Wednesday, December 29, 2004

longing in the tooth

Today featured the joy of going to the dentist for a filling. Never an event to look forward to, it is made far far worse for me by the fact that I have a sexy dentist.

I mean, if there's someone sexy working in your local record shop you can talk about the music they've put on the stereo. A sexy person at the desk in the cinema obviously likes film; again something interesting, a clue to their taste, an opening of conversation. You can pop in every few days, showing that you share the great passion that employs them.

But with a dentist there is only one possible reason to go more frequently than every six months; you have crap teeth. And if the object of your desire is going to have one pernickety stipulation about any prospective lover then, being a dentist, it's surely going to be that they have nice teeth.

Even if it weren't a big deal for them, how would you get into any kind of real exchange? You get a maximum of two short sentences of talk before you have to lie there with your mouth open making gurgling noises. And even those two sentences are inhibited by the chaperone presence of the dentist's assistant, in front of whom the dentist will want to look very professional and not at all flirty.

Despite all of this my dentist managed to make me feel right in my judgement.

'How are you?' she asked when I walked in.

'Great, survived Christmas. Yourself?' I replied.

'Yeah, I'm cool'.

Cool. A dentist who describes her general state as cool. A dentist who wears trainers to work.

Be still my beating heart.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

so hard to beat

It's surprising how deeply John Peel's death has touched the national psyche, and how it continues to affect people and be a topic of conversation. Seems like we all thought he was a hero but somehow also thought the rest of the world thought of him as an old duffer who played bonkers music, often at the wrong speed.

After so much idle recreational grief at celebs dying, and all that sickening tripe about how Reagan was a good guy (let that make us forewarned and forearmed against anything other than vengeant jubilation when Thatcher goes), and how Diana was 'one of us', the aftermath of Peel's death is so very different.

There's something tremendously heartening to know that what he did and what he stood for meant so much to so many. That people really got it, they loved and respected him out of a real understanding of what he was about. I feel like it's been proven that my compatriots are kinder, more intelligent, more humane and more weird than I gave them credit for.

Even excruciating Radio 1 morning DJ Chris Moyles who is a reliably arrogant and boorish egotist - if you imagine Steve Wright as cocaine then Moyles is ketamine and Special Brew consumed on a heavy dirty comedown - was affected. Receiving a text asking if the mourning shouldn't be lifted after several days he simply told the author, on air, 'go screw yourself'.

Most weeks since Peel's death I've had a DJing gig, and I've made a point of putting Teenage Kicks into the record box. Most times I've played it someone's bounded up euphorically shouting 'JOHN PEEEEEEEL!'. Always celebratory, never maudlin.

At Aspire's superb all-nighter on the 11th I played an extended set in the Radio Savage Houndy Beasty room due to the rest of the Beasty boys misjudging their intake somewhat (one of the team urgently needed to dance and stroke people, the other two just sat there for several hours, wide-eyed and exhaling loudly through pursed lips).

After spinning Teenage Kicks I left a gap before starting the next record and shouted 'let's hear it for John Peel!'. It got the best enthusiastic cheer I've heard since the bit in Paul McCartney's Glastonbury set when he asked for a cheer for another John.

Speaking of which, Glastonbury Festival, the cultural barometer of Britain, has renamed the New Bands stage in Peel's honour. Though it was always a bit of an odd name anyway for the place that put on 'new bands' like John Cale, Spiritualized, Ian McNabb and Patti Smith.

Glastonbury's site is also one of the many places that have a touching personal eulogy.

Radio 1 had a commemoration night on 16th December called Keep It Peel, and the BBC have set up a special Peel page full of links and archive material.

Meanwhile here on the funksome streets of Leeds 6, he is commemorated in several ways.

Within a couple of days of his death, a stencil-spray appeared on walls, pavements and roads around LS6.

The front window of a house in Brudenell Street wishes that the simultaneous Bush and Peel news stories were reversed; PEEL FOR PRESIDENT, BUSH FOR UNTIMELY DEATH

And then at the corner of Hyde Park there's the statue of Robert Peel, godfather of the Conservative Party and inventor of the coppers. He's been sporting rather natty England face paint for several months now, but this week his plinth has been amended to suggest that we commemorate an altogether better class of Peel.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

christmas time (is here again)

I'm really looking forward to A Beatles Christmas, a Radio 2 documentary on the 27th about the Beatles Christmas records. Every year they'd get together and arse about, sending the resulting recording out as a flexidisc to members of their fan club.

It's great because, as with something like REM's drunken cover of King of The Road, a sense of humour removes the image of po-facedness and makes an artist's work more accessible; paradoxically, the daftness makes us take them more seriously.

But more than this is something Nick Hornby pointed out in 31 Songs, the best book of writing about music I've ever read. He said the reason we love these out-takes and B-sides and whatnot from great artists is because we've grown up around all the A-sides and classics, and inevitably something is lost in the overexposure.

Nobody under 45 can tell you when they first heard She Loves You. Everyone from my seven year old niece to your gran can sing along with when When I'm 64 or I Saw Her Standing There, even though these are album tracks that were never issued as singles.

There is no other band like it. It's as if foetal development now includes growing limbs, forming a skelton and knowing all the Beatles tunes.

Yet when we hear something not overly familiar we see them there at their prime, genius soaring, and we find something else too; it's fresh to us, we get a glimpse of what it must've been like to feel the impact of them at the time, of why they earned this untouchable iconic status.

As a festive bonus I've added several Christmas oddities to my little MP3s page. There's the Beatles Christmas Time (Is Here Again) from the 1967 fan club flexidisc, The Greedies A Merry Jingle which is a medley of traditional Christmas songs performed by a bizarre Thin Lizzy/Sex Pistols collaboration in 1978, and then there's A Christmas Blow Job too.

Download away!

Just because I'm going to be gallivanting around the nation quaffing ales and eating implausible quantities of food this festive season, it doesn't mean I shall neglect you, my dear reader. The normal frequent service you've come to know, love, trust, respect, demand and rely upon from your friendly Bristling Badger shall be uninterrupted.

Have a good 'un.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

mobile phones are miniature SUVs

Sorry, but today I find myself once more parting company with the mainstream media in thinking there's more important things to discuss than David Blunkett's dick. Again, it's pipped at the post by thoughts of Africa.

The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo means it's been impossible for any large environmental projects to function. As the precious coltan and other minerals lie directly underneath pristine tropical rainforest, the ecological assault has been enormous.

The war in DRC is now creating a competition to see which will be the first great ape we drive to extinction. The Eastern Lowland Gorilla, of whom there are only about 5,000 left, seemed to be the most likely. Its habitiat is being mined, and the apes themselves killed for meat by the miners. But now it seems like the bonobo may well go soon too.

Evolutionarily speaking, it seems like there was one species of ape that got separated by the massive Congo river. Those on one side became chimps, those on the other bonobos. The two species are our closest animal relatives.

The bonobo - also known as the pygmy chimpanzee even though it's the same size as the other chimp - looks like a chimp but a bit more human (smaller ears, longer legs), and the social structure is amazing. In contrast to chimps' aggression, bonobo society is not male dominated nor violent, but characterised by massive amounts of sexual activity that keeps them all very chilled out.

A new survey puts the bonobo population at about 10,000 - a fifth of what had been guessed, and on the brink of unsustainably small.

Callum Rankine, the UK senior international species officer for the WWF who supported the new study, thinks it might all turn out OK. 'The war has had terrible consequences for the people and wildlife of the Congo basin, but with Congo now trying to rebuild socially and economically, the opportunity is there'.

It's not clear what rebuilding he means. His quote was reported in The Guardian on 9th December. That's the same day that Rwandan-backed militias moved in to fight with DRC army troops near the town of Goma, marking a resurgence of the war.

This war is horrific not only in its scale and intensity but also in the specific atrocities committed some of which I actually cannot bear to repeat to people because of how disturbing they are. It continues because we who have the power to stop it choose not to, instead opting to fund it by buying the minerals it produces.

The war is about far more than the minerals. But the minerals escalate and intensify it, and they are the sole reason for the demolition of astonishing and irreplacable species and ecosystems in tropical Africa.

Whilst we have widespread disgust for SUVs (top marks to the people producing bumper stickers saying 'ASK ME ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING' and guerilla-sticking them), we should be having an equally popular revulsion for consumer electronics.

Monday, December 20, 2004

hosanna in excelsis

When I consider how my use of language has evolved in recent times, between them blogging and Buffy have a lot to answer for. I'm sure my articles used to be strident, serious, forthright and focussed.

I've just published Hosanna In Excelsis, a chatty semi-comic piece full of personal anecdote and reference to earlier writings. If that's not a blog post I don't know what is, yet still I feel that as a warm anti-montheistic piece its natural home is on Julian Cope's site.

It's about how the incomprehensible antiquated terminology used in Christian Christmas stuff like carols is really positive, cos if we don't know what the fuck they're on about we can hardly get converted to their religion.

'Lo he abhors not the virgin's womb'?

'Gloria, hosanna in excelsis'?

What the fuck is any of that about?

Go have a shufty if you're interested.

For another article I wrote about Christmas festivities, go here. Till se en avkorta version om skrift i Svensk, klick här!

Saturday, December 18, 2004


Nobody's ever felt at ease with The Krankies. The fact that this married couple choose to dress up the woman as a prepubescent boy unfailingly gives the shudders to anyone who's ever heard of them.

You can't see a picture of them, such as the cover for their latest album Jimmy's Golden Shower, sorry Golden Mile, without imagining them engaged in sexual congress. In fact, they may actually be doing it in the picture.

This week Wee Jimmy Krankie pulled out of a Glasgow production of Jack & The Beanstalk after being hurt falling from the beanstalk.

This isn't the thing that bothered me. The really creepy thing is the report's casual mention of Krankie's age.


This means that, to keep the maths simple, 20 years ago in 1984 at the height of Krankie saturation of British television she was already 37.

What the fuck had she been doing for the previous 20 years of her adult life? Had she always been an unsettling paedotranny?

Or did it only occur to her once she hit middle age, in some mid-life craving for eternal youth?

If so, is it not the sort of thing that should have been a matter for the relevant authorities or at least a self-help group, rather than poisoning the emotional life of a generation via Crackerjack?

Friday, December 17, 2004

there will be continuity

I'm having a hard time joining in the glee some feel watching David Blunkett's demise.

He is, of course, only gone temporarily. As Cecil Parkinson and Peter Mandelson can tell you, just cos you've been caught doing things you always criticised others for and then denied you'd done until faced with irrefutable proof, it doesn't mean your political career is over.

But more to the point, Blunkett was a paranoid and repressive Home Secretary, no worse than his predecessors and surely no worse than his successor. Indeed, Charles Clarke has said in so many words; There will be continuity between David's approach and mine.

So even though Michael Howard swept in a range of repressive laws curtailing the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, Labour surpassed the 1994 Criminal Justice Act with their anti-terrorist legislation. Even though Howard's successor Jack Straw introduced laws making wearing the wrong T-shirt punishable by 12 months in jail, even though he was followed by Blunkett who, the day after he quit, was found to have acted illegally in allowing indefinite internment without trial, Charles Clarke believes we've still not gone far enough.

Such a vast amount of power placed in anyone's hands is going to make them act against the interests of most of the people they supposedly serve. And for some reason, upon being made Home Secretary a politician suddenly veers into a dark and paranoid netherworld, issuing decrees that people should be imprisoned for thoughtcrime and the only solution to anything is harsher and harsher penalties triggered by earlier and smaller misdeeds.

There will be continuity.

Like I said, finding it hard to share the glee. It's only a change of badge. The interest in it is largely based on the titillation of a celebrity sex scandal, the kind of thing that many of those who've reveled in it criticise others for when it's Jordan and Peter Andre.

Gossip is an essential function of human socialising, but please, let's not pretend that when it's a politician it's somehow something serious. The Blunkett gossip gets passed off as news, despite other things going on that warrant far more attention than whether somebody actually did a favour for someone they fancy.

The UN dithers about whether anything should really be done about the genocide in Darfur. We in the EU ignore or, more accurately, aren't told about the way companies from at least five EU countries - including the UK - have been supplying arms to the conflict even though there's an EU embargo.

Person arriving home from a day at Endeavour Resources UK Ltd...

'Have a nice day at work dear?'

'Yeah, great, tied up the deals for the Brazilian handguns and the Ukranian planes for Sudan. Once they get those planes they'll be able to drop barrel-bombs of shrapnel on villages. Only mud huts, the shrapnel goes straight through as if they weren't there so there's nowhere to hide. One day's work but a lifetime's legacy. What's for tea?'

Across Africa, the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has intensified again, unnoticed by pretty much everyone over here except the reliably excellent George Monbiot. The war in DRC is a continuation of the war in Rwanda ten years ago. It's never really stopped.

The driving force - 'the engine of the war' according to the UN - is the fact that the land stands on two-thirds of the world's reserves of coltan, a rare mineral essential for consumer electronics. Our desire for pretend wars on Playstations means there's a real war, the bloodiest on earth since WW2, going on in Africa.

For all his shoot-yerself-in-the-foot poor choice of platform, I can't express it any better than Bono put it at the Labour Party conference:

Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Because there's no way we can look at Africa - a continent bursting into flames - and if we're honest conclude that it would ever be allowed to happen anywhere else. Anywhere else.

Certainly not here, in Europe. Or America. Or Australia, or Canada. There's just no chance.

You see, deep down, if we really accepted that Africans were equal to us, we would all do more to put the fire out.

But we don't get to hear about that cos, hell, they're only darkies and we want those DRC-mined electronic gadgets for Christmas, and anyway David Blunkett actually had sex and has had to be replaced so the hydra has a new head, and that's the real news.

There will be continuity.

Monday, December 13, 2004

i feel like a pig shat in my head

Northern radical housing co-ops have apocalyptically large parties. Imagine Waco but with everyone having a really really good time. They generally go on for two days, though the record for me is leaving Equinox Co-op on the Tuesday after a party that started on the Saturday.

Last week it was the turn of Cornerstone. Unfortunately, for the Sunday of the Cornerstone party we played the Withnail & I drinking game. I'm not proud of this, but I think it warrants some kind of documenting, if only to serve as a warning to others.

The theory is that you watch Withnail & I and any time either of the two main characters take a drink, you match it. There is the vexed question of what to drink in place of the lighter fluid. After some discussion on a participants email list - including one person saying 'a replacement for lighter fluid? You bunch of pussies' - we got the strongest alcohol intended for human consumption that you can buy in the UK, a 90% Irish poteen.

For several weeks the email list was a way of drawing a veil of comedic bravado over our unease at the scale of the challenge we faced. We taunted and dared each other shamelessly.

One typical exchange:

I'm betting Mal a pint he doesn't even get as far as the car journey OUT to the countryside without passing out

to which Mal replied:

No, no, no....the car journey out is when my trousers come down, the altercation in the tea-shop - maybe - where I vomit, but I'm going for the end credits on this one.

I just spoke to Sensible Tim - he said not only are you all a bunch of soft-livered Northern poo-hole pirates who couldn't hold a couple of alco-pops without soiling yourselves, he also reckoned most of you feckless cheaters would be trying to substitute your ale for water coloured with tea-bags and trying to pour the remains of pints into plant-pots; and that he'd drink you to hell and back and still be standing to piss on you. His words, mind, not mine.

You see where this was heading don't you; straight into the sort of bloody minded competitiveness in which nobody can be said to really win.

Of course, if you are to attempt a feat of endurance like the Withnail game, you should really get in training and be in robust physical health. As opposed to being a bunch of munters who've been up all night on home made absinthe and then persuaded a pub to open twenty minutes early in order to carry on. Those who partook of the 'warm up drinking' unsurprisingly found it a handicap to their performance in the game.

Incidentally, the game also involves drinking even more than some of the online listings say. The bottle swigged from at Uncle Monty's isn't sherry, it's Haig whisky (the sherry's poured from a decanter). It's the same bottle that Withnail drinks in the car and at the cottage, with the clear implication he nicked it from Monty's. An excellent touch that I'd not spotted in dozens of viewings. In previous viewings I'd been watching the actors rather than the bottles.

What we didn't realise was that it isn't a game in the traditional sense that a group of people compete and some finish. It is in fact a springboard into oblivion.

The only people who were still conscious at the end of the film were people who had cheated (spookily enough Mal's guess at plant pots was entirely accurate, as was the suspicion that he'd pass out around the journey to the countryside). And none of the finishers can remember being the ones who finished.

If we participants go by what we personally remember, we had a really great time. Unfortunately, there were numerous sober onlookers who describe a scene of primal punk-festival scale pointless aggression, like rabid dogs and angry toddlers on crack.

From speaking to everyone, Ben compiled this list of events as we understand them:

Until 3.30, several contestants engage in some 'warm up drinking'. Mal phones up Merrick to jib out, but permission is denied.

3.30 - the game begins. The contestants are: Ben, Nicola, Andy, Merrick, Mal, Jacky, Hayley, Malc, Tabs, Nat and Sasha.

We drink sherry and a bowl of coffee.

After several minutes without a drink there are complaints that the challenge is 'too easy' and a 'push over'.

Withnail drinks lighter fuel. We drink poteen closely followed by a double gin and some cider with ice.

Sacha vomits down her top but is drinking again within seconds.

Several participants stand on one leg to prove that they can.

Mal passes out. No-one notices as he does so sitting up and is slyly wearing shades.

Mal slumps forward. People notice and he is woken up and forced to have another drink.

Mal vomits into a bucket for about fifteen minutes. He passes out again and is buried in bottles, clothes and other debris.

We are about 30 minutes into the film.

Mal's Nottingham compatriots are offered the chance to take over from him with a huge headstart of sobriety. True to the Nottinghamshire blackleg spirit that broke
the miners strike, they all refuse. Notts are out of the game, provoking inordinate taunting including lengthy and lurid allegations of sexual impropriety with Ian McGregor.

Sasha bites Ben and then Andy. Four days later both victims still bear clearly defined teeth marks.

Several people attempt to stand up to prove that they can. Within seconds they all fall on top of Mal.

Sasha repeatedly kicks Mal in the soles of his bare feet with her boots. When told to stop by a sober onlooker she slurs 'it's alright, it's Mal'.

We run out of spirits and Annwen is sent to buy more.

Ben drunkenly boasts that no-one has noticed him cheating, thus defeating the purpose of cheating.

Nat bites Susan's leg and refuses to apologise or move away. An argument ensues. Susan leaves to find some arnica as she is in some pain.

Various arguments break out regarding the film and what we should be drinking. Sober onlookers will later describe the mood as 'dark', 'ugly' and 'aggressive'.

Andy headbutts Yvonna three times, once by accident, twice on purpose. He is later caught by Cath urinating in the sink.

Merrick breaks a glass on the unconscious Mal's leg. Bizarrely neither of them sustains any cuts.

Annwen fastforwards the film for the good of us all. None of us notice.

Merrick accidental hits rewind instead of pause. While he is pouring drinks Annwen points this out to him and is met with a barrage of abuse. When she tells him to fuck off Merrick says 'alright, I will fuck off', picks up as much booze as he can carry and storms out of the room. On the way he spills a full bottle of wine over Tabs who is lying on the floor. He makes it as far as the bottom of the stairs (two metres away) where he passes out.

The game descends into chaos. Several participants pass out. Withnail and I are trying to order cake and fine wine in the Penrith tea rooms.

We carry on drinking haphazardly but no-one really knows what is going on.

The camberwell carrot makes its appearance in the film. We light our pre-rolled one and pass it round. Malc smokes nearly all of it.

Five minutes later Malc looks up and demands to know who has smoked it all as he didn't get any.

The film ends with a victory photograph of those still conscious. They are: Tabs, Jacky, Ben, Nicola and Malc (conscious but horizontal).

Over the next 8 or 9 hours:

Andy re-appears and Hayley wrestles him to the floor, damaging his wrist and ribs in the process. It is four days before Andy finds breathing to be no longer painful.

An ambulance is called for Carlo who has been used as a pot plant and passed drinks throughout the film by Nicola and Malc.

Malc falls head over heels down the stairs.

Christine (a new resident) comes home to find three people having sex in her bed.

Merrick, who is still lying on Andy's bed with vomit in his hair - believed to be his own - growls 'fuck off' to everyone who goes to see if he's alright.

Ben, who is lying on the sofa with Yvonna, tells her that it is 'almost certain' that no-one would notice if they had sex there.

Nat wakes up on the floor and says 'hey, I thought we were meant to be doing the Withnail challenge'.

'Yeah' says Jacky, 'what happened to that?'

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

bland aid

Those of us who remember 1984 feel our age as kids buying the Band Aid 20 single Do They Know It's Christmas tell journalists they don't know who Bob Geldof is.

Then, as now, I think it's a bit weird that we have extremely rich pop stars asking that we use unsustainable consumerism to help people.

Some people have been buying copies then destroying them in novel and amusing ways.

But beyond the short life of the chuckle it produces it is, of course, appallingly wasteful to be destroying resources for a laugh in oder to help those who haven't even got food.

CDs are made of unbiodegradable plastic, they will still be around many millennia from now. That plastic is derived from oil. Oil reserves shrink every day and demand grows. When - as will certainly happen well within two decades, and probably within one - the demand outstrips supply, oil prices will skyrocket and our whole way of life, utterly dependent on oil, will crumble.

Our squandering of it on, say, the twenty five million carrier bags we get through weekly in the UK will suddenly be seen for what it is, an obscene waste. The same will apply to buying multiple copies of a CD just to burn it.

In the shorter term, buying a CD of the single is financially inefficient too - chunks of the money go to the pressing plants, distributors and others, rather than the people we're wanting to help.

I've heard numerous people suggesting that people should donate to a relevant charity without buying the single and cut out the middle man. This does seem far wiser, although it's usually come from people slagging off the whole Band Aid idea, saying that we shouldn't help a cause just cos a pop star wants us to.

I remember that sort of talk abounded at the time of the first Band Aid.

The year after Live Aid Chumbawamba released an album entitled Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records.

It made me want to release an album called Cynical Sneering At Pictures Of Starving Children Selling Records Also Sells Records, Only No Lives Get Saved By That.

The plain fact is that for a lot of us, the publicity thing is what it takes. Even those of us who do cut out the middle man are using Band Aid as a prompt and we'd probably not have thought about it if there hadn't been those preening pop statrs moving the issue up our agenda.

Band Aid and Live Aid were magnificent events, not because of the music (anyone actually want to hear the Thompson Twins doing Revolution ever again?), but for the message they sent out.

Right slap bang in the middle of the supposedly selfish and greed-fuelled 80s they said that celebrity and even music are not the be-all and end-all, that there are things far more important. Furthermore, they said that each of us has the power to make a difference on those things that are important.

Though I always shuddered at the self-congratulation of many of those involved, nonetheless I sided with them and against the bard Morrissey when he slagged it off. In his attack he said that it was ludicrous to say the fate of starving people comes down to an eleven year old girl in Wigan buying a record.

It certainly is ludicrous. It's also true. People are starving to death because of the lack of food that could be bought with the profits made from buying a single.

It called on a deeper humanity in us 80s kids, and we responded. The impact was huge on the psyche of those of us old enough to love pop music but still young enough not to be cynical, and I still see its repercussions now. I know for a fact that it was an inspiration for me to get plugged in and busy in the world. As a starting point, a kick up the arse, something to inspire a thirst for justice in teenagers, it was magnificent.

I hope and expect Band Aid 20 will do the same. I don't see anything else around that puts such motivations in the face of today's adolescents.

And, of course, the impact of the original Band Aid was huge in more quantifiable direct and practical ways. There are people right this second drinking clean water from wells dug with Band Aid money. Anyone who wants to slag it off should go and explain to those people why they shouldn't have their village well.

The pop stars are just doing it for the publicity - yeah, sure; Radiohead, Coldplay, Dido and and Paul McCartney so need the publicity. And for the lesser Pop Idolesque runts, even if they are doing it as a career move, so what? If someone's drowning would you grab the arm of the person about to throw a lifebelt and say 'hang on, I don't think your motives are pure enough'?

As Noah Vale said over at the Head Heritage message board;

Dear starving people,

you'll have to starve some more until we can find some earnest people to raise money to help you. The money we have raised came from Will Young & we know how much you hate him.

Why don't the pop stars give their own money instead? - details do leak out that people like Bono and McCartney are constantly giving on a colossal scale, and it's a fair bet it's true of others too. But if they went round trumpeting it can you imagine how that would look? And what, people are not supposed to encourage others to give cos there's someone richer?

People are just buying it to salve their conscience, thinking that's all they need to do - So there are two types of donor - those who are prompted by big publicity drives and think that's enough, and those who give and then go on to give more and do more than just give money.

Whilst I'd agree that we need more people in the second group, I don't see that something like Band Aid, which gets both groups to donate, can be a bad thing. There would be less activity if it didn't happen, and less people getting interested in the issues and realising that just buying the record isn't enough.

The tune's a pile of cack, though - It's a christmas song, so it being a pile of cack is hardly a surprise. Despite some excellent piano work form Thom Yorke, the Bland Aid nickname is well deserved. But actually, Do They Know It's Christmas is a smaller volume of cack than most; if you don't believe me go back and check Cliff Richard's Millennium Prayer or see if you can get through a single listening of Neil Diamond's Christmas Album - a ripe choice for a gag about 'a christmas turkey' if ever there was one.

That Christmas element is a tad culturally inappropriate - The Christmas reference is uncomfortable for me too. We have a tendency to see western social ideas as universal, or at least better and desirable. There's a sliver of that in the song.

But I think there's also more than a sliver of truth in the argument put to me by Jim Bliss that the song is aimed at us, people who have a christmas tradition, asking that we spread that spirit. It's tapping into the stuff about peace and goodwill, it's saying that we should actually do something on that front. It takes a strange and overly literalist mind to think it's advocating exporting missionaries and tinsel.

It's not going to solve anything long-term, globalisation and western power are at the root of much of it - the project has never claimed to solve it. Indeed, Geldof went with the initially unpopular name Band Aid precisely because it needs to be made crystal clear every time we invoke it that the project is a short-term temporary measure.

The need for long term political solutions has never meant short term charity is pointless.

This time around they're openly assaulting the debt and the trade rules that cause much of the problem, they're using the platform Band Aid provides to stimulate something that will change things long term.

In the meantime, food and clean water are available to those who wouldn't otherwise get it. If I were starving I'd want long-term solutions too; but any food offered now from whatever source would be gratefully received, and I'd despise the well-fed cynics who would withhold it from me because they don't like the donor.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

they're grrrreat when you're bonced

Rather like the built-in failsafe of erroneously buying a 24-inch dildo facemask, I love the way intoxicants have inbuilt cut-offs.

With alcohol, the more drunk you become the less capable you are of walking to the bar or speaking coherently enough to ask for more.

Ecstasy gives erectile dysfunction for up to 24 hours, by which time your judgement is no longer overwhelmed by tactile enthusiasm and you can pre-check if you actually do want to be fucking the old mate/random person you’ve been tongue wrestling all night.

And then cannabis. As Welsh band - and really, you're in a 70s rock band, imagine having the gall to call yourselves this - Man said in one of their many very very long tracks, 'I like marijuana because it gets me stoned'.

You can't fault the explanation and reasoning with that one, can you?

The intrinsic failsafe with cannabis is that the stronger your urge to eat absolutely everything ever, the harder it is to actually get off the sofa and do anything about it.

This effect – cannabinoids fucking about with your body’s mechanisms of appetite – is a scientifically proven fact. Although this is hardly news to those who have used cannabis, nor to the people who’ve made the new adverts for Kellogg's Frosties aimed at adults who find even elementary items like instant noodles too long-winded and fiddly to make.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s independently arrived at the conclusion that cornflakes provide the stoner with the ideal balance of tasting like real food, being around in whatever quantity desired without needing a special expedition to the shop, and being swift and uncomplicated to prepare.

Indeed, I can be certain. Twenty-odd years ago there was a Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch featuring someone single-mindedly troughing cornflakes non-stop for 30 seconds followed by a voiceover, ‘…that was a party political broadcast on behalf of the Legalise Cannabis Campaign’

So it’s no surprise that, as Angus Watson observed in a hilarious and elegantly constructed piece in the Guardian, Frosties aren’t just advertised on Saturday mornings by showing kids eating them, but now there’s the post-watershed ad aimed at adults:
Ever been unemployed, or a student? If so, you'll be familiar with the flood of guilt when the break in the middle of the afternoon film announces that it's sponsored by E-Z Hobble arthritis cream, and all the ads are for incontinence pants or fibre drinks to make you regular (in which a sharp-suited but uncomfortable-looking woman sips something orange at home. Later she sashays through the office, smiling proudly).

The point is, adverts are aimed at the group that should be watching TV at that time. So it used to be that Frosties would advertise their cereal during children's TV. After mentioning that Frosties were grrrrreat, Tony the tiger would do something pertinently impressive, like skateboarding.

But things have changed. There's a new, Tonyless Frosties advert that shows only after 9pm: a young man arrives home, track-suited and muddy. He announces that he's starving and sets about cooking instant noodles. Frustrated by the long preparation time, he eats the television. His flatmate, nonchalantly looking on with a bowl of Frosties in hand, says: "Grab Kellogg's Frosties instead - ready when you are."

In an associated move, Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, usually associated with surreptitious bowlfuls in business hotels, are currently sponsoring The Frank Skinner Show.

Sam Fulton, Kellogg's UK PR manager, says research has shown that people, particularly young men, often eat Frosties in the evening "due to a combination of taste, satisfaction and convenience". Hence the new ads.

Coincidentally, scientists have found that after inhalation of marijuana smoke, molecules called cannabinoids interfere with the operation of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin. That is to say, when you get stoned, it's now scientifically proven that you get "the munchies".

You can cook instant noodles in five minutes, or more quickly by adding boiling water. The munchies is about the only situation when five minutes is too long to wait for food. I have seen stoned people enjoy the "taste, satisfaction and convenience" of half-frozen chips smothered with rancid mayonnaise.

So good on Frosties for pointing out to potheads that Frosties, as well as tasting grrrreat, can be ready pretty much immediately. Compared with what they might otherwise eat, Frosties are a healthy option - one that may stop them needing the uncomfortable-looking woman's drink for a few years yet.

Monday, November 29, 2004

abort the human species, before it exists

Last Saturday saw the massive 23rd Anarchist Bookfair in London. As ever, it saw a wide mix of political thought chucked in one room, fizzing with an overload of utopian fervour. And, of course, a load of completely barking stuff too.

Anarchism attracts people who are brilliant uncompromising idealists with enormous faith in the ability of people to organise themselves, people who have an unquenchable desire for justice and infinite incendiary urges to do something about it. They want to take on the whole of the way modern humanity organises itself and change it. That takes a lot of thought and discussion, so there's always going to be plenty of books for an anarchist bookfair.

It also takes a total lack of inhibition about seeming weird. This means that anyone who is weird for any reason can find a place within anarchist circles. Consequently, there are lots of strange ideas at the bookfair. My all-time favourite is someone who saw that amongst my stuff was a pamphlet about cannabis legislation. 'Ah yes,' said the punter as he pointed to it, 'cannabis. But what is cannabis? Is it a set of numbers?'

On Saturday I was there doing a stall for Godhaven Ink's wares. You know how sometimes you're on a long bus or tube journey and there's a sign or advert in front of you and you can't help re-reading it over and over?

Well above the stall at which I was seated hung a large banner. About eight foot square of orange fabric, written on in black marker pen. And for hours, I involuntarily read and re-read it. Each time I had the suspicion that this time it would impart information - not an unreasonable expectation of a large banner, really - and yet each time I started to get a hint of sense it felt like I startled it and it bolted for the exit before I could catch it.

It was, I feel sure, the barkingest thing at the bookfair. And that's not something I say lightly. It's one of those phrases of deep meaning.

For example, if I tell you that Abha is the rainiest place in Saudi Arabia, it doesn't mean too much cos there's not exactly heavy competition. It's one of those impressive sounding declarations that dissolves upon consideration, like being called Britain's Tallest Dwarf. But when you're told Blaenau Ffestiniog is the rainiest place in Wales there's a certain gravity.

Ditto the barkingest thing at the Anarchist Bookfair:


Everyone is tied to particular illness (Einzelkrankheit) which objectively aims at the creation of human species. BUT the doctors abuse and usurp the particular illness (Pathocentrism) to produce out of it the substitute (!) of species (Ersatzgattung): money, instead of human species (gattung). So the doctors abort the human species, before it exists.



Create patients' collectives everywhere!
Start here and now! Do something for yourselves! Prefer confrontation against the doctors' class, make Patients' Front, you yourself!

Friday, November 26, 2004


From a personal email from a friend, one of the most perceptive observations I've heard in a long time. Along the road of such awareness we will find wisdom:

i'm never (usually) aware of not being myself, and not being honest with myself too, but retrospective glances have revealed that at times when i justify the answer i want to hear i will stop asking a question.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

cow parade - i'm lovin' it

As a hardcore bovophile, I strongly approve of the Cow Parade.

It's a bunch of life-size fibreglass cows that get expertly painted in all manner of bizarre ways and then distributed around a locality for a while, from Tokyo to Brussels, Auckland to the Isle of Man.

In a break with several centuries of tradition, Manchester was made temporarily beautiful last summer. You'd randomly come across a cow in a bar or train station. That sort of thing should happen more often.

Whilst in Prague, the wonderful Karen saw one of them superbly subverted.

This cow

was unusual in that it is depicted doing something cows don't really do, apparently in the last stages of eating a human.

This pose meant it needed no alteration except the proper caption to make it a masterpiece.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

i heard it through the vine

Last month I had the enormous joy of seeing Cowboy Junkies play live numerous times.

They make music of such grace, dignity, darkness, stillness, and intelligent ornate melancholic beauty, they hold a place in my heart that's all their own. If you don't have The Trinity Session and The Caution Horses then I feel a bit sorry for you having such a void in your life.

It was their first UK tour in twelve years, so I felt compelled to follow them around seeing them night after night, suppressing my feelings of 'Following a band around on tour? What is this, 1990 and New Model Army?'.

It's a rare band indeed that you can get as much from seeing the fifth night as the first. The unfailing magic Cowboy Junkies generated was so profoundly enriching that right now I still feel like someone's put a layer of fluffy cotton wool under my boots.

The tour was made doubly wonderful by the support act being Vic Chesnutt. Perfectly matched for the Junkies, such grace and yet so unpretentious, odd songs from weird places that sound simple yet stick with you and open up layers of potency and meaning with each listen.

Having once seen the fuckin Wolfgang Press (one of the worst gigs I've ever endured) supporting the Pixies (one of the very best), I was deeply grateful for Vic who is another one of that rare breed who give you as much night after nihgt. I could've had to sit through the Wolfgang Press five nights in one week. Thank fuck for Vic Chesnutt.

Bands like Spearhead have been actively encouraging fans to share live recordings for ages. The Junkies have a system that works in a way that's new to me.

One of the five sections of their message board is dedicated to people swapping live recordings (mostly of the Junkies, but some other artists too).

The system is called vines. When someone has a recording they would like to share they start a vine by posting a message saying they've got the live recording (CDR is the usual format, though DVD-Rs are appearing too). They make a copy and then post a message describing the recording. Everyone who wants a copy then posts in the same message thread, leaving their email address.

The original copy is then mailed from person to person, in order of when they posted. When the first person receives it, they make a copy, then email the next person on the list, get their address and send on the original copy.

As someone who spent much of the 1980s listening to dodgy cassette bootlegs, this is utterly amazing.

No more tentatively listening to the hiss at the start of the tape, hearing it build up as it shows how many generations of copies it is from the original. The hiss on some of my REM 1980-81 tapes is actually louder than the music.

No more splashing out untold wads of cash to leechy profiteers on eBay (the CDs of Bowie at Glastonbury went for 50 quid to start with, though admittedly that's not so bad cos it was unquestionably the best gig in the world by anybody ever).

No more dodgy downloads that turn out to be shoddy copies or not even what they're labelled as.

Everyone gets to rip and burn from the original for the price of the blank discs and mailing it on.

This is so simple and so generous, so clearly for the love of sharing music. Here's hoping it catches on in a big way for sharing all bootlegs.

Full explanations and etiquette are explained here.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

idiocy and filth

That sidebar over to your right has rather a lot of space in it, so I've just added a daft quicklinks section. That's for all the weird little online places I found or am pointed towards that I wouldn't have believed existed till I saw them.

Generally they'll be funny, and for some reason mostly concerned with christianity and/or bizarre sexual stuff. Rest assured, I do exert some quality control and will not be posting some of the more rum things friends send links for. Some of it is just too repulsive, too sordid or too utterly nightmarish to pass on.

The idea was inspired by (ie stolen wholesale from) the ever wonderful Green Fairy who manages to do great cultural commentary and analysis literally alongside quicklinks to, for example, a thorough listing of Porn Titles Based on Real Movie Titles.

They're all real: Saturday Night Beaver, Single White She-male, Dial E For Enema, Flash Pants, Poc-a-hot-ass, City of Anals, Edward Penishands, A Tale of Two Titties and more.

More quicklinks will appear as and when I find them...

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


When Barclays closed down 170 of their rural branches at a stroke, they assaulted rural business and communities.

Why were the Countryside Alliance so silent then? Because - and please, let's never be fooled by any other opinion ever again - the Countryside Alliance is not about the defence of rural communities, it's just a bunch of toffs who want to hunt foxes.

Now we've cleared that up, let's talk hunting.

It's a pretty clear either/or issue, despite Tony Blair repeatedly backing laughable please-nobody compromises. What else can we expect when the Prime Minister is a failed 70s rocker, with all the incisiveness of intellect and clear grasp of essentials that implies?

There are some excellent resources that go into detail about it hunting, but really it comes down to one simple thing; whether you think it's OK to kill animals for fun. No other excuse for it holds water.

Despite the consumption of meat being exactly the same thing, killing animals for fun just isn't popular. Nobody likes the stories of kids who set fire to dogs or nail a cat to a tree. So the pro-hunters have to give us other reasons.

The anti-hunting campaign isn't about animal welfare, it's about class, they say.

Damn right. Working class bloodsports like dog fighting, badger baiting, cock fighting and bear baiting were outlawed years ago because they are cruel and have no place in a humane society. The equally cruel bloodsports of fox and deer hunting weren't included because they're toffs sports and the laws are made by toffs.

Anyone who thinks hunting's not just for toffs; go check out the price of buying a horse, the gear and the upkeep, then come back and apologise for being wrong.

To be consistent you've either got to want fox hunting banned or else badger baiting etc re-legalised. To the best of my knowledge, the CA have yet to hold a pro-badger baiting march.

Hunting is about the landed gentry enjoying the land they took from the peasants, fawningly accompanied by those with snobbish aspirations to also be so aristocratic. They're more likely to be the banker than the small business person, they're more likely to own a car so they can get to facilities denied to the rural poor, and they're more likely to own a second country home than be the person priced out of the housing market who has to live in a caravan year-round, overlooking houses only used for four weeks in the summer.

The 'lost jobs' argument is bollocks too. If a government chooses to prohibit or severely inhibit an activity, then it's fair that those whose livelihoods are affected are compensated and retrained. Personally, I'll not shed tears over hunters losing jobs, but still, I recognise it'd arguably be fair to compensate them. But the loss of jobs - or the other 'it's traditional' thing - is not an argument for the retention of an activity. Slavery was a long established and highly lucrative industry. Neither factor should have led to its being prolonged.

All the arguments about tradition and jobs go out of the window if, as will be legal, the hunts carry on but as drag hunts instead of going after live quarry. The only difference is there's no dead animal at the end of it. But remember, even though it's all about the thrill of the chase, drag hunts simply won't do. Really though, it's not about bloodlust, and you're a liar and a communist to suggest otherwise.

As for the 'Keep Democracy - Keep Hunting' slogan, poll after poll has shown a clear majority want hunting banned. The initial Private Members Bill passed with the biggest majority in the history of parliament.

The only pro-hunting poll result was the one the CA made into posters saying 59% say keep hunting.

The Market Research Society - the professional body for market, social and opinion researchers - criticised the poll for failing to ask objective questions of respondents, for failing to carry out research 'objectively and in accordance with established scientific principles' and for 'being guilty of conduct' which 'might bring discredit on the [market research] profession.'

The Advertising Standards Authority report declared it misleading and the CA are prohibited from ever repeating the 59% claim.

If I publicly did to a stray dog what they do to a fox, I'd be rightly prosecuted, convicted and vilified. That'd be the same infringement on my liberty that the hunting ban imposes. A fox is as sentient as a dog.

This doesn't matter to the hunters because, despite their 'we'll have to kill the hounds if you ban hunting' line, hunters kill more hounds than foxes already. They kill the wimpier puppies, and then when the hounds get older and slower, what do they do? Take them home as beloved family pets? Nope, Rover gets a 12-bore to the head. 'Let us hunt or the dog gets it' isn't persuasive when the full story includes 'if we hunt the dog gets it anyway'.

Ah, but foxes are vermin, we need hunting to keep the fox popualtion under control, right?

A peculiar word, vermin, a faunic equivalent to the horticultural term 'weed'. It is a derogatory word for an organism the particular landowner doesn't like, and what makes one person's vermin-list doesn't make another's.

In considering the issue of population control, let's ignore the report from Professor Stephen Harris of the Mammal Research Unit at the University of Bristol who said that during the Foot & Mouth crisis of 2001, when all hunts were off, the fox population didn't increase.

Let's also ignore the fact that populations biologically self-regulate. If an area's population is reduced then a lady fox breeds more; if the population is increasing, she breeds less.

Keep on your ignoring roll for the fact that every other country seems to deal with it without teams of hunters trashing the hedges.

And skip merrily over the inconsistency (another one? surely not) in saying hunting's essential to keep fox populations down whilst also saying it's not cruel cos they hardly kill any and the fox likes the chase anyway and usually gets away.

Let's say that's all fine and really, livestock farming profits are all that matter and foxes need to be killed. Even if the hunt did have an impact on population size, there are simpler,easier, cheaper and much more humane ways to do it.

As Mitch Benn says, it's like you having mice in your kitchen and rather than setting traps or waiting for them to come out then twatting them, you instead choose to leave them be for a few months, then one day get thirty of your mates round, all get half pissed on sherry, chase the mice round and round the kitchen for six hours with your specially starved gang of twenty cats, then when they finally catch the exhausted mouse and kill it you squeeze its guts into the face of your ten year old child. That's conservation mate, no bloodlust at all. It's not about killing animals for fun, honest.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

from lands end to lowestoft

Having ripped the piss out of Lowestoft's easterlyness being its primary selling point, it's struck me that geographic extremity is the sole selling point for Lands End and John O'Groats. Yet those places aren't ridiculed, and they're part of even the most basic general knowledge and stretch beyond that into metaphor.

It's all the more peculiar cos while John O'Groats is the British mainland's most northerly town, Lands End is actually the most westerly. The southernmost is Lizard. So shouldn't Lands End be partnered with Lowestoft on an East-West thing?

Or is it because Lands End and John O'Groats are the furthest apart? If so, do we make a bigger deal of this cos we're on a long island?

Do more round countries like Macedonia or France not bother so much?

In which case, are the extreme ends of Chile a really big feature of Chilean national thought?

Is 'from New York to LA' a turn of phrase like 'Lands End to John O'Groats', or is it just a song title?

The Lands End/John O'Groats thing is for Great Britain, yet misses out Wales entirely. Do they, as would seem likely given their strong sense of national identity, have their own equivalent?

In general, do other countries have similarly well-known places at their edges?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Whilst some of my blogging, and all my articles, are there to try to line up an eloquent string of ideas, to arrange things you know with things you don't, and thus give new insight and a strong solid final conclusion, I do like having this space where I can chuck things around that I see both sides of.

One of the worst things about this outsized brain we humans have is that we can believe in contradictory ideas simultaneously, even act upon them both simultaneously, without it really troubling us.

And until we actually accept this as part of our hardwiring and stop assaulting people for hypocrisy we are never going to understand humanity, and so will actually undermine ourselves and be condemned to more stupidity rather than less.

Which is a sweeping profound way of launching into another one of the topics like voting where I see both sides.

Remembrance day.

In my mid teens I was fascinated by the history of the First World War. It was such an incredible story, so far removed from anything I knew, a time when imperialism, patriotism, militarism, eugenics and philosophies that blended them were commonplace and credible. It was amazing how easily that war all got started and how, like any transnational mass industrial process, once it was up and running it was almost impossible to stop.

The social change was equally staggering. The patriotism swiftly gave way to cynicism, epitomised in the image of soldiers marching along mile after mile singing, to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, 'we're here because we're here because we're here because we're here...'.

The smashing of old certainties and trust laid the ground out for unrest and radicalism right across Europe in the 1920s and 30s.

The fighting of WW2 isn't quite the good vs evil we're told it is. In the UK we're told we won it with a bit of help from the Americans. In the USA, they're told they won it with a bit of help from the Brits. We all like to ignore the other countries involved, especially the far larger part the Soviet Union played, fighting bitter battles and losing far more of their population (a third of all the dead of WW2 were Soviets). One friend I pointed this out to was incredulous and accused me of 'defending Stalin'.

The British historian Norman Davies' Warsaw 44 is a clear illustration of the moral murkiness of all the Allies. The Americans like to see it as their one great war of goodness, a war to rid the world of a racist militaristic regime. The Americans sent racially segregated troops to do the fighting.

But this isn't the real issue for me. It's not the rights and wrongs of the cases for any given war, it's about remembrance of wars and the sacrifices made by the generations that endured them.

Two generations running we took the healthy young men of Europe and decimated them. We 21st century kids have no frame of reference for it, nothing with which to compare it, simply no idea what that really means.

There are a lot of reasons for remembrance. Some people do it as a nationalistic supremacist thing. Some do it to connect with their military heritage and so feel ennobled with the sacrifice, the halting of Nazism, or some other element they see, hoping some of that glory will rub off on their current cause. These people are entirely at odds with those of us who want remembrance to be about commemorating the appalling loss of life of so many people in such conditions, who want it to be a stark reminder of what work we have to do to prevent it recurring.

I can't fault the analysis and point made with characteristic elegance in The Great War by genius singer-songwriter Philip Jeays

It was a great war, The Great War,
The greatest war there's ever been
It was 'a war to end all wars'
It didn't, but that's how it seemed

And you stand there with your poppy
as a tribute to the ones
who gave their lives for nothing
for the fathers and the sons
then the next day you go out
and buy your kids toy guns
well go on, and why not
you've got to teach them while they're young

It was a great war, The Great War,
the greatest war we've ever seen
we killed their side, we killed our side
we killed anybody in between

It was a great war, The Great War,
the greatest chance we ever got
to die for our country
or if not then to be shot

And you stand there in your silence
just like we used to do
like you were waiting for their whistle
for their orders to come through
can't you see you're still doing
just what they tell you to
remember what they did to us
they could do to you

It was a great war, The Great War,
but you led us up the garden path
and still you lead us every year
up to the cenotaph

And you stand there, politicians,
wiping tears from your eyes
with the hands that shake the hands
of the dictators you supply
well I cannot see the honour
nor the glory, nor the pride
and I will not wear your poppy
and I will not stand silent by

Like Jeays, I do not see the honour, nor the glory, nor the pride.

I spent several summers on the battlefields of the Somme (I took the picture of the cross of sacrifice in the With Satan On Our Side post at Carnoy cemetary in July 1985), I met veterans, and all of it reinforced the fact that the soldiers were hoodwinked and betrayed, and knew it. As Somme veteran Captain G Jackson said when revisiting the battlefields in July 1996, 'war's a waste of time, a complete waste of time. It serves nothing and it proves nothing'.

For us to see the sacrifice of those people as something noble and glorious is to betray them ourselves.

The present day wars are the same, still using colonial troops, still gathering young men from the poorest areas to send in to battle to fight for resources for the wealthy. And, just like before, the soldiers and their families know it and say it. As Michael Moore points out in Fahrenheit 9/11, things would be different if those who order a war sent their kids in, or had to lead the battle personally.

Yet should we let the fact that generals stand at the cenotaph stop us having any commemoration?

If we do that, don't we risk leaving all remembrance to those who would continue the division and killing? The kind of scumfucks who changed the name of the day in the USA to Veterans Day, making it a day for military parades and veneration of those on our side who came back, rather than a day for remembering all who were sacrificed.

Remembrance is important, and it's just as important that it be done collectively and inclusively. Wearing a poppy is the only way we have of doing that.

The fact that different people's reasons for wearing one are various and contradictory is not enough to make me give all conspicuous remembrance up to the militarists.

I know I run the risk of being misinterpreted and seen to reinforce the betrayal; but not to wilfully display remembrance feels like a far greater betrayal.

UPDATE 12 Nov 04: Well despite all that stuff at the start about it being indecisive, reading this post back I realised that whilst it does weigh up both sides, there is a definite line of argument and conclusion, so I rejigged it a bit and made it into an article which has been published here.

Monday, November 08, 2004

home of the furry dance

There's not much to do in the Norfolk town of Long Stratton since they took away its only late night facilities (a 24 hour maggot vending machine called Magic Magit).

In this month's edition of The Sexton's Wheel ('the magazine for the villages of Long Stratton and Wacton') the main letter to the editor is lamenting the filling in of the potholes in the car park behind the Angel.

'Potholes, after all, hone one's driving skills and there is always the challenge of the hidden depth. Luckily, other potholes in the area in the area remain interesting'.

Long Stratton isn't alone in this dearth of worthwhile qualities. Whilst standing at its main bus stop, I read an advertisement for Lowestoft.

Lowestoft: Britain's most easterly town and quiet seaside resort once famed for herring fishing.

I picture myself at Lowestoft in conversation with an intrepid travelling companion, standing staring out to sea (cos 'quiet seaside resort' means there's fuck all else to do there).

'Wow, so this is Britain's most easterly town. It's like, how much more east could we be and still be in a British town? And the answer is none. None more east'.

'Yeah, and just think there used to be herring here too'.

'Kinnell. Imagine that'.

Fear of such unsaleable dullness clearly concerns the good people responsible for Helston's tourist industry. If you've got no strong selling points yet don't want to use Lowestoft's honest yet ultimately self-defeating approach, why not arouse interest by baffling the visitor with bizarre-sounding weirdness?

Saturday, November 06, 2004

how to help iraq

Pissed off about Bush's re-election?

Want to do something that opposes the war in Iraq?

Something practical, real and measurable that shows it's not in your name?

In the light of the withdrawal of many foreign aid organisations, the Jarrars - a family of bloggers in/about Iraq - have set up an emergency fund for civilian victims in Iraq.

You can donate money online via Paypal. Paypal is secure, free, quick, and easy, and is available to anyone with a bank account or credit card.

The money will be used to buy basic items - medical supplies, food, blankets, etc - in Jordan and then be distributed to the most needy accessible places in Iraq.

And there are a lot of places in need. We only hear of the violence when it's perpetrated by anti-occupation forces and/or hurts occupation troops. There is a lot more going on every day thanks to western military technology.

Donations to the fund can be any size. So far they've varied from $1.50 to $300. Even a little buys a lot in Iraq.

The Paypal donate facility is on Raed Jarrar's blog from Jordan along with details of the fund and how it will be organised, transparent and verified.

This is not some kind of scam - unless you believe that someone's gone to the trouble of writing four long, detailed and involved blogs most days this year as a set-up and have several more trusted friends doing the same including the excellent Baghdad Burning; or you think the blogs are real but the people writing such compassionate, humane and concerned reports might run off with the money that would otherwise save lives.

Even a cursory surf of their blogs will convince you that it's for real, and you have almost nothing to lose while others have their lives in the balance for the want of a couple of quids worth of basic medicine or clean equipment.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

new realities

Josef Stalin said 'He who votes decides nothing; he who counts the votes decides everything.'

Last time, Bush lost the popular vote, but in Stalin's style won the clincher that was counted by a Bush campaign manager presided over by Bush's brother.

This time he's won the popular vote. He's proven that people will rally behind their leaders in times of war, even if their leaders are power-crazed maniacs actively inventing wars.

And invent they have. The facts don't have to fit for the fear to work. The constant repetition of the idea of evildoers single mindedly attacking our goodness has paid off.

Most Bush supporters believe that the Bush-appointed and Bush-accepted report into Iraqi WMD which said there were none actually said the opposite. Less than a quarter think experts say there were no WMD.

The Bush-accepted report of the US government's 9/11 Commission said there was no link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Again, not only do most Bush supporters believe there was such a link, but most believe the evidence has been found.

Most Bush voters believe the world favours his re-election despite the opposite being emphatically true.

(poll source: Program on International Policy Attitudes, 21 Oct 04 - get a pdf of it here)

The fate of the world for the next four years, and undoubtedly some time beyond, has been chosen by people whose judgement is based on their belief of lies, and seeing Bush as an individual doing God's will against the evils of gays, Arabs and a habitable environment.

The team that Bush is mascot for are far more cavalier and daring about taking power and security from the people and handing it to the rich than any US administration in living memory, and quite possibly ever. The victory today tells them that what they have done so far isn't just get awayable with, it's actually popular.

The religious element was essential to garnering such support. We know what this will mean for issues such as abortion, contraception, gay rights, single parents and Palestine.

The Bush team see themselves as being on a wholly different mission, able to do whatever they want with whatever they want, not having to yield to anyone or anything. Their refusal to admit the fact of climate change shows they feel there aren't even biological limits to their power.

So although the last four years have seen terrifying things performed at an equally terrifying rate, it seems like it will get even worse, even faster.

As evidenced by Ron Suskind in the New York Times:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend - but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'

I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism.

He cut me off.

'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'

Four more years where they speed their process up is unimaginable.

It starts today.

In the words of Jello Biafra, embrace the red white and blue reich.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

send 'em back where they come from

They come over to this country, not as refugees fleeing persecution but as opportunist economic migrants taking advantage of the benefits they can take from us, then they expect to live here with all their family at our expense, they get given houses like palaces and spend all day doing nothing, parasites leeching off the taxes of the hardworking British public.

Glad to see we're finally sending them back where they come from.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

with satan on our side

This week British troops preparing to move from Basra to the more intense killing zones of northern Iraq held a special church service.

Proof of Christianity's absurdity is always in sharpest relief here, in their ability to not only justify war but to actively claim it as their own.

Admittedly, the Old Testament sends mixed messages, issuing the blunt and unequivocal thou shalt not kill alongside clear instructions for siege based war and murderous pillage where God says to kill all your enemies.

But Christians also have that other book, and in it Christ is pretty damn clear and far less confused than his dad. Love your neighbour as yourself - with an explanation that everyone is your neighbour - and the instruction not to resist those who piss you off or ever offer violence, on penalty of being decreed the worst person in heaven.

Balancing this with racist killing for mineral resources certainly presents a challenge for the Christian.

As magnificent contemporary protest singer David Rovics says, 'who would Jesus bomb?'

Maybe Jesus would bomb the Syrians
'Cause they're not Jews like him
Maybe Jesus would bomb the Afghans
On some kind of vengeful whim
Maybe Jesus would drive an M1 tank
And he would shoot Saddam
Tell me, who would Jesus bomb?

British and Commonwealth war graves cemeteries all have a 'cross of sacrifice' at the entrance, a crucifix with a sword superimposed. The symbolism is staggering.

Whilst individual soldiers are buried under headstones carved according to the wishes of their relatives - so there may be a crucifix, a star of David, or no symbol at all - the troops en masse are claimed for Christianity. Unknown soldiers have graves marked 'known unto God', with a clear implication that warfare was a holy undertaking.

But if he hadn't been clear enough already, God himself explained shortly after 9/11 'the whole point of believing in God is to have a higher standard of behavior'.

This is all old news though, surely?

No, because this week the military finally moved toward a more consistent position, as the Royal Navy accepted its first out-and-proud practicing Satanist.

(Who Would Jesus Bomb is available, along with all of David Rovics' recordings, for free download at his website)

Thursday, October 28, 2004

oscar wilde: the musical

I hate musicals.

The way that actors almost get to a point of plausibility then scupper it by bursting into song. The way it isn't written to properly express any feeling, just to move the plot along in Hallmark-card rhyme. That infuriating pasted on smile that the actors do so fixedly. The way the singers are all drama school lightweights with no soul whatsoever. The way they have no passion for music, merely for reciting other people's words.

There are one or two exceptions. Cabaret (set in a cabaret, so they're meant to sing), Rocky Horror of course, and that episode of Buffy (taking the piss out of the whole format). Incidentally, two people I know said they considered getting rid of their TV after seeing the Buffy musical cos it was clearly the best thing that could ever be shown, and all subsequent viewing was bound to be downhill. It's a point of view that I respect.

Much about London still enchants and enthralls me, but the overload of adverts for musicals on the tube escalators gives me a barely containable urge to run amok in the West End with automatic firearms.

The Sound of Music is the only film that's ever made me sympathise with Nazis. Grease is the most despicable film of all time, reducing the social revolution of rock n roll to a gaggle of sappy sentimental white kids.

And Andrew Lloyd-Fuckin-Webber, composer of special election campaign music for the Tories, wasn't he one of those tossers who said they'd leave the country if Labour got in in 1997? Well go on then you twat - fuck off.

But it's not all bad news from the world of musicals. It's with a glad heart and a smug chortle I report that on Tuesday last week the Shaw Theatre in London opened its new production, Oscar Wilde: The Musical. Really, I'm not making this up.

Why am I pleased? Well, it closed after one performance because it was such a massive pile of pants.

It came from the same pen as the Cliff Richard musical, inventively titled Cliff.

The pen in question belongs to Mike Read. That's the former Radio 1 DJ and Saturday Superstore presenter, not to be confused with Mike Reid, the former Runaround presenter and the bloke who plays miserable old toad Frank Butcher on EastEnders.

Mike Read has a special place in my heart. A place reserved for gleeful revelling in the implosion of the careers of talentless twattish egomaniacs.

In doing the interviews for my Strawberry Switchblade uber-site, guitarist Jill Bryson recounted creepy tales of being on the business end of Read's unsavoury lechery.

Who'd have suspected such amorous advances from a man who refused to play Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax, basically because it uses the word 'come'?

Then a charity shop trawler friend found The Aldermoor Poems, a book of faux-sensitive, entirely useless poetry published by Read from the same time as he was harassing Jill Bryson. Should you really not value your time on this earth, you can check out Mike's weekly poem webpage.

Mercifully, he was swept away in the de-Smashey-&-Niceyfication of BBC music broadcasting and made to serve out his time as a Classic Gold DJ, but he won't roll over and exit with dignity.

As if his Cliff Richard biography and musical weren't enough, he then did Oh Puck!, a rewrite of A Midsummer Night's Dream as a musical set to hits of the 1980s.

Really, I'm not making that up either.

And then last week he inflicted Oscar Wilde: The Musical. The Daily Telegraph's review - under the headline Wilde suffers again thanks to Mike Read - said it was 'hard to feel anything other than incredulous contempt'.

The Guardian's no-star review suggested that the sketchy sound in the theatre may be because 'the sound system is being affected by the hefty rumbling of Oscar Wilde turning in his grave'.

Does he get the message? Is his kevlar-armoured ego even dented?

'Every time Charles Dickens published something, The Times shredded him,' he said.

He's just not going to stop is he?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

john peel

It's with enormous sadness this post reflects on the death of John Peel. The overwhelming majority of good bands from the last 35 years have been helped by him, usually in an essential way at a crucial early point in their career when few others believed in them. Think about that. You simply cannot say anything like that about anyone else.

Without Peel, we may never have even heard of pioneers like Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, The Clash, The Smiths, Nirvana, so neither would we have had the music those artists inspired.

Not only did he break the innovators and great artists, but he gave space to all manner of odd little bands too. Practically everyone has a favourite underrated band who your mates haven't really heard of from years past, and the odds are that Peel championed them at the time.

When all the muso snobs were decrying it, he knew punk was the real deal. A decade later when I was one of those muso snobs decrying it, he immediately knew dance music was vibrant and challenging and real. In between he was the first prominent broadcaster to play hip-hop, and lots of it.

From heavy roots dub reggae to Strawberry Switchblade, from punk to Hank Wangford, from African hi-life to The Cure, Peel brought music to me and the nation that we'd simply never have found any other way.

He was the foremost purveyor of the idea that there really was life outside of the narrow minded confines of the place I was growing up in.

He gave us music that embodied the spirit to hold true to yourself, to fuck the smalltown bullshit and seek out a less homogenous, more exciting, more humane wider world, to maintain your enthusiasm for the new whilst not rejecting the old, to seek and find and celebrate creativity, always face forwards, never cave in to the narrow minds jealous of your vigour, vision and drive.

It's a spirit he always lived true to, which is why we're not mourning the loss of a great man from the 70s, but a great man from the 70s onwards to the day he died, who didn't compromise or wuss out, or get cynical, safe or dull.

He lived as proof that you really can maintain passion your whole life through without mellowing or going mad.

He gave hundreds of truly great people the opportunity to shine and enrich the lives of millions to an incalculably large degree.

If music of the last 35 years means anything to you then you too should mourn his passing.

Monday, October 25, 2004

at least you haven't done this

Oh joy oh joy. Got an email from a friend. I feel truly heartened to know a man who'd do such a thing as he describes, and doubly heartened that I'm thought of as one who'd appreciate him telling me of his ill deed.

I think you'll appreciate this one. Friday night I was so drunk I used my mate's credit card to order 170 quids worth of fetish gear off the internet - including a gas mask with 24 inch dildo attachment coming out of the mouth, a pvc outfit - shorts and a top with attached pvc mittens, and a rubber mask with a 12 inch dildo for the nose.


Still, it doesn't display a lack of wisdom to make a mistake, only to make the same mistake repeatedly. And his particular mistake has a built-in once-only failsafe, in that you can't really use the internet if you're wearing PVC mittens and have to keep your face 24 inches from the keyboard.

Go and feel better about your life. Whatever befell you at the weekend, at least you never did that.

170 quid!

24 inches!


Friday, October 22, 2004

brazil: what movies are for

Despite being several weeks into the three month long firework season, there are still many reasons why I love living in the inner city.

And right up there at the top - along with the 21 hour a day availability of samosas within five minutes walk – is that whatever you’re into, or get into, or could get into, there’s a whole bunch of people up for it too.

Squatting our post office closed in the recent cull and turning it into an anarchist infoshop-cafe, Maelstrom is a great example of exactly what I love about urban life.

Last night there was a showing of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. I first saw it when I was about 17 and it spooked me mightily. Instantly it became more or less my favourite film, and having not seen it in years I’m glad to see that it is the masterpiece I remember.

Discussing it immediately after, one person was so goosed they were in tears, yet unable to pinpoint why. They’d 'had problems following it'.

Certainly, that wasn’t made any easier by viewing in a crowded room with bad sound, occasional mewling children, people coming and going, and at one point – hilarious, considering it’s a film where riot cops repeatedly burst into scenes through the walls – a break for an unwanted visit from the coppers cos Maelstrom’s a squat.

My friend also had other problems with it: Which bits were dream and which were real? How could Sam have known Jill’s face before he’d met her?

All of these were factors, but the real upset was from something deeper than that. Something disturbing.

Most films have a formula that runs like this:
  • Here is a character.
  • Here is why you should like them.
  • Here they are getting into a scrape.
  • Here they are getting out of that scrape.
  • Feel better now?
  • The End.

It’s tried and trusted, and indeed it’s a great way to tell a story and impart a message. It’s also immensely predictable and a sure-fire moneyspinner so that, with most movies, the only thing that’s different in the viewer at the end is that they’re a bit older and a bit poorer.

Why not mess with those ideas? Why must I identify with the lead character? Why must there be peril? Why must it all be resolved, and positively at that?

As Matt Johnson said about BBC radio’s refusal to play his magnificent single Heartland, it’s not the subject matter people have a problem with, it’s the medium. We can handle stories of raped pensioners in the news, but not in the song after the news. That’s got to be George Michael singing about shagging.

Likewise, we can handle a downbeat end to a novel, but not to a film. We can watch a film with far more graphically depicted, far worse things happening than in Brazil, as long as the lead character gets out OK.

But for me, it’s precisely what I loved most about Brazil - that, as with 1984 which it’s almost a rewrite of, the authoritarians win. I don't like it cos I like the authoritarians, I like it cos it's unexpected, it plays with my preconceptions whilst still ringing true. If they were able to be beaten by a Winston Smith or a Sam Lowry they wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

The offensive patronising idea that audiences won’t like such things led to that bizarre happy ending being clumsily nailed on to the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. Gilliam refused to release Brazil in the USA rather than let it go out with the ‘uplifting’ changes the studio wanted. Only after it swept the US critics end of year choices and Gilliam took out full-page adverts in Variety saying ‘when are you going to release my movie?’ was it released.

This twist on your expectations, this extra ring of truth to the situation is what makes it such a great story. And thinking about it, there’s a measure of this in all the films that I never cease to adore.

In Withnail & I the lead character may have a bright future promised, but nobody else has, and the film is entirely about decay and endings. It’s autumn, it’s the last weeks of the decade, it’s the last days of the friendship, and for the peripheral characters the last chances of their dreams have all gone.

In Cinema Paradiso (Director’s Cut), a film so potent I can rarely stand the idea of watching it again and just skimming the screenplay the other week had me in tears, the chance of it all being OK in the end was lost in error, but now it’s too late to fix it and, agonisingly, life has to go on.

In Apocalypse Now, by the end you’re not sure who’s right anymore, indeed you’re pretty damn sure nobody is, that there’s no way out of the scrape.

These are a lot more believable than good guys getting a happy ever after. By challenging the formula these remarkable films don’t just expose the staleness of contrived production-line movies, they shift our understanding of what film can do, they get us to think about what movies are there for.

They are our society’s folk tales, there to impart wisdom and warnings and to get us to imagine circumstances we’ve yet to encounter in order that we can make better judgements when the time comes. Such fables demonstrate why some seemingly good ideas don’t really work (and why some seemingly bad ones do), they get us to see perspectives we'd never otherwise know, they foster common bonds of reference and ethics.

They visually depict to us as a mass what we’d otherwise only feel, separately.

The physical landscape of Brazil may not be familiar, but the emotional one is. I couldn’t offer a real-world literalist explanation for how Sam knew Jill’s face before he met her cos I don’t think there is one.

But as a metaphor, it’s something I recognise from my life and from most of those around me. There’s a sliver of an idea backed by an overwhelming irresistible yearning to follow it. You can’t explain, you yourself don’t really understand, you just know you’ve got to find where it takes you and any delay or denial is wrong and clouds your every moment until you go.

As you head towards this thing, the direction of your life has now changed irrevocably, and your faith in this idea being right is a large part of what makes it turn out to be right. But, equally, you were wrong too, in many ways it’s not what you’d dreamed. But you’re there now and have to carry on.

This is such a common thing that we have a specific phrase for it in modern parlance: to be on one.

Whilst what’s on screen in Brazil is more visually alien than in, say, Two Weeks Notice, the feel of the place is far more realistic.

In Hollywood movies all clothes are new and even the rubbish seems polished, whereas in Brazil there’s so much technology around that much of it is always on the blink, a place where things – not just the machines – don’t work as well as they should and we don’t know how to fix it. A place where the diabolic is accentuated by its veneer of the happy - advertising hoardings of fresh mountains cover polluted hellholes, a squalid tower block called Shangri-La Towers, near the Orange Blossom Flyover.

So with the confused complaint that Gilliam’s fantasy style made it difficult to pick what was ‘real’ and what was ‘dream’, the answer wasn’t to go through and definitively label each scene as one or the other. It was to point out that that’s what life’s like, and that was the point.

The way we feel in ourselves dictates the way we interpret the world around us, and what we pick to do next in it. Our view of the internal landscape colours – even creates – our view of the external one.

Conversely, what’s happening around us alters our mindset, the external also colours our interpretation of the internal.

This mish-mash of objective and subjective is how we live. The way Brazil moves between the two and blends them is an impressionistic vision of that fact, of those feelings.

Brazil is one of those movies like The City of Lost Children or Eraserhead or The Hudsucker Proxy, so weird-looking and dreamlike that it cannot be real and literal, so it’s blatantly saying that everything you’re seeing is something else, it’s symbol, allegory, metaphor.

From there it encourages the viewer to see all films, all art this way, to search for bigger-picture ideas and deeper more enduring truths, something far more personal yet far more universal than the superficial disposable fare on offer. It’s this encouragement that stretches way beyond its own content that makes Brazil a great rather than merely good movie.

Art that simply gives us the cosy feeling of recognition isn’t enriching us, it’s a toady yes-man to our spirit, giving us a narrow feeling of solid rightness now but with a long term undermining of what keeps us vigorous, evolving and wise.


UPDATE 15 July 2009. Were I to write it these days, this post would be littered with references to the work of Charlie Kaufman. The things that make Brazil great are mere sparks to Kaufman's fire.