TV Review: Red Dwarf, Star Trek Discovery, The Orville

Red Dwarf is like that uncle who used to make you laugh to the point of pant-wetting when you were a child. You hailed him as a comedy genius, and constantly recited his routines to all who would listen, and to all who refused to listen, too. His visits brought light and laughter into your life, and you anticipated them with levels of excitement usually only reserved for Christmas.

Years passed. You got older. Your uncle’s visits became less and less frequent. One day, completely out of the blue, when you were busy doing something excruciatingly banal and thoroughly adult, probably putting up a shelf or something, there was a knock at the door. ‘It’s your uncle!’ came the cry. You ran to the door, almost injuring yourself in the process. ‘He’s back!’ you cried, grabbing the door handle and yanking it open… ‘My hilarious uncle!’… and there he was, standing in-front of you, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a light-up neon bowtie spinning around on his collar. He pulled his face into a gurn, and then brought his face a few short inches from yours. “BOOOOOOBIIIIIEEEEESSSSS!” he screamed, before loping off and around your house like a maniac, occasionally farting as he went. You later found him slumped in an armchair, staring out of the window.

A little part of you died that day.

After he left, you had a good, hard think about it. Maybe he was never funny; maybe you only thought he was funny because you were a kid and, well, everything’s funny when you’re a kid. Someone saying ‘socks’ is funny when you’re a kid. You prepared to jettison every fond memory of his visits and the laughter they brought; a time to put away childish things, and all that. But then you dug out some old home movies; watched him at work in his prime. And he was funny. God, he was funny, just as funny as you always remembered him being. So what the hell happened to him? Did he have a full mental breakdown?

You later hear that he was checked into a sanatorium, possibly never to re-emerge.

But he came back, your well-loved wonky uncle, like you always hoped he would, and you felt eager and hopeful again, despite all evidence pointing to more pain, disappointment and heartache on your part. And do you know what? He was better. He wasn’t quite the uncle you remembered, but neither was he the goofy, slavering imbecile who’d cast a worryingly unfunny shadow across your soul and doorstep. He kept coming back after that, each time stronger, more coherent, funnier. Last week, a near miraculous thing happened. Your uncle, despite his age and the trauma he’s been through, was almost – not entirely, but very, very, very nearly almost – indistinguishable from the man you remembered.

What I’m trying to say, as I wrestle with this rather tortured and over-long analogy about a mentally-ill uncle, is that the opening episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth season, Cured, in which the boys from the Dwarf encounter the frozen figures of Hitler and Stalin in a disused moon-base, was something of a relief and a delight. The cast seemed to be back in the full swing of their characters, there weren’t too many laboured puns or clichés, the sci-fi premise behind the episode was interesting without over-shadowing the jokes, and the episode made me laugh out very loud a hearty handful of times. Sure, some of the sequences in Cured – particularly the threat montage and the overlong guitar jam – felt a little rushed and perhaps fell a little flat, but overall I don’t think the episode would’ve felt out of place in the show’s fourth of fifth seasons. Red Dwarf may never recapture the thrill of its heyday, but each time it returns it builds a stronger and stronger case for its continued existence.

I’ve been boldly watching Star Trek since I was a teenager: I started by gorging myself on cassettes of the Next Generation lent to me by a friend, which led me to seek out the seminal exploits of Kirk and Spock. Later, I fell in love with the rag-tag, war-torn crew of Deep Space 9. Janeway was next, whose adventures I really rather enjoyed, give or take a few Kes’s and de-evolved lizard people along the way and … next there was… em, you know, Enterprise… and stuff. It was… well. I guess Captain Archer’s dog was sort of okay?

Maybe it’s an inevitable consequence of getting older and becoming less passionate in general, but when news broke of Star Trek Discovery’s imminent arrival I never found myself getting particularly excited. When the trailer was released, and it seemed to suggest that Discovery would be another Star-Trek-for-People-Who-Don’t-Like-Star-Trek generic space romp in the vein of the recent ‘reboot’ movies, even less so.

But, expectations be damned, it’s bloody good.

It’s different, of course: bigger, slicker, grittier and glossier, but every Trek series – whilst remaining true to the central Roddenberryian vision and ethos – has been drastically different from those preceding it, and always a product of the time in which it was made. Star Trek is about the future of humanity, sure, but that future is always given shape and voice by contemporary concerns. Discovery is about tough choices, moral relativism, a clash of cultures and the ethics of war. Shades of grey abound. In fact, there are enough shades of grey in Discovery’s opening few episodes to make Captain Picard’s hot tea and the entire canon of Deep Space 9 seem positively technicoloured in comparison. That’s one inevitable consequence, I suppose, of making your lead character a mutineer and a war criminal who’s sentenced to life imprisonment at the end of the first episode.

Sonequa Martin-Green is terrific as the aforementioned mutineer, former Starfleet officer and Vulcan-raised orphan Michael Burnham. The Walking Dead never really afforded Martin-Green the opportunity to showcase her full range and talents; here she’s mesmerising, compelling, tackling with aplomb the tricky task of playing someone who’s both human and Vulcan, and all at once both more and less than either.

Having Burnham front and centre allows Star Trek to do something it’s never done before: have a captain who’s something of an asshole. Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) may be the Doctor Who Number 6 of Star Trek, but Burnham ‘aint no Peri. (Incidentally, though it places me in a minority, I really like Colin Baker as the Doctor, so my comparison isn’t intended as an insult to Jason Isaacs or his character).

Discovery also gets top marks for its reinvention/retconning of the Klingons. Like this new incarnation of Star Trek itself, its Klingons share a through-line with the past, but are for all intents and purposes shiny and new. They look more like Cenobites than the 80s/90s-era Klingons we’ve come to accept as the official standard of the species. And they’re other-worldly, and eerie, and menacing, and interesting, something they haven’t been for a long time. Throughout the life-span of The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 the Klingons – with their stiffness, pomposity, laddish bragging and love of drinking – came to possess all the terror and nuance of an obnoxious drunk uncle at a party to celebrate grandma and grandpa’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. My apologies to uncles, who appear to be getting something of a rough ride today.

If Star Trek Discovery isn’t Star Trekky enough for you, then you can always seek out The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s new sci-fi doesn’t-really-know-what-it-is-edy. Despite the show’s mind-bending ideas, improved CGI and novel blend of sci-fi tropes and dick jokes it looks and feels exactly like early-90s Star Trek – which of course is no accident, given that the show’s creator and captain Seth MacFarlane is a life-long fan of the show, and forged his vision for The Orville through collaboration and consultation with such heavy-hitting Trek luminaries as Rick Berman and Jonathan Frakes.

And do you know what? I like it. It combines two of my favourite things: nostalgia and puerility. I’m still not convinced about Seth MacFarlane’s ability to carry a live-action show, but his Captain Mercer is growing on me with every episode, and the characters of Bortus (Peter Macon) and Isaac (Mark Jackson) have already proven themselves to be deep wells of dramatic and comedic possiblity. Keep making it so, Seth.

You can read a piece I wrote about Red Dwarf series X and XI for the lovely people at Den of Geek here.

Twelve things I’ve learned being a Dad to two under four (PART 2)

Thank you for returning to read the rest of my far from comprehensive, barely instructional list of twelve things I’ve learned so far as a parent. May it strike a chord, or make you feel smug and superior, you hubris-filled wanker. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. You can read PART 1 here.

5.) TV is your friend

Don’t listen to the snobs: your TV is as much a part of the family as the grandparents, or that funny uncle with the twitch. My partner and I vowed never to use the TV as a live-in babysitter or a motivational tool, and largely we’ve observed this vow. We’re careful to offset time spent in front of the TV with oodles of outdoor larks, jigsaws, puzzles, pretend play, books and tickle-fights. But sometimes… Just sometimes. Some days. TV may very well rot your children’s brains, but the brain-rotting skills of children themselves are unmatched and exemplary, so in this dirty war no weapon is out of bounds. I’ll be honest, if it wasn’t for the TV I’d probably have immolated myself by now.

6.) Don’t sweat the swearing

I don’t care what the Preachy McTutters of this world say: a swearing kid is a fucking hilarious kid. Naturally we don’t deliberately teach our three-year-old swear words. We don’t create Venn diagrams to show him the full galaxy of obscenities at his disposal, or give formal lessons every weekday morning. ‘Now, Jack, I want you to say it again, but this time I want to hear you enunciate the consonants like we practised. Ki…ki… ki… Ku… ku… ku… kun…kun…kun…. That’s it, you can do it!’

You simply don’t realise how much you profane as a matter of course until you’re sharing your home with a kid or two. Don’t get me wrong, over the years we’ve tried to shrink our pool of bad words (removing an em eff here, a cee there) and reduce the frequency of our swearing, and on the whole we’ve been successful in our efforts, but a one hundred per cent standard is impossible to attain: as long as there are frights, stubbed toes, dropped plates, inconsiderate drivers and sudden swirls of anger there will always be ‘bloody bastards’, ‘shitting buggers’ and ‘Are you fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuckkking kiiiidddddddddding meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees’.

A friend of mine recently told me that she and her husband had been aghast to hear their three-year-old daughter saying ‘Oh my God!’ As I listened, I had a flashback to all of the times our Jack has blasphemed, bee’d, essed and effed, all of which were entirely and inescapably my fault. I’ve heard him affectionately refer to a playmate as ‘a wee bugger’; I’ve watched him dancing around the toilet chanting ‘Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!’ like some demented shaman; I’ve seen him sneering a swear through one side of his mouth in the same manner and voice as a 1950s Italian-American Godfather, even shaking his little fist: ‘Sunnnnnn of a bitch!’; I’ve watched him lightly slap his own forehead and cry out ‘Oh fuck’. It’s like some horrendous version of Blankety Blank sometimes. “OK, here’s your next one. The guy tailgating me is a blanking blank?” “He’s a f….” “Nooooooooooo!”

In saying that, he’s seldom swore the same swear twice, largely because we react to each utterance with calm neutrality, gently re-directing his words down a different path without giving the no-no words any sense of power by confirming their taboo status.

Some examples:

“Yes, you can say (x), but it would be better to say (y) instead. Yes, maybe next time we’ll just say (y)”

or

“No, I didn’t say that, darling, you must’ve misheard. I said ‘rubber trucking other cuffer‘. What does it mean?… I’ve no fucking idea, son.”

7.) People lie about their kids.

Nobody talks up the beautiful, life-affirming aspects of parenthood. All parents-to-be are given the same bleak and nightmarish pep-talk: “You’re having a baby? Oh, you poor bastard! Forget sleep. Forget sex. You’ll be up to your knees in shit and piss. You’ll be so tired you’ll start hallucinating sentient raisins. You’ll be stressed out. You’ll probably start serial killing frogs, and using your head as a hammer to smash down play-parks. Your left leg will turn into an eighteenth century courtesan and start trying to marry people. Your right leg will fall off. You’ll shrink by five feet. Your eyes will explode. You’ll think you’re an owl. Seriously, I’m not kidding around here, my cousin was a dad for one day and he set fire to himself and tried to ram-raid a church. With a bison. I’m telling you; you might as well just kill yourself now, save the trouble. That’s how awful kids are.”

And then once your kids are a bouncing, bawling reality, and you’re asked the questions: ‘How are things at home?/How’s life as a parent?/how is/are the kid(s)?’ you lie then, too. Maybe you’ve just been sat at home cuddling your kids while watching a movie, or joyously laughing at their inspired silliness, or moved to tears by their innocence and sense of wonder, but you’ll always say something like: “Those bloody kids will be the death of me!”

8.) Bye, bye, sex life

Scheduling amorous activity with your partner when you’ve got children is difficult; scheduling it when you share a bed with your kids (the baby sleeps in an adjoined extension, our toddler usually sneaks in beside us at some point through the night) is nigh on impossible. The very fact that you have to ‘schedule’ at all is a bitter pill to swallow (a pill to swallow? Christ, there’s a Freudian slip). Sex isn’t an activity that lends itself well to scheduling or good time management skills, although as I’m writing this sentence I’m remembering a little something called ‘the entire sex industry’ that rather depends upon both of those things for its growth and survival, so I guess I’ll rephrase and refocus my argument somewhat: good time management and awesome scheduling skills may be useful, but they sure as shit never made anything sexier. Sex in the home between two partners should be sexy, urgent, primal, spontaneous, and not boring and clinical like making an appointment to see your bank manager (if you’re currently banging your bank manager, please feel free to imagine a different analogy).

The ideal scenario is for both kids to be fast asleep, and for us to slink silently from the bed and into the hall downstairs, to commence the world’s quietest bout of passion, like two mime artists make-believing a normal sex-life. If we make it to the living room we’re in for a riot of locked-knees, cold bums, burnt bums and stiff necks. We still have to be savagely quiet, but if there’s an accidental scream at this point it’s usually because we’ve stained the couch we’re still bloody paying for.

Wherever the venue, time is very much of the essence; because we’re both aware that we could be interrupted at any second, our coupling becomes less like a spontaneous act of love and more like two people desperately trying to beat their record on the mechanical bull. Never matter. I’ve always excelled at getting it done quickly.


For a longer consideration of the deleterious effects of children on your sex life, click here.

Click on PART 1 for the first four 12 things.

Twelve things I’ve learned being a Dad to two under four (PART 1)

1.) Buggies suck.

You know the old proverb. “Fold or unfold a buggy for a man, and he’ll be able to push the baby for a day. But teach him how to fold or unfold the buggy, and you’ll still have to do it for him every fucking day.”

The operation of most modern buggies is remarkably simple. Click, clunk, push. Press, pull, fold. So why then do I find myself, every single time – and I do mean every  single time – jumping up and down in a car park, my arms flailing like a possessed, pissed semaphorist trying to marshal an airplane, loudly threatening an inanimate hunk of cloth and plastic with death and destruction? I’ve been shown how to operate the infernal contraption time and again, on an almost daily basis, and each time I say, ‘Ah, of course, now I remember. Next time will be easy’. But next time isn’t easy. Next time is another angry wrestling match betwixt man and plastic. It’s like Groundhog Day, but by the end of the movie Phil can’t play the piano and he’s still having eighty doughnuts for breakfast. Why aren’t kids born with wheels?

2.) Never use the ‘Bad Man’ to deter your kids from disobeying, or running off.

He’s a demonic boogey-man routinely conjured by lazy parents to strike an easy jolt of fear into their children, when the same result could easily be achieved through gentler, less traumatising means, namely by employing the twin powers of reason and imagination.

(Starts with a snicker, builds to a convulsing laugh, ends with me in hysterics, hardly able to breathe and slapping my thigh like a coke-fueled cowboy) Yeah, right. Fuck that. The ‘Bad Man’ practically has his own room in our house, en-suite and everything. He gets breakfast in bed, and even gets to leave the toilet seat up after a piss. At first we used him sparingly. ‘Don’t run off round that corner. The bad man might be there.’ Then we started riffing, really having fun fleshing out the character:

‘He’s got an electrified glove that will burn you like toast,’

‘He’s got a time-grenade that’ll blow you back to the prehistoric era and your head will be crunched off by a T-Rex,’

‘He likes to melt children down and make them into candles, and then he farts on the candles, and then he pees them out.’

We started pretend-calling him for the most minor of infractions. ‘Hello, is that the bad man? Yeah, he won’t blow his nose. You’ll what? You’ll skin him alive?’ (lowering phone and whispering to son) ‘I can’t negotiate with this guy, he’s a fucking lunatic, you’d better just do what he says.’

Reason doesn’t work on young children. That’s why you need to get yourself your very own on-call behavioural terrorist. Long live the bad man.

3.) A bacon sandwich tastes so much sweeter after you’ve suffered through 3,000 episodes of Peppa Pig.

Not 3000 new episodes of Peppa Pig. The same episode 3000 times. Each staccato plink of that risible theme song starts to feel like a knife to the spine. I hate that my three-year-old loves it so much. It’s horrible. Not only does it make you feel like you’re watching TV through a spy-hole, but the kids are insolent, disobedient little shits and the father is a marginalised moron who’d be more use to the world inside a BLT. I’ve largely cut meat from my diet and don’t eat pork anymore, but I’d make an exception for Daddy, the snorting imbecile.

Don’t let your kids watch it. If none of that convinces you then never forget that the pigs are clearly walking, talking big balls-and-cocks. Look at them! It’s undeniable. Peppa Pig? Peppa BIG Nutsack more like.

4.) Toilets will never be the same again.

A week or so ago I had to make a hurried journey to the bathroom, with just enough time for a brisk detour to pick up a book. I perched in comfort, readying myself to begin the expulsion not just of my internal waste, but also of the day’s worries and frustrations. I was happy. I was safe. Nothing out there in that noisy, calamitous universe could touch me, at least for the next five minutes.

I was perched on the toilet, enjoying my brief reprieve from life, when from downstairs came the screams of my second-born, Christopher. He’d been placed atop a soft blanket of toys by his mother as she bravely attempted to start cooking dinner. Christopher’s not a kid usually prone to screaming, but when he feels the need he makes sure to broadcast those screams at just the right frequency to pierce steel, skull and concrete. ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ came the cries from my eldest boy, Jack, accompanying his baby brother’s fervent WAH WAH WAHs.

Jack kept wailing as he staggered and trudged up the stairs like a mustard-gassed soldier: ‘DADDY, DADDY, MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!’

He’d found a bottle of his mother’s perfume and naturally had decided to spray himself directly in the eyes with it, the bold little scientist that he is. ‘MY EYEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS!’

That’s what most trips to the toilet are like these days. Remember that old Dad-centric cliché about a bathroom being a man’s last bastion of peace in a chaotic household? It’s full of shit. The bathroom door may as well be spun from spider-silk or constructed by a mime artist. If your kid needs to get through that door, locked or not, and no matter what you’re doing in there, then you’re opening up. They’ll rap and tap and chap and bang until you’re forced to waddle towards it like an all-penguin John Wayne. They’ll then make you stand there by the sink in hellish, bowed-leg silence, like a naughty dog – squidgy poo-parcel half-nipped and glistening – as they take the longest piss in the world. Or even a particularly savage shit, just to rub some salt into the wound.

It’s toilet Top Trumps, and your kid will always win, principally because it reflects rather badly on you as a parent if you force your kid to stand outside in the hall and shit themselves.

THANK YOU FOR READING, YOU ADORABLE BASTARDS.

ANOTHER FOUR NEXT WEEK.

The Sex Life of Parents

As a teenager I worked very briefly in the tomato department of a fruit-and-veg packing plant. I had to stand at a conveyor belt for eight hours a day placing tomatoes – eight tomatoes at a time – into an infinity of plastic punnets. Tomato, tomato, tomato. Punnet, punnet, punnet. Before taking this job I’d counted myself among the tomato’s greatest fans. I loved everything about those round, red sods: their soup, which was warm and comforting, like a cuddle at a lower-tier relative’s funeral; how the tangy wetness of a single sliced tomato could bring a whole bag of finger-waggin’ sass to a boring old cheddar sandwich (imagine a tomato saying ‘Hmmm mmmm’, ‘you go girl’ and ‘ah don’t THINK so’); how easily a tomato could be transformed into a portable ballistic weapon with a single bite.

After two-and-a-half days of non-stop tomato-packing it’s fair to say that my love for them was waning. As tomatoes dropped through my fingers by the thousand-load they came to assume the consistency and snack-appeal of cricket balls, possessing the sass not of an enormous black woman in the audience of Ricky Lake, but of a recently-deceased Alan Titchmarsh. Tomato, tomato, tomato. Punnet, punnet, punnet. Tomatoes. I was bloody sick of them. Immune to their charms. They were just things now, lifeless, inanimate things, devoid of all joy and use and substance. I never wanted to sink my teeth into one of those round mother-fuckers ever again.

That’s pretty much how witnessing the births of my children made me feel about vaginas.

At least for a while. The forswearance was temporary, dear reader. Once the stitches had healed, and the missus had reclaimed her inclination, and my NAM-style fanny flashbacks had ceased – ‘The head… the head was sticking out, and, and it was blue, man… it was covered in blood and …bent out of shape and… oh CHRIST… (swigs another quart of bourbon)’ – things went back to normal. Attitudinally at least.

Unfortunately, the temporary reframing of my perspective on vaginas was merely the opening salvo in a much wider war upon my sex life; a war that was being waged against me by – in a weird, round-about-way – my own sex life from the past. My enemy: the physical manifestation of fifty per cent of my own sainted DNA.

Having sex with kids Having sex when you’ve got kids

Your baby’s first words to the world, unspoken and unspeakable, consist of a simple resolution never to let you have sex again. ‘Em, hello – you’ve got me? Why would you want to do this again? PUT THOSE THINGS AWAY!’, their wails seem to say. Babies are nature’s most exquisitely evolved biological padlocks and chastity belts. Your new kid on the block is a cock-block; a hex on your sex. How much wood would a rude dad chuck if a rude dad’s son hucked puke? I’m not even sure what that last sentence actually means, but I do know, with clarity and certainty, that y’all ‘aint getting any sex – at least not until after the divorce.

Until then you’ll roam the earth a foggy-eyed sexless husk, splitting your time between cooing and cursing, pooing and nursing. Inclined to be amorous, but too tired to follow through, or else perfectly well-placed physically but too mentally frazzled to get into the swing of things.

Or, worst of all, the planets of your desire will align, and you’ll be in the midst of blissful sexual abandon when a baby’s cry will cut through the air and wilt your willy away to nothing. They know, they just seem to KNOW when you’re at it, those tiny bastards, wherever you are in the house, and whichever stage of the process you’re at, and they’ll move heaven and earth to put a stop to your shenanigans.

Our kids have always seemed unknowingly to favour their mother on such occasions, and many, many times my chivalry has been punished; having selflessly provided pleasure through non-penetrative means I’ve been denied an orgasm of my own by the sounding of a baby’s cock-blocking klaxon, halting us pre-coital, and sending her to soothe the baby back to sleep, and me into the bathroom for a consolatory wank.

So having sex when you’ve got kids is hard. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those couples who’re to be found in the pub within seven days of the birth, telling people you’re on a well-deserved break from the stress and exhaustion of parenthood, and noisily proclaiming to all who’ll listen that having a baby needn’t affect your social commitments or change your life. Not change your life? It’s a baby, not a slight fucking limp, you vomit-smeared scrotums. Anyway, if you’re one of those couples then you’re probably free to make the beast with two backs as often as your built-in babysitting network will allow, in which case this article isn’t for you, and you should stop reading it immediately. May I suggest you go fuck yourselves? You’ve clearly got the time.

Aural sex: ‘Come ear!’

Every sexual encounter between you and your partner has as its template the fervent spontaneity of the first eighteen months or so of your relationship; the heady, come-to-beddy days where any time, occasion or flat surface (vertical or horizontal) would do; when your hands felt grafted to the skin of the other. It’s the memory of these days that makes the meticulous scheduling of sexual activity seem so off-puttingly antiseptic, despite the absolute necessity of such planning when you’ve got kids in the house. It makes what’s supposed to be five minutes a good solid hour of passion feel about as sexy as a hospital appointment.

Because of this new reality it pays always to be on the lookout for ways to return a little verve and spontaneity to the process. Just last week my partner used her skills of time and resource management, and sexual intuition to exploit a rare opportunity. Both of our kids were asleep before 8pm, and neither of us appeared to be ill or over-tired, so off she slinked upstairs to the bathroom to slip into something a little more comfortable.

Unfortunately, I had no idea this surprise was in the offing – and she in turn had no idea that I was bursting on a shite. As she stood naked in the bathroom, seconds away from togging herself up in a titillating outfit, the sound of my fist banging on the door relayed this information to her swiftly and efficiently. ‘Get out!’ I implored her. ‘Get out quick, I’m literally about to shite myself!’

The door whooshed open. ‘That’s killed it,’ she said, as she brushed past me to go change into some lounge-pants.

Another hard-core sesh as a parent

Despite the existence of a multitude of niche German movies lurking in deeply unhygienic corners of the internet, there are few greater passion killers than an unexpected jobby. So we decided we’d take a rain-check on the cha-cha-cha and snuggle up on the couch and watch TV instead. But still. The gauntlet had been thrown down, and the promise of sex had set my ridey-sense tingling. I made some overtures, seductively wiggling my eyebrows and shuffling up the couch towards her crotch like some brain-starved zombie.

‘Why don’t I do something for you?’ I asked.

She didn’t say ‘no’. She said something much worse. She said: ‘You burst in on me before I had a proper chance to wash myself, and I’m not going back up to that bathroom to inhale the smell of your boufing shite, so I guess we’ll just have to keep watching TV.’

I’m sure I’ve heard that line in a porno somewhere. Wounded and thwarted, I bided my time. We took stock and tried again. I shuffled closer and we went in for a kiss. Our lips softly butted, but as soon as they’d touched she yanked her face away from mine with a violence normally reserved for cases of whiplash in a car-crash. A grimace of displeasure warped her features. This isn’t a particularly encouraging sexual signal, unless you happen to be some sort of sadistic deviant, or have been married for twenty years (the two are by no means mutually exclusive).

‘What is it now?’ I asked.

‘Your ear,’ she said, shuddering. ‘It stinks.’

She was right. I had an infection in my left ear. But like the smell of a man’s own farts, I’d grown used to it, and had little idea it was so repulsive. So I couldn’t fault her disgust, but even still I sulked, my pride wounded, the thin and tenuous bubble of my sexual confidence well and truly popped.

‘Don’t sulk. I’m not rejecting you, I’m rejecting your ear.’

‘Yeah, whatever,’ I said, even sulkier still.

Don’t listen to what these women’s magazines tell you. Sulking is HOT. It really works up a soak.

She tried to be conciliatory. ‘Maybe… maybe if we have to kiss, you could come at me from one side only, keep the bad ear away.’

I shrugged. She sank deep into thought. Seconds later, there was a light-bulb moment, followed by a big grin. She stroked my shoulder, eager to share her epiphany.

‘Or why not just do me from behind?’

I gave a dismissive wave. ‘Nah, it’s finished. I’m vile. I’m a vile and disgusting creature. I stink and I’m horrible.’ I don’t know why I was so gloomy about it; that realisation had never stopped me before.

We watched TV in silence for a few moments.

‘Maybe…’ she began, the words tip-toeing carefully out of her mouth, ‘Maybe if you put your hearing aid in, it’ll plug the smell!’

I shook my head. ‘Maybe I could just f*** you with a walking stick?! Jesus, now I feel disgusting AND old. Brilliant.’

At this point she laughed. I did, too. How bloody ridiculous.

‘Is this what our sex life is going to be like now?’ she asked.

‘No,’ I said. ‘It’ll probably get much worse.’ A third child is very much in the offing for the not-too-distant future, so our offing days are probably numbered.

‘What do you want to do?’ she asked. I smiled.

In defiance of the Gods of Domesticity and Sexual Scheduling, I did her from behind.

And then I ate a tomato.

Why love is more important than sex

I swaggered around the homestead one weekend morning, naked except for a dressing gown, which billowed around my bare arse like a Roman’s cloak – but a Roman’s cloak that was soft and cosy and really rather effeminate, if I’m being honest. I’m a morning person, much to the consternation and occasional fury of my partner, who either isn’t a morning person or simply isn’t a ‘me’ person. I like to greet the day with a series of nonsense songs, daft-dances and urgent finger-clicks, whilst she likes to greet the day by violently murdering me.

Despite my glee I had woken up with a bit of a jumpy tummy, which probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I have the same diet as a bin inside a McDonalds’ restaurant. My stomach issued a rumble here, a grumble there, a Mexican wave of nausea there. But no matter. I still had a song in my heart, and a fart in my… Oh, hello. A fart! Where did you come from, you little tyke? Well, the conditions aren’t ideal, but if you really must insist upon making a life for yourself in the world outside my rectum, then who am I to… let me just feel it out here, and give a little squee…

Oh.

Oh my.

You’ve heard of a shart, right? Well this wasn’t a shart. It was pretty much a full-blown shit.

One doesn’t accept a surprise defecation quietly. My loud regrets, interlaced with hissed staccato swearing, stirred my sweet from her slumber, and led her siren-like to the hallway, where I stood temporarily frozen by fear, regret and disgust. I quickly bolted to the bathroom, grabbing up cloths and cleaning products. I didn’t want her to see this, to learn what had happened! To my horror, a few stray droplets of poo peppered the tiled floor of the bathroom in my wake. I sprayed and wiped and rinsed the tiles at lightning speed, and then hurtled into the hallway to mask or remove the worst of my shame. Why had we carpeted the hall and not kept the laminate, I lamented! Her footsteps drew closer still. It was too late, too late! I bombed back to the bathroom to grab more cloths, and to wash down my legs, but in my haste I slipped on a section of tile I’d just cleaned, flew into the air and just about knocked myself unconscious against the wall.

Even though I genuinely thought I’d have to go to hospital to be treated for a concussion, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a human being laugh as much or as hard as ‘the love of my life’ did that day.

Some people say that love is sticking by someone through thick and thin, being willing to go to the ends of the earth for them, risking life and limb in pursuit of their wellbeing and happiness, being willing to lay down and die for them. I’ve no doubt it is. But love is also still having the desire to fuck someone after you’ve witnessed them shitting the floor.

If our sex life can survive that, kids should be a doddle.

2 Tina Turners & the Hand of God

I was at work the other day, plinking away at my keyboard and staring listlessly into my screen like a post-lobotomy MacMurphy, when a Tina Turner song came on the radio. Nothing terribly remarkable about a Tina Turner song coming on the radio, I’m sure you’ll agree, unless you happen to live in some alternate universe in which the state has declared the playing of Tina Turner’s music a crime punishable by death. I don’t know why Tina Turner’s greatest hits would be so drastically proscribed in this or any other universe, but I do know that I’ve just come up with a cracking premise for a marginally-successful straight-to-video movie, which I’ll probably call ‘Tina Turner’s Totalitarian Terror’.

 

Anyway, seconds after Tina Turner had growled huskily from the radio, an email notification popped up in the bottom-right corner of my screen. It was a communication from a lady in our vast group of interconnected companies whose existence, up until that point, had been unknown to me, and whose name I’ll never now forget. That’s because her name was Christina Turner. Again, nothing terribly remarkable about that on its own, but put the two Tina Turner-related sensory assaults together and you’ve got something quite remarkable, if only in the sense that I’ve just remarked upon it.

 

Tina Turner in the ears; Christina Turner in the eyes. My brain spasmed, temporarily overloaded and unable to cope with this Tina Turner-mageddon. I half-expected to look down to find a woman with gigantic hair vigorously fist-pumping my cock, while looking me in the eyes and shouting: ‘You’re not having a stroke. EVERYTHING’S Tina Turner now, you SON OF A BITCH!!’

 

The odds against these two events coinciding are precisely fifty-six squillion gazilli-jillions times infinity to one. Trust me, I’m a maths guy. That can mean only one thing: this was no coincidence. Fate was clearly sending me an important message through the medium of a frizzy-haired pensioner with a rhythmically gangrenous hip. But what was fate trying to tell me? I mulled it over. Of course! The function of the first Tina Turner was to draw attention to the second. Because the second Tina Turner was clearly in terrible danger.

 

I cracked my fingers, held them poised over the keyboard like some heroic concert pianist, and set about sending what would surely be the most important email of Christina Turner’s life:


‘Hello Christina Turner,

 

You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. Now that the introductions are out of the way, I need you to listen to me very carefully, but, you know, listen to me with your eyes. Today I received a message from Tina Turner. Sounds great doesn’t it? No, Christina. It’s not great.

 

It’s bloody awful.

 

You’re in terrible danger. We’re talking ‘strange man in a wet-suit clutching a sharpened parrot skull standing at the foot of your bed when you wake up at 3am for a piss’ terrible danger. We’re talking ‘the sharpened parrot-skull opens its hellish maw and says “Christina Turner, you’re in terrible danger,”’ kind of terrible danger.

 

I know what you’re thinking: this guy’s crazy. How would he even be able to contact Tina Turner? I’m ready to make you swallow your doubt, Christina, because Tina Turner spoke to me through the radio. Now do you believe me, you stupid bitch?

 

I’ve got to ask: you don’t happen to live anywhere near a place called ‘Nutbush’ do you? Do yourself a favour and stay away from the city limits; in fact until I can fully analyse Tina’s message, you so much as see a hungry squirrel in a hedge, you run like fuck, girl.

 

Chin up, Christina Turner. We’ll get through this together. Always remember that you’re ‘simply the best’.

 

PS: Better than all the rest.


A few minutes later my phone rang. It was Christina Turner, in tears, in hysterics no less, telling me she was terrified and had phoned the police. I’d never felt more relief. But as Christina Turner sobbed and sobbed, a sudden panic seized the smile from my face and set my heart a-palpatating. Yes, one Tina Turner was there to draw attention to the other. But what if I’d got my Tina Turners mixed up? What if the Tina Turner in danger wasn’t Tina Turner, but TINA TURNER? The famous one? Of course. After all, why would fate go to all that trouble to intercede on behalf of a prole?

 

JESUS CHRIST, TINA TURNER WAS IN TROUBLE!

 

Dear The Tina Turner Fan Club

At this very moment you hold Tina Turner’s life in your hands. She is in grave danger. I should know, because I got an email from somebody who is essentially called Tina Turner at the same time as a Tina Turner song came on the radio. OK, so the radio station we’re tuned to plays at least nine Tina Turner songs a day, but who made you an expert at divining fate? Do you want Tina Turner to die? Well, do you? Who are you going to be a fan of then? DIANA ROSS? Fuck off.

 

Please just warn her. Even though she probably doesn’t have that long left, it would be a shame to see her gutted like a fish/squashed by a falling safe/succumbing to painful flatulence as a result of too much dairy in her diet.

 

PS: I’m making a film called ‘Tina Turner’s Totalitarian Terror’. I was thinking of casting Burt Ward as Tina, you know, to generate a bit of left-field buzz. Ask her what she thinks.


If you have ever believed yourself psychic, or in tune with fate or the heavens, if a person about whom you’ve just been thinking contacts you that very same minute, hour or day, then you’re probably just as crazy as the alternate version of Jamie Andrew who actually did send those emails to Christina and Tina Turner.

 

The coincidence actually happened, but my point is that coincidences always do. We’ve spun a maddeningly intricate web of connections across and around our humble little hunk of rock which spins inside a vast and infinite universe. How could they fail to? We choose to imbue coincidences with an air of relevance or destiny because a) that’s how our brains have evolved, and our travel, technologies and societies have evolved too quickly for the old grey matter to catch up, and/or b) we’re ridiculous, shart-brained narcissists.

 

My Tina/Christina Turner coincidence was just that. It would be ridiculous to think that there was some greater meaning or message behind it all, but for some reason hundreds of millions of people all around the world tend to interpret the world’s hundreds of millions of more conventional, non-Tina-Turner-related coincidences as evidence of God’s hand in the mix. So what do you think now? That God, or fate or who-or-what-ever you think linked those Tina Turners together in order to inspire me to write a blog post about how coincidences are just coincidences and not incidences of fate, so that…?

 

Oh.

 

Oh my.

 

Well played, fate.

 

You’ve danced privately for me. You’ve unsteamed my windows.

 

I guess that’s a ‘fate accompli’.

 

A Letter From The Interceptor

A few years ago I wrote an article about a funny, tongue-in-cheek piece for the lovely people over at Den of Geek about the thoroughly-entertaining 80s gameshow ‘The Interceptor’, which sent its contestants on a cross-country treasure quest, and pitted them against a flying psychopath.

This summer (please read those two words again, but in the style of a movie trailer) a person purporting to be – and whom I have no reason to doubt actually is – The Interceptor himself, aka Sean O’Kane, wrote to the editor of Den of Geek, expressing his approval of my article, and waxing lyrical in his inimitable, thesaurus-based way. Sean O’Kane isn’t exactly the world’s most famous celebrity, but it was nice to have my humble jumble of words acknowledged by an icon of my childhood.

You’ll find the letter (well, email actually, since this isn’t 1989 anymore) below the picture of a horse-mounted O’Kane, and below that the link to my original article.

BRING BACK THE INTERCEPTOR!

Dear Simon,

my daughter and her pals were surfing the net and stumbled upon your site DoG and to my surprise found the content regarding Interceptor not only belly achingly jovial but the tone and humour captured the essence and candor from a part of my journey for which I,m proud of.

27 years on and I still receive kudos from a short lived moment of an unequivocal utter octane fueled party. (stunt training came in rather handy)

Thank you for sharing the trauma and cupidity this show evoked ,I myself turned my poor mother prematurely grey from leaping off our roof onto a plethora of mattresses in the pretense of stunting lost in my imagination in my fun filled childhood……Those memories flood from my cortex to my hypothalamus whilst inseminating copious libation…….he he.

I liked it !!!!!

With Unabashed Optimism And Merriment.

sean o’kane

www.seanokane.com 


And here is the article: http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/the-interceptor/36586/revisiting-80s-uk-game-show-interceptor

 

Tailgaters: The scum of the Earth

Tailgating’s such a self-evidently selfish and dangerous thing to do that I shouldn’t ever find myself in the position of having to craft a rant about it. But here I am. And here I go. Because not a day goes by when I don’t find myself connected to my fellow road-users by a six-inch length of invisible tow-rope.

If you’re a tailgater it’s my fond hope that one day you too will find yourself tailgated: by a hungry gator. You are a menace. An abomination. An attempted murderer of children. It’s fair to say that even Mary Whitehouse and Jesus think you’re a cunt.

Don’t microwave kittens. Don’t drown kids.

Don’t. Fucking. Tailgate.

Yes, attempted murdered of children. You read that right a few paragraphs ago. That’s how I perceive tailgating when I’ve got my kids in the car, especially since law decrees that those two wee guys have to be strapped into perhaps the most vulnerable part of the car. That’s why I go so absolutely bat-shit bananas crazy when I’m being tailgated. That’s why my 2-year-old son, half-sponge half-parrot, once shouted ‘FUCKING ASSHOLES’ following a particularly heated exchange with a tailgater, after which I decided to modify my in-car language and call people ‘dozy pillocks’ and ‘silly billies’ instead; and a little less vigourously, too. I’ve tried everything to dissuade tailgaters, from angrily Capaldi-ing the mirror, to thumping the horn, to gesticulating violently out of the window. The latter sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. I once repeatedly struck the side of my car with my fist, alternated with a shooing motion, a subtle bit of sign language that  convinced the hogger behind to fall back a few car lengths. Another time I shook my fist out of the window, and instead of falling back the wee dim-wit douche-bag behind me started happily and enthusiastically waving and flashing their lights, thinking I was their pal.

When I haven’t had my kids in the car with me I’ve often responded to tailgaters with the old emergency-stop/urgent-accelerate manoeuvre to scare them out of their stupidity, a move that I’m willing to concede is potentially just as dip-shitted as tailgating itself, but… you know. Anger. Ditto finding a roundabout, going 360 and doing some revenge tailgating.

While the biggest tailgating culprits are, perhaps unsurprisingly, adolescent males – those image-conscious, testosterone-packed pustules of preened bravado – the roster of roasters is incredibly demographically diverse: the old, the young, the rich, the poor, of every gender and ethnicity you’d care to imagine (with the exception of Australian Aborigines and transgender Inuits, who aren’t terribly well represented in Central Scotland). I especially despise jewellery-bedecked, big-haired women in gigantic jeeps and 4X4s who tailgate with the insouciance of a psychopathic tank driver who’s gone rogue in an urban combat zone. And old men in high-end cars, who seem to think they’re driving inside a car advert along an empty mountain road.

The collective arrogance and indifference of these bastards disgusts me. We live in a world of illusion. Our place in the ever-connected cosmos is predicated upon hope, fear and self-deception. We wear ties, we go to school, we work, we shop, we shit, we sleep, we fuck, we drink, we watch TV, wash rinse and repeat, and we do this under the eternally indifferent gaze of a gazillion galaxies. We salve ourselves against  insignificance by embracing ritual, and blot out the truth of our tenuous grasp on existence with a cavalcade of hugs, drugs and distractions. We’re never more than a missed meal, a terrorist bomb, an unexpected diagnosis or a measly momentary lapse in concentration away from a descent into agony and anarchy, a whip back of the Wizard of Oz’s curtain to find the grinning spectre of Death, scythe sharpened and ready to slice.

Chaos, then, is the force that truly governs our lives. Ipso facto, what you’re saying when you tailgate is that you are above the laws of chaos; that you’ve extrapolated from the atoms around you a full account of the future, its every twist and turn, and have granted yourself immunity from the billions of chaotic surprises that break and bond our species with every passing microsecond of existence. You’re a God, no less. You can hug my bumper and be absolutely sure that a sheep, a bird or a child isn’t going to appear across the road in front of me causing me to hammer my foot on the brakes, that my front tyres aren’t going to blow out, that I’m not going to suffer a heart-attack behind the wheel, that any number of unexpected catastrophes aren’t going to propel the speeding bulk of your car through the crumpled backs of my children.

You absolute fucking asshole.

One last appeal to you, young men: I know you like to drive your car in an almost horizontal position, but please don’t cause me, or my partner and children, to end up in a permanently horizontal position in a hole six feet below the ground just because you’re desperate to get your hole. “Man, the birds are gonnae be fightin’ for a sook of ma boaby once they see me recklessly endangering the lives of the children in this car.”

I’ll always be more inclined to express leniency towards people found guilty of fist-to-face murder or serious assault than towards a single one of those blase, bumper-riding sons of bitches. The only time it’s ever permissible to tailgate is when you’re a cop trying to force a fleeing lunatic off the road. At all other times: don’t.

You tailgaters can bite me.

PS: Tailgating is a crime of which I’m sure I was occasionally guilty in my impetuous, arse-headed youth, and so, in the interests of spreading my disapprobation evenly, rest assured that I’m retrospectively cunting myself.

Want to read more motoring-based anger? Click here for a mild rant on Parent and Child parking spaces.

The Muppets and Beyond: The infuriating ways our kids absorb TV

When I was a toddler my mum said the only thing guaranteed to bring me – and by extension her – a modicum of peace was The Muppet Show. For half an hour each week, the Muppets and their unique brand of noisy, vaudevillian anarchy turned my eyes into swirling portals of obedience.

When my son Jack came along I wanted to forge a common tie between our childhoods. With that goal in mind I set about Muppetifying his existence with the fiery-eyed zeal of a bat-shit Baptist preacher. I was a maniacal man of the cloth, a felt-obsessed fundamentalist with a Henson-sent mission to introduce our son to the all-consuming love of frog almighty.

Muppet DVDs flooded into our flat, all manner of movies and TV specials. Manah Manah became the official nonsensical anthem of our little kingdom of three. As Jack grew older, and gained the ability to toddle and teeter, the Muppet Show’s theme song became a siren’s call, a piece of music with the power to draw him from wherever he happened to be in the house straight to the feet of the TV, where he’d stand bent-kneed and bopping, beaming with born-again-glee and clapping his hands.

It was around this time that his maternal grandmother bought him a Gonzo stuffed toy, which instantly became an extension of his little hand. Jack guarded it like a junk-yard dog, not permitting even so much as a brief separation to allow his mummy to wash the grimy, big-snootered blighter. Piggy, Kermit, Animal and Fozzy soon followed, forming a full Muppet menagerie, but Gonzo steadfastly remained his favourite. He had a book chronicling all of the Muppets from the 1950s to present day, and he could identify the vast majority of them if you said their name.

I bought the Muppet Movie sound-track on CD so we could listen to the gang during car journeys. If ever wee Jack was grumpy and tired, even wailing and screaming from his car seat, it only ever took a few strums of Kermit’s banjo (careful, there) to snap him into contented silence. I swear that the Rainbow Connection was like a dose of aural ketamine.

I’d often sit next to Jack in his room bringing his Muppets to life: doing the voices, making them interact with him. This proved so popular that he’d frequently insist, on pain of tantrum, that those five fellows accompany us everywhere we went in the house, narrating everything as they went. My throat started to feel like a cat’s scratching post. It got to the point where I couldn’t even make a cup of tea without having to engineer a squabble between Piggy and Kermit, or make Gonzo do a death-defying leap from the top of the biscuit cupboard, Jack standing there silently scrutinising the performance, ready to chime in with a Waldorf and Statler-style putdown should things take a dip in quality. I was eventually held so thoroughly hostage by my kid’s imagination that I feared I wouldn’t even be able to go for a shit without Kermit announcing it as an act.


Jack’s mum hated The Muppets. Not straight away, but familiarity very quickly bred contempt. What was nirvana for our son for her felt like being Guantanamoed inside a giant clockwork orange. “You did this to us,” her haunted eyes seemed to say each time they met mine. “You’re the reason that I have to watch puppet pigs singing Copa Cabana eighty times a day, you bastard.” It wasn’t long before she was pig-sick of Miss Piggy, couldn’t bear Fozzy bear, wanted Beaker to beat it, Gonzo to begone, Scooter to scoot, and Kermit to fuck off.

She soon got her wish.

Jack began to refuse or reject items from The Muppets’ TV canon time and again to the point where I stopped offering them as an option. They receded from his day-to-day life, and then started to fade from his memory. Eventually, if the muppets appeared incidentally on some random TV show, or he caught sight of them in a book or magazine, he’d narrow his eyes and scrunch his face up, in the manner of a middle-aged man passing someone on the street they thought they kind of half-remembered from their school days. “Muzzy… Gruzzy… em… Fruzzy! That was his name. Fruzzy Hair. I think he used to sit behind me in English class.”

I’d like to think that in the months and years that followed the waning of Jack’s love for the muppets – as his obsessions evolved and expanded – that his mum actually came to retrospectively appreciate those felty little fuckers, and even kind of miss them. After all, if you’re going to be forced to watch something over and over and over and over again, ad infinitum, then you at least want that something to provide a dung-tonne of variety. And you can’t get much more varied or multifarious than a TV and cinema universe with so many crazy creatures that it makes Game of Thrones look like a two-character Alan Bennett play.

Still. Toy Story was Jack’s next great love. His mum was happier with this. Great movies, right? All three of them. Brilliant movies. You ever watched three movies twenty-five-thousand times? I don’t care if those three movies are home-movies of your own kids being born. After a few consecutive cycles you’re going to be reaching for the baby thermometer and stabbing your eyes out with it. “There’s a snake in my boots! Yes indeed there is. I’m going to use it to fucking strangle myself!”

A little bit of desperate IMDBing heralded the happy news that there were three five-minute shorts and two half-hour specials featuring Bonnie’s (nee Andy’s) gang that we could add into the movie rotation, but even then the novelty quickly wore off (although that scene in the Halloween special where the Pez dispenser pukes in disgust at the sight of the iguana boaking up a toy arm makes me laugh every single time). I even considered sending Disney a begging letter. “Please, please, please, please, for the love of God, hurry up and make Toy Story 4 so we can have one day, JUST ONE DAY, of watching those son-of-a-bitch toys doing something unexpected.”

If you’ve got, or ever had, young kids you’ll know how futile it is to try to counteract their brief but all-consuming obsessions.

“What do you want to watch today? Postman Pat, Ice Age, Count Duckula?”

“Woody and Buzz.”

“Madagascar 1, Madagascar 2, Madagasca…?”

“Woody and Buzz.”

“Oooh, how about How to Train Your Dragon?”

“Woody and Buzz.”

“I’ll give you a million pounds to watch nothing.”

“Woody and Buzz.”

… “The Muppets???”

The worst was yet to come. YouTube is both a blessing and a curse. I credit it with teaching Jack the alphabet – or at least expanding, reinforcing and cementing what his mum and I taught him – and making him more proficient with numbers, but there was a time when he fell in love with a series of videos by a kids’ content-provider called Chu Chu. As in, “I think I’d rather Chu Chu my own arm off than watch another second of these asshole videos.”

Chu Chu is an Indian company that produces Pigeon-Street-style animations of cherubic, rosy-cheeked white kids singing in stilted, weirdly-emphasised English with an Indian twang. Jack watched it so much I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d gone to school sounding like Apu from The Simpsons. Chu Chu bring all of your favourite nursery rhyme classics back to life, just like this one, you know, the one about your Dad chasing his son through the house in the dead of night because he’s going to eat all of the sugar raw… I mean, what the hell IS this shit?

To be fair to Chu Chu, 18-months to 2 years after Jack’s first exposure to their inimitable brand of transatlantic nursery-rhyme stylings we still sing the Johnny Johnny song, and the semi-bhangra version of ‘No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed’ is still our favourite.

While Jack enjoyed a series of micro-obsessions with Thomas the Tank Engine, Puss in Boots, Peppa Pig (that plinky-plonk theme tune is my Manchurian Candidate-style trigger for mass murder), Paw Patrol (one day I will kill you, Rubble, you big jawed arsehole. And why do the people in that town call on dogs for help instead of the fire brigade or the actual bloody police?) and various others, he’s now got a broad and sophisticated palate of televisual tastes. Which is code for ‘we probably let him watch too much television’.

But still no Muppets.

I picked up his little brother Christopher the other day, who’s too young to watch TV but certainly old enough to appreciate its bright and noisy charms.

“I think it’s nearly time we had a chat about the frogs and the pigs, young man.”

The Doctor Falls: A Haunting Look at Love, Loss, Death and Hope

Doctor Who is, and always has been, a family drama, so in theory it should be palatable and accessible to all points of the age spectrum at all times; in practice it’s always oscillated wildly between the worlds of childhood and adulthood. There are some episodes a little too silly or garish for my tastes, but which my son adores. Equally, there are episodes I consider mature, thought-provoking and insightful that my son considers confusing, boring or terrifying, or sometimes all three at once.

The show’s tone can change between and within seasons, and sometimes even within episodes themselves. From its inception the show’s been on a tone rollercoaster: from the stern and semi-educational stylings of William Hartnell’s grandfatherly doctor, to the karate-chop hijinks of Jon Pertwee, to the Mary Whitehouse-bating body horror and gothic grizzliness of Tom Baker’s early years, to the girny slapstick buffoonery  of Sylvester McCoy’s maiden season, to the multi-layered, sometimes senselessly intricate and confusing pseudo-nonsense of Steven Moffat’s stewardship.

Season 10 of Doctor Who (or season 37 if you’re that way inclined), its most recent, has grappled so ferociously and frequently with love, loss and the haunting spectre of death that it’s hard to imagine the gooey cuteness of the Adipose, Pex of Paradise Towers or the farty menace of the Slitheen existing in the same universe. While the show has also never been funnier – the impromptu appearance of the Pope in Bill’s living room being an especial highlight this season – Capaldi’s impending departure has cast a death-shaped shadow over the season that’s introduced a heavy, inescapable note of sadness to the show. If this sounds like a criticism, it most definitely isn’t. The marriage of mirth and melancholy has been a godsend for the show, as has the marriage of Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie, who have been uniformly excellent together. And let’s not forget Matt Lucas, who was an incredibly pleasant surprise – almost a revelation – as Nardole.

Steven Moffat is occasionally guilty of over-loading his narrative, throwing more elements and novelties into a story than its structure can bear, until the episode collapses in on itself, or disappears through a wormhole up its own arse. ‘The Doctor Falls’, however, was pretty much perfect in terms of pacing, mood, dialogue, plot, emotion, the loops and links within the double-episode finale and to the series’ own past, and the deft handling of some of Doctor Who’s most iconic monsters and villains. The Doctor Falls – haunting and affecting; immersed in hope, horror, sadness and goodbyes, and all draped in the cold white of death – was a fitting swan-song for Bill and Nardole, and a somberly satisfying sort-of send-off for both the twelfth doctor and Steven Moffat himself.

David Tennant’s pre-regenerative parting plea – ‘I don’t want to go’ – is regarded with a sneer by a vocal minority of fans, who consider it a particularly egregious example of Russell T Davies’ over-fondness for schmaltz and sentimentality. The Doctor would never behave like that, they snipe. He never greeted any of his previous regenerations in such a spirit of whiny arrogance before.  It’s not death, just change.

But it is a death. How could it be anything other? When we move towns, countries or houses, when we leave school, get divorced, become parents or start a new job, our changing brains and circles (of both friends and influence) and circumstances and stances and outlooks change so drastically – albeit slowly over time and not finger-click quick like a regeneration – that the new people we become are almost entirely disparate entities, with perhaps only a tangential connection to our ‘true’ or ‘original’ self. We break with our pasts, our youths, our lives, in a dance of perpetual reinvention. Imagine how we would feel if we routinely changed our entire body: face, physiology, biochemistry, height, weight, age (gender?), everything. Who would ‘we’ be?

Moffat managed to make the Doctor’s impending regeneration feel like the most final of goodbyes, despite the fact that we all know it isn’t. His handling of both the Doctor and the Master/Missy really hammered home the point that each new version of these characters is so distinct from the others as to be wholly separate beings. The Twelfth Doctor has moved away from the exquisite alienness of his first few years to embrace a deeply earnest sense of humanity and kindness. Missy found redemption, of sorts, through death at the hands of her previous incarnation. With that in mind, it makes sense to arrive at the conclusion that if Time Lords can counter their core instincts, if regeneration can favour revolution over evolution, then each regeneration is certainly a death. But the final message needn’t be fatalistic. Perhaps the feeling we should take away from the finale is that the power, and hope, of change resides in all of us.

The Doctor Falls lends legitimacy to Tennant’s farewell, and adds a greater poignancy and sadness to Capaldi’s upcoming exit, an exit I’m already very, very sad about. On the strength of this incredible episode (both of its parts) I may even miss Moffat, too.

Jamie’s Digest (2): Cool Bits From Books

Whenever I’m reading I always like to highlight phrases and passages that strike a chord with me, either because they’re emotionally or intellectually resonant, or because they’re exceptionally relevant to something that’s happening in the world today. I’d like to continue to share some of the these excerpts with you.

Catholic Tastes

In light of both the ascension of the DUP to the role of king-makers, and Germany’s recent parliamentary vote in favour of legalising gay marriage, I thought the below was exceptionally relevant. It’s an extract from a piece published in a gay newsletter in Southampton the late 1970s by a man named Paul, a volunteer for the Solent Gay switchboard. A copy of the full text (which speaks of his sorrow at the extent of anti-gay discrimination in the country), as well as appearing in the newsletter, was also sent to the Rev. Ian Paisley, Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse, a trio he felt had lent credence to those who would level violence and abuse at gay people.

Many heterosexuals like to remark that if everyone were homosexual, the human race would come to an end. (The human race would suffer the same fate if the entire male population became Roman Catholic priests, but God in his infinite and unfailing wisdom ensures that only about 5% of us are homosexual and that even fewer are Roman Catholic priests.) In view of the acknowledged importance of sex in perpetuating the human race, it is strange that there are still those who regard it as something shameful, embarrassing or rather awkwardly special.”

Amazon link: Ban This Filth by Ben Thompson (p.347 – 349)

The Bondage of Work

The below extract is for those of us (most of us) who are unlucky enough to work for ‘da man’ in any of his multifarious guises.

Every time you go into your workplace, you leave a democracy and enter a dictatorship. Nowhere else is freedom of speech for the citizens of free societies so curtailed. They can abuse their political leaders in print or on radio, television and the Web as outrageously as they wish, and the secret service will never come for them. They can say that their country’s leader is a lunatic, their police force is composed of sadists and their judiciary is corrupt. Nothing happens, even on those occasions when their allegations are gibberish. The leniency of free societies is only proper. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to spout clap-trap, as regular surfers of the Web know. If employees criticise their employers in public, however, they will face a punishment as hard as a prison sentence, maybe harder: the loss of their career, their pension, and perhaps their means of making a livelihood.”

Amazon link: You Can’t Read This Book by Nick Cohen (p.149)

Mo’ Men, Mo’ Problems

As a humanist an atheist and a secularist (sometimes we all walk into a bar) I’m appalled at the prejudice frequently levelled at my fellow human beings on account of their skin-colour, country of origin or set of beliefs; I’m further appalled by the foreign policy measures and media hyperbole that has inflamed hatred in this country and abroad. However, I’m also appalled at the way in which our freedom to criticise religion, in all of its forms, is slowly being eroded, mostly – it has to be said – through fear: fear of violent reprisals, and also fear of being on the same side of the argument – albeit for vastly different reasons – as the nation’s execrable clan of right-wing racists. That being said, however incompatible I consider organised religion to be with a measured, rational view of the world, and however strongly I may wish mankind to move beyond the infantile and supernatural, it’s always a good idea to seek out differing and (especially) opposing views; to be as well-informed and educated as possible on the history, structure and practice of religions.

Below is an extract about the history of Islam that you may find surprising (or perhaps not).

The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet’s heart. The Quran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce centuries before Western women were afforded such status. The Quran prescribes some degree of segregation and veiling for the Prophet’s wives, but there is nothing in the Quran that requires the veiling of all women or their seclusion in a separate part of the house. These customs were adopted some three or four generations after the Prophet’s death. Muslims at the time were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had ong veiled and segregated their women in this manner; they also appropriated some of their Christian misogyny. The Quran makes men and women partners before God, with identical duties and responsibilities. The Quran also came to permit polygamy; at a time when Muslims were being killed in the wars against Mecca, and women were left without protectors, men were permitted to have up to four wives provided that they treat them all with absolute equality and show no signs of favouring one rather than the others. The women of the first ummah in Medina took full part in its public life, and some, according to Arab custom, fought alongside the men in battle. They did not seem to have experienced Islam as an oppressive religion , though later, as happened in Christianity, men would hijack the faith and bring it into line with the prevailing patriarchy.”

Amazon Link: Islam – A Short History by Karen Armstrong (p.14)

Brazil Nut

Nemesis – an account of the rise of an ordinary man in one of Rio’s most infamous favelas and his rise to the rank of don of the criminal under(and over)world – is a wonderful book: fast-paced, exciting, shocking, thoughtful, well-written and meticulously researched.

The extracts below give shape to the idea that tackling poverty and inequality through state and welfare policies/spending is not only an essential component of our common humanity, but also makes sound long-term economic sense. Effective social policies and less poverty equals a society that has greater stability, greater contentment, less crime, less unrest and less violence across the board.

After decades of dictatorship and chaotic transition, renewal and optimism were surging out from the federal capital, Brasilia, towards the furthest reaches of the country’s body politic. Whole regions and classes were reviving after a long period of neglect and deprivation. The sudden arrival of a period of prosperity that saw unemployment fall to record levels and personal spending increase significantly is crucial in explaining why Rio was becoming less violent. Young men in the favelas were turning away from weapons and drugs in favour of education and settled employment.”

While China was lauded for pulling some 100 million citizens out of poverty from the mid 1980s, fewer noticed Brazil’s more monumental achievement flowing from [socially democratic political moves and social policies designed to eradicate the chronic, crushing poverty experienced by a significant proportion of Brazil’s citizens). In Brazil, 30-40 million people managed to cross the poverty line. Given the much smaller population of Brazil, this was an even greater feat than the Sino equivalent.

The consequences of this golden era for Brazil’s political personalities were immense. The primary beneficiaries were the poor, not least those who lived in the favelas of the south. This was especially true of Rochina. Its isolation from other favelas and its now well-established tradition as a large market, both for the residents and for those coming from outside looking for a bargain, enabled it to ride the wave of economic confidence with a swagger. This growth spurt offered alternative employment to its younger men and women, and so the drugs trade became a somewhat less attractive career path.”

What was the biggest obstacle to political reform? Well, surprise, surprise: “The vested interests of Brazil’s powerful, if numerically small, economic elite proved deft in constructing numerous barriers.”

Amazon Link: Nemesis by Mischa Glenny

Read books, motherfuckers. Read books.

WTF #1 – A Cock and Ball Story

I took my almost-three-year-old son to the library a few weeks ago, asked him to flick through the rack and pick one out for us to read. He chose a gentle, harmless, lovely little tale about a… my blood ran cold. “Jack,” I thought to myself, “you appear to have eschewed the ‘children’s’ section in favour of the ‘books about gigantic cocks and bollocks’ section. I scanned through the pages. Originally French, eh? Christ, it had to be.

“Ah, let us raise a glass to arr new friend, who een no way looks like a reedeeculous beeg cock and balls.”

Barbapapa is a children’s book about a band of French folk and their good pal Billy Big Baws the Walk-n-Talk Cock. I would’ve made allowances for taste and decency had this been a cautionary tale about the dangers of intra-organal friendships or a warning about the dangers posed by male genitalia (especially the mutant variety), but a cursory examination of the text revealed that not a single human character in that story was moved to scream: “SACRE BLEU, WHYYY ARE WE WALKING DOWN ZE STREET WEETH THEES ENORMOUS NUTSACK, INSTEAD OF RUNNING FOR OUR LIVES’?” This book was unashamedly pro-baws.

I don’t know exactly what the hell is going on here, but I’m on the phone to le social services.

I’ve scoured the internet, too, and all I’ve found is a handful of people all reminiscing fondly about this book. Not one of them has pointed out the striking resemblance Barbapapa bears to a bouncy big boaby. It would be like us picking up a copy of Spot and discovering that the dog we loved as a child was actually a four-legged, hairy vagina.

“Fire! Fire! Queek, call ze fire brigade!” “Are you mad? Thees ees clearly a job for a giant spurting cock!” One wee guy’s even rubbing Barbapapa’s dirty blow-hole, for heaven’s sake!

CASE CLOSED

BARBAPAPA? BARBABIGCOCKANDBALLS, MORE LIKE!

General Election 2017: Use your vote, but use it wisely

In the run-up to the council elections earlier this year Ruth Davidson posed on a mobility scooter, presumably as part of her campaign to raise awareness about how underdeveloped the Tory party’s sense of irony is. Really, Ruth? That’s like Thatcher trying to win over the working class by posing for the 1985 Socialist Worker’s calendar, lounging across a pit entrance, and naked except for a miner’s helmet and a puff of coal-dust on each cheek.

The Tory party – in both Westminster and Holyrood – is working hard to channel the spirit of an apparently remorseful abusive partner, swearing with all of its might that ‘this time things will be different’.  In the grip of delusional desperation in Scotland – and owing to a sense of sinister, Voldermortian assurance in England – the Tories are busy positioning themselves as the party of the disabled, the disenfranchised, the poor, the NHS, the working man. ‘I’ve changed, honestly I have, you’ll see, I love you, I don’t want to lose you. I promise that this time I won’t beat the absolute fuck out of you, and then cheat on you with the posh bit of stuff up the street.’

I can understand why the guy with the monocle from Monopoly would vote Conservative, but why has the party enjoyed such an upsurge in popularity among the working class? Why are people who rely upon the NHS, a healthy welfare state and a large swathe of well-funded, publicly-run services (particularly in the care sector) essentially voting for their own destruction by embracing a party that is, at root, ideologically opposed to all of these things?

Our predominantly right-wing media is partly responsible for this state of affairs, of course, that steady drip-feed of lies, hysteria and manipulation masquerading as news and comment. Look on in envy, Kaiser Soze, because yours is no longer the greatest trick ever pulled, son: tabloid newspapers are owned by billionaires and staffed by middle-class urban professionals, but somehow the working class is convinced that they speak for them. This same mentality runs rampant in America, as evidenced by its people hailing a heartless, ruthless billionaire, who built his billions on the broken backs of millions, as a man of the people (It’s not even clear that Donald Trump is a person, much less a man).

It also seems to me that the thunderous orchestra of social and political issues that makes up the soundtrack to our dizzyingly complex and hectic lives has been reduced to one single, deafening scream: BLOODY FOREIGNERS! “I don’t want these bloody Poles and P***s using our bloody NHS!” Well, take heart, my frightened, reactionary friend. You keep voting like this and the NHS won’t exist anyway. Who knows, maybe that’s been the agenda/evil plan all along.

As a little aside, it also amazes me that most of the British nationalists and unionists I’ve encountered – the ones with streaks of racism in them so prominent they’re actually visible from space – have also been, almost unfailingly, great admirers of the Queen.

“LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!” “FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY!” “I BLOODY LOVE THAT WOMAN!” Ah, a violent, semi-literate alcoholic skinhead with a hair-trigger temper. I’m sure the Queen will be inviting you round to the palace for tea and cucumber sandwiches any day now. Again, she’s a billionaire who sits on a throne and wears a crown. I don’t know what part of that makes Davey from Possil imagine that their love and respect is somehow mutual. The Queen probably wouldn’t piss on most of us if we were on fire.

Our charred corpses, on the other hand…

“Well,” people in Scotland might say, “I need to vote Tory to keep that wee dwarf Sturgeon out. She only cares about making Scotland independent!”

It seems a bit churlish to lambast the leader of what is ultimately the ‘We’re Committed to this Very Specific Thing’ Party for being committed to a very specific thing. Spoiler alert: yes, the SNP is pretty keen on Scottish independence, primarily because it’s our last, best hope to conduct and manage our affairs in line with our political, economic and social needs and aspirations. But the SNP isn’t a one-trick pony. Its manifesto also embraces civicism with a heavy smattering of socialism, something most people would know if they ever had occasion to hear Nicola Sturgeon talk without some arsehole shouting ‘BUT WHAT ABOUT INDEPENDENCE, DWARF?!’ at her every three seconds (I don’t think poor Nicola finish her breakfast without somebody asking her if she intends to grant self-determination to her cornflakes).

Do you really want to vote for Theresa May: a wobble-voiced Thatcher-lite who looks like she’s trying to regurgitate an albatross each time she laughs? Or Ruth Davidson, a passionless politician with the soul of a middle-manager?

The old saying goes that the longer we live the more right-wing our views become: we start off as idealists, and crusaders for justice, but evolve into bitter, jaded cynics as we come to the painful realisation that the world is a great, immutable sink-hole of unfairness, indifference and cruelty (In fact, wait, isn’t that actually a line from the Tory manifesto?).

So if a leftist is capable of transitioning from left to right, then what the hell kind of moral journey does a Tory undertake as he or she advances into their twilight years? How much more ‘right’ can ‘right’ get?

Do you really want to find out?

England: vote for Corbyn, come what May.

Scotland: Be Ruthless.

**Hey, wait a minute. It’s finished? But what about Scottish Labour? Well, exactly.

F*** The Walking Dead Season 3: The Return of the Un-Fun-Dead

How can I describe Fear The Walking Dead for the benefit of those who haven’t yet sampled its delights? Here goes.

Imagine writing a list of all the things you love about The Walking Dead. Now imagine pulling your pants down and taking a long, slimy shit all over that list, working and twisting your hips so you actually spell the word ‘shit’ with your own shit as you shit it out, like piping the icing on the world’s most abominable cake. Imagine stomping your bare feet into all that shit, really spreading and squishing it around, and then getting a lamb to lick the mess from between your toes.

Well, I’d rather watch you do that than watch another season of Fear The Walking Dead.

So I guess that makes me a sicko as well as both an unhinged completist and a self-flagellating masochist, because I am going to watch another season of Fear The Walking Dead. Why don’t you join me? Or jump back in? Catch up. Take the plunge. Misery likes company, after all.

Here’s a re-cap of the action so far, presented in the sort-of style of a sort-of recipe.

Ingredients you’ll need to make:

A series which purports to show the fall of civilisation

The fall of civilisation (4 episodes)

Getting to a boat (2 episodes)

Being on a boat (4 episodes)

I wish that they were still on that boat (3 episodes)

What happened to that boat anyway? (2 episodes)

A hotel? A Mexican death cult? This could get interesting (4 episodes)

I was promised way more boat than this (2 episodes)

I suppose Fear The Walking Dead itself is a little bit like a boat, a broken boat; cast adrift on a rolling sea of plot as the tides of tired tropes and waves of cringe-worthy contrivances hurl and tug it hither and thither. It’s doomed to sail on uncertainly and aimlessly, at least until the day it’s dashed on the rocks of viewer apathy.

Despite garnering higher ratings than Better Call Saul (What the hell is wrong with Americans? No wonder you voted for Trump!) that day surely can’t be too far away. The only thing stopping me from jumping overboard with this show – “ABANDON SHIT!” – is the faint, infinitesimally small glimmer of hope that things might get better; that I might actually start to care about the characters.

Earlier this year The Walking Dead – FTWD’s zombie daddy – wrapped up what was arguably its weakest season yet. Even in its better days The Walking Dead was never likely to earn itself a place in Television Valhalla, standing shoulder to shoulder with the mighty classics of our age. It’s often clunky, schmaltzy and over-padded. Who cares though, right? Not every painter can be Van Gogh. Not every TV show can be Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos or Rectify. But at least The Walking Dead is capable of turning out exciting, haunting, affecting and powerful episodes, and I actually care about most of its characters. Especially Carol. And except for Carl.

Fear The Walking Dead, on the other hand, is objectively – on the evidence of its episodes to date – a bad show, as I’m sure the subtle analogy I deployed at the beginning of this piece, involving lambs and human feces, made clear. The tag-line for Fear the Walking Dead’s upcoming season might as well be: “YOU ACTUALLY THINK THIS SHIT’S GOING TO GET BETTER, DON’T YOU?”

I hope it gets a lot better. I really do… Or at least marginally better.

Anyway, here’s a re-cap of the characters:

Madison Clark

Hi. I’m Madison. I’m an archetypal strong female character in the kick-ass-mom mould. Good, right? Well, no, because I’m poorly written and portrayed as if I’m a Vulcan at a funeral, walking around with a jaw like a steel-trap, frowning and moaning the whole time. Seriously, I’m so unlikeable I can’t even stand myself. I was in Deadwood. Remember that? Man, that was a good show. And now I’m in Un-Deadwood. Fuck. I wish I’d taken that part in The Strain. At least I’m not a total pussy like my boyfriend… whatever this name is.

Travis… thingy. Or am I?

Hi, I’m Travis. Or am I Curtis? I think I’m Curtis. Am I? Or is that the name of my actor? One’s Travis, the other’s Curtis. No, I’m Travis. I am Travis, definitely. Or am I Curtis? Fuck, is my name Cliff? Christ, I’m so boring and devoid of a concrete identity it’s no wonder I’ve no idea who I am. Dull, dull, dull. I’m desperately trying to survive a fledgling apocalypse here: how the Hell do I manage to be so utterly boring in the process? I just mope around all day looking like Tully from Sesame Street, and pissing on people’s parades. But don’t worry. I beat two punks to death at the end of last season. That was a wee bit interesting and people seemed to dig it, so they’re going to ‘Rick’ me up for season three. WE’RE GOING OVER THE CLIFF EDGE, BABY! Hmmm. That doesn’t work if my name’s not Cliff though. Travis… Travis… Travis… A-HA! WHY DOES IT ALWAYS BRAIN ON ME?!

Or am I Curtis?

Alicia Clark

Hi there, (bats eyelashes) boys are like soooo gross, shutup I love boys, oh God I love my iPod, but oh God I’d die for my boyfriend, he’s like my bff, oh my God, gross that is like SO unfair, oh my God I hate you guys, I’m such a girl, I’m so ditzy, oh I’m on a boat, OMG, boys, I can talk to boys out here, uh-oh I almost got us all killed, FML, I wish I wasn’t so naïve and blindly trusting and … (CHUNG CHICK) Hi there, that was the sound of me loading a fresh cartridge into my shotgun, that’s the kind of thing I do now, because I’ve just inexplicably woken up in possession of the wise, noble soul and tactical combat knowledge of a 900-year-old warrior-general, and the inner-calm of a Lara Croft android. I’ve gone from ‘Damn, she MOAN’ to ‘Michonne. DAMN’ in less time than it takes a man to check IMDB to see if I’m safe to wank over.

Nick Clark

OK, let’s get all of the Johnny Depp and heroin addict gags out of the way first, shall we? What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Zombies, that’s what! I’ll also give you Edward Needle-hands, Willy Wonky and Crack Sparrow. There. All out of your system now. Hi, I’m Nick. I worked out how to walk safely through hordes of zombies pretty early on in the apocalypse. You just smear yourself with zombie guts. I tend to do it every single time I’m out amongst the zombies, because I quite like being alive, unlike those fucking idiots on The Walking Dead. Anyway, give or take my recent spell in a Mexican death cult, I’m probably the best character on the show, which is a bit like being awarded best in show at Crufts when you aren’t actually a dog. Or maybe it isn’t. I’ve taken a lot of heroin.

Victor Strand

I’m mysterious. Christ, I’m mysterious. Look at me lounging against the bars of this cage in my dapper clothes, offering gruff nuggets of cod-philosophy and intrigue to my jonesing new friend, Nick. It’s like my old dad used to say: if you find yourself imprisoned under martial law during a zombie apocalypse, make sure you’ve got a junkie as your right hand man. Junkies are indispensable survivalists, and not a liability at all; everybody knows that. I’m Strand, by the way. Or am I? Who am I? Who are you? Who’s Abigail? Ah, forgive the mystery, it’s my boat, you see. And I’m going somewhere. Where? Well, aren’t we all going somewhere? Christ, there’s that mystery again. I’m also dangerous. Did I mention that? Can’t you see it? Dapper and dangerous. Positively stranger-ous. I’ll cut you and you won’t even know you’ve been cut. I’ll cut the rope on your dinghy. I’ll shoot you. I’M IN LOVE WITH DOUGRAY SCOTT. He was great in Love Actually. He wasn’t in it? Well, what was the one… Kathy Burke was in it. He had the long hair and that? Anyway, I love him, and we’re all going to Mexico so we can… Oh. He’s dead. Fuck. Erm… eh. Yeah. (sigh) I’m boring now.

Chris Manawa

Hi, I’m Chris, which is short for ‘Christ, I’m an awful character.’ Remember how you thought Carl Grimes was the most awful boy in existence? Well allow me to introduce you (points at self) to this cunt.

You watched me at the end of last season and thought to yourself, ‘Oh, thank goodness he’s dead, I hate that fucking guy’, and then when the guy who plays me appeared in Agents of SHIELD – as Ghostrider’s brother – you thought, ‘Phew, well that seals it then, he’s absolutely, definitely, incontrovertibly dead,’ and then the character was only in the show for about three episodes, and you thought, ‘Oh, fuck, maybe Chris ISN’T dead’. And then you couldn’t quite remember if my death had only been hinted at or if it had been shown on screen, and you thought to yourself, ‘Actually, now I’m thinking Curtis killed him… or did Curtis kill the guys who killed him? Wait, is it Travis or Curtis… but… shit, I can’t remember’, and then you didn’t even care enough to Google it.

Oh, and Ofelia, too. I guess she’s a thing?

F*** the Walking Dead returns to US screens on Sunday 4th June with a host of new characters, and hopefully the tragic death of a few old ones.

Scotland’s Hot-Spots and Pot-Holes: A Wee Tour

What self-respecting whistle-stop tour of Scotland could begin with anything other than a picture of the Bronx?

It pretty much goes without saying – except for the fact that I’m currently saying it – that we’re all different. People are different; places are different. People are different because of places, and places are different because of people. Some places are good, some places are bad; some are happy, some are sad; some are absolutely beautiful, some are Kilmarnock. Vive la difference! Taking a stroll through the posher portions of Corstorphine doesn’t feel quite the same as a wee jog through the Bronx, for the simple reason that there are far, far fewer cunts in the Bronx.

You needn’t travel half-way around the world to see such stark contrasts between places. Look in the next city over, or the next town, or the next street. Small steps can reveal seismic shifts in mood, architecture, diversity and affluence.

Case in point. Grangemouth and Bridge of Allan. Two towns nary twenty miles apart, but strikingly different, I’m sure we’ll all agree. I live in the former, and couldn’t afford a house in the latter even if Bridge of Allan were to be razed to cinders by a 700-megaton nuclear strike.

Yes, Mr Andrew, I can see that this property’s caught your eye. At offers over £500,000, this cosy impact crater filled with thousands of irradiated skulls is something of a steal. A lot of people would give their eye-teeth to live here and, believe me, thanks to the fallout, a lot of people now literally have them.”

Grangemouth at night: Bladerunner meets Dante’s Inferno, via The Wire

Grangemouth is famous for sky-cancer, violence, drugs, drinking, destitution, pollution, prostitution, deprivation, and Kay Adams. Bridge of Allan is famous for being twinned with ‘Raised Walkway of Colin’, New Hampshire, USA.

Grangemouth’s town centre comprises mainly fast-food outlets and betting shops. Bridge of Allan’s high street boasts a rich blend of bespoke brands, shops and outlets, that only a cousin of the queen could afford to shop in. Both of the towns have charity shops. There’s a slight difference in number. Bridge of Allan has one; Grangemouth has 19,658. Each and every one of Grangemouth’s charity shops smells like the soup-splattered bloomers of an incontinent octogenarian grandmother (‘Today’s special is broccoli soup with a soupcon of piss”); they sell things like nicotine-stained doillies; microwave instruction manuals from 1983 (that have all been vandalised with crayon-drawn pictures of penises); and MC Hammer albums on cassette (that somebody’s taped over with the game ‘Horace Goes Skiing’ for the ZX Spectrum).

Bridge of Allan’s charity shop, on the other hand, is actually a boutique, darling. It’s called ‘Mrs Periwinkle’s Benevolence-themed Haberdashery for Those of High Breeding’, and it sells pre-loved harps and tiaras made from unicorn teeth.

There’s the bridge. Allan’s just behind that tree. No, not that tree, the one next to it.

Just in case you’re not getting the picture here, I’d like to draw your attention to Bridge of Allan’s chip shop, which has a sign in the window declaring it ‘Gluten Free’. Not even kicks to the head are gluten-free in Grangemouth. Last time I was in Bridge of Allan, I found  only one example of street-littering. The litter? A handful of mussel shells. Bridge of Allan couldn’t be any more genteel and middle-class if somebody knitted it a giant Pringle sweater, and drove it away in a fucking Volvo. Even the graffiti on the bus shelter is in Latin (I believe the bus shelter’s just been purchased for £500k by a Saudi sheik).

Still, one man’s palace is another man’s hovel. People from Dollar and Dunblane think of Bridge of Allan’s residents as ‘schemies’.

“Well, McKenzie, I heard that in Bridge of Allan they drive their children to cello recital… (whispers) in BMWs.”

“Oh, Florence, those fucking savages.”

Linlithgow: a traffic jam with some bunting.

Just along the road from Grangemouth is the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow. It’s a town that’s steeped in history, prestige and affluence, sure, but it’s also a town that is, paradoxically, something of a shite-hole. Linlithgow’s worst feature is the architectural atrocity known as The Vennel, a retail and housing development that I guess developers and council officials fifty-plus years ago thought would give a modern, even futuristic, sheen to the town, but which now, in the cold light of day, makes it look like the 1960s have thrown up over the 1750s. The single road that cuts through the middle of Linlithgow’s high-end high-street is permanently clogged with traffic, which makes a trip through the town feel like being stuck behind the funeral procession of the person you hated most in the world whilst running late for the first day in your new job as a ‘Punctuality Co-ordinator’ for Linlithgow Council.

The name Linlithgow means ‘place in the lake by the damp hollow.’ Historians believe that the ‘damp hollow’ being referred to here is Bo’ness, a town that was built to serve as Mary Queen of Scots’ toilet. Bo’ness is in the process of being regenerated, but, regrettably, it’s being regenerated into Colin Baker. To be fair to Bo’ness, despite the fact that its town centre has all the vibrancy and razzmatazz of 1930s Albania, and its annual children’s festival is an alcoholic apocalypse, Bo’ness is actually a perfectly fine place to find oneself (as long as you don’t use words like ‘oneself’ in the open, or they’ll kill you). It will probably never find its name included in Scotland’s unofficial roster of shame, alongside less-than-salubrious towns such as Methil, New Cumnock, Cumbernauld, parts of Paisley and, of course,…  

Cowdenbeath’s hottest tourist attraction

Cowdenbeath? Cowdenbeath? What sort of a name is Cowdenbeath? It sounds like the act of explaining a slaughterhouse to a stupid person.

“Cow… den wheelbarrow?”

“Nope.”

“Cow den horse?”

“Try again.”

“Cow den beef?”

“You got it, smarty-pants!”

On the evidence of my one short trip there, filtered through the focal point of its local Co-op supermarket, Cowdenbeath IS a slaughterhouse; a slaughterhouse of the soul. It’s Slaughterhouse 1, 2, 3, 4 AND 5. Take the ‘laughter’ out of the ‘slaughterhouse’, and what are you left with? S-house. And that’s short for shit-house. Cow-incidence? I think not. Walking through the Cowdenbeath Co-op was like walking through the final level of a zombie FPS. Driving down its high street led me to believe that someone, somewhere is making an awful lot of money from the sale of plywood window-boards.

Still. There are worse places…

Imagine if Irvine Welsh made a film set amongst the Orcs of Tolkein’s Middle Earth, starring Jeremy Kyle as himself. You’ve just imagined Alloa. The tagline of Clackmannanshire, the town’s parent district, is ‘More Than You Imagine’; Alloa’s tagline is ‘It Really Is Just As Shit As It Looks, I’m Afraid.’ In fact, it’s even shitter than it looks. The bleakness and hopelessness of the place is somehow bigger on the inside, and the deeper you plod towards its centre, the more pronounced the effects become, like some haunted TARDIS controlled by the ghosts of Nazis. God seems to have taken great care when creating most of the places on earth; when he made Alloa he just poured a bucket of tattoos and limps over Central Scotland. I’ve never been so depressed and afraid walking through a town, and I’m from Grangemouth, remember? The last – and only time – I visited I took my son to a Manhattan-themed cafe for lunch. The Manhattan theme was an ill-fit, like lingerie on a corpse. If it resembled Manhattan at all, it was a Manhattan that King Kong had thumped and shat over. 

That’s not Alloa’s only incongruous (or Kingkonggruous, if you like) association. I find it cruel indeed that Alloa’s name is only one altered emphasis away from being a Hawaiian greeting, when Alloa is to Hawaii what Donald Trump’s ballsack is to … well, Hawaii. The impression conjured by that assocation with the South Pacific makes Alloa seem even worse by comparison. If you do receive a garland around your neck to mark your arrival in Alloa it’s more likely to be made of a burning tyre than lei. Please feel free to make your own joke about the wisdom of looking for a lei in Alloa.  

Throughout the course of this piece of writing I’ve catalogued a smattering of towns and highlighted some of the differences between them; all filtered, of course, through my own biases and prejudices, and written very much with tongue planted firmly in cheek (except for the bits about each of the towns I’ve mentioned – I meant every word). But do you know who else holds ideas about the differences that exist between places? Who not only knows about these differences, but can quantify them to the billionth decimal place, and will almost certainly use this data to take over the entire universe?

Asda.

That’s right. Asda. If you’re ever on the road and find yourself pin-balling between motorway service stations and retail parks, visit a broad sample of Asdas and have a good look at the things they sell. There are standards and staples, sure, products you’ll find in every Asda up and down the country, but sometimes the goods on the shelves – or the absence of particular goods – can speak volumes about the town in which you find yourself. Sometimes the look and feel of an Asda – the features it has – lets you know just what the retail giant’s evil overlords think of your town, or the town you’re in.    

The picture above is of Asda in Robroyston, and shows the police clearing up after the daily 11:30 murder. This Asda is bigger and boasts more mod-cons than its Grangemouth cousin, but inside it’s a green-and-grey carnival of lumpy people, whose faces have been morphed into masks of despair by the onslaught of life. This Asda makes the one in Grangemouth seem like a Monte Carlo Mardi Gras. Asda Robroyston does special deals on packs of razor blades, spades, body bags, and allows you to buy as much fucking paracetemol as you like.

Never mind the Office of National Statistics. There’s no better way to take the socio-economic pulse of the local area than a stroll through your local Asda. What’s that you’ve picked up there? Ah, a cumin and broccoli risotto sprinkled with shredded hundred-pound notes. I don’t know exactly where you are, but it’s probably not Fauldhouse, right? Have a look around the George department, why don’t you, try on some of the clothes. Are you wearing a £1.99 T-shirt with a picture of Tweety Pie on it, and cow-print leggings? Goooooooooood morning, Cambuslang!    

A trip round Asda in Bearsden will make you feel like a pauper, even if you’re a chartered accountant from Queensferry called Gerald. The place is big, and fresh, and clean. The cafe has mood lighting, for Christ’s sake. It looks like a trendy Scandinavian vodka bar. The check-out staff are all part-time astrophysicists. The people who shop there are unfailingly beautiful, and those who aren’t are at least immaculately turned out. No small wonder, since the clothes on sale in the George department wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Milan.

See below for a picture of Asda Bearsden.

Asda Bearsden

These big supermarkets hold data that could swing elections, and help governments address such over-arching global and societal problems as inequality, poverty and hunger. That they use their power to sell me £3 jeans and Pepperamis is almost unconscionable. Anyway, I can’t hang around here all day.

I’m off to Asda in Ayr to get myself a chocolate-flavoured brick of lard sandwich and a sub-machine gun.

Jamie’s Digest (1): Cool Bits from Books

I’d like to share with you a few passages I’ve stumbled across in books I’ve been reading recently that have struck a powerful chord with me, variously for reasons of eloquence, prescience, insight or good old-fashioned entertainment value.

To kick things off, here’s an excerpt about Donald Trump that sums him up succinctly and powerfully, and echoes the way many millions around the world feel about his rise to political power:

“He was slowly turning the country into a videocracy, a land where one person could spread disinformation and lies to millions of passive spectators who were hypnotised by the flashy, false glamour of television. Every month there seemed to be a new scandal, but nothing could bring him down: not the stories of bribery or of prostitution, not the gaffes or toe-curling vulgarity for which he was famous. There was no depth to which he wouldn’t sink. But none of it made any difference: he was ferociously defended by his mediocre political allies and by his hirelings in the media… There wasn’t a trace of statesmanship or gravitas; there wasn’t a hint of honesty or dignity. It drove me nuts and, having done my bit to warn of the danger by writing a book about him, I now yearned to go home.”

Neat, right? Except what you’ve just read wasn’t about Donald Trump at all, but Silvio Berlusconi. I guess history doesn’t always have to wait half a century or so before repeating itself.

That damning summation of Berlusconi was taken from Blood on the Altar: The True Story of an Italian Serial Killer by Tobias Jones, a book I’d heartily recommend, whether you have a predilection for serial killers, travel writing or both (imagine if there was a more literal mash-up of that sub-genre : Route 66 With a Busted Wing by Theodore Bundy; Yorkshire: From Dusk till Dawn by Peter Sutcliffe; Eastbourne Uncovered by  Harold Shipman).

Sometimes Jones can ramble a teensy bit too far off the beaten (to death) track, but his affection for and empathy with the bereaved family, his thirst for justice, and his passion for Italy in general and the Basilicata region in particular (not to mention his deep knowledge of the region’s culture and history) all work in concert to make Blood on the Altar a well-researched, gripping, gruesome, grizzly and (mostly) fluid piece of work.

Amazon link: Blood on the Altar

The [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] of [redacted] [redacted] on [redacted]

The following excerpt is taken from You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom by Nick Cohen, a book of striking relevance to this new age of offence in which we now live. Cohen is an author whose style and literary substance I admire greatly; that he was a contemporary and devotee of Christopher Hitchens – my oratorical and journalistic hero – only serves to amplify the keen respect I already hold for him. I think this book – while some may criticise it for occasionally stating the obvious, or preaching to the converted – is an incredibly lucid, important and necessary piece of work, and should be read by absolutely everyone (while they’re still lucky enough to enjoy the comparative freedom to do so).

“The faster you strip cultures down, the more you find contrariness and disputation, rather than a solid core, until eventually you reach the individual, a mammal shaped by evolution, material needs, cognitive biases and historical circumstances no doubt, but still a creature with a better right to state his opinions than kings and clerics have to silence them.

The faster you strip down the respectful arguments for religious censorship , the more you see the nation, tribe or community splintering, until you are left with one group of individuals with coercive power behind them demanding the right to censor another group of individuals because they disagree with them.”

Amazon link: You Can’t Read This Book

This book is pants – and I mean that as a compliment

I can’t resist buying books for our eldest son, Jack. I’m an avid reader (as is his mum), and a very vocal champion of the benefits and rewards of reading; as such, it’s a delight to see Jack so enthusiastic about and captivated by reading. Books are great for the burgeoning intellect, and even better for the imagination. It’s a constant source of joy and puzzlement to me that there are so many hidden gems and incredible bargains to be picked up in charity shops: as a hoarder, especially of books, I can’t understand why anyone would want to throw one away, much less a classic.

I picked up a special edition of the second book in the Captain Underpants’ series (all books in the series are written and illustrated by American author Dav Pilkey) during one of my recent charity shop forages. I had no idea there was a series, much less that I’d picked up book two of twelve. My son loved the book so much that my partner ordered him the full ten-book box set online (we had no idea there were actually twelve books in the series at that point).

The Captain Underpants books is intended for slightly older kids than my (almost) three-year-old, but because each volume is packed with good-natured naughtiness, inspired nonsense, mind-bending baddies, oodles of toilet humour, mini comic strips, and features an engaging illustration on every page, they’re more than able to maintain his interest, excite his imagination, make him laugh, and leave him longing for more.

I’ve only just discovered that a Captain Underpants movie is on general release this summer. It’ll be interesting to see my son’s reaction to his beloved heroes talking with American accents, given that I’ve made the three main characters of Principal Krupp, George and Harold sound reminiscent of the headmaster from The Inbetweeners, Louis Theroux and Peter Capaldi respectively.

Anyway, I’m a sucker for alliteration, and if you are too you’ll enjoy the below excerpt from the fifth book in the Captain Underpants series. Oh, and buy your kids – or the small people in your life – these books.

“The creamy candied carrots clobbered the kindergarteners. The fatty fried fish fritters flipped on to the first graders. The sweet-n-sour spaghetti squash splattered the second graders. Three thousand thawing thimbleberries thudded the third graders. Five hundred frosted fudgy fruitcakes flogged the fourth graders. And fifty-five fistfuls of fancy French-fried frankfurters flattened the fifth graders.”

Amazon link: Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman

The Mary Whitehouse Experience

Mary Whitehouse, the woman who spent the latter-half of her life campaigning to stop Great Britain’s religiously-and-politically conservative ‘values’ being warped and eroded by the Godless, licentious, lusty, lefty luvvies, commies, adulterers, swingers, blasphemers and homosexuals of the state-funded BBC (and beyond), died in 2001 at the grand old age of 91. She wanted to clean up TV, and society with it. Spoiler alert: she – and the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NAVLA) lobby-group that she spear-headed – failed miserably. You need only watch The Wire, The Sopranos, Dexter, Cracker, Black Mirror, Queer as Folk, The Inbetweeners, American Horror Story, or indeed most other shows on the schedule barring Songs of Praise, to see the truth of this. This book is a humorous look at some of the real gems from the Mary Whitehouse/NAVLA archive of letters both written and received on subjects as various as the child-traumatising horrors of Doctor Who, pop groups who appear to advocate teenage uprisings, accusing Jimmy Hendrix of having a wank on-stage, and this example below, where a newsreader is taken to task for insinuating he might be about to take a piss. It’s amazing how tame some of the supposed infractions of moral decency that Mary Whitehouse seized upon seem now from our vantage point in modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah (no place I’d rather be). If only Mary Whitehouse could see us now.

“Letter to BBC newsreader Richard Baker

7 May, 1973

Dear Mr. Baker

I am sure I speak for very many people when I say how much your work both as a newsreader and as the compere of ‘These You Have Loved’ is appreciated. It always seems to me, if I may say so, that your work has real quality.

It is because of this that I venture to make two criticisms. The first, and most important, was the remark you made recently at the end of a news bulletin which carried, as its last story, a feature about the antics at the opening of a new lavatory. As you signed off you made some remark about having ‘to go’ yourself. Watching the screen, your own expression of embarrassment led up to the conclusion that these lines had been prepared for you, and were not spontaneous as these final ‘punch lines’ are obviously meant to appear.

Mr. Baker, we have a high regard for you, but remarks of this kind are not only an intrusion into our privacy, they are an intrusion into your own. I feel quite sure, from the impression of your personality which comes over the screen, that you would not normally publicly inform a gathering of your friends that you were going to the lavatory, you would just go!

I have intended writing to you ever since that particular episode, but was moved finally to do so by your remarks about ‘feathered birds’ in ‘These You Have Loved’ on Saturday night. I know this is a small matter, but feel sure that the people who gain so much enjoyment from listening to this programme are unlikely to think of women and girls as ‘birds’. I know we felt irritated by it, and are rapidly coming to the conclusion that there are no programmes which one can watch or listen to without meeting this general cheapening of culture and people.

Could you have a word with the people who prepare your scripts?

With best wishes, and again many thanks for so much.

Yours sincerely,

(Mrs) Mary Whitehouse

Amazon link: Ban This Filth by Ben Thompson

Happy reading, folks.

More Sugar, Sweetie?

If you’re a parent, the following scene should be achingly familiar to you: a grandparent (or aunt or uncle or surrogate family member) arrives at your front door clutching a big bag of sweets for your children. You shake your head and sigh. A whole bag? The odd sweet now and again, that’s what you told them. How many times do you have to say it? Trust is shattered. There’s only one thing for it: you frisk them. You find another twelve bags of sweets… an easter egg under a false wig… and a string of Bounty bars stuffed around their waistband like a bomb-belt. You also realise that everything they’re wearing – every adornment and accoutrement – is edible: candy necklace and bracelet; candy watch; hell, even their specs consist of lollypops for legs, a liquorice frame and sugar-paper lenses.

Nice try,” you say as you confiscate the delicious specs. “Now, is that everything?”

You hear the beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep of a large truck reversing down the street towards your house.

Please tell me that truck isn’t anything to do with you,” you say.

They shrug. “I just ordered a couple of… hundred-thousand tonnes of hundreds and thousands….”

You shoot them a panicked look laced with incredulity.

…and… a million millionaire shortcakes.”


Becoming a grandparent, or being promoted to any rank of relative with ‘great’ in the title, appears to transform a person into a kid-seeking sugar missile, ever-ready to detonate payloads of sherbert over the pancreases of your little pride-and-joys. Trying to stop a grandparent giving a grandchild a megaton of chocolate has the same difficulty rating as trying to save John Connor from a Terminator. What makes it harder still is the fact that we as a society seem to have accepted this behaviour as if it were some sort of sacred rite. Some grandparents even see it as an ancient and inalienable right. Clearly it’s utter madness, and must be stopped. But how? And what arguments can we employ to dissuade these Mary and Marty Poppinses from encouraging our kids to use a spoonful of sugar to help the sugar go down?

I love you, sweetie: A brief history of grandparents

When I was a lad my maternal grandmother berated me for eating too many chocolates and glugging too many fizzy drinks: substances she considered more hazardous to my hyperactive brain than the purest Columbian cocaine.

Pinned to her fridge was a large list detailing all of the artificial E-flavourings present in junk food, each item accompanied by a brief summary of its evil: a diabetes-themed Da Vinci Code, if you will. Gran was convinced that those dreaded E-numbers were the invisible demons responsible for my back-catalogue of ungodly behaviour (crimes like smiling, laughing, and saying things), and only she and her sacred list clipped from a special double-page spread in The Daily Record had the power to exorcise them.

She treated that fridge like the Oracle of Thebes, always stroking it and talking to it in rhyme like some old crone from a Shakespearian play –

The young lad’s had a Double-Decker,

He’s speaking Greek, the crazy fecker.

What happens if he grabs his pecker???

Oh, sage old fridge, so full of Es,

Should I phone social services?”

But… on the other hand, my gran’s stance on my nutritional intake was rather inconsistent, evidenced by the fact that her anti-sugar militancy only seemed to apply to sugar consumed outside of her walls. Inside her house, it was Sugar City. I can’t remember a single visit to my grandparents’ house where I wasn’t greeted at the door by a leaning tower of biscuits the size of a Cape Canaveral space rocket; a tower composed of every creed and breed of biscuit known to human civilisation, all teetering together on a tiny china plate.

There were Bourbons, Kit Kats, Nice biscuits, coconut creams, Digestives, Blue Ribands, Yo-Yos, custard creams, Jammie Dodgers, Jaffa Cakes: the celebrities of the biscuit world all happily hob-nobbing with the hoi polloi. Even Rich Teas – those bland, un-biscuity discs of half-communion-wafer, half-polystyrene-frisbee; the Ned Flanders’s of the snack world – were invited to the party. A billion biscuits (give or take), and I was expected to devour them. All of them. Every single one.

I don’t know if my grandparents’ desire to see me eat somewhere in the vicinity of ninety-six biscuits each time I visited existed because a) they’d lived through war-time rationing and as a consequence had vowed never to be frugal with food again, or b) they just didn’t like me very much, and wanted me to get fat and die.

In a weird way, I thought of my grandparents as a couple of crumb-based Christs: biscuit, body and soul each inseparable from one another. You hurt one, you hurt them all. Diss the bis, you take the piss. Leave fat-stacked plate?: yer gran ye hate.

Are you going to eat that 28th bourbon, son,” my papa would ask me, a haunted look in his eyes, “Or would you prefer it if I just stood at the top of the stairs with a butcher knife gripped in each hand and hurled myself to an agonising end?”

That’s the way the biscuit situation made me feel sometimes. The expectation, the gratitude, blown out of all proportion inside my head. I’ll be honest with you, though: it was my papa who prepared the biscuit plates, and I think he just liked being as generous as possible with them because he was a nice old guy. Plus, to some extent, he knew not what he did. My gran’s obsession with E-numbers aside, anti-sugar sentiments weren’t as strong or as prevalent then as they are today. In this age of information, however, it’s almost impossible to plead ignorance over the fact that sugar is pretty much the devil’s dandruff…

…especially when I call this section: Sugar is pretty much the devil’s dandruff

Sugar is now such an undisputed evil of our age that the US military has added plantations to its approved list of overseas bombing targets, alongside schools, orphanages and hospitals. The criminal underworld has started welcoming its first black-market sugar barons, a veritable legion of Tate & Lyle Tony Montanas. Pharmacies are already dispensing Canderel to help wean addicts off the hard stuff, and politicians have promised that each town in Britain will have its own sugar rehabilitation centre by 2020. Sweet-toothed junkies line our streets, accosting citizens at all hours of the day and night: “Come oan, man, ah just need a few quid for a packet ae sugar, man, jist enough sugar fur one wee bowl ae Rice Krispies, man, then ah’m clean again, ah swear it.” Parents yell at their kids: “Are you INSANE, going out with a Twix stashed in your pocket with all of those vigilante anti-sugar Death Squads patrolling the streets??”

Sugar is the new salt. It’s the new smoking. We now know – after a few careless and carefree centuries of garnishing our kids’ vegetables with chocolate; encouraging them to brush their teeth with lollypops; and syringing hot sugar directly into their eyeballs – that too much sugar can turn a reasonably normal, well-adjusted, healthy child into a spotty, toothless meth-head with the strength of a polar bear and the life-expectancy of a mouse; the sort of kid who lists their hobbies as cat-strangling, booting old ladies in the face, and dying of a massive heart attack. Kids so riddled with diabetes that they’re nothing more than armless heads bouncing around on a single big toe; kids whose brains have been so short-circuited that they regularly mistake themselves for hawks; kids so fat that their parents have to roll them around like over-inflated tractor tyres.

Man with diabetes holding a stack of chocolate chip cookies

Grandparents may well offer sweeties and chocolates and fizzy drinks in the spirit of love, but how many ‘thank-you’ cuddles do they think they’re going to get once their grandchild has had their sugar-ruined arms amputated? Or have become so fat that you’d need a team of sherpas to circumnavigate the cuddle? Come on, grandparents. Don’t be a Donald Trump on the sugar issue: an old fuck who doesn’t care if the world gets nuked or choked, because he’s probably going to be dead next week – just so long as the people love him until then (admittedly, that latter part of the plan isn’t working out too well for Trump).

Yes, sugar will make tiny people love you. They’ll come to associate the endorphin rush they get from treats with the sight of your face: a Pavlova-ian response, if you will. Kids love sugar like coke-heads love coke, and, boy, do coke-heads really, really love coke. Don’t be your grandchildrens’ drug-dealer. Be their celery dealer. Give them a packet of stickers and a stick of mother-fucking carrot. Give them a command to drop and give you twenty, then reward them with some kale. PLANT CRESS IN THEIR MOUTHS?! 

“This sugar thing stretches WAY back – just like your gran used to. HIGH FIVE.”

You might encounter the following pro-sweetie argument – that I skirted over earlier in this piece – from older relatives: “I had to put up with this kind of thing from my parents, feeding my kids sugary shit all of the time, so you’ll just have to suck it up and put up with it, too, now that I’m a grandparent. This is just what grandparents do.”

Given that we as a species have only very recently started living beyond the age of twelve, grandparents – in the sense that we understand them now in our particular corner of the developed world – are a very recent invention, as are teenagers, and the very concept of childhood itself. Older relatives filling kids’ faces with sugar is not an idea that’s been passed down from generation to generation since the first caveman grandpa handed the firstborn of his firstborn a finger of Fudge, shortly before having his own distinctly un-fudgey fingers bitten off by a hungry sabre tooth tiger. In the grand scheme of the near-infinite universe, this practice is about as ancient as Eastenders.

Jesus did not break Kit Kats with his disciples instead of bread at The Last Supper, as he glugged the finest fizzy Cola Jerusalem had to offer. Nailed to the cross in agony, he didn’t wail out to the heavens above: ‘The absolute worst thing about this situation is the woeful lack of Yorkies.’ There weren’t groups of supporters crowded around Jesus as he slowly perished on the cross all trying to chuck Fun Size Mars Bars into his open mouth.

Biscuits themselves have only existed for about two hundred years, and even then for much of their existence they were probably made out of goat bladder and dog cheese. The first milk chocolate bar arrived in 1875. Jaffa Cakes came along in 1927. Penguins waddled onto the scene in 1932. See? We’ve had guns longer than we’ve had chocolate bars.

We could erase this madness from our behavioural repertoire overnight if we really wanted to, and our descendants would thank us (once they’d stopped laughing at how bloody stupid we were). There’s nothing time-honoured or sacred about the way grandparents dole out sweets and sugar; in much the same way that there’s nothing time-honoured or sacred about a modern day gypsy’s wedding dress (on the grounds that ancient traditions tend not to feature multi-coloured luminous neon dresses with bridal trains the length of a blue whale’s cock). We invented it. We can un-invent it.

But don’t get too preachy. We’re all addicted to sugar. We all eat too much crap. Let’s just try our hardest to stop the hearts of future generations exploding like stress-balls under the tracks of a tank.


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The Blunder Years: Toddlers and Friendship

06 Oct 2005 — Babies Crying — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

“I miss my friends.”

I felt a thud in the lumpy mattress of my heart. I looked at my son, Jack, in the car’s rear-view mirror, and saw that his little features were being weighed down by an achingly adult expression.

At that point he wasn’t much older than two, but here was a face already conveying levels of pain, regret and sadness seldom seen outwith the confines of the video for Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt. Surely toddlers can’t wear faces like that, I thought to myself. It was the sort of face you would imagine could only appear after the brain had been bombarded with nuclear-strength nostalgia: images of long ago summers spent running through the cornfields and dancing over lawn sprinklers, smiling and laughing and holding hands with friends, perhaps in slow motion as a wistful soundtrack scored the action, or an elderly Fred Savage added his pseudo-philosophical tuppence-worth. “We were happy. We were toddlers. We were the best of friends. Somehow we knew that this was it. That after this we were going to be on the long road to becoming the people we weren’t; the people that we didn’t know how to be. Our lives would never be this carefree again. So what else could we do? We joined hands, counted to ten… and violently shat ourselves.”

[Incidentally, in the commission of this throw-away gag that won’t be appreciated by anyone under the age of too-fucking-old I visited The Wonder Years’ IMDB page and discovered something cool. Do you know who provided the disembodied voice of future-Kevin? Only bloody Marv the burglar from Home Alone!]

I was driving Jack to a park and woodland above which loomed an old building that had as its centre-piece a giant stone pineapple, figuring the incongruity would give a pleasant jolt to the ever-knitting neurons of his burgeoning brain. Given his sudden shift in mood, I figured he could do with a jolt.

“I’m sorry, little buddy. You’ll see your friends again real soon, I promise.” It had been a great many weeks since he’d last seen his best pal – a little kid called Noah who shares a birthday with Jack, whose mothers met and became close friends after fate placed them in adjacent hospital beds post-partum – or any of his other toddler chums.

Jack’s sadness was total. Complete. We’re talking ‘Van Gogh running after the bus in the rain when he’s already late for his appointment to sign-on at the job centre’ sad. But much like the sadness of every other toddler on earth, it lasted for about three seconds before morphing into inexplicable euphoria; in fact, the only feeling to endure beyond the confines of the car that day was my sadness about his sadness – a sadness so fleeting that it wouldn’t even have outlasted your average mayfly’s awkward teenage phase.

Questions abounded. What could I do to make my son feel better? How on earth could he possess such a deep sense of the concept of friendship at this stage of his development? Especially since most of the time he was with his friends he either a) completely ignored them, or b) threw things at their heads. The questions kept coming – not all of them Jack-related. For instance: why is there a giant stone pineapple perched above a long-dead rich man’s house in a woodland in Central Scotland? Is there a reciprocal sculpture of a humungous alabaster square sausage above a cathedral somewhere in Costa Rica? Why do we Scots consider a square to be the best shape into which to chop our dead pigs? Do other countries venerate the man-made geometry of their foodstuffs? “Ah, Tecwin, pass me another slice of our world-famous triangular lamb, boyo.”

I discussed the ‘friend’ situation with my partner at home later on that day. It was heart-breaking for us to discover just how hard he was pining for his friends. At that point he hadn’t started attending playgroup, so we fretted that he wasn’t getting enough interaction with his peers and pals.

A week or so later, Jack and I were walking past the local play-park on our way to the shop when Jack suddenly got super-excited and started gesticulating in the direction of the park.

“My friends, my friends!” he cried, pointing at the gaggle of kids beyond the maximum-security cage that encircled the play-park. I peered in, expecting to see a familiar face or two. There wasn’t one to be found. They were all strangers. Every single one of them. Plus, they were all around twelve. “I want to play with my friends, daddy!” he hollered, as that same sadness from the Pineapple trip sank into his eyes, quickly joined by a hefty dollop of indignation. He started crying: “My friends, my friends!” he said, “Oh, father, I beseech you, my friends, I must have leave to speak with my friends! Monster! Gaoler! Oh heaven save me from this tyranny!”

I’m paraphrasing ever so slightly.

And so, the penny had dropped. In Jack’s brain the word ‘friend’ was synonymous with ‘other kid’. Or maybe he preferred his friendship Mayfly-style: e.g., “I like my friends like I like my coffee: instant.”

I love watching kids who’ve never met before interacting with each other. It’s refreshing. There’s no awkwardness, preamble, or ‘getting-to-know-you’ period. “So, are you from around here?” “What do you do for a living?” “Adjusting for inflation, how much do you reckon your toys are worth in the current economic climate?” Blah blah blah. Kids don’t care who you are, where you’re from, or what you do, so long as you know your way around a chute.

“Hi boy!” one of them shouts. “Hi girl!” the other one shouts back. And then they’re off: holding hands, bossing each other about, and running into the sunset in a birdsong of shrieks and giggles. One time at our local country park I and another dad – with whom I’d exchanged the grand total of one word – had to pursue our respective sons across a field, because the two of them had formed such an intense bond in the four minutes since they’d met that we oldies had ceased to exist, and presumably they were off to start a new life together in the forest.

“JACK! JAAAACCCCKKKKK! STOOPPPP!”

“JACK IS DEAD, DADDY, MY NEW NAME IS TREE McPLANTINGTON!”

I envy that. Single people will moan about how hard it is to meet a viable partner, but it’s even more difficult to find and make new friends – especially following the advent of parenthood when you discover that your social-life has choked and died like a fat, asthmatic pit-canary. It would be wonderful if we adults could emulate our young kids’ social interactions. Making friends would be a cinch. I could walk down the street and pass some guy who was wearing a ‘Sopranos’ T-shirt, and think to myself, ‘I bloody love The Sopranos; I’ll bet that guy’s on my wavelength’, and feel emboldened to grab his hand, swish it to and fro like a skipping rope, and say, ‘Hey, man, wanna go bowling with me?’ before pulling him down the street like a reluctant cow on market day. What do you think would happen next? Do you think we would giggle and skip down the street together, or do you think I would find myself sitting on the pavement coughing up my own teeth?

Jack – now a little over two-and-a-half – possesses an enviable, fearless confidence. He’ll talk to any kid, but he’ll also talk to any adult stranger. He has a deep and boundless curiosity about people in general, and it’s my sworn duty, my solemn responsibility as a father, to snuff that out of him immediately. Here there be monsters. The world isn’t safe. He doesn’t yet know that most people who walk the face of the earth are, to use the accepted psychological term, absolute fucking cunts.

It is cute, though: how he’ll introduce himself to literally any adult he encounters, usually with a weird bow, in the manner of some 17th century courtesan; how he’ll wordlessly insinuate himself into the middle of whatever activity an adult or a whole family happens to be engaged. I wish I could change the world… but I can’t, so I’ve got to change him (and his younger brother, Christopher, once he’s old enough to do anything other than laugh and shite himself). I need to guide Jack’s behaviour so that he’s aware of the potential dangers of strangers, but not so sternly or over-the-top that he becomes some jaded, fearful, feral dog of a boy, or loses his sense of wonder and self-confidence. I find that subtlety is always the key. For instance, if I’m out with Jack for a walk in the park, and he walks over to a man he’s never met before and starts blabbering about cartoon characters, showing off his new shoes or telling the man his name, I might just casually funnel my hands over my mouth and shout, ‘LOOK OUT, JACK, HE’S A PAEODOPHILE!’

We, as parents, will remain the be-all-and-end-all (Or Baaea, as the youth of today would probably call it) in our kids’ lives until our dying days… just so long as they don’t find out our secret. The secret that we’re shit. Laughably shit. Shit people, and even worse parents. We’re winging it. Completely and totally winging it. We don’t have a bloody clue. Half of our life has been spent getting it all wrong. And the other half has been spent lying about getting it all wrong, which we’ll continue to do, especially once our kids become teenagers and start calling us out on our hypocrisy, at which point we can open the emergency envelopes and draw out the sacred argument-winning cards that say things like: ‘WHILE YOU’RE LIVING UNDER MY ROOF, YOUNG LADY…’; ‘WHEN YOU MAKE YOUR OWN MONEY YOU CAN SPEND IT ON WHAT YOU LIKE’, and ‘YOU CAN JUDGE ME WHEN YOU WASH THE SKIDS FROM YOUR OWN PANTS, BOY.’  

I guess that life is a slow and constant retreat from the people who gave you life, into the bosom of your peer group, into the arms (and other parts) of a significant other, until finally you’re ready to repeat the pattern, and you too can raise children who will one day leave you in a corner to die: salivating and beshitted, half-mental and muttering about mayflies, giant pineapples and square sausage.

“Yep, that’s right, Dad, there was a giant pineapple. Could you see that through the window of the UFO you were abducted by? … Yes, doctor, if he shits himself one more time, just pull the plug.”

Sometimes… Dads Can Be Wrong?

Life affords us plenty of opportunities to reflect upon the wispy and elusive nature of memory. Who among us hasn’t forgotten our on-line passwords, even though all of our passwords are ‘password’? Who hasn’t found themselves standing in a car-park panicking that their car has been stolen, only to remember that they don’t actually own a car? Who hasn’t found themselves jamming a sausage in their eye because they’ve forgotten how to eat?

When two people are asked to recount a shared experience the opportunities for conflict and confusion multiply exponentially. Showtime’s ‘The Affair’ – a show about truth, deception and perception, starring McNulty from The Wire and that crazy chick Alice from Luther – deftly highlights how a person’s emotions, traumas, delusions, neuroses and agendas can disrupt their sense of the linear, mould their memories and in some cases re-write history.

Sometimes ‘The Affair’ will show two versions of the same event through two different character’s eyes, and the only difference will be an emphasis here, a piece of clothing there, an outburst here. Sometimes, the differences will be almost laughably extreme. The wife will remember sitting with her ex-husband in a cafe enduring a tense conversation about alimony as they both sip coffee; the husband will remember the wife charging into the cafe on horseback, slicing off a waitress’s head with a scimitar, and angrily shouting the Swedish national anthem at a frightened old man as the horse shits into a child’s sundae. I’ll often find myself rolling my eyes and scoffing: “This is bloody ridiculous. No two people could arrive at such seismically different interpretations of one reasonably mundane afternoon. Codswallop, I tells you, codswallop.” And yet… a recent experience has given me a renewed appreciation of The Affair’s perspective on perspective.

A few weeks ago, our eldest boy, Jack, staggered through to our bedroom in the early hours of the morning, and clambered in next to me. He felt hot to the touch, especially his forehead. I’d been concerned about him. He’d been coughing, sluggish, glassy-eyed and subdued, and generally not acting like his normal, bright-eyed, bonkers little self.

‘He needs medicine,’ I croaked to my partner, my hand wrapped over Jack’s forehead. ‘He’s got a temperature.’

My partner rolled over to face us, opening a blood-shot eye. ‘He’s hot, he doesn’t have a temperature.’

‘That’s what having a temperature is, being hot! I’m going to get him some medicine.’

‘No you’re not, he’s fine. He’s just warm.’

‘He’s not warm, he’s hot, and it’s not ‘hot hot’, it’s ‘ill hot’. I know ‘hot hot’. This isn’t ‘hot hot’.’

‘He doesn’t need medicine.’

‘I’m going to get him some medicine.’

‘No you’re not.’

‘Yes I am.’

‘NO!’

And that was the end of it. There I lay in the room’s murky half-light, nursing both my little boy and a massive grievance against my partner. What a cruel witch. She’d just repealed my son’s health-care for reasons that were at best arbitrary, and at worst directly linked to her crankiness at being woken up. I seem to remember getting Jack a cool drink of water, and then mumbling something suitably melodramatic, probably about him exploding at some point through the night, and THEN HOW WAS SHE GOING TO FEEL?

The next day at work I recounted the story to a work colleague, eliciting the expected response of ‘Oh, you can’t take chances, he should’ve got some medicine if he had a temperature’. Towards the end of the working day, I texted my partner to ask how Jack was doing, making sure to mention the medicine debacle and the furnace his forehead had become the night before. Twisting the knife, you know. My speciality. Here’s a little excerpt from the exchange, in medias res:

CHELS: “We miss you too. Jack is a bit weird this morning, maybe he is ill.”

ME: “I told you, darling. He’d peed himself and he was roasting hot for the whole other hour I was awake next to him. Hope he’s okay.”

CHELS: “I never disputed he was weird I just said he never had a temperature, which he never. He still says he feels great and nothing hurts. He’s just quiet. I told him that we had to come home and get some medicine and he just said okay and went to get his hat, it’s usually a fight.”

And then, a sharpened point of memory whistled its way towards my skull, smashing through bone and embedding itself in the spongy yuck of my brain. I had an unsettling moment of revelation, similar to the one the cop experiences at the end of The Usual Suspects when the whole horrible truth of Kaiser Soze hits him like a shovel. ‘I just said he never had a temperature, which he never…’ I replayed my partner’s words again and again in my thoughts. ‘…which he never…’ But how could she be so sure that he definitely hadn’t had a temperature last night, unless she’d actually taken his temperatu… Oh my. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. Suddenly I remembered. It was like fireworks had been set off in my thoughts. We’d taken his temperature. Not we: me. I’d taken his temperature. A course of action, a compromise, that had actually been suggested by my partner.

‘If you think he’s got a temperature, Jamie, then go downstairs and get the thermometer and test him. If he’s got a temperature, then give him some medicine.’

If you’d given me a lie-detector test earlier that morning and asked me to give a truthful account of my hot-headed son’s entrance into our bedroom, I would have passed it with flying colours. It begs the question: how could I have hidden this crucial piece of information from myself? I hadn’t willfully constructed the version of events I’d carried into work with me that morning. There was no premeditation. No deceit. I’d simply mis-remembered. But why? Does the brain have its own version of predictive text? Has a lifetime of self-righteous anger re-written my neural network, and taught my brain how to process and store real-time events in accordance with my expectations and personality? That’s absolutely bloody terrifying. There’s so much plausible deniability swimming around in my head that my brain’s basically a mob boss. There are so many locked doors that I’m close to becoming Elliott from Mr Robot.

Perhaps our poo-pooing of The Affair’s central conceit is an act of self defence; we shut ourselves off from a truth that’s simply too terrifying to absorb. The linear reality we perceive around us is an artificial construct in a state of permanent flux; the by-product of our sensory organs sending billions of signals to an endlessly intricate yet endlessly fallible organic super-computer. Our memories are inextricably linked to our identities, and so if we can’t trust our memories, then who the hell are we? And who are we once our memories fail altogether?

Stranger still, as you’ll see from the reproduced text-thread above, our little boy had peed his bed prior to arriving in ours, and I’d washed him, changed him and put his sheets in the wash, something I’d ALSO forgotten until I reviewed those texts in the process of writing this very blog-post.

This blog-post is a sequel to this one I wrote a few weeks ago, also on the subject of our son’s physical well-being. My partner wasn’t too happy with it. She said it was funny and well-written (I’ve no trouble remembering things like that), but disputed its veracity. She agreed that the sequence of events was correct, but maintained that an emphasis here and an omission there had rendered her unfairly villainous. Apparently, it was our son’s distress and not her own stern words that had prevented me from taking him for a pee. She also claims that she’d said: ‘I’d rather he went to bed calm and happy and risk a wet bed, than put him through any more distress.’

Am I right? Is she right? Did any of it even happen? Was there a horse and a scimitar involved? I… just don’t know anymore.

Donald Trump: The Apocalypse’s Casus Bellend

I have to keep reminding myself that Donald Trump has held office for a little over a month. It feels like his cartoon duck mouth has been issuing terrifyingly hilarious proclamations since before America was even discovered; as if the vortex of evil that propelled him to prominence is so powerful that it has bent not just reality, but also time and space to its will. “I was there at the creation of the universe. The ‘let there be light’ thing. That was my idea. And God was very appreciative, said my idea was the greatest. And when that light went on? No dinosaurs, people. FAKE. You know I’m right.”

I can’t envisage a single day in the next four years when I won’t see or hear the onomatopoeiac fart of his name. Being president must be doing wonders to stoke the fires of his pomposity, paranoia and narcissism: the entire world really is talking about him. Incessantly. Every hour of every day. Trump would have you believe that our obsession with him is due to a giant, media-fuelled conspiracy, or sour grapes on the part of the losing side, but it’s clear that Trump is a megalomaniacal ratings chaser who will stop at nothing to keep himself in the limelight, even if that means inventing terrorist attacks, banning journalists from his briefings, or labelling reality ‘fake’. We shouldn’t be too concerned about our attentions being hijacked by Trump’s hyperbolic rhetoric: what should concern us is what would happen if we all chose to ignore him. He’d probably nuke Belgium, or declare war on Lidl.

Many people have been quick to point out the societal similarities between modern-day America and Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. There’s definitely some weight to that comparison, however there is one crucial, towering difference between Donald Trump and Hitler: Hitler was a good orator. If evil must have a face and a voice, then it’s a pity that this time around it’s got the face and voice of a malfunctioning android stuck in a six-phrase feedback loop, or a racist, half-mad taxi driver who’s been ripped from his cab, pushed behind a presidential podium and handed a scrap of paper that’s got ‘Everyone except you is an asshole’ scrawled on it in blood. When Trump talks he sounds like a man who’s being continually interrupted and fed lines by an invisible hologram only he can see, who’s also a complete fucking idiot. “Ziggy says there’s a 40 per cent chance that wall, wall, muslim, muslim, wall, wall, America, great, America, dude, wall, bad guys, bad dudes, enemies, bad dudes, wall.” “…What the fuck?” “Just say it, Sam! Just say it!”

Feel free to insert your own crude mustache.

Each day the world wakes up, switches on the TV and stares at the orange man with the nest of half-dissolved, beshitted candy-floss on his head, and thinks: how the fuck did this happen? The man has all the grace and articulacy of the giant man-baby who’s forced to fight Mel Gibson in Mad Max 3. His face vacillates between that of a man who’s sneering with disgust at the whiff of a particularly foul fart, and then smirking a little cause he realises it’s his own, and he likes it. He possesses all the charm of a bogey-soaked tissue bobbing in a warm flute of piss, and all the compassion of a malnourished tiger let loose in an orphanage. You wouldn’t trust him to be in charge of a tombola stall at the church fete, much less place a nuclear arsenal at his disposal. Seriously. How did this happen? Let’s rewind the tape, because somebody’s very clearly edited out a crucial sequence from this movie. Where’s the arc here? There’s no arc. It’s just: world is sane: world is crazy. Someone’s deleted the middle: the bit that explains this clusterfuck.

Within the space of a few short weeks, Trump has put a climate-change denier in charge of protecting the environment; placed a brain-damaged billionaire who struggles to comprehend basic facts in charge of education; classified dissenting (for dissenting read ‘truth-seeking’) journalists as enemies of the state; tried to erect an invisible wall to ban Muslims from entering his country; proposed to erect an actual wall around the border of another country; signaled that he’s ready to accept Vladimir Putin as his best-bro and role model; re-branded a smorgasbord of bare-faced lies as ‘alternative truths’; and harried, bullied, threatened, cajoled and alienated just about every section of society, with the exception of prickly white billionaires and the sort of alt-right, flag-waving, gun-toting tit-wanks that share both his disdain for reality and hatred for ‘the other’, whoever that ‘other’ happens to be in any given week. Never before has Orwell’s ‘1984’ been so successfully re-appropriated as a manifesto.

If you evaluate success in terms of capitalist excess, then Trump’s been a winner all his life. This is something, true or not, that seems to have struck a chord with many Americans, for whom Trump is the living embodiment of the American dream. If you’re rich and powerful, you must have worked for it, earned it. You must be smart, strong. You must deserve it, else you wouldn’t have got it. His supporters don’t necessarily think that Trump’s just like them, but believe that one day, with a little bit of graft and a lot less foreigners, blacks and socialists running around, they could be just like him. They admire his directness, his toughness, the way that his world-view hasn’t been corrupted by science, truth, nuance or articulacy. I’d maintain that just because you enjoy watching fictional sociopaths like Tony Soprano and Cersei Lannister ruling their empires with an iron fist, doesn’t mean that it’s a particularly good idea to elect a real-life sociopath to the most powerful office on Earth.

He looks like Ruprecht from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

You probably haven’t heard anything in the media about Trump’s financial successes. He tends to hide his light under a bushel, but if you listen really, really carefully to his speeches, you may occasionally, every so often, once in a blue moon, hear him mention it. Who am I kidding? No one’s better at telling people he’s better than people than Trump. His self-categorisation is, however, something of a hollow boast, given that he was born into his fortune. Look at it this way: if you happened to be born with a 6000cc engine in your back, and high-performance wheels instead of legs, then it would be rather churlish to berate your fellow competitors in the 100m sprint for failing to beat you with their shitty normal legs. Trump’s inherited wealth has always insulated him from failure, and gone a long way towards helping him construct and maintain the Death-star of his ego. The Art of the Deal, the most famous book Trump’s ever not-actually-written, only really needed one page, with the following written on it in big, bold letters: Be born a billionaire.

Given his arrogance and privilege it’s little wonder that Trump’s such a stranger to reality; his life must be like a virtual-reality tycoon simulator with cheat mode enabled. Trump was free to run his businesseses with a cold heart and an iron fist, pushing his employees around, conning his customers, eliminating competitors with the dead-eyed zeal of a Nazi death-camp commandant, and generally treating people like dog-dirt quesadillas, and people would applaud him for his tough-talking, get-results-damn-it, business acumen; and if they didn’t, or if one business or a thousand businesses imploded in a shock-wave of lawsuits, bad PR and bankruptcy, then who cared, right? Blame the government, blame the media, blame the Chinese, lie, lie, and thrice lie, pick up another bundle of dollars, clean the slate, and start again. Unfortunately, if you take the same set of principles necessary to succeed as a ruthless CEO with an infinite supply of inheritance behind you, and apply these to government, then what you are is a dictator.

Trump is reminiscent of a vengeful Scientologist, or the Iraqi information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who famously appeared on camera with a fleet of American tanks behind him to claim that there wasn’t a fleet of American tanks behind him. Lying is such an integral part of Trump’s strategy and defence mechanism that it’s difficult to believe anything that he says. Even his fortune is up for debate, given the amount of businesses he’s allegedly sent to the grave. But it doesn’t matter. Some evil supercomputer has calculated Trump’s ground-base of support down to a man, and told him what TV stations they watch, which news outlets they read in print and on-line, and what size of shoe they take. All he has to do is keep preaching to the converted, telling as many outrageous and egregious lies as he likes, and they’ll always be lapped up, and never cross-referenced. “Ostriches are green. Japanese TVs electrocute people. Barack Obama once killed a penguin with a hole-punch. I’ve never met Vladimir Putin… who is he again? I’m so smart. My hands are the size of frying pans. Mexicans are responsible for ISIS. I cured AIDS.”

If Trump really believed his rhetoric, then his best weapon against his critics would be the steady, patient unveiling of his vision to Make America Great Again, piece by piece, encouraging transparent democratic debate every step along the way. After all, if a man was lying bleeding on the street, and I could help him, but between me and that man was another man, who was shouting out vicious slurs about my motivation and intentions, then I’d still move forward and help the bleeding man. I wouldn’t thunder off in a fit of rage, and proceed to hold scores of press conferences in which I angrily discredited the shouting man, as the other man – the one I was supposed to be saving – died in the street.

I guess it begs the question: who, or what, does Donald Trump want to make great? Because it sure as shit doesn’t seem to be America.

Sometimes… Dads Can Be Right?

The other night, sometime around two am, I awoke to find my eldest boy (2) standing at my side of the bed. He was staring at me, his face smeared so liberally in blood that he resembled some half-mad jungle general who’d just taken a bath in the gore of his fallen enemies, or a demon sprung from the Cenobite’s mattress. His hands, too, were as red as pillar boxes, obvious even in the half-light conjured by the street lamps outside our bedroom window.

The uneasy, tentative ‘Jack?’ that escaped my lips belied the frenzied engine of my thoughts, which were screaming ‘AAARRGGHHHHHH! BLOOD! AAARGGHHH! BLOOD!’ inside my head. As he opened his mouth to speak I was sure he was going to say one of three things:

  • ‘Jack no need to have two legs so me took one off.’
  • ‘Which one of you rat bastards is next?’
  • ‘The cat’s sleeping now…Sleeping forever, Daddy…’

What he actually said was: ‘Hi Daddy,’ giving his biggest, goofiest smile in the process.

Mercifully, there was no sinister explanation for his appearance. He’d had a nose bleed. His mother’s prone to them: enjoy that little gift of genetic inheritance, my young friend. Psoriasis and depression runs on my side of the family, so look forward to an adolescence of scratching and crying as the blood streams as if you were some sort of Vatican-sanctioned miraculous statue.

We whisked him through to the bathroom and perched him on his little stool by the sink. His mum had to scrub him really, really hard. What began as an act of cleaning quickly turned into exfoliation, which in turn became a genuine attempt to scour the very skin from his face. It was late, very late, and Jack was tired. He moaned. He cried. He just wanted this brutal ritual to come to an end so that we all could be snuggled up in the cosy darkness of the parental bed like a family of fairy-tale bears. ‘Let the blood stay,’ his eyes seemed to implore, ‘Maybe I like resembling one of Captain America’s oldest and most significant enemies!’ He wailed and whimpered, simpered and sulked, even as I carried him back through to our bedroom and the warm, imminent promise of sweet dreams.

‘Hang on,’ I said to my partner. ‘I’ll need to take him for a piss; you know what he’s like if he doesn’t go for one through the night. Let’s not tempt fate.’

‘No,’ she said, decisively. ‘He’s really upset; you’ll just traumatise him if you cart him back through there, and then he’ll wake his little brother up.’ His little brother, Christopher, a young lad of not-quite-12-weeks old, sleeps in a stilted extension at his mother’s side of the bed, and is forever having his slumber disturbed by his lumbering big brother.

‘He’ll piss the bed.’ I said.

‘No he won’t,’ she asserted.

‘Jack, do you need to pee?’ I asked him.

‘Nope,’ he said.

For some reason I accepted his reply as definitive proof, even though most days if you ask him, ‘Are you a giant tarantula’, he’ll say yes without a second thought.

I awoke a few hours later feeling very lucky indeed, but only in the sense that while Nostradamus died without seeing any of his prophecies come true, I had woken up tinged with the wet and vindicating piss of a little boy.

I slipped Jack out of his sodden clothes, and carried him through to the bathroom. He stood under the shower, harried and half-asleep, his tears attempting to give the whooshing water a run for its money. He wasn’t happy with the situation, but if happiness is lying in a coating of your own warm piss, then happiness be damned. One quick towel down and change of jammies later, and we were in Jack’s room, crammed together in his tiny single-bed. He burrowed into me like a baby bear, while I lay sprawled and contorted like a giraffe in a toy hammock, desperately trying to stave off deep vein thrombosis.

Have you ever looked into the mirror and said ‘Candyman’ five times? Or crank-called 999? Do you ever just feel like playing chicken with fate? I guess I must’ve been feeling particularly brave or stupid that fateful morning, because I made the ill-advised decision (all decisions are ill-advised when I’m acting as my own advisor) to summon my partner: and when I say ‘summoned’, I can assure you that the context is demonic.

What I said to my son, loudly and clearly, to ensure that my voice carried to the next room, was: ‘Oh, son, don’t you worry about having a little accident. It’s easily fixed, Daddy doesn’t mind. It’s not your fault. You couldn’t have done anything about it… (at this point I sucked my teeth) IF ONLY THERE HAD BEEN SOME WAY WE COULD HAVE STOPPED THIS… IF ONLY… IF ONLY SOMEHOW, SOMEONE, SOME FORWARD-THINKING SOUL, HAD BEEN BOLD ENOUGH TO RECOMMEND STEPS THAT COULD’VE PREVENTED THIS; LIKE, I DON’T KNOW, TAKING YOU FOR A PEE WHEN YOU WOKE UP EARLIER, BUT, YOU KNOW, SON, HINDSIGHT’S TWENTY-TWEN…’

At this point a megaton bomb of thunder detonated in the skies above us, and a thousand jagged forks of lightning drove themselves into the ground, scorching and immolating trees, birds and even people, whose screams filled the air like air-raid sirens. Blood seeped through the walls. Ghosts appeared in a flash-flood of light, and swirled around the room like tornadoes. A raven smashed through the window, squawking its message of hell and damnation, each frantic beat of its wings shooting blood-covered shards of glass across the room towards us. I held my son to shield him from the rising chaos, when, before us, she emerged into the doorway through a pillar of foul-scented smoke, the hair dancing on her head like nests of snakes. Her body jerked and spasmed like a stop-motion animation demon jammed on fast-forward; an inhuman blur of boobs, limbs and underwear. We heard the bites and snaps of a mouth that in its fury was more shark, or Beelzebub, than human.

”WE’ DECIDED NOT TO TAKE HIM FOR A PEE BECAUSE IT WOULD HAVE MADE HIM UPSET, WHICH IT WOULD HAVE, SO EVEN THOUGH THIS HAS HAPPENED, WHICH WE COULDN’T HAVE KNOWN WOULD HAPPEN, IT WAS THE RIGHT DECISION AT THE TIME! AND THAT’S THE END OF IT JAMIE! SO ENOUGH OF YOUR BLOODY SARCASM!’

And with that, she was gone.

As I lay stroking Jack’s hair, a large smile barged its way across my face.

‘Totally worth it,’ I said to him, planting a kiss on his forehead.

I slept the sleep of the just. A dad may only get to experience one moment of pure, undiluted rightness like this once in a lifetime. It’s best to savour it.