Dear Steven Moffat: Smile

Dear Steven,

You’d like me to smile, would you? Well, fuck you. Why don’t you tell your writers to focus on great storytelling rather than the uncanny appropriation of everyday things the youth recognise? The bastard youth – who ruin everything by convincing the people who make television that futureproofing their work, ensuring it will still be enjoyed decades hence, isn’t worth the effort. I mean, an emoji episode, Steven? Were you demob happy when you waved that one through? Is there an emoticon for desolation?

You see in TV, momentum matters; the converse of Labour politics. If a series starts strong, it can afford a few duff mid-run fillers because the audience have been captivated early and are now in the habit of tuning in. This run of Who opened weakly with “The Pilot” – a light introduction for Bill. I’d have preferred Bill to have earned her TARDIS wings as a character in a larger, more complicated story – an opening three-parter perhaps, but you can just about get away with froth under the guise of getting to know the newbie. What you can’t do is follow that up with another passive, inconsequential instalment.

Surely the opportunity here, was to devise a second episode that would add depth to Bill’s character and cake on a bit of intrigue regarding the Vault? Instead, we got a show that, the new companion’s stupid questions aside, could have dropped anytime during the series; a cookie cutter story, taken from the episode 2 chapter of Russell T. Davis’s browning series bible, where the Doctor takes his new pal to an alien setting in the future, and low and behold there’s some kind of hidden threat to the human population (see, “The End of the World”, “New Earth”). Episode 3 of the same bible says you follow that up with an episode set in Victorian times, so it was good to see something like that promised next week.

When Bill was asked whether she’d prefer to travel to the past or future, what we knew of her already suggested she’d choose the past, as she’d surely immediately seize on the opportunity to meet the dead mother whose absence she’s felt her whole life. A character-based story could have been built around that meeting, perhaps the gap between expectation and reality the B-Story to a meaty A-Story for the Doctor, but Bill’s a prisoner of a tired formula, so instead had to opt for the future and the thin gruel that is killer emoji robots.

I wouldn’t have lasted long on that colony, Steven, as I experienced my own grief tsunami, watching Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s tale go through its predictable paces. A nice set and sense of scale couldn’t compensate for the shoulder shrugging concept, sigh inducing barely human supporting characters, or indeed, the short-sightedness of developing an antagonist based on a contemporary fad. What else have you got lined up for us, Steven? A cat video planet? Whatsapp world? An antagonist who corrupts Snap Chat as a form of mind control? Is the turgid nature of these ideas and fleeting recognition from excitable kids, really worth the time and expense these episodes take to produce, or would it better just to hire some real writers?

My God, this is what it’s going to be like every week under Chris Chibnall, isn’t it?

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Might it be a measure of how thin the script was for this story that our understanding of the situation was entirely contingent on the Doctor’s intuition and analytical mind? Yes, I know that’s how every episode works, but usually we’re fed a few clues, or some straw man or other says something that lodges in the Doctor’s mind, so solves the puzzle. In “Smile”, our hero just walked around and put it all together through observation alone. Fine, but there was nothing for the viewer to do but sit back and let him get on with it. Did we even need to be there?

P.P.S: The TARDIS has broadband does it? If we’re demystifying the thing completely, why don’t we say there’s a branch of Costa in there too? You see, it’s easy to type this shit but it does damage.

P.P.P.S: On which note, “don’t look at my browser history”? So, for the sake of a cheap gag, the Doctor surfs porn now? Are your team actively trying to shed viewers, Steven?

P.P.P.P.S: Let’s hear more about the Doctor’s oath and the Vault soon, for God’s sake, because it’s the only thing of interest happening in the series thus far.

P.P.P.P.P.S: “All traps are beautiful.” Tell that to someone who’s looking at the bloody teeth of a bear trap and what used to be their leg.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Published in: on April 23, 2017 at 09:47  Leave a Comment  
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A Snap Election? Thank God.

Fit me up for a giggle jacket if you like, but I’m delighted they’ll be a General Election on June 8th. No, really, and not just because This Week will be bumped in the schedules. There’s more at stake than that.

British Politics has been listless and dysfunctional these past two years. Both main parties are in limbo, beholden to, perhaps held hostage by, predatory vested interests. They’re begging to be liberated and a march to the ballot box can do just that.

Theresa May, lumbered with David Cameron’s rizla paper majority, also inherited her predecessor’s nightmare. She heads a Conservative Party dominated by hardline Eurosceptics, monstering her premiership, wielding great influence on the back of last June’s referendum. If she deviates one degree from the course they’ve laid out, she faces mutiny, perhaps even the indignity of a backbench seat next to Michael Gove.

With two-years of negotiations set to begin in June, little wonder she’s opted to dare to believe the polls and open the door to tens of newly elected loyalists who’ll dilute that dangerous group and give her space to make a deal both she and liberal Britain are more comfortable with. A personal mandate, a desirable prerequisite for constitutional change of this magnitude, will put her authority beyond doubt at home and in Brussels, settle the matter as far as the electorate’s concerned, and may, pun intended, complicate separatist calculations in Edinburgh and Belfast.

May also has the chance to liberate her domestic agenda and junk Cameron’s cynical, never-to-be-implemented 2015 manifesto – bad fiction that’s made even modest reforms, like Phillip Hammond’s attempt at changing National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, impossible. If the government’s serious it needs a serious blueprint.

Meanwhile, for the remnants of the Labour Party, the election provides the unexpected, but surely welcome prospect of early release from the Corbynite death pact. There’s been no functional opposition these past two years; an inevitable consequence of having an opposition leader whom 81% of the PLP didn’t vote for and don’t support. The so-called moderates may not have an alternative of course, or any bold or radical vision for what the party should do going forward, but they can’t begin rebuilding (or rebranding) until Jeremy, the man who leapfrogged all meritocratic stages to take the top job, is put in his political grave. Defeat does not guarantee his resignation of course; Jeremy doesn’t respond to the same hints as past leaders, but a massacre for Labour would surely provide the impetus and excuse they need to focus and initiate change, even if that means a split. It may even lead to a realignment of the left with newly emboldened Liberal Democrats as partners.

Speaking of the Liberal Democrats, Election 2017 is the best thing to happen to Tim Farron since God appeared to him in a dream and told him to run for party leader. Much sooner than expected, and before a single hour of Brexit talks have taken place, the Yellow Peril have been gifted the chance to revive on the back of the very Pro-European sentiment they’ve always espoused. At long last they’re fashionable amongst a significantly large and angry portion of the electorate.

Brexit is the new Iraq for the Liberals, and it’s just possible that disillusioned Labour voters who’ve awoken to Jeremy Corbyn’s referendum betrayal, and even Europhile Tories, for they must still congregate somewhere, perhaps in the pubs they used to meet in to weep over IDS, will be tempted to boost Tim’s numbers and send a signal to Mrs May, the PM-presumptive, that a Hard Brexit is not the settled will of the people.

Finally, in Scotland, there’s now the faint hope that Unionists will seize their chance to pour cold Irn Bru on Nicola Sturgeon’s IndyRef 2 dream. Unlikely though it is, any significant erosion of the SNP’s strength at Westminster, especially to the Tories, emboldens the UK and signals the First Minister has misjudged the mood. Scottish voters have the opportunity, if not the will, to give Ruth Davidson a boost and undermine Nationalist sentiment. Coupled with a UK-wide mandate for Brexit (it really must be reflected in all parts of the country to have legitimacy), that just might be enough to forestall a break up, at least until politics recovers.

And that’s why this election can’t come soon enough. British politics needs a reset; the prospect of a parliament where the government can govern, the opposition can oppose, and something other than Brexit can be factored into the agenda and direction of both. It’s also vital the Tories have popular rather than implicit support going into a deal. The binary choice of the referendum was the first stage. We’ve now had a year of debate on the substance of Brexit and its impact. Granted, we haven’t got very far but at least the reality of Brexit and what it could mean has begun to be understood. It’s time we had our say on that, not to mention a chance to give our beleaguered and struggling opposition parties help to help themselves.

See you at the polls (assuming you live in the right part of my constituency).

Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 13:56  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Steven Moffat: The Pilot

Dear Steven,

Recently, I’ve been giving thought to what I’m doing to do without you. Your last series of Doctor Who was looming like a trial date for sentencing following an outrageous and unjust conviction for credit card fraud (the Underhills leant me their account details), and consequently the focus of my empty and joyless life would also be coming to a close. I’d have Star Trek: Discovery later this year of course; a welcome opportunity to transfer my mania and vitriol elsewhere; but something would be missing. You and me.

In a world run by Chris Chibnall, where will I go? How will I live? During our time together I’ve tried abstinence based recovery, self-harm, booze, escorts and amateur taxidermy but the memories remain, the heartache endures. And it’s not acid reflux Steven, it’s the afterimage of Amy that sits on my face to this day, if that’s the right metaphor, and the line that runs from her all the way to Nardole. Who will I meet capable of giving pleasure and pain the way you can? When it’s all over, perhaps I must do what Luke Skywalker did – namely buy an Island off the Irish coast and live there in total isolation.

Perhaps only then will I find peace.

But before I pack my bag, place an ad for some warning buoys and row out to my new archipelago, I must do my duty and respond to your final Doctor Who episodes. Ahead of “The Pilot”, the new series opener, the hype focused on new companion Bill, Earth name Pearl Mackie, who’d be the first openly gay TARDIS tenant, not to mention the one with the biggest hair. This nod to identity politics was deemed highly significant, because up until now, gay viewers had found nothing in the show to enjoy or relate to – just a parade of stuffy heterosexuals like Adric, Melanie Bush and Captain Jack Harkness.

Bill’s sexuality, apparently being a thing worthy of our attention, would have to be a plot point then, else there’d be a real danger of no one giving a fuck. So I was pleased to see the story pivoted on a love interest for the lesbian debutante, a student called Heather, who Bill managed to keep wet throughout. Symbolically, I felt that was laying it on a little thick. I mean, imagine Clara in the series before last encountering Danny Beige and him being afflicted with a condition thereafter that kept him rigid at all times. But the important thing, if you believe literal identification with the characters is intrinsic to Doctor Who’s emotional and psychological connection with its audience, was that Bill was a confident homosexualist who bestrode the screen looking for knowledge and pussy. The rub was a lack of refinement, the kind that has you asking to take a piss seconds after stepping into an alien time machine.

Which brings me on to my concern about Bill, namely that she’d be a broad, gawping irritant who asked stupid questions and forced the Doctor to explain things we’re highly familiar with, something a companion drawn from the future or an alien world, may be less inclined to do.

One of the tensions in Doctor Who, especially in its post-2005 incarnation, is that between choices made in-universe and those that can be clearly marked as real world, that is – decisions made by the writers and producers that betray the Doctor’s enlightened adventures as a construct born of less cerebral beings. Trivial examples may be the Doctor’s propensity to use kid-friendly idioms, or refer to social media, or to have cultural frames of reference identical to the audience’s. But the real kicker is, why does this genius consistently choose to travel with his intellectual inferiors – people who’d bore his fellow Gallifreyians to death?

I used to liken this to a man moving around with his favourite pets, but if you’re a member of the upper caste of one of the universe’s most highly developed societies, it’s always struck me as odd that you wouldn’t want a little more challenge in your day to day existence. With the exception of Romana (and Romana II) the Doctor’s consistently hung around with idiots. Sweet, kind hearted, inquisitive idiots, to be sure, but from his point of view, morons none the less.

Now we’ve all done this to a degree. Who doesn’t like having a stupid friend? If you’re insecure yet narcissistic, it’s very nice indeed to enjoy someone you can feel superior to, patronise without consequence, and occasionally educate, thereby affirming your intellectual credentials. But as everyone knows, it gets tedious in the end. There’s only so much assured ignorance, vulgarity and senselessness one can humour before it starts to drag. What started as a crutch for a fragile ego soon becomes a test of endurance. Try as you might, you can’t rustle up enthusiasm for a screening of St Elmo’s Fire – your pal’s favourite film. You laughed the first time they insisted David Icke had a point; it was endearing in a naïve way; but now their unquestioning embrace of his theories just makes you angry. And the knowledge they bawled their eyes out when Princess Diana died, unable to return to work for two weeks, such was their grief, is an anecdote, the significance of which has built over time. It’s not fun anymore, in fact the association represents a very real threat to your I.Q.

The Doctor courts clods at the behest of TV’s Gods because they’re a proxy for us, the ordinary fuckwits who watch the show. Their wonder is our wonder, their questions are our questions, and their dull, middling obsessions, are ours too – the irony being that we watch this shit to escape from them from time to time, only to find our awful surrogates mirrored back to us, though in an uncanny way, like staring at your own reflection in a puddle of extra-terrestrial bio-fluid.

In-show, however, it doesn’t ring true. If the Doctor were a real being, he’d leave the likes of Nardole on the nearest space rock, and that goes double for other non-entities like Rose, Donna, Rory and Bernard Cribbins, all of whom, in close proximity, for months on end, would rile most of us, let alone a man eager to test the knowledge and experience of a dozen lifetimes against the most perplexing problems the universe has to offer.

Consequently, Steven, it was clever of you to make “The Pilot”, a sort of ‘Educating Bill’ – with the Doctor as Michael Caine’s character, impressed and enchanted by the inquisitive and open mind of his uneducated student. Bill’s credentials were underlined by her not being a registered student at all, rather a canteen staffer who sneaks into the Doctor’s university lecture series; a sideline he’s developed while lying low for reasons currently unknown. Shit, she even had big hair like Julie Walters.

This was a plausible and effective way to introduce Bill and make us believe that the Doctor would see something in her. The student/teacher dynamic had echoes of the Seventh Doctor’s association with Ace and her propensity to call him Professor, something I’ll take over a young woman smitten by the student entertainment officer she met on holiday any day. That’s not to say I found Bill particularly interesting; she’s a little too wide-eyed and innocent for my taste; Billie Piper reborn; but I could just about suspend my belief and imagine the Doctor might want to peel her layers before discovering there aren’t that many and it might be best to wipe her memory and return her to her chip fryer after all.

Still, not every companion can be an instant smash like Amy or even an impish conundrum like Clara, but if this new pairing’s going to work, particular with Matt Lucas’s vacant Nardole bringing up the rear, Bill better become a grounding influence and fast. We can’t have three people mucking around in time and space, week on week. That would be like being trapped in a lift with that friend who took a fortnight off to come to terms with the death of the People’s Princess.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: We’ve always known the TARDIS had a toilet, do we really need to talk about it?

P.P.S: Bill noticed that TARDIS was an English acronym but she didn’t pick the Doctor up on the fact he speaks English or has a Scottish accent or looks completely human or adopts human social conventions like wearing clothes and employing humour in conversation, so how sharp is she really?

P.P.P.S: Heather, the girl made from alien water, can travel from the UK to Australia in one minute and a further 23 million years and the length of the universe in an instant, so why can’t she catch people when they’re standing right in front of her? Is she trickling down those stairs and moving slowly toward her prey for japes?

P.P.P.P.S: “I’m in disguise”. As yourself, Doctor?

P.P.P.P.P.S: Regarding Nardole’s line about using the shitter, isn’t he an android? Did you forget?

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: Nice of the Doctor to take pictures of Bill’s dead mother so she had a few. It would have been nicer still to take Bill to meet her Mother and spend some time with her, but perhaps bringing that up would make her seem ungrateful.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S: We didn’t talk about this episode’s plot, Steven. As it was a compendium of familiar and tired elements there didn’t seem much point. But I did wonder if you’d spiked Chibnall’s guns by calling it “The Pilot” and making it a sort of re-introduction to the show. I don’t think anyone new will be watching until you and Mr Capaldi have gone, so perhaps you should have saved all those reboot titles for your successor. It also occurred to me, with regret, that we’d probably be getting another version of this episode in a year’s time.

Related:

Dear Chris Chibnall: Think. Are you really the right man to run Doctor Who?

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat, Are you ready to go?

It’s the end…but the moment’s been prepared for. Or something. Brace yourselves for the final set of letters as Steven and I begin our long walk to the dump, hand in hand.

In the meantime, why not spend the week on a massive nostalgia bender, remembering when it was good. When it was fine…

Christmas 2016. Ho ho ho:

Christmas 2015 and all that:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Published in: on April 7, 2017 at 22:36  Leave a Comment  
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The Missing Article on Theatre Etiquette

Curmudgeonly Imelda Staunton, currently appearing in a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, caused a stir when she convinced the Harold Pinter theatre to slap a ban on patrons eating during the show. “Out of consideration for the actors and fellow audience members, we ask that no food be consumed during the performance,” they intoned. And Staunton followed it up with a terse statement, of the kind given when people haven’t eaten properly, in which she decried the propensity of the herd to munch through her performances, as if their lives depended on their bodies being supplied with sustenance at regular intervals. Naturally, a debate on theatre etiquette, elitism and snobbery followed, which was going nowhere until I tapped out this shit.

Let me declare my interest. I’m a product of all that 19th century intellectualism and its mission to exclude the masses from culture that you’ve heard about. I’m not an intellectual, obviously, but I am middle class, the Diet Coke version, and consequently disdainful of anti-intellectual forces and the threat they represent to my way of life. Thus I’m conditioned to mount Staunton with thanks.

If I’d been alive in the 1850s, I’d have been the man standing on a riverbank, three miles upstream from the village in which I grew up, brushing away tears as the vista was vandalised to make way for urban housing for the working poor. What was wrong with inner city slums? I’d probably have campaigned against the new railway that brought these people and I’m sure I’d have written a novel in which the ever growing mass were depicted, metaphorically of course, as nature destroying parasites.

Fifty years on I’d have been the cock who, whatever he said publically, wondered aloud in his study as to why the degenerate mob, who these days appeared to be everywhere, had to be pandered to in print. Why were former journals of record now courting the new mass readership with tawdry human interest stories and prurient articles on sexual misconduct? What was the deal with these Penny Dreadfuls one saw on every bookstand? Why not just buy a real door stop? Wasn’t literature a high-minded pursuit? Why the prolefeed? Though I don’t yet know what that word means.

And yes, I suppose I’m the gentleman, because I would be one obviously, who agreed that the theatre around this time, should be a safe space for a chin stroking clientele. Right enough, the undesirables used to come out in force for it, but something like music hall’s a better match for their low rent sensibilities and lack of social grace.

Propriety, refinement and respect; these are the hallmarks of a cultivated mind, and you can’t have the common folk, who laugh at flatulence, are slaves to animal impulses, and can barely string two words together – hence their frustrated shouting and propensity for profanity, sabotage a piece of dramaturgy that assumes a certain intelligence and corresponding focus from the patrons. Consequently, I bandy around terms like highbrow and hope, through repetition, to kill the spatial metaphor, annihilate it in fact, and normalise the assumptions supporting it. My sons and daughters, I know, will adopt the same prejudices through identification with me, and will reliably pass them on, and everything will be fine until the 21st century when Imelda Staunton opens her trap and uses it like a tin opener to take the top off a can of worms.

So yes, I am the fascist you’ve read about. Somewhere, deep down, I hate the mass, even though it’s a social construct which I rationally understand does not exist; a reductive concept that purposefully, gleefully, scrubs humankind of its nuance, contradictions and hypocrisy. By extension I hate you.

All of which blinds me to the fact that now all the working class, or as we like to think of them, “ordinary” people have been driven from the theatre; the medium having become the plaything, province and obsession of the middle class; then we’re left only with the well-to-do thoughtless, professional idiots. And the awful thought crowns that maybe, just maybe, the disruptive mentality isn’t strictly a prole thing. What if there’s selfish people in every walk of life, meaning they’ll inevitably show up at whatever venue they’ve been socially conditioned to attend as a lifestyle affectation?

You see, kids, I don’t just go to the theatre, I also frequent its fully democratised cousin, the cinema, that artless low-rent domain of the people, where the unwashed and unloved congregate to watch something thousands of times more sophisticated than live performance, and I’ve noticed something rather worrying.

Theatre audiences are no better behaved.

In the theatre, as in the cinema, wherever I sit I will, due to what surely will one day be named Whitfield’s Law, find myself close to the few or one in a large crowd, who’ll insist on ruining the thing I’ve come to see with a lack of self-awareness and relativized conception of good manners. This is the bastard’s trademark, you see, and I’m well adept at spotting such people and, with awful certainty, knowing they’ll be responsible for all the problems I experience thereafter.

The Royal Court hosts a selection of so-called serious theatregoers and the finest stock drawn from the surrounding areas. But only last night it was my displeasure to be seated next to the one man, the only man, who refused to sit still, who ate crisps and chocolate during the show, who raised his arms above his head, apparently indifferent to blocking views, who sneezed, and who checked his phone, ignoring the house instruction to switch it off. His expensive hair and stylish pullover were a reminder that the problem isn’t class, it’s common courtesy. There’s not a lot of it out there anymore, particularly when strangers are involved. We used to think we could beat this by surrounding ourselves with people from a similar background. What a blow to learn that centuries of cultural segregation has all been a complete waste of time.

In a world where you’ve never had more opportunities to be selfish and are actively encouraged to tailor an experience to your own tastes in most areas, is it unreasonable to promote spaces where a little moderation and self-control is still expected? Is it unreasonable to apply a standard to a collective endeavour? We understand the origins of such standards are elitist. The ideas mark an attempt to make theatre unattractive to the peasants. But does that make them effete now?

I don’t know what the optimal conditions for theatre look like and neither do you, because it’s contingent on the material. But it’s likely that both the house and company have given it some thought, which is probably why they and not ticket buyers should decide. Our only role, whatever our identity – real or imagined, is to sit still and keep quiet (unless directed otherwise). If you’ve read that and thought, “sounds dictatorial”, then maybe a night in the stalls isn’t for you. Perhaps you think that driving on one side of the road and using a urinal and not the sink is an outrageous infringement of your personal liberty too? If you’re minded not to see every covention through the prism of identity politics, you’ll find many have a utilitarian foundation.

In the home, you’re free to do what you like, and you do. You talk over all those carefully filmed and edited TV programmes, making asinine comments about an actor’s hair or wardrobe, missing crucial lines of dialogue, treating the whole thing like background noise that’s secondary to whatever irrelevant aside you’re regaling your social group with. But when people are active rather than passive participants in something, they’re mindful that reasonable compromises might be necessary to accommodate others. After all, in a public space, you simply can’t assume everyone has the same version of reasonable behaviour as you and your disgusting peers. A theatre isn’t your living room, even if the set apes some of your furniture choices.

When we say theatre etiquette actively excludes audiences, what we’re really talking about is the problem of getting people to engage who aren’t interested in what’s on offer, prefer other forms of entertainment, and reject formality rather than respecting it as a convention. It matters because the average age of today’s theatregoer is 52. Theatre has an existential fight on its hands. If it had hands.

But here’s the problem. How do you encourage people from all walks of life to get involved, the assumption being that the art form in question is inherently valuable to everyone (has everyone been asked?), without fundamentally changing the thing you’re trying to save?

If you say that an unbroken spell of audience concentration no longer matters, you change the nature of performance. The playwright, forced to accommodate easily distracted sensation junkies; the kind of person who can’t get through a blog of this length without checking their phone twice; has to reinvent their art – not because the old model’s broken, but because the audience is.

Published in: on March 8, 2017 at 17:39  Comments (1)  
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Duck and Cover, Jeremy Corbyn’s about to embrace Donald Trump’s Populism

corbyn

How ironic that at the very moment Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party reflects the working man’s experiences, it’s about to embark on a policy of disinformation and fantasy.

Labour’s relevant right now. The majority of the population understand a dysfunctional, listless organisation, riven by confusion and internal contradictions, led by a cabal of cocksure fools promoted beyond their abilities, who absorbed by self-interest, refuse to submit to evidence that points to their inefficacy.

Today’s Labour is Britain’s councils, large companies and universities. It’s never been more representative. But the public want heroes not sad reflections of their own miserable lives, and consequently, Corbyn, the man who trumped meritocracy, thanks to the political illiteracy of the man and woman in the street (“cunts” according to Sid Vicious, who claimed to have met them), has turned to Trump to trump the meritocratic principle once again.

Last week we learned that Corbyn’s echo chamber have planned a re-launch under the banner, “Let Corbyn be Corbyn”. This will reposition Corbyn as a populist champion, using the same tactics successfully employed by condescending prole scoop, Donald Trump – “a relaxed approach to message discipline“.

Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign, that did to politics what Katie Price did to literature, has been watched closely by desolate Labour tacticians. Support for the Corbyn revolution remains stubbornly static, below 30%. Psephologists have crunched the numbers and prophesised doom. The old Labour left, that reads an empty glass as an intent to fill, has read these runes and concluded, as they must, that it’s a hostile mind controlling media, not them, that’s to blame.

Donald Trump may represent the opposite of what Corbyn says he believes in, but on the media they are one. Both believe that mainstream outlets (or as we used to think of them, legitimate news gathering organisations), are a cancer that’s eating them alive. If the public trust journalists, with their irritating propensity to ask questions, corroborate stories, report on matters deemed to be in the public interest, like hypocrisy and intellectual incoherence, constructing a narrative that runs counter to party propaganda or individual spin, then they’re sunk.

Trump and Corbyn don’t want to be interrogated or scrutinised, because it makes them look like a couple of preening amateurs. But whereas Jeremy has yet to find a formula that will free him from this tyranny of inquiry, America’s President-elect found a temporary workaround, and with it, hope for Labour’s current leader – an animate boil on Tony Benn’s putrefied dick.

Trump’s braintrust realised the trap for their village idiot with an inheritance, was engaging with the media on its own terms, because that gave their methodology and analysis legitimacy. Whereas previous political leaders in Western Democracies took it as red that journalistic inquiry was a necessary evil and feature of public life, and that mediating one’s message was a test of skill, as one could expect to have one’s pronouncements examined in detail and challenged, Team Trump saw the rise of fanatic-led alt-right websites as a model for capitalising on convenient strands of received wisdom; the cab driver and pub chat school of thought that’s kept Sid Vicious’s cunts happy in their ignorance for generations. The truism of choice? That you can’t trust the press, and that its agenda is to misinform and manipulate, rather than inform and educate.

You see, because some journalism is lazy, prurient and reactionary, it follows that all long-standing, well-funded media organisations are corrupt and self-serving. Just as it’s impossible to imagine a non-racist police officer or a grounded Hollywood actor, there’s really no such thing as professional journalism. Indeed, now the Internet’s democratised writing, with idiots free to unaccountably ramble on about any subject they like as I’m doing now, unburdened by old fashioned nonsense like checking facts, it can’t be of any value, can it?

The tenets of professional journalism – speaking truth to power, informed opinion, the public interest – these are but affectations, proffered by the privileged few; an elite who can’t believe their fucking luck at earning a crust doing this instead of real work, so must always maintain the illusion of utility and importance. The oldest lie after God.

Trump’s retinue understood there was a whole media underclass out there; millions of Americans who didn’t care for quality journalism or its presumed values, but nevertheless felt it patronised them, despite not consuming any of it. These people didn’t trust reporters. Hacks had an orthodoxy, whatever that is, that threatened age old assumptions about community, work and class. By disavowing the outlets that had alienated society’s discontents, and impugning their honesty and integrity, Trump played to a prejudice that made him immune from the media’s informed hostility.

By positioning himself as an honest Don, swimming against disinformation’s tide, he created a parallel reality. Grab ‘em by the pussy? No problem. Just frivolous talk. Allegations he’s Putin’s stooge? Mischief making by warmongers. Caught in a hotel, drenched in urine, kneeling over the dead body of a slain prostitute? Looking for the bathroom. Though there’s a dead girl in there too.

But as effective a strategy as it’s been, it’s not enough for Trump to allege media corruption and bias. To embed the idea, it’s necessary to sloganize it for the intended audience of deep thinkers, who, despite subjecting everything they see and hear to forensic analysis, nevertheless have a thing for catch-all terms that neatly summarise the phenomena they’ve carefully considered. Thus DJT has appropriated the buzz phrase of the moment, employed by journalists to describe their unaccountable and ill-informed opposite, “fake news”.

Labelling any story you don’t like as fake news is a great wheeze because it disobliges you from having to account for your actions. What a let off just to cry “fake news” in a crowded press gallery, and walk out, swigging an escort’s piss as you go.

Jeremy Corbyn must have spent his quiet autumn of 2016 watching Trump, while recalling the horrors of the anti-Semitism row, questions about his leadership, rumours of a deselection purge, and his alleged attempts at sabotaging Labour’s EU remain campaign, and felt nothing but envy. He loathed the media, the inquisitive shits, yet he lived in a political culture where he was expected to engage with it and acknowledge its role as a legitimate scrutineer. Trump, arguably a true outsider, as he’d never been a politician, just an establishment mainstay, simply brushed it off and met the press pack’s questions with belligerence. His supporters lapped it up. Like fresh piss.

So “Let Corbyn be Corbyn” will experiment with Jeremy doing the same thing, with the result that a terrible opposition will become a fantasy one. Worse, a fantasy opposition with a contempt for the inquiring minds of the electorate.

Corbyn began his career as the people’s politician by trying to bypass the media altogether; refusing to talk to them on the move, cancelling interviews. It was so successful that it was reversed within months when Seamus Milne, Corbyn’s weasel-in-chief, realised that the wider public saw this as a form of incompetence. Labour’s next Prime Minister, in a parallel universe where the government’s been outed as a paedophile ring with slave owning interests in third world countries, looked to Joe and Jacinda Public like a sneering, self-important arsehole, who was too good to answer the questions put to him on the people’s behalf.

Times have changed since attempts to refashion a Labour Leader to meet Middle England’s expectations resulted in disaster. Not least the assumption that what Middle England thinks matters. Corbyn isn’t in the same boat as David Hare’s Kinnock proxy in The Absence of War. He’s tried being unaffected (within certain professionalising media managed limits) and the result’s been a damaging consensus that he’s a student politician in a pensioner’s body; both detached from and disinterested in economic reality. This is why Trump’s methodology is so attractive. By crying “fake news” whenever unhelpful facts come to light, prompting uncomfortable questions, Corbyn can help Britain to become what Trump’s piloting in the US – a country where half the population see its media as a psychological abuser, tethered to special interests, attempting to destabilise the people’s chosen one.

All political parties spin. They have to. Policy formation and implementation is complicated; there are winners and losers from every proposed reform. The problem with making Trump the inspiration for his revival, aside from proving that Corbyn is no different from any other Atlanticist at Westminster, eager to copy the socially divisive mistakes of our American cousins, is that it’s a tacit acknowledgement that Labour’s thinking is intellectually wanting.

Any opposition that doesn’t trust the electorate to immerse itself in the debate on its policies and reach a favourable conclusion is not to be trusted. “Trumping” the operation means bypassing journalists to appeal directly to voters who have neither the time, political education or curiosity to coherently critique the populist promises that are about to be sprayed into their eyes. This gerrymandering of opinion; untested opposition; is an act of cynical desperation that has the potential to retard the political discourse for a generation.

A divided government of intellectual lightweights will press on with Brexit, one of the most complicated, far-reaching changes in Britain’s status for decades, while the official opposition embarks on a three-year daydream, hoping the politically ignorant will choose escapism over ugly reality. For “Make American Great Again” substitute “Straight Talking Honest Politics”. For hope substitute emigration. Norway, anyone?

Dear Steven Moffat: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

who-christmas

Dear Steven,

By common consent 2016 has been one of the worst years since blogging about Doctor Who began. People talk about Brexit, Trump, the remake of Ghostbusters, but these were just iceberg tips that resembled bellends. This was a year when the worst people in the world got shriller, more self-righteous, condescending, self-promoting, boorish and confident. And those were the people I agreed with.

It made me nostalgic, in a Doctor Who free year, for my good clean internet opposition to your honestly inept, but arguably benign contribution to popular culture. When you’re making bad Who and I’m writing about it, all is well with this ugly rock. But strip us out and the planet plunges into unenlightened darkness – you know, the worst kind of darkness; a new gloomy epoch with no obvious readymade designation.

It’s been such a long year that I’d almost forgotten how much I dread your festive Who specials. It would be unfair to call them an obligation. For me it’s tantamount to an act of self-harm, like spending Christmas with my joyless family and their enviable collection of personality disorders.

The cat’s enlarged pupils and outstretched claws point to alarm and confusion at the perennial decision to seek out the start time for your Christmas episode in the Radio Times, ring said listing, then seek the appropriate clearances to watch in relative peace, unencumbered by the usual inane questions I can expect throughout every other yuletide show. But would your annual efforts play better with enquiries about Peter Capaldi’s hair? And why, if you have an actress called Charity Wakefield, wouldn’t you just call her character the same thing?

We’ve now watched enough of these tinsel time series fag ends to know how they’re conceived. Locked in your den, head in hands, a half-empty bottle of port casting a long shadow over a blank notepad, you finally let those mitts fall away, the nails bitten back and splintered, and your rubbed red eyes, sore from leaking panic, fall on that unrivaled DVD and Blu-ray collection – the pride of the Moffat household, that you promised you’d never raid again for inspiration, but must now turn to one last time.

Was it blind luck that your copy of Mr Nanny starring Hulk Hogan, was sandwiched between Back to the Future and Superman: The Movie? Was it destiny that the shelf below contained every Marvel movie to date, and that just as your mouth fell open your young son ran into the room in his Spider-Man pyjamas, asking if you’d come and watch “The Very Best of Shooting Stars”?

Oh, how you loathe the parenting thing sometimes. And you thought of that old Channel 4 shithouse, Supernanny, and somehow it all just clicked. Within ten minutes you had the premise for this year’s episode. In an hour you had a draft. It’s incredible how these things work out. You wouldn’t have to drink yourself to death after all.

So “The Return of Doctor Mysteriostarred an actor who looked exactly like a 30-year-old Michael J. Fox playing 18, as a comic book geek who swallowed a wish-fulfilling alien power source, which the Doctor set up housing for on the roof of a residential apartment block for no reason, and became a DC style superhero with a Marvel backstory. We learned he was obsessively stalking closely following his childhood fantasy fuck; a Lois Lane proxy; nannying her baby by day and attempting to impress her journalistic faculty by night, in a fashion influenced by, but NOT, DC’s hawkish lawyers, simply derivative of the books he read as a kid.

There was every reason to worry that this oddball’s romance was supposed to be the beating heart of the story, after all he hadn’t changed his haircut, PJ’s or glasses since he was eight years old (but then how would we recognise him as an adult – by intuition and understanding of narrative conventions alone?), and his persona was based entirely on comic book clichés. But I was prepared to accept this as an affectionate ribbing of the material you were ripping off. It was also nice to see a story based on comic book heroes, because there’s so few of those nowadays.

I’m sorry to read as a curmudgeon, Steven – particularly at Christmas, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of this shit. Justin Chatwin’s creepy Marty McFly impression aside, there wasn’t any intrigue here. The Harmony Shoal corporation (I think I’ve eaten in one of their restaurants) was a pretty anaemic rent-a-threat, consisting as it did of brains in jars. And though it all hung together okay, the A-story of this would-be Clark Kent successfully completing the family (yawn) of his jilted Lois, integrated without drama or consequence with the invasion B-story, it was hard to escape the conclusion that “Doctor Mysterio” was less than the sum of all the junk that inspired it.

You got a reference in to The Rocketeer, the dinner scene from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – movies I’m sure you’ve plundered before, if only I could be bothered to raid the letter archive, but I couldn’t have been the only person sitting at home, too tired to move, too broken to change channels, wondering why you couldn’t have written an original piece of, oh I don’t know, Doctor Who?

We’re left wondering if your successors will take your approach to these specials – making them light, irrelevant (autocorrects to irreverent in your brain) and self-parodic – or if they’ll interpret “special” the way we used to think of movie spin-offs from TV shows; an epic adventure with mythos deepening complications. An event. Remember those?

It’s likely no one will be talking about this episode in the weeks to come. In fact, by the time the new series begins, your last, we may have forgotten it completely. Generating that kind of indifference is, I suggest, highly dangerous for the prospects of a show with a fan base as big and obsessive as the Doctor’s. In a superfluous hour of TV, the only question likely to be torturing the internet in the weeks to come is, what does Matt Lucas want, and why did you imagine we’d ever want to see him again?

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: “Vomiting, hair loss and death.” If that’s not a pitch for a Spider-Man reboot…

P.P.S: Just so you’re clear, no one can remember Lucas’s character from last year, so reviving him here was tantamount to introducing a new character sans context or background. There was just this curious degenerate following the Doctor around. George Dawes without the spite.

P.P.P.S: “We’ll be laughing all the way to the slab.” Wishful thinking on your part.

P.P.P.P.S: Once again Capaldi’s world-weary cynicism won us over for much of the time. But it’s dangerous to have an audience proxy who so closely mirrors their viewing experience. Every time he did a double take, looked bored, or plain confused, I didn’t expect to occupy his consciousness so completely.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Might the aliens have tried a little harder to perfect their surgical technique? Once word got out that the imposters each have an incision scar across their heads and flashing eyes, I think the round up would be short and brutal.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: You’re to be congratulated. New companion Bill looks awful in just about every way. I can wait to meet her. For years if necessary. As a parting gift to critics of your work like me, it couldn’t be better. I can see our last episodes together will be the most difficult yet. It really is going to be a fight to the death; a fight I’m already prepared to concede.

Last Christmas (literally, not the episode of the same name):

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

When Ed Became a Man

A real man: Sir Roger Moore.

Three years ago I attended the Women of the World (WOW) festival at the Royal Festival Hall. The aim was to finally empathise with women and their concerns, having deeply despised the bevaginated up to that point. It worked but left my masculinity in crisis. Until WOW, all my assumptions about being a man were safe as overpriced houses. Signing letters with my ink-dipped Gentleman’s Relish, percussing a lady’s buttocks to make a backing track for homemade music; this seemed to me the quintessence of the male experience.

But now, though I regarded all the feminoids in my life as fully rounded human beings; a designation they accepted with gratitude; life was harder because I couldn’t fall back on those comforting, lazy behaviours, those handy bits of social programming that had hitherto formed the pillars of my identity. I was lost, deeply unhappy and, as you’ll have read recently, approaching a decade without second party genital stimulation; something I assumed to be a direct result of radiating contempt for anything with breasts for so many wasted years.

What I needed was an orientation in how to be a man in an era where showing up and placing your testicles on the counter was no longer enough. My old chum, Katrina, who’d originally insisted that I attend WOW as she could no longer explain to mutual acquaintances why I violently threw up whenever unisex socialisation was mentioned, again gallantly rode to my rescue, in a conscious inversion of the damsel in distress dynamic of yore.

There was a new event at Festival Hall, though complementary, not a competitor – competition’s the regressive imperative of the caveman. Organiser Judith Kelly, who’d later tell us she loved men despite the WOW 2013 observation that we were all potential rapists, had called it BAM: Being a Man. That’s being a man, as in exploring the condition of maleness, rather than any unreconstructed notion of manning up, drying any tears and thumping the first bastard who ogles your life partner (formally bird).

Why, that being the case, had she chosen a violent sounding acronym; the onomatopoeic evocation of an upper cut to some bloke’s Chevy Chase? Why did the women get something positive and complimentary, “Wow!”, while we were stuck with brutal and loutish – the sort of word men use when recounting a fight to other men after ten pints? Or could the title be an unconscious throwback to the Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do), when saying wham, indeed, bam, was a prelude to saying “I am a man”, and being proud of the fact, even if the song positioned it as something hedonistic and economically inactive? We’d never know for certain.

So on a cold Saturday in November, Katrina and I once again met at the food market outside the Hall and prepared for re-education. She was looking forward to learning the potential of maleness, perhaps even adopting some of that potential if she liked what was on offer, whereas I was nervous. What if, with each alternative iteration laid bare, I fancied my old way of thinking? What if I was bloke-shamed and couldn’t windmill and use gynocentric insults with the same abandon as before? Katrina, sensing my anxiety, tried to put my mind at rest. “You’re not much of a man, now,” she reminded me, “so whatever happens in there can only improve the situation. Who knows, after this, you might even be able to pull someone desperate, assuming you don’t mind bed sores and drooling!” Good ol’ Kat. She always knew what to say.

Having decided to avoid ‘How to be a Superman’ as neither of us approved of eugenics, our first event was a debate entitled, ‘Language Police: Can Men Say What They’re Thinking?’ This touched on the thorny issue of male expression, and how a changing political climate and new consciousness, sensitive to the arguments and demands of identity politics, had the potential to rob men of their voice. If I couldn’t be misogynistic, crude, boorish, aggressive and imperious, insisting on controlling and dominating every chat of which I was a part, then I might end up with no words left. I’d have to grunt and nod, and even that might be considered a bit much.

Chair Tim Samuels offered up the nightmarish spectre of political correctness as a form of tyranny; a brave position to take in an audience of beards and feminists, who were in no mood to be told that a mass no platforming was potentially unhealthy and might lead to some kind of reactionary backlash, an example of which is fortunately lacking in recent history.

Arguing the case for self-censorship was young buck Ben Norris – a poet, so on the sensitive side of the male spectrum, but also tardy; the seventh man to register his name on Twitter. Norris thought men, free of women’s civilising presence, needed “better jokes” and more self-discipline. He was part of the new generation of metrosexuals that watched their P’s and Q’s on social media – in fact, all ferry companies, and decreed that it was every man’s duty and responsibility to be a feminist, whether female activists and thinkers wanted it or not. He’d made this declaration because journalist Andrew Hankinson, the third man, had recalled being told to “fuck off” when weighing in on the subject by a defensive female comedian who saw any male thinking on the topic as a land grab. I reflected that I was a feminist, and that no one, of any gender-stripe, had the right to tell me otherwise. To do so was tantamount to policing thought; a view that put me both at odds and in agreement with Norris. Man, being a geezer was confusing.

With the temperature in the room rising (the air con was broken) and Hankinson getting a barracking from an angry gay man who took him to task for presuming to legally define hate crime (in a clumsy response to a question on the right to be offended), Judith Kelly, watching from the dugout, now intervened to re-frame the debate. Feminism wasn’t about excluding men, she explained, contradicting some of the evidence given by Hankinson, and BAM wasn’t about pulling men up on their deficiencies, though most of the sessions assumed they were profound, rather it was a celebration of brothers, lovers, fathers and sons. There was no mention of single men without family or a partner, but everyone agreed such a person wasn’t strictly human anyway.

I found the intervention strange, and by extension indicative of the fact that the longer a conversation on men being able to say what they wanted persisted, the uglier it was bound to get. Yet letting it go where it would was, I thought, the difference between a truthful exchange and one that made you feel better. What did Katrina think? “I want to talk to you about this but we’ve got to get on” she said. Denied a voice. Again!

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The mind your language debate, or whatever it was called.

Next was a session entitled ‘Youth and Young Manhood’, ostensibly a discussion on “how youth and subculture is used in men’s fashion” but actually a group of Grime artists and writers, including Grant Brydon and Halfbrother, who I was obviously familiar with, talking about their music and influences. Comparisons with punk were fallacious apparently, as Grime had not yet been co-opted by the mainstream, and its appeal lay in men who liked to go out, fuck and whatever, recounting their experiences, as such things were otherwise never discussed. I learned that something called The Flatbush Zombies existed, which sounded great, and from Katrina, an artist called Skepta, that didn’t. We left after a man channelling Steven Toast asked if the gang were aware that the organisers of a Brighton music festival had been worried about booking them because they were black. They didn’t know that and, one sensed, didn’t want to.

A note passed during the Grime discussion. Mine is the neat handwriting, obviously.

A note passed during the Grime discussion. Mine is the neat handwriting, obviously.

‘Shy Guys’ was a discussion around, er, shyness and introversion, which though celebrated in women, as no one likes a loud and familiar lady, ‘cause it’s vulgar and unvarnished, was considered a real handicap if you had a wang. Successful men, goes the old thinking, are assertive, voluble and confident. Those that have these traits get on, not to mention being revered, hypocritically, by women attracted to the qualities they are themselves encouraged to suppress, and which patriarchy in its wisdom has coded as male.

Joe Moran, chairing, turned the heads of the assembled inside out, articulating the thoughts of those in the room, male or female, who found this idiotic veneration of extroversion and brio both suffocating and anathema to their constitution. Shyness, we all understood, was a nuanced and ever shifting phenomenon that plagued you at certain times of life and varied according to context and company. That it was debilitating could not be denied, but only, one realised, because it was not understood (particularly by those of a different temperament) and had never been celebrated.

Alan Bennett, recalled Moran, was one writer who saw shyness as a virtue, signalling a thoughtful and refined mindset. I wasn’t going to be the one to say that when stumbling on my words and unable to make conversation I’m usually thinking of bare breasts clashing like symbols. Still, I left happy that as a shy man who often avoids social contact, because the prospect’s overwhelming, and who often stumbles when live, on account of feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious, I was normal, and it was those who shouted louder and made better connections who were attention seeking freaks just as I’d always suspected.

A shy snap of the discussion on the joys of being timid.

A shy snap of the discussion on the joys of being timid.

At this point we were due to see a session on Pornography, in which we expected to be told that it was about power, control and the crude, guilt-free objectification of ladies. The debate was to centre on how porn was warping male sexuality, normalising fantasy, ruining the act for women, not that I needed a primer on that, and retarding a generation. But when we got there we hit a tell-tale queue of men anxious to learn about something they’d never consumed, and knew only from media coverage. I imagined this less as a debate, more than an open invitation to therapy, but unable to join in, we left it behind, and perhaps the last chance I’d ever have to find out if joining a bukkake circle was a reasonable pre-condition for library membership, or just the twisted wheeze of my local council.

Following a lecture on masculinity by Grayson Perry, which I don’t recall in detail as I was focused on his shoes and how I’d love a pair just like them, Kat and I topped out our day with a debate on gender quality, imaginatively titled ‘Equal Rights’. This was the nub of the matter, how men could not only find it in their cocks to embrace a world in which they were no longer unconditionally dominant, but help the women in their life rob them of the power and privilege they’d worked so hard for since birth.

Judith Kelly was once again on hand to offer advice on maleness, as were a panel, who tackled thorny subjects like men checking out of feminism between ejaculations of activism, what the average man could do to expedite the revolution, and why expectations related to maleness, like being a father, earning a crust, were cruel constructs that had the potential to ruin lives. I listened hard and emerged with this simple five point guide to being a man.

  1. Being a man is giving yourself permission to fail at everything, especially your write up of BAM.
  2. Alpha males are indeed twats as we’ve always known, and can be ignored, as one day, a few centuries hence, they’ll be regarded the way we look back on slave owners today.
  3. Having a penis is a licence to have fun with your hair and clothes but it’s also a responsibility.
  4. A man who listens is much more likely to hear his name being called, and;
  5. Real men know women aren’t the enemy, just a critical friend who hates your guts.

As Katrina and I left Festival Hall, forever changed, she turned, daring to look me in the eyes for the first time that day. “Just so you know,” she said, “I’ve never thought of you as a man. I wouldn’t pigeonhole you.” And we made our way along the riverside, with enlightened tears of gratitude streaming down my bestubbled face.

The sun setting on the day and all my lazy male assumptions.

The sun setting on all my lazy male assumptions.

BAM was at the Southbank Centre from November 25th-27th 2016. If men survive, it will return. #BeingAManFest

Published in: on November 28, 2016 at 19:33  Leave a Comment  
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In a Lonely Place

bogie

For most of my life I’ve felt alone. Not Ancient Mariner alone, but pretty lonely nonetheless. My reliable companions have been waking dreams, fantasies and a thousand slimy things. But all too often the tangible connection with other human beings that settles the mind and gladdens the heart has not been there. Oh no, you’re thinking, a woe piece. Well, get comfy, there’s a working reservoir of self-pity to walk around and we’ve barely reached the first water turbine.

From the age of 16 to 29, for 11 of those 13 years, I was involved in what are sometimes called “serious relationships” with people I now know to be women. These were the kind of unions where you’re asked questions like, “where is this going?” and “what are you thinking?” Back then, without Siri’s help, there were no good answers. I never felt anything other than insecure, frightened, inadequate, ill-equipped and misunderstood.

But on the plus side, at least there was a dug to suck.

Did those girlfriends notice? I can’t ask them, they live in the past. I recall them interpreting any statement that encroached on honesty and soul baring as excuses; the kind of thing men say when, reduced to an abstraction, “men”, they’re labelled as shit. Misandry has its own self-sustaining logic. But these were only excuses the way a man with no legs is being lazy when he says he can’t wiggle his toes.

If you rally against cookie cutter expectations you’re a deviant, an oddball; you deserve to be the object of ridicule and pity, left alone to become the kind of poor bastard that decades hence is labelled a loner by a tabloid journalist in connection with a brutal homicide. But no one I generously shared those precious months and years of my life with was ever interested in me as I was.

By that I mean, they benchmarked me against an archetype, of the kind drawn in Disney studios and played in old weepies, and found me wanting. Curiously, I don’t share the outlook or values of a gender construct. That’s the boon that comes with being a real person. It’s a sure fire bet that anyone who does identify with a set of clichés has never had an original thought in their lives.

I could never get excited about playing a role so a woman brought up on fairy tales could regress to childhood and enjoy that fantasy, feeling the false security that comes with it. Fantasies are wonderful; I know, because as an aforementioned real, three dimensional human being, not just the wang to someone’s fouf, I’ve enjoyed a few treasured scenarios of my own. But reality, problematic though it is, can be even better, not least when it takes the form of two people who understand and complement one another.

Ten years ago this weekend, figurative loneliness became real, perhaps permanent. I went from having the emotional and physical intimacy that comes with a long-term relationship to having nothing at all, not even the comfort of the concept, or the belief that for all my shortcomings, which are considerable, someone out there could see past them, as perhaps someone looks past yours.

I ask all the happy and loved amongst you to believe (wherever you place yourself on that northern hemisphere sized spectrum) that being told you are not loved by that special someone, is like being downgraded to a person of no consequence. This is knowing cruelty, vested on you by the custodian of your self-worth. It’s brutal, like bear baiting and ITV2.

Your constituent stuff – your soul, your mind, your heart, whatever you call the abstruse elements that make you Ingeborg Kristiansen (if that’s your name), struggles to recover. This is your own personal 9/11, it’s Brexit of the brain. Every day is President Trump’s inauguration. Maybe you’ll love again, perhaps others will take a fleeting interest, but the good times, if they ever existed, are over. Never again will you believe that affection doesn’t come priced up. You intuit it’s a loan not a gift, and one administered by those usurers at Wonga.

I’ve always taken the lion’s share of the blame for my losses; after all, the entirety must be doled out, takers or no. Guilt, inadequacy and a brief glimpse at your caricature, as imagined by the other party, allow masochism to thrive. Just don’t talk about the truth. The truth’s a great leveller.

Wounded by past struggles, and desolate at how little of what I shared in a bid to manage expectations was absorbed or understood, I’ve made no attempt this past decade to find a new companion. But I take a small crumb of comfort from knowing that I won’t be patronised when I get home tonight, or dragged into an argument about nothing, or forced to show an interest in something I don’t care about, or told to get my glad rags on (bought for me, naturally) because Torben and Lucy are coming round for drinks. Yes Torben, with his boorish car obsession and tendency to stare at my other half’s breasts, and Lucy who I know tells her she can do better when I’m safely out of earshot. There’s worse things than being single, you see. Like being alone in a relationship.

By chance and association I’ve met wonderful women who’ve tickled my brain and shaken my loins (not literally), but I know, because I’m one of these awful people sensitive to psychological cues, that they think less of me than I do of them. Some just haven’t found me attractive (the blind, the insane, the terminally ill), whereas others have judged me as remote, boring, cold, damaged, wrongheaded and weird. I’m not fishing for compliments; I don’t need plastic reassurance, and I‘ll pass on the comedic (or indeed, sincere) undercutting of the same too, e.g. “I agree, you’re a CUNT”. It’s what others think, it’s not what I know. But they think it anyway, and the effect is the same as it being true – a gulf opens, then widens. It’s a rum do.

It’s hard to be indifferent to this stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever been indifferent about anything, bar Galactica 1980. Knowing you’re judged makes you withdraw. You feel unable to reach out to people. And whereas I used to take some comfort from knowing that most peripherals remained so because we were temperamentally mismatched, even ideologically opposed – just too different, I’ve since lost purchase on people I fancied as kindred spirits. But then one of life’s cruel ironies is that even if you recognise yourself in others, they don’t always recognise themselves in you (or don’t want to).

As I lumber toward this unfortunate anniversary, my decade on the shelf next to old 8mm snuff movies in dusty cans, I feel regret at having not taken more chances to enjoy being myself, free of others’ expectations. There’s still time of course; time enough to embrace Satanic worship, gangsterism and living under a tree. I just have to push myself.

For years I’ve been prone to bouts of what I now recognise as depression, as well as health scares, family worries and acute anxiety about the future. I’ve by and large kept these things to myself, occasionally sharing with a trusted few. It’s crowded out headspace that might otherwise have been reserved for more desirous things like going to a Harvester and breaking bread and all-you-can-eat salad with a loved up lovely.

Will the lonely decade become two? It’s not a bad bet. But then, Andy Burnham as Labour Leader, Remain winning the EU vote, President Hilary Clinton, and a second series of John Gordon Sinclair sitcom Nelson’s Column – all were certainties once. Fancy a punt?

Published in: on November 25, 2016 at 15:47  Leave a Comment  
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High Court rules “Thinking Allowed” in Brexit debate, Press Appalled.

gina-miller

It’s official, Britain’s now a country officially suspicious of nuanced argument – a post-fact society. The High Court’s ruling on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the starting gun for our exit from the EU, has caused moral outrage in the popular press. The judiciary dared to side with a concerned (and whisper it quietly, educated) citizen, Gina Miller, respecting the efforts of her and her lawyers to understand and interpret the law of the land. Contrast this with the increasingly belligerent and thought terminating mass of Leave voters; 17.4 million, who, just like the SNP in Scotland, now presume to speak for all of the people, just as I’ve presumed to speak for all of them.

The Mail was one of many rags incandescent that Miller, born in Guyana, which isn’t even in Britain, if you can believe the fucking cheek of it, had dared to challenge the Prime Minister’s naked attempt at political sleight of hand. May, with a wink and a grin, argued the referendum result gave her the authority to bypass Parliament and trigger the treaty’s get out clause, using enabling powers wrestled from the Crown; you know, the lever the Monarch used to pull when enacting God’s Will, that most divine instrument of mass democracy.

But as our terminal rights as EU citizens are guaranteed by an act of parliament, namely the 1972 European Communities Act, one can’t, to paraphrase the great philosopher Sean Bean, simply remove them using the Queen’s authority. You may remember we fought a bloody civil war over principles like this; the idea that Parliament was sovereign, and it should decide, as a law making body, representative of we the people, what we do or don’t enjoy. In fact, the Guardian pointed out that the legal precedent in question stretched back all the way to 1297 and a ruling against Henry IV, who tried to implement a blanket ban on merchants’ rights to work in London.

As UKIP and their ilk love Britain’s illustrious history and traditions (bar its post-war immigration policies), one would think they’d be delighted by this judicial history lesson, and affirmation of Parliamentary supremacy. Yet weirdly, Nigel Farage, Paul Dacre, Rupert Murdoch, and other patriots, saw it as an affront; a finger to the millions who understood, because David Cameron told them so, that their decision would mean an end to all debate on the subject, forever.

That’s right, there’d be no thought, post-referendum; no scrutiny, and certainly no changing of minds, which once upon a time was considered a sign of rude intellectual health. The 16.1m who voted to remain were expected to return to their lattes, gym memberships and Scandinavian boxsets, and close their blow holes. And that went double for their MPs.

You might think it healthy that Miller and her fellow campaigners, some of whom voted for Brexit, cared enough about our constitution to challenge May’s hijacking of Parliament. After all, how many people do you know understand that Bagehot isn’t an urban word meaning “great tits”?  How many pub Brexiters, knocking back a pint of dirty pipes and whining about their Columbian Doctor, have ever taken an independent interest in our great institutions of state?

Miller et al. fought for the principle that now the public’s made its light touch contribution, subjecting that simple, school leaver’s in/out choice to variable levels of scrutiny and understanding, our elected representatives should earn their salaries and thoroughly debate the terms of our departure, crucially reserving the right to vote against it if they didn’t like the direction of travel.

An affront to direct democracy, you say? Well, that’s the problem with referendums isn’t it? They only signal the destination, not the journey. That’s fine if the question is something elementary like choosing a voting system or changing the currency, but leaving the EU is an absurdly complicated business, impacting on every aspect of British life; it touches all our institutions, our economy, our culture, our rights. May, in effect, was saying, “I understand it’s complicated, but we’ve taken our instruction from those who at best were misinformed, at worst, driven by factors that had nothing to do with the cases presented in the campaign, and despite our contempt for these people and our belief that the subtleties of the argument are lost to many of them, we’re going to shamelessly appropriate that vote, recast it as moral authority, and use it to bypass those who would subject our approach to proper scrutiny. In short, the brain trust comprised of me, Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson – a man who actually invoked the Titanic when talking about our successes to come, are handling it. Now go back to sleep and we’ll see you in 2020.”

No one wants Brexit scrutinised, or even debated, least of all Nigel Farage and his retinue, because they quite rightly fear the consequences. You see, it’s just possible that when the terms of our exit are suggested and washed through the parliamentary system, subject to debate, legal opinions, upper house scrutiny, amendments, more debate, more thought, further amendments, more scrutiny, and so on, it may start to look somewhat problematic. It’s even possible that the public, as the reality dawns on them, may start to look at the problem more closely, demanding a general election to have a further right of reply.

Naturally, the “winners” in the Brexit debate are desperate that this doesn’t happen; that docility reigns. Consequently, the Europhobe press, who continue to write for those with a reading age of 11, have moved with rapidity and the panic dial set to the same figure, to quash their invitation to look again, before it gains troublesome momentum. Farage’s sheep, and their media apologists, want to keep it simple, because this both flatters their intellectually wanting conception of the issue, and remains their best chance of achieving a dream built on a boorish identity under threat.

Brexit’s disingenuous intellectuals, who’ve always known that their best chance of achieving a cultural and politically favourable nirvana was to appeal to the laziest instincts of the people, while burying the root causes of their discontentment, have declared war on argument and by extension, fact. The devil’s always been in the detail, but in our new post-fact culture, there’s a sinister new development. The devil’s now committed to denying the detail – neutralising nuance, terminating thought. Lucky for us that Gina Miller cared enough to use her own money to challenge that strategy. Thinking’s won its first post-referendum victory. Let’s hope it’s not the last, for the road ahead is so very long.

Published in: on November 4, 2016 at 15:16  Comments (1)  
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