some personal reflections on the reunion of the Spice Girls and what it means for people like me



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Hastily written topical poem about vilifying matadors

Unlike Papa Hemingway I abhor
The bullfighter’s art. In fact I despises
Brandished scarlet capes, and blood, and gore
But I’m less sure about cats torturing mices.
I, for one, vilify the matador
Whenever the opportunity arises.

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A statement from acting Labour leader Harriet Harman

Responding to tonight’s opinion poll on the Labour leadership election, acting Labour part leader Harriet Harman released the following statement to waiting reporters.

“Oh my God.

“All the time, it was…

“We finally really did it.

“You Maniacs!

“You blew it up!

“Ah, damn you!

“God damn you all to hell!”

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The Greek leader addresses the nation – a hastily written topical poem

“This tryst with mother Europe’s
The best deal I could have got
– Poke my eyes out with a sharp stick
If it’s not.”

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Why I left London

In those last hours before I left London I wandered aimlessly marvelling at this vast cultural mix wondering why I had decided to turn my back on this great city, this cultural hub, in order to allow me to record the reasons in a banal think piece for one of the newspapers.

And as I considered the reasons I remembered that the main ones were that my brief holiday was over and I had reserved seats on the train from King’s Cross.

Sad Chorlton

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PRESS RELEASE: No comment on the media stories

I have issued this press statement to confirm that I will not comment on the media stories that have suggested that being six foot five in height makes me ineligible to be a public representative for the association for the advancement of short people. Nor will I comment on suggestions that I have remained seated behind big tables in various public places when representing the association for the advancement of short people to disguise my height.

I will confirm that the man in the picture shown to me was Robert Wadlow, but he is not, and has never been, a family member.

Please respect my privacy at this time.

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further lines on the judgments in the failed prosecution in HMA v Coulson

The perma-tanned perjurer’s fluorescent

With rage, not sunbed iridescence

As courts have rendered him incandescent

Deciding the Crown should have had more sense

Than prosecute based on evidence

Obtained by one with no lessons

In procedural rules of relevance.

So when Coulson freed was effervescent

The Tomster was not acquiescent.

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lines on Craig Raine’s response in the New Statesman to tweeted critical comment of a poem it had taken two years to get published in the London Review of Books

Raine thinks he was treated like a war criminal

If so, such commentary was subliminal.

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Chris Riddell

The children’s laureate is one of those great ideas you can be forgiven for thinking had been around for longer. The brainchild of Ted Hughes and Michael Morpurgo the central idea is simple: A writer or illustrator (or both) who will promote children’s literature, encouraging the love of reading that so enriches life.

The role has been filled by distinguished illustrators and writers of seemingly simple books for preschool children through to works for young adults; poets and novelists.  And the position that has been filled by such wonderful advocates for reading, and for sharing, poems and stories as Michael Rosen, Malorie  Blackman, Michael Morpurgo, and Julia Donaldson has a wonderful new appointment in Chris Riddell.

I have been to see  Riddell on a few occasions with my children at the Edinburgh book festival. He is an engaging presence before an audience of children – warm and witty, he draws, encourages, and tells stories – and one to one, after the events when slightly awestruck children go to ask about Ottoline and Mr Monroe, or Ada Goth, or exactly how infuriating it is to work with writers, Such as the regular butt of his jokes Paul Stewart, he is a delight, patient and taking the time to listen to and speak with even the most tongue tied. he encourages the  keen doodlers and putative illustrators.

I had no idea that Riddell wrote and illustrated children’s books when I first encountered his work. as a regular Observer reader I was familiar with his cartoons, but when I encountered the beautifully conceived and illustrated Emperor of Absurdia (a dream scape for young readers, drawing them in to a fabulous story where all the quirks and jumps of Dream logic are explained In a final page that still has my six year old oohing and pointing to show where each idea comes from)  realised how fine his work was for the young. They are good for reading aloud too. goth Girl contains a series of literate literary jokes no doubt over the heads of some young readers put there, no doubt, for the author’s amusement initially but mums and dads’ pleasure. But if you want to see the quality of his work try to get hold of the Riddell illustrated Don Quixote, a beautiful abridged version taking what could be an intimidating text and making it accessible, contemporary, and fun.

He’s an excellent choice. Once again, children’s literature and reading is fortunate to have  a fine figurehead and advocate.

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A hastily written topical poem on the successful no case to answer plea in the celebrated case of HMA v Coulson

In HMA against Coulson

When legal argument was done

The judge ruled to Tommy’s fury

“Not every lie is perjury”.

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Some thoughts on reading poems by Craig “Martian” Raine

I read a lengthy poem by Craig Raine.

I clearly won’t be doing that again.

All those Martian metaphors seemed quite vague

And not as perceptive as Norman MacCaig.

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A new poem by Craig Raine

I was playing badminton with Harold Pinter

When by the side of the court

I saw her


Wearing clothes and stuff

With her hair

And her face

And her body

And her legs

And those shoes

With those bits on, like in that poem

And I thought

“how’s about it, darling?

I’m a poet, I am.

Doing clever wordplay in the poems and all that, like.


I’m a cunning linguist”

But I said nothing

But thought I’d go home

And write a poem

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lines written on the suspension of a twitter account based on a picture where a councillor made himself look ridiculous

With a flag, With a flag,
     With a flag upward
Onto the balustrade
     Climbed he with lanyard.
“Crouch down, Ruth’s flag brigade!
“Poke through your flag!” he said.
Onto the balustrade
      Climbed he with lanyard.
“Poke through your flag!” he said
     Look how his face’s dismayed
We know this councillor knew
     Someone had blundered.
Look him straight in the eye
The viewer squirms, let’s out a cry
“This protest’s poor” asks, “Oh why
Onto the balustrade

      Climbed he with lanyard?”
Lanyard man
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Dennis Potter at eighty

I read Dennis Potter before I’d seen anything by him. Just too young to watch The Singing detective when first shown, just the right age for Blackeyes (I think unfairly maligned – a challenging uncomfortable  watch, it made viewer and writer equally complicit in the male gaze and played with ideas of narration, and free will that had been apparent in his writing for years) and a repeat of Pennies from heaven (I had never experienced the pleasure and excitement of watching the opening episodes in viewing television before – Arthur opening the curtains and singing with a female voice, the rendition of You rascal you as morning tea leeched into a death fantasy, tap dancing on coffins. Who knew telly could do this? Who knew it could be so free?). Here was a writer that had taken a youth interested in telly and how it worked since the days I’d first read Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks’s The Making of doctor Who and shown me that telly could deal with big things, with personal things, and could – when used by someone who knew what they were doing, who knew what they wanted – do anything. Hooked, I sought out other things he’d written. Films (even stuff that was not successful such as Secret Friends and MIdnight Movie). I had a teacher who had an old VHS copy of where Adam stood, one of his many pieces about faith (an ongoing theme in his work – there until the end). I watched old repeats as they appeared – Where the buffalo roam with Hywel Bennett, the BBC4 season that salvaged a Beast with two backs and others. I collected the DVDs as released. Bought the books – the slim volume by Peter Stead, the Graham Fuller interviews, both editions of Jon Cook’s study. Over the year I’ve had various thoughts about his work, paths I would have liked to pursue if not doing the job I do.  The similarities between his work and Philip Roth, for example – where intensely personal work (or what seems to be intensely personal work seemingly drawn on the autobiographical (although that’s always a dangerous assumption as Mrs Whitehouse found out)) plays with form, plays with ideas of authorship. Or that relationship between him and faith (even God?) played out over a lifetime of writing.

But this love of his work did not come from his television work initially. The first thing of his I was aware of was a novel from the library in Carlisle. Over time I read TV plays, Waiting for the boat and others, the Nigel Barton plays, Pennies, Singing Detective, Lipstick on your collar, Cold Lazarus, karaoke. I even managed to find a copy of Son of Man on interlibrary loan. But the first thing was a battered first edition of a novel called Hide and Seek. Potter himself seemed to have an odd relationship with the book. It is the volume Bill Paterson’s psychiatrist quotes to Marlowe in The Singing Detective. It seems to lie at the root of some of the more scurrilous stories about Potter picked over by one biographer. I knew nothing of this then in 1988. I found this book in Carlisle library and what was in it was mine.

A curio, Hide and Seek begins with a character declaring he is a character in a novel. What appears to be his story is then uncoupled and unbundled over later sections with layers of authorship,  an awareness of the dangers of reading character as autobiographical, questioning the extent to which focal point characters don’t share aspects of the writer, questioning whether we really have freedom to act. I’d never read anything like it. A book I n the early 70s playing these games with what fiction is. And for a sixteen year old struggling with issues of identity and self it became, if only for a few weeks, the most important thing I’d read. The book that spoke to me. By a writer who spoke, still speaks to me.

So, on what would have been his eightieth birthday for many years of pleasure thank you Mr Potter from the boy I was.

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the books that made me

There was a nice feature in this morning’s Guardian where various writers looked back at childhood reading. Having kids of varying ages, but all keen readers, it’s something I’m interested in. The ways in which breadth of interests in reading prompt curiosity in various topics, that seeing other characters, other worlds, feed empathy. My middle child loves Jacqueline Wilson. there are nights where long after bed time she appears downstairs, in tears, book in hand. It’s Hettie Feather at the moment, whose life Story is provoking the sobs. “I had to keep reading. I Needed to know what happened.” My eldest goes through phases. He works his way through series, has to read all of them, in order. Harry Potter was a project. How to train your dragon another. It’s Philip Pulman now.  He reads closely, spots inconsistencies. An editor’s eye. My youngest has started reading for herself in the past year. Her favourites, a series some would decry, Rainbow Magic – a series about two girls and their encounters with fairies with similar plots. But this familiarity is great. The Language is complex enough. Each plot has its scares where evil Jack Frost and his goblins steal or threaten. But each time he’s outdone, out thought by little girls who get their great ideas only a moment after the little reader. We’re lucky to live with a great range of children’s books available.

For me some books stand out. we had a few Ladybird books in the house. I remember lying in bed at home reading Ned the lonely donkey when I was small – a book with beautiful illustrations. When older I immersed myself in the moomin books. There was never anything as terrifying as the impact on moominland of the comet. What happens to the sea, and the animals, and all life as Moomintroll doesn’t know if the comet will hit, If it is the end of everything. There was no tension Like that of Blind flight, where a child was left at the controls of a light plane after a bird strikes the cockpit. And others: The Moon’s on fire, about the blitz; Emil and the detectives; Robert Westall’s Machine gunners; Asterix; Tintin; and Doctor Who novelisation after Doctor Who novelisation. You never Read as much again as you do when you’re young. You don’t have the time. Reading is never as much fun.

More’s the pity

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The Election

In the most important election of a generation (at least since the last most important election of a generation) I have seen one poster during my walks around the local area. It was hidden in a side street down the side of a house where the entrance to the road had been blocked up while months of bridge repairs are to be carried out. It took me some trouble to find it.

As the ground war sees this mass public engagement I have throughout the months since the referendum now received four leaflets.

Two are from the SNP (one sent by post).

Two are from Labour (both delivered by activists).

There’s been nothing from any of the others (unless the kids threw them all in the bin).

No-one stopped to talk when delivering. There was no door knocking, no attempts to canvass. None of the leaflets contains much in the way of policy positions. They do though have pictures of the candidates standing in front of local things looking concerned. Brows furrowed. Both are men in suits. Both are men with glasses. As a myopic suit wearer I feel well served by the candidate choice – but both appear to operate in a world where policy is nothing.

One leaflet has the candidate standing outside the local primary school urging a vote to improve local education. That education is devolved and not an issue in this election says one thing – the candidate is too stupid to be elected (which won’t stop the electorate). That he felt this pose appropriate as his party in government has presided over declining literacy and numeracy performance (with substantial drops for those coming from the most deprived backgrounds – a group served to a large extent by the school) also says something about the campaign. Schools are good. Detail and policy less so. Some self awareness, and consciousness of what he is actually standing to be elected to, should maybe have suggested this was an issue he’d have been better not flagging up in his local pitch to voters.

The other lot have quotes from various people helped by their candidate, the sitting MP, which resolve into an apparent policy heavy assertion that he’s a bloody good bloke, operating as he does in a policy vacuum as he fulfils a role as a glorified social worker.

What do these people stand for? I have no idea. I have determined that they definitely stand for standing in front of local landmarks looking concerned, but I have no idea what motivates them. Why are they in politics? What do they want to achieve? Why do they think that they are worthy of our trust?

So despite the fact that we are, in theory, voting for a local representative – with a dearth of information, with gaping voids where one would hope to find substance, what is that vote to be based on?

To decide we must turn to the national campaigns.

These campaigns have been informative. The first few months of the year was spent asking whether or not there should be debates, and if there should be debates what form should they take? Everyone was in favour of debates. But some were more in favour of debates than others. The debates having taken place – no-one remembers anything about them – unless you are an obsessive activist tracking every utterance from every politician you don’t like for a multiple retweet worthy 140 character or so utterance accompanied by a picture with a quote on it (usually devoid of context and inaccurate).

Once the argument about the debate shad finished argument moved on to what would happen after the election. Who would work with who. Who wouldn’t work with who. Who would say they wouldn’t work with someone while planning to work with them. Who would say they wouldn’t work with someone while planning to work with everyone. That’s been the coverage for the past few weeks. An endless regurgitation of denials and assertions, and assertions and denials of those denials and assertions vomited on to the airwaves – revisited and sniffed by the media hounds every morning, and every afternoon, and every night. This is politics today.  twenty hour news about nothing, with no reflection, minimal analysis.

And when leaders appear (the people who operate in specific areas hidden away from sight being interviewed by Andrew Neil in the middle of the day before an audience of half a dozen obsessives and a goldfish called Gerald) there is little scrutiny. Little examination of records. Or aspirations. Pre-rehearsed lines evade and avoid – although there is no criminal sanction for the former, or moral condemnation of the latter.

And so campaigns are reduced to three or four single sentence caricatures. There is no nuance. There is no acknowledgment of complexity. There is little engagement with reality (witness the questions asking “where will the money come from?” “Our record shows we will find it” or “There is no black hole”). And nuance and complexity and reality is avoided because it might scare some people who would vote for you into voting for someone else who eschews nuance and complexity and reality.

The assumption underpinning this is that people can’t handle complexity. They can’t handle difficulty. So best not bother them with it.

This is the situation we’re voting in.

Is it any wonder people vote negatively because someone has caricatured the argument of an opponent in a way that presses the panic button?

Is it any wonder people vote positively with no idea what they are actually voting for other than some vague aspiration the party doesn’t want to happen?

Is it any wonder people don’t vote?

They say that the public get the politicians we deserve. Maybe this time the public can ensure that the politicians get the Parliament they deserve – a Parliament where no-one can do anything. A Parliament where legislation is impossible.

We have a very good civil service. Life will carry on. Vote for benign neglect.

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some thoughts on the Conservative proposal to legislate to stop tax rises

1. In order to raise tax, or to introduce new tax, legislation is required.

2. So a law to Stop the raising of tax or the introduction of new tax is a law to stop passing a law later on. Why is that needed if you don’t plan to raise tax or introduce new tax? What does it add?

3. What would be the sanction for breaching the law? If parliament passed a law contrary to the earlier law what would happen? Could someone go to court to prevent the application of the new law (raising tax)? given that legislation from Westminster has only been suspended In the context of a breach of EU law (the Factortame case) could the court block the new law? Particularly when there is a general principle of parliamentary sovereignty that allows Parliament to make or unmake any law, and where there is a well established principle of implied repeal where later legislation is inconsistent with earlier legislation.

4. In summary:

this seems to be meaningless bollocks legally.

Well done Dave and Lynton. well done.

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Jeremy Clarkson to do [insert something or other, but you know unexpected] for loveandgarbage blog

The loveandgarbage blog has great pleasure in announcing that that Jeremy Clarkson, you know? him that used to do the Top Gear on the telly? him that got his contract not renewed after the fracas thing? Yeah? Got it?, to do a thing for this blog. You know, something unexpected. Maybe writing poems about nature, or contemplating souvenir plots or pronouncing scone, that sort of thing. Anyway, he is definitely doing that because that juxtaposition of him  being Jeremy Clarkson and the thing is really funny. It is. Don’t you argue with me, it is so. the papers have done it, it must be funny. Anyway, LOLs. April Fool. will this do?

We are also pleased to confirm that our new how to do stuff that you can do already If you are not an idiot masterclass series is due to begin soon. Let our team of experts, like Jeremy Clarkson, teach you how to do things like writing a tweet linking to a story on this blog. That’ll be £200 a session. Thanks

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Political consensus and public funding to buy shares in Scottish football clubs

In an election year it is pleasing to see that sometimes parties put aside their political differences to act together. There is broad consensus in UK politics that even in a time where the public purse is under severe pressure there are certain things should be funded by the state and there is little serious effort to undermine this consensus. So, while there may be disputes about how much is involved no one seriously challenges the notion that public money should be used to fund health provision, education, defence, supporters buying shares in football clubs, the police, fire services etc.

Hang on a minute you may say, buying shares in football clubs? Eh?

Well, last week in what you would imagine was a unique contemporary example of Labour, SNP, Conservatives working together MSPs representing each party sat on the Scottish Parliament’s  Local government and regeneration committee and considered a series of amendments proposed by a Scottish Green party MSP. The amendments involve altering company law as it applies to Scottish Football clubs by giving supporters trusts a right of first refusal in any proposed transfer of shares. I will consider in a later blog post whether this is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament (clue: good luck with that…), and how practicable this is (clue: lifting provision from the legislation for the community right to buy land where the land is definitely located in Scotland and so subject to the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament might not readily translate to stop the sale of shares In a company which is not incorporated in Scotland and is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament) but today let’s consider section 62P of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) bill (the full bill is here as a pdf). The provision was part of the package proposed by Green, Alison Johnstone MSP, backed by Ken Macintosh MSP who was at one point Scottish Labour’s finance spokesman, and won unanimous support from the SNP, Labour, and Conservative members of the committee (the official report of the meeting is here). The Liberal Democrats were not represented on the committee. who knows what they’d have done if they’d been there.

So, what does section 62P say?

Application for funding

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the Scottish Ministers may make payments to a supporters’ trust applying to the Scottish Ministers for funding in order to make an offer to buy a football club in exercise of the right conferred by this Part of this Act.

(2) Any supporters’ trust applying for funding must have—

(a) obtained the approval of the supporters’ trust to proceed to buy the football club,

(b) obtained the consent of the Scottish Ministers to proceed to buy the football club,

(c) met any other conditions as the Scottish Ministers may so prescribe.

(3) Any application for funding must be made in such form and manner and by such date as the Scottish Ministers may prescribe, and the applicant in question shall provide such particulars and information relating to the application as the Scottish Ministers may reasonably require.

(4) The applicant shall furnish to the Scottish Ministers such further information and evidence in relation to the application as the Scottish Ministers reasonably may require in order to allow proper consideration of the application.

(5) A person may submit more than one application under this paragraph.

(6) The Scottish Ministers shall inform an applicant in writing whether the application is approved or not and if it is not approved shall give reasons in writing for not approving it

Now, this does not say that the Scottish ministers will definitely fund the purchase. But it is fairly clear that the government can be approached for funding to buy the shares.  The notion that a group can be given money by the state to buy shares in a football club, seems bizarre. A failīng football club verging on insolvency, and the owner of the shares can get a pay out indirectly from the state to let the fans acquire the shareholding. Did no one think that this was at all problematic? On a day when Alex Salmond bemoans the MP who seem unaware of the terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments legislation (he suggests they haven’t even read it)what are we to make of this section being passed by a committee with all party support, and not even a word to suggest that state money being used to buy shares in a football club might be a bit odd? Do we assume the legislators all approve of this, and that state funding for the acquisition of shares in football teams is a matter of political consensus? or that they didn’t read the provisions? or perhaps that they didn’t understand them?

Of course, I may have misjudged the public mood. Maybe siphoning money away from health or schools or the police or the fire service to let shares be acquired, with Scottish government money, in Rangers, or Celtic, or Hearts, or Hibs, or Dundee, or Morton, or St Mirren, or Alloa Athletic (and so on) is exactly what the public want. Either way surely a legislature scrutinising legislation, exercising the special expertise the Holyrood committee structure was meant to give, should be asking the questions, testing the provisions, considering their implications, bottoming out what the policy underlying the proposed rules actually means. Is that too much to ask?

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some thoughts on the sad coincidence of Zayn Malik leaving One Direction and Jeremy Clarkson leaving Top Gear

















































































































































































































There you go, eh?

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