Friday, 21 October 2016

Match Report

Match Report: Bristol Rovers vs Gillingham, League One, 15/10/2016

When I was a young lad playing for my local football team, our manager tried to encourage us not to swear during games.  She did this by suggesting we could use safe alternative words, so instead of shouting “fuck!” in frustration, we could say “fudge”.  Being around 12 (if I remember right), we didn’t take this particularly seriously, although we did make a small effort not to swear when the manager was within earshot.  Otherwise, we were as sweary as ever – but even if we toned it down when the manager was with us, I suppose the idea of changing the culture of the team had some limited success.
During a training session in which we trialled some alternative exclamations, I shouted “Fudgepacker”.  Really really loud.  Not at anyone, just as a sort of anguished cry at my own inability to control the ball or something.  I shouted it without thinking about it – if I had thought about it, I would have known it was something I shouldn’t shout out loud in polite company, but I wouldn’t really have known why.  
My shout triggered a long talk about homophobia for the whole team, and I felt like a dick – for saying it, and for causing my team-mates to have to listen to the lecture.  And that dissipated after the lecture when the really (deliberately) homophobic language was used.  Which led me to realise I hadn’t known what the word meant at all.
I thought of myself as being anti-prejudice and cool, so I didn’t like the language some of my team mates used, but I wasn’t brave enough to argue against it.  I thought it was pretty cool that we had a female manager (very very rare at that level of football at that time.  A rare record indeed.  Numbered limited edition mint-condition Japanese import, with a typo, on blue vinyl and with a free signed poster type of rare), but I didn’t have the courage to tell other people to fuck off when they made the usual jokes about it.
(Of course, there were a lot of things going on in my mind: the conflict between my instinctive dislike for all authority figures and my love of football and empathy both for the person in question, and for her position as a lone female in a male-dominated environment; the conflict between my hatred for authority in general and my love of football – and my recognition that without volunteers/authority figures to run the club, there would be no games at the weekend; my precocious grasp of the English language against my obvious lack of understanding of certain adult/slang words and their meaning and function (I couldn’t have explained what the word really meant, even if I knew – it would be too embarrassing); my dislike of prejudice and divisive language against my fear of standing up to it, of being different, and potentially unpopular.  (Teenage boys think about sex a lot, but we shouldn’t assume it’s the only thing they think about.))
Anyway the point is, I find myself at the Memorial stadium, at 3 on a Saturday afternoon, wondering about all this.
Not knowing well enough where to stand (not being with the usual Crew, who always stand in the same place), Maccy B and I go behind the goal, where the view is best.
We see a steward in the section we’ve chosen, and aren’t sure why, until the place fills up a bit as the game is about to start.  We are surrounded by the rowdiest, loudest fans.  They jump about, make loads of funny chants and songs, are abusive to opposing fans and the home team’s city rivals, take the piss out of each other – and are occasionally genuinely funny and entertaining.  The stewards are there to watch them, it seems, and they make a lot of jokes about getting kicked out and how you aren’t allowed to swear.  While swearing (#bantz).  They are a bit funny and a bit knob-headed and generally fun.  Some people would probably find them intimidating.  Potentially dangerous, enjoyable, teeming with possibilities….like all big crowds.
Judging purely by appearances, they range from 8 to 14 years old.
And now we know why The Usual Crew don’t stand right behind the goal.
At one point, they begin a full-on mosh, jumping around the terraces, shoving each other (and whoever is nearby – me, in this case) and having great fun.
(Incidentally, speaking of moshing:  I went to a punk gig the night before the game – not something I do often these days, but a friend’s band were playing and I’d never seen them, so I checked it out.  Sorry to sound like your/my Dad, but I couldn’t understand a word they were saying…although I saw a few people I know, and was recognised by a few people I didn’t know, which was nice. 
One person who recognised me had just received some good legal news, so I bought us a drink to toast with (after a friend had lifted him up on shoulders to celebrate.)  I kept my counsel on the legal issue, about which I remain ambivalent.  Later he found a fiver on the floor and bought us a tequila with it.  Nice fella. 
Another person I recognised was my friend P, who is a kick-ass drummer.  His band played (not the friend or the band I was there to see, so a pleasant surprise all round) and they were very loud and fast and not really my kind of thing (not that I don’t like loudfast music in general, just this particular loudfast stuff wasn’t my sort of thing). 
The swarm of humanity at the gig was good fun – irresistible, in fact.  Potentially dangerous, enjoyable, teeming with possibilities….like all big crowds.
Later, outside, on being asked about a false idol, I speculated that all idols are false.  The man I was chatting to said “Good question”.  I think that’s what I said, but it was late and I had been drinking, so really can’t be sure.  Anyway, that’s what happened, according to my notes, such as they are.  Maybe I took notes because I knew I wouldn’t remember.  I’m not sure now why I wanted to remember.  Because I didn’t make a note of that at the time.
It was good fun being part of a crowd again, and made me think about crowds; the dangerous allure, the terrifying power, the confluence of democracy and mob rule (what’s the difference?  The passage of the Representation of the People Act 1832 (known popularly at the time (and since) as The Great Reform Act) was greeted with horror by the Landed Gentry, which suggests it was good for everyone else; one of the arguments against extending suffrage and parliamentary representation was that it would lead to mob rule – ie, democracy….the extent to which it did was, of course, arguable.  But really, what is the difference between the two?  These are the kinds of things I think about at punk gigs.  Or football matches.)
One of the chants that you might hear a lot at English football matches is to the tune of a song known as The Billy Boys.  The local version begins “Hello! Hello! We are the Rovers Boys!”  The original begins “Hello! Hello! We are the Billy Boys!” and goes on to delight in being “up to our knees in Fenian blood”.  For those who don’t know, “fenian” is a term derived from a group of Irish revolutionaries from the 19th century, now mostly used (in Scotland and Ireland, at least) as a term of abuse for Irish/Catholic people. 
Can a tune be offensive?  These Rovers fans aren’t singing about “fenians”, of course, but to hear this song at an English football ground is a bit odd to those familiar with the original.  The assumption is that the chanters here don’t know the origin of the tune.  I really really hope the assumption is correct and it’s just a question of ignorance.  Because if.  They know.  Their history…
For the record (no pun), I don’t think tunes are offensive or inoffensive, just well written or badly written.  That’s all.
But they’re not necessarily neutral either.  They can be used to denote things that are offensive; like words, they are (almost) never offensive regardless of context. 
Almost as if to weigh in on these ruminations, another chant goes up, with the following line:  “Fuck the City and the IRA”. 
I joke to Maccy B:  “We all hate City, but what have these lads got against the IRA?”  Really, all of these kids look like they were born after the Good Friday Agreement.  There is a tradition of English football fans singing about the IRA, but it’s usually been at England games in the 90s as an odd response to a disbanded terrorist organisation involved in a conflict with Britain about which most British people seem to know almost nothing.  So, you know…it’s probably not too unfair an assumption to make: most of these kids know absolutely shit all about the IRA or the conflict in Ireland. 
Maybe it doesn’t need to make sense because #bantz #LADSLADSLADS. 
Maybe it’s just repeating words or phrases without understanding them, like young people might do when trying to integrate themselves into adult society…
A bit like shouting “FUDGEPACKER” really loud, in public.
On the way home, Maccy B and I have an interesting discussion about football and he makes the excellent point that “football is about belonging”; most of us can enjoy some rivalry without getting carried away, but the rivalry is integral to the popularity of the game.  And belonging to these big crowds often means we come up close to ideas, opinions, songs – or even people – with whom we would otherwise rather not be associated. 
Anyway, in the end-up, justice prevails when Rovers edge it 2-1 with a last-minute winner.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Have I Got News For You? (No.)

This week’s blog pre-supposes some knowledge of the week’s news stories, like Have I Got News For You would, before it would then explain them to you with a smug voice and invite Ian Hislop to pass comment, with his smug face.  This blog is not going to explain the stories to you, just re-write the headlines as they would appear in a newspaper prepared to display its worldview and values honestly, in headlines instead of by insinuation in the body text.  With smug hands.  Yeah, so it’s one of those blogs, with a list of headlines for Daily Mash articles I haven’t bothered to write.
Some of these headlines include a strapline to embellish on the story, used by most newspapers to add extra bite/bile to the headline.  So I have below, for some of them.  With a smug face.

Like viewers of Have I Got News For You, you will probably still be able to match the headlines to the story, even if you’re not familiar with the story, because the news is the same every single day.  (I assume it’s the reason people still read newspapers, because even their shrill sensationalism harks back to a simpler time when we still thought saying the same old shit might be OK.)
Like watching Have I Got News For You, reading this will probably make you laugh once, if at all, and leave you feeling wretched at the state of the world.  And yourself.  Rest assured, however, your self-loathing pales in comparison with the makers of Have I Got News For You.  Or mine.  With my smug voice, face and hands.


US Journalists Dig Dirt On Presidential Candidate 12 Months Too Late

Rich Famous Narcissist Impervious To Criticism

US Election Grotesque Pantomime, Say Non-US Voters

Republican Party Hoping Women Hate Female Candidate Enough To Vote For Misogynist

Availability Of Yeast Extract Spread Most Important News Story, Say Journalists In Fading Empire

Only 1.5% Of International Students Over-Stay Visas, Admit Ministers Responsible For Immigrant-Bashing

PM Surprised To Be Popular With Racists
Only Using Expedient Rhetoric, According To Sources

White English Woman Thinks It’s Hilarious To Mock Black US Culture
Millionaires Enjoy 21st Century Blackface

Overnight TV Star Incapable Of Humility

Woman Crying In Refugee Camp Is A Deplorable Idiot

Pop Star Criticised For Displaying Empathy With Suffering People

Woman Wears Dress In Public
“Tits and ass!” Say Onlookers

Woman Wears Lipstick On Television
Lipstick Colour Also Important, Say Experts

Woman Speaks In Public
Should know place, say Angry Men

30 year-old Footballer Not As Good As When He Was 20
Tabloid Newspapers Blamed

Economic Warnings About Brexit Proving True, Admit Pro-Brexit Campaigners

Pro-Brexit Voter Not Expert On EU Law
Admits Lack Of Knowledge To Radio Host

Fruit–Pen Combination Deemed Funny By Internet, For Some Reason

Singer Leaves Televised Dancing Competition
“But Why Doesn’t He Want Our Constant Judgment?” ask Confused Fans

“Sparked”, “Slammed”, “Fury” and “Backlash” Most Misused Words In English
Replacing “Literally” and “Random”

Adult Babyman Still Foreign Secretary
Preposterous Appointment Still Confounds Foreign Diplomats

Public Services Affected By Years Of Spending Cuts
“Unforeseeable Consequence”, Say Ministers

Friday, 7 October 2016

THIS IS AN OPINION: The British People is a fucking idiot.

THIS IS AN OPINION.  That means it’s of little (or no) value to public discourse.  It is at best half-informed, backed up only by reference to a few (selective) facts.  So there.
The British people is a fucking idiot.
Not the actual, real people of Britain – but The British People that Amber Rudd was talking to and about in her Conservative Party conference speech this week.  Not the people that voted in the EU referendum, but The People that she is using to justify The Same Old Bullshit under the re-branded New & Improved Bullshit following the referendum result.  You follow me?
The British People have a life that the Home Secretary understands completely.  They is homogenous, and even when she returns surprising voting results for a variety of complex – often competing – motivations, the government gets him.  The British People is a racist simpleton, and the government is ready to pander to the lowest common denominator, for as long as it’s expedient.  The British People is a newspaper column, a pub bore, a bewildered, stampeding herd.
Speaking to a party committed to further lowering living standards in 2016, it would have been easy to be triumphalist.  Especially as the party of government also has a mandate – and, crucially, an historic opportunity – to return Britain to the Victorian era.  However, Rudd’s speech was more measured and nuanced.
The government’s response to the chaos of late capitalism is to call for unity while their policies exacerbate and create divisions – of wealth disparity, political partisanship, cultural background.  And whilst saying that they’ll be more inclusive and champion working-class interests.  What even are we?  We are a divided, inward-facing wee island. 
In time-honoured tradition, the new Home Secretary used her appointment to make a pitch for the job of Prime Minister with the use of authoritarian rhetoric.  John Reid, David Blunkett, Jack Straw, Alan Johnson and Michael Howard might have been watching, thinking “Good luck with that…”.  Theresa May, the only person in recent history to make that pitch successfully, was probably thinking “I’ll need to keep an eye on her”, whilst grinning like the Emperor from Star Wars. 
The job of Home Secretary is to make speeches that sound relatively reasonable, whilst also appealing to irrational racists and all the newspapers aimed at them.  It’s a tightrope too difficult for most; Charles Clarke and Kenneth Clarke (no relation, as far as I’m aware), for example, both sounded a bit too reasonable, while John Reid and David Blunkett both sounded just a bit too fascist. 
One consequence of this remit is to scare the shit out of a lot of public servants, whose jobs are on the line if the latest Home Secratry decides they might actually need to Do Something to throw their weight about, rather than just make speeches that will please The Daily Mail.  This would obviously be a disaster, which is why no one who has tried to do it ever stays in the job long enough to do it.  Public servants are best-placed to pick apart the type of speech Amber Rudd made this week.
To take just one relatively small example, what she said about international students is worth looking at:
“While an international student is studying here, their family members can do any form of work.”
This is a classic piece of political speech-making: it’s technically true, but is really not true, because it’s so deliberately ignorant of context, with a view to giving an entirely prejudiced opinion of said true facts.  Which are: very few students bring their families to the UK when they come to study – most are, like British students, around 18-21 and childless.
Very few students are entitled to bring their families to the UK; in fact, only postgraduate students on courses longer than 12 months whose home governments are sponsoring their study (ie, paying their fees).  Those who are entitled to apply aren’t automatically granted visas for their families.  So it’s a tiny proportion of the international student population.  But to listen to the speech, anyone without prior knowledge of UK Visas & Immigration policy could be forgiven for thinking that there are thousands of students with unknown numbers of family members on dubious visas working several jobs each.  Jobs that should be going to British Workers, according to the government.
So, either the Home Secretary is being seriously disingenuous about this, or doesn’t know her own policy.  Neither would be especially surprising, but the Home Secretary is not stupid.  It puts a bit of doubt around the seemingly-enlightened (ie, rational, human, displaying a minimal concern for vulnerable people) things she said about modern slavery and prosecution of rape cases.
The reason the current – and previous – Home Secretary harps on about student visas on a regular basis is that they are the easiest type of visas to regulate.  Which is why the government have been regulating them obsessively for the past five years or so, bringing in petty and spiteful rules.  The current Home Secretary, like that former Home Secretary, is hammering universities, even though they only bring in immigrants that the government likes – the ones that pay exorbitantly high fees to British universities and spend money while they’re here and then leave when they finish their studies.
A party with a historical antipathy to university education and widening participation in it are likely to be enthusiastic about reducing student numbers; given the current fervour for reducing the number of immigrants, this is playing to the gallery, traditional conference stuff.  The problem for the government is that all the petty, spiteful regulatory changes made recently have been judged to be insufficiently petty and spiteful by a news media who have committed wholesale to the idea of immigration as The Big Problem Of Our Time. 
What no Home Secretary has ever explained is why it is necessarily a good thing to reduce migration to the UK.  After forty years of people talking about immigration, including about 30 years of people saying they aren’t allowed to talk about immigration, it is now just regarded as unquestionably true that immigration is inherently problematic.  Even though “Twenty years ago levels of immigration weren’t really an issue in British politics”, immigration has always been an issue.  However, public discourse has continued to move steadily rightwards on this issue as politicians and pressure groups brandish numbers to prove they’re one of The Lads. 

And UKIP, a party who now have no official reason to exist, are continuing to push the Conservative Party even further to the right; almost like that was their objective all along.

Now that pandering to ignorant bullshit is considered the first duty of government, the assumption is more entrenched than ever.  It could take a generation to have the “reasoned debate” politicians say they want before making unthinking assumptions that sound very much like unreasonable, racist pandering.  Even though the debate has been going for decades.  Decades in which you weren’t allowed to talk about racism because of the loony left.
And then, following the Home Secretary attacking companies for employing too many foreigners, the new Conservative Prime Minister made a speech  advocating borrowing for public spending – following six years of the party saying they had to cut all public services to the bone because borrowing had got out of hand under Labour and they were targeting eliminating the budget deficit.  Which they have now quietly abandoned after it obviously didn’t work, and in tacit admission that it wasn’t really that necessary in the first place. 
But that’s democracy: an unelected Prime Minister reverses six years of policy enacted by an elected government and we’re all supposed to roll over to have our bellies tickled, because they acknowledge the good, old-fashioned parochial jingoism of The British People….
If you want to parse the effect of the Labour membership surge, look at the Prime Minister’s speech: the fact that she felt the need to use the term “working class” (especially without the suffix “scum” – very restrained) is itself significant.  Since the government’s primary concern is rhetoric and image, it’s worth noting that these have shifted in response to challenges from the left, as well as from the right. 
The more things change, the more they stay the same, as Corrine Bailey Rae once sang.
Remember her?  (Me neither.)
What strange times we live in.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Breaking (Internet) News

Twitter and all the other online toilets have been full of Real News this week.  Here’s a selection picked out from the detritus of disposable 21st century digital communication…names have been removed to protect the guilty.  And insulate me from any copyright concerns.

Breaking News: Unelectable politician wins second landslide with improved majority.
Labour MPs are predictably shit at predicting elections. 
Labour party members would have voted for Boris Johnson if he was the only alternative was Tony Blair’s preferred candidate.
MPs who were asking for more public engagement in mainstream politics are remembering that language is creative and will be more careful what they wish for.
The reporting of the Labour leadership election has been so predictable and boring it’s hard to stay awake through it (maybe that’s the point…)
Perhaps when choosing between the favourite of MPs who don’t know that the last ten years happened and one who did, Labour members chose someone with a calendar.
If the papers spent as much time on the content of Corbyn’s speeches as on him sitting on the floor on a train, we might have a public debate about public policy.
WHICH IS WHY THEY DON’T. Politics is none of your business. #proprietorialcontrol
Perhaps Labour Party members like an underdog; perhaps when choosing between the preferred candidate of Tony Blair and the right-wing press, Labour members decided that Tony Blair can get to fuck, along with the right-wing press and the others who have been warning that Jeremy Corbyn is a disaster.  They’re not really saying Jeremy Corbyn is a disaster – they liked him when he was a backbench MP voting against all the worst things they wanted to do; they fear him when he represents a constituency of people (you know, like all MPs are supposed to) who would rather spend public money on public health than a nuclear submarine.
“Blairite” and “entryist” are now the two worst slurs in mainstream politics, and the Labour Party is having a good old right-left proxy war as a preparation for a general election where there might be a vote between left and right policies.  (Or a protracted media war based on image and anecdote and unashamedly biased towards neoliberal policies.  Or both.)
Remember the 1980s?  Everyone goes on about how shit it was, but there was The Smiths, Pixies, Public Enemy, Run DMC, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being….loads of good stuff.  But then, Parliament was an utter fucking pigsty and the Prime Minister was a megalomaniacal anti-human.  And the papers were disgusting.  Swings and roundabouts, really.
The mainstream news always push the personality narrative hard: he’s a nice guy but he’ll never win, does he have the “personal qualities” to be a leader?  Would you like to have a beer with this guy, or the other one?  US elections have been framed in these terms for many years, and we are watching the consequences of that play out in the presidential election.  From behind the sofa.  Through our quivering fingers.  Feeling quite sick.
There are compelling reasons for them to do so; supporters of the leader are “loyal”, the leader is he will “assert his authority”.  In the context of these supporters, “loyal to the leader” means “a credible threat to” the political and media establishment – not because said leader is a particularly special politician (which doesn’t matter much), but because it is the result of a grassroots, democratic movement attempting to change the political culture.  And it’s working.  It could work whether or not the leader had won the leadership election, and it will make a difference whether or not Labour win the next general election.
What we can be more sure of is that what the political establishment fear and hate more than anything else is just this kind of broad, democratic movement which might actually effect policy – in parliament, or anywhere else.  It’s easier to keep that force out of Parliament and the mainstream media, but it can’t be stopped if it refuses to be stopped.  That’s why the papers and TV news are desperately trying to portray Corbyn as a loser.  That’s why they are ridiculing and hating on the leader (and all of us)…THEY ARE SCARED OF US.  Let’s give them good reason to be.
If we knew how powerful we are, we might use that power, and if we did it would clearly threaten currently powerful interests.  And that’s the reason so much money and effort is spent on PR, advertising and propaganda.  And it’s the reason TV is so full of frivolous shite.  And it’s the reason the papers are more concerned with what famous women wear in public than public policy.
Still, there are legitimate concerns that the Party won’t win the election, and many people voicing those concerns are journalists who have made a career out of criticising the Labour Party, sometimes constructively.  That doesn’t invalidate their opinions, but it might well shape them.
Still, there are legitimate concerns that: the world is on fire, and to ask for moderation now is like asking the world to sit calmly and wait for fire engines that will not come; that there is more to all this than elections and that while losing an election would be terrible, it would be neither the end nor the end of the beginning; that shifting public discourse towards some kind of sanity/humanity is worth doing, whether it leads to more tangible gains or not.  And that it probably will lead to tangible gains.
Everything we do matters.  We just don’t know how much, or what the consequences will be.  There is no reliable way to predict the future, and there are too many variables to look at history and determine that a led to b and that was that. 
‘And, in other news’ Tweets…
I would love to shoot down the helicopter hovering above my flat.  Noisy bastards.
Motorbikes, in an urban conurbation, are an anti-social nuisance.  Noisy bastards.
@Steve’Bananaman’McManaman re: Celtic’s potential “inferiority complex”. Add this to the superiority complex of every English commentator ever and shove the whole lot up your arse. Ta.
Celtic, whatever team they put out, are still a massive club #footballwithoutfansisnothing
The Great British Bake-Off has run its course.  That’s all, folks.

Friday, 23 September 2016

TV Review: The Overt Democratic Pink Scare

Those pesky commie pinko swines are up to their old tricks again.  Looks like another job for the Investigative Journalist Superheroes from Channel 4…
Thank God we’ve got them on the case, keeping the world safe from grassroots, working-class political organising.  Or we’d be in real trouble.
Their latest brilliant expose came in the Dispatches programme on Monday night, which effectively dissected the underhand tactics used by Labour Party members to control the party by making it more democratic and responsive to members.  A typical totalitarian extreme left plot, involving public meetings and reasoned argument.
The Labour Party, having long ago fought the battle with the Loony Left, now shudders as the spectre looms large at the fringes of the party.  In fact, they loom so large on the fringes that they support the leader of the party himself.  An enemy within, you might say. 
This enemy within is the “Trotskyist”, “entryist” (no, I’m not sure what that means either, but it was used as a slur and repeated several times, so I understand what it was meant to mean) Momentum group.  Momentum is a gaggle of gnarled, grizzled, hard left benefit claimants who want to smash the capitalist state, while leaving their local dole office intact.  (Except the ones that are teachers, or something.)  These are the people who simply cannot accept that Mrs Thatcher won the argument and that Socialism is as old-fashioned as it is dangerous. They are the fabled Reds Under The Bed of cold war-era America, and they represent the single biggest threat to democracy ever.
This episode of Dispatches featured Neil Kinnock, who you might remember from his spectacular reforms to the Labour Party, which resulted in a stunning two-election losses to a deeply divisive, unpopular incumbent.  In fact, Kinnock is the longest-serving leader of the opposition in British political history; an achievement for which he was granted a baronetcy for services to Labour election losses, ascending to take his place among those who bravely attempt to avoid any Labour election wins ever occurring again.  (It is rumoured that many current Labour MPs can look forward to similar awards in the New Years’ Honours List.)
Kinnock was naturally horrified by the thought of a Labour election win, as all right-minded people should be.  He was also disgusted by the thought of Socialists in the Labour Party, having spent years trying to get rid of them during his double-election-losing term as party leader.  Despite the effects of his historic tenure, Kinnock is still committed to a strategy of beating the Conservatives by being more like the Conservatives in every way – thank God.  Such realism has been sorely missing from Labour since Corbyn took the throne.
Kinnock is such a realist, in fact, he understands the Labour Party’s position in British parliamentary terms, an entity existing only to add a veneer of democratic legitimacy to the rule of our social betters.  As such, Kinnock was an unqualified success.  I still don’t know how he managed to lose the 1992 election, but what an historic achievement! A winner’s loser, you might say. 
This latest Dispatches investigation follows on from Channel 4’s most important documentary about nothing, Isis: The British Women Supporters Unveiled, which was ingenious – the programme title was literally true, in that undercover filming showed Muslim women unveiled.  It also managed to generate, from an entire year’s worth of secret filming, a series of vague allegations and circumstantial evidence – thereby undermining the sensationalist title.  Any tabloid sub-editor would have been happy with the headline; and the consistency of tone in Channel 4 documentaries is impressive. 
The new Dispatches programme on Momentum could not have been more timely; with Syria on fire, the USA tearing itself apart, Russia using its increasing dominance to threaten its neighbours, the two in open hostility; the government in disarray over Brexit; the decline in living standards; and with the Conservative Party’s alleged electoral crimes, this was the perfect time to make a mainstream documentary about a broad political campaigning organisation based on nudges, winks, unsubstantiated allegations, secretly filmed public meetings and a politician making a joke in a lift. 
One of the brilliant things this documentary will do is send up the Trots by playing into their “mainstream media hates us” conspiracy theories in a deliciously deft double-bluff – giving them enough rope to hang themselves with.  Watch them scream and whine about corporate media bias while the adults do the real work.  Enjoy, Comrades!
Jeremy Corbyn’s shock leadership election win has upset the natural balance of British Parliamentary politics.  The pinko stalking horse for the Red Horde, despite posing as a decent, normal man, with normal scruffy clothes, represents a threat to the order that has sustained our formal democracy for decades – a democratic order which must be kept safe from the stampeding hooves of the bewildered herd. 

Friday, 16 September 2016

Last Stand

 [THE COMIC steps onto a small stage, to a smattering of polite applause.  It is completely dark, apart from a spotlight Upstage, so that we cannot see the whole stage, or anything around it.]

Hello, hello, hello.  Everyone.  Ummm…I’ve been doing this for a really long time, to the extent that the words I’ll be saying tonight have been stripped of all meaning.  But, you’ve never heard them before, have you?  So….where have you been?  I’ve done this a thousand fucking times, you ignorant – sorry, sorry, it’s not your fault, I haven’t been on the telly or anything, so how would you know?

So, public service announcement: there’s gonna be some swearing.  So, if you have children….that’s your look-out, mate.  Not my fucking fault, is it?  Unless you worked in a bar in the Bristol area in the 1990s, in which case, there’s a chance…that joke doesn’t suit me, does it?  No.  I wrote it a long time ago, like a lot of this material.  [sighing] I was a different person then.  [Brightening] That was before the operation! [Sarcastically] A-ha-ha-ha-ha.

[THE COMIC steps out of the spotlight, (Stage Right), and taps microphone on forehead, pensive and distracted.  SOUND:  Boom of the mic hitting THE COMIC]

Anyway, I wasn’t shagging bar staff in the 90s, I was still a student, shagging absolutely no one.  But I digress from my prepared remarks…you know what, let’s keep it going, I’ve got nothing to lose.  To be honest with you, I keep thinking every gig lately will be my last.  I mean, how much longer can I keep telling the same tired jokes to a disinterested audience who’ve never heard of me and like one in five of them?  Well, anyway, let’s just get through it, shall we…? 

I went to India to find myself.  Turns out, I was in South Gloucestershire the whole time.  What a waste of a journey.

Those jokes aren’t very good, are they?  But I reckon when you’ve got a pleasant demeanour, it doesn’t really matter.  Does it?  If people like you, they just find things funny anyway.

I’ve still got the business card of the guy from Time out magazine that I met at a comedy festival three years ago.  I never called him, even though he said I definitely should.  It’s in my wallet, next to a condom with an expiry date of May 2011.  One of these things is redolent of my crippling lack of confidence and inertia in an important part of life that others find easy.  And the other is a condom.

[Breezily] So, this is going well.  I might kill myself after the show. 

[SOUND: Nervous laughter]

Yeah, that usually gets a decent-size laugh, but you’ve picked up on the tension in my voice, there’s something in the atmosphere that makes you wonder if it’s a joke or not.  I mean, it should be obvious, because I ‘m a fucking professional comedian. 

[SOUND: gentle laughter]

But like all professional comedians, I’m self-absorbed, petty, jealous, depressed and thoroughly dissatisfied with my life.

[SOUND:  Two big laughs; more nervous murmuring]

Yeah, that’s it, there’s a frisson of excitement – and that’s the laugh that one normally gets, but it’s usually off the back of a big laugh – it’s just that there’s not much belief in my abilities in this room, is there?  Which I can understand.  This is a really hard time for me….

Oh, so, now you’re interested, now the mobile phone cameras come out, you can all post it on the you tubes or somewhere, with a title like Stand-up comedian meltdown.  That’s what you like, isn’t it?  Then you’d take a screen grab or a picture and post it on all the horrible websites where you pretend to like people from a distance, instead of pretending to a person’s face, like we used to when the world was more honest.

That’s the twenty-first century, folks: taking photographs of a screen…a lot of this is not part of the act I’ve been slogging through the past several years.  But some of it is.  I don’t know which is better, I really really don’t…maybe I should do a whole run of gigs and advertise them all as my last.  Would you pay to see that in a small theatre above a pub…?  No, of course you wouldn’t – but you might…no.

[THE COMIC laughs, a gentle chuckle at first, enjoying the idea.  Gradually, the laugh builds until THE COMIC is giggling uncontrollably; the audience make amused noises at first, but are soon stunned into silence as THE COMIC becomes animated and distressed, writhing on the floor, thrashing around.  There is a strange energy crackling in the room; no one is sure if this is part of the show.  Some mutter, some are exasperated.  One speaks.]


Is this part of the show?  ‘Cos it’s either really shit or very disturbing!

[Eventually, THE COMIC calms down and stands up, ignoring THE HECKLER]


Don’t worry, I’m not really gonna kill myself – I’d have to get a lot more famous first, wouldn’t I?  Otherwise, there’d be no point.  I’ll probably just stop doing this and no one will notice.  This isn’t funny, this bit, is it? 


So, which is it?


Most likely, I’ll just stop.  I’ve said everything I want to say, and so much of my identity is bound up in doing this, it’s really threatening my selfhood.  If I was gonna do myself in, it would just be to make you feel really really bad.  God, it’s terrible to joke about suicide, isn’t it?  If I was a better comedian, you wouldn’t think that, but you are thinking it, aren’t you?





I think that as well – but, again, this routine made sense when I was in my twenties, trying to be edgy and Say Things About Life.  And then again, I just think: Yeah, well, it’s a fucking joke, so get over it.  It’s hard to do stand-up past the age of 30 without sounding like you’re auditioning for Grumpy Old Men…or Grumpy Old Women.  Well done, television executives, there’s a blow for equality.


Are you being sarcastic?


I don’t even know anymore.



Are you finished?

[Long pause]


Yeah, I think I am.

[drops mic, exits stage right.]

Friday, 9 September 2016

Up The Massive Downs (Gert Attack Review)

“We’re goin up The Downs at 11”, says C.
We meet in the pub at 4.
“Been on a bloody train for ages, it was half an hour late – and rammed.  Everyone is goin to this thing.”
So that’s me stuck with Him, now.  Sunshine Boy slopes off and re-appears with “one for the road”, which turns out to be a bottle of Bourbon. 
“Got any mixer?”  One of The Lads asks.
“Oh…no, didn’t think of that” says Sunshine Boy slowly.
“Oh well, in for a penny…” chirps C, grabbing the bottle with a grin.
I look at Sunshine Boy.  “Nah, you’re alright” I decline – as politely as possible, in the circumstances.
“For the walk…” He says, hopefully.
It’s only a ten-minute walk.  It takes us half an hour.  In the end, the only ones who want any of the vile, piss-coloured liquor are C and Sunshine Boy.  So they do the lot in.
These.  These are my friends.  I can’t help thinking I’ve made some terrible choices in my life that have led me to this point, outside a shitey student theme pub on a rainy Saturday afternoon.  Should be a good gig though.  Everyone’s going, apparently.
I overhear C trying to speak French to Jim’s girlfriend.  I remember enough of my GCSE French to know he’s speaking in non sequiturs, barely even trying to make sense.
“Je ne pas parle Francais – je suis desole.  J’etude Angleterre est merde!”
Still, he gets the laugh he was no doubt looking for…
As we stomp up the hill, Him and Sunshine pass the bottle back and forth, occasionally offering it round – for appearances only, I’m sure.  By the time we get to the gate, they down the last few swigs and dump the empty bottle.
“Ironic, really innit – they won’t find my drugs, cos they’re in my pants, but they’d crucify me for havin a glass bottle full of legal booze.  Daft.” Sunshine Boy opines, loudly, with C nodding his assent, somehow even louder, without words.  Conspicuousness notwithstanding, we make it in without incident. 
The rain hasn’t kept the crowds away – good job it wasn’t a ticket-on-the-door type of thing…
the party is in full swing as we wander around the site, looking for the bar.  Turns out there’s four of them, all with queues. 
I’m on the phone to other friends we’re trying to meet, telling them we’re up the Downs now.
“Up The Downs, on the Downs, at the Downs – it’s a grammatical clusterfuck, Man!” C is now slurring his words.  Sunshine is faring better, but it won’t last.  Especially as they’re stomping off to find the bar with the shortest queue.
After what seems like hours of waiting, C & Sunshine come back from the bar.  With bottles of wine.  I’ve only ever seen C drinking wine once, at Martin’s wedding.  It didn’t end well…still, he explains with Sunshine nodding in sage assent:  “Four-pound-fucking-thirty for a fucking can of Red Stripe!  Fuck that noise.  Bottle of wine for £15 – more like it.  Sensible.  Wanna swig?”
Don’t mind if I do.  It’s £5 wine in a plastic bottle.  Festival times.
“Fuckin offensive bar prices, man.  And, obviously, they won’t let you bring your own, so it’s a captive audience innit.” 
I don’t often agree with The Sunshine Kid, but that’s a fair assessment.  The whisky-necking looks slightly more sensible in retrospect…
“Cans as well, mind – they’re not payin for the kegs, the taps, the gas, all that.  Just a few fridges and a truckload of cans.  Cheeky cunts.” Jim cuts in, joining the classic festival pastime of moaning about bar prices.
Checking out some local Superstar DJs, we all get our groove on as light showers come and go.  C pulls out something illicit (I honestly don’t know – or, for that matter, care – what), and then something he describes as “less illegal”.  As he’s filling his rizla, a security guard appears from nowhere, stalking through the crowd.  He grips C by the shoulder, asking pointedly “What you got there?”
C has noticed the fella just a fraction of a second too late and isn’t quick enough to hide what he’s got. 
The security bloke is looking like he is himself under the influence of some heavy stimulants; wide-eyed and snarling, he is on his own here – it’s not like they’re on patrol or anything, he’s just a lone wolf hunting stoner prey. 
We follow the over-stimulated pair as the one frog-marches the other towards the gate.  I can’t hear what they’re saying, and I’m the first to call C on his shouty nonsense, but he is being calm and eminently reasonable, while Security Man turns to us as we approach and fires “Do you want to go out with him?! DO YOU WANT TO GO OUT WITH HIM?!  DO YOU?!”
Every sentence this guy speaks is a jab in the chest; he’s definitely on something, I’m sure of it.  Maybe just a power trip, but if so, it’s a powerful trip indeed.
When he puts it like that, we all have to admit that, no, we don’t, we’re trying to stop him getting thrown out.  Take his weed off him, if you must, and leave him alone.  We’re also concerned C could get arrested, which would not do at all.
In the end, C does the gallant thing, telling us to calm down and go back in.  “Don’t worry about it, go and see Primal Scream”, he says, over his shoulder, as he’s led away.  “No point anyone else getting kicked out, is there?” 
I take the piss a lot, and he (more than) reciprocates, but I love this kid.  He can be a noble swine, when the time comes.  The twat.
We speculate on what could have caused this insanity.  “Someone’s grassed, I reckon”, offers Jim.  This is dismissed out of hand by almost everyone else; quite simply, no one wants to believe that’s what’s happened.  It doesn’t bear thinking about for The Crew.
Sunshine Boy has an idea more plausible to The Crew: “The dude looked proper hectic, like he’s been at the ‘roids.  What a wanker.”
Naturally, this has put a Proper Downer on things.  As I say, I’m the first to call out our kid C when he’s shouting a load of bollocks, but this shit is unconscionable.  Jim sums it up, while rolling one to replace the confiscated one.  “He’s done nothing wrong.  Illegal, mind.  But not wrong.”
The whole thing is obviously very disappointing – and a bit embarrassing, to be honest.  We’re not sixteen any more…
Primal Scream do their best to cheer us up, but I’m distracted.  And damp.  We eventually give up trying to find the rest of the crew, until suddenly a text magically appears, from G.  We even manage to meet up (“just to the left of the sound desk at the main stage”, obviously – it’s the law.)  It does lift my spirits, and we enjoy a boogie to some Scream hits.  I honestly couldn’t tell you what they played, that section of the day was a bit of a blur.  But they played the ones you’d expect them to play to a festival crowd.
Finally, as night descends, like a great dark thing, the headliners take the stage.
“Friends, Bristolians, Countrymen…”
On screen flash the names of the great icons of modern times: Marlene Dietrich, Henry Kissinger, Anne Frank, Karl Popper.  And Ben Elton.
“Everyone OK, Bristol?”
Alright, ta.  Ow bist?
After a great start including a couple of Blue Lines classics, Young Fathers take the stage and do the thing that Young Fathers do.  I quite like them, and their short performance doesn’t change my attitude at all.  I’m drinking heavily and dancing to keep warm, both in tribute to our fallen comrade, C.  “I was steaming when I wrote this – so shoot me if I go to fast.”
“Rumours of my ability with a spray can are greatly exaggerated.”  Hahahahahahahaha.  That’s a reference to a Daily Mail article, so I don’t really get it.
Tricky rocks up, with his customary growling and short attention span.  He’s there and then he’s gone.  I make notes to remember all this stuff.  I don’t really remember it.
The songs are more about texture than tune, aren’t they?  They don’t write neatly structured pop songs, that’s for sure – it’s usually the same all the way through, with a break and build type scenario.  “Not like how a musician would write, is it?” says Jim.  I nod, not quite capable of articulating my own subtle criticisms at this stage.
Some songs may be longer than they should be, but I’m in no position to judge.
Reluctant to judge/fucked/perception may be skewed/skewered
We’re not in the best position to see, but there are loads of projections on the backdrop:
“Je suis Istanbul, Je suis Baghdad, Je suis Nice etc.
Je suis ici.”
“We are all in this together” – this accompanied with images that match the sentiment of it, making it seem real – maybe reclaiming the phrase from posturing government types…?
The day, the night, the gig, The Crew, this review, all get disjointed somehow.  Diffuse.  Not in an unpleasant way, mind.  It’s wet but no one seems to care, which is cool.  The bar queue has almost disappeared, so I make the most of a piss break to get fleeced for a cold can.  In the circumstances, it feels well worth the cost.
They don’t play Teardrop, which might annoy the casual fan….but they encore with Unfinished Sympathy.  It’s perfect.  I lose everyone on the way out (as is the ineluctable way of these things).  But the rain falls on the lost, the found, the just and the unjust – so we all get a Biblical soaking on the stomp home, as the heavens open properly to punish us for our decadence.  Fuck it.
Je suis Bristol.
Je suis Massive.