Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Stick Your Arnica Up Your Paradigm

One of my most shocking experiences in a doctor's surgery was when the doctor took a homeopathy manual from his bookshelf. I reflected on the amount of taxpayers' money it had taken to train him in medical science.
Now another study has found that whilst homeopathy may work as a placebo for some people it has no real curative powers. And if the NHS is going to dish out placebos then coloured water would be a great deal cheaper. Of course, that doesn't work if you tell the patient it's only coloured water. But lying to patients would be considered unacceptable - unless apparently you're giving them homeopathic coloured water.

The principle of homeopathy is that the more you dilute a substance the more effective it becomes, so homeopathic tinctures are diluted until they disappear up their own arse.
Here's a thought: mainstream science tells us that, since there are a finite number of atoms on the planet that are endlessly recycled, most of us have some of Shakespeare's atoms in our bodies. Does this mean that most of us, if we made the effort, could write Hamlet or King Lear? With maybe one of Will's atoms to 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.......[add a few more trillion noughts] other atoms, the homeopathic principle would suggest we could.
Hang on a minute, I feel a sonnet coming on.

It was fun to see several agitated homeopaths crawling out of the woodwork to defend themselves in the Guardian letters column. One of them deployed a common argument: the new research "may well be correct, within the materialistic paradigm of conventional science, but the paradigm is inadequate for a full critique of homeopathy."

Don't you just hate those inadequate paradigms?
The same inadequate paradigms that in the course of thousands of years of deploying human reason and using evidence-based research methods have given us a much greater understanding of our planet and universe and given millions of people a quality of life far greater than that of our ancestors even 200 years ago. Yes, science sometimes has disastrous side-effects and is put to terrible uses. But next time your dentist needs to drill your teeth are you going to decline the anaesthetic and ask for an arnica tablet instead?

Let's try shifting the paradigm argument to another area.
"Executing people who fail to vote for the governing party without trial and on the orders of the Prime Minister may be unacceptable within the paradigm of liberal democracy but the paradigm is inadequate for a proper critique of alternative forms of governance."
Would we swallow that one?

Homeopathy may, in most cases, be harmless nonsense. But the flight from reason is a dangerous thing. It leads to body parts scattered round Russell Square and teenagers hanged in Middle Eastern squares.

One final linguistic reflection: most other words ending in 'path', meaning disease, like 'psychopath' and 'sociopath' refer to someone who is mentally disturbed or who has lost the power of reason. Is 'homeopath' the exception? It denotes nothing more threatening than a purveyor of remedies that have no scientific basis.
But personally, as with people who have fairies at the bottom of the garden or who insist that Elvis is working in their local Kentucky Fried Chicken, I prefer to give them a wide berth.


A letter in today's Guardian refers to an experiment at the University of Leipzig which "gave concentrations of belladonna which were literally less than a drop in the ocean" to rats.
Is that a concentration? And what does 'literally' mean in that sentence? What size of 'drop' and which 'ocean'?
But I'm being picky.

Anyway, "statistically significant changes in the contraction of the gut of rats were measured consistently and repeatedly. The study used double-blind techniques designed to detect the placebo effect."
How the hell could a rat experience a placebo effect anyway?
But the real point is this. The previous letters from homeopaths [the Guardian uses one 'e'] argued:
a) that normal scientific trials could not be applied to homeopathy
b) that the effectiveness of homeopathy stems from its uniquely holistic approach to the patient.

"Homeopathy is a therapy that relies on the practitioner finding the remedy to suit the patient's condition based on successfully matching the patient's symptoms with the picture of our known medicines" wrote one.
"....the medicine is tailored to the patient and not to their medical diagnosis", wrote another, the head of The Society of Homeopaths, no less.

Now, what I want to know is this:
1) What were the Leipzig rats able to tell the scientists about their guts?
2) Was there anything wrong with the rats' guts to start with?
3) How exactly do you practise a rodent-orientated holistic approach?
4) Were the rats questioned about their lifestyle, musical tastes, star signs, etc?
5) If homeopathy is individually tailored, why were all the rats given belladonna rather than some being given arnica or something else?

I'm sure there are more questions, but now my own gut is contracting.
From laughter in my case.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Benedict, It's The Way You Tell Them

Say what you like about the Catholic Church - and I frequently do - it provides us with excellent entertainment.
On the weekend that the British Army were recruiting at Manchester's gay festival and joining in the march through the city, we learn that the Pope is to prevent anyone who is gay from entering the priesthood.

One of the greatest crises threastening the Catholic Church in Western Europe is that hardly anyone is entering the priesthood. Logically, the response should be to relax the criteria, something the police have sometimes done in the past to improve recruitment.
But the intellectual Benedict reasons as follows:
Fewer people are entering the priesthood.
It has always been the case that a significant proportion of entrants have been gay.
So let's stop anyone who is gay entering the priesthood!

In the past, because of the rule of celibacy, a person's sexuality was deemed not to be an issue. Of course, many priests argue that celibacy means not marrying rather than not having sex and have had active but discreet sex lives. Indeed, I think it was a priest who explained this convenient theory to me as we were enjoying a post-coital cigarette.

And how is the Church going to enforce this ban on gay people? When people join seminaries today they don't say "Oh, by the way, I'm gay."
Are they going to wire people up to sensors and make them watch gay videos and measure the result on some kind of penile Richter Scale?
"Oh come on, Father! It was only a semi."
Sorry, young man. That's not the meaning of 'seminarian'. But you might be allowed to be a Deacon, once the Bishop has studied the print-outs and the Polaroids."
[Incidentally, it was a similar scientific test that recently found that homophobic straight men produced a greater response to gay porn than non-homophobic straight men. Now there's a surprise!].

According to the Observer article, the new instruction will seek to avoid controversy by eschewing a moral line (What?) and argue that the presence of gay men in seminaries is unfair to straight ones because it will subject the latter to temptation.
"Get thee behind me, gay boy. No, on second thoughts."
Sweet Baby Jesus and the orphans! I never thought I'd write a gag like that. You see how corrupting it can be to muse on Catholicism?
Anyway, according to this theory, all my valued straight male readers should delete this blog from their Favourites folder immediately before they start registering with Gaycom and ordering Pet Shop Boys albums from Amazon.

At least I managed to get through this without writing the line: 'Ve have vays of making you straight.'
Well, almost.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

What Would Alice Say?

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace all right.
Today's Sun front page was 'PALACE GUARD IN VICE SHAME He sneaks in two hookers'.
They also use the classic Sun headline: WHORES GUARDS PARADE.
This country is definitely going to the dogs. What happened to the traditional quickie with a rent boy behind the bushes in St James Park? That's almost one of the centuries-old conventions of our constitution. The scene is probably embroidered in a corner of the Bayeux Tapestry.
And think what a shock it will be for the royal family if heterosexuality rears its ugly head below stairs.

There may not be many black faces in the bowels of Buck House but, if inside sources are to be believed, the royals have long been committed to gay employment rights.
Prince Philip once discovered two footmen sharing a bath. They told him it was to save water. He presumably said the royal equivalent of 'Yeah, right!'
Then there's the probably apocryphal story of the Queen Mother ringing repeatedly for a drink but without success and eventually saying: "I don't know what you young queens are doing down there, but there's an old queen up here dying of thirst."

The Guards officer who, according to The Sun, 'romped with two hookers' at his Buckingham Palace barracks is - oh, the shame of it - a cousin of the Queen.
He's also a descendant of the Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. I'm fairly certain it was Arthur Balfour who was nearly arrested for a sexual offence. A member of the public had seen many middle aged men going in and out of a house near Leicester Square and told police they thought it was a brothel. The police raided the premises and asked the first man they apprehended his name and occupation. He replied "Arthur Balfour, Prime Minister." It turned out that the house was an exclusive private dining club.

It seems that young Lieutenant Balfour is now being re-educated in the finest traditions of the Guards. The Sun tells us that he's 'at the centre of an Army probe.'
That'll teach him to get inside the wrong kind of beaver.

Coming Soon On A Screen Near You

You may recall that I wrote a piece about The People's synthetic outrage at discovering a Coronation Street actor had once had a small part in a gay adult video (no pun intended).
I have now received an appreciative email from the producers of that video, Messrs Eurocreme.
When I first saw the email address I thought it was from a European conglomerate of dairy product manufacturers and wondered if it might be an introductory offer to something like Instant Whip.
That might of course be the title of one of their products since they are purveyors of gay erotic entertainment to the peoples of Europe.

It was most kind of them to write, even if they forgot to attach a free download of one of their movies. And they tell me that the quotes attributed to them in the newspaper article were entirely fictitious. I know, I could scarcely believe it either: a tabloid reporter making up quotes. At this rate they'll soon be digitally altering photographs too. Some might say that producers of porn movies complaining about people putting things in their mouths is a tad ironic but I wouldn't go that low.

Flattered, and rather surprised, by my new status as a friend of the adult entertainment industry, I wondered if there might be an opening for me there.
Gay movies are probably the only ones where the Best Boy is more likely to be the lead actor than someone working on the set. But, despite my boyish good looks, I'm probably unlikely to be engaged for either role. Frankly, I'm a bit long in the tooth and I don't think the dental department is where the producers of this oeuvre look for length. Not that I would disappoint on either score, you understand.

I could, of course, be cast in a similar role to that of the Corrie actor - as the mature Professor/Father Figure who does nothing more explicit than slide his hand down his elasticated, Marks and Spencer chinos. But that wouldn't be much fun. I haven't waited 40 years to become a porn star only to be portrayed as a tosser and not even get my trousers off.

An on-screen role would necessitate a name change and that could be problematic. A prevalent internet myth is that porn star names are chosen by a combination of pet's name, mother's maiden name or the street name of somewhere you lived.
My first pet, a guinea pig, was called Snowy which would be fine if my hair was white, but it's not. I had a tortoise unoriginally called Shelley but that's no good unless I were doing tranny movies. My dogs were called Pete and Cato, the latter name possibly being serviceable if I were doing a Roman-themed sex romp. But since this would involve draping myself over couches wearing a toga and sucking grapes it would lack novelty, being all too similar to an ordinary Saturday night chez Lupin.
However, adding in some street names of places I've lived I come up with Pete Tufnell, Shelley Westbourne, Cato Trinity and, my favourite, Snowy St Stephen.

But no. Probably best to stick to a creative role.
I was going to offer the boys at Eurocreme my services as a scriptwriter but then I thought they might think I was taking the piss. Does anyone actually write the moans and grunts in porn films?
It reminds me of the problems of writing for Frankie Howerd (apart from him expecting you to provide additional services). Apparently, if you included the 'Oohs' and 'Ahs' he got angry and said those were his job, but if you left them out he asked you why they weren't there.

Actually, the research team here at MFME have discovered that some of Eurocreme's movies do at least have plots. My favourite is Spy Boy 2, which features 'James Bonk, Britain's studliest spy', summarised as follows:
"International crisis looms as devilishly cute villain Willy Blondini [there you are, I could use my blog name!] steals the DNA of an important religious leader. If his ransom demands aren't met, he'll create armies of clones to throw the world in turmoil. Only Bonk can help! Bonk and his gorgeously Gallic sidekick [I speak a little French, you know] **** and **** their way through Blondini's network of sex dens, finally tracing the heinous blond baddy to a chateau on the outskirts of Paris. Captured by Blondini, Bonk's last wish is an orgy with his entourage. That could be our hero's last stand.....but he's carrying something in his pants that might just save the day."
OK, it's not something you'd pitch to the Head of Drama at the BBC. On the other hand, I've seen episodes of The Bill that required only slightly less suspension of disbelief.
Truman Capote said the best thing about masturbation was that you didn't have to get dressed up for it. So why does the wank material have to be dressed up as an intricately plotted James Bond spoof?
(Did you know that there are over 1,700 synonyms or euphemisms for masturbation? Just thought I'd toss that in).

Anyway, someone has to write this stuff and sometimes one has to turn tricks, creatively speaking, to put bread on the table and toad in the hole.
After all, the priapic librarian-cum-poet, Philip Larkin, wrote pornography. So far as we know he did it only for his personal pleasure and wasn't to be found wandering round Soho in that long raincoat and trilby hat clutching folders of scripts classified by the Dewey Decimal System.
It's true that he also wrote some very good poetry whereas I've only written some limericks, most of them disappointingly clean.
No, I tell a lie. When I was 14 I wrote 'Soliloquy On A Theme By Proust'. What a pretentious little c**** I must have been.
[Anyone thinking of querying the past tense can f*** off].

There's not much on TV this weekend and if I go easy on the blogging I could make a start right now. Initial thoughts are something horticultural (is that a Lupin in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?). Not so much My Beautiful Laundrette, more My Beautiful Garden Centre. Unless you have any better ideas.

Of course, I'll need to be there when the shooting's taking place to make sure that everything's as I visualised it and, you never know, the actor playing the Alan Titchmarsh role might fall sick and they'll need a stand in.
Snowy St Stephen..... Potting Shed...... Take Six: "great dibber action, Snowy, but that begonia buggered up the money shot so we'll have to do it again. Take five, love. That's minutes, not days. We're shooting a movie, not sowing an herbaceous border. The garden centre opens in an hour and we don't want you standing there with your dibber in your hand when little old ladies come looking for winter pansies."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sex, Lies and Cyberspace

I've always found the idea of writing a crime novel rather attractive, even though I rarely read them. I also like the idea of a novel in which the internet plays a central role. The problem is that there can't be many crime plots that haven't already been used and plots are not my strong point anyway.
One plot that lacked any credibility was the one in Channel 4's 'Kill Me If You Can' on Tuesday night. But this was a true story. Even the judge at the trial said that no writer could ever have invented it.

The story is difficult to summarise but I'll have a go.
A Manchester teenager spends a lot of time in a chat room. He meets an older woman who recruits him as a secret agent with promises of meeting the Queen, millions of pounds.....and sex. He also meets a 14 year old boy with whom he becomes friends in real life. After many bizarre sub-plots, the woman orders him to kill his best friend. He stabs him through the stomach, the boy spends weeks in intensive care but eventually recovers.

A key question for the police was who was posing as the fictional woman agent, and several other characters in the chat room. Naturally, they suspected it was a paedophile or psychopath.
The final, incredible twist was that it was the younger boy who had invented these characters and instigated his own murder. He became the only person in British criminal history to be charged with inciting his own murder.
I'll be surprised if a movie isn't made about this case - a cross between Billy Liar and James Bond.

A second programme could also be made that looked in more detail at some of the questions raised by the case.
The most baffling thing is why the 16 year old swallowed such a ludicrous and ridiculous load of fantasy. It is his unique gullibility that makes such a tragedy very unlikely to be repeated. (You need to have seen the full story to realise that even most ten year olds would not have confused this fantasy with reality).

We were told that much of the conversation in the chat room was about masturbation. This has always been a popular hobby for teenage boys but was never something they admitted to or discussed. And 'wanker' has always been a term of abuse. If today's teenagers are more open about it and are even comparing notes, as it were, that seems to me a much healthier honesty.

There also seemed to be a strong homo-erotic element to the relationship between the two boys, particularly on the part of the younger boy. On one occasion he persuaded the other boy to masturbate on webcam to prevent the rape and death of his online girlfriend at the hands of a gay stalker. It didn't occur to the older boy that a gay stalker was unlikely to be stalking and raping women.
Later, the female secret agent alter ego of the younger boy ordered the older boy to perform oral sex on his friend. Although the programme was a bit coy about this, the inference was that he reluctantly did so.
And when the older boy stabbed his friend, he said "I love you" as he did so.

It seems to me that the story shows the collision of the two teenage preoccupations with sex and death. One aspect of the hormonal maelstrom of adolescence can be an obsession with death that is quite unrelated to personal circumstances or depression. That's why the writings of Sylvia Plath have always been popular with some teenagers and, although I'm no expert, I believe it's a feature of Goth sub-culture.

It's also the case that many teenagers are wrestling with their sexual identity, unsure if they are predominantly gay, straight or bisexual. This, of course, is used as an argument for a higher age of consent. I disagree with that because I don't believe that single sexual experiences convert 'a phase' into a lifetime preference. If that were the case, there would be millions more gay men in the world since so many boys have homosexual experiences. Indeed, we were told that the younger boy in this particular case, who instigated the sex with his friend, now has a steady girlfriend.

The one heartening aspect of this amazing and tragic story was that the judge gave both boys a Supervision Order rather than the long prison sentences they were expecting.
And in the programme at least, there was no attempt to heap blame on the evils of the internet. There are, of course, rare and high profile cases of young people coming to harm through meeting people on the internet. In the same way, there will also be a small number of children who, despite all the warnings, will get into a car with a stranger.
But it seems that many teenagers today are using the internet to discuss sexuality and emotions with a frankness that only the anonymity of the internet can facilitate. That seems to me to be an overwhelmingly positive and healthy thing, particularly for those who live in places remote from social life or support services or who are in families where they cannot have an open and supportive relationship with adults.
As a gay teenager growing up in the pre-internet age, the worst thing was the sense of isolation, the complete inability to talk to someone who was like myself. I think that probably caused more despair than the social prejudice of the time or the inability to form friendships or relationships with other gay people. The internet has removed that isolation from young people in the developed world and, for all its dangers, I would go so far as to say that it has probably saved many lives.

Don't Cast Aspersions On Nasturtiums

Cheap and cheerful and requiring no skill, nasturtiums are the Pot Noodles of the plant world.
You poke the large seeds half an inch into the ground and forget about them until they appear in your garden in the summer like brash and colourful people that you sometimes meet at bus stops.

I usually pop a few seeds into hanging baskets and (second from top) tubs of Busy Lizzies - another plant despised by gardening snobs - where they eventually push their way through like drunken teenagers standing up and waving through the sun roof of a car.

As with most things, there's a downside to nasturtiums. They do best in poor soil and if you don't have poor soil or are growing them in tubs of compost they tend to produce enormous leaves which obscure the flowers so I end up pruning the foliage. A worse problem is that they are very prone to diseases like blackspot and attacks from caterpillars. I've noticed this year that disease is less of a problem when they're mixed in with other flowers.

It's worth buying nasturtium seeds from a seed firm because they have many more varieties than you find in your local supermarket. I particularly like some of the traditional varieties like Empress of India, Cherry Rose Jewel (third from top) and Mahogany Jewel.
Whirlybird, which are widely available, have the advantage that the flowers rise well above the foliage.
This year Thompson and Morgan introduced a white variety (Milkmaid) and a black variety (Black Velvet). In reality, the white is pale cream (bottom pic) and the black is dark red but they are attractive mixed together.
Climbing varieties are also good if you want a trouble-free climber for a wall or trellis and these benefit from being started indoors in early spring to give them a head start.

The top picture is 'Whisky and Ice' from Messrs Unwins.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Blood On Our Hands - Remembering Hussein and Israfil

When I stayed in Eastbourne years ago it pretty much lived up to its stereotype. Walking along the front I saw fleets of coaches disgorging hundreds of elderly people on zimmer frames and in wheelchairs - they probably still call them Bath Chairs in Eastbourne.
I almost expected that the hotels they shuffled into would be displaying not the Tourist Board Star symbols but rows of zimmer frame symbols: the coveted 5 zimmers if they have a stairlift, walk-in baths in all rooms and chop all the food up into tiny pieces.
Posters for the local theatre advertised an old music hall star who I'd assumed had been dead for at least twenty years.
Actually, the night I was there something really exciting happened and the local paper debated whether to bring out a special morning edition. A shop window got smashed. But nobody was sure whether it was done by a drunken hoodie or one of the visitors who'd had too much Bristol Cream and cocked up a three point turn on their zimmer.

In the morning, I gazed out of my hotel window on to the beach and a cold, grey sea. It wouldn't have been surprising to see the ghosts of the Eastbourne Home Guard patrolling that beach and scanning the horizon with opera glasses borrowed from the local theatre, ready to repel the Nazi hordes, to keep Britain a beacon of freedom and democracy and allow Eastbourne and places like it to slumber on into the 21st century - genteel, dowdy and slightly comical.

I wonder if Hussein Nasseri looked out on to that cold, grey Sussex sea in June 2004 as he made his way to an activity centre.
Did any of the elderly residents and holidaymakers squint at him, or even automatically smile at him in the way old people often do, as he passed them on the street?
If they did, he probably didn't notice.
He went into the activity centre car park and shot himself between the eyes.
Hussein, 26 years old, was a gay man who fled Iran and came to Britain. He had already spent three months in prison in Iran for being gay and feared execution if he was sent back.
In June 2004 the Home Office refused to grant him asylum and was going to send him back to Iran.
So he killed himself.
A private death in an Eastbourne car park was preferable to a public hanging in an Iranian square.
The Coroner said the asylum refusal was the 'obvious motive' for his death.

The year before, Israfil Shiri, another gay Iranian, died six days after setting himself alight in the offices of a refugee charity in Manchester. His asylum application had also been rejected. Unlike the mythical asylum seekers described in the tabloids, living the high life on state handouts, Israfil was both homeless and penniless, often sleeping in a wheelie bin. He was also in constant pain because, following his asylum refusal, he was unable to get medical treatment for a bowel complaint.

Now another gay Iranian man has been refused asylum and faces being sent back to almost certain death. In this case, the words of the judge who approved his removal have caused justifiable outrage. He described his sexuality as a 'predilection', referred to 'his coterie' of fellow gay men and spoke of 'unseemly activity'.
It's the language of an Eastbourne Colonel (Retd.), circa 1950.

This July two gay teenagers were publicly executed in Iran and it is believed another gay man suffered the same fate in August.
One Iranian gay rights group estimates that the Iranian Government has executed at least 4,000 homosexuals since 1979.

Our Prime Minister has stated that Britain went to war with Germany to stop the Holocaust, the mass slaughter of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and people with mental and physical disabilities, and that was why the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker were patrolling the beaches of southern England in the early 1940s.
It's nonsense of course. Tony's grasp of history is as shaky as his grasp of human rights. And, given that gay men were imprisoned in the Britain of 1939, I doubt that their treatment at the hands of Hitler, had it been known at the time, would have motivated the tradesmen of Eastbourne to spend their nights patrolling the beach. Nor was Britain particularly keen to welcome the Jews who were fleeing Nazi Germany before the war.

You may also recall that, when no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, the reason for the war was suddenly transformed into concern for Saddam's abuse of human rights and his slaughter of his own people. Many crocodile tears were shed by Blair and his allies for Iraq's dead (the ones killed by Saddam, not by us, naturally), although it wasn't Blair and his friends who campaigned about abuses in Iraq at the time that we and America were happily selling Saddam arms.

Today our Government, like others, is making a lot of noise about Iran's nuclear fuel programme and the possibility that they may be seeking to build nuclear weapons. This concern, we are led to believe, is because of the nature of the Iranian regime, vividly illustrated by what I have written above. Our gay teenagers get bullied at school. In Iran, boys like 16 year old Mahmoud Asgari are hanged in a public square.

Yet our Government is determined to send young, gay Iranians back to almost certain death.
A Labour Government.
A Government that put human rights at the top of its agenda.
A Government that once boasted of an ethical foreign policy.
A Government whose Prime Minister sermonises and emotes with moist eyes and quavering voice about poverty and famine in Africa.
A Prime Minister apparently inspired by the ideals of Christian Socialism and who vows to defend an idealised concept of 'Britishness'.

Is it possible that some of the small number of gay Iranian men who have escaped to Britain had looked at the Visit Britain website and read this enthusiatic invitation:

'Awash with rainbow pride, Britain is a nation of excitement, history, talent and understanding......The UK is one of the largest populations of gay and lesbian folk in Europe, we also have equal age of consent laws (set at 16), partnership laws and even legal commitment ceremonies in some of our major cities. As for marriage, it’ll just be a matter of time!
So whether you're gay, lesbian, transsexual, Bi-sexual, in or out, be yourself in Britain!.......With our proud gay history, cutting edge culture and fashion, flamboyant cities and pulsating nightlife, isn't it time you came Britain!'

It would surely be only fair and sensible to add the words:
'We've put all this exaggerated, self-congratulatory, and in places sickening, nonsense on our website because gay tourism has been identified as a key niche market for the British tourist industry. Pink pounds? We can't get enough of them! But if you're from a country like Iran, don't even think of outstaying your welcome because we'll send you back to certain death before you can say Old Compton Street.'

In the hours before their suicides did Hussein and Israfil feel just black despair or did they also experience puzzlement and a sense of betrayal? They had every reason to.

If I could speak to them now I'd say this:

I'm not responsible for the actions of my Government any more than you were for the actions of yours. But I still feel a deep sense of shame for something done in the name of my country.
The horror of what happened to you is that you escaped from one nightmare only to be plunged into another.
You died here not because of religious fundamentalism but because of political expediency and the callous inhumanity of politicians, judges and others.
Your stories and your deaths were mostly unreported in the British media. Sponging 'bogus' asylum seekers sell papers. Penniless, dead, gay, asylum seekers don't.
A small number of people will read about you here and some of them may share my anger at what this country did to you and may yet do to others.
I and some others may even find the time in our exciting, pulsating lives in this rainbow nation to write to the Home Secretary and our MP to try to prevent your tragedies being repeated.
A blog post is as quickly forgotten as most human lives, not least by the person who writes it. But, Hussein and Israfil, I'll try to remember you and how your deaths affected me. Sentimental, perhaps, and ultimately pointless. You were betrayed by my country and my country is stained by your blood. Remembering you and mourning your deaths won't change that but it's better than indifference.
And there's not much else I can do or say - a thought that's as depressing as the cold sea rattling the shingle on Eastbourne beach and warm blood spilling on to the concrete of a deserted car park.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sunday's Web Of Waffle

When I was sitting in the garden yesterday a hedgehog ambled out of the shrubbery and stood on the patio staring at me. I had my reading glasses on and it was so large that at first I thought it was a small cat. It was the Vanessa Feltz of the hedgehog world.
I told it the old joke about the difference between a hedgehog and a Range Rover being that, in the case of a hedgehog, the pricks are on the outside.
It didn't find this funny and went back into the shrubbery. If you were a hedgehog you'd probably have done the same.
Or maybe it saw the clothes pegs on the table and thought it had wandered into a gypsy camp and might end up on the supper menu.

The last time I made a joke about gypsies on someone else's blog I got told off. But was that a racist joke? After all, there was a time when gypsies made clothes pegs to sell. Whether they really ate baked hedgehogs I've no idea. I do know, from a TV programme I saw, that their culture can be deeply homophobic but there's no reciprocal Romanophobia (?) on my part.
And if you own a Range Rover, let me assure you that some of my best friends drive Range Rovers. But there are far too many of them in this country. Range Rovers, that is.

Well, I've begun with a digression, rather like the student who hadn't quite mastered the art of plagiarism and began his essay "Secondly....."
Because what I really intended to write about was spiders.
One of my earliest posts was about Harry the Spider who lived on my kitchen window. Sadly, Harry has long since gone to live in the cobwebs celestial.
But there are still far too many spiders in my life.

During the night they build cobwebs across the garden path. I walk into these when I take an early morning stroll down the garden. I also have a lavender bush next to the path which brushes against me. This means that I go to the shops in the morning festooned with cobwebs and reeking of lavender, like a cross-dressing Miss Haversham. No wonder I get funny looks in the newsagent.

I would hate to be reincarnated as a spider. They are neither hunters nor gatherers in the conventional sense. They build a trap and then spend days, weeks, months just hanging around waiting for some food to fly into it.
It's an even more boring life than that of the security guard in our village supermarket whose task is to prevent a crime spree by the largely geriatric clientele. But at least he can pass the time by playing games on his mobile phone.

I often find dead spiders in the house and wonder whether they've died from boredom or starvation. It's difficult to tell if it's the latter because their appearance is skeletal to start with.
It may be that the determination with which I exterminate any flies that enter my house is causing famine in the spider population. So today's ethical question is whether I should be interfering in the food chain and causing arachnocide by killing creatures because I dislike them rather than because they are a food source?

This raises the question of whether humans are part of the natural order of things at all and whether the ecology of the planet would tick over more smoothly if we weren't here.
Maybe we should have been designated Homo Interferens, not Homo Sapiens.
We poke our nose in. We stick our oar in. We can't let well alone. We leave no sleeping dog unturned.

If it's any consolation to the millions of other life forms with which we share this planet, we inflict misery on our own species in exactly the same way.
When two male swans bond for life and build a nest together, the other swans don't bat an eyelid and mind their own business.
And that's probably an elegant, swan-like segue into the planned subject of my next post.
From hedgehogs to gay rights is but a short stroll down this blogger's cobweb-festooned garden path, a mere canoe's length along my stream of consciousness.
But bring your own paddle.
I lost mine years ago.

Keeping The Faith

I see our old friend "good faith" has appeared again.
Ian Blair, head of the Metropolitan Police, like so many Government Ministers, believes that having "acted in good faith" is a defence against resignation on grounds of incompetence or misleading people. It's very convenient because acting in good faith can only be self-defined and is not subject to external verification.
Until recent years, this defence could never be used in British public life.

It's not a defence that will get you very far with Sir Ian's boys in blue.
"I was acting in good faith, Officer. I thought double yellow lines meant 'parking allowed if you're just nipping into the newsagent for a paper.'"
"I didn't know she was only 14. When we had sex I thought she was 16. I was acting in good faith."

Let's face it, Hitler was acting in good faith in terms of his own beliefs. When he marched across Europe and exterminated millions of people he genuinely believed it was for the good of Germany and the wider world.

It pains me to say it but the outstanding example of old school integrity was that patrician old Tory Lord Carrington. There was never any suspicion that he or the Foreign Office had acted in bad faith over The Falklands, but when Argentina invaded he resigned. The buck for bungling and incompetence stopped with him. Thatcher couldn't understand this and begged him not to. It's a concept that Blair also doesn't understand. Yet it was a basic principle of our constitution for more than a hundred years.
It would help to restore public faith in politics if 'acting in good faith' were taken to be axiomatic for holders of public office and the principle of taking responsibility were reinstated.
A good start would be for Ian Blair to clear his desk and hang his hat on his pension.

UPDATE: I wrote the above before reading today's Observer, in which Richard Ingrams has written a virtually identical piece, even citing Lord Carrington.
The similarity is quite spooky.
If I'd read Ingrams first I would never have written this, for fear of accusations of plagiarism.
The one difference is that Ingrams gets a handsome fee while I am paid nothing.
And, of course, you don't have to pay £1.50 to read my blog.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Mo Mowlam

It's the early 1980s.
I'm in Newcastle's largest gay club.
The place is packed. Boys Town Gang have just flown in from America to perform Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You, one of the greatest club anthems of that time.
As they start singing, the young woman I'm with waves her arms in the air and joins in the American-style whooping.
She's in her early thirties, slim, with long blond hair.
As Boys Town Gang get into their stride she puts her arm round me and we both sing along 'At long last love has arrived, and I thank God I'm alive, Your'e just too good to be true, Can't take my eyes off of you'.

She was Dr Marjorie Mowlam, BA, PhD, already universally and affectionately known as 'Mo'. I little thought that one day she would be the most popular politician in the country, play a crucial role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland and spend weekends at the White House.

One certain indication of an extraordianary person is when the grief that you feel at their death is out of all proportion to the part that they played in your life.
I was not a close friend of Mo and knew her for only a brief period. But, although her death today had been expected for some time, I feel devastated by it and find this very difficult to write. I'm struggling to avoid the worst kind of sentimental cliché but I do feel that there's a little less love in the world now that she's gone. And even as I write that I can hear her shouting 'Wanker!', or something worse.

I smiled this morning when the Today programme played a clip from an old interview with Mo where she said "Life in Northern Ireland is returning to normal. The kids are clubbing again."
That wasn't a definition of normality that would have appealed to Ian Paisley or some of the other people she negotiated with so skilfully in Northern Ireland.
I wasn't entirely surprised that she proved so successful in that role. For when I knew her she could blag her way into a nightclub, sweet-talking the burly Geordie bouncers, often without paying or being signed in.
Standing at the bar, I'd feel an arm round my shoulder and think my luck had changed, only to hear Mo say that if I lent her a tenner she'd buy me a drink.

On one such occasion, she'd just returned from a politics conference in Rio and I asked her how it went. "The good news is that the Brazilian men were fucking gorgeous", she said. "The bad news is that most of the bastards were gay."

She was once charged with entertaining two visiting French academics, a husband and wife. Only Mo would have taken two stuffy, bourgeois, French, provincial academics to a gay nightclub. It was like a scene from La Cage Aux Folles. The four of us sat on the edge of the dance floor and I can still see the look on their faces as they tried unsuccessfully to pretend that they commonly spent Friday nights watching shirtless young men dancing together and snogging.
When I managed to recall a French phrase and said "Il y a du monde ici" they fell upon it like two drowning people clutching at the last straw of sanity. I muttered a few more French phrases and these were like a comfort blanket that got them through the evening. Occasionally they gabbled back at me in French above the din of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and I muttered "Bien sur" and "D'accord". Dancing with Mo, she thanked me for talking with them in French and I told her I didn't understand a fucking word. We both fell about laughing on the dance floor and the nerdy French couple smiled at us from the sidelines and surreptitiously looked at their watches.

I suppose I became friendly with Mo because we were roughly the same age and had similar political views. But some younger students, like some politicians in later years, found her unconventional style difficult to handle. I once met a boy coming out of her office, looking rather shaken. "I reckon she's one of those women's libbers", he said to me with a public school accent. I asked him why. He said "she was being really helpful and going to so much trouble over my essay and I said 'I think I must bring out your maternal instinct'. Do you know what she said? She told me to fuck off."

Early in the course she told me I should breeze through it and then gave me this advice: "Don't bother going to lectures. If you want to know what lecturers have been saying, find an anally-retentive student who writes down every fucking word and ask to borrow their notes. And never read any books right through. Just read the beginning and the conclusion and maybe a few bits in the middle if you can be arsed." Maybe she thought this would leave more time for serious matters like drinking and clubbing.

Much has been said over the years about Mo being 'touchy-feely', but that doesn't begin to describe it. When I was contemplating leaving the course I went to see the Senior Tutor and was sat on his sofa while he took a phone call. Mo put her head round the door and asked me why I was there. When I told her, she launched herself at me and began wrestling with me on the sofa. Eventually, she had me pinned down on my back and was lying on top of me shouting "You fucking wanker!" The Senior Tutor stood transfixed by this spectacle, unaware that he was now holding the telephone down by his waist and the person at the other end was shouting "Hello? Hello?"

In her university days, Mo was notorious for never sitting on a chair in a conventional way but instead tucking her legs up under her and rocking back and forth. In at least one seminar, the inevitable happened and she tipped over backwards on to the floor. Thereafter, we found it difficult to focus on the subject in seminars, constantly wondering if Mo would go arse over tit and show her knickers again. I always wondered whether similar backward somersaults enlivened the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland.

Mo clearly had the same tactical political skills as any other politician who rises to Cabinet rank. What made her unique was that she remained utterly true to herself. That's why she inspired such deep affection in everyone whose lives she touched.
There's nothing unusual about politicians kissing babies and children, especially at election time. But as someone who knew Mo before she was a politician I can state that hugs and kisses were as natural to Mo as breathing. So were the four letter words, although they were never said with malice. Her love of life and people was such that I don't think even bigots or boring old farts inspired the kind of deep dislike that some of us feel towards those with whom we disagree. People had to accept her as she was but that was a tolerance she displayed towards everyone else.

Today is the first time I've remembered Mo with tears rather than laughter. But laughter and gratitude will be the abiding emotions.
And I'm probably one of the few people for whom memories of Mo will always be associated with gay disco anthems of the early eighties, the era of 'High Energy' music. And that was our beloved Mo: high energy, high ideals, high courage.
I can write this now secure in the knowledge that she can't tell me to fuck off. But Mo has fucked off far too soon. And, believe me Mo, for millions of us that's a fucking tragedy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Brief Wednesday Witterings

Michael Howard gives his thoughts in The Guardian on the 'British Dream' and how we can live harmoniously in this diverse nation of ours.
Bit rich coming from the leader of a party that campaigned on the nasty, nudge-nudge-wink-wink slogan 'Are you thinking what we're thinking?'.
Happily, they got the resounding answer 'No!'

One of his key components of British identity is the monarchy.
Would that be the monarchy that is prohibited by law from being Catholic?
Since the monarch is head of the Church of England, presumably they couldn't be Muslim or Jewish or, for that matter, a militant atheist.
And the same monarchy where males take precedence over females in the succession?
The one where status is conferred by birth?

That's a British Dream with something of the night about it all right.


From an article in Sunday's Observer:
"Lennon and The Beatles didn't just change pop........they changed everything."

Do you suppose the people who write such bollocks actually believe it?
And if they do, why haven't they been sectioned under the Mental Health Act?

Admittedly, that would mean someone like Paul Gambaccini would not have been free to walk the streets for many years and I suppose the old fruitcake isn't actually a danger to himself or others. But plenty of people are incarcerated for nothing more than constantly spouting gibberish.

A woman called Lucy Mangan is allowed to tiptoe in the sacred footsteps of Nancy Banks-Smith in today's Guardian TV review.
She reviews the BBC1 series 'Bunking Off' and writes "This week's programme concentrated on truants."
The entire series was about truants.
The clue, Lucy, was in the title: 'Bunking Off'.
A slang term for playing truant.
Just as well she became a journalist rather than joining the police.

I've just been sniffing bleach.
Well, I told you I might be too busy to blog this week
But I was simply trying to re-create the experience of Captain Oates who said "I might be gone some time" before striding out into the blizzard.

You see, I was genuinely puzzled.
I usually buy lemon bleach. Or, if you want to be pedantic, 'Citrus Fresh'.
But this week, feeling in need of a lifestyle change and having ruled out all the more dramatic options on practical grounds, I bought some bleach called 'Arctic Storm'.
And then, as I was killing 99% of known germs, a large question mark seemed to rise from the toilet bowl like ectoplasm from the gaping mouth of a medium.

Because when you buy lemon or orange you know what fragrance you're getting.
If you buy the new Pink Domestos you just get funny looks at the checkout.
But how many of us have ever been within sniffing distance of an Arctic Storm?
If you had, would you still have a functioning sense of smell at -30C?
And what does an Arctic Storm smell like, if it smells of anything at all?

That's why I was sniffing the bleach bottle just now. And whilst my sense of smell has been blunted by years of smoking, I'm fairly certain it smelt only of bleach.
Then again, the keyboard is blurred and the monitor has a list to starboard, which could be either the early stages of hypothermia or just the effects of sniffing cleaning products.
Either way, I'm going to lie down before total white-out.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Parish Notices

Postings this week may be few or even non-existent.
I have too many other things to do and, with regret, blogging will have to be 'de-prioritised'.
In the meantime, enjoy the August sunshine if you are able to.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

Cures for insomnia are a current topic on the Guardian Letters page. I fear it will run for as long as the eventually tedious one on uses for 35m film canisters.
Now that I blog I never get the urge to write to The Guardian. It's been so long since I did so that I'm not sure my green biro even works any more.
But why would I want to share my rantings with hundreds of thousands of people when I can share them with several hundred of the discerning and mostly wonderful people who make up the micro-readership of this blog?

A cure for insomnia I sometimes use is an alternative to counting sheep. I attempt to count the number of people I've had sex with in my life.
Although I don't consider myself to have been a particularly promiscuous person, I invariably recall someone who has never previously figured in these late night lucubrations. This may be because it can take thirty years for alcohol-induced amnesia to wear off.
Unfortunately, you can then spend a long time asking yourself the same questions you asked on the morning you found them next to you in bed:
Who are they?
Where did you meet them?
What's their name?
[The use of 'they' and 'them' is not intended to imply there was more than one person at a time. Well, not usually].

Another reason this cure for insomnia is seriously flawed is that you sometimes remember a particularly enjoyable experience and that can trigger the release of all the wrong chemicals in your brain. Sleep is then the last thing on your mind and you have to quickly conjure up images of Anne Widdecombe in the shower. Everyone was put on this earth for a purpose and that woman is a veritable lumberjack to Morning Wood, Evening Wood, an entire Sherwood Forest of wood.

Laughter is not conducive to sleep either and there's always the risk that you remember some of your funnier sexual experiences. That doesn't mean they were funny at the time, which is just as well because laughter and sex can often be uneasy bedfellows.
Laughter can often be instrumental in getting someone between the sheets but if the removal of your Y-Fronts provokes hilarity rather than passion it's probably a case off 'booster rocket fired....we have lift, we have a problem.'

It wasn't funny at the time when I said to someone "Don't worry, you'll get an erection soon", only to receive the distressed reply "But I've already got one."
Although it makes me smile now, it was disconcerting when Jean-Pierre, an allegedly straight French guy, breathed in my ear and whispered "God, I wish you had tits."
"You French are so romantic", I replied sarcastically, which was one in the eye for that arrow that did for poor King Harold in 1066.
As Simon Fanshawe quoted in yesterday's Guardian 'the difference between straight and gay is five pints of lager'. Or, in that case, half a bottle of Pernod.

Five or more pints of lager can also engender an Equal Opportunities Policy where sex is concerned, albeit not intentionally.
Only yards from my flat, a silver-tongued Irish boy with more blarney than Wogan on speed told me the craic was good and the night was young, before adding ominously "there's something I should have told you."
"You're straight", I said, "or a priest...... or you're on active service for the IRA". (This was London in the 1970s).
"No, I've got an artificial arm. Is that OK?"
"Er, yes, absolutely fine. So long as everything else is real."
"You really hadn't noticed?"
"Well, the pub was very crowded. You could hardly lift your hand to scratch your nose. Well you couldn't, obviously. But neither could I. Nobody could. Do you fancy a coffee?"

I've always been squeamish about prosthetic limbs, ever since as a small child I saw the film about Douglas Bader, who lost both legs in the war.
But lager and lust are a potent combination and, whilst a straight Frenchman might still regard tits as a sine qua non to coucher avec moi, the odd arm being AWOL on a gay Irishman soon became a matter of supreme indifference to me.
I even helped him unscrew it before we went to bed, so my parents' misguided idea of giving me a Meccano set for Christmas had finally proved useful. In short, everything was going swimmingly.
Until, that is, the point in the proceedings where waves crash against the shore and fireworks explode in the sky, which was interrupted by a tremendous crash.
I sat bolt upright in bed.
"Oh my God! What's that?"
It sounded as though the police were smashing down the door.
"It's all right", said Seamus, "my arm's just fallen off your dressing table."

The detumescent effect could not have been greater if Seamus had metamorphosed into Ian Paisley.
If only the earth had moved before the arm did.

In case you are thinking that my life has been a feckless fandango of one night stands, I should add that there were one or two more stands with Seamus but to avoid his arm going walkabout again we always laid it on the floor.
And that's another reason why these recollections are such a bad cure for insomnia. For every ten 'What the hell was I thinking ofs?' there's always one 'What if?'
Youthful sexual encounters occur before you've untangled the complex threads of love and sex, of looks and character. Before you've realised that relationships, like politics, are the art of compromise.

Seamus wasn't 'drop dead gorgeous', a fact that had nothing to do with his missing arm. That only features prominently in my memory because of the unfortunate timing with which it fell off the dressing table.
But what shines brightly over a distance of thirty years is an extraordinary sweetness of nature, an inherent goodness, and a great capacity to love and be loved.
That's why 'casual sex' is such a misleadingly derogatory term. Yes, it can be as empty and meaningless as some long-term relationships. But it can also be loving and life-enhancing.
A few hours can be a significant event in the narrative of your life and a part of who you are. Maybe in some parallel or alternative universe it never happened. But in this universe it did happen and can never un-happen. A casual encounter can be forever and that is something to celebrate and sleep on.
Sweet dreams.

[Some names have been changed to protect the identity of people who, if still alive, could now be married, or famous, or leading libel lawyers].

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Stop This Sham

A new study has found that as many as one in twenty-five fathers may not be the biological parent of the child they believe is their own.

Maybe now the political elite will wake up to the manifest nonsense of civil partnerships between people of different sexes - or 'marriages' as some prefer to call them.

These new findings prove what the ordinary, decent people of this country have always known to be true: that the heterosexual lifestyle is inherently promiscuous.
It is characterised all too often by unsavoury practices like 'kerb-crawling' followed by sordid late-night sexual encounters on industrial estates.
Or, in the case of our young people who have been lured into this lifestyle by the powerful straight lobby that has infiltrated our media and schools, by 'quickies' in back alleys after binge drinking in one of the 'straight clubs' that have sprung up in so many of our towns and cities.
And the Church of England, many of whose vicars openly admit to being heterosexual themselves, have forfeited all claims to moral leadership in our nation by blessing these partnerships, despite knowing full well that at least fifty per cent of them will end in divorce.

WE SAY: mixed sex partnerships are not just morally offensive. They don't work.

WE ALSO SAY: end this politically correct sham NOW.
For the sake of the children.
For the sake of our young people.
For the sake of our nation.

Cowardy Custard

There will be no concessions to terrorists.
They will not change our way of life.
Londoners will continue to use the tube and the buses.
The spirit of the Blitz will prevail.

And, er.......Tony Blair's holiday destination is a secret for "security reasons".

I don't recall any previous Prime Ministers' holidays being state secrets when IRA terrorism was at its height.

Of course, the real reason may be that the Blairs are sick of the opprobrium and ridicule they incur every year for sponging off rich and powerful people. If so, an alternative solution would be to pay for their own frigging holiday like most people.

They should certainly be entitled to some privacy whilst they are at their holiday destination. How shameful it was that the world once learned that Tony had saved a fellow holidaymaker from drowning. Some cynics even suggested the poor man was actually waving not drowning. But Alastair Campbell didn't get where he was yesterday without knowing a good story when he saw one.

It was also disgraceful that we learned how, on another holiday, Tony and Cherie had smeared themselves with mud and undergone a re-birthing ritual. Such matters should remain private, if only because of the distressing mental images they conjure up. On the other hand, it did help substantiate the widespread belief that they're both a few Tarot cards short of a pack.

If Tony's holiday is a secret, think how much bigger a secret the holiday destination of his mate George W must be!
Well no, actually.
The whole world knows that George is spending five weeks on his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Still, I guess it would be pointless trying to keep his whereabouts secret. Any terrorist would just have to track the consignments of bananas.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Thought For The Day

"Death can achieve far more than life."

Is this a quote from an extremist Muslim cleric motivating young suicide bombers?

No, it's from today's Christian Thought For The Day on Radio 4, by the well-known homophobe Anne Atkins.

It's a reminder that martyrdom is revered in most religions and that most of them contain the seeds of violent extremism with their belief in a fantasy after-life that is more important than this life.

That's not to say that all, or even most, of their adherents are violent extremists. But it is to say that it is religion itself that is the problem, particularly when its extreme forms are allied to political objectives.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Monday's Mutterings

The BBC radio news this morning - on the headline summary as well as the detailed bulletin - reported the death of an American newsreader, Peter Jennings.
Do we give a shit?
Does anything better illustrate the extent to which we are becoming an American colony?
How many of us have ever heard of Mr Jennings?
And what a one-way traffic this is. Do you suppose that American broadcasters would ever report the death of a British newsreader?


Later I passed up the opportunity to finally find out what Pilates is all about, from an item on Woman's Hour. I've always thought it was a way to keep fit by washing your hands because my mind always makes the short leap to Pontius Pilate. Imagine my surprise when, just before turning off the radio, a woman referred to "some exercises you can do using a towel". Perhaps I was right all along.

Catching a fragment of Bad Lads' Army this week (and, believe me, you wouldn't want to catch more than a fragment), I noticed that one of the favourite terms of abuse used by the army officers to their recruits is 'poof' or 'poofter'. I couldn't help wondering how this sits with the army's new status as an Equal Opportunities Employer, with gay men and women now able to serve in our forces. I also wonder if it's acceptable to put homophobic abuse on prime time television. Would it be acceptable if these officers screamed 'nigger' at recruits?

Since this is the third series, it must pull in respectable ratings. When it began, I assumed it was a genuine experiment like the series that put children through the educational systems of the fifties and sixties. But it's actually the worst type of reality television that exploits and humiliates its subjects. But since they're mostly working class petty criminals, why would anyone care?
It also has more nudity than most prime time programmes, with more arse on display than at a mooning convention. That probably guarantees a rise in the ratings. I can't speak for others, but like every programme I've ever seen about naturism, it makes me question why I ever found the human body attractive. Have you ever seen a good-looking naturist of either sex? And when they come out with that old cliché 'you never look at people in a sexual way', the only possible answer is 'I'm not bloody surprised.'

But I digress and risk upsetting anyone who is reading this in the nude, unless it's because they're about to move on to their Monday webcam session with Dan or Doris in Oswestry or Osaka.
My final thought on Chav Scum Get Stark Bollock Naked - sorry, Bad Lad's Army - is the irony that the army officers who scream 'Poof!' every thirty seconds sieze every opportunity to get their young recruits out of their kit and are always in the washroom taking a close personal interest in their naked ablutions. In any other context this would be considered 'inappropriate behaviour' and at worst would land you in court.
And if this level of abuse and humiliation is thought mild enough to be television entertainment, it makes you wonder what really goes on at Deepcut and the other barracks where a number of real young army recruits have taken their own lives.

When I wrote about Robin Cook yesterday I had no idea that he had been instrumental in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Scotland, 13 years after the law was changed in England and Wales. I gleaned this from a letter in the Guardian today.

So there we have an unsuspected similarity between Robin and that other great Briton, David Beckham. Both of them men with a strong heterosexual sex drive yet secure enough in their own identity and sexuality to be content for others to express a different sexuality freely.

I don't know if David shared Robin's views on proportional representation or the importance of establishing an International Criminal Court. But I think we can safely say that Robin was shit at taking free kicks.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Robin Cook

I was fortunate enough to watch the whole of the debate on the Scott Report on television (about selling arms to a Mr Hussein in Iraq. Pity we didn't sell him WMD while we were at it. At least we'd have known for certain that he had them.)
You really needed to see the whole of that debate to understand why everyone is banging on about the late Robin Cook's performance. He'd had a couple of hours to read a report the size of several telephone directories. Yet he stood at the Despatch Box and appeared to know it as intimately as if he'd written it himself.
In an obviously planned attempt to derail him, Tories bobbed up and down to intervene. He gave way to most of them, then swatted them away like irritating flies - or possibly the midges for which his native Scotland is notorious. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest Parliamentary performances of the last century.

He had recently been writing a weekly column in The Guardian and those will be greatly missed for his knowledge of the detail of the subjects and the clarity of expression. It's a rare gift to combine a formidable intellect with the ability to express yourself clearly. Neither of these characteristics are conspicuous in the ranks of New Labour.
I was musing to someone the other day that the present crop of Labour politicians are intellectual pygmies compared to some of the people who sat in Wilson's Cabinets, like Crossman, Healey and Crosland - and indeed Wilson himself.
There's a certain similarity between Cook and Crosland. The latter was also noted for intellectual arrogance and didn't suffer fools gladly. And his life was also cut short when he still had much to contribute to politics.

Someone once said of Robin Cook that he combined the looks of Lenin with the voice of Miss Jean Brodie. They might have added that he had the amatory skills of Casanova. According to his first wife, he had many affairs before the one that ended their marriage. This is probably an example of the way that some men who are not conventionally physically attractive learn to exploit their other attributes - in his case humour, intelligence and great verbal dexterity.
But, in the television age, it was considered that Cook's appearance and voice would be enough to prevent him wooing the electorate and that he could never be leader of the party. There are even those who think that Gordon Brown's dour manner and Scottish accent will prove a handicap electorally.

This is a great tragedy for it means that we shall never have another Attlee as Prime Minister, a man so lacking in charisma that the joke could be made 'an empty taxi pulled up and Mr Attlee got out.' Yet he is almost universally acknowledged as the greatest Prime Minister of the last century.
Robin Cook wouldn't necessarily have been a great party leader or Prime Minister but at a time when we have to endure the likes of Blunkett, Straw, Reid, Clarke et al, the loss to politics is massive.

Friday, August 05, 2005

More Friday Fumblings

I've been trying out Google's new maps, still in beta phase. They're quite impressive, particularly the ability to access satellite images free of charge. The only disappointment was that satellite images for my village were not available at a large enough scale to be of much interest. I was looking forward to a view of my patio from outer space.

But a very weird thing happened after I'd been into Google maps. The news photos on AOL's home page were all replaced with maps of my village. For a brief but terrifying moment I found myself reading a caption about terrorist bombs, illustrated by a map of my street.
Clearly the boys at Google need to do more work on software conflicts.


Last night's Extras was a slight improvement on the previous two but it still doesn't really do the business for me.
I was puzzled by the scene in which Ricky Gervais's character pretends to be a Catholic and attends a Prayer Meeting in a bare church hall.
A Catholic Prayer Meeting?? I've never heard of such a thing. Admittedly, the last time I went near a Catholic Church wasn't that long after I stopped believing in Father Christmas. So I suppose it's just possible that there are a few Catholics who have started behaving like a fringe Evangelical group and sitting in a circle reading passages from the Bible. But it's equally possible that there was a serious failure on the research front.

Tonight's repeat of Peter Kay's spoof docs (C4, 11.10) is my personal favourite, the one about Britain's oldest paper boy, Leonard De Thomkinson.
It's a beautifully observed piece about the kind of eccentric character that exists in every neighbourhood, the kind of person who is universally known and tolerated but not particularly liked. And the writing lifts it above the average by bringing out the contradictions in the character. He's a religious maniac with a love of dirty jokes. And one of the neighbours memorably says something like: 'He's everybody's friend.........but he hasn't actually got any friends."

The Guardian mistakenly referred to Aristotle Onassis as "the shopping magnate" instead of "the shipping magnate".
I can't help wondering if Jackie Kennedy made the same mistake.
That might explain why she found the old gargoyle such a marital magnet.

Nanny Knows Best

Michael White does a profile of Home Office Minister Hazel Blears in today's Guardian. This is the woman I always describe as 'animatronic' so I was interested to see it's a perception shared by an anonymous politician who says: "........she seems to me to parrot the message in a machine-like fashion, to be inflexible in her responses and not to listen. Frequently she fails to see what it is all about." [she could try asking Alfie].
He concedes that she is "well-meaning" but that's the most damning thing you can say about anyone.

Blears herself says: "I have a burning desire to make the world a better place."
Oh My God. Put an electronic tag on her, quick.
It's not the aspiration I object to. It's the expression of it to a journalist in those terms, instead of the more modest 'I'd like to think I'd made some small contribution to improving society.'

And this is Blears talking about us, i.e., those people who do not have the good fortune to be Hazel Blears: ".....they'e capable of taking difficult decisions on complex issues if you give them information, back-up support and treat them sensibly."
Doesn't it give you a warm glow that she has so much faith in you, this passionate supporter of ASBOs and detention without trial?
Or are you more inclined to say: 'Get your smug, patronising, interfering nose out of my life, you bossy, ambitious, uncomprehending little bitch.'?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Open Wide! - the musical

I have a new dentist, a dimunitive man of Eastern European extraction. I'm sure some of the ladies in the village will describe him as 'an absolute poppet'.
The Mail and Express reading classes will sit in the chair in a cold sweat, fearing that he might be an illegal immigrant who is just posing as a dentist and is actually a bricklayer from Kazakhstan.
And if his broken English collides with the strong country accent of some locals, someone is going to turn up for a scale and polish and emerge with all their teeth pulled out and a bill for £3,000.

I noticed that, like every dentist I've visited in recent years, he was wearing clogs. Not the kind of clogs that my north western ancestors wore as they dragged themselves along the cobbles to the early shift at the mill on their rickets-wracked legs. These look more like something from Dr Scholl, whose wooden sandals were so popular with women when I was a child.
I assume that the reason dentists - and, for all I know, brain surgeons - are clunking around in clogs is because they minimise the harm to their feet from standing up all day.

Anyway, to distract myself when I return for my root canal work I am going to visualise the Dentists' Clog Dance which will be the big production number that closes Act One of my new West End musical, Open Wide!
A line of dentists wielding giant syringes will perform a traditional northern clog dance, re-choreographed with some contemporary touches by Matthew Bourne.
Sit down, lie back,
Tuck this tissue in your shirt
It's just a little prick
It isn't going to hurt.
Behind them a chorus line of dental nurses wearing white coats and hot pants will twirl cheerleaders' pom poms made from lengths of dental floss.
Have a rinse,
Spit, don't swallow,
Expect discomfort
Until tomorrow.
Downstage, writhing in front of the footlights, will be Les Miserables, unable to find an NHS dentist and too poor to go private, pulling their own teeth out with pliers and singing a depressing dirge-like theme that is a vivid counterpoint to the jaunty number being sung and danced behind them.

If the dentist is still dredging my canal at the final curtain (of the show, not me expiring in the chair) I shall have to move on to a consideration of the reviews for Open Wide! - the musical.
The Sun's 'Dental? It's Mental!' is sufficiently ambiguous to be used on the posters.
The Express's punning effort is also gratifying: 'The Crown Prince of musicals! You won't find a better way of filling an evening. Expect a long waiting list for this one.'
The broadsheets, however, were more damning:
'Difficult to decide who was in more pain, the cast or the audience' - The Times.
'It hasn't put me off going to the dentist but I may never go to the theatre again' - The Guardian.
And I knew it was a mistake to send free tickets to Dentistry Today: 'puts the image of patient-friendly dentistry back 100 years.'
But Tom Paulin on Newsnight Review, always unpredictable, said "A scintillating satire on the crisis in British dentistry that illuminates the public/private dichotomy at the heart of New Labour whilst brilliantly exploring the sub-text of the intimate, and some might even say erotic, relationship between dentist and patient."

'All done, Mr Lupin. That wasn't too bad, was it?'
'Not too bad? It was musical theatre at its best. Borac, you're a star!'

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Mutually Assured Hypocrisy

Last night the BBC News led on a 'looming international crisis' over Iran's nuclear fuel programme. The fear, of course, is that they will use the technology to develop nuclear weapons.
Now I'm as concerned as the next person at regimes like Iran having nuclear weapons. The problem is that I have this childish belief in consistency and a dislike of double standards.
It would be perfectly reasonable, and indeed desirable, to have an international policy that prohibited nations from having nuclear weapons and worked towards universal disarmament.
But the present position is that a handful of developed nations assert the right to have nuclear weapons and seek to deny that right to others.
It's rather as though the wealthy upper classes were allowed to drink and drive even though it was illegal for everyone else. 'Of course, it's not a good idea and we'd rather they didn't but they tend to be more responsible people and lots of them live in the country and have to drive to the pub.'

Britain is soon to take a decision on replacing Trident, our 'independent' nuclear deterrent. I use inverted commas because I believe we don't actually own it but lease it from the Americans. It's the ultimate in big boys' toys and few come more expensive.
Every Prime Minister, on taking office, has to write a personal instruction to fire nuclear weapons which is then locked away in our nuclear submarines. As I understand it, this is for the scenario in which Britain is already a smouldering wasteland and the weapons are fired in retaliation. The submarine crews, unable to make contact with the mainland and finding there's no Today programme, open the safe and say 'Mr Tony, he say yes!' Mr Tony, like most of the population, may well be dead but wait till you see what we do to the other guys.
If one of Blair's last acts is to replace Trident, we can assume that after years of studying his favourite book he has found 'an eye for an eye' more appealing than 'turn the other cheek'.

So far as 'rogue states' and 'the axis of evil' are concerned, the ultimate sanction to prevent them joining the nuclear club is to bomb them to buggery. In the interests of world peace, of course.
But if they can manage to acquire the weapons before we get round to it, they suddenly disappear from the political radar and can be as evil and repressive as they like. Hardly surprising then that they want the nuclear weapons.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


The BBC have finally given Graham Norton a late night chat show, having blown at least £3.5M of our money on poaching him from C4. The Bigger Picture began last night. A pleasant enough way to spend half an hour if you'd just returned from the pub but not worth staying up for and it certainly didn't live up to all the pre-launch hype.

The input from his guests was minimal because he spent most of the time reading a rather lame script from an autocue.
The low point was Richard Wilson playing a shuttle astronaut doing a two-way with Norton. This was so unfunny it would probably have been cut from Saturday morning children's television.

Before the programme the continuity announcer warned that there would be 'colourful' language. This was a new one on me. The warning is usually of 'strong' language. Admittedly there were none of the 'F's and 'C's that peppered his C4 show but there was a 'wank' and a 'wanking'. So somewhere in BBC guidelines it must be written down that 'wank' is colourful rather than strong. I wonder if 'colourful' equates to the Board of Film Classification's 'mild swearing'. What nonsense it all is. Surely, like beauty, the degree of profanity is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.

Original and cutting edge this news-based programme certainly wasn't unless you think jokes about David Blunkett's blindness and the size of Cherie Blair's mouth fall into that category.
This wouldn't matter so much if it weren't for the pre-publicity. This was Graham Norton in yesterday's Guardian: "I want this show to be the bridge between an old persona and a newer, slightly more mature persona.............our challenge is tone........when we open the show out to discussion with the guests, I think we can take it to more serious places."

Well maybe that was the intention. But it didn't happen. And why would we want it to happen? People who enjoyed his C4 show probably wanted more of the same. Kicking your USP into touch is seldom a good idea. This craving for reinvention as a more mature and serious performer is a bit like all those old comics who wanted to play Hamlet. And Graham Norton without the 'strong' language and the dildos is like Hamlet without the Prince.


Graham Norton's C4 series was called So Graham Norton. His production company is called So Television. But the use of 'so' for emphasis is not confined to camp comedians. It has spread into general slang as in 'I'm so not enjoying this programme.' I've sometimes used it here, although only ironically or for intended comic effect. I would never use it in real life, any more than I would say 'Nice!' or 'Bless!' or 'Christ, look at the tits on that one!'

But did you know that 'so' was also an early 20th century code word for gay men?
I'm indebted to one of my literary heroes, the late Arthur Marshall, for this information. He recounts in his autobiography how, as a teenager in the 1920s, he saw some graffiti in a station toilet that said 'Why don't we form a So Club?' Apparently, it derived from the German 'Er ist so' which was the equivalent of the English 'He is one of those'.
The young and innocent Marshall, still at Oundle public school and probably still ignorant of his own sexuality, puzzled over this graffiti and wondered whether SO stood for 'Sanitary Orderlies' or 'Station Operatives' and why they had chosen such a strange meeting place.

I don't think that the Japanese 'Ah so!' has any connection with either of the above meanings. I'm not really confident that the Japanese actually say that, being reluctant to rely on the British comedy industry as a reliable source.
No doubt my Japanese-speaking nephew will correct me if I'm wrong and possibly chastise me for even venturing into the earthquake-prone territory of racial stereotypes.
Frankly, it's so out of character.

My Big Secret Wedding

I didn't post anything yesterday. I was too disturbed by an email I received from the Wedding Channel. It seems that, using the name 'David', I have married a woman called 'Beth'. The Wedding Channel hope our wedding was everything we dreamed it would be and wish us great joy in our lives together.

It's terribly kind of them, of course. But I have no recollection of marrying this Beth woman.
Am I suffering from a rare disorder which means I have a secondary personality of which I was hitherto unaware?
Or did someone slip one of those 'date rape' drugs into my morning coffee and whisk me off to the Registry Office?

Other troubling questions kept me awake last night.
Why had I used the name 'David' and not something more exotic like 'Tarquin'?
What kind of hat did my sister wear?
Is 'Beth' this woman's real name? Or is she an illegal immigrant or one of the Daily Mail's 'bogus asylum seekers' who saw me reading The Guardian and thought I'd be a soft touch for giving her a new identity?
Have I told the Inland Revenue about my new circumstances?
Is Beth aware that there are unlikely to be any little Beths and Davids, unless our wedding gifts included a turkey baster?
Did my gay friends stand outside shouting 'Turncoat!' and 'This is so not a good lifestyle choice!'
Does Beth understand that my shirt collars have to be unbuttoned before ironing and the backs have to be ironed first? And that the dishes have to be thoroughly rinsed after washing in very hot water? And that my Assam tea has to be brewed for precisely four minutes using a timer and then stirred three times before pouring?
Did we go on honeymoon or did we just have a romantic evening at home with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and sing Sondheim songs to each other:
Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?.......
........And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.

I might email these questions to the good people at the Wedding Channel who probably also have a list of our wedding presents.
They tell me their website has advice on writing thank you notes. But as a regular blogger I think I can manage a few thank you notes so long as I remember to sign them 'David'.
Oh My God! Do you think I might have another blog somewhere that records in mind-numbing detail the daily trivia of David and Beth's life together and has a readership of two?

Anyway, if I don't post for a while it's because I'm defragmenting.
My personality.

Blears Alert

Oh dear. The Government are sending animatronic Home Office Minister Hazel Blears round the country to talk to Muslim communities. Clearly, New Labour Jargon is the new weapon in the War on Terror. Or possibly unclearly. Young, radical Muslims are to be rendered confused and comatose by talk of targets and benchmarks.

I think there may have been a software failure when Hazel Blears was on the Today programme this morning. Most questions got the answer "I'm not going to comment on specific cases." Possibly a scratched disk.

Then again, the Blears démarche to northern cities does have a certain synergistic logic to it. If you accept Sir Ian Blair's thesis that the suicide bombers belong to a network that most resembles a 'cult', then who better to engage with them than one of the spear carriers of the cult of New Labour?
The latter cult is controlled by Bin Blair who infiltrated an idealistic and peace-loving belief system, twisting and perverting its ideology into something that most of its followers totally reject, and whose religious beliefs legitimise the killing of thousands of innocent civilians in pursuit of his objectives.


Talking of Blair, we learn that in addition to resigning as PM before the next election, he will also stand down as an MP.
All kinds of noble reasons are said to be behind this move, including not cramping the style of PM Brown, the man he's been fighting for the past ten years.

But, as I pointed out on 3rd June, leaving the Commons is not without financial benefits.
When he stands down as an MP he'll get a 'resettlement grant' of £59,000. When he reaches 60, he'll also get his MP's pension of £39,900. (Most male public sector workers have to wait until 65 to get their superannuation).
These benefits are on top of his PM's pension of £62,400 and a 'redundancy payment' when he leaves No 10 of £31,000, even though nobody made him redundant and he chose to leave the job.

Most commentators seem to think it rather sordid to mention that these benefits might be a consideration for the famously avaricious Blairs.
Blair's biographer, Anthony Seldon, said this morning that Blair probably "wants to develop the moral and religious sides of his life."
Presumably those are the same moral and religious sides that allowed him to slaughter thousands of innocent..............see above, and countless previous posts.