I love you really, Roger!


(c) Eon Productions


I believe that as you get older, and if you possess even half of a conscience, you find yourself brooding more and more on the sins that you committed in your past.  You can never forget the cruel, spiteful and hurtful things that you’ve done over the years.  The memories of those things hang around, lurking in the recesses of your soul.  And as you move through life, and inexorably approach your final destination, they become ever-more restless and vocal – like ghosts moaning and rattling their chains and psychically knocking the furniture around with increasing volume, agitation and violence.  I’m sure there comes a point when, in your old age, your guilt tortures you to the point where you’re absolutely desperate to atone for those dark and distant misdeeds.


No doubt that’s the reason why, lately, I’ve found myself dwelling uncomfortably on a sin I’ve committed during the years that I’ve written this blog.  Yes, I’ve been beastly to Roger Moore.


If you’re familiar with this blog, you’ll know how it goes.  I write an entry about James Bond – of whom I’m a big fan, both in his literary incarnation written by Ian Fleming and in his cinematic incarnation masterminded by the Broccoli family – and something gives me reason to refer to the third actor to play 007 in the movies, from Live and Let Die in 1974 until A View to a Kill in 1985.  And then I make a comment likening Roger Moore’s acting ability to that of a plank, or a floorboard, or a block of wood, or a sheet of mahogany, or a slab of teak, or a lump of concrete, or a vat of dried cement, or an Easter Island statue, or one of the monoliths that were featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  Or, still on the subject of his acting ability, I give vent to an unkind pun about ‘Roger Mortis’.  Or I say something snarky about Roger’s left eyebrow being the most expressive part of his entire body.  Or I crack an ungentlemanly joke about James Bond getting ‘Roger-ed’ in the 1970s and 1980s.


(c) Eon Productions


Well, I have decided that the time has come to make amends.  I realise that my Crimes Against Roger are of such a magnitude that I can never fully cleanse myself of the bad, anti-Roger karma I’ve created, but I will at least have a go.  Here is a blog-entry dedicated to being positive about the crinkly, safari-suit-wearing, eyebrow-elevating James Bond Number Three.  Here is an account of all the good things that Roger has done over the years.


There are some good things…  I know there are some good things…  I just have to search around a bit to find them…  Oh yes!  Here they are.


The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

Cited by Moore as his favourite among the films he’s made – he agreed to star in it for much less than his usual fee – The Man Who Haunted Himself is a bizarre psychological-horror-cum-ghost-story.  It was also the final film directed by Basil Deardon, who’d worked on the legendary supernatural anthology movie Dead of Night back in 1945.


The Man Who Haunted Himself is a tale of a well-to-do businessman called Harold Pelham, played by Moore, who’s badly injured in a car crash and undergoes a weird incident during the subsequent emergency surgery – he briefly seems to die on the operating table and then two heartbeats appear on the monitoring machine rather than one.  Thereafter, the supposedly-recovered Pelham finds himself being stalked by a sinister doppelganger.  Pelham never encounters this doppelganger himself; but, behind his back, it ingratiates itself among his family, friends and colleagues and does things, like making important business decisions and having an affair, for which he gets the credit / blame.  Pelham is so unnerved by this that his behaviour becomes alarming to his friends, family and colleagues.  Indeed, he acts so out-of-character that they begin to wonder if he might be, you know, an imposter.


(c) EMI


I saw this movie on TV when I was a kid and was extremely freaked out by it – probably because by then I was accustomed to seeing Moore play suave and unflappable characters in TV shows like The Saint (1962-1969) and The Persuaders (1971-1972).  So I wasn’t ready to see him play someone who spends a film in a state of increasing mental disintegration and becomes a gibbering, possibly insane ruin by its end.  It got bad reviews and made little money at the time of its release, but it’s now regarded as a cult classic – championed, I suspect, by people my age who also first saw it as kids and also found the sight of Roger Moore cracking up seriously disturbing.  Its admirers, incidentally, include Pulp singer, cultural commentator and raconteur Jarvis Cocker.


The Persuaders (1971-1972)

Okay, I’m cheating a little when I cite The Persuaders as a good thing.  This comedy-action TV series Moore made for Lew Grade in the early 1970s, in which he and Tony Curtis played a pair of jet-setting playboys / adventurers who constantly get into and out of scrapes, is really pretty vacuous.  But what makes it unforgettable is its theme music – a marvellous composition by John Barry that’s mysterious, swirling and rather gothic.  Hearing it at the start of each episode, you’re led to expect a completely different type of TV show, a far darker and edgier one, from what you actually get.  I think the fact that no less a personage than Johnny Marr, the former guitarist with The Smiths, plays The Persuaders theme when he and his band come onstage these days is an indication of its quality.




John Barry, of course, would have much more to do with Roger Moore in the years ahead – for Barry was also James-Bond composer numero uno.  In fact, if I had to have some music played at my funeral, it would probably be a toss-up between the Persuaders theme and Barry’s instrumental from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1968).  Though knowing my luck, someone would probably hit the wrong track on the John Barry compilation CD, with the result that my remains were carted away to the sound of Lulu singing The Man with the Golden Gun.


(c) ITC


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Say what you like about the quality of Roger Moore’s other James Bond films – and in my opinion they range from the underwhelming to the atrocious – but you can’t deny that The Spy Who Loved Me is the one that deserves its place in the premier league of great 007 movies.  On paper it looks as lazy as all the other Bond movies being made around that time – a car that travels underwater, a villain who kills people by dropping them into shark-pools, a giant henchman with steel teeth and a plot that’s been copied from 1967’s You Only Live Twice (only with stolen submarines instead of stolen spacecraft).  But it’s done with such style and élan that Moore, writers Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum, producer Cubby Broccoli and so on get away with it.  And of course, the pre-titles sequence – the one that made it a rule that the opening scene of each new Bond film had to contain a big stunt – is a corker.


No wonder that in season two of I’m Alan Partridge (2002), Steve Coogan gets immensely upset when he discovers that Michael-the-Geordie has taped over his copy of The Spy Who Loved Me with an episode of America’s Strongest Man.  “Now you’ve got Norfolk’s maddest man!” he rages.  Quite.




(c) ITC


His humanitarian work

Moore has been a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, since 1991; and, sweetly, he once lent his voice to a UNICEF-sponsored cartoon called The Fly Who Loved Me (2004).  He has also been involved in the campaign by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, against the gruesome practices used in the making of foie gras and he helped to persuade the department store Selfridges to stop stocking the stuff.


No other actor is capable of doing Roger-stuff

Yes, there are plenty of moments during Moore’s seven Bond movies when, as a serious fan of Ian Fleming’s superspy, I’ve wanted to hide behind the sofa in embarrassment.  But if I switch off my brain’s critical faculties, I have to admit there’s a certain, if facile, charm in seeing Roger Moore go through his paces – silly though the situations are.


And I doubt very much if the other actors who’ve played James Bond since the 1960s could go through the same escapades and emerge from them with their dignity intact, the way that Roger Moore – somehow – manages to do.  I suspect Timothy Dalton would look a bit of a dick if he performed a corkscrewing car-jumping stunt, accompanied by comedy noises and with Sheriff J.W. Pepper in the passenger’s seat – but Roger did just that in The Man with the Golden Gun (1975) and nobody thought less of him.  (They certainly thought less of the film, though.)  And I’m sure Daniel Craig would look a right fanny if he escaped from some villains in a gondola that turned into a speedboat and then turned into a hovercraft – but Roger did so in Moonraker (1979) and nobody accused him of being a fanny.


Why, even the mighty Sean would have difficulty keeping his poise and self-esteem if he had to dangle from a ladder on the back of a speeding fire engine (driven by Tanya Roberts).  But – you guessed it! – Roger did that in A View to a Kill (1985) and got away with it.  Just about.


Yes, when it comes to doing Roger-stuff, nobody does it better.


Glang!  Glang-a-lang, glang-a-lang, glang-a-lang…  Glang-a-lang!


(c) The Belfast Telegraph


Putting the gay into the Gaeltacht


From newwaysminstryblog.wordpress.com


Well, that was great.  With world events at the moment so generally grim that you almost feel afraid to peek into a newspaper or channel-surf anywhere near a TV news channel for fear that you’ll become suicidally depressed – thanks to the activities of Islamic State, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, Marine Le Pen and Katie Hopkins – the revelation that the citizens of the Republic of Ireland have voted by an almost two-thirds-to-one-third majority to legalise gay marriage has been wonderful.


Yes, amid all the bad news coming relentlessly from elsewhere in the world, the Irish gay-marriage referendum result has felt as welcome as…  Well, probably as welcome as the sight of that dove carrying a ‘pluckt-off’ olive leaf felt to Noah in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 8, Verse 11 — signifying that the topmost branches of the trees had at last begun to poke above the Biblical floodwater.  In this modern-day deluge of bad shit, it’s heartening that some twigs of human decency are still able to poke up into view, above it all.




Bear in mind that this has occurred in a country that decriminalised ‘homosexual acts’ only 22 years ago.  Back in the early 1990s, of course, the Roman Catholic Church still wielded a degree of power and influence there.  But now that church is seen as a discredited, hypocritical, child-abusing carcass – and the good folk of the Irish Republic have just well-and-truly stomped on it.


A few reactionary types aren’t happy about the result – though oddly enough, these were the same voices who’d lamented that legislation for gay marriage had been passed in other countries without the public being given a chance to vote on it.  For instance, in the Spectator, sour social conservative Melanie McDonagh has been lamenting about the ‘groupthink’ and ‘one-sidedness’ of the Irish gay-marriage debate: “There’s a creepily imitative quality to the liberal consensus – as though the colonial mind-set has morphed through clericalism to a self-congratulatory adolescence, perpetually in revolt against the vanished authority of the church.”  That’s right, Melanie.  The outcome of the vote had nothing to do with people wanting to show compassion, and fairness, and empathy, and respect for other people who happened to differ from them in their sexual orientation.  Rather, it was to do with people behaving like stupid teenagers and wanting to wave their middle-finger at some nasty old kiddie-fiddling priests.


The result, of course, focuses attention on Northern Ireland, which is now the last major area of the British Isles to oppose the legalisation of gay marriage.  I must admit to having a depressing feeling that hell will freeze over well before the bigots in the Democratic Unionist Party, who are a major component of the Northern Irish government, follow the example of southern Ireland.  Their attitude is only slightly less extreme than that of my current bête noir Susan-Anne White, the looney-tunes evangelical-Christian pontificator who a few weeks ago ran for Parliament in my old constituency in Northern Ireland.  Yesterday, she raved on her blog that “(t)he homosexual lobby are coming for Northern Ireland and intend to force sodomite ‘marriage’ on our Province…  We will resist this madness, God helping us.”


Oh Susan-Anne.  You are a demented old bat.


Incidentally, just a few weeks ago, the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association rated Scotland as being the best country in the world for offering legal protection to gay people.  (I know that, strictly speaking, Scotland doesn’t qualify as being a country.  But because it has its own autonomous system of law, it does in legal terms.)  So there’s another large part of the Celtic world that can congratulate itself on its gay friendliness.  It’s mind-blowing that just a couple of generations ago the Republic of Ireland and Scotland probably seemed two of the last places that a gay person would want to live in, thanks to their being dominated by two particularly unappealing, intolerant and life-denying brands of Christianity, severe Catholicism and severe Calvinism.


So, all you Irish and Scottish folk out there, forget about such rabble-rousing appeals to your patriotism as Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996) or Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (1995).  If you really want to feel some nationalistic pride in yourselves, bask in the accolades you’re currently getting for showing a bit of decency towards your fellow human beings in the gay and lesbian communities.  That’s a true reason to be proud to be a Celt.


The Indian Museum in Kolkata



If the Indian Museum in Kolkata has a problem, it’s perhaps a problem of having a dual personality – a duality implied by its name.  Is it a museum about India, and about Indian culture in particular, which exists to satisfy foreigners like myself?  Foreigners who arrive expecting it to be packed full of Indian antiquities?  Or is it a museum that caters for Indian people, the local public, and meets the public’s general expectations about museums, i.e. that they have lots of stuffed animals and skeletons and cool things from ancient Egypt?


The Indian Museum at least has the space and the exhibits to meet both sets of expectations.  Contained in a huge white building with a courtyard and lawn and with grand columns striding along the edges of a ground-floor terrace and first-floor balcony, it’s the biggest museum in India and at the last count a decade ago it was reckoned to house over 100,000 items.  Its collection is the result of two centuries of acquisition – the museum was founded in 1814 and has inhabited this particular building since the 1870s.


For the Indian-culture-hungry tourist, there are a multitude of attractions: ranging from the massive, such as a 23-foot-high gateway and some nine-foot-high railings made of carved red-sandstone ‘pillars, cross-bars and running coping stones’, which constitute the remains of a Buddhist stupa discovered in Madhya Pradesh; to the small, but exquisite, such as a model of a carriage with a driver, passenger and four horses that’s been carved from ivory and supposedly represents ‘the exposition of the Gita at Kurukshetra’, i.e. when Krishna counselled Prince Arjuna on how to fulfill his duty as a warrior and establish Dharma.



However, the artifact that impressed me most of all was this charming ‘jade tree’.



With regard to more conventionally museum-y things, there are galleries devoted to India’s flora and fauna.  The zoological galleries have so many skeletons and skulls on display that they’re veritable boneyards.  The creatures of the prehistoric past are also given attention.  At one point, for instance, I stumbled across the tank-like carcass of a glyptodon.  The glyptodon was a monstrous type of armadillo that trundled around North and South America until about 10,000 years ago, when homo-sapiens – who obviously haven’t learnt anything in the period since – hunted it into non-existence.  It’s definitely my favourite extinct giant mammal.



I was impressed to find that the Indian Museum also has a gallery dedicated to evolution.  With religious nutcase-ism on the rise on so many parts of the world, including in North America, I’ll bet many museums nowadays would think twice about having a room that loudly extolls the theories of Charles Darwin and such similar ‘controversialists’ (or as they’re sometimes known, ‘scientists’).  The Evolution Gallery is full of lovely diagrams and models charting the evermore-intricate progress of life on earth, with its centrepiece being a huge depiction of a strand of DNA that rather resembles an avant-garde corkscrew.



There’s even a little Egyptology section, its entrance guarded by an impressive-looking sphinx.  But apart from the sphinx, a replica head of Queen Nefertiti and a mummified hand, there wasn’t anything there that lodged in my memory.



Incidentally, standing at the top of the stairs on the first floor is a statue of Queen Victoria.  It bears a presumptive and imperious inscription: “This statue of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Empress of India, was presented to the Indian people by Mahatab Chund Bahadur, Maharaja Dhiraj of Burdwan, in commemoration of Her Majesty’s gracious assumption of the imperial title on January 1st 1877.”  Yes, I imagine the Indian people felt enormous gratitude to Queen Victoria for doing them the favour of agreeing to be their empress.  It has to be said, though, that a lot of modern-day Indian museum-goers seemed happy enough to pose in front of the old girl’s statue for photos.



B.B. has left the building


From www.bbking.com


You could hardly say the death on May 14th of legendary bluesman B.B. King was unexpected.  He was pushing 90 at the time and there’d been reports in the press lately about his failing health.  Still, on an emotional level, his passing came as a shock.  He was one of those guys who seemed to transcend the boundaries of human mortality and frailty and have a superhuman permanence.  Like Mount Everest or the moon, you were so accustomed to his presence that you just assumed he’d be always there.


He wasn’t the most soulful or spookiest-voiced performers in the wild and wonderful world of blues music.  Those are honours I’d probably bestow on John Lee Hooker or Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins.  But with his avuncular charm and impeccable style – that portly frame of his seemingly encased in a super-cool three-piece suit at all times – he was the best ambassador that the blues genre could have hoped for.  Mind you, musically, there was definitely no one else who could go “Mmmm-mmmm!” with his eyes closed, whilst wrenching a passionate squeal out of his guitar, quite like he could.


That guitar – or more accurately guitars, because he used a number over the years – was a black Gibson with a maple body and neck and an ebony fret-board called Lucille.  Supposedly the instruments King played on stage had all borne the name Lucille since an incident in Arkansas in 1949, when he ran back into a burning dance hall where he’d been performing to rescue an expensive guitar.  The cause of the fire was a rudimentary heater (basically a barrel of kerosene), which two men had knocked over whist brawling about a woman called Lucille.  So thereafter, that name served as a reminder to King to avoid doing dumb things, like endangering your life by trying to retrieve a guitar from an inferno.  Or fighting over women, for that matter.


He had a string of big blues hits in the 1950s like Every Day I have the Blues (1955) and Sweet Little Angel (1956).  By the 1960s, of course, he was hanging out with white, mainly-British rock-and-roll boys, including the Rolling Stones, for whom he opened during their 1969 North American tour.  Accordingly, he makes a cameo appearance in True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, journalist Stanley Booth’s definitive account of that spectacularly ill-fated tour, which culminated with the Hells Angels-induced mayhem at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6th.


With his collaborative song When Love Comes to Town (1988), he managed to convince me, temporarily, that U2 were a decent rock band.  But it was his thunderous performance on another collaboration, I Pity the Fool with Buddy Guy, from his 1993 album Blues Summit, which for me was the peak of his later career.  Meanwhile, five years later, he was surely the only reason for watching that dog of a movie, the John Landis-directed Blues Brothers 2000.


Inevitably, King’s gigs in the past few years – with the great man in his mid-eighties, heavier than ever, suffering from Type 2 diabetes and not always able to recall his song lyrics – were somewhat ramshackle affairs.  Charles Shaar Murray, Britain’s most erudite blues journalist, observed of his 2011 concert at the Albert Hall that “(t)he Big B had become a magnificent ruin, like the Coliseum or the Sphinx: a monument to visited not in the hope of seeing it in its halcyon days, but to marvel that it was still here and, indeed, that something so marvellous existed in the first place.”


Still, I can’t help but admire him for the fact that he was still touring at the age of 88.  Aye, beat that, Sir Mick bloody Jagger.


Definitely the last ever 2015 election post


This, I promise, will be my final comment on the UK general election, which took place on Thursday.  Thereafter, normal service will be resumed on Blood and Porridge.  Yes, I will return to writing about my usual topics, which are James Bond, Father Ted, graveyards, obscure British horror movies and the sexy places I have visited.


During the campaign that preceded it and in the actual results it produced, this election has sucked and yet, perversely, it’s felt rather enjoyable too.  Here are five reasons why it sucked; and five more reasons why, at the same time, I enjoyed it.




One: social media.

The Twitter-sphere and Internet generally are infested with abuse-screaming bampots of all political persuasions.  Vilely insulting other people who disagree with your political views, from a keyboard, at a safe and hidden distance, is abhorrent.  It’s a practice, however, that’s best dealt with by ignoring it.  Unfortunately, with Britain’s newspapers, we have a partisan traditional media that both mistrusts and misunderstands the nature of modern information technology; and treats it as an easy source of outrageous comments that can be held up and waved in your headlines as supposed proof that all your political opponents are foul-mouthed lunatics.


It possibly wasn’t a coincidence that the world best-loved and most fragrant lady novelist, J.K. Rowling, suddenly appeared in the Scottish – Labour Party-leaning – newspapers two days before the general election; where she talked about the online abuse she’d suffered last year at the hands, or tweets, of Scottish-independence supporters after she intervened in the independence debate and said it was a bad idea.  Yes, I think the timing of these sudden J.K. ROWLING TALKS ABOUT LAST YEAR’S TWITTER ABUSE BY SCOTTISH NATIONALISTS headlines was a wee bit suspicious – they hit the newspapers at the exactly the same moment that the Scottish Labour Party was breaking the emergency glass and pulling out her old friend, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to try to save the party’s skin in Scotland.  (It didn’t work.  Scottish Labour ended up losing 40 of its 41 seats to the Scottish National Party.)


Predictably, J.K. Rowling is now getting more abusive tweets from the SNP’s lunatic fringe – which makes her Twitter stream a surreal place, where messages like “J.K. Rowling, you’re a traitor to Scotland!” alternate with ones from schoolgirls in South Korea asking her what Hedwig the Owl’s favourite flavour of cheese is.


From screenrant.com 


On the Internet, you’ll find psychotic SNP supporters, and psychotic Labour supporters, and psychotic Tories, and psychotic Greens.  And psychotic Quakers, and psychotic Buddhists, and psychotic Jedi Knights, and psychotic Coldplay fans.  If you’re going to use the new media that the communications revolution has spawned in the last 20 years, you have to accept the existence of such basket-cases as a sad inevitability and ignore them.  Especially if you dare to offer anything resembling an opinion.


And journalists, please stop wading into this online mire searching for stories.  Go into the real world and find some real stories instead.


Two: Russell Brand.

I don’t hate the hirsute and ubiquitous Russell Brand, even if I think he was a stupid dick a while ago to advise young people to disdain the democratic process and avoid voting.  I don’t even think it was foolish of Labour leader – former Labour leader – Ed Miliband to talk to him shortly before this election and persuade him that voting is actually a sensible thing to do.  In fact, Ed even persuaded Russ to endorse Labour.


What I find irritating is that after Ed had lost the election, Russell Brand immediately declared that he’d made his pro-voting (and pro-Labour) comments in the heat of the moment and hadn’t really meant what he’d said.  Though as soon as he’d disassociated himself from poor Ed, the electoral loser, he then predicted five years of strife under the new Conservative government and urged his followers to behave with ‘compassion’.


Which makes it sound like Russell was not only trying to have his cake and eat it; but also to take that cake to bed, and subject it to sustained and vigorous foreplay, and grease it with lubricant and shove it up his arse.


(c) The Independent


Three: the mainstream press. 

I’ve already written that the majority of Britain’s national newspapers are owned by a half-dozen super-rich, tax-dodging, far-right-wing gits, so I won’t mention that fact again.  (Oops.  I just have.)  Correspondingly, most of these newspapers’ election coverage had to be taken with an amount of salt equivalent to the annual output of the world’s largest salt mine.


And as I’ve written before, the coverage of Scotland in the right-wing press before the election was depressingly shrill and xenophobic.  Nor has it stopped during the three days since the Scottish voting public gave a huge mandate to the SNP.  Bruce Anderson, for example, has raged in the Daily Telegraph about ‘half the population of Scotland’ being ‘in the grip of religious hysteria’.  Meanwhile, Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir wrote a piece responding to the Scottish results with this charming headline: VILE BIGOTS HAVE MADE ME ASHAMED TO BE SCOTTISH.


You may remember that following the death of gay pop star Stephen Gately in 2009, Ms Moir wrote a homophobic column about him that resulted in 25,000 complaints being made to the British Press Complaints Commission.  So funnily enough, the words Vile bigot has made me ashamed to be Scottish are precisely what appear in my head whenever I hear mention of Jan Moir.


Four: denial.

To return to the Scottish Labour Party…  Although I don’t support them, I have actually felt a bit sorry for them since their Thursday-night slaughter at the hands of the SNP.  Particularly piteous have been the expressions of denial made by their (now nearly entirely unemployed) politicians: “It’s not our fault!”  “The public didn’t listen to us, the fools!”  And so on.


Mind-boggling rather than piteous, though, has been the reaction of their boss Jim Murphy.  Despite losing his seat, and despite his party’s number of MPs going from 41 to one under his watch, Jim is still there.  He maintains that he’s still the right man for the job of Scottish Labour Party leader.  He reminds me of the black knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who insists on continuing to fight after having his arms and legs cut off: “I’ll do you for that!  Come here!  I’m invincible!”  (King Arthur: “You’re a loony.”)


(c) The Daily Mail

(c) Michael White Productions


Mind you, J.K. Rowling did try to console poor Jim by making him an honorary member of the House of Gryffindor at Hogwarts.  Though I have to say that if Jim Murphy had had any authority at Hogwarts at the time of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Lord Voldemort would now be ruling the entire universe.


Five: the Tories won.

Well, obviously.  And bollocks!  They’ve just brought back Michael Gove.






One: social media.

Yes, the social media aspect of this general election sucked but, paradoxically, it was brilliant too.  I say that as someone who remembers how elections were in the olden days, when for your information you depended on supposedly-learned authorities penning pieces in the newspapers or pontificating on TV.  Basically, it was a case of well-to-do Oxford / Cambridge-educated political pundits telling us, the plebs, how things were and what to do about it.  And if you wanted to participate in the debate – well, you sat down and penned a letter and sent it off to a newspaper, in the dim hope that it might be published a few days later.


Compare that with now.  Blogs, Twitter, Facebook…  And probably a hundred other innovations that are too new and trendy for someone my age to even know about, let alone understand and use.  Lord George Foulkes can say something pompous and stupid and 30 seconds later you can be in his Twitter stream taking him to task about it and calling him a tube.  If that isn’t proper, participatory democracy, what is?


It also, incidentally, made this election incredibly funny.  Political satire is now something the entire population can indulge in, immediately, rather than having to sit down passively and read Private Eye magazine or watch Have I Got News for You.  Some of the jokes, quips, barbs and (courtesy of Photoshop) visual gags whizzing around the Internet have been brilliant.  I particularly like the one about the sartorially eccentric George Galloway, recently deposed MP for Bradford West, now having time to start ‘his Victorian ghost-hunting psychic detective agency’.


(c) The Daily Star


Two: bloodshed!

Galloway was just one of many politicians who suffered defeats in this election.  In fact, there were more heads left rolling in the dust than there were in several seasons of Game of Thrones.  It felt like a particularly gory afternoon spent at the coliseum in Ancient Rome – lots of sadistic entertainment for the audience, though probably not much fun for the gladiators.  This is remarkable when you consider how even the election that caused the most dramatic reshaping of the electoral landscape in the last 20 years, 1998’s one when Tony Blair trounced John Major, produced just one memorable casualty: Michael Portillo.


This time though, we saw the demise of Dougie Alexander, Jim Murphy, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, Danny Alexander, Charles Kennedy and Ester McVey.  Plus most spectacularly of all, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls lost his seat by a few hundred seats.  Cue a million cruel Internet jokes about Labour getting its Balls cut off.


Three: Scottish people ignored the mainstream press.

Despite the Scottish newspapers spending the half-year prior to the election braying about how brilliant Jim Murphy was – facilitated no doubt by Murphy’s shifty but supposedly press-savvy spin doctor John McTernan – nobody in Scotland paid attention.  Result!


Four: failure of loonies.

The leader, sorry, ex-leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and hence Britain’s right-wing loony / fruitcake in chief Nigel Farage – he was enthusiastically backed by the Daily Express, which says it all – stood as a parliamentary candidate in the constituency of Thanet.  He was, however, beaten and this failure prompted his resignation as UKIP leader.  When the result was announced, the face of comedian Al Murray, who ran as a joke-candidate against Farage, was an absolute picture.


(c) BBC


Talking of loonies and fruitcakes, I was delighted that Susan-Anne White, the demented evangelical-Christian candidate in the constituency I’m originally from, West Tyrone, garnered just 166 votes on the night.  Or as the Google election-results service put it, ‘0%’ of the total.


Five: be careful what you wish for, Tories.

In 1992, John Major pulled off a remarkable result for the Conservative Party.  He won a narrow majority – one that nobody had expected, but a majority nonetheless.  Yet within a year, his government was a shambles.  To keep his slender majority intact, Major had to devote his entire energy to threatening, appeasing and pleading with a large contingent of far-right-wing Conservative backbenchers, whose xenophobic, Europhobic, ‘hang-’em, flog ’em’ mind-set was barely distinguishable from that of UKIP today.


23 years later, we find David Cameron in the same situation.  He may be looking smug at the moment, but I suspect that smugness will evaporate very shortly as right-wing / moderate-wing civil war threatens to break out in his party.  I will, of course, be here to write about it when it happens.




(c) United Artists


I’ve spent the past few hours following Twitter-feeds and live-updates on various newspaper websites as folk report and react to the results of the 2015 UK general election.  In particular, I’ve been following the misfortunes of the Scottish Labour Party’s Members of Parliament.  Or ex-Members of Parliament as they nearly all are now.


It’s been payback-time for Scottish Labour after last year’s referendum on Scottish independence, when they campaigned shoulder-to-shoulder with David Cameron’s Conservative Party and blustered, threatened, whined and wheedled that it was far better for Scotland to be ruled by a right-wing Cameron government in London than to have a fully-independent parliament in Edinburgh pursuing its own policies that were more palatable to Scotland’s generally left-of-centre sensibilities.  Thanks to their referendum-campaign behaviour, the chancers, troughers, numpties and neds that made up Scottish Labour’s Westminster contingent have now been stuffed by the Scottish National Party.  Stuffed utterly.


In fact, this morning, counting those weary old Scottish Labour hacks as, one by one, they’ve been shown the door by their constituents, I’ve sounded a bit like the Count in Sesame Street.


“One…  Two….  Three…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Four…  Five…  Six…  Dougie Alexander…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!   Eight…  Nine…  Ten…   Jim Murphy…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Twelve…  Thirteen…  Fourteen…  Ian Davison…   Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Sixteen…  Seventeen…  Eighteen…  Margaret Curran…  Ah-ha-ha-ha!  Twenty…  Twenty-one…”  And so on and so forth, all the way to 40.


(c) Children’s Television Workshop


The SNP would’ve probably claimed all 41 of the Scottish Labour MPs’ scalps if it hadn’t been for Ian Murray hanging on in Edinburgh South.  Presumably this was due to a reaction against some ill-advised comments that his SNP opponent, Neil Hay, made on Twitter.  Hay’s comments were reported in a somewhat out-of-context manner by the Unionist-friendly media, but they were still pretty unpleasant and ignorant for an aspiring MP to make.


At least Dougie Alexander and Jim Murphy managed to make magnanimous and dignified speeches as they accepted defeat.  If their party had struck a similarly humble and non-belligerent tone at the start of the election campaign – as opposed to peddling their usual sense-of-entitlement / we-have-a-God-given-right-to-rule-Scotland-forever guff – they mightn’t be so deep in the ordure now.


Let’s hope this marks the end of the reign of the Scottish Labour leadership’s devious, unscrupulous and unashamedly-Blairite spin doctor, John McTernan.  He seemed to think he could win back Scottish voters by having his party’s MPs associate the SNP with the Tories in every sentence they uttered; and by banging on about lifting the alcohol ban at Scottish football matches; and by making lots of nice-sounding promises that were meaningless because they related to things Westminster no longer has authority over in Scotland – they’ve been devolved to Edinburgh and won’t be relevant until the Scottish election takes place next year.  Actually, McTernan’s strategies were based on the supposition that all Scottish people are as thick as mince.


The fact that Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy started the election campaign by claiming a vote for the SNP would allow the Tories back into power, and ended it by begging Tory voters in his constituency to vote Labour in order to keep the SNP out, said it all.


Elsewhere, it looks like Cameron will form the next UK government because he’s won enough Westminster seats in England and Wales.  (He’s also won one seat in Scotland because, cringe, horror, his single Scottish MP David Mundell has managed to survive as representative for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale — which, cringe, horror, is where I’m from.)  This will either be a purely Conservative administration or one with the support of some minor and sufficiently right-wing party like the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.  Scottish Labour’s warnings that voting for the SNP rather than for them would allow Cameron back into Number 10 were unfounded.  Cameron would probably have retained power even if Labour had won all 59 constituencies in Scotland.


Incidentally, I felt great schadenfreude at the sight of George Galloway, the former Respect MP for Bradford West, losing the constituency by more 10,000 votes.  The photos of George’s face at the count suggested someone had just done a very large shit in his fedora hat, which he hadn’t noticed until he plopped it on over his head.  I once admired Galloway for his principled opposition to Blair, Bush and the Iraq War.  But since then, he’s been such a narcissistic and self-important nincompoop – especially during the Scottish referendum campaign – that I’m delighted to see him collect his P45.


And meanwhile, I love the smell of napalmed Liberal Democrat MPs in the morning.  At the moment, with 83 seats still to be declared across the whole of the United Kingdom, they’ve managed to hold on to just eight of them.  Certainly proof of the old saying that “you reap what you sow.”


But I was a little sad when old Charlie Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, got pushed out (again by the SNP).  Although he’s had his share of personal problems in recent years, he’s always struck me as being an intelligent and principled sort.  If he’d quit the Liberal Democrats and become an independent in 2010, after the party decided to do their deal with the devil and formed a coalition government with the Conservatives – something Kennedy clearly wasn’t happy about – I suspect he’d still be an MP this morning.


God wants your vote


(c) The Belfast Telegraph


The 2015 UK general election – voting takes place tomorrow and then it’s all over, thankfully – has, even by the usual standards of British general elections, been a depressing experience.  The current generation of mainstream party leaders, surely, are more blatant in their peddling of empty, meaningless platitudes, obfuscations and evasions than any generation of leaders that’ve gone before them.  And they’ve been aided and abetted in making this election campaign as disillusioning and unappetising to voters as is humanly possible by an idiotic national press.  Owned by half-a-dozen millionaire / billionaire tax-dodging Europhobic right-wing dingbats, the majority of Britain’s big newspapers have stuck unrelentingly to a simple formula – malign Ed Miliband and the Labour Party as far as you can go without ending up in the law-courts in England, and do the same to Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party in Scotland.


Actually, I thought that Ed Miliband wasn’t having that bad a campaign, despite everything – I even found myself warming to him during the leadership debates – but then he went and ruined everything.  As a publicity stunt, he unveiled an eight-foot-high limestone plinth with six Labour Party promises carved on it.  Carved in stone – get it?  Cue a million cruel jokes about Ed fashioning his own tombstone, about Ed sinking like a stone, about Ed’s plinth not having planning permission, etc.  It’s the sort of blunder you’d expect to see only in an episode of Armando Iannucci’s political sitcom The Thick of It.


At least, I thought, there’s one consolation amid all this.  Despite its ludicrousness and its sneaking underlying dishonesty, British politics at least doesn’t have the God factor to deal with.  It isn’t beset by the mentality that you get in the USA wherein certain politicians on the right have no compunctions about mixing their brand of cretinous hanging-and-shooting-and-nuking politics with God, Christianity and the Bible.


A good (or bad) example of this is former House of Representatives member and general all-round extreme-right Republican gob-shite Michele Bachmann, who has been recently predicting that the Rapture is about to happen, as a result of Barack Obama’s policies towards Iran and his espousal of same-sex marriage.  That’s the Rapture in the Biblical sense, i.e. the claim that prior to the Second Coming true Christian believers will be raised into the clouds whilst hell breaks out on earth below.  Not the Rapture who were a rather funky indie rock band from New York.


Yes, there seemed some consolation for me in the fact that you don’t get that bollocks in British politics.  However, I then stumbled across, in the online edition of the Belfast Telegraph, an article about Susan-Anne White.  Ms White is standing as an independent candidate in tomorrow’s election in the West Tyrone constituency of Northern Ireland and her campaign promises are ones you’d more expect to see carved in stone than Ed Miliband’s promises.  They’d be promises carved on two tablets of stone brought down by Moses, after he’d conferred with God on top of Mount Sinai.  That’s if God is really as much of a wrathful, blustering bigot as some people like to think He is.




Among the things in Ms White’s manifesto are opposition to the 1967 Abortion Act being extended to Northern Ireland; the banning of ‘amoral’ sex education from schools and the reintroduction of corporal punishment into them; the raising of the age of consent to 18; the banning of ‘gay pride parades’; opposition to ‘the LGBT agenda’ and the ‘redefinition of marriage’ and the upholding of ‘Biblical man / woman marriage’; the abolition of the Equality Commission Northern Ireland and the Human Rights Commission Northern Ireland; withdrawal from ‘money-wasting and decadent Europe’; opposition to the ‘Islamisation’ of Britain and the building of mosques; and restoration of the death penalty.


(c) The Huffington Post


Ms White is also an ardent opponent of ‘the global warming fanatics and their pseudo-science’.  I assume such objectionable pseudo-science also includes practices like zoology, geology, astronomy and palaeontology – or as they’re sometimes known, science – that dispute the fact that God created the universe and everything in it during six very busy days about 6000 years ago, which Ms White and all other good, sensible people know is true because it says so in Genesis.  That’s Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament.  Not Genesis, the rather boring progressive rock band from the 1970s.


Talking of which, the Belfast Telegraph article stated that Ms White wanted to ban rock music for being vulgar and promoting ‘sexual anarchy’, although she has since denied this in her blog (https://thetruthshallsetyoufreeblog.wordpress.com/).  Her main reason for disliking rock music, she claims, is because it’s bad for your ears.


As well as ‘global warming fanatics’, Ms White is also severely down on feminists.  She regards feminism, in fact, as being “responsible for many of the social ills we see all around us.”  This includes the dire state of the economy, because “they destroyed the whole concept of the family wage with the father as the bread-winner and the stay-at-home mother.  They make women feel they have to be out in the workforce.”


Well, it’s a free country and I believe people have the right to believe any old claptrap they want as long as they don’t try to force it down other people’s throats – although I suspect this is what Ms White would be doing if she ever became MP for West Tyrone.  (Even in Northern Ireland, the chances of this happening are thankfully very slim.)  However, if she’s so hell-bent on opposing women leaving their homes and venturing out into the workforce, what on earth is she doing trying to win employment as West Tyrone’s elected representative in Westminster?  Shouldn’t she be at home, vacuuming the carpets, washing the dishes, making the tea, etc., while her husband goes out and wins the bread?  Tsk, tsk, Ms White.  At least practise what you preach.


What I find particularly amusing / worrying is that Susan-Anne White comes from the County Tyrone village of Trillick, which is just three miles along the road from where I used to live in Northern Ireland.  (In fact, my home was in the same parish as Trillick.)  From what I remember of the area, there lived there a couple of gentlemen who, while they were very conscientious about showing their faces in church every Sunday, were also a little bit, shall we say, amorous with the ladies.  Maybe that’s why Ms White is also advocating making adultery ‘a punishable offence’.  Aye, good luck with that one.


The Belfast Telegraph article is followed by a thread full of comments poking fun at Ms White and her barmy views.  It’s sobering to think, though, that some of those views are not far removed from those of Northern Ireland’s Free Presbyterian Church and its political wing, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), both of which, once upon a time, were headed by the Reverend Ian Paisley – a pulpit-thumping demagogue, close exposure to whom would do more damage to your ears than any amount of rock music.


For example, Iris Robinson, the former DUP Member of Parliament and former DUP Northern Irish Health Minister, famously described homosexuality as an ‘abomination’ that was worse than abusing children and called for gay people to receive psychiatric counselling.  (However, Iris parted company from Susan-Anne White’s opinions when it came to committing adultery; because in the late noughties, very famously indeed, she had an extra-marital affair with a lad of 19, who was about a third of her age.  This was much to the embarrassment of her husband, Northern Irish First Minister Peter Robinson, and much to the amusement of nearly everyone else in Northern Ireland.)


Mind you, though she shares some opinions with them, Ms White is not above offering the DUP criticism.  On her blog, for example, I saw her having a go at Fiona Paisley, daughter-in-law of the late Reverend Ian Paisley and wife of his imaginatively-named son, Ian Paisley Junior.  She’d been dismayed to see Fiona tweeting photographs taken of herself while she worked out in her local Crossfit gym.  “However, as women are 40-50% weaker than men (generally speaking) women should not be lifting weights at all,” said a disapproving Ms White, “and Fiona Paisley is at risk of serious injury if she continues to place such unnatural and unnecessary strain on her body.”


Anyway, in the event of a hung parliament, which on Friday morning seems a likely outcome of this general election, David Cameron will no doubt go scuttling off to see Susan-Ann White’s fellow religious nut-jobs in the DUP about securing their support in a new right-wing coalition.  Yes, having such people in positions of power in an administration of the United Kingdom as a whole – now that’s a prospect far more depressing than the election itself.


The Indy – now indy shit forever


(c) The Independent


If I split up with human beings as commonly as I split up with newspapers, I’d spend most of my life in the divorce courts.  It wasn’t so long ago that I decided to terminate my 30-year relationship with Scotsman Publications, on account of The Scotsman’s drearily partisan coverage of the build-up to last September’s referendum on Scottish independence.  Now, with the 2015 UK general election almost upon us – two days and counting – I’ve decided to split up with another daily publication that once I perused with fondness and enthusiasm.


This time, the publication in question is The Independent, or ‘The Indy’ as it’s commonly known, which used to have a banner proudly proclaiming it as ‘free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence.’  And without some obscenely rich, reactionary and invariably tax-dodging proprietor like the 4th Viscount Rothermere (owner of the Daily Mail) or the Barclay Brothers (owners of the Daily Telegraph) at the helm, The Independent’s politics tended to gravitate towards the centre, if not a little to the left.  It also gave prominence to environmental issues.  This made it a breath of fresh air in Britain’s newspaper market, crowded with bellicose right-wing shout-sheets like the Mail, Telegraph, Express, Sun, Star, etc.


Yesterday, though, The Independent decided to crap all over that reputation with an editorial that urged its readers to vote for the continuation of the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition that’s been in power for the past five years.  The reasoning for this, claimed the editorial headline, was ‘in defence of liberal democracy’.  Though I have to say that most of the things the Tory / Lib Dem alliance has inflicted on Britain or nurtured in it since 2010 – welfare cuts, zero-hour contracts, unpaid internships, food-banks, the Bedroom tax, a moribund NHS, exorbitant student fees, tax avoidance – are not what immediately spring to my mind when I think of the term ‘liberal democracy’.


From bellacaledonia.org.uk


But to be honest, The Independent’s lurch rightwards doesn’t surprise me.  The newspaper has been in a sorry state in recent years, in terms of both its daily circulation figures – just under 64,000 last year (compared with 400,000 a quarter-century earlier) – and its general tone and content.


Because I live overseas, I read its online edition rather than its print edition.  And I have to say that if you remember The Independent in its glory days, the modern-day digital version of it is a depressing thing indeed.  In a purely technical sense, as a website, it’s a shambles.  To get to the comment page, for instance, you have to negotiate your way through something called ‘Voices’.  Then there’s the increasingly naff stories that it tries to peddle as news.  When I checked out its front page today, I was treated to such headlines as ALIEN SOUNDS RECORDED 22 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH; STUDENT IN COURT FOR COVERING HOUSEMATES’ FOOD IN WINDOW-CLEANER AND SPIT; CHUCK NORRIS IS WORRIED ABOUT WHAT THE US MILITARY ARE UP TO IN TEXAS; HOW TO MAXIMISE YOUR SEXUAL POTENTIAL – AN EXPERT’S GUIDE; and IS A MAN’S BEARD REALLY COVERED IN FAECES?  Plus – ooh, a little bit of politics creeping in here – HOW OLD DOES NICK CLEGG’S PHONE THINK HE IS?


It might not be quite as lame as the ghastly, trivia-obsessed UK edition of The Huffington Post, edited by Mehdi Hassan.  But it isn’t far off it.


How different it seems from the original Independent that appeared in the 1980s – 1986, if I remember correctly – which was so determinedly highbrow, sombre and un-flashy that Private Eye magazine was quick to nickname it The Indescribably Boring.  Under the editorship of the crusty but endearing Andreas Whittam Smith, the newspaper tried to do what few, if any, other newspapers did in Britain at the time (or have done since): it actually concentrated on news.  Which meant for a start that it avoided the mind-numbingly obsessive and nauseatingly sycophantic coverage of the British Royal Family that blighted the rest of the British press.  This was during the 1980s, an era when newspapers devoted acres of newsprint to the ever-expanding / shrinking waistline of Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, Duchess of York, or to the ever-expanding / shrinking love-life of Diana ‘Di’ Spencer, Princess of Wales; and I respected The Independent immensely for ignoring that crap.


Amid the frivolous drivel that soils the modern-day Independent (or at least, the online edition of it that I’m familiar with), there are still things that I’ve found worth reading.  When it comes to writing about the Arab world, the newspaper has the wisest head in British journalism, Robert Fisk.  Although to be honest, Fisk isn’t exactly burdened with competition.  There have also been good items by the sometimes funny left-wing comedian Mark Steel and the sometimes perceptive, but sometimes shrill, left-wing feminist / Muslim commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.  I wonder how the two of them have reacted to their newspaper’s endorsement of the Tory / Lib Dem coalition.  They’ve been strangely silent about it on Twitter so far.


On the other hand, The Independent has often strained my patience by publishing missives by the notorious literary snob Howard Jacobson.  And I’m not impressed by the fact that its chief political commentator is John Rentoul, a man whom Total Politics magazine has described as “probably the most high-profile defender of Tony Blair’s record in the British media”.  (His columns, meanwhile, have been described as “the last bastions of pure, unadulterated Blairism.”)  Rentoul, by the way, has tweeted his reaction to The Independent coming out in favour of the Tories and Lib Dems, and he’s delighted about it.  Presumably he’d rather see a right-wing Tory / Lib Dem government than a slightly-more-left-wing Labour one that’s dared to disown his old hero Tony Blair.


The Independent has also seen fit to publish a regular column by Nigel Farage, leader of the right-wing loony / fruitcake United Kingdom Independence Party.  I suppose it would justify this by arguing that, in the interests of fairness, it needs to give voice to political opinions from all points on the spectrum, right and left.  But actually UKIP’s loony / fruitcake opinions on immigration, law and order, defence, education and the environment get articulated every day in the British media – on practically every page of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph.


I was annoyed by The Independent’s coverage of the Scottish referendum last year.  The British mainstream media pushed a narrative whereby Scotland, if it voted for independence, would destroy itself, and the UK, and the world, and the entire universe, in a holocaust of economic / social / moral chaos.  But while The Guardian, that other representative of the British left-leaning press, at least tempered the narrative by printing a few pieces with dissenting views by journalists like George Monbiot and Deborah Orr, The Independent stuck steadfastly to the Scottish-independence-equals-Armageddon line.


Possibly this was because, selling only 3000 copies a day in Scotland, the newspaper had neither the resources nor the inclination to send someone to Scotland to report on what was happening there.  So it just rehashed all the horror stories being spouted in London by the Mail, Express and company.  Particularly crass were the cartoons by the Independent’s cartoonist Dave Brown, depicting Alex Salmond as a clownish and corpulent music-hall Scotsman who wore a kilt, sporran, bonnet and sprig of heather.  This allowed Brown to show Salmond flashing his bare arse – because, ha-ha, Scotsmen don’t wear anything under their kilts!


Indeed, the prospect of a minority Labour Party administration dependent on the support of the Scottish National Party is officially a major reason why The Independent feels obliged to back another Tory-Lib Dem administration: “This would be a disaster for the country, unleashing justified fury in England at the inclusion of MPS who – unlike this title – do not wish the Union to exist.”  Here’s a memo to The Independent’s editorial writers: if there’s anything guaranteed to destroy the Union in the near future, it’s another five years of Tory-led rule from London, which the majority of Scots will greet with as much enthusiasm as they would having a bucket of cold sick emptied over their heads.  Especially if, as Cameron has promised, there’s a referendum in 2017 about whether or not the UK remains a member of the European Union – and England votes to leave the EU while Scotland votes to stay in it.


But I very much doubt if The Independent’s enthusiasm for a continued David Cameron premiership (with Nick Clegg acting as Satan’s Little Helper) has really anything to do with the survival of the United Kingdom.  It has likely more to do with the fact that, since 2010, the newspaper has been owned by Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev.  Yes, so much for the old ‘free from proprietorial influence’ blurb that the newspaper used to flaunt.


As Russian oligarchs go, Lebedev seems to be one of the nicer ones.  Even so, I don’t think he was thrilled to hear Ed Miliband vow that, if elected, he would scrap tax exemption for Britain’s ultra-wealthy non-domiciled residents.  As far as I know, Lebedev still lives in Russia – but I’m sure that if he fell out badly with Vladimir Putin, a tax-free existence in the UK would be an attractive alternative for him.  An alternative he wouldn’t want Ed Miliband to spoil.


(c) The Guardian


As I said earlier, The Independent’s readership these days is perilously small.  I suspect many of those remaining readers have kept loyal to it because, despite its many flaws, it’s that rare beast, a left-of-centre British newspaper.  But do they want to stick with it now?  I know I don’t.