Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009


The Arnolfini art gallery, of which I have been but am not currently a patron (despite its excellent bar), emails me with news of an exciting event in its season C Words: Carbon, Climate, Capital, Culture:

The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home - two adults and three children - proposes a holiday for autumn half-term. …Accompanied by eco-Au Pair Branka Cvjeticanin, they will set up an interim activist cell in Bristol with guest dissenters and visitors to take action against carbon, climate chaos and capitalism.

This leaves us with an interesting philosophical and/or semantic question: if every single artist and the government and most of the mainstream media agrees with you about carbon and climate change, can you justifiably describe yourself as a 'dissenter'?

Jane Elliott’s Hammer

Do you remember Jane Elliott? She was that terrifying teacher who divided her all-white class into blue-eyed and brown-eyed children to illustrate what it was like to be on the receiving end of racial discrimination. It was powerful stuff, almost unwatchable.

That famous progamme was made in Iowa in 1968. Amazingly, Elliott is still doing exactly the same thing forty years later. Last night Channel 4 featured her performing the exercise on a group of multi-ethnic British adults. Did it work in the modern context? No, it did not work, not at all. In an all-white class of Iowan schoolchildren, the eye colour divide would have been arbitrary; here it effectively put the whites (blue-eyed) in the oppressed role and the rest (brown-eyed) in the oppressor role, which made it look like some sort of revenge fantasy. And indeed it became clear that Elliott thinks that all whites are inherently racist, conditioned to feel superior from “even before they’re born”, and the purpose of the exercise was to make them see this and feel bad about it.

Time has not mellowed Elliott, it has made her madder (in both senses). The President of the United States is mixed race, but she doesn’t seem to think that the world has changed since Martin Luther King was murdered, or indeed, that there is such a thing as ‘mixed race’. She believes in reinforcing distinct racial categories: the pure whites and the rest. One chap in the brown-eyed group – himself mixed race - spoke about his concerns for his daughter (one-quarter black) if her schoolfriends found out about her ‘blackness’. Elliott made no comment about this, or whether the three-quarter white girl in question had been three-quarters conditioned to feel superior from even before she was born. Elliott’s vision of a post-racist world is one where the ‘whites’ are sufficiently racked with guilt and self-loathing that they’re basically too knackered to discriminate, rather than one where nobody gives a toss one way or the other about race because it has become unimportant as an identifier.

It was a sad thing to see. Elliott had one Big Idea in her life, which at the time was brave, brilliant and made her famous. She misunderstood her own Idea, and forty years later it has become a Very Bad Idea. But she’s still hammering away at it, hammering in the morning and in the evening and all over this land.

Talking of which, and on an otherwise completely unrelated note, read this humdinger of a Hoot.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tortoises and hares

Here’s another good game for imposing simplified Platonic categories onto the chaotic mass of humanity: work types. I’ve carefully avoided business management books as best I can throughout my career, so I expect this has already been written about many times, but two broad categories of worker I’ve noticed are tortoises and hares.

It’s obvious enough: tortoises fill the 9 to 5 day with a steady, even distribution of work, while hares work in short furious bursts of super-activity interspersed with long periods of idle, almost braindead doziness.

(I’m so much at the hare end of the spectrum that it’s possibly bordering on mental illness. Certainly it’s a running joke in my office. uh oh, he’s off on one again. Back here Martpol suggested that I must be having a ‘quiet Friday afternoon’ on the grounds that I posted three ridiculous missives in a day. In fact the opposite is the case: you can be pretty sure that if ToE is busy then I’m also simultaneously banging away at numerous real work projects, plotting strange and unrealisable epic prose-poems, compiling a fantasy all-time cricket XI etc*; whereas if ToE is quiet, then picture me sitting staring into the middle distance without a thought in my head, drooling gently onto my collar, and pound to a penny you won't be far off the mark.)

I’m very lucky in that my job is ideally suited to haredom – project-based, unsupervised and based on results rather than clock-punching. For small businesses, getting hares in tortoise jobs and vice versa can be disastrous. A hare in a tortoise job will be slapdash and demoralised; a tortoise in a hare job will never get anything finished because they’ll endlessly try to perfect the minutiae.

It’s up to employers to get the right ones in the right jobs. The problem being, of course, that humanity is a chaotic mass and most people don’t fit neatly into the categories, being Hartoises and Tares and so on, which is why business management books never work and why this whole post was, ultimately, a bit of a waste of time. Still, we soldier on, we soldier on.

*That's another stupid myth, isn't it, that only women can multi-task?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sail to the moon

Feeling a mite rootless, I wandered yesterday up the usual lunchtime lanes. It was a beautiful sunny autumnal day.

“What a beautiful sunny autumnal day it is,” I said to the local character, who was standing alongside his big horse. He agreed that it was. I often encounter this wizened ex-leisure centre manager on the lanes and we always have a chat about how he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I pat his dog and admire his horse, his cowboy hat and his exceptionally broad westcountry accent. “Some people loike to garn retoire to Spain or whartever and sit boi a pool orl day. Fair play to them but oi think you carn’t beat this. But everywon’s diffrent, would be a dull world otherwoise.”

We stood in our respective shoes, socks, trousers, shirts, jackets, hair and skin and looked out across the fields. Photons from the world hit the lenses of our eyes and were focused onto the photoreceptive rod and cone cells of our retinas.

It occurred to me that if, unlikely as it seems, the warmists are right, then all these green valleys could be underwater soon. But I was comforted by the presence of the ex-leisure centre manager. He seems a practical sort who would calmly solve the problem. In the flood he would probably build an ark, and sail us to the moon.


If the Ancestry post was your first contact with the Alarmingly Bushy Family Tree Problem, then I hope it didn’t upset you. I worry about these things sometimes because the ABFTP can leave you feeling rootless. It needn’t, logically, but when has logic ever mattered to human beings?

Feeling rootless or otherwise doesn’t really bother me particularly, but for some people, especially those claiming to be Scottish it seems, it’s a big deal.

It is significant that the genealogy TV show is called Who do you think you are? Some ancestry researchers get a shock when they discover the skeletons in the tree because it affects their sense of identity. Good heavens, I'm part Belgian and Jeremy Kyle is my fifth cousin! But they’d get an even bigger shock if they contemplated the Alarmingly Bushy Family Tree Problem instead - not dissimilar, in fact, to the effect of the Total Perspective Vortex torture device in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, "You are here”.

So now that you have the truth about ancestry, be judicious about where and when you reveal it, especially if Scots of a nervous disposition are in the room. Remember: along with great power comes great responsibility. Mind how you go, folks.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Peper and solt it as you plese

A Pickle for the Knowing Ones, or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress is surely the best title for an autobiography ever. (Thanks Nige).

Timothy Dexter's book sounds magnificent:

He wrote about himself and complained about politicians, clergy and his wife. The book contained 8,847 words and 33,864 letters, but absolutely no punctuation, and capital letters were sprinkled about at random. At first he handed his book out for free, but it rapidly became popular and ran into eight editions in total. When people complained that it was hard to read, for the second edition he added an extra page - 13 lines of punctuation marks - asking readers to "peper and solt it as they plese".


this strikes me as an excellent and time saving way to write a book i cant See any problem with it it brings a level of interactivity after all reminds me Of those choose your own adventure books that i read as a child choose your own punctuation as it were well why not It could be a useful excercise couldnt it well probably not really no


More on racism

Perhaps I should point out that I wasn’t trying to be preachy in the Demographic Delusion post below. My aim, as in the Ancestry post, was to write about something that’s hopefully surprising because we don’t often think about it, but which is, when we do think about it, quite obvious. I’m interested in the gap between Platonic thinking and reality. But Platonic thinking - discussing ideal categories and concepts - is just what we do, it’s natural to us, it’s often useful and we have to make a conscious intellectual effort to avoid it when it isn’t useful.

And talking of gaps, there’s a giant one between Nick Griffin (a real bigot) and someone who just starts a sentence beginning “Of course 95% of them are fine but…” because he’s thinking Platonically.

Whenever the issue of racism pops up, it is very easy to get all humourlessly high horsey about trivia which is, in the greater scheme of things, irrelevant. Witness the hysteria over Anton Du Beke and Bruce Forsyth recently – both crucified by the usual liberal pontificators.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been cursed with a sense of perspective here. In no particular order, here are three ways in which Britain has improved out of recognition since I was a kid: there’s much less dog turd on the pavements; there’s much less litter on the streets (I remember kicking through crisp packets like they were Autumn leaves); and overall we’re much, much less racist. (Football tells you the story here. After he scored his famous goal against Brazil, John Barnes was booed by England fans for being black. These days we’re so comfortable with our non-racism that we can happily boo Ashley Cole for a whole list of valid reasons (greed, arrogance, getting thrown out of nightclubs while his wife is off doing charity mountain-climbing etc) and we all know that his colour isn’t on it.)

As it happens, I am pretty sensitive to the language. I do cringe a bit when people of my parents’ generation say “coloured” when they ought to say “black” etc. But I don’t get all soapbox about it, or confuse it with real racism. And what’s so funny about peace, love and pragmatism? Broadly, the same lot who pronounced after agonised soul-searching that, yes, for the sake of our democracy and the integrity of the BBC’s charter (oh, such a cornerstone of the British constitution, the BBC charter) Nick Griffin should be allowed on the rubbish political debate programme Question Time, also crucified Brucie for defending Anton. To which you just want to say: oh get off it, lads. We’re not perfect, we never will be, but cut us some slack, we’re all just doing the best we can. Man.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Carrie Bradshaw my arse...

Ahem, I think you'll find Carrie Bradshaw had nothing to do with it.

'British Muslims' and the Demographic Delusion

Before 2001 there were a lot of brown-skinned people of Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan extraction living in Britain. The primary objections of Nick Griffin and his equivalents to these people were that they stole our jobs and took over our cornershops and they didn’t support the cricket team. After 9/11 these people disappeared and were replaced by a sinister organisation called ‘The British Muslims’, dedicated to undermining the national way of life through religious fanaticism and rapid breeding. On Question Time last week Nick Griffin referred to some passages in the Koran which prove this beyond all reasonable doubt.

Meanwhile, throughout the blogosphere spread theoretical assertions beginning: “Of course, 95% of them just want to get on with their lives, but… (insert some concern based on the idea that British Muslims fundamentally see things differently to the rest of us.)”

These latter theories are not the ravings of racists or bigots, just people who’ve read grand sweeping books about clashes of civilisations and news stories about rioting brown Frenchmen and, of course, lurid highlights from the Koran. It’s easy to slip into it, we all do it all the time. But the problematic words in these theories are “them” and “us”, which are meant to refer to British Muslims and “Westerners” respectively. I don’t mean ‘problematic’ in some drippy we-are-the-world sense; rather, that when it comes to practically applying these categories to actual people it turns out to be devilish difficult to work out who should go into which.

Yesterday I had Sunday lunch with Mrs Brit and a coven of her pals who enjoy cooing over our baby. One of this coven has brown skin and the surname Mohammed. She would naturally, under Nick Griffin’s definition, be a secret menace to the rest of us at the table, who have pale or pale-ish skin and surnames like Nixon, Bishop and Whelan. But given that Ms Mohammed wears jeans and drinks booze and has never in her life left the shores of Britain except on holiday and, as far I’m aware, has never set foot in a mosque during our acquaintance except for the same reasons that I’ve set foot in churches (marriages and deaths basically), then one of our non-bigoted Theorists above would, I guess, classify her as a “westernised Muslim”; one of the 95% who “just want to get on with their lives.”

At which point the full arbitrariness – and indeed, strangeness – of placing Ms Mohammed in the category “British Muslim” becomes vividly clear. To plonk her on a continuum of British Muslims, with 'westernised' moderates at the one end and Abu 'Hook' Hamza at the other, seems about as useful and meaningful as putting me in a category of British Roman Catholics – a continuum with the Great Lapsed (like me) at one end and Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor at the other – and then, while allowing that I am a greatly “westernised” or “Anglicised” Catholic, attempting to make broad assumptions about my views and behaviour by quoting from the Nicene Creed.*

We have a glaring category error on our hands here. Putting Ms Mohammed in a bundle with Abu Hamza - however vast we allow the gap on the continuum - makes as much sense as placing her Sunday lunch pals in a category with Timothy McVeigh. A more meaningful categorisation would of course put McVeigh and Hamza together in the section “Inadequate Male Nutjob”, and while no doubt Al Qaeda will turn to Inadequate Male Nutjobs with brown skin and surnames like Mohammed as the first port of call for recruitment, the crucial thing is that they be Inadequate Male Nutjobs, even if they have white skin and a name like Nicky Reilly.

And what about if Ms Mohammed hooks up with a man with a surname like Smith and they have a light-brown coloured baby? Will this sprog be a Muslimised Westerner or a Very Westernised Muslim? Or perhaps just another mongrel Briton, there’s an awful lot of us about.

The upshot of all this is to expose the futile and arbitrary business of attempting to impose large, simplistic categories onto what is, in reality, a chaotic mass of British humanity. It’s not dissimilar to the Family Tree Problem; not completely invalid or untrue, just a vanishingly narrow way of looking at complexity; presenting a version of reality simplified to the point of utter meaninglessness. In fact, the "British Muslim" categorisation is even more irrelevant in identifying real people than is calling yourself “Scottish” on the basis that one out of your thousand great-great-etc-grandfathers was called McDougall, since identity is such a malleable and subjective concept, whereas at least it is objectively true that he was called McDougall. If, for example, you think that being a Manchester United or Liverpool fan is a relatively trivial element in dividing up identities compared to nominal religion, then you really don’t know anything about actual Britons.

Beware grand sweeping theories about clashes of civilizations or anything else: they’re all, ultimately, wrong. Demographics is a game for computer nerds.

“Anti-human” is another overused pejorative, but I reckon that starting with a category and then attempting to force people into it is a pretty good example of anti-humanness. Mind you, we can’t help categorising, mostly benignly. I was thinking back to my university days. Of course we were right-on students so we shunned skin colour as an identifier, but we still divvied people up by musical taste, clothes etc, or by Arts (trendy), Science (geeks) or Medical students (tossers). Naturally some of those trendies, geeks and tossers were brown-skinned, but remember, this was before 2001 so none of them were British Muslims. That lot hadn’t been invented yet.

*In fact, since “Muslim” covers so many different groups and sects, you could equally substitute Murphy-O’Connor for any bugger who's been baptised, from the craziest creationist Christian to virtual agnostics like Dr Rowan Williams, and the analogy stands.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Biffin’ Griffin

So, Nick Griffin on Question Time then. Bit disappointing? Mostly a touch comical, wasn’t it? Aside from one particularly nasty little bit of Kilroy-Silkish Islamophobia (which we’re used to on blogs but still carried a frisson of shock on TV) he came across as a bumbling buffoon. Much less smooth than I expected. That might have been due to the sheer variety of attacks he faced, and because the panellists had the good sense to bring along his Neo-Nazi Obfuscation Bingo list and thus undermine his ability to use it.

Still, I think they should have kicked him a bit more in the fundamentals. I’d have loved to have seen a really ruthless debater on there, like Nick Cohen or, even better, me. I’d have pointed out that the number of ‘indigenous’ people in Britain, is, according to Griffin's definition, precisely zero, by which count a BNP candidate represents the interests of even fewer people than does Esther Rantzen, who at least represents the interests of herself.

Also nobody mentioned the critical fact, pointed out here a few times (and by Gaw) that BNP support is not gaining in popularity in the real sense. Fewer voted for them at the most recent Euro election than at the previous one – their seats materialising only through Proportional Representation because of a crash in support for the major parties in the midst of the expenses scandal. Admittedly this fact takes a great deal of the fun out of the fight for both fascists and anti-fascists, but it puts the thing in perspective.

And perspective, of course, is everything. Outside the cauldron of Question Time, where batting down Griffin seems so terribly important, you only have to mooch about any city for a bit to see the full scale of this fantasist’s delusions. This is a mongrel country of extraordinarily successful multicultural integration, the reversal of which is not conceivable. The comic highlight of the programme came at the end when Griffin showed he still had some hate left for a few more minorities and had a go at the ‘ickiness’ of gay men kissing. Dear me, remember the civil partnership 'debate'? Talk about dead as a dodo; Griffin’s protests felt about as relevant in 2009 as a tirade against the repeal of the Corn Laws.

There really is no obligation to take this clown and his nasty little party seriously at a national level. At the local level – ie. certain towns in the north of England – it’s a different matter, because if you happen to be a British Asian in an area where the BNP has had electoral success, you’ll have to go about your business feeling that your neighbours want to get rid of you. The BNP, therefore, is primarily a problem to be solved by local representatives of the major parties. And then of course they will need the national representatives to help them out by not screwing things up all the time.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cupcake, swineshead updates

Excellent, someone has this morning landed here by googling "Black Forest Gateau Cupcake." I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Meanwhile, I have absolutely no comment whatsoever to make about this.

Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl never did me any harm

In Martin Amis’s excellent autobiography Experience (by far his best book) he describes how he is Saul Bellow’s ‘perfect reader’ (and Chris Hitchens, he suggests, is Kingsley’s perfect reader). I think I might be Wes Anderson’s ‘perfect viewer’. The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore – I could watch any of them any number of times with a fixed expression of rapt wonderment and glee, of the kind that you might see on the face of a five year-old if Bob the Builder came riding into the living room on Thomas the Tank Engine, bearing a tray of Milky Bars and plastic tat. The Life Aquatic is possibly my favourite, but if there are flaws in any of Wes Anderson’s films then I am impervious to them.

A stop-motion animation of Fantastic Mr Fox is next from him. It’s bound to be good, though the other day Nige gave us a surprisingly hostile rant against Roald Dahl. I seem to remember our own Peter B, I think, launching a similar tirade against the nonsense verse of Dr Seuss once (correct me if I’m wrong, Peter).

Well I loved both Dahl and Seuss, and it never did me any harm. Certainly I didn’t seem to turn into a psychotic spouter of nonsense, but grew into a perfectly rounded and responsible member of society. And if you don’t believe that’s true,
I’ll fill your nostrils up with glue,
I’ll stuff your pants with itchy ants,
And give you weird breast-implants.
I’ll run you over with a tractor,
Then make you sit through The X Factor
(Including the bits with the Irish twins),
And then I’ll put you in three bins.

In three bins, you say,
But how?
I do not understand you now.
You could put me in a box.
You could put me with a fox.
You could put me in a house.
You could put me with a mouse.
In a tree
Or on a flea
Or with a Zizzle-Zozzle-Zee.
But still I fear I cannot see
How in three bins you could put me!

Before your puzzlement increases:
I’ll chop you into little pieces,
Your guts will burst like pus-filled pimples,
And in three bins I’ll put you.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Question Time balls-up

Ooh aren’t we all jolly well looking forward to the big bunfight on tomorrow’s Question Time? Won’t we all get into a good lather?

Nick Cohen links to a set of euphemisms that the BNP commonly uses to disguise its racist policies ("identity" rather than "racial purity" etc), so you could add to your enjoyment of the programme by playing Neo-Nazi Obfuscation Bingo if you wanted.

The more I think about this, the less justification there seems to be for the BBC’s decision to allow Nick Griffin (and now his supporters) onto the programme. If this was a European Parliament special, there might be some semblance of duty to give the BNP airtime, given their MEP seats. But they have no MPs and, for as long as we operate a first-past-the-post electoral system, they almost certainly never will. So there’s no strong democratic imperative to invite them to speak. I mean, it’s not like anyone gives a toss about the European Parliament, is it?

The other line is: give them the oxygen of publicity and they’ll choke; their arguments will be exposed as the nonsense they are. I suspect this is over-optimistic. First, anyone with the sufficient mental capacity to spot an ‘exposed’ argument on an episode of Question Time already knows the BNP are scumbags, so few minds are likely to be changed however the debate goes. Second, Nick Griffin is a slimy, slippery political toad who is not going to blow his big chance by doing Nazi salutes and announcing in the first five minutes that ‘Wogs begin at Calais’. Instead, he’ll go through his Obfuscation Routine, talking calmly about ‘protecting British jobs’, attacking Labour for easy claps and pushing populist buttons on Iraq, MPs expenses and what have you. In fact, the inevitable section of the Question Time audience made up of hysterical right-on students and Mock the Week fans will probably make him appear reasonable by comparison.

Always do what your enemies least want you to do. Griffin most wants to be accepted as the kind of politician who gets invited onto Question Time. His Obfuscation Routine, don’t forget, has taken the BNP from a being a bunch of no-mark skinhead jokes to a small but reasonably professional political force, at least in PR elections. The BBC has just given him another little victory. It won’t amount to much in the greater scheme of things, but still, BNP victories of any scale stick in the throat.

Of course, I may be completely mistaken, he may be roundly trounced by his fellow QT guests and on Friday the BNP may be forced to disband because of this devastating ‘exposure’. In which case you can come back here on Friday morning and we’ll all say how glad we are that I was wrong.

Bloody Meerkats

Anyone else getting a bit fed up with them? Ferrets with ideas above their station, basically. I’m tempted to stick them on the Bad List on the grounds of excessive ubiquity.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There is too much internet 2: Swineshead revisited

Swineshead’s misdirected attack on the post below illustrates a problem with blogging: although a blog mostly operates as a local pub with regular readers and commenters, literally anyone can drop in to insult you if they happen to find the door.

I’m not intending just to bash Swineshead particularly here – his admission of standing ‘corrected’ is a vanishingly rare thing in blogland and shows he’s basically a decent cove. But he was googling for the Panorama programme with an over-sensitive racism-detector and jumped to conclusions when he found my post (and probably the title of the blog and the name Brit).

That’s the trouble with the internet – nobody’s got an attention span anymore. Twitter worsens the problem tenfold. A whole bunch of Swineshead’s Twits have come to this blog by following a link which says: I'm still reeling from last night's Panorama - then I see this: . What a turd.

That, of course, was before he realised that, while I might be a turd for many reasons, racism isn’t one of them.

Swineshead’s argument might be that I should have spelled out, as if for a child, that racism is a Bad Thing in the post, and then the gist of the thing would have been clearer to the ‘casual reader’ (ie. the googler who stumbles upon you).

But of course you can’t write every post as if for the casual stumbler or Twit. My regular readers know I know racism is a Bad Thing, it’s taken as read. Life would get very tedious if I had to run through an obvious list of Bad Things every post. Unfortunately this does leave one open to over-sensitive stumblers with no attention span who feel they can call you “a turd” with impunity, but what can you do?

More evidence, then, that there is just too much internet.

Panorama stitch-up

“Tonight’s Panorama,” intoned Jeremy Vine in his Most Serious Voice, “will be an eye-opener for anyone who says that Britain has become a more racially tolerant place.”

Well it was revealing, but not for that reason. Here was the plot: a pair of Mancunian Asian undercover reporters decide to make a Panorama programme about racist bullying, so they rent a house in Southmead, the roughest estate in Bristol, and walk around the streets for two months in full Muslim gear seeking out racist bullies to be racially bullied by, until they have accumulated enough footage of racist bullying to make a half-hour Panorama programme about racist bullying. Cue handwringing headline: Britian is still racist! Or, on our local BBC news: Bristol is still racist! Or in the Community Meeting featured in depth on our local news: Southmead is still racist!

Except of course they weren’t bullied by Britain, or by Bristol, or even by Southmead, all of which are chock-full of non-racists; many, many more non-racists than there used to be 20 years ago. They were bullied by a small gang of vile, feral chav kids. I’ve no idea why the Panorama reporters thought there was anything special about their race or religion in this. Small gangs of vile, feral chav kids will be vile to you and make your life a misery if you’re Muslim, black, Chinese, ginger, disabled in any way, or just vaguely middle class-looking.

The revelation of the programme, of course, was the true depth of the liberal, socialist BBC Guardianista's loathing of the white underclass. The only real-life victims on camera were not the undercover Asian reporters (they were actors from Manchester), but the white kids, born without any sense of self-worth into a system of hopeless, circling welfare-dependency. The undercover reporters have now left Southmead and gone back to their real homes. The chavs are still there, and in a few years they’ll be churning out another generation of self-loathing, vile, bullied, bullying, hopeless welfare-dependent chavs into the system created and supported by the liberal, socialist BBC Guardianistas who will then send spies to make more television programmes about how awful and intolerant they are.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why I do not approve of grey jogging bottoms

The grey jogging bottom is amongst the leading sartorial eyesores to be found on Britain’s highways and byways. Professional tailors are wont to physically cringe and whimper upon encountering a pair, and even the lay observer may find himself blenching when, from the window of his Audi or the comfort of his Starbucks armchair, he spots a set of them flouching to the newsagent or taking a bulldog for a walk.

Why, only this very morning my eyes were assaulted by the sight of a pair of grey jogging bottoms. Sagging baggily beneath some sort of hooded jumper and above a brace of white running shoes, they loosely encased the legs of a gentleman in early middle-age. He was chaperoning his children to school and in the contrast with their smart uniforms one could almost fancy that the respective clothing of adult and minor had somehow been magically shrunk, grown and switched by some mischevous demon.

Thus the infantilisation of Western culture. Thus the emasculation of Modern Man. Thus the decline of the once-great British Empire: from the pantaloon to the breech, from the breech to the spat, to the trouser, the slack, the chino, the jean and, at last, the bottom.

And that, to summarise, is why I do not approve of grey jogging bottoms.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This postal strike business

Could one make a case for it being the stupidest, least support-worthy industrial action ever, I wonder?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Buy-Brit-a-Nice-House Appeal 2009

The village in which I work is a cheap place to rent an office but a very expensive place to buy a house. In. Which is a pity because I have my eye on this one:

It’s not the largest house in the village but I feel that if I lived in it I could pretend I was in a Jane Austen novel, or even better, a sumptuous BBC adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. Certainly I would wear breeches and sport a set of whiskers and say “indeed” a lot.

The only obstacle is the prohibitive cost. However, I have calculated that if every Think of England reader pledges just £10,000 to the Buy-Brit-A-Nice-House Appeal 2009, I could raise enough to make an offer of £1 million to the current occupier which, I hope, would be enough to swing the deal.

To donate
It couldn’t be easier! To contribute to the Buy-Brit-A-Nice-House Appeal 2009, simply email me your bank account log-in details, and I will transfer £10,000 of your money directly into my account – you don’t have to do anything!

Once I have amassed the necessary million, I will purchase the house. Then, when the new kitchen is done, a commemorative post-it with the name of each donor will be ceremonially stuck to the fridge, and a photograph of the fridge will be emailed to you, along with a semi-personalised message of warmest thanks.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Great car parking spaces I have known, by Jeffrey Archer

Now that the Yard has more or less given up blogging, it falls to me to keep the world abreast of developments in the exciting world of Jeffrey Archer.

You’ll be glad to know that he is still bang on form: the expert non-sequiturs, the postmodern shunning of insight or interest, the bathetic, punchline-free endings…

Stay with this report on the parking facilities at popular venues for charity auctions; it ends with a real thigh-slapper of a quip from Jeff’s pal Peter Bottomley….

(And note that Jeff has, without irony or shame, embraced Bryan’s ST nomination for 'Best Cult Blog'. But then I suppose that being entirely without irony or shame is what has made Jeff the man he is today. )

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ancestry is largely a matter of personal choice

Over here, Quiet Reckoning responds thoughtfully and fully to a comment I made in my post about Rabid Scottish Nationalists. Amongst other things, he says:

Look at the numbers: Four and a half million Scots in Scotland, twenty million Scots in America, and twenty five million Scots spread across Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a smattering of other former British Colonies. Only ten percent of Scottish people live in Scotland

Which I suppose is arguable, but relies on a pretty generous definition of ‘Scottish’ (far more generous, for example, than the definition of ‘Irish’ which Eire relies on for stuffing its team with mediocre English footballers.)

Genealogy, particularly as it exists for Britons and Americans, is a strange old business. I use the word ‘business’ advisedly, since selling tourists their family trees, tartans etc is a pretty sizeable industry. I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘scam’ because by and large it is literally true that the average American tourist can trace a line back to some Jock or other. But it does depend on a very selective way of looking at things.

I’ve discussed this before on blogs somewhere: let’s call it the 'Multiplying Ancestor Problem'. People who are interested in their genealogy tend to think of their line of descent as being much narrower than is actually the case; they have no notion of just how ‘bushy’ family trees are. Consider the exponential multiplication of great-grandparents as you go back through the generations. You have four grandparents and 8 great-grandparents and 16 great-great-grandparents and so on. This doubling builds things up alarmingly: you only need to go back a couple of hundred years and there are 1,024 of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents pottering about the four corners of the planet. All of them are equal genetic contributors to you (though some are the same person, which is why this growth doesn’t go back forever but instead all human beings share a Most Recent Common Ancestor), but of course when studying genealogy people tend to focus on just the one with the surname they happened to inherit (or, if something interesting like minor royalty can be readily found a few generations back, on that one instead), as if he or she was more ‘significant’ to the 'making of you' than were the others.

Given the sheer volume of ‘direct’ ancestors, it is no wonder that genealogy-sellers can always come up with an interesting/famous/Royal/Scottish person in your family history. They’re not lying: it’s just that every other Tom, Dick and Harry has him in their family history too. All humans are far more complicatedly interconnected than is generally realised (I remember some supremacist plonker on TV claiming that he ‘only had white Anglo-Saxon ancestors’. Of course it turned out on examination that just a couple of generations back there were all sorts of gypsies and other undesirables in his blood, and indeed, that if we were to expel from Britain everyone except those who ‘only had white Anglo-Saxon ancestors’ the population of these Isles would be reduced to precisely zero.)

I don’t dismiss identity-by-genealogy as complete nonsense. If being historically ‘Scottish’ is important to you and your sense of identity, sure, why not choose it? But it is a choice.

There’s a pertinent example of this in my own family. My paternal uncle and his wife, both English, moved to Edinburgh when my cousin was an infant. My cousin, now in his thirties, therefore has a strong Scottish accent, supports the Scottish rugby team, wore a kilt for his wedding etc. Despite being precisely as ‘English’ as me from an immediate genetic perspective, he feels patriotically Scottish. He wants to be, and is, Scottish. Which is fine. But it has led him deep into the confused web of wishful genealogy. He and I are Nixons, and there was, according to some old historical documents or other, a bunch of notorious Nixons back in the legendary/mythical clan-days (border-raiding cattle-thieves or some such). It has therefore become his life’s work to try and connect himself, via an unbroken ancestral line, with these notorious Nixons and therefore to prove that he is, by genetics as well as upbringing, a bona fide Scot.

He hasn’t managed to do it yet (which doesn’t stop him claiming them of course). But there is no doubt whatsoever that, if he followed any line in his hugely bushy ancestry, he could get to Scotland – perhaps a Campbell or McDonald or both – somehow and soonish. All of us Britons, Aussies and most Yanks could, since if you define it generously enough, we’re all ‘Scottish’. We’re also all English, Norman, Roman and ultimately (and this last applies to literally everyone on the planet, even Norwegians and the Welsh) we’re all ‘African’.

So anyway, going back to Quiet Reckoning: of course it’s his right to choose to identify himself as a particular kind of Jock, to feel pride in that and so on. No problem there at all, it’s a valid option. But, for myself, I can’t see the point in getting angry about any of this genealogical Anglo-Scottish stuff, when the ‘side’ you’re on is such an arbitrary matter.


Gaw sees black comorants, dead larches, herons. These signs he interprets as foretelling the exit of Hard Kandy* from the X-Factor.

But in fact it seems quite obvious from the symptoms that, at some point over the last few weeks, Gaw was kissed by the Woohoohoodiwoo Woman.

*Bit semiotically unambitious these days, that ‘Kandy’. I’d have called the group hλr!rD k&EEEe

Friday, October 09, 2009

Some favourite cupcake recipes

One of my absolute culinary standbys (along with Delia Cooks Nice Things for Whitsun and Jamie Oliver’s Pukka Pies’n’Shi’) is Pamela Spanks’s wonderful book 1,000,001 Cupcake Recipes: Inspirations and Innovations for Everyone’s Favourite Teatime Treats.

I thought I’d share some of my favourite extracts…

Number 1 – The Basic Cupcake (difficulty rating: Beginner)
Here’s where it all begins! Master this and you have the world of cupcakes at your fingertips!

You will need:
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g/4oz caster sugar
125g/4oz soft margarine
125g/4oz self-raising flour

1. Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and beat them together until the mixture is smooth and slightly lighter in colour.
2. Line a bun tin or cupcake tin with paper cake cases and half-fill each case with the cake mixture.
3. Cook the cakes for 18-20 minutes. You can tell they are done when they have risen up, are golden in colour, and spring back into shape when lightly pressed.

Number 2 – The Black Forest Gateaux Cupcake (Difficulty rating: Beginner)
Everyone loves a Black Forest Gateau, and everyone loves a cupcake, so why not combine the two for a sinful teatime treat? Each cupcake serves 12, so 12 cupcakes will serve 144.

You will need:
12 basic cupcakes (see page 1)
12 Waitrose Black Forest Gateaux

1. Make 12 basic cupcakes (as detailed in Recipe 1)
2. Remove each Waitrose Black Forest Gateau from its box
3. Place one (but only one) Gateau on each cupcake and serve

Number 78,034 – The Samuel Johnson Cupcake (Difficulty rating: Novice)
One for the literature-lovers in your family!

You will need:
10kg writing icing
Writing icing tube (fine)
The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell

1. Make basic cupcake (see Recipe 1)
2. Carefully, use the icing tube to copy out the First Volume of The Life of Samuel Johnson or any favourite passage onto the cupcake
3. Serve

Number 180,669 – Coke-conut Surprise (Difficulty rating: Intermediate)
A delightfully more-ish cupcake - ideal for young adults and teenage parties.

Simply follow the recipe for Coconut Surprise (number 180,668) but substitute 5ml of LSD for the cherry kirsch, and dust with 20g (good quality) cocaine instead of icing sugar.

Number 255,482 – The Turnip and Communist Manifesto Cupcake (Difficulty rating: Improver)
I find the turnip gives the cake a lovely proletarian earthiness and helps balance the papery texture of Marx and Engel’s revolutionary classic!

Number 976, 229 – The Full-Size Model of the Titanic Cupcake (Difficulty rating: Advanced)

You will need:
Basic cupcake
Dry dock facility (preferable)
45,000 tons steel
Three or four large industrial cranes
159 coal burning furnaces
1,178 cabin beds
16 lifeboats
20 billion bolts
Screwdriver (Phillips)

For the decoration: Six restaurants, squash court, Turkish bath and Casino (don’t forget the betting chips)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4
2. Clear some space in the kitchen.
3. Construct full-scale model of Titanic according to standard principles of shipbuilding
4. Using cranes, lower model of Titanic onto cupcake and serve immediately

175 cupcake recipes is not enough cupcake recipes

Mrs Brit, having her reasons no doubt, has been scouring Amazon for cupcake recipe books.

Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat looks like a winner, earning five star reviews from J “Cupcake Crazy” Wilden of London, and also from Ms Sonia Dioniso of Geneva, Switzerland, who writes:

This is by far the best cupcake book I own (and I own plenty!).

Which demands the question: how many cupcake recipes does Ms Dioniso need? 175 is clearly not enough cupcake recipes. Would one million cupcake recipes suffice, or is there literally no limit to the number of cupcake recipes it is feasible to amass?

The Weeping Episode

Last year on the Yard I wrote in praise of The X-Factor. Yeah, well I now come to bury it. On Sunday, for various inexcusable reasons, I saw that nasty episode between the end of the Boot Camp stage and the beginning of the interminable Live in the Studio stage, which isn’t but ought to be called The Weeping Episode.

It’s the one where the various judges take six hopefuls each to some exotic location and whittle them down to three apiece. The hopefuls are tortured in tellyland’s usual style: made to wait around in a state of funk for ages while the judges ‘deliberate’, then given the news in double and triple bluffs (At first I was very impressed with you… but now I’m very sorry to say that…you’re not going home because you’ve made it through!).

Before the judgements are delivered the contestants weep because it all ‘means so much to them’. After the judgements the losers weep because they haven’t made it through and, conversely, the winners weep because they have. All of the men weep these days, even the judges, and the women howl like banshees. Nobody takes it well.

I had previously suspected the Weeping Episode was unnecessarily exploitative, even by reality TV standards. Since we’re months away from the finishing line, by which time these early fallers will all be long forgotten, why do we need to see them being tortured and crushed? But then I also thought: well, they know what they’re getting into by choosing to appear on it. And they only weep so much because they saw contestants weeping last year; they don’t really invest all their pitiful hopes and dreams on the huge improbability of winning, do they – surely that’s just something they say? And surely they’ve realised by now that even winning the whole thing is no guarantee of lasting success?

Sadly not. One of the failures in this year’s Weeping Episode was one Daniel Pearce, a 31-year old father of two from Kent, who, seven years ago, was successful enough on Popstars: The Rivals (the X-Factor precursor that also spawned Girls Aloud) to make it into the boyband One True Voice. The band and its members disappeared from public consciousness almost instantly, so Pearce has been chasing fame since, culminating in the final humiliation of ejection from the X-Factor at the Weeping stage in 2009.

So here is a man who has actually won one of these shows, lived through the experience of it singularly failing to make him an international star, and yet is still sufficiently deluded and desperate that he believes the X-Factor represents his sole shot at happiness and fulfilment. Rather than let him back on telly, they should have set him up with a desk job and a shrink; these are seriously fragile people that ITV is torturing for our weekend entertainment.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Offending with compliments

I can’t let the nose of the mind discussion go by without sharing with you the rest of Boswell’s story. This is one to wheel out in a gloomy kill-joy tone the next time you see a luvvie award ceremony, or worse, are unfortunate enough to find yourself in the proximity of the Green Room immediately post-performance, when the actors are all in a state of highly-strung backslappery.

[Johnson] entered upon a curious discussion of the difference between intuition and sagacity ; one being immediate in its effect, the other requiring a circuitous process ; one, he observed, was the eye of the mind, the other the nose of the mind.

[….]A young gentleman present took up the argument against [Johnson], and maintained that no man ever thinks of the NOSE OF THE MIND, not adverting that though that figurative sense seems strange to us, as very unusual, it is truly not more forced than Hamlet’s ‘In my MIND’S EYE, Horatio.’ He persisted much too long, and appeared to Johnson as putting himself forward as his antagonist with too much presumption; upon which he called to him in a loud tone, ‘What is it you are contending for, if you BE contending?’

And afterwards imagining that the gentleman retorted upon him with a kind of smart drollery, he said, ‘Mr. —— it does not become you to talk so to me. Besides, ridicule is not your talent; you have THERE neither intuition nor sagacity.’ The gentleman protested that he had intended no improper freedom, but had the greatest respect for Dr. Johnson. After a short pause, during which we were somewhat uneasy,—JOHNSON. ‘Give me your hand, Sir. You were too tedious, and I was too short.’ Mr. ——. ‘Sir, I am honoured by your attention in any way.’ JOHNSON. ‘Come, Sir, let’s have no more of it. We offended one another by our contention; let us not offend the company by our compliments.’

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Definitive Pixies Album Evaluation

Importantly, the results of my Pixies album analysis are in, following the conversation here. Remember, the following conclusions are definitive, because I reached them via the nose of my mind.

Doolittle is indeed the strongest overall, and Bossanova the weakest purely because it is too easy to listen to and Pixies are most appealing when they hurt a bit. Surfer Rosa/Come on Pilgrim is the best for scattering your enemies, and while Trompe Le Monde sags a little fore and aft, it nonetheless contains a central sequence so awesome that it makes you laugh aloud when playing it at ear-splitting volume on the M4. The sequence starts halfway through Sad Punk, when it goes all slow, then carries on interrupted through Head On (a cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain song and a good one if the topic of Best Cover Versions comes up to make you appear painfully cool), the nasty U-Mass and then the bish-bash-bosh trio Palace of the Brine, Letter to Memphis and Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons. Not been topped yet, that lot.

It’s quite possible that this post means absolutely nothing to all but three ToE readers, but don’t worry, I’ve got a Johnsonian treat for the rest of you tomorrow. And for the three or more Pixters: rock on, please.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Nose of the Mind

Is there such a thing as a universal catch-all response to any question? Frank Key reckons that Elberry’s phraseI know people in Finland” has a claim to that status.

Meanwhile, in the anti-poetry thread David gives us the apparently non sequiturial but in fact profound aphorism "Strategic management scholars are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

Father Ted, I seem to recall, answered all questions of religion put to him by his parishioners with the phrase, "That would be an ecumenical matter."

And on the religious theme, who can ignore the claims to universal applicability of "I’m the Bishop of Southwark, it’s what I do"?

Personally I think it’s overambitious to expect just one phrase to cover every eventuality (as a youth I invested too much faith in Paul Newman’s insouciant line in, I think, Hud: “It don’t make no difference to me”, which got me into lukewarm water with a few authority figures). Under interrogation, one needs a small stock of responses with just enough plausibility and absurdity to put the questioner off his stride.

As ever, we can turn to Boswell’s Johnson:

He entered upon a curious discussion of the difference between intuition and sagacity ; one being immediate in its effect, the other requiring a circuitous process ; one, he observed, was the eye of the mind, the other the nose of the mind.

So the next time you make some perfectly reasonable claim, such as that poetry is rubbish or that hamsters are evil, and some oik pipes up rudely with “How would you know?”, you can reply: “I know it through the nose of my mind.”

If the oik is obnoxious enough to suggest that there is no such thing as the nose of the mind, you can politely suggest he avails himself of a copy of Boswell’s Life Of.

If he further claims that it doesn’t matter who came up the damn 'nose of the mind' because the expression isn’t in the public domain, you can beam serenely and exit with the line: "That, my friend, is the public’s fault, not mine.”

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Thief of Time

I take virtually no interest in Grand Prix (it is the anti-sport sport) but yesterday morning I caught an interview on BBC 1 with Jenson Button, during the course of which he said something along the lines of: “I was carving whole chunks of time out of the guys in front.”

Instantly I quailed, stricken by a vision of some supernatural villain, probably Noseybonk-faced, stalking his victims with a diabolical scythe, every cut and swish of which slices a decade from their precious stock of Time, leaving them prematurely wrinkled, saddened, gasping and limp. Ugh.

Yeah, sorry for burdening you with that nightmare on a Monday morning.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Queenan and the Minotaur

Gaw, whispering from the labyrinthine depths of the NHS, approves my ferocious attack on the poets and urges me to go after the watercolourists next. The brush-wielding bastards have, he insists, had it coming for years.

Damn right they have. Ooh, look at me with my wooden bleedin’ palette, wearing my hat, mixing up a colour wash, perched by the riverbank on a bleedin’ deckchair with a sleeping Labrador tied to it, dab-dabbing away like a git, oooooh pardon me I’ve made a bugger’s muddle of the perspective of that barge, oooh never mind I’ll turn that smudge into a heron, just a bit of artistic license you understand, hope you’ll forgive it hem hem. Oh yeah? Well screw you, watercolourist *****ers!

And so on.

The anti-poetry rant has sloshed around the internet a bit, in the way that these things sometimes do, with visitors being unwittingly led here from Books Inq, the Poetry Foundation, this poetry site and, unexpectedly, this Dutch one. Oddly, not one visitor has yet leapt to the defence of the poets. But then it was a very good rant. Reading it back, it puts me in mind of an episode of Newsnight Review a few months ago, in which Joe Queenan had a proper pop at modern classical music when discussing Birtwhistle's Minotaur. I’ve skipped the beginning for you (Parsons and Myerson), but stick around for his punchline right at the end of the vid….

Thursday, October 01, 2009

There is too much internet

Martpol points us to Wikipedia’s list of US official state crustaceans. Disgracefully, it seems that only two states have even bothered to nominate official crustacean representatives.

So while we applaud Louisiana and Maryland for adopting the crawfish and blue crab in 1983 and 1989 respectively, we have to wonder what the hell the other 48 states have been doing in the intervening decades. Pull your fingers out Oregon, Florida and Vermont, to name but three! There are 52,000 unclaimed species of crustacean out there, get recognising!

Insignia-happy Maryland is a shining example to the other states, also boasting an official state dinosaur (the Astrodon johnstoni), an official state dance (the square dance) and piously endorsing milk as its approved beverage. (Milk dominates the list of state tipples – well it would, wouldn’t it? – with only rascally old Alabama venturing into booze and Nebraska naffly naming Kool-Aid).

As an aside, I observe that we can retrospectively apply the Ethical System of Biological Taxonomy to prehistoric fauna. Good: triceratops, brontosaurus, iguanadon (thumbs up!) woolly mammoth, dodo, unicorn. Evil: T-Rex, velociraptor, pterodactyl, sabre-tooth tiger, giant octopus. Neutral: stegosaurus, trilobite.

But I digress from the point I was going to make, which is the following:

Could it be, I wonder, that the Wikipedia page of official US state crustaceans – which, despite there being a mere two relevant examples, nonetheless displays both in a table with illustrations and binomial nomenclature – could it be, perhaps, that the creation of this wiki page was the moment, the shark-jump if you like, the tipping point as it were, when it was finally the case that there is too much internet?

Or perhaps it was this blogpost?