Friday, July 31, 2015

The First Stone

Cecil The Lion Killed By IdiocySocial media has always been vaunted as the means to connect us all. To turn the whole world into one vast social network where we can all revel in the unalloyed joys of immediate interconnectedness. Barriers will come down. Boundaries and borders will come to be meaningless, etc.

And I’m sure that’s true in part and I’m all for it but there’s another side to social media that is making me extremely uncomfortable of late. The global kangaroo court culture that seems to be springing up. Nearly always fired up and stoked by traditional media outlets – newspapers and magazine articles – and usually targetted at sad individuals who have not merely broken some social taboo but – worst crime of all – have been caught and publically identified as doing so.

The killer of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion is a case in point.

Now let me make it clear that I abhore “sport” or “trophy” hunting. Of any kind. I don’t care whether you’re some Southern red neck who feels shooting bears is a tradional part of your culture / your right as an American to bear arms (or arm bears or shoot bears with arms) or if you’re a South African poacher whose sole earning potential relies on you supplying misguided Chinese doctors with rhino horn and tiger bone. Killing animals for no good reason at all is worse than criminal. Killing them at the behest of market forces is deplorable. Killing them for “the thrill” or for a misguided sense of “sporting achievement” is completely despicable. I don’t buy all this BS about the beauty and the skill of the hunt, etc. The thrill is sexual at some base level; some ego stroking catharsis that sees the testosterone driven huntsman masturbate live rounds into the flesh of some exquisite beast that he cannot otherwise tame, own or match.

I don’t much care for the apology that Cecil’s killer has offered to the world either; “he was sorry that he killed that particular lion”. As if all the other animals he and his kind have killed were somehow more morally palatable because they were not named or had not been adopted as some nationalist symbol. He is very sorry, I’m sure, that that particular lion’s death came endowed with so much media exposure and so many, many column inches. He killed a lion but has wounded himself. Badly.

But do we want the wound to be fatal?

See, I’m uncomfortable with the howling of the mob. The digital stoning that the hunter dentist is receiving. The screams of outrage. The death threats that have seen this man have to go into hiding, have to close down his business. While many people I am sure feel he does not deserve pity or mercy I, however, do not want to be party to a global culture that drops the equivalent of an atomic bomb of vitriol onto one single individual – as if we are, all of us, unimpeachable in our moral rectitude, as if we are all so righteous in our social standing that we have the right to dispense condemnation and judgement and to recommend lethal injection to those who offend us.

All from the comfort of our armchairs, inbetween surfing for pictures of Lady Ga-Ga / Justin Bieber and sharing the lastest meme about funny kittens on Facebook.

I felt the same when that poor science dude got publically excoriated for appearing on TV for wearing a shirt whose pattern design was made up of bikini-clad women. Sure, that does not compare to shooting a lion with a crossbow and letting it bleed to death for 40 hours but the howls of public outrage and indignation were much the same. The world spoke with one voice – one vast unthinking, rage-filled, knee-jerk propelled voice – and that voice was without mercy or consideration or humanity.

Lord knows we all have days when we feel like the entire world is against us… but social media can now make that proposition a very grim reality.

We all mess up now and again. Sometimes we spend vast tracts of our lives believing the wrong thing entirely until life or the universe or the deity of your choice sets us back onto the right track.

But imagine if we were condemned for it via social media, the newspapers, neon flashing lights, petitions, protest marches, movies, fatwas, campaigns, death threats, the mob outside our homes hefting huge rocks and baying for blood…

How can it be that social media makes a demand of us that we are all morally and irreproachably perfect on the one hand, but so easily turns us all into a blood-thirsty, vengeful mob on the other?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Tories Want To Kill Us All (And Make Us Pay For The Funeral)

George Osborne, a pasty, weak version of Joseph StalinHistory will record that George Osborne’s main career aspiration was to become a fifth-rate, Walter-the-Softie version of Joseph Stalin.

In the geographical absence of gulags and salt mines and being too media savvy to machine gun en masse an entire social class of dissenters (just imagine the Twitter-hate he’d get for that), George’s solution is turn the rights of the modern working man against him; to subvert the last gasping vestiges of the Welfare State and choke the last breath of life out of any human rights declaration of the last 200 years in order to return us all to the dark glories of the workhouse and a more bizarre rule of lassaiz-fare... where people are encouraged to fend for themselves without government assistance but with the government still wanting to take a good cut of the profit.

Not satisfied with pushing the retirement age back a couple of years (and undoubtedly it will get pushed back even further until aged 98 I will have to resort to selling my own body on street corners just to be able to afford a cheap moussaka from Lidl), there are now plans afoot to dispense with the old system of employers providing sick pay for their employees.

The idea being floated by George "Uncle Joe" Osborne (the Chancellor Palpatine of the Exchequer) is that worker's themselves should provide provision for their own sick pay out of the wages they earn.

Speaking as someone who at the moment can't even afford to pay pension contributions towards financing my old age ("don't worry," says George, "you've got at least another 80 years working life ahead of you - plenty of time to save for a retirement you'll never reach") I can tell you now that if deductions were forcibly being made out of my earnings in lieu of potential future sick pay awards I would simply not be able to afford to live and therefore going to work in the first place would become a pointless endeavour. Going to work would only remain viable were I never ever to become sick. Or to be exact, were I never ever to take a sick day even though I might genuinely be exploding with typhoid or - in the dystopian Victorianesque future that George is undoubtedly masturbating over - smallpox.

Essentially, my simple theory posits that the Tories are trying to kill us all. By "us" I do, of course, mean just the non-wealthy workers who don't have enough money in their Government bailed-out bank accounts to successfully lobby their favourite political party to adequately represent their own singularly selfish viewpoint over those of the moral majority.

The modus operandi of our murder is simple. Worked to death with longer hours 7 days a week, taxed to the hilt to pay for the privileges of the rich, sick pay only if you can afford to make the contributions, no sick pay at all if you can't, work work work until you drop or until you get your "congratulations on your first centenary" letter from HM The Queen (whichever comes first). Thus huge saving are made - no sick pay and no pensions payments made because I guarantee that should anyone actually make it to a pensionable age they'll be so worn out and exhausted by 80 years' hard labour they'll be dead before the first e-payment is made into their bank account. The 7 ages of man will be truncated to: baby, child, man, workhorse and fertilizer.

And who will benefit from all these savings?

The poor? The repressed?

According to the Tory worldview they do not exist. Instead the country is full of fat, lazy, ne'er-do-wells who are only in dire straits because an over-indulgent government hasn't done enough to encourage them to stand up on their own two feet and make their own way in the world.

In other words, we're back to the old "spare the rod, spoil the child" guff which has always been used in ages past to justify naked callousness and simple cold-heartedness.

Which when you are trying to hold down three jobs to put food on the table for children whose whereabouts and welfare you can't monitor anymore because you're always at work trying to pay for the sick pay you daren't take is not what you want to hear from some over-privileged buffoon in a suit whose idea of poverty a few years back was having to include the mortgage for his paddock on his taxpayer funded expenses...

Murder is going to be done, my friends. Murder is going to be done.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Sucking Face

Russell Brand, my alter egoI’ve come to the conclusion that I am slowly turning into Russell Brand.

By this bold statement I mean that I have become hyper-suspicious of traditional news outlets and information that can in any way, shape of form be traced back to the Establishment (as opposed to sleeping my way around half of England, marrying Katy Perry and then divorcing her because my own incapacity for fidelity means I am unable to trust anyone ever to forswear all others in my favour).

To be honest, this healthy paranoid belief that we’re constantly being steered and lied to began decades ago. I haven’t bought a newspaper since the early 90’s. Well not to read anyway. Occasionally I have purchased a tabloid to get my hands on a free Lego set promotion but, model acquired, the paper is then dumped straight into the recycling bin without a single headline ever touching the sensitive ears of my conscious mind.

But of late I have even begun to doubt the veracity and the agenda of fly-on-the-wall documentaries and travelogues. Even those on the BBC in whose bosom I was once glad to place my trust without a second thought. I find myself asking: who has commissioned this programme? Why did they commission it? Why spend money on it? Just for my entertainment and to openhandedly inform my mind? I don’t think so.

Lord knows big global corporations, bankers and politicians have been playing commercial tonsil tennis for years but it really feels like the “free press” has become a fourth bedfellow. Information is just another currency to do dirty deals with whilst truth itself is a rare intoxicant who purity is besmirched the closer it gets to street level; something that can he withheld, diced, cut with talcum powder or cleaning fluid and then distributed according to the preferences of those in power, it's potency and power diluted and irrevocably lost.

Which leaves precious few outlets for the little man on the street to acquire credible information about what goes on in the world. Left, right and centre we’re being sold opinion – being told what opinion to have – but most of the column inches and sound-bites are nothing more than the conjectures and bigotry of a few mega-rich old duffers who seek to stroke the world into shape the same way they stroke themselves off in the shower. 

It’s got to the point where my main news source at the moment is Facebook. Or rather various third parties who use Facebook to disseminate information, satire and political criticism. As underground information networks go it’s hardly MI5. And it could be argued that pictures of kittens, half naked celebrities and fake Mensa IQ tests hardly constitute the modus operandi of an all-seeing, completely unbiased oracle. In an age of information overload I’m finding the modern world curiously information-lite.

And that scares me.

In fact there’s too much going on at the moment that scares me: the dangerous dehumanizing rhetoric applied to immigrants and Muslims that is like something out of 1930’s Germany; the war against the poor and the under-privileged that the Tory’s are currently waging under the self-righteous, self-justifying banner of austerity; and the banking crisis that has never gone away but has not ever been adequately looked into… that has instead been allowed to roll on and on over all of our toes if not our legs. Breaking us all with our own money. And then beating us some more with our own money under the guise of fixing the damage.

Who is pulling the strings and pocketing the cash?

Generally speaking it’s not the people posting pictures of kittens on Facebook.

And for that reason alone they’ll get my trust ahead of some faceless corporate mogul running a newspaper empire or a television news channel.

But that paranoid little voice inside my head keeps telling me that even unscrupulous mega-rich media moguls can post pictures of moggies on Facebook…

And they can even write blogs.

Like I said, I’m slowly turning into Russell Brand…

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Schrödinger's Cough

Freddie and Stuart: ViciousThey say that absence makes the heart grow fonder so I have no doubt that over the last three months, although you have all been preoccupied with steering your loved ones away from the evils of extremism, trying to combat the attritional effects of ever-increasing austerity and washing your smalls with the cheapest but most eco-friendly washing powder to be found at Lidl you are now - upon discovering a new blog post from yours truly after a break of a quarter of a year - overcome with emotion so deep and so raw that you can barely read these words in front of you as the realization of how much you have missed me finally hits home.

Well, let it wash over you in great waves. Don't try and fight it. Let the deluge fill your teacup to the brim and then slowly but surely raise sea levels the world over.

For my part I am trying to think of a suitable celebrity couple with which to best represent my odd relationship with you all. Thelma & Louise? Not quite. Batman & Robin? Sorry, you don't have the legs for it. Closest I can find is Freddy and Stuart from Vicious. Of course I am Freddy, ever demanding and not really able to express the slight fondness I feel for you all though perfectly able to articulate my sneering contempt for any effort on your part to please me whilst you potter about the house (paid for by me) catering to my every whim and trying to kid yourself that you are utterly indispensable.

Yes. We are all entangled in a slightly clichéd gay relationship that exists only on the television.

But on the bright side, we can now get married.

"What have I been doing?" You clamour. "Where have I been?" Unlike the pussycat from childhood rhyme going to London and visiting the Queen has not featured on my itinerary at all.

Unfortunately, my father dying, trying to sort out stuff from Karen's mum's will, and trying to keep heart, body and soul together have featured large. And none of it has reached a stage that anybody could term "resolved".

As an aside - and thankfully it is only an aside - I had my own health scare last week when a persistent cough drove me to the doctors. Given my father's demise through lung cancer my doctor thought it best that I go for a chest X-ray immediately - to make sure there was "nothing nasty" causing me grief. Up until then I had gone for 8 weeks, coughing away without a second thought. As soon as the X-ray was booked in (and I realised my doctor was taking it all rather seriously) my mind kind of imploded with all of the unwelcome possibilities that exist in the world of disease and medicine. I had to wait a week for my results with my former casual cough now being the harbinger of chemotherapy at worst and the inaugurator of the iron lung at best.

It's appalling how one's mind can torment you and torture you. And it is totally self-defeating. Especially when you consider how some theorists posit the idea that thought and observation inform and create reality. As I waited for the 7 days to elapse before I could ring in for my results I found myself thinking of Schrödinger's cat quite often and realized that, in this uncertain interim, according to the laws of the Quantum universe, I both had and didn't have cancer at the same time. The answer lay in a closed box and would not settle into one of the two states until I opened it up and had a good look at it. Until then, to some degree, my behaviour in the universe would determine my fate.

Some believe that to get what we want from life we have to behave as if we already have it... and then the universe furnishes it to us accordingly. If we fill our hearts with yearning and desires that seem hopeless then the universe merely gifts us more of the same. The key is to live your life as if your desires are already met.

I have no idea whether that is true or not. I do not have empirical evidence that it works.

All I know is my results were clear and the doctor has put my cough down to either the onset of asthma or hay fever and since I have dispensed with subconscious fears about the Big C my cough seems to be getting better on its own.

And I am back. Back amongst you all.

So all is well that hasn't ended. See? Life can still be good.

Now put the kettle on and stop your embarrassingly high-pitched whimpering.



Monday, March 30, 2015

Trolls

Internet trollsIt’s finally happened. The trolls have got my goat. Got my goat and burned down the bridge.

I’ve written about this subject before but over the past week there have been some explicit examples making the headlines. The trolls are everywhere like an epidemic and (unless something is done to neutralize them) as their contagion spreads we will all find ourselves under permanent curfew.

Everybody will be (over)familiar with the Jeremy Clarkson debacle. As I’ve said elsewhere it proves the old adage true: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; give him a steak and you won’t get your nose punched and end up in A&E. Everyone has had an opinion on this. And everybody has voiced it. But, really, did any of us have a right? We weren’t there. We weren’t involved. For a long time nobody knew the facts and yet everybody was spouting forth about what they thought ought to happen, what punitive measures ought to be taken. 

But it had eff all to do with us. Why did it impinge on our lives so much?

But that’s a side issue. My main issue with it all is the amount of online abuse the hapless producer received since the incident became public “knowledge”. Not enough that he got whalloped by a workmate, no, now every Top Gear fan in the world is giving him excoriating grief for being so inconsiderate as to have been the victim of workplace violence in the first place. Even Jeremy Clarkson himself has had to explicitly ask people to lay off the poor producer as he has DONE NOTHING WRONG!

But it gets worse.

Now BBC bigwig, Tony Hall, who headed the enquiry that decided not to renew Jeremy Clarkson’s contract is under police protection because he has subsequently received death threats online.

Really? It’s a car show! Grow up, people!

I am becoming increasingly sickened with the amount of snide, cowardly trolling that exists and proliferates online. Give someone anonymity and they suddenly find endless seams of courage to proclaim the most bigoted, hate-filled, misinformed, kneejerk rubbish seen this side of Hitler’s private diary. Of course, ask them to put their name to it and it all goes quiet. They wouldn’t say boo to a goose. They want people to think they’re decent and reasonable, you see. They like to hide their hate under a bushel.

Not all, of course. There’s always identifiable trolls like Katie Hopkins who this weekend decided she had the perfect right to trash someone else’s happiness and spread yet more bile. Yesterday, Danny Dyer (I admit, I’m not a fan but fair-dos) announced to the world that he was getting engaged to be married. When Hopkins learned that it was Danny’s girlfriend who had done the proposing she spouted forth an unrelenting barrage of insults and innuendo, accusing him of being emasculated and not man enough to say no. Really? Really?

What possible right did this self-publicising monster think she had to offer any kind of opinion at all on Dyer’s announcement? Oh he announced it on Twitter so that makes it fair game? No. No, I don’t think it does. This is not open season, folks. Making an announcement online is no different than doing it in person down the pub, supermarket or bingo hall. As other commentators have remarked: if you wouldn’t say it in real life, don’t say it online. Don’t try and justify it by saying online announcements are public property.

At the end of the day we are each responsible for what comes out of our mouths and keyboards. If it is vile, bilious and vitriolic then the responsibility for that lies with us, not with the target. The fault lies within not without.

To cause grief seems to have become some kind of internet badge that people feel they have to earn. Seems to me you have to sell any kind of  basic human decency to achieve it. Those that applaud the trolls and are entertained by it are as bad as the trolls themselves.

What worries me is the effect all this will have on our freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression; the very free nature of the internet itself.

The thought police are already closing in. They’re already listening. The list of watchwords grows each week. The list of targets too. They’re tracing us, bugging us, like something out of The Matrix. And the worst thing is, although I want us all to retain our freedoms, I also want all these anonymous (and not so anonymous) trolls to have their refuges exposed. To have their shields ripped away so we can all see who and what they are – small, soft white maggots squirming in the harsh light of day. I want them to be made accountable for every word and utterance.

Because freedom of speech only works when we exercise freedom of thought and realize the right to say something does not always mean it should be said. If it causes harm for no good reason (and deflecting ennui is no good reason at all) then you really ought to keep silent. But it seems we cannot police ourselves. There are too many idiots letting their tongues and thoughts run amuck because stupidtroll@48 thinks they won’t ever be winkled out or because @KTHopkins knows she will be paid very well by advertisers and sponsors when her latest verbal vomit hits the tabloids.

The world is all wrong. It is starting to stink of a fast spreading rot. And this malaise will be fuel to those who want to place tighter controls on the internet, on what we say and what information we are able to access. It is a small step on the journey to somewhere very bad indeed. Very bad. And worst of all, this disease is all around us. We are all mired in it. Our society is built on it.

You have to understand, you see, it’s not bridges that trolls choose to live under; it’s stones.


Addendum


Block The Trolls


So how do we remedy this situation without imposing on other people’s entitlement to free speech?

One idea I’ve had is to exercise the right not to listen. I’d like everyone to join me in blocking the trolls. It’s easy enough to block people on Twitter (using their Twitter tags) and Facebook so let’s be more proactive about doing so. I’d like to see a mass blocking of all anonymous trolls and self-aggrandising attention seekers like Katie Hopkins. Don’t listen to these people, don’t engage with them, don’t let yourself be polluted by entering into a discourse with them. Just block them and then pass the word. Pass onto others the IDs of trolls and encourage an act of global blocking. Obviously use your own powers of discernment – take a look at the profiles pages of people first before you block them; it will give you a clear idea of the type of things they post. Don’t block people blindly or the very act of blocking becomes another way to troll. On Twitter please use the hashtag #blockthetrolls. If we starve these people of media oxgyen maybe, just maybe, they’ll either grow up or go away…



Saturday, March 07, 2015

Don't Interrupt The Flow

The Musketeers A small gripe, this, and in the bigger scheme of things doesn't count for a great deal. But it does, to use the Aussie vernacular, get my goat.

I'm at that age / station in life / financial situation where going out regularly - pubs, meals, cinema, cultural venues, etc - is nigh on an impossibility. They are special treats that must be saved up for and savoured. I don't have a problem with this. This is how life is at the moment and others have it far worse.

But for me a perfect way of unwinding after a hard day at work is simply time curled up on the sofa with my good lady wife watching some choice telly. Staying in and watching telly is undervalued and mis-sold in the modern media representation of our dynamic, thrusting, young techno-adept society.

But I'll bet I'm not alone in holding various TV show up as the highpoint of my week and viewing them as some kind of personal reward for another day at work got through / another ordeal endured.

Be it Doctor Who, The Musketeers, Dragon's Den, the forthcoming re-adaption of Poldark - whatever your poison - these humble little treats afforded us by a wonderfully creative UK television and movie industry (that is largely unsupported by the UK government) are what keep most of us going during the mundane, day-to-day drag of our everyday existence.

So it pisses me off - admittedly disproportionately to the crime - when the programming schedulers suddenly interrupt a series run to put something else on instead. Sport usually or some yaw-yawing political debate.

The current run of The Musketeers has been, to my memory, interrupted no less than 3 times. Now I recognise, with consummate bad timing for this post, that the current hiatus is because of Comic Relief next week and that's fine. That's understandable, acceptable and palatable. But the first two occasions were because of sporting fixtures.

Now I will also admit that I am not a sport fan. I am in fact the diametric opposite. I loathe televised sport. Watching other people perform sport is like watching other people play computer games without participating yourself or watching joggers run round the park. What is the point?

But by the by.

If I were the writer / producer / actor in any of these shows whose transmission run is broken for the sake of a football match I would be spitting feathers. A good drama series has a flow to it. An over-arc in addition to the arc of each individual episode. That flow is part of the creative drive of the show. And though some might argue that with the advent of catch-up TV scheduling no longer matters, historically the general public has an expectation that if a TV drama series is broadcast at some pre-specified and henceforth established time on a week evening then that is the slot which it will hold for all perpetuity - or at least until the series terminates. England expects. And I'm sure Scotland, Wales and Ireland do too.

To have all that time and creative energy, that carefully crafted flow cast aside for a rugby match is infuriating and insulting. I'm not knocking sport, really I'm not. If that's your bag good for you. Be welcome to it. But given the sheer amount of TV channels these days - and many solely devoted to sport - why should a sporting fixture be allowed to shoehorn its way into another schedule to attract probably less viewers than have been driven away by the banishment of the original show? Shove it onto a sports channel where the jogger-watchers can drink their beer, eat their pies and vicariously enjoy the healthier lifestyle of other people without incurring the wrath of the more tasteful majority!

Like I said, it's a small gripe. And I will accept all accusations that I am a stick-in-the-mud, dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist but, Goddamnit, Friday night is "Musketeers night" and that's all there is to it!



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rat Fangs

Roland Rat in me kitchen Despite being an avid fan of the BBC's Springwatch it seems I still have not yet learned to tell the difference between a rat and a mouse (though I'm pretty sure I could tell the difference between sheep droppings and otter spraint). Our cats, Missy and Kia, managed to bring a rodent hostage into the house over the weekend. The thing went to ground beneath our oven and found further progress prevented by the constant supertrooper gaze of the cats who sat stolidly on patrol waiting for it to put a paw wrong.

In the end, armed with a torch and a stick, I set about trying to break the status quo by dislodging the creature - preferably into my custody - before the advent of Sunday lunch baked the little blighter into the lino. I was convinced it was a mouse. Small, cute, beady black eyes. I now suspect it was just an adolescent rat. Anyway, all I succeeded in doing was driving the thing from out beneath the oven and across the kitchen floor to the fluffy world that exists beneath the washing machine.

Our cats, prime mousers that they are, didn't move a muscle from the oven and indeed continued to sit on patrol for the rest of the night whilst Monty (as I shall christen him) gave them the finger from the other side of the kitchen.

I figured that sooner or later food would drive Monty out into the open and into some risky manoeuvre that would put him squarely into the hungry sights of our cats. I forgot about him. I let the cats wage their war of attrition and got on with my life.

Until I was awoken by terrified squeaking this morning and the sounds of a life and death game of hide & seek out in the hallway. I emerged to find the cats furiously pawing at the unloaded shoe rack and guessed that Monty had indeed made a bid for freedom and had got himself corralled by the cats into a hell of high heels and flip-flops.

If I'd been more awake I would have twigged that (a) a mouse would not have eluded 2 cats for this long, (b) doesn't make a huge deal of noise when panicked and (c) doesn't have a long, furless tail.

Trying to be a hero I thought I'd do the humane thing and rescue the little bugger. I am perversely proud to say that where the cats failed I succeeded and managed to capture Monty within my own paws after a mere 3 attempts.

At this point things went slightly awry when Monty sank his fangs into my finger and began to gnaw with the contempt only usually reserved for the UN by the Russians. I may have cried out at this point (in a manly way obviously) - especially as Monty was freely swinging from my finger like a weird piercing without any support from myself.  And I realise with the benefit of hindsight that Monty plainly felt himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He didn't want to be within my grasp so was biting me in self-defence but neither could he let go as gravity would drop him into the waiting jaws of Missy and Kia.

I did that stupid dance that one does in such situations - trying to decide whether it would be best to throw Monty out of the backdoor or the front-door before his gnawing pushed me to the conclusion that to part company in the quickest possible fashion would be best. I managed to get the front-door open with Monty still hooked into my finger and then, once outside, Monty was happy to let himself free-fall into the nearest bush. Missy followed him out and sat, slyly sentinel, for half an hour or so amongst the underbrush before returning empty jawed so I have no doubt that Monty escaped completely and utterly and is no doubt even now recounting to his family how he ran rings around 2 cats and a human and got a bit of a free feed out of it.

For me it has meant a trip to my GP and a week's course of antibiotics as according to my doc any kind of wild animal bite leads to infection in 9 out of 10 cases. Charming. I'm also to return immediately if I start to feel ill anytime over the next 2 weeks - rats can carry nasty diseases and while such infection is rare it can happen.

Next time I shall bugger humanity and batter the bugger's brains out with a pair of Doc Martens.



Saturday, February 14, 2015

To Wee Or Not To Wee

Weeing for joyThose of you who have foolishly connected to me via Facebook will already know of the great urinary cessation that I suffered yesterday on what has now become known as Bladderless Friday. But for those of you who have preferred to keep me at arms distance (i.e. occasional readers of this blog) let me fill you in.

I'm currently suffering a nasty bout of sciatica. I won't harp on about the pain (but if Job has sciatica then he'd really have something to moan about) but it was enough to drive me to the doc's on Tuesday and in some desperation demand some release.

I was furnished with a prescription for Zapain. A drug that sounds like it was lifted from the 1960's Batman TV series. I don't as a rule take pain killers (preferring instead to be vocally miserable) but this time it really was a case of needs must.

What I hadn't taken into account was my body's now apparent intolerance to Zapain. Initially it was fine. I could cope with the woolly-headedness and the light-headedness because I was at work and didn't care and, on the plus side, the incessant, crippling agony of screeching back and leg muscles finally began to dull down to an almost forgettable background hum.

What I failed to acknowledge to myself was that gradually my once strong and regular flow of urine (no, I am not talking about this blog but real urine) was beginning to dry up. To reduce to a tormentative trickle.

At first I thought it was my imagination. Thought it was psychosomatic. But as the days wore on it began to dawn on me that not all was well in the State of Denmark. Going for a pee was becoming harder and harder to accomplish. I was having to concentrate on relaxing and 'letting go' before anything would happen. I'd have to lean forwards over the toilet as if to relieve pressure elsewhere - tip the kettle over, so to speak - and let a desultory tickle dribble forth.

By Thursday night it was worse and I finally admitted to myself that I needed medical assistance. Going for a wee now required a gargantuan effort of will - all my focus drilled down onto the seemingly impossible task of relaxing my bladder. It gave me heart palpitations, it gave me the sweats, I thought I was going to pass out. And where once there had been a torrent there was now not enough to turn the smallest of Archimedes' Screws. Think of a hosepipe with the tap turned off. You know there is water in the pipe but as you lift up the hose only a sad, mean trickle plashes forth.

By Friday morning I was ashen and fearing the worst. The first thing a guy thinks of when he has trouble with his water-works is prostate. Or worse. In practical terms I was thinking catheters and the doctor's fingers shoved up my bum... neither of which were enticing me to the doctors but the thought of spending the day in bottled up agony didn't appeal to me either.

My good lady wife - as shaky as I - drove me to the doctors as soon as we got an emergency appointment. I was by this point fearing it would be a hospital job. Either that or death by drowning.

As it turned out nothing so drastic. My doctor (not the one who proscribed me the Zapain I might add) might have the bedside manner of a Findus frozen fish-finger but he knows his stuff. He quickly ascertained that Zapain was not doing me any good at all and had in fact set my bowels rock-solid. To the point where they were inhibiting my bladder from its usual functions. No more Zapain. Not now, not ever. Instead no more than 4 paracetamol a day, lily-livered, flower of ill health that I was. As for peeing... I needed to drink lots and lots of water and take some laxatives. He felt sure that as soon as the bowel was released the bladder would soon follow.

I must admit I was sceptical. The thought of chucking loads of water down my throat and becoming the physical embodiment of the Elan Valley Dam didn't seem to me to be the best course of action but I decided to trust my doc and I was heartily glad I did.

Literally within an hour of the softening effects of the laxative I'd managed to induce a small waterfall - with effort. A little while later the Dam Buster's Theme Tune could be heard blasting from my bum cheeks as several tonnes of blackened concrete dropped away revealing blue skies and clear air and an unfettered passage to the west.

Since that wonderful hour my bladder's pouring forth has become easier and easier - though I still feel tender and sore and rather battered. And of course the back pain has started again. Really, 4 paracetamol are just not going to cut it.

But I'd choose the rack over the plug any day of the week...





Thursday, February 05, 2015

In The Cinema Everyone Can Hear You Scream

4D cinema experienceApparently the next big thing in the world of cinema is going to be 4D. A speculative truth (at best) that various cinema moguls would like to convince us of.

Essentially 4D is a fully immersive, interactive experience where your cinema seat is made to shake and veer during car chases, you get pummelled with air during onscreen whirlwinds, you get hosed down during rainstorms or deep sea dives and you get blasted with the odour of stale alcohol and garlic when the leading man / lady moves in close for a tongue sarnie.

To be honest, there’s nothing new about this gimmicky approach to movie watching – most kids’ entertainment / holiday resorts have some sort of 4D cinema these days where we willingly pay an exorbitant fee to allow our kids to be waterboarded whilst watching The Smurfs because it stops them whinging on about wanting an ice cream for all of 20 minutes. But family holiday resorts is where 4D should stay in my opinion.

There is nothing cinematically immersive about having your seat shaken so hard you end up wearing the popcorn of the person sitting next to you or hearing the neurotics in the front row squeal every time a hidden air cylinder blows a couple of bars of pressurized cold air up their trouser leg. If anything this totally removes you from the film; it shatters the pleasurable suspension of belief that you have lapsed into in order to enjoy the movie and places you undeniably back into a darkened room with a bunch of people who will immediately become your sworn enemy should the fire alarm suddenly go off and you find your way to the exit blocked.

Books don’t need 4D effects. I didn’t need the smell of wet dog to assail me when reading The Famous Five or to hear the jiggling of female flesh when reading Game Of Thrones. And I imagine I would not need to have my hands manacled and tied behind my back to get the full effect of 50 Shades Of Grey. Though you might need to do that and threaten the lives of my children in order to get me to read it in the first place. Such artificial devices would break the spell that reading a book – submitting yourself to an imaginary world – weaves. It is the same with cinema. The only senses that need to be catered for are sound and vision. You can never fully recreate the entire gamut of physical sensation that the characters onscreen are being subjected to as part of the plot – so offering the audience piecemeal approximate sensations is not going to add anything to the movie at all. If anything it will detract.

And to be honest if you really need your seat to be shaken for you during a moment of cinematic jeopardy in order to feel the correct emotional response then you plainly have major empathy problems and cinema is not for you anyway.

Indeed, anything that involves being around lots of people or dealing with any kind of quantifiable human experience is not for you - you’d be much better off getting your kicks in a vacuum where nobody at all will be able to hear you scream and I can watch the end of the effing film in peace.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Who Is The Lord Of The Trolls?

Lord Of The Rings Galadriel #hateI feel it in the air. I feel it in the earth. I feel it in my water.

The internet is much changed for nothing is as it once was.

It began with the forging of the great chat media platforms.

MySpace for the aesthetically challenged cyber-dwarves. LinkedIn and Facebook for the middle-to-upper class aspiring elves who wished to share photos of their kittens and their children and what bottled wine they’d drunk the previous evening. And Twitter… Twitter was created for all those who wished to leave snarky, anonymous comments in 140 characters or less.

But in this they were much deceived, for in secret an umbrella term was forged – social networking – and into this was poured all hatred, malice and the will to denigrate all life on virtual Earth…

And I could go on and on but you get the picture.

The internet is not a nice place. I know it has always had dark corners; cyber attics and damp basements where the virtual world kept its various madnesses and psychoses locked up. In fact, not even locked up – the correct URL would take you there in an instant. But at least the internet used to have a happier, lighter side; it used to have a tangible nod to the ethos of freedom and free information. Something unfettered (largely) by legal constraints, authoritarianism and the bigoted fears of the few. Something fun, frivolous and nicely rebellious.

Sadly I fear the Internet’s Woodstock years are over.

The bigots and haters have taken over the playground.

Cyberbullying is rife – anything from common-or-garden peer pressure to the kind of nastiness that drives people to suicide. Trolling is commonplace – anyone or anything is subject to cowardly attack but if you are a celebrity who dares to have a Twitter account you can consider yourself easy meat for the armchair reactionaries. If someone steps out of line or is seen to be out of step the mob sets upon them in a manner that is as disgusting as it is unforgiving and unreasonable – think of that poor scientist bloke who was virtually destroyed last year for wearing a shirt that featured pictures of bikini-clad women on it; the punishment most certainly did not fit the crime. And who are these self-righteous gnomes who feel they have the right not only to judge but also to condemn?

Stealing information and photos is seen as the fault of those who stored the photos online in the first place (kind of like blaming a victim of burglary for only having a shop bought lock on their front door whilst daring to own stuff). And various groups can now shutdown whole web servers with seeming ease for a major cause or a minor gripe or just because they are so pathetically maladjusted they just want to create havoc for the sense of transient joy it inevitably brings them in-between bouts of Warframe or whatever other massively multiplayer online game is currently distracting them from thoughts of incessant masturbation.

I’m not feeling the love anymore, people, and I don’t like it.

I’m not sure I feel comfortable being a part of the internet; a part of the media monster that social networking has become.

Lord knows I’ve taken a pop at the odd celeb over the years on this blog. But in my defence I hope I’ve presented a balanced (or at least an entertaining) argument, have been able to admit if I’ve been wrong or missed a redeeming point and always, always I am identifiable and accountable. I don’t operate an anonymous blog and I can be easily contacted and given a spanking if I’ve been a naughty boy.

I don’t make death threats or rape threats or threaten to harm other people’s family or property just because they voice an opinion that is at variance with my own. I don’t call down holy war on individuals who I disagree with or who present an ethos that is the opposite of the one I choose to adhere to. I don’t even wish dead those few souls who I utterly despise. And there are a few, believe me.

Because their divergent views, in my opinion, do not mean they should be exterminated from the face of the earth at my say so. I recognize that other people have the right to their views, no matter how ill-informed I think they may be, and have a right to live unmaligned even with those views up to but not including the point where they start directly affecting others adversely.

There has much been made of the ideal of the freedom of speech in recent weeks. The murders in Paris have placed it in the forefront of everyone’s mind. And regardless of whether Charlie Hebdo was a platform for healthy political satire or just an outlet to knock already beaten down minority groups I would argue the point that people have a right to express even offensive views. The freedom of speech must be freedom for all without any caveats or it is not freedom at all.

And yet I despair at the nastiness that proliferates the internet now and wish it could be stopped. And I think it bothers me because too many people are voicing their bile in a most cowardly fashion. Using nom de plumes or alternative accounts. Obfuscating their identity. Claiming and utilizing a personal freedom in order to destroy the personal well-being of others without the risk of any come-back or fall-out.

And that is wrong. That is my problem with it.

If you want to join in the latest witch-hunt then do so without a mask on your face. Let the world see who you are if you have such strong opinions that they must be expressed in aggressive and violent language. If you want to verbally threaten someone then let them and the rest of us see you coming. Take responsibility for what you are saying / spouting.

Don’t stab someone in the dark and then run away back into hiding and imagine you are a hero or have somehow done the world a great service. Because you haven’t. You’ve lost all moral high ground and placed yourself lower than a snake’s arse.

At the end of the day I don’t want the authorities or the powers that be to police the internet. I believe it would be disastrous. But until enough people make a stand we can’t, alas, police ourselves.

So it is up to the owners of all these social media networking platforms to do something. To close down the trolls and the snipers. To make users somehow as accountable for their digital outpourings as they would be if they’d shouted a hate filled slogan out on the street in the real world.

Am I wrong to want this?

Tell me and I will reply. Engage with me and we can talk.

I’m happy for you to have a different opinion.

Please express it with respect.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Where’s Lenny McLean When You Need Him?

Lenny McLean The Gov'norThis post has been inspired by an article on the BBC News web site this week about a mother who, having arranged a birthday party for her young son, is now threatening legal action against another parent for his son’s failure to attend said party (and failure to advise he was otherwise engaged), thus leaving her out of pocket.

*****

I don’t want to worry my old school chums but… actually, in reality, I really do. I want to put the frighteners on all of you. I want to get Ronnie and Reggie Kray on yo’ ass. Two Smoking Barrels and all that shit.

‘Cos it turns out you all owe me money. Loads of it.

Yeah. You heard me. You’re all into me for… ooh, taking inflation into consideration, at least £300 each.

And don’t all sit there with that nonplussed innocent look on your faces. You all know exactly what for.

All those birthday parties I had.

That you never came to.

Oh, you’re all crying and bewailing those RSVPs now, aren’t you? I don’t care if your gran / pet had died or your folks were taking you on holiday to Cornwall or you were double booked or even – cheap shot – it was your own birthday.

The point is, I had a birthday party and you didn’t come. So basically my family had catered for you, exerted a financial outlay – balloon animal, crisps, chocolate, Vimto and party bag – and you never showed up. We spent that money – money which we could ill afford, I might add – and you basically came round and threw it straight down the drain by not actually coming round and eating the food and popping the balloon animal we’d set aside for you. If we’d known you weren’t coming we wouldn’t have booked the clown and the money could have been spent on another present for me.

Yeah. That’s right. You denied me a present at my own birthday party. Two in fact. The one you didn’t bring me (because you didn’t come) and the one I could have had bought for me if we hadn’t wasted all that money instead hiring Kiddy Fiddler The Clown purely for your ungrateful and unexercised entertainment.

What a horrible bunch of friends you are. Utterly dispicable. It’s only because I’m a decent friend that I’m not suing you for emotional cruelty.

And you wonder why I’ve never stayed in contact over the years or indeed can hardly recall any of your names?

Well, stick your apologies.

Just pay up. The invoice is in the post.

Birthday card optional.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Quality Street

Quality Street Green Triangle BabeI’m partial, it has to be said, to the odd choccy. So much so I have developed an internal radar system (biological as opposed to implanted cyborg technology) that can locate a concealed soft centre through irradiated lead lined walls. So uncannily accurate is my cocoa-bean-product detection that had Osama Bin Laden been encouraged to take up a Mars Bar addiction I could have located his whereabouts in Pakistan within a matter of days rather than months and the American intelligence service (ahem) could have spent their days happily playing Call Of Duty on their Xboxes without ever having to countenance leaving their beloved homeland for the backwards, insurgent filled wasteland that comprises the rest of the world.

So when I go into a shop and there is an open tub of Quality Street on the counter you can bet your granny’s eye-teeth that I’m going to “lock on target”.

But to engage or not to engage? That is the question.

At home or the work office, an open tin of sweets is, in my opinion, fair game. It’s like a gazelle slathering its rump in barbecue sauce and draping itself Page 3 style over some hot coals. It’s there for the taking. Full consummation of the relationship is the normal expectation and inevitable.

But in a shop situation a curious short-circuiting etiquette kicks in. A conflict of finer feelings and good manners. Am I allowed to just (to quote Billy Idol) “…make a dip / Into someone else's pocket then make a slip / Steal a car and go to Las Vegas oh, the gigolo pool”? Or do I need moral consent from a higher authority?

Because if I’m honest I feel like I need the shop keeper’s permission before I can make a grab for her green triangle. It seems very forward to just finger her coffee cream without a by-your-leave or thank you and then head on my way with a sticky mouth. But I can’t quite bring myself to ask either. It feels a bit… I don’t know… desperate and pathetic to say, “can I have a chocolate please?” Even though I’m 99% sure they are there for the customer’s enjoyment. I don’t want to make the assumption that they are free, gratis and without charge nor have her assume that I’m so hard-up and desperate I’ve taken to raiding the chocolate charity tins of the local high street just to get a sugar fix.

So I do nothing. I just stare at the tin like the drug smuggler in Midnight Express staring at his girlfriend through the security screen (though without the lipstick smudges on the glass) and the moment passes. The opportunity slips by. I make my legitimate purchase, pay, leave and try and kid myself that I didn’t really want a chocolate anyway.

But I did.

Goddamit, I really did.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

There Is No Debate

Ched Evans football rapistThe beautiful game.

People, usually those blinded by their unquestioning Pavlovian devotion, still refer to football by this moniker. Perhaps 80 odd years ago when players still had full time jobs and played solely for the love of the contest the nametag was possibly true. I doubt it can be said to be so anymore.

I’ll admit I’m biased. I loathe football. Well, that’s what I say but it’s a kind of a misleading shorthand. The game itself is fine. No better or worse than tennis or cricket or hockey. What I loathe in reality is the culture of football. When I’ve dared to voice this opinion on various social networking platforms I am invariably shotdown by football stalwarts who take considerable time and energy to tell me, via lots of swearing and insults, of the marvellous community aspect of football, of how it makes people feel they belong, looks after and nurtures local talent, gives people a leg up and does a shedload of great charity work to boot. Oh and some footballers even have degrees thus disproving my cliched theory that all footballers are thickos who were only ever good at sport at school.

But all this changes nothing. I loathe the culture of football. The disproportionately large wages. The fast cars and the drivers who feel they have a right to drive them at 120mph and go hang the safety of other drivers. The attitude that they are God’s gift and their football stardom entitles them to behave like some rockstar behemoth – buying what and who they want, acquiring trophy girlfriends and trophy houses and extolling the chauvenistic ideals of sleeping around with whoever the hell they like. Nightclubs the country over are full of cocky young men who are earning far too much money for their own good and whose chat-up lines revolve solely around the fact that they are a “famous footballer”. All those around them are put there solely for their own entertainment and pleasure. Far too many of them see themselves as old world kings who own all that their eyes happen to fall upon.

Out of this culture we inevitably get people like Ched Evans.

I find it hard to countenance that there is even a debate about whether he should be allowed to return to a football career after he has been convicted of raping a 19 year old woman who was far too intoxicated to ever consciously consent to what was happening to her. The fact he has shown no remorse and refuses to apologize – indeed he refuses to accept that he did anything wrong – is testament to all that is wrong with footballing culture. The facts behind the case highlight the tawdriness and dehuminazing aspects of football social culture. Another player, Clayton McDonald, apparently sent Ched a text to say he had a “bird” lined up. Ched went round to McDonald’s hotel room and watched him bed the poor girl. Ched then decided he’d like a go too. CCTV footage reportedly shows not only how drunk the girl was but also various team mates of Ched watching from the sidelines as if they were at a spectator sport. No doubt braying and shouting slogans as if they were on the terraces; egging Ched on.

Let’s make it clear; there is no debate about the facts. Sleeping with someone who is too drunk to consent to the act is a crime. It is statuatory rape. End of. The fact that not only Ched and McDonald were a party to this but also others is a disgrace. Not one of them stopped to think how they would feel if this poor woman was their sister or daughter or other family member. So little empathy or respect for another human being – all burnt up in their unailienable rights to sate their own voracious desires. Because plainly their status means they own the world and can do whatever the hell they like.

To make it worse supporters of Ched – how can such a man have any? – have subesquently harrassed the poor woman so much so that she has had  to move house 5 times and go into hiding. She now cannot see her own family in case it blows her cover.

Again, this highlights all that is wrong with footballing culture. That a mere game is placed above not only the law but also all human decency. Defenders of Ched say he was punished with imprisonment not unemployment so should be allowed to return to professional football. It sounds a logical argument until you consider that the culture that has grown up around football and footballers created the circumstances that led to the rape in the first place. Acknowledge that and Ched’s return to football is impossible. Acknowledge that and you have to accept that it is not only Ched that needs to be punished, corrected and reeducated but a huge proportion of the profession itself. Plus those fans that still can see nothing wrong with Ched’s behaviour on that night.

Football – the players, the managers, the club owners and even the fans – need to take a long hard look at themselves. I’m sure there is plenty to celebrate about football but there is too much that needs to change. I’m sure many of the fans and players are decent people with good morals but as Ched and his team mates clearly show, there are too many with a highly inflated sense of entitlement that leads them to treat others as nothing more than pieces of meat, there to be used and then forgotten about. They and those fans that condone this kind of behaviour need to be educated to the contrary. A strong message needs to be sent out that this kind of behaviour is morally wrong and repugnant. It is a blight and a cancer and those on Twitter and elsewhere that think it Ok to harrass a victim of rape are as guilty as Ched. They all need to be eradicated from football completely. Expunged and exiled.

Maybe then, when footballers are proper role models that showcase respect and decency and even, dare I say it, chivalry for all, both on and off the pitch, then maybe, just maybe, football will truly be the beautiful game that so many of its fans desperately want it to be.


Thursday, January 01, 2015

MeinKraft

Minecraft Murder I’m not saying my youngest boy has Teutonic tendencies but playing Minecraft with him – as I recently have made a point of doing as part of my ongoing fatherly duties – has uncovered a hitherto hidden seam of authoritarianism which is really very alarming.

I make a point of playing at least an hour with him on a weekend or holiday days to hopefully instil in him the finer qualities of fair play, altruism and good gamesmanship. I have never considered myself an optimist but in this endeavour I am beginning to understand the sheer cloud-cuckooness and refusal to accept grim reality required for such an undertaking.

I am also beginning to see that my boy has a fine appreciation for all forms of digital Schadenfreude. Although in gaming parlance this is commonly referred to as “trolling” or “griefing”.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of Minecraft, basically it is a computer game which allows you to both mine for resources and then build with them – build houses, palaces, cave systems; you name it, it can be built. Plus there are various autonomous characters (“mobs”) – some benign, some malignant – who you can interact with, everything from bartering with to being killed by.

Recently we (or rather I, as my son has yet to embrace the heady world of savings, stocks, bonds and shares) have invested in a Minecraft Realm. What this means is that we can inhabit and play the same Minecraft virtual world together, simultaneously in real time. The scope for cooperative play is increased a hundredfold.

Or so I thought.

In reality I find my son takes great delight in engineering the most elaborate traps and ruses with which to visit upon me the many woes of Job. He has enticed me with “treasure” only to poison me, lured me into unseen holes in the ground which, if I am lucky, deposit me into lava, if I am not then I find myself literally falling through the entire digital geology of the realm and beyond until I literally “fall out of the world”. This leads inevitably to death and the loss of all the hard won resources that I had previously amassed in my gaming inventory. Most of the time this amounts to nothing more than a diamond pickaxe, a sword and a couple of pork chops but, honestly, it is a labour of Hercules to acquire these objects within the game. Or, as is his favourite wont, he has beguiled me to enter some dark corner of the world only to spawn in hundreds of malignant mobs directly behind my back so that, yet again, death is the inevitable conclusion to my gaming foray.

Apparently in-game “experience points” are of tangible value in Minecraft and he insists that he is helping me to acquire as many of them as possible by these remarkably well-orchestrated set-pieces. He plainly has an answer for everything.

Hence all my noble intentions of steering him onto the path of gaming righteousness and adopting a set of virtual Queensbury rules have gone out of the window. In all honesty all I am successfully teaching him at the moment is how to conduct non-violent protests and how to complain in a semi-reasonable but insistently demanding voice.

I am considering trying to wean him off virtual gameplay and teach him (real) chess instead but, given recent experiences, the thought of having an actual tactile object in my hands is probably not a good idea.

I think it was Bruce Lee who posited the theory that absolutely anything can be used as a weapon… Sadly intelligence does not seem to be working for me.