Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas a time for repeats.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007


A short autumnal piece has been added to Think of England: The Bonfire Men.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


A poetic warning on the dangers of walking in the countryside has been added to Up Lansdowne Lane.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Beer Garden

A new poem, called Beer Garden, has been added to

Monday, July 23, 2007

…But is Born Again

The most enjoyable (for me) and apparently most popular thing to come out of TofE has been the poetry.

I have put the best poems, and some new ones, on a new website:

This is an ongoing project, and I intend to use this blog to flag up additions as they emerge.

(If you are interested, you could subscribe to the feed – thus saving you the need to check up on this site when it isn’t doing anything much.)

Think of England dies

Following the month-long intermission, it seems unlikely that Think of England will be continuing in its traditional rip-roaring, nearly-daily form. As such, I apologise to the people who’ve been kind and bored enough to read the blog and demand more.

I suppose the concept of ‘demand’ is really the problem. Blogs are curious things – they start (and continue) as vanity projects/outlets for quiet loudmouths, but can end up being almost a moral duty and a daily grind. I don’t have the time now to spend on writing lots of posts, and the time and energy that I do have should really be spent on more profitable (literally and literarily) pursuits.

Brit will continue to post comments on other blogs, but a lot less prolifically.

For the record – this is not about the Islamophobia thing, though that did help put things into perspective.

Thanks to all who have contributed, with a special mention for my ex-fellow Duckians, and a very special mention for Peter and David. I’ve spent more time locked in forthright argument with them than with anybody else alive (apart from my sister), despite actually agreeing with them on nearly everything that I think is important.

TofE may be back at some point. Never say never and all that.


Thursday, June 28, 2007


There will be an intermission while Think of England recovers its identity.

Thank you for your patience.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Double Hitch ties Shirley up in knots

The Hitch is currently doing the rounds in Blighty, principally plugging his latest Dawkins-esque God-bashing book, but stopping last Thursday to appear on Question Time. Like Bryan Appleyard, I find QT almost unwatchable these days on account of the thicko audiences and their shameless manipulation by applause-triggering politicians). But this was a rare good one, with an all-star line up of the Hitch, his mad brother Peter and the always-enjoyable Boris Johnson.

The lot of them team up to give the crapulent Shirley Williams a well-deserved kicking for her craven criticism of Salman Rushdie's knighthood on the grounds that it causes offence to Muslims.

Nobody could possibly admire everything Chris Hitchens says - that is the point of him. But when he's good, he's very very good. (Note for bigots: watch to the end for a nice distinction between Islamist nuts and real Muslims. Peter Hitchens later makes the equally true observation that the 'protests' in Tehran - Union Jack burning etc - are entirely stage-managed, and if you pulled the camera back from the 'crowd' you would see it consisted of at most a dozen pillocks.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Talking of crazy Germans

The Berlin Wall may be long gone but communist East Germany lives on in the form of lovingly maintained Trabant cars and now an old-fashioned hotel.

"Ostel" takes its guests back to some time before 1989 - an era of ugly brown and orange wallpaper, spartan furnishings and Politburo portraits.

The hotel, which opened in Berlin in May, offers guests a choice of rooms in the style of the old eastern bloc.

The "Stasi Suite" is more expensive than the budget "Pioneer Camp".

The hotel is a former East German Plattenbauwohnung - the kind of mass-produced concrete apartment building that came to symbolise life in the communist bloc.

In the reception four clocks are another throwback to the "socialist" camp, showing the time in Moscow, Berlin, Havana and Beijing.

First as tragedy, then as postmodern irony.

Goodbye Lenin is a fantastic film about ‘Ostalgie’.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Alien nation

A lawyer who landed an out-of-this-world job defending people who have suffered at the hands of aliens has started his first major case.

Former industrial law specialist Jens Lorek announced last year he would defend those whose close encounters with outer space visitors left them physically and mentally shattered.

Now he has his first client - hotel chef Paul Hoffmann, 23, who claims he was kidnapped by aliens and has never been the same since.

… The chef closed his bank account, squatted in an empty property in Dresden and bathed nude - "as ordered by the aliens" - in a municipal fountain. When police caught him naked on a bike, he was sent to the psychiatric ward of a local hospital.

Lorek thinks that police acted wrongly and is demanding his client's release. He has brought a lawsuit against the city in which he places the blame for his client's behaviour on "things unknown".

.."The state is socially responsible, even for alien shamans, if they cannot protect them from abduction.Aliens stick needles in their victims' genitals and interfere with their organs. Since 1961 there have been tens of thousands of alien abductions."

This story has everything: crazy yanks Germans, improbable law suits and aliens.

So can anyone finally explain this one to me: what is it about Americans and alien abduction?

Are there any parallels for this sort of mass national delusion? Voodoo in West Africa? Socialism in France? The belief that the national football team can win something in England?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bernard Manning was a racist comedian

and now he's dead.

I think that about covers it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Out of the frying pan, into 60% of the national median

Around 600 illegal immigrants die every year in a bid to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to southern European coasts, said Malta’s Home Affairs and Justice Minister Tonio Borg while addressing European Union (EU) Interior Ministers conference on Tuesday.

The Minister pointed out that since the beginning of 2007, Malta has saved 315 shipwrecked immigrants attempting to enter Europe by sea, 250 of whom were taken on board Maltese ships in a fortnight.

While criticizing the present state of affairs, Dr Borg added that "It is unbelievable that on the doorstep of Europe we are having this tragic situation and not enough is being done."

Malta has urged the other 26 EU member states for the setting up of a burden-sharing system under which illegal migrants rescued or intercepted by EU ships outside of European waters would be taken in by the bloc's countries.

You have to wonder about these crazy Africans, packed like sardines into tiny fishing dinghies to make perilous journeys to Europe. Don't they know they're only going from the relative happiness of their absolute poverty, to the misery of the west's Relative Poverty? Really, we should be going the other way....

Men's needs

For the trendier, White Stripes-loving section of Think of England's readership, I was going to point to a simply corking new song by the British twin-based band The Cribs.

Men's Needs has been nagging away in my brain for a couple of weeks. But then I discovered that the video is an X-rated shocker with nudity, vegetables and decapitation. For goodness sake, don't watch this.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nailing relative poverty

Government strategy for tackling child poverty is penalising two-parent families, a think tank has suggested.

The study by Labour MP Frank Field for Reform says tax credits discriminate against working couples and discourage single parents from finding partners.

Nearly a quarter of children in two-parent families live in relative poverty - almost the same as when Labour came to power in 1997, he said.

There’s something rather satisfying about seeing New Labour hung on its own ‘relative poverty’ petard. Ever since that ridiculous Unicef report I have taken the trouble to give the concept of relative poverty a long hard stare, and have also read some pretty good attacks on it (such as Jamie Whyte’s ‘Bad Thoughts’ – recommended).

The Unicef debacle helped in that it came up with an obviously wrong conclusion: that children in Britain were ‘poorer’ than children in genuinely poor countries. So given that the conclusion was wrong, there must have been something wrong with the way the conclusion was reached.

Since then, it has come to my attention that New Labour came to power in 1997 promising to end child poverty, which they said affected one in four children. I don’t remember questioning this clearly absurd claim at the time, so let’s do so now, since Labour has apparently failed to reduce it.

What is ‘poverty’? To my mind, poverty is a word with a meaning. It has connotations. It conjures up an image of a level of hardship whereby such things as food, clothing and housing are difficult to come by. Children in poverty would probably be unhealthy and uneducated. They would have no access to luxuries such as all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. Cars, holidays, mobile phones, satellite television and extensive DVD collections would be but distant dreams.

Does this sorry state describe one in four British children? It does not. So New Labour’s ‘poverty’ must mean something different to my ‘poverty’. In fact, it turns out that a household is ‘poor’ if its income is less than 60% of the national median after housing costs are deducted.

One big, fat objection should begin screaming in the face of any intelligent person at this point. If this is how you define poverty and you are in it, then the Government could lift you out of it by actually decreasing your material wealth – so long as they also decreased the wealth of everyone richer than you by a sufficiently larger amount.

But even ignoring this, using household income in isolation as a measure of real poverty is stupid, especially for Britain. This is because we live in a state with considerable welfare benefits (it would be even more stupid in France and slightly less stupid, but still stupid, in the US).

In Britain, the state will pay for a ‘poor’ child’s education, health, housing, and give allowances for food, clothing and bills.

Suppose Peter is a ‘poor’ child because his household income is only 35% of the national median, and David is non-poor because his is 70%. Would this make David twice as well off as Peter?

Peter and David could live in the same street, go to the same school, the same dentist, wear the same jeans and eat at the same MacDonald’s. Their lives would be virtually identical, except perhaps David might go on slightly nicer holidays – to Benidorm instead of Bognor, perhaps. Yet Peter is adding to the ‘poverty’ stats and David is adding to the rich stats.

An analogy would be this: suppose Jeff gets £1 a week pocket money and Martin gets £2. If we only count this income, Martin is 100% richer than Jeff. Martin is a prince and Jeff is a pauper.

But both Martin and Jeff’s parents spend £100 per week on their schooling, clothes, food, doctor, tennis lessons and haircuts. So Martin’s real spending capacity is £102 and Jeff’s is £101 – a measly 1% difference. Clearly, it is absurd to call one a prince and the other a pauper just because Martin can buy an extra can of Irn Bru every week.

But this is just the logic on which the relative poverty merchants operate.So why do it? Why use the term ‘poverty’ for one in four children instead of ‘those who live in households where income in isolation of welfare and benefits is less than 60% of the national average after housing costs are deducted’?

Because ‘poverty’ is an emotive word with the kinds of connotations of shoeless street urchins I mentioned earlier.

I am a decent human being and if you ask me if I think we should do something to help end ‘poverty’ I will say yes. But if you ask me if I think we should do something to lower the number of people whose income is less than 60% of the national median, then I’ll have to think about that one. I might ask: can’t we just keep making everybody richer?

The BBC uses the word poverty in its relative sense because it provides nice headlines (“Poverty crisis!”); leftists use it to try to prove the failures of capitalism, and New Labour used it because they were idiots.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The current series of Dr Who has been a bit uneven - there was one pretty weak episode about Daleks and the Empire State Building - but this weekend's story, Blink, was perhaps the best I've seen.

It had a time travel story that was easy to follow, and the scariest baddies ever: they can only move when you can't see them, but when you blink, they move very quickly indeed...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Yet another fundamental human right you never knew you had

The UK tops the list of wealthy nations who work excessive hours, according to the International Labour Organisation.

The ILO says that one-quarter of UK employees work more than 48 hours a week, more than any other rich nation.

More than 600 million people worldwide are working long hours each week, says the UN body concerned with work trends.

The ILO report into working hours in 50 countries says its ideal of a maximum 48-hour working week is a long way off for many nations.

Among developing countries, Peruvians tops the list of workers who put in more than 48 hours a week.

The ILO blames the growth of service industries, such as tourism and transport, plus an expansion in informal working arrangements, for the excess of global working hours.

Now let me say straight up that what I don’t know about the history and motives of the International Labour Organisation could fill the Grand Canyon, and I have developed a deep suspicion towards well-meaning international organisations generally, but that last sentence strikes me as very odd. ‘Blames’ the growth of service industries?

Why would you have a goal of a global maximum 48-hour week? Is it, in fact, the International anti-Labour Organisation?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Great Picnic Conspiracy

Robert Crampton on picnics:

Surely they're a prime example of something you think you should enjoy because you think everyone else enjoys them? But isn't the reality that really, truly, no one does enjoy a picnic? Parties and picnics: a sinister conspiracy of silence prevails.

I don't object to a nice bad-weather picnic, halfway up a mountain, horizontal rain, sodden cagoule, huddled in the lee of an inadequate rock, they're fine. And barbecues, I like them, mostly because I like setting stuff on fire, and so does my son, and it's important for a father and his boy to find things they can do together. And also I like burgers. And anyway you usually have barbecues in the evening when it's cooled down.

But your classic British summer picnic? Eating outside in direct sunlight? Prickle of sweat on your forehead? Shirt sticking to your back? Label chafing your neck? Having to reach up and rip it out with your bare hands? Tight shorts? Thighs cooking? Can't get comfortable? Itchy blanket? Dogs going after your sausage rolls? Leaning over awkwardly to reach the bread? Lukewarm white wine? Instantly drunk? Pounding head? Dry mouth? Talking to people in sunglasses? Height of bad manners? Plastic cutlery? Wickerwork everywhere? Balancing a beaker on tufty grass? Thistles? Nettles? Cowpats? Bursting for the loo? Nowhere in sight? Sun still beating down? Wind blowing everything away? Always having to pass things to other people? Unable to shovel down requisite calories rapidly enough? Pots of gloop from Tesco Metro? Fizzing in the heat? Shifting position? Sand and dust and dirt and nameless airborne crap getting in your eye? Leftovers? Can't chuck 'em, take them home, hassle city, end up throwing them away anyway? Ants? Flies? Wasps? Some old boy going, "Well, if this is global warming, it's all right by me, ha ha ha," as if it hasn't been said ten million times already?

As always, and in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson, we can't handle the truth.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ging gang cruelty

A red-haired family claims to have been driven from their Newcastle home because of abuse.

Why is the harassment of redheads dismissed as just harmless fun?

...Journalist Sharon Jaffa - also a red-head - says society must stop its ginger-baiting.

"Growing up as a redhead I was lucky enough to escape with just the occasional name-calling - having the surname Jaffa was no doubt a double-whammy. But attacking someone on the basis of their hair colour can be every bit as damaging as persecuting someone for their race or religion, and therefore, in some cases, needs to be taken just as seriously."

...Workplace psychologist Professor Cary Cooper, of Lancaster University, says abuse can be "an unhealthy release valve for stress" and redheads, as a visible minority not protected by law, have become a target.

While other forms of the discrimination are the subject of marches, lobbying and education campaigns, redheads cannot expect the arrival of the politically correct cavalry anytime soon.

Actually, they probably can.

It's not complicated: children bully redhead children because children are nasty little bastards who crave acceptance and pick on any obvious difference to cement their place in opposition to tribal outsiders, and some children don't grow up into adults.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Icky thump

I freakin' well love The White Stripes. They're up there with Chopin, Beethoven and Winehouse on my playlist.

Jack White plays the guitar like a hero, sings like a fruity banshee and calls his new album 'Icky Thump' (a deliberate corruption of 'ecky thump!'). I know he's technically a yank, but I'm claiming him as a spiritual Brit.

Never content with merely presenting, that cheeky devil Jools Holland managed to wangle himself into the act yet again the other night, on My Doorbell:

Monday, June 04, 2007

But it's all so 2003, dahling

A drawing which depicts Tony and Cherie Blair naked on the steps of 10 Downing Street is the centrepiece of the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition.

Artist and sculptor Michael Sandle, 71*, conceived the three-panel picture, Iraq Triptych, as a protest against the war.

"I suddenly felt overcome with anger at the way Blair has messed up," he told the Guardian newspaper.

Yes, suddenly he was overcome, poor man. No doubt destroying his previous work, "Horrors of the Saddam Regime Triptych" in his disgust.

*sic. Yes, I thought it should be 17 too.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Unreality TV

In today's Sunday Times Bryan Appleyard lays into reality TV in general, and Big Brother in particular - though his real target seems to be the reverse snobbery of a patronising cultural elite.

One aspect of Big Brother* he omits to mention, however, is the absolute moral rigidity of the format. That may sound counterintuitive, but if you think Big Brother is merely symptomatic of a culture where anything goes and appalling anti-social behaviour is rewarded, then you've not understood it at all.

Big Brother is, in essence, an opportunity for the British public to observe the inmates with God-like ominiscience and enforce moral judgements upon them. Every single time, without fail, the villains are evicted at the first opportunity, even though they provide the supposed 'entertainment'. The good guys always win.

The interesting thing is examining exactly what constitutes villainy. It has nothing to do with being foul-mouthed, short-tempered or sexually licentious. No, the biggest BB sin is deviousness. The British public just cannot seem to abide sneakiness, backstabbing and snake-in-the-grassity.

Further evidence of this can be seen in the ill-feeling bubbling away in water-cooler land towards The Apprentice's Katie - a classic two-facer who cuddles up to her fellow contestants, then crucifies them with brilliantly eloquent vitriol in the 'privacy' of the to-camera soliloquy.

Of course, in the real world, we much prefer people to insult and bitch behind our backs than directly to our faces. People who tell you to your face that they don't like you are just rude, friendless boors. Whereas we all gossip to some degree. Perhaps our guilt about this is why backstabbing is the biggest reality TV sin.

*With extraordinary and quite frightening prescience, I recently remarked casually to Mrs B something along the lines of: "Of course, if they really want to stir things up in Big Brother they should have an entire house of women and then stick in a male model."

This is exactly what they've done. Perhaps I should get a job as patronising cultural elitist.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Quit with the quitting already

How are our panel members doing as they try to quit smoking before the ban comes in? asks the BBC.

And I ask: is there anything, anything, in this universe less interesting than people describing at length their heroic efforts to give up tobacco?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


is a good word, isn't it? And it's what posting might be for a little while, since real work is currently hitting me right where it hurts: in my blogging time.

But if you can, make sure you watch Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain programme. It's brilliant.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bunch of Deacons

Could Snack the dog, Professor Foodsmart and the Great Grub Club Gang be the answers to helping cut childhood obesity?

The World Cancer Research Fund hopes that by using the health conscious characters on its new website it can encourage better eating and a more active lifestyle among its target audience of four to seven-year-olds.

Competitions, puzzles and stories aim to encourage children to learn more about food.

The answer to the question posed in the opening sentence above is No. This is because children are not idiots and can spot something which is thinly disguised as fun but which is actually educational and worthy a Cornish mile off.

Children are, however, nasty little bastards. Roald Dahl, the Beano and South Park understood this. Well-intentioned people with Great Causes rarely do. Their good intentions tend to backfire. Anyone who remembers what happened with Joey Deacon will undertand the nadir of this phenomenon.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Science versus anti-humans

According to this extraordinary report, Chinese farming families are beating the one-child rule by using fertility drugs to conceive twins.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Prostalgia and Fergietime

Yesterday at about 1.10pm the Barnstaple Western Bypass bridge opened, and a couple of hours later I drove triumphantly across it, whooping as I went (I was probably about the thousandth car over, but rest assured, in a few years the story will be that I was the first and nearly ran over the Mayor as he cut the ribbon).

We have discussed before the effect of elation that a really good bridge can bring, and although the Barnstaple effort can’t claim to be in the very highest bridging echelons, its opening is significant for North Devon, because it has been discussed, bemoaned, protested against, complained about, complained about for being absent and generally been the subject of local jaw-jaw for as long as anyone can remember.

And there I was at last, swooping majestically over the Estuary. And as I crossed I felt an extraordinary and profound emotion, for which I cannot think of an appropriate word so I will have to coin one. It was a mixture of optimism, of pride in man’s engineering and organisational ingenuity, of a sentimental longing to see what he’ll achieve next, a certain realisation that he is neither Doomed nor Hellbound in a Handcart after all, and a belief that if I was offered the immortality-giving pill, I would take it without hesitation because I don’t want to miss whatever comes next. A kind of nostalgia for the future, if you will. I felt for an instant as Oroborous must feel nearly all the time.

Let’s call it prostalgia. Even if it does sound like an unmentionable disease.

And then, of course, AC Milan beat Liverpool in the Champions League Final, with the Reds being shamefully denied their share of the Fergietime that would certainly have seen them snatch a last-gasp equaliser, and it was back down to earth with a bump.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cornish Independence

This week is Cornwall week in our corner of the blogosphere, with Bryan Appleyard purchasing models of Enola Gay in Mevagissey, and Monix blaming piskies for her navigational incompetence.

The idea of Cornish independence is always good for a laugh, but when you go there you realise it really is another country. The countryside blends into Devon but somehow you still know you’re there. Some quality of the light, perhaps. Certainly the place names, which mostly begin with ‘Tre’. Also the archaic rural poverty, the juxtaposition of great empty fields and Atlantic vistas with claustrophobic, single-file fishing village tourist traps. No city, its own ice cream, Wimpy restaurants, manky branches of Somerfield, deadly seagulls, the yokellest locals.

Cornwall has a better claim to independence on cultural grounds than Scotland. As does Liverpool, in fact.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Whatever happened to Terry and Julie?

The Kinks are to re-release Waterloo Sunset to mark the single's 40th anniversary.

Some songs are so ingrained into the national consciousness that they no longer really belong to the original artists, but to the country. Possibly to the Queen, in fact.

An original performance with excellent sound quality can be enjoyed here.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Wot, no conkers?

American boys who swot up on The Dangerous Book for Boys, a runaway British bestseller, will learn nothing about such staples of British childhood as conkers and cricket.

The book has been extensively rewritten for the American market to replace conkers with “stickball” and the laws of cricket with the equally incomprehensible Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary.

A lesson on the etymology of “cor blimey” has been dropped, and a trick involving hiding a £1 coin behind your ear now uses an American quarter.

A section listing the kings and queens of England and Scotland has been replaced with the “most valuable players” in baseball.


The book, which has reached No 3 on the Wall Street Journal’s nonfiction bestseller list, appears to be driven partly by American fascination with British schoolboys created by the Harry Potter books.

“I feel like Harry Potter has become part of our lexicon,” Mr Benjamin said. “I would hesitate to say that American boys want to grow up to be British kids, but it’s part of their fantasy.”

Well naturally it is, poor things.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Definition of the day

Pray v.

To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

From The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Pierce

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Messi v Maradona

Earlier I complained about football cliche - which doesn't so much pepper commentators' speech as entirely drench every single part of it.

So anyway, Barcelona's Argentinian wonderboy Messi recently scored a goal almost identical to Maradona's legal one against England at the 86 World Cup, and while looking for it on YouTube I came across this.

Now that's how you do football commentary!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


The Eurovision Song Contest voting system needs to be changed because it is "harmful to the relationship between the peoples of Europe", an MP has said.

Countries voted for their neighbours rather than the best songs, Liberal Democrat MP Richard Younger-Ross said.

And the BBC should insist on voting changes or withdraw from the contest all together, he added.

Serbia won Saturday's contest, while the UK was second from bottom, only receiving votes from Ireland and Malta.

Mr Younger-Ross said the present structure was a "joke", adding that votes were based "largely on narrow nationalistic grounds".

Even a bloody singing contest goes to hell. Other than hopeless, blind optimism and a complete inability to process evidence, why does anyone think a European Union can ever work?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Scooch gone

Scooch finished second last in the Eurovision Song Contest and, thanks only to our friends in Ireland and plucky little Malta, narrowly managed to avoid the infamous nil points.

Naturally Scooch were terrible, but no more so than any of the other entries. In fact, they were among the least appalling of a truly appalling lot. There has always been political voting in Eurovision (Sweden and Norway always swap 12s), but it is now clear that the competition has a completely new agenda.

The music is literally irrelevant – instead, it is a chance for troubled Eastern European states to give each other little friendship tokens. Fourteen of the top sixteen places were Eastern European. I suppose that when Bosnia and Serbia are voting for each other, it is churlish to complain about artistic integrity.

The old Western European states are spare parts at Eurovision now – out of place and awkward, like uncles at a disco.

One minor point of satisfaction – for the first time ever, the French contestants sang in English, a remarkable admission of cultural defeat that has gone almost unnoticed.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Some quacking about indoctrination and religion at the Daily Duck.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Go Scooch

There aren’t too many cultural thingamajigs that Britain does better than anybody else these days. The Americans write meatier novels, the Spanish make more ridiculous modern buildings, the French more pretentious food and the Germans have the classical music business sewn up.

But there are a few, such as costume dramas, stand-up comedy and, especially, pop music.

And so we come to the Eurovision Song Contest, that bizarre, bloated, camp cultural dinosaur that just refuses to die, despite our best efforts to kill it every year by offering as our entry not one of the myriad super-talented young musicians that pack bills in our smoky city venues every night of the week, but rather a steaming turd – this time in the crapulent shape of a bimbo/poofta quartet dressed as airhostesses.

There are perfectly valid reasons for this. It shows a healthy and commendable contempt for the continent, and we’d lose whoever we sent, since the voting is shamelessly rigged as nervous New Europe countries vote for each other, and Old Europe hates us for being in the Iraq war.

Fortunately, no Gallic sneer could ever be as offensive as selecting Scooch to represent us while hundreds of premier league quality Brit guitar bands clog up the European charts with storming pop music.

To pick one at random, The Fratellis song Chelsea Dagger alone, for example (below), has at least three catchy tunes each of which will be far more glorious than whichever particular Euroturd eventually triumphs tonight. Still, it's all fun.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Outside Wells Cathedral

This poem has been temporarily removed for secret reasons

Links: Wells Cathedral bells and the Cathedral Green.

More poetry

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Back with another one of those block-rockin' beats

I return, and have many a thing to say about the jocks, the Scottish Parliament building and such like, and even a rhyme which has been in gestation for some few weeks.

But time is my enemy at present, so for now I give you some showboating. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Book of Blog Quotations

"Blogs are more like pubs than debating chambers", said Bryan Appleyard, stealing my analogy. "Wisdom and insight appear fleetingly and are often forgotten by the next morning."

This is unfortunately true, but Think of England does not intend to stand idly by and let the many pearls of blogging wisdom just disappear into the ether. The following is intended to be a perma-linked record of some of the best Post-Judd and Post-Post-Judd quotations, witticisms, one-liners, insights and insults. I will be adding more, so don't fret if your nuggets are not yet here.

Please do suggest additions in the comments, though strict rules state that you cannot propose your own bon mots.

There are limits to our ability to summon up or command reverence. Memorials for dead soldiers touch almost everyone because they speak to lives consciously risked and sacrificed to protect us. The modern penchant for memorials to victims of terrorism, poverty, abuse, breast cancer, etc. etc. are in the end just reminding us that sh-t happens. We already have memorials to these people. They are called graves.
Peter Burnet 25/9/06

“I am a good person if I help the poor. I help the poor by arguing that the Government should tax people like me more and give the money to the poor. I am a good person.”
David Cohen describes the leftist view of social policy*

I also don't understand going out into the countryside to shoot things. I feel it's a terrible failure of the imagination, like taking a television set on a hike. The wilderness is complete and self-justifying; all we are required to do is look at it.
Bryan Appleyard 17/4/07

Your self-contained wilderness is no such thing, it is a manicured garden devoid of predators. You feel no need to shoot game because you eat beef and pork raised on some factory farm and slaughtered and butchered by low wage laborers. Your idyllic stroll in the woods is only possible because of modern man's absolute dominance over nature.
Duck responds 17/4/07

Religion is the only motive I know of that causes people to avoid pleasure for the sole purpose of avoiding pleasure.
Harry Eagar, concluding a barn-storming explanation of the evolution of pleasure.

As a side note, you might achieve a better understanding of the world by not presuming President Bush is the source of all evil. He’s only one man, he can’t do it all.
AOG (aka Susan's Husband) 26/11/06.

Amateurish where it wasn't wholly incompetent, it failed to garner laughter from the gallery only because it summoned so much more pity.
Hey Skipper describes his own defence case, in his astonishing multi-part tour de force Peter's World

In America, if you can do, the odds are pretty good that you'll be allowed to do.
Oroborous 15/1/06

I always thought you should never do terribly wrong things, obviously, because they are terrible, but you should never do trivially wrong things because they aren't worth selling out over.
Mike Beversluis 25/3/07

*I can't seem to find the exact quote for this one, but it was like that.

A crack at the Jocks

ToE will be back after the weekend. We're off to Edinburgh for a few days to celebrate my survival of another decade. But please do pass the long, lonely hours without me by digging up quotations for the post above.

Face values

The demise of BP Chief Lord Browne causes the BBC to wonder whether British business has a 'pink plateau'.

Or, given that poor Browne looks exactly like the intermediary stage in a morphing sequence between Tony Blair and George Bush, it could be that the judge just didn't like his face.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


The Independent has yet another bash at Blair over the ‘legacy’ of Iraq, but finds to its dismay that Blair is still remarkably well thought-of by the British public

But there is some positive news for Mr Blair. Despite public hostility over Iraq, 61 per cent of people believe that he has been a good Prime Minister overall, with only 36 per cent thinking he has been a bad one.

Only one in 10 Labour supporters say he has been a bad Prime Minister, while 89 per cent regard him as having been a good one.

The poll suggests there is strong respect for Mr Blair across the political spectrum. A majority (62 per cent) of Liberal Democrat supporters think he has been a good Prime Minister, while only 36 per cent of them regard him as a bad one. Almost half (45 per cent) of Tory voters believe he has been a good Prime Minister, while 53 per cent judge him a bad one.

Mr Blair hopes that history will cast a different light on his support for the invasion of Iraq. But the poll confirms what his close allies have known for some time: that the continuing problems in Iraq will overshadow other issues when he announces his departure timetable.

I’ve long thought that while Blair has had his time now, we’ll miss his statesmanship and stature. How we feel about being represented abroad by our PM is a factor often underestimated by political pundits.

With Prime Ministers, there are Biggies and Forgettables (interspersed with the occasional Disaster like Callaghan). Thatcher was a Biggie, Major a Forgettable, and Blair another Biggie. A succession of dull, charisma-free elections will follow his departure, with various Forgettables doing their best not to become Disasters.

(And history will of course be much kinder to Blair on Iraq than the Independent pretends.)

Rafarafa Benitez

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Scientists have shown how cannabis may trigger psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.

It may also cause you to be extremely boring company, and if you are a stand-up comedian, to suffer the delusion that stories about going to 24-hour garages to satisfy your 'munchies' are amusing.

Some people refer to me as The Illustrated Man

If you fancy a good dumb belly-laugh of a movie, you can do a lot worse than The Passion of the Christ.

Failing that, Blades of Glory is pretty funny too.

To give you an idea, it's better than Talladega Nights but not as good as Anchorman or Zoolander. Will Ferrell, as usual, plays with deadly seriousness a pompous fool. Here he is explaining his 'ink'.

It does give me an idea for Mel Gibson's next project, however: The Christ on Ice!

Monday, April 30, 2007

I'm still cool

On Friday night I'm driving, so one drink and that's it, want to get back, early night, lot to do Saturday. Gym, supermarket and whatnot. Saturday afternoon a barbecue with friends in suburbia. Keep the noise down. Neighbours. Chit chat. Walk the dogs. One glass of cider which for some reason triggers a horrible allergic reaction. Sneezing all evening. Early bed again, cup of tea, can't play football with a hangover. Up at 7.30am Sunday morning sufficiently recovered to play against fattening friends with the usual disproportionate competitive ferocity. Back for a coffee, brunch, knackered, nice afternoon kip. Glorious sunshine so I take the chance to coat the fence in Ronseal Woodstain. After that, bringing in armfuls of washing, it suddenly occurs to me that I might not be very cool any more.

"Am I still cool?" I ask, pitifully.

Mrs Brit puts my mind to rest immediately: "You were never cool, dear."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Take it to the bridge

Julia Buckley posts in her usual winsome way about the Second Severn Crossing. This magnificent structure links South Wales to England, aiming straight along the M4 to London.

It is but a hop and a skip and a jump from Bristol, which therefore benefits from the proximity of two awe-inspiring bridges.

So what is it about bridges, exactly? When people talk of man-made wonders, bridges always seem to dominate. Why do we love them so?

Some possible reasons:

1) They tend to stand stark and alone, in plenty of space for panoramic viewing.
2) They are generally of a superhuman scale
3) Their purpose is pure and obvious – other buildings tend to be full of stuff, or people, or offices, and to be surrounded by similar neighbours
4) They are a clear demonstration of man’s ability to overcome natural obstacles and define his own environment.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Amy vs Valerie

ToE has been shamefully neglecting Amy Winehouse recently and has been getting complaints accordingly. Quite right too.

Last year Scouse band The Zutons came out with the storming stonker of a single Valerie.

Here's Amy doing a rather nice soft Mediterraneany holidayish cover of the kind Duck might enjoy.

But more excitingly, here she is belting it out while drunk...

The Alliance is coming!

It's official, the Post-Judd Alliance has found a new victim. Locust-like, it swarms all over Bryan Appleyard's blog, leaving nothing but destruction and discombobulated leftists in its wake.

I'm proud of you, boys. Darn proud.

Friday, April 27, 2007

But Of Course..

...America has its fair share of eejits, too.

They're called Democrats.


I implore urge command you to go and read this glorious Bryan Appleyard essay from 23 September 2001.

For let us ponder, for a moment, exactly what the Americans did in that most awful of all centuries, the twentieth.

They saved Europe from barbarism in two world wars. After the second, it also rebuilt the continent from the ashes. They confronted and, in the end, peacefully defeated Soviet communism, the most murderous system ever devised by man, and thereby enforced the slow dismantling – we hope – of Chinese communism, the second most murderous system. America, primarily, ejected Iraq from Kuwait and helped us eject Argentina from the Falklands. America stopped the slaughter in the Balkans while the Europeans dithered.

...“People should think,” the writer David Halberstam says from the blasted city of New York, “what the world would be like without the backdrop of American leadership with all its flaws over the past sixty years.” Probably, I think, a bit like hell.

There’s a lot wrong with America, I have myself catalogued many of her failings, and terrible things have been done in her name. But, when the chips are down, all the most important things are right. And, on September 11th, the chips went down.

But the Yankophobes were too villanously stupid to get the message. Barely 48 hours after almost 6000 Americans were murdered, we see the BBC’s Question Time with its carefully hand-picked audience of morons telling ex-US ambassador Philip Lader that “the world despises America.”

I am sick of my generation’s whining ingratitude, its wilful, infantile loathing of the great, tumultuous, witty and infinitely clever nation that so often saved us from ourselves.
For anti-Americanism has never been right and I hope it never will be. Of course, there are times for criticism, lampoons even abuse. This is not one of those times. This is a time when we are being asked a question so simple that it is almost embarrassing, a question that should silence the Question Time morons, the sneering chatterers and the Cold Warriors, a question so elemental, so fundamental, so pristine that, luxuriating in our salons, we had forgotten it could even be asked. So face it, answer it, stand up and be counted.

Whose side are you really on?

Beside the content, the fact that he wrote it so soon after 9/11 amazes. (Sadly, it fell on deaf ears or I wouldn't have had to keep banging on in 2004, 2005, 2006 and again this year. )

Although all anti-Americans were opposed to the invasion of Iraq, and most of them simply because of their anti-Americanism, it was not necessary to be anti-American to be opposed.

Therefore, the true test of anti-Americanism has always been 9/11. Formerly, its ugliness was cloaked in reasonableness. It used to go like this: “It’s a tragedy, a dreadful thing….but of course…” And here it comes, the “But-of-Course”. But of course, they brought it on themselves, didn’t they?

A deep and sickening malaise lies behind this But-of-Course. One is reminded of pub louts who accuse a rape victim of having it coming to her for wearing a short skirt. Naturally, the 9/11 But-of-Courser would scream down that pub lout in seconds. So where can that malaise have come from?

The But-of-Coursers have faded since 2001. The replacements are even worse. Anti-Americans don’t even bother with the polite “It’s a tragedy” prelude any more. And then there are the Conspiracy Theorists, the most snivelling, stupid, hateful kind of anti-Americans, whose only saving grace is that they are too barking mad to bother with.

America will survive all this, and no doubt worse in the future, because America is a great country and because the anti-Americans are powerless and wrong about all the important things. They know this, and that’s where the rage comes from.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

In every dream home a heartache

The trauma of my visit to Madame Tussaud's continues to linger, and brings to mind Roxy Music's finest hour - their sinister and hypnotic love song to a blow-up doll.

Your skin is like vinyl
The perfect companion
You float my new pool
De luxe and delightful

Is there a more striking image in popular music?

The voice of experience

Monix on language development, glue ear and television.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Being and Nothingness

When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes in anything, said (my great-great-uncle-in-law – beat that as a claim to fame) GK Chesterton. Except he didn’t say it. But lots of people do say it, and wrongly attribute it to him.

Indeed, it is one of the most frequently-quoted misquotations in this corner of the blogosphere. It is also one of those things that immediately sounds clever and true, but which, when considered more carefully, is quite obviously false.

The argument that this quotation is supposed to encapsulate goes as follows: in the absence of the benign rule of the Christian (or Judeo-Christian if you will) belief system, we will not have a world of harmless, secular, rational atheists going about their business, but rather a mad free-for-all of paganism, superstition, mumbo-jumbo, Sun-worship, and, more dangerously, a complete lack of checks on such things as Marxism, Nazism and so forth.

There are two problems with this line. Firstly, it reeks of snobbery. The implication is not that the wise speaker, above the fray and observing all things, would fall into this trap without his faith, but that the plebs would. The great unwashed need the guiding hand of the Church to keep them on the path.

But the bigger problem is that the facts just don’t support it. At the one end, it’s quite obvious that believing in God does not stop you also believing all manner of other rubbish. People thank God when they come second in the Little Miss Iowa Under-6s Beauty Pageant. The Phelps family thinks God kills US soldiers to punish the nation for tolerating gays. In England, we live in both a less Christian age and a less superstitious age. Our God-fearing forbears also feared witches and werewolves, and believed in lucky heather, relics and the protective power of amputated rabbit’s feet.

At the other end, it’s clear that when people stop going to Church on a Sunday morning, they don’t instead sign up with the local pagan tribe. They just go shopping, or watch television or their kids playing football, or they sleep off hangovers.

We put up candidates all the time: the current favourite is Environmentalism, which does have a healthy number of screeching acolytes. But plenty of crunchy Christians are also Environmentalists. Most people just pay it lip service, as they used to pay lip service to God.

When a Man stops believing in God, he really does just believe in nothing, for the most part. The arguable vacuity and shallowness of this kind of existence might be a better target for the defenders of the faith, since the Chesterton quote is clearly nonsense.

Luckily, Chesterton didn’t say it, so his reputation remains intact.

The Madness of Mel Gibson (2)

In my extremely belated film review of The Passion of the Christ, I made the pretty obvious observation that the most striking thing about the movie is its sheer uncomplicated lunacy.

Turns out South Park said it much better than I could. (Warning: contains typical South Park offensiveness).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Scandinavian humour

Medieval Helpdesk: how to use a book.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Madame Tussaud’s

For reasons both banal and obscure, Mrs Brit and I visited Madame Tussaud’s last week.

Never again. It scared the bejesus out of me as a kid and it did so again this time. The Chamber of Horrors, even with the jumpy-out actors ‘live’ section is not remotely frightening, but the rest of it is bloody terrifying.

You walk through a series of uncanny valleys, bizarre mocked-up cocktail parties littered with such incongruous guests as Elvis Presley, the Incredible Hulk and Chris Tarrant. Charles Darwin stands next to Neil Armstrong. A grotesquely accurate Stephen Hawking sprawls cheerfully in his chair.

Always there is the spine-shiver of eyes upon you: either the super-real glass stare of the waxworks, or, if you stay still too long, the puzzled look of a tourist wondering who you’re meant to be. The half-familiarity of the figures is what makes it such a strange experience, especially the realistic ones (Samuel L Jackson is freakishly lifelike; James Dean is appalling). More disturbing is the semi-erotic aspect. Girls drool and drape themselves over an ossified Orlando Bloom. Boys gawp at Jennifer Lopez’s plastic rump.

I simply don’t get what Madame Tussaud’s is for. The most interesting game seems to be discovering how tall everybody is: Christina Aguilera is a dwarf; Ronald Reagan was a giant. Other than that, the popularity of the place is a mystery to me. Can anyone explain it?

Brian Lara

There have been four cricketing Gods in this era. Two of them, Sachin Tendulkar and Murali Muralitharan, are still going. Shane Warne called it a day after one final scourging of the Poms, and on Saturday Brian Lara also quit after a last game against England.

He was fond of a bit of England-scourging himself, of course. Here he is scoring Test cricket's only individual quadruple-century to the sound of his own song.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Don't miss...

...Bryan Appleyard on blogs and the Web 2.0.

And Murad Ahmed on Virginia Tech, if only for this amazing paragraph:

In 2005, there are 14,000 gun related homicides in America. In around the same period, there were 73 in the UK. In Japan, just 2. In America there is an average gun-killing rate of 3.97 per 100,000 of the population; in Switzerland, where it is legally mandatory to hold firearms, it is 0.51.

It was a Big Ask for the lady...

...but she staked her claim and will be looking to make a name for herself

Giles Smith amusingly skewers the Neanderthal objections to the BBC’s employment of a female commentator for the first time on Match of the Day.

Jacqui Oatley was given the low-profile Fulham v Blackburn game, which the BBC buried halfway through the programme, presumably to give her a gentle introduction to the cut-throat, high-stakes universe of describing the least uninteresting bits of mid-table matches to sleepy men just back from the pub.

I watched it, and Jacqui was fine. Or rather, she was no better or worse than any other British TV football commentator. Which in many ways was the problem – she was exactly the same as every other British TV football commentator.

Hearing the commentary in the unfamiliar female tones had the effect of highlighting just how stange and incestuous is the language of the professional pundit. We’ve always known there are cliches, but I’d never really noticed just how rigidly conventional the whole private vocabulary is.

It goes way beyond the odd “game of two halves” or “he’ll be disappointed with that”; virtually every phrase is weird. “Warnock finds himself in acres of space”; “And McCarthy, the poacher, supplies the finish”; “scorer nearly turned provider”; “half-time can’t come soon enough for the beleagured manager”. One-twos must always be “lovely little” things, balls are only ever “shepherded over the line” by defenders, and strikers must “look to make a little darting run in behind the defence”, in the hopes of collecting a pass that will either be “wayward” or “inch-perfect.”

Nobody speaks remotely like that in any other walk of life. But thanks the curious evolutionary paths of language, that’s how British commentators feel they must describe the process of a football match. Presumably other nations have their own conventions. Listening to American soccer commentary sounds hilarious for us: they pick up on wholly different aspects of play (being fixated with long goalkicks and throw-ins and such like), and we always love the Latin “Gooooooooooooal golagolagola” business. Foreign viewers must have a completely different experience to we watchers of Motson and Tyldesly.

Oatley is ok. She has watched a lot of football matches and is perfectly fluent in commentator-speak. You don’t have to know anything about football for that - you just need an ear for language.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Superskinny Me

Health campaigners have expressed concerns over a Channel 4 show encouraging women to go on crash diets.

In Super-Skinny Me: The Race to Size Zero, several female journalists will try out various extreme diets.

This must be the third or fourth instance of female journalists (or in one case, Louise Redknapp) attempting to get to a Size Zero in the last month alone. They're all supposedly showing the terrible health risks and the ugly side of extreme dieting.

Commendable maybe, but please, once was enough - we get the message. I can't shake the sneaking suspicision that these women are just using the journalistic angle as an excuse.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I think I finally see...

...what David was getting at with all that "Darwinism is trivial" business.

Still don't agree though.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Duck v Appleyard (and David v Brit)

I'm off to London for the day to meet up with long-time friend and occasional foe David Cohen.

So I won't be contributing to this thread on Bryan Appleyard's blog, but you might want to: it's shaping up to be very interesting indeed.

On Steven Gerrard

A more cheerful sporting note today, and another scorcher from Stevie G last night. Reviewing some of the many worshipful compilations on YouTube, I'm reminded of how ridiculously often the boy does it. He's a freak.

I've never watched a game where Gerrard was playing for the opposition. But I imagine that if that situation arose, I would feel a deep sense of fear and foreboding every time this gangling youth collected the ball and loped towards my penalty area.

I've been putting it off for too long now - the time has come to say it. He's overtaken Dalglish. He's the best player Liverpool have ever had.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The inevitable

Fresh from its success in eliminating global poverty in 2005, the world of rock music is back to tackle the Big One:

More than 200,000 people registered for tickets to the Live Earth concert at Wembley Stadium, organisers have said.

Interested fans had 72 hours from Friday to Monday to register before a ballot to distribute the £55 tickets.

Madonna, James Blunt and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are among the 17 acts confirmed for the concert, which aims to raise awareness of climate change.

The only way 'awareness of climate change' could be raised any higher than its current Himalayan heights would be if the Government paid students to come round to your house, beat drums and repeatedly scream "Anthropogenic Global Warming!" through your letterbox, without pause, for a week.

But this concert's heart is in the right place, I'm sure. Doubtless the Greatest Hits collections of Madonna and the Chili Peppers can always do with a bit of awareness-raising.

But why must it always be ‘ignominious’

There are just too many similarities between England’s twin ignominious (local by-laws oblige us to use that word) exits from the 2006 World Cup of football and now the 2007 one of cricket for it to be a matter of coincidence.


1) In both cases England scraped unconvincing wins against amateurish minnows in the early rounds, with the management promising us that starting slowly is good …. the important thing is to win… if you can win while playing badly…raise their game against better opposition…etc.

2) In both cases England then promptly and predictably lost when coming up against decent teams.

3) In both cases the captain (Beckham, Vaughan) was there purely for his personality and leadership qualities, being little more than a passenger in a playing capacity. These qualities proved insufficient.

4) In both cases one solitary world-class player (Gerrard, Pietersen) showed glimpses of brilliance that might keep England in with a shout, only to be swamped by the general mediocrity surrounding him.

5) In both cases I swore often and with vigour at the television.

There’s a conspiracy here somewhere, I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Old Blue Eyes

Although I stand by the claim that Frank Sinatra was so great a singer that he alone could make such unutterable drivel as My Way sound good, there are a couple of songs that stretched even his talents beyond the limits of acceptable listening.

The first is of course High Hopes, a wretched la-dee-da piece of High-Apple-Pie-eee in the Skyeee cringery.

The other is the intolerable Love and Marriage. However, in searching for it on YouTube, I was delighted to come across this video, which is perhaps the last word in anti-MTV minimalism and illustrates the inevitable circularity of all culture.

Your wildest dreams have come true

Good heavens, it seems that Tyra was right. It really is the super-duper-cali-fragi-cure-everything-eye-face-and-everywhere creeeeeeeeeeeeeeam.

Meanwhile, Paris Hilton does her bit to disprove the lazy myth that Americans are geographically-challenged ignorami.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The greatest love of all

Mrs Brit has recently been belting out Whitney Houston songs on the karaoke machine. In particular, lusty renditions of The Greatest Love of All have been echoing around the vast, crumbling chambers of Brit Towers.

Now naturally enough, my brain's protective filter will automatically block out any song which opens with the lines "I believe that children are our future", but nothing could prepare me for the trauma of seeing the lyrics appear on the screen.

I don't know about you lot, but I had always lazily assumed that this was a common-or-garden number expressing Whitney's amorous intentions towards a Significant Other.

But in fact, it is nothing of the sort - it's actually one of those grisly get-to-love-yourself self-help manual things which, I'm afraid to say, the Cousins specialise in.

The Daddy of this genre is of course My Way. My Way is a great song when sung by Frank Sinatra (all songs are great when sung by Frank Sinatra) but on close inspection stands revealed as the most dreadful pile of tosh. I'm sure we can agree on that, yes?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Many thanks... all the (mostly silent) readers of ToE who came to the Big Shindig.

There was a lot of love in the room last night, and as today's hangover mists slowly evaporate, nothing is clearer than the importance of good old friends, which you all very much are.

If half of you enjoyed it twice as much as I did, then twice as many of you are half as happy as me.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Grand National

It's the big race today, and millions of mug punters, including me, will waste a healthy wedge of their hard-earned on an aimless punt on the hoss with the best name.

This is all as it should be. The only thing that irritates me about the National is the people who come into the office on Monday and inform you that they 'picked' the winner but didn't wager any money because they 'don't agree with it.'

Retreat to the shed

Friend of ToE Robert Crampton, forced to write about interiors for a special edition of the Times Magazine, describes a phenomenon we can surely all relate to, lads.

Sorry, but a nasty infestation of Alex has forced me to temporarily introduce Word Verification. These things tend to go away after a bit.

Friday, April 13, 2007

T'internet is a strange place

Against all the odds, Think of England appears to have become a gay icon in New Jersey.

The Madness of Mel Gibson

I finally got round to watching The Passion of the Christ last night. It was always in my mind that seeing the film for the first time post-Gibsongate might be a different experience to the one had by cinemagoers who watched it unburdened by the knowledge that Mel Gibson is an anti-Semitic nutjob.

But in the event, it wasn’t anti-Semitism that made an impact so much as the sheer, uncomplicated lunacy of the movie.

Gibson has form, of course - he did make the stupidest film of all time. But this was something else again. The interminable, pornographic scenes of bloody torture were not a big deal for me. Gibson merely uses the same device employed by Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho: boredom. If you show something in detail over and over again for ages, the spectator just becomes numb and listless and a bit sick. Shock tactics ad nauseam, in other words. During the seemingly endless flogging scene I kept flicking over to check the Spurs versus Seville game, but after a while I couldn’t remember if I was really watching the football match and occasionally checking for the latest score in Romans versus The Skin on Christ’s Back (a walkover for the Eyeties, an utter thrashing).

But as I said, the gore wasn’t a problem. What got me was the silliness. The first appearance of Satan with his/her little pet snake had me chuckling. The bit where s/he appeared holding what appeared to be a nude Chucky doll prompted a loud guffaw. I snorted derisively when we got a raindrop’s eye view of Christ’s last breath.

But it wasn’t until the final seconds of the film, when the Resurrection was afforded no more than 10 seconds and a close-up of a reborn Caviezel in the Tomb that I finally understood what Gibson’s movie was all about.

The Passion of the Christ is nothing more than a revenge movie without the actual revenge bit. In all revenge movies, the hero must undergo horrendous suffering at the hands of the callous baddies, reach a broken, battered nadir, and then return rejuvenated and mean in the final reel for the bloodthirsty Reckoning.

Gibson subjects us to the ultimate gruelling trial of horrendous suffering, but has no interest in the forgiveness bit. There was no joy in this Christ’s Resurrection, which is why all we see of it is Caviezel in profile, with an expression that says “Time to take out the trash” and looking for all the world as if he’s striding off into the sequel: The Passion 2: Christ Strikes Back with a Vengeance.

More British humour

Talking of great Punch jokes, in his (highly recommended) bogside book, Paperweight, Stephen Fry points us to a cartoon from a 1939 edition.

A man is shown leaping into a London taxi and shouting at the cabbie: "The Royal School of Needlework - and drive like hell."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blog Pub

Appleyard has nicked my well-worn analogy of the blog as pub.

As the landlord of this establishment, I feel it is important to make beneficial introductions.

I would therefore like Thought Mesh to meet McCabism, if they haven't already done so.

I think Susan's Husband/AOG and Gordon have a lot in common with each other, but not necessarily with the rest of us mortals with normal-shaped brains.

The curate’s egg

Over on Thought Experiments I made the claim that ‘True Humility’ by George du Maurier (grandfather of Daphne) is the Daddy of all English self-mocking jokes.

I stand by that claim. In a simple image and a single phrase it covers everything you need to know about the absurdity of class deference, priggishness, the logical extremes of etiquette, timidity, flattery, and the business of eternally behaving as if you have a poker shoved a good distance up your behind.

Like all the very best jokes, it has more pathos than humour.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bacon butty news

Scientists have created a mathematical formula of how to make the perfect bacon butty, says the BBC.

Brown roll, tommy sauce, English mustard.

Bish bash bosh. Innit.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Back off, Brussels

A British shopkeeper in Spain has been fined for selling a jar of pickled onions with an English label - even though her customers are all Brits.

Food inspectors spotted the £1.20 jar among hundreds of correctly labelled items in Helen Rush's store, reports The Sun. A local law says ingredients must be translated into Spanish - but Helen branded her treatment unfair.

She said: "I spend hours translating the labels but when I make one small mistake I get hammered for it. It's irrelevant to them that 99.9% of my clients are Brits and a Spaniard wouldn't eat a pickled onion at gunpoint."

It's good to know that the expats who have set up such magnificently rigid Little Britains in the Spanish sun - where Only Fools and Horses and Premiership football are always on the telly, and full English breakfasts, Marmite soldiers and pints of John Smiths are always at hand - have not forgotten to take with them our beloved tales of EU bureaucracy GONE MAD.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Quite religious

Tim Hames tackles what has become a proper chestnut: what to do about the Church of England.

There is a story about William Whitelaw which, in a touching if faintly damning way, sums up the plight of the Church of England. It involves the moment when the Conservative politician was told that, somewhat unexpectedly. Robert Runcie was to be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Whitelaw, who had admired Runcie’s military record during the Second World War, was delighted. “Splendid news,” he said. “Fine man, Runcie. I knew him in the Army; very brave, very brave.” He then concluded: “Quite religious too, you know.”

“Quite religious” is an awkward place to be stranded between the more robust stations of militant secularism and theological fanaticism. “Quite religious” is also an accurate description of our contemporary Easter. On Friday, Gerard Baker wrote in these pages that in Japan, where there are not many Christians and an element of confusion is perhaps understandable, it is possible to purchase a Father Christmas nailed to a Cross. Coming soon, a chocolate egg nestling in a Nativity manger?

Anglicans are desperately close to the worst of all worlds. They are perceived as both irrelevant and bitterly divided, especially over homosexuality, which threatens to rip the Church apart at the Lambeth conference next year. It is a moment when leadership at the top — charismatic, intellectual and spiritual — is especially important. Yet leadership is not so much missing as mislocated. Rowan Williams at Canterbury and John Sentamu at York are well qualified to occupy the two most senior portfolios in the Church of England. Unfortunately, they are most well qualified for each other’s positions.

Dr Williams is probably the most intelligent man to sit in St Augustine’s chair for centuries. He is kindly and thoughtful and almost painfully reasonable. His anguish over how to simultaneously hold his Church together and his conscience intact is manifest. He is the personification of the thesis that a liberal is a man so broadminded that he would not take his own side in an argument.

At a deep level, I identify strongly with Rowan Williams. I like him and, to use an Appleyardism, I find him consoling.

He is everything that is good about religion. The sad thing is that he is presiding over the decline of everything that is good about religion, and by being good, he is in a way helping to accelerate this decline.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

On the Ignorance of Yanks

"Do you have television in England?" an American lady once asked Mrs Brit.

We Brits (and Europeans and Australians and everybody else) like to have a laugh at the ignorance bred by America's media isolationism.

But then, when they can kick our arses into oblivion whenever they like, and given that we Brits are, essentially and sensibly, America's poodles, it is important to our psychologies that we can have a good laugh at things like this.

It's like Ahmadinejad 'choosing' to release the sailors.

Friday, April 06, 2007

American plot to start Iranian war foiled!

Sir Richard Dalton analyses the Iranian sailor-kidnapping fiasco.

It is a human instinct to construct a narrative to try and make sense of events. The Iranians were planning to get x and have achieved y. The Brits knew what was going to happen all along and played a good diplomatic game.

9/11 Conspiracy types took about two minutes to proclaim that it was all a set-up by the Americans to justify bombing Tehran*.

But as with so many things, the truth is rather more prosaic. It was just another sorry series of stupid, make-it-up-as-you-go-along cock-ups. Plus a healthy dash of pathetic personal hubris on the part of Ahmadinejad.

(*Some of the sailors themselves clearly forgot to read this script. The Stockholmish toadying to their captors from one man in particular was bizarre and difficult to watch.)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Big Guns fight old battle

Here is a write-up of a recent debate on the motion 'We'd be better off without religion'. Old Dawkinsy, AC Grayling and Chris Hitchens were for; Julia Neuberger, Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey agin'.

The heathens won. But then with Dawkins and the Hitch on board you'd expect that, since as I tried to explain to deaf ears elsewhere, when every argument that can be made has been made, only style matters.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Just who is Guido Fawkes? is the question nobody is asking

What are blogs for? Guido Fawkes thinks they are for battering British politicians.

Guido has attained a moderate bloggish kind of fame for his daily assault on political animals of all colours. He has no agenda except a kind of adolescent anti-everything anarchic libertarianism.

Bryan Appleyard met Guido and has given him a rather too generous write-up here.

The fact that Guido met a mainstream journo like Bryan illustrates that his real problem is that he can’t decide whether he wants to be famous or anonymous. Or rather, he wants to be famous for being anonymous. So he settles for a ridiculous halfway house where he appears on national television in silhouette. But anyone who gives a hoot one way or the other knows who he is. He is some guy called Paul Staines who calls himself Guido and has a daily bloggy bash at British politicians.

Here he is on telly, in 'disguise', being beaten up by a proper journalist:

A lot of rot about Trotsky

Clive James debunks one of the last great myths of communism: that Trotsky was the nice guy and if only he had triumphed over Stalin, rather than vice versa, Eastern Europe would now be a utopia.

…But the Russian civil war that turned Trotsky into one of the century's most effective amateur generals also unleashed his capacities as a mass murderer. The sailors at Kronstadt, proclaiming their right to opinions of their own about the Revolution, were massacred on his order. The only thing true about Trotsky's legend as some kind of lyrical humanist was that he was indeed unrealistic enough to think that the secretarial duties could safely be left to Stalin. His intolerance of being bored undid him. But his ideas of excitement went rather beyond making love to Frida Kahlo, and at this distance, there are no excuses left for students who find him inspiring. Trotsky's idea of permanent revolution will always be attractive to the kind of romantic who believes that he is being oppressed by global capitalism when he maxes out his credit card. But the idea was already a dead loss before Trotsky was driven into exile in 1929. He lost the struggle against Stalin not because he was less ruthless but because he was less wily.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Most Hated Family in America

Louis Theroux tried to work his faux naïve magic on the members of the Westboro Baptist Church on BBC2 the other night, but failed to find any trace of humanity or deep-buried sanity within The Most Hated Family in America.

There are religious nuts, and there are religious nuts, and then there is the family of Fred Phelps. They travel across America to picket the funerals of US soldiers, shouting at mourning mothers that God has killed their sons to avenge the country’s tolerance of homosexuality.

“God hates fags”, they encouraged their seven-year old daughter to shout from the roadside, as justifiably angered passers-by hurled abuse back at them.



I'm not sure what to make of the world today. On the one hand, it seems that many Iranians are fiercely proud of the pointless act of aggression that could ultimately bring Armageddon raining down on their idiot heads.

But on the other hand, these otters are just so damn cute.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Gill versus Hitch

I recently lambasted AA Gill over on the Daily Duck, but this week he wrote two eminently sensible things in his TV review column for the Sunday Times.

Gill - an incorrigible contrarian - hates everything of course, but by the law of averages he's sometimes right. I was going to post about his thoughts on The Great Global Warming Swindle, but I find that McCabism has beaten me to it. However, his critique of another incorrigible contrarian, the Younger Hitchens, is also spot on:

George Monbiot turned up in Peter Hitchens’s splenetic rant about David Cameron and the Conservatives, Cameron — Toff at the Top (Monday, C4). Seeing Monbiot and Hitchens together reminded me of those animal photos, beloved of the tabloids, where Alsatians marry ducks and tigers cohabit with goats. Among journalists, Hitchens is fondly known by the nickname Bonkers. He’s called Bonkers Hitchens because he is raving bonkers, in a way that sells papers but makes him very annoying to sit next to on long flights. I’ve covered elections with him and seen him chase cars like an incensed border collie.

His thesis is that Cameron is nothing but a filthy upper-class prat. He revealed this as if it was a well-guarded secret. Cameron, he insisted, as is the wont of his elitist privileged class, had taken the good old working-class Tory party and made it an annex of the smug, snobbish Labour party, thereby running together Magna Carta, habeas corpus and the rules of Association Football, thus destroying democracy as we understand it. The great thing about Hitchens is that he never disappoints. Blissfully, he is utterly bereft of self-irony. For Bonkers there was nothing remotely odd or absurdly hilarious about hating the Conservative party for having Eton-educated, upper-class boys in it. Hitchens should be encouraged to do more. He’s like a lost biblical character from The Life of Brian.

Is this ironic?

How about this one then? Is it ironic? Well?

My guess is not intentionally. However, the implied accusation that men are to blame for body fascism and that We are all Sisters Together (whoop, holler!) is highly ironic, since the magazines that publish those mean pics are bought exclusively by women. Men genuinely don't give a hoot.

Ben Helfgott

The guest on today's Desert Island Discs was the remarkable Ben Helfgott. A Jew, he was the only member of his family to escape Nazi-occupied Poland. His mother and sister were shot in the ghetto. He lost his father when he was deported to the concentration camp. When he was liberated from Theresienstadt he was a 15-year old skeleton.

Helfgott was taken along with seven hundred other Jewish orphans to start a new life in England. He grabbed this life with both hands, and went on to become a successful businessman and the British weightlifting champion - representing his adopted country at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. He now organises Holocaust Memorial Day.

He says he has never hated the Germans, but that, far from fading, the trauma of his memories becomes more intense as he gets older. No matter how many times one hears the stories of the Nazi atrocities against their fellow humans, the listener still goes through the same emotional wringer: rage, disgust, guilt, incomprehension, sadness; and finally awe at people like Helfgott.