She sits in front of the window.
She always sits in front of the window.
The curtains are open, and while the entrance to the gravel driveway leading to the building sits on a main road the view from the window is of the large hedge which shields the garden and the grounds.
She sits in front of the window, her back to it, a small table with files and papers to her right.
You had a choice of two chairs. One is in the corner of the room, diagonally across from her chair. You do not sit there. Instead you sit by the wall, between you and her a small coffee table, leaflets on it, black leaflets with bold white type. You use the top one as a coaster, so the cup of tea, strong and made in the cup, does not mark the table. There is a box of tissues. There is always a box of tissues.
You talk.
Between the silences you talk.
Between the silences, those moments where you are present but no longer in the room, smelling the kerosene, the stench, the sweat stained stench, of alcohol, hearing the whispered voices, seeing the windows, the orange sheets on the hill, the mirror, you talk. You sit there and talk. She can tell when you’re not there, sometimes lets it go. Sometimes she asks. But you don’t have to answer. Most of the time, just now, it is easier not to answer.
You don’t always mean to end up where you end up. After a couple of weeks you realised that preparing and thinking about what you are going to talk about did not necessarily help. You’d guessed you would be in the kitchen – looking out of the back window at the tree, at the house, that window, but you couldn’t tell that you’d be in a garden, grass taller than you, the hand opening to reveal a frog, a vibrant green frog. And you worry that that matters, that these routes, these detours to avoid, that she can tell, that she knows, that she is working out what it means, that she is doing this with every word, with every gesture. And so every time you become conscious that you slip from “I” to “you” you note it. You tell her.
She makes a note.
“We’ll come back to that”.
You nod. You will.
You will come back to it.
I will come back to it.
I will come back.


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EXCLUSIVE: No actual leak measures up to the ideal leak for which I yearn

It’s the middle of the night (again) and I’m back into bed from a relaxing leak. I’m not prepared to say which leak of the night because the problems between bearded Booker prize winning novelists and their prostates are not for everyone to follow on the Instagram or the tumblr. I am still trying to decide whether I have broken my jinx with leaks and enjoyed myself. I think I probably haven’t. On the plus side, I didn’t, sleepy-eyed, drop my phone into the bowl this time. But I was, again, woken in the early hours by the urge. At this age the flow doesn’t come sweeping every day like Niagara from the mountains. And as I’m not on holiday I didn’t have to listen to a twenty something leak bore telling everyone over breakfast how fast and uninterrupted his golden arch is.

So what was on the minus side? I suppose the leak itself. For some reason, no actual leak I take ever measures up to the ideal platonic leak for which I yearn. This could be because of a fleetingly beautiful leak I had as a child. We were just driving by. My father never liked stopping the car, but some way from a service station and in a relatively deserted part of Manchester, at my insistence he did – just long enough for me to hide among the bushes, quickly go, and come skipping back to the car. It seemed a vast leak to me, ending far, far away and whispering the impossible relief that only the other side of a leak can promise.

A leak in the bushes proves the leaker’s prowess, but also somehow bears his hopes, and is more suggestive to me than any leak cast carelessly over the boat side into the sea. A leak is more mysterious than the ocean. Think how fascinating the idea of a leak monster is. One of those insects you read about that swims up the flow and embeds itself in you. Scares the willies out of me, I’ll tell you. There are doubtless far stranger and more menacing things under the sea, but the sea is not our business as a leak is (in more ways than one!). What’s in a leak is mysteriously still part of us.

Say “leak”, and down in our unconscious something stirs. But what? I’m still trying to find out. And with this prostate I’ll tell you it doesn’t always make for a successful sleep.

Will this do? Who do I invoice? Can I go back to writing novels now?

[syndicated to The Guardian and all newspapers publishing Booker prize winning novelists]

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Desert Island Discs – IV

“…and your fourth record?”

I could check when the radio repeats took place, but it feels like cheating. I’d heard Hancock before but I’m not sure how or when. There had been cassettes at the library I’m sure, the old BBC logo on the cover. And there were some repeats on the television in the early evening. Prime time black and white repeats. Of course it wasn’t unusual to encounter black and white broadcasts at the time. There was Bilko, of course. And Channel 4 had showed the Beverly Hillbillies and I Love Lucy and The Munsters when it started, and in my head they were all in black and white. I loved Bilko. The careful construction. The characterisation. And Silvers. Oh, Phil Silvers. So sharp, so quick, never looking out of control. Even in The Court Martial as poor Private Harry Speakup is drummed out of the army Silvers improvises around the chimp reaching for the phone. Unflustered, masterly. I bought my granny a compilation of Bilko episodes, and never saw her laugh as much as she did when the chimp was making his way through the various tests before being sworn in. She laughed and laughed until tears left trails on her cheeks. Thinking about these shows sends me down youtube trails where I end up in old American What’s my line episodes, skipping from blindfolded guess the celebrity round to blindfolder guess the celebrity round.  And there were black and white films on regularly. Every Friday night used to have an old Rathbone Sherlock Holmes or a Charlie Chan film, and Laurel and Hardy and Harold Lloyd regularly appeared in the holiday schedules. And Christmas wasn’t Christmas without the BBC2 presents of RKO movie seasons and another late night view of Cat People. I can’t remember what was in the black and white repeats but remember picking up VHS recordings of The Missing Page, The Lift, and The Blood Donor. And after catching the radio repeats one Christmas – starting with, of all things, The TV set – not one of the great episodes, and not with the perfect radio cast (Griselda Pugh in the person of Hattie Jacques was some way off at that point) – I went out and started looking for Hancock audio cassettes, and years later the CD box sets of the radio series. There is something special about the radio series. It is perfectly cast – Hancock’s delivery and pauses are a joy but Sid James and Bill Kerr were my favourites: the wide boy and the hopelessly naïve colonial. And Hattie Jacques is imperious – businesslike, flirtatious, a counterweight to the others. And of course Kenneth Williams through snide voice or others.  And the writing is wonderful. One liners built from character or situation, characters so well defined, so well inhabited, that even sighs can generate laughs. I could have picked a number of episodes. I love the pretension of Hancock (anticipating The Rebel) in The Poetry Society, Fred’s pie stall, the guest appearance of James Robertson Justice in Last of the McHancocks, Hancock’s retreat from society and Sid’s cash in in the Wild Man of the Woods, and the perfection of Sunday afternoon at home. But I’d choose the episode I listened to more than any other, a TV episode. I’ve bought Twelve Angry Men in various formats, repackaged and rebundled. As a single cassette with The Lift, as part of the Hancock’s Half Hour 3 double cassette, on VHS, on DVD in the single series, and then in the box set, and latterly in MP3 form. I love each part – the courtroom sequence, the toing and froing with the judge with Sid egging Hancock on, the jury scenes with Sid’s vote switch, Hancock’s speech, the slow act of persuading the jurors to change their votes, and Hancock’s final switch back. “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you?” The Corsican brothers comparison “and I say we’ve got the good one”. “He said he thought they were teddy boys”. On and on. I still laugh through it, waiting for each pause, the slight stumble (deliberate or accidental?) between wife and life. Few half hours have given me more pleasure. And so my fourth choice – Hancock’s Half Hour: Twelve Angry Men





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Thought for the day

Earlier today while I was still crying after telling the stranger I had first met twenty five minutes before about the bodies as I sat in the room and felt myself simultaneously elsewhere hearing and smelling and seeing the covered stretchers in the neighbouring garden, and the body in the tree at the foot of the garden, and the occupied airline seat, arm lolling by its right, in the window at the rear of the property, and the orange blankets dotted around the hillside I was glad to reflect on the words of Piers Morgan and be reassured that as I have no military background and am just some normal punter I clearly can’t be suffering from any form of that over diagnosed post traumatic stress disorder.

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Desert Island Discs – III

“…and your third record?”

Some people think I don’t like music. That’s not quite true. I listen to it, occasionally. But it is not central to my life in the way it is for others. I can go for weeks, sometimes months, without going out of my way to listen to it. But then there are a few days where I’m working to the accompaniment of an orchestra or band or solo instrumentalist (background accompaniment – usually familiar enough from days past that I don’t notice it). And then weeks more can pass with no desperate need to hear a tune. And as it’s not important to me I don’t know much about it, have huge blind spots. So bands and songs can be mentioned by my wife, or by friends, and I have no idea who they are. My wife likes Aztec this and Deacon that and the band names can be uttered and she can sing or play the songs with increasing frustration as I shrug my shoulders and offer no glint of familiarity. Other things stick in the mind. For example, I worked in a clothing factory one summer holiday, in a fish processing plant another, and in both cases was exposed to the Radio 1 playlist for the summer which played through every room from clocking in to clocking off.

In growing up there was never the urge to go to concerts. I went to the theatre a few times, and when I ended up doing my degree in Edinburgh spent time going to watch stand up comedy. But the first live music I went to see (through choice – by which I mean, not the desperate attempts to avoid pipe bands during my home town’s local gala festivities) was an opera. I’d heard James MacMillan’s Confession of Isobel Gowdie in the proms one year and saw that he had an opera (Ines de Castro) playing at the Festival theatre. My then flatmate and I got tickets, went along to watch. Among the first people we met was one of our former lecturers. He looked askance.

“What are you doing here?”

We explained, unnecessarily, that we were there to see the opera.

“Are you sure?”

We exchanged looks.

“It will be very difficult.”

I enjoyed it. Without any expectations or prior experiences the experience was visceral. The tuning of the orchestra gave a tension.

I saw a few operas – La Traviata, Die Zauberflote (you know? the one with the songs offof Amadeus), and Aida (oh poor poor Aida, a bizarre version which at one point involved some very strange goings on with car parts being transported across the stage for reasons that were not immediately apparent, and on reflection suggest that somebody had spiked my lemonade).

And as I stayed in Edinburgh over festival times ended up going to the jazz festival a few times. I saw Humphrey Lyttleton and his band, Tommy Smith with a jazz orchestra in a tribute to Gil Evans, and Jacques Loussier and his trio (an evening where each improvised piece of Bach (and that night Vivaldi) was greeted with a short red jerseyed man leaping to his feet arms aloft as if he’d scored a late winner at Hampden).

And out of festival time I saw Jan Garbarek and his quartet a couple of times, and Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Jazz Center Orchestra. Each of the names was familiar from my CD collection. Marsalis was an entertainer – engaging the audience, introducing the band, and the tunes. Garbarek was austere. Silent apart from his tenor or soprano saxophone. He was leonine, his hair swept back from his forehead, his eyes slowly checking the hall, then back to watching his fellow musicians. His playing was exquisite, seemingly effortless despite the speed of some solos. I could not work out how his fingers moved that quickly, couldn’t work out when he was taking a breath. For someone with a reputation as austere, as cold, his music had a passion driven on by Marilyn Mazur his percussionist – who moved with every sound. Her performance was physical. Compelling. Arms flexing. She was like a boxer, or a black belt martial artist. Seeming to use all of her weight with each punch of the drums.

I have a few albums by that quartet but the two performances from that night that stand out were Witchi-tai-to and Her Wild Ways. The latter was a showpiece for Garbarek and Mazur. Unfortunately, there are no live albums of the Garbarek/Mazur/Weber/Bruninghaus quartet. But when I hear the Rites And Twelve Moons albums I am reminded of the two nights seeing them.

So my third choice: Jan Garbarek group, “Her wild ways” from the Rites album.

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Desert Island Discs – II

“…and your second record?”

I wasn’t planning to choose this, but thinking about the first choice sent me towards this.

At school I worked on Saturdays and one or two nights a week in a small shop. Weekends were spent marking time by noting the visits of the little old lady from round the corner who arrived three or four times daily for quarter bottles of vodka. Each purchase was apologetic, her voice cigarette cracked. “Sorry son, I’ve had visitors and need to get something in”.

The work was not difficult: stacking shelves, changing prices, arranging orders, serving on meat or fruit and veg counters or at the checkout. And people were, for the most part, friendly. When stacking shelves I had to move packaging from a store at the rear of the shop, and move the detritus – cardboard boxes, packing cases, and trolleys into a store at the side of the shop topped by a clear plastic roof which gave it the feel of a greenhouse.

I had finished school. And in that final year had achieved things what seemed a lifetime (three or four years) had been spent striving for. But achievement was disappointing. I remember the emptiness in the car journey following one success. Was that it? Was this what we’d got so worked up about? I sat in the front seat, my one vivid memory of the day an animal carcass on the road. Its ribcage framed by meat, blood red, leered. When I got home I headed straight for my room. Cried.

I had a university place. I was biding time, trying to build some money up for the months ahead. And so I increased my hours at the shop, having worked intensely at school to do as well as I could.

I grew tired easily, drained. I was flat. Simple things took an age. And then one night I couldn’t read. Concentration gone. Letters would dance on the page – I knew they were meant to make up words, and that words were meant to make up sentences, and that sentences were meant to make up paragraphs, but the letters moved. They would not stay still. I panicked. Reading was my being. Being unable to read, unable to write, would leave me as nothing, as no-one. I was heading for a degree in law where I expected to read a lot and I had forgotten how to do it.

The next day at work I collapsed.

I was in the store in the side of the shop. It was a sunny day. The plastic roof, the clear plastic roof, did its job. The room was hot. I was taking apart boxes, folding them to force into the giant bins. And then I wasn’t.

One of the women who worked there had noticed I’d not been on the shop floor. She brought me round with some water. I went home.

A few days later I was diagnosed with a post viral illness. I was not to go back to work that summer.

Ordinarily, having time meant a space to read. But I couldn’t. The words had stopped dancing but I couldn’t concentrate. I read and reread pages, forgot the top of the page by the time I got to the bottom.


So I hid. Day after day I hid.

I could feel nothing.

I could do nothing.

I was worth nothing.

I wanted to be better, and to be better I wanted to feel. I would mark myself with a pair of compasses, needles, one night a blade.

I could not feel.

I could not


I was in my room a lot. My mum would come in trying to cajole me into life. I lay there. Flat. I kept the radio on a lot during those days. I worked through the channels. Lots of Radio 4, Radio 2 for the sport. And I ended up on radio 3.

In my head I associate getting better with the Proms, but it may be that if I checked the schedules I would find that the relevant thing was on in the middle of the day, or late at night.

It was the first time I had heard the Rite of Spring. The presenter spoke about the opening night. And the music started. And as it went on I felt every drum beat. They reverberated through me. I could feel the drum beats in my heart.

And I wanted to live.

So my second record? My second record is Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

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Desert Island Discs – I

The Desert Island Discs list: plenty of us have one, ready to go, just in case the call arrives, “We’ve run out of celebrities, and famous scientists, and diplomats, and broadcasters, and authors, and artists, and musicians, and most of the nonentities have had a go already, and following the introduction of a lottery system based on close scrutiny of the electoral roll we’re delighted to say that you [insert name here], yes you have been selected as the next castaway on desert island discs.” And so lots of us have a list, a putative list, comprising records we love or that remind us of certain things and certain people and certain events.

And then you start thinking about it, about trying to explain the choices and suddenly feelings kick in other than sheer enjoyment – sentiment, love even.

I started writing a variant on this some time ago, my list a series of audio dramas and comedies with a couple of pieces of music primarily because that’s what I listen to, and yet trying to explain I found other pieces shifting to the front of the list – pieces with stories, pieces accompanied by the gentle melody of memories. And so this list, the list that follows, is no longer the eight favourite pieces it was originally intended to be. It’s more and it’s longer than it was meant to be – so it’ll be a bit spread out over a few posts.

“…and your first record please?”

Well Kirsty, we didn’t have many records in my house when I was growing up. My mum and dad had a collection of Christmas albums – Andy Williams, Perry Como, Mario Lanza – and an eclectic range of other records. There were the soundtracks for various musicals (South Pacific and the King and I) and some Scottish ceilidh music (light on the fiddles, they weren’t keen on fiddles). But they weren’t played, at least not as I remember it. Perhaps when we children went to bed the strains of “Shall we dance?” reverberated around the living room. But the only records that I recall being played in the house were the Christmas records for a period of a few weeks annually, coming to an end on twelfth night.

So music was not something that I heard much in the house, and when I remember growing up I don’t remember music. But what I do remember is listening to comedy shows. The local library in my home town had various cassettes from comedies. There was a Yes Minister cassette, both series of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Not the Nine O’clock News, Hancock, The Goons. As time went on I bought each of these, but in those teenage days I recorded them – a bulky tape to tape radio cassette recorder sat fat and squat on my window ledge. I played some of them so much the tape was chewed up by the cassette player, a pencil of just the right diameter sat on the window ledge in an Argentina World Cup 1978 pink glass ready for recovery procedures.

I’d remembered my mum and dad watching Not the Nine O’clock News when I was in bed in primary school – laughter coming from the room beneath my bedroom. I am not sure on first listening whether I understood the political content, but the National Wealth Service bidding for the hospital bed, the General Synod’s Life of Monty Python, Gerald the gorilla, the trucking song, the Moseley song these things made me laugh – even when I had no idea what was being satirised, what songs or song styles were being parodied. And I learned the scripts, practised them, tried to get the voices right, tried – most important – to understand the spaces, the beat in the delivery that converted a line that made you smile into a line that made you laugh. The first choice then takes me back to those years: the Not the Nine o’clock News album, Kirsty. And I’d like to hear Gerald the Gorilla from that.

“..and your second record?”

Another time, Kirsty. Soon, but another time.

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The questionnaire


35 – 44







Yes, in January


Although recommended by the GP no







Yes, 20





The aftermath of the disaster



Once, 20 years ago.

Not since

No No No No Yes No



Yes, not eating







I am not sure

Phone or email

She does

They don’t



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It’s an old house, big, looming behind a large hedge, at the end of a gravel drive. Each footstep crunches. A shadow appears behind the door, opening it as I reach for the doorbell.

We exchange introductions. She knows my name, of course. I sign in, and I am shown into a waiting room, containing two sofas, tables, but no magazines. I can’t sit. I pace around looking at the leaflets, the press cuttings pinned to the noticeboard. I’ve been offered a drink. And there’s a water cooler.

But I can’t drink. I feel sick. It’s been a rush. A phone message two days ago suggesting there might be available appointments, a call yesterday arranging one for tonight. Tonight. Too much of a rush. I’m not ready.

There is a large plastic box containing toys on the ground. Dolls.

I’m not ready. I’m not


I turn round. A door with “Staff. Private” closes behind her.

“We’re upstairs.”

I follow her to the meeting room. There is a table with four chairs.

“Where would you like me to?”

“You choose.”

Is it a test? One chair has its back to the door. I’m not sitting there. I want to see the door. I need to see the door.

I sit.

She sits opposite me, takes out forms briefly explains that she will outline the terms of the confidentiality of the meetings, and the limits of that confidentiality.

It’s familiar. And reasonable. And I look around the room.

I’m not ready. I’m not

I can feel her looking at me

“and just some preliminary questions so we can ensure you have the appropriate support. And of course we have to do a risk assessment so I apologise if some of the questions are intrusive.”

I’m not ready.

“I can ask you them, they’re quite tick box. They won’t take long. Or you could just tell me why you’re here, what you’re hoping for from this.”

Well, I want to be



“So, would you prefer me to ask the questions or just to talk?”

I nod.


I nod.

She lifts her pen.

I look to the door, reach down and grasp my calf.

She is staring at me. I can feel her staring at me.

“I. Well, I want to be well.”

“Okay. So, let’s begin.”




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Of IPGL, conspiracies and conspirators: the mysterious case of the letter to the Electoral Commission

Over the past couple of days on the twitter following the publication of a letter to the electoral commission by former MP and current candidate, Roger Mullin, the tag #torydirtymoney has been appearing in tweets. Despite being debunked by BUzzfeed’s James Ball, and being dismissed by the electoral commission, the tag has a life of its own, and stories continue to be circulated on various websites and by tweeters and by politicians and journalists who should know better (including sophisticated electoral gadget operator Jeremy Vine, and TV’s Robert Peston from Peston on Sunday with TV’s Robert Peston)

The basis of Mullin’s complaint is first, HSBC loaned money to a company known as IPGL Ltd which was, according to Mr Mullin, “in some financial distress”; and second, the money was (in the words of Mr Mullin) “Laundered” into COnservative party donations. Among other things Mr Mullin suggests HSBC should have notified donations made by its borrower to the electoral commission.

The financial position of IPGL Ltd is dealt with by James Ball in his Buzzfeed piece, and can be checked with a review of the IPGL accounts. This was not a company in “distress”. The 2008 accounts and 2009 accounts show the company made a loss in each year. But, with plenty of collateral available (the company had over £1/4 billion of net assets) the company reported that it consolidated various existing HSBC debts into a £200 million loan with HSBC in October 2008 and arranged a repayment schedule through to 2011. The debts were being repaid (and total indebtedness to HSBC being substantially reduced), while the donations (amounting to just over £1million over the two financial years to 2008 and 2009) were made. As James Ball notes, the company returned to profit in 2010 and remains trading today. For a company in financial distress (as suggested by Mr Mullin) that’s a very quick recovery – particularly when the company was paying back tens of millions of pounds of debt. Perhaps then the reality is that the premise of Mr Mullin’s complaint is flawed. There is no indication the company was in financial distress. A group of companies, containing investment companies, made an operating loss at the height of the global crash. This is not a surprise. It happened to lots of businesses. And it happened to lots of businesses that subsequently recovered. There is no story here. The continued propagation of it seems conspiratorial. One would have expected a journalist of Robert Peston’s experience in financial and business journalism to have carried out basic checks of the accounts before sharing a story which seems to have a flawed foundation.

Disregarding this though the other basis of Mr Mullin’s complaint is itself startling. He appears to argue (and my apologies if I am misrepresenting him) that somehow HSBC retains responsibility for the way in which the money loaned to IPGL Ltd is used. This seems to be the only basis for his argument that HSBC had to report the donations made by its borrower to the Electoral commission. To a property lawyer this analysis is bizarre.

Consider the following situation. Bank X lends money to A. The money loaned becomes the property of A. As A’s property, A has the power to use and to enjoy the property as A wishes. Bank X has a right against A to get the money paid back. But short of express provision in the loan agreement Bank X is not responsible in any way for what A does with the money. The “money” is no longer Bank X’s property. Bank X has no ongoing property interest in it (unless provided expressly – in Scotland this would not be possible). So if A borrows money for a specific purpose and uses it for a different purpose the bank will only have a remedy against A as an express term of the contract. And that remedy will be to demand repayment of the loan – the bank cannot simply assert that it still owns the money previously handed over. Similarly, if A goes and buys drugs Bank X has no responsibility for that purchase. The police will not come knocking on the door of Bank X to arrest the directors under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Why then, accepting the logic of Mr Mullin’s argument, would Bank X incur liability to the Electoral Commission? If Bank X is not a shadow director (whereby the debtor company is used to acting in accordance with their instructions) Bank X has no responsibility. Creditors do not generally have liability for the actions of their borrowers.

A review of a basic student book on banking law, Ellinger’s Modern Banking law, ch 17, sees a discussion of instances where lenders incur liability. These include negligent advice by the bank to the borrower, the bank bringing a loan facility to an end too early, the bank incurring liability as a shadow director because it tells the borrower what to do, and environmental cases – where banks can incur liability if it causes or permits pollution or enforces a security and takes possession of the property. The environmental liability arises expressly in statute. If the statute was silent there would be no liability because the default position is the lender is not responsible for the actions of the debtor.

Mr Mullin’s letter proceeds on two assumptions: (a) IPGL Ltd was in financial distress; and (b) that HSBC has responsibility for what the borrower, IPGL LTd, does with the money loaned. Unfortunately for the conspirators IPGL LTd was not in financial distress; and HSBC has no responsibility for the actions of its debtor.

If people are wanting to look at issues regarding expenses in political contexts there are a variety of other stories that can be looked at. But this story is a non-story.


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Reflections on today’s earth shattering news from Downing Street.



















Stop playing short term tactical games and do your fucking jobs.

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The Modern Sisyphus

Turns out that the contemporary punishment of the gods is to force a large chunk of the population to vote over and over again in referendums they don’t want reducing complex questions to binary choices – neither of which adequately reflects their views – while politicians get paid flipping great wadges of cash to pass the buck to people thereafter interpreting the reductive binary choice in a way that bears no necessary relation to the motivations of the people who vote.



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a meditative reflection on the state of contemporary domestic politics

sod it.

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Why I am responsible for that bloke everyone is talking about

A long time ago I had no idea what the world wide internets was and so me and some mates had a look around for football manager jobs we could apply for using pseudonymous email addresses while we were chatting about things that had been on the television twenty or thirty years before and so after being shown on-line videos (which had just been invented by the youtube) we invented rec.arts forums and abusing people on the interwebs by using the insults based on old television characters.

Now of course back in my day rec.arts was an insult where I came from. If you went in to a pub and said to a man with a pint in front of him “rec.arts” he would have hit you as soon as look at you. But “rec.arts” it was, and the information about production dates for old episodes of Juliet Bravo, and updates on what happened to Joe Beck’s bike, always made the experience worthwhile.

Anyway, our time posting on these forums and entering arguments with strange Canadians convinced that all new programming in their preferred genre was funded by people from Canada certainly made us better writers as this post that you are reading now on this site proves. I mean look at it. See, how fluently I use sentences now. Admire my punctuation, the way I can slip easily from a long sentence using lots of clauses (and sub-clauses) before stopping. Producing a new sentence. Short. It takes years of writing on the rec.arts forums to be able to master an entire paragraph comprising one sentence. But those days certainly improved our writing style. Imagine how bad my writing was before that!

Anyway, in the heading to this whimsical look back at people that I have met and the early days of the internets of thing I mentioned the person that everyone is talking about. Well, he also contributed to the rec.arts. And he really honed his skills there by randomly sending abuse to people that he had never communicated with before on topics unrelated to the topic in the heading. Most people ignored him. But some responded including [insert name of celebrity people will have heard of. Fix this later lads].

And that abuse of [celebrity] led indirectly to Boaty McBoatface, the violent attacks in Sweden this past weekend, and the re-election of Robert Mugabe. And I feel responsible for that. Because if it hadn’t been for me and the rec.arts Juliet Bravo community abuse on the internet by narcissists would never have been invented.

But enough about him. Now that you’re here you will appreciate how valuable this blog is. And content as good as this can’t just be given away. For as little as 75 pence a week you could give me money and I could spend it on making my writing and this site even better. And if you want to give more then send me your bank details and I’ll withdraw an appropriate amount.

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Welcome our new guest film reviewer

I am delighted to welcome a new guest film reviewer to this blog. Her perceptive words of wisdom on cinema will be accompanied by our new television reviewer when he can get the time off from the Guardian and telling us what his girlfriend likes on the telly.

Anyway, a big welcome to Camille who is this week looking at 2001: A Space Odyssey:

The received wisdom on 2001: a Space Odyssey, a film about Rigsby offof The Rising Damp visiting space to find out why Americans are interested in something or other on the moon, is that it is “compelling” and “important” and “good”. It is a “brilliantly directed” and “powerful” examination of computers going wrong in a “space” that is largely hostile to people who cannot breath when the computer will not open the pod bay doors and you have forgotten your special space helmet. And it is an “exploration” of the essence of “humanity”, the “inquisitiveness” that drives human “development”, such as the ability to synthesise complex ideas symbolically represented using visual metaphors, cinematic techniques, or the extended exploration of character to “shed light” on the “human condition”. But what do those “critics” who have a “knowledge” of the history of cinema and its techniques really know about an art form that some bespectacled bod with a Wollastonesque grasp of a medium can’t replicate by randomly throwing words at a page in the hope that her (or his) ignorance will attract a few extra clicks on the newspaper website?

So 2001: a Space Odyssey is “relevant” to whom? Certainly not the human beings who cannot go on trips to the moons of Jupiter.  Nor the computers who are not operating under contradictory instructions and cannot make it to the cinema due to the lack of plug points in the local multiplex. Nor the  cavemen who are not ululating in deference before a big black block before using a thing to kill a tapir. Most cinemagoers will be homo sapiens. Nor is it particularly “compelling” or “good” . The story of people going into space to do stuff on spaceships has been told many times. Like in that one with Carrie Fisher and Indiana Jones. Or the one with the robot. You know? That one. The robot in space one. That was in space. And what do we need another film in space for? They have already done one. And that’s that.

Oh, but the Mr la-di-dah Gunner Graham critics have said 2001: A Space Odyssey is different. It is beautifully framed and shot. It uses music wonderfully to convey space travel. And it has a so-called “jump cut” between a bone being thrown in the air and a spaceship that is “audacious”. Well, nyah. Who cares? IT doesn’t even have a plot. I mean, what’s Rigsby even in it for? and why do we need to find out about the BBC channels in the future? It’s not even the future now. It’s the past. That’s daft.  And the so-called symbolism is difficult and complicated. And while I understand that some people like it and admire it, I have no idea what they are talking about and so I am adopting a wilfully contrarian view for coins and you can read more from me every week in the Funday Times.



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Paul Nuttall MEP – statement


Paul Nuttall MEP, offof the Ukips, has clarified comments made on his website that he had lost a close friend at Hillsborough when he was at school.

Mr Nuttall explained that his school had been on a week long trip to Northern Ireland and on a visit to Hillsborough Castle, to mark the signing of the Anglo Irish Agreement, his friend had gone missing causing Mr Nuttall and his school friends some considerable upset and distress. Mr Nuttall confirmed though that while he remained haunted to this day by the five minutes when the teachers anxiously hunted for his school chum his friend had been found again soon after in the castle gift shop purchasing a Garret Fitzgerald tea towel.

Mr Nuttall regrets any confusion caused but notes that any misunderstanding clearly lay with the reader of his website and has asked that those who misunderstood his press releases on the topic apologise to him for the distress that today’s radio interview has caused.


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Before talking

The waiting room has no natural light, the moments after arrival occupied by filling in forms – noting the rules on personal data, completing a checklist. As I read each word there is a shadow behind it. And when I fill in the form my hand shakes, my writing – generally illegible –  looking like the scrawl of an old man.

The receptionist takes back the clipboard and the forms, invites me to sit.

I’d been early. Fifteen minutes early. There for a couple of minutes when I’d caught sight of another person with an appointment. She seemed startled, eyes darted left, right, avoiding any acknowledgement – rushing through when the man in the rumpled suit appeared at the door, nodding hello.  I guess the appointments were scheduled to avoid those awkward interactions. But I’m sitting here for fifteen minutes and my breathing is speeding up, and I feel the tightness in my stomach, and grasp my right wrist with my left hand, and I count.

In. Two. Three. Four.

And out. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.

In. And concentrating on my wrist in my hand.

And out. And on my breathing and counting to ensure I am breathing out for twice as long as I breathe


And out.

And she appears, grey haired, glasses. She is short, slight. She quietly says my name, and I stand, and I’m much taller than her and feel a little uncomfortable and stoop to say,

Yes. That’s me. Yes.

And she takes me to a door at the end of a corridor, and she opens it indicating I should enter and

The room is light. Light walls. A desk made from light wood to my left. Large windows, with pale blinds, to my right, a coat-stand in front of them.

It is light. So light.

On the wall farthest from the door is a small two shelf bookcase, next to a semi circular coffee table pushed tight against the wall. The chairs on either side of the table are cushioned with wooden arm rests, the cushions the same colour as the box of tissues on the coffee table.

I am ushered in, walk in to the light, and I am invited to hang up my coat and scarf. I take them off slowly, hang them up deliberately. 

I’d phoned the day before, a call long delayed. The number had been scrawled on various pieces of paper around the house – in notebooks, on newspapers, on train tickets. But there was always a reason not to phone. Too busy. Too much on. But some days when I’ve nearly phoned I’ve thought I was too well. But I’d phoned the day before and was told there’d been a cancellation and so I could be seen tomorrow. Would I be here if there’d been a delay? If it had been a week?  I’ve bounced myself into it.

I sit.

The tissues. The box of tissues. She moves them towards me.

The preliminaries are sensible. Obligations of confidentiality are summarised. Provisos detailed. The catch all note that information from the file may be shared within the practice to focus on how to help, to cover those unforeseen circumstances where someone is ill. It’s familiar from legal work. Similar concerns. I switch off. Nod along. Remembering lectures on professional ethics where

And she is looking at me expectantly.

I tilt my head. I clutch my wrist.

– So, let’s begin. What brings you here?

And I talk:

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I have only ever been out on Hogmanay twice. Once, I stayed at a friend’s house in my hometown. She had invited friends from her University to visit, a collection of English literature students. I was a rural curiosity. The evening passed. We spoke of films, and television, and books. And afterwards, it was never spoken of again – not even the year after when she and I were nearly struck by sheet lightning during the Christmas break.

In the mid 90s in my final year as a student my then girlfriend and her flatmate and boyfriend thought it would be lovely to go out for a meal. We went to a restaurant in central Edinburgh. This was rather more expensive than a student who worked through the holidays to support himself through the year was used to. The cheapest thing on the menu was mushrooms in filo pastry. It cost £30. In 1994. That was more than the books for an individual degree course cost. The pastry was burned, sorry charred. The sauce surrounding the mushrooms was cold. I pushed it round my plate allowing it to visit every part. I was the only person at the table who was sober; hell, I was the only person in the restaurant who was sober. It was cold. It was miserable.  It was unnecessarily costly – financially and emotionally.

That is my experience of a Scottish new year.  Since then I’ve stayed in.

So a very happy new year to you at home.





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Love and luck

I’m not the easiest person to be around. I know that. I wish I was easier, and I try to improve (with varying degrees of success), but I am anti-social, awkward, too often trapped in the slough of despond. But I am blessed to be with someone warm, and witty, and wise. She is clever, and creative, and kind. And despite knowing what, who, I am, dear reader, fifteen years ago she married me. It’s not easy being with someone, agreeing to share your lives, the choice in some ways both selfish and selfless. But I am glad, albeit constantly surprised, that she chose to be with me.

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Lifestyle columns in the Guardian destroy people’s faith in humanity . I’m rejecting it

From Wednesday, I’m going to live without reading lifestyle columns in The Guardian. I want my life back. I want my soul back.

I’ll never know how many people link to this blogpost below the line in comments on an article on The Guardian website. Nor will I get to read comments suggesting that a blogger and tweeter like me needs to embrace the whimsical delusions of self-publicising charlatans. And that is no bad thing, for the moment this blog is read by more than five readers – pandering to the worst excesses of  sensationalism, populism and deceit over honest exploration of the important question of how to pronounce scone – I (and you) lose, and those who need to be held to account for commissioning bollocks in serious newspapers win.

The reason I won’t see any reaction in the Guardian is because come Wednesday I will live a state of Utopia with a self denying ordnance whereby I cast aside so-called modern conveniences like those columns providing answers to questions people send in about relationships (I’ve never found  them particularly believable – I mean, a Henry vacuum cleaner, the “necessity” of wearing dungarees, and your BFF?).

From Wednesday, I’m rejecting the world of simple unadulterated pseudery entirely. That means no Guardian lifestyle columns, no fashion tips, no make up columns, no why this pasta has transformed my life, no 101 things to do with humus, no consumer survey examining how best to accessorise your chestnut stuffing with a garland from a number of high street (and two independent) shops, no pretentious Tom Goods explaining how they’re going back to nature, no readers’ examination of the problems of relationships going stale because you’ve both read the Pamela Stephenson advice and shrugged and rolled your eyes, no semi anonymous open letters to family members or friends who made some faux pas in 1993 that you’ve never forgiven, and no articles that have involved some bloke making a bet that he can get “solar photovoltaic system” into a column shared widely on twitter.

Rejecting a part of a newspaper website that people on the twitter consider to be the basic necessity of life wasn’t done on a thoughtless whim. I already miss not being able to share sarcastic comments about people that the liberal elite have already decided are idiots.

I decided to eschew complex pseudery for two reasons. The first was that I found myself happier away from the Guardian lifestyle pages and the relentless sanctimony they generate, and instead living intimately with other parts of the internet (where there are videos of Margarita Pracatan and articles about television programmes from the 1980s). The second, more important, was the realisation that the Guardian lifestyle pages destroy, in more ways than one.

It destroys our relationship with normal people. It first separates us from folk like ourselves, while simultaneously converting life into the ramblings of people so reeking in sanctimony that even Gandhi would consider giving them a slap. Not only does it enable us to destroy warm feelings for society efficiently, over time this separation has led us to valuing people we encounter in day to day life less in case they’re the sort of person that will midway through a conversation say “Did you read that piece about quinoa?”, meaning we protect and care for society less. By way of this vicious cycle, we are consciously causing the mass extinction of goodwill to all men, and at Christmas too.

We know that, at the very least, some columnists are harming our view of the world, our society and, ultimately, ourselves. Therefore we can recognise the need to reject these lifestyle (and other) columnists. We’re going to have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. I’ve drawn mine.

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