Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rubbish poem

The rubbish men come
& swear & spill the rubbish in the street
& break glass

they feed their giant rubbish truck
an odd animal, which eats from its behind
& then they're gone
leaving the detritus of the detritus
that they've took away

And then comes the street sweeper
with his brush & cart
& look of placid disgruntlement

Such a seamless operation
you'd think they must be acting in concert
But the sweeper has never met the rubbish men
& knows them only by their litter
He's told on Monday go here
on Tuesday go here
and as if by magic, the streets are paved with rubbish

Sometimes he hears them in the next road
hears their shouts & broken glass
sometimes he catches a glimpse & thinks
this rubbish really stinks

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chin up

I met a Chinese guy the other day
We argued about politics
I told him: You are lied to by your press,
He said: Are you are not? And I said: Yes.

He asked: Why should we take lectures from you,
on feeble democracy,
the recent record is a shambles,
the people have no credit

Is it democracy that invaded Iraq?
That plundered & pillaged through an ancient nation?
Ah, I told him, 2 million marched against that war
& he laughed
Marching is all your democracy is good for
How did you let it happen?
You marched & then thought that was enough
I've marched, now no longer in my name, this war can go on just the same

But what do you suggest we did, I pressed
Well, could you have managed any less?

But we punish our rulers
they cannot escape their mistakes, I claimed
Ah, I see, he replied
so Blair who takes the blame
goes off to find fortune & fame
he'll not feel the credit crunch
perhaps spiritual credit, but I've a hunch
he'll buy it off with a rebirthing lunch

You cannot criticise us, my Chinese friend told me,
mainly because you know fuck all about us,
as do we about you
you believe your media
as we believe ours,
but we're not so arrogant to believe
that ours don't lie to us

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

overhearance

"So you see round here, the Bengalis, the Gujaratis, Punjabis, they all smell, I mean sell smack."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Suf is m

No-one eats your daily bread for you
No-one performs your acts except yourself
As death is hurrying toward you so address your life now to meet it
Every moment of your life is under the eye and judgment of God
Hatim al-Assam

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A new day

"Bitch may be the new black but black is the new president, bitch!"
Sir Tracy Morgan Esq

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

funniest line of the day so far

I, for one, welcome our new competent, informed, professional, and intellectually curious overlords
courtesy of

Monday, November 03, 2008

Ideas Factory

These just get better and better. Todays is the Backwards Dictionary: one that arranges words alphabetically from the last letter backwards ... damnhandy for when you want a list of words ending in dom, oon or ier. Get to it my pretties!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Overheard overhead

"Yeah all the adults who want to be down with the kids are doing it."

"What's it called?"

"Weblog, or drivel for short."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ah the good old days

Chris Morris rings the Sun

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Get Your Gloat

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Three Men in Another Boat

More up-to-date reviewing for you here, as I stumbled on this programme about a year late, repeated last night at midnight. Griff Rhys Jones takes Dara O'Brien and Rory McGrath on a trip in his beautifully appointed racing yacht around the Kent coast, for amusement value. Jones is a bit of a sailor and knows what everything is called. He bosses the other two lugs around in a slightly embarrassed way, quite at odds with the "I need anger therapy" series that he is doing right now.

At one point, perhaps because nothing much is going on at sea, the other two get a boat agent to value the yacht behind Jones' back. Their eyes widen significantly at the price he puts on it, and this is after they've already seen boats going for £300,000. So it's a lot. According to wikipedia Jones and Mel Smith sold Talkback for £62 million, so, well, who knew.

Yes, its rich people playing around being rich. The idea of taking three comedians and making them do something slightly unlikely, well it is a winner really. And both the poverty of the concept and the way that it does actually work are on display here. Nothing really happens, the trio are not particularly funny, they mingle with other people who have far too much money as well, what could be right about it? But despite none of them saying anything witty, they are all far too well schooled in arts of funny bones for them not to raise a smile from time to time. Maybe I'm going soft. I could have watched this for hours. It was warm and comfortable like a nice cardy. Telly for the Telegraph types. Middle-class. That's it for me, I'm afraid. I've fallen into the abyss.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Twelfth Night, Tricycle

Within a few minutes of this Filter production of Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity I knew I was in the middle of something outrageous. We'd entered to theatre to find a double bass centre stage, musical instruments, laptops, a drum kit, a trumpet, a few mini Marshall amps cluttering up the rest – “where are all the actors going to go?” asks one of the audience. The actors meander onto the stage, talking amongst themselves; “Chat a bit longer,” one tells the audience as we quiet in expectation, “we're not ready yet.” After a while they break into a jazz overture, and so begins one of the wildest, most frenetic, upturned, shaken all about versions of a first folio text – the Bard via Charles Mingus.

The fourth wall has rarely found itself so neglected – the audience provide costume, some get slugs of tequila, some are dragged up on stage to dance (yes that was me cavorting like I thought I knew how), at one point pizzas are delivered and passed to those in the upper tier. Meanwhile on stage a cacophony of imagination and rulebreaking guides every twist and turn of the plot. The shipping forecast tells Violio she is in Illyria; a mobile phone rings and Orsino takes the call; two characters crack tins of Special Brew; while most are in modern dress, Sir Toby meanders about drunkenly in full Elizabethan ruff-ness before later collapsing in one of the aisles; Malvolio strips to his boxers at the joy of his mistaken love; all the while crazy shit house rat jazz music is played, supplemented with scene-setting soundscapes eeked out of sample-firing playstation joysticks, feedbacking microphones, cymbals played with cello bows, all created on stage in front of your eyes, gorged on a unrestrained, febrile exuberance and then, just occasionally, a Shakespeare play breaks out.

Ah, the play. Well it happened, or some of it happened, there were mistaken identities, and upturned love affairs and hearts broken and Malvolio, O Malvolio, how he does fall viciously prey to consumption of a broken mistaken heart identity. Who knows how much of the play there is in this Twelfth Night, and in what order. Not me anyway, having spurned the chance beforehand to read the wikipedia synopsis, I barely followed the plot, but it mattered not, because the riotous energy of the show - one that takes up the challenge of making theatre work every inch of its limitations - carries you past the humble considerations of what precisely is going on. It is enough to understand enough to enjoy enough; if it ends abruptly after 90 minutes with someone having happened to somebody, who cares, I went home singing the finale. Here is a musical which never seemed to force its music on its subject (nor, admittedly, its subject onto its music); but which made music its subject, its food of love, and constructed out of that music a bizarre, crazy carnival, worth every crazy, bizarre minute.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In honour of Roger McGough MBE

I always wondered why they give CBEs
and MBEs
and OBEs
to people who do what they please
people who do what they like,
like footballers
or poets
What about people who don't?

I'm not thinking of myself
of course
but what about the people
who got a job they didn't like
because they were forced to;
because they were told to

You don't get OBEs for doing
what you're told to
which is funny, when you think about it

Nobody wants “he did what he was told to”
on their tombstone


I want letters after my name
I don't have a degree
I'm not on the honours list
and I'm not a mason
So I'm facing
a bit of a struggle

I want poet's letters after my name
maybe one of those that Shelley sent to Byron
Then I'd make people address me
by my full title
That's me:
bringing poetry to the masses

the other day we were discussing letters
after your name
or LAYN for short
I could be criticalbill LAYN
and nobody could disagree
Someone suggested ACAB
All coppers are bastards
But I don't know
I quite like tuppenies

Friday, September 12, 2008

who me?

He Appeared to be someone who couldn't bear to fulfil his talent, since he preferred infinite potential to the limits of achievement

Friday, August 15, 2008

Picture a man going on a journalism course

The headline said Hospital's £4m cost of Absent Patients. Now I straight away thought: well, its probably not £4m at all; you know they've just counted it up every which way in order to get the figure as high as possible, in order to make this story more interesting. they've probably over-valued, double-counted, rounded-up, everything they can think of to squeeze the figure up into the next million pound bracket, to give the headline more clout on what is, lets face it, a remarkably dull story about people missing appointments. Do you think someone actually thought "oh, i wonder how much money it costs all these missed appointments?" or did they think "what we need is a headline saying all these missed appointments cost loads!" Well, maybe they did, maybe they did just innocently investigate how much it cost, without any agenda at all, as part of a summer audit, and there magically dropped out the figure £4m, just right there into their laps. Well, what are we meant to think? I mean, it could be £500,000 or £2m or £20m and the story is exactly the same: don't miss your appointments people, it costs money! i don't know whether £4m is a lot or a little for missed appointments. I don't know how big the hospital is, how many missed appointments it covers, how much they are over-paying the doctors who are being paid for these missed appointments, i don't know how £4m stacks up with all the rest of the money being pissed away in hospitals, schools, councils, government, anywhere where money gets spent. I mean it sounds like a lot, £4m, its definitely more than i've got to hand, but i can't help wondering how much money we are supposed to spend on missed appointments, and when I think about it closer, £500,000, or £2m sound like too little, or at least there wouldn't be a story if it was that amount, whereas £10m sounds like far too much, a completely implausible figure. So by that reckoning, hospital's £4m cost of absent patients sounds exactly right. Phew!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Dark Knight

What's scary nowadays? Apart from the prospect of having to ring up your ISP to complain about your internet connection being fucked all week long - hmmm, sometimes you can find a little too much out about yourself from your writing - no, really, apart from the prospect of global warming, losing your house, your children growing up to be like Sam Sparro, what is scary? Not monsters, not freaks, no way.

Normally a film is made scary by the tension, but the Dark Knight has very little tension; you know that Batman is going to off the Joker by the end, apart from anything else, and the scenes aren't played for suspense in that manner anyway, yet even so the Joker may well be one of the disturbing incarnations to be brought to the big screen for many a year.

Why so? Heath Ledger's perfectly balanced performance sits between at the under-mined meeting point of comedy and horror; he takes Jack Nicholson's version (YT) and makes it more level, more believable and down-to-earth, even as he incarnates a comic strip in front of your eyes. That is its horror, that he takes something evidently unreal and moulds it into plausibility. That is what grips you as the various bat-toys zwing across two and a half hours of screen time, the prospect that maybe, just maybe, the Joker has a point.

The film-makers do this in a somewhat underhand manner; they take a completely psychopathic lunatic and then feed him lots of reasonable sounding lines. If you miss their sleight of hand, you are in danger of deciding that, if you were to "have some of what he's having", or at least have subscribed at some time to some of the outre, but not unfathomable, theories that the Joker is trying to squeeze out, in between his supernatural feats of ingenious destruction, if you were to do that, you would necessarily and automatically become a psychopathic terrorist with no compassion or empathy for the rest of humanity.

Heath Ledger's Joker is a man on a very bad trip, but he's enjoying it. That prospect does surely worry someone like myself, who likes to think that acid will not turn people into psychopathic killers. Of course Charles Manson long ago buried the idea of the necessarily benevolent psychedelic somewhere in Death Valley, but even so I'm pretty sure that the screenwriters gratuitiously dosed the Joker up on a little RAW discordianism to unsettle the likes of me. Maybe I'm hallucinated it. Whatever, it worked. Heath Ledger's Joker is a work of majesty. When he appears dressed as a nurse, or when you catch a glimpse of him in the crowd without his make-up, he is as perfectly formed as when he drifts carelessly into a room full of Gotham mob bosses, who he just happens to have robbed.

As for Batman, well, whatever, he was always just window dressing for his villains, and though films have got more high-tech and supposedly darker, he is no match for any of them for interest. You feel like he is destined to forever be missing something, like he has stubbonly remained the campest straight at Gay Pride.

Apart from Ledger, the film falls down if not everywhere then at least plentywhere. Despite a fantastic set-piece where Batman kidnaps - extraordinarily renditions perhaps - a Chinese national from Hong Kong, (after all, China won't extradite one of their own, they tell us) and we see the US's current Chinese puzzle, despite that and the film's evocation of a city apparently under a "terrorist" assault - this a terrorist who has, let's be frank about it, purer motives than most - and despite the aerial view of a devastated building which cannot help but remind one and all of the twin towers, despite all of this, the film is never able to anchor itself and construct relevance for itself. It remains comic book stupid, brilliant, but dumb, by which i mean it has nothing to say.

But its fatal flaw, beyond constantly having people mumble potentious sounding lines beneath a soaring soundtrack (nobody i was with could tell me what the last line of the film was), was that it went on too bloody long, for no good reason, and its tightness unravelled like a ball of string rolling across the floor. The Joker, having escaped in typically brilliant fashion from police cells, then decides to run a moral test on Gotham's population, a sort of mass murder version of the Stanford Experiment [OK, probably not the Stanford Experiment, but if you know which Experiment I should be referring to, then by all means drop me a comment]. He does something similar in Alan Moore's the Killing Joke so I am loathe to say that it is out of character, but for someone so pleased with his own outlook, it seems a shame that he suddenly feels the need to prove something by constructing a ridiculous test that doesnt even prove what he claims he is trying to prove. Far better for the film to have ended with Two-Face recently injured - here I have to admit that i cant recall exactly what order things happened in, so bear with me - the Joker on the run, perhaps with his last speech about how much "fun" Batman is still intact and us half an hour better off, with no guff about the spirit of the unJokered humanity to ruin what is otherwise a cracking film.

Addendum: Interesting post by someone far more knowledgable than me, also interesting to note how much better presented the Joker is in most of the comics, compared with Ledger's somewhat grubby incarnation

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vacancy

How to look busy. Hmmm, Stare out the window, not good. Read the paper, not good. Type something meaningless in Word, not great. Do some work? Impossible.

Is that the editor over there, peering across the savannah of computer screens at my under-rated corner? Don’t be ridiculous, he’s got much more important things to be pondering than why you haven’t done any work for the last hour and a half. No way is he going to march over, grip you by the shoulders and say: “Haven’t you done anything since you’ve been here?”

No chance of anything that exciting happening. Instead of bit of work crops up, occupies me for a minute and a half, no make that two minutes, and is done, wrapped up and shoved back down the pipe to the next keyboard monkey to soak in spittle. Back to staring out the window.

Hmmm, I’m pretty sure he’s looking at me now. He’s thinking, “What is that guy writing when he’s supposed to be working? Does he think he’s some kind of reporter? Some comment writer? Obit guy? What’s he doing in the spaz corner, with all the ne’er do wells then? Ah, that must be why. He’s probably on work experience and they haven’t found anything for him to do today. Probably he’ll be gone by next week, no need for me to worry my editorial genius over him, he can stare out of the window to his heart’s content. But I think I’ll get someone to read what he’s writing though, I’m sure its about me.”

Not a chance of that, matey. I’d rather write about eating my own tail than write anything you’d recognise. Yum, yum, cor this tail is tasty. Don’t know why I’ve never tried it before. Yumptious. Good quality protein and all, I must say. A real hearty snack. Hopefully it’ll grow back by tomorrow and I can have another crack at it.

Oh god, now the night editor has got the look as well. Better get my coat ready for the off. Hopefully the oystercard’s got enough to get me home, because it’s a long walk back with no raincoat and no money to buy one.

It’s a long walk back with a raincoat, of course. Tappity tap tap, what a load of important work is getting done in this room. Everyone’s so typie its amazing. No time for a chat, I’ve got important typing to do. Ooh look at me, typing up the world’s news, ain’t I a bit of all that.

Even this drivel can’t keep me occupied any longer. I’ve run out of crap to write. That’s it, I’m on my last legs, I can’t even turn out utter nonsense anymore.

I might invent a torture called Chinese typewriter torture. They sit you in a chair and type around you for 40 years until your brain finally caves in and then they give you £60 a week pension and a decrepit flat in Haringey. Actually its not called CTT, its just called life.

Tapping must be the world’s most uninspiring sound. Rhythmless, tuneless, its completely devoid of any of the things that make sound worth hearing. Although it does hold a faint needling quality, that other people are getting on with work, while you sit there worthless and wretched. If you listen long enough you can hear waves of tapping across the room, like, well like waves, I suppose. I did say it was uninspiring. Little bursts of tapping, like gunfire in a war torn Slavic city, as you sit in a grim hotel room, betting on how far the damp will rise before the night is out.

I wonder if I should time exactly how much of this shift I spend working and how much I spend not working. At a guess I’ve spent less than half an hour actually working and its already half-8. On that basis, I’ll can do no more than the best part of an hour before I go home. Assuming they don’t toss me out with the recycling.
I wonder how long you could do a job that paid you a decent wage for just sitting somewhere for eight hours a day.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Formulaic headline

I read this story the other day, the gist of which is how two doctors watching the grand prix suddenly realised that they might be able to learn something from the speedy, intense workings of the pitstop that they could use in the critical handover stage between surgery and intensive care. Apparently this wasn't a completely gratuitious attempt to get free Formula 1 tickets and did yield some significant improvement in patient health care. But it got me thinking that this shows how any activity, no matter how frivolous or apparently wasteful - say for example, aimlessly surfing the internet or lying on your sofa staring out of the window - could one day be transformed into a unambigiously good contribution to the future of mankind, at least one of which we are all entitled to have made before we go back to feed the trees. All I need now is someone to do the transformation, and I'm quids in.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Zythophile

One of my fellow Wapping keyboard monkeys is zythophile, whose excellent beer blog, which is currently experiencing a bonanza of posts after a fallow period, is endlessly and surprisingly fascinating on the past and present of the great world of beer making. Mr Phile is also the author of this book, which traces the history of beer from a few Celts squabbling over a dubious barrel of mouldy rye through ale, hops, porter, mild and on to the rise of lager and the revenge of the microbrewery.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

To commence?

Years after turning off reader feedback on this blog because there was none, and post after post finishing with: comments 0 began to look a little depressing, i have realised of course that the essence of a blog is the interaction with the readership, such as it is. So I am considering turning it back on. So, if you think I should do, please leave a note in the comment section at the bottom.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rocket Festival, Alamaha de Granada

Excuse the dusty writing style, I thought I might flog this piece, but no joy

Some years ago many of the luminaries of Britain’s free festival scene decamped for Europe. Their reasoning was two-fold: practical, since the weather, which consistantly turns British festival gatherings into Somme-style endurances, is much better on the continent; but also practical, since the 1994 Criminal Justice Bill had given the police a new dynamism in combating the scourge of young people enjoying themselves. The continent promised more tolerance for the travelling free festival scene, and Spiral Tribe and others paraded their “teknival” around for western and central Europe for a good few years. For various reasons, however, that scene has not endured, but the spirit has had a huge impact on its adherents. And so it came about that a few years further down the line some of those same people should decide to set up a festival in the mould of Glastonbury in the dusty hills of Andalucia near Granada.

The three-day Rocket Festival began in 2005 and attempts, according to the website to be a “celebration of life and alternative culture. A meeting of minds for fun and music in a beautiful, rural and sun drenched site in the south of Spain.” Punters are promised “much more than just a concert … a three day celebration of life through music performance and art; a whirlwind weekend of delicious assaults on all the senses.” A fusion of the English festival energy with Spanish sensibilities and a chance to escape the breath-crushing rigmarole of the British licensing system.

So, for example, the line up ran through the night and into the morning. This was the first festival I’ve been to where it was possible to find out exactly who would be playing at 8.30 on Sunday morning on one of six or so different areas. The list of DJs and bands just carried on through the night, into the morning and on again into the afternoon. Of course, away from the main stage, the programme didn’t bear any resemblance to what was actually going on, but there really was no let up at the most of the stages between Friday afternoon and Monday morning.

Across the site were sculptures and installations, many built by Glastonbury favourites the Mutoid Waste Company, some of whom have decamped to Italy and who excelled themselves this time with their automated robot pole-dancing CCTV stormtroopers - which were even better than they sound. Elsewhere were billboards of graffiti art, a kids area with climbing nets that were swarming with kids, and a healing area featuring sincere-looking men sitting on blankets.

The line-up was patchy, but included nuggets of gold: Dalston heroes Bad Manners pitched up on Saturday night, Buster Bloodvessel and the boys solid but unspectacular. Mr Bloodvessel’s well reported illness has obviously taken its toll on his vitality, and he led proceedings more nonchalantly than one brought up on stories of his excesses might have expected. Turntablists JFB, alongside beatboxer Beardyman, took full advantage of a packed dance tent to show off their skills, and left the Nextmen, who played the next night, looking lacklustre. Coldcut blew away the main stage, and were the talk of the town for their live video-mixing show. From Spain there seemed at first to be quite a few angry rock bands but that was rectified when flamenco-blues band Los Delinquentes, and Barcelona-based Muchachito Bomo Infierno, with their bright, upbeat, modern rhumba, electrified the crowds. [Full disclosure: I didnt actually see Los Delinquentes and Muchachito Bomo, or Coldcut, because I was too busy tripping my bollocks off while looking after a terrified cuddly toy, but I was trying to appear professional]

The spectacular festival site, with a backdrop of epic Andalucian mountains, was compact, and it was possible to circle the whole site within ten minutes. It was doubtful whether the Spanish truly got the whole idea behind the festival. They didn’t turn up until late on Saturday and then left again sometime on Sunday morning, so the heaving main night was bookended by two of very thin crowds of English people milling around. But why should the Spanish, who are quite used to all night fiestas in the streets of their hometowns, want to lug themselves to a fenced off area in the middle of nowhere, pay good money and then camp in a dusty outcrop with a load of English people?

But thin though the crowd was, Sunday night did hold one golden moment: Zurrapa, a traditional but youthful flamenco group, took to the stage in the Cantina Galactica with a gang of fierce solo dancers and proceeded to show us jaded losers the all-too-rare sight of tradition safely treasured in the hands of the young.

First is nowhere

In 1971, Jacob Holdt, a 24-year-old Dane, entered the US with $40 in his pocket and bummed around on his way to a holiday in South America. Shocked by the poverty, racism and desperate circumstances he found around him, he began living as a "vagabond" amongst the people he met. His parents sent him a cheap camera and for five years he sold his blood plasma to get the money to buy film as he hitch-hiked over 100,000 miles up and down the poverty-stricken reality of Nixon's America. Needless to say, the pictures and stories that he gathered then, and since, make up an extraordinary, epic read which, typically enough, he has put up online in its entirety. A beautiful voice of conscience, he serves as a stringent reminder of the horror of the real, unromanticised ghetto and also as a gentle but penetrating lesson to people, like myself, much fallen amongst cynicism and laziness and fear.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I'm in the market for information

In the market amongst the usual piles of tat, fake designer clothes and cheap tools were two tall, slim black guys with about eight DVDs laid out on a sheet on the ground. They stood above the DVDs and, as people ventured towards them, began their spiel, in the manner of a courtesy light. "Information everyone needs to know," one of them said. "Information about the government and what it's doing." He pointed to one DVD. "That one's David Icke, talking in Brixton Academy, with part two there's over nine hours of him talking, telling you what's really going on in the world, the Royal Family, the people in power." He paused, apparently waiting for a flood of interest. "That one's Bush and Bin Laden, it tells you how the Bush and Bin Laden families have been doing business together for years. You look intrigued, sir," he said to someone who was walking away. Another black guy bent down to pick up a DVD marked "The Rise of Rastafari". "That one's roots and culture, yes," the salesman said, but it wasn't his top priority. I thought about it, and then I left them to it. "Information everyone needs to hear," said the other guy as I fell back into the crowd perusing mobile phones.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Inventionally

While perusing the groaning shelves of my local shoddy chinese products emporium, I chanced upon this (there will be a picture of it eventually): THE MUG WITH A PLUG. This brilliant invention allows you to drink your cup of tea while getting electrocuted, just the sort of handy technological development that makes having left the trees so worthwhile. But why stop there? Why not develop more rhyming products? Here's a few of my suggestions:

THE CUP WITH A PUP! For all your dog-drinking needs
THE PLATE WITH A GRATE! So you can strain your pasta and eat it in one fell swoop!
THE COMPUTER WITH A ROUTER! This one is self-explanatory
THE CAR WITH A LAR! Once I invent the lar, this will be the obvious next step
THE CLOCK WITH A SMOCK! For those mornings when you just can't face the time
etc

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rolling in the Heather

I see Heather Mills has got £25m for divorcing Macca. £25m! I'd cut off my left leg for that much!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Runway success

So to the Methodist Central Hall for a rally against the proposed third runway at Heathrow. What was I, practically a lynchpin of the apatheterati, doing there amongst the angry and strident? I can only plead fraternity: I was there because a friend was on the abundant list of speakers, and I was working nearby. I remember rallies from the old days, when there was a left-wing to speak of, but this was quite a revelation. The place was full, but it was more of a Methodist congregation than a rabble awaiting rousing – well-heeled, well behaved and predominantly old. I would have been unsurprised to see Saga leafleting outside alongside the Green party. I lost count of the number of full-length coats and fur-trimmed accessories floating about, not to mention the good number of craggy visages topped with gleaming pates (and that was just the women). I wondered if it wasn't just the same left-wing protesters as used to go to rallies all those years ago, older and better off, or whether it really was the new breed of Tory protester, of the kind we first saw marching – marching! - for hunting when Blair was just out the traps. In fact this issue has a cross-party consensus – which sounds good until you remember that the last cross party consensus was for the war on Iraq, but never mind – so we had Tories and lefties and, to judge from the speaker panel, a preponderance of Liberals. Lacking any obvious markers to try and gainsay the scope of the political spectrum represented in the packed hall, I divvied up the greys by counting ties against beards, and came up with a slight leaning to the right. This was somewhat confirmed by one of the early speakers who said of the government: “I don't know who they think they are, and really I don't think they know who we are!” giving the impression that this is all a gigantic mistake which will be put right as soon as the government cottons on to the plethora of Daily Mail readers it is aggravating.

Before the speakers we were treated to a band who played the sort of MOR tune that brought to mind driving out on the M4 listening to Magic FM, so I suppose was suitable. But the lyrics were relevant, if a little gauche. The chorus even included the line “stand up to the powers that be”, something I've not heard for quite a few years. After the band finished playing the song, they quickly reprised it and tried to get everyone standing up and singing along, which was not an overwhelming success.

A lot of MPs queued up to speak with varying degrees of competence, including the Lib Dem leader, who only reinforced the idea that nowadays politicians are geared towards telly, and flounder hopelessly when asked to work a room. Many of the politicians betrayed their lack of mastery, painfully repeating the same facts and lines that previous speakers had iterated, while the crowd grew less and less keen on clapping endlessly as the evening wore on. Susan Kramer did a short speech which was memorable because she said something along the lines of: “There's a lot of people who are not here because they think nothing can be done, well now we can tell them, yes it can.” This, I think, should be said before every public meeting about anything, anywhere.

Much later we had a video message from Boris, which gave the impression that he'd just worked out how to turn the video camera on. He leant into the camera alarmingly, so that his forehead was cut off by the top of the screen, and spoke into it in a haphazard way, from a dowdy looking office with the blinds all drawn, as though he'd been using the video for much more entertaining purposes moments before. The film resembled nothing so much as a poor webcam blog made by a complete idiot, which I suppose is what it was. Boris's act of being a chump seems to have rubbed off on the other Tories; the next one to speak could hardly help himself fluffing his lines in that buffon-charm way that tries to give the idea that “hey, i'm a bit of clown, a fun guy, what possible harm can it do to give me loads of power!”

Despite most people leaving long before the epic list of speakers had been trawled through, the speakers did (generally) get better as things went on, John McDonnell particularly good and Geraldine Nicholson showing the rest what passion, humour and commitment actually look like packaged in a speech.

Speaking personally, I'm not too keen on rallies. Being a contrary type, I tend to find that if I listen to two hours of people stating one point of view, I tend to end up thinking that there must be something pretty good about the opposing view, or they wouldn't be hiding it. That's not to say that the campaign is wrong: the government have undoubtably cheated and lied their way to get this runway which only a tiny group of corporate power players want or stand to gain from. And rallies are also useful for a few other things, one being that you can tell a lot about what is going on by what people clap the loudest. What they clapped the loudest tonight was the statement that the Department of Transport are in bed with the aviation industry.

Afterwards I met a few of the campaigners I knew. Chatting to them was an middle-aged guy, the sort they used to call soap-dodgers, who looked like he'd just come from a tree camp. He made the blue-blazered security nervous. “He's not one of them activists, is he?” one asked.

Friday, February 08, 2008

There goes the childhood

“I'm fed up with these kids, growing up, taking our jobs,” he says. “Have you seen how they go on? They're all crazy, bringing all these drugs and gang fighting, graffiti, violence, this used to be a nice area.”
But weren't you a kid once yourself, I ask.
“Yeah, but I've grown up,” he says. “I've fitted in, become an adult, these kids now they can't do that, you can see, they're just not civilised. My father, OK, he had kids, he was forced to, by unforseen circumstance, but he always made clear we had to be adults and fit in with adults. These kids now, how can they fit in with our adult society? Its in danger of losing its adultness.
So you just want to pull the drawbridge up behind you?
“Look, I'm not against kids, don't get me wrong, but they should stay where they belong and not spoil a perfectly good society.”
Aren't kids good for the economy, I ask. Aren't they going to pay his pension?
“Well, that maybe so, but it doesn't stop it being wrong. We need to Save our Society, Kick the Kids Out!”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Noble Savage

For the last few weeks I’ve been regularly reading Dan Savage’s advice column in the Stranger, “Seattle’s Only Newspaper”. Well what do I know? It turns out that Savage is America’s most popular advice columnist and has been banging out his brand of bolshy, frank, pro-sex counsel to the coitus concerned of America since 1991. It’s as though I’d just found out about a really funny show called Friends (this is a hypothetically funny show called Friends, btw). Not that it matters because, unlike Friends, Dan Savage remains year after year, dare I say it, savagely funny and his advice is spot on more far often than not.