Friday, 7 October 2016

National Poetry Day 2016

At first you don't notice.
With a toddler's confidence 
You are the world.
And even when it creeps in,
When you're six or seven
And you say or do something
Which is right and normal
But which makes other people
Do a face
You still don't fully get it.

When you clock it
When it hits you
You're in or near adolescence
Which is not ideal.
You have all the other stuff,
The clusterfuck of hormones
To deal with.

So when you're eighteen,
Twenty, twenty five,
That's when you rationalise.
You try out words 
To see how they sound in your mouth.
You say 'I am this'
And hope you're not.

Past forty
You get bullish
And proud, and angry
And you look at the child you were
And honour his fear
And his pain and his bravery
And you say to him
Don't worry.

And you thank him
For doing everything you needed to do
For being scared
But not scared enough
And letting you
In your middle age
Say with pride and scars
'I am different.
I am just as different as anyone else.' 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

"Day 106..."

Celebrity Big Brother is about to start on Channel 5, and the ads for it have made me suddenly realize what it is the Labour Party leadership elections are reminding me of.
They’re housemates.

Liz Kendall is the one whose VT makes you want to hate her. The things she says have you so riled up that you’re ready to pick apart every word she says. But as it turns out, she’s not in the edit much, and when she does show up she seems more likeable than you expected. You still don’t warm to her, but you grudgingly accept she’s probably not as bad as you thought.

Jeremy Corbyn is the one who is nominated by the other housemates every week. They notice that the public keeps voting for him, but can’t process why. Every eviction night they expect him to go then wonder why he hasn’t. His popularity makes them angry with the public but they have to stop themselves saying so. Occasionally he'll say something that makes you think 'wait, what?' which will be used as the basis of a whole episode if nothing much else happened that day.

Andy Burnham is the one who sees himself as the alpha male of the house. He’ll say what seems reasonable to whoever is in front of him, and will bank on people not noticing the inconsistency. His schtick is the 'hey, I'm just a normal guy' thing, but he gets worryingly furious if someone implies he isn't best human. The Andy Burnham housemate in your average series of BB gets to the final, but comes sixth.

Yvette Cooper is the one who relies on keeping quiet and hoping the other housemates are unpopular enough for her to sneak a win. She’s the one who stands up for herself over an argument about washing up in week 7, then constantly refers back to that conversation when people accuse her of fence-sitting. She’s never up for eviction, and leaves the house to neither boos nor cheers. 

Who wins? You decide. Unless you’ve ever tweeted something positive about the Greens.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

2015 BC

It seems oddly appropriate that the Black Cap is to become a branch of the Breakfast Club. To take somewhere which has been badly-behaved for fifty years, while at the same time providing a haven for society's rejected, and to turn it into somewhere where you can get French Toast for nine quid on the way to work strikes me as a perfect symbol for what is happening to London. 

I've nothing against the Breakfast Club, in particular- I've had some nice food in various of their branches. Actually, I do have one thing in particular against them, which is the disingenuous, poor-little-us-are-we-the-baddies? narrative they're trying to pass off onto us, but that's just a symptom of something larger, and tidier, and more cosily antiseptic.

One day everything will be rag-rubbed, and we will all sit on upcycled pine, and read menus that pretend to be your friend and chalkboards with quirky little aphorisms on them, and nobody will remember that London used to be a place where the genteel could be genteel if they wanted, but where there was also space to be dirty or edgy or dangerous or unconventional or- in the most inclusive sense of the word- just a bit queer. Where you could go to places whose primary function wasn't just to chummily relieve you of as much cash as possible.

And we'll sit there, and wonder what happened to the chaotic, exciting city we used to live in where not everyone was a millionaire, and how everything got so boring and so identically soulless, and how they managed to make that dinky little sprig of parsley sit so perfectly on top of our goat's curd and chorizo scrambled egg.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Word Association.

Let’s play a game. I’ll say a word, you say the first one that comes into your head. Ok?

Here goes.


If you’re the journalist Allison Pearson, more than one word comes into your head. When Allison Pearson hears the word ‘Immigration’, she thinks ‘the abuse of children in Rotherham’.

Presumably, when someone says ‘Gloucestershire’, she thinks ‘Fred West’. If someone says ‘Happiness’ around AP, she hears ‘That Todd Solondz film about paedos’. If you say ‘Love’, she probably gets an image of Kurt Cobain shooting himself.

I say this, because Pearson has tweeted her anger that Ed Milliband didn’t mention immigration in today’s speech. And the reason she's angry he didn't mention immigration is  Rotherham.

How does a brain do that? How does somebody move seamlessly from the vexed, complex, vital issues of nationhood, borders, asylum, diversity and culture into a crime perpetrated by a group of sick men? How does someone hear ‘foreigner’ and go straight to ‘rapist’?

What happened in Rotherham is disgusting, troubling and upsetting. Evil men did evil things and chances to stop them were missed time and time again. Questions must be asked and blame must be apportioned- particularly, in this case, to the Labour council which screwed up.

I am sad to say that I am no massive supporter of the Labour Party. I’d like to be, but they make it so bloody difficult.  I will vote for them, but holding my nose and thinking 'least worst'.  I condemn the failures of Rotherham Council in the strongest possible terms.

Rotherham means that questions have to be answered about criminal justice. About policing. About social work. About local authorities. All of those things spring to mind when one reads about what happened because even though to cite some of them may be a little broad-brush and generalised, they all have a major part to play in the case. 

But, you know what? When I hear about something a few hundred people did, I don't assume that they're identical to another few hundred thousand. When I hear that some people who committed a crime shared a cultural identity, I don't assume that everyone of that cultural identity behaves the same way.  

And as a result, Rotherham isn't the first thing I think of when I hear the word ‘immigration’, or even- especially- the first thing I think of when I hear a speech in which immigration isn't mentioned. 
To do that, you’d have to be a massive… well, you know the word. And anyone who really cared about the awful things that happened to those poor young women would hate the idea of using them to make a cheap party political point.

I expect Allison Pearson isn’t a… well, you know the word. But she is undoubtedly a cynical opportunist who is happy to appeal to people who are.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Tinfoil hat. But then he would say that, wouldn't he?

(Note: this blog post has been tested by an independent adjudicator- well, me- and found to be totally neutral. By me. Suck it.)

So. The whole indyref thing. Isn't it awful how the BBC is totally pro-union and constantly pushing a pro-union message?

Also, isn't it awful that the BBC is totally pushing the Yes agenda and giving far too much time to that awful Salmond fella?

We've been here before, of course. Gaza is the most obvious, recent, painful example. Anyone who spends any time with any social media will know that the BBC led with a hideously pro-Israel, anti-semitic, Palestine-friendly, Zionist agenda.

There's no more telling example of confirmation bias than a nicely divisive issue. It's very, very easy to see someone one doesn't like on the news and fall into the trap of thinking 'LOOK! LOOK! THEY'RE PUSHING THE THING I HATE!' And once you've seen it, it's pretty easy to believe it.

Here are some things I know about the way the BBC works. I've been involved with providing drama and LE content to the BBC, so I have a take on the organisation as a whole, but from an outside (and generally a frustrated) perspective. On the other hand, someone who has been one of my best friends for twenty years is a Producer for BBC News. And I know a wee bit about Ofcom, owing to a combination of the above.

Firstly: Compliance is king, emperor, deity. You try putting out some content of any kind, it's going to be vetted on a lot of different levels. This is where any kind of agenda gets flagged, flayed, and put down with a lethal injection.

Secondly: In stark paradox to the above, people who DO have an agenda are nonetheless given the chance loudly to express it. This is why the Farages, the Hopkinses, the Phillipses get a platform on the BBC to shout about how they don't get a platform on the BBC. When did you last hear ITN or Sky run a report about something shitty that had happened on ITN or Sky? Clue: you didn't, ever. 

Thirdly: The neutrality which the BBC must maintain causes a kind of sibling syndrome: tougher on the 'loved ones' than on the 'enemy'. The Telegraphy, Colonelly people who bang on about the left-wing bias of the Beeb are largely right, in a way, because- surprise!- the people who choose to live in big diverse cities and work for a publicly-funded broadcaster tend to be of the left. That's WHY we keep getting, for example, the lunatic fringe of Christian Voice invited to talk about, say, abortion, or homosexuality. It's why we have to have someone like Toby Young on every time an actual scientist talks about climate change. For balance. Or, if you will, 'balance'.

Fourthly: There's regulations. Let's use, as an example, the nasty little fuckers at UKIP. Thing is, at the last-but-one EU elections, they came fourth in the public vote. What that meant, under regulations we'd all largely be in favour of in principle, is that they HAD to have a percentage of the airtime for the most recent EU elections. In which they did significantly better, so they have to have MORE airtime at the next EU elections and so... but you get the idea. Vicious circle. Question: did that initial rise in their votes, the rise that triggered the Ofcom regs, come from the BBC or the tabs? You decide. (PS: it was the tabs)

Look, I'm not a wild-eyed, naive, Beeb-lover. God knows, anyone who tries to work for them as a freelance, or as a representative of an independent provider, is unlikely ever to say 'bbc' without saying 'the pissing sodding fucking...' first. There are mistakes made all the time in the reporting of sensitive issues. That has happened with the kippers, and with Gaza, and with issues of race and gender and pretty much anything that people care about enough to invest with a news story. 

Barely a day goes by without a march or protest that people think should have been reported, and they're probably right. Because, of course, the people who decide what goes on the news- being fallible- make mistakes. One of the triggers for this post was a news report about the referendum to which my friend Kate drew my attention; a horrible, patronising report of a shortbready, tartanny, white Scotland where people sit in pubs reciting Burns to haggises. That kind of thing is, unquestionably, a fuckup.

But a fuckup is all it is. One of the great things about being British is that we have no need to hold on to conspiracy theories, because those who seek to subjugate us are so sodding incompetent that we inevitably find out about it. Our national broadcasting corporation has its incompetent moments too, but if you think it's pushing an agenda- for left or right, union or independence, Israel or Palestine, Beyonce or Jay-Z, or whatever- you should probably try projecting a little less. 

No. I'll go further. If you think the BBC pushes an agenda, you're a dick. You can go ahead and cry foul, but you *will* be being a dick as you do so.

Unless, of course, you'd rather our only broadcasters and news sources were paid-for, commercial ones. Good luck with that.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


I put finger to keyboard reluctantly. I never wanted to be a predictable person, and given that my blog has ended up being mainly about opera or The Gayz, the fact that I find myself tapping away on a subject that links the two makes me feel terribly boring. But there’s important stuff going on here, and it’s getting harder and harder to work out who are the goodies and who are the baddies, so I’m going to go ahead and big fat do it anyway.

And also: sometimes I write about football, too, so actually I’m rounded and actually YOU are the boring one. In your face.

So. Tamar Iveri. A year ago, a post appeared on her facebook page in which she criticized the President of Georgia for condemning violence against a gay rights march. So far, so labyrinthine, I know. To simplify: march happened, violence was done on marchers, president condemned violence, Iveri’s FB criticized President for condemning violence. She talked of ‘Pure Georgian blood’, and said that ‘sometimes it’s good to break some jaws’ and went on to talk about homosexuality in terms that were worryingly obsessed with excrement.

(Sidebar in the neutral, facty bit of this post: I think this is being lost in all the discussion. The president said ‘Hey, let’s not beat up the gays’ and Iveri's post, at length, said ‘No. NO. We SHOULD beat up the gays’. Let’s bear that in mind.)

Anyway, that all happened in 2013, and as we all know in 2013 we were all still wearing flares and talking about Ceylon. I mean, it’s an unimaginably long time ago.

So, way back when, some people objected to Iveri’s FB post and it was deleted. She sort of apologised, a bit, and then didn’t do a concert in Paris she had been scheduled for, and it all went away.

Until now. Iveri was cast at Opera Australia as Desdemona, in Verdi’s opera OTELLO, based on Shakespeare’s play in which, as you will remember, neither hate nor words are remotely dangerous. Somehow, her FB post was dredged up, and what is now being called a ‘social media campaign’ was launched to suggest to OA that she might not be everyone’s favourite colleague, or the darling of every audience member.

It gets murky from here on in. People don’t look very nice.

Iveri doesn’t look very nice, because on top of everything else it would appear she lied. Once it became apparent that this wasn’t all going to go away, she came up with another FB post claiming that the butler did it. Her husband, she claimed, had written the offending post, because he is a fervent Christian and the gay march had been scheduled on the same day as a march commemorating Georgia’s war dead and a friend of theirs had died and he was angry and we were never at war with Eastasia.

(For information, again: the gay rights march and the memorial march were not on the same day, and it took a year for her to say that her husband had written the post, and he has his own facebook page, and why is any of this relevant to incitement to violence, which is a crime, anyway?)

What happened next was that Opera Australia equivocated, and got people angrier and angrier by their refusal to condemn what, in most any other profession, would be counted as gross misconduct.  You don’t, in any job, go on record saying that some of your colleagues are faeces and cancer and need their jaws broken without expecting at the very least a slap on the wrist from HR. If OA had acted immediately, I suspect this shitstorm would have been less shitty (simile: courtesy the Tamar Iveri School Of Scatology).

Inevitably, finally, Iveri was fired. She made one final FB post where she- and this is where the word ‘disingenuous’ is stretched to its utmost limit- claimed that she had only opposed the march because she was worried that people might get hurt. Ho ha hum.

But, if you can believe it, that’s where it got nastier. That’s where people, on all sides of the political spectrum, took a horrible story and made it worse. I can’t really bear to spell it all out, so I’ll opt for bullet points from now on.

1: People started worrying that she was the victim of a 'witch hunt'

I can deal with this quite quickly, can’t I? No she wasn’t. This isn’t an issue of freedom of expression. This is someone who condoned- encouraged-  violence against fellow humans just because they weren’t wired the way she was.  We don’t even need to do the racism test, where you replace ‘gay’ with ‘black’. If she worked for a PR firm or a bank or a shop or anywhere other than the nervously liberal arts, she would have been out of the door so fast her head would’ve spun. And you don’t need me to tell you that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, right?

2: People started going on Iveri’s and OA’s Facebook pages and having misogynist rants

This is where the double-nasty comes in. Iveri is certainly a bigot, and maybe a fascist. What she isn’t, or not acceptably at any rate, is a bitch or a cunt or a whore. I can understand why people wanted to vent against her, but so many of them got it dead wrong. The correct response to OA’s decision to fire her was silence. Job done, bigot sent home to have a think. I can’t remember a better example of moral defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Anyone who posted anything abusive about Iveri which was based on anything other than her opinions- here’s a slow handclap. You have given useful, quotable ammo to the very people who ought to have none. And yes, I think she should go to a teacher to work on her higher notes, which have a tendency to go flat, but that is NOT RELEVANT HERE.

Which leads to:

3: People started using the abuse Iveri received as a kind of defence for her actions

This is where I sort of want to give up and blast humanity into space (or, to coin a phrase, to break its jaw). The fact that some idiot misogynists called Iveri a bitch DOES NOT retroactively make her a martyr. The fact that she lost her job should be treated on its own, as a closed book. The fact that some woman-hating trolls did their woman-hating troll thing is a MUCH bigger problem. Prominent women are called the names Tamar Iveri was called every day, time and time again, on the internet. Most of them haven’t angrily defended the physical injury of other humans. If you want to get angry about what was said to her, be my guest. You should. Just don't make her your poster girl.

4: But - AAARGH- those people above are sort of right.

That’s where it’s all ultimately depressing. There’s that old, self hating thing that members of minorities can’t help but think: ‘Oh dear, if we get angry about this bigot saying his bigot thing then he’ll hate us all the more’. And there’s no point in that. For all her ‘gay friends’- and I suspect she’ll have met a few of us, apparently we crop up here and there in opera-  Tamar Iveri isn’t going to have her mind changed if we shut up nicely and let her express her desire to see us in casualty without repercussions. I have no interest in keeping schtumm so as not to confirm haters in their hatery.  It was absolutely worth speaking up and standing up for ourselves.

But, at the same time. You people who jumped in to call her every name under the sun. You people who allowed her to look like a victim. You people who used the hate speech men have used against women for centuries and thought you were striking a blow against bigotry: you silly fucking cunts (so to speak). All you have done is taken someone who was unequivocally in the wrong, and given her the chance to look as if she was a little bit in the right.


I couldn’t do bullet points without a conclusion: it would be a sin against GCSE Science. So let’s try this one.

Online misogyny is a massive problem, and one which is much bigger than the Iveri affair. Let’s not mix up the two: let’s robustly condemn the people who spaffed their anger all over the internet, and let’s treat that as a problem which has nothing, in the end, to do with a woman who quite rightly lost a gig.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Open Letter


Dear John Lyndon Sullivan,

Hello! I’m one of those whatevers you’ve read about. I hope it’s not presumptuous of me to assume that you don’t really know any of us- I just get the feeling you might not. If you’re still determined to be a politician you may end up pretending that some of your best friends are etc etc etc, of course, and without doubt you’ll have met some of us. Maybe you had an unmarried uncle who was quite gentle and fond of baking. Think back.

Anyway, I’m writing to take you up on your kind offer to shoot one of us, so that the other 99 (you may need to re-check your statistics) change their minds over whether the whole gay thing is a matter of genetics or education. I’m happy to be your guinea pig in this fascinating social experiment.

I’m guessing you’d be shooting me in the shoulder or the leg, rather than somewhere actually fatal; for elected (or even non-elected) representatives actually to murder fellow citizens who are innocent of any crime is frowned upon in our namby-pamby liberal society. But even so, it’ll send out a powerful message. If we can get a date, time and location fixed, I’ll try and get as many ‘poofters’ as I can to come and watch you prove your point.

A couple of things you need to know: firstly, I won’t back down. You may have run away with the idea that we’re a sissy, physically cowardly lot. You might assume that I’d turn up, pretend to be ready to take a shot, and then run off and write a musical or press flowers or something. But just think- if I did that, your hypothesis wouldn’t be properly tested! I am committed to this project, and although being shot will doubtless sting a bit, I can’t wait to find if it actually works the way you suggest. The idea of standing there, bleeding from a flesh wound, while so many of my friends instantly demarry, fall out of love with their partners, or just plain stop fancying each other is too fascinating to pass up. And besides, you might be surprised. We’re quite hardy, as a bunch. Some of the things we do to each other for pleasure can be really bloody painful.

Another thing to bear in mind is that you’d be pretty well disposed towards me, if the rest of your party is anything to go by. I’m white, I speak nicely, I pay my taxes, and I’ve never been caught being Romanian. Admittedly, your party also doesn’t want me to get married to a man (and if I saw the error of my ways and got married to a woman, it wouldn’t want her to get any maternity pay should she try and bring forth some more white, nicely-spoken non-Romanians). But once I’m shot, your party will have no worries about me getting free medical treatment. That’s why I’m perfect for your experiment- if you found yourself shooting, say, a Frenchman,  on English soil you’d object to your tax money going towards stopping him from dying. But you can shoot me without any such worries. At least for now; if you shot me in a world where your party were in government and had privatized the NHS, you might have a few worries about whether I could afford to have someone pop a plaster on it.

You should also remember that you will get arrested and probably imprisoned. Your party is a big fan of the rule of law, after all, and we can’t have people shooting each other on the street and getting away with it, even in the name of science.  The law seems to be less important when it comes to corporations, admittedly, but I’ve yet to hear any of your colleagues argue for the total deregulation of, say, theft, or mugging. Well, it’s different, isn’t it?

The last thing I’d like gently to mention is the 1980s. It was in that decade that the whatevers faced up to something a little more dangerous than a wannabe councillor with a shotgun. Millions of us, worldwide, died, and hundreds of thousands of others continue both to die from and to live with a disease which threatened our community more than any law ever had. You may have heard about it- it’s not unique to us, it can happen to anyone, even straight white men. It’s laying waste to the third world even now, with no distinctions of sexual orientation, belief or lifestyle (although you may not be hugely informed about the third world because, you know, kipper and all). Anyway, even when that terrible, desperate nightmare stalked us, even when it briefly looked like it was stalking ONLY us, we didn’t change our minds or our orientations. Quite the opposite. We wrote and we sang and we fought and we protested and above all we loved. We loved, and we carry on loving, and we always will.

So I look forward to the results of your fascinating experiment. My shoulder, your gun, your call.

And once you pull the trigger, you wait and see how the ‘next 99’ react. You might just get a surprise.

Yours, in your sights,