21 Nov

Andrew Neil: The Best Thing On TV

Even Andrew Neil and my drawing what I thought was a good cartoon couldn’t prevent my falling asleep around 3AM. The by-election result should have been in by then but when Neil said ‘we’re now hearing 4AM’, I knew I couldn’t last. I knew Private Eye would reject my cartoon like they reject every other so five downbeat minutes later, I was in bed and sound asleep.

I love watching by-elections, though they always leave me with the familiar conclusion that politics is ruined by the politicians. Last night was no different. Everything was set up for a good four or five hours of political cuts and thrusts and knees to the groin. I’m always searching for TV to which there’s no obvious structure. I love to watch the free exchange of ideas presided over by a host who understands the nature of debate and allows it to breathe. In that sense, I also happen to think that Andrew Neil is the best thing on the TV at the moment. Where most top presenters have a calm ease about them, they are also generally without character and rarely stray from the autocue. The best examples of that are to be found on BBC News 24. Around 5pm each weekday night, they invite some interesting individual into the studio for an interview. Things are usually reaching the point where they’ve moved past the bland introductions and into some fascinating material. Just when you’re thinking it’s getting good enough to record and watch again, the blithering suit will cut off their guest mid anecdote and hand over to the weather or sport. And you sit there thinking: why, Christ, why? Why interrupt a fascinating interview for some pre-packaged news which you’ll hear five times in the next hour?

It’s to Andrew Neil’s credit that he rarely does that. Neil retains the rough edges of a true journalist. His jokes aren’t always slickly delivered. He might not always know which camera is on but, damn it, he owns his mistakes. It means that he’s best when he’s working solo, adlibbing with his guests, and ignoring the protestations of the studio manager to follow a line of argument. To watch Neil is to enjoy the unexpected or, in a sense, a debate that grows organically from the subject at hand. It’s just a shame that, last night, he was let down by his guests.

The coverage came in two parts. The first was the usual The Daily Politics, ruined by an appearance by the always irritating and precious Ekow Eshun. At one time, my favourite show on TV was the ‘Late Review’. It was sometimes hard gnarly TV that could annoy me as much as I loved it. Then Eschun became a regular and I’d start to turn it off before the introduction. I’d not seen Eschun on TV in a long time so I was prepared to give him a chance but I was making grim mutterings by the time Eshun had finished making a point about the misrepresentation of Africa in the Band Aid single. As an argument it was stretched and predictable and, thankfully, after a few uncertain words of support from Alan Johnson, Portillo and Neil tore into it leaving Eshun sounding like he almost doubted it too. There then followed a brief but fun mike failure, nicely ad libbed by Neil and Omid Djalili, before The Daily Politics moved into election coverage and it was here that the guests proved the point I keep making about Farage.

RecklessFarage is the political equivalent of Andrew Neil. He’s another who wouldn’t work well with autocue. He laughs and sometimes makes bad jokes. He doesn’t always have a good answer or a slick line of prepared patter to deflect difficult questions. In an age when politicians seem to be at the Mark Reckless end of the bland scale, Farage is the anti-politician who appeals to people who normally switch off when they hear the same old policy statements coming from the mouths of our professional politicians. In a sense, Farage’s greatest weapon is his sheer amateurish and we British love our amateurs. We’re a nation of amateur astronomers and amateur musicians, amateur engineers and amateur artists. Yet amateur doesn’t mean unskilled or lacking polish. If America has the American Dream, Britain has the British Amateur, those backyard enthusiasts who teach the world a lesson or two. Farage is the Trevor Baylis of Westminster like Andrew Neil is the James Dyson of BBC2.

Between Neil and Farage, I was hoping for an evening of edgy politics and occasional bad tempers. I didn’t stay awake to see if Andrew managed to interview Nige or managed to get under his skin. Instead, I stayed awake until 3AM listening to the likes of Iain Duncan Smith (still that annoying cough) trot out the usual glassy eyed arguments that appear at every by-election. Bad night for the government but a worse night for the opposition. The general election will be different. Protest votes. Yaddah. Yaddah. Yah…

Neil did his best but the show only really came alive when he was chatting with the correspondent at the count, Chris Mason, who displayed  his own brand of unscripted banter. Mason was the surprise of the evening. I could have watched five hours of just Mason and Neil but unfortunately there were studio guests and I fell asleep over my cartoon to the sound of a Tory spokesman attacking Labour on a trivial point of policy. I always say that I love politics but hate politicians. Perhaps I should amend that. I hate politicians but I love political journalists. You can keep your Strictly Come X Factors and Downton and Dec. Andrew Neil is the best thing on TV. I just wish we had a better calibre of politician to make his blood run hot.


20 Nov

Too Many Morons In The World

MoronIs it libellous to call somebody a moron? How about a tosser of the highest order? A ball wart on the tick bit scrotum of humanity? A dung-fed louse squashed on the shit-smeared heel of a dribbling eunuch too mentally slow to even zip up his own fly? The gnawing offspring of brain mites hatched in warped cranium of a scabietic circus freak known as Walter the Bat-Faced Boy?

The advantage of Google web traffic dropping off this week is the certainty that I can post this picture and make these comments without the moron who drives this car actually seeing this post. Not that I feel too bad about posting the picture or for my pointing out that the driver clearly shares a few too many genes with their current partner. I don’t even know why I’ve bothered to pixelate the number plate except I have some old fashioned notions or right and wrong. And who knows what forms of retribution a person might display when they have this level of cretinism?

Am I being unfair? I hope I am. Unfairness and words seem to be the only powers I have when not a single policeman, traffic warden or council official would be inclined to do anything about the arseholes who casually block our streets. Because, I can assure you that although this was the worst example of the kind I saw today, this photo is just one of a dozen I could have taken. I also know what response I’d receive if I made a complaint. The police say they ‘try to be sympathetic to drivers’ and it’s ‘really a council matter’. The council also try to be try to be ‘sympathetic to drivers’ and say it’s ‘a police matter’. In other words, both the police and council are full of pavement parkers and there but for the grace of a wide driveway go they.

I also know that I write from the ‘privileged’ position of not being a driver. I don’t drive and I’ve never wanted to drive. I always tell people ‘too expensive’ or ‘never had the chance’ but the truth is harder to explain. It’s hard to describe how I have enough trouble dealing with the world without finding my myself flying down a motorway and suddenly becoming hyper aware of my existence and experiencing some mode of existential panic. And when I’m miles away thinking of some of my usual nonsense, I am prone such moments. More prone, I would say, than your average meth drinker or weed junkie. I think it’s probably better if I’m not in control of a couple of tonne of steel and airbags when I suddenly begin to doubt reality.

Yet even though I don’t drive, I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that if I did have a car, I would never ever park it across the pavement. It’s that old fashioned morality, you see, along with the belief that you’d really have to be one of evolution’s greater regressions to lack the basic understand of how pavements work. Of course, these dimwits might argue that the road was too narrow to have cars parked on both sides of the street (true). They might argue that they have a right to park outside their own home (wrong). They might even say that somebody could just squeeze through (wrong), walk on the other side of the road (true), or even walk in the road (true). They might even say that this kind of parking doesn’t really affect people like me (almost true). But what special permission do they have that allows them to force the old and infirm into the road? What right do they have to make mothers with prams and infants stray into busy roads just so these lazy bastards don’t have to walk more than three feet to their car?

Anybody who walks any distance in the day knows the feeling of having to squeeze past cars, often pushing through overhanging bushes, of trying to dodge traffic should you have to venture out into the road… It’s even worse when there are (often) muddy grass verges to navigate before you even get to the road because some moron has parked their nose of their car in their drive, blocking the entire pavement and kerb.

I’m not so unfair as to say that I’d shoot every pavement parker on sight. I think they should face a judge of last appeal before they ever reach that stage. Let them have one, two, or even three warnings before we demonstrate how fast moving steel tipped objects can injure mere flesh and bone. But if these pavement parkers continue to act like the selfish arsehole they are, then their contributions to the greater good would not be missed. Perhaps we could just stand them in the middle of fast moving traffic and let them experience the fear that pedestrians feel when faced down by cars and trucks. Perhaps then we can cram just one crumb of understanding into their dense Neolithic skulls.

20 Nov

The Amazon Void

Buying from Amazon is beginning to feel like hard work. Not that I’m in the habit of buying things that often. I’m a rare online buyer and I’m also pretty conflicted about Amazon’s success.

Amazon is the elephant in the room of modern culture. It’s often discussed in relatively insignificant ways, a trunk here and a voluminous grey buttock there. Rarely is it discussed as the single most important arbiter of taste in the early twenty first century. Their influence is all encompassing in books, music, film and even TV. They change the ways that companies operate and even how we live our lives. I fear that ebooks will destroy quality book publishing. I despise their long tail business economics that encourage writers to sell their books for a penny.  I worry about the monopoly they have. I miss having local bookshops. I really miss the enormous Borders Books that used to be in Warrington and which I’d visit every couple of weeks for a long coffee and a mooch. I dislike the working conditions exposed by Panorama and by this morning’s Guardian. I dislike the way they now deliver on a Sunday and are helping to reshape our notions of the working week. With their new online TV service, they’re slowly moving into an area where they might even start to challenge Sky or even the BBC. Next they’ll be trying out drones, which might be the future but are a worrying development if the bloody things are going to start buzzing over our homes.

Really, there’s no end to how far Amazon will affect our lives and I think it’s only right to view them with some degree of cynicism.

Yet at the same time, like most people, I overlook all of that because they’re cheap and quick to deliver. It was also recently my birthday and I found myself the owner of an Amazon gift voucher. Despite my reservations about Amazon, I’d normally spend a couple of days browsing the site to find the best use of a voucher but I’d also been having problems with a USB hub I’d previously bought from Maplin, which was periodically disconnecting and doing all manner of crazy things that were annoying me on a daily basis. Having USB problems and an Amazon voucher came together in one of those moments when I didn’t think twice. I went straight to Amazon UK and bought myself an EasyAcc® USB 3.0 7 Port Charging and Data Hub. It arrived two days later and I haven’t looked back. If it’s possibly to have sexual feelings towards a USB hub then you might say that me and the hub have been more intimate than is good for a man who isn’t built to USB 3.0 standards. Not only is it built like a Russian tank but it charges my tablet quicker than Samsung’s official charger, at the same time as running half a dozen USB devices plugged into my PC.

The only problem is that Amazon now won’t stop emailing me asking me about the hub. They want me to review the hub. They want feedback on their delivery of the hub. They want feedback on their feedback.

I understand why they’re pestering me but I don’t understand what possible benefit they think I could get from writing a review. I know other people like to write reviews (to some it seems almost as sad a hobby as blogging) and I accept that I sometimes find their reviews helpful. In the spirit of the community, I suppose I should write a review. However, where’s the incentive? These companies won’t sneeze without charging us the honour of witnessing it but they’re happy to ask us to provide them with free content for their sites without even the smallest percentage discount off our next purchase.

It’s not just Amazon who do this. Banks charge us for the slightest mistake yet we can never charge them when they make a cock up. Train companies regularly hit us with charges which cannot be challenged. Catch a peak time train with a cheap day ticket and you’re lucky to get away with the skin on your back. However, when their service breaks down and you’re stuck waiting two hours on a cold station, we can’t do a damn thing. You can’t get one bit of extra data from a mobile phone operator without them charging you for it yet we’re supposed to sit down, devote time and energy to writing content for a website which earns the company billions?

Writing free content for one of the world’s richest companies seems like a stupendously dumb thing to do. Yet so many people do it and there, I suppose, is the Amazon genius. It’s the perfect business model.  They make the space that others fill. It’s the very opposite of being creative. Filling in blank spaces  is the hardest thing in the world to do with any degree of competence. I have enough trouble filling this blog each day. I’m not about to start filling the Amazon void.

18 Nov

A Nigel Farage Cartoon Containing Some 17th Century Vulgarity

Another cartoon rejected by Private Eye. The verse is from ‘A Satyr on Charles II’ by John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. And, yes, they did use language like that back in the 1600s. Following it is a video of the drawing process along with my usual stream of consciousness waffling.


17 Nov

Free Christmas Card For Anybody That Wants One


Superglued polar bears


Labrador pelt


Baby seal (unclubbed)

If you’re anything like me (and, if you are, then I feel sorry for you) then you won’t be receiving many Christmas cards this year. I don’t have a large circle of friends and those few friends I do have know that I’m an old fashioned God fearing atheist. Yet that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy sending cards. I’m one of those poor sods who actually makes his own cards which I send out and suspect people then think: bloody cheapskate, sending me this hand drawn cartoon when I wanted a mass produced Santa…


The Edmonds Sphincter


Immigrant labour

In previous years, I’ve adopted my Stan Madeley moustache and novelty sombrero to send cards to random celebrities. This year, however, I’m not sure what I’ll do, and that’s a special shame because a pile of cards have just landed on my doormat courtesy of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

I’m not sure why the International Fund for Animal Welfare thought  I might want some Christmas cards. I suspect it’s their way of mocking my mild autism and low quota of friends. I’m even less sure why they think I might feel obliged to send them some money. It seems a rather presumptuous thing to do: send a person a product they’ve not asked for and then expect prompt payment for that product.


Plastic robin

I mentioned this to somebody this morning they thought it would only be right to stick the cards back into the prepaid envelope and return them to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. However, that seems like a lot of effort on my behalf when I didn’t actually want the bloody things in the first place. It’s like those bastards at Cleaneazy or those bigger bastards at Avon who stick catalogues through your letterbox and get shirty when you rip them up. ‘But that was my property!’ they protest. To which I reply: ‘the moment you stuck it through my letterbox, it became my property. Now bugger off and don’t do it again’.


Elk hunter’s sweater

Have I mentioned that I find it hard to make friends?

So, sending the cards back would involve effort and the charity mob would surely just repackage the cards and then send them to another poor victim. I don’t want to feed this cycle of unwanted Christmas card sending.

So I have a dilemma.

Or I had a dilemma until I came up with a solution.

Dogs playing with their balls

Dog sniffing its balls

If you suspect that you’re going to be depressing light on Christmas cards this year or if you’d just like another Christmas card to the hundreds you’re bound to receive, then drop me an email. All I need is your name and address and you can leave the rest to me (stamp). I’ll personally sign each card with a name that might not be my own and then, time and inspiration permitting, I might even scribble some kind of cartoon onto the front cover. Failing that, I’ll simply deface the card in some darkly humorous way that amuses me but will ensure no Christian lingers long by your fireplace.


Stuffed cat

I only have ten cards so you might want to be quick if you want one of the more tasteful cards. If you want a particular card from the lousy selection on offer and displayed throughout this blog post, please indicate. The cards will be with you shortly or whenever I can get access to a post office or use a friend’s franking machine when they’re not looking.

16 Nov

Zero Choice in a Multichannel Age: Sky TV and the Decline of Culture

I watch very little TV and yet I find it strange to admit that given how much TV I watch in a week.

When I say I watch very little TV, I mean rarely do I tune into a TV channel and watch whatever they’re showing. Instead, I watch things I recorded a long time ago (and stored digitally) or I watch things I’ve nabbed from the internet, such as my current interest in the work of  the late Christopher Hitchens whose interviews and debates are readily available on Youtube and I highly recommend.

billcunninghamLast night, I had a chance to look over Netflix and found myself still awake at 4am after watching a double bill of excellent documentary films. The first was a sheer left-of-centre fluke that I would never have found myself watching had I not been randomly browsing through the Netflix catalogue. ‘ Bill Cunningham New York’ is about one of those people that makes life seem better simply because they exist. Cunningham is a street photographer working for the New York Times. His interest is fashion but not the rarefied fashion of the catwalks but the fashions of the street. Yet, if that sounds precious, then I should say that fashion usually ranks up alongside with New Age goat yoga in the list of subjects that interest me the least but I was pretty quickly captivated by Cunningham’s energy, his upbeat but edgy manner, and the sheer enthusiasm of the film which is about intelligent outsiders living in modern New York as much as it’s about glitz, ditz, and high heels. It’s a documentary I can’t recommend more highly. Cunningham is just a great human being and the kind of person that should be affixed to space probes as an example of the high watermark of our kind.

rintThe second film is only available via Netflix, it being a Netflix Original. It’s called ‘Print the Legend’ and documents the rise of the 3D printing business, particularly the rise of MakerBot. If, like me, you enjoy cutting edge technology and long films filled with great yet occasionally flawed characters, then you should give it a try. It’s also, sadly, going to be the closest I get to 3D printing technology in the next decade.

If you’ve not tried the month’s free trial over at Netflix, these two documentaries make it a compelling opportunity. And, no, I’m not getting paid to promote Netflix. This is a rare thing on the internet these days: an honest recommendation.

Perhaps it’s because mainstream cinema has become so juvenile (I find myself feeling weary with anything that comes from Stan Lee’s imagination) but, in the last few years, I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to the form of the long documentary. They seem to fill a gap in my life that normal TV no longer satisfies. Back when I had access to Sky, I’d often watch channels such as Discovery. At the beginning, they were great places to go and find long programmes about difficult or unusual things. You could watch a two hour documentary about something bone dry but interesting. They were the early days of satellite and cable and they were showing anything to fill the hours. Then things began to change. Channels that were previously happy to fill their schedule began to chase viewers. The documentary channels, previously dedicated to factual programming, perverted their terms and began to run programmes which weren’t at all factual. They were shows about hillbillies talking about alien abductions and effete men scaring housewives with tales of hauntings. They were shows about three toed ancient civilisations and space creatures helping the Egyptians to build the pyramids. They were shows that would make me throw the remote control across the room and mutter darkly about crystal banging idiots intruding where they weren’t wanted.

Once these abortions of programming were allowed, the factual channels also found they could run reality shows. They soon became crowded with scuff knuckled series about renovating hotrods. I look today (Sunday) and I see that the History Channel has devoted 12 solid hours of ‘Pawn Stars’ followed by ‘Storage Wars’. National Geographic is showing ‘Hitler’s Jurassic Monsters’ and then endless ‘Yukon Gold’. Animal Planet HD is showing a solid run of ‘America’s Cutest Pets’. Discovery itself is showing ‘Auction Hunters’, followed by ‘Yukon Men’, ‘Gold Divers’, two episodes of ‘How It’s Made’ (not a bad show but endlessly repeated), but then variously, ‘Trawler Wars’ (an endlessly repetitive show about fishing) and ‘Mystery Investigator: Olly Steeds’ who is today searching for Atlantis. Atlantis! F.F.S.

Like so many people I know, we recently ditched Sky after many years. When Sky started out in the UK, you might have paid anywhere between £10 and £30 per month for its channel line up of a few dozen channels. They now boast about 700 channels. Their most basic line up of channels is £21.50 a month but once you start down the Sky path, you quickly discover the only limit is your bank account. You need Sport channels? That’s an extra £24.50 a month. Movies? Just another £16.50. Want to watch any of those in HD? Just another £5. You want more than the basic line up of channels? Well, that’s £33 a month instead of the £21 but if you want one of the football club’s official channels, that’ s another £7. Before you know it, you’re blowing through £100 a month and because you’re blinded by all the choices they’re offering, you forget to ask yourself once simple question:

Are you actually going to watch any of this crap?

‘Choice’ is one of the great scams of our age. It was Thatcher and her cronies who told us that we should always have choice because choice produces healthy competition. In the long term, there might be a case for that argument in a few limited situations. However, the evidence of the last two decades makes me question the logic. When they opened up our local bus service to competition, about five or six companies fought for the business. We endured a decade when the local bus service was provided by some very questionable companies driving buses that were apparently built by ‘Death Trip Motors Inc’. We travelled around in anything from old holiday coaches to converted vans that rattled and fell apart at every pothole. That was the result of choice and competition. Yet soon the bigger companies began to buy out these smaller companies to the point where we now have two bus companies who effectively run a monopoly and charge upwards of £2.50 just to travel one stop. Unless you’re travelling across the county (also £2.50), you don’t use the buses  and the term local service begins to have a hollow ring when you can no longer afford to pay for local journeys. In other words: choice destroyed the local bus service which now caters to none but the few workers who have to pay the toll or pass holders who get free travel  funded by local government.

I do not doubt in the slightest that if it were not for the license fee, the very same would have happened to our TV. We’re promised choice but there is really very little real choice available on Sky. Often the choices are mutually exclusive. If you’re watching Nigerian TV  then you’re probably not going to be watching the Irish Channel. Is Fashion One going to appeal to the same people who enjoy Forces TV or Flava TV. Now we’re heading towards the rump end of the year, we’ve got Blissmas (Channel 376) showing nothing but Christmas rot, which is probably not going to appeal to audiences watching any one of the countless Muslim channels.  If you subscribe to LFCTV, you won’t be subscribing to MUTV. If you enjoy the Gay Dating channel, you probably don’t watch Babestation or any one of the endless pornographic channels where women flash their cleavage throughout the day.

The point I’m making is that unless you’re a Christian Irish-Nigerian homosexual hetrosexual who is currently serving in the armed forces and looking forward to Christmas when you’re hoping to get a Liverpool FC shirt to compliment your official Chelsea sex toy shaped like John Terry,  then you’re unlikely to look at your TV guide and be overwhelmed with choice.

Yet not only are the real world choices fewer than advertised, so much of the remaining programming is of such a lamentable quality that you’d be hard pressed to say it’s actually worth the money you spend. Those that complain that the license fee is actually a form of taxation are the same people who would happily turn our libraries into private enterprises and shrug their shoulders when the non-fiction section is ripped out in favour of a karaoke bar. They oppose the license fee on ideological grounds and not because they could deny that the BBC actually do produce (some) quality programmes that represents the best of our nation. Most of the few channels on Sky that provide quality programming are simply replaying much of the BBC back catalogue. Gold is a perfect example of that (though as if to disprove my point, today showing ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘Allo Allo’). Dave is another, though when I now look, I see it’s also showing ‘Storage Hunters’ from 11.30am to 6pm.

To sum it up: 99% of the programming for which you are paying Sky exorbitant amounts of money is indistinguishable from bullock muck. And the very small fraction of programming which you enjoy in a month would not look as attractive if you were consciously aware that you were paying £2 – £10 an hour to enjoy it. I assume that most people who pay for the Sports package are really paying for the football, in which case, it’s probably cheaper to buy tickets and attend the games yourself than pay £25 a month to watch your team who, if you’re lucky to follow one of the bigger teams, might be televised once a month. Often, you’ll pay £25 a month and never actually turn over to the sports channels because you’re not interested in volleyball or American Football or yachting or any other of the lamentable sports they cover. Add in the cost of paying for sports channels during international breaks and the summer and the real price of following your team begins to look ridiculous.

Finally, if you do enjoy football, you also now face the competition of BT Sports. Choice might be a fascinating point of political theory but the reality is that poor football fans now have to pay two subscriptions to watch the matches which were, until recently, confined to one channel.

It’s blackmail yet so many of us succumb to it. Hell, even I succumbed for a long time. Now I watch very little live TV and I collect and treasure the things I know I’ll enjoy. I’m even slowly weaning myself off football, which just rots the soul as you see the excesses of these tattooed louts paraded in front of our eyes. Above all, I just try to avoid the marketing spin and the scream of the loud but banal. There’s some great TV out there if only you’re willing to look. Just look beyond the places where Sky precede everything with a pound sign.

15 Nov

Ed Miliband and the Kim Kardashian Factor

Ed Kardashian

And here’s my Not Safe For Work video and my spontaneous rant about Kim Kardashian’s arse, Dr Matt Taylor’s so called ‘sexist’ shirt, Ed Miliband’s leadership, culture, populism, art, and the lack of real debate around the Ched Evans story. Partway through the video, I repeat a section of video, so you’ not going mad if you think you’ve seen that before. In the final part of the video, I make comments about the Ched Evans story which I wouldn’t wish to be seen as a defense of Ched Evans. I merely ask why celebrity should have any bearing in our forming a decision in any kind of moral debate.

14 Nov

A Topical Ed Miliband Cartoon

New optimism this morning. Yesterday I installed a new plugin to this blog and it claims to track my RSS feed. I thought literally nobody picked up my feeds but now I see it’s even more popular that reading the site through a browser. Oh, I know many of the hits are bots working for news aggregators. I also know that simply because my stuff appears in people’s feed readers doesn’t mean they actually read my words. But it feels oddly better being unread by thousands of people that being visited by just a few hundred.


This morning I faced a mild dilemma. What do you do when SPAM isn’t SPAM? The Chinese are clearly a clever people and are adapting their tactics. I’ve been hit by their SPAM for months and I’ve been able to delete it all without hesitation. This morning, however, I found this comment waiting for me:

Love your full scenery shot~!
Welcome visit me back http://ecinfant.blogspot.hk/

The problem is that it’s not entirely SPAM. Whoever left it, looked at my post long enough to spot that I’d included a panorama shot of Sherdley Park in St Helens and, clearly, the people of Hong Kong trawl the web looking for panorama shot of Sherdley Park in St Helens… I’m not sure what I can do if the spammers start to read my blog. It’s my nightmare scenario.


As you can see, I don’t have much time to write so I’ve quickly narrated last night’s cartoon. It’s eight minutes of my usual nasal waffle (I always sound like I have a cold, which is probably to be expected because I do always seem to have a cold). Today’s brief rant is about UK politics and Nigel Farage and my difficulties with drawing Ed Miliband’s face.




13 Nov

Trains, Trees, and Bloodlust

Children are brutish. I’d either forgotten this or it had never occurred to me before yesterday.

It was Wednesday afternoon and I found myself trudging across Sherdley Park, which Wikipedia would tell you is a 336 acre park in Sutton in St Helens. It’s probably the biggest park in the area and I know it from my childhood when we’d occasionally visit to look at the peacocks.


It was late afternoon and the sun was already lying oblique to the land, throwing long searching shadows that had hurried me on towards the hospital where I was due to collect some important paperwork. I’d had a bad morning. For the third time in about a month, I’d discovered that the neighbour has not been passing on mail mistakenly delivered to their address. This is bad enough when the letter is a bill but far worse when the mail includes important hospital results. All week, my sister had been expecting a vital letter from a consultant and only when the letter was three days overdue did I think to check the only place we’d not yet checked: above the neighbour’s fireplace. Sure enough, our neighbour had kept the letter and hadn’t bothered to pass it on. It was why I found myself making the trip into St Helens so late in the day. It’s why my day had been so frantic, how I’d come to accidentally smash my bike lamp (now fixed thanks to superglue), discovered that my headphones (essential walking equipment) were bust (and are still bust). Without music and feeling generally pissed off with the world, I was trying to pass my time taking pictures of trees as I made the 25 minute walk.


By the time, I was heading back, it was nearly three o’clock and the schools were emptying.

Sherdley Park sits beside Sutton Academy so it was unsurprising that I found myself surrounded by Sutton Academy students. In the modern climate, a man can’t take photographs when there are school kids within ten miles so I put away my camera and pushed on towards the dying sun and my imminent train home.

And then I saw a group of them. Well, I say ‘group’ when I mean a ‘gang’. It was a gang about 200 strong and the correct term is probably a ‘mob’. It was a mob gathered on the edge of the park for reasons that were unknown until I got closer and I heard the cheering. Then I saw the fists flying and flailing cuffs darting between the camera phones held aloft. It was an old fashioned schoolyard scrap and I hadn’t seen one of those in years. I confess: I smiled.

20141112_142257The path to the station led right past the crowd and I feared they might swell over and block my exit to the train. However, by the time I got close, the scrap came to an end when one lad broke away. He was a short brutish lout, probably raised on nothing but pig meat. He had the look of the typical schoolyard thug or typical in my experience of schoolyard thugs who always tended to look overweight, squashed features, short cropped hair topping off a look of malevolent evil.

He was cursing towards another lad who emerged from the crowd but I don’t know why. I’d passed on, aware of that my train was due. A moment later, three teachers ran past me and back towards towards the riot. Teaching is an insane business, not for the weak of heart. My own instinct would be to leave the two lads to duke it out but, I suppose, the teachers aren’t there to decide which fights are fair and which are simple bullying. Perhaps the punch-faced boy was the victim and not the instigator. I don’t know and I’ll never know.

20141112_150231Sitting on the platform five minutes later, I overheard all manner of rumour from the students waiting for the train. No doubt in some dark corner of the internet, videos are being posted and bloody noses posed for posterity. It’s a different kind of childhood and, I think, a sad one too. I was beaten up twice in my life and both times at school. Strangely, I wasn’t beaten up a third time. Not once I’d hit six feet and the thugs discovered that I knew karate. Yet I’d hate to think that footage of my childhood beatings still exist. I’m not sure how I would react had I been born into this generation where nothing passes into forgetful memory, when the youthful discovery of sex and violence are there for the word to see and to mock.

Yet the bullying isn’t the real reason I hated school. I hated school because school taught me nothing but prepared me for a life of subservience to a system. The very concept of a tie is anathema to me. What exactly is a tie? It’s the only item of clothing that doesn’t actually fulfill a utilitarian service. People might say it covers up buttons or fills in a gap but, really, it’s there to do nothing but indicate your subservience to a greater other. In the bright light of day, schools are supposed to be about personal development and bringing out your character and individuality. The truth rarely spoken is that schools — and I suppose I really speak about those in deeply working class areas — are really about destroying the individual, of taking away the rebellious streak, and preparing you for a life of 9 to 5 grind. Your school years really teach you how to wear a tie.

Last night, thinking all about this, I fired off an email to the school which was largely tongue in cheek but less largely, I suppose, a genuine expression of my relief that children are still unprogrammed, raw, occasionally bestial. Only a fool would prefer chaos to a civilisation but all great civilisations need a touch of madness. Last year, Jon Ronson wrote a hot blistering piece about hacking culture in America, a subtext of which was the correlation between crime and freedom.

Seeing the crowd calling for blood and excited by violence was a reminder that really that’s there within all of us. It is ugly and might hint towards the frightening truth that civilisation is merely a thin facade and extreme brutality is merely under the surface of the suburban bland. However, it’s also a reminder about freedom and how that’s something everybody really yearns for.

Anyway, I’m hopefully programming today. Here for posterity is my email to the school.

Dear Headmistress,

I assume you are used to hearing only bad things about your students so I thought it only right to drop you a quick note to say ‘well done’ when they prove themselves a credit to our community.

Like so many of the older generation, I’ve been occasionally cynical towards the youth of today. I’ve always assumed that they’re all ensconced pimple deep to their Gorilla glass, enjoying virtual worlds but otherwise too busy face-twittering their Google yahoos  to care a hoot about healthy living and the great outdoors. I don’t know about you but I say there’s neither a vice nor virtue you can find on the internet that you can’t also enjoy by climbing up a tree or looking down at the world from a high rocky ledge.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I was enjoying a bracing visit to Sherdley Park today (peacocks) and I noticed a sizable gathering of your youth also enjoying this ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ (Keats). I say ‘sizable gathering’ when I should more accurately describe it as a ‘mob’, though I fear there are too many negative connotations attached to that word when I mean to say only positive things. There they were, upwards of two hundred in the field, enjoying nature in the gathering dusk. This, I thought to myself, is surely a sign that all is not ugly about modern youth. Watching them, I was reminded of the words of Fitzgerald who remarked that youth give off the ‘calories of virtue’. I thought pretty much the same when I heard one of your virtuous tykes shout words which will forever be etched in my memory. ‘Effing nail him!’ he cried or words to that effect and I believe even you, Ma’am, would forgive his use of the Anglo Saxon had you seen the look of wild enthusiasm in his eyes.

So, please, allow me to congratulate yourself and all the staff at the Sutton Academy for encouraging your wards to embrace traditional sports. I would never have thought that bare knuckle boxing would still be so popular with our youth but now I see that it’s still extremely popular at Sutton Academy! I’ve not seen a crowd so fuelled with bloodlust since I was lucky enough to see Ali fight Foreman in Zahire in 74. It was particularly encouraging to see that enthusiasm shared by the three members of staff I witnessed rushing out to get a ringside seat. One note of caution, however: I’m not sure men of their girth and age should be running quite so fast, particularly the one at the front who was a lovely mover and probably enjoys ballroom. If he popped a knee, what then? A promising dance career could end, just like that. [Snaps fingers] As for the one at the back (bearded, possible real ale drinker), it was an admirable effort but perhaps he should reconsider the wisdom of the hundred yard dash.

Finally, could you please pass on a ‘very well done’ to the two brawlers involved? It’s so good to see young people feeling passionate about their sport and the combatants were certainly bursting with passion when they were done, particularly the short brutish lout who looked like he’d been raised in a shed on nothing but pig meat. You should be proud of him. In my experience, such a high tolerance for pain will certainly earn him a career as a doorman, bouncer, or even a history teacher.

Again, thank you for restoring my faith in modern youth.


12 Nov

No Cartoon

No cartoon today because I was quite pleased with the cartoon I drew last night. In a moment of dumb optimism, I posted it off to Private Eye along with two other of my recent cartoons, which means that I’m hopefully over the huge crushing self-loathing that lasted me nearly half a year and caused me to cartoon nothing. The three I’ve sent are all quite good. The first, from last night, is probably overdrawn and far too offensive for anybody to publish. That said: it’s probably in my top five of the cartoons I’ve ever drawn. The second is very minimal without even a title and, I think, it pretty strong. The third is my older style and a joke which isn’t too bad, even if the drawing isn’t the best. Usually it takes them a few days to reject them, at which point I’ll have enough material to fill the blog for three days.

In the meantime, the game moves on. Shuffleboard King now has a big new feature which I’m pretty pleased to have got working. It’s something that’s been commented out in the code for a long time because I could never figure out how to get a certain mechanism working. Last night I had a breakthrough and the new mode now works pretty well (albeit with a few very minor bugs that should be fixable). It’s currently at a very vanilla stage and I now need to jazz it up and make it more fun to play. However, version 1.1 of Shuffleboard King should be a major update. I’ve also ditched the old logo and created a really nice minimalist icon, to match new menus and dozens of other fixes.