The Sunday Items - a weekly blog - came about because of the limitations of Facebook - and its audience. FB is fine for sharing holiday photos, pictures of delicious meals, and brief messages or comments, but anything lengthier gets edited by the FB algorithm into an introductory chunk, followed by 'see more' directing the reader to click on for the rest. So the reader has to be sufficiently intrigued by the first two sentences to bother. It encourages those with the attention-span of a 'special needs' mayfly to skim the headlines and move on to another post, so that anything longer or more serious is deterrent. I knew that I wanted to write longer pieces on a much wider range of issues, and my friend Rachel Swan Goodchild suggested a blog. I only had a very slight idea what this was, but she set me up on blogspot, and I was off.
It was always going to be writing around current affairs and politics - and much else besides - and come out once a week, so it was appropriate to steal The Sunday Times masthead and anagramatise Times into Items, to get round copyright, and indicate the patchwork of issues the journalism would cover. Each week would have a theme for a main 'editorial' coupled with some related pieces, and some regular items like 'quote/unquote', Room 101, the whole issue plentifully illustrated with pictures and often music; and it appeared on a Sunday, of course.
It reached a peak of over 2000 hits a week and stayed there for a while, but by then The Editor had taken on other commitments and found the deadline pressures of the Items to be too great to sustain. It went monthly and then quietly passed away, which I regretted, particularly as the other commitments later lessened. This is the problem with one-man-bands.
This will bring you to the penultimate edition, but on the right hand side of that post is panel like this.......
which will take you to any of the 70 editions posted.
Here is a compilation post to give you a flavour:
Back in 1983, the Labour Party published an election manifesto which was so Left-of-centre it was dubbed ‘the longest suicide note in history’ by the Conservatives and their friends in the Press. Now, many anti-Brexit ‘Remainers’ firmly believe that in writing to activate Article 50 and initiate Brexit, Mrs May has penned a shorter but more lethal one. Debate rages around Westminster and the media on what the deal will eventually be: hard Brexit, soft Brexit, terms which are lost on the general public who are confused and fearful, but mostly bored stiff: all Brexited-out, already. Dry Brexit will probably be the ultimate outcome, an indigestible dog’s breakfast of dry biscuit, compromise, sacrifice and hardship. Already it seems as though it will be simplified to a choice between Hard Deal and No Deal, which roughly translates as disaster versus catastrophe. We will not be surprised if, on the day after the The Deal is struck, a number of European newspapers will carry the headline: “Choke on it, Britain, it was your choice”. Makes you wonder about the downside of democracy a little...
Can a simple head-counting process always be the best way to choose who governs you or what they are allowed to do? Should we not re-consider a genuine meritocracy in which the finest minds prevail (in intellect, achievement and altruism) rather than the grubbiest, most self-seeking politicians? We could start by reforming the House of Lords in that way and giving it a veto.
GB. Great Britain. The only nation in the World which announces its pre-eminence in its very name, now brought low by self-serving politicians and a misled electorate. Salman Rushdie talked about the days of Imperial power in a graphic metaphor “the days when half the map of the world blushed pink with pleasure” at being part of the British Empire (he was, of course being bitterly ironic).
Now the Empire which divorced us by national liberation, and became the Commonwealth (so we could ‘still be friends’) has to be courted again. It’s like the man who leaves his wife for another woman, takes against her and so begs his wife to accept him back. Maybe, at a price: so that means we pay one heavy price to the EU to leave, and another to rejoin the rest of the world, through their certain vengeful delight in exacting the best deal from the former overlords. We are now desperate for trade, but wielding the begging bowl instead of the gun and the bible. Great, indeed.
Generally speaking the Room 101 Exit Lounge has been restricted to things we would like to get rid of, but perhaps it's time to broaden the canvas to include people who have polluted our society in some way, usually in pursuit of power, wealth, ideology or sexual gratification:
Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, all the celebrities who have abused their power, to abuse children or adults, Dr. Harold Shipman (who killed at least 250 of his patients), Margaret Thatcher (considerations of space preclude a full list of her crimes against this society), MPs who use/d our money to feather their interchangeable nests via outrageous expenses claims, tax havens without which many of our vital services could be properly funded, through increased tax receipts; The Sun and The Star, because they are toxic; Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins, The Daily Express and the Daily Mail, because they have dropped any pretence of truthful, objective journalism.
It is not often we can capture more than one of these miscreants in a single shot but.....
the depraved monster, with Jimmy Savile..... Jimmy with a weapon of mass destruction
My grandmother, Clara, had a lodger. His name was Peter, he used industrial quantities of Brylcreem on his hair, so that it appeared to be dripping the stuff, and he had one leg shorter than the other. He limped heavily, which could not be disguised and made him very self-conscious and rather shy. He was very good to my grandmother, doing errands and manual work for her as well as paying rent (just how good remains wreathed in the mysteries of history but she was a game old bird, as they say).
Peter kept himself to himself, which these days would probably mean studying gynaecological websites on the Net, but then meant an evening course in mechanics or studying fishing magazines. He had some transport then, in the early 50s, which was before many people had cars. He had a motorcycle and when he was riding it he became someone else: upright, confident and assured, with no hint of disability, the self he would have been (if only). The bike was actually a combination with sidecar, which looked more like a coach-built pram than anything else. But to a young boy it was more than that, it was an extra cockpit alongside the intrepid pilot in his leathers, in their Spitfire, searching the horizon for the Hun in his Messerschmidt.
One time, he suggested that he take me swimming on a Saturday morning at Durnsford Road, Bounds Green, now a Garden Centre. The ride was thrilling. I loved the massage of the wind and the view in every direction, free as air; and the engine throbbing at my right shoulder. The swimming wasn’t so good, because I couldn’t. Peter made a few attempts to get me going, but I couldn’t entrust my spindly body (often likened to an anorexic sparrow) to either him or the natural buoyancy of the waves in N.22. Peter said “wait there, I’m going to the Gents” and I went and sat just to the right of the high diving board, with my legs dangling in the water, taking the sun. It all happened very quickly. One moment I was dreaming up a Battle of Britain scenario for the ride/flight home, with Peter as a kind of Douglas Bader figure, a tad short in the leg department, and me as his loyal sidekick, like Ginger was to Biggles, shoulder to shoulder, shooting down the Boche at will. The next, I was roughly projected into the deepest part of the Deep End, spiralling downwards, leaving the turquoise Hockney-like sky and water to make their magic swirling admixture, further and further above me.
I do remember the beautiful though worrying cloud of air bubbles all around me, formerly the contents of my lungs, now rapidly being replaced by gallons of the London Water Board’s finest, seasoned with chlorine, and never designed for internal consumption. I think I blacked out at this point: I have no recollection of being fished out, or by who, just coming round, coughing and vomiting violently and some people clapping. I guess I had artificial respiration, but definitely not mouth-to-mouth. I would have remembered my first kiss, and besides, though I’m no historian of resuscitation techniques, I‘m not sure we had it then. Mouth-to-mouth was restricted then to film stars with one foot on the bedroom floor. Before we got home. Peter asked me, imploringly, if I’d mind very much not mentioning it to my grandmother: she might think he’d let us down. I think it was the first time I’d seen an adult behaving like a child, craven and diminished; Biggles had become Private Pike in Dad’s Army.
Wild sidecars wouldn’t drag me near the water for some years after that. I was excused swimming lessons at school even though drowning in 3 feet of water would be a prodigious feat involving cudgels and divers’ lead weights. But on a family holiday in Pembrokeshire, in an unguarded moment, I found myself swimming: less efficiently than the family dog, and with the exact same style, but swimming nonetheless. I had just forgotten myself, and my fears, and my trauma, launched myself forward, thrashed a few limbs, and not sunk to the bottom instantly. Within hours I was doing a modest breast stroke and a kerb-like crawl.
I threw myself into this with such enthusiasm that I developed severe abdominal pains and was rushed to hospital and was about to have an appendectomy before they realised their error in diagnosis: it was simply torn abdominal muscles. So, one way and another, I got over my fear of water (fear of drowning, strictly speaking) and became an averagely good swimmer – enough to do 20 lengths of a public pool on a regular basis.
The sea, however, is a different kettle of fish. I love it, to look at. Watch the sun set over the Pacific in California, the surf in North Cornwall and any one of a hundred other seascapes, and you are stilled by its beauty and its brute force, its grandeur, its blue-green-greyness and its sheer moodiness. For me, the sea comes second only to the mountains in putting us in touch with timelessness.
But by the same token, it is the population of the sea, equally lethal, which lingers around the back of my mind when I walk down the beach and see my body slowly disappear with immersion. That’s the problem: other than in a few exotic locations, you can’t really see what’s going on down there with all that pesky reflection and refraction, let alone pollution. You can be 2 metres away from some murderous, red-in-tooth-and-fin creature and not have a clue. Think of the armoury that can be deployed against your vulnerable and luminous white body: stings, from the mildest little fish to the delinquent jellyfish, to the psychopathic sting ray, which can dispatch you with a single blow. Strangulation by squids and octopuses, a special subdivision of drowning, because it’s not the excessive affection which kills you it’s the absence of air. And finally the whole genus of fish who want to eat you, or remove limbs to eat like rather underdone spare ribs, or crunch you up or swallow you whole.
Apparently, sharks can sense human blood in the water from a quarter of a mile away. So just like in the movie, boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom, you are goofing about in the shallows when the beast in question boom-boom boom-boom scents the slight taste of human blood from where you jagged your ankle on the coral, a primeval dinner gong sounds in his head, and he’s off, boom-boom, boom-boom, swimming very fast underneath the surface, for a date with your legs. Two minutes later, what are you? Sharkuterie is what you are. Instinctively I knew from the start that swimming was dangerous.
None of these things can be found at the pool in the local Leisure Centre. But along with the sea’s monopoly of beauty and power comes less welcome attributes like its ability to snuff you out like a candle flame, in a heartbeat (perhaps ‘in a final heartbeat’): drowning, currents, whirlpools, swept out to sea, tsunami, hurricanes, typhoons, storms, perfect storms, tidal waves, undertow, all can take you. Stinging, stunning, poisoning or paralysing, choking, crushing, it’s a bewildering choice of ways to die sub aqua, for they would all be fatal by virtue of being in deep water. And there’s a whole other range of hazards which I will just mention ‘in passing’: probably not fatal but also not forgotten in a hurry should you bump into it: effluent outflow.
An unduly pessimistic view of the oceans? Not at all: I’m a shark-half-full kind of person.
Unquestionably a book of leisure centre tickets and fake tan is the cheaper option, and so much safer. Who wants to show up in a fish restaurant not as a customer but as part of the main course? Like those medieval feasts: fish inside chicken inside a rack of lamb, inside a side of beef, or something like that: man inside a shark.
I’m happy to go to Andalusia from time to time: not to a Costa on the Med but to a mountain village, with a large communal pool. Hasta la vista, baby.
This post was prompted by the killing of Rashan Charles in 2016, in Hackney, apparently while under police 'restraint', (surely the most ironic term in contemporary usage). It was reposted in 2017 because of the death of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa. Now in 2020, it remains timely - over and over again, like Groundhog Day....
"Hands Up! Apparently, the universal signal of surrender, of passivity, and, more pertinently, of ‘I’m unarmed and even if I were carrying a weapon I couldn’t reach it with my hands in the air – is no longer operative, no longer a guarantee of the person’s safety. Tulsa Policemen ignored the fact that Terence Crutcher did this, offered no resistance, or threat, and shot him anyway. Let’s not mince words, they murdered him in cold blood. Why? Who knows?
Within institutions whose officers are armed, whether civil or military, there will always be those who are drawn to the idea of legitimised violence, who are drawn to the idea of wielding power over the lives or deaths of others, with the blessing of the State. Some of those may be psychopaths. Others will be classic authoritarians with a high investment in the status quo and the maintenance of different groups in their ‘proper’ place in society. Others still, will be racist bigots, either for reasons of these personality factors or more often because they have been raised by more or less racist parents in communities where racism is the norm.
We have formerly given our police forces the benefit of the doubt: that these officers are outnumbered by ordinary decent officers, doing public service, often under great difficulties, with courage and responsibility. The murder of Terence Crutcher and the increasing number of shootings of black people in the US and the UK, not to mention the highly suspicious deaths in police custody, from Sean Rigg onwards, will perhaps be some kind of watershed. Video of a passive, unthreatening, unarmed black man with his arms up, being killed for no reason: it’s way beyond outrageous, it is utterly obscene. By the same token, while much less serious, the clip of the policeman’s frenzied attack on the British black guy’s car windscreen when he wouldn’t get out, shows an officer who has completely lost it. It seems very unlikely that the victim would still be in one piece if he had emerged from the car into the officer’s red mist.
It is time to end the mealy-mouthed apologies and specious rationalisations of Chief Constables and PRs wheeled in to smooth things over with the public: ‘the officer thought the man had a gun; thought he constituted a threat’. Evidence? Evidence of arms, evidence of intent, not anxious surmise, so shoot first just to be on the safe side.
Any one of these awful incidents may be explained away. But cumulatively they add up to a picture of policemen on both sides of the Atlantic literally ‘jumping the gun’, through prejudice, through fear, or simply a knee-jerk, reflex reaction that is becoming more and more common, the first not the last resort. If you or I do serious wrong, we go to jail. It is looking as though the police effectively have a special immunity, and it is only when that privilege is removed and policemen are jailed for these killings that any notion of justice – and public confidence - will be restored, or the killings stopped".
Danny Milner, teaching World Cup winner, Osvaldo Ardiles how to ball-juggle: July 1984, Tottenham training ground, Cheshunt.