Sunday, January 29, 2006

Memoirs of a Hobbyist

I saw Ben Elton on the street today. He walked right past me and I'm sure it was him. Well, almost - if it wasn't, he was the absolute spit and must live his life with the constant irritation of being pointed out by people in the street whispering 'Pssst, that's Ben Elton that is - ooh isn't he short.' What he was doing in York, I cannot imagine. This is not exactly celebrity-ville. Seeing a celeb on the streets of York is a major event. Although, come to think of it I once served Chelsea Clinton in Starbucks once (yes, I used to work in Starbucks - maybe I'll do a blog about it sometime) - she was awfully polite. She had a Chai Tea latte. I tried not to notice the secret service heavies lingering outside the doorway.

When I lived in London it was a different matter. I used to work just off the Strand and the place was crawling with celebrities. You couldn't move for flipping celebrities - always getting in your way, mooching around in the middle of the pavement with that 'I'm a celeb and I can mooch around in the middle of the pavement if I want, just don't notice me, but do notice me' mooch. I used to have an elaborate game worked out in which I would award myself points for a celebrity I'd seen. I would get 10 points for an A list celeb, 5 for a B list and 2 for a C list (working out what list they belonged to was half the fun). Let's think back, who did I spot... I saw Mel B from the Spice Girls (surprisingly small), Claire from Steps, that blond bloke from The Darling Buds of May (C list), Rio Ferdinand, Mark Little (Joe Mangle), Terry Waite, Terry Nutkins (A list), Bill Oddie (aaahhhh, so cute) that bloke out of Holby City who was in one of Natalie Imbruglia's videos, and Celia Imrie on a bike. Wow. Those were the days.

Eventually I got tired of it. I lost my boy from the provinces wide-eyed innocence and developed a tough Londoner cynicism. I started to arrive at work with a grande vanilla latte from Coffee Republic. I got a 12 month Zone 1-3 travel pass. I began shoulder barging through the crowds in Waterloo station. I began to tut loudly when tourists couldn't work out how to get through the ticket barriers in tube stations. I was no longer interested in celebrity spotting - so provincial. I took up a new hobby. I went rich bastard spotting in Wimbledon Village.

I used to live in South Wimbledon (well, probably nearer Morden actually, but South Wimbledon sounded better) with all the SW19 plebs. Such deprivation. So many white collar middle class people wearing Chelsea shirts. At the weekends I would sometimes stroll up to Wimbledon Village. They've probably gated it off now and posted armed sentries at the foot of the hill. Still, in those days you could walk up the street to millionaires' ville without any problem (unless you were wearing a Burberry baseball cap, in which case armed police would swoop). I used to sit in some coffee shop, toff watching.

Wimbledon Village is a strange place. It's right next to the common (obviously) and it fancies itself a bit rural (hence the 'village' part of the name). There's horse poo in the streets, they have at least two saddlers and the residents wear green wellies to nip to the newsagents for bread and milk. It is also incredibly wealthy. You can't buy a house or even rent for less than 5 squillion pounds and I'm informed that there are more Range Rovers per square metre than in any other area of any metropolis in the world. A couple of mansions have large yachts moored in the front garden fish pond. Of course the 'rural village' stuff is all bollocks. It's a kind of faux countryside vilage for those who like to think that they live in the country but who don't want to put up with all the inconveniences of the countryside like sheep, farmers, the rural poor and not having a Waitrose or Pitcher and Piano for miles around. The worst thing about the countryside, of course, is that most people who live there are not very glamorous. Most of them don't shop at Louis Vitton and spend less than £200 a fortnight on haircuts. So if you want the countryside without the countryside, and you have more money than you know what to do with, Wimbledon Village is for you. It's full of columnists from the lifestyle sections of Sunday broadsheets. Which reminds me, isn't Alex James (ex of Blur, now a barbour wax jacket and flat cap wearing, country gent with a column in the Observer - or is it the Indie?) an absolute tit.

Anyway, I used to sit there in a cafe watching the awful rich. I would give myself 2 points for anyone wearing a rugby shirt or polo top with the collar turned up, 5 points for anyone in a wax jacket and wellies, 7 points for a glamorous lady with expensive sunglasses on top of her head, lots of bottled tan and a copy of Tatler poking out of her Prada handbag, and 10 points for Ben Fogle. I would regularly rack up over 100 points in less than an hour.

Eventually I got bored of that, too. So I moved to York. And now I spot bishops.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Some MPs Are Gay. So What?

I have found the media gloating over the 'outing' of Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes over the past few days very strange and very unpleasant. In fact I'm quite bewildered that, in 2006, the discovery that two MPs have had gay relationships has caused such a fuss - leading to Oaten's resignation from his party's front bench and to Hughes facing pressure to withdraw from the Lib Dem leadership contest. I thought we'd got past all of this silliness. It's as if the serious news media have suddenly reverted to infancy - they remind me of sniggering little schoolboys, too young to know better, telling everyone else on the playground that 'Simon kissed another man... ffneerk...giggle, giggle'.

Does it really matter?

Oaten's case is, perhaps, a little different in that he has a wife and a young family and appears to have mislead them. But even so, is this really suitable material for a 'political scandal'? And one can imagine all sorts of different reasons why Oaten might have done this that don't necessarily involve serious callousness on his part. Perhaps he was in denial about his sexuality when he got married and had kids. I should think most people have heard stories of gay men or women, so ashamed of their sexuality, that they try to convince themselves that they're straight, even getting married and raising children, while all the time they're tormented by the inner, only half submerged, knowledge that they're homosexual. In any case the media's feigned moral indignation seems to have centred, not on the lying and betrayal of his wife, but on the details of Oaten's sexual encounters - snigger, snigger.

The Simon Hughes business is of a slightly different order. There's no wife, no family and no prostitution. What the media have chosen to focus on here is, basically, what they seem to see as the utter cheek of the man - his long running refusal to make his sexual preferences public. What they don't like is the fact that Hughes doesn't march around Westminster announcing to absolutely anyone who'll listen 'Hello!! I'm awfully GAY you know!!!'. Why should he? If Hughes has lied about his sexuality, well that's not good. BUT - the apparent fact he has lied about it is not the important issue here, it seems to me. Why was he asked about it in the first place? Why does it matter to anyone? The lies, one imagines, only followed the questions - and they were completely unnecessary questions. Hughes' sexuality should be of no concern to anyone but Hughes.

Parts of the media, I think, are especially hypocritical here. Take today's Guardian. Philip Hensher condemns Hughes thus:

"the fact of someone being homosexual should not debar them from holding high political office. [So glad you think so] But it ought to be someone who regards their homosexuality just as a heterosexual regards their sexuality: unremarkable, uninteresting to strangers, not worth talking about and, for many reasons, not worth thinking about concealing or lying about."

Well, again, why did Hughes lie about it? Because he was being hounded by people asking him about it. Why were these people making this 'unremarkable' thing into a remarkable thing in the first place? I entirely agree that one's sexuality should be 'unremarkable, uninteresting to strangers, not worth talking about and, for many reasons, not worth thinking about concealing or lying about'. So why the fucking media circus? Leave him alone.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


It might not be popular to say it in some circles, but I was never really a big fan of The Fast Show. It was, and is still, hugely over-rated and consisted almost entirely of the weekly repetition of the exact same sketches in which the audience, a bit like Pavlov's trained dogs, were expected to respond automatically, habitually, to the same stimuli over and over again. Here's a scruffy man coming out of a garden shed, here he goes - 'This week, I have been mostly...' ... aaaand...(wait for it)... there's the punchline! Ha ha ha ha... only seen that 25 times before. Of course, this kind of comedy by recognition, anticipation, delivery and repetition ad nauseum has been carried to its furthest possible limits (or at least I hope so) by the now thoroughly awful, worn out and pathetic Little Britain (spit).

There were, however, one or two Fast Show sketches that I thought were very good - 'Ted and Ralph', of course, (though I'd hardly say that it was particularly funny), and, in addition, the much less remembered 'Monkfish' sketch. The 'Monkfish' sketch, if you remember, was the mock TV trailer for an upcoming prime-time drama series about a 'John Monkfish', a 'maverick cop', or 'maverick doctor', or 'maverick vet' (Monkfish's profession kept changing each time, getting progressively more and more silly). It showed Monkfish speeding through a country lane in a Range Rover, thumping a table, bursting through a door, punching a villain etc etc while the voice over informed us something like, 'Monkfish: a maverick vet, who doesn't play by the rules to get things done ...' and so on. It was one of the few Fast Show Sketches which actually suited endless repetition, because that repetition added to its satirical impact. It was essentially a very sharp piss take about the endless production of formulaic TV cop show dramas - all of which, essentially feature the same plot and the same kind of central character. Each reproduction from the prime time drama mass production line attempts to make its hero quirky in some way - a 'maverick', anti-establishment, flawed, etc - but precisely because each version tries to differentiate its central character in essentially the same way they all end up so similar that it's hard to tell them apart. Their manufactured 'idiosyncracy' makes them all exactly alike.

Now, TV writers and producers are, I imagine pretty intelligent people. You'd think that a well observed sketch like 'Monkfish' which lands pretty heavy blows, I think, on the prime time drama format, might have made some kind of difference. They must have seen it. But it seems to have made little difference. A few years on, ITV and BBC are churning out the same old shite, and in fact, I'm convinced that a recent BBC series represents the apotheosis of the 'Monkfish' genre - it would be hard to get any more ridiculously 'Monkfish' than the series I'm thinking of. Before I come to it, I should perhaps mention that it's not just prime time drama producers that continue to commit this particular form of crime. I can't watch ITV News (especially if that bombastic idiot John Suchet is presenting), without thinking that Chris Morris essentially failed. I find it hard to fathom how TV News presenters and producers can carry on doing what they do without the slightest sign of any reduction in the almost tangible pomposity which accompanies their business after The Day Today and Brass Eye. Do they have no shame?

Anyway, back to 'Monkfish'. I had the misfortune of watching an episode of Judge John Deed recently. I could not believe what I was seeing. Judge John Deed, it appears, is a 'maverick High Court Judge, who doesn't play by the rules to get things done....'. In fact it was so bloody 'Monkfish' that I found the episode hugely enjoyable. I did wonder, for a little while, whether the whole thing is a very clever, very dry satire - a comedy for initiates only. I made sure that I read through the after show credits in case the name Chris Morris cropped up.

It didn't of course.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Land of the Dead

I finally saw Land of the Dead a couple of nights ago (thanks Mahagonny). It came as welcome respite from that similarly strangely compelling horror show known as Celebrity Big Brother -though I found the representation of the dribbling living dead rather more believable in the former.

I must say that the film came as a bit of an anti-climax. It was certainly a very good zombie film and it kept my attention from start to finish. It wasn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination - but it wasn't as good as I had anticipated. I can't help feeling that the supposed subversive political sub-text of the film - though certainly present - was not quite as impressive as I had been given to believe by various film reviews on the web. Much of the dialogue and some of the acting was crap - Dennis Hopper, as one of my housemates pointed out, is really over-rated as an actor. You always expect a lot from him, but never seem to get it. Maybe he's just been taking the piss for the last 20 years. You'd think he'd have got tired of it by now though. In addition, I found Big Daddy's (the zombie leader) pained grunts and (badly acted) rudimentary generalship of the zombie horde rather comical - although, to be fair, it must be quite a difficult role to carry off convincingly. How do you depict a mindless animated corpse of above average intelligence who can command an army of zombies by means of a series of mooing sounds? I dare say I couldn't act it. On the other hand, John Leguizamo (Cholo) is an excellent actor and I thought that the bloke who played the hero, Riley, did a good job (of a fairly one-dimensional character) too.

There seemed to be a couple of holes in the plot. In particular, I can't work out why Riley's team would be sent across the river without some means of land-transport - they hot-wired a buggy kind of thing, but was this planned (was the buggy left in place for them deliberately) or did they just stumble across it? Who was the unfortunate zombie meal in the river-side shed thing when Riley arrived? I thought this was Cholo's errand-man, until he showed up alive and well (shortly to be eaten himself) later on. The whole thing with the tracker too, was a bit non-plussing. It wasn't explained that Riley had a tracking device fixed on the 'Dead Reckoning' until quite late in the film which meant that during the earlier section of the movie where Riley and his team are following Cholo I was straining to work out how they knew where he was, and therefore not really concentrating on the film. I always do that - if there's something I haven't followed I can't simply let it go, and instead try to track back through my memory of the film so far to fill in the gaps, which means that I effectively miss whole sections of the film while racking my brains - I expect that's why they invented the pause button on the remote.

In a similar vein, I spent much of the film trying to work out where this part of the Romero series stood in relation to the earlier films, attempting to deduce this from the clues in the film. What I mean is that I was trying to satisfy myself as to how long it had been (in the chronology of the inner world of the film series) since the beginning of the zombie plague (Night of the Living Dead). One of the characters mentioned that she hadn't been out of the city for three years, suggesting that the plague had lasted that long - but I couldn't be sure. It seemed more likely that the plague had lasted for a lot longer than that given the fact that the inhabitants of Fiddlers' Green had constructed, and settled into, an established and fairly rigid hierarchical social structure and evolved a crude form of military-state system. This would take longer than three years I should think. Of course, this is probably just me being very very geeky - I dare say the film/series isn't intended to have definite chronology.

I think, also, that Romero seems to have changed the established zombie conventions too, in that in previous films you would only 'turn' if bitten, but in this film every corpse 'turns' whether bitten or not. A bit cheeky I thought. Still, it brought an added sense of horror and doom to the world of the film.

The zombies were certainly a cut above those in previous Romero films - although I have a strange preference for the amateurish (and more than faintly comical) blue coloured zombie make-up of Dawn of the Dead. I liked the range of zombie decomposition amongst the hordes - from the freshly dead (who looked a bit like you do first thing in the morning with a bad hangover), to the emaciated and wizzened long dead zombies (think a slightly healthier looking Norman Tebbit). In an interesting development, one of the zombies was actually quite sexy. She looked like a wholesome pretty girl next door, only dead and a bit stinky.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


In the last few weeks I have been undergoing something of a minor political realignment. I don't really want to go into the reasons why in any detail - or at least not yet. Those who've read this blog for a while, no doubt, will not find this process of realignment or the whereabouts of my political destination much of a surprise. I've always been a cautious hedger of bets. I'm instinctively a left wing social democrat. In a nutshell, I'm unhappy with certain aspects of Marxism* as a theoretical tool and, in particular, highly uneasy with the revolutionary political practice to which it leads. Sorry, but there you go. I never considered myself to be a revolutionary, so perhaps the alteration here would not appear to be such a great one to any observer, but my (epiphanaic) final realisation that I am constitutionally, by nature, in my bones, a (left) reformist (that most despicable of all creatures*) has had quite a powerful impact on me which it's quite hard to convey here. In fact it's been quite a scary, and in many ways rather painful, experience. This must all seem very self-indulgent, for which I apologise to the brave reader, who manages to get this far.

Like I say, I may go into this in more detail at some later stage, but I think that the basis of my change of mind lies in a recent conscious admitting of something that has been gnawing away at the back of my mind for the past 2 or 3 years. It is simply that the basis of my leftist political instincts are ethical and (gasp) moral ones. Underneath it all I'm an 'ethical socialist'*** - a state of being which is not in the end, I think, compatible with Marxism taken as a whole****. I must stress that 'ethical socialist' ( I do not like the term by the way) is not to be taken as a term synonymous with that despicable body of neo-con hugging B52 liberals known as 'the decent left'.

I will leave it to others to judge whether I am simply being honest with myself here, or whether this is self-serving cowardice on my part - laying the foundations for a career on the academic centre left. I'm mugging up on my 'cosmopolitan deliberative democracy' theory right now - ho ho-only joking - I still have my pride you know. I still consider myself a socialist and, I hope, would still be considered a loony left wing extremist by the average reader of the Daily Mail.

That's enough navel gazing, I think, for the time being. Now I must insult liberals.

I made the mistake of informing a good friend of mine about my inner doubts and movement away from the revolutionary left a few days ago. Within the space of a few hours I found that the rumour of my 'political conversion' (an exaggeration) had spread right across the rather insular world of the university politics department. I have been approached by no small number of liberals over the last couple of days, all evidently keen to share with me their gleeful 'told you so' wisdom. They cannot keep the grins from their faces. This is all highly, highly annoying.

I can assure you, however, that I am not a liberal. Liberals always seem to be utterly convinced of the naturalness of the status quo. They tend not to analyse the historical, material emergence of liberalism (they're fine on the supposed evolution of the ideas which is treated in most cases as an autonomous development unrelated to the material world - but not on the specific social/economic context of its development). Partially as a result of these inadequacies they tend to be utterly blind to the systematic deficiencies and injustices of liberal democratic countries (particularly their own) and to the systematic exploitation and terror on which liberal capitalism as an actual political/economic practice actually rests. Furthermore they tend to be deplorably ignorant of the socialist ways of thinking which they are so quick to dismiss.

When talking to a liberals you are likely to encounter an absurd straw man model of Marxist political economy. A deeply unfeasible dichotomy between Marxists and 'democratic socialists' is also drawn regularly. The term 'democratic socialist' has the effect, of course, of defining anyone who falls outside its categorial boundary (usually anyone who is not in the Labour Party) as a sinister, enemy of democracy by implication. The meaning or content of the term 'democracy' or 'democratic', of course, is simply assumed.

For liberals, the idea that liberal democratic states have and are torturing and killing people on a massive scale (either directly or by proxy) is absurd. Or, if a minority of cases are admitted, special circumstances are pleaded, or the 'few bad apples' excuse is invoked. The idea that the West has anything very much to do with Third World suffering is hardly considered. At most it is said that the West does not give enough aid - that is, that it is not generous enough. That, there is some direct relationship between our present wealth and their poverty cannot be admitted. The idea that our present day world standing and standards of living rests on centuries of blood and filth cannot be countenanced. I referred to Mike Davis' Late Victorian Holocausts in one of the first posts on this blog - and I should like to refer to it again. This book should really be required reading for every liberal.

George Monbiot recently produced an outstanding article on 'Britain's Holocausts' (picked up via Snowball). Monbiot outlines some of the shocking details of just one of liberal democratic Britain's atrocities:

Three recent books – Britain’s Gulag by Caroline Elkins, Histories of the Hanged by David Anderson and Web of Deceit by Mark Curtis – show how white settlers and British troops suppressed the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya in the 1950s. Thrown off their best land and deprived of political rights, the Kikuyu started to organise – some of them violently – against colonial rule. The British responded by driving up to 320,000 of them into concentration camps(3). Most of the remainder – over a million – were held in “enclosed villages”. Prisoners were questioned with the help of “slicing off ears, boring holes in eardrums, flogging until death, pouring paraffin over suspects who were then set alight, and burning eardrums with lit cigarettes.”(4) British soldiers used a “metal castrating instrument” to cut off testicles and fingers. “By the time I cut his balls off,” one settler boasted, “he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket”(5). The soldiers were told they could shoot anyone they liked “provided they were black”(6). Elkins’s evidence suggests that over 100,000 Kikuyu were either killed by the British or died of disease and starvation in the camps. David Anderson documents the hanging of 1090 suspected rebels: far more than the French executed in Algeria(7). Thousands more were summarily executed by soldiers, who claimed they had “failed to halt” when challenged.

He goes on to say that:

There is one, rightly sacred Holocaust in European history. All the others can be ignored, denied or belittled. As Mark Curtis points out, the dominant system of thought in Britain “promotes one key concept that underpins everything else – the idea of Britain’s basic benevolence. ... Criticism of foreign policies is certainly possible, and normal, but within narrow limits which show “exceptions” to, or “mistakes” in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence.”(13) This idea, I fear, is the true “sense of British cultural identity” ... No judge or censor is required to enforce it.

If there's one thing I ain't, or don't want to be, it's a liberal.

Incidentally, there's a very good article by Blackburn in NLR entitled 'Imperial Margarine', which I highly recommend in which the writer lays into Niall Ferguson's odious lauding of the British Empire.

* Insert ready-made jargon-insult here.
** I stress certain aspects - I still think that the Marxist theory of history, in particular, is the most convincing of all.
*** Insert another ready-made jargon-insult here.
*** Hard to explain - but there are aspects of Marxist thought/theory - economics, history in particular - that I do not reject. Whether or not Marxism is a mode of thought/analysis which can be broken down and cherry-picked as it were is debateable.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Fucking Hell I'm 31.

I think it's a nice age though, don't you?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Temporary Closure... Probly

I've decided to close this blog for the foreseeable future I'm afraid.

Last time I did this I immediately increased my rate of blogging. I think it's probably different this time, however, although you never know.

I may add a fuller explanation in the next few days, but I don't really want to go into it at the moment. I may re-start blogging again in a few weeks depending on how things go.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Pardon me.

Oh yeah, happy New Year and all that shite.

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