One Year Anniversary / Retirement / Announcement of New Thing Party

Hello!

As I’ve been hinting for the last two weeks, I just passed the one year anniversary of writing this stupid blog. Look at all the gifts and cards you guys sent!

I hate you guys

I hate you guys

In other news this is also gonna be the last one of these I do, for now at least. Before you commence the weeping and the rending of clothes, do not despair too deeply, cos I’m gonna be back like Backstreet with a brand new groove like Kuzco. You guys all remember Kuzco right? Kuzco?

 

Anyone?

Anyone?

Why? Well, I’ve been harbouring a hankering to write some fiction for a while now, and this anniversary seems like as good a time as any to jump in and get started. To quote from the Who Are You Then? bumf I wrote at the outset of this endeavour –

“I’d like to write a book one day about a rogue mathematician and a karate robot and a mysterious ninja and a wisecracking juggler guy. Don’t steal that idea, that’s mine.”

That day has now come. I’m getting rid of two of those characters and adding a few more, but it’s substantially the same idea. It’s gonna be an episodic picaresque comic fantasy thing, it’s provisionally called The Duat and it’s gonna debut next week. As I wrote about in the charmingly titled Why Do I Still Write This Fucking Thing?, having a self-imposed weekly deadline has been immeasurably helpful in getting me to consistently sit down, put finger to keyboard and actually produce some-fucking-thing on a regular basis, so I want to keep on putting stuff out for people to read at regular intervals. I’m not quite sure yet what a realistic pace is; I’m shooting for an episode every two weeks but we’ll see how it goes.

With all of that said, I wanted to give this thing a proper send off. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve written over this last year and I’m pleased as punch that so many people seem to have enjoyed it. As a way of saying goodbye to it, I’d like to go through the archive a bit and pull together a few thoughts about the whole shebang.

It's weird, I'm not normally this self-indulgent

It’s weird, I’m not normally this self-indulgent

OK, to start with I have literally just worked out how to do categories with WordPress. Having been back to add categories to all the old entries I can see that of the 46 total I’ve written, 28 were proper ones where I tried to work something out, 4 were lyrics & poems, 4 were stories and 10 were miscellaneous. That means about two thirds were proper ones, which is not a bad ratio. Hopefully the new categorisation makes it a little easier to browse the archive, should anyone ever be so inclined to do so, though to be honest WordPress’s navigation is kind of a piece of shit innit. I’ve been toying with the idea of migrating everything I do to a dedicated site, but that shit costs money yo. Anyway, I digress.

Looking at my most frequently used tags, I see that ‘bastards’ is at the top of the pile with four posts receiving that tag (for the record, the groups accused of or assessed for bastardhood were: Sainsbury’s, Ice Bucketers, Gentrifiers and Bad People). Hot on those bastards’ heels comes ‘business’ with three (Playing Games In Your Head, Finding Meaning In Your Day, and Whatever The Fuck This Was). Skimming through the remaining tags, a few that jump out at me include: Clare’s Accessories, Football Jesus, Molten Brain, Club Penguin and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino.

Pictured here pointing at The Situation.

Pictured here pointing at The Situation.

What about viewcounts? Everone loves stats innit. Oh, just me? Well I’m doing it anyway. By far the most viewed post is Why Yorkshire Needs To Shut The Fuck Up About Yorkshire, with a runaway 3,865 views. It’s not hard to see why that one did well, it’s classic clickbait, it’s in a list format, it’s short and funny and just the right sort of thing to needle your idiot friend from stupid Yorkshire. Number two with a bullet is What’s Wrong With Hipsters, with 1,127 views, which is a lot harder to explain. I guess people just really like reading about hipsters, and it was written in response to a bit of news fluff that was floating around at the time about those cereal guys so maybe that helped.

There’s a big jump down to the next most viewed, Is Gentrification Good Or Bad Or Neither (Or Both), with 290 views. There’s a much more steady decrease after that, down to the least most viewed: two placeholder/interludes and my cool story about George and the Dragon which was actually pretty good and deserves more than the measly 38 views it had. That is of course, if anything deserves anything which is up for debate.

Top Five Time!

top 5

Here are five fairly arbitrarily selected posts that I think were good, even more arbitrarily ordered.

5. Are Emoticons For Dickheads?

An early one which neatly encapsulates a fairly common thread in these posts, which is “hey Raph, stop judging people over trivial shit”.

 

4. Some Animal Fables

These are soppy and fuzzy-hearted and earnest and I don’t give a damn cos I like them.

 

3. What’s Wrong With Valentine’s Day?

Largely here for the phrase “oppressive chocolate capitalists”.

 

2. Talkin’ About Depression

I’m including this one mainly for the conversation it generated among readers. Following its publication a lot of people told me it was very similar to their own experience. Especially heartwarming were the number of people who were encouraged to share their own stories.

 

1. The Spooky Ghost That Was Spooky And Also It Was A Ghost

Possibly the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything.

 

Alright, now I’ve spent 150 odd words describing what my favourite bits of my own writing are I think we’ve closed the loop on this self-indulgence party. You can find the categories and archive on the right of this page if you ever want to go back and read any of this stuff. Like I said, the navigation is pretty shitty, which is why I’ve tried to pluck out a few highlights. Of course you could always start at the very beginning and read them all. Maybe gather the family together and read them aloud like they did back in the days before podcasts.

It only remains for me to say thank you very much to everybody who has read these posts, shared and commented on them, and talked to me about them IRL. The encouragement I’ve had from readers has been crucial in keeping me going when I wanted to chuck the whole thing in.

I’ll be back next week with a brand new flex, for which I hope some of you will join me.

Bye! X

 

This Is The End Now

What Now?

I have a memory – one of my earliest – of running to see my mum, the day after the election in 1992. I would have been five years old and not quite au fait with all the ins and outs of the political milieu, but I remember the flailing distraught of childhood – that hot feeling in your head when it seems like everything has gone irrevocably wrong and you’re too ill-equipped to deal with it cos you’re five and everything is just a bit much right now. I remember seeing my mum upset, but without the despair. My mum was never hopeless. My mum got things done.

In many ways this election, and its result, reminds me of 1992. Coming off the back of a period of dwindling public services, a widening gap between rich and poor and a general feeling that people have had enough, it was tempting to imagine a resurgence of the left. Polls predicted a hung parliament; a left-wing coalition seemed feasible. If a Tory-led government did get in it would face serious opposition in parliament, a chance to curb its worst excesses. Instead we face a Conservative majority and another five years of privatisation, deregulation and cuts to public services. It is a blow heavy enough to feel crushing, to take the wind from your sails and the breath from your lungs.

Many people are upset this morning. Many people feel crushed. It makes you want to scream in the street, to shout “what the fuck is WRONG with people?!”, to chuck a bin through a window. However much we might hate this result though, we must accept it. That’s kind of the point of democracy.

So what now?

I would like to write some consoling words here, some assurance that things will be OK. But I don’t think that now is a time for consolation. I think that apprehension and dissatisfaction are appropriate reactions to this result. I don’t, however, think that those feelings need lead us to despair, or to hopelessness. Rather, they should spur us to action.

Thus far in my adult life I have not been a very politically active person. Nor have I been particularly active in my community. I don’t really like talking to people I don’t know, or talking politics, or making an effort generally. This may have to change. If we cannot rely on our government to care for those in need, it is more imperative than ever that those of us with resources and energy to spare devote some of that surplus to helping our neighbours. If increasing poverty drives more families to food banks, those food banks will need workers and donations. If the education system fails more young people, then we will need more mentors and community youth groups. If the NHS is gutted we will need more carers and more support for those, young and old, thrust into a life as a carer to their loved ones.

It shouldn’t be this way. We should be able to rely on the state to protect us from the worst outcomes in life. No child should go hungry. No sick person should go untreated. This may have always been an unrealised dream, but that dream has never felt so distant to me – a child of five in 1992 – as it does this morning. But we need not be hopeless. We can get shit done. We can take our fear, our hurt, our anger, and we can channel it into motivation. We can get involved. We can volunteer. We can organise. We may not be able to change the big stuff, but we can certainly make a big difference to the people around us, by devoting a little of our time and our energy to their wellbeing.

Two great places to start are by looking for volunteer roles online through http://do-it.org or finding your local volunteer centre at https://www.ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering/find-a-volunteer-centre .

Oh, and at least George Galloway got booted the fuck out so there’s still a little sunshine left in the world.

This Is The End Now

The one year anniversary party is postponed til next week owing to the general bleakness of today, so come back for that (and a big blog announcement) next week.

Who Should I Vote For?

Yoyoyoyoyoyoyo.

Looky-here, see. I keep trying to write something about the election, things like “Who Should I Vote For?” and “Is It Worth Voting For A Minority Party?” and that kind of thing, but after a few different drafts and ideas I’ve boiled down my thoughts into the following succinct statement:

Fuck the Tories.

Fuck those venal robbing bastards and their venal robbing bastard mates. Fuck their thoughtless, narrow-minded policies painstakingly designed to appeal to the worst parts of our nature. Fuck their lying liars’ hearts and the black lie-filled ichor those “hearts” pump through their withered veins. Fuck their business-shielding, hospital-closing, murder-by-proxy priorities. Fuck their calculation. Fuck the looks of concern they plaster to their faces when they talk about “working families”. Fuck their opinions on who matters. Fuck their appropriation of tradition, as if the traditions they appealed to were not mere inventions of convenience, as if old somehow meant good anyway, as if nuclear families were ever the norm, as if homosexuality were recent, as if war were noble, as if our continued slander of the poor and desperate, from the workhouses to the dole queue, were something to be proud of.

Fuck them for trying to make me blame the powerless for the ills of society. Fuck them for appealing to my selfishness. Fuck them for appealing to my fear. Fuck them for never once appealing to my compassion or my empathy. Fuck their wilful ignorance. Fuck them for not knowing, not caring to know, what life is like for the millions of people unable to adequately heat their homes or feed their kids. Fuck their snakes’ eyes, and their lizards’ tongues, and their souls made of barren dirt and broken glass.

Oh and fuck UKIP too, obviously, those opportunistic, hateful, badly dressed puddle of fucks. Fuck the very real possibility that the two parties lock lips and hop into bed together in an orgy of cash and hatred, like Bernie Ecclestone and Jeremy Clarkson getting off on the bonnet of a Bugatti against the backdrop of a thousand baby seals weeping. That was a slightly strained analogy and I’m not sure it worked, but I think you get the point. Fuck those guys.

seal tear

Politics is a dirty business in which compromise is inescapable and ideals are hard to translate into meaningful change. Running a country is probably really fucking difficult. Pleasing a bunch of people who all disagree with each other is impossible, and crazy shit outside of your control like floods and foreign countries run by evil bastards and stock market crashes and energy price hikes are gonna come along and throw all of your lovely plans out of the window. The Lib Dems kinda fucked it up last time by promising a bunch of shit they could never do, then joining up with Team Evil and not doing any of it. Kinda stupid of them, kinda spineless, but I don’t hate them for it. Labour went to war in Iraq, a war that dragged on and caused a bunch of chaos and killed a bunch of innocents. But you know what man, for as many bad reasons as there were for that war, I maintain that there is something to be said for military intervention to remove genocidal dictators. As I wrote in my thing about nuclear subs, foreign policy is always shady as fuck and there are often no good answers or outcomes. I don’t hate Labour for that. As for the Green party, they seem like the Lib Dems all over again to me. Nice policies, not sure how achievable a lot of them are or how effective they’d be in power.

Importantly, none of those parties act like they’d eat the still-beating heart of your newborn child if it’d net them a few more hundred K and they thought they could get away with it.

Vote for whoever, but for the love of your neighbour, let’s have a bit of co-ordination and co-operation among the anti-puppy-kicking end of the political spectrum. Vote tactically, swap your vote, hold your nose and vote for a party that doesn’t quite match your ideals, but vote to kick these motherfucking motherfuckers to the motherfucking curb.

This Is The End Now

Next week marks the one year anniversary of this blog, so everyone’s allowed to bring a toy.

George and the Dragon

“Alright George?” said George, poking listlessly at a pile of mud with a stick.

“How did you know my name, peasant?” replied St George. Resplendent astride his chestnut horse, his white raiment gleamed in the morning light.

“It’s written on yer shield innit” said George. He poked the pile again. “And my name’s not peasant, it’s George same as yours.”

“Be silent, peasant!” shrieked the Saint, unused to this level of chatback from a lowly mud poker. “Do not deign to address me in this familiar manner!”

“S’not even my job description. I’m a skilled labourer – I make boxes down at the box shop in town. I just come up here to unwind, you know. Good to feel the mud between your toes.”

“Silence!” screamed the Saint again, his voice shrill. He was growing red and flustered.

“Fair enough, never was a big chinwagger anyway.”

George fell silent. A few moments passed, during which time the Saint attempted to regain his composure. When he had grown a little less rosy, he spoke once more:

“Tell me, peasant” he began, with regal composure, “where is the cave of the wyrm, which hast wrought such destruction o’er these lands?”

A few more moments passed, during which time George looked up at the Saint with perfect equanimity.

“Well?” barked the Saint. “Answer me, peasant!”

“I thought you told me to be silent? You don’t know if you’re coming or going mister, make your bloody mind up will ya?”

George began to investigate the contents of one ear with a probing finger.

“Wyrm is it? Big scaly feller with the teeth and the fire and all of the carrying on?”

“Yes! Insolent wretch that you are! The wyrm! Tell me where he is laid and I swear to you I will kill him this very day!”

George removed the finger and examined his haul. He held the digit up for inspection.

“Have you seen this? I swear all the smoke down in town turns it black. Nasty stuff, someone ought to do something.”

“FOOL!” the Saint’s cry boomed across the muddy valley. He rattled his lance aggressively down at George. “Tell me where I may find the wyrm that I may slay it lest I slay you where you stand in its stead!”

For the first time this gesture appeared to affect George’s unruffled composure. He furrowed his brow slightly and waved a hand in a vaguely placating gesture.

“Steady on mate, no need to go waving things at people. You’ll have someone’s bloody eye out with that.”

He wiped the offending substance on the seat of his trousers. “I’m getting to the wyrm inn I? I’m just trying to break it to you gentle, sort of thing”

“Break what to me gentle?” asked the Saint, the pointy pit of his lance still pointed down at the recalcitrant box-maker.

“Well…” George puckered up his mouth as though he was holding something unpleasant in it. “Thing is, right, you’re sort of barking up the wrong thing, sort of thing. Tree.”

He licked his lips nervously and glanced up at the scowling knight.

“In as much as, there isn’t exactly what you’d call a wyrm round here right at this present moment. Seeing as, you know… they sort of don’t exist.”

“What are you blathering about man?!” exclaimed the Saint. “Everyone knows that wyrms thrive out here in the mountains, feasting on the flesh of lambs and ignorant yet noble peasants such as yourself”.

He peered down again at George. “Well, not such as yourself perhaps, but I’m sure not all your peers are quite so debased as you.”

“Oh yeah, seen one have you?” asked George.

“Yes, we have many on our grounds at home, tilling the soil and working the land and doing, you know… peasanty things. None of them are half so disrespectful as you.”

“Seen a wyrm, I meant, George” if there were a few more choice words muttered at the end of this sentence, the Saint did not catch them.

“Yes again, peasant. In the illustrated tomes back home there are many!” the Saint’s face was writ large with the smug satisfaction of correctness.

“Oh books, is it? I asked you if you’d seen one, not if you’d seen the doodles of some bored scribe somewhere trying to lessen the crushing tedium of transcribing a bunch of bollocks by some Greek prick.”

“Watch your tongue peasant, or I shall have it out!”

“Oh yes, very Christian of you that, innit? Very bloody Christian indeed. Coming to my mud patch and threatening me just because I happen to disabuse you of your ridiculous notions.”

The two were both shouting now, the Saint waggling his lance down at the boxmaker, who in turn was waggling his poking stick back up.

“Look,” the Saint began in a conciliatory tone, “let us not threaten and rave. As you say, it is not in the spirit of the lord Jesus who guides my steps, indeed who guided me here this very day.”

“Who told you there was a wyrm here?” asked George.

“We have had many reports coming in from the locals of a foul beast causing ruction and ruin throughout these parts.”

“Locals was it?” George shook his head dismissively. “You know who the locals are around here? Bunch of idiot peasants who’ve never seen anything but mud, the hovel they were born in, and the six other hovels in a one mile radius. Bunch of bloody yokels wouldn’t know a wyrm if it bit them, which it could never do, cos there’s no such bloody thing as a wyrm to do the biting. One of em probably saw a dog or something and everyone got over-excited.”

“A dog.” The Saint’s voice was low and devoid of tone.

“Possibly. Could have been a big chicken, maybe.”

“You think,” said the Saint, his words slow and deliberate, “that the lord God spoke directly to me, sent me halfway across the world, led me to this barren hole, in order that I might heroically slay a big chicken?

“Could have been a dog.” George’s equanimity was back. In fact, he seemed quite cheerful.

“I have had enough of you, foolish peasant” said the Saint. He raised his lance and rode swiftly away without a further word.

It was seven days before the Saint returned. George was standing in the same spot, poking seemingly the same mudpile with a stick. The Saint stopped in the same position he had occupied seven days before, but did not speak. George looked upon him with mild curiosity. His white clothes were stained with mud with small rips here and there, but were unbloodied.

“Any luck finding that wyrm?” asked George.

The Saint shook his head ruefully.

“I asked everywhere. I followed every direction. I checked every cave. I found…. nothing”

George made a sympathetic face.

“Sorry about that. Sounds pretty rough.”

He poked a little more at the pile. The Saint neither spoke nor moved. Again, George broke the silence.

“The people you met… insightful were they? Informative? Reliable witnesses, so to speak?”

The Saint just raised his head to stare down at George. It was a look of utter defeat. Despite himself, George felt a pang of sympathy.

“Look, tell you what mate. Why don’t you just go home and tell everyone you found the wyrm and slew the balls off it, and I’ll tell everyone around here that I saw you riding past with a great big wyrm head on your pommel, and no one will be any the wiser.”

“But I slew nothing! The people here will not be so easily fooled!”

“Have you met the people here?”

The Saint nodded slowly, conceding the point.

“OK, but what about back home? I have no proof, nothing to convince them!”

“It’s surprisingly easy to lie about something that doesn’t exist. Just tell em the body disintegrated when you killed it and you saw the face of God and magic something something yada yada whatever. Maybe burn a few holes in that tabard thing you’re wearing.”

“It’s a vestment.”

“It’s a bloody state is what it is. Scorch it a little bit, maybe catch a sheep or summat and get some blood on it, you’ll be right as rain.”

“This will never work” said the Saint, but George could see the light of hope had been kindled in his eye.

“Give it a go,” he said, “people will swallow all kinds of bullshit if you tell it to them while coincidentally holding a big pointy stick.”

AND THUS, A LEGEND WAS BORN

st george

 

Do We Need These Nuclear Submarines?

Yes yes Internet.

After a few weeks of distractions, diversions and mysterious absences, this week I find myself actually presented with a question I don’t know the answer to, but would like to think more about. I know, I’m as surprised as anyone. Unfortunately, in order to answer it I might actually have to do some research, but then you can’t have everything can you.

Sometimes all you have is a shitload of ducks and a moped

Sometimes all you have is a shitload of ducks and a moped

Alright, so the red and blue politics guys have been spatting this week over who can more vociferously shout their support for renewing the Trident submarines. For those as clueless as I am, these are a bunch of submarines with nuclear missiles on them that the UK keeps out on continuous patrol. At any given time at least one of these subs is out there, silently driving about, just waiting for shit to get real. I think the idea is that if it pops off big willy style the sub will pop up and fire a dick-ton of nukes at whoever’s bringing the ruckus, like batman emerging from the shadows to break the fuck out of some mugger’s arm. More to the point, the subs act as a “deterrent”, a constant threat against anyone who might be plotting some nefarious shit (*coughcoughrussiacoughcoughcough*). Sort of like how the petty crime rate dropped in Gotham when all the baddies got wind that there was a borderline psychopathic vigilante going round snapping arms all over the shop.

"I'm Batman. Fuck your arms."

“I’m Batman. Fuck your arms.”

So we’ve got these subs out there anyway, rolling in the deep, and the big parties can’t get enough of em but some of the little parties on the left think we should get rid of em. Oh, and they cost like a bajillion pounds a year to maintain and they need upgrading and that’s gonna cost another bazillion, and you know, hospitals and stuff need money too.

My question is then, are they worth it?

Let me work it.

And put my game down flip it and reverse it.

It’s bla flippydippy nyah nyah blippa dippa it’s nyah flibba dibba snyah yah dippa dippa.

"I’m Missy Elliot. Look at this fucking horse!”

“I’m Missy Elliot. Look at this fucking horse!”

 

Before we get into this proppa proppa then, let me lay out my initial impressions and prejudices.

  1. The thought of these elite nuclear subs, out there at all times silently patrolling, just watching and waiting, ready to emerge at any time and strike is fucking cool. That’s some Game of Thrones nights watch shit right there. I probably shouldn’t think that’s as cool as I do, but man its cool. I wanna go read some Tom Clancy right now.
  2. Nuclear weapons are bad innit. There should be less of them out there, not more.
  3. Anything the tories are this into is probably bad.
  4. Having said that, international relations is a mucky business – just like Game of Thrones it sounds good on paper to be all nicey-nicey and shit but then someone cuts your fucking head off or kills your wolf or summat. There’s a lot of countries out there that are proper wankers.
  5. Also, I think the whole tenor of the argument this week has been disgusting. It hasn’t been in any way a reasonable discussion of the issue, it’s been a load of fear mongering and shit-slinging. The notion is out there that anyone who doesn’t support Trident is either an idealistic idiot with no sense of how shit works in the real world, or an outright traitor. It’s basically been a cheap tory dig at a straw-man version of labour, to which labour has responded by doubling down on their own stupid military bellicosity. But, offputting as all that shit is, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep the subs. It’s irrelevant to a reasonable discussion, but irrelevancy cuts both ways.
Irrelevant picture

Irrelevant picture

Right then. My heart says fuck nukes, let’s build schools and shit, but I find the notion that this is not an arena for naïve idealism compelling too. Getting nuked is like, really bad innit, so maybe it’s worth paying the big bucks to make sure that doesn’t happen. In fact, I’m gonna take a position here and say it’s more important to not get nuked (or otherwise have significant numbers of the civilian population killed in war) than it is to fund health, education or welfare. I think funding health, education and welfare is super-important, for realsies, but I’m gonna say it’s even more important to make sure everyone’s not dead.

I’m also gonna leave aside questions about other areas where financial spending could get cut, or money saved. I accept that the number one priority of the government should be ensuring everyone doesn’t get killed. I think my question can be quite simply reduced to whether having these nuclear subs out there is necessary for making sure that doesn’t happen. I think we can further break this down into two sub-questions: “what is the actual impact of these subs on our chances of having a bunch of people get deaded in war?” and “could the same impact be achieved by other, better, means?” What counts as better in the second question? I think both cheaper and non-nuclear methods would be better, if they achieved the same impact on reducing the odds of everyone getting murked.

I don’t know how to answer those questions, and I also don’t know where to go to get trustworthy information. I don’t trust the media or the politicians on telly to answer, because both those groups have a vested interest in sensationalising their response in order to elicit a strong emotional reaction in their audience. The emotions are strong on both sides – nukes and war are really really evil, and also really really scary. It also looks to me like a lot of the data that would be super useful in answering these questions just isn’t available, even in principle. How likely is it that we’d get nuked or otherwise attacked if we didn’t have nuclear weapons? How likely is it that we’ll get nuked or otherwise attacked as things currently stand? How are these odds likely to change over the next few decades, independently of our nuclear defense strategy?

i dunno

 

There’s no way to definitively answer these questions, we’re basically just venturing more or less educated guesses. From my position of near-total ignorance the only thing I can do is defer to the judgment of impartial experts. But where do we find these experts in amongst the dickheads on the telly calling each other pansies for not being into nukes enough? Well, I went to Wikipedia, and the best looking source I found there was the Trident Commission launched by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC). BASIC are an independent think-tank dedicated to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. From the very limited research I just did, they look pretty respectable and sensible. To quote Wikipedia (kids! – make sure you always do this when you’re writing essays):

In 2011, the non-proliferation and disarmament think-tank BASIC launched an independent cross-party Commission in order to initiate a deeper national debate on the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons policy and examine questions around the contentious issue of Trident renewal. The Commission operated under the chairmanship of former Labour Secretary of State for Defence, Lord Browne of Ladyton (Des Browne); former Conservative Defence and Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind; and Sir Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Shadow Foreign Secretary.”

That looks good to me. The commission took place over several years, away from election season and all the unhelpful posturing that comes with it. It crossed party lines, another good sign. And while it was commissioned by an organisation which is committed to advocating for nuclear disarmament, it was chaired by politicians who had funded nuclear programs and worked at the highest levels of defence and foreign policy. Looking down the list of other contributors we’ve got some professors and lords and stuff. I don’t know their individual backgrounds and so on, but on a cursory look this seems about as balanced and expert as you’re gonna get.

The full concluding report can be read here, if you’re into that kind of thing. I couldn’t be bothered to read it cos it didn’t have enough swearing and pictures.

Seriously, this is one of the only pictures in it.

Seriously, this is one of the only pictures in it.

In all seriousness though, it looks worth a read for anyone who really wants to get the lowdown on Trident, and I might actually go back and read it properly when I’m done here. For now let’s go back to Wikipedia:

After three years of deliberation, the Commission released their final report on July 1, 2014 and suggested, with a number of important caveats, that the UK should retain a nuclear deterrent. Most notably, the conclusion acknowledged the significance of the UK’s role in disarmament, asserting that, “it remains crucial that the UK show keen regard for its position within the international community and for the shared responsibility to achieve progress in global nuclear disarmament.”

So, according to the most trust-worthy looking experts I could find in 5 minutes of googling, we should keep the subs, for now.

 

Did someone say SUBMARINE PARTY???

Did someone say SUBMARINE PARTY???

So what’s the take away from all this? With regard to the initial question I had, I’ve just provided you an answer which is a literal cut and paste from Wikipedia, and ultimately from some report some guys did.

Well, I’ve settled the question in my own mind. Given my inability to answer the question myself, I can only defer to the judgment of the people I think are best equipped to answer this question, and I’ve put my money on this BASIC Commission. But I think there’s a more general point to be made too. There are lots of questions that most people are ill-equipped to answer. These include specialised technical questions, of course, but also questions of political theory and policy. How does drug prohibition affect drug use and related criminal activity? How does a national curriculum help or hinder standards of education? Do we need so many tests in schools – are they useful or not? How does immigration (and emigration) affect the economy, and how is that affect distributed between sections of society?

Many of us have opinions on these questions. Our politicians continually bark on about them in the most crowd-pleasing, opponent-bashing, fundamentally unhelpful ways imaginable. But very few of us have direct access to the information which is of fundamental importance in answering them. In forming our own answers to these questions, we either go on pure gut-feeling and ‘common sense’ – or, in other words, pull an answer out of our arses – or we draw our opinion from what other people are saying. Forming opinions based on what other people say is an absolutely fine and splendid way of going about things, as long as we pick those sources well. I’m not rabidly anti-media and anti-all-politicians, but – especially at election time – the tenor of public debate often becomes completely divorced from any kind of rational assessment of the facts. Good, trustworthy information is out there, and it’s not on conspiracy fuelled websites, speculation on talk radio, or some guy in your office telling you what he reckons. Independent studies from reputable sources, cross-party commissions, subject-specific comments from acknowledged experts in their fields, these things are out there and they’re easily enough turned up with 5 minutes of googling.

So do that I guess. Or don’t, whatever, I’m not your mum.

This Is The End Now

I’m off on me ollidays next week so I probably won’t write one of these, or if I do it might just be a picture of me eating a massive cake.

A Poem For Zayn Malik

Hark!

Above the wakening earth

Dawn cracks the heavens.

Sky alight like infant hope,

Newborn. Fragile and wondrous

As morning dew on spider’s web.

Smile.

 

You are free.

 

Below, the earth revolts.

They mourn, those who loved you,

As all who have loved must one day mourn,

Or be mourned.

They weep and wail, tear their hair and rend

Their clothes. Tears fall and fill

The aisles at Claire’s Accessories.

Raw and fresh and undeniable this wound,

Like all wounds, a lesson.

 

You are free.

 

You soar.

Quicker than the wind you rise,

You turn and you swoop.

Delighting in the taste of speed,

The thrill of movement unfettered.

Sing no more, singer.

Sing not the clarion call nor the siren’s song.

Let your lips fall silent.

Fly.

 

You are free.

 

Zayn

#King_of_Yik_Yak

Hey up.

I’mma level with you The Internet, I ain’t really written a proper thing this week. I’ve been too busy getting busy on Yik Yak. Yeah you heard me. Busy.

I’m just gonna go right out there and say it: Yik Yak is the greatest social media platform since Facebook. Fuck twitter. Say it with me now, FUCK twitter. Twitter’s just a bunch of people I thought I was interested in demonstrating to me that I was wrong about that. LinkedIn can do one as well, that shit is for fucking networkers. Instagram? More like piece-a-shit-gram. And whatever ello was, it’s dead now and there’s no one left to mourn it.

Yik Yak motherfuckers. Yik. Yak.

For those who aint on trend, Yik Yak is basically a message board which is only accessible to people in your rough geographic location. Anyone within a couple of miles of you can post to it, and comment on each other’s posts. All posts are anonymous. And the majority of posters are idiot students, who you can wind up with an absolutely clear conscience.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Yik Yak:

 

Get a job 1

You get a job too

go to college

 

Courtesy of Kelvin Rhodes

Courtesy of Kelvin Rhodes

After the initial rush wears off you have to get a bit more creative.

Croydon 1

Croydon 2

At a certain point I started to feel I was being a bit too negative.

Monday feeling

#jesus

#jesus2

(The jesus posts were downvoted to oblivion within minutes, hence the lack of conversation leading off from them)

#jesus3

#jesus4

Paranormal problems:

Ghost 1

Ghost 2

Ghost 3

Shout outs to Rebecca and Brett.

pen 1

pen 2

This last exchange is lengthy, but I feel it really encapsulates everything I love about Yik Yak.

spring break 1

Spring break 2

spring break 3

spring break 4

spring break 5

Spring break 6

Spring break 7

As a side note “Guys spring break terminology is used by Americans” is absolutely the funniest comment in this thread. I hope upon hope that whoever wrote that is a hilarious person who knew exactly what they were doing.

Spring break 8

Spring break 9

spring break 10

 

I’m sorry to say my offer to squash the beef was never taken up, so I guess I’m still obliged to say fuck that guy.

I hope this has been enough to convince you how much fun you could be having on the ‘Yak. Join me.

 

This Is The End Now

Think I’ll probably do a proper blog next week. Hopefully I’ll manage to calm down on this Yik Yak shit cos it starting to seriously affect my life and relationships.

Peace yo.

Get a job.

 

Talkin’ Bout Terry

The first books I can remember falling in love with were the early Discworld novels. Wyrd Sisters, Guards Guards, Pyramids, Moving Pictures, The Light Fantastic. I have no idea which order I read them in but I read them all, over and over and over. I read them furtively in bed when I was meant to be sleeping. I read them in school, while my assigned copy of Biff and Chip lay idle on the desk. I read them at home, sequestered away in a quiet spot for hours on end. I read them in the bath, occasionally dropping them in the water and getting told off. Last weekend when I was moving house I gathered up all my Discworld books and those early ones are still warped from their dunkings, two decades ago. The covers on them are ragged with wear, the spines are worn to bits.

There’s not much space for all my books in the new place, about half of the total will have to be stored somewhere or taken to the charity shop. But those mangled up old books I’ve read a hundred times, along with the newer, less mauled, entries in the series, take pride of place in the shelf space I managed to eke out. They’ve followed me from house to house, city to city. Looking at them makes me happy. Just knowing they’re there makes me happy. As I got older I read them less obsessively, though I still devoured any new entry as soon as I could get my hot little hands on it. For many years I would get the latest release as a gift at birthdays and chanukahs. In recent years I’ve returned the favour and gifted instalments to my dad, another fan. He’s the one who first introduced me to the series, our mutual appreciation a little thing we share. Whenever I’ve met a fellow fan out in the wild there’s typically a sense of immediate connection. You can be pretty sure another Discworld fan is gonna be alright.

I learned to read from those books. I reckon I probably learned a thing or two about writing too. I learned about jokes – I remember vividly the feeling of getting bits of wordplay which had completely gone over my head on previous reads. I learned about Lovecraftian horrors before ever having heard of the man himself, about the many worlds theory of the universe, about Hindu mythology and old English folklore and Shakespeare and knob gags and divergent timelines and that feminism is for badasses. Most importantly, I think, I learned about what people are like. About why they do bad things, and about their capacity to be better than they suspected. About how doing the right thing can be hard and thankless and why so many people do it anyway.

Pratchett is not a preachy writer by any means, but he does wear his heart on his sleeve. His works have a solid moral core to them, a warmth and a deep pool of sympathy for people with all their flaws and problems. He is an unashamed optimist about human nature. Even his villains typically have a sympathetic streak buried away somewhere. A psychopathic killer like Mr Teatime is not merely a brute monster but a person with a life and a history and a hint of the trauma which fractured his psyche. Even a seeming manifestation of your worst nightmares – the antagonist from The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents, a book ostensibly aimed at younger readers – is a literal product of its environment, made a monster by unthinking cruelty and greed.

The only villains Pratchett withholds sympathy from are the ones who should know better. The ones who, in full possession of their faculties, coolly and deliberately choose to put things – ideas, money, position – before people. The truest villains in his works are not the lunatics, the monsters under the bed, the orcs and the trolls, the vagrants and the outcasts; they are powerful men who dress in suits and speak in calm voices and deny the humanity of others.

“There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin, for example,” said Oats.

“And what do they think? Against it, are they?” said Granny Weatherwax.

“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”

“Nope.”

“Pardon?”

“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”

“It’s a lot more complicated than that—”

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes—”

“But they starts with thinking about people as things…”

There are many reasons to love Pratchett. His humour, of course. There are shockingly few truly funny novels out there; Pratchett consistently nails it, line after line, book after book. His plots are tight page-turners – police procedurals, picaresques, satires, thrillers, adventures of all stripes. His world-building is staggering. In Discworld he presents us with a world whose systems of magic, physics, cosmology and religion are all fleshed out, cohesive and interdependent, all presented with the lightest of touches. He creates a place that feels like a place, without ever dropping into the tedious “here are five hundred pages of the songs of the elves” bullshit that bogs down Tolkien. And he populates that world with people who always feel like real people – be they human, dwarf, troll, personification of death or talking dog. He mixes the quotidian with the fantastic with enormous skill, and to great effect. When shit gets real he can make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

But the quality I think of now, the one that makes me love him the most, is that generosity to his characters. His willingness to see the good in fallible people. His recognition that every person is a world, individual and intrinsically valuable, and his lack of sympathy for those who deny that fact.

Goodbye Terry, you will be missed. Thanks for everything.

wpid-20150312_225936.jpg

 

This Is The End Now

If you’ve never read any Pratchett, you will be unsurprised to learn that I recommend him highly.

He wrote many books and series outside of Discworld, many of them for kids and younger readers. The vast majority of that stuff is also great, but Discworld is undeniably his crowning achievement. At forty entries, many of which form sub-series within the larger world, it can be daunting for newcomers to know where to start. If you just want to dip a toe in the waters, I’d recommend The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents. It’s short, entirely-self contained, and it knocked my socks off the first time I read it. For those who want to get into the series proper, I would recommend the Witches series – starting at Wyrd Sisters, then on to Witches Abroad and Lords And Ladies (possibly my favourite in the entire series). I also just found this image, which lays out the connections between books well.

Oh and if anybody reading this wants to borrow any – I’ve got a bunch of em, hit me up.

Lastly, a Just Giving page has been set up in his name to raise money for the Research Institute for the Care of Older People, an organisation which provides support to people with Alzheimer’s and undertakes research into treating this and other diseases. This link will take you to the donation page.

Right, I’m off to have a look through that collection. I’ve got a bath to run.

Why Do I Still Write This Fucking Thing?

Wha gwan The Internet. You’ve caught me at a low ebb.

Every week, pretty much, I leave writing this thing til the last minute. Every week I hit a point where I don’t want to do it. I’ve basically wanted to quit this shit since about the third installment. Either I haven’t got any ideas as to what I should write about or I suddenly realise, with two hours to spare before the deadline, that the idea I have is rubbish and I hate it.

Case in point, this week I was all set to write about Kanye West’s talk at Oxford. I was gonna ask why everybody hates him so much, based on some comments I saw on the particular article I’d seen about the talk. But then I did a bit of googling and saw that actually a lot of the more sensible coverage was reasonably balanced, and realised I was constructing a bit of a straw-man opponent. If my point is “people in the comments section overreact sometimes” then I’d be too concerned about all the BLOWN MINDS across the globe to hit publish.

 

Twist! Some of the comments turn out to be racist too!

Twist! Some of the comments turn out to be racist too!

I’ve also read articles before defending Kanye from his detractors and I’d probably be duplicating stuff that’s been done better elsewhere. And to defend some of my points I’d have to do more research than I can be bothered to. And actually, on reflection, my conclusion about the whole thing is that Kanye is basically scooter guy, hated because that’s what you’re supposed to do, so I’d pretty much be making the same point I made two weeks ago.

The upshot is that I don’t want to write the Kanye thing no mo’, I’ve lost any enthusiasm for the subject. But I’ve got this deadline right, so I need to write something. Might as well just write the fucking Kanye thing and hit publish and have done with it. The thing is, this whole ‘deadline’ thing is a fiction of my own making. No one is making me do it. There is no sanction for failing to publish by 2pm on a Friday. I’m not gonna lose marks, or get a bollocking from my boss. If anything, my boss would probably rather I didn’t spend my Friday mornings thinking deeply about the sociology of Kanye. So if I’ve got no ideas, or I hate the idea I do have, why should I inflict whatever stale piece of shit I reluctantly squeeze out (my GOD that’s an unintentionally vivid bit of imagery) on the world? What the fuck am I doing?

 

Whatever it is, I would appear to be FUCKING NAILING IT.

Whatever it is, I would appear to be FUCKING NAILING IT.

In my more self-flaggelatory moments I suspect myself of only doing this for the attention. A shocking accusation, I know, to level at the man who once wrote a song about how to spell his own name. I think most of us who use social media regularly know the feeling of posting something – a picture, a status update, a group for the party you’re throwing – and hoping to see the like counter go up. For me, posting songs or videos or this blog take that feeling and intensify it. A successful post gives me a wonderful, if fleeting, sense of validation. I did something good. Look, these people think it’s good. Clearly, chasing that fleeting sense of validation is gonna make you miserable in the long run. The consistent positive opinion of a few people who you care about deeply is always gonna trump a quick thumbs up from acquaintances and strangers. But that doesn’t make the pleasure of seeing like and page view numbers going up less pleasurable. Maybe that guilty little pleasure is the only reason I persevere. At least, that’s what inner critic would have me believe when I hit these impasses.

 

I love the democritisation of graphic design.

I love the democritisation of graphic design.

My inner critic’s inner critic though, recognises that I do have other motivations. In the first ever one of these I wrote this:

 Why you writing a blog Raf?

Because it’s good practice, because I want to write more prose and because it’s an opportunity to think some stuff through. So what I’m saying is that this is fundamentally a self serving exercise. But, y’know, it’s a blog innit, I dunno what you were expecting.

If we take that at face value, I had two motivations then. To write more, and to think more. Those are still things I want to do. By persevering even when I want to quit every week I certainly achieve the first of these. Of course, the nature and quality of the writing might veer wildly off track but I’m still writing some fucking thing. With the thinking thing, I think I have weeks where I achieve what I set out to – where I actually do some proper thinking about something and reach a conclusion I hadn’t thought of before. On the weeks where I’m just trying to post any damn thing I often fail to hit that mark, but at least by staying in the game I leave myself the opportunity of hitting the mark next week.

I think, actually, I’ve stumbled on the reason why I still post this thing on weeks where I’m struggling to see the value in what I’m writing. If I didn’t have a schedule which I force myself to stick to, this shit just wouldn’t happen. I’ve missed weeks here and there, due to illness and holidays, but by and large I’ve made myself stick to the schedule I set out, even when it’s meant posting things I thought were a bit rubbs, or total filler, or recycling old material. If I let myself go a week without publishing, it would become much easier to drop future weeks and I’m pretty sure this thing would swiftly become a wasteland. It’s real easy to not do shit you want to do, and making public statements of what you’re going to do is a good way to give yourself a little push into just fucking shutting up and getting on with it and doing the fucking thing. If I let myself get out of that commitment, even if no-one cares but me, I set a precedent which makes it a whole lot easier to fall out of the writing habit altogether.

I suppose then my answer to the question ‘why do I keep writing this fucking thing?’ is so I can keep writing this fucking thing.

 

This Is The End Now

There is of course another answer to the question of why I continue to write this fucking thing; that I do it for my adoring public. I can’t really entertain the notion that I’m doing this for the readers, and that’s not cos I don’t think I’ve written some good stuff since starting this thing. On the whole, I’m pretty happy with most of what I’ve posted here. There have been quite a few posts I’ve been very happy with. I’ve had lots of good feedback too, from people who have read and enjoyed various posts. But in every creative thing I’ve done I only ever set out to please myself. I want other people to see it, and if they like it that’s great, but I would never set entertaining or educating other people as a goal. I wouldn’t presume to, for a start, but I also really find I can only do anything good when I’m doing it for me. No idea if other people work like that, though I would be interested to hear.

Lastly, regarding the future of this blog, I want to keep it going til at least the one year anniversary in May. I’ve had an idea about another writing project which would be very substantial so I might stop this and do that instead at some point. The trouble is, without the commitment to provide weekly instalments it’s gonna be a struggle to keep up the work. Maybe I’ll just have to have some self motherfucking discipline.

Some Animal Fables

Hello.

These are some stories I wrote for a friend. They’re like, about animals, but the animals are kinda like people. You know?

 

the llama and the other llama

a llama and a llama were friends

bestest best friends for real bro

they played videogames together

they went to the cinema together

they did other things too

 

one day the first llama spilled a secret

“I am not really a llama” she said

“I am an alpaca.

I wanted to be a llama like you but I’m not”

the second llama hugged her

“you can be a llama if you want” she said

“or you can be an alpaca if you want.

you’re just you to me”

llamas

 

the fox who wasn’t clever

once there was a fox who wasn’t clever

foxes are supposed to be clever, he thought

foxes are supposed to be smart.

I’m not clever, he thought. I’m not smart

and he hung his head

 

the fox didn’t like reading books, or going to museums

he just liked playing basketball in the garden

bounce bounce bounce, every evening

bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce

I’m not clever, he thought. I’m not smart

and he hung his head some more

and went out to play basketball

bounce bounce bounce, every evening

bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce

 

he got so good at basketball he joined the NBA

and won lots of trophies and prizes

maybe foxes don’t have to be clever, he thought

maybe they can play basketball instead

fox

 

the shy gorilla

there was this gorilla right

a big guy with a silver back

he looked like a mountain made of monkey

he could juggle with boulders

he could bench-press an oak tree

and he was shy as a flamingo is pink

 

when all the other gorillas went to gorilla parties

he would stay home and do puzzles

or he would go to the party and stand in the hallway

too shy to talk to anyone

having an awful time

 

one Friday night he was walking alone

when he saw a lady gorilla walking the other way

“why aren’t you at the party?” she asked him

“I don’t like parties” he said. “I am too shy”

“me too” said the lady gorilla

“do you want to be shy together?” she asked

“and not go to parties?”

“yes please” said the man gorilla

so that’s what they did and it was great

gorrilas

 

the crow

everybody thought the crow was sad

because she dressed in black

and goths put pictures of her on their walls

 

people would stop her in the street

total strangers would approach her

“cheer up” they would say

“it might never happen”

family were even worse

 

“dude” she told them all

“it’s just my style.

I’m actually pretty happy

those goths are just doing their own thing as well

how about you poke your nose out and leave us the hell alone?”

 

crow

 

hippies

a lion was talking to a gazelle

going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on

about how he didn’t like hippies

 

“the thing about hippies”

the lion said, tossing his mane about

“Is that they’re stupid and they smell

and no one likes them”

the gazelle couldn’t get a word in edgeways

 

when the lion finally stopped for breath the gazelle spoke up

“I am a hippy” she said

“and you’re only mad cos no one wants to be your friend

because you are so mean”

 

the lion wasn’t expecting this

he looked like he wanted to cry

“don’t cry,” said the gazelle, “I will be your friend.

but you have to take a bath

you smelly lion”

lion