Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oh, and while we're here: another gem from Mr Boden. This was the sort of happy story Victorians used to sing around the piano, apparently.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You really need to read Kevin Arscott's essay on the Winterval Myth. It's 40+ pages long, and you have to download it as a PDF. It's long, comprehensive, detailed, doesn't contain many jokes, and gets quite angry towards the end. But it's probably the most important thing you'll read this Christmas. 

You may come to the end of it saying, like I did: "I didn't realise things had got this bad."

Oh, and it reveals a crucial and neglected piece of data. Birmingham's original Winterval lights were turned on by no less a personage than Barny the Dinosaur.

What do we want? FOLK MUSIC ON THE WIRELESS! When do we want it? NOW! What do we say? PLEASE!

Homosexual Frogs [6]

By now, everybody knows about the Winterval myth.

Local government is notoriously unpopular in the UK. While our income tax magically vanishes from our pay packet each month, we actually have to write a cheque for our Council Tax, so it feels like Real Money. So, at least since the days of Ken Livingstone, it has been prudent for councils to engage in a bit of creative PR: sticking the letters "GLC" or "The Mayor of London" on every bus, every dust-bin van, every library, every concert hall -- if possible, every boy scout hut and art class that gets council funding -- so local people are aware of how their money is actually being spent. Much harder to say "The council only cares about one legged black lesbians" if the library van that brings books to the old lady next door as "Bristol City Council" painted on the side in large, friendly letters.

And this, I take it, is what Birmingham Council did in 1998: came up with a logo and stuck it on every special event that it ran between October and December in 1998 -- not only the Carol Concert and the Christmas tree, but also Guy Fawkes Night and the Children in Need Telethon and, yes, Eid and Diwali and Hanukkah too. So that when election time came round and people said "what has the council ever done for me?" there was some chance that some of them would think "Well, they did organize the city firework display that the kids so much enjoyed."

However, the Daily Mail goes three times round the world before the Guardian has got its boots on, and there is now no chance of killing off the theory that Winterval was a new festival, invented by Herbert Marcuse and Jacques Derrida, intended to undermine the foundations of western civilisation and justified on the spurious grounds that Christmas is offensive to Muslims. (Which it isn't and it wouldn't matter if it was because this is our country and if they didn't want to join the Church of England they should go back to Iraq not that I'm one of them racists but I don't see why they should get special treatment, you never see white people getting special treatment, do you?)

Now, in previous years, when the Common Sense Brigade have tried to perpetuate the the Winterval scam, they have always pretended that Christmas had been prohibited: that Birmingham City Council, in thrall to the evil Communist Frankfurter had decreed that light-skinned people were not allowed to celebrate in the traditional, Christian way in case it offended dark skinned people. Obviously, since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the tabloids and the British National Party have started to use "Muslim" as a surrogate for "furriner". So they increasingly pretended that Birmingham City Council had cancelled Christmas "so as not to offend Muslims".

It need hardly be said that no-one has ever come up with a single credible instance of anyone ever attempting to ban Christmas, ever. Indeed, in recent years, German style Christmas markets have become popular so there are probably more Christmas trees, Santa Clauses and indeed Baby Jesi on English Streets than ever before. (The first English town to go in for Christkindlmarkts in a big way was, er, Birmingham.)

So. It was never about banning Christmas. (The original Winterval posters had bloody great Christmas trees on them, for Wotan's sake.) So what was it about?

Depressingly, the press release from Eric Pickles, picked up with gusto by the right-wing newspapers, has come very clean about the real agenda.

"I believe we should take greater pride in Britain's Christian heritage. We should celebrate the Nativity and all the traditions that have sprung up around Christmas from turkey and tree lights to tinsel and tea towels adorning the heads of infant angels and shepherds. I feel very strongly we should actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas, and not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity and the importance of the birth of Christ."

Mr Pickles isn't suggesting that Christmas has been banned. Everybody knows it hasn't been. He isn't even suggesting that the Christian elements of Christmas have been banned: every chorus of the Little Drummer Boy blared out over every tannoy in every shopping Mall gives the lie to that. (Every angel on every Christmas tree, every supermarket which inexplicably runs out of tea-towels in December.) No: he is suggesting, from his pedestal as minister for local government, that Municipal Christmas should be more Christian. That elected local councils should "actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas".

Now, it seems to me that you can't have it both ways. Either Christmas is a Christian festival in the same way that Hanukkah is a Jewish festival, or it isn't. And either you want Municipal celebration to be inclusive, or you don't. If Christmas is a "Christian" festival, then Jews probably won't want to join in.

Jews are perfectly happy to eat mince pies at Christmas (provided they don't contain pork fat, which they usually don't.) The standard answer to the question "What do Jews do at Christmas" is "Exactly the same as you, only we don't go to church." But the more Baby Jesus works his way into Municipal Christmas, the less comfortable (I imagine) Jewish people are going to be with it.

Municipal Christmas has always involved some singing of Carols round the Christmas Tree, but Jews and Atheists probably don't might singing songs about Baby Jesus, even though they don't believe in Him. (They don't mind singing songs about Santa Claus, and they don't believe in him, either. Richard Dawkins himself claims to enjoy a bit of carol singing. He probably doesn't go to Midnight Mass, or if he does, he probably stays in his seat during the actual sacrament.) If you decide that your Carols Round the Tree are going to include some Bible readings, then you've started to identify it as a party for religious folks. If the local Bishop gives a talk, even more so. Throw in an open air Holy Communion, and it's become an exclusively Christian event. The Jews and the Atheists will mostly stay at home.

And get this: since the 1950 quite a number of people with dark skin have moved to this country, and quite a number of those dark skinned people have been Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. (Not all of them: there are a lot of Christian churches wouldn't have a congregation if it wasn't for Afro-Caribbean communities.) So the idea that Baby Jesus should play a bigger and bigger role in Municipal Christmas means that fewer and fewer of those dark skinned people would want to join in with it.

All of these things would be complete innovations: Baby Jesus has never played that big a part in Municipal Christmas. Its always been mainly about mistletoe and wine.

"The Political Correctness Brigade Has Banned Christmas" is code for "The Common Sense Brigade Wants to Exclude People Who Aren't Cultural Christians From Christmas" which is code for "The Common Sense Brigade Wants To Exclude Dark Skinned People From Christmas" which is very probably code for the "The Common Sense Brigade Wishes That There Weren't Any Dark Skinned People Here At All".

As ever, it is left to the Nasty Express to make this explicit.

" Last week, Rochdale Council provoked anger after it decided to celebrate Eid and Diwali alongside Christmas in a display of lights."

It was never the absence of Christian symbols that the Common Sense Brigade were objecting to. It was always the presence of anything else.

Kind of like what happened during the Nazi era.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Homosexual Frogs (5)

But, of course, language is sometimes used to create a consensus were no consensus in fact exists. 

If I describe someone as "a black person" (rather than "negro" or even "n----r") you correctly infer that behind my use of the word "black" lurks the assumption that black people are just as good as white people; that skin colour and heritage don't matter very much; and that even if they did  matter it  still wouldn't be nice to use words which upset people. 
But it would be quite odd to describe the word "black" as Politically Correct. There really is a consensus. The word is based on a set of assumptions we really do all share. Yes, some people do routinely use the n-word. In doing so, they rule themselves outside of polite discourse. Society includes a handful of racists. It also includes a handful of nudists. We treat the guy in the pub who calls black men "n-----s" the same way as we treat the guy in the pub who gets his willy out. We ask him to leave. If he doesn't, we call the cops. Or the bobbies. Or... 

If I describe someone as "a bobby", rather than "a pig", or "the filth" then you rightly infer that behind the word lurks the assumption that police officers are rather cute, rather honourable, rather innocent, if perhaps not always terribly bright people, whose job it is to help us out when we are in trouble. And it would be quite reckless of me to assume that everyone, or even most people, agree with me about that. For all I know, you might think that so-called police officers are sinister agents who are paid by the state to coerce free people into behaving in whatever way the government of the day finds convenient. Or you may think that police officers are overwhelmingly thugs who get off on the exercise of petty power -- who get their jollies from yelling at people and telling them what to do. And handcuffs, of course. Handcuffs are sexy. Or you may think that black people are much more likely to be stopped than white people, or that the police are somehow always too busy to help when your mobile phone is nicked but thousands of them can be spared to cavalry charge harmless students complaining about government education policy. And that when one of them murders a protester, the establishment closes ranks and lets the officer get off stop free. 

To say nothing about the summary execution of innocent people outside tube stations.

But who ever described the word "bobby" as an example of Political Correctness, mad or otherwise?

If you say "serviceman" (or "our-valiant-service-men-and-women", or simply "heroes") then you are using P.C language to impose your idea that soldiers are brave, self-sacrificing individuals with a vocation to keep the world free from terrorism and safe for democracy -- rather than the worst kind of thug, little boys with nasty toys propping up the west's imperialistic enterprise in the middle east without thinking about the implications because they're not capable of getting a job in a civilized society. 
Never mind which side you agree with, of if you think I have possibly unduly polarized the two positions. Never mind if it's possible to oppose stupid wars but still respect soldiers.  "Bobby" and "War Hero" are ideologically loaded terms  in a way that "Chairperson" and "Lone Parent" really aren't. There is far more monolithic social pressure to wear a poppy on November 11th than there has ever been to say "Season's Greetings" rather than "Happy Christmas". 

It is the right, not the left, who assume a consensus which does not really exist. It is the right, not the left, who seek to colonize language and make it impossible to even think that "law and order" "democracy" "patriotism" "freedom" "liberty" may not be  quite as good as they're cracked up to be. It is the right who have come up with Politically Correct euphemisms like "extraordinary rendition" and "enhanced interrogation" in order to imply that everyone agrees that torture is sometimes okay, when they really, really, really don't. And it is, of course, the right who overwhelmingly control the media, mainstream or otherwise. 

I don't, in fact, think that Bill Windsor is a parasitic little shit whose gormless good looks give spurious credibility to a repressive institution which makes Britain a laughing stock in the eyes of the rest of the world and whose wedding should, at best, be given the same coverage as any other "celebrity" or "society" wedding. 

But if I did say such things the Common Sense Brigade would be be down on me like a metric tonne of bricks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Homosexual Frogs (4)

I think that people originally objected to Political Correctness because they felt that language was being used to create a consensus where no consensus in fact existed.

"We used to say unmarried mother" they said. "But you say that one person can just as well raise a child as two; and that one person might just as well be a man as a woman; and that its perfectly normal for two people to live together and raise a child without actually being married. So you think that we should stop saying unmarried mother and start saying lone parent instead. We aren't sure that what you say is true; and we are quite sure that not everybody agrees that what you say is true. You are trying to change the language to make it look as if you've won an argument that we haven't had yet."

Or "We think that it's perfectly fair to give a job to the person who is best suited to do that job; and we think that there are some jobs -- ones involving lifting heavy things, for example -- that men do better than women. So it's down to you to prove that a woman can work in the fire brigade just as well as man can. If she can, then by all means call her a firewoman. But we don't think its fair to change the word from fireman to firefighter and pretend that you've already proved it."

And yes, the response to that is obvious enough: "Well, if it comes to that, why should you be able to insist on us saying fireman, which makes it look as if you have already won the argument."

I think that the term Political Correctness was then extended to apply to any legislation, rule, or other action which appeared to assume a false consensus. No-one really cares if the baker sells gingerbread men or gingerbread women. I've seen them selling gingerbread teddies and gingerbread bunnies. And gingerbread aliens. But when I see a sign saying "Gingerbread People" I may, without absurdity, think "Behind this sign lurks an assumption that men and women are exactly the same; and that everyone agrees with this. I am not sure I agree than men and women are the same; and I am quite sure that not everybody thinks they are. Hence, these are Politically-Correctness-Gone-Mad biscuits."

It is, I suppose, a small jump from "false consensus" to "invisible mind control lasers being used by Jewish Communists from their secret base in Frankfurt to undermine Western civilisation." It isn't clear if the Nasty Mail, the Nasty Express and the Nasty Telegraph believe in the Communist Conspiracy Theory. Some of their rentaquotes clearly do.


We are all Liberals here. We all agree that people should be free to hold different opinions -- even opinions that we think are blatantly silly and wrong. We find it very distasteful that country folk get their jollies from watching foxes being killed by foxhounds; but we also think it is quite unfair that country people should be stopped from playing a game they've been playing for years just because we happen to find it distasteful. It would be odd for us to believe that hard drugs should legalized (carefully, over a period of years, with many safeguards) and not to have some sympathy with tobacco users who think that their recreational chemicals are being incrementally criminalized. But we think that there have to be laws of some kind: either fox hunting is legal, or it isn't; either you can smoke in public places, or you can't. And there isn't always going to be a consensus. If you can smoke in pubs, that annoys the non-smokers. If you can't smoke in pubs, that annoys the smokers. Sensible laws are sometimes made in the face of public opinion. The one that said that there should be hundred pennies in the pound, rather than two hundred and forty is one example; the one that said that men shouldn't be sent to prison for fancying other men is another. There are almost bound to be some laws that we agree with and some laws that we'd quite like to change. But the last thing we, as liberals, would ever do, is suggest that our opinions are Common Sense. There's no such thing as Common Sense. Only good and less good arguments and messy compromises.


The idea of Common Sense is, in fact, a form of thought control. A form of social engineering. A way of saying that there is a correct way of looking at things and everything else is incorrect. Social dementia. One true way-ism. Everything which the people who believe in the Protocols of the Secret Elders of Frankfurt accuse of Political Correctness of being.


Everyone, I guess, thinks that their political beliefs are the neutral ones, and that anyone who disagrees is foolishly introducing politics into areas which should be apolitical.

Everyone knows that classical music is just music, the best notes in the best order, and that jazz is simply a cacophonous sound made by people who aren't good enough musicians to play properly. (And don't even mention rock 'n roll.)

People, like me, who use received pronunciation are simply reading the words that are actually written on the page. Cockneys and Geordies lazily and careless miss out letters and pronounce the vowels wrongly. And if they are so lazy that they can't read an "h" sound which is clearly there on the page, then they'll probably be too lazy to do the job properly, so best only employ people who sound posh, eh?

Mrs Thatcher herself claimed that the May Day bank holiday was too political, and suggested it be replaced with something less political, such as, er, Winston Churchill's birthday.

And Bill Land says, quite explicitly, that Socialism and Marxism are political ideologies, but Conservatism is not.

And that's what this is all about, isn't it? My beliefs are obviously true. Your beliefs are obviously false. You can't really believe what you say you believe: you must be pretending to believe it for some reason. Because you want to bring down Western Civilisation. Because Satan secretly controls the Media. Because you have a little Midchlorian living in your head. Because the Liberals dominate the Mainstream Media. Because you're a man, and think mainly with your penis. Because you're a lady, and your little head gets over heated at particular times of the month. I don't need to listen to your ideas to see that they are wrong, any more than I need to listen to jazz to see that it is just noise. 

Best just stand over here and call each other nasty names.


I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: think it possible that you might be mistaken.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Homosexual Frogs (3)

You can't read about the Political Correctness conspiracy for very long before coming across the following "joke".

"Political Correctness is the belief that it is possible to hold a turd by the clean end." 

Actually, the joke originally took the form "Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end".  American academics don't really do "humour", do they?

I have to admit that it took me some time to work out why this "joke" was "funny". I think -- I am not certain, but I think -- that the point is that Political Correctness is an obvious absurdity; a self-contradictory belief; an idea that doesn't need to be refuted because it obviously goes against Common Sense. 

If I say you are being Politically Correct then I am not saying that you are trying to do a good thing (e.g. reduce violence against women) in a silly or over the top way (e.g. by banning Punch and Judy shows). I am saying that the whole idea that there is such a thing as violence against women is silly in itself: so silly that it isn't worth explaining why, as silly as thinking that you can hold a turd by the clean end.

As we have seen, the following are examples of Common Sense propositions:

* It's OK -- in fact, it's essential -- to beat children with objects, hard enough to cut or bruise them.

* It's OK to hunt wild animals with dogs.

* Jews have a natural tendency to work in finance.

* Asians have a natural tendency to work in retail.

* Chinese people have a natural tendency to gamble

* Employers aren't responsible for their employees safety.

* There's no need to check someone's criminal record before letting them work with kids.

* You should be allowed to advocate genocide if you want to.

* You should be allowed to promote race hate if you want.

* You should be allowed to use racial slurs in public if you want to.

* There's no such thing as man made climate change.

Did I mention global warming? Mr The Awful Truth is particularly good on this one. Common Sense tells us that global warming must be a scam. The weathermen can't tell us what the weather is going to be like three days in the future, so why believe them when they tell us what it's going to be like in fifty years. [1] One fine day, The Political Correctness Brigade noticed that the argument "you can't do this because it's offensive" didn't work in all circumstances. They needed an even stronger argument to further their agenda. The one they thought that no-one would dare contradict was "you can't do this because it will destroy the planet". They invented the idea of global warming so they could use that argument when all else failed.  Oh and they did this with consciously malicious intent: they have a positive plan or policy to cause as much damage to the country as possible, and are using "you can't do this because it's racist" "you can't do this because it will destroy the planet" to further that policy.

This is not something which I am reading into Mr The Awful Truth's website. This is precisely what he says. He defines The Political Correctness Brigade as consisting of "anyone from a left wing, socialist, or Labour background". These people have

"a left wing policy to cause damage to the country and as it defies common sense, (they) don't want it openly discussed - unlimited immigration?"


"The half sensible reason to appeal to the half sensible is the downfall - 'it would offend' - clearly has its limits. They needed another idea to appeal to peoples better nature and what better than 'saving the planet'?"

This is

"All part of the same left wing agenda. This agenda will be used as a cover to impose crazy left wing ideas on us - high on the list will be the attack on the car and motorist."

It isn't immediately clear to me why not liking cars is regarded as "left wing", but then, I come from a Labour background, so I am out destroy the country. So don't pay any attention to anything I say.

What appears to have happened here is that some ideas from American right-wing nutters have crossed the Atlantic and, half-understood, been absorbed into the thought processes of relatively harmless disgusted-of-Tunbridge-Wells types who think that six of the best never did them any harm [2] and it's rather silly to put "may contain nuts" on bags of nuts.

I attempted to read Bill Lind's notorious essay on the Origins of Political Correctness. It made my head spin, rather. 

Most English people would, I assume, and without resorting to any stereotypes about gun-tooting hang-em-high Merkin fundamentalists, imagine that the centre ground of American politics is rather to the right of the centre ground of English politics. Their Democrats are well to the right of our Labour Party. They think Liberal means "extreme"; we think Liberal means "middle of the road". We see Obama as moderate, even right of centre: they see him as astonishingly or, even frighteningly, left wing. Our own dear Lady Thatcher was regarded as right-wing even by members of the Conservative Party, but she never challenged the principal of free health care. (We may not like how she ran the NHS, but she never remotely said that it should be abolished.) She never said that citizens should be allowed to carry guns. She never made it party policy to restore the death penalty. She stopped teachers from hitting children. She was, by many American's standards, a liberal.

So its quite a surprise to discover that America is in fact practically a Soviet client state, with universities in particular run along North Korean lines, and legal sanctions brought to bare on anyone who strays from the path of orthdox Marxism. White Americans, it turns out, are practically powerless -- they have been systematically disenfranchised by the ruling elite, just as the bourgeois in Communist countries had their assets seized. So powerful is the gay mafia that no-one dare come out as heterosexual. Liberals have complete control over the media, so no Conservative or right wing views ever get aired. And all this -- this Soviet takeover of America -- can be laid at the door of a thing called Political Correctness.

No, really.

It turns out that, in order to destroy western civilisation and apple pie, them darn reds needed to translate their godless queer loving Marxist ideas into philosophical terms. So they started up something which was first called the Institute for Marxism and then became the Institute for Social Research and then became Political Correctness. One of their main tools for world domination was a fantastically obscure branch of literary criticism:

"For the classical Marxist, it’s Marxist economics. For the cultural Marxist, it’s deconstruction. Deconstruction essentially takes any text, removes all meaning from it and re-inserts any meaning desired."

No, I don't know how you draw a line from Adorno, Marcusse, the Frankfurt school and and deconstruction to the belief that it's nicer to say "people who can't speak" rather than "dumb people". I don't even know why the idea that it's okay to like people whose private parts are the same shape as your private parts is "left wing". I venture to say that Mr and Mrs Midgley and Mr The Awful Truth don't know either. I am very doubtful if the people who think that we must at all costs resist the encroachment of gingerbread people on our traditional way of life have studied Eros and Civilisation or On Grammatology at all closely. But they do seem to have absorbed the idea that anything which annoys them is part of an International Communist Conspiracy -- and that this conspiracy is so pervasive that white, heterosexual males are effectively an oppressed minority. 

We have seen that Mr The Awful Truth specifically identified the Political Correctness Brigade with the political left. He seems to have got this from Lind. It's quite fun to watch his attempts to translate Lind's right-wing rant-speak into the broken English of the internet chat room: 

"At the root of communism was the theory that all valid ideas come from the effect of the social group of the masses. The individual is nothing. And they believed that the only way for communism to advance was to help Western Civilization to destroy itself by undermining its foundations by chipping away at the rights of those annoying individuals. One way to do that? Change their speech and thought patterns by spreading the idea that vocalising your beliefs is disrespectful to others and must be avoided to make up for past inequities and injustices. Then use this to stifle any discussion which might show up the lack of common sense in their ideology. And call it something that sounds positive: Political Correctness."

The Midgley's are committed to the same conspiracy theory. It's not just about gingerbread mean and the great British gollywog. Political Correctness was invented by the Communists. 

"Well, it is understood that the concept was thought up by a group of intellectuals who came together to form the “Frankfurt School” in 1923. They developed “Cultural Marxism” and “Critical Theory”. The institute was modelled on the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow. In 1933 the members of the Frankfurt School moved to the United States and eventually spread out onto the campuses of American Colleges."

That's why bonfireless bonfire nights are such a serious attack on our way of life. 

"Political correctness is about trying to control peoples thoughts -- determining that there is a correct way of looking at things and that everything else is incorrect....You have the very disturbing social engineering we see rampant in our schools."

Dangerous intellectuals... Jews...s ocial engineering... thought control... subjugation of the individual... Marxist... Communist... stifling discussion. When a council asks a cafe to move an extractor fan because the smell of bacon is disturbing to Jewish and Muslim neighbours you might think that they are just being over sensitive. But they're not. They're conscously working towards the downfall of western civilisation. 

Kind of like what existed during the Nazi era.

[1] Actually, I have to admit it, there's a kind of mad genius to that remark. It delights me in the way that some of Dave Sim's arguments delight me. 

[2] "Oh? Then what did?" - A. A. Milne

Friday, December 17, 2010

Homosexual Frogs (2)

Some people think that "A" level exams are now so easy that an "A" grade is almost without value.

Some people think that office workers should be allowed to stand on a chair to change a light bulb without getting a mate to hold the chair steady first.

Some people think that, in our zeal to protect children from child molesters, we have started to check the criminal records of people whose criminal records don't really need to be checked.

Any one of those things might be true; but it is hard to see what each of them has in common, and what any one of them has to do with the belief that "gay" is a more polite word than "pooftah". Yet they are all routinely brought under the all embracing umbrella of Political Correctness. Kids aren't allowed to fail...elf and safety won't let you do anything...all adults are assumed to be paedophiles...It's Political Correctness Gone Mad.

This is, I think, a relatively new development. When the right first discovered Political Correctness -- in the 1980s -- they didn't really want it to mean much more than "hypersensitivity", especially, hypersensitivity about race. It might be okay to insist that we say "black person" rather than "nigger". It might even be okay to ask us to avoid using "black" in contexts like "accident black spot" or "black day for this country".[1]  But to tell us to call blackboards "chalkboards" and blacksmiths "smiths" -- well, that was Political Correctness. But they've more recently decided that anything from putting frosted glass in swimming pool windows to asking Christmas grottos to conform with fire-regulations are examples of Political Correctness Gone Mad.

So: what are the kinds of people who talk about Political Correctness talking about when they talk about Political Correctness? A rummage around the interweb has left me none the wiser. Mr Google first directed me to a website called Political Correctness: The Awful Truth which lists 25 areas in which Political Correctness has "replaced "British politics". 

For example: In 2004 a football coach was censured for calling a player a "fucking lazy nigger". [2] This was an example of Political Correctness, because (we are assured) the coach would not have been in trouble if he had called the man a "fucking lazy bastard" or a "fucking lazy wanker" -- even though this would have been equally rude.

Mr The Awful Truth thinks it is quite obvious to everyone that some races really do have inherent characteristics: Jews really do like to work in finance, Asians really do like to open corner shops, Chinese really do like to run take-aways. It is only Political Correctness that stops us from saying so. Because obviously, no-one does ever say that Chinese Take-Aways are often run by Chinese families. Only renegades like Mr The Awful Truth dare point this kind of thing out.

He rehearses some standard arguments for thinking that the prohibition of fox hunting was a bad idea: the fact that it was implemented anyway proves that Political Correctness had "made an ass of common sense".

It is obvious, he says, that children nowadays are allowed to do whatever they like -- just go to any supermarket and observe the state of anarchy there -- and it is equally obvious that this is the fault of "PC legislation" against smacking and caning. "I can only assume that the government is going all out for 100% anarchy in the classroom. The consequences for society will now be dire. Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see that." [3]

He concedes that slavery was a Bad Thing, but adds:

"So what I can't understand is why the PC Brigade is making so much fuss about something that happened hundreds of years ago and no one who was involved with it (on either side) is alive today. So who should apologise and to whom and why?...

If we are into apologies for past atrocities, why don't they call on Germany to apologise for two world wars and the slaughter of six million jews? Many of the people involved on both sides are still alive today."

Because Germans are well known for not having any guilt about their Nazi past. And there has been no movement to arrest and punish former Nazis.


Now, you might want to argue in favour of any of these points. Maybe "nigger" can be used as "low abuse" without actually implying that the speaker is racist -- in the same way that "wanker" can be used as low abuse without us inferring anything about the speaker's views on self-manipulation. Maybe you think that retrospective apologies for the slave trade are a bit daft and that it's pretty silly to stop half a dozen rich dudes from chasing foxes through the countryside but allow farmers to keep chickens in horribly cramped conditions. I'd be prepared to defend anyone one of Mr The Awful Truth's positions, apart from the one about inherent racial characteristics. [4]

But what do they all have in common? In what ways are they all examples of a thing called Political Correctness. Fortunately, Mr The Awful Truth tells us:

"the term Political Correctness includes:
1) Doing the reverse of what common sense would suggest
2) Inconveniencing the innocent while making life easier for the wrong do-er
3) Not telling the truth in case it offends
4) Changing the language where you perceive it may offend
5) Doing exactly the opposite of what you preach
6) What you do has the effect of making the problem you were trying to cure far worse
7) Doing ridiculous things just for a political reason
8) Favouring a minority just for a political reason"

Or, in short: Political Correctness is anything which I personally don't agree with. 

This doesn't help very much. But hold on to point 1, "common sense". We may come back to it.

Another website, called Our Civilisation is a little bit more helpful. Although it is couched in comically over-the-top rhetoric ("PC is a communal tyranny that erupted in the 1980s" "Political Correctness is a social dementia") it starts out with a perfectly coherent definition. Political Correctness is about limiting freedom of speech. It claims to be about the avoidance of offence, but in fact, no-one has any right not to be offended. At one point, the writer Mr Civilisation seems to be veering to an actual definition: that Political Correctness is the idea that behaviour which was previously a matter of social convention became a matter of law. We used to say "If you say 'nigger' everyone will think you are an idiot and not want to be your friend" but we now say "If you say 'nigger' you will taken to court and fined."

Political Correctness, according to Mr Civilisation holds that "particular ideas, expressions and behaviour, which were then legal, should be forbidden by law, and people who transgressed should be punished." It's very doubtful if Political Correctness of this kind has ever existed: it is very doubtful that there has ever been a legal requirement backed up with legal sanctions that you should say "woman" rather than "lady" or "visually impaired" rather than "blind" or that anyone ever said there should be. But if there had been they would have been examples of Political Correctness. 

This is quite helpful. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a horse with an ivory horn on its forehead. But if there was, it would be called a unicorn: we know what we are talking about when we talk about unicorns, and if we ever saw one, we would recognise it.

The best Mr Civilisation can come up with is a law from Canada which makes it a crime to advocate genocide and another which makes it a crime to "wilfully promote hatred against an identifiable group" ("except in private conversation"). Which rather implies that he thinks that before the social dementia set in, it would have been okay for me to make a public speech stirring up hatred against Ruritanians -- even to stand up and say "I think that we should wipe out all Ruritanians from the face of the earth". Saying that this is no longer okay seems to be a very mild form of social tyranny.

He has, in fact, a very strange theory that since our parents did, in fact, use terms like "nigger", "poof" and "coon" our declaration that such words are not acceptable amounts to a rejection of the values of the generation which won the Second World War. Political Correctness is nothing more than an act of infantile rebellion, in which we deliberately "revere" the people and value that our parents despised, go against tradition, etc etc etc

This slippage seems to happen rather a lot among people who believe in the International Political Correctness Conspiracy. It is never quite clear whether they think that while it may be offensive to call a gay man a poof, it shouldn't be illegal to do so; or that it isn't offensive to call a gay man a poof because the term isn't really all that insulting; or that it doesn't matter if the term is insulting because common sense (i.e my unexamined assumptions) tell me that I ought to hold gay men in contempt. Another version, particularly prevalent in the Nasty Mail, is to say that it may or may not be offensive to call a gay man a poof, but that no-one complains when gay men call straight men -- I don't know --"breeders" or something -- which shows that gay men have got the real power and straight people are the oppressed minority. And that it gives you cancer.

Finally, the disturbing Campaign Against Political Correctness -- the one initially set up by Laura Midgely and her husband to prevent homosexual frogs being given the same rights as heterosexual frogs -- appears to use the term Political Correctness primarily to mean "anti-racist legislation". In its section about "ridiculous" examples of Political Correctness it cites all the usual suspects: bakers shops selling "gingerbread people"; prison officers being asked to call inmates "Mr"; changes to the text of Enid Blyton's books. [5] But the examples of "dangerous" Political Correctness it cites are mainly examples of "positive discrimination" or "affirmative action" -- local councils trying to encourage black people to become police officers or fire fighters, or as the stories put it, "banning white people".

Many of these stories are drawn from the pages of the Nasty Mail and the Nasty Express. Some of them can be very easily debunked: the idea that anyone banned the display of England flags during the World Cup is just. not. true. Many of them contain quotes from concerned citizens. Well, from two concerned citizens, at least.

John Midgely of the Campaign for Politcal Correctness said "What is the world coming to when you are not allowed to put a bit of chocolate sauce on a cone."

John Midgley, co-founder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, condemned the plans, saying people should be "proud to celebrate" Guy Fawkes night. "This idea is from the same school of thought that says you can't celebrate Christmas or call a chairman 'a chairman'. It undermines our traditions and way of life," he said." [6]

Laura Midgley, of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, added: "It is totally ridiculous political correctness, nobody wants to talk about gingerbread people. They are what they are. It is not just an innocent mistake. Whoever did it, I hope they will think long and hard about it. If these sorts of things go unchallenged, they become the norm." [7]

It would be very interesting to know what relationship the Campaign Against Political Correctness has with these newspapers. Do the Express phone up the Midgleys for a quote whenever they find a sensational breaking story about someone's biscuits being the wrong shape? Or do, perchance, some of these stories originate in press-releases that the CAPC has sent to the papers?

The site reproduces an essay by John Midgley which -- apart from one apocryphal reference to "person hole covers" -- is a rant against the McPherson report into institutional racism in the police force. Amongst the colourful metaphors ("According to the Commission for Racial Equality, there must be an all singing, all dancing plan that stretches like the tentacles of an octopus into all of the other plans, strategies and visions that the law dictates that your school must have")  the claim seems to be that McPherson involved the police, and therefore other institutions, in a lot of un-necessary paper-work and form-filling. For all I know this might be true. But where is the connection between "When the government tried to tackle institutional racism in the police force, they went about it in an unnecessarily bureaucratic way" and "I read in the Nasty Express that some bakers shops now sell biscuits called Gingerbread People"?

The website includes a breathtakingly nasty cartoon which suggests that qualified people are sometimes turned down for jobs because they are white, and "that this is a legal kind of racism, introduced by the politically correct, kind of like what existed during the Nazi era."

Kind of like what existed during the Nazi era.

[1] Not that anyone did try to stop us using terms like "black spot". Or if they did, they didn't try very hard. The 1992 currency crash is universally referred to as Black Wednesday; the day after Thanksgiving is commonly called Black Friday.

[2] He actually called him a "thick, lazy nigger", but one can't worry too much about facts when reading about conspiracy theories.

[3] Smacking has not been banned, although some people think that it should be. It is literally true that the last government removed the defence of "reasonable chastisement" when a parent was accused of cruelty, but this does not mean that it is now illegal to chastise your child reasonably. It means that the law itself now defines what is reasonable and what is unreasonable whereas it used to be decided by juries on a case-by-case basis. So if Mr The Awful Truth is right, then the problem is not that parents aren't allowed to hit their children, but that they aren't allowed to hit their children hard enough. What the law now bans is hitting with sticks, hitting hard enough to leave cuts and bruises, etc.

[4] It might possibly be that first and second generation immigrants are more likely to work in family businesses than people who have lived here for longer, but that doesn't imply a genetic link between the Indian sub-continent and retail. What percentage of Pakistanis do work in retail? What percentage of corner shops are run by Pakistanis? Are we dealing here with actual data, or merely with "common sense" (i.e my unexamined assumptions)?

[5]It seems perfectly sensible to remove unintentional double entendres from books which are going to be read out loud to children: what possible sinister political purpose is served by saying that the diminutives of Frances and Richard had better be Franny and Rick, as opposed to, er, Fanny and Dick? It is interesting to consider that if a modern day Mrs Whitehouse suggested that the lyrics of My Ding-A-Ling" sounded a bit rude or if a modern day Dr Bowdler produced an edition of Shakespeare that omitted the passages that a respectable father wouldn't want to read out in front of his children, they would be regarded, not as slightly silly old fashioned prudes, but as dangerous members of the Political Correctness Brigade bent on destroying the very cock jokes that made this country what it was today.

[6] Need it be said that the "now Bonfire night is banned" story was about one council which had decided to let off fireworks on Nov 5th, but not to have an actual bonfire? (Does anyone have a bonfire on Nov 5th? When we were kids, we called it "Firework Night".) This was partly due to health and safety concerns, and partly because bonfires are bad for the council's carbon footprint. The suggestion that it had something to do with not offending minorities seems to be pure spin.

[7] This is actually worth unpacking a bit. We used to say "policeman": we started to say "police person" because women as well as men can work for the police. We used to say "chairman"; we started to say "chair person" because women as well as men can run meetings. People then started to joke that we would have to say "Personchester": this is funny because the name "Manchester" comes from the Latin "Mamucium" and has nothing to do with men or women. It's a comic example of hyper-correction. Amusing hyper-correction may occasionally happen: there is a story that a US police force found itself referring to a road as an "Accident African-American Spot" or (even better) that someone described Nelson Mandela as "the first African-American president of South Africa." Anyone, then, might laugh at a Gingerbread Person: the sensible rule that you should say "fire-person" and "post-person" has been comically applied to a biscuit. However the Common Sense Brigade think that it's very serious -- not an innocent mistkae, but that sort of thing which must not be allowed to become the norm. And they think that calling a chairman a  "chair" or a "chairperson" undermines our way of life. Its the use of gender-netural language in general -- not this particularly silly example of it -- which is dangerous. The life-changing joke about gay frogs is in the same category: it's only funny if you already think that equal rights for gay humans is a dangerous, left wing, anti-common sense notion.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Homosexual Frogs (1)

In principal, the former Soviet Union claimed not to censor the press. If a senior figure in the Party slipped over on a banana skin, the state media could report that a senior figure in the Party had slipped over on a banana skin. You had to make sure that your facts were correct, but facts were facts. 

However, the one thing the state media could not do was criticise Communism directly. Communism was true, and known to be true. Communism provided all the advantages that Soviet citizens enjoyed compared to the oppressed working class in the West. So of course you couldn't print a news story saying – or implying -- that Communism wasn't true, any more than you could publish a geography text book saying that Barnsley was the capital of the United Kingdom.

The news had to be factually correct: but it also had to be politically correct.

It is not quite clear when the expression Politically Correct made the rhetorical leap into the vocabulary of the British and American far-right. It also isn't clear whether there was an intervening stage when the political left used the expression in a neutral or even positive sense. I went to college in the People's Republic of Sussex at the height of the hated Thatcherist regime. The student Socialist Workers ("copy of this weeks...!") would occasionally complain that someone had used an imperialist codeword like "Falkland Islands" rather than a more neutral term like "Las Malvinas". Someone from the Women's Group might have once moaned that the hated patriarchal administration were perpetuating the phallocentric and indeed aristocratic hegemony by labelling bathrooms "Gentlemen" and "Ladies" (rather than "Male" or "Female"). But I never heard anyone saying that the offending words were Politically Incorrect. Lefties with a sense of humour, if you can imagine such a beast, sometimes complained that something was "ideologically unsound".

But it's perfectly possible that someone somewhere really did think that the Commies had had a point. There really are some ideas that are self-evidently false, and they really do need to be corrected whenever and wherever they occur. Of course you shouldn't publish a book which claims that women are natural home-makers and men are natural bread-winners, any more than you should publish a book that claims that the sun goes round the earth. And if you shouldn't say it outright then you shouldn't assume it or imply it, either.

And it's perfectly possible someone did, as part of this project, deliberately adopt cumbersome terminology in order to draw people's attention to just how many assumptions and implications "ordinary", supposedly "neutral" language contained. There would have been no point in using convenient gender-neutral phrases like "Paramedic" or "Firefighter": hardly anyone would have noticed. But "Ambulanceperson" and "Fireperson" are rather awkward to say. They draw attention to themselves. They force us to notice that we've been saying "Ambulance Man" and "Fire Man" for years. They make us ask ourselves "Is there any special reason why a woman can't carry a stretcher or operate a hose-pipe?"

English Ordinance Survey Maps have a special symbol for churches. Russian Communist maps didn't depict churches at all. It might be entertaining to draw a map which left out post offices and public toilets, but included violin shops and undertakers. Not because it would be helpful or sensible, but because it would force us to notice that maps are not merely neutral diagrams of what's there, but ideological statements about what ought to be there.[*]

But there seems to be precious little evidence that this kind of thing was ever at all widespread. I have heard people saying "differently abled" rather than "disabled", which is silly. There's a shop in Bristol which sells equipment for "less able" people, which is horrid. But what we've mostly done is replaced nasty expressions like "cripple" with neutral ones like ""wheel chair user" or simply "person who can't walk", not cumbersome ones like "ambulatorially challenged". All the really silly examples of Politically Correct Language -- "vertically challenged" and "chemically inconvenienced" and "chronologically superior" -- seem to have been made up by the far-right as a parody of what they saw as a creeping attempt to impose a Soviet style monopoly on public discourse.

A lady -- sorry, a female person -- was once told by a taxi-driver that before long, the Political Correctness Brigade would demanding equal rights for homosexual goldfish. This was a joke : not a very funny one, but a joke, nevertheless. But it was a joke that made the female person very angry indeed: 

"Gay goldfish? Was there such a thing? I had no doubt that if the Political Correctness Brigade could find a gay goldfish, this could become a reality instead of a throwaway line." 

She was so angry that she decided that it was her duty to campaign against any attempt to give equal rights to gay goldfish -- and also against the abolition of competitive sport from schools, the banning of Christmas, and lots of other things which haven't happened. Her name was Laura Midgley, and we shall learn more of her wisdom later.

[*] Come to think of it, the Student Union Guide at York University did say, in so many words (I still have a copy) "There is no Christian Union here", which makes me wonder what meetings I was going to in the chaplaincy building on Thursday evenings.
Jon Boden singing Jingle Bells. What more need be said?

Monday, December 13, 2010

At the moment, I am not very proud of the BBC at all

Some regular readers may have spotted that, in the last couple of years, I have developed a passing interest in English folk music. This is very largely down to a BBC local radio programme called Folkwaves, broadcast in a far away place called the the East Midlands. Two or three years ago, my knowledge of English folk music ran to a handful of Dylan records, a handful of Woody Guthrie records, and possibly a copy of The Big Huge. Stumbling on Folkwaves on what the presenters would doubtless call "t'internet" clued me in to what was out there -- and more importantly, to how many of the acts they played did gigs in small local venues. 

Someone called Spiers and Boden are doing a gig in the pub at the bottom of my street (the Croft) -- aren't they the ones that Mick and Lester interviewed, who sang that clever Robin Hood ballad? Better go along and hear them. Someone called Martin Simpson in a church hall in Southville -- isn't he the one who sings that song about his dad that Mick and Lester keep playing? That song that Mick and Lester keep playing about the guy who won't sell hs cottage to the man from London -- better find out if that singer sings anything else good. And don't Mick and Lester nag me every week to go and find some live music in my area?  Better give it a go.

The show covers the big names, of course, but it is long enough to cover lessor known singers, archive recordings and live perfomances which Mike Harding wouldn't go near. (Absolutely nothing against Mike Harding.) And it has that sort of shambolic intimacy which only local radio ever achieves: Mick and Lester have a nice line in banter, know what's going on in their local area, and are never phased when they accidentally put completely the wrong record on the CD player, or when the special guest doesn't show up because he can't find the studio. And of course, the whole point of radio is that you feel the presenter is talking directly to you; that you feel he's your friend.

So of course, the BBC has cancelled the programme (which has been going for about 25 years and had a worldwide reputation). 

There is apparently no place for "minority" interests like folk music on local radio. 


Save Folkwaves (facebook group)

"Without our stories or our songs / how will we know where we came from?"

Monday, December 06, 2010

Winterlude, Winterlude, My Little Daisy

We should actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas, and not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity and the importance of the birth of Christ. The War on Christmas is over, and likes of Winterval, Winter Lights and Luminous deserve to be in the dustbin of history. Mr Pickles explained that the Christian festival has previously been ambushed by those intent on re-branding Christmas as a bland 'Winter festival' [continues]

In a major victory for common- sense, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said local authorities should not introduce politically correct versions such as “Winterval”....Birmingham’s annual Winterval festival was designed to appeal to all cultures, while Lambeth council in London sparked fury when it ordered its Christmas lights to be called “winter” or even “celebrity” lights to avoid upsetting other faiths.

Where are all those people who may be offended by calling Christmas, ‘Christmas’? What about the people who offend the Christian community when ‘they’ call it Winterval, again revealing this lack of quality of mind? Why is offence assumed before anything is spoken, written or visualised? Who indeed are the purveyors of PC [continues]

He said: "In Bradford we have celebrated Diwali, then Eid, then Christmas. If you drive through Bradford now, you will see the lights actually name them. We do not have some daft idea like 'Winterval' which nobody wants apart from a few secularists.

Except a leftie Christmas would be called "Winterval" as they would want to offend the oppressed ethnic minorities, despite evidence that many muslims and hindus celebrate Christmas.

And Birmingham City Council chiefs renamed Christmas as Winterval in 1997 and 1998. The move was heavily criticised by non-Christian and Christian groups alike as PC madness.

Christmas is a time to remember what and who Christ came for. In this age of Political Correctness we have people trying to use ‘Xmas’ and ‘Winterval’ for fear of causing offence to others who want to celebrate Christmas without the ‘Jesus’ bit. People who do not even recognise Jesus as their Lord and Saviour are trying to dictate to us how we should celebrate the birth of our Lord. Well we must be resolute in our [continues]

But it isn’t only the serious world of jobs and work where there have been changes. Some of our most famous holidays and celebrations have also received the PC makeover. Surely there’s nothing offensive about Christmas, you say. Not true. Apparently it might offend some people, so now it should be referred to as “Winterval” (that’s a combination of “winter” and “interval” in case you didn’t realise [or possibly from the word "festival"].) And Easter is now the “Spring Festival”, so that no one feels excluded. So, where’s it going to end? Will we one day be living in “The United Monarchdom” (instead of the “The United Kingdom“) [continues]

The battle in the United States usually concerns crèches on public property or carols in the schools, and is fought in the packed trenches of the federal court system by groups like the ACLU. In the UK the argument is over the replacement of Christmas by “Winter Holiday”, “Winter Festival”, or — worst of all — “Winterval”. 

Anyway, as it's Christmas time, Happy Christmas. Or Happy Winterval, if you'd prefer. I certainly don't prefer it, but that's the PC age we live in now.

So, this time next week, we’ll be in December, the festive month of Christmas (or Winterval, if we’re being abhorrently PC about the names of Britain’s festivities — I call it Christmas, and I don’t even like Christmas all that much)....

Councils up and down the country would prefer to bury Christmas under a blanket of PC nonsense and relabel it ‘Winterval’ or some other stupid name. We must make sure this does not happen and we can all play our bit in this. If you see signs of this nonsense in your borough you must complain about these quisling fascists. The foreigners that live here and do not celebrate Christmas are especially vocal here and we have to watch them like a hawk [continues]
London Patriot (a fascist site)

A clutch of councils have cancelled Christmas and replaced it with multicultural holidays in a bid to be right-on. Changes have included banning carols and even rebranding the celebrations “Winterval”.




Christians too, see their faith denigrated and marginalised. Local councils have banned Nativity plays. Christmas is rebranded by the PC loonies as ‘Winterval’. I understand people are angry. I understand why they fear the loss of their culture and identity. I share those feelings. The Koran is a hate-filled manual for conquering [continues]

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Follow Me Down

(from Private Eye)
Show of Hands
29 Nov 2010
Colston Hall

"At every trough you stop to feed..." sings Steve Knightley. "WITH WHAT!"

"With you arrogance and ignorance and greed" responds the audience.

"I pray one day we'll all be freed...from your absolute indifference, your avarice incompetence..."he sings.

"Your arrogance and ignorance and greed!" we all sing back.

"A.I.G" sighs Steve, post orgasmically, in case anyone who hadn't heard the song before had somehow missed the point.

"And will you be wearing your jackboots?" said a Certain Person the first time I mentioned that I was going to hear a Show of Hands Concert.


Trying to characterise the group to someone I was chatting to at another gig, I found myself saying "Their concerts can feel a bit like religious revival meetings."

Hmm, again.

I mean, lots of artists allow or encourage the audience to join in their songs. Spiers and Boden always use Bold Sir Rylas a-Hunting Went as a big all-join in set piece; Chris Wood's support guy tried to split the audience in two and get us to sing in harmony; Tom Paxton appeared to take it for granted that we knew all the words of all his songs and were going to go ding when it moved and pop when it stopped whether he told us to or not.

But you feel that Show of Hands numbers are positively written with audience participation in mind. That their studio recordings have an important element missing. That the would be no point in singing Cousin Jack without an audience to bellow along with the chorus. That during the chant bit in Country Life, they're playing the audience like an instrument. That the perfect performance of Roots would be the one where the congregation handled the sea-shanty bit and left the celebrants to do the political argument section by itself. Like I said about the madness which is Bellowhead: you haven't really heard the group unless you've heard them live. Orchastrating some sort of communal experience. The stuff in Roots about singing in pubs and cafes and being buskers true, and even though they're now playing in big venues, there's still something of the pub singer in the way they connect with the audience. "From the Albert Hole to the Albert Hall" as some wiseguy said.

Steve Knightley and Phil Beer fall into an Eric and Ernie routine, with Knightley slipping into the role of the clever, verbose onw whose ego is devastatingly pricked every now and then by the quiet violinist. "Phil is so overwhelmed that he has to leave the stage now" says Steve "Or he would be, if he has bothered to read the set list." This leads into the group's solo spots: Steve does an akapella trad song, the name of which entirely escapes me, about a lady whose sad because her true love has been pressganged; Mirands Sykes puts aside her double bass for a uke and sings something vaudavillish; and Phil does a quite brilliant jaunty fiddle reinvention of Dylans Seven Curses. But not before he's told the story of buisiness consultant who once gave Steve some free advise "Smile once in a while, you miserable bastard."

But there's still something -- uncomfortable? -- about the exercise. After the Bellowhead gig I complained that I wasn't really caught up in the emotion. After Show of Hands, I'm more inclined to complain that I was. Regular readers (Sid and Dorris Bonkers) may remember that after a superlative production of The Valkyrie (an opera), I found myself wondering whether Wagner really was a dangerous man after all: whether this music was literally too powerful to be played. I would hardly go that far about a man with guitar and man with a fiddle and lady with a double bass singing songs about how they once took a wild 16 year old to a festival and wonder what he's doing now, or a lady who won't except a fine silken gown from lovelorn noblemen, even if it does have nine yards drooping and trailing on the ground. I can get as misty eyed as the next man about tin mines and saffron toast: my father was Cornish; I've got ancestors who really did go off and look for gold in South Africa. And as long as you're just howling along, it's a fine song, better than a fine song. "I'm leaving the country behind / and I'm not coming back / so follow me down, Cousin Jack." But there's a nagging feeling: all this emotion is about what, exactly? What am I feeling nostalgic for? The tin mining industry? I heard Bob Fox the other week. His songs were nostalgic for the coal mines and ship yards: but they were real folk songs rooted in real experience written by or for people who had really been down the pits and really knew what it was like. Folk music is always open to the charge of sentimentality; of feeling sad and then feeling sad about the fact your are feeling sad. (So's opera. Wagner especially. So's everything which isn't a Radio 3 masterpiece called Opus 54 in B Sharp Flat.) But isn't there a world of differnece between, say "Whistle of the buzzer/ Time to rise and shine /How I long for Sunday,/When I'm going to the mine." and "Did Joseph once come to St Michaels Mount / Two thousand years pass in a dream/When you're working your way in the darkness,/Deep in the heart of the seam."

But it's an amazing song, and it's an astonishing feeling to be in a packed hall full of people who know the words and the tune. I compromised, this time, and wore the Union Jack tie with the F.A.F badge pinned to it, which hopefully sums up my ambivalnce.

Steve Knightley's son Jack has just ended a course of luekemia treatment at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, maybe five minutes walk from the theater. Of course he pays tribute to the hospital staff; of course he repeats the story of the gig three years ago, just after the diagnosis, where he walked from his son's bedside to the theatre and then back to the hospital. And then he goes into a spirited final encore of "Are we still all right / Are we still strong / We've got one last chance / Lets not get it wrong." Which is another great, fine, song which I happily joined in and sent me out of the theater with a spring in my step tinged with just the right amount of sadness, joy and pain are woven fine, and all that. (Last time I heard him perform in Bristol, he told the same story in the context of "The Dive") God knows one doesn't blame him for referring to his sons illness -- there's probably no singer on earth who wouldn't. But it still makes me uncomfortable. As if I've been manipulated into feeling a certain way about a certain song. Blackmailed, even. And yeah, manipulating feelings is a pretty good definition of what arts all about. Maybe I should shut up.

The support artist was one Rodney Branigan who in between perfectly decent songs in the "heartfelt" mode (a rather intense one about domestic violence stood out) performed guitar riffs which bordered on the tricksy. He finished his act by performing what he described as a song about schizophrenia, in which he started out doing that thang of playing entirely on the fret of the guitar, and ended up playing two guitars at once, swapping them over mid song, even (if what Cliff tells me is right) retuning one of them while playing the other. Clever stuff. Word to the wise, though -- I liked very much the Mexican inspired stuff where you partly use your guitar as percussion instrument, striking it faster and faster with your open hand very much. But describing it as "a song about spanking kids" probably goes down better in Texas than it does it Bristol.

"It doesn't mean he's got talent" says Steve "He just practices a lot".

It's a long time since I can genuinely say that I laughed so much it hurt.

Chris Wood
Colston Hall
28 Nov

I don't really have anything to add to what I said about Chris Wood the last time I heard him. He really is on a whole different level to any other performer I've ever heard.

But I've seen no more than that little boy saw,
and I've certainly learned nothing new
The thinker sits on the brink of eureka,
dizzy with deja vue


We never did Shakespeare nor none of that stuff,
so this isn't no honey tongued sonnet
No sugar, no spice, no je ne cest que,
but doggerel with nothing much on it


Two widows talking:
by the strand they tell their story to a sailor
The sun will bleach their grief a little paler


Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's
Toss a coin into his moat
He can say anything he likes to try and please us
But don't dare ask for our vote


But sometimes I hear the story told in a voice that's not my own
It's a land of hope and glory voice an Anglo-Claxon overblown
Their's is another England that hides behind the red, white and blue
Rule Britannia no thank you

Kathryn Tickell
Bristol Folkhouse
Nov 22nd 2010

Kathryn Tickell plays the Northumbrian Pipes, which are like little bagpipes you hold under your arm and inflate with a bellows. You don't blow down them, so in principle you could sing and play at the same time. She appears in a group with a fiddler (her brother) a squeeze box player and a guitaraist. She sometimes plays the fiddle herself. Together they play tunes, some of which are traditioanl and some of which are new. They are very good indeed and I would like to hear them again some day. However, since I have no knack for dancing about architecture, I propose to not to say anything else.