Thursday, September 30, 2010

Peaches and puppets

Over at The Dabbler I have posted on the brilliant Each Peach Pear Plum. Children take even 'funny' stories and comic strips very seriously. This is under-reported. When I read the Beano, Roy of the Rovers etc as a kid I didn't laugh; rather, I entered wholly the strange little comic universes with their internal logics, and I studied them with deep concentration, possibly frowning.

Oh and the other day I also posted on The Uncanny Valley. Do I need to keep telling you about my Dabbler posts? I expect you all read it anyway by now - if not, you should, as it is by some distance the best site on the web.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

American Exceptionalism

The 21st Century Nightmare post and thread below was not an attempt to have a general debate about the rights and wrongs of capital punishment, as if bringing it back in the UK was some sort of a viable option, because clearly it isn’t. It was more that I began to wonder if the occasional bellow (only remaining argument?) from the populist Right – that a majority ‘support’ it – is not only morally and constitutionally irrelevant but actually incoherent, because ‘supporting capital punishment’ is, in terms of practical application, meaningless.

(If I did want to have a debate about the rights and wrongs of capital punishment generally I would certainly mention the usual and well-rehearsed philosophical arguments, such as the internal conceptual problem of a society thinking it is demonstrating that it holds life sacred by punishing murderers with death.)

But our beloved American contingent inevitably broadened the argument because in the States it is still a live issue (if you’ll pardon the expression). Difficult thing to come up against, American exceptionalism. We all hate having our business criticised by forriners, but boy, Americans really hate having their business criticised by forriners…as I suppose you would if you believe your founding documents to be, effectively, sacred texts.

All of which preambling brings me on to the point of this post. Here is a random A-Z list of some of the 137 countries that have banned the death penalty outright:

Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Honduras, Ireland, Lichtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuala.

And here is a random A-Z list of some of the 69 countries where capital punishment is still technically permitted (although nearly 90% of actual executions worldwide occur in China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US alone):

Afghanistan, Burundi, Cuba, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Iraq, Jordan
Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, North Korea, Oman, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, United States, Vietnam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

Full lists are here:

So my question is this: is there a more striking anomaly anywhere, in terms of global approaches to ethics and politics, than the fact that the US is on the second list rather than the first?

The wrong Miliband

...isn't he? Time may prove me wrong but I always thought - well, felt really, based on blogger's intuition - that David was the only viable candidate and that there's something not quite right about that Ed.

Others think it's the other way around, mind, and that David is the creepier geek. But I was most impressed by the way he shushed Harman when she idiotically clapped Ed's Iraq hand-washing. A glimmer of principle in the murk of the current Labour party.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stan Madeley

Over at The Dabbler I interview Stan Madeley, the UK's number one Richard Madeley lookalike and author of the brilliant new book Second Class Male.

It is a particularly hilarious book of real letters and replies from the rich and famous. I'm priveleged to have been peeping at the progress of this book since its inception - it's wonderful to see it come to fruition.

If you liked things like The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society or even the silly side of Think of England, you'll love it. So do go ahead and buy it - online or from WH Smiths if you're going down the shops. In fact, buy several as it's a perfect Christmas pressie too.


You don't see many of these, do you? But Chief Trading Post has one. Not sure there's much bamboo in it, mind.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A 21st Century Nightmare

I suppose the latest tawdry tale of a US execution will briefly raise the 'Capital Punishment Debate' again, though it’s a defunct one in this country. As I’ve become more right-wing over the years, as most sensible people do, I’ve only become more convinced of the wrongness of the use of execution as a punishment. That shouldn’t be surprising really since the strongest (and a wholly sufficient) argument against it is a conservative one: that the State, being composed of flawed humans and corruptible systems, sometimes gets the wrong man even when it has the best of intentions, and therefore ought not to be trusted to kill its own citizens because killing them is a uniquely irreversible punishment. There aren’t many good arguments in favour of capital punishment and the most commonly used one is the very worst: that it meets a need for societal revenge (my perception is that a great many intelligent rightwing Americans only end up using these bad arguments because the debate is part of that country's narrow but intense left-right polarisation in political discourse, and therefore arguing against execution puts you on the same ‘side’ as such buffoons as Sean Penn, which is less tolerable than acknowledging that Penn’s conclusions may be righter than his reasonings).

Ultimately the Worst Argument reduces - because it is based on our sense of outrage and the (correct but not pertinent) notion that some crimes really deserve death - to a defence of mob rule. In which case we may as well junk civilisation now since the great achievement of the rule of law is to acknowledge that the little voice in your head, of justified outrage and desire for immediate righting of wrongs, must be suppressed while some sort of least-worst objective rational process, flawed as it is, takes its course. All of which brings me on to the hellish ordeal of Eddie Thompson: a true 21st Century nightmare that demonstrates, for the zillionth time, why everyone is innocent until proven guilty and that mob rule is the opposite of justice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Warwick Avenue

When I get to Warwick Avenue, meet me by the entrance of the tube. (Avoid the District, there’s problems on the line.) I’ve built a machine that will blow, as it were, your mind. When you get to Warwick Avenue bring safety goggles, and a tube of superglue. We’re doing everything we said but then did not: it’s quite absurd that you only get one shot.

We’re going back by reversing Time, baby. There’ll be fewer Starbucks and no ITV 2. We’ll get a grip on it this time, baby, almost exactly like we didn't do. And all we have to do... is ride the Bakerloo.

Then when we get to Warwick Avenue, we’ll emerge in 1992. We’ll live it again, the whole way through; only this time around we’ll have a clue.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


As an adult, it is hard to truly enjoy outings and activities at the time, because one is always thinking about what to do next and whether it is too expensive and the temperature and your hunger and whether you ought to be enjoying yourself more and whether something better could be happening.

Instead, we rely on enjoying things in retrospect, perhaps the next night before we drop off to sleep, when the day in question is compressed to a nostalgic highlights reel.

This is what Samuel Johnson was getting at and it occurred to me as I was bouncing up and down on a trampoline at Exmoor Zoo, watching the pure, uncomplicated glee on my daughter’s face as Mrs B pushed her on a swing.

Two more things occured to me on the trampoline: one was that there is a girl in New York city who calls herself the human trampoline, and sometimes when I'm falling flying or tumbling in turmoil I say Whoa so this is what she means. The other was THAT I can see WHY people BUY these things and THEN use them ONCE and then NEVer again again againagain…

Donovan, organs and so forth

Well I'm back from hols. I expect some posts will materialise here soon, but in the meantime I appear to have Dabbled in death songs, one-man bands, unusual organs and, today, Donovan (the real fourth Beatle).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I am on holiday deep in the wilds of Devonshire so am only fleetingly online over the next week, but I have stocked up some Dabbler posts which Gaw will schedule as he sees fit. Tons of other good stuff on there too, of course. Check out James Hamilton on the intelligence of football managers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Death of Sex

The Sunday Times mag this week carried a lengthy article by feminist academic Camille Paglia about Lady Gaga and 'the death of sex' which, as far as I could tell - and I read it carefully though, of course, as a layman - made absolutely no sense at all.

That article is behind the paywall, but you might enjoy this 1993 fax flame war between Paglia and the equally monstrous Julie Burchill. These two are what some people might admiringly call 'ballsy' women - 'ballsy' apparently meaning 'having the worst and most pathetic masculine characteristics', such as a vast but paper-thin ego.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sundry Tribulations #867

Isn't it rubbish when you go to the place in your home where your booze is kept, and discover that you have considerably less in stock than you were banking on.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Great Tasting Blood Builder

...that was the queasy slogan that spewed at me from the rear end of a bus this morning.

I'd forgotten the name of the product (the delicious-sounding Feroglobin Liquid) so I googled the slogan and found this:

which is from this blog. Like some sort of precog, Allan had posted exactly what I was going to post, 16 months before I was going to post it. There are only three possible explanations:

1. everything has already been blogged before somewhere.
2. the Blood Builder post has some sort of sentience or life force of its own, and keeps itself alive by parasitically skipping from blog to blog
3. Allan is a version of me in a parallel universe, and the Blood Builder advert acts as a kind of portal between these two realities.

I currently favour theory 2.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


That last post was the 1,000th on Think of England. Gosh, what a lot of rubbish I've written.


Yesterday I posted on the Dabblerish elements of the band The Libertines. Up the Bracket is one of my favourite albums and though their second one was patchy to say the least it did contain some excellent tunes, including 'Can't Stand Me Now' - an unusual song in that it is a bromantic duet. I can't think of many others... perhaps the Oasis track 'Acquiesce'?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The lanes in Tack

Tack is turning to Hub, if you follow TofE’s adapted Blodgett method for defining the seasons, and the blackberries are beginning to ripen. Who knows what adventures might befall me this year when I venture out with my picking-punnet? Yesterday I strolled towards the scene of my thrilling encounter with the Warning Berry (which I’m sure you haven’t forgotten).

As I walked I saw on the lane ahead what appeared to be a black panther or possibly a puma, peering with malevolent intent into the hedgerow. Getting closer it inevitably became a domestic cat (it only takes a slight trick of perspective to turn moggies into tigers, they are perfect scale models; no wonder these Beast of Bodmin-type stories won’t go away.) Anyway, the cat suddenly leapt at the hedge and ripped away with something in its mouth that squealed appallingly. I wasn’t close enough to tell if it was a bird or a rodent struggling in those feline jaws, but the noise was awful, until, awfully, it stopped. Thus cats; nature’s horrible bastards.

When walking I often like to chew on a straw or stalk plucked from the hedgerow. It’s amazing how having a straw or stalk between your teeth makes you feel…bucked. One can’t help but saunter, swagger even: a mind-body trick, like the alpha male posture of walking with your hands clasped behind your back, front fully exposed as if to say “Look at how confident I am that I won’t be punched. I am invulnerable.” Very few men can walk into a strange room with their hands clasped behind their back, probably just Prince Philip, Barack Obama and a handful of Rear-Admirals.

In Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty there’s a nice little observation about a character who keeps describing the sort of person he is (“I’m the sort of guy who always says what he thinks”; “I don’t bear grudges, I’m not that type of person” etc). The effete narrator marvels at his self-confidence and wonders, absurdly, if he could pull it off: “I’m the sort of guy who prefers Pope to Wordsworth.” Next time the opportunity arises I might declare that “I’m the sort of guy who saunters along chewing a straw or stalk plucked from the hedgerow.” Reminds me of Ron Burgundy’s chat-up line in the brilliant comedy film Anchorman: “I’m kind of a big deal….I have many leatherbound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”

Hmm…though maybe such self-awareness isn’t necessarily so desirable... “I’m the type of person who picks blackberries and then writes about it on the internet.”

Monday, September 06, 2010

This Book Has No Plot

Over at The Dabbler I write a Row Z feature on cricket and America, largely inspired by Joesph O’Neill’s much-praised novel Netherland.

Gaw said he came to ‘despise’ Netherland. I wouldn’t go as far as ‘despise’ but did get frustrated with it. It was uneven in the sense that there were brilliant passages, but in their isolation they stood out as self-conscious literariness. There was also a sense, augmented by the blurb and cover, of murder-mystery tension which didn’t go anywhere, essentially because, it eventually turned out, there was no plot. I would probably have enjoyed the book more had I been reading it purely as a literary psychological novel – rather than as a thriller with literary pretensions – because then I wouldn’t have been waiting for the story to develop. They should put stickers on such books: “Warning: This book has no plot.”

Friday, September 03, 2010

Hawkins and Dawking

“There’s no God” announced Stephen Hawking,
The result was a great deal of squawking,
'Til someone came clean
That his voicebox machine
Had been sabotaged by Richard Dawking.*


The Surrealists

Draining the last of my hilariously-expensive Czech lager and wrenching myself away from the Cockney and his fascinating stories of the wife’s failure to buy an electric fire, I strolled idly, with time to kill, over the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern. I had a vague idea of mooching about the artworks then walking down to Waterloo to catch the tube back to Paddington. However, it had been a long day and by the time the escalator deposited me outside Level 3: Poetry and Dream - Surrealism and Beyond (Room 2), I was feeling lightheaded and clammy and my daytrip manbag was getting intolerably heavy. Forcing myself round the Max Ernsts and Man Rays I experienced a surge of revulsion and, standing in front of Magritte’s wholly pointless The Annunciation, I found myself muttering, like one of those nuts you sometimes see in galleries, “Christ I hate the Surrealists.” Miro’s indistinguishable splodges even took on a sinister tinge, seeming to radiate an intense and personally-directed evil.

Realising I was on the verge of a London breakdown, I headed quickly for the café, for there is nothing so fortifying as a cup of tea and a sandwich in such a situation. What a load of crap the Surrealists were, I mused as I munched. Like Escher and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, these clangingly unsubtle ‘artworks’ are fine for adolescents but excruciating for adults. The worst offender by a mile being of course the Great Masturbator himself Salvador Dali, whose entire output consists of stupefying works of painstaking bad taste and technical skill. But as the tea and sarnie did their stuff and blood sugar levels stabilised, I softened. On the whole, it’s probably a good thing that the Surrealists existed, even if their popularity is wildly out of proportion. And Magritte’s Man with a Newspaper is pretty funny I suppose.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Scotland bans all small pleasures

...or will at some point. Read this SNP initiative and weep for the Jocks.

I'm not sure exactly why people who want Scottish independence should also be anti-human, joyless busybodies, but it seems to be the case every time.


Forgot to say, on The Dabbler yesterday I wrote about 'A Dubious Codicil', during the course of which i accidentally wrote of a history of Britain 1939-2010 in 77 words.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The second post

Reading the opening chapter of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty I stumbled upon this line:

The second post was still scattered across the hall…

It took me a good five or six seconds to process what he meant by ‘the second post’. The novel is set in the mid-1980s, but, almost unbelievably, Royal Mail deliveries were only reduced to the once-daily mid-morning job six years ago, in 2004. Yet ‘the second post’ seemed to me like a quaintly archaic feature of a period piece - surely an indication of how spectacular has been the decline in significance of snail mail in our personal lives?

Cellists and team stars

Over at The Dabbler I have recently posted on cellists and launched the Row Z sports feature.