Friday, 30 March 2012

fingers in a few pies

the photography here is often of a quotidian bent - the oddness of the familiar, the beauty of the ordinary, the striking nature of the commonplace. sometimes this runs to images that could cause an unbidden pricking of the tear duct, an unexplainable twanging of the strings of the heart. pathos is there, maybe. or bathos. or something. 

there are sites with which this one, then, have something in common - those that aggregate images that are a little bit sad in ways you can't always explain. some invite contributions. this is my england is keen to contribute and offerings of this sort have been accepted at:

Sad Stuff on the Street:

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

the desert winds will wear all of this to nothing

What is the game of football to you? Is it about making that same journey you've been making for decades? Getting off at the same bus stop, the same train station, the same tube station and zigzagging through those same streets of terraced houses? Is it about sitting on a plastic seat on much the same spot where your grandfather used to stand? Is the smell of greasy meat and dark, slimy onions? Is it about your dad saying "when this was a wooden stand, you could smell the embrocation fumes coming up from the players' dressing room"? Is it about your dad getting a tear in his eye when he suddenly realises that today's match is being played on the anniversary of his father's death? Is it about your dad recalling the things his old man used to shout out? ("I've seen better on the Scrubs", "get a squib up your arse", "get 'im, George", "the greyhounds are at the White City")...

Is it about the triumph of vague hope over hard-won experience? Is it about going up to Chesterfield to see your lot ship a load of second-half goals as hard Derbyshire rain stings your face and churns your meat pie to mud? Is it about celebrating a 1-0 win over Grimsby Town as if you'd won a cup? Is it about getting excited by the club signing someone else's cast-off on a season-long loan?

Is it about seeing the same old faces year after year? Is it about the club being the last trace of your family's roots in a neighbourhood from which every last one of your relatives scattered many, many years ago?

Or it is about a horribly dystopian vision of global consumer culture like this?

See how the badge and the words "EMOTIONAL BRAND" are formed only briefly from grains of desert sand that quickly mix back into the gritty Arabian wind. This is quite right. None of this will last. Long after Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras al Khaimah have disappeared under the shifting desert dunes; long after Emiratisation has proven to be a pipe dream; long after the last drops of oil and water have been consumed - people will gather at ordinary little football clubs to watch below-average players kick a bag of wind. All this other stuff will pass.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

We only care about SOME abusive trolls?

Today brings the news that the infamous Twitter troll Liam Stacey will suffer pretty serious consequences as a result of his deplorable comments on the day that Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba lay stricken on the pitch at White Hart Lane. Having first tweeted "LOL. Fuck Muamba he's dead !!! #Haha", he then got involved in slanging matches with people who reacted angrily. Along the way, his ensuing remarks included  "go suck a nigger dick" and "go suck muamba's dead black dick". Such was the level of interest and indignation among the online public that this usually sleepy blog received almost 50,000 hits when first reporting on the Swansea student's horrible antics.

Young Mr. Stacey now has fifty-six days in jail ahead of him, during which he can reflect on the wisdom of sharing one's darker thoughts via a medium with the reach and immediacy of Twitter.

In its short life, this blog has offered readers the opportunity to glimpse into the disordered minds of some particularly aggressive individuals. Liam Stacey is just the most recent and is probably the most widely known. But each of them has gained some degree of infamy.

Very recently, we met Oliver Warren, a young man from Derby. Warren's reaction to the plight of Bolton's Fabrice Muamba was in some ways worse than Liam Stacey's. While Warren is innocent of the kind of racially aggravated public order offence for which Liam Stacey will now do time, his reaction to the angry remonstration of a female tweeter came in the form of a vile threat that was surely in breach of the Communications Act (2003).

Oliver Warren has since deleted the Twitter account from which this threat of genital mutilation was made. But of course he could now very easily be tweeting anonymously. As it stands, there is nothing in the public domain to suggest that he has been apprehended. Unlike Liam Stacey, Oliver Warren does not seem to be of interest to the mainstream media. Bartel Scheers writes at Lemonsblack, a blog that "is exploring and provoking the challenges for the digital world", with a focus "on how technology integrates with traditional life, media, art and culture blurring the line between the virtual and real worlds." In a piece on how some people have brought "crash and burn personal branding" upon themselves on social networks, Scheers notes that Warren has walked away untouched from his own stupidity. To date, unless any readers can offer examples, no other blogger - much less any mainstream media outlet - has paid any attention to Oliver Warren.

Perhaps we can take this to mean that while the media feel there will be public interest in racist slurs about a famous sportsman, a person threatening to stab a young woman in the vagina is a non-story, even if directly connected to the same incident which gained such massive coverage. The local newspapers in Derby have certainly been contacted regarding Mr. Warren. So far, there has been no response from these regional media outlets. But Warren is out there somewhere and even if the authorities and the newspapers decline to chase him down, it is perhaps to be hoped that the next person to whom he applies for a job will take the increasingly common precaution of checking out his digital footprint.

Monday, 26 March 2012

they keep whitewashing

that camden sloganeer is at it again,
still lashing at the banks,
still marking out the same places,
like here, right outside a job centre;
they keep whitewashing and
he (she?) keeps chip, chip
chipping away.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

loony left BBC bias fudges the issue of the day

Turned on the TV this morning. A nicely balanced panel of guests on the The Andrew Marr Show was there to represent all shades of political opinion as the news items of the day were reviewed. The threesome chatting with Queen Liz's enthusiastically reverent brown-noser were former Telegraph editor Max Hastings, Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home and some journalist from that mouthpiece of firebrand socialism, The Times. Typical BBC left-wing bias.

Calmly and sounding rather bored by it all, the panellists discussed the big story of the morning, the caught-red-handed video footage in which one Peter Cruddas reveals that for £250K, you can have dinner with David Cameron and the lovely Samantha, with the opportunity to influence Government policy over millionaires' shortbread and Eton mess. Cruddas is the shady and shabby billionaire bookie given the job of raising extra funds for the Conservative Party. As a spread-betting supremo, he has got rich while not creating any real additional wealth or contributing anything of value to the economy. Spread-betting is a legal form of theft and is one of most immoral and reprehensible things you can conceivably do. It penalises thrift and patience and is a way of using money you don’t have to lever share prices downwards, thereby destroying the life savings of more honest and more naive investors.

Montgomerie brushed off the significance of the story. "I do very much doubt that donors can simply buy policies and laws," he opined. Overall, there was a weary air of "the public expect this sort of thing so it's no big deal". That's alright then. No need to be angry. A small tut of disapproval ought to suffice. Then get back to mowing your lawn, bitching about a fat person on last night's TV singing contest or whatever it is that seems more important than the very obvious fact that you live in a gangster state no less corrupt than Putin's Russia.

Balls to all that. The most astute summary and reaction comes from Mark McGowan, the Artist Taxi Driver:

Right. You can get back to creosoting your fence or painting your toenails or whatever now.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

a spoonful of bullshit

WARNING: the video embedded below is kinda NSFW... depending on your workplace...

it's also somewhat injurious to sanity, maybe... proof, as if it were needed, that life never stops throwing up reasons for us to wring our hands and wail "taste! what's become of good taste!"

in the aftermath of the Kony 2012 video and its 100 million online hits came the big backlash against the credentials, principles and thinking of its creators...

then came the news that the film's director (and co-founder of the seemingly very questionable charity group behind it) has been arrested in San Diego for masturbating in public...

strange times...

even in this context, though, this video is especially weird. here we have one Bree Olson (star of 200+ porno movies and former live-in "goddess" of the batshit Charlie Sheen) making her contribution to the discussion. in her voiceover, she argues that the dodgy credentials of the Kony 2012 video's promoters notwithstanding, we should remain energised by its message and determined to do something to help the distressed Ugandan people it depicts. along the way, she alternates between still pictures of Ugandan horrors with footage of herself writhing around half-naked.

shameless and deplorable attention-seeking, capitalising with incredible tastelessness on the plight of the brutalised children of East Africa, you might say. Ms. Olson's response? "Right now you're watching a video of me outdoors in California, interspersed with pictures of the effect Joseph Kony had on the people of Uganda. I put the two together because I know a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."


Wednesday, 21 March 2012


bert is getting braver,
showing his face
on the high street,
all big style
and that

Sunday, 18 March 2012

texture like sun


When this blog got started, the intention was simply to use it as a place to park some photography and a few bits of personal writing. The name this is my england was chosen simply to denote that its contents would mainly be the personal observations about the blog owners's home country, whether picture form or in writing. No thoughts were ever entertained of the blog having any crusading role against wrongdoers of any kind.

But along the way, a few massively objectionable pricks have been encountered. Naming and shaming the worst of these for conduct not only horrible but illegal has felt like the right thing to do.

Liam Stacey: bang to rights
Nothing in the public domain seems to be available regarding the first of these, one Paul Brennan, a person who decided to abuse QPR defender Anton Ferdinand in the aftermath of the infamous on-pitch incident involving ex-England captain John Terry. But now it seems that yesterday's prick-of-the day, Mr. Liam Stacey of South Wales, has had his comeuppance:

Stacey, as many readers will know, is the idiot who racially abused Bolton's Fabrice Muamba while the player was still lying on the White Hart Lane pitch receiving treatment for a cardiac arrest.

With Stacey now in police custody, let's pause to consider everything he has put as risk by behaving so stupidly. 

While Twitter, the medium that has got the Swansea University student in trouble this weekend, is currently enjoying the  heyday of its popularity, some online social networking sites have fallen by the wayside. Liam Stacey used to maintain a profile on one of these, the now moribund Bebo. He has not updated his page since  November 2009, when he was still a pupil at school in Rhydfelen. 

As well as possibly shedding some light on young Liam's views on race ("Hate Black Music" "Scared of ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS"), this Bebo profile tells us something of his hopes and dreams. Clearly, his plan to study medical biochemistry in Swansea came to fruition. But will his arrest and the possibility of a criminal record put a dent in his plans to be a scientific researcher in the USA? Time will tell. Either way, it's already the case that his university is aware of his actions:

So there's a warning here, kids. If you really must act like a hateful prick online, you'd better do it anonymously. Your behaviour online can have precisely the same consequences that terrible behaviour would have on the street. Perhaps a few more idiots need to feel the long arm of the law before this is widely realised. It would be fitting if the next such idiot to get a visit from the rozzers is Oliver Warren of Derby. Oliver is the berk who joked about the stricken Muamba yesterday and, when a young female tweeter remonstrated with him, wrote a threat of genital mutilation. All that can be said in his favour is that he did not use any racist language when making his 'jokes'. Just like Liam Stacey, Oliver Warren has deleted his Twitter profile.

Why do they do it?
When this blog first spawned a presence on Twitter, the microblogging site was a resource I had not used very much before. A few things quickly became apparent. Firstly, Twitter can be addictive. Secondly, it's possible to become quickly involved in really interesting exchanges of views with a mixture of friends, friends-of-friends and complete strangers, with the participants joining the discussions from all over the world. Another real benefit has been learning of breaking news stories or items of personal interest much faster than via any other source.

This is all upside. But there is a downside, of course.

Like no other medium, Twitter connects us instantly with sources of bile, hatred and ignorance of which we might otherwise have no knowledge. Many of us probably only encounter a really hateful, bigoted boor only very occasionally. Or perhaps we bump into people like that more often than we know. Maybe we cross paths with a real hate-monger every day. It could be that we remain blissfully unaware of quite frequent contact with really unpleasant people because, objectionable though their views may be to many, they are deterred from airing those views by two factors. The first of these would be the matter of social convention. After all, it's probably fair to say that the British are not the most demonstrative nation when it comes to sharing their views on politics and society among strangers and it could be that this habitual reticence is a barrier to our hearing fairly extreme stuff on a daily basis. In addition, if you're contemplating saying something to which (most) others may violently object, you need to ask yourself if you have the requisite courage for the altercation that could follow. Do you have the bravery and energy to take on those who will at least raise their voices in opposition? You'll even more courage in your convictions if you believe that fists as well as voices will be raised.

So perhaps it's the case that some degree of cowardice is what prevents all but the most committed or the most crazy of those who hold very challenging views from getting those views out in public.

But give them a computer or a mobile phone and all bets are off, it seems. Any loud-mouth can sound off on any topic. Often, to describe the language used as 'intemperate' would be to make an understatement of colossal proportions.

Sometimes these people really hold the views they share via their keyboards. With others, it's probably more a case of attention-seeking - looking to make the most outrageous remark possible and then get high on the thrill of seeing pissed off people responding. Almost any digitally literate person will be familiar with the idea of this kind of internet troll. As for Liam Stacey and Paul Brennan, we can't be sure if they are committed racists or just bloody fools engaging in what they believe to be 'banter'.

What, then, of the hardened troll? Whether believing his or her own schtick or not, the troll finds the courage to say online what he or she would never say in face-to-face contact with real human beings. The troll feels emboldened by the lack of actual physical consequences. There can be no slap or punch by way of rebuke. Also, let's assume that some online trouble-makers are not actually completely disinhibited sociopaths. If they are not, perhaps it is empathy that prevents them from behaving in the physical world as they do in the virtual one. If you make a remark designed to upset another person, you will see that person's feelings of hurt and anger in their eyes and mouth. You may feel a little of what they feel and realise how far you have gone. Online? Not so much. The physical reactions are just not there.

So the online troll does not feel the immediate consequences of the trolling. Both the upset faces and the raised fists are not experienced for real.

But there could be longer-term consequences, right? The person you've offended could find you and have it out in person. Or if your remarks have broken any laws about hate speech then you will find yourself in legal difficulties. Further, even if you're not actually risking arrest, you will have left a digital footprint. Anything you've written that would offend the sensibilities of the average person could linger online for much longer than you had intended. Applying for a job? These days many employers will Google the name of any applicant passing through the recruitment process. Thinking of running for public office? Maybe you want to be a parish councillor? Maybe you fancy yourself as the treasurer or entertainment secretary at your college or university? Well, someone will be running against you and that someone will have access to everything you've ever written online.

This is why the smarter troll acts anonymously, of course.

On Twitter, though, perhaps more than via any other online platform, some people say the most terrible things while using accounts that bear their own names and photographs. This particular medium seems to have an immediacy and a throwaway quality that leads some users to feel that they are not leaving a permanent and traceable record of their thoughts. This weekend, Liam Stacey has learned the hard way that he was labouring under a misapprehension when he figured that things said on Twitter would have no consequences for him in the real world.

So let's all wise up
So if you are a hateful bigot and you're keen to harness the power of the internet to spread your message, perhaps you should keep young Liam's plight in mind when planning your campaign.

Or if you're a mentally disturbed attention-seeking weirdo who enjoys upsetting strangers via your keyboard and mouse, ponder young Liam's fate when deciding how much of your real self you want to reveal.

Or if, as is much more likely, dear reader, you are a perfectly decent human being, Liam's troubles have a lesson for you too. The lesson is this - we don't have to put up with anything online that our sense of common decency would not allow us to tolerate on the street or in the workplace. Doubtless some people will come forward with a free speech argument in defence of people like Liam Stacey. But this is wrong. While everyone should be free to express opinions, even (and especially) very unpopular ones, it is a misuse of the word 'freedom' when it is applied to tolerating the cowardly bullying of arseholes - and a greater misuse still when applied to turning a blind eye to threats of genital mutilation as uttered online by the unlovely Oliver Warren.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

the best and worst in people

At the moment this is being written, news is just coming in that Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba is in a stable condition in hospital. Many of us learned via Twitter this afternoon that the former England Under-21 man had collapsed on the pitch just before half time during his side's FA Cup tie at White Hart Lane. For several hours it wasn't known whether he was alive or dead.

When an incident or news item stimulates widespread and immediate public concern, our Twitter time lines rapidly become flooded with messages of support. While writing a supportive tweet is such an easy and disposable act that it can sometimes seem trite and insincere, in this case it really does look clear that people are genuinely shocked at the thought of an apparently healthy young man being stricken so unexpectedly. Thoughts everywhere turn to the player, his family and his shocked team mates. Among football supporters, rivalries are put aside and interest in the day's fixtures and results is instantly eclipsed. While it could be argued that it's a shame that the world's bigger and more constant tragedies do not always elicit expressions of outrage and compassion, it is understandable that it takes something rather closer to home to get this kind of reaction.

Today's shocking event at White Hart Lane seems espcially close to home, perhaps, for those of us who travelled up to the Reebok Stadium to watch QPR succumb to a more fortunate and more determined Bolton side just a week ago. An apparently fit and healthy Patrice Muamba ran onto the pitch late in the game.

The zillions of tweets about Muamba, then, really resonate, be they written by well-known footballers and sports journalists or  by Joe and Joanna Public. It's like a tidal wave of shock and compassion.

But perhaps it goes without saying that incidents like this do not bring out the best in everyone. Take one Liam Stacey, a student at Swansea University who plays rugby for Treorchy RFC, if his Twitter profile is to be believed. Liam describes himself as a "Top Bloke":

Does a "top bloke" really carry on as Liam has today, though? He has said a lot of pretty unsavoury things. 

Clearly a proud Welshman, he will be celebrating his country's rugby Grand Slam triumph by ensuring that Wind Street, which is at the heart of Swansea's night-life, "is getting banged in the cunt and arse" tonight. Look out, ladies of south Wales. A charming man is on the loose.

While getting involved in various slanging matches, Liam has also advised a couple of his opponents to "go suck a nigger dick" and "go suck muamba's dead black dick". This is in addition to tweeting "LOL. Fuck Muamba he's dead !!! "

Reading this, you might be moved to wonder whether Swansea University has a code of conduct for its students and, if so, whether the comments above might possibly be in breach of that code. Surely someone clever enough to go to university is not stupid enough to put his place there at risk by tweeting stuff like this in his own name and with his picture on display? Could this play out badly for Mr. Stacey? Could it follow him around when he applies for jobs in this difficult employment market? Time will tell.

Another absolute charmer who has shown his true colours in the twitter storm around the collapse of the unfortunate Bolton player is one Oliver Warren, apparently a 20-year old man from Derby. Oliver describes himself as "silly" and "YOUNGGG DUMBBB ANDDD FULLLLL OFFFFF CUMMMMM". His sperm count must remain a matter of conjecture, but he is certainly on the money with the "DUMBBB" part.

As well as tweeting "Where's Muamba gone, Where's Muamba gone?" and "Why's every1 bummin upto Muamba!!!" he remonstrated in the most vile, misogynistic and violent terms to a female tweeter who expressed her outrage: "Oi ya little sket ill shove a stanley knife up ya big fat smelly fanny! He only had a runny nose u daft bitch!!"

Nice one, Oliver of Derby. When someone has a justified pop at you for your hateful bullshit you respond with a threat of genital mutilation. If things proceed as they should, you'll be receiving a visit from the police some time soon.

So while all right-thinking people were crossing their fingers or saying their prayers for the Wanderers midfielder, some utter tools were showing what kind of lowlife they really are.

Not for the first time, we see that horrible incidents bring out the decency in most people and the spite and hatefulness in the woefully inadequate.

national socialist echinoderm

it's from a japanese manga series of the 1970s
it's from episode 26
the title of the episode is 地獄の独裁者ヒトデヒットラー!! 
this is pronounced Jigoku no Dokusaisha Hitode Hittorā
this is translated as "Underworld's Dictator, Starfish Hitler!!"
you gotta love those crazy Japanese, right????

props to PROFANITY SWAN for spotting this

Friday, 16 March 2012

No one likes us? Do we care?

Steve Heard is a QPR fan who has recently started writing a blog about the trials and tribulations of the club and its supporters. In his latest piece, Steve opines that the Superhoops seem to have become a club that others love to hate - or at least love to mock. He reckons this is a recent development, QPR having previously been an outfit warmly and widely praised as a good club with decent supporters. Chances are, all of this will sound familiar to a lot of Steve's fellow Rangers fanatics.

Wondering why and how this might have happened, Steve flags up the recent Loftus Road involvement of three figures not universally admired in the game - Mark Hughes, Joey Barton and Neil Warnock. All three could have had their parts to play in QPR morphing from a club for whom many neutrals had a soft spot into one which attracts derision and bile. But perhaps it's also the case that the rapid injection of cash from wealthy owners (albeit perhaps not always wisely spent) has added a certain toxicity to the Rangers brand.

Whatever the case, it seems that a QPR relegation (which now looks very likely) will not be widely regretted by those who do not actively support the club.

At the last home match, a neutral observer was sitting among the home supporters in the lower tier of the School End. On hand to watch the draw against Everton was a fan of German side St. Pauli, resplendent in a hat and scarf in the distinctive colours of his favourite team. Players representing the Hamburg outfit, currently sitting in fourth place in the German league's second tier, ply their trade in a mainly brown kit. Readers with a long memory may recall Coventry City sporting brown away shirts in the late 1970s. But brown as a club's signature colour is an unusual choice.

But then St. Pauli is an unusual club. Consider the little calling card carried by our visiting friend from Hamburg at Loftus Road:

St. Pauli fans against the right, reads the slogan. This, along with the picture of a fist smashing a swastika, tells you something about the unique image of our visitor's club, whose supporters are known for their left-leaning politics. The terraces at the compact Millerntor-Stadion are known as the meeting place for fans who see themselves as proudly anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist. It can probably said without fear of contradiction that not a single football ground in England is associated with the full list of these values. This season's unpleasant Terry-Ferdinand and Suarez-Evra incidents and the reactions to them by some football fans have given lie to the notion that racism is entirely a thing of the past in the English game. But by and large it's possible to attend a good number of matches without hearing the racist abuse that was commonplace in days gone by.

But unreconstructed mockery of gays at the football goes on much as it ever did. Well, let's rephrase that. If there are any gay people on the pitch or in the crowd at football matches, they're certainly maintaining a low profile. So the mockery you can hear at a game of football is not directed at anyone actually known to be gay.  But songs, chants and shouts that would be sure to make any gay person present feel a bit uncomfortable are part of the culture. Gayness is a slur in this environment. So why wouldn't any gay people in the stands or on the pitch choose not to draw attention to themselves? Moreover, there must surely be other gay potential professional players and gay potential fee-paying spectators who are currently discouraged from getting involved. After all, who likes to go where he feels he isn't wanted? 

All of this is never more apparent than at matches involving Brighton and Hove Albion F.C. The seaside city, as almost all British readers will probably know, is famously home to one of this country's larger and more visible gay communities A little poem (of sorts) jotted down here a while ago consisted of nothing more than songs sung by QPR fans at Brighton's old Withdean Stadium:
does your boyfriend, does your boyfrienddoes your boyfriend know you're here? 
sing when you're rimming, you only sing when you're rimming 
stand up 'cos you can't sit down 
All good fun? Well, perhaps not for any Brighton supporters who actually are gay.

A recent BBC documentary explored the question of why not one professional footballer has come out as openly gay since the late Justin Fashanu's sexuality was revealed almost twenty-two years ago. In the programme, presented by Fashanu's niece Amal, one current player interviewed was that man Joey Barton. But the QPR captain aside, it seems few people in the game are prepared to risk expressing an opinion about whether the sport can offer opportunities to make a living to an openly gay man.

In sharp contrast to all this, not only has Hamburg's F.C. St. Pauli talked the anti-homophobia talk by writing "tolerance and respect in mutual human relations" into the club's Leitlinien (fundamental principles), but the club has also walked the walk in some important ways. How many other football clubs clubs have ever appointed a gay man as club president? For eight years, the openly gay entrepreneur and theatre owner Corny Littmann occupied that role at St. Pauli. 

What, then, of the allegedly anti-sexist strand of the unique culture of St. Pauli? Well, in 2002, the club's supporters voted to ban advertisements for the men's magazine Maxim from the Millerntor-Stadion on the grounds of the adverts' depiction of women being inconsistent with the famous St. Pauli Leitlinien. Consider that for a moment, gents, when you bring your wife, girlfriend or daughter to Loftus Road and she hears a section of the crowd singing that west London is "wonderful" because "it's full of tits, fanny and Rangers". 

St. Pauli. If you like your punk music and your old school lefty politics, or if you're a paid-up member of the derisively mythologised 'PC brigade' then what's not to like about the quirky club from Hamburg? Their fans even get to enjoy the non-stop excitement of alternating promotion and relegation campaigns as they yo-yo regularly between Germany's top two divisions. Wrap all of this in a pirate flag bearing the fans' unofficial skull-and-crossbones motif and it's easy to see why underground musicians from all over Europe have eulogised St. Pauli in song.

This all seems like a unique and heady brew. Well worth a pilgrimage and a mad weekend in Hamburg, taking in both the Millerntor-Stadion and the famous Jolly Roger pub on Budapester Strasse. When our German visitor to Loftus Road handed over his anti-fascist calling card and was chatting about his club, it was clear that he is used to conversations with people who admire St. Pauli for its quirkiness and its values. The Hamburg side enjoys something of a cult status.

It seems unlikely that our QPR will ever be positioned as a hotbed of left-wing radicalism or as a brand standing for unique levels of tolerance of difference. For one thing, it seems very improbable that any such outlandish thing could ever be welcomed by a high percentage of our supporters. Head over to just about any QPR fans' messageboard and make a crusading argument in favour of any of the anti-racist, anti-sexist or anti-homophobic values espoused at St. Pauli. See how long it takes for you to be dismissed as part of that mythical 'PC brigade'. So we'll never attract the particular form of admiration that St. Pauli gets from some quarters.

But even so, some of us may hanker for the days when QPR was viewed with a kind of affection by supporters of other clubs. What would it take to return to our former status as an inoffensive and rarely disliked little club? Well, relegation may help. But if we carry most of our better-paid players down to the Championship and find that their presence in the squad is enough to make the Rangers a very competitive force down there then universal admiration may not be the result.

No one likes us? Do we care?


Saturday, 10 March 2012

disgraceful scenes

Despite the poor and patchy form we QPR fans have suffered since our side was promoted from the Championship last season, we are a resilient breed. Defying both logic and the evidence of our own eyes, we are able to send a couple of thousand souls up to the windy north-west of England with hope in their hearts, chattering excitedly about the reunited strike force of Zamora and Cisse, about plans to throw a few inflatables around in the crowd and about a gut feeling that victory could be ours.

But a day which began with such charming optimism ended with what can only be described as disgraceful scenes. 

No, this is not about our team's failure to overcome fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers up at the Reebok Stadium. This blog never attempts to offer a detailed analysis of QPR matches, but let's go so far as to say that today's performance was by no means the worst showing by the Superhoops of late. Yes, it's maddeningly frustrating to be scrapping to avoid relegation and failing to get points from the other teams around the foot of the table. But, while mistakes were made and opportunities missed, this did not seem like a gutless or clueless performance. Moreover, this could have been an entirely different game had a perfectly good goal not been disallowed. The ball crossed the line. But the officials didn't see it and it was the home side that chalked up the first officially approved goal.

Bolton's Reebok Stadium: scene of more disappointment for QPR fans
The disgraceful scene, then, was what some of us had the misfortune to witness at Euston Station at about 6.45 this evening.

The QPR team had travelled back to London by the same train that some supporters had joined in Manchester. For some of us, the journey itself passed uneventfully. Carriage D offered a quiet and comfortable ride home to the capital. In other carriages, however, it seems that the drinks were flowing and that some of the drinkers were making a nuisance of themselves. A few of these herberts clearly knew the players were on the train (presumably in a first-class car towards the front) and by the time we reached the end of the line, they had decided to vent their frustration towards the team on arrival. As those of us who'd travelled in carriage D began the trudge along the platform, we were overtaken by a very small group who ran past us in their eagerness to confront the QPR party.

Opinions vary. Perhaps some people think it is helpful and constructive to tell a group of recently defeated players that they are a "waste of money" and angrily to ask them how much they are earning. Perhaps some people genuinely think this will be motivating and is in the best interest of the club and the supporters. It seems unlikely, but let's give the singers of such songs and the doers of such deeds the benefit of the doubt.

What is beyond the pale, though, is squaring up aggressively to our players, as one particular idiot did. Any reports you may hear about Jamie Mackie or other players reacting badly are false. Mackie looked justifiably rattled but it is the pleasant duty of this blog to report that all QPR players witnessing the outburst acted with restraint and commendable professionalism given the provocation. Clint Hill stood out as an especially cool head and Djibril Cisse was seen to remonstrate only very gently with those who saw fit to air their complaints.

As the players boarded their waiting team bus, the majority of decent supporters on the scene applauded and offered a traditional "U RRRRRRRRssssss." Some were keen to impress upon players and club officials - including the charmingly calm and pleasant Phil Beard - that the idiots were very much in the minority. It is to be hoped that this message really gets through to the team - that whatever the level of disappointment and frustration we all feel, only a very small number of utter tools would be stupid enough to seek an angry confrontation with the squad.

Let's keep this in proportion lest outsiders (press, fans of other clubs) try to use it to our detriment. No more than five people behaved very badly, and just ONE individual behaved appallingly tonight at Euston. Almost frothing at the mouth and doing his best to get up in the faces of our players, he turned in a performance that, we can only hope, he will be very ashamed of as he sobers up and reflects upon it. You know who you are, feller. Middle-aged, perhaps in your mid-40s. You wore a dark jacket and have shortish hair. You're a dismal excuse for a supporter and your brand of 'passion' is misplaced and unwanted by the vast majority of people who are able to temper disappointment with common decency.

Let's see if a miracle can be worked when an under-performing but basically half-decent Liverpool side come to Loftus Road. There are ten games to go. The way ahead looks bloody difficult and relegation may indeed be a reality before too long. But for God's sake let's keep our dignity.

U RRRRRRRRRRRRssssssssssssssssssss 

Watching from the South Stand: hoping for the best, fearing the worst

Friday, 9 March 2012

crazy names, crazy guys?

A top Twitter trend this afternoon is 'Gaylord Silly'. Say what? Mr. Silly is a Seychellois runner competing in the World Indoors Athletics Championships in Istanbul. This morning he broke his country's 800m record but still failed to qualify for the next round of his competition, coming in behind four other runners. But the name has struck a chord and, somewhat inevitably, there now seems to be a Gaylord Silly fan club on Facebook.

But this is not the first time that the little republic in the Indian Ocean has produced an exotically and amusingly named athlete. The IAAF website tells us that over 20 years ago, Silly's homeland was represented by a hurdler who rejoiced in the name Giovanny Fanny and who failed to make much of an impression at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

crouching monster

Reading the excellent Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude - published in 1947 and set during WWII. A long lifetime away, but anyone who commutes into our capital today will surely think that the opening two paragraphs could have been written about yesterday or tomorrow:

London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels. 
The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better.

Paddy's power to shoot the chavs

Back in July, this blog offered thumbs up to a book which gained quite a lot of attention last year - Owen Jones's Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Jones reported on what seems to have become an increasingly mainstream, widespread and unchallenged sense of middle-class contempt for British working-class people. His account for how this state of affairs came about is persuasive, taking in the neutering of the trades unions, the dismantling of British industrial centres and the communities around them, and the successful propagandising about a culture of aspiration and social mobility.

Some reviews of the book, though, question whether Jones's analysis is sufficiently nuanced. In an otherwise positive critique, Lynsey Hanley felt that Jones fails to acknowledge splits within a social class that he prefers to treat "as a single political bloc". These splits are exemplified, argues Hanley, by her observation that "a great deal of chav-bashing goes on within working-class neighbourhoods, partly because of the age-old divide between those who aim for 'respectability' and those who disdain it". She also points out that "inverse snobbery can also be expressed towards those perceived to be 'stuck-up'".

Ask a broad selection of people what they understand the word 'chav' to mean. It seems likely that you will get a few different answers. Some respondents may opt for something close to Wikipedia's definition, which is quite a narrow one. Here, the word refers specifically to a certain stereotype of "teenagers and young adults from an underclass background" dressed entirely in sportswear and committing petty crimes. But Owen Jones's book opens with his account of an incident that motivated him to write it and which suggests the term can have rather wider coverage. He was at a dinner party, surrounded by  a group middle-class friends whose liberal sensibilities are taken as a given. One of the group attempted a joke: "It's sad that Woolworth's is closing. Where will all the chavs buy their Christmas presents?" Whatever the intention, Jones took this to mean that all of Woolworth's regular customers were being labelled as chavs. He therefore felt offended by what he perceived to be a put-down of working class people in general and by the fact that his companions, not all of whom were white or heterosexual, seem tacitly to accept this particular expression of prejudice. We can't read the minds of Jones's fellow diners that night, but it seems feasible that many of us could find friends or colleagues who use the term 'chav' to mean any person displaying what they perceive to be simply working-class tastes, values or behaviours.

There is, then, a lack of consensus about what this ugly little word means. Nowhere is this semantic haziness more obvious than in a TV advert which was (possibly?) recently aired and then (maybe?) swiftly banned:

In this ad, a Cheltenham race day is cleansed of "chavs" by a hit man's tranquilliser darts. So who gets shot? Interestingly, none of the victims is wearing a shell suit, a fake Burberry baseball cap or any other item associated with the fearsome and feral youths described by the Wikipedia entry for chavs. The first person shot wears an unremarkable jacket and shirt. What makes him a chav? Is it that he is drinking lager? Whatever his offence, he is described as a "bit of a tool" before he is taken down. Next to be dispatched are two loudly dressed women. They are described as "vajazzlers", a reference to a term for a form of adornment of the female pubic area which was apparently brought to public notice by one Amy Childs, a star of the awful dramality show The Only Way is Essex. Interestingly, given that she has cropped up in this discussion of class, Ms. Childs was educated at an independent school, where she was appointed Head Girl.

So who else gets shot by the sinister chap employed by betting firm Paddy Power? Well, the dart misses one intended target, a man in a polo shirt. Presumably it's for his gold chain that he deserves to be removed from the race course. Then the next to get the treatment is a rowdy young woman vulgar enough to show her almost bare backside from the grandstand. Then it's the turn of a fellow in an unremarkable dark quilted jacket. 

It's a mixed bag. Some of the people shot seem to be behaving a little obnoxiously and some are dressed a little loudly. It's not hard to imagine some elements of the crowd at an English race course preferring not to have to look at them. But the other folk who get tranquillised just seem to be fairly unostentatious punters whose offence is to be working class - or to be perceived as such.

Imagine using this analysis as the basis of a complaint about the advertisement. Imagine presenting that complaint to the ad's creators, or simply to anyone who enjoyed it. This is only a guess, but would the most likely outcome be an accusation of 'not getting the joke' or of having 'no sense of humour' or perhaps being a member of the 'PC brigade'? Is it hard to imagine someone defending this ad as being just a bit of banter?

The thing is, there's a pretty good chance that the joke here is more clever than it may appear to anyone who bristles with indignation on seeing it. Which is not to say that it's actually funny. But there may be a sly kind of cleverness at work here. Many readers will not equate the online betting services of the Irish bookmaker's firm with the refined tastes of the urbane middle classes. So perhaps the writer of this ad is poking fun at Paddy Power's own customers. If so, are Paddy's punters an unwitting patsy in this gag? Or are they invited to laugh at themselves with knowing self-deprecation? It's hard to tell, but either explanation seems more likely than this being an attempt genuinely to position Paddy Power as a premium brand for a discerning  and affluent clientèle.

Nothing easily discovered in the public domain explains why this advertisement failed to get a sustained showing on TV. A brief article in Ireland's Independent states that the ad "didn't even have chance to be complained about, never making it past the regulators". Presumably this means the ASA, but notice of any ban is not obvious on the agency's website. Was it ever actually banned? The bookmaker's own YouTube channel offers a fairly garbled version of events: "Shockingly, our last TV Ad has been banned after just four days on TV. That's some kind of record, even for us. This commercial, dubbed 'Chavs', didn't even pass the powers that be so it will never be seen on TV." It was on TV for four days or it will never be seen on TV? Which is it, Paddy? Or are the YouTube clip (so far unmolested by any censor) and your comments just part of a stunt that nods knowingly at your firm's history of having its advertising censured?

Either way, should an advertisement like this ever be banned? Probably not. After all, it would be good to believe that nobody is stupid enough to take seriously the notion that chavs/ordinary working class folk (take your pick) should be hunted down for having the effrontery to enjoy a day at the races. 

That said, some fairly predictable enthusiasm for the idea can be found in the comments section of the dear old Daily Mail's short piece about the ad. "Splendid idea," remarks one Mail reader. "But why stop at just chavs? I'd include football lager louts, benefit scroungers, anyone wearing a shell-suit and couples who wear matching jumpers or coats..!!" Another wag weighs to exclain "What a magnificent idea, rid us of the Chavs and Louts - all for shooting em all and will make for a much better world." It's worth pointing out, though, that the second comment was offered by someone using the name "Race Lover Upper Middle Class". That MUST be a joke, right? Someone lampooning other commenters' apparent blood lust? Here we are again. Who's joking and who's not? Who gets the jokes and who doesn't? Ah, the tricksy minefield of British class consciousness, snobberies, ironic stylings and humour.

Though Paddy Power's ad probably doesn't warrant a ban, it's nevertheless not a bad thing that it isn't gracing our TV screens. The Daily Mail comments box is proof that some people would take it as part of an acceptable further normalisation of the spiteful class hatred against which Owen Jones rails. Apart from that, it's another dubious artefact not likely to contribute to any slowing down of the steady coarsening of public debate and tastes.

Still, if you like this kind of thing, you'll be pleased to know that by 'liking' the Paddy Power Facebook page you can play the "Cheltenham chav-spotting game" in which you're invited to sort out slices of "orange plebeian" from people who are "more civilised". Have fun. Knock yourself out while, depending on your take on all this, you either enjoy a harmless pastime or engage in a spot of class hatred. 

Bloody hell. English society is complicated. Especially when an Irish bookmaker sticks his oar in.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Why the long face, Dave?

For almost all of the fifty years during which it has been acting as a prominent critic and lampooner of the incompetent, the corrupt and the pompous in British public life, the indispensable Private Eye has featured a largely unchanged cover design. Speech bubbles are added to black-and-white photographs, creating a topical joke every fortnight. The quality varies, but they are often very good.

A particularly insightful gag graced the cover of the fiftieth anniversary issue (Eye No. 1300). For all the legal battles won and all the scandals uncovered, the Eye guys admit that after a half century of the organ's relentless efforts, the nation today remains, in some very important ways, surprisingly similar to the one which the magazine began satirising in the early sixties. A bold headline reads "HOW SATIRE MAKES A DIFFERENCE". Under this, to the left, a photo of Harold Macmillan is captioned "1961: Magazine pokes fun at Old Etonian Prime Minister surrounded by cronies making a hash of running the country". To the right, a picture of David Cameron is captioned "2011: Er..."

Writing last week about the hilarious Horsegate affair, journalist Iain Martin contends that the ostensibly silly business tells us (or reminds us of) a few important truths. Among these, Martin argues, is that Downing Street was worried to the point of being initially inclined to deny the allegations being directed at the PM. "For days they squirmed," writes Martin, first denying that Cameron had ridden the retired police horse loaned to former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks by her inappropriately close friends at the Met. Then, Martin continues, the people at Number 10 were "saying they didn't know, and then that he might have done." Cameron's team, he argues, will be concerned about the ongoing Leveson enquiry and what else may come to light if it "gets stuck into the links between the political elite and News International management when it is done dealing with journalists and the police."

Another of the lessons Martin draws from the affair of the borrowed steed is that Cameron's greatest weakness, in terms of his ability to connect with the country as a whole, "is the perception that he doesn't understand what motivates and concerns millions of his fellow Britons, particularly the people he needs to vote for him next time." As Martin observes, the Prime Minister leads a cabinet of millionaires and a government that has brought a lot more people than ever before into the 40p tax bracket. Many of those same people, Martin reminds us, are about to receive a new blow with the removal of their child benefit. This measure seems very poorly thought out.

The Guardian's Polly Curtis suggests that the current plan - cuting child benefit for households that include one higher-rate taxpayer - has three main problems. Firstly, she observes, a couple could jointly earn £80,000 and continue to receive child benefit while a single parent earning £43,000 would lose it. Secondly, Curtis argues, a "cliff edge" effect is created, whereby to move up a tax bracket is to incur a double whammy or financial penalties - losing child benefit at the same time as paying more tax on any extra income. Finally, says Curtis, major bureaucratic hurdles must be overcome - our tax system is designed around collecting money from individuals and would therefore need to be re-engineered to find ways of assessing the income of households.

For those of us who spent our formative years under the Premierships of Thatcher, Major and Blair, it seems hard to understand why a Conservative government would want to squeeze the incomes and the standard of living of the middle classes in this way. All three Prime Ministers did rather well out of selling a middle class lifestyle to the country at large. Thatcher worked hard to eradicate the political and social culture of the British working class, seeking to create new generations of voters naturally inclined to favour her party at the ballot box. Her plan was multi-faceted. On one hand, the power of the trades unions was relentlessly attacked during the reign of the Iron Lady, with her most notable victory being over the miners, whose leaders were naive enough to be tricked into a war of attrition that the government had, for some time, been equipping itself to win. On the other hand, billions of pounds' worth of social housing stock was almost given away. The right-to-buy scheme offered council house tenants the option to purchase their homes at rock bottom prices and was part of a wider plan to create a 'property-owning democracy'. Bit by bit, the Conservative Government of the day bullied and bought the stubbornly Labour-aligned working classes out of existence.

By 1990, John Major was predicting that "in the next ten years we will have to continue to make changes which will make the whole of this country a genuinely classless society." The deputy to the notionally Labour PM Tony Blair suggested, albeit in different terms, that this project was complete when he remarked in 1997 that "we are all middle class now." All of this was about the normalisation of a set of values around the desirability of everyone aspiring to own a home, prioritising wealth over everything else and looking down at those whose lack of ambition or ability kept them 'stuck' in 'dead-end' jobs. As was discussed here at some length back in July last year, without people prepared to do those 'dead-end' jobs (cleaning the floors of our hospitals, wiping the backsides of our elderly relatives, stacking the shelves of the supermarkets), our civilised and comfortable society could not function.

So by the second decade of the twenty-first century we have a arrived at a state of affairs whereby, as Owen Jones argues in his excellent book Chavs, open mockery of hard-working people with poorly paid jobs  has become widespread and mainstream. We have also seen an expansion in the coverage of the ugly word that Jones chose for the the title of his book. Who are the chavs? Do we just mean hostile, trouble-making youths dressed in polyester? Or do we mean just about any working class person who stubbornly refuses to aspire to the trappings of a middle class lifestyle? It depends who you ask. Either way, ours is a society in which the  aspiration to have that middle class lifestyle is seen as an undeniably good thing.

In electing David Cameron as their leader, however, the Conservatives have installed a Prime Minister who does not represent the triumph of that kind of aspiration. Cameron's life has been markedly different from the lives of the two previous Tory premiers. Margaret Thatcher, famously, was the daughter of small-town grocer and was raised in the flat about one of her father's two shops. John Major was the son of a music hall performer and the grandson of a bricklayer. The careers of both could be seen to represent a triumph of the aspiration and self-reliance at the heart of their party's values. Cameron is of quite different stock, the Eton-educated son of a stockbroker and grandson of a baronet. Critics can easily argue that his rise to power harks back to an age when a high-born elite could expect to run the country while grocers' daughters and grammar school boys were expected to know their place.

Iain Martin notes that the "imagery of Horsegate is not helpful to the Tories". The image, then, is of an Old Etonian enjoying country pursuits in the company of an old schoolmate who gets a free horse from the taxpayer-funded Metropolitan Police. The timing, as Martin has reminded us, is unfortunate, given that those who have lived Tory values by working to get a comfortable salary are to be rewarded with an erosion of their standard of living. As Martin argues, "there is no sense that the government understands those people, or, even more importantly, the many more earning a good deal less than the level at which 40p in the pound is paid, but who aspire to get there one day through hard work."
Cameron's performance when finally admitting that he had ridden the police horse borrowed by his old chum Charlie Brooks and his wife Rebekah was not reassuring for anyone feeling alienated by any perceived attack on the middle class standard of living and on the culture of aspiration to achieve that lifestyle. 

"If a confusing picture has emerged...", Cameron begins, using the agentless passive voice.

A "confusing picture" cannot just "emerge" on its own. People working for the Prime Minister deliberately created a "confusing picture", very probably on his instructions. An more honest rewording, then, would begin "if I have created a confusing picture..."

These opening few words are then followed by "I'm very, umm, sorry about that." But this part is skipped through more quickly and quietly, with that moment of hesitation before uttering the actual word of apology. The parents among us may be reminded of the reluctance with which our offspring insincerely apologise for their little misdeeds only when compelled to do so.

When Cameron speaks about his friendship with Charlie Brooks, he sighs with audible impatience. The little sigh and the irritated frown speak volumes. Cameron is affronted by the need to explain himself. He is not used to having his actions questioned because he has gone about his life with a sense of being entitled to all the advantages his upbringing has conferred upon him. The script prepared by Dave's people appears to contain a few self-deprecating jokes. But the delivery is humourless and peevish. In this interview, Cameon's lack of the common touch is striking - and the common touch may be just what's needed if people are to be sold the line that the Government's relentless push to reduce the country's deficit must come at the cost of making it harder for ordinary folk to live comfortably as a result of hard work and the kind of ambition the Tories have spent decades selling to us as a good thing.