Monday, February 28, 2011


Some people talk about "The F-Bomb". They say that when someone uses a particular Anglo Saxon word in their hearing, they feel as if they'd been punched in the face.

Other people don't seem to notice. For them, swear-words are not even exclamation marks, they're just commas. The F-word is a bit of random noise to fill up spaces in their sentences, like "Well" and "Er...." and "Hey Nonny No!"

Have you noticed, incidentally, that young people have taken to saying "Know-what-I-mean-innit" in the gaps where normal people used to say "Well, to be quite honest..." or "So I say to her, I says, I says, I says." In every generation, people in their forties have thought that people in their twenties were stupid, vulgar and inarticulate. In our generation, it's actually true.

Most people come somewhere in the middle: they remember when hearing the F-word was like having a bomb explode in their face. They don't feel that way now, particularly, but because they remember when they did, they think it's bad manners and socially unacceptable to say it very often.

Words change their intensities, of course. Quite possibly, "damn" really was as shocking to your Granny as f**k was to you; and quite possible f**k is as harmless to kids nowadays as "damn" was to you. When Henry Higgins said "I never swear. What the devil to you mean?" he was making a joke. Very nearly. 

Peter Elbow thinks that probably all words used to be like that. The word "sun" was warm and happy and bright, just as the word "shit" was smelly and embarrassing and disgusting. It's the job of a good writer to reconnect words with their meanings. The best possible writing would be a verbal firework display of a-bombs, b-bombs and c-bombs exploding in your face.

I myself have started to wonder if the best way dealing with the professional communicators in the church, the press and (especially) the house of commons who use words only in order to prevent us form finding out what they actually mean would be to talk, as far as possible, in those short, simple powerful words that our ancestors bequeathed to us: sheep rather than mutton, beat rather than chastise, wank rather than peruse certain very tastful adult websites. Would the various recent  scandals public life have got as far as they did if M.Ps and bankers had been used to simple words like lie, cheat and steal? I was most taken with a children's writer on Go4It some years ago, who explained to the kids that he had written the word "BUM" on a post-it-note and stuck to his computer. This was to remind himself that you should never use a long, difficult word like "posterior" when there is a short, simple word that everybody knows. (Unless, he added, there is some special reason why only "posterior" will do.)

The same thing is probably true about nakedness. In between the person who thinks "Oh my god! A man's taken has pants off ! And not even turned his back! Cover my eyes! Where shall I look! I feel dirty and violated!" and the one thinks "I wish you 'textiles' would explain the the differnece between Ian McKellen exposing his penis at the National Theater and Ian McKellen exposing, say, his knees" are five people who think " seem to have broken a social convention there. That makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, if only because it might make other people uncomfortable. I wonder if it will turn out to have been artisitcally necessary..." (*)

Some people claim not to be able to watch screen violence, even if it's in a serious and worthwhile artistic context like Kick-Ass and The Passion of the Christ. They know (I assume) that it's all a trick, and that no-one is really being tortured, but they still react to it as if they were watching something horrible. Or again: there's always a moment in Fraiser (Best. Sit-com. Ever) where I'm literally covering my face with my hands and squirming, because I can see what appallingly embarrassing situation Dr Crane is about to well meaningly blunder into. Kevin once told me that he couldn't watch the programme for that reason: the character's social embarrassment was so awful he couldn't laugh at it. I keep it at arms length: I squirm while I'm watching it, but can put it away again afterwards. The same is true of suspense and horror, I guess: if you aren't, at some level, actually experiencing what it would be like to be in a creaky old house with a murderer hiding in the attic, then the film is simply dull. If you experience it too intensely -- as if it really was happening to you -- then the movie is not fun, but unpleasant. Traumatic, even.

People who really dislike violent movies can't make this distinction: and they don't believe taht anybody else could make it either. I can't imagine why you would want to see a movie in which a man has his ear cut off, they say. How would you like it if I cut off your ear?  

The Rev Steven Green recently pretended to be unable to distinguish between the proposition: "Certain characters in a BBC drama about the birth of Jesus said, wrongly, that his mother Mary was guilty of fornication" and "The Communist controlled Darwin worshipping BBC said that Jesus' mother, Mary, was guilty of fornication." He pretended to be  very offended indeed.

I personally doubt if many of the people who claim to be "offended" by glimpsing a bottom on prime time TV are really experiencing that kind of visceral shock. I think that "I am offended" is a tactical reaction. I think that, for various political or idealogical reasons, they think that bottoms ought not to be shown on the BBC under any circumstances whatsoever. But instead of articulating their philosophical anti-bottomist position they say "Dear Sir, I was offended by your bottom" as if that closed the matter. 

Some people say that we have no right not to be offended. Other people say that we have no right to anything at all and the whole idea of rights was invented by treacherous European communists, intent on bringing down Western Civilisation. So that argument won't get very far.

If "being offended" means "feeling that you've been slapped in the face" then I would have thought that we probably ought to avoid "offending people" as far as possible in the same way that we probably ought to avoid slapping people in the face as far as possible. But that's more a guideline than a rule. Some people need and deserve a slap round the face. People who have written articles in the Daily Mail comparing homosexuality with bestiality, to pick a random example. Nice ladies used to write to the BBC asking them if they would please stop showing all those photographs of bleck pipple starving to death in Africa. They found them upsetting and they put them off their tea. Which, you can't help feeling, was rather the point.

If we said that we would try to stop offending people in the face-slapping sense, you can guarantee that the next day Richard Dawkins or someone would claim, tactically, that Aled Jones offends him so much that he has to put a bandage round his face. And maybe it really does. Is that an argument against hymn singing on BBC 2? I can't help thinking not.   

Everyone creates their enemies in their own image. The Daily Mel teaches that the Political Correctness Brigade first of all persuaded everybody (erroneously) that Intolerance was a very bad thing, and then set about claiming that all the pillars of Western Civilisation -- the church, the family, fox-hunting, swimming pools, etc were Intolerant. But surely that's just attributing to the fictitious  Political Correctness Brigade tactics which the censors and the moral welfare campaigners really have been using for decades. First of all claim that "offending" people is just about the worst thing you can do. Then claim that anything which criticise your class, your religion, your political party or your news paper is "offensive." 

Was I actually "offended" by Liz Jones nasty little piece about the Clifton murder?

No. No, I was not.


(*)Not really, no. I don't think there is much need for King Lear, who is Shakespeare specifically says is not naked, to expose himself, while Edgar, who Shakespeare specifically refers to as "the naked fellow" to keep his pants on. 
Some time ago, I promised I would write something explaining why I found Liz Jones' Daily Mail column about the Clifton murder so offensive.

But instead, I wrote the following: 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The moral of this song's/Not very long/You might want to write this down:

Oh dear. Oh dear what a silly boy I am.

Someone forwarded me a Facebook link to a news story from The Paper That Supported Hitler. It was alleged that some people had attacked another person; it was further alleged that the people who had allegedly attacked the other person were Muslims and the person they had allegedly attacked was a school teacher. They allegedly didn't like his R.E lessons.

Now, the game of "extrapolating from the particular to the general" is a very popular one, and the person who had forwarded this story thought that the alleged crime could be layed at the door of something called Religion. He also thought that the alleged assailents should go to prison for the rest of their lives, which would be a surprising punishment for serious assualt. I believe that only 38 people -- horrendous serial killers like Rose West and Peter Sutcliff -- are currently serving "whole life tarriffs". (Someone else thought that they would get a maximum of six months in jail: I think he was probably confusing "common assault", for which the maximum penalty is six months, with serious or aggravated assual, for which the maximum penalty is 5 years. But I.A.N.A.L, as the fellow said.)

[UPDATE: They have actually pleaded guilty to Grievous Bodily Harm With Intent, for which the maximum sentence is Life imprisonment.]
Before very long, the thread drifted into English Defence League territory, as I guess any discussion with the word "Muslim" in it is bound to, nowadays.

if they want to resort to voilance (sic) like that, then lets (sic) subject them to Sharia Law punishment

said someone. 

i think that if people who not like the britian that they live in then they should leave. with a deportation boot up their arse if necessary...if they don't like it here leave if they don't like the people laws and education system of this country then go elsewhere.

said someone else.

So far so not terribly interesting.

I unwisely posted a comment, to the effect that given the Daily Mail's known anti-Muslim agenda (to coin a phrase) we should perhaps be skeptical about the news story.

The original news item comes from the Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail believe that Communist-Fascist-Gay-Muslims (who secretly control the Political Correctness Brigade) are out to destroy Western Civilization. (Actually, they believe they already have.)

I suppose that, by the law of averages, the Daily Mail must accidentally print something true from time to time. For all I know, this story might be the one that they have reported accurately.

But the one about the Fascist-Commie-Gay-Muslims closing the cafe because they didn't like the smell of bacon wasn't true.

And the one about Fascist-Commie-Gay-Muslims forcing the swimming pool to put up net curtains wasn't.

Nor was the one about the Fascist-Commie-Gay-Muslims banning hotcross buns.

And the one about Harringay Council paying a fortune to teach F.C.G.M women Hopscotch was definitely not true.

When it comes to stirring up anti-Moslim feeling, the Daily Mail has, shall we say, form. So let's try and find out what really happened before leaping to conclusions, eh?

I don't actually know whether the story in question is true or not, because it hasn't been at all widely covered outside of the Mail, the Express, and various white supremacist web sites.

But in a sense, the "truth" was not what I was worried about, so much as the "slant". 

Consider the following hypothetical headlines.





All four could be literally true: either the alleged attacker was black, or he wasn't; either the victim was white; or she wasn't. But clearly, the different versions carry different slants. The more racist the paper, the more likely it is to to choose a headline which refers to the colour of the alleged assailants skin. (Very few papers would have run with  MAN WHO ENJOYS JAZZ ATTACKS GIRL WHO LIKES ICE SKATING. Why not?)

When The Paper That Employs Melanie Phillips runs a headline


my first reaction is to say. "Wait a minute. Let's find out what the grown up papers say really happened." (Note the scare quotes: that's usually a good warning that all is not as it seems.)

Again, so far, so not terribly interesting. Mild mannered R.E teacher Ian Milsted made some comments about how R.E was actually taught in modern schools, and Bristol sci-fi group's resident clever person David Roden called me out on my use of analogy. (Was I saying that Richard Dawkins was morally comparable to Nick Griffin? No, they were meant to be examples of two people  who were obviously biased on particular subjects. Surely I was implying that Richard Dawkins and Nick Griffin were both equally silly? No, I meant only to say that you wouldn't go to Dawkins for information about the Bible, or to Griffin for information about immigration or to the Mail for information about British Islam, or cures for cancer, or anything else, really.)

But then I did a Very Silly Thing. 

I pointed out  that a religious, racist or homophobic motivation was regarded as an aggravating factor in a crime of assault. It wasn't true that the law didn't take a dim view of Muslims beating up Christian R.E teachers, or Atheists beating up Creationists, or anyone beating up anyone, really.

A person whose name I didn't recognise said that making it against the law to hate someone was tantamount to "thoughtcrime" and that

The most sensible thing would be to punish the crime properly but try teling that to a liberal


are liberals evil or just stupid.

Now, I don't know what the correct answer to the question "are liberals evil or just stupid?" is, but my spur of the moment comment was (you'll like this, I promise)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And Conservatives get hard-ons thinking about punishing people. And they're evil and stupid and smell of wee.

Not, perhaps, my finest hour. But I am sure that from what you know of me, you would have all understood what point I was trying to make: "Oh well, if we're going to enage in childish name calling, there's not much point in carrying on, is there." When someone has called you evil and stupid, the discussion is at an end, and the Hitler analogies can only be a few lines away.

I am very proud of the fact that I was once banned from RPG.Net for a week, as a result of a discussion of the finer points of C.S Lewis. As I recall it, the argument went something like this:

HIM: I don't like the Narnia books. They make me want to say f**k you Mr Lewis!

ME: I can see they irritate you a good deal, could you perhaps explain why?

HIM: They just make me want to say f**k you Aslan!.

ME: What is it about the figure of Aslan annoys you so much?

HIM: I'm just, like f** k you Aslan! F**k you big holy lion.

ME: Well, if that's all you can say, then I guess I'll just say "f**k you!" to you too, and be on my way.

The moderator was of the opinion, not unreasonably, that saying f**k  you! to a fictitious character was not a violation of the rules of the forum, but saying it to an actual poster, however aggravating, was.

Facebook has no moderator.

But still,  I was not quite prepared for what followed:

Go on then, Andrew, fuck off then with your liberal arrogance and your PC shite.

Yep, they've rumbled me. I guess you've always suspected it. I'm a fully paid up member of the P.C Brigade. I have my membership card and my secret Frankfurt School handbook, and everything. Not that I had complained about insensitive language, or tried to take anyone's gollywog away, or even said Chairperson. "PC" was being used in the strict sense of "opinion I don't much like". Another thing I am very proud of is that a Christedelphian at Speaker's Corner once accused me of being the Antichrist. It's quite true. Give me a shilling, I'll let you see my cloven hoof.

Yes, "liberals are stupid and evil" is indeed an argument. They are stupid and evil because they deny the truth and wish everyone else to do the same. Anyone who disagrees with them is called a Nazi, Fascist, racist or an extremist or is ...said by one Andrew Rilstone to smell of wee. Come on, Andrew, you should be able to take at least as good as you give.

Ah, yes: liberals deny the truth. And what is truth, as a wise man once asked. Truth, it seems is (you'll like this, too) "whatever appears in the Daily Mail". 

No, really.

I am also familiar with the usual anti-Mail jokes. Liberals hate the Mail not because they say the Mail prints lies but because the Mail has an interpretation of facts that they dislike.


You may be expecting this story to have a moral. It doesn't.

Well, okay, maybe it does.

1: I really, really, really ought to have the sense to walk down the road to Cafe Kino with my laptop as soon as I get up, and not waste time looking at Facebook, Twitter, or even my e-mail. I have tons of useful writing I could be getting on with, and I am more likely to do it in a cafe then at my desk.

2: I really, really, really, really ought to have the sense to limit comments on politics to blog entries, which I've thought about for hours, days and occasionally months, as opposed to putting-off-the-cuff comments on forums where they are enshrined in amber for all time. The man who shot first and asked questions later very rarely received any interesting answers.

3: I think my plan to wind-down my facebook participation and concentrate on Twitter turns out to have been a good one. When Facebook started, it was quite a useful way of keeping in touch with my farflungfriends. It was postively nice to know that Louise had gone to Fight Practice or Flash had made a cup of tea. Now, the signal to noise ratio is such -- and I have so many friends that I don't know how I most of them -- that it is just a big, wide, un-navigable information superhighway in its own right.

4: People really do believe what they read in the Daily Mail. And Daily Mail readers are evey bit as nasty as you'd imagine. They really are.
"So, I came to the Pearly Gates. 

"St. Peter checked in his Book, saw I was on the guest list, and let me through. 

"And, wating  to greet me on the Other Side, I saw dear Bill -- and Patrick....and Jon of course. And all the others who had gone before me: Barry, and Bob, and J.N.T. 

"And a little way behind them, there was a Great White Throne, and seated upon it, a mighty figure whose beard shone like the noonday sun.

"And I was sore amazed, and fell down upon my face in wonderment, for behold....

all of them were wearing eyepatches.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Those nice people at Lulu are doing a 25% off offer this week.

You have to type HAPPYUK in the promotions code box on the checkout. 

That would mean that, if you (hypothetically) wanted to buy my complete works you could get them for about £20 (plus postage -- around £8?).

(You'd probably want to pick up  Andrew Hickey's new book on comics and quantam physics and stuff at the same time, though.)

Which reminds me: I've stuck all my music reviews from last year in a little pamphlet. (Only 50 pages, probably not worth ordering specially. Mostly planning to give them away to people I think might give me free tickets / work / beer etc.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Jon Boden looks increasingly mad doesn't he. In a good way.

(Multiply this by about ten, and I think it gives a good sense of what Bellowhead are like on the stage. )

Monday, February 07, 2011

Folk Singer of the Year

I think Jon Boden will get this, on the grounds that he's Jon Boden, and on the grounds that you can't do something like Folk Song a Day and not get the prize. You know my views: Spiers and Boden are awesome; Bellowhead are pretty damn fine and somewhere along the line, Folk Song a Day has turned into a game of Sound As Much Like Peter Bellamy As Possible. Not that there is anything wrong with that, exactly...

I would vote for Chris Wood.

Best Duo

No question whatsoever that Norma and Eliza will get it, on the grounds that Norma has been terribly ill and is getting better.  (And that the Gift is a tremendous album, obviously.)

I would probably vote for Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, on the grounds that they used to live in Bath and are wonderful. They are even better with Robert Harbron, but when there are three of them, they are arguably not a duo.

Best Group

Now, wouldn't it be cool if Coope, Boyes and Simpson got it, so that the Simpson part of the act could say "Cancel my ***ing radio show, and then give me an award, will you?" in his acceptance speech? Not that Lester uses language like that, I'm sure.

Fisherman's Friends will get it, on the grounds of being new and famous and not having won anything before. I haven't heard them, so couldn't possibly comment. (They are at the Brizzlefolk festival, in May, so I will doubtless Tell You What I Think of them then.)

I'd vote for Bellowhead, I suppose.

Best Album

You see, now it gets complicated: am I allowed to vote for Chris Wood in every category, or do we assume that if he gets Best Album he doesn't get Best Song and vice versa? My priority is for Hollow Point to end up with a gong saying "Best. Song. Evah." And to be honest, I didn't think that Hedonism (the Bellowhead album) was that good.

OK: I would vote for Handmade Life, and think that Handmade Life will actually win.

Best Original Song.

Queen of Waters is a stonking, stonking song, and has now had a book named after it. I think that, if they've already given Chris the prize for best Singer and best Album, they'll give the best song prize to Nancy and James for this one. And I'll grudgingly say they deserve it.

Best Traditional Track

I heard Andy Irvine in Brizzle earlier in the year, and picked out "The Demon Lover" as an utter highlight, not only of the gig, but of all the gigs I went to last year. He really really knows how to do a ballad. (Particularly leaving in the bit about the lover turning out to have cloven feet.)

Bellowhead will win it for New York Girls. The whole audience will have been going la la la can't you dance the polka, and will be such a good mood that if the song doesn't get the prize, they'll riot.

Best Live Act

Bellowhead. Inevitably, obviously.


VOTE: Chris Wood

VOTE: Nancy Kerr / James Fagan
PREDICTION: Norma Waterson / Eliza Carthy
ACTUALLY WON: Nancy and James

VOTE: Bellowhead
PREDICTION: Fishermans Friends
ACTUALLY WON: Bellowhead

VOTE: Handmade Life
PREDICTION: Handmade Life

VOTE: Hollow Point
PREDICTION: Queen of Waters
ACTUALLY WON: Hollow Point

VOTE: The Demon Lover
PREDICTION: New York Girls
ACTUALLY WON: Poor Wayfaring Strange 

VOTE: Bellowhead
PREDICTION: Bellowhead
ACTUALLY WON: Bellowhead

Thursday, February 03, 2011

so andrew why have you decided that you'd rather listen to folksingers than politicians or newspaper pundits or clergymen

this is why

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


The example that keeps cropping up, and which proves that gay now runs the country and everyone else is an oppressed minority is the case of an hotel, run by a Christian family, who allegedly refused to let a homosexual couple rent a room.

The story strikes me as rather more nuanced than either side is admitting. As I read the story, no-one was turned away for being gay: and neither have the Secret Elders of Frankfurt launched an attack on the hotel owners for being Christians.

What seems to have happened is that the hotel had a policy of only renting double rooms to married couples (and had, in fact, frequently required unmarried straight couples to sleep in separate rooms). Now, this might very well be silly and priggish. We might very well ask why the hotel wasn't equally strict about kicking out guests who didn't go to church on Sunday or honour their parents; or people who take the Lord's name in vain and go around coveting other people's oxes. Or, why God was okay with people committing fornication in single beds. Or what they did to stop unmarried straight couples signing in as "Mr and Mrs Smith" in the time honoured fashion.

But the rule that said "We only rent double rooms to married couples" wasn't illegal per se. Daft, maybe, but there's no law against being daft.

The problem arose because the representatives of the Secret Gay Conspiracy were Civil Partners. They regarded themselves as married under the law. Mr and Mrs God did not. And therein lies the problem. Mr and Mrs God were perfectly free to turn away unmarried couples. What they were not free to do was to pick and choose which forms of marriage they regarded as valid. They would not have been free to say that Mr and Mrs Smith were not married because they got married in front of a registrar, as opposed to a priest; or to say that Catholic weddings didn't count.

So everything turned on whether "civil partnership" is legally the same thing as marriage.

Common sense suggests to me that it is not: the clue would seem to be that one is called "civil partnership" and the other is called "marriage"; that registry offices hold "civil partnership ceremonies", not weddings, and that The Gay Lobby is still lobbying for the right to marry. However, after due consideration, M'Learned Friends decided that civil partnerships and marriages were the same thing.

This strikes me as a rather subtle point of both morality and legality. It's not illegal for someone to say that it's immoral for people who are not legally married to have sex; but it is, apparently, illegal for someone to say that an institution which is not legally the same as marriage is not morally the same as marriage.

It makes my head spin, rather.

The question about whether gay people should be allowed to get married in the eyes of the law is a good one. Getting individual judges to decide whether civil partnerships are or are not marriage on a case by case basis may not be the best way of answering it. But it's a rather subtle question and it has been argued about right up the legal system to the highest court in the land: and a judge (himself an Anglican) has given a considered judgement, which Mr and Mrs God have the right to appeal against. (They may even have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.)

It is hard to see how that equates to dragging too poor innocent Christians before an Un Gay Activities Panel.