Faraway, So Close

I don't sleep well at night. I have regular insomnia. Not a particularly shocking statement, I suppose, considering it's partly hereditary. Anyone that claims any sort of closeness to me will know that I worry a lot too. It's all stuff I perceive to be mountains to climb that causes me a restless night as well, which makes the whole thing a bit more pathetic. Global warming, tsunamis, Third World debt and Palestinian children are all concerns that get me into a vicious circle of never-ending sleepless worry. But four nights ago was different. As I struggled with the latest insomniac worry of Gary McKinnon's potential extradition to the U.S., I actually wept. I can't remember when I last shed a tear on my pillow - we're talking early teens and we're probably talking about early thoughts of a schoolbully's latest victim. The emotional reason comes from that red-hot cheeked feeling harking back to being a helpless childish bystander seeing a vulnerable classmate being completely subjugated. The logical reason is that, unlike any of the other seemingly world-wide massive mountain problems to climb, this one should be a molehill and should be something we can fix. If we can't help Gary out, if we can't help one man out, then we can't do very much else.

I'm affected badly by this for other reasons. One of those is the personal one of having two people in my life who have Aspergers Syndrome, just like Gary. My first degree is in Psychology and I did a great deal of research into the list of prototypical Asperger symptoms. One of the slight misunderstandings associated with the condition is its relation to autism. Some would describe Aspergers Syndrome as a 'diluted' form of autism. This may be true in some respects, but it'd be wrong to completely characterise it as simply just this. In some ways, people who suffer Aspergers Syndrome are actually more vulnerable. For a start, some more extreme autistics live in their heads, figuratively speaking, and the outside world doesn't really impinge on them very much. Meanwhile, Aspergers Syndrome people are fully self-aware that they're deficient in recognising social and emotional cues in their environment (the obvious one being facial expressions on peoples' faces). They're aware that they relate differently to other people with a lack of emotional awareness, and that consequently makes them feel more isolated. It's one of the reasons they're vulnerable to depression and, in some cases, suicide. And it utterly kicks me in the kidneys and it makes me unable to see the screen because of the mist when I write that last word, as both people I know with Aspergers have variously suffered bouts of depression (and with one, three actual nervous breakdowns). So, it's a very real issue for Gary if he is sent to a prison in the U.S.

Another reason is my current career as a web developer, which also involves a lot of stuff with search engines. It's very easy to kickstart a process within a search engine that opens all doors that are not locked, but only closed on the latch, so to speak. Sometimes, you'll open doors that people that have forgotten to lock and you'll catch a glimpse of something that you shouldn't really see. Most of the time, I gulp a bit, reverse the process and stare red-faced at my keyboard. I then repress, banish the thought and carry on with my work. It's just what you do, particularly as people assume there's an elegant world-wide web out there (although I should point out, for sake of clarity, that I haven't hacked any military base machines - I'm talking about ordinary peoples' personal machines that should be locked properly!). What I can actually see is an internet structure still packed with holes, bizarre little caches, broken links, half-protected web servers and forgotten backroom dusty backend machines. Using something as simple as a Perl script that ties together a few other applications, which detects "blank passwords" on machines isn't really even hacking. Boris Johnson argues this point strongly in his Daily Telegraph article defending Gary.

Aspergers Syndrome doesn't permit you to the luxury of social niceties and it arms you with a naive and honest bluntness. Gary saw the real-world equivalent of several unlocked doors with some very important US military types caught sleeping over a half-finished game of poker and left a note saying "Your security sucks" (I'm paraphrasing), with an accompanying email address. It's what I've played with doing, when accidentally finding some insecure web resource somewhere, but I realise that the messenger often gets shot, even when he's doing the decent thing. The point being that when you're dealing with doing any work on the web at even a day-to-day level, it is sometimes unavoidable to trip up over someone else's unlocked private safe. It's an occupational hazard, I believe the phrase to be. So, Ms Jacqui SmithMr Alan Johnson, you might as well round all of us web developers up and hand us to the appropriate authorities. I'm sure if the rest of us were afflicted with the naive honesty granted by Aspergers Syndrome, we'd end up in the same situation.

For more information on Gary McKinnon's case and to sign a petition, please visit Free Gary McKinnon.

Mini Blog Entry: Who Do You REALLY Want To Vote For?

This is an interesting quiz to fill out. It tells you which party you should vote for in the European Elections, based on what your political views are. I filled it out, for two reasons. Firstly, despite being a lifelong Labour Party voter, I now have no idea what the Labour Party, or New Labour, or New Tory, stand for anymore. Secondly (slightly related to the first reason), it's next-to-impossible to learn what all the other political parties stand for anymore. Mainly due to the huge amount of spin, gloss and celebrity standing in the way; not to mention the daily obfuscation that escape from politician's mouths these days, when trying to pin them down on any particular policy. So, fill this out and then, for goodness sake, VOTE! It's an extremely important democratic right that we don't exercise enough.

<p>Your browser does not support iframes. Click <a href="http://www.votematch.co.uk">here</a> to continue.</p>

"At The End of The Day, It's A Game of Two Halves..."

I'm not going to be popular after this blog entry. In fact, I hazard a guess that this will kill off most of the Cranium Dump blog readership that has grown steadily over the past 8 months. Despite it not being the bile target of this blog entry, it started with me throwing out the possibility that the film "Star Wars" was, maybe, a little bit over-rated. This was against the backdrop of "Star Wars Day" (4th May). Apart from the reaction I've received for my antipathy towards football (which is to be the main topic of this blog article), never have I received an outraged, aghast response. The "Star Wars" argument that I put forward was greeted in the same way as me crowbarring someone's pet dog to death (dogs, another massively over-rated target of gross sentimentality - there you go, I told you I wasn't going to be popular writing this). "Sometimes you can be such a tit," said Anti-Hippy, which disappointed me, as he's normally a very good intellectual cutthroat. "The wrong in you is strong, my apprentice," claimed another rather addled observer. "You're just being arch and superior, Nicholson," spat my lovely red-headed/blonde Fragdoll friend - which probably hurt the most, as I was actually criticising "Star Wars" for being portentous, self-important and having leaden dialogue, as opposed to light-hearted, light-headed frothy space opera. That latter description could easily be applied to, say, "The Empires Strikes Back" which is witty, warm, dark and light in equal measures. In fact, being portentous, self-important and having leaden dialogue leads me rather neatly to football commentaries. And reaction to that triggers outright hostility, when I dare murmur that, well, you know, football is boring. And the one thing worse than football, is people talking about football - like some pathetic wannabe football pundit, all puffed-up and aping Alan Hansen (a little tip, wannabes; Alan Hansen can be quite funny, unlike you bores).

Testosterone-fuelled footie fans are often also the first people who point at any other hobby as geeky or weird. In the press, it's widely assumed that if you're into, say, "Star Wars", computer programming, maths or science, you're geeky or even mentally deficient in social skills. Yet, many men, when looking for a mental shortcut into conversation come out with the perennial, "Did you see that match last night?". It's a convenient neutral placeholder chat, a dull-as-ditchwater conversational fart next to the watercooler. Plus, a lot of football conversation strikes me as far more like borderline autism, if not out-and-out Aspergers Syndrome, than any of the 'hobby speak' I hear from other diverse fanbases. Think about it. Guys talking in depth about guys kicking a ball around, with barely a flicker of emotion or even acknowledging the mood of any other party in the room. The statistics that are trotted out give Freud's 'anally retentive' personality a whole new ball game (pun intended) to play with. These blokes are trotting out references to obscure football matches won in 1967. They're able to reel off names of every football player in a particular team's history - and it's not even the team they support. Am I the only person to think that encyclopaedic knowledge could've been used for something else? That if football wasn't inflicted on us, the state of the nation would be a lot healthier?

Things reach a sinister tone, when you realise ministers (of all political parties in power) often count on the so-called "Feel Good" factor of grand finale football matches. Supposedly, it aids a ruling political elite's future during a General Election, if the UK populous have painted the national flag on their face in celebration of their team kicking a ball into a net more times than another country's team. I've always felt there's a bit of "opiate for the masses" about this. And one of my first serious pangs of anxiety about football being used as a "control", was when this story about a banned TV advert broke three years ago. No newspaper or TV news bulletin covered it, despite the fact that it was the first time a TV advert for fucking charity was banned - and for what? The supposed anti-football stance that the advert is alleged to be making. I use that as an extreme example of the influence of "football lobbyists". In Scotland, it's even worse. A few weeks ago, BBC's "Reporting Scotland" had the leading news item as Rangers and Celtic maybe (emphasis on maybe) being put in an English premier league, with jaunty 1960s "Match of the Day" theme music soundtracking the news item. Hip fucking hooray. The second news item was on the first funerals being held for the North Sea helicopter crash. Am I the only person on the planet to think this isn't just appalling, but actually offensive?

Oh, here's a rhetorical question - workplace jingoism caused by the so-called "Feel Good" factor increases productivity, doesn't it? No, this is patently bollocks. Again, it's worse in Scottish offices. If there had been a match of any particular significance, then an ex-workplace of mine just became unbearable to work in. All the men would strike up their best Hansen accent and proceed to talk about the merits of the 41st minute of a match. It would then go on... and on... and on. With nobody doing any work, sometimes for an entire day. The bosses never cracked down on this, because they were all doing the same thing. Frustratingly, it's spoken of in the press as improving morale and, hence, improving the economy. Not from where I'm fucking sitting, it ain't. Shockingly, the bosses got their promotions via the bilingual ball bollocks route in the first place. You think I'm idly theorising? An extremely respected female senior office worker, from my last company, told me something without knowing my prejudices. She told me that the reason my ex-boss had risen to the top was because he talked football with a lot of his office staff. He was therefore seen as alright by the male staff, because he liked football; meanwhile, his incompetence and sociopathic tendencies were never questioned. How utterly disheartening that two years of solid work could all be replaced with a well-timed verse on whether Arsenal could make it to the top league this season. In parallel, it certainly explains why somebody like the universally-hated Damian McBride rose to the top (note the one line dedicated to his personal life in Wikipedia). Supposedly, he was a fixture in the Westminster bars, pontificating at length with journalists about the merits of a strategic offside wank-off in some boringly obscure match.

This all leads back to what my personal pointless take on all this is. And, rather sadly, I don't have one, apart from a possible "can't beat them, join them" lame argument. Although this overlooks the fact that, apart from the odd Celtic match, I find football the ultimate example of time slowing down when you're having a dull time - 90 minutes somehow mutates into fifty years. One potential compromise solution was offered by an episode of sitcom "The IT Crowd" (clip here). One of the lead characters learns to "talk football" from a website, entitled Bluffball, without ever having to really know anything about the sport. As you can see, the website exists - sort of. Through the wonder of Twitter and with my web development background, I offered to develop the Bluffball site for Graham Linehan, the author/director of "The IT Crowd". The reason being that I want the damned thing to exist (other than doing a favour for a favourite comedy writer). As a sidenote, incidentally, the same comedy writer thinks he lost a fair few followers on Twitter a few weeks ago, for daring to criticise footballers when he was a bit tipsy on Twitter. Again, the idea of someone almost committing "blasphemy" for this new opiate of the people begins to reek of a form of religious brainwashing. I've just gone on as to why I hate the thing, so why do I need to learn to talk it? Because, implicit within the above few paragraphs is that it annoyingly affects my career prospects. I once was able to mention a few things about a Celtic match to some of my colleagues in my last office. Apparently, that made waves around the partitioned desks and my name was mentioned in a boardroom meeting of managers. Outrageous.

My boring psychological theory behind all this, is that it's a comfort blanket from childhood, given by the parents. The first football match that the Dad took his son to, is an introduction to the big world out there and with parental protection. Similar to other toddler milestones, like parents taking their children to their first ever movie at the cinema (such as "Star Wars"), or the first family outings to Sunday church service for religious teachings. Which is why I'm consciously aware that bosses, managers and even government push the "football agenda" - it's another control method, a way of keeping the populous meek and subservient. Oooh, watch out, scary terrorists - quick, retreat to the miasmic refuge of toddlerhood, so the parents of government can look after you. But I kind of wish we could all wake up from this "arrested development". With three Tory parties to vote for (all smeared by the expenses scandal), we could really do with a proper mass protest. But with football being piped at us, I suspect we're only four matches away from revolution. Till then, we're paralysed into sucking a thumb anxiously from infancy. Except, by thinking that all of this is a government conspiracy, I've unwittingly revealed my own childhood comfort blanket; my Dad reading long tracts from New Statesman magazine to me as a kid. I wish I'd been brought up another way, so I could wish away real life by cheering a ball being kicked into a net. No wonder there's something wrong with me.

End-note: If you liked "The IT Crowd" clip, go out and buy the boxed set. It won a BAFTA the other week and it got better and better, series by series. Oh and one final clip for positivity, this is a link to the joyful "Adam and Joe Show" song on football. Enjoy.

Tainted Love

Ah, music. Anytime anything in my life is really truly going "tits up" (and I use that phrase perhaps more literally than ever at the moment), there is always some scintillating sphere of MP3 majesty that I can dig up. Something that will remind me of a childhood comfort blanket; or a tear on my teenage eye that reminds me I'm alive emotionally; or a juggernaut of unstoppable invincible rock music from my Bohemian student days; or a cracked confused corpuscle of melting-pot music that confirms the existential crisis of my thirties. Only... that collection of lovely tunes is being raided one-by-one. Why?

Music isn't just made up of beautiful melodies and cascading cadences, it's also interminably linked to the time and place that the tune was born. How frankly bollock-numbingly tedious is it that I find another nugget of creative genius has been tainted, nay, sullied by some dumb media Nathan Barley cunt somewhere. You want proof? Here's the none-too-subtle "top tens" beloved of frustrated blog writers when they want to play with the format a little. This one's a top ten of "tainted love" moments (cunningly named after a Marc Almond tune - did you see what I did there?) where some favourite tuneful treat of mine has been wrestled from my naive palm and shat on in front of me.

10. Tainted Love - Marc Almond. Let's start at the beginning. My brother's helpless nudging at my young teenage crush leaving a nasty taste in my mouth. And that's not even speaking metaphorically, really - I had quite a good imagination and was only too aware of an Almond bulb of salty goodness lolling around on my tongue. Marc Almond was apparently carted off to hospital to have his stomach pumped, after "pleasuring" some rather plucky groupies. Luckily, this is number 10. The grubby episode proved to be a rather pathetic urban myth that has since been disproved and "Tainted Love" is thankfully restored in my own head to the electro-motown mini epic that it always was (that's also a sullen admission to it being a cover, but the man did elevate it).

9. Lust For Life - Iggy Pop. Somewhat harder to swallow (stop laughing at the back, we've moved off the Marc Almond song) is Iggy Pop's image being sullied by a car insurance advert. It's made worse today, of course, because said insurance company wouldn't sell their product to musicians, so the advertisers were straightforwardly lying (lying advertisers? Say it ain't so).  Also, "Lust For Life" is the song beloved of lazy TV producers (when they can't steal a Prodigy dance track) whenever they want to soundtrack a "crazy character" who is up to no good. "Trainspotting" did it fucking years ago, advertising "gurus", get over your post-ironic posturing at Oxford University.

8. Ready To Go - Republica. I used to quite like this song in my student days. Yes, I knew it was sub-Garbage or sub-Sneaker Pimps student fare, but it was always good to jump around to if you'd had about five ciders in the students union and had failed to pull that stupid student girl who had pink pigtails and looked like a Fraggle. Now, I hear this song all the time on fucking carpet adverts and commentaries on football matches. Football, fucking football. Lower than the lowest common denominator from here-on-in. Dirt on my shoe now.

7. Clubbed To Death - Rob Dougan. This was a clever bit of dance music that encapsulated a dark, foreboding feeling of anxiety not really heard before in a lot of club music. It also smartly did what a lot of truly great pop music does, which is reference some bit of classical music (Chopin's Prelude No. 4 in E Minor). When I first heard this, I loved playing it while coding in my (then current) dark Edinburgh flat, which was next to the seedier end of town that housed three strip joints nearby, as well as a forbidding looking Catholic church opposite. Puritanical fury standing next to a salacious mecca next door.

Of course, this song quickly started being used ad nauseum in every reality show going, with "Big Brother" predictably using it first. Rather more famously, it's used to quite tedious regularity in "The Apprentice". I know it's used regularly because, despite me being the one person in the UK that doesn't watch that show, I always hear that song throbbing over any clip I catch of besuited wannabe Alan Sugar cocksuckers. Unhappily, I now can't hear that "club classic" being played without thinking of that cockney cock Big Brother contestant, Bubble, tripping over an armchair.

6. Killing Me Softly (With His Song) - Roberta Flack. I know my pal, Casual Egotist, is with me on this one. A shockingly fantastic song with a clever chord structure and gorgeously intricated melody, it's now been reduced to "that song sang in the cinema with that cunt from the Fugees wittering 'One Time' over it". Even though I shouldn't, the original song always now has the Tourette's echo in my mind forcibly stuck over it. Terrible.

5. Seasons In The Sun - Terry Jacks. I thought this song was indestructible. Nothing could sully it. Even a lawnmower advert using it as a soundtrack couldn't hide the beauty of this song. Of course, the sprinkling of stardust on this song is the fact that it originally came from the pen of Jacques Brel. As if to confirm this, the list of people daring to cover it come from a somewhat magisterial elite of songsmiths. The Beach Boys, Bad Religion, Black Box Recorder (my own personal favourite, created by Britpop naysayer and misanthrope, Luke Haines) and Nirvana. All with their obviously individual take on it. Each building on the original's nebulous wonder. Then Westlife covered it, nay, wanked over it - before jetting it up to number one and persuading the rest of the stupid public that it was their song. You're blonde, you're Aryan and you're brainwashing those teenage girls into thinking they can only breed with the likes of you and utterly re-writing the past. Way to go lads, you really are the musical equivalent of the Nazis.

4. American Pie - Don McLean. Covered by Madonna. Fuck me, do I have to actually give an explanation as to why she ruined this? Do I have to lead you by the hand everywhere? Go home and listen to your Phil Collins albums, you lobotomised fuck-knuckle.

3. You Can't Hurry Love - The Supremes. Covered by Phil Collins. Ah, obviously, I do have to lead you around by the hand. Okay, just for starters, "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes used to paint an utterly compelling prototypical vision of black 'n' white Motown in the ascendancy during the 1960s. The Supremes version was first played to me, as an impressionable six-year old, by my dear Mum. After Phil Collins dutifully pissed all over it, like a particularly bald Bulldog marking out it's territory, I can now no longer hear the original without seeing the smuggest member (the drummer, for fucks' sake, the DRUMMER) of the smuggest prog rock band smugly warbling in his smug echo-chamber production studio. The receding-haired bell-end just splurged musical masturbation over my childhood, like the repressed memory of an abusive paedeophile Uncle. Then he appeared in breezy Brit movie, "Buster", as a cockney loveable rogue, just to add to my agony. Why's he still alive, someone?

2. Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley. Covered by Gareth Gates. In a leather jacket. If I really have to explain this one, you've obviously just been skim-reading this blog entry, my life really is a pointless exercise and I'm just going to stop writing now. Fuck off.

1. Ain't Got No Money - Nina Simone.

This is without doubt number one. Nina Simone was capable of elevating the scumminess, dinginess and nightmare dread of her early everyday existence and achieving a spiritual salvation. Her lyrics and her music combined, meant that the most atheist amongst us could transcend the hollow roots of humanity. How utterly soul-destroying is it that those Muller-Lite motherfuckers have decimated that song by completely negating the "build up" of minor chords, minor melodies, shift of nuance and eventual octave leap to just the major key ending. Now it's just a "jolly song" for yoghurt. As if to compound this annoyance, there's a large section of the population that think that the song now doesn't have lyrics anymore and the melody is just a whistle from your friendly neighbourhood window-cleaner, plus they act surprised when they hear the rather large "intro" of the original Simone version. Here's the original - bold, harrowing and utterly brilliant. But the ending really has been ruined for me; you Nathan Barleys in the advertising agencies have stolen something preciously sacred to me. Thank you so fucking much.


1. (joint) One Day Like This - Elbow. Somebody pointed out to me that this blog entry reminded them of Charlie Brooker's stuff. This annoyed me slightly, but not because I don't like him (he's a hero of mine, frankly - hence my reference to Nathan Barley, which Mr Brooker co-wrote). It's because this blog entry was the first (and possibly only) article that I wrote entirely in first draft form with no revisions. Such was my fury at the subject matter of favourite songs being ruined, this literally was an angry cranium dump. So, any plagiarism of Brooker's style is entirely accidental. However, it does remind me that Brooker himself has kindly ruined a musical gem for me - namely, "One Day Like This" by Elbow. He used this track to highlight how "journey documentaries" tend to use stirring and uplifting tracks to add emotion to paltry televisual scenes. He then uses "One Day Like This" to soundtrack a bleak hillside scene of a bunk of blokes urinating. The entire sketch is extremely funny. In fact, it's so funny that I've now cemented "One Day Like This" to that scene. So, cheers, Charlie - while being very amusing and erudite, you've ruined another fantastic and favourite song of mine. Anytime I hear that song now, I don't feel like punching the sky, because all I see in my mind's eye are some blokes weeing onto a hill.

Now you know that we live in the dry desert of musical soullessness. It only remains for me to say what my pal, Milky Bar Kid, told me a few years ago. I was grinning from ear-to-ear when normally stagnating music industry "The Brits" awards saw fit to hand a trophy to musical genius, Beck. Milky Bar Kid turned to me and said, "Who is that? Why's he won it? Why didn't Moby win it? His music is so good, even adverts use it!".

Chris Nicholson wrote this blog entry while David Davis MP, Conservative, discussed the merits of "Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols" on a BBC 4 programme. I'm not going to disseminate this; only to add that one of the reasons I liked John Lydon was precisely because he wasn't a typical teenager singing about drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll. He was a teenager already acting like a grumpy angry pensioner, ranting about the state of the nation. As if to compond this, I feel he's grown more and more comfortable, as he's fitted into his skin of Great Britain's real-life answer to Albert Steptoe. Admittedly, he does live in California now... :-(

The Pirate Bay? I think you've just imprisoned the wrong people

This isn't really a blog entry (on holiday this week), but it's a brief opinion nevertheless. I'm genuinely surprised at the unanimous condemnation of the judgement on The Pirate Bay imprisonment. I was thinking there'd be a lot more people saying, "Yes, they should be locked up, they're thieves". In fact, I think the only person you could find saying "The Pirate Bay" people should be swaying from a tree was that man of musical integrity and principle, Mr Pete Waterman (pictured on the left here, accompanied by the purveyors of the most irritating sound in the world, the Sheilas Wheels ad song). Channel 4 News certainly enjoyed interviewing him an hour ago, as he frothed himself up into self-righteous fury. Although, he's got form for this sort of ridiculous venting, suggesting with no irony that he felt like an exploited Dubai worker because of Google/Youtube's 'rickrolling' (rather than, say, an over-privileged creatively-bankrupt pensioner that couldn't spot talent on a TV talent show). Except, it's precisely because of people like Pete Waterman (responsible for some of the worst record contracts in history, not to mention music) that artists and public alike are apathetic to peer-to-peer sharing of MP3s.

It's also doubly depressing, when Trent Reznor offered the stagnating record industry a brand new business model last week, which they've happily ignored.  Although to be fair, they'd hate the new business model; it rightly rewards the artist, rather than middle-management types that get paid an awful lot of money for literally nothing. The artist and accompanying sound engineers are the people at the bottom of the pile, who pocket the small change as it drips down literally from 'trickle-down' economics. As Trent Reznor himself points out at the end of this interview:

"One of the biggest wake-up calls of my career was when I saw a record contract," he says. "I said, 'Wait — you sell it for $18.98 and I make 80 cents? And I have to pay you back the money you lent me to make it and then you own it? Who the fuck made that rule? Oh! The record labels made it because artists are dumb and they'll sign anything' — like I did."

Read the whole interview. Thank God someone understands and realises the potential of music over the internet. If you're a Nine Inch Nails fan, visit NIN here.

UPDATE: Pete Waterman's rather knee-jerk rant (why does there only have to be 'one business model', Pete?) can be seen at Channel 4 News link here, about 4 minutes 30 seconds in. Thanks to @NeilHudson for tweeting the link at @Glinner and I.

Awkward Chats

After the last blog entry, things were getting rather incendiary. If the pen is mightier than the sword, then I'd gladly like to think I'd given a couple of "personalities" both barrels of a shotgun. But that's not really what this blog is all about. Despite the fun I had in ranting, this blog entry is going to try and return back to it's slightly fluffier roots and do what it does best. Namely, people can read it and laugh as I expose yet more of my 'hilarious' inadequacies. Chief amongst those is the awkward conversation, of which I excel at. Admittedly, not as bad as Jacqui Smith opening up dialogue with her husband as to how "Raw Meat 3" ended up on her pay-per-view TV bill, but close. Although having said that, her husband should've just checked his wife's Home Office website, as it appears to be have been providing free porn on tap.

I've got the rather onerous task of going through every message in my Facebook Inbox after work this week. This is because I've just discovered the very real possibility that the Facebook computer virus that I had in November might have affected a whole load of people that aren't even on my Friends list. I thought the whole point of internet communication was to avoid awkward conversations. That's the whole reason I use it. But I've now got to go and have the virtual equivalent of the 'real world' STD talk. In other words, speaking to people I've had casual contact with and tell them they might have caught a virus from me via an ephemeral interaction. Great. Sodding great.
My real life is replete with awkward conversations, usually as a result of something escaping from my mouth in the heat of the moment and it then staying with me forever. I like Twitter because you can savour a moment in current time, look at it from a number of angles and then post it. It's a bit like always being ready with the witty one-liner and committing it to a world-wide community cocktail party, rather than cursing yourself for not having the perfect put-down for the random pavement heckler. Kimire actually describes it best in her latest article, so I'll plug her blog post here. I love collective blogging, because somebody somewhere has usually put something in words better than I ever could, and my self-inflicted inertia of boundless laziness can just continue.
A perfect example of such laziness is also the aim of this blog entry, since I've got several parties to go to in the next few weeks, alongside a school reunion (another one) in June and three weddings in May, one after the other. All I can see is a minefield of monumentally ill-timed rambling, littered with solipsism semtex at every step. All of these parties will be filled with loads of people I haven't seen (some in over a decade) and I'm about to make a tit of myself, even with my sober chat. It's a bit of a homecoming too, of sorts, as I'll be seeing old schoolfriends that I haven't inadvertently offended in over 15 years. So, this blog entry is a pre-emptive strike of sorts. I can give all the witty quotes and hilarious anecdotes here, because I know that a fair chunk of them read my blog. Then, at the parties in question, I can turn up and claim some sort of chat asylum and remain mute for the rest of the party while tucking into chicken drumsticks. That'll show 'em.

Oh, so you don't believe in my propensity for pitiful parley? Well, here's an example of my decidedly crap conversational chit-chat here, at a front-of-house reception for a performance of "King Lear". I'm still scarred by that memory and I blame the director of that play, Casual Egoist. The fact that his show got a standing ovation and I was reduced to his "idiot savant" comedy sidekick as he basked in the glory of it all makes the pain all the more great. As a result, it's payback time and I'm going to remind him of one of his greatest conversational floorkillers, to show I'm not the only one who is an expert at 'foot-in-mouth' gob gaffes.  

Picture the scene. Three friends, made up of Casual Egoist, Gingerbread and Chris turned up at a MacDonalds on Sauchiehall Street, and found the place almost completely empty. They bought their burgers and fries and sat at one of many identical Formica white tables. While the three tucked into a hearty snack of American imperialism, two young (and not unattractive) women entered the premises. One of these ladies instantly clamped eyes on young Casual Egoist and decided that she'd quite like "a bit of that". The two young ladies bought their meals and sat at the table directly behind Gingerbread and Casual Egoist. There were many, many, many identical Formica white tables in the empty restaurant, so this could scarcely have been a coincidence. So, Gingerbread, Casual Egoist and Chris carried on tucking into their meal, while going slightly more quiet as they were aware of the female strangers' company.

"Excuse me," asked the younger attractive female to Casual Egoist, "but do you have the correct time on you?". "Aye," said young Casual Egoist, "It's, um, 12.05". The younger attractive female fluttered her eyelashes coquettishly. "Why, thank you!"

Casual Egoist turned back to Chris and Gingerbread, with a gleeful gleam in his eye and an uncharacteristic swagger had suddenly developed in the gait of his stance. But before this startling transformation could fully take hold, the younger attractive female tapped him on the shoulder. "Do you know when this place closes?". Casual Egoist was suddenly aware that all of her attention was focused on him, her pupils dilated in his direction. The attractive stranger was ignoring the other two spuds. Casual Egoist's swagger was back and a hint of a terrible New York accent had crept into his voice. "As late as you want it!"

The tension had now become unbearable. The younger attractive female winked at him, her eyes full of unquenchable truths. She smiled fully, revealing almost perfect teeth."Tell me, do you know where the toilet is in here?" she exclaimed. "Aye, it's up those stairs, take the first on the left, then the first on the right!" he orated confidently. "Why, thank you again!" she smiled and rose from her seat, her destination being the aforementioned bathroom. Casual Egoist was on a roll... which was a shame, as without thinking, he leapt before he looked. And shot his own gob off with sheer abandoned recklessness.

"Aye, no problem. I'm a toilet expert, me!" (author's emphasis)

The young attractive female's beautiful smile vanished rapidly. She glanced at her friend, seemingly now slightly panicked. Her friend just turned to her meal and examined some of her chips incredibly closely. As quickly as they had arrived, the younger attractive female rushed upstairs to the bathroom, came back downstairs, grabbed her friend and the two bolted out of the door, leaving two perfectly half-finished McDonalds meals.

After their swift departure, a dawning of some sort occurred over Casual Egoist's face, after a pause of about three minutes. "What in FUCK'S name did I just say? I can't believe I said that!". Scarcely unable to contain themselves (and almost scarcely unable to breathe too), Gingerbread, Casual Egoist and Chris subsequently burst into hysterical laughter, which didn't stop for nearly three weeks. Because if they hadn't laughed, they would've cried.

The thing is, I always regard that friend of mine as a bit of smooth-talking belligerent male totty (albeit balding belligerent male totty), so the fact that he can have feet of clay rather frightens me. When am I next going to embark on a rapidly spiralling speech of utter calamity? Soon, if this June school reunion comes along. Thankfully, I don't have to organise this one; but it's my responsibility to get everyone in my original year to be "in the know". This is fine, as it goes. I'm all for telling everyone. But perhaps the most intimidating of these forthcoming invitations, is having to face up to the awkward chat to end all awkward chats. At some point very soon, I need to meet French Lawyer, a girl who was in my year. Why will it be awkward inviting her?

So far, every colleague at school has kindly reciprocated any of my mangled memoried messages, with polite friendly messages of confabulation back. I've even had the pleasure of sparking up new friendships with people I wasn't that close to at school, such as Bailey's Belle. However, the last time I spoke to French Lawyer at school was when she remarked to my (admittedly smug) face that she should've won the English prize rather than me. It didn't look like she was joking either. A few years after school ended, there was also a disastrous evening out with her. The night ended with me being half-inebriated, hanging off a bar, trying not to drool on my shoulder and trying not to look like a lonely tramp. This was after my drunken flower-seller mate had gatecrashed the evening by burbling pervertedly "'Ere, is she your date, Chris?" before tripping over his own shadow and spilling one perfect bottle of Sauvignon Blanc over her nice dress. It was the final straw, after the fountain of foolishly flirty fug that had emanated from my alcoholic moosh. The evening ended pretty abruptly at that stage.

Her only contact with me since that incident, has been one singular Facebook photo tag request. The request was the not-at-all-narcissistic "French Lawyer would like to tag 'French Lawyer' in one of your Facebook pictures". So, she can browse my pictures and photos, but can quite happily give me the cold shoulder? Actually, I don't blame her. As for the picture tag request, this doesn't surprise me remotely, as someone pointed me to her blog and I saw her picture. It's all stark black 'n' white, Bergmanesque beauty with a hint of zephyr blowing at her long strands of dark hair; but she's supposed to be Rumpole of the Bailey, not fucking Tess of the D'Urbervilles. If that's too tough on her, well... she upset a few people, including a female schoolfriend of mine, by a blog entry where she slagged off a large area of London. So, I'm just getting revenge in for my friends. How chivalrous of me? Not really. So, now I have to have an awkward conversation about an awkward conversation I had about 14 years ago. Great. Although, you'd think her being a human rights lawyer would afford her a bit of compassion. Surely she should realise that the person that I am now is not the slovenly, drunken piss artist I was 14 years ago? Or, indeed, that anyone is the person they were 14 years ago?

On the plus side, I can look back at my past, recognise the piss-poor parlance that I've indulged in and confidently look forward to a future of more mistimed fuckwittery, despite supposed maturity of my mid-thirties.

Next week: Chris Nicholson will review the next Doctor Who story. Then he'll remind everyone that it's not just the rebooted series that portrays the Doctor as the ultimate romantic hero, but the classic series from the 1960s - 1980s as well. Seriously.

The Little Boy That Stole The Money (WARNING: Strong Language)

Let me tell you a story set in Paisley. There was a young girl in her last year of Primary School (and, hence, about 10 years old). She was given some pocket money by her mother. It was a small amount, some of which could be spent on sweets and the rest could be saved in an old-fashioned piggy bank. That little girl skipped down the street, determined to award herself after after a hard week of school homework, smelly boys and sharp-voiced teachers. With a high degree of excitement, she opened the big door of the local newsagent and, in the process, dropped her pocket money onto the cold floor of the shop due to her trembling hands. Before she could reach for the cash, another pair of hands reached and grasped onto the scattered money. The young girl gazed upwards at another pair of youthful eyes; they were the eyes of a boy in her year at Primary School. Happily recognising familiarity, she asked, "Could I have my money back?". After a barely perceptible pause, the wiry boy whined back, "This is my money" and walked off. The girl ran home, crying and upset. She told her parents about the boy from her class. The parents were upset too; not just by the bullying she'd received, but by the causal assumption of ownership that the little swine had showed. "The youth of today," the parents might have exclaimed. As you read this blog, you're probably thinking the same thing. Only, this story of "today" was 40 years ago, in 1969. It's a true story and the little boy was the son of the Goodwins. His name was Freddie. This story was fairly widespread in the school then and, I suspect, is going to become even more widespread at a national level. It's safe to assume he wasn't a popular boy at school, just like he's not popular now. Other tidbits that have reached me was that he was frequently harassed at High School. Rather pleasingly, the reason for the harassment was because the skinny runt was arrogant; it wasn't for being wimpy or part of a minority group. Not that I condone bullying. I despise it. As will soon be made abundantly clear.

I had no real opinion of Sir Fred, positive or negative. How could I? I didn't know him. I knew only what the press had printed about him. For a journalist, it made great copy. Everyone hates bankers at the moment. We need a real identifiable target for the general populous to vent their anger at (and, by 'target', that now seems a very real possibility). But, honestly, I didn't particularly mind him. From what I could gather, he was someone who did a job reasonably well and had signed the dotted line that promised him a pension. It was a rather large pension admittedly, considering he'd only worked at the bank since 1998. But he'd still negotiated it and, if both parties are agreed, then a contract is a contract and he deserves the money. Except I then did a little digging and discovered many reasons why this man is deeply unpopular, with the school story being the smattering of icing on the rather congealed fatty cake.

The man has a ruthless lineage stretching from his school days all the way to the present. This would perhaps be acceptable if he was any good at his job. But he doesn't even have that string to his rather mangy bow. Charmingly, Sir Fred was infamous at moving Royal Bank Of Scotland, or RBOS, into the lovely minefield of sub-prime mortgages, while simultaneously telling the board that there was no exposure to the sub-prime mortgage market. "Spinning" would be one way to describe what he was doing, with "lying" perhaps being more appropriate. Fern Britton mentioned "men" on Question Time as being a cause of the problem in the financial sector. "If there was the old-fashioned housekeeping where women are traditionally pretty good at making sure the money goes in the pot for electricity and the phone and the whatever – we didn't pillage and rob it and stick it all on a horse to see if the money would come in next week which it clearly hasn't – when we put all that money into the banks and we see nothing coming back." I'd go further and say it was "men" of a certain age, mainly in their 50s and 60s; the "baby boomers". There is always talk of the "youth of today" in the print media being seen as scroungers, yet all I see (and, yes, I'm talking about the generation next down from me) are people trying to work hard with the very little that has been afforded them, while the "baby boomer" generation above them continues the inward breast-stroke by grabbing more and more; be it property, final salary pensions, free education, foolish investments and oil-guzzling cars. The few visible "youthful scroungers" are merely taking their cues from the generation above them anway.

I've worked for a number of organisations, all in different domains of expertise. Three of the places I've done work for have been finance companies. The first thing that struck me, as a major difference between the finance sector and every other office I've worked for, is the awful sense of entitlement to bonuses; it came from every employee there, including ones who hadn't even done anything that spectacular. And, let's face it, there were many of those; you had a lot of the grey "dead men walking" who'd been beaten into submission; you had a very small group of managers and professionals who had a genuine creative spark; and lastly, you had a group of managers that were extremely "testosterone fuelled" and, despite being so driven, were often to be seen staring jealously at the creative group. Mostly, the aim was simple from this last group; to expand ruthlessly, like some maladaptive Social Darwinism plan. Who seems more dangerous now? The so-called "benefit scroungers" or the "finance sector" scroungers? It seems only fitting that an exhibition of Stanley Donwood's art has opened, with the theme being the financial crisis. Donwood has produced many paintings for this, but he's tellingly commented on a triptych panel called the "Goodwin goat". "They go after benefit cheats but these bankers are far worse and are being rewarded... people walk away with legally protected, huge bonuses".

Interestingly, a certain anonymous manager I worked for (that I thankfully didn't have many encounters with) fits a personality profile. Like shite rising in a sewer, it looks like he's rising to the top. If you look at the personality profile of Sir Fred Goodwin on Wikipedia, you'll notice his hobbies are "golf", "shooting" and a keen interest in gas-guzzling cars. Pointedly, he also had no technical expertise, but is seen as nakedly ambitious. The personality profile fits this anonymous manager too. It's almost like there exists a "Financial Sector Social Darwinist Sociopath" template. This man could easily have had a five part blog series in his own right and, by rights, he should've had. Luckily, I stopped myself from indulging in such a folly while I worked in the office, as the oleaginous creep would've probably sued me for defamation of character. Except, he wouldn't have been able to, because libel presupposes that the initial defamation had to be untrue. As anyone who knows this blog well, I tend to use nicknames to protect the identity of people I write about to a world-wide community. Those readers that want me to name-and-shame this passive-aggressive, backstabbing, reptilian creep will have to stay disappointed, as I'm not making him the exception. So, instead, I have to think of some witty non de plume with which to christen him for the purposes of this article. I'll call him Cunt.

There now follows a completely subjective and utterly cathartic rant. Anyone looking for reasonably coherent invective should probably look away now. Please also note that all of this is based on fairly widespread knowledge and not through insider knowledge from my previous trade union.

Cunt was one almighty fucking backstabbing prick. He was a cockroach that could survive anything, but that was his only skill. At most other things, he was as useless as a stapled condom. His one great idea appeared to be surveillance, and plenty of it. It was initially targetted at a few people he had a grudge against, and normally with an extremely shaky business reason for doing so. However, he has since made it more widespread. The man must be near-wanking himself to death every night in a feverish frenzy of excitement over the email records, telephone surveillance records, web histories and (probably) CCTV footage. Fuckwit. Shouldn't he be thinking of managing proper projects, since he's being paid an inordinate sum of money to do? Rather than behave like an orifice of Oceania? I looked into the face of Cunt. I realised he was dead behind the eyes, had a big black hole where his soul should have been and, when I looked really closely, saw a small protuberance jutting out of his forehead that on closer inspection was a runted gnarled sexual organ. The "youth of today" in the office, that showed a spark of creativity, were all regularly trampled on by Cunt. One particularly skilled young graduate (spoken of highly by other managers) was barked at by Cunt for having his hair too long. While people like the slightly long-haired programmer generated the ideas, people like Cunt and Goodwin carry on their pointless accumulation and endless pursuit of control and grander titles.

All over the finance industry, people like those rancorously grey men haven't had a creative thought apart from how to shift money around. But I also have a lot of thanks for those grey men (and Cunt). It gave me an impetus to actually quit my job with nothing else to go to. That's is an interesting thing to do when there's a recession around the corner and a roof over my head needing to be paid for. But that fabulous rush to the head, when I finally announced I was completely throwing the towel in, was utterly tremendous (the first people to know were my mother, naturally, and a former Big Brother contestant*, rather bizarrely) . Better than any drugs, trust me. It was a fight not to become creatively bankrupt either (hence the now weekly update to this blog). Meanwhile, I can look to the next generation, such as a number of young people starting up environmentally-friendly cottage industries, who can actually save the world. I admit to looking rather jealously at them. Look at that spark? Can I get it back? Rather than look to the older generation, I've decided to celebrate the younger cousins and listen to them. I'm not going to jealously stare at them, thinking that they're all out to scrounge off me.

Meanwhile, I just hope that the Goodwin gamble does have a happy ending, of sorts. You see, I never quite told you the end of that story about little schoolboy Freddie Goodwin. It apparently ended weeks of procrastination, after the Goodwin parents were instructed by the little girl's parents about the daylight robbery. Little Freddie turned up at the girl's doorstep and gave the money back. This happened at the very point where retribution and punishment were being seriously discussed, if not acted upon. We have to hope that Sir Fred Goodwin will remember that little girl from his past. In the meantime, if anyone wants to look at possible suspects attacking Sir FG's house, look no further than his former employees at RBOS that he treated so abominably. Oh hang on, look a bit further back than 1998, when he worked for other companies and he showed similar form. Oh, then there's High School, where he behaved like an arrogant tosser. Oh, and Primary School where he took the money from the little girl. And...

The police would have a problem questioning 3 million suspects.

* No, I'm not telling you which former Big Brother contestant it was.

Chris Nicholson has now calmed down after writing this blog article and promises something light-hearted for the blog entry that will be published after April Fools Day.

I Want To Go And Live On A Hill

The title of this blog entry shouldn't really surprise anyone, seeing as the blog picture heading is my archetypal self - walking around on a Scottish hill somewhere, miles away from mobile phones, Microsoft operating systems and badly-designed user interfaces. It's the second one in that list that's been pissing me off recently. Unsurprisingly.

Okay, it's an old moan. But, my God, it's more relevant now than ever. As per usual, it's running slowly, even after a reboot. As per usual, an update has made those little DLL files, that are scattered across the hard drive, stop talking to each other. And, as per usual, this means that a lot of my multimedia tools (e.g. the video editing, the music player, internet plug-ins, etc.) have all been rendered useless. However, the smattering of arse-hairs over the bathroom floor this time is the fact that said operating system was only re-installed 5 months ago; over a completely new hard drive, completely new motherboard and completely new memory. So, after this next re-installation, I'll do a little machine housekeeping and then I'm finally dumping Windows. I'll finally commit to a completely monogamous relationship with Ubuntu Linux, rather than two-timing with a dual boot*. Now, a few friends have accused me of snobbery toward MS, saying it's a good all-rounder. Supposedly, I'm starting to sound like those smarmy elitists at parties who always drop the word "Mac" or "Linux" into conversation, as they stare imperiously down their noses at us herd animals.

Snobbery continues into software and not just operating systems. Take what's happening at the moment with Facebook, which, until recently, was the bon vivant of the social networking world. It recently underwent a Facebook facelift. Yes, another one! That's several in the space of a year. It's beginning to look like Michael Jackson's life story in cyberspace. Lovable, with a homegrown soul at a young age. Slick, media-friendly and ultimately world-dominating in midlife. And, in the final phase, trying to copy something that it perceives as superior. In this case, Twitter. All of which is utter shite - why not just let Twitter be Twitter? Facebook is all about writing on Walls, sharing photos and silly childish games. It's a VOLE, but a relatively sweet one (yes, I know I've just cross-referenced myself, deal with it). Twitter is a different, minimalist application (which, by the way, you can plug into Facebook anyway!). Since it is based entirely on 140 word soundbites, it does tend to attract a slightly different audience. And this is where the snobbery comes in. In that usual annoying, but adorably intellectual way, Stephen Fry mentioned technological snobbery a few days ago; just when I'd written the first draft of this. So, I'll try and riff off what he's said and still crowbar my own original thoughts in.

I'm quite happy to eat apples, oranges and lychees. I don't want all my apples to suddenly taste like oranges. And I don't want the occasional lychee to taste like an orange too. Similarly, on a night out, I quite like to wander around town - and not to always go to the same pub or the same art gallery. I don't want Facebook to try and be Twitter. Somebody in the know here has told me advertisers have started abandoning Facebook - so, I think this is just the old thing of someone panicking and going, "Oh, what's successful at the moment? Right, I'll be like that!". It's a similar rule for movie sequels and music bands.

Remember when Oasis were successful and every record company were signing up bands that all sounded like, um, well, Oasis? Capitalism sucks dry the athleticism of creativity and clones everything onto a conveyor belt. It so happens that Mr Fry's description of Facebook being seen as rather 'low-rent' these days is rather apt. Facebook is becoming that rather large sector of town that is getting rather overcrowded, with the wine bars becoming more vacuous and stuck in the 1980s (remember the Michael Jackson analogy again?). It's become that 'tourist trap' part of the island, with more and more advertising shoved down throats. It's quickly looking quite jaded and is looking jealous, as it glances over at a small section of town called the Twitteropolis. That bit of town appears to be full of writers, intellectuals, comedy performers and bloggers; all of whom are terribly polite to each other, no matter what their social class or level of success. Oh, and the pubs and restaurants in that area of town are more authentic and created with a bohemian minimalist ambience in the air, encouraging idle witty chit-chat. There's a few piss artists that hang off the bars there, but they get away with it because they're quite funny and everyone's quite welcome to interact with each other.

There are other parts of town that used to be quite popular, but are now quite niche. There's that place down in the West quadrant called MySpace. It's namely hardcore Indie musicians, opera singers and avant garde jazz bands in that region. The place must be full of strange architects, because all the buildings don't appear to fit together too well and the styles are all over the place. It's like Portmeirion, the filming location of the 1960s TV series "The Prisoner". As for Bebo Boulevard, nobody over the age of 25 goes there anymore. A few gangs of neds took over large areas of it, so unless you're very streetwise, the older generation don't go anywhere near it. Although, if you know it well enough, you're guaranteed a good night out if you stay in your area.

It's difficult to untwist the snobbery factor, admittedly. I didn't want to have this moan about operating systems either, but when my Windows machine pet repeatedly spat in my face, it's difficult not to want to it put down. For the past decade, if you trotted this old rant out, a bunch of rather smug Apple users would wax lyrical about their machines. Or, alternatively, a bunch of Linux gurus would exhort the beauty of Red Hat. Apple Macs are great multimedia machines and run smoothly. But, ultimately, they're very good for a few things very well. They're utterly great for graphic designers and media works. They're efficient. More to the point, since it's video editing, graphic manipulation, website design and multimedia uploads that I'm doing, my Apple friends are suggesting that now, more than ever, I should invest in an Apple Mac. But it's generic web development that I do; it's rare that I'm a fully-fledged graphic designer. Renting an Apple Mac every once in a while would work well for me. But if you're talking about a full sale, rather than just a "To Let" sign, why aren't Apple Macs as good at selling? Because ultimately, people go for convenience - as well as cheapness. Rather like Asda. I'm guilty of being a smug little arsehole in criticising my parents for shopping at Asda. "You know, whenever you buy that banana from Asda, that money goes straight to Walmart. And you know what means, don't you? That money goes straight to violating more human rights, because of workers' conditions. And then it kills an innocent Indonesian worker in a sweatshop. You are buying into an evil system!". And my Independent reading Dad just gives me a look, which more or less says, "I wish you were still 7, so I could give you a darned good smack on the bot, you smug snotty twat. I used to go on protest marches while you were still shitting your Space Invader tracksuit!". From seeing myself in that context, I'm aware that I'll be perceived as an OS Snob Private Club Member when I switch to a non-MS system. But not Apple.

Linux is free and open-source, but it's never been able to escape the whiff of sheer geekery (although, as I'm about to point out, this is about to change hopefully). But Microsoft PCs are the consumerist Asda of the computer world, and have been for the past 15 years. I don't think anyone is blind enough to not see that. It always has been the 'jack of all trades, master of none'. My problems with Windows is that it appears to have lost even that everyman edge to its functionality. A Windows machine is now more like the idiot child of the block, with more and more of their applications just copying from the parent operating systems. Windows platforms are now getting to the stage of regularly shooting themselves in the foot or choking on their own kernel. They are the George W Bush of the computer world. There are too many instances of "server farms" of about 500 MS Servers falling over every minute. They, sooner or later, 'upgrade' to Linux servers, because they're more reliable (note I'm not even saying they're cheaper!). For that reason alone, Linux is the one to go for; particularly since I'm moving in the direction of heavy-duty, server-side web development. But, more to the point, thanks to two distributions of Linux - Debian and, particularly, Ubuntu - the operating system that is the ultimate industry worker no longer even has the B.O. of nerddom. In fact, the Ubuntu user interface is a lot more intuitive and friendlier than Windows. It just exudes warmth as you talk to it. So, I'm now proposing to Ubuntu Linux over a candelit dinner. Cheers.

* Chris Nicholson would like it to be known that the "two-timing with a dual boot" is actually someone else's line and he credits it to Broccoli Man. He knows who he is.

Interruption of this blog for an important newsflash

This isn't really a blog entry. It's more pointing you in the direction of Graham Linehan's latest blog entry, which expresses horror at a newspaper article that a barely-regulated press can publish. I'll leave you to read the blog entry yourself, as Graham Linehan is a more established (not to mention more fluent) writer than me. But on top of all my agreements with Mr Linehan, stands my bafflement of what the aim of the article is supposed to be anyway. I kept thinking, "Oh, the Express journalist is leading up to some real tabloidy-scandalous tidbit, like the protagonists now own guns themselves or the protagonists took part in a Mosely-lite sex orgy". In the end, it appeared to be some pathetic tut-tutting at social networking websites and the 'yoof of today, they're all corrupt drunken hoodlums'. And before I get accused of being a lefty-liberal who can't stand the Mail and the Express, I stumbled across a similarly poorly-written article knocking "social networking/yoof of today" in The Independent (although admittedly forsaking the callous kicking of innocent victims in the process), so the whole print media is fairly guilty of this trend. The Express really knows no boundaries anymore though, as this seems to take a peculiar delight in utterly dehumanising a group of people who have already arbitrarily suffered enough, not to mention a (surely illegal?) privacy invasion. And I thought The Sun's treatment of Hillsborough victims was terrible.
Here's the link to Graham Linehan's article, please click on the links in said article for what you can do.

"You Think YOU'VE Got It Bad?"

This latest blog entry is written for Comic Relief. Last week wasn't the best of this year. I wasn't feeling well. Hence, the "You have reached this blog, unfortunately there was no-one in to answer, so meanwhile, here's Jean Michel Jarre's Greatest Hits On The Panpipes Vol II" nature of the last blog entry. My week was uncomfortable, slightly dull and very frustrating; linked to the fact that I quite enjoy my new job and so was constantly pulling at the bungee-jump rope-lead of my crappy malady to get back to it. In my last job, there wasn't much of a struggle. My public face was of a trade union rep and I had to display outward feelings of impartiality, while inwardly I realised that the brown stuff was colliding with the air conditioner. Huh? You think YOU'VE got it bad?

Of course, previously, I just looked to friends who were having a tougher time than my indulged precious worklife. There's my dear friend, Ster, who remarks on his tireless work as a careworker; this often involves wiping an arse an awful lot, and it's often not his own. Meanwhile, Buddhist Cop (or Pouty MacPout), in her bountiful bravery for London's Metropolitan Police force readily texts me from the morgue while looking into some cadaver's guts. Nice. But undercutting both of these friends of mine is my pal, Marching Band Guitarist. His fate? You think YOU'VE got it bad?

The poor sod was subtitling a Tory Party Political Broadcast. Unlike the last two protagonists, doing a job because they felt it benefitted a service to the public, he was locked in the equivalent of a stuck elevator with the reincarnation of Norman Tebbit (re-incarnation? you mean he's not dead yet? my mistake). Adding insult to injury, also stuck in the hypothetical elevator was an innocent deaf bystander, needing to hear everything that's been said. Marching Band Guitarist, through his job, had to translate the rather objectionable load of bollocks being transmitted around said chamber. Just in case anyone feels I'm being a little over-critical of David Cameron's new incarnation of the Conservative Party, I should add it was a very specific broadcast by a very specific Tory MP. The Tory used such choice phrases as "troublemakers" and "youths", as well as Marching Band Guitarist's "favourite" phrase from this beloved right-wing non-entity, ""We need to do less on rights, and more on wrongs!" (after the supposed "troublemaker's" refrain of "I know my rights"). I think Marching Band Guitarist was cradling his head in his hands at that point. Poor sod. You think YOU'VE got it bad?

That last pal of mine had it really tough, because not only was he shut in an editing booth, he was having to hear the most blinkered of privileged moans and then having to nail it down for a minority, a lot of whom would probably reply with, "So what? I'm deaf, I've got other things to worry about". It leads me rather neatly to other friends, people who have it tougher everyday and don't have things that I take for granted (quite apart from all five senses). They're my friends, your friends, they're members of the human race. For example, there are carers for disabled people in the U.K. that aren't wanting to be patronised and are wanting to contribute to society. Outside the U.K., there are honest people trying to carve out an honest living in Africa and looking for trade that is being undercut by an unhelpful international trade agreement. That knee-jerk reaction of a reactionary party political broadcast said it all; in these times of spoiled bankers and grabbing what little we perceive we have, there's still a tendency to kick downwards. Because, in the narrow bandwidth of human experience, there's always someone else worse off, if we can afford to think just a bit more. You think YOU'VE got it bad?

In the few times that people kick upwards, they tend to kick the wrong people. A lot of the same people bemoaning the most vulnerable citizens of society as being the rot, also seem to complain about Comic Relief and the 'overprivileged entertainers' raising their profile by highlighting a faux awareness of people less fortunate than themselves. Well, sorry, the world has moved on - a lot of these 'overprivileged entertainers' can (and do) easily raise their profile by telling us what they're having for their tea on Twitter. Those who like the 'first point of contact' Heat-lite gossip go mad for this type of thing. Others like the updates on a purely human interactive level, as well as the polite broadcasting of artistic projects. The entertainers don't really need a charity telethon to raise their profile these days. On that final point, the entertainers are filling a position in a monetarist society anyway; appealing to peoples' individual choice in giving to charity.

Superficially, society is supposedly kicking against the 'get rich' paradigm and going through a personal re-evaluation of what's important. At a deeper root, they're still wanting the lowest-of-all-lowest taxes and keeping as much to themselves as possible. As such, they're still subscribing to an out-dated idea of the 'trickle-down' economy of enlightened entrepeneurship giving back some proceeds.

In which case, they should listen to their 'overprivileged' Comic Relief cousins dancing like puppets, free-of-charge, entertaining them for nothing, and they should give a little something back for it. But not to them, comedian entrepeneurs that they are, but to the causes of our forgotten Third World neighbours instead. For all of you, do what I'm going to do. Laugh raucously at the uneven comedy sketches. Don't fast-forward or mute the appeals in-between, because then you realise... do you think YOU'VE got it bad?

If Africa is really too far away for you, and those friends of ours are perceived as "too distant" then remember that Comic Relief is giving a rather large amount of money to homegrown charities. Those are the UK charities for women and children that are victims of domestic violence, that can't get of a cul-de-sac trap. Other British charities concentrate on young peoples' problems with mental illness, as well as older people who are isolated and vulnerable. But after that, spare a thought for my pal subtitling a distinctly unworthy cause. After I reminded him of my friends, Ster and Buddhist Cop, he responded with "You know what? I think I'd actually rather spend an hour of my time wiping arses *in* a morgue". You think you've got it bad.

This week, Chris Nicholson has basically been saying: donate to Comic Relief. Or, alternatively, vote for governments that invests taxes wisely in attacking poverty, environmental protection and sensible trade policies. Oh...