Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Supporting the Police

No, it's not a post about Sinn Fein. They probably treat the police with more respect than the guy I've just heard (Clive Betts on Radio 5 Live).

He has three complaints about the police re their investigation of the Cash for Honours scandal.
1) It's taking too long
2)The police are deliberately leaking information
3) Arresting a woman at 6.30am is outrageous.

I have never heard such open criticism of the police from a politician of the governing party. His main point seemed to be that the police should now put up or shut up (preferably shut up). He has, however, no complaints about the conduct of the Labour Party which has led to this, or about the conduct of the party during this investigation.

Why should the police do anything for the convenience of Labour? So what if it's taking a long time? Complex investigations often do. The allegations of deliberate leaking and also of misconduct are serious and should be backed up with evidence or withdrawn - instead of which he simply repeated them like a little mantra.

As I read on another blog some time ago, Labour big wigs were much quieter about the shooting of an innocent Brazilian than about the investigation of their own for law-breaking. They would be screaming from the rooftops if it were another Tory financial scandal but instead we have the typically modern open armed bafflement that anyone could think we've done anything wrong and anyway you've no right to go about it like this.

Come on Labour. Shut up and govern properly or **** off.

UPDATE: 1.10pm: Well I guess Tony Blair _did_ shut up, in that he failed to answer any questions on it. And this to Lord Morris - no, my "noble" Lord, it is not distracting us from real issues, the corruption of the governing party is a very real issue. Nor is it making people suspicious of politics - only of Labour. There is a difference, Lord Morris, believe it or not.

Monday, 29 January 2007

The Keeper of Traken

*Doctor Who related post*

I've just seen Keeper for the first time in ages thanks to the new DVD boxed set with this, Logopolis and (My!) Castrovalva - which are all extremely cool.

It occurred to me watching it that there is a political subtext. Traken is a Union held together by an old boy in a chair (the Keeper) who organises the Union for maximum advantages using a bioelectric system (or something) - it guarantees crops, calmness, good weather and the ability to shrivel up evil whenever it appears. The Keeper is aided by 5 Consuls, who serve the Traken state. Into this haven at the end of one Keeper's reign, when his powers are failing steps Melkur, a poisonous individual -a statue, believed to be calcifying - who is able to exploit firstly a gullible Trakenite and secondly the increasingly weak powers of the Keepership to subvert decency and Traken law.

The analogy is weak but there: in 1979 the powers of the welfare and statist consensus "keepership" were failing in a society distrustful, like Traken, of money and individualism; an old keeper (Callaghan) unable to stem the flow of chaos but sensing evil (change). Into the mix falls the evil Melkur (Thatcher); it is wrongly assumed that this Melkur will fade away because the environment is just too nice for its horrid ideas (which is exactly what happened to Heath in 1970-4, who was forced -or really wanted to, whatever - to join the consensus). Melkur proceeds to smash the system, though he starts off slowly with his powers only growing bit by bit. By 1981 (transmission time for Keeper of Traken) the evil Thatcher was able to use Howe (Proctor Neman - "the man's too fond of money to be trusted") to ratchet up the pain, as Melkur does at the climax of the story. In which case the Doctor and Adric function as the unions - the moral authorities who could save everyone from this disaster.

Of course Melkur turns out to be the Master's TARDIS, whereas, unless you want to go even further and read the Master as Reagan, Thatcher was indeed the Master herself.

Time for me to get a proper job I think. But Traken is exceptionally cool and looks brilliant. Geoffrey Beevers has a top voice as the Master too. The trouble is, that like the 70s and 80s, none of it makes a lot of sense: meaningless pseudo-scientific verbiage is scattered around like "recursive integrator", "source manipulator" and so on, but at no point is it actually explained what is going on. I imagine people being thrown out of work because of "monetarism", or sitting at home watching pitched battles between miners and the police, or watching Threads - might have really wanted everyone to shut the **** up and make some sense for once too.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Fucking Hell

I picked this up from Daily Pundit and Jeremy J:

Bolton Council Scraps Holocaust Memorial Ceremony

Jeremy, presumably unable to speak, passes no comment: many people pass their comments on the article, and many of those are in favour of the systematic attempt to exterminate an entire ethnic group using modern industrial means as quickly as possible not being mentioned in the context of a wider, wholly contentious "genocide" day in which the holocaust Europe failed to prevent on its own soil by its own people on its own people is not mentioned. I think we can all learn from this. In future, I shall not be commemorating anything as exclusive as my grandfather's death on 10 June, or my friend's on 20 January, but will replace it with an inclusive "death day" in which I remember all dead people, sometime in February probably. Just because I happened to know some people, why should I remember them especially?

Atlas (2)

Peter Allen in looter mode on Radio 5 on Thursday to Catholic adoption woman:

"But you must continue! It's your duty!"

No Peter, it isn't. If you can't offer a service on your terms within the law you are completely within your rights to refuse to offer it at all.

by the way V for Vendetta is a totally crap film. You have 10 years of authoritarian Labour government and you make your villain a...wait for it...Conservative. And the only religious character is a total bastard. Well, I couldn't see that one coming could I?

Friday, 26 January 2007

Dummer Bangs On

*in which the tin drummer speaks in the rhetoric of BB to give his thoughts on the Defending the Blog Controversy*


Why does the drummer bellyfeel Blogpower?

Comrades, you answerfind in the fundamental principles of drumsoc: goodthink, (which is also freethink), crimethink (which, comrades, is goodthinkful if you are drumsocwise, imagicomsocwise or highamsocwise) and otherthink. What is otherthink? Comrades, otherthink is a basic principle of drumsoc. It is allthink in allwise: but, comrades, a blog we must bellyfeel. Oldthinkers unbellyfeel blogpower. Blogpower means thinkwise. Otherthink and allthink are bellyfeeled by BPcomrades.

Comrades, thuswise we are problemwise. Allthink and otherthink are unstoplike concepts in the drumsoc mind. The drumblog goodwise is to the drummer. But the drumblog is the drummer's ownlife - all blogs are ownblogs. DTB is BP voicewise, is the sealike soul of allthinking bloggers.

Comrades, it is reasonlike that allthinks are good and plusgood. DTB is freelike, meaning it is unbounded by rules, like ingsoc: but, comrades, dtb is also adminworklike: it is fruitlike of admintoil, whose goodthink is to keep DTB as freelike as it is doubleplusgood.

So, comrades, it is with stalinheart that the drummer speaks dtb brothers and sisters that they must keep allthinks goodthinkwise on dtb: ungood thinks must not dtb existwise - blogpowerers bellyfeel friendness. Ungood thinks may be ownblog thoughts but blogpoweres must unpromote ungoodthinks on dtb or otherblogs. Blogpowerers must bellyfeel allfreeideas on dtb. Blogpowerers must bellyfeel freeness and existness of others on dtb and linkwise. Blogpowerers may crimethink erase if that is goodwise to them on ownblogs.

Comrades -

the drummer comradesloves. He speaks goodthink and happythink. Listen drummerwise and comment if you agree drummerwise. If you think drummerspeak is crimethink - then unspeak your thinks.

Friday, 19 January 2007

All the Words Used

I'm sorry but today's posts use some *explicit language*.

I am in a bad mood and they help soothe the pointless rage. You'll be pleased to note, however, that no taboos are broken, nor should they be. I've even sweared over at Colin Campbell's. No explanation, just wanted to. Like any little boy.

Mash Ups

I've just heard either a ghastly cover or a dreadful mash up of Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd and some other crap. A couple of years ago some beat combo or other mixed Are Friends Electric with something totally different, to, it has to be said, some good effect: it turns out this is, in fact, a completely new art form. The music of one track to er, the music of another.

The trouble with literature is that this is a lot harder to do, if you are looking to freshen up some classic offerings. Having said that of course, some works of genius lend themselves rather nicely to this treatment. here is an example: Martin Amis' The Information and Will Self's Great Apes:

Richard Tull looked at his word-crap-processor, urgling with word-fuck, pant-hooting his desire for a long and unsatisfying drink: conscionable with lazy thought. He could summon no pornography of grammar to express his end-wishes, his wank art: his imagery was just plastic tits swaying in the brightness where even light was fake, and his words a facial of the laziest, most eyelid-closed kind. As he looked at the badmirror screen he saw his hair, his crazily jutting jawline and thought to himself: "Jesus I am one fucked-up ape. I'm not even a good ape. Fucking Julian B---I mean, er, Gwyn Barry, he makes so many more shit bananas than I do: the arsehole has three breakfasts and five kids licking his effulgence, for fuck's sake."

It's only a matter of time.

Bloke with a one track mind

*warning, explicit language*

I've just been down the pub and I'm absolutely desperate to lay a cable. I mean, I've got the turtle's head and in fact I think I'm touching cloth. My guts are bursting with ale and crisps, not to mention the rotting remains of last night's dinner, now subsumed in bile and exhumed of water. Man I will enjoy it when I get offline and sit on the karzee: if I'm not careful I'll lay a stone of dog's eggs on my way. I'd better have the matches and the "courtesy noise" ready and some top notch reading material: bloody hell what if there's no khazi paper?? I'd better get some in just in case, but the Eye will do if the worst happens...Oh god, what if it's fizzy gravy instead of a nice fudge? Oh well, time to find out. Jeez, I love emptying my guts: there's nothing like it in the world.

UPDATE: 8.46pm: Well, it was the end of the morning fresh, but a little bit of bathroom origami makes everything alright. Get in!

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Big Brother, Violence of Mouth

I've been following the controversry over BB with mounting disgust and horror. Luckily, just in case I wasn't disgusted, Radio 5 Live have been running regular reports on all their shows for the last two days. They even helpfully played some of Jade's vile outbursts at 7.40am today to soothe my journey into work.

Unfortunately this morally-putrefied episode is giving snobs of left and right full rein to slate the working classes as ignorant and racist, stoking the horrors of underclasses, white van men, ignorance and fear, and generally making comfortable people feel at once happier, with themselves, and more angry,with the vast bubbling mass of racists out there. But I don't read it that way at all.

Jade's outburst on Radio 5 Live this morning was hysterical, primal, and utterly without humanity or restraint. Hatred came spewing like a volcano out of her mouth. Language fails me: she was, as far as I could hear, animalistic in her total inability to control the expression of her hate. It had to be expressed, in buckets, with a violence of mind most of us spend a lifetime trying to calm or work out (and we all have it, to some degree - not racism I mean, but hatreds of one kind or another). It was, despite its uncontrol, a wild seizure of control of space and of other - the elemental cry of the baby and the wounded animal.

I had to teach citizenship today: luckily it was racism and discrimination, and in my leading the class "discussion" I could feel the anger boiling inside me - that this is culture, entertainment, funny - even if we disapprove, like me, there is a part of that which remains voyeuristic in its denunciation. I could feel a degree of the same unreasoning rage: "Why the hell are you watching this?" "Why are we giving this to you as how grown ups behave?" "What are you learning from us?"

And so, amid the debate and the recriminations, the pathetic defences (no Channel 4, it is not the whole of Britain that has the problem here - it is you, you and your cheating cynicism, your contempt and your slimy self-righteousness) - I ended up feeling betrayal. Not of me - I'm white, I don't suffer racism - not, to be fair, even of those who do (though I _do_ feel that, I'm just trying to point out what I felt at the time): but of the children who watch this hell-feed and have to listen to and read about its stinking offal*. There may well be great positives in our society - but we're betraying our most vulnerable people by letting them in on this - and as for that character who goes around in The Simpsons shouting "Will someone think of the children?" - you can fuck right off, you arrogant, cynical tv tossers, with your liberal university pisstake ethics. Fuck off. See what happens down here, on the ground and fuck off.

There's my burst of uncontrolled rage. The victims are the people who choose to come here. I take no payment and I feel no better. The ether is a better receptor for my rage than another human being: so too am I a better holder of it -better that it destroy or damage me than anyone else.

*=a special bang on the tin drum for anyone who can work out my source for this phrase.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007


There is a brilliant chat going on at Paul Linford about the alternatives to Michael Foot for Labour in 1980, with some great detail in the comments. Paul's own preference would have been for Tony Crosland (hmmmm), whom he thinks might have saved Labour politics and hence (in his view) Britain in the 1980s. Counterfactual history achieves very little, but it is a lot of fun. Often you don't see it in such detail, though: usually you come across an essay which discusses what might have happened had a major global event happened differently, and more often, had Britain fallen in 1940 (I have at least 2 Doctor Who books and 1 old dvd on this theme). I suppose you could read Threads as being counterfactual, as its dates match up for 1983, rather than 1984 when it was broadcast.

Paul's post and the discussion is unusual in its depth and well worth a butcher's. I guess it's the kind of discussion I can imagine Labourites having regularly but to someone outside left politics it seems quirky and, in an odd sort of way, imaginative. Now - Tories - Willie Whitelaw in 75?

UPDATE: As Paul points out in the comment below, this is all predicated on the non-death of Crosland in 1977.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Cricket Shock

England have won a match, against New Zealand in the second full ODI since the end of the Test Series.

The game is notable chiefly as further proof of "Brearley's Law", first formulated in Leeds in 1981. This law has three basic sub-laws, or by-laws:

1. A successful all-rounder shall not make a successful captain of the England cricket team.
2. When such a captain is relieved of his duties, he is replaced by a captain whose specific skill is that he takes responsibility for the performance himself.
3. Under these circumstances, the ex-captain shall once more perform to his ability, and take wickets and score runs.

It is staggering that the analysts and geeks in the ECB set up had forgotten this law.

The Shitbag's Shitbag

Regular readers of this blog will know that I loathe and despise Charlie "Lord" Falconer. He's just been on Radio 5 now, spouting his anti-democratic, arrogant, poisonous shit yet again. He's just said there are more than enough English MPs to force through any measure that England wants in the UK Parliament as it is, so an English Parliament is wholly unnecessary. You stupid fat git, how the fuck did we end up with tuition fees then, while Scotland didn't? Whose support was essential?

Why is this unelected idiot yet again commenting on matters of democracy? Yes I know the answer already. It's his job, believe it or not. One that he is no more qualified to do than I am to build houses. Whatever your views on an English Parliament (and I'm not convinced that I want another layer of govt), the right of this man to comment and worse, to make the rules, was given to him by a busted flush of a PM, his friend and flatmate, and not through his own ability - it is a calculated slap in the face to Britain and to democracy (Falconer made a big thing just now of saying "he" was happy with things as they are) to let Falconer anywhere near the constitution or indeed anything else.

If the revolution ever comes, I would like to have his very considerable guts; I have orders for plenty of garters.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Atlas Shrugged

I know this will cost me any leftish readers I still have but so what. I'm re-reading this for the third time and I love it. Yes - the villains all have "empty" faces and "lifeless" eyes, and the heroes are all supermen and women whose achievements are probably physically impossible, but I like it because I am a bit of a geek, and I find endless descriptions of railways comforting, and I like it because I agree with its basic tenet that a man without a purpose is a moral evil. I don't agree that no-one should respond any to non-selfish ideal or should work for the good of others, though I understand where Rand is coming from (even if I can't see a society that would function on those lines - Rand doesn't really draw one, as Galt's Gulch is not a real community in any sense). It does make me think (naturally) of myself, and of the need to get out, get working, achieve things, build things, create things, be happy and be satisfied in the sense of achievement - that my tribute to the wonder of existence is to contribute to the store of resources that the world has, and thereby to leave some kind of order as a defence, however temporary, against the entropy. That does affect me, and make me think: not only do you have to create your own meaning, but your own purpose, and stick to it, create real things with it (and as such, the heavy industry of the novel is a metaphor for tangible things generally). I wonder if Rand was, in part, writing mysticism without knowing it.

An interesting side issue, like a small plate of onion rings to the pizza of the novel, is that some of her heroes are scions of great dynasties (except, I think, Hank Rearden). There is, somewhere, a half hearted defence of the principle of heredity, as a set of values an individual has to prove themselves worthy of, but it still strikes me as odd that Dagny Taggart and Franscisco D'Anconia haven't created everything for themselves: they've been gifted a lot of what they have (talent, especially). If Rand wants us to grasp the greatest good as the creation by an individual of meaning and of material, then it is almost self-defeating to concentrate on people of such abilities and fortune. Or it's a two fingers to the critics, given that she knew what they would say (they pretty much appear in the novel anyway, as Bertram Scudder and various others).

Is a small blog an achievement, or a distraction? What is great work? Oh God, I'm sounding like Jim Taggart.

"Anti Trust" Rules

I picked this up from the Devil.

A quote from the Kent News website where you can read the whole story:

A police spokesman confirmed that Superintendent Joanna Young, an Area Commander for Kent Police, had told the six volunteers they would not be allowed back into Herne Bay police station from January 20 if they didn’t sign the forms.

Police say the information is needed in case the volunteers become “vulnerable to financial inducements”.

A police spokesman said the vetting procedure was due to a new computer system set to launch next month which would give volunteers “controlled access” that could be used “for personal financial gain”.

“We value tremendously their support but the Kent force is not prepared to compromise the security of our systems.”

In other words, for wholly paranoid and controlling reasons, the police are acting in deliberate mistrust of an organisation whose whole purpose is to support the work of the over-stretched police forces of this country.

This is the way private and public contracts of all kinds are being run now: out of fear, hate, self-loathing, whatever, we have less and less ability to trust those we work with. We demand of them to prove that they are not doing or simply are not something that we fear. Another example of this is the recent statute expanding CRB checks. This has an added benefit in that as well as automatically conferring suspicion on people, it requires a large number of people to be employed processing these claims. In this particular case a public service is demanding more information than it needs, for reasons of its own.

If the police cannot work with Neighbourhood Watch in a mutually beneficial arrangement, then which other organisations can do so?

Friday, 12 January 2007

Borrowing...Stealing...Being Inspired

Following an inspiring post over at Sicily Scene, and trying to keep up with something Tom Paine said about me, I would like to recall something that means something to me.

I went to a private school (boo) with no real history of Oxbridge entry until my friend and I secured places in 1995. We liked to believe that we blazed a trail for the two genuinely talented guys beneath us, Peter Harrison and someone else to follow in 1996 - real name, for a reason that will become clear.

We were not great mates with the two, but once they came up to Oxford we became very close friends, playing snooker, getting babs (kebabs, not a misspelling of "babes" - heaven forfend - we were geeks' geeks), drinking cider, until some time after we left Oxford; when I at least, lost touch around five years ago.

I met a guy in the pub in June last year who was friends with all of us.

"Did you hear about Pete Harrison?" he said.
"No," I replied, thinking he'd become a CEO or been made a chess grandmaster.
"He died."

My world fell beneath me. Pete had been ill, and had been suffering the last time I met him, when he had told me, and because of some total inadequacy on my part, I had _forgotten_ - I mean, deliberately so. The memory of his telling me only surfaced at the moment I heard he had died.

Peter has, at least, if he is around anywhere, the satisfaction of a beautiful obit in the school mag: what it does not say is that he was teased for years - when he got to Oxford he finally met people of his intellectual calibre and was utterly unlike many of them. Unassuming, funny, modest, loving life, trying to discover- that was Peter, and friendly to boot. Pete was way, way above me. In all ways. He was a great man and he is a loss not just to his family, but to life. To the world.

Pete - I miss you and I am sorry for losing contact when I should have been close to hand. I think of your floppy blond fringe and your horse-like laugh, your intelligence and your humanity.

The soul...goes beyond being...and enters...the divine world...

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Tin Testimonials

I've been meaning to do this for a while: it's an idea floated by James Higham and carried out by several, including, spectacularly, Tom Paine.

So, without further ado, here's my selection of 10 BlogPowerers:

Nourishing Obscurity. James Higham's prodigious work rate leaves most of us feeling like arthritic old stonemasons. His range of interests is huge, and generally, he lightly dusts his eclectic posts with his points of view, rather than browbeating us with rants. It is always a pleasure to read James and to uncover another nugget of news or culture that had completely passed me by.

Sicily Scene This blog is a ray of Mediterranean sunshine, with its mixture of food, drink, culture and everyday life. Sensitively written with love and thoughtfulness, it is an insight into both a life, and a way of life.

An Insomniac Matt is a very bright and well read man, whose views on subjects ranging from religion to Torchwood are invariably fascinating and, above all, humane. His blog, like many of the best, ranges from the nibble-post to the extensive argument and you can rely on it for something to amuse or interest you, and above all, to make you think.

Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe. Colin gives us a Scot's view of life in Australia, with personal stuff, politics, sport and things that make him laugh all included. I find Colin's style very amusing, wry and clever. His blog is the one to turn to for the latest Australian political outrage, or just for the latest bit of funny-but-true (or in the case of the cricket, unfunny-but-sadly-true).

Bel is ThinkingBel writes with passion and knowledge on politics from a right of centre perspective. Her style is very easy on the eye and extremely engaging: I can often feel my rage building as I read the latest governmental idiocy exposed. Bel also engages fully in the discussions on her blog, which are full, cover lots of viewpoints, and are invariably thoughtful. One of my daily reads, beginning to outrank Iain Dale for politics (for me)!

Not Saussure Not Saussure is one of the cleverest bloggers on BP and the one with the keenest eye for detail. He can be relied on to get right to the heart of a political or cultural matter, to dispel prejudice and ignorance, and to debate the subject fully in the comments. A real gem of a cultural and political blogger.

The Last Ditch It was a brilliantly thoughtful post on atheism which first drew Tom Paine to my attention and since then he has continued to inspire, with his well-reasoned and often furious posts on politics. His devotion to his series of testimonials has revealed a keen eye for character and a real interest in the motivations of the bloggers he writes about. A class writer and thinker.

Ellee Seymour Ellee is a blogger with a profile beyond most our dreams. Her writing on political issues is incisive and opinionated, usually very well researched: this is a blogger who really knows what they're talking about and who has really thought before deciding on her opinion. The debates in the comments are often extensive and reveal a range of views.

Morag the Mindbender. Morag is a very lively writer, whose work bounces along with opinion, rage, and intelligence. She takes strong views and explains them with humour and an appeal to the humanity of others. Her posts are generally detailed and knowledgeable, and reading her views is becoming an increasing necessity.

Corporate Presenter Jeremy Jacobs' blog is a fascinating mix of presenting, media, politics and humour. He writes with verve, irony and a dry wit. His presenting posts are always interesting to those of us who know absolutely nothing about it, but all of his posts are engaging and well worth a read.

There it is. Sorry for any inaccuracies!

UPDATE, 9.05PM: Quick extra-testimonial to WESTMINSTER WISDOM in the comments.

UPDATE 12/1/07, 7.40PM: Grammatical error fixed.

UPDATE 12/1/07: 8.10PM: Grammar/Spelling errors fixed. I am rubbish at writing.

On Parliament

Today a Lib Dem MP appeared on Radio 5 Live complaining about the procedures and atmosphere of the House of Commons at PMQs. I have no problem with criticism of the procedures, but her attitude to the way debate was conducted was that fierce, aggressive debate, which includes attempted intimidation and humiliation was "no way to run a democracy". I couldn't disagree more. If you have what it takes to run the country, you must be able to promote and justify your views in the face of the fiercest criticism and the loudest laughter when you rise to speak. A vigorous democracy should not be run by a mealy mouthed "consensus" where everything is stitched up behind the scenes by people who basically agree with each other, like the EU has been for years (Tony's ambitions to be a leader in Europe never recovered from how he was completely stitched up over CAP reform). A healthy democracy should contain difference of opinion, dissent and disagreement, however offensive this disagreement may appear to some, however "right" one position may seem. And if you are a leader, which by definition MPs are, you should be able to handle the bear pit. I see no reason for governments to be treated with respect, nor for individual MPs to demand to be heard respectfully. If you can make yourself heard, and thereby respected, you deserve to be an MP. If not - tough. Do something else - become a teacher, another job where you are responsible for making people hear, and they have no obligation to listen unless you can inspire them.

Monday, 8 January 2007

If He Can Do it....

I've just seen lightweight 80s children's tv presenter Simon Parkin ("Simon Parkin's always larking" in the words of the immortal song) on Thames Valley Tonight - as the "weatherman".

Well with reference to Jeremy Jacobs' new year tag, if Parkin, chiefly known for being a professional prat, can reinvent himself, I'm sure I can.


I've been watching this classic 1992 mockumentary starring Michael Parkinson and the surprisingly good Sarah Greene again lately and I've been trying to put my finger on exactly why it leaves me feeling uneasy, despite being a 30 year old who has never experienced the supernatural in any direct way. It may well be that this is in fact the reason, but that aside, there are a number of threads in it I'd like to draw out. If you're unfamiliar with the programme, look it up on wikipedia. The following ramble does contain spoilers.

Firstly the setting is Northolt. Ever since I was very small I have always found the concept of a supernatural event in a totally banal setting quite terrifying. To the extent that for some years in my teens (caused by what I'm not sure) I found something deeply spooky about rows of terraces and semis themselves. In my twenties of course, this transmuted into a similar fear, via Threads,this time of the same streets being blown apart. For me as a child and in some lingering sense as an adult, to look at a switched off television, empty arm chair or dark landing - is itself disquieting.

Secondly there is something more than ghostly about it. As is suggested on the commentary on the DVD, poltergeist cases generally carry with them the hint of psychosexual drama: they ask us questions about what teenage girls (who are often at the centre of these dramas) are: are they children to be protected, or are they "people who can be reacted to sexually" (a slight paraphrase of the show's producer on the commentary). Our culture has a deepening conflict here, and I just wonder, watching the sensitive way Ghostwatch develops the elder girl as very much being on a cusp between vulnerable childhood and powerful, independent adolescence, how well we're dealing with it. Sexuality is later revealed to be relevant, albeit as paedophilia; and there are passing references throughout to girls going missing, and brutal (possibly sexual) murders.

Thirdly the conceit - of how a 90s style daytime tv show would handle a genuine supernatural event - is very well handled. It plays effectively on the unthreatening and cheerful screen personalities of its presenters, in the process exposing the reassuring distance and "control" we subconsciously expect from our tv shows. Yes, we can and have, many times, deconstructed television. But we all turn to it, still, as a source of information and comfort.

Fourthly, the poltergeist is thoroughly nasty. It is some kind of composite, or aggregate of historical evil: evil is here shown to have a real existence. We don't like this concept, generally speaking but for me at least it retains its power. Unlike real world poltergeist activity this one does actually harm people and has a plan, which it executes. Like with The Ring, I have a lot of trouble, intellectually and morally, with supernatural beings who just happen to be unadulteratedly nasty. I don't really know why. Incidentally, I find the US version of the The Ring more frightening than the Japanese original.

there had been discussion, before it was transmitted on 31.10.92, as to whether Ghostwatch was a real documentary or not. Quite apart from the credits, and the Screen One drama stand logo, and the Radio Times listing, the cue for disbelief is in the tree foliage you see within one minute, and the too-good home video footage. But it undeniably feels real, especially to someone whose childhood was largely spent watching Sarah Greene and Mike Smith on children's or childish programmes as well as Craig Charles on Red Dwarf.

If you have seen it, I'd appreciate your thoughts (on the show and on my neuroses). If you haven't - get it on dvd asap.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Ashesto...Oh bloody hell, alright then

Although I've been leaving comments on various blogs, like little thought-turds, I've avoided posting myself about England's meeker than meek surrender of the Ashes.
That's because brighter and more knowledgeable folk than myself have already done it to death. It's also because the reason is simple.

Our players weren't good enough.

Yes - we have good players; yes, sometimes they play well. But in cricket, as in other sports, we Englishers have a remarkable capacity for self-delusion when it comes to the talent of our players compared to other countries'. It is of a piece with football and all the "The Premiership is the best league in the world" crap - something said by people who barely know other leagues exist, I suspect. I've spent part of the afternoon watching another "great" English sportsman - Wayne Rooney. He's a good player, sure - but at the moment he's very, very far from being a world beater. The English cricketers are good players - at the moment, nothing more.

Michael Atherton in his trenchant Sunday Torygraph article today carries extracts from an interview with Steve Harmison which exposes the man's utter lack of desire, commitment or even interest in winning cricket matches for England:

'Andrew Flintoff didn't give you the new ball again in this Test match. Do you feel that you are now at a stage where you can reclaim the new ball again and lead the attack?'

'Don't know. You'll have to ask Andrew Flintoff about that. I don't know. I really don't know. We haven't had a conversation about it. I haven't had it since Brisbane, so I think you'll have to ask him about it. At the end of the day, I've got no queries about it. As long as I'm playing I'm happy to bowl anywhere.'

'Would you like to have the new ball?'

'I'm not particularly bothered, to be honest. At the end of the day I'm trying to get wickets with a ball that's as hard as possible. If that means the new ball so be it.'

'You're off home next week. Sad to be going?'

'No [big smile]. I'm sort of looking forward to getting away from it. At the end of the day it's been seven weeks of hard cricket and I've made my decision, and I'm going home to hopefully recharge the batteries in time for the West Indies in May, if selected.'

'It's a long time before the West Indies get to England. May 17 is the first Test, I think. What are you going to do between now and then to make sure that you are in the best possible mental and physical shape so that you are right for that first Test?'

'I'm not sure, to be honest. I think you'll have to ask Duncan Fletcher what the itinerary and plan is for those players who don't play one-day internationals and just play Tests. I'm sure Fletcher, like he always does, will look after the players in the best way possible and I'm sure he'll do it again. I imagine there will be a lot of county cricket before then. Obviously, we've been going non-stop since India, so a nice little recharge of the batteries to be mentally fresh for coming into the Test series in three, four, five months' time.'

Those of us who've believed for a while that he doesn't really like cricket had these prejudices confirmed by his comments. England players are chock-full of "attitude" of a certain kind: the relentless almost hysterical self-assertion that leads to stupid haircuts, massive tattoos, ghosted columns in newspapers and adverts for this that and the other. But they lack the only "attitude" that matters in sport. The will to win, at all, any cost. Last year, Australia, seeing that they were at the top of world cricket by some margin, announced that henceforth they'd be doing everything in accordance with the utterly mythical "spirit of cricket" and that sledging, intimidatory play, failing to walk and so on were therefore not de rigeur any longer. This year all that has gone: it was just a device for ensuring no-one reached their heights by the same methods they did in the first place. Australian players want to win for Australia. They love the symbols (the baggy green), the history (only Australian cricket would deliberately connect a wartime massacre with a Test series) and the place itself they come from and are part of. Cricket, for Australians, embraces the developing culture of a country moving onwards and building its own cultural heritage. Cricket is not just sport for them: it embraces cultural achievement and a deep history within a context.

All of these are things we deeply worry about: we have no cultural confidence at all. Giving youngsters at the ECB Academy lessons in English Cricket History, quite apart from being hilarious, would be pointless. No one would care. The three lions tattoos that adorn some players' arms (I'm thinking of Flintoff and Pietersen) are symbols, not of love of one's country, but of one's insecure belief in that love. You cannot give English (or English-qualified) players the will to win the Australians have because we don't believe in anything to win for. We can, and will win, games and series. But the sustained excellence of Australia or West Indies is well beyond us in the modern world.

R Tape Loading Error, 0:1

via Dizzy I found this website. I think that is all there is, but it made me laugh. In fact it's a myth that you'd load something for 15 minutes on a Spectrum and then it would trump your expectations with this oft-seen message. In the classic Speccy age (ie before Amstrad took over Sinclair) the 48K games generally took less than 10 minutes to load and many only a couple of minutes (less than it takes my pc to wheeze Age of Empires into gear). A brilliant game like Horace Goes Skiing took hardly any time at all and was extremely reliable. Of course it wasn't the games that were the problem, but the cable-connected tape recorder which sometimes had to be propped up, or the cables sellotaped in. It was really later, when the redesigned (and much less sexy) Amstrad Spectrums (or should that be Spectra) had built in tape decks and 128K that games could take the thick end of 20 minutes to load.

The point for me about the Sinclair ZX Spectrum for me was this: it was an idiosyncratic little thing, beautiful in its own way but quite hard to use (a clumsy 8 year old like me was no good with the rubber keys). The error messages like the famous one above were masterpieces of stubborn understatement, often insistently cropping up at the least appropriate moment. You couldn't type rude messages onto it because the keys always printed command words at the beginning of a line, which was a shame but it made writing (or in my case mostly copying out) BASIC programs easier. Even the data systems were idiosyncratic, like the microdrive, which I never had but always wanted: whatever else it may have been it was sexy and fitted the computer's design well. Its graphics were poor compared to the C64 and the Amstrad CPC464, but I always felt a little...underwhelmed using these devices. They lacked a joie de vivre that the Speccy made its own.

At least you got error messages regularly with a Spectrum: my pc just freezes or restarts with no warning at all most of the time and you've no idea what's gone wrong.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Another Tag

Corporate Presenter has tagged me thusly:

We're a week into 2007. Do you know what you want to achieve by the end of January? Have you set goals to reach by the end of the first quarter?

If not, why not?

Have you taken on too much, or are you in a dither as to know what to do?

Just how is it for you on the morning of January 6th?

answer: This is too difficult to answer properly. No I don't have any real goals, never have had: but I am at a point in life where I do need to set some. I have no proper work (although I teach, it's not full time anymore) and I need some. I suppose I'm in a dither, have been for a good twelvemonth or so. I always think that the Divine Comedy foreshadows Jung with its opening about the fork in the road at the midpoint of life; I have been standing at this crossroads for a while now - both roads look difficult and unappealing and it is physically impossible to take the road back, as it has disappeared.

Sorry not to give a humorous or effective answer, CP: but it's a question close to my heart and one I struggle with.

Enough of the personal stuff.

Thursday, 4 January 2007

The Newish Martin Amis

A lot of people, rightly, suspected that the great man had gone off the boil a bit in the twenty first century. Although Experience was well received,justifiably, Koba the Dread attracted an awful lot of criticism, some of which was justified, some not. And Yellow Dog...well...put it this way. I remember nothing of that book. Nothing at all.

Let me summarise what I think Amis is brilliant at:

1. The startlingly appropriate and arresting turn of phrase.
2. Black comedy.
3. Endings.
4. Imagery.
5. He can create some ridiculously memorable characters, who can be, within the one person, cariacature, self-reference, and subtle (I think Richard Tull has a bit of this, and almost any character from London Fields).

But - when he gets too lost in his own turns of phrase, or is too clumsy with his political obsessions (nuclear war, the twentieth century's horror), he loses sight of his own story, and bad Amis is unreadable. I wonder if the closing of the C20 left Amis rudderless, without the motivating force of his imagination.

House of Meetings, his latest, seems to me to be Amis feeling his way slowly back to form. He has lost a lot of the ornament of Yellow Dog and previous books; he has moved off the well worn "low life" patch onto something more bleakly low; he has devoted a whole, though short, book, to the creation of a character based in pain. Other writers have done this lots of times, but I haven't read a lot of Amis that approaches this for consistency and feeling. His political concerns sit, sometimes foregrounded, sometimes not, even if the character reads himself explicitly as Russia. I think he is moving towards a stronger synthesis of an experience that (as I've said before here) I think we're still living through. But for me - the main thing is that the language is sharper, much more focused, much less pointlessly showy and is in fact consistently poignant and thought-provoking.

It's not a work of genius, but it could be seen as a revision of his last couple of books, a radical redrafting, and it sets him on a much more promising course than it looked like he was on in 2004.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Erm...New Year

I've left the Happy off because I'm not at all delighted by the prospect of a New Year, nor am I sad or nostalgic for the old one. 2006 was a miserable, mean-spirited year, which ended with typical nasty prurience with the widespread viewing of Saddam's execution. I oppose the death penalty; and I have no sympathy for Saddam: but our media's obsession with the footage has been grisly and almost pornographic. Any optimism I might have had for the new year dissipated before it had even begun in the homespun yet exotic-and-enticing footage of Saddam about to drop (in some papers they helpfully showed the pictures of the drop itself). Rubbish and disgusting.

On a lighter note, thanks to all those who left messages for me over the holiday period. I wanted-and needed- a time off to recharge and to stop churning out rubbish ten or so times a week. I am back, but I don't feel any better about the world or the future. I'm with the french anti-2007 protestors from Nantes, who rightly opposed the relentless and damaging march of time, refused to recognise the new year and immediately, on the striking of midnight, starting anti-2008 protests.

Let us return to 1982: at least then we'd have 3 glorious years of Peter Davison as Doctor Who to look forward to.