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,


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Fever Bitching.

To get to Clockhouse Way, home of Braintree Town Football Club, from London involves eighty minutes on a commuter train followed by a brisk fifteen-minute walk through Anytown, UK. You pass a pub called ‘The Pub’ which will sell you a Bellybuster Breakfast from 7am, and whose attached nightclub ‘Jardins’ is both available for private hire and the venue for Aeropump classes. Further along is another pub, called THE SPORT MAN (I think an ‘S’ has been liberated from the sign somewhere along the way) which proudly boasts that it is ‘Open from 10am-12pm', a brave two-hour window to be trading in. The ground itself is pleasingly non-league. There are rusty turnstiles, and dusty terraces, and a timewarp of a bar/social club with That Carpet. In the way of non-league football, there’s no home or away end- you just stand behind the goal your team is attacking. It was at Braintree Town that I realised that we’ve been lied to all these years. Never mind Shankly and his ‘more important than life and death’ schtick. The thing about football is that it’s much, much more enjoyable when you don’t care.

I mean, I cared a bit. The reason I happened to be in mid-Essex was that my friend Ross is a fan of Gateshead FC. This was a proper six pointer- Gateshead, at start of play, sat three points ahead of Braintree in a playoff place, but with an inferior goal difference. That’s where they sit now, too, since neither team could conjure a goal- or, if we’re honest, anything much in the way of football- over the 94 minutes. But although I wanted Gateshead to win, for Ross’ sake, and because my late granddad was from Gateshead, and although I managed a sort of strangled happybark when Braintree’s late penalty was saved, it didn’t really matter. I wasn’t invested, you see. My heart was gently pumping blood rather than imitating a Prodigy bassline (the Prodigy, by the way, are from Braintree, which explains them).

Things are very different where Fulham are concerned. Like Hugh Grant, Lily Allen, and Mohamed Al-Fayed (I’ve long considered myself a perfect combination of the three) I support Martin Jol’s I mean Rene Meulensteen’s I mean Felix Magath’s Lilywhite Army. I’ve watched us lose at home to Torquay and beat Juventus 4-1. I’ve seen a 0-0 draw with Carlisle and a 3-0 win over Manchester United (and Manchester United, like A-Levels, were harder in those days) but I’ve never watched us with the simple, uncomplicated pleasure that I got from watching Braintree hoof it one way and then Gateshead hoof it the other.

This season, in particular, ‘pleasure’ has not been the word to apply to any but the most cringingly masochistic of Fulham fans. We have lost about ten matches more than we’ve played. We’ve conceded more goals than have been scored in the entire history of football.  Going 1-0 up has generally meant losing 3-1. And yet, due to either tactical genius or a cruelly delusional Dead Cat Bounce, we’re not out of it yet. Having scraped a win on Saturday while being comprehensively outplayed by Norwich- I’ll say that again, by Norwich- we’re in a position where a couple of wins from our last four games might just see us lining up alongside Hull and Stoke and Burnley in one of Europe’s elite leagues next season.

And all I’m getting from it is the potential for a stomach ulcer. During that Norwich game I was working, keeping one eye on Soccer Saturday and the other on my job. For most of the last twenty minutes of the game, as the might of Norwich bombarded Stockade Stockdale, I felt genuinely physically sick. When the whistle blew for full time, seemingly some seventeen hours after all the other games had finished, I didn’t feel any euphoria, just a knackered, spent kind of relief. And I have to do that four more times before the end of the season, and STILL we might go down at the end of it. I don’t mind the despair, as John Cleese says in the best line ever to grace a bad film, it’s the hope I can’t stand.

Yes, there’s an orgasmic buzz when it goes well (‘Dempsey- FOUR-ONE!') but in general football makes me uneasy, and breathless, and dyspeptic, and aggressive (‘Why won’t you just blooming lie down and die, you Welsh fools’ I yelled at my laptop when Cardiff went ahead at Southampton, except I didn’t say ‘blooming’ or ‘fools’). It gives me a good two hours of unremitting nervous tension a week. Remind me, which bit of that is supposed to be fun? Why have I, a grown adult, allowed myself to become emotionally- and, dammit, physiologically- invested in the (under)achievements of a bunch of twentysomething millionaires? Give me a 0-0 draw between Braintree and Gateshead any day. Enough of being THE SPORT MAN; I’ll see you down The Pub.