on being anti-social

You are standing having a conversation – awkwardly on the sidelines, yes, and stooping to hear while worrying that your stammer might reappear as you try to shape words, but still, having a conversation – and you are not looking for the way out, and you are not wanting to run away, and this is a big deal.

You didn’t have an eighteenth birthday party. You were invited to some, but turned down the invitations after that night. You could feel the beat of the music when you reached the front gate. Through your body. Thumping in your head. Constant. Beat. Beat. You stood at the door. Beat. Beat. Silhouetted against the window those inside interacted. Beat. Beat. You knocked (did you knock? Did you really knock?) trying not to be heard, looking for an excuse not to go in, an excuse to go back to the house, knowing that the “you’re home early”s could be more easily dealt with than what was in there, people who – despite sharing classrooms with them for years – you barely knew. There was no answer. You didn’t wait long, walked back along back roads to avoid bumping into anyone who might be going. It was cold on the walk back. You were sick in the small park near the house. You stood there for some time, leaning against a wall, conscious of each breath. Later invitations were easy to turn down, a range of excuses prepared.

Was this simply the teenage awkwardness of fearing your emotions where you feel each beat of the heart push the blood through you, where you feel that blood career through your body, where you feel that blood in your ears, and where every sound, every whisper, echoes so it hurts? Was it the shyness that comes from knowing someone you like might talk to you and find out exactly what you are and why you are? Turned out it wasn’t. As time passed it became apparent that it was something more. That anxiety, the discomfort of strangers, persisted – and gatherings were missed, reception invitations rejected, and excuses easier to come by the older you get. And when forced (usually, unavoidably, for work) into groups beyond two or three people you became conscious that you didn’t listen to what was going on but looked over the shoulders and over the heads of those near you checking for exits.

But there are a dozen people in this room. And you are standing having a conversation – awkwardly on the sidelines, yes, and stooping to hear while worrying that your stammer might reappear as you try to shape words, but still, having a conversation without trying to leave – with someone who only a few months ago you’d never met. And it might not seem like much to the naturally gregarious, those around whom a group gravitates. But it is. And it feels odd to be as comfortable as you are in the company of people you’ve met in person only a couple of times but who you feel you know well. But that’s social media for you – it’s genuinely social, even for the anti-social. Interaction on-line makes interaction with the real people easier. Because they know your foibles and quirks, and are quicker to forgive the awkwardness. And living becomes a little easier.

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A man. A plan. An offshore scheme. Panama.

Let me begin with a confession. I have for twenty five years been a Guardian reader. It started when someone passed a copy around at a party, and after reading Nancy Banks Smith I was hooked. They knew what they were doing though. She doesn’t write as much any more, but once you’ve formed the habit you’ll accept less strong fare but more of it. As time went on I’d read the comment pages, occasionally nod in agreement (never at Simon Jenkins though. I’m not an animal). Sometimes I think that if they ditched the Saturday Review section and Marina Hyde left I’d be away. But for what it’s worth I remain a Guardian reader. And subject to the stereotypical views attributed to all of that class. I am though less certain in my views, finding life complicated. Messy.

Which brings me to Panama .

My gut reaction is similar to that of most people. I feel queasy about it, uncomfortable with the mechanisms used. But…

You see, there’s always a but. Mechanisms to minimise or even avoid tax are common. You are even encouraged to use them.  For example, various mechanisms are put in place to encourage avoidance of certain taxes, eg to encourage saving and investment UK tax law allows a tax efficient device the ISA which allows investment (subject to limits) with no income tax due, or the rules on Potentially exempt transfers (PETs) in inheritance tax where lifetime transfers giving away part of the estate more than seven years before death are not caught and those within the period are caught at tapered rates. In relation to the latter I spent time advising clients in executries and wills and estate planning. If I did not advise on the use of PETs and using the spousal exemption to the maximum or in certain cases using a discretionary 0% rate trust (to allow the estate to maximise the amount passing without tax) I’d potentially have been negligent. Is this legal? yes. IS it moral? I don’t have a problem with it (it allows families to retain assets), but others will, as the net effect is to deprive the exchequer. The Panama situation is, on one view, this on a larger scale using the flexibility that different legal systems give you.

Is it the use of a “foreign” legal system that makes us uncomfortable? Even here, the use of foreign systems is something that happens regularly with no problems. People use different legal systems all the time in day to day business. For example, many Scottish businesses (advised by their lawyers) use English law in their contracts because it is easier to raise finance on English contracts rather than the more convoluted and formalistic Scottish rules (which requires notification of any transfer of a right to enforce the contract (and claim any payment under it) to the debtor in the contract). Is this use of a “foreign law” to circumvent the restrictions of Scots law legal? Yes. Is it immoral? Should the Scottish business be forced to use Scots law and as a result incur greater costs and place their business at an economic disadvantage relative to non-Scottish competitors? I, again, have no problem with this. I know a number of lawyers in other jurisdictions across Europe who use English law – sometimes to use the English courts, sometimes to use English contract law – and each time for the financial advantage of their client business. There is a growing business in Europe where companies verging on insolvency seek to change their centre of main interests to England in order to make use of the law of administration, corporate rescue. These actions all involve (to some extent) the circumvention of domestic rules for advantage. But this does not attract moral opprobrium.  It doesn’t make us queasy.

So why do the revelations of the Panama papers make us uncomfortable in a way that using PETs or a Scottish business using English law doesn’t? where are the boundaries of morality when a course of action is perfectly legal? What is the qualitative difference between the Panama revelations and these other mechanisms and approaches detailed above? I am interested in exploring this because subjectively they feel different. My moral sensitives are pricked. But I am struggling to explain why.

Because real life is complicated. It’s messy.

And the  more I think about this,  the more I incline to a view that if you want to prohibit someone’s freedom to act in particular ways this should be done explicitly – rather than relying on condemnation derived from a nebulous moral sense that may differ from person to person.

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Mistur Taggurt, they wur thu droppins o a gigantic dug



“A dinnae ken whae ye are. A dinnae ken whit ye want. If ye’re lookin fur a ransum tae pay fur yur dug’s microchip a can tell ye a dinnae hae cash. But whit I hae are a verra particuler set o skills, skills a hae acquirt ower a verra lang career. Skills thut mak me a nichtmare for fowk lik ye. If ye hand ower the dug now, that’ll be thu end o it. I willnae look fur ye. I willnae pursue ye. But if ye dinnae a’ll look fur ye, an a’ll fin’ ye, an a’ll issue ye wi a fixt penulty notice.”


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The albums that defined my teenage years

They say that the things you listen to as a teenager determine your listening habits for life. (I don’t know who “they” are, to be honest, but it seems the sort of thing that people who say they like listening to stuff, your Stewart Lees, your Grimmys offof the thing that Grimmy’s in, and your Fearne Brittons, would say.) And like most people who  encounter a fatuous aphorism on the internet I’m not going to quibble with the veracity of it, particularly when it is true. What I listened to as an angst ridden teenager hiding in my room refusing to engage with humanity did determine my listening habits for life.

Over the years as a connoisseur of the medium of audio I have acquired up to three singles, a number of cassettes, and an extensive CD collection. The foundations for that CD collection were set down long ago. In childhood.

Music was not a big thing in my house growing up. My mum and dad didn’t have a big record collection. There was the Andy Williams Christmas album, the Jim Reeves Christmas album, the Mario Lanza Christmas album, and an album called Welcome to Scotland – which featured poetry readings, atrocious music, whining, and left the listener feeling that if this was Scotland the production team were welcome to it. The Welcome to Scotland album was played rarely in the house. I remember hearing it only once, when visitors had outstayed their welcome and my mum and dad wanted to go to bed. (In those terms the album was very effective.) The other albums tended to be played at certain fixed points throughout the year (mainly in December, although occasionally into early January).

Without much music in the house when I was growing up I didn’t really listen to music on the radio, and avoided the programmes on the television about music. For people of my age watching Top of the Pops or listening to the chart countdown was some sort of ritual of maturity. I didn’t watch Top of the Pops other than on Christmas day when the telly got left on and no-one could be bothered to get up and switch it over or off. And I have still never heard a chart countdown, other than in hospital where a visiting doctor is reading things to passing medical students. People at school would talk about this band and that band and I had no idea what they were going on about.

But I did buy some stuff. And when I borrowed cassettes from the local library, would record them.

So what appeared in my extensive teenage record collection?

The first album I recorded (tape to tape is killing the music industry, you know) was the Yes Minister episode Doing the Honours. The other side had, I think, The Devil you know (where Jim Hacker thinks he’ll go to the European Commission). I’d never seen the show at the time, but the writing was so sharp and the characterisation so strong I could bear listening to the episodes again and again. After that I recorded the whole of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Primary and Secondary Phases – and spent more time listening to the latter (Rula Lenska and john Le Mesurier’s wise old bird) mainly because the recording was better. And there was a Not the Nine O’clock News album which had the trucking song, Gerald the gorilla, and the rest – and which I listened to so frequently my mum and dad bought a copy for me for Christmas.

The library also had a copy of the audio release of Genesis of the Daleks – a compressed version of the TV six parter, and I still take to crying “what about Sarah and Harry?” and  “primitive but undeniably a Dalek” at my spouse and the children at inopportune moments.

The first album I bought with my own money was a Hancock’s Half Hour cassette in a market in Blackpool. It had Twelve Angry Men on one side and The Lift on the other. I learned them by heart, and when a couple of years later Radio 4 broadcast a series of Hancocks over the Christmas holiday (beginning with the TV Set) I recorded the lot. Home recording became important to me. C60 cassettes filled with Whose line is it anyway (the episodes with Stephen Fry and John Sessions), Knowing me, knowing you; Saturday night fry, and the like.

At school I had an art teacher, obsessed with Bob Dylan – who played the whining nasal moan at class after class, to the approval of a bloke in the class who played guitar and nodded along to the music. I complained about this being played in the class and when asked what I’d listen to had a class subjected to the Barry Cryer guest appearance in Saturday Night Fry where Barry promised he could provide a lewd ambiguity for any occasion. This was not generally popular. But to be fair, was as unpopular as Dylan in that only two people in the room liked it. Ostracised and cast adrift from my peers on account of having nothing in common I retired from foisting my taste on people

And as I went through school and on to University and beyond I acquired Goon Shows, I’m sorry I’ll read that agains, Round the Hornes, as much Hancock as I could find commercially available, as well as the newer stuff that made it on to cassette – Fist of Fun, Harry Hill’s Fruit Corner, On the Hour and the like. In front of me as I type I have the Knowing me, Knowing you cassette releases from 1993. Eventually I moved from comedy to radio dramas. I got the George Smiley adaptations with Bernard Hepton as Smiley (vastly simplifying le Carre’s plots). Maurice Denham Maigrets, and from there classic serials.

From my teenage years then stopping to listen to something was primarily listening to comedy or drama. And while in time I bought some music it is still the case. When I look at the MP3 collection I have today it’s full of comedy shows either recorded off air (I have all bar two episodes of Down the Line) or acquired through the late lamented audiogo or CD rips. My CD collection has the complete Hancock radio series. My MP3s include Les Dawson,  Kevin Eldon shows, Eddie Robson’s Welcome to our village please invade carefully, as well as repurchases of old worn out cassettes from twenty years ago.

So, I go to bed most nights listening to a comedy. Just as I did as a teenager.

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Project Pollyanna

There is a risk to most things in life. Earlier today I wandered round to the local butcher. I crossed three roads on the way there, three on the way back. Each time I contemplated the possibility of being mown down by a passing motorist, perhaps a regular Areté reader enraged by my Granta book bag,  and each time I took the risk. Then I cooked raw meat, putting at risk not just me but my whole family. But after cremating the beef in an oven that was too hot for too long the one remaining risk was some carbon based poisoning. Living involves risks, and people assess these risks and act all the time.

But there is one activity in modern life that is risk free, where the prospect of someone mentioning that there is a risk, the teeniest tiniest risk that things might not work out, and a former Chancellor of the Exchequer will make his way to a television studio to condemn scaremongering.

For, apparently, if the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union this is risk free. A two year negotiation of terms to leave (during which access to the free market, and the principle of free movement of persons and free movement of goods remain up for grabs, with no clear advance determination as to the price for this in terms of continued adherence to European Union law) will not create uncertainty. It will not create any conceivable risk to any sector of the economy at all. The financial services sector will be unaffected. There will be no impact on interest rates. House prices will remain as they are. For departure from the European Union is an action which will lead to no adverse consequences, only good ones. Where people will be happier. The UK will have free trade with no restraints. We will either have vastly restricted or wholly unrestricted immigration (depending on who is selling the message). The sun will always shine. And for tea there will always be buttered scones (pronounced “scones” just the way you like it, not that abomination the other lot say).

At least this vision is the impression an observer has of the leave campaign following the reaction to the governor of the Bank of England’s evidence to the Treasury select committee today. Mark Carney said that there were risks if the UK remained in the EU – given the potential exposure to the ongoing commitment to economic and monetary union in the Eurozone. Mark Carney said there were risks if the UK voted to leave the EU – not least because Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon puts a two year cap on the negotiations of an agreement to leave, failing which the UK would be out  and trying to negotiate access to the single market from the outside. His comments were not unreasonable. They were nuanced. They recognised an essential of human life – that decisions involve risks, and that decisions are best made when you are informed of those risks.

But the reaction of Jacob Rees Mogg in committee, and leave campaigners after, suggests they don’t want voters to be aware of any risks. For all will be fine. Their response reminds me of the approach of Alex Salmond during the independence referendum in Scotland. Any concern (however, mild) was presented as “scaremongering”. Because, in his view (and in the view of the leave campaign now) there could never be anything bad happening as a result of the one decision the panaceamonger is trying to sell. But I am of the view that this is not a good approach to politics. People (generally) are not stupid. People know that actions have consequences. People know there might be some things that won’t be as good, but are happy to find out what would be better to balance that up. Pretending nothing can possibly go wrong is mendacious. It makes those open to being convinced, the key voters in a referendum, sceptical- for they know that no decision has no downside.

If those who campaign based solely on the risks are project fear, those that pretend there are no risks are stuck in project Pollyanna.

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The EU referendum, John Longworth and the British Chambers of Commerce

If you head an apolitical organisation that publicly takes a neutral position on a major political issue then when questioned by the media – as a representative of your members – you should not take a political position. So, during the independence referendum in Scotland the Law Society of Scotland did not take up any public position. It was conscious that among its membership there were supporters, and active campaigners, of both sides. And during the referendum the Society enhanced its reputation by providing balanced papers on a variety of issues on the implications of a vote in favour of independence. As a member of the Law Society of Scotland I am not conscious of any senior officer bearer taking up a public position during media interviews. Former presidents of the Law Society appeared on both sides of the referendum debate. But they did not do so in any representative capacity, and no then current office bearer, nor the chief executive assumed a public position. If any had – for one side or the other – the membership of the Society would, rightly, have objected that a person worthy of interview solely because he or she was in a representative role in the Society was not representing those members and should be suspended or dismissed. As it was, that didn’t happen and the Society left the referendum campaign with reputation enhanced – as a decent and honest broker trying to provide independent information to the public and the media.

This shouldn’t need explaining but given the hysterical reaction of disgraced former Cabinet minister, Dr Liam Fox (who resigned in disgrace) and Boris Johnson to the suspension of John Longworth, as director general of the British Chambers of Commerce it appears necessary to state this. The BCC represents 52 chambers of commerce across the UK. And through that it represents thousands of businesses of all sizes. That membership is split. The BCC has taken up a neutral position to respect that split. For the director general, interviewed solely because he is director general, to take a public position undermines his organisation and its membership. His suspension is not government interference or indicative of project fear, as the journalistic cheerleaders for the leave campaign (those fans with laptops like Julia Hartley Brewer), are arguing this morning. It is an organisation trying to protect its reputation and its neutrality.    Those who argue that the media was interested in the views of Longworth know the only interest people have in his views is as a representative of the BCC. I don’t recall the press rushing to the door of John Longworth for a quote prior to his assumption of the role of director general of the BCC in September 2011 (apart from the time he was representing the CBI  as chair of its retail and distributive trades panel).

He represents a neutral organisation. He took a line while speaking as representative of that organisation. He therefore undermined its neutrality. His suspension is right.


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Please sign my petition banning referendum poetry


I’ve had the call to launch my mission

So started up an e-petition

Its object honest, pure, and good

To save us all, each neighbourhood,

From tortured metre, inept verse,

Fractured similes and worse

Prepared intending to deceive

Supporting stay; supporting leave

Garbled lines that just confuse

None inspired by any muse.

The safest course for all readers

Is to make it clear to leaders

Against such work we all do stand

Until the bloody lot is banned.


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On the early appearance of EU referendum poetry

Tortured non-arguments hidden in verse

Are things to which most normal folk are averse.

So Leave or Remain camps you know what to do

Destroy every stanza mentioning  EU.

‘cos each inept poem, causes such distress

Do mankind a favour and quietly suppress.


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Loss and absence

When the news broke I turned to my wife.

“have you seen?” I said, my voice hushed.

She covered her eyes, nodded.

I held her. We could do little else. At times like this we need support, the warmth of human contact.

“we should see if the children are all right.”

She took my hand, and we went upstairs. They slept, oblivious. In repose their faces so relaxed, so innocent. Unaware of the maelstrom engulfing the world’s media.

I leaned over my daughter, gently kissed her forehead. “He’s gone,” I whispered. “He’s gone.” My eyes prickled with tears.

I didn’t, couldn’t, sleep. Those first moments, the first nights, after an absence are hardest. Would there be a press conference? Some statement? Or was the airport uncontactable?

I switched on the radio. Nothing. It was almost as if they didn’t care. But I knew.

I knew.

As dawn broke the birdsong seemed strangely muted. The passers by making their way home from late shifts or off to early shifts trudged slowly, dragging their feet. They knew the world was not the same.

Tim had gone.

A man on the internet I had not heard of had briefly trended on twitter, and gone.

This was a gamechanger.

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The Jeremy Corbyn story that nobody wanted to publish

It is a great pleasure today to write about the Jeremy Corbyn celebrity tour of Slade prison – known as #JC4PM@SLADE – which the media has failed to cover. I want people to know about the existence of the tour, and I also want to alert people to the fact that none of the newspapers I contacted are interested in reporting it. Journalist after journalist has told me that despite the appearance of Jeremy Corbyn and his top celebrity team, with John McDonnell’s ten best haiku, Ken Livingstone doing his “my contribution to the national success of the Labour party has been my newt” gag (you have to be there to hear it! Hilarious!) and Mark Serwotka playing Jimmy Shand tunes on the piano accordion, the story was ‘not newsworthy’.

‘Not newsworthy’ is obviously not a scientific term. It’s purely subjective. And it’s also just absolutely plain wrong if you consider what the #JC4PM@SLADE tour is, because we have got a veritable plethora of celebrities prepared to visit Slade prison and to rally the troops (but not those troops Ken and John! Don’t panic!) in the same way as he had last summer. We were not asked to do this by the Labour Party, perish the thought – or even by Jeremy Corbyn’s office. It was something we drew up together.

We had hoped to have Michael Parkinson, or even The Goodies, when we visited Slade, but unfortunately they were busy with celebrity commitments so we have a top line up including that red-haired man who tells the weather on Anglia TV, a pair of script writers for someone quite famous, a former Guardian journalist well connected with the heyday of the world of television, a bloke fresh from a highly successful season at the Al Hambra Swansea, and Janey Godley fresh from her Scottish TV New Year’s eve ratings triumph. And I can assure you that there will be no Buck Tarbrush or any of that lot.

As someone who has put on comedy night fundraisers (I’ve raised flags and put up posters in more places than I care to remember, I can tell you!), I know that many of these names would do nothing for Labour before Jeremy Corbyn was leader. But now that the party is marching resolutely onwards to electoral success because we are prepared to discuss the big issues – the Falklands/Malvinas, filling in the incorrect tax return, and the like – they want nothing more than to sprinkle the stardust of celebrity on the movement (but not the Larkin/Amis/Wain reactionary movement, eh guys?).

So why aren’t the media reporting on the #JC4PM@SLADE tour? Why is it being dismissed as not newsworthy? Why aren’t we being told that Jeremy Corbyn has support from across entertainment and culture and that these talented people are prepared to put their reputation on the line for the Labour leader?

You know the answer. And I know the answer.

That’s right. The answer is MSM bias. And that MSM bias is why you will never find an article like this in the pages of a newspaper and heavily promoted by a newspaper website for clickbait.

So in drawing attention to this on my blog, I hope I will manage to make a difference.

In the next few days I am aiming for as many as some hits and from that small acorn a great oak tree of people discussing it, joking about it on the twitter, and abusive comments to my facebook page  may appear prompting a small PA report in newspapers that previously reacted with disinterest.

Many in the media may oppose Corbynomics but, in the end, they will have to respond to that.


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It Happened One Night

Our phone was at the bottom of the stairs on a little wooden cabinet; sitting squat, cream, a cord of ringlets connecting the receiver. Standard GPO Mayfair style? In my head, yes. In my head it’s still our old phone, town and four digit number printed in the middle of the dial. When you spoke you sat on the second or third bottom stair, and everything you said could be heard upstairs and down. Hard for a teenager flirting badly in hour long phone calls about poems and stories. But had the phone gone by then? Were we on the new number, the six digit number? Had we moved from the old hand dial to push buttons by the night the call came? I can’t remember. The details aren’t there. In my head it’s the old phone. The old number. The ones from being small.

I should have been there, but I wasn’t. I was revising. For exams after Christmas. I’d wanted an excuse. I didn’t want to go. So I wasn’t there. I’m in the house when the phone rings, in the living room when the call comes, probably watching the television. It’s after seven o’clock. My mum answers. We stay in the living room. There’s a laugh.

Then there isn’t a laugh.

When she comes back through she tells us it was my granny, that she’d asked if my mum had heard the bang. And my mum had laughed because she’d thought that it was one of my sisters, that they’d dropped something, that they’d broken an ornament. But my granny was serious and had told her that a plane had crashed into the house four doors away but that she and my sisters and my uncle were all right. They were all all right.

And we put on the news that’s on just after seven, Channel Four. And there’s nothing on. No mentions. Until the presenter (Jon Snow? In my head it’s Jon Snow) says that a Jumbo jet had gone missing in the Scottish borders.

A jumbo jet.

It’s confusing. That’s enormous. If that had crashed into the house four doors away then why was my granny’s house fine?

And then we hunt for news. Channel to channel. And it’s confirmed it’s a jumbo. And on Border TV within half an  hour or so a call goes out for medical help. For anyone. For everyone with medical experience across the region to go. To help. And my mum is a nurse and she phones for a lift to go. And doctors and nurses and ambulancemen go. Because people want to help.

And I keep watching. Flick from channel to channel. Every snippet of news. And it’s impossible. The news is garbled, messy. There are two hundred and fifty people on the plane. More. The petrol station is on fire. The petrol station we pass on the bus.

Later, some of this turns out not to be true, but then. It sounds like hell. And I’m not there.

And when my mum comes back later she tells us about the police cordon, about the gawpers lining up for a view, about her threatening to walk past the petrol station  through the underpass below the railway line, to get to her mum and her girls to see they’re all right. And about heading to the centre and finding that she was not needed. That none of them were needed. There aren’t injuries.

There are no injuries.

Not then.


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Reflections on the resignation of a man who writes in a newspaper from a political party: a personal response






































Yeah, they’re screwed but what does it mean for Ed Miliband?

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Review-Roger Hargreaves’s Mr Christmas

Like many parents at this time of year I read my children Christmas books. Tonight’s choice from my youngest was Mr Christmas, a late addition to the Roger Hargreaves Mr Men series.

When it comes to the Mr Men I am a traditionalist. I read the stories to my children doing an Arthur Lowe impersonation. I prefer the morality tales of the first twenty or so books, where a small character is sadly afflicted by the curse of nominative determinism (Happy, Greedy, Uppity, Messy, Tickle) and over the course of the story encounters something that impacts on that characteristic. In the ideal Mr Men story the characteristic is remedied and the nominative determinism that has tainted the life of the Mr Man is thrown off demonstrating the importance of free will to pre school children. In much the same way that The Bill went off the rails when the show started concentrating on the personal lives of the characters, things all went wrong when the Mr Men started making guest appearances in other Mr Men’s books. At times the guest appearance involved the Mr Man having resumed the character flaw from his eponymous tome. What sort of message is that to send to children?

Now Mr Christmas is a late entry to the series. Illustrated by Adam Hargreaves it shows little sign of the classic Roger Hargreaves formula. In it Mr Christmas, who lives at the South Pole and has a penguin as a postman, is invited by Father Christmas to deliver presents to the Mr Men because there are so many of them Father Christmas can’t make it round all of them without help. This confuses the small child. There are lots of children in their nursery or school. More, in fact, than there are Mr Men. But Father Christmas can’t handle the pressure of delivering to the forty odd Mr Men. He needs to contract out his work, in a manner which fails to satisfy basic requirements of public procurement legislation. This creates unnecessary panic in the child that Christmas may not be delivered, due to pressure of work.

More confusing though is Father Christmas’s relationship to Mr Christmas. He is referred to, throughout, as Mr Christmas’s uncle. Given the shared surname it may be thought by the casual reader that Father Christmas is his paternal uncle. However, Mr Christmas’s mother may be Father Christmas’s sister, and be a single parent, or in a relationship but has retained her own name, or may have reasserted her name following a relationship breakdown. I have discounted the possibility that an Icelandic system of surname allocation is adopted (with “mas” meaning son) given the later Little Miss Christmas. On this important question of the relationship between Father and Mr Christmas the book is sadly silent.

Contemplation of the blood relationship between Father and Mr Christmas does lead one down some difficult paths. We are aware from earlier books, Mr Small and Mr Silly being two classic illustrations, that Mr Men and humans co-exist in the world. However, the prospect of inter species breeding, creating some sort of Gallifrey worrying hybrid, is not raised in other books. Mr Christmas though hints at the issue. Father Christmas is a big bloke, beard, hat, the usual stuff. Mr Christmas is a Mr Man. Now, whether maternal or paternal uncle the physical appearance of Father Christmas this suggests that, unless the parents of Mr Christmas have adopted a Mr Man and a Little Miss, there is cross breeding. The matter of fact way in which this is presented in the text is commendable, but does little to assist the parental reader in addressing the inevitable questions asked.

Cumulatively I feel these factors impact on my rating of the book so two stars.


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Analysis of the political debate

Let us be clear on this: any observer will note that everyone seems certain. Whether you are of the view that something or nothing must be done the position taken is certain. There are some who with certainty say that something must be done.  And as this is something we must do it.  And there are others who say with certainty that this is wrong and that nothing should be done, or that while something should be done the something that is proposed is not desirable and that other things should be done, although the nature of those other things is such that in effect they are things that amount to nothing. And those who argue that nothing (or a collection of things that are something but in effect amount to nothing) must be done say, with certainty, that those who are in favour of doing something have not thought about the consequences of doing something, and that doing something will mean that a much worse thing will happen. And those who argue that something must be done point out, with certainty, that doing nothing has consequences too, because doing nothing is the omission of doing something and that the consequences of failing to do something (or doing things that in effect amount to doing nothing) will mean that a much worse thing than the something they propose will happen. The difficulty in comprehending how to proceed is not helped by the fact that the main person who wants to do something always seems to want to do something. Indeed, two years ago he wanted to do something that was directly contradictory to the thing he wants to do now – but at the time it was a thing that could be done, and so he would have been prepared to do it. Because it would have been something. However, he is now glad that he did not do something then, because if he had done something then it would have meant that something worse might have happened now, and that is an even worse thing than the thing that happened because he did nothing.  Now this might seem to make things easier, but the person who wants to do nothing is pretending that he would be happy to do something if the thing that could be done did not actually amount to anything by setting a series of conditions as to things that he knows are impossible to attain, and consequently amount to nothing. Every observer knows that he always wants to do nothing, and so arguing that he has carefully considered the position and concluded that doing nothing is the answer sits awkwardly with his never wanting to do something, meaning that the things he has said he has considered before deciding that he should not do something but should instead do nothing might actually not have been things at all, and were in fact nothing.

In conclusion if, like me, you are someone who thinks that sometimes you should do something, but that sometimes you should do nothing you fall into an undesirable position of uncertainty which means that your views count for nothing, or something – depending on who you talk to.

I hope that has cleared things up.

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an open telegram to people who write open letters in The Guardian

Stop Stop

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on hearing incidental music in a news segment on a radio news programme

We need a montage on the news.

Let music sweep

Survivors weep

And experts share their views.

Let us skilfully juxtapose

The soaring tones

With victims’ moans –

Let editors impose.

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What the terrorists don’t want

What the terrorists don’t want

is my hot take:

my carefully crafted tweet,

sincerely fake.

Admire how hashtag riddled

I pontificate:

on why my politics is right

and why those others are talking shite.

And you will see

what this tragedy

means really

for me,

for me.

For me.

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The first named British storm – live blog

16.16 – still windy. and wet.

16.10 – the rain is so hard it has set off all the car alarms in the street making a sound like an orchestra of found sounds in an avant garde concerto by an American who spent too long in Paris in his early twenties

16.06 – the trees visible from my bedroom window bend awkwardly in the wind like Jeremy Vine completing a Latin dance move with his much shorter partner on the Strictly.

16.02 – the sky is as grey as the suits worn by Conservative MPs sent to tell a party leader that he or she has lost the confidence of the backbenchers.

15.59 – the lampposts are  swaying like an alcoholic man walking along a road after an evening in a local hostelry.

15.58 – the rain is bouncing off the ground as if it was rain hitting the ground and bouncing.

15.57 – it’s wet and windy, and dark, and wet. And did I mention the wind?

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the news where you are

They sit on the sofa. As he speaks she gazes through him with awestruck attention, nods and smiles to camera as he tells us

– and now a chance to hear the news where you are.

It never is though. With news of crime there is nothing about missing school ties.  It is strangely silent on the trauma caused by the Cheerios running out when all that is left is Weetabix. Amidst the politics the newsreader has no space for the prohibition on living room gymnastics.

– and now the weather.

We look out of the window.

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the shy atheist

in court

he speaks

he swears

(and lies)

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