that Nazi symbols made people scared for their well-being and should be torn down on that basis. OK, but then it would be fine to rip down Stars of David in deference to Palestinian sensibilities. Corporate logos would have to be torn down to please anti-globalisation campaigners and Conservative and Labour party material would have to come down to keep me happy.

There'€™s a fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of contemporary liberal thinking. Free speech and minority rights only apply to groups deemed worthy of these gifts. The recent ban on fox hunting in the UK is a cracking example. People, largely on the Left of politics, campaigning against hunting, argued vociferously that the majority of the UK population supported the ban. I doubt very seriously if they would use the same arguments when debating, say, immigration, gay rights or the reintroduction of capital punishment.

Another, admittedly trivial example comes to mind.

I smoke. I am addict and a victim of corporate manipulation. In all probability my addiction will kill me or at least shorten my life. But let'€™s be honest here. Smokers are scum aren'€™t they? Heroin addicts on the other hand are true victims and are worthy of sympathy and as much support as society has to offer.

That don'€™t make much sense to me.

As it happens, I personally support a '€˜liberal'™ position on the issues mentioned above but I also know hypocrisy when I see it. Liberal fascism is still fascism, just a different kind of fascism, that's all.

I'm not pretending that the sight of a swastika on a British street doesn'€™t bother me. It does. But I want to live in the kind of free society that we kid ourselves we live in. Tolerating muck like that is the price of living in that society. Once you start saying it'€™s OK to start tearing things down, who do you appoint to decide what is or isn't torn down? Politicians?

Half an hour spent at Speakers€™ Corner can be quite instructive when considering these issues. There are some pretty extreme guys plying their wares there. Curiously, it'€™s not unusual to see heated arguments between Fundamentalists and Atheists, Marxists and Nationalists taking place with no sense that they will degrade into violence. The guys speaking there know the rules and accept that sharing space with people who piss them off is the price of entry. They also welcome the chance of a good row. Personally, I'€™d like to extend Speakers Corner by about 15,000 miles in all directions.

Rather than ripping Nazi stickers down we should leave them, maybe with the addition of a scribbled rebuttal, but they should be left where they are. For two reasons; firstly to remind people that such groups exist and secondly because it'€™s easier to deal with bullshit thinking in the broad daylight.

Take the offending picture posted on Flickr.

I actually visited the website of the sticker'€™s authors. Apparently, the group is ...

'€˜Fighting for the Survival of British Culture'

Mmmmm, fighting for the survival of British Culture by adopting the political symbolism of Germany from 70 years ago. Well, that's bollocks for a start. Over half a million British Citizens died fighting Nazi tyranny and these guys are ignorant enough to portray the swastika next to the Union Jack. I'™d say they were spitting on the graves of people who really did fight for the survival of British Culture, whatever that might be.

But would I endorse banning this kind of nonsense? No. They simply aren'€™t worth it.

Returning to the concept of double standards in the world of contemporary liberal fascism, consider the differing attitudes to, say, violent juvenile offenders and Neo Nazis. The first group are the product of a disadvantaged upbringing and can be helped through sympathetic support. Neo Nazis are just scum and should just be eradicated and suppressed.

Mmmmm, that'€™s also bollocks isn'™t it.

I'd say people become Neo Nazis for just the same reasons that liberals cite for kids taking drugs or mugging old ladies. They feel excluded and insecure.

There's also that whole, repressed homosexual, communal showering, macho leather-boy thing but there are ways to indulge in those tastes these days without donning a political armband. It's almost certainly less of a factor than it was in 1933.

No, it's mostly an insecurity thing.

And, as with Germany in the 1920s, you can either find ways to make these people feel like they have a stake in society or you can ignore them until they go away, or there are so many of them you can no longer ignore them.

Mmmmm, drowning out someone's voice by shouting louder than them, then patting yourself on the back for being so right-on and clever. Yeah, that's going to work ...

(to be continued, probably)