I don’t recall his name, but it was New Years Eve 1998, the comedian walked on stage and was warmly welcomed. His opening gag, “Scotland is celebrating tonight….Lena Zavaroni has had a shit.” His comic timing was impeccable. The room filled with equal bouts of laughter, gasps and groans. It’s a gag that has stuck with me. Not because of any comic value, but its cruelty, given it was common knowledge that Zavaroni, a child star of the 1970s, had been suffering from anorexia since her teenage years and within a year of this gag the 35-year old Zavaroni was dead. The only thing I took heart from that night was the thinning audience seeking refuge in an adjourning bar where it was concluded the comic was boring, a one-shot pony, no depth and no charisma to manage an audience beyond aiming to shock. Years later 3 things often cross my mind from that evening.
20 years later and the willingness to say something shocking, offend, slag off or degrade is epidemic, even those seeking, accepting or obtaining public office are in on the act, but like that comic, they are often dull and as sure as night follows day accountability ultimately catches them up. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson MP the illustrious Secretary of State for Foreign affairs in the UK (one of the prominent 3 positions in UK Cabinet government). Johnson has sought to position himself as a Trump type character for the common man. Endlessly projecting himself as an affable, jovial person, he is now widely viewed as an incoherent train crash on Thomas the Tank proportions.
Johnson is of that ilk, a background of wealth and privilege giving a pretentious and mistaken belief they are not constrained by the standards decent people self-regulate to demonstrate their dignity. A sense of respect towards others including those less fortunate. Johnson sense of privilege allows him to casually describe war-torn Sirte, Libya as potentially the next Dubai once the dead bodies were cleared away. In this context, it became of little surprise that Johnston ran to the defence of his fellow traveller Toby Young, (journalist and self-styled educationalist) who has recently been appointed to a government-funded educational quango (The Office of Students). Young believes people attacking his appointment is because of his ‘outspoken Tory’ views, but while this may provide logic to some people, as a parent, with a daughter entering the university sector shortly, his politics are not of my concern on this occasion.
There are principled conservatives, as there is across the political spectrum, who have a sense of service, standards and ethics. They understand the tone they adopt provides a sense of responsibility, leadership and integrity, which underpins our trust and confidence in those wishing to serve the greater public good. Toby Young is not one of them. Toby Young is my 1990s forgotten comic making observations about “huge knockers, having a dick up a woman’s arse, gloating over baps, wanking over the efforts of Comic Relief to raise money for those in need and referencing working people as stains and deformed.” The critical difference between my 1990s forgotten comic and Toby Young is simple. My forgotten comic has never, to my knowledge, sought or accepted public office.
Young’s appointment is rightly receiving the criticism it deserves, and given the noise, he has released a statement regretting “the sophomoric, politically incorrect remarks on twitter and I hope people will judge me on my actions.” Schizophrenically Young is seeking to present himself twice. The virtual Toby detached with less accountability and the Toby in the real world. The real world Toby is demanding to be taken serious convinced in his self-belief, righteous education and privilege that he was born to offer us all the benefits of his gracious service. There will be those who find Young’s observations as the pinnacle of modern ironic comedy as part of the fight back against a politically correct world constructed by the liberal elites, which he and his ilk have built in their heads. A world, which they believe suffocates their freedom to call a spade a spade. It is a world where the ‘alt-right’ see themselves as freedom fighters against disabled ramps. A world where the context of equality is determined by wealth, status, the social network you belong too and what remains is a matter of charity.
2014, in an open letter to sitting Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord Paul Bew, who chaired The Ethical Standards in Public Service wrote about the public desire of wanting those involved in public life to adhere by common ethical standards. Lord Bew hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “for the public how things are done are as important as what is done.” The ethical standards Lord Bew was talking about are Integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and that holder of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour.
By appointing Toby Young, Theresa May is setting the bar for her standards, so what next how about Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to head up a public body into women’s health. Katie Hopkins to front up a refugee relief quango, how about an Honourary Lordship for Trump in recognition of his work in building religious tolerance? To use your own words Mr Young “I hope people will judge me on my actions.” Well for my small part here I am judging you by your actions and the standards in public life.
Three 2017 releases, which have brought a smile to my face.
One: The No Action debut album finally arrived. Originating from Australia, No Action have delivered an Intense, lo-fi album reminiscent of a vintage 4 track deck cassette recording of a rehearsal held in a vacated industrial estate. A thing of beauty, which collects material from over a five year period and is limited to 250 pressing, or download.
Two: While we take stock of the dangerous clown occupying the Whitehouse helping to restore a bit of confidence in the land of the free this December we had a further mini-release from Mouth Reader. Eyes Sink adds to their conveyor belt of catchy punk releases. A glorious racket delivered in just under 3 minutes. Perfectly formed.
Three: Martha properly the best pop/punk band to emerge from my native North East for many a long cold night continue to set a high bar. 2014s Courting Strong and 2016s Blisters in the Pit of my Heart album releases are still subject to heavy rotation. Mini-release The Winter Fuel Allowance arrived in November. The 7″ limited release may be sold out, but you can still snatch a download.
Enjoy the noise.
There is a crucial moment in the first Matrix film when the character Neon is presented with a life-changing choice by Morpheus between taking a red or blue pill, “You take the blue pill, You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland.” For those not familiar with the Matrix films the term red pill refers to a human who is aware of the true nature of the Matrix. There is a myth, which persists in the minds of some people in U.K. that the European Union forced the U.K. to change the colour of its passports from blue to burgundy and by regaining the original blue passport is a mark of national identity, sovereignty and taking back control. In the comedy of errors that has become the U.K these things matter to somebody, somewhere, for some reason for which I am not entirely sure. These are the people who have swallowed the blue pill. Those who have taken the red pill know the British government voluntarily switched the colour of our passports in the 1980s and the EU has never had the power to force member states to change the colour of their passport.
The “news story’ about the colour of our passport is what many would call a politically manufactured distraction or spin after another terrible week for the sitting zombie government in the U.K, which slips and slides from one crisis to another. Meanwhile, properly one of the most progressive-left opposition sit waiting in the wings to deliver a killer blow. To early and Labour will be left picking up the mid-negotiation mess, much better to wait until the next round of negotiations are well underway. This will give an incoming Labour Government, which will not tied to the rigours of a free-market economy as enshrined in EU treaties and law to intervene more radically in the economy. It’s not the type of ‘taking back control’ the Brexiters had in mind, but how ironic it would be. PS: The original colour of the British passport was black. Carry on swallowing the pills.
That little piece of wasteland on Bath Road (Totterdown) that captures the eye as you pass it by and is occasionally occupied by the travelling community with their array of small caravans, open fires, and washing lines. The home of Scott Buchanan Barden’s mural, which depicts the Bristol Uprising (Riots) of 1831is witnessing its final days. The political overtures are being devoured by space invaders, star wars and a baseball cap wearing bulldog on a skateboard. There is no questioning the artistic capabilities of those currently at work on the site as I witness the fading of yesterday, but just my reflection of the connections between past, current and future struggles will be lost. It’s sad to see Barden’s mural slowly vanish while recognising and accepting the inevitability. In ten years time though I ask myself will people on the Number 1 bus, as they crawl past, still be looking at a space invader, star wars and a baseball cap wearing bulldog on a skateboard mural in the same way I have looked at Barden’s mural, I think not, but then again will it really matter and is it important?
Last day of the month, attending and taking photographs at the launch of Bristol Hate Crime & Discrimination Services. As well as being for victims of any type of hate crime the service now brings in legal advocacy, restorative approaches, mediation and conflict resolution services for dealing with hate and discrimination. Further information on the service can be found here and more photographs from the event can be found by clicking on this link.
The event consisted of informative talks from civic leaders, charitable and statutory organisations, as well as performances from the Brandon Trust, which is a charity supporting adults and children with learning disabilities and autism. Bristol City’s Poet Laureate Miles Chambers, singer Anthony Thegeya and St. Paul’s Carnival CIC.