Thursday, March 03, 2011


The Jan 17 column about the Clifton murder becomes much more intelligible when approached from this angle. What could be more ridiculous than thinking that the bank should infinitely extend your overdraft because the cat likes organic prawns? What could be more absurdly Daily Mail than complaining that fascist bird-watchers are persecuting the indigenous hedgehog community?

I know. Let's imagine that Daily Mail Woman went to the scene of some really horrible murder. Let's pretend that even this failed to penetrate her consumerist narcissisms.  

That'll be a laff.

Imagine that Daily Mail Woman visited the pub where the murder victim is believed to have eaten her last meal. We know what a real journalist would have done. Talked to the drinkers. Talked to the staff. Got some quotes. Written a vox pop. Maybe tracked down someone who knew the deceased and got some new facts, a new angle, a minor scoop. That kind of "what local people are saying one month on" stuff isn't the highest form of reporting, but there's nothing terribly wrong with it.

But this is not a proper journalist. This is Daily Mail Woman, "Me, Me, Me, Me, Me" has replaced "Who? What? Where? When? Why?" as the reporter's mantra. Instead of trying to find out what happened on the night in question, she reviews the food. It's essentially the same joke that Drop the Dead Donkey made in 1998: the one where Sally droolingly describes the buffet at her hotel, but can only say that the conference she is meant to be covering is "very interesting." (To be fair, Daily Mail woman does get a couple of quotes from the bar staff. Since the murder of one of their customers, they have  apparently become "more nervous.")

Not that Daily Mail Woman can even review a pub meal properly. How could she? A reviewer might be highly subjective ("the violinist affected me profoundly, bringing tears to my eyes") or she might try to be objective ("the violinist played the second bar slightly flat, and took the middle section too quickly") but she has to be interested in the thing she is reviewing. That is, she has to be interested in something apart from herself. And this is something which Daily Mail Woman is, by definition, unable to do. "I ask for a veggie burger and it comes without the burger and without the bun", she tells us. Does she mean that they lost her order? Or merely that she left before it arrived? A normal person would have caught the waiter's eye or gone to the bar and said "Excuse me, is my burger on the way?" 

But this is not a normal person; this is Daily Mail Woman.

When judging a piece of writing, a good rule of thumb is to try to work out what the opposite would be. If you can't; or if the opposite would obviously be nonsense, then almost certainly the original was nonsense as well. David Cameron, like his role model Tony, routinely fails this test: "This is a moment when history turns a page: the next page is not yet written."  he said of the Libyan crisis. As opposed to the more normal kind of moment where history stays on the same page and the next page which we're not on yet is already written. (Local papers often report vicious attacks and brutal murders: I wonder why all the gentle murders and virtuous attacks are going unreported.) 

I supposed it is just possible that, if I were to drop dead at the age of 103 straight after watching A New Hope for the 750th time, you might say "Well, at least he died happy." But if I were blown up at the Bristol Odeon by a Gay-Communist-Muslim suicide bomber, you would hardly remark: "And what made it so much worse was that Tron is a rather lacklustre movie." Daily Mail Woman sums up her visit to the Ram thus: "I wish Jo could have spent what were probably her last hours on earth somewhere lovelier." Your daughter has been brutally murdered, but, on the plus side, but you'll be relieved to know that her veggie burger was nicely cooked and efficiently served.

Aside from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Having established the comic structure, all that remains is to repeat the joke, over and over. Presumably, each new solecism is supposed to raise us to new raptures of horror -- like Jimmy Carr (a very clever man) progressing from a clever obesity joke to an ingenious disability joke to a brilliantly constructed rape joke. In fact, a sense of diminishing returns rapidly sets in. 

Daily Mail Woman walks past past a supermarket. The lady who was murdered might possibly have walked past the same supermarket. The supermarket is "full of young women rushing round after work, leaving with carriers bags and expectation". (Whereas supermarkets which are not connected with murders would be full of what, exactly, on a weekday evening?)

Daily Mail Woman walks into the supermarket that the lady who was murdered actually visited. At one point, it was reported that the police were interested in the fact that on the night in question, the lady who was murdered bought a pizza in this shop. They presumably thought that if they could find the pizza box, it might provide a clue to her final movements. Even in real life crime dramas, tiny details do sometimes provide clues to the identity of the killer. But Daily Mail Woman -- brilliantly -- doesn't understand what is meant by a "clue". Experts deal in facts. Daily Mail Woman believe only in feelings. So she finds a pizza of the same brand and, devastatingly, tells us how it makes her feel.

"I almost buy that upmarket Pizza; the choice tells me Jo wanted a lovely life, something above the ordinary."

It's a grotesquely brilliant image.

Woman goes into a shop.

Woman picks up a Tescos Finest Pizza (pesto and mozerella flavour).

Holds it. Caresses it

"Are you going to buy that Pizza?"

"No I merely want to look at it, in the belief that since it is the same brand of pizza that a person I never met may have purchased on the night she died I may be able to intuit some deep truth about the person I never met from the pizza."

The other night, I had pizza with olives and anchovies at Numero Uno, a modest little bistro on Blackboy Hill, maybe a mile from the place the murder happened. Does that tell you anything about my hopes and aspirations, Gypsy Rose Lee? Or merely that I quite like salty food?

She goes to the street where the murder victim lived.The residents are going to get better streets lighting put in. Quite sensible, you might think: but "people do sensible thing to make it slightly less likely that bad thing will happen again" is hardly consistent with the controlling narrative of the Daily Mail, that every day and in every way, everything is getting worse and worse. 

Can we incorporate "better street lighting" into the paper's "hell in a handcart" mythology? Yes, we can: 
"Residents are campaigning to get brighter street lamps installed. So the antique, lovely ones are to disappear to be replaced by ugly ones, because of something even uglier."

Old fashioned street lamps are "lovely". Pesto and mozzarella pizza are symbols of a "lovely" life". It's less bad to get murdered if you've just been for a drink in a "lovely" pub. Modern street lamps are not lovely enough. Murders are even less lovely. "Even uglier" is the term Daily Mail Woman uses. Even uglier. Even uglier than modern street lamps. Murder is even uglier than modern street lamps. The joke is starting to wear pretty damn thin.

That, I guess, is why posh frocks and expensive shoes are so important. If murder is ugly, then not being pretty is a crime. 

We might also note that the flowers placed outside the flat where the deceased lived are not, as you might expect, a sign of sympathy, but a sign of indifference: the person who left them "couldn't even be bothered to scrawl a note".  Someone laying a wreath can be incorporated into Daily Mail Woman's world view. Everything is horrible all the time, and even when someone does something kind, it really shows that they are horrible.

Daily Mail woman goes to the place where the murdered woman 's body was found. There is nothing to see there. 
"There was no ceremony here, no policeman, just that lovely face on a now dog-eared poster. I got the feeling the world is starting to forget Jo, that she’ll become just another thumbnail on the Avon and Somerset Police website, along with the faces of the other murder victims no one can recall."

That's the title of the piece; "Is lovely Jo becoming just another thumbanil on the police website."

Well, yes. Yes, of course she is. Of course she bloody well is...


Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Or take Liz Jones' piece from Jan 22nd.

It has all the hallmarks of a serious Daily Mail rant by a Phillips or a Littlejohn or a Hitchens. Absurd generalisations from single pieces of data. Conspiracy theory. Obsession with brands and and trade names. Paranoia. Bizarrely overblown language. Slow build up to hysterical crescendo. But the subject of the piece is, er,
Liz Jones feeding the birds in her garden. (It seems that someone has written a letter asking her to keep her cats indoors during the birds' nesting season. Written a letter! To Liz Jones! Don't they know who she is?)

A Daily Mail journalist cannot write "My local shop ran out of peanuts". She has to write "There is a world wide peanut shortage". She cannot be caught feeding breadcrumbs to the birdies: she must let it be known that she gives them "Carrot cake from Costa Coffee." It may, for all I know be true that hedgehogs are being culled. It may even be true that some farmers and some wildlife management experts are culling them over zealously or that there are two sides to the argument about whether the cull is necessary. But that's how Nature sometimes works. If there are more animals in a particular forest then that forest can sustain, or if one species is in danger of eating all the other species in the area, then you kill some animals to bring numbers down to a sustainable level. Even if they are cute. But Liz Jones cannot bring herself to say "kill". She can't bring herself to say "cull". She cannot bring herself to say "being culled in unnecessarily high numbers."

The word she uses is "persecution".
The gist of the piece is that the English are inconsistent in their attitude to animals. The Royal Family wear fur and go hunting, but are patrons of animal welfare charities; organizations like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds campaign for the preservation of rare species but not for less common, less exotic ones -- presumably because they are in no actual danger of becoming extinct. 

It is perfectly possible to be very concerned about conservation and nevertheless go hunting. Liz Jones is confused about the difference between prolonging the lives of particular, individual birdies, and wanting to preserve entire species and entire ecosystems. Hunting's only a problem -- from a conservation point of view -- if you in danger of wiping out a whole species. You may still think it's cruel, or bad for the hunter's karma, but that's a seperate question. Poor Prince Phillip was once asked how he could be a patron of the RSPB when he hunted pheasant and he found himself saying "Pheasants are in absolutely no danger from people who shoot pheasants." But it was actually a perfectly reasonable comment.

Liz engages liberally in the rhetorical device known as Advanced Whatabouting: where any claim that "X is reprehensible" can be deflected by saying "What about Y? Isn't Y also reprehensible? Why aren't you talking about Y? " Why are the people who are concerned about her cats killing rare birds not exercising themselves about the welfare of battery chickens? You'd expect a charity set up to preserve rare bird to be worried about the welfare of farm animals, wouldn't you?  Whatabout chickens. Chickens have feathers.

So far so banal: but it eventually builds up to a pitch which is so over the top, so absurd, that it cannot possibly be meant seriously. It must be a joke at the expense of other columnists in her newspaper.

The language starts shrill:

"It (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) fetishizes the rare while it is happy for the many to be persecuted"

But then it becomes hysterical:

"The RSPB is peopled by pure-breed fascists who think nothing of annihilating a species for their own elitist reasons" 

"For their own elitist reasons" could very well replace deus et mon droit as the motto on the Daily Mail masthead. Whether it's birdwatchers, G.Ps or local councillors you can be absolutely sure that they have "their own, elitist reasons" for keeping cats indoors, vaccinating children or putting litter bins on the high-street. 

It gets even
more hysterical:

"Like New Labour [animal charities] have become dizzy with power"

And then actually deranged:

"They have their own view of ecological harmony which the common, the photogenic, are just not part of"

This is all classic Daily Mail stuff. Of course the opinion of a sentimental fashion columnist who likes to put out crumbs of chocolate cake for the ickle birdies counts for more than that of informed environmentalists who want to prevent unique species and delicate ecosystems from become extinct.  (The RSPB have, for some secret reason "accused and convicted" a species of rat of killing lots of puffins. Liz Jones knows better. If the bird experts had asked the newspaper columnist, she could have put them straight.)   

Of course the fact that the hedgehog is "beloved by the public" overrides the view of the experts that, in some places, there are too many of them. "Expert" is one of the most damning terms of abuse in the Daily Mel lexicon. It is not too long since people were defending the anti-vaccination campaign on the grounds that it was elitist for medical professionals to say that the MMR vaccine was harmless when ordinary people felt that it was dangerous. We should be given the medicine we want, not the medicine that doctors tell us will make us well.   

Of course whatever is done is done deliberately, by a sinister brigade or elite or -ism with an ulterior motive.  

Of course an animal protection society which thinks that cats hunt birds must have an agenda. Elitism. The exercise of power for power's sake. A wish to destroy the foundations of British society. (Richard Littlejohn apparently believes that local council officials positively look for ways to stop people from having fun because they get a sexual kick out of it.)

But the Liz Jones character is applying this paranoid Daily Mel language -- persecution, orchestrated, indigenous, fascist, elitist, dizzy with power -- to someone who told her to keep her cats indoors when birds were nesting and who jolly well ought to have known that her cats are a special case. Her cats are nice cats. Her cats have never killed bird in their life. And Whatabout all the wild cats. Wouldn't it be better to neuter them than to write letters to me? Don't you know who I am? Don't you know who I AM.

My cats aren't a danger, says the headline. The Power Crazed RSPB is.

The power-crazed RSPB.

The power-crazed RSPB.





This can't be meant seriously.

It can't be meant seriously.

It can't be meant seriously.

Liz Jones is, in fact, a parody of Melanie Philips. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


I think that I may have been "had" by Liz Jones.

British newspapers fairly often print spoofs, and people fairly often get taken in by them. The Independent is currently running a satirical column by Talbot Church "the man the Royals trust". If Private Eye is to be believed, several of his most far-fetched spoof stories have been followed-up by serious royal reporters.  If that isn't a contradiction in terms. For years, the Guardian ran a column by one Bel Littlejohn: however outrageously right-on her views became, readers failed to realize that her columns were an exercise in self-parody, not to say self-flagellation.

Melanie Phillips, on the other hand, is a real person.

People can also become conscious parodies of themselves. Auberon Waugh's personal values were undoubtedly consonant with the ones he expressed in his newspaper columns: nostalgic, Catholic, aristocratic. But his print persona took these views to such bizarre extremes that they couldn't possibly have been what he really believed. (The problems with the health service stem from greedy nurses who expect to be paid for work any decent human being would undertake for nothing; corporal punishment ought to be retained because teachers have a difficult job and deserve some fun from time to time). They were clever and witty columns, although it wasn't always easy to work out where the joke lay. Jeremy Clarkson uses much the same technique today, only without the "clever" and "witty" part.

It's a dangerous game to play, though. You always risk being taken seriously. People would sometimes come up to Warren Mitchell (who played the appalling Alf Garnett for 30 years) and say "I loved the way you were having a go at all those nig-nogs on TV last night.".

"I wasn't having a go at the nig-nogs" he would reply. "I was having a go at ignorant arseholes like you." 

Now, after reading her Daily Mail column about the Clifton murder, I naturally assumed that Liz Jones was a vacuous middle class snob, whose column was intended to appeal to other vacuous middle class snobs. I think I erred. I think her column is a parody of a column by a vacuous middle-class snob: a joke at the expense of vacuous middle-class Daily Mail readers in the same way that Bel Littlejohn was a joke at the expense of leftier-than-thou Guardian readers.

Melanie Phillips, on the other hand,  is probably a real person.

It was her new year column that alerted me to the fact that Liz Jones cannot possibly intend us to take her seriously.

It was full of this kind of stuff:

"My moan of the year has to be reserved for NatWest, the unhelpful bank that refused to let me withdraw £20 to buy pet food. At the end of this year, I received a letter from another costumer to say that he had been refused a £400 loan to bury his son, who had been killed in a hit and run. Shame on you, you evil money-grubbers."

Modern life is full of minor inconveniences. When I shout at the automatic till in Sainsburies ("It's a pint of effing milk! It can't be that unexpected! People must come in here and buy milk all the time!") I'm not really expecting it to answer. I am expressing frustration. If anything I'm making a joke against myself, for being so pointlessly annoyed by a bit of machinery which doesn't work. Most of us sometimes feel frustrated in the face of machines, rules and bureaucracy. We always feel that there is a special reason why the rules should not apply to us, and are annoyed that bureaucrats won't treat us as a special case. Of course the aerial repair man is going to come out more urgently, and charge less money to fix my TV if I explain to him that my Doctor Who reviews are read by literally dozens of people. If I explain my employment circumstances to a minimum wage bank teller, then of course he will allow me withdraw money beyond my agreed overdraft limit. Of course Mr Branson will delay his train by an extra five minute to give me a chance to retrieve the wallet I dropped at the ticket office.

Lots of people have spotted that bureaucracy can be particularly heartless when dealing with bereavement. The are lots of stories about recent widows getting letters addressed to "Mr John Smith, deceased". On the other hand, the process of probate is quite complicated: if I walk into the bank and say "I want a £1,000 out of my Mum's account so I can bury her" the bank is very likely to reply "We'd like some evidence that she's really dead, and that you are really her son, please." This is why insurance companies offer cheap life assurance for the over 50s, payable upon death, along with an attractive carriage clock yours to keep however you decide.

The bit about needing £400 "to bury his son" is pretty obviously a terminological inexactitude. Funeral directors don't refuse to bury you if you don't pay upfront. They do the work, and then, several weeks later, they send you the bill. They are quite good at treating bereaved people in a sensitive way. They've had a lot of practice.

And if you can't afford £400, that doesn't mean your son goes unburied. It means social service help you out. There is no such thing as a pauper's funeral.  

If you aren't eligible for a loan, then you aren't eligible for a loan. You aren't more eligible for a loan because your loved one was the victim of a hit and run than you would have been if he had been the victim of a responsible driver who had pulled over, called 999, and waited for the police.

But the really weird thing is the way that Liz leaps from her correspondent's sad story to her own, ludicrously trivial one. Did she really need £20 to feed a cat? Couldn't Tiddles have had some Happy Shopper food from the corner shop for one night? Couldn't she have mashed up some human food in the mincer, or borrowed something from next door? Did she really think the bank would open specially, or let her go overdrawn just because Tiddles is one of the nine out of ten cats who prefer Whiskers? If you are so stupid as to be left with no food and no cash no and money in the bank, does that really make the bank "evil" (a word more commonly associated with war criminals and serial killers).

And do you really think that there some comparison between "feeding the cat" and "arranging my son's funeral"?

It's in poor taste. It's not very funny. But it is surely intended as a joke -- a parody of the me, me, me mindset of certain columnists, diarists and, admittedly,  bloggers.

It is, on the other hand,  just possible that Melanie Philips is a real person.

UPDATE: Oh god, it's more complicated than that. At the point at which the evil moneygrubbing bank wouldn't give her £20, she apparently reached the end of a £15,000 overdraft. She was so deeply in debt that her readers started to send her money. Old ladies send her tenners out of their pensions. (What do you reckon a key brand-name columnist workign for the second best selling paper in the country takes home in a year? £80K?)  And she feeds her cats Marks and Spencers organic prawns. All of which tends to confirm the "Bel Littlejohn" theory. Doesn't it?

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.