Thursday, April 22, 2010


Election time, and it seems necessary to examine my soul and choose who to vote for.

Emotionally I'm anti-government in any form. An anarchist must compromise, however. No-one would actually want to live in a place where there was no government. So let's call me a (fairly moderate) libertarian. I think we should have borders and armies and police and courts. I'm less convinced by the idea of the state running hospitals and schools and welfare systems, but still broadly in favour.

The only issue I really care about is the environment. Although saying that, I don't actually care that much about global warming, probably because I don't understand the implications.

But I hate cars and love trees, and if any major party was of that mind, they'd get my vote.

Over the last aeon, the Labour government has pissed me off.

Here are all the reasons I can think of off the top of my head. These are just the ones I can remember. I'm sure there were loads more that I've forgotten.

In order of how boilingly angry they make me:

Iraq war. Associated lies.
Lisbon treaty. Associated lies.
Lost control of immigration.
Vote rigging.
Boundary rigging.
Wrecking the House of Lords.
Ludicrous anti-terrorism laws in the face of the most laughable foreign threat in British history.

Lots of really stupid new laws. Did you know that it's now illegal to look at certain cartoons? To look at them. 
New blasphemy laws!!
Raising the school leaving age to 18.

Trial without jury.
CCTV cameras.
Smoking ban.
ID Cards.
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.  
Fox-hunting ban.
Foot and mouth slaughter.
Sold off our vast gold reserves for almost nothing.
Blew a vast hole in the budget whilst claiming to be prudent.
Pointless expansion of higher education.
Millenium Dome.

Also they're so stupid they thought they'd 'abolished boom and bust'. Or so dishonest that they claimed it knowing it was a lie.

In short I detest them and hold them in contempt. Tony Blair lied to the Parliament and to the People in order to start the Iraq war, and I would like to see him tried for treason and gutted at Tyburn in the traditional manner. I am not joking about this.

I grew up in Sheffield during the awful recession that Thatcher caused, and what I remember is not just the misery, but the hatred and the contempt and the sheer glee of the Tories as they smashed the social structure of my beloved home city. I cried in 'The Full Monty', because that's how I remember it, and funny though the film is, it's a story of utter desperation. And that's what it was like. And everywhere you looked the Tories were crowing with happiness about what they had done.

And I am going to have a very great deal of trouble ever voting for them as a result.

But even so, I prefer them to the Labour party, despite the despicable 'social right' wing of the Tory party, which is a home for racists and anti-abortionists and queer-bashers and 'christians' and hate-ridden old bastards who want to tell everyone else what to do, and whom I would very much like to die.

And then there's the Liberal Democrats. The old Liberal party was probably where my spiritual home was. But they allied with the Social Democratic phlegm that was spat out of old Labour and now they also believe in a vast state interfering with everything. And worse, they seem not to realise that the European Union is a hideous corrupt anti-democratic plot against the European peoples and want to ram their heads up its ass as speedily as humanly possible.

Also their local campaigning is frankly evil and dishonest. Did you hear the one about where they leave an old wheelie bin full of rotting stuff in your back alley and then come round with a questionnaire asking what you'd like to see changed in the neighbourhood? And if you say that you'd like someone to get rid of this eyesore they say they'll get on it. And then a bit later they come and take it away.

But on the other hand, they seem nice. And since they've never been in power and never had a chance to become corrupt, there's nothing I can actually hate them for.

Also the local Liberal candidate is the son of a don at my old college, and that is almost good enough for me on its own.

And finally the Greens. They hate cars and love trees. They are loonies, and I would die to prevent them forming a government, but they love trees and hate cars. So I would like to vote for them because then the other parties might think that there are votes in car-hating, and in tree-loving. And in their dishonest slimy calculating hypocritical way they might do some nice things for trees and maybe even some nasty things to cars. In the hope of siphoning some of those votes in their direction.

So, what to do in Cambridge?

As far as I know, it's a Liberal/Labour marginal, but it was pretty safe in the last election, and everyone seems to hate Labour much more now than they did then, for no reason I can fathom, because they don't seem any more vile than usual, and actually rather less slimy since they gave the psychopath a go instead of the oily lying one.

And Nick Clegg's debate performance has given the Liberals enough of a boost that I can risk voting for the Greens without worrying about letting the Labour filth-swine in by accident.

So that's what I'm doing.

Vote Green!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)

Whoever adapted this for the film did a stellar job. The plot in the book is almost the same, with a few details altered and minor characters who've been omitted in the film, but they're roughly the same story. The ending of the book seems rather unlikely and a bit far-fetched, whereas the same ending in the film just looks impossible.

But it's like reading the Financial Times. Part of that might be the fault of a rather pedestrian translation. Maybe it sparkles in Swedish.

Is all detective fiction like this? I haven't read much. Maybe it's one of the conventions of the genre that you're supposed to drown the reader in tedious details.

Save yourself the bother. See the film instead, which is short, sharp and sexy. If you'd like to read a novel about awful serial killing type stuff, try (my friend) Ruth Newman's wonderful Twisted Wing, just reissued in a new paperback version.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Night Watching (film)

Self-consciously arty, dirty, repellent, prurient, cruel, crude, incomprehensible, and, unforgivably, boring.

The fifth film I have walked out of. The others were The Crow, Hellraiser III, Blue Velvet, and some god-awful French thing about domestic violence: Dont Je Ne Me Souviens Plus Du Titre.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (film)

Magnificently, beautifully, terrifyingly evil and sexy from start to finish.

Makes Silence of the Lambs look like a christmas movie.

May God forgive me for enjoying this quite as much as I did.

The denouement drives a coach and horses through the plot, but by that point I was so shell shocked that the film was over before I noticed.

This version is in Swedish with English subtitles. Apparently there's a Hollywood version in the pipes. I dread to think what it will be like.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Fountain of Doubt

Guernica (Dave Boling)

Mixed feelings about this workmanlike first novel.

It has a saga-ey feel to it, a bit like Edward Rutherfurd, and belongs somewhere in the intersection of 'Historical novels where the characters think and feel as if they were present day people' and 'Disaster movies where one lovingly establishes all the characters and then crashes the plane into a mountain'.

I read it in one sitting, without ever being bored, but at the end I felt sort of empty, and not as if I'd learned anything new about Guernica, The Spanish Civil War, Picasso, or the Basque people.

The Puppet Masters (Robert Heinlein)

The old master in cheerful story-telling mode, with an imaginative version of 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'. Not philosopically interesting, but a good yarn.

Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel)

As good as everyone says it is. I usually finish good books in one sitting, but this is so richly written that you have to read it in short bites.

So effective is its re-imagining of the past that when they showed Holbein pictures on University Challenge recently, I found myself hissing at More (previously a hero of mine because of 'A Man for All Seasons') and cheering Cromwell (Henry's feared enforcer).

The Emperor Claudius tends to get a more sympathetic reading than he deserves because of 'I, Claudius', and I think that, in the same way, she'll have completely changed the view of Cromwell for future generations, just because history students will have this book's portraits already in the mind when they come to look at the evidence, and confirmation bias will do the rest.

Can't wait for 'Thomas Cromwell the God', although I can't imagine that things will end any better for our hero than they did for poor old Claudius.


This word (straight from greek: συνεκδοχή , simultaneous understanding) will never stick in my head.

It's a type of metaphor, in which parts stand for wholes, or vice versa.

Examples ripped from wikipedia

  • Fill him full of lead.
  • The smack of leather on willow
  • The gray-beard and the long-hair
  • The city posted a sign
  • Put it on plastic
  • A fresh pair of hands
  • What sort of coke do you have?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wedding Speech

Last week I was best man at my friend Mike's wedding in Southport, near Liverpool. This was my speech. The titles were my outline. Luckily I was trying to be sincere rather than funny, because the groom's speech brought the house down, and I had to follow it. By the end of mine half the audience were in tears.

A wedding party is a fairly easy audience!

I found the speech-giving a lot less stressful than standing in the church with the rings hoping not to drop them, but someone said that my left hand was shaking throughout, so some part of me must have found the experience terrifying. As far as my conscious mind was concerned, I enjoyed showing off in front of all those people immensely.

Introduce yourself

Hi, I'm John. I'm a friend of Mike's from College and ever since. We shared a house in Cambridge for a while.

I think it's fair to say that Mike is the man who's left the most plates of half-eaten pizza in my life.

On the other hand, PG Wodehouse said that the friendship of David and Jonathan would have been tested had the one persistently dropped catches off the other's bowling.

And I think it's fair to say that we've met that test full on, and emerged unscathed.

I'm a Yorkshireman, having grown up just the other side of the Pennines, so I was a little worried about coming to Lancashire.

But luckily, by a terrible accident, I was actually born in Manchester, which I'm told is like a magic passport to friendship and goodwill in this part of the world.

Thank John Evans

Obviously it's a huge honour to be asked to be someone's best man, and also a tribute to one's organizational abilities.

And so from my point of view it's unfortunate that that honour went to John Evans, Mike's brother, who's done a fantastic amount of work behind the scenes, at one point driving, what was it, 350 miles?

To play Dungeons and Dragons. This being Mike's last request as a free man.

We made him pretend to be a pixie, or something...

So the first person I want to thank is John, for all the effort he's put in.

And for saving my ass when I was out of fireball spells and that werewolf sneaked round the back of the old temple.

Why am I giving speech then?

So you might ask why I'm giving this speech, in which it's traditional to let slip the odd secret.

For some reason, it was thought that it would be better if it were someone who hadn't known Mike at school.

I have no further information.

And my price is traditionally quite high.

Thank bridesmaids or respond to groom's thanks

I'm sure that Isabelle's wonderful bridesmaids would like to respond in person to Mike's kind words earlier, but tradition dictates that I should reply on their behalf.

(As camply as possible) Thanks!!!xxx!!!

And of course I think we'd all like to thank them for so gloriously decorating the occasion. Well done girls!

Thank whoever paid for the wedding for inviting everybody

Also on behalf of all of us, I'd like to thank Lucien and Christine for inviting us all to share this great party that they've organised to celebrate Isabelle and Mike's special day.

You have really pushed the boat out, on a scale I believe was last seen for Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the classical world.

An appropriate comparison for Isabelle, I think.

Hint at Stag Night Debauchery

It's traditional that at this point, I should say a few words about the stag night.

I'm afraid that I have little to report, since the Succubus-o-gram failed to turn up, despite our most earnest pentacles.

But on a personal note, is the gorgeous Swedish bird with the Errol Flynn moustache here?

(She was...)

See me later young lady.

Describe Groom

As I mentioned earlier, I first met Mike at college, an establishment founded in 1441, and dedicated to the spiritual life and the advancement of religion.

The full name of the place is the King's College of our Lady and St Nicholas, and it's famed throughout the world for its Santa Claus and Virgins parties.

Mike was always a true son of the place, a saintly figure in fact.

Ever since I first met him, when I tripped over his duvet.

In the college bar.

At three o'clock in the morning.

After that I don't think he ever put a foot out of place.

(pointing in vague direction of Cambridge contingent)
And it's at this point that it's traditional for people not to shout 'That's never a foot', because that joke always falls a bit flat.


As a scholar of the college, which means that in a haunt of very clever people he stood out as being particularly clever, and so they gave him a book token, Mike would have had to swear to 'devote himself to the studies of the university'.

A vow which I know he took just as seriously as everyone else.

Joking apart, Mike is a frighteningly clever and curious man.

I think in fifteen years, for at least two of which we shared a house and played almost every night, I've beaten him at chess what, three times?

(At this point, Mike shouted 'twice' in a stern sort of way, which got a huge laugh)

Quantum Mechanics, which baffled and confused Einstein and caused the great physicist Feynman to say 'If you think you understand this, then you really haven't understood the first thing about it', was Mike's specialist subject.

I once heard him say 'I never really got Shakespeare at school.' I said 'Well it's not all drivel', and read him the famous speech from Julius Caesar.

I must have done a fair job, because a couple of months later he told me he'd signed up to do a degree in English Literature.

He's a man with a desire to understand the world around him.

But actually his intelligence isn't the most important thing about Mike.

He has a gentleness, a kindness, and a tolerance that is very rare, and very precious.

Men like him are few and far between. Well found Isabelle.

Describe Bride

I haven't known Isabelle for nearly as long. In fact from my point of view it was a bit of a whirlwind romance.

One day Mike called to say 'Hi John. I'm coming to Cambridge for a few days. Is there any chance of a game of cricket, meet up with some old friends?'

In my innocence I suggested that we meet up at a favourite cafe in one of the few bits of town that, instead of having a statue of Isaac Newton or a fifteenth century gargoyle arrangement, has an excellent view of the dual carriageway and does a good lunch.

And it was at this point that he introduced his new girlfriend, who'd clearly been been enticed along with talk about punt trips and old colleges and a walk along the famous backs.

Now when I was a lad, girls hated cricket.

Of course nowadays, what with women's liberation and all that, it's all completely different.

These days women hate cricket.

So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I mentioned that indeed the old friends were a man short for our Saturday game tomorrow, against the Pembury Arms, and that there might just be a few seats left on the train, as it happened.

Isabelle, bless her, pretended to be absolutely delighted to watch her new boyfriend demolishing a small pub in a park in North London. The city they'd left not twenty-four hours earlier.

At the after-cricket poker game she delightedly extracted all our money, to show there were no hard feelings.

As they used to say in the Old West, never cross a mathematician when she's in reach of a deck of cards.

Anyway I felt a teeny bit guilty about all this, until the second communication from Mike, which was a text saying. "We're in Venice and I asked Isabelle to marry me and she said yes!!!"

So maybe she really does like cricket.

Fortunately there's no game organised today.

At any rate I think she's displayed a tolerance, a good humour, and indeed a financial acumen that will serve her well in the days to come.

Describe their Relationship

An old piece of advice often said at weddings goes 'Find in your partner a lover, a friend and a teacher'.

I can't help thinking that what with Mike having done a PGCE and Isabelle actually being a teacher, this might be being taken a tad too literally here.

What I do know is that they seem ideally suited. They finish each other's sentences.

Apparently they fell in love at school, but they were both too shy to mention it.

By the time they met up again, some fifteen years later, obviously one of them had managed to pluck up the courage to say something!

Toast to Bride and Groom

They say that we bachelors know more about women than married men...

That's why we're still bachelors.

Be that as it may, I've been made very jealous by this beautiful ceremony that we've been privileged to witness today.

I'm jealous of the courage it takes to make such a commitment, before your friends and your family and God.

I'm jealous of Isabelle, for having found this clever, funny, kind, gentle man who loves her.

I'm jealous of Mike, for his beautiful, bright, tolerant, smiling wife.

I'm jealous of the years of contented happiness that stretch out before them. Of their shelter from the storm with each other.

I wish you long life, health, wealth, happiness and children, all those things.

But most of all I wish you... I wish all of us, love.

As Auden told us: We must love one another or die.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the bride and groom.

Dawkins and the Pope

When I first heard the story about Richard Dawkins trying to put the Pope under Citizen's arrest, I groaned.

Professor Dawkins is a hero of mine. I read his book 'The Selfish Gene' in my early teens. He has a gift as a science writer of explaining things so clearly that the reader feels like a genius.

I cheered when I saw the title of his book, 'The God Delusion'. At last someone has had the courage to say it out loud. I myself would be too scared and superstitious. I remember the bits of the Inferno where the atheists are entombed in burning lead coffins for all time.

No close family of mine are religious, and the attempts to indoctrinate me at school washed straight over my head.

And yet the vision of eternal damnation, so woven through our culture and literature, still haunts me to the point where I'd find it difficult to speak out against Christianity.

Dawkins is a brave man. Everything I've heard him say seems reasonable to me, and I agree with all of it. The remarkable thing about him is that he has the moral, spiritual, intellectual and physical courage to say it to the world.

But trying to arrest the Pope looks like a publicity stunt. And most people who have heard of Dawkins think of him as an atheist fanatic and bigot. Maybe he is. I don't think so, but I'm biased by agreeing with him, and I may be a bigot myself. How does one tell?

So it was with some relief that I read that he's not behind the idea, although he has said that he supports it. (see here)

But what about the idea itself? Not long ago the Scout Movement, which on the whole is a terrific force for good in the lives of young boys, was the centre of a storm of paedophilia accusations.

I was a cub scout myself. I don't believe that scouting is intrinsically evil.

Maybe the problem is just that if you put men in authority over boys it leads to abuse. Abuse is, of course, a euphemism. What is meant, I imagine, is the rape, torture and intimidation of children.

I've always counted myself very lucky that my desires focus on adult females of my own species. Between the ages of about thirteen and thirty my sex drive was overwhelming. I could literally think about nothing else most of the time, and I would have done almost anything to get laid.

What sort of hellish temptation would it be if your desires focused on young boys, over whom you were given the sort of authority that a scoutmaster used to have?

How much worse would it be if you'd been given the sort of absolute moral authority of a priest?

We can make some comparisons between scouting and catholicism:

One of the overriding considerations of the Catholic heirarchy seems to have been to protect the reputation of the Church.

So consider how you'd react if the Scout Movement, once it was aware of the cases of sexual abuse within it, had, on a widespread, coordinated, worldwide basis:

  • Refused to contact the police.
  • Sworn victims to secrecy.
  • Moved scoutmasters they knew were guilty to other scout troops where no-one knew what they had done.

And all 'to protect the reputation of the Scout Movement'.

I'd want someone hung. If this was official policy, written down in documents and propagated world wide, then someone must have been responsible for it. There's no question that it would be illegal, surely?

I happen to think that the Pope is innocent. Three different incidents have been suggested as being evidence that the Pope himself was directly guilty of this sort of cover up.

In all three cases, the Vatican has produced plausible innocent reasons for why what was done was done.

But then they would, wouldn't they?

There's enough evidence to charge him, and have the matter properly examined in court. Why on earth would we not do this?

What amazes me is that the initiative comes from atheists. For us, this scandal is a stick with which to embarrass the church and destroy its credibility. I doubt that atheists find the actual offenses more horrifying than anyone else. Humanists don't claim a monopoly on humanity.

After all, it wasn't the atheists bringing legal proceedings against scoutmasters and care home staff, was it?

But what about the obvious initiators of proceedings? Why is this not being done by the victims themselves? Where is the State? Why is the Catholic Church itself not eager to open its archives and let the people of the world see what it has been doing? Why would they not want to prove their innocence? If they're guilty, why would the innocent parts of the church not welcome the help of the police in cleaning their house?

How did scouting react under the same pressure?

And what on earth made the church behave in the way it did and is doing?

Is the difference belief itself?

I find it hard to understand the religious mindset, let alone the catholic one.

But as I understand it, only the Catholic Church can save souls, and an unsaved soul is condemned to eternal torture.

If you believe this, and I get the impression that to be a catholic, you have to literally believe this, then any amount of evil is worth doing in order to save one soul.

It would be clearly worthwhile to allow yourself to be tortured to death if it would save your soul. Indeed many revered martyrs have done exactly that.

If you believed that it would save their soul, then it would be a kind and righteous act to burn a living human being. Whatever their own beliefs.

If you literally believe, then 'preserving the reputation of the church' becomes a very important thing indeed.

Every time a believer loses their faith, a thing infinitely worse than death happens to them.

You can, you should, you must do anything at all to stop this happening.

It may be that the Pope, or someone or some group in the church heirarchy is guilty of this horrible cover up, indeed this horrible promotion and safeguarding of evil, whilst being entirely innocent in their own eyes, and in the eyes of any true believer.

But should this 'innocence' be a defence?

Maybe it should. But it is a defence along the lines of 'My mind is so infected by a fixed idea that I can not tell right from wrong. I am unpredictable, and capable of feeling justified in any action whatsoever.'.

In other words, maybe the right place for the Pope is not a prison, but a mental hospital like Broadmoor. Alongside people like Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper of my youth, who raped and tortured prostitutes, because God had told him to.

Thursday, April 1, 2010