Friday, May 28, 2010

on the train to Hackney

The man on the train to Hackney wears a cheap duffel coat, red chequered shirt and blue jeans. He slouches in his seat, slumping across the gangway to the seats opposite. His slouch occupies a lot of space. One hand fiddles with a tatty canvas bag on the seat beside him while the other flicks through his phone. He calls someone. His African-accented voice sounds slow, tired. He moves his other hand to rest on his lap.


“Do you not have my number on your phone anymore?”

“Hello? I said, do you not have my number on your phone anymore?”

“I met you in Richmond, don’t you remember?”

“In the morning. Yeah.”

“Yeah that's right,”

“Are you sure?”

“Are you sure you don’t remember”

“You used to have my number on your phone.”

“Are you sleeping?”

“You sound tired.”

“Where do you live?”

“I’ve forgotten”

“Croydon? Oh, East Croydon.”

“Do you remember my name?”

“Sanya. Sanya. S-A-N-Y-A.”

“I’ll give you a call back.”

“Should I be expecting your call?”

“I might call you later.”


Across from him, on a seat opposite, I try to scribble down his conversation. As I do so, as nonchalantly as possible, I steal glances at him. I wonder if he is wondering, "what is that man writing?" Next to him sits a very buttoned up middle-aged woman. She sits up straight. Her heavily made-up face doesn’t even twitch. I swap my glance to look at her. She seems as though air is holding her upright. A tiny, tinny cross hangs around her neck.

Next to me a woman is flicking rapidly through a make-up and surgery magazine. I look back at the puffed-up lady in front of me.

“Everybody’s judging,” I scribble.

The man is still flicking through his phone. He alights on a number and puts the phone to his ear. I sit poised, listening.

“Hello Ilts. How are you, it's Sanya, everything’s fine. Just calling to say hi. Anyway hope you’re well. Bye.”

I realise he’s been talking to an answerphone. As he clicks shut his phone, our eyes meet for a moment. I turn the page of the notebook rapidly. He is in grabbing range of it. I picture him snatching it and reading it out to the crowded train. I have deliberately made my scribbles hard to read, but not illegible. I put the notebook in my pocket and pat the flap of the pocket down.

I feel like I am stealing from this man. I am a thief, operating in full view of everyone. I get my notebook out again to write that down.

As I get off the train, I think to myself: “Of all the things in the world, is this what you want to write about?”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Here's how you shred a film

Lindy West on Sex and the City 2 (via)

so, on that basis

Is the road to heaven paved with bad intentions?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

opportunity knockback

Gwarizm has the script of an unfilmed scene from Kids, the Harmony Korine kiddyshokafilthting from wayback in the 1990s when luminous clothing was for oh fuck knows, I can't even remember that far back. Anyway the scene is worth a read, and probably would have improved the film, which I do remember enjoying, at least for the perving over Chloë Sevigny. I actually met Harmony Korine once, very briefly, while I was walking around Camden with Samantha Morton, as you do, or at least as I did do a long time ago. I'd just bumped into a friend and was chatting to him and I looked over and Sam was talking to someone as well, who I took to be a scabby Camden lowlife punting for a bit of change. This meant that I didn't pay much attention to him, beyond wondering when he was going to go away. As soon as he had, she told me who he was and that he was hiding out in London trying to get off smack, and it was all I could do not to go: 'Fuck's sake go and get him back!' Not that I was a huge fan of Mr Korine, but cos you know he's famous and all that, and also he might have liked my script about um kids what run wild or something and fuck each other and get AIDS. Or maybe he'd have cast me in his next hit, whatever the hell that was. At the very least he could have introduced me to Chloë Sevïġnÿ.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The caped crusader of web2.0

Metafilter - it's a geeky web2.0 sort of thing, news, politics, computers, bitching, that sort of thing oh and saving trafficked women from meeting a grisly not-quite-doom-but-quite-doom-enough fate in a Brooklyn Russian mafia strip-joint. The call goes out over the Meta airwaves, but can the geeks and dweebs muster up the muscle to defeat their Russian foes? Can they persuade the girls that they are actually trafficked and in danger and not just on a jolly? Can they bicker amongst themselves? Can they make the webpages of Newsweek? Can they come together to save the day? Follow the action in web-real-time and find out on this week's installment of Metafilter Saves Endangered Women Of The World!!

And the moral is: Sitting in on the internet all day can be a force for good!!!

But, I hear you ask, where's the snark??

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

ideas factory #53: The Backstreets Biking Contest

It's a bicycle time trial between two points in London (or any city, I suppose);

There is a time penalty each time a cyclist passes a set of traffic lights.

The idea is to encourage cyclists to take a route using as few main roads as possible. The game should reward ingenuity, on-the-spot route planning, knowledge of the city's streets, and should promote safer cycling away from main roads.

Cyclists can go on pavements, through pedestrian-only areas, parks etc; however, they cannot use pavements etc to avoid traffic lights unless it constitutes a separate route from the road the traffic lights are on.

Entrants are told their destination five minutes before they must begin. They can consult a map in that time but cannot take a map or iphone etc with them or consult a map en route. They are not allowed to contact anyone else in those five minutes or during the race. This can talk to cabbies, but only to shout obscenities.

The cyclist must self-report the number of traffic lights they passed. All cyclists will have a video camera attached to the front of their bike/helmet; prospective winners will have their videos checked against their report. If this is too awkward/expensive then all cyclists will have to show their route on a map. Race organisers will have to have a map with all traffic lights marked on it. However this would be vulnerable to dishonesty. This is a weakspot.

Another weakspot is that as it is a time trial and not a race, it would be possible for an early entrant to tell a later entrant the destination and for the later entrant to therefore gain an advantage in planning the route, but until there is a major incentive on offer for winning, this probably can be ignored.

The time penalty can be flexible, so for one race could be 1 minute, for another 5 minutes, etc so that a cyclist can use main roads etc when there is no alternative, but is clearly encouraged to seek out new and interesting routes. Obviously cycle fitness would play a part, but perhaps the very fit people would compete in a separate category to people doing it for fun, sort of like the marathon. Bicycles could be put into weight categories, so that pro-level cyclists with their campag & carbon fibre did not dismay amateur entries.

Because the routes would be right across London and not just in the city/West End, cycle couriers wouldn't have a completely unfair advantage. Because entrants could use pedestrian ways, cabbies (if they ever cycle) would not have as much advantage as you might think.

Any ideas to make the rules watertight, or any idea whether it is feasible or interesting are welcome.

Now I know what you're thinking: you're thinking it's a sort of cumbersome, rulebound, pussified version of this shit below, only our one doesn't automatically reward cycling like a inconsiderate twat. Also we'd have much better music.

(More urban bike race videos here)

Monday, May 17, 2010

even more on time

The question of what was before or after time has always bugged me, as well as how time could come into existence with the creation of the universe, since shouldn't there always have been time? But if time always existed, at what time was the creation of the universe? 10.30 on a Tuesday morning? This has always been baffling. Well I read a little bit the other day about Aristotle, and how he says that time is the measure of change. I have since tried to read the relevent part (Physics iv, 10-14) but Aristotle is a cagey bugger and rarely makes anything particularly clear, at least to my sullied brain. So apologies if you know about Aristotle and my simpleton's take on it offends you.

Aristotle says that time is a measure of change. (That's as much Aristotle as I understand. The rest is my interpretation.) Time doesn't exist inandof itself, it only exists as a by-product of change, as a means to measure change. Therefore in the pre-created universe (a rather nice impossibility), the changeless void, there was no time. Only when the universe began to change - changing from a changeless to a changing universe, which was the very first change - did time become apparent. So the act of creation was to institute change in a changeless universe.

This doesn't really take account of where the matter of the universe came from (it came from nowhere, obviously), nor how something changes from being changeless to changing, but it does neatly wed the beginning of time to the beginning of the universe (or at least the beginning of the changing universe).

So creation was the change from changeless to changing. And the end of the universe will be the change back, as change slows down until there is no change, although you suspect that the changes just get further and further apart, until there is a long period of changelessness, which eventually changes again back into changing - the universe slowing right down until it appears to be dead, and then starting up again. But you can't really have a period of changelessness, since if there is no change there is no time, since there is nothing to measure. To an observer, the 'periods' of changelessness would be instantaneous. So perhaps the universe wouldn't slow down at all, but would just one day change back to changelessness. That might mean that everyone was just left doing whatever they were doing at that time for a timeless eternity, but they wouldn't mind much and in any case I think you can safely discount this paragraph.

Time being thought of as a measure helps to explain why it was sometimes (not any more, apparently) called the 4th dimension, since you measure an event's height, length, depth and time, which is something else I hadn't got my head around. If you can think of other things you measure: price, stupidity, number of votes, etc, you can bring a whole new dimension to any argument you might be having.

I guess change being the cornerstone of the creation of the universe is why down-and-outs are always asking for more change. And even the Conservatives were telling people to vote for change recently.

Obviously I welcome anybody who can explain to me how wrong I am. Although you might have your work cut out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Frequential Questionation

Lately I've been innundated with questions from my ocean of readers, so I thought I'd make it easier for you all and create an FAQ in which hopefully all your questions will be answered. If you have any others, that aren't covered, by all means ask away, and I'll add them to the bottom, assuming they come up to my high standard of intellect, which probably counts most of you out doesn't it.

Incidentally if anyone here has any idea how to make blogger let me make blogger let me make blogger let me make well anyway I'd like external links from this blog to open in a new tab/window (this is now happening just about), but I'd also contradicterilly like internal links to not open in a new tab/window, but to open in the same one they're already in. I've perused the great world wide web to no great effect so I'm reduced to asking here, like a poor man asking the wind for his dinner.

merci beaucoup mes amis xcb

Saturday, May 15, 2010

when it goes off

You want to be a writer? You need to get on your arse

Wow! ON your arse! I see what you did there!

Hey, get off my back!

Suck on my cock!

God, get that chip off your shoulder!

You're off your head!

Friday, May 14, 2010

it's finally happened #14 : "Buy the memoir based on the Twitter page"

Shit my dad says - a mildly amusing twitter feed of what one cranky old guy says to his live-at-home adult son while they sit and watch Golden Girls re-runs together - has been made into a book. The agent has obviously done a mortifyingly good job in steering what is, let's be honest, about as thin a book proposal as you can possibly imagine into a - and I quote - "brilliantly funny, touching coming-of-age memoir around the best of his quotes." Isn't this is the sort of shit they warned us would happen just before the end of days? I guess the lesson is, get 1,000,000 followers on Twitter and you can write whatever the fuck you like.

Private Eye Covered!

This is ace: get a fair-sized pic of any Private Eye cover you fancy. Some good un's, laboriously collated via an extremely irritating interface by your faithful blogger : 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Well I got carried away : 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

They make up a very particular trawl through political history, with a bit of culture thrown in, and a lot of Royal piss-takes. A lot of my picks for some reason are from the Major years, which look more and more like the Seventies used to.

is tumblr drier?

Because this blogging everyday thing has been going quite well, for me at least, not for anybody else so far as I can tell, I thought I'd fuck it up by starting a tumblr blog as well what will take this feed and do something with it I don't know what [edit: apparently fuck all], also other fancy shit, I don't know if it's any good, I had to get before those rap-rockers done me again. At least it's another place I can not have any readers.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dreams of our leaders

I had a dream about Barack Obama the other night, I can't remember much of it anymore but one distinct thing I remember was that we were having a chat and he said I should come to Yale or something like that and then he went off and I went opened a door and he was having a sneaky line of coke, the little toerag. I wonder if he's having dreams about me - 'and then this scrawny English dude popped up and pissed everyone off' - but I'm sure he's got much more interesting things to dream about. Leaders of the world must have very interesting dreams. Who gets to analyse them? That's a job I could envisage for myself. Apart from anything else it's traditional.

But what state secrets does the dream analyst know? Obama comes in: I had this dream where Joe Biden was fucking Hilary in my stock cupboard and I couldn't get any stationary out to write my handwritten note of the week. And the therapist goes: well what do you think it means? Can't imagine Cameron and Clegg - Clamereggon I think I shall settle on - It's Clamereggon time! I'ma Clamereggon outa here! - anyway, what dreams are they having? Actually I don't want to know, Cameron's probably dreaming about eating the welfare state for dinner, possibly with the Clegg as an hors d'oeuvre, who knows, Clegg is dreaming about at last getting his hands on the bottom of the greasy pole - say! no! mowah! - Putin dreams about judo and chess obviously, jesus what the hell am I talking about, I know fuck all about world leaders, who else is there that we can play guess their dreams hmmmm Kay Burley, she dreams about being vaguely competent in some far away land, Miliband (D) dreams of bananas coming in the night to fuck his shit up, Miliband (E) dreams of bananas coming in the night to fuck his brother's shit up, Simon Cowell has this recurring dream where he has a friend or a shred of respect from a normal person, this one may run and run, as soon as I get my dreaminator on the go, famous people of the world beware, your sleep is my goldmine

Who the fuck is critical bill?

One of the benefits of taking an internet pseudonym from a popular Hollywood film is that you get to share it with all sorts. There aren't actually that many criticalbills out there, but there is this lot of Detroit rock-rappers. They've been teasing me for ages with a t-shirt that says "Who the fuck is criticalbill?" but whenever I've tried to actually see it, I've come back empty-browsered. Maybe I should make it and sell it to them. Anyway in the spirit of name-sharing promotion, here's a rather jaunty ditty by them, accompanied by a tasteful, bauhaus-influenced video, called My Sewer Side. At least that's what I think he's saying. I wonder whether MTV would film me and them doing a life swap.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It was The Sun wot Scummed it

If you missed today's Sun well, lucky you. The newspaper which knows no shame continued its hagiographic approach to news reporting, going with the headline "Dave New World"; as stupid a headline as you are ever likely to see - quite apart from the profound inanity, what the hell does this "Dave New World" consist of? A bloke called Dave, stroking his pregnant wife's belly for the cameras (An absolutely true, unmadeup fact). That's it. That's what Dave New World consists of. What particular policies are a sign of our Dave New World? That we have someone called Dave in No10? Anything else come to mind?

The paper already made itself the laughing stock of all vaguely sentient people with its Cameron as Obama mockup on election day, nicely deconstructed by Nick Cohen:
The Sun was engaging in propaganda as insultingly stupid as anything produced by a dictatorship when it depicted David Cameron as Barack Obama – as if a decision by British voters to elect their 19th old Etonian prime minister would have been as radical and inspiring as the decision by US voters to elect their first African-American president.
But today it went even further, monumentally embarrassing itself with sycophantic soft focus drivel about the Dave New World and his missus what is preggers don't you know, cor get in son, he's got seeds you know, not just any old jaffa gawd luv our new ruler, got his very own semen he has too, a true man of the people. Fucking idiots. Has anyone at The Sun read Brave New World? It's not the literary reference I'd have gone for. The nefarious scumsheet's current derision for the general public is unsurpassed, even in its long and illustrious career of despicabletude. What makes it yet more debilitating is the shameless dressing up of cynical political calculations in robes of idealism and positivity. What accomodation do you think the Cleggeron came to over Murdoch and the BBC? But in a way the fawning is so epically over the top that it can't be simple political calculations. There's no teenager on this planet that wouldn't be mortified to be that head-over-heels with someone, let alone for everyone in the country to find out. Not a good look at all. Which makes you think: shit, surely they can't believe this drivel?

No of course they don't.

But what am I thinking of? Surely this is a Brave New Dave World after all. Having read Mentalie Phillips's latest column, I'm completely with the Cleggeroonians. Anyway who can annoy the mad monk that much has got to have something going for them.
The LibDems are broadly further to the left of Labour. That means what they stand for is not nice at all. It means they have an ideological, illiberal view of the world which undermines the moral basis of this society at every turn, replacing truth, justice and morality by ideology and the demonisation of dissent.
Off her tiny chops is the phrase that springs to mind.

reasons to be cheerful

Hmmm, this should be tricky. As Tory scumbags molest the front door of No10 and frighten all the staff for the first time since the last Ice Age, I feel that it's incumbent on us to look on the positives, to keep our heads up high, and also to look at some negatives because, well that should be a bit easier.

So thinking of good things to come of the marriage of Posh Tory and Soggy Tory we have:
  • No ID cards. Let's not forget that the Liberals (and some Tories like David Davis) were on the right side of the civil liberties debate, while Labour were so far on the wrong side they were practically in the next debate along.
  • Referendum of the voting system. Apparently there's a lot of doubt that the country will vote for changing the system, but if people won't vote for their own votes to be counted more fairly I give up altogether. Admittedly this wouldn't be the first time I've given up altogether, but it might be the last.
  • Let's face it, we had Labour for 13 years but you'd have been hard pressed to call it left-wing, what with inequality rising, bankers feted, Iraq, and so on. Sometimes left-wing governments do very right-wing things, and get away with it because they have their left flank covered. Similarly right-wing governments sometimes do left-wing things: in this case I can't see Camerunt avoiding a rise in income tax rates for the better off, although this may be wishful thinking. In any case I don't reckon that this term of Tory government will be substantially worse than if Labour had won. However, if they win the next election, then shit starts to fuck up.
  • This was definitely the election to lose for Labour. Even when the Lib-Lab coalition looked likely, I can't say I mustered much enthusiasm. They'll have the luxury of opposition, plus a huge swathe of disaffected Liberal voters - not Liberals, who'd sell their own mothers for a glimpse of power, and just have done, but people who voted Liberal to keep out the Tories. Ha fucking ha is all I can say. I refer you to what I said here.
  • The politicking between the Tories and the Libs (or the Tories and the marginally lighter blue Tories perhaps) should get interesting as the next election approachs. Isn't it quite difficult to campaign against the party you've been in government with for the last five years?
OK that's enough positives. I'm all exhausted now. Some not so positives
  • The Tories may strengthen in power. One of the noticable things has been people not wanting a Tory government because of the so-called 'folk' memories of Thatcher et al. So all Camerunt has to do is not be as bad as Thatcher and some of that fear may evaporate at the next election. He should manage that, despite his Tory Boy instincts, due to both not winning the election outright and having to have the Liberals onboard, and also there not being as much Thatcherite shite left to do anymore.
  • That over-sized prep school twat in charge of the treasury.
  • fuck this, you can do the negatives yourselves.
One of the most heartening things, sort of, has been the huge interest in politics again, so much so that I felt morally obliged to write about it today, which must be the first time ever. Never before has my facebook been nothing but people talking about politics. It's an extraordinary thing, as if a million people were all secretly interested in politics but it was out of fashion, so they all pretended they weren't. Now, suddenly it is acceptable to talk about politics in polite circles. Maybe now people will take an interest and get involved in some level, instead of, as I have for the last 20 years, sitting around going: they're all cunts, blah blah blah, fuckem, as if some other alternative is just going to land on our heads. Of course current politics disenfranchises and alienates ordinary people, but it's down to ordinary people to do something about it, not just moan and whinge. I've made up (right this second as I write this) a new and irritating slogan: Democracy is a verb not a noun. Ha! that doesn't even make sense. But democracy - government of the people - can only function properly when people contribute, take an interest and stop moping about, complaining about the media and politicians. You can't have will of the people when the people don't have any will. And yeah, I'm really taking this on board myself today. I've been away for a few years and look what you lot have let happen!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On Time

bastards bastards bastards its going to be a long five years. Thank god though cos a short five years would be a sign that you were really fucking old, like as if you were 80 and then your 85 and it's like, wow that was quick, how the hell did that ever happen, what's on the telly, whaddyamean Kojak's not on anymore! One of the worst things about getting old - and I mean my sort of getting old not getting actually old as in decrepit, I mean the sort of old where you can still do things you used to when you were young just they hurt a lot but they haven't actually been fully taken away from you yet - anyway one of the worst things about getting old - older, I should have said, older - is that you realise that things that you thought had amazing significance when you were young were just flashing past most older people in the blink of an eye. I realised recently that the reason time goes slower when you're younger is that young people have quicker brains. Their brain does more in the time, so it appears to them that time is slower, the same as with flies and other little insects. Luckily they're also stupider, so they appear to take the same amount of time to think things - which is why it is possible for us to converse with them, just about - but actually they think at a very much faster rate. I've also realised that no matter how long you've been alive, or how long you live, it always seems like the same amount of time - a lifetime - so a long life or a short life seems the same. Well, life is short innit, goes so quick, they say. Well, of course it goes quick, everything went quick once it's finished, how quick do they think it was going to go? "Oh I thought life was going to take bloody ages but it only took 75 years, blink of an eye." People do talk an awful lot of total shite when you start thinking about it. Life isn't short or long. It's like saying space is big. Well, space is big, but you can also fit it into a matchbox. The reason we call life short is just that we fill ourselves up with so much past and future that the actual life we lead seems irrelevant. In fact it's as long if not longer than the life we used to lead on the savannah, and that seemed to take ages, unless you were eaten by a lion I suppose and then you'd just be glad to get the fuck out of there, you wouldn't be moaning about how quick it had gone. Anyway, the upshot of all this is that time is slow when you're young, fast when you're old, but remember this: it's always now.

Monday, May 10, 2010

ideas factory: #42 : The time-limited tea bag

Can't someone make a teabag that stops brewing after a few minutes? After the allotted time, the paper in the bag shrivels up and stops the tea brewing any further. Or the bag fills itself with air and floats to the top. Or the tea is specially treated so that it dissolves as it brews, so after a few minutes there's no leaves even left.

Why the hell has no-one done this yet? How can people spend so much time on terrabytes and particle accelerators and whatnot, when there's so much of the basics to sort out?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Stones throw

I went to Brighton the other day. Well not the other day, whenever the hell it was. Brighton, famous for Brighton rock, as much because of the pebbly beach as the crab stick style sweet. Whose idea was the pebbly beach? Some right fucking idiot - it's a beach, but it's got stones on it! Why not go the whole hog and just have a beach made up of broken glass? (Not unheard of, apparently.) Who designed the pebbly beach? To what end do you have a perfectly nice seafront, perfectly respectable piers and arcades, all in the service of a beach that constantly stabs your feet and leaves red marks on your arse?

Is there any other country that even has the pebbly beach? I've never heard of one. If they do, they're obviously keeping very quiet about it. They obviously realise that a pebbly beach is no sort of beach at all. In other countries, pebbly beaches (if they exist at all) have totally different names, like 'harbour' or 'disused land'.

Do you remember the first time you went to the seaside and it was a pebbly beach? How you never trusted your parents about anything again? The miserable sand castles? Throwing sand in someone's face and giving them a black eye? Trying to bury someone and accidentally stoning them to death? Being carted off by the police and taken to a care home where you fell into the all-consuming darkness, before being spat out the other end a severely damaged hopeless drug addict, violent criminal and all-round bad egg? Because of the stones, that's why, because of the stones.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

John Cleese on PR

It turns out I didn't need to write a screed on PR. John Cleese has done it for me, in this SDP/Liberal Alliance party political broadcast from 1987. Worth watching for both the overview, which is good, and for the sight of John Cleese jumping the comedy shark. Via

wouldn't let it lie

Lies. Everybody tells them. Everyone expects them. We can't handle the truth - we actually want people to tell us lies. We tell so many lies we even lie to ourselves. What's the biggest lie we tell? When we tell children: "You shouldn't tell lies."

What's the difference between the lies we accept and expect and the lies we despise? Some lies we tell to spare other people's feelings. But a lot of lies we think are sparing other people's feelings we're just telling because we can't be bothered to deal with other people's feelings. Other lies we might tell because we're "playing the game", or because "everyone does it", like lying on your CV or to the dole. But if you have to tell lies to get by, how come we tell kids not to tell lies. Shouldn't we be telling them: "fuck yeah tell lies, you're going to need the practice"?

Perhaps kids just naturally tell so many lies - since the human race is such a naturally duplicitous species - that when we tell them not to we're merely pruning an already abundant fruit bush of its most egregious branches. Perhaps the end result is a happy medium between our innate desire to lie continuously, about every possible aspect of our lives, and society's need for a certain level of honesty in order to function.

Of course what we really mean is: Don't tell me lies. Or at least don't tell me the sort of lies that I don't want to hear. Tell me no end of lies about how good-looking I am, or clever, or how much you liked my blog. And I'll tell you the same. And tell me lies to make it all easier, where to be honest I can't be bothered to hear the truth any more than you can be bothered to tell it. But not the sort of lie where I actually want to know the truth. Where the lie makes me worse off.

How do you tell the difference? This is actually a perfect example of the dilemma: I could say I knew, but I'd be lying. Maybe you want me to lie, to make thia blog post that much more interesting. Or maybe you want the 'truth', because you only want blog posts with well-verified factual information (in which case, what the hell are you doing here?). So now I don't know whether to tell you a lie about whether I know whether you should tell a lie. Are you going to take that lying down?

Then there's politics. Politicians routinely lie - think: I care about your concerns; I only want to serve the public; When I'm elected I will do this, this and this; We're all in it together; Whatever I do will be in the national interest, etc - and we expect nothing less. Consider a politician who tells the truth, if your imagination can stretch that far. It's not a story that gets off the first page. Not only do politicians lie to us, but we lie to them. For example, when we say we want politicians to be honest. Or when we say we want 'real' politicians, not slick media constructs.

We even lie to the pollsters. The polling firms have something called the Shy Tory Factor, where they bump up the Tory percentage because they think a lot of people are too ashamed to admit that they're going to vote Conservative. Now I don't know, but it strikes me that if you won't admit who you're going to vote for, even to a complete stranger who most likely doesn't care, or if you are in a party that people are too ashamed to admit to voting for, maybe you just need to take a good look at yourself. Lying to strangers is a particularly stupid form of lying, unless of course they're asking directions.

And let's not get started on how the land lies.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Keeping it in proportion

It looks like the Tories are going to try to cobble together some sort of minority government, maybe with some Lib Dems on board - although Cameron's 'big, open, comprehensive offer' didn't seem to amount to much - so we may miss out on a Proportional Representation deal between Labour and the Libs. This is a massive shame, and it's a massive shame for Labour as well as the Liberals.

Labour has traditionally supported First Past The Post, because they've believed that it works for them and they can form strong governments in their turn. But the reality is that since 1997 FPTP enabled Labour to betray a lot of their supporters - to take them for granted - in pursuit of the middle ground of middle England. So electoral reform could in theory allow a truly progressive coalition to govern, marginalising the Tories and the right-wing centre of gravity that has held the country in its grasp since the 1980s.

Maybe it's wishful thinking. I don't know where the idea that the UK has a progressive majority actually comes from, but I think it's certainly true that the changes wrought by a new electoral system will be far more far reaching than just empowering the Liberals to hold the balance of power. It is likely that it would dramatically change both the two major parties profoundly. Which is what we supposedly want isn't it?

This is the day after the election that never (sort of) was, and I'm not doing very much. So with my sense of public service geed up from watching all those selfless politicians at work, and because I think someone might possibly find it helpful, I hereby present:

criticalbill's guide to electoral systems

I've tried to keep it as plain as possible. Despite being mostly culled from wikipedia, I'm confident that it's relatively accurate, or at least I will be once someone who knows about these things has had a good look over it. It is of course another missive from the politics-student-who-never-was, but what can you do.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Generalised election

Someone said to me that my line that Tories are for cunts, Libs for wets, etc was a bit broad. Apart from anything else: of course it's a bit fucking broad, it's a fucking generalisation, made for the purposes of simplifying things. What kind of generalisation isn't broad?

Anyway this one happens to be true. To prove it, just ask yourself this: When was the last time you heard someone say "I really care about helping the poor, the needy, the sick, the unwanted, the homeless, the outcasts. So I'm going to join the Tories."

I mean what does it say that Simon fucking Cowell - aka Mr Nasty - is on the front page of the Sun supporting them? Does that fit with "detoxifying the brand"?

As for the Liberals, they like to have it both ways. Talk a good progressive talk, but whenever I've seen them take over a council it's always been the right-wing agenda. Sort of like a girl getting spit-roasted by a pair of footballers. They might suck the left wing's dick, but they're getting fucked by the Tories.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

John Cooper Clarke, Barfly Camden

John Cooper Clarke, variously called the Bard of Salford, the Salford Poet Laureate, the Salford Bob Dylan, well you get the idea, he's a poet from Salford. The rhyming ranter, who seems to have had more comebacks than a gay porno star who won't do facials, hasn't exactly been fastidious in mopping up the residue of his unlikely punk-era success - a long heroin addiction, followed by domestic bliss in Colchester, seems to have kept him absorbed. Chickentown appearing at the end of an episode of the Sopranos hasn't hurt though, and despite not having released an album since 1982, he's kept up performing sporadically, enough to stay honed and keep him writing new poems.

Late on stage ('old punks never die, they just keep you waiting until you wish they had'), looking much the same as ever, with a few extra wrinkles, he soon settled into an act that was as heavy on the raconteur as on the poetry. I tell you what, you couldn't think of a better man to do a best man speech, he spins more yarns than a medieval dressmaker, and crams a heap of jokes in as well. It seems like his greatest feat wasn't getting poetry into punk gigs as much as sneaking a whole working men's club cabaret act in. Working men's clubs was where he was started out, when punk was still a globule of spit in Malcolm McLaren's eye. He mentioned the downbeat introductions he used to get: "Here he is all the way from Salford, he's not my cup of tea but you might like him, John Cooper Clarke." There are an awful lot of gags packed into his show. And an awful lot of them, it should be said, are not strictly speaking his. When I mentioned this afterwards a friend told me I was a joke nerd, which is true. It also didn't help that I'd listened to a fair few of his recordings and read some recent interviews, so I'd heard or read too many of his own jokes for my own good. So maybe it's more my problem than his.

The poems remain the blistering tour de forces/tours de force they ever were. He ran through some of the old favourites at a pelt, as if he was trying to finish them before a train pulled out the station. Seems like he's always done this - compare these two versions of Twat. He also blitzed classics like I Don't Ever Want To Go To Burnley (with possibly the greatest opening line in the history of poetry), Chickentown and Hanging Gardens of Basildon. Maybe he's read them too often, maybe he was trying to make up time; I don't know, personally I could have handled him taking a bit longer. He was more stately when he read the newer ones, including the heartfelt I've Fallen In Love With My Wife and an unfinished one about the b-movie Attack of the 50ft Women. This led him into a digression about Helvetica Light - he turns out to be a typography nerd, another feature we share, along with old jokes and world-class poetry - and how he always reads it as Attack of the Soft Woman. He mentioned his Jewish-Irish background and how common it is in Salford - "Everyone goes to confession but we take a lawyer with us."

When I watched a few youtube videoes the other day it was like he'd set about me - I went for a walk and found that I was thinking entirely in Mancunian-accented rhymes - and it was easy to see how he'd fitted in so well with the punk movement. He reminded me of when I first read The Boy Looked At Johnny, sharp, direct, aggressive brilliance, and made me want to take a razor to my writing, cut out the pretensions, and speak with a clear, unsullied voice. Nowadays I'd say he's a bit more comfortable and relaxed, maybe he lacks a bit of the acrid, angry stringency that electrifies the old recordings, but what the hell, he's a 62-year-old legend, with great comic timing, and great comic rhyming. On the other hand, I'm not called criticalbill for nothing.

As for my ongoing plan to record all spoken word gigs I go to, I took both my flaky voice recorder and my ipod; the voice recorder worked perfectly, for the first time in donkey's years, but I took it out of my pocket to check it 10 mins in, and knocked it onto pause. They can’t find a good word for you, but I can... TWAT. The ipod also worked perfectly, but the 70-minute file it created seems to have driven it into a black hole of technological incorrigability. The upshot being I don't have a recording. The 10 minutes I do have is just enough to make me really wish I'd not fucked it up. Maybe next time I'll learn shorthand.

Bonus youtube feature: Ten Years In An Open-Necked Shirt

PPS: Incidentally, with his intricate, fiery rhymes, there is a case, if it wasn't for the geographical incongruity, for JCC to be considered a major forerunner of rap. Twat, for example, with its succession of cold-ass one liners, is one of the greatest diss records ever recorded. And Beasley Street gives you ghetto rhymes, albeit of Salford slums, but he's keeping it real alright.

Monday, May 03, 2010


Twitter, that massive great big thing that could be good but yet somehow doesn't seem to be. Or I haven't worked it out yet. A lot of it seems to be one half of a conversation, inconsequential outbursts or links that you'll never click on. It could be good for keeping up with things in real time, but when do you really need to keep up with things in real time? To get the best out of it you seem to need your iPhone glued to your face, which may yet appeal to some people.

Apart from fireland, he actually makes twitter work, one and two liners from a world about which 140 characters is probably as much as you want to know. He's reminiscent of the Far Side, in that he provides the set up and your imagination provides the punch line. Unfortunately, given more room, he doesn't do as well, although his tumblr blog has some moments.

Choice tweet

This old list from gawker has him at number 1, followed by 11 other twitterers who, according to my cursory skim through, just don't cut it. The best of the rest is probably AinsleyofAttack, and she's way, way behind.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Football's mercenaries

It must be Football's Only A Game weekend in the Guardian. Maybe they're trying to soften us up for England's disastrous election results world cup campaign.

First, Tottenham's Benoit Assou-Ekotto, that rare thing, an articulate footballer says: "The president of my former club Lens said I left because I got more money in England, that I didn't care about the shirt. I said: 'Is there one player in the world who signs for a club and says, Oh, I love your shirt?' Your shirt is red. I love it."

Typical Spurs.

And here Danny Mills (or Daniel John 'Danny' Mills, as wikipedia has it) - who Arsenal fans will remember chiefly for being reverse nutmegged by Thierry Henry - says that players don't take football anywhere nearly as seriously as fans, and that the fans should probably calm down a bit.

That's obviously true, but players have other motivations to play, like, I don't know, their weekly cash enemas, whereas fans are the one's paying. If the fans didn't feel so passionate, emotional, absorbed, obsessed and basically feel about football the same way they did when they were six years old, how many of them would bother shelling out their money and time on over-priced tickets, travel, merchandise, pints of pissy lager, sky sports subs, all things that mean that Danny Mills never has work another day in his life.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Workers unite! You have nothing to lose but your day off

(more undergraduate politics for you)

I was in my local shop this morning and the Turkish shopkeeper was watching coverage of the Workers' Day celebrations in Istanbul. It was probably equivalent to the sort of coverage we get on the Queen's Jubilee, huge crowds cheering, flags waving, updates rolling across the bottom of the screen. One million people, he reckoned, were out on the Turkish capital's streets celebrating. The caption at the bottom of the screen said (in Turkish, he translated) that it was 32 years since they'd celebrated workers' day in the Taksim Square; In 1977, he told me, soldiers attacked the crowd trying to mark the occasion, killing 30 people.

So in Istanbul one million (probably less) celebrate; in Athens there are protests about the Greek fiscal crisis; in Germany nazis and leftists clash; and so on around the world; in London ... not so much. Obviously in this country the idea of international workers solidarity is forever cursed with the shadow of Fred Kite and Wolfie Smith, and the lost days of the 1970s; now we're in a new, brave, fresh, completely fucked Great Britain, in which we don't have workers - quite literally sometimes - we have service providers, we certainly don't have unions, those evil bugbears who you have to strain to remember used to represent most of us.

I still don't understand quite why the working classes, especially in the south east, have been so keen to cast off their gowns of workers pride and hug the rather meagre embrace of the middle-class; why they should feel themselves better/separate from the other workers - well, a cod-psychologist like myself would immediately ascribe a deep self-loathing, but why should that be so, when, especially after the 1960s, the sense of working-class pride was very strong. And in any case, the middle-classes are workers too. But it's nevertheless true that many working-class people deride the rest of the working-classes. In his brilliant book Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew, Bernard Hare tells of his disgust when he went round London pubs collecting for the miners' strike and men spat in his face. "I could never come to terms with being spat at by my fellow countrymen," he says, and he promptly moved back to Leeds. Even I, who grew up with working-class kids whose dads probably would have done exactly that, even I, however many years later, felt shocked on his behalf.

It makes you wonder if all that talk about broken Britain, feral kids and the like (and they don't get any more feral that the Chapeltown ragamuffins of Hare's book), well perhaps if this underclass saw a sense of pride in being a worker, instead of it being outdated to aspire to just having a decent job and a decent life - and if there still was any work for them anyway - well maybe they wouldn't be running around burning houses down and bricking windows and acting the Daily Heil bogeykids.

John Grey, always interesting, says that the destruction that Thatcher's unleashed market forces wrought was in many ways the opposite effect to what she intended. He writes:
The conservative country of which she dreamed had more in common with Britain in the 1950s, an artefact of Labour collectivism, than it did with the one that emerged from her free-market policies. A highly mobile labour market enforces a regime of continuous change. The type of personality that thrives in these conditions is the opposite of the stolid, dutiful bourgeois Thatcher envisioned ... Thatcher’s economic revolution was meant to go along with something like a social restoration. Instead, it led to Britain as it is today.
But to blame Thatcher, just as the right-wing like to instead blame the permissive Sixties, is in someways to mark the symptom as the cause - the move away from collectivism and towards individualism was far more deep-rooted than a few long-haired pop stars, or sharp-voiced matriachagogues.

(look at me, pretending i know what i'm talking about)

Another reason that workers' day is so denigrated in England is I suppose its association with the communists, who, despite Marx living half his life here, have never been much loved by the nation of shopkeepers. Labour managed to get May Day onto the book of bank holidays - and who complains about an extra day's holiday, ah yes the bosses do - although it says something that workers celebrate being a worker by having a day off. I have a sneaking concern that if Cameron does clamber aboard Number 10 next week he may well spot a neat political manouevre in moving the May Day bank holiday to St George's Day. In one fell swoop he can both reward the 'patriots', ie. The Sun, and antagonise what's left of the left. Perhaps, however, that would be a move too far for the old Etonion. Who knows what nascent workers' solidarity such a move might unearth. They say the devil's greatest trick was to convince the world he didn't exist - well similarly the ruling class's greatest trick was to convince the workers that they didn't exist, that we're all in it together, to coin a topical phrase. Cameron may find his bloodline to the aristocracy - not to mention his £30m fortune - might come to fore then, even as the media tells us that his upbringing, background and friends aren't important, no not at all, what's important is the colour of his tie.