Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reality Check.

The papers today say David Cameron should model himself on the "firm resolve" of Margaret Thatcher to get the economy going again. Just what we need: a sociopathic bourgeois philistine screwing over those who suffered because of the credit crunch to reward the rapacious bastards who caused it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

After The Injection

It's a shame Afghanistan doesn't export to the West stuff you can buy in the shops rather than stuff you can buy on the streets. Then it could invade whoever it wanted, kill whoever it wanted and jail whoever it wanted, like China.

Everybody tells me the West is hogtied in its response to the Tibetan holocaust or the jailing of human rights activists, not to mention the murder of mentally ill foreign nationals, because of China's economic power. We need it too much to hold it to account for the wrongs it is perpetrating. But when you consciously separate business from morality what do you have? The very opium trade that Western armies are trying to destroy in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Seasonal Wish

I may not make it back to the keyboard this side of Christmas so if I don't I hope you're all warmed by the love of your family & friends, not to mention a good working boiler, that everybody everywhere gets something filling to eat & that we remember the animals who've died & those who haven't, struggling to stay alive out there in the freezing cold.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's Useful

in life to understand what your mistakes have been and to some extent, it's important to acknowledge them, especially if your mistakes have ended up hurting or offending others, as mine have. If they had an Olympic event centred around the inflicting of pain on your nearest and dearest, I would have won Gold several times running. But I know that. And I have said it quite a few times. I won't continue to play the penitent. I may have been a selfish, parasitical, spaced-out idiot at times, but I was never Fred West or Charles Manson.

I won't bathe up to the chin in remorse every day either. That's a peculiar form of egocentricity in itself, and the belief that the whole universe revolved around my thoughts and desires was what made me such a twat in the first place.

Christmas Approacheth

I found the Grosvenor Centre in Northampton really sinister this morning...all that insipid piped Xmas music and shoppers wandering around in the slightly dimmed light with absent expressions on their faces, constantly getting in the way of anyone walking at more than half a mile a week. Dawn of the Festive Dead, anyone?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poem (Obviously)

brushing my long hair,
the brown ribbon
she tied into it last night
fell out, dropped
straight into my hand,
"what's that?!"

our love came in the same way
pretty much,
that famous,
cold st patrick's

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


I told a man I know that his conversation was always centred around himself.

He took great umbrage at this and said: "I really want you to take that back. I don't think you have any idea what a low opinion of myself I have. I mean, as far as I'm concerned I'm nothing. A nobody. A complete twat. A heap of..."

"You're still talking about yourself, though, aren't you?" I said.

Self-pity is inverted egotism.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The New College Being Built

Crane climbs into
clear November sky.
Workman in blue hardhat
drills a granite mountain.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

confusion haiku

I took it out to make a call--
the mobile-phone-shaped
flapjack in my pocket

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mr. Jones

Sometimes I feel like Dylan's Mr. Jones:
Quite alone inside the teeming crowd;
Unsure what's happening anywhere
Ten feet beyond my own front door.

Most people tend not to feel like that.
Mr. Jones is usually your enemy,
However many cast you in the role
Unbeknownst to you, because you're not like them.

Of course, this is among the shrinking number
Who are still familiar with Dylan's music.
Most I know prefer a bit of pounding grime.
And like Mr. Jones, I'm baffled to explain the reason.


classical violin

and muesli for my breakfast--

bloody hell! it's bin day

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


The preceding moments are surreal,
like talking nonsense in an echo chamber.
But once it's happened once,
you have a pretty good idea what's coming.

And then you wake up on the floor.
You don't remember how you got there,
or occasionally, where you are.
That filters back; sometimes it takes ages

of frustrated pawing at your memory.
You have to deal with sympathetic faces
asking if you're okay now,
telling you they're glad you didn't die.

Your muscles ache as you stand up.
You've taken all the skin off your left arm.
You're limping; but that will go away.
You wish the lookers-on would scram as well.

Afterwards, you only want your lover.
You're scared that she will be revolted.
You want silence and the dark to hide in
to look up at the moon and curse

whoever struck you down with seizures.
And then you sleep. Your dreams
are movies of the ordinary.
And in the morning you resume your life.

Every twitch and flutter in your head
feels like another episode.
You're tempted just to hide indoors,
but obviously you can't.

You go shopping. You go to work.
Do everything you always do.
But you have an added reticence
that some interpret as withdrawal.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Che Guevara And The Street Gangs

(from the author's private journal)

Apparently that music the youngsters like to play in their shiney cars is called "grime". It's a word lifted from a Rolling Stone interview with Karen Carpenter. (Okay, it isn't.)

I discovered this fascinating fact during a news item on the radio about a movie (I didn't catch the name of it) depicting gang life in the Midlands. The movie has apparently been banned by some cinema chains because it glamorises guns, violence and drug abuse.

Well, congratulations idiots, now you've increased the cachet of the movie tenfold among the people you fear will be most influenced by it. Illegal downloads will be flying everywhere.It was interesting to consider the film, whatever it is called, and the lifestyle it depicts, after watching "Che Part One" last night.

One of the stars of the gang film was on the radio spouting all of the usual drivel we hear from apologists for these thugs: "It's a fact...It's the way it is...They look at a choice between a lifetime flipping burgers on the minimum wage or the guys in the gangs wearing expensive rings and driving around in big flash cars...What are they supposed to do?"(Grow up?)

So victimhood is the rationalisation they use for turning themselves into a more brutal micro-version of their own oppressors? exploiting the people in their own neighbourhoods for money and status? I don't necessarily accept that the people in the gangs are clever enough to think it through that intelligently, but supposing they did: how lazy, how pathetically cowardly, that would be.

Here's a suggestion from Amiri Baraka: "make some muscle in yr. head" if you want to escape a lifetime of poverty. I don't mean (again, necessarily), get educated and climb the Capitalist ladder--although some could, to some degree, if they stopped using environment as an excuse. I mean teach yourself how the System works, learn what the causes of social injustice are, if you don't want to play the game; then try to use the System against itself to change it. Or go for Revolution, if you really think that's the answer (history suggests it's not, but you will have to decide that for yourself). Be a MAN, not a whiney boy with a big gun shouting "It's not fair!" as you shoot down a defenceless shopkeeper.

Guevara may have been dogmatic; his methods may have been wrong (Individualism and Capitalism are far from the same thing--Capitalism transforms its subjects into drones just like Communism--but Che dismissed Individualism as bourgeois and denied the call of Spirit too)(that's why Allen Ginsberg was kicked out of Cuba). Che's vision and his courage, though, were enormous. He saw suffering and injustice and decided he would put his life at risk in a herculean effort to make it go away, for everyone. In the selfish world we live in now, where giving a shit about anyone except yourself is seen as passe and sentimental, that's tremendously inspiring.

Like I said, street gangs are just Capitalism in miniature. Uneducated avarice is what makes the whole darn Western world go round.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another Day, Another Hate Crime. Gotta Love This Country

I was extremely disturbed to hear about the homophobic attack in Liverpool the other night, the one perpetrated by a large gang of teenagers on a gay man which has left him gravely ill in hospital. The list of the poor bastard's injuries is stomach churning.

You do have to wonder what sort of society we have allowed to develop when children (that is what they are at 14, regardless of what they might want you to think), are prepared to kick and beat somebody to the brink of death because his sexuality is different from theirs. (If they are even having sex, beyond the occasional desperate, unsatisfying wank.)

The ultimate responsibility is theirs, of course, since nobody forced them to set upon the victim, but what the hell were their parents doing letting them stay out at that time of the night at that age? And who are they hearing the kind of bilious, hate-filled rubbish from that shapes their malleable minds in such an unfortunate way?

Some of their music, yes. A lot of it is packed with ridiculous, infantile macho posturing that they are bound to imitate; it's in their movies and their games too, although less explicitly, perhaps, when you're talking about hate crimes like homphobic assault.

But you can't just blame the entertainments they're exposed to. They are also exposed to parents who should be proud to ingrain in their children the egalitarian principles a civilised society is based on. Problem is, principle is laughed at nowadays, and liberal principle particularly. Half of the parents who have teenage children now grew up in the Eighties when Margaret Thatcher declared that there was no such thing as society, and books which featured positive images of homosexuality were banned from our schools.

We also have the leader of the BNP publically declaring that he finds the sight of gay men kissing "creepy" and the Catholic Church doing backroom deals to steal from their home in the Church of England those who find the ordination of women and gay priests repellant.

When you think about it, nobody except the stupid white male stands a chance in this country anymore. But the gay community must feel particularly under assault.

Sometimes I think we're hurtling back into the Middle Ages so fast I may even have missed us landing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

So One In Five Support The BNP? So Few?

I don't think the so-called "chattering classes"--of which I suppose I'm an honorary, if rather down-at-heel, member--should be too surprised at the poll which said 1 in 5 British voters would consider voting for the BNP, unless the surprise is caused by how minimal the poll suggests their support still is.They do reflect a strong vein of opinion in white British (and to them there is no other) life when it comes to immigration.

A great many white British people think there are too many "foreigners" in the country; and their scorn is not just reserved for those with darker skins than theirs--they curse the supposed preponderence of Polish people walking our streets and renting our mouldy over-priced terraced houses as well. "The Government's just letting anyone in," they'll tell you (I've heard it); though if you ask any of them for statistics relative to other European countries or immigration levels twenty years ago, they won't be able to give you any.

It's a feeling, you see, which is why it's so difficult to challenge; and as far as I'm concerned the feeling comes from racism. Listen to those same people, those people who think "something should be done" about immigration and admire Mr. Griffin for having the "courage" to try to do it, even if they profess not to admire all his methods (fearing, I suspect, the Nazi comparisons that are attached to him and his party). Among the worried white voters I know racist jokes about, and stereotypes of, Indians and Pakistanis are freely heard; so is the racist nomenclature. And anti-Muslim sentiment is as commonplace as ignorance about the Koran.

The latter has spread like a plague since the twin towers were destroyed and the buses were bombed in London. And in light of the horrors of those attacks it's almost understandable. When you feel that your lifestyle is threatened you draw in, become defensive, unreasonable about the person you perceive to be your enemy. It's a shame the Muslim-beaters I know can't see that this tendency in them is the same tendency we see in some quarters of the Islamic culture. And we aren't allowed to see what our guns and bombs are doing in Afghanistan, what they did in Iraq. What horrors were perpetrated there in the name of the spread of democracy? (other than the 800,000 Iraqis who died in that war, I mean).

Our political classes like to reassure themselves that Britain isn't a racist country; that we are to the last man or woman generous, open-hearted, gentle liberals whose destiny it is to nurture and suckle the world. I don't think that's true. I don't even think it's necessary to strike fear of difference completely from your heart to be considered an acceptable human being. But there's a meanness in the British character now (whether it was there before or not I don't know); there's an intolerance and a readiness to commit violence against the objects of our judgement which makes the dialogue on race that Mr Griffin has set raging not only distasteful, but frightening.

Let's have actual statistics on immigration from an objective source before we decide whether anything needs to be done about it. At the moment everybody, including me probably, is shouting their opinion from a point of view of complete ignorance.

And let these people who express sympathy with the BNP, but hide from themselves and from us behind the mask of polite concern for the state of the nation, understand what kind of party they are proposing to elect . If you put a cross against the BNP candidate at the election you are supporting, ultimately, the exclusion of all non-white people from the political debate and the forced repatriation of anybody who wasn't born pink-skinned singing "God Save The Queen" under a giant flag of St. George. You are also endorsing the leadership of a man who denied the Holocaust and finds the sight of two men kissing "creepy".

If that's okay with you, vote BNP with the blessing of everybody. But for Heaven's sake, stay away from my door.And be honest about your bigotry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nick Griffin On The BBC

Should BNP leader Nick Griffin be allowed to appear on Question Time this week alongside representatives of the political mainstream in Britain?

It leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth to think that this racist, Holocaust-denying thug should be given the legitimacy of an appearance on the BBCs premier political debate show.

But we do not want to play to the sense of martyrdom and victimhood he and his supporters already have. "The only person no one listens to in this country is the poor white man" etc. etc. etc.

Let him talk and with any luck he will be exposed for the crypto-fascist he is. With any luck.

The other, less likely, scenario, which is that he will put on a fine rabble-rousing performance and pick up thousands more supporters to his cause, is too disturbing even to contemplate for long.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Religion And The Devil

I heard a Christian woman advising someone yesterday not to do yoga because it was part of the work of false idols (or something). That's the Devil working through those elegant contortions.

The Christianity I grew up around was so much sweeter and more relaxed than that. You could, as Gary Snyder says, "almost love (it) again."

I think the Devil, if he exists, does a big part of his work inside the anger and judgement of people who want to eliminate diversity and have us all worship the same God in the same way.

Fundamentalism is the same on every side, because it's a distortion of the human temperament which finds a place to settle in religion, or in politics.

So I don't blame God or Allah for some of the lunatics who follow them. Religion itself may be the only functioning tool we have to keep society from sliding into chaos.

But there is a powerful resemblance between people like that Christian woman yesterday and the Muslims she thinks so primitive and vile. No drink. No drugs. No sex outside marriage. Disease a punishment from God. Homosexuality a crime against Heaven. The programme is the same.

And we Buddhists sit in the middle of it seeking answers on the meditation cushion. Though there's a fair share of sexism and exclusion of women when you delve into the Buddhist scriptures.

It's just that most people pay no mind to it and understand these books were written in another time, when the social structure was quite different.

All creatures want to be free from suffering, down to the smallest insect. That's what the present Dalai Lama says.

And equal access to the dharma, in Buddhism, is the best way to achieve it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Uh-Oh, Trouble Is Coming To Town

That Dutch fellow is coming Friday, the MP who plans to show his film intercutting footage of 9/11 with quotes from the Koran in the House of Lords. The leader of that well-known bunch of political moderates UKIP invited him. The Government then banned him from coming on the grounds that the public airing of his views would sow seeds of racial and religious discord, but their decision was overturned in court as some sort of unfair restriction on freedom of speech.

He was on the radio this morning making ridiculous generalised statements about Muslims and equating Islam with fascism.The fact that the Bible is pretty extremist in its attitude to diversity and equality too, and there are those who interpret those writings seriously, seems to have slipped his mind conveniently. America had one as president for the last 8 years, and all through the 1980s. Do we imagine that someone is not a racist just because he says he's not a racist? Or a religious extremist because he insists he isn't that?

I find the extremist views of Islamists AND fundamentalist Christians rather frightening, having grown up in a relatively liberal democracy where the evolution of society has been towards equality (even if we haven't made it yet). But banning this Dutch fellow, whatever his name is, would only have added fuel to the martyr complex that white supremacists have about their status in the country already. My hope is that the MPs and whoever else has been invited to the screening of his movie simply won't show up.

Treat an intemperate and dangerous fool by refusing to feed the flames of his intolerance.

Then we should have a conference of world religions as the Ramadan Foundation suggested and really start to understand each other.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Letter

I found a letter tucked inside a book on my shelf.
One I hadn't seen before.Someone else had put it there when I lived in another house and I'd taken the book with me, not knowing.
The letter was from my landlord. To someone crazy I was caring for.
The crazy person and me were in a lot of trouble. The landlord wanted his house back, and he had brought in solicitors; he was serving notice.
He'd offered us purchase of the property. I didn't know this.
The letter said I'd blown it by walking away from the deal.
"Bruce's attitude makes that impossible," he said. My attitude. Unknowing, ignorant of all.
It was the house where I'd looked after my mother. The house where my mother had died one terrible summer morning.
The landlord said the crazy person's last letter was "unpleasant".
The landlord said we would be financially liable for damages to the house.
The landlord was a good guy. We'd exploited his kindness for a long time, though it didn't look that way to us then.
I can't quite remember where my head was back then.
Except this other person was crazy.
Living solely off my income. But freaking out if I worked.
Covering the appliances in bubble wrap.
Leaving loose leaves of paper all over the house with abuse of me scrawled all over it, the good parts underlined, in capitals, with three exclamation marks .
I can remember I put a heavy box in front of my bedroom door every night, fearing she'd come in and kill me.
That she told me the landlord had sexually abused her. That he'd raped her and touched her with his cock every time he got near her.
I was so fucked up I barely held down my job.
I had the definite feeling that the end might be coming.
When I reread that letter last night, all the fear, the confusion, the depression, of that time returned.
I wanted to get drunk.
I wanted to go to sleep and turn off my head.
I tore up the letter and buried it as deep as I could in the bin.
I don't want to remember that shit ever again.

I Wish

I could undo all the damage I've done by neglecting, exploiting, abusing my loved ones.

I wish I could glibly say I will make redress by doing the same things no more.

But I didn't realise that I was doing them then; I thought they were being done to me.

I lived in a world of parallel logic where I was a combination of choirboy and prophet.

I fear I still do.

And all the rationalisations I can offer don't make it better.


Pound's silence at the end of his life is the only wisdom.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Where Rebellion Really Lies

My dislike of television is well-known by people who are close to me. But I haven't turned the radio on a great deal either since I started writing again with anything like the seriousness it demands.

Why? It's because the babbling voices on the radio are the voices of consensus in its various forms. They have to be to acquire enough listeners to keep their stations afloat. Who wants to listen to radio that isn't about them?

But consensus is the enemy of creativity. You have to think your own thoughts, live in your own centre, to write well, not adopt the same mind as everybody else.

Think I'm being arrogant? Listen to the cliches of everyday speech they use, which are exactly the same as the cliches you hear at the bus stop.Listen to the assumptions of a shared position in the opinions they offer. Think about the topics they cover on the stations that pretend to some kind of objectivity.

It's all pitched towards a great mass of people who are assumed to be out there, lumbering through their lives in a pack like wet oxen.

The only radio station where you don't hear the voice of consensus anymore is Radio Three. Popularly presumed to be the soothing voice of the Establishment.

High culture is strictly for the minority these days, I suggest. The people running (and ruining) the world probably don't even know who Puccini or Kreisler are anymore.

The Establishment since the Thatcher era has been made up of rapacious philistines in business suits listening to white rock on their mp3 players, and using spell checks on their computers to work out where their apostrophes go.

TV & The Art Of Conversation

I walked into a room yesterday to find five perfectly intelligent people all watching tv with their mouths hanging just slightly slack and not a word passing between them. They were watching, if that's what they were doing with their heads turned towards the glowing box in the corner, a quiz show.

I waited for a few minutes. Nothing. I'm not sure anybody even blinked (though I could be wrong in that).

"What tv has done to the art of conversation, eh?" I said, tartly, to no one in particular.

"Hhhhnnnmmmm," said the more attentive of the group.

I could feel my brain shrinking to the size of a dried pea.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

It's Up To You, Whatever The Sun Says

At the moment, the British media is full of ruminations about the decision of that august publication The Sun to endorse David Cameron and the Tories at the General Election next year. Shows you what I know. I thought they supported them already, and had done for some time.

It doesn't surprise me they're endorsing Cameron, however, any more than it surprised me when they endorsed Blair and Labour in 1997. Blair, then, was offering a refined, apparently (though it was largely spin) socially conscious version of Thatcherism. He'd also spent a bit of time sucking up to Rupert Murdoch, who owns The Sun, and according to ex-employees dictates its agenda.

Murdoch endorses political parties who will help him further his immoral, rapacious business agenda, and Brown's slight, but nonetheless detectable, move left this past year, not to mention his famous Presbyterian moralism, makes him less of a potential ally to Murdoch than Blair was in 1997. And Cameron is a Tory, plain and simple. His instinct is to let Capitalism take its own course, without any intervention, whether it be ideologically or morally motivated.

Does The Sun have the power to influence the British voter to the extent that it can change an election result? Of course it does. It's a moronic newspaper, but it is deft with its propaganda. The half-truths and lies it spreads seep into the national consciousness like poisoned gas.

Do you want your vote to be dictated to you by a multi-millionaire whose only interest lies in getting rid of awkward legislation that stops him from controlling the whole of the media, and making more and more money in a world scarred by desperate poverty? That's something you must decide.

But I'm not going to be anybody's corporate shill.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mickey Rourke And Me

The thought occurred last night that chronologically at least Mickey Rourke is almost a contemporary of mine. And when he came to my attention for the first time in 1983, playing the Motorcycle Boy with Brandoesque intensity and intelligence, but with an elegance uniquely Mickey's, I thought I'd seen an actor who'd be a creative touchstone to me for the whole of my life.

Of course, everybody knows what happened to Rourke soon afterwards. The last movie of his I watched was a version of Bukowski's "Barfly" that somehow failed completely to catch the poetry of Bukowski's writing or his vision; and the elegance of the Motorcycle Boy had vanished from Rourke himself. Then there were the newspaper stories, which we needn't revisit here since the parts of it that were true are Rourke's business, and the majority of it was probably invented anyway.

He has returned to prominence now, however, with "The Wrestler". I haven't seen it yet, since I don't go to cinemas and I was waiting for the dvd to come down in price before I bought it. Now it has, and it's sitting on the bench under my tv at home waiting to be watched tonight. And the tag line under the movie title is "Never give up without a fight."

Indeed. We are in the end days, Mickey Rourke and me, when the talk is of Last Chances. Mickey has seized his, by all accounts, and made a movie that will stand forever as a monument to his wayward life and his tremendous gift.

But what have I achieved, in the 25 years since I first watched "Rumble Fish", with my laziness and indecision, with my lack of focus, my lack of mental strength, my wavering self-belief? And how much time do I have left? Thirty years if I'm extremely lucky; but the way things are going, probably a hell of a lot less.

If I don't get serious about these matters, like Mickey Rourke did with "The Wrestler", I'm going to run out of time. I could wind up being remembered, if I'm remembered at all, as the greatest man ever to achieve absolutely nothing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Stasis And Change: A Voice From The Past

I love the internet, but in some ways I lead a pre-internet life. I hope I always do. I buy my music in music shops like HMV (if you can still call them that), and I rely on the release information over the counter to tell me when an artist I like has something new coming out. It's that or the music magazines, though I don't buy them often; I'm too old for NME, and the magazines directed at the older fan have a disturbing tendency to write endlessly about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones--which is fine, but you want something more unusual and stimulating if you're paying a £4.95 cover price for your reading matter. And the music I buy tends to be played on what product manufacturers (apparently stuck in the Eighties, which I guess is a couple of decades more up-to-date than me) call without a trace of irony a "boom box". I could fork out more and get a proper whatever-you'd-call-it, with grown-up speakers etc., and a radio inside, but the idea just doesn't appeal to me. Such things seem pointlessly showy to me, and who am I being showy for?

Those little objects people put in their ears to play music on don't appeal to me either. You have to download the music first anyway if you want to play them on those contraptions, and I don't have a computer since mine stopped working.

As for reading itself...I mean, book reading, and poetry reading...well I prefer to do that with a book in my hand rather than reading off a computer screen. It's something that probably looks terribly quaint to most people, especially the under thirties, but I like the quaintness as much as I appreciate the activity. I don't really want to be a part of the world that's developing anyway, not a wholehearted, unquestioning part. I've seen another way and there were some things about it that I liked a lot better.

No design object, as far as I'm concerned, that you can find in the household is more beautiful than a well-packaged book.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It Kept On Raining And At Last The Levee Broke

I wrote my first poem in a year last night. I'm holding onto it for a while so I can get a proper distance on it--before I present it here or anywhere else that might be appropriate I mean--but it was a great relief to get one out. My focus at the moment is on my book (still no title), which is a kind of alternative history of the 1980s seen through my eyes, with a special emphasis on music, literature and politics (my three major interests); but I used to write poetry every day. Sometimes they were even worth reading, such as the ones Norbert Blei featured in his book "Other Voices" (sorry Norb, I don't have the publishing details to hand), or the many I got into British magazines like the legendary "Outlaw" .It would be awful to think that for whatever psychological or physical reasons I just couldn't do it anymore.

Well, the poem last night suggests I might still be able to do it, from time to time, with the right stimuli: I'd had a lot of black coffee before I wrote it, and a banana, and I'd watched a great movie which got my mind pulsating (it was my awe of certain singers and poets and film directors which pulled me into the arts in the first place). I'd also had a short, funny conversation with a woman I'm extremely fond of, last night, while I watched the film. And then the poem just came out, if I could really claim it to be that much of a sudden and miraculous event when I had to take the thing through three drafts to get it to its current state.

But it is here, and that's what matters. Even if nobody ever reads it, or if those who do don't like it. They will like something that I write, at some point, if the inspiration proves to be consistent. And it matters more to me than I let on that my writing is accepted somewhere, though the Nobel Prize may be a step too far for somebody who can alienate even himself without intending think?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What If?

What if my supposed intelligence and this book I keep talking about are just the snobbish delusions of a back street weirdo everybody else avoids because he has the stench of failure and loneliness about him? What if this time off work spent labouring over the book is a criminal waste of temporary liberty and I would have been better occupied lying on a beach with a cocktail in my hand? What if all my ideas really are just the useless transparent rationalisations of a pathetic man who was rejected early by society and never made his way back in? Huh? What if?

The Standard View Of The Philistines Again

A couple of enlightened souls have suggested, knowing about the book I'm writing and my continuing preoccupation with the topic generally, that I would look back on the Eighties more happily if I'd had more fun at the time. That maybe I wouldn't have taken such a dim view of everything at the time, even, if I'd had more sex and I'd gone to more parties.

It's an interestingly philistine view, in my opinion. Do ideas always have to be the consolation prize for those without what is called "a life" ? Do we only follow politics or read books if we don't have someone to go out and get drunk with? Do we only care about what's happening to our neighbour if we have no one to fuck?

Actually, if anybody is reading this, I had a lot of fun in the Eighties, although I was pretty messed up emotionally at times; I'm not going to justify myself here by detailing the fun I had, but rest assured, ye masters and mistresses of erectile and cocktail bar oneupmanship, I had my share. I just happened not to like watching miners and rainbow travellers and the unemployed getting their heads cracked open for the crime of disagreeing with their Government. I just didn't appreciate the legislative persecution of homosexuals. I'm funny that way.

Many English people only acquire a sense of responsibility for the direction their country is travelling in, of course, when there's a dark-skinned or foreign-speaking community to persecute.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Why is a piece of writing considered more legitimately creative and artistic just because it's been chopped up on the page and presented as something called a poem?

Poetry is a quality that some writing finds, to me, not the particular manner in which something has been written.

There is more poetry in the better newspapers than you find in half the magazines.

Alarm! Look What They're Responsible For Now!!!

Somebody on the radio today (yes, I'm always listening to the radio) proposed that England is being driven to the Right by excessive immigration because people from Muslim and predominantly Christian African countries tend to be more conservative than we are instinctively.

I'd never heard that before, and I don't know if it's true. I'm not even sure if the fundamental premise--that the U.K. is a liberal society--could be sustained by argument. Most of the African people I know are more conservative than I am, but so are most of the English people. And the majority of Muslim people I know are reluctant to express their opinions in mixed company because they expect them to be greeted with hostility.

The newspaper representation of Muslims here or abroad is that they oppress their women. And many of the African men I know regard the relative freedom women have in the U.K. as unseemly. One man even suggested that a woman in a short skirt who's out on the town at night and drunk only has herself to blame if she gets raped. But a lot of Englishmen would say so too.

Homosexuality, in the meantime, is blithely put down by them all. And fiercely so by the Jamaican male, whose style and way of talking and whose music have made him a folk hero in the British consciousness. A female friend from Jamaica told me that if a man confesses to homosexual feelings in the wrong bar over there he's likely to get killed.

Regardless of how conservative they may or may not be,however, is the immigrant population really close enough to the machinery of Power or to the controllers of the mass media in the U.K. to influence opinion in any sort of direction? I doubt it. The only unconscionable right wing extremists allowed to go on television and radio and vent their spleen in this country are the B.N.P. and their cohorts. Who are, perhaps not coincidentally,


Friday, September 18, 2009

What Kind Of Subhuman Scumbag Would Mug An Old Lady From Behind For Her Purse?

This is the scene I came across stepping out of the Bard Gaff this morning: A weeping, confused old lady lying on the pavement a few doors up from my place with two boxes of chocolate next to her which she'd obviously dropped when she fell.

"Did you see him?" she asked me. "Did you see him? He took me from behind and ran off down the road!"

I looked down the hill but her attacker had obviously gone. There was nothing to be seen except two rows of parked cars and some bin bags.

"No, I didn't see anything," I said. "Are you all right?"

"He took my purse!" she said. "He took my purse! Good job there's nothing in it but some cards"--this without humour--"I'd better call the police."

I offered to call them for her but she declined. She was outside her own door when this prize example of humanity seized her, and she said her husband was inside. The thought occurred to me that he might not be, but who could blame her if she just wanted to be rid of me? One stranger had just mugged her after all. Now another was offering priestly ministrations?

I told her my house number in case the police needed it or for her to use if she wanted help later on, and then I left to come into town and shop.

But all the way along my route to the shops I couldn't get the mugging out of my head. And in some ways I was--and am--more preoccupied with the mugger than his victim. She will be okay. She had scraped her hands when he forced her to the ground, and the shock of what happened will probably not leave her for a while; she will undoubtedly lose her trust in people she doesn't know for a long time, if not for good. But one day the experience will be a small, if traumatic, memory.

What kind of person, though, if that word is still applicable in his case, would do something as disgusting and cowardly and parasitic and inhuman as mug an old lady, and from behind, not even giving her the chance to see him coming and punch him in the nuts or shriek for assistance? How can anybody be so self-involved, so solipsistic, so lacking in the normal human feelings of sympathy and consideration for others, that they would be able to do something like that?

You might say I have been living in Balamory or Cicely, Alaska all my life, but I find the idea of such inhumanity (if that word doesn't exist it should), terrifying.

The trade unions, of whom I am a great supporter, warn that poverty tears apart the social fabric of the nation. They're right. But in my experience the poorest people in society tend to be the most brave and dignified and generous and empathic. To suggest that this mugger was created by poverty is an insult to everybody else struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

To suggest, even, (as I am tempted), that he was created by the dehumanising effects of Capitalism is a nonsense. Yes, in Capitalism a flat screen tv is more valuable than the person who owns it, and human lives mean less than the circulation of money. But we resist Capitalism's odious attempts to remove our moral compass.

And anyway, perhaps a man who professes to be a Buddhist and a political liberal shouldn't say it, but to be frank who cares what created the scumbag who took that old lady's purse and the skin on her hands and her peace of mind this morning? He probably would have been a parasite and a danger wherever he was born in the social strata. Whether the Pope or the Dalai Lama or the Archbishop of Canterbury or Thich Nhat Han or Barack Obama or anybody else I admire would agree with me, I can't help believing that some people are just born with a streak of wickedness in them. And nothing can excuse what the mugger did; nothing. If he is found he should be whipped until he pleads forgiveness and then thrown into a dirty prison.

That's not likely to happen, though, in a country where even a murderer can expect only fourteen years in the slammer.

I wonder if we have to look there, first, for an explanation as to why some people feel free to violate the Law with impunity? Even a streak of pure evil might be held in harness, in some, if the consequences for them were worse than the thrill of an evil act.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Football Just Isn't My Game

I had a moment of disturbing self-realisation last night. One of those face-in-the-shaving mirror revelations about oneself (though I wasn't shaving), which could have startling implications for my social standing and questions of my manhood.

I don't give a toss about football.

I always said I did, simply because it was de-rigeur, the expected thing, social shorthand, a way of confirming to myself and others that I was normal when every urge or interest I've ever had has led me away from convention and into the netherworlds of imagination, creativity, sexual compulsion, book-learning and politics.

It kept the bullies at school away from me for a while when I joined in with conversations about Match of the Day. They could pick on the real freaks for a while then, the ones with too much integrity to pretend they cared about such a pointless and uninteresting game.

And it comforted me, despite it being a form of self-deception, to believe I shared a passion with the cruel simians who made my life so difficult. I didn't know what difference was back then. I thought it was a curse, not a blessing. That I had been marked out for a life of suffering. Which given the fact that somebody would abuse me or mock me or shove me or threaten me or hit me several times every day at school is not as melodramatic a conclusion to draw as it sounds.

I wanted to believe I could be like them so they would leave me the hell alone. I wanted to walk like them (arrogant swagger), talk like them (loud monosyllables and swearing), look like them (short-hair, same clothes as everyone else), think like them (not at all), share their interests (punk rock and footie). And though I cut my hair and swore at every available opportunity--although I attempted to walk as if I were wearing a wet incontinence pad (a walk Liam Gallagher perfected years later)--football was the only one of those I could pull off with any real conviction.

The trappings of conformity to that early ideal of convention have been falling away slowly for a long time now. Anyone who knows me in the flesh will attest to that. I can't even hear a conversation about "shagging birds" these days without wanting a hot shower (and sadly I hear such crude sexist claptrap from the majority of the men I know most of the time).

But a vague belief that I was "football mad" clung on longer than any other lie I told myself in my efforts to be one of the lads. I'm not, though. I can watch it if it's on, and there's nobody else in the room enjoying it. (Somehow that reminds me of what a mechanically conformist activity watching football is--like watching X Factor for people who are insecure about their sexuality--and it makes me want to go somewhere else and read.) But watching football is not the same as loving football. I can watch Stargate and Countdown too on a slow day.

If I like football as much as I've told other people (and myself from time to time), how come I've never been to an actual football match? And why can't I name anybody in the current Ipswich team? Nor do I actually give a shit who's in the current Ipswich team.

Let the past and present school bullies and street thugs and car thieves and men with little willies and big porn collections and middle class blokes who want to prove their connection to the streets and mummy's boys who just want someone to sing with and people who need a substitute for a complete lack of any personality or passion of their own worry about such things.

There is, to be fair, a small number of true football aesthetes out there turning up week after week at tiny venues for a genuine love of the game. And they will always be there, despite Sky's influence.

But I'm not one of them. Never have been, never will be. My twin passions are music and books, and that's never going to change, however lonely that leaves me in old age.

Admitting this to myself as well as to anybody else who might be listening is tremendously liberating.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

No Wonder Nobody Reads Books Anymore

My friend made a telling observation in a bookshop the other day. I was looking at the Allen Ginsberg--William Burroughs' collaboration The Yage Letters and thinking I might buy it. Then I flipped the book over to the back and noted the £13.99 price.

My friend, who most definitely isn't a cheapskate like yours truly (I probably wouldn't pay £13.99 for my own funeral), was visibly shocked: "My God," she said, "no wonder nobody reads books anymore."

If The Yage Letters had been a large volume, like War And Peace or Ulysses ,perhaps an elevated cover price would have been justified. If it had been a limited edition hardback version of the same book with photographs and notes not availiable anywhere else, I might have considered it.

But this was a paperback, and slight enough to be read by an enthusiastic reader in two toilet sittings. And I am an enthusiastic reader. Just ask anyone who's ever been to the Bard Gaff.

Like my friend says, no wonder nobody reads books anymore. You can get a return ticket to Birmingham New Street from Northampton for less money than that. Or ten bottles of cheap lager. Both of which, I don't doubt, would bring you much more satisfaction.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Punk Rock: My God, You Really Think So?

It's interesting, the way everybody else seems to regard the arrival of punk rock in '76 or '77 as a tumultuous sweeping-away of the conservatism that pervaded in those long-gone days. I've always thought of punk as being deeply conservative, albeit in a very adolescently posey way, with its violent (and self-glorifyingly stupid) eschewing of book-larrning, its disinterest (I know, I know, the Clash) in politics, its celebration of primitive musicianship. Unless you were lucky enough to fall over Joe Strummer in those days, punk was quite likely to push you pogoing straight onto the dole queue and forever after into a life of shit jobs, football hooliganism and National Front (and subsequently BNP) membership. O England! O St George! O Winston! Farkin foreigners...

The punks I knew were conformist cowards who kicked the shit out of anybody who was weak or different because it made their dumb friends laugh, although the black kids were usually harder than them when it came to the big scraps in the park. Kids with glasses, kids with spots, kids with spastic limbs, kids with long hair, kids who read books...everybody got it. The punks were about as far outside the System as Enoch Powell or your stereotypical misanthropic Granny wheeling out the biscuit trolley before she sits down to regurgitate a hate-filled Sun newspaper editorial all over you. And most of the music, when you listen to it without the wax of age and unwarranted nostalgia clotting up your ears, is crap. Now ska...that was a different matter...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Down & Out In The 80s

I have reached, roughly, 1985 in my book about life in the 80s. I say roughly because I found, when I started thinking about it, that I can't remember exactly when anything happened. Even the major cultural events that sort of interweave with my own life have become chronologically confused in my mind. And I'm not sure some of the things I remember happening to me actually did. I'm pretty sure, at least, that they didn't happen in the way I remember them.

So the book, which is ostensibly a mini-memoir, will actually be a work of fiction, pretty much. I wonder if it's always the same and our sense of history, both personal and collective, is false.

Now people and cities and countries disappear like pricked bubbles in the air.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Dead Man Remembering The Dead

It's strange. My mother has been dead for 13 years now but sometimes I miss her as if she only shuffled off the mortal coil yesterday, and the communication between us was familiar and habitual, instead of a long-gone distant memory. I need her advice on things. I don't feel ready to deal with all the crap in my head alone and I'm terrified that if I dump it on those who are closest to me they'll run in the opposite direction with wings on their feet like Billy Whizz in "The Beano". Or was it that Greek God, old What's-His-Name?

Because I've been ill this past couple of years I've become preoccupied with death and loss. I feel like somebody who might already have passed away and is walking around in a ghost body wondering why everything feels different. After all, nothing in life is as I remember it; nothing is as it used to be when I felt like I belonged to life and life belonged to me. Every place I used to work has been shut down, boarded up, fenced off, is grown over now with weeds and rubbish; nearly everyone I've known in any way shape or form is gone. I can't even understand the fucking culture that surrounds me (although it did lift me a bit hearing Bob Dylan sing "I Want You" in the public loos this morning).

Every day I get up, do my thing at home and go to work wondering if I'm going to die today. Or get an urgent call from the hospital telling me I have a brain tumour. It may or may not be stupid, but that's the way I feel. So I write furiously trying to get something down before I croak or lose my job because my health becomes too poor, after which I'll be too hung up on considerations of survival to be creative. I can't think about career anymore. I can't think beyond lunch, the way my mind is going. And I'm afraid to go to concerts or plays like I used to because I imagine myself blacking out in the middle of a performance and being a ghastly tragic spectacle hauled off to hospital (again), jabbed at, tested, photographed, questioned, all in that condescending manner reserved for patients they know are really really screwed.

Some days it isn't possible to kid yourself into what used to be called "positivity" (which might be defined as a state of mind you are persuaded to adopt so that you quit bothering me), and then the anger and the fear pull at your hide like relentless, wild dogs. That's when you need somebody who can make you feel safe without making it obvious that that's what they're doing, because when anybody is transparent about trying to make you feel safe it makes you feel even more afraid. My mother was the person who used to be able to perform that trick for me, though the only thing that ever scared me more than I'm scared now, when she was alive, was her cancer diagnosis. I wish she was here now and not part of that vanished world out of which I'm floating, still, like a lost shirt on the wind.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Where Money Infiltrates Spirit Gets ****** In The Jacksey

The British newspapers have discovered evidence directly linking the release of the Lockerbie bomber to Oil deals, denied so self-righteously by everybody involved in the deal to let the guy out (I can't be bothered to go and look up his name, and to be frank, why should he get a name when his whole philosophy hinges around the devaluation and debasement of human life?). Jack Straw himself makes the link between considerations about the murdering swine's release and the need to keep the Libyan "Government" (that is, Mob) happy so they'll let us have their oil in letters written a hound's age ago and printed in today's papers.

Mr Straw has released a statement taking umbrage at the publicity he's getting, as you'd expect. As if printing the letters were an act of troublemaking perversity by the paper that got them, like taking pictures of Joanna Lumley on the beach without her bra on through a telephoto lens (I don't know which paper it was, I heard the story on the radio while I was sweeping the floor at the Bard Gaffe this morning). But a more fitting response would have been to beg the forgiveness of whatever God he has a nominal regard for, in my humble opinion, because that linkage of Lockerbie and Oil is profoundly grubby, confirming as if we needed it that where money infiltrates Spirit gets fucked in the jacksey.

You will tell me such deals are struck all the time. It's why Tony Blair lied about WMDs and a million innocents were killed in Iraq after all. But that doesn't make it any more palatable, or any more acceptable. And here we have proof: incontrovertible, unconcealable evidence. They let this bloke out because they wanted to continue to do big money deals with the gang of brutal, repressive thugs who call themselves the Government of Libya; and then they had the staggeringly bad taste to pretend that it was about nothing other than big-hearted Scots wanting a sick man to go home to his family before he died.

Perhaps the international fixers and wheeler-dealers who make these deals are simply realists and we all owe our comparative Western comfort to them. Perhaps conscience is another form of sentiment, like nostalgia for one's hometown or a love of fluffy dogs.Perhaps. Personally I don't know how a man can look himself in the mirror in the morning when human life becomes just another detail to be slotted in to the bigger picture somewhere.

New Directions Home

I'm enjoying all the pronouncements coming out from the camp of Bob Dylan at the moment. Last week he told the BBC he was negotiating with two companies to be the voice of a new SatNav kit. Now he claims that he's releasing an album of Christmas songs for charity.

Oh really Bob? Both could be true, of course. Apparently there are SatNavs available with the voices of other famous people on them. And it's conceivable that he could do the Christmas record. Willie Nelson would after all, and Bob's in the same category as Willie pretty much, these days, as an artist and an icon. Although Willie is a fabulous singer and Bob sounds somewhat like a strangulated parakeet when he opens his mouth.

The great thing with Dylan is that with him you are never quite sure he's serious. He's done four or five excellent albums recently and written a wonderful memoir. Creatively he's buzzing. Is the rejuvenated Dylan mind having cruel fun at the expense of a gullible media with these claims of new directions home? I hope so. I really hope so.

Maybe tomorrow we'll open the newspaper and read he's purchasing Florida also.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pissing On The Bodies Of The Dead

There was another phone-in on the radio last night about whether we are doing enough to honour the sacrifices "our boys" are making in Afghanistan to keep the world safe from terrorism.

Is that what they're doing? Or are they actually making the world a more dangerous place by fanning the flames of extremism? Were the training camps that gave the world the 7/7 bombers even in Afghanistan? Most people seem to think not.

Now, I don't blame the soldiers themselves for the politics behind their presence there. They just do what they're told, like mailmen and care workers and the fellows behind the deli counter at Sainsburys. But I do object to the fact that the politics can't be questioned, or discussed, without one being accused of pissing on the bodies of dead infantrymen.

I say that not to question the politics of the war is to piss on the dead, and a desecration of the democratic principles we are now supposed to be over there fighting for (interesting how the war aims change as the editorials shift their tone back home).

The gutless conspiracy of the British media not to report honestly what is happening in Afghanistan desecrates our democracy too. When was the last time we were offered an estimation of the number of innocent Afghans who have died in the war, caught as they are between scared and underarmed British soldiers and denatured Islamist lunatics?

Or don't we care about innocent Afghans?

I do, and if you think that makes me a traitor so be it. I prefer to think it makes me a patriot in the best tradition of the British, and those who don't something Winston Churchill would have disowned with the relish of the truly appalled.

The British media and the Government controlling them should print the truth about the Afghan War and trust its citizens to make their own minds up. If, once the statistics have been placed in full view, the country decides that the war must stop, then the Government will have to succumb to the will of the people.

Not that we necessarily would come to that decision, given the complexity of the issue. It would just be nice not to be treated like idiot children by those who have a vested interest in keeping our boys, and their boys, and the wives and mothers of a different God, dying for as long as they can.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why People Don't Read Books Anymore

I may get into it at some juncture, but right now the return of the football season bores me to tears. It only seems two seconds since the last one finished, for Heaven's sake. And what is football, when all's said and done? Twenty-two people trying to prevent each other from kicking a round thing between two posts. Blimey, no wonder nobody reads books anymore when they've got that to occupy their minds and spirits.

Which is snobbish and simplistic, of course. Who said that football has anything to do with the nation's reading habits? (It doesn't.) But equally who said a person proves his legitimacy as a human being by conspiring to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator? I get fed up of people asking me why I use long words when I could use short ones. Why do you buy an expensive flat screen television that can do crossword puzzles and make your breakfast for you when you could have one that just sits in the corner and plays a poor reproduction of "Emmerdale"?

I was sitting in the bus station the other day reading a book about Allen Dulles. I looked up from the page for a moment to give my eyes a rest and glancing around me I could see only one other person reading: an exceptionally old lady whose youth probably predated television. Everybody else--that is, if they weren't talking or just staring off dull-eyed into the middle-distance--was staring at the tiny screens of their mobile phones.

Half of them accessing the internet, no doubt, which you can't do on my mobile because it's too antiquated. And that's another reason why people don't read books anymore. We have passed the age of books now that all this new communication technology has become available to most people. A lot of those who might have read books just don't bother anymore because it's too labour intensive and seems like yesterday's diversion. Something you might do "on the beach" according to the lifestyle magazines we do still read because a magazine takes no effort and holding them tells other people we're part of the club.

There are more complex reasons why nobody reads books these days, or why only an unappreciable minority read them, but I don't want to get into them now. It'd take a huge volume to analyse the subject with any intelligence and we've already established that nobody would read it.But it's about having come to the end of something; the end of the forward momentum of intellectual and spiritual development that we'd been riding, unknowingly, for perhaps a couple of hundred years. The 1980s was where the wave, as Hunter Thompson put it, "broke and rolled back" leaving each generation since that terrible decade more intellectually backward and spiritually impoverished than the one that came before it.

I'm not talking about everybody, of course. Some of the worst atrocities in the history of human kind were committed in the middle of the last century, long before Margaret Thatcher was allowed to seize 10 Downing Street and wreck the country. And I know people half my age who are more advanced in every way than their parents or grandparents.

What I'm talking about is impoverishment that comes down from the places where opinion is made. Where ideas about the development of human society begin. There appears to be nothing happening in those places anymore. Now we're just asked to see the art in the curve of a McDonald's golden arch. Education, at least in England, is only the moribund arm of industry now and the workplaces of the nation are filled with people who don't even know where to put an apostrophe.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Bard Memoir Is Up And Running People

I've been hiding out in the Bard Gaffe this weekend, that is, when I wasn't being fed into tunnels at the local hospital and having radiation thrown at me. I'm writing a kind of memoir about life in the Eighties and this weekend seemed like a good time to get serious with it. Which I've done. I've produced about thirty more pages of the bugger since I left work on Thursday and I hope to do a few more tonight--that is, again (my life is full of that ises), if I don't fall down in the street when I leave the internet cafe and have to go to the hospital again.

You think I'm being melodramatic? Well, you're wrong. What I'm actually being is neurotic, because I take no grand dame (if that's the way it's spelled) operatic joy in the idea of being poorly. I'm actually incredibly bored by it. But you try falling down outside Waterstone's, of all places, and see how much you take for granted after that. Not that I ever have taken anything for granted, except, ironically, my health. But I digress. I thought it was going to be a witty digression too, when I started doing it, but reading it back it has a rather snide, challenging undertone, as if it's your fault, dear reader, that I've been unwell. It isn't, as far as I know. Nor is it mine, at least I don't think it is.

But anyway. The idea of somebody who isn't well-known at anything and doesn't have a hope in hell of ever being well-known writing his memoir might seem a bit bumptious (there's another word I don't know how to spell), but I'm not exceptionally bothered about the idea that anyone might think so. A life lived in minor key by an unknown man or woman will tell you more about the times than the biography of a celebrity. Their lives are essentially the same in every generation, even those of the greats. Watch Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison and then Ed Harris as Jackson Pollock. You'll see what I mean.

Someone was telling me a story about a childhood visit to Calais at the Bard Gaffe this morning, however, a person who is loved and cherished by her friends but who has probably never been on the cover of "HELLO" or won the Whitbread Book of the Year, and her story was enthralling because it was so singular. Not that she knew that. Once she'd told it she excused herself for being boring and asked for another cup of coffee.

So that's what I'm doing; I'm telling the story of the Eighties as I lived them because nobody else lived them as I did. I hope to inject a little artistry in there--I assume I must have learned something after all these years of writing and exposing myself to the works of the true greats--but right now I'm just concentrating on getting it down while time allows, using the language that passes naturally through my head. As Ginsberg says anyway, the language, like the memory, is singular to me so my art my even lie there, without any need for sprucing the words up afterwards. It may be that all I need to do when the book is finished, if I finish it, is take out the spelling mistakes and tighten up some of the sentences. Who knows?

I have five or six weeks of annual leave left to take from work before next April, so if my health holds up and I manage not to get sacked somehow (oh stop it Hodder, your mind is like an amphetamine-crazed mouse on a clanking wheel), that should be more than enough time to get the main part of the book done. Keep thinking like a writer instead of an over-the-hump care worker or a half-dead alcoholic and when Spring comes I should have a damn fine bastard of a manuscript ready for the world to ignore.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Reading Headache

I have a swine of a reading headache at the moment. You see,I found a copy of Bob Dylan's "Chronicles" in the charity shop the other day. I've read it before but I couldn't really remember it in too much detail; and I'm working through a great collection of Russell Brand's Guardian essays called "Articles of Faith" as well. While trying to write a book about my life in the 1980s. So the whole day yesterday was spent looking at the printed word (which I'm also doing now). And my eyes aren't up to the challenge. They need to look upwards into blue skies and across rivers at brown horses in distant fields. Still, at least I've got my interest in writing back, even though most of my old cohorts in the game have disappeared because I was too busy doing other things to tell them how wonderful they were. This had begun to get a little galling because very few of them ever had the courtesy to show any interest in what I was doing, even though I was better than half of them. But the glare of their own egos was so bright it blocked out everything in the room except the face in the shaving mirror.

It occurs, actually, writing this, that the act of putting these thoughts down is rather like Bob Dylan and John Cohen singing "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone" on the night of the Cuban Missile Crisis. "I am talking to myself again," as Allen Ginsberg says.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Bard Of Semilong Gets His Head Examined (II)

I was at the Northampton Hospital half an hour ago for an MRI. The results of the EEG I had and wrote about on these pages were "normal", which was something of a surprise, but they wanted me to have an MRI too because the latter is more thorough, apparently; the EEG can miss things. (If that is the case, I find myself wondering, why don't they stop doing the EEGs and spend the money they waste there on more MRI machines?)(But what do I know, eh?)

I was dreading the MRI ever since the appointment came through. I've been convinced, in the less logical interiors of my strung-out paranoid mind, that I was dying of cancer for a long time, even before I hit the floor in the Lookout for the first time and woke up wondering what the hell had just happened. But having the MRI, so my reasoning went, would prove it conclusively. There would be no kidding myself out of these overwhelming death fears and back to some semblance of normality.

And it still might prove that; I don't know. If Seve Ballesteros can get a brain tumour and John Hartson can get terminal cancer at 34, who am I to claim protection against the ravages of Death? especially since my mother and both my father's parents were taken by what John Wayne famously called "the Big C". I will get the results of my brain scan in "five to seven" days, and when that happens everything could change.

But the process of finding out whether I'm ready for the worm farm or just a ridiculous worrier who needs to get his head out of his rear end and start living his life while he still has one--that is done. And it wasn't especially awful. At first I thought I would embarrass myself by panicking and squeezing the buzzer to be rescued from the massive tunnel they slide you into. I was remembering my mother's description of the tunnel as "like a grave" and thinking how apt that was, particularly with that contraption over your face pressing down on your nose like a coffin lid.

I didn't know what the contraption was because by then I'd closed my eyes and started counting my in-breaths like in Buddhist meditation. I was also listening, vaguely, to the radio they were piping in on the headphones I'd agreed to put on, and thinking what a great pop band Take That became when they made their comeback. Maybe the best pop band since the Beatles. (I was scared, remember. Don't judge what a man thinks when he's lying in his own grave being shot with radiation.)

As the scan became noisier, clanking and heaving like a nuclear hurdy-gurdy crossed with a trolley bus, and the Fear threatened to steal my composure, I visualised Buddha's serene face, his half-closed eyes, as he sat deep in meditation looking for an end to suffering and the endless cycles of rebirth. How appropriate. It helped too. Soon I was so relaxed I could have been lying on a beach with a good book open on my lap and a cold beer being investigated by a wasp beside me on my beach blanket. When the scan ended, in fact, and the bed I'd been lying on began sliding back out of the tunnel, I was almost disappointed it was over.

I hovered in the waiting room for a while after I'd put my belt back on and reclaimed my phone and my keys from the locker I'd taken. The person who'd been in before me was given an envelope to take away with her, large enough for it to be safely presumed there were X-Rays inside. I was waiting for mine, but when the Nurse put down her mobile phone and came out of the other room to ask me if I was all right I realised I wasn't at the same stage in my treatment. Or that the woman had been here for something else entirely. All I had to do was go home, the Nurse said. Then "whoever referred me" would phone with my results in the week.

It was sunnier than it had been for days when I got out into the hospital car park. I turned my mobile back on and texted my girlfriend. Then I walked back into town to spend a little money in celebration that I had met my terror head-on like Hemingway and come out at the other end, almost, still walking on two legs and ready for the weekend.

Friday, August 07, 2009

John Hughes: Res Ipsa Loquitur

Film director John Hughes has died. The guy responsible for Eighties "classics" like The Breakfast Club and Home Alone. I think he did Pretty in Pink as well, though my memory is fading faster than my vitality (well, just about) and I'm not sure about the last one.

It's a shame when anybody dies. And I'm sure John Hughes was a lovely bloke who supported numerous charities and put movie producers on hold to stroke kittens and throw tennis balls with orphans. But those were dreadful films. Maybe not as bad as some of the bilge that Hollywood pumped out in those days, but still a damn sight worse than the average either before or since.

Eighties nostalgia, so widespread now even among those who remember that most benighted of decades, is just one more thing that mystifies me thoroughly and makes me wonder if I am really a member of the human race. Not that I necessarily want to be.

Anybody who wants to watch a John Hughes movie this weekend to remember his "great" cinematic achievement and imagine themselves backwards into a more magical time should be made to watch every episode of Boys From The Blackstuff first. Alan Bleasdale was one man back then who didn't make his reputation by lying through his teeth.

Train Robbers and Cranks

The radio this morning was full of the usual right-wing cranks phoning up and texting about the release of Ronald Biggs. How frustrating the day must be for these people if they can find nothing to vent their spleen on. Though of course, when you're a right-wing crank, everything is grist to your mill of hate. He should not come out, they say, despite the fact that he is dying of pneumonia. Make him stay in jail until he breathes his last! Then he will have paid his debt to society.

I can't claim even to have an opinion on Biggs himself. Perhaps it is just the mood I'm in this morning, but I couldn't care less what happens to him, though I do warm slightly to the spectacle of a judicial system exercising compassion to the dying. Biggs and his cohorts showed no compassion to the men on the train who were brutalised, they say; but does the State demonstrate the wickedness of their conduct by mirroring it? I'm not a right-wing crank, of course, so perhaps there's something in questions of law and justice I don't understand.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another Jack Sparrow? Johnny, Johnny, Johnny

I read the other day that Orlando Bloom has decided he won't sign up for the fourth (count 'em) Pirates of the Carribean (I don't know how to spell that), but that Johnny Depp has. So we will be regaled with still more adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow in 2010 or 2011, if any of us are still around.

Hmm. I can't say I'm terrifically excited by that prospect. I loved the first movie; but I was bored to death by the second one. And needless to say when the third one came I stayed at home and probably watched Dead Man again.

All of these big budget Hollywood movies look the same to me anyway. But Johnny Depp had impressed me consistently prior to the first film by choosing movie role after movie role that no mainstream hero would have touched. He'd acted with Brando; he'd associated himself with Jack Kerouac; I think he'd played John Wilmot by that time as well, unless I'm getting my chronology confused. He seemed to be one of us, in other words, a member of the counter-culture (as it can no longer be called with any accuracy) who'd broken through to the mainstream because of his good looks, and was now dedicatedly turning all of its conventions upside down.

And Jack Sparrow, when first seen, was a great comic creation, however predictable everything else in the movie seemed to anyone with a memory longer than a goldfish with learning difficulties. To base a movie hero, and a pirate at that, on Keith Richards was an act of brilliance.

I expected him to use the fame and money he got from the global success of the movie to go onto even bolder things than he'd achieved before it. Instead he did another Pirates. And then another, with as far as I can remember one decent movie in between, though no great role to prove himself as an actor of genuine talent, rather than a gifted and hip mimic. And now we get a fourth Jack Sparrow? The unscrupulous bastards who sell phoney mass-production dreams at huge prices in the Disney stores will be rubbing their hands with glee.

The mistake, of course, was to expect anything from Johnny in the first place. It was our desires, our needs, our fantasies, we were projecting onto him; he was always the man who one day would sell out and become the Steve Martin of the fashionable world. If we want to turn the world on its head we have to do it ourselves, and how many of us have the balls to do that?

Not me, with the well-rehearsed catalogue of deceptions and compromises I take out into the world just to keep a roof over my head.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gordon's Bye-Bye By-Election: Here We Go Again

Yesterday saw the profoundly depressing spectacle of a huge swing to the Conservatives in the Norwich by-election. (Should that be "bye-bye election" since it signals how crushing Labour's defeat next year is likely to be?) The victorious candidate, Chloe Smith, was compared to Margaret Thatcher by a reporter interviewing her and she didn't even bother with the liberal doublespeak David Cameron has been using since he took over the Party to distance himself from that odious oligarch. She just smiled and looked rather flattered.

Blimey. If anybody compared me to Margaret Thatcher I'd probably punch them in the face. But times have changed, and the memory of the average citizen is short. I spoke to a thirty-year-old a few days ago who had no idea who Marlon Brando was. People vote anyway, thanks to capitalism's overwhelming victory over Christianity and socialism, for their own benefit and with little regard for the general well-being of the nation or the world. "There is no such thing as society" remember? Or they identify their own well-being with the world's: if my pockets are bulging, in other words, all must be well. As if money were even close to being the most important consideration when it comes either to personal happiness or national contentment. You might say it helps not being poor; but lucky you if you're not. There has never been a time in this country's history--particularly not under Margaret Thatcher--when one person didn't eat his bread at someone else's expense.

I can't blame the voters of Norwich, however, for turning away from Labour. Not from their own selfish, uninformed, historically amnesiac perspective anyway. Labour are a mess, and their leader is a figure of ridicule. Even when he tries to express passion he looks half-asleep. He is stubborn, arrogant and he's been wearing the clothes of the Conservative Party while talking the language of Labour for so long he doesn't seem to know what he believes anymore. I probably won't be voting Labour at the next election either, whether it helps the Conservative Party get one more seat or not, because I couldn't bring myself to commit an act of such wanton hypocrisy. Labour needs to be defeated so that it can get rid of the last of the New Labour brigade and clean the Cabinet out of all the spineless careerists and yes-men who've attached themselves to that crumbling old project for personal advancement. It needs to sit down dazed and bloodied and figure out what the hell it believes again, instead of stumbling on with its politer version of Thatcherism, which has only widened the gap between rich and poor and destroyed the social fabric of the nation anyway.

It's just a shame it didn't do that when Blair stepped down and there was still time to save Britain from five or ten years of David Cameron.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sway: Some Notes on Rock & Roll In Babylon

Listening to different cds to take to Emily's hippie-themed party tonight. Nothing in white music has surpassed what the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground did in the late 60s/ early 70s. It has that edge which intelligent music gets when it has gone beyond commercialism, gone beyond the housing estates of your childhood, and the frowns of mayor's wives dunking biscuits at civic functions in little English towns...I haven't heard any gone-beyond white music for a long time now, though there have been some fantastic bands.

At the time of "Sticky Fingers" the Rolling Stones were more radical, more subversive, more musically interesting, than any band other than the Beatles (and you don't count them).Writing and singing about sex and drugs when Nixon and his Silent Majority--with their ironed white underpants--were sending boys to die in a meaningless foreign war was a radical and important thing to do. They were helping blow the lid off the repressed human desires which made Nixon and Agnew and all their followers hate so violently everything that was vaguely different from them.

Of course, it's less valuable as an artistic statement now everybody smokes weed and most people indulge their every sexual whim like children stealing cake. The free pursuit of personal gratification crosses most cultural barriers within the overarching mainstream white-dominated post-Christian world. Racist bedwetters and tattooed pagan mud-worshippers alike take drugs and fuck like tomorrow has been cancelled.

This is how the nasty, abrasive fundamentalism of Christian and Muslim evangelisers has been able to take root in the minds of those who weren't invited to the party. Because to the outsider, it seems like we're living in Babylon, Kali-Yuga--though of course that's an illusion; Buddhists recognise that everything goes in cycles, and if the End is coming then the Beginning must be just around the corner.

Whose was that great condemnatory phrase, mouthed in the Sixties about the Love Generation: "a free-for-all fucking epidemic"?Is that necessarily a bad thing? Sign of irreversible moral decline in the nation-- a greater indulgence in our sexual desires, the separation of sex from materialistic or even animal ideas about survival through territory and possession?No, actually, on an intellectual level, though I would rather not share my lover with anybody else.

The main thing that's wrong with British society now, as far as I can see, is not that people are having too much sex, or that Straight people (as the term was used in the Sixties) are taking as many drugs as the hippies; it's that there's not enough genuine unselfconscious freely-given compassion. (All you need is love, remember?) Too many people seem to think that everybody except them deserves everything they get. That poverty is the sign of a moral deficit in whoever it visits. That all kids are murdering scum. That all kids who aren't murdering scum are obnoxiously privileged. That all foreigners are lazy. That all Muslims are terrorists. And that everybody who knocks on your door wants something it is your job not to give him.

That's the fearful, paranoid, privatised, every-dumb-fuck-for-himself capitalism we've been glorying in since the hippies went South for this longest of winters.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Donovan: Jeez, Thanks For All The Work, Man

I just finished reading "The Hurdy Gurdy Man", Donovan's autobiography, which they've been selling cheap in HMV just lately--presumably because of all the typos some publishing dimwit left in the finished copy.

I'm not sure too many people remember Donovan. But boy would that run counter to the proposition he seems to be advancing in the book, which is basically that he was responsible for damn near everything that happened in the Sixties. He invented Flower Power, he led the Beatles away from formulaic songwriting, he went electric at Newport before Dylan...he even opened the Doors of Perception for a whole generation to walk through.

Shame all we got after he did this sterling work to raise human consciousness was general illteracy, rape and murder in the streets and "Britain's Got Talent", but there you are.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Men in the Alley

Aren't we becoming just a little bit too Victorian in our acceptance of the permanent existence of groups we give names like "the Poor" and "the Homeless", as if their social status were also some sort of existential condition? I thought this while I was walking to the Cafe this morning, passing along my route the alley where those homeless men sit to drink and talk all day now the Royal Mail have fenced off their disused central office, cleaning it up for sale.

Some things in life can't be changed, people tell me. Oh, lighten up, other people tell me. If you had more fun you wouldn't be so cross. (Most of them are unaware of how much fun I'm actually having.)

But I still believe, despite my advancing years and all the political failures I have witnessed since the horror of the Thatcher years first awakened my political consciousness, that nothing has to be any particular way if we don't want it to be. If William Wilberforce and his friends could bring down the slave trade and human beings could invent machines to take them to the moon, it must be possible to eradicate the sort of privation we sentence those men in the alley to while we head to town to blow the disposable part of our wages on Play Stations and designer sunglasses.

A new world is only a new mind, as William Carlos Williams said. Or maybe we just don't care about human suffering as long as it doesn't happen to us?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson: It's Sad, But Give Me A Break

I don't like Michael Jackson's music. Never have, so I'm not going to start now just because he's dead. I feel sorry for him if his life was as pained and peculiar as the media wanted us to believe; but I don't need to tell any of you that there are an awful lot of people out there with problems worse than being rich and sensitive and having been deprived of a childhood by over-ambitious parents.

His music, as I've said, was always boring to me. Superficial. Obvious. Phoney. In the current climate, of course, saying such things is tantamount to heresy. So be it. Delete my Facebook page if you like. Throw a stone through my window. I'll give you my address if it matters to you that much.

One commentator, soon after Jackson died, made the absurd claim that he was the most important cultural figure of the last two hundred years. Forget Dylan, the Beatles, Dali, Picasso, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Baudelaire, Rimbaud. The fellow who sang "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground" tops them all.

Proof of his importance, apparently, is the 750 million records he has sold across the world.

Proof to me that these days we are confusing importance with popularity. I have been in the living rooms of unsigned folksingers who played and sang better music than Jackson while the red wine flowed and the cigarettes burned. No one will ever hear of them in Singapore or Harare but their achievement stands. And if they are signed one day and make it into the consciousness of the world it's a fair chance that something of the brilliance they once showed will be lost.

That's been happening since Elvis Presley.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Poetry And Fish

I haven't written anything for a while now, either here, at SUFFOLK PUNCH, or in poem form (though I tried that at home this morning). I've scribbled a lot in my journal, but even there I've done more drawing than writing.

The funny thing is, I'm not worried. I don't work enough to build the literary monument I would have liked at one time, but as far as I'm concerned other people can take the glory there. None of us will know any different when we're in the grave along with John Brown, Elvis and Che Guevara.

And I'm bored of my own ego. It's done nothing but create problems for me all my life. I write things down and look them over and then I think, "Who cares?" Like Charles Bukowski famously said at a poetry reading when someone asked him why he didn't comment on American hostages being held by a lunatic foreign government, "I wish I could read my poetry to the poor hostages."

The desire to spread chapbooks full of my glorious ego ravings around the world (ie: onto the shelves of three other poets somewhere in America) will undoubtedly return. But even if it doesn't I think I'll be okay.

When it comes to immortality I have smaller fish to fry.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I tried to listen to some punk the other day. I mean the music, not a guy who'd forced himself on me in a crowd.

I was there. Late Seventies. With the Pistols and the Clash emerging and everything that came before it dismissed suddenly as execrable nonsense.

And I bought into that. For a while I thought anything that predated the Pistols saying "fuck" on the Bill Grundy show was worthy of nothing except burning.

But when I listened to this punk the other day--I can't remember which band it was--all I heard was a lot of stupid adolescent posturing. And dumbass posturing too. Like a brat of two throwing its toys at mummy.

Back then it seemed so profound. And the critics who wrote about it thought they detected in it some kind of subtle value system.

No more celebrity! The word from the streets! Direct! No lies! (Or something.)

But the street is whatever you make it. "A new world is only a new mind," as W C Williams said.

Punk (with only a couple of exceptions) just encouraged victims of an unfair, unjust, unbalanced, uninteresting society stay in their place, exactly where the monsters running the show wanted them. Hip hop (with the exception of Public Enemy) and R & B do the same.

Like Don Letts said about something or other, "It's designed only to take your money and keep you stupid."

That's why my mind returns again and again to the music of the Sixties. They wanted to take your money too, but in return for your outlay you got the door to freedom.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Crash", Kinsella And The Plague Rats

I started reading JG Ballard's "Crash" today, after recently finishing his fine autobiography "Miracles of Life". But Jesus, what a disagreeable book "Crash" seems to be.Am I getting old? Conservative? Is it just the passing mood of a man coming out of sleep, waking himself up with black coffee, a discussion about terrorism on the radio, a lone fly repeatedly colliding with my window, trying to get out into the garden?
Or maybe I feel too close to my own demise these days to want to read a novel about somebody seeing, in death, something sexual.

I have an image in my head (unwelcome, but disinclined to leave) of the cctv footage of Ben Kinsella walking down the middle of that empty street, dazed, lost (like me just before a seizure), stabbed 11 times only moments before, his shirt stained with blood; in seconds he would collapse and die. Anybody who sees anything in that other than its horror is a sick man indeed. That, of course, was Ballard's point; he was no more of a fan of what society has become than I am. But even so.

I probably am getting more conservative in some ways. I don't really care what made those killers the people they are, although I think I know; I certainly don't have any sympathy for them. Fuck them; they showed no sympathy for their victim.And there may be no way of reversing the cultural decline that created a whole sub-stratum of illiterate, amoral, violent human beings who can relate to nothing except their own infantile cravings. You have made this consumer society and we all have to live or die with the consequences.

But, and I'm aware that this is the stereotypical cry of old curmudgeons everywhere, it will make some of these thugs, who infest every street like a plague of rats in search of a rubbish tip, think twice before they plunge their knife into someone's heart if they know that once caught they will spend the rest of their lives rotting in jail.

At the moment even a twenty year sentence can be cut with a "sorry guv" and a less than credible conversion to the cause of youth counselling; and that's a deterrent to nobody when they lack the imagination or intelligence to see past the tip of their own nose in the first place.

adapted from the author's journal

Thursday, June 11, 2009

At The Hospital: The Bard Of Semilong Gets His Head Examined

I went for my long-dreaded hospital appointment yesterday, after interrupting a funeral procession at the Holy Sepulchre Church in the morning and then getting torrential rain poured on my head.

It was a strange day generally. I was asked to take a urine sample for one thing, and unable to find any other receptacle to piss in, I gave my lunchtime best to an empty multi-vitamin carton. Can you imagine what the results of the urine test would have been, if they'd taken them? But they didn't. I walked all the way up from Semilong to Cheyne Walk and spent an hour in the hospital with a carton of my own wee-wee in my pocket for nothing.

The consultant I saw, who's well known to the caring fraternity, questioned me for a long time on the seizures I'd had, how I was when I wasn't thrashing around on the floor, and asked me about my family history. Which isn't that great, medically speaking: meningitis, cancer, insanity...we've had everything the Grim Reaper carries in his hold-all, or near enough.

I was so nervous and uneasy talking about all this I actually forgot what dosage of medication I was on when she asked me. I could almost hear her thinking, "Is this man safe to do anything but stay at home by the window with his glasses on his lap?"

She reckoned there is a 70 or 80% chance that most people's seizures can be controlled by medication, if the dosage is right (which mine currently isn't, apparently, so it's going to be increased), and if there are no underlying causes for the seizures. To which end, I had to go off to the neurophysiology department, still carrying my piddle,after I'd finished with the Consultant,and have an eeg.Or is it an ecg?

Anybody who's ever had one of those will know what a surreal exercise they are. You are filmed, for one thing; I wasn't quite sure what the purpose of that was, though she did her best to explain it to me without being alarming. Then a kindly nurse draws on your head and starts attaching electrodes to it. After which you have to lay down, open and close your eyes a lot, and at the end of the examination breathe really exaggerated deep breaths for three minutes.

It's all to record the electrical patterns in your brain. Serious business, as Noel Edmonds would say. But being the mature and intellectual man I am, I had a fit of the giggles during the deep breathing part. The nurse assured me that was common. In schoolchildren.

Once everything was done she washed my hair for me and I was let loose on the world again, feeling a sense of elation just because I'd actually gone to the hospital, despite being scared shitless, and survived the appointment. When I left the neurophysiology department I took my wee-wee out of my pocket and dropped it in an overfull wastepaper basket. Probably a dirty thing to do, but I figured I'd been walking around smelling of my own urine for long enough.

I don't know what the results of the eeg/ ecg were, however. They have to be looked at by a doctor. I don't know when I'm going to get them either. If there's nothing startlingly untoward in my electrical patterns, the nurse said they might wait until I had to come back for an mri, which apparently I'll be getting an appointment for through the mail.

So let's hope my phone and my letterbox are quiet for a couple of days at least.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why I Write (Yeah, Why Do I Write?)

A reporter asked Dylan once why he wrote, after Bob had told a press conference that there was no real hope of anybody communicating meaningfully with anybody else.

"Because I've got nothing else to do, man," Dylan replied.

It's the same with me. I've been writing my ideas down for so long now I can't even help it. They've just become "scatological heaps", in Kerouac's great phrase.

Nobody reads this stuff. Or most people don't. And half of the small number of people who do have told me they tend to get about half way through and then they get lost or bored and go and do something else.

That's fine. I don't mind. But I'm not gonna change what I write to make it more comprehensible, or soften the tone to make it more palatable. I don't write it for anybody else. I just write it to get it out.

If I wanted to belong to a sewing circle I'd buy myself a needle and thread, huh?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Why The Peasant's Revolt Isn't Working

People are mocking the inefficacy of the so-called "peasants' revolt" against Gordon Brown among the rank-and-file of the Labour Party, as if it were proof either of the lack of legitimate opposition to Brown (that's his line), or the general incompetency of everybody in the party (that's David Cameron's line--"they can't even organise a rebellion properly"). But Labour rules make it deliberately difficult to oust a sitting leader. Those wishing to remove Brown have to collect seventy (I think) signatures in support of the same candidate for a leadership challenge before one can be mounted; and getting seventy Labour MPs to agree on anything except how much they loathe the Tories is damn near impossible. Diversity of opinion and freedom of conscience used to be one of Labour's strengths, before faceless middle-management robots and pipsqueaks took over at the top and repainted independence as disloyalty. So, because of rules the Labour elite invented to protect itself, the country has to creak on with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. And votes continue to leak out from previously safe Labour seats to fringe lunatics like the BNP. Though how anybody who previously voted Labour can vote for fascist swine like THAT escapes me.