Wordlism

October 16, 2010

A Wordle of this blog to date. 

(Originally posted here on 30/07/10)

(Note – there are a lot of links in this. I would advise people to follow them up, as this piece is only an introduction to my thoughts, and the links I include are to guide people to the thoughts of people with whom I strongly agree. Also, this is quite big).

Contents
Part 1: Freedom of Speech
Part 2: Idiots Getting it Wrong.

1:

As with most of my written-down head burblings, the following scribbles were brought about due to a smidgen of stimulating debate; Question Time, to be exact. The panel were discussing the Queen’s decision to cancel her garden party invite to Nick Griffin, fearing that he would use the occasion as a political football – and given that Her Majesty is not allowed to get involved in politics, it was best to keep him away (though, paradoxically, denying him an invite could also be read as a political statement, but that’s by the by).

During the ensuing discussion on said topic, union rep Bob Crow made use of a statement which made me seethe so much I briefly generated enough heat to leave a deep burn in the couch. His words ran something like “I agree with free speech, but once you start saying bad things about black people, I don’t think you should be allowed it”.

Erm…right. That sounds like the very worst kind of Orwellian doublethink; on the one hand, Crow wants to maintain his left-wing credentials by coming out in favour of “free speech” (the concept, incidentally, implying an unrestricted right to hilight and discuss whichever concepts, issues, opinions etc. we might wish, regardless of their impact), but at the same time needed to come out in favour of protecting multiculturalism, and thereby expressing a desire to place a cap on that same “free” speech. I think this has been one of the main head-scratching dichotomies in left-wing politics in the past twenty years, and people still aren’t sure how to approach it.

Anyway, like I’ve said in an earlier post, I disagree with all of what the BNP have to say, but nevertheless feel that they do have a right to say it – and in fact, their coming out into the open makes it easier to hold up their views for the dross they are. Do I agree with the verbal intimidation of minorities? Of course not. Do I feel that people have the right to do so? Well, unfortunately, yes. BUT – and this is the thing everyone keeps forgetting – we have the right to counter those insults with reasoned debate, freedom of speech being on our side as well. While free speech might allow for some venomous diatribes to get through, it also allows for the enlightened discourse which can scrutinise the mean bits. And as such, it ought to be protected.

Of course, some people make the rather odd mistake of thinking that we can get rid ofsome freedom of speech, while preserving all the nice bits. We can outlaw groups like the BNP, Islam4UK, the English Defense League etc. while allowing everyone else to go about their daily business. After all, those groups only use freedom of speech for their own ends, and would probably demolish it themselves if they had half a chance. Meanwhile, the common populace are debating subjects of decency, like cake recipes, talk shows, and how nice it is to be the denizen of a free democracy.

Unfortunately, this is politically – almost mathematically – impossible.

Labour’s ill-advised Racial and Religious Hatred Act was a good example of this argument being exercised. The intention of this wide-ranging act was to criminalise the “hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief”, and largely came about due to types like the BNP, who were particularly vicious against Muslims. And yet as many critics of the act pointed out, this would make texts like the Bible and the Qur’an illegal, given all those verses which go on about smiting people of other religions or laying plagues upon non-believers etc. Plus, as comedians such as Rowan Atkinson pointed out, this would put a very broad ban on writers, comedians, artists etc doing anything which seemed even remotely like criticising religion – which is a pain, as many of them feel that religion is something worth criticising.

What can be learn from this example? Simple:that when you try to take freedom of speech away from radicals, you can easily end up taking it from the moderates, and by extention, everyone else.

The same applies, naturally, to freedom of artistic expression – and its dark oppositte, censorship.

I may not like what somebody paints, writes, records or broadcasts, but to call for the silencing of anything I find morally banrkupt or disturbing would be to shoot myself in the foot. After all, if you ask enough people, everyone usually objects to some sort of artistic work that they’ve seen or heard, and that is because art is largely about opinions and personal taste.

For example, a lot of Christians might have been apalled by Jerry Springer: The Operaand subsequently called for whoever allowed it to get on air to be fired; stop this sort of thing from happening again; cite silly arguments like “we pay their wages” etc.

But if they can do that, then they’ve got no right to stop me from asking for Songs of Praise to be taken off the air. After all, many of those hymns could be interpreted as offensive to an atheist such as myself, particularly the more militant ones such as “Onward Christian Soldiers”. And I could use the same arguments they used to censor the stuff with which they disagreed. They’d be completely incapable of arguing for their right to freedom of speech – because, after all, they’ve just denied that same right to someone else.

See? Start censoring the stuff you don’t like, and you will make it easy for others to censor the stuff you do like, or which you may be interested in producing yourself at some other point.

Just in case yo want some other examples, do look up:

Charlie Brooker’s response to the Sachsgate debacle, and how a cult of self-censorship among comedians would have, if employed earlier, cancelled out such luminaries as Beyond the Fringe, Monty Python, Steptoe and Son, Not the Nine o’Clock News etc;

Neil Gaiman’s defense of freedom of artistic speech;

Frank Zappa’s battle with the Parents Music Resource Centre, in a bid to prevent those little “Parental Guidance” labels that are now on the cover of literally every album ever produced.

Ultimately, much of this can be summed up by Martin Niemoller’s poem “They came first…“. When I first read this, I originally read it as pointing to the slightly more rose-tinted sentiment of “The Communists, Jews and left-wing German intellectuals could all have banded up against the Nazis, united despite their differences”. While I don’t think this is wrong, I now believe this poem to have a more pertinent message; if you ignore it when other groups have their freedom nicked from them, you’re making it decidedly easy for people to do the same to you. Either everyone gets freedom of speech, and it covers every subject, or no-one does, and it doesn’t.

2:

HOWEVER…

As outlined above, I don’t have a problem with freedom of speech being extended to everybody, even if I disagree with them. I’m not an elitist when it comes to people being allowed to speak their mind. Admittedly I used to be, but am now not, due to the above.

But something unfortunate has happened – something which has forced the learned, rational, experienced and ultimately nice folk of this world to have their views drowned out by baying hordes of plonktards. Hunt for a debate on any major issue – anything from immigration to healthcare to computer game violence – and you will find that while there are a few sane and sensible people having genuine debate, there will always be idiots waiting in the wings en masse.

What’s happened is this:

In order to make sure that everyone exercises their right to free speech (after all, more people using it and accessing it can only be a good thing, given its potential as a mechanism for scrutiny), a lot of people have been told that they have an equal right to express their opinion. Which is true.

But the problem comes when a rather bizarre logical leap is made: the idea that because everyone has an equal right to voice their opinion, then consequently, everyone’s opinion, or interpretation of the facts, is equally valid.

WRONG. BOLLOCKS. BALL-COCKS. ARSE-GRAVY. MERDE. OOH-ER.

This is not true, and its as damaging to free speech as censorship. Why? Because it transforms reasoned debate into populist mooing, forcing pundits to bring things to the lowest common denominator and appealing to mob mentality.

This is why that fewer people are less likely to look to experts and professionals when the debate comes forward, even if said experts and professionals are armed with facts, figures, quotes from leaders in the field, the results of long-conducted tests etc. They are more keen to go to celebrities and the red-top shit sheets instead. It’s Live from Studio Five over Radio 4, and The Daily Star over The Times or The Independent.

To make matters worse, this world of “Your opinion counts!” dross is often only an illusory trick, designed to make the consumer feel that they have some control over the product for which they are paying. It’s the world of: Paper or plastic?; have our new laptop in any colour you want; would you like to go large for 30p extra?; have your say on our Opinions section: if you want to evict LaShebaznay from the house, call..; if you think Fuckwit has the X-Factor, call…

If you think I’m being the nutter in the tinfoil helmet again, just stop and think about the ways in which you are told your opinion counts, when in fact if you scratch the surface, it doesn’t. I mean, Burger King’s slogan might be “Have it Your Way“, but if I went in to one and told them I wanted my MEGA TRIPLE XXL HEART ATTACK FUCKER BURGER presented to me on a plate made of Bose-Einstein condensate, and fed to me by Sasha Grey and Gianna Michaels in a big jacuzzi – and what’s more, I’d want to be paid eighty pounds for the privilege – they’d probably have me taken outside and shot for being such a sarky little twat.

As a result, everyone goes around thinking that their breadth of knowledge, though restricted, will serve the same purpose and have the same impact as that of pioneers, saints, poets, scientists, theologians, philosophers, sages, shamans and true artists. Despite the fact that they are a shit-for-brains, who think that Heat magazine provides searing social commentary, and that having read the entirety of the FuzzBuzz series by the age of thirty somehow makes them well-read (my entry on “People” discusses my hatred for such types in a bit more depth).

Unfortunately for the rest of us, it’s these idiots that rule the roost. Politicians and the mass media pander to them, and cunning bastards make use of them. While the rest of us might have our “ivory tower” where we can take the role of “so-called intellectuals”, they are stuck in nooks and crannies; and when we come out, we cannot expect to have our opinion taken more seriously than anyone else’s.

Hell, if you want an example of this, just look at this abhorrent affair where Alan Titchmarsh chaired a discussion on violence in computer games. Alan fucking Titchmarsh. Along with the editor of the Sun and some woman you’ve never heard of. Why? Because the program makers realised it’s better to placate idiots with shouty people who agree with them (despite vast bodies of evidence to the contrary, brought forward by a well-meaning seasoned expert), rather than upsetting them with the truth. And besides, the mob don’t want “boffins” (i.e. intelligent people) to discuss things with them – they just want a familiar face.

And while we’re on the subject, could people stop using the term “boffin” with such disdain? After all, all a “boffin” is is someone who’s partaken in a peer-reviewed system, based on the empirical method, to discern a series of properties or results (through experimentation or otherwise) which might improve our lives or further reveal our place in the universe. By this estimation, Carl Sagan, Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins, Patrick Moore etc. aren’t scientists who’ve spent their lives traversing that fine line between out-of-this-world wonder and keen rational scrutiny. They’re not pioneers enlightening the human experience, and keenly attempting to spread their enthusiasm to others. Nope; they’re just white lab coat, nerdy “boffins”. Quite frankly, fuck the boffin-bashers, says I.

(Also, see Dara o’Briain’s rant on this subject for stuff I would simply be repeating here, and in a far less enterataining and enlightening way).

Naturally, I believe that these people have a right to their carrion prolefeed. But I also believe that those of us who are left behind, and have genuine brains with all the working bits intact, have a right to stand up and argue the toss as well. After all, if we don’t, we might as well relegate planet earth to the dunderheads now.

Decidedly Murky

October 14, 2010

(Originally posted here on 11/05/10)

Well, it’s gone and happened. Lord David deBleuchamp VonWellmonied of the House of Cameron is now Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Naturally, the howls of derision by people terrified by the prospect of a return to Thatcherism are matched only by the cackles of those whose spirits are bouyed by…urm…the prospect of a return to Thatcherism. But like billions of commentators, politicians and public figures have put forward as of late, the results of the General Election (did it only happen onThursday??) have indicated that the British public now want something which is increasingly being referred to as a “new politics”. Gone are the old displays of political grandstanding, conflict between parties and hard-nosed stoicism in goverment, which were a given during the days of healthy Tory majorities followed by healthy Labour majorities. Now, we are told we will see a greater air of co-operation, and a more realistic approach towards compromise and governance. The inter-party talks between the Lib Dems and their paramours are, in my opinion, early evidence for the genesis of this “new politics”.

Of course, we will still have the animal noises of PMQs. And of course, we will still have the same old reliance on the tired, worn-out stereotypes; the Tory toff donning his top-hat and kicking poor people out of the way while off to take luncheon at his club; the Labour apparatchik who made his way up from running the Student Union, calling for more costly-but-ineffective NHS consultancy groups to be founded, while claiming for another patio heater; the wimpy, wet-as-a-bit-of-lettuce Lib Dem, who leans one way and then another. And we will still have the old divisions which were carved back in the 80s and 90s, when the members of the new goverment were rattling sabers and digging moats (some of which were cleaned out by taxpayers’ cash). These guys still have axes to grind and it’s not going to be plain sailing from here.

Don’t, for a moment, think that coalition goverment or any of its more watered-down variant will automatically create a MASSIVE amount of co-operation. Yes, while the PMs and ministers will now be more inclined to favour political realism rather than massive bags of social ideology in solving problems, and slightly more eager to take other people’s ideas on board, bumps in the road are inevitable. The Lib Dems and the Tories have been going at one another since year dot, particularly in the local councils, and few of them might be willing to lay down their arms. Some Lib-Dems will be pissed off that their party is now having to reach agreement with its ideological nemesis; one which sits at the other side of the political spectrum. And many Tories, hopeful for promotion and advancement in return for years of what they see as good work, will be pissed off when they are sacrificed for the sake of poltiical expediency and some namby-pamby Lib Dem pips them to the post.

And don’t think that the other potential mix, the so called “Traffic Light Coalition”, would have fared much better. In that instance, not only would deals had to have been done between Labour and the Lib Dems, but moves would had to have been made to bring in Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Greens and Socialist Labour – not least among them the demands of Plaid’s Ieuan Wyn Jones to increase public funding in Wales by £300 million. And yes, while certain elements do indeed display a kind of political closeness between such parties (the SNP, for example, usually votes in line with Labour in Scotland), and while the fact remains that all such parties consider themselves to be broadly on the left wing of the spectrum, as a friend of mine observed, if they all agreed with one another that much then they’d all be in the same party.

Even so, what would such a coalition have delivered us? What the Conservatives meanly, but nevertheless accurately, called “a goverment of the Losers”, in which all the other parties ganged up to fight the Conservatives. Worse still, it would have meant the country would have been run once more by an unelected Labour leader; while that might not have been too bad overall, I wouldn’t have put up with it myself. The only way it would hve worked for me is if the party leadership had ben taken by an old-Labour hard-left type, thereby scaring the shit out of the Conservatives and bringing a bit of oomph back in left wing politics in the UK. I would have had an orgasmhad it been Tony Benn, for instance.

Ultimately, I agree with David Cameron’s repeated assertion that British politics needs change; though I don’t agree, completely, with his vision of what that change ought to be. Yes, I think we need to bring back in an element of responsibility and actually reward people who work hard; but no, I don’t agree with him when he means to do this via the old Conservative notion of “family” (NB – having been raised by two consecutive sets of single parents, I will fight tooth and nail against the bizzare notion that a child who is not raised in a nucelar family is somehow doomed to social failure). There is an awful lot of sermonising in the Conservative flank, and some of it frankly terrifies me.

And yet, there’s now (what I deem to be) a lovely little counter to that; the fantastic solution of putting the Lib Dems in government. They will neutralise all the madnesses that might emanate from the wing of the Tory party which looms furthest to the right, while slowly being able to provide a bigger forum for issues which I feel are important; namely Parliamentary, electoral and economic reform. Get a slow burn towards proportional representation, finally make moves towards an elected second chamber, and bring in greener issues.

(Incidentally, while watching the BBC news-reports of the whole affair, just saw a chronology which saw Gordon Brown leaving Downing Street, David Cameron entering Downing Street, and Nick Clegg strolling coolly down a nondescript high street. Dude’s got style).

Normally, I wouldn’t be all that optomistic about a hung parliament and coalition government. And yet, with the current scenario, things seem surprisingly conducive. The pressure of a massive deficit and economic dangers at home and abroad will force the poltiicians to get on with it, as if they screw up with the issue of dosh, we are in aperfect position to demand a re-election and get the buggers out. As such, they’ll be figthing even harder to keep things in order. In the meantime, the more contentious issues between the two parties; namely Europe and immigration, will be forced to take a back seat. Further muggying the air for them is the razor-close history of the expenses scandal, providing further justification for the public to get angry if the politicans start slowing down again.

At the very least, I hope that this “new politics” will terrify and consequently put to rest the old group of what I termed “career-minded lizards”. They’ll be so scared of public anger hitting them in the arse, that politicians will be scared of doing anything as daft as fiddling their expenses, lobbying for certain groups while still in Parliament/govt, or quickly jumping ship to private groups and massive consultancy fees when things don’t go their way. Mind you, I acknowledge that there’s no guarantees that this will take place – I merely hope very strongly that it will happen.

And like I say, old scars will still be visible on the surface. The Tories will still be seen as the party of millionaires cruelly protecting their own money and influence, who cheered when George Osborne announced he would raise the inheritance tax threshold. They will still be the wistful Middle-Englanders, who enjoy costume drama, cricket on the village green and using public funds to clear plant-life from their massive homes. And the Lib Dems will still be viewed with pessimism and political suspicion – the party of not-quite-there-yet-lefties, who never managed to get into governance despite almost a century of effort and claims to strength. They will still be the local councillors and college professors, who speak French and keep their old protest banners next to their tweeds.

Aaaaand yes, despite the political enormity of what’s happened today, and footage of Downing Street becoming a sort of televisual screensaver when the real news got tired, overall the change isn’t actually that big. After this evening, some crimes will still be committed. Some people will still die of cancer. Some soldiers will still die in Afghanistan. Some pensioners will still have to make the choice between fuel and food in the winter. Some children will do below-par at their expected educational level. The environment and the economy will still be a mess. And I need not say that powerful special interest groups, with all the nefariousness that entails, will still be present, and operating at every level.

But, nevertheless, things have at the very least changed. And while it might not turn out to be the sort of change I would have asked for, I am nevertheless content that some sort of change has happened. Much big-ups to Gordon for going out with a good deal of dignity, and congratulations to Dave and Nick on moving in. Let’s just hope that the marriage goes beyond the honeymoon.

Iwan Berry, Facebook, His Room.

(Originally posted here on 24/10/09)

Given that literally everyone in Britain has formulated some kind of opinion on Nick Griffin’s appearance on Friday night’s Question Time, I thought it was high time of me to drag myself out of my ennui (despite the fact I’ve been levelled by what appears to be swine flu) and write up an appropriate note, providing my usual brand of chucklesome venom to all three of my readers on an issue which needs a bit of looking at.

First, for clarity’s sake, I ought to repeat the (fairly simple) argument that’s being bandied about by a lot of middle-ground, rule-of-law libertarian types like myself at the moment: I don’t agree with the BNP on anything, but wouldn’t deny them their right to free speech. Thought the UAF protesters had their hearts in the right place, but I’ve long since abandoned that whole notion of “We want peace, friendship and freedom for everyone – unless we disagree with them”. In fact, I left that brand of hardocre liberalism behind once I turned about nineteen. Yup; BNP has some fairly gruesome stuff going on, and it’s not nice to hear . But the best remedy is not to simply stuff it away in a Cupboard of Mystery, because doing so:

(A) allows the BNP to decorate themselves as martyrs to free speech. Given their need to put their party out there as the “little guy” who are fighting for a threatened indigenous people, the BNP need to gather up all the tags marked “David” in their war against a left-wing, big-government, enforced-multi-culturalism New Labour “Goliath”. As such, if they’re made to look like the victims of the system (rather than the vicious bastards who are going to victimise everyone else once they take charge), they can draw upon much-needed public sympathy.

(B) makes their message all the more interesting because no-one’s ever allowed to hear it in normal circumstances. Being a smaller party, the policies of the BNP cannot be discerned during Parliamentary debate, and up until Friday night you wouldn’t have had a clear indication of their policies on the telly – apart from in odd and largely sketchy party political broadcasts. You’d have to head to their website or attend a rally – ahem – party meeting to find anything out about them. But put them in a more public sphere where they’re more open to scrutiny, and their arguments can be checked accordingly. Put simply, in the clear light of day, bullshit is just bullshit. But if you tuck it away in a darkened vault guarded by Sith Lords, even the worst kind of bullshit becomes attractive.

(C) lets them dictate the fashion in which we are exposed to their policies. As you can imagine, the BNP would never make themselves out to be the Holocaust-denying, small-minded wastes of blood and organs they truly are on their own website, or in their own media output. They’ll jazz it up with buckets of cunning and spin, crafting the image of the friendly face of racial hatred. But stick them on the stage with the other political parties – who are, of course, masters of cunning and spin in their own right – and they will be torn apart quicker than a rice-paper condom in a Ron Jeremy movie.

Therefore, I think Griffin’s stint on Question Time was in fact a good idea. It did of course have its drawbacks – for one thing, it meant that during a week of Post Office strikes and following up the fallout of the expenses scandal and the Trafigura debacle, the three main parties got the chance to dstract us all by pointing out the pantomine villain in the corner and tailoring the content of the debate accordingly. This, of all horrible things, allowed Jack Straw to become a bit of a hero.

Aside: Unfortunately, I’m now one of those cynical people who believes that much of politics is made up of a load of unprincipled, career-minded lizards on the one side and a cabal of malicious, freedom-hating, social-engineering Morality Police on the other, with only a handful of admirable people desperately trying to sort things out on the side (for an example from each of the main parties, I’d put forward Tony Benn (L), David Davis (C) and Vince Cable (L-D)). But at the end of the day, I’d rather have crooks running the show than Nazis, because while a crook cares about money, the Nazi cares about fervour and ideology. The crooks would never have undertaken a Holocaust – not out of any moral prohibitions concerning the mass-murder of innocents, but because they wouldn’t see any profit in it. Essentially, I’d vote for Silvio Berlusconi over the Ayatollah Khameini any day.

But I digress (though the above-mentioned duo would make an hilarious “odd couple” sitcom which will merit some thought at a later date). Returning to more prominent thread of argument now…

Yup, despite the brief respite from scrutiny which the rest of political parties got (barring from a stint on immigration policy), having Nick Griffin put in a set of BBC-built stocks while Jonathan Dimbleby handed out runny fruit pies to the jeering mob was a worthy affair. And as expected by most sensible people, Griffin generated enough contradictions, straw-man arguments and frankly insane statements to keep his critics guffawing ironically for the next eight-million years. Doctor Who could use just one of them to burn out the logic circuits of even the most serious Dalek – even if said Dalek were being aided in its deliberations by Mr Spock, the Terminator and HAL 9000. Consider, for example, Griffin’s statement that the Ku Klux Klan was now an “almost entirely non-violent” organisation. As if having a small amount of a very bad thing were somehow a redeeming feature, like a swimming pool being “almost entirely free of Humboldt squid” or a goody bag being “almost entirely free of razorblades”.

Also, Griffin seems to have an amazing talent – again, in the vein of some sci-fi curiosity – of being somewhere when he both is and isn’t, or having not said something when he both has and has not. For example, he didn’t appear on stage with David Duke, even if the YouTube video which everyone saw says otherwise – and not two minutes later, he can claim that he did appear on that stage, but in opposition to Duke and his views. Wow; so he can both not deign to appear alongside the Klan and trounce their opinions in that debate in the same instance! Fair play, Griffin! (Though, if that’s the case, makes you wonder why he didn’t do the same thing with Question Time).

Oh, and fair play to him – he couldn’t clarify his opinion on the Holocaust, because his hands were tied by the courts. I mean, he probably couldn’t repeat his having previously called it the Holohoax (clever punning there!) and having quibbled about the figures because that would make the BNP seem anti-Semitic and unconnected with reality. Which…um…of course, it is. But hey – at least he doesn’t have a conviction for it! If ever I become the parent of a child with similar moral standing to Mister Griffin, I’ll make sure to get a car bumper sticker stating “My Child Doesn’t Have a Conviction for Holocaust Denial”. Because that sets him apart from everyone else in this rabid Holocaust-denying scene we’ve got going on at the moment. Makes him a rarity, dunnit?

I’ll admit there were a few moments where I almost felt sorry for the poor sod, but the pity factor was mitigated by the fact that the largest boot going up his arse was his own. Picking on Jack Straw for having a conscientous objector for a dad while harping on about the RAF achievements of his grandfather seemed a bit over-stepping the mark – and this despite the fact Griffin’s previously castigated the RAF for their bombing of German cities during the war, and the Royal British Legion have written to him in the past asking him not to wear a memorial poppy (cheeky bastard wore one on Friday night, too).

To be honest, I don’t find the BNP as threatening as I used to after this. I used to think they were a terrifying little nubbin of fascism amongst the political backwaters, ready to leap forward with gangs of jackbooted skinheads and copies of Mein Kampf at the ready when they felt things were going there way. And yes, admittedly, there are some instances of terrorists being connected with the BNP or inspired by their ideology. David Copeland is the primary example, and there’s always stories of middle-aged racist tits stockpiling bomb-making materials and guns in case of a coming “race war”, but I get the sense that such tupenny pillocks would be terrorists with or without the influence of the BNP. To me, the image of the average BNP voter is the average Daily Mail reader – they wear big glasses, think foreign food smells funny and have ankles hairier than Wolverine’s scrote. And they’re led by a bloke who thinks his ideology is one which resonates with the British public, but is nevertheless terrified to spell it out loud for fear of being too unpopular.

A Review: The Tard Hole

October 14, 2010

(Originally posted here on 19/09/09)

Excerpted from the collected works of the late E.Q.A Natter (1926 – 2009), world-renowned restaurant critic for The Times and famed bon vivant, who passed away following an inspired bout of taramasalata-wrestling with his Thai houseboy, Pgingxhn (he suffered a stroke having attempted to pronounce the boy‘s name correctly during coitus). Though others have spoken ill of Natty’s lifestyle, and often described him to be a rude and contentious man (he was once jailed for Holocaust denial), we at theEntrenched Bourgoise’s Monthly will miss him deeply, and include one of his finest reviews herein for posterity’s sake.

~

The Tard Hole

Having spent holidays in Wales before, I naturally expected the Tard Hole to be like every other restaurant I had entered during my stints west of Offa’s Dyke; dimly-lit, and filled with cap-doffing peasants dining on boiled slate. However, my tour of the estimable town of Llandudno had rendered me to a state of starvation. I hadn’t eaten since my victorious entry into the All-Buckinghamshire Tudor-themed Hog-and-Hind Competition the evening before, and consequently sought that nourishment which Nietzsche called “the food of the soul” – i.e food.

The Tard Hole lies closer to Llandudno’s West Shore than to it’s famed promenade, and as such rids itself of the plague of unenlightened tourists and backpackers which frequent the hotels and eateries in that part of town. A heady aroma of halibut, marmite and summer meadows assailed my nostrils as I neared the restaurant – this, however, turned out to emanate from the laundrette next door. Going through my usual pre-restaurant ritual of nailing my wallet to the inside of my car and practising my acerbic put-downs, I found that the door had been opened by a member of the waiting staff, who bore a scimitar in one hand and an unoptimistic piglet in the other.

Without any kind of verbal command, he beckoned me towards the door. This impressed me – I had eaten in “silent restaurants” before and was always left satisfied by the lack of chit-chat, given the fact it allowed me to fully communicate with my own thoughts. But upon closer inspection I found his mouth had been sown shut with twine, and I was dismayed to hear the chatting of other diners as I crossed the threshold. I was led through a narrow corridor and into a plush downstairs seating area. I noted, with some unease, that the walls were covered with masks and swords of varying size. Part of me began to question whether or not this evening would end up like my infamous Night in New Guinea, where Gustaf and I had barely escaped with our limbs intact and free from the marinade which the natives had so happily prepared for us.

My fears were allayed when I was shoved into a chair by my silent guide, who grunted and clapped his hands three times. Into the room came a troupe of bejewelled belly dancers, who entertained me as the guide left, presumably to inform the manager of my arrival. Not five minutes later – which, to be honest, was all I needed those days – I was approached by a smiling, diminutive maitre d‘, who informed me that he had been sent by the manager to ask whether I would care for an aperitif or any appetisers. I ordered my usual favourite; a pint of Cinzano and a heady slab of pate de foie gras taken from Toulouse geese. He slithered back towards the door, taking care to bow every few steps, and my harem of dancers went with him.

The moment the door closed, something which I had never before experienced in a restaurant took place. The lights suddenly extinguished, and a blast of some abhorrent form of musical diversion (I believe the youth call it death metal) was pounded through a set of concealed speakers. A projector – doubtless hidden in the wall behind me – relayed a series of terrifying images on to the wall to my front, ranging from photographic evidence of war crimes to the woodcuts of Hieronymus Bosch. Some twenty seconds later, the lights returned, the music switched off as suddenly as it had played, and the maitre d’ entered once more. He indicated that I should follow him to the upstairs seating area, where my chosen hours d’oeuvres had already been served.

The dining area was as opulently decorated as its ground-floor counterpart. I looked around hopefully, but alas the belly dancers were nowhere to be seen. I was led to my table and presented with the wine list. Given this place’s embellishments, I neglected my usual habit of throwing the wine list away and decrying the staff for ever having presented me with a roster of such plebeian fare, and instead ordered two bottles of a curiously-named Chateau des Morts Vivants. This was presented duly – a good red affair, suggesting nettles on tombs – and I was then given the menu. Once more deciding to flout convention, I gave the menu a sound reading and eventually decided on the griddled parakeet to start (a house speciality, the waiter assured me), followed by a blackcurrant sorbet to clear the palate, the “local” fish and chips for my main course and a caramelised slab of fudge with wolf’s milk ice cream for dessert. With this done, the maitre d’ immediately nipped away to a kitchen doorway. As it swung open, I was offered a glimpse into its enigma, and saw a gent clad in Viking furs – doubtlessly the manager – reprimanding the sewn-mouth assistant for not having properly sautéed a turnip. But upon the door’s swinging shut once more, I was denied a glimpse into this Eden of occult cuisine and was forced to begin on my pate.

The pate was as unctuous and as silky as any good foie gras ought to be, and I was surprised to see that it had been sculpted into a rather accurate microcosmic mimicry of Krak des Chevaliers, the crusader’s fortress in Syria. The bolt-holes particularly impressed me.

My griddled parakeet followed quickly. I was assured by the staff that this parakeet had led a life of happiness, having had tapes of the works of Oscar Wilde played at it in the battery cage which it shared with eighty other parakeets of similar sexual orientation, and as such I was promised similar contentment. The rum sauce on my bowl, the waiter told me, was the same fluid which they had used to drown the parakeet, having force-fed him an entire sheet of LSD blotting paper the evening before. Needless to say, it was the best parakeet I had ever tasted, and I heartily recommend it.

I decided to passing over the sorbet and head straight to my main meal – this, as frequent readers will know, is a trick I often use in order to irritate serving staff. My platter of fish and chips was served personally by the head chef and manager, who had deigned to engage in conversation with me having learnt that a food critic as estimable as myself was in his eatery. When I quizzed him on his bizarre pre-meal ritual, he laughed and answered that the use of belly dancers and terrifying fear tactics which would get you sent down at the Hague was a regime designed to force the diner into a state of cognitive dissonance, experiencing bliss and horror in equal measure. With their sensory equipment then having reached their maximum capacity, the happy diner would enjoy their meal or the more so.

The fish and chips was a combination of fresh cod caught from the Tard Hole‘s own private sea, and potatoes which the manager had bewitched into running across nearby golf courses, forcing his staff to hunt them down with the use of land rovers and specially-crafted spears. He told me, with a wink, that this made the chips surprisingly tender. Having tried one, I learnt that the best chip is one carved from the body of a potato which yearns for liberty. The only dampener to my fish and chips was when the manager found the sorbet which I had declined and poured it on my head, in order to “teach me a lesson”. Normally I would have been incensed to blustering complaint, but I felt that given the quality of his food, my head was fair game.

Dessert followed thereafter. Although, strictly speaking, it didn’t – it followedbeforeafterthere, as I was told that a highly advanced time machine had been used in order to propel me back in time an hour earlier and allow me to eat my dessert both before and after I had consumed the earlier (later?) portions of my meal. This stunned me as much as one might expect, and combined with the sensation of my fourth-dimensional body having its taste buds experience both the pate and the fudge at the same time, I quite nearly climaxed – however, the stern, rod-bearing maiden of experience had taught me that this was a bad idea, given that heart attack usually followed such instances.

With my meal finished, before I had the chance to thank the staff and leave, a trapdoor opened beneath my chair and I was delivered swiftly into a pressurised flume, the inside of which was lined with clothes-snatching hooks. Rendered as naked as a babe, I was propelled into a large tank of very cold water. After some initial disorientation and a brief stint in a coma, I then found myself being jet-washed with soap and scrubbed by bizarre mechanisms. Time passed for what seemed like two hours, but was in fact two and a half hours. Before I could gather my bearings, the base of the tank opened, and I found myself descending towards a field. As I strove to turn myself towards the skies from which I had been spat, I saw a large military helicopter carrying the open base of my tank, piloted by the head chef and his verbally restrained comrade. They gave me a grateful wave – a nice touch to what I now believe to be the height of hospitality.

Having eventually made my way back to dear old London town – my car having been scrapped by the restaurant for going over the allotted parking time of sixteen minutes – it was only with the benefit of hindsight and regressive hypnotherapy that I realised what a grand evening I’d had at the Tard Hole, and I’d recommend its twilight confines to any enterprising gourmand any day of the week – as I can now no longer recollect what day it is. Pip pip!

Hermit Rages

October 14, 2010

(Originally posted here on 11/08/09)

Yes, guys and gals – it’s time for me to come out. I’ve tried to act against my true self, but I knew that I was just living a lie and it was time for me to finally be comfortable with who I am. Okay, here it goes:

I am a misanthropic, cynical and ill-humoured bastard

Phew, there we go. Glad I got that relevatory admission out the way and everything. Some of you might not be able to put with it, but that’s the way I am (Incidentally, if any of you were expecting a sudden turn to homosexuality on my part, I’m afraid that’s really not on the cards. I’m far too big a fan of boobs, and I’m not nearly well-dressed enough to be gay).

But that is the way of things – as many of you might have suspected, and indeed as I may have warned many of you in the past, I absolutely cannot stand people. Having had various encounters with them throughout my life, and having suffered at their various pettinesses and attempts at intelligence, I feel I am in the right place to spin around neatly, remove my finger from my nose and give the interfering bastards a great big flick of the V. They, being people, will probably tut and sneer like the horde of livestock they truly are, but that – if anything – will confirm and validate my hatred of them, rather than render it meaningless.

Now, dear reader, simply because I hate people does not at all mean that I hate you. Quite the reverse, in fact. When I use the phrase “people”, I refer to the gormless throng which can be seen muttering their way through the high streets, vacantly staring out of buses and thinking that an interesting shirt makes up for their complete lack of personality. “People” are (usually) chavs, the unthinking elderly, cocksure prannets, Daily Mail readers, Guardian readers, joggers, idiots, men in pubs who think Jim Davidson is funny and anyone who has ever bought a “feelgood” film. “People” are those grey, featureless individuals that periodically fill gaps between the folk we actually know. They are drab, uninteresting and only open their mouths to say something unenlightened and contentious.

Optimists tend to state that “a stranger is just a friend I don’t know yet”. Pessimists contend that strangers are simply enemies in the cunning disguise of anonymity. I, however, am so hugely misanthropic that I don’t even think that strangers have the mental werewithal to be either my friend or my enemy. I might dislike them intensely, but they’d never be counted as my “enemies” as to call someone an enemy, at least, implies a certain level of mutual respect for one another’s sniping.

So, if you are reading this, you escape the trap of being “people”. I already know you and by that definition you cannot be “people”. Makes sense.

“But Iwan”, some of you out there will yell in a bid to tear down my suspicious worldview, “but isn’t everyone a stranger to begin with before you meet them? Didn’t all of your friends start out as strangers to you? Even for a few seconds, even your own mother would have been a stranger to you. Therefore, you cannot hate people, as many of them eventually became your friends”.

In answer to this I would say: yes, but I know them now, so it doesn’t matter. Anyone to whom I’ve ever been introduced or made friends with seem quite antithetical to my usual conception of “people”. They are (in various forms and combinations) kind, interesting, clever, dynamic, mad, admirable and genuinely nice. In contrast to this, “people” have all the qualities of a bowl of porridge left for several years in a cobweb-riddled croft – they are cold, drab, tasteless and desperately dull.

And – to make a more serious point – what needs to be remembered is that it was “people” who helped Hitler to get into power. By this, I don’t mean the more general sense of the German people or supporters of the Nazi party, but precisely my earlier definition of “people” – that partly spiteful, partly apathetic mass of dunderheads who don’t care what’s going on so long as it doesn’t bother them. Not in My Back Yard. It’ll Never Happen Here. What The Eyes Don’t See.

In fact, “people” are very good at benefitting from the misery and detriment of others. They are snide, overly given to schadenfreude (not in a funny way, either) and will turn their noses up at the efforts of the optimistic in order to try and stifle them. Chavs love a bit of unprovoked assault, Daily Mail readers and the mindless elderly like to tut, joggers will always tell you how much damage you’re doing to your body and the cocksure prannets enjoy making suggestions about your virility (though that one is pecuilar to us gents alone, mind). These sorts and their offshoots will make useless judgements based on 0.01% of the evidence, and then give their opinion even if it isn’t wanted. As examples, Mary Whitehouse and Gillian McKeith are “people” – they will have a list of “Thou Shalt Nots” trotted out in the time it takes for a website flogging interesting films of Megan Fox, a jacuzzi and a bucket of cream to reach sixty-eight billion hits. Which is to say, no time at all. And keep in mind, none of these rules will be particularly useful to your day-to-day existence, and some might even run in opposition to your instincts.

To make matters worse, for the past year or so I have been forced to work with – nay; to work in the service of – people. As one might imagine, the terrifying business of telemarketing brought me into contact with people on a minute-by-minute basis, like Sky News coverage of the Annual Conference of the Prickbag’s Union. As might be imagined, this gave me a look at a cross section of the local public, and I was dismayed to find that the vast majority of them were “people”. Fingers-in-the-ears, parroting people. I’m not saying that they didn’t deserve their privacy, but there were plenty of folks out there who still managed to be courteous and understanding even when I’d rang them up at a bad time. As such, the calvacade of moaning seemed a bit like an over-reaction, given that many others coped perfectly well with me and my unwarranted nocturnal intrusions.

This is equally true of my current job. Though the impact of said “people” is usually watered down through conversation with warm eccentrics or genuine enthusiasts, the tossers nevertheless manage to get through. Usually, they are characterised by pillocks who believe they are given every right to haggle over prices and discounts (despite the fact that they are in a shop and not some bazaar), or the old couples who share the same defeated face. However, the greatest, terrifying synthesis of the worst types of people are entire families of them; there is unimpressed dad, snappy and sexually unfulfilled mum, and kids who screech like Claw the Scratcher going one-on-one with Captain Blacboard, deep in the recesses of the Noiseatorium of Doctor Decibel. Also, not to make a big racist point here, but the vast majority of the time, the “people” I meet are English. Now that’s not to say I haven’t been friends with or been inspired by a damned nice load of Englanders, and nor does it say that I haven’t met hordes of snooty and holier-than-thou Welsh “people”. It’s just that nine times out of ten, in my experience, “people” are usually to be found across the border. Or perhaps I just attract the English, I don’t know (answers on a stamped postcard please).

Of course, there will now be a few among you who sense victory against me. Perhaps you have spent time among what I class as “people”, and find them to be a perfectly agreeable lot, who live by dog-eat-dog codes and are a good, hardy contrast to what I define as “not people” – who are a bunch of sentimental, cloud-nine hippies in your opinion. Plus, to dig myself a deeper grave, I have been a hypocrite – for here I am doing exactly that for which I decry “people”. I’m sat on the internet judging people I’ve never met, being all cynical and moany, while decent “people” are getting on with their lives. Hah harr, you might cry in joy. I have been most assuredly trounced.

Except, there’s a problem there. I like to think that, much like Batman (and that’s not just put in there so I can compare myself to the coolest fictional man ever), I weld the weaponry of cynicism and pessimism against cynics and pessimists, and in the service of the joyful, the clever and the endearingly sweet. And just like Batman is made into a hardened fighter by living in a world of criminals, so I too am shaped into meaness by the existence of “people”. Were there no windmills at which I could tilt and no sacred calves to slaughter, I would spend my life in a room full of baby chimps, making them tea and helping them work the DVD player so they could watch Bagpuss . I would be an unmitigated hippie, and go off to live on an island somewhere. But while there are “people”, I will wear the cowl of grumpiness and sling my Batarangs of venom. Because…well, I think it was Johnny Cash who put it best:

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

So, should you think me bitter or downhearted when I come across as a miserable old sod, or feel personally insulted when I tell you that I “hate people”, keep the above in mind. I may appear in the guise of a misanthropic, cynical and ill humoured bastard, but beneath this exterior is a deluded and essentially friendly idiot, who hopes for a world of simplicity, niceness and good tea.

(Originally posted on Facebook at 01:17 GMT on June 5 2009. Original post available here ).

1: You are not a “fan” of sleeping, cuddles or sex. What you mean to say is that you enjoy it, and that you’re doing your best to show everyone else how much you enjoy it. But you can put this in your interests, or join a corresponding group (it’s hardly as if there aren’t enough of them). You can be fan of a public figure, celebrity, creative entity or sports team. But you cannot be a fan of sex; unless you’ve arrived at that point where you wear a scarf emblazoned with pro-coital slogans and chant in its support. And at that point, I already have the right to put you away.

2: A status update – or moreover, the changes between them – should bear some degree of interest. If at ten o’clock you post “x is in work”, and then wait until another two hours before posting “x is still in work lol!”, that’s not interesting. It would be far more interesting if you ran with a series akin to “x is in work”, “x is downloading contraband materials”, “x is frequenting Jihadist forums”, “x is being questioned” and finally “x is being waterboarded lol!” – particularly if you get through all of them on the same day.

3: Facebook is not for bitching, in any format. You cannot get away with “x wishes some people weren’t such backstabbers!” or posting long notes ranting about your enemies, knowing full well that either they will come across it, or sympathetic parties will reply with “aww hunni whats ron?g?? xxxxx”. When you are below the age of eighteen, some level of gutter-sniping is acceptable. But given that everyone on Facebook is eighteen or over, you cannot get away with it. If I find you doing it, I will use my mastery of chi techniques to melt the inside of your head from a very long way away.

4: Setting your relationship status to “It’s Complicated” should be banned. What’s so fucking complicated? If you’re both human beings, the complication ends there. Either you are with a person, or you’re not. It is NOT complicated, and even if it were, it doesn’t befit you to mark such a relationship in that category, as such an act would be tantamount to bitching (see above). The only way it could be really complicated is if one of you were a battered old Enigma machine, and the other was a gryphon. Then, and only then, will I concede that the relationship is not one of smooth and solid ground.

As for the happy-go-lucky ladies out there, please do not invent a relationship with a female friend, unless you are genuinely indulging in lesbianism. Us blokes are always cheered by the possibility of such Sapphic engagements, but are brutally broken down when we find out it’s just a quirky joke. If you really care that much about the other girl, then feel free to expand and enrich your relationship in ways which only this new, liberal, tolerant and enlightened age will allow. And please send us the photographs.

5: Too many applications spoil the broth. While I agree there are some quite nifty ones out there which allow facets of your personality to be expressed beyond usual facebookian norms, many are just jazzed-up viruses. Things like Vampire Wars, Zombie Wars et al are at their core fancy ways of stating “x has sent this application to n amount of people”, and leave it at that. If this is an attempt to show one’s popularity, it’s a bit redundant given the fact that everyone is provided with the number of friends they have in a strategically smug locale. If it’s the gaming side of things you’re going after with such apps, then buy a sodding game. Chances are you’ll have to spend money in order to upgrade the game to a feasibly competitive point, and at that point it becomes stupid.

6: Only detailed archives of the Second World War are allowed to contain more than one-thousand photographs. If your own photo album stretches beyond this point, you have stopped being a person and have instead become a cultural curiosity. At what point do you find it necessary to have over a thousand pictures of yourself? Do you really need all of those memories to be recorded in photographic form? Surely you just couldn’t go through the old-fashioned way of remembering things? Granted, things like holiday snaps, baby photos and the occasional memorable night out are perfectly acceptable, but chronicling that many photos seems a bit narcissistic to me.

7: Please, for Christ’s sake, apply a similar rule of moderation to your friends list. I accept the fact that Facebook is a social network designed to link people up, but these networks are only good so long as the connections are valid. I know you may well have lots and lots of relatives, friends, best friends, colleagues, employers, exes, school friends, university/college classmates, drinking buddies, housemates, people met on holiday/at festivals etc. and that you might want to put them on your friends list so as to generate so massive a number of friends it will render your less-connected peers to damp and squalid hopelessness. But the main bugger of the thing is, so does every other sod. If you’re now sat there thinking “Hang on – I don’t know that many people!”, I hereby charge you to try and remember everyone you’ve ever met, and then list their names alphabetically. See? Buggering difficult isn’t it?

8: Facebook stalking is wrong, in exactly the same way that real-life stalking is wrong. In your head, you’re like Hugh Jackman in Swordfish – you’re rapping away at the keys, joining the right networks and connecting up to the right circles of friends in order to view legions of sexy photographs of sexy people: and what’s more, the subject doesn’t know you’re doing it! They may even have one of those open profiles which you can access via Google, making you completely invisible to them. Yes, just lay back, sip another measure of expensive whiskey and admire their sexiness without any fear of reprisal – you’ve earned it, you suave hi-tech lothario you!

In actual fact, you’re just some pervert with a computer, desperate for a bit of masturbation that has some meaning behind it: neither the aesthetically pleasing but empty world of net pornography, or the possibility-laden but awkward path of abusing yourself to images of friends. You want to find someone who’s very sexy, but still remains tantalisingly accessible due to the fact that you have the same “friends” (I.e. your mum and her mum go to the same Mother’s Union meetings).

If you still fail to see the reprehensibility inherent in this, then imagine how you’d react if I told you I’d paid a man to watch you with an x-ray telescope, and that he’s wanking right now. But of course – this is completely mad, and is a purely hypothetical and impossible scenario. You and I would both be disgusted!

As if I’d pay the lucky bastard.

9: As with the rest of the internet, keep bloody chain messages in mind and do your best to restrain them. If you’re genuinely bothered by a paedophile moving into your street, rainforests being felled or some murderers being released back into the community, do NOT regurgitate the same stuff everyone else has said – take a step back and make a genuine effort to assert why you, personally, are pissed off. This will make your argument far more valid and give them a damn sight more integrity. Whether or not you’re bleating for a good cause, being a sheep is still not laudable.

When it comes to the somehow magic stuff of which the internet is apparently capable, exercise a bit of that long-abandoned human characteristic known as common sense. Karma will not care if you send such-and-such a message to ten people and make a wish – you’re still not going to kiss the love of your life, or inexplicably win a car. You’ll have far better luck getting off your arse and out into reality.

This is also true for supposedly “cursed” or “haunted” messages. Guess what’ll happen if you don’t send such-and-such a message to ten people? The girl from The Exorcist will leap out of your nose the next time you sneeze? Jack the Ripper will knife you in the dark? Nope. Do you really want to know what happens? It’s terrifying – but ten less people get that message!

(ASIDE – if your chose to send these messages on regardless, I hereby issue my own counter-curse, in which – just before you go to sleep – the sound of Sir Christopher Lee and Dani Filth accompanying one another to “Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosies” will emerge from nowhere, and the assorted puppet cast of Thunderbirds will drift out of your cupboard and hold an orgy).

10: No photo tags can ever be removed – unless it is confirmed that the person, item or animal in question is visibly not you. If you looked bad, or were too drunk to care, then it’s your own fault, and you must therefore suffer the consequences. Please note that this rule applies equally to both men and women, and that lady-folk have no more a right to de-tag themselves than men do. We must follow Cromwell’s example and be painted “warts and all”. While there are plenty of photos out there which make me look like the raised-by-forest-animals protagonist in a 1950’s film entitled Caveman in the City (“Can this outcast denizen of nature and yesteryear survive in the world of today?”), I am happy enough with my image to not delete them or urge the poster to sever my connection with such pictures. The ugly pictures are what make the good pictures look good.

HAS anyone actually read any Tolkien recently? It’s been years since I read Lord of the Rings, and I can’t quite remember whether or not I read it twice. However, though I still appreciate Tolkien’s ability to write such a massive book and effectively create a world inside his head, some of the stuff in that book nags me. Like the fact that the orcs are an innately evil race who just HAVE to be killed, sort of like the bad guys on 24. You don’t ask them what they’re doing; you don’t give them any quarter; you don’t even stick around long enough to double-check what those chaps in Gondor High Command told you. Those bastards are just EVIL and if you don’t kill them you’re a measly, left-wing orc sympathiser who needs to be bombed out of recognition before you can stamp any more on our lovely freedom-loving society! Yeah! Never mind the fact we’re still all ruled in feudal castes and eke out a living on turnips – them orcs’d have us all in the cookpot as soon as look at us! Yeah! Bastard orcies!

Also, in radical contrast to my earlier admiration of the wizard, I am now deeply suspicious of Gandalf. Further examination of Gandalf’s methods give away some interesting ideas. Whereas normal characterisation makes him out to be a benevolent genius, who wars tirelessly against Sauron and the forces of evil, I now believe him to be a diabolical mastermind hell bent on ruling all of Middle Earth through puppet kings and articles of power.

Gandalf in darkness

"He has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory" - Aragorn

Think about it. All the way through, Gandalf seems to have a very big hidden agenda, which he gradually reveals through outward actions. Naturally, there will be those few naïve people who argue that this agenda ostensibly links up to the destruction of the One Ring and with it the death of Sauron, who represents a major threat to Middle-Earthian peace and prosperity. If Gandalf gave anything away too early, the spies of Sauron would suss things out and cater their plans accordingly. His secrecy is necessary, rather than evidence of wizardly malpractice on his part. But these poor, deluded saps have missed out on something rather obvious: Gandalf doesn’t just keep his plans from potential agents of Mordor, but from everyone. This can either be linked up with paranoia (and that wouldn’t surprise me in the case of an epic stoner such as Gandalf), or genuine evil. And for the reasons of inspection, I’ll assume it’s the latter.

Throughout the trilogy, Gandalf appears to be steering certain players into particular positions of power, and a lot of the associations he builds up are uniquely linked with systems of dynastic control; for example, Aragorn is descended from the Kings of Gondor, Legolas is a prince of Mirkwood, Gimli has relatives in dwarven royalty and even Bilbo is a landowner with a fair bit of clout. And to further bolster his oddly powerful social network, Gandalf has pride of place in the White Council. Although this body was originally formed with the intention of defeating Sauron, my guess is that they probably had a second plan in action, outlining how Middle Earth was to be run after Sauron was subdued. And luckily for Gandalf, the White Council’s future has an awful lot to do with him; Elrond and Galadriel, being elves, are going to vacate the territory fairly soon. Saruman, who is RIGHTLY paranoid of Gandalf’s activities and seeks to insure himself against them, comes across as a deluded whistleblower and ineffective traitor, and as such he is ousted for his apparent silliness.

Saruman: Victim of Early Cases of Internet Pedophilia

Saruman the White, seen here in engaging in the first recorded case of internet pedophilia.

Plus, consider the people who end up dead or become quietly subservient along the way, and how such things might work for a grab for power by Gandalf. The elves, as mentioned above, are leaving. Though they might otherwise be considered as viable threats to Gandalf’s inevitable rise to power, he has been dealt a lucky hand. The old guards of social hierarchy (as represented by Théoden, King of Rohan and Denethor, the Steward of Gondor) are either killed in battle or commit suicide. Though Boromir, who is a well-respected leader of men, might originally have buggered Gandalf’s plan to install Aragorn as King of Gondor, he’s killed fighting Uruks in the first book (we will assume, naturally, that Gandalf tipped them off). And while Boromir’s younger brother, Faramir, could have constituted an equal obstacle, he turns out to be something of a wet blanket.

Let’s also look at Gandalf’s potential plans for the next generation of Middle Earth’s rulers. The crew with whom he hangs during the events of the trilogy are indeed a useful bunch, but at the end of the day they’re all fighters, each of whom have had to contend with the existence of an enemy as strong as Sauron and live their lives in the according levels of fear and vigilance. Once Sauron is gone, Gandalf knows full well that his current roster of puppets will become nothing more than indentured veterans, and the people will get rid of them in order to encourage prosperity during an ensuing era of peace (consider the way Churchill was voted out of power after the war). The only possible exception to this rule is Aragorn, who has Messianic qualities enough to ensure a long-lasting association with his superstitious and ill-educated subjects. Therefore, Gandalf is not only going to need to mine some political usefulness from the current generation, but also their heirs.

However, fate seems to play out in Gandalf’s favour where this is concerned. Aragorn hitches up with Arwen, thereby uniting the otherwise disparate factions of humanity and elvenkind. Any child they have will not only inherit the throne of Gondor but also the amazing longevity of its mother and the renown of its father. Bloody handy kingdom-ruling material there as far as I can see.

"No, I'm the King now. You don't have any decision over whether or not you'll do anal."

"No, I'm the King now. You don't have any decision over whether or not you'll do anal."

The same applies to the aforementioned Faramir, and the eventual fate of the kingdom of Rohan.The fact that Faramir eventually marries Eowyn, who is directly linked to the royal line of Rohan, can also be seen as working well for old Gandalf, as this allows him to create a marriage of political convenience between the two kingdoms. If the battle-weary Eomer doesn’t have any kids of his own (and it’s safe to say he won’t, given his warlike belligerence), any child born from the marriage of Eowyn and Faramir would inherit the titles of both King of Rohan and Steward of Gondor, effectively dissolving Rohan’s sovereignty and making it a protectorate of Gondor – again working well for Gandalf, given that Aragorn, the King of Gondor, will be dancing to his tune. Already, he’s set up Gondor as the primary power, and we can be sure he’ll be running it from behind the scenes once everything else dies down.

Some might cry that this wouldn’t be a fool-proof plan. There are still other types out there whom Gandalf couldn’t directly control, namely the ents, the dwarves and the hobbits. But once more, Gandalf seems to have done his homework with this one, and the attitudes of each race deserves discussion.

Gandalf, in an early case of being caught reading pornography by a close relative.

Gandalf, in an early case of being caught reading pornography by a close relative.

As seen by their reticence to engage in any kind of war against Saruman until he made a direct attack on their territory – and even then only with a great amount of prior consideration – the Ents can be ruled out as a potential protectors of Middle Earth against Gandalf’s tyranny. Despite their strength once roused, it is very difficult to get them to act on anything. Not to mention the fact that like everyone else, the Ents trust Gandalf. After their seizure of Orthanc, they even go so far as to keep Saruman in captivity until Gandalf says otherwise. Oddly enough, given that he’s belittled and taken a pretty agressive stance towards his old wizardly drinking buddy throughout the previous portions of the trilogy, Gandalf decides to let Saruman go, under the guise of mercy for a fallen friend.

(Aside: While this might ring soundly with some readers, I believe this is Gandalf’s effort to create a sustained enemy once Sauron falls. Like the Eurasia/Eastasia  switching in Nineteen Eighty-Four and the belief of many conspiracy theorists that Roosevelt allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor in order to rally the Ameircan public to war, the continued threat of Saruman will keep the people of Middle-Earth on their toes, whilst paradoxically providing Gandalf with a threat symbol who can be easily neutralised).

In the case of the dwarves, Gandalf has long since placed himself in their friendship. The events of The Hobbit were quite visibly an attempt of Gandalf’s to inure himself to dwarf leadership, helping them go on a big quest to find a massive stack of gold – not to mention dragon-slaying and ring-finding. And like Elrond remarks (with no small measure of racism), the dwarves don’t have much of a vested interest in current events, keeping to themselves and spending much of their time mining. Unlike men and elves, the dwarves don’t send any massive armies to contribute in the defeat of Sauron. So long as he keeps them happy until he can stab them in the back, the dwarves don’t represent a massive threat to Gandalf either.

Finally, we come to the hobbits. As expected, these little buggers are no more of a threat to Gandalf as the above-mentioned races. He’s had rangers keeping an eye on them for ages, he doesn’t interfere when Saruman nearly burns the Shire down in his last-ditch attempt at control, and there’s even some talk at the end of the trilogy of the Shire coming directly under Gondorian authority, what with Aragorn being such a bloody lovely king and everything.

Given his clear path to power, some might ask how Gandalf expects to execute or utilise his control once he’s advising all the rulers, carefully weaking possible enemies etc. My reckoning is that Saruman hits the nail on the head when he makes a brief speech during his incarceration in his old fortress – in a scene which was later deleted from the cinema release of The Return of the King (I bet Gandalf had some say in that, too).

Upon finding out he'd been cut from the final film, Sir Christopher Lee was livid, and director Peter Jackson had to hand over Liv Tyler as way of apology.

Upon finding out he'd been cut from the final film, Sir Christopher Lee was livid, and director Peter Jackson had to hand over Liv Tyler as way of apology.

What do you want, Gandalf Greyhame? Let me guess. The key of Orthanc? Or perhaps the keys of Barad-Dur itself? Along with the crowns of the seven kings and the rods of the five wizards?

With this little tantrum, Saruman nails home the possibility that Gandalf might well be more then he seems. Luckily for the Grey Wizard, nobody believes Saruman, given that he is supposed to be the power-hungry magician who turned against his old allies. Gandalf is undoubtedly after the articles of power which make up the authorities of Middle Earth, not only for their symbolic associations but also for the actual magical powers which they carry. Much like Sauron made the Rings of Power and attempted to control them with his own One Ring, Gandalf’s plan is to obtain the artefacts of rule and rapid communication, such as the palantir seeing stones (remember how he pockets those of Saruman and Denethor once they’re gone?). But in contrast to this, Gandalf will not unite these objects with a single object of equal power, but rather with himself, giving himself far greater power and control than idiot Dark Lords like Sauron could dream of.

Of course, some (again, those lily-livered types in the pro-Gandalf camps) would argue that my entire argument is bunkum, given that by the end of the trilogy none of these things have come to pass. Gandalf allows everything to settle down naturally, and leaves Middle Earth along with the elves and a couple of the hobbits. He makes no visible grab for power and indeed expresses a belief that things have to get along without him, given that this new age is no longer his age.

I can reply to this with one simple answer: Bilbo.

"Where am I? Who are you? And what's Christopher Lee doing to Liv Tyler?"

"Where am I? Who are you? And what is Christopher Lee doing to Liv Tyler?"

Consider it thus; Bilbo spent sixty years as owner of the One Ring. Tolkien hammers home the detrimental effects which the Ring has on Bilbo, but no-one considers the kind of benefits it would provide. For one thing, much like the Ring’s previous owner Gollum, Bilbo has been given long life through his prolonged exposure to the Ring. It gave him the ability to become invisible whenever he wore it. Let’s also consider the power of the One Ring to control the remaining rings of power, one of which (Narya, the ring of fire) was secretly in Gandalf’s possession for a very long time. As such, though Bilbo might not have had willpower enough to control Gandalf, given the One Ring’s connection to the other ringbearers, Bilbo might well have been privy to the secrets which were otherwise locked away within Gandalf’s mind. Gollum would have been a similar threat had he not been killed, and Frodo would also have counted were it not for the fact he only owned the Ring for a comparatively short length of time.

Though such things might not seem important to Bilbo himself, given that he is rapidly going senile, chances are that he might spill Gandalf’s secrets to some other figure during one of his usual rambles, thereby seeding a potential uprising against Gandalf and royally buggering up everything he already has planned. As such, Gandalf plans for Bilbo to head westward with the elves, and also deigns to go along with him, making sure he keeps his mouth shut until old age finally takes him.

In the meantime, Gandalf will keep planning. And we can be assured of one thing: he’ll be back

Gandalf

YES, ladies and gents, it’s the glorious month of May. “May” as in “May as well be November.” By all rights this should be summertime, and I should currently be ensconsed on a headland somewhere, watching the sun set over a loving sea as I finish off another bottle of fruit cider – perhaps even sporting an adventurous pair of sandals. Instead, I’m watching another slew of gray stagger along the sky like some old bloke with a stone in his shoe, wondering whether or not it would be excessive of me to add another sheet to the bed. I’m fully aware of the tired old adage about “The Great British Summer”, but this is bloody stupid.

I’ve no doubt in my mind that eventually we’ll get a break in this crap weather, and June and July will conspire to render me a sweat-strewn, shade-seeking wreck of a man. As my nain remarked, it’s a bad time for me to try and start growing a beard – though I personally think the age of twenty-two is a perfectly acceptable time for a man to start growing a beard. Had I grown one at say, six, then she would probably have a point. In any case, I’ve now switched from the dog-eat-dog world of telemarketing, and have found myself in the slightly more comfortable sphere of retail, specifically outdoor gear. Given that my job now consists of trying to flog shoes, tents, sensible shorts and rucksacks, a beard is very much on the cards.

But I’m the first person to admit that the last time I made an attempt at facial hair was a disaster on par with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and I’ve the dodgy passport photo to prove it. Rather than looking like a subversive member of Generation Y (which was probably my intention), I look like a student who hasn’t shaved for a bit. I can almost imagine the disappointment spouted amongst the employees of the passport office when they came across my photograph: “Is it a beatnik? Is it Leon Trotsky? Is it a sexy, offbeat wordsmith who doesn’t play by the rules? Oh no wait, it’s just Iwan. Hoh hum. Pass me the one of that terrorist bloke again”.

Given that I recently went through my twenty-second birthday, I suppose the beard attempt is not only a cunning ruse on my part to make me look all clever and intellectual, but also a way of physically reinforcing just how old I actually am. Unlike the sort of wistful, Peter Pan types who want to stay young forever, I’m fairly keen on the idea of growing older – given that in the scheme of things, that’s what human bodies tend to do. We’re as much of a subject as entropy as everything else and I don’t want to avoid that. I like the idea that my mortal frame is daily assaulted by the sleek missiles of pathology, which wind down my lifespan a tad more in the doing so. In such a light, everything else becomes much more appreciable. And consequently, I’m happy enough with displaying my ever-advancing years. To be honest, I can’t wait to go grey. I may just dye my hair gray for a laugh. Who knows.

Most people will recoil from this sentiment in an “oh, what a morbid bastard!” fashion, but I don’t think my appreciation of mortality implies that I like the idea of dying. Granted, I’m not too big on the idea that one day I will simply cease to be and my consciousness will return to nothingness for the remainder of eternity, but in a roundabout way it seems like a reasonably good deal. Life, the universe and everything say to us “Look, you’ll get a few billion years of non-existence, about eighty years of conscious life, and then you can go back to the billion years of non-existence.” Ergo, given that the ratio of life to un-life (rather than death, which to me is the process between the two rather than its own identifiable state of being) is a tad unbalanced, you have to enjoy what portion of life you have.

Those who know me might be reasonably shocked to discover this. After all, my thrill-level extends no further than occasionally taking sugar in my tea. I’m not one of those people who apparently “live life to the max!” by flinging themselves from aircraft, plunging through caves or engage in chases with predators. But I don’t believe that that is the only way of experiencing the fullness of all of life’s sensations, and it’s a sad thing that we’ve had such tripe sold to us by the adrenaline crowd. I grant you that such intensity of experience can be quite life-affirming, but the benefits of existence can be granted in different ways. Read a good book. Go for a walk on a windy day. Find a good bit of art and do your best to enjoy its being there.

Better yet, talk to people. Find out what they enjoy, explain to them what you enjoy and try to find some common ground. We’re not solitary animals, and with good reason.  Human beings are very big on social ritual, relationships and communication. We came down from the trees partly because we developed such very handy systems of getting the right messages across to the right individuals, and in all sorts of ways too; be they signifiers of “That’s my bit of grass; keep off!” or “Hello there. Would you like to mate?”. These are the things which ease the pitfalls of mortality, reminding us that we are hardly alone in our state.

I grant you that at one point, human life may well have been solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. But now, we have the capacity to step beyond such miserable boundaries; be that through the arts – which, through beauty, makes life less poor – and the sciences – which through medicine and rapidly advancing information technologies, life becomes less solitary, nasty, brutish and short. It’s daft of us to shun such things in favour of continuing our misery, or even re-enforcing it in the name of drab superstition or unbridled fear.

And I’m aware that sometimes it becomes very easy to miss the point. I frequently do so myself, and it’s only through brief stints of introspection that I become aware of it again (that’s partly the reason why I have such things as blogs and notebooks). As of late, my life has often become that dreaded battle between work and “liesure time”, in which I spend my time outside of work reminding myself that I’m not in work. The problem with this way of doing things is that despite any efforts we may undertake to rid ourself of such notions, work kind of wins out in the end. After all, we usually treat our liesure time as a way of “recharging” after work, or a method of “unwinding” in between shifts. Maybe it’s just me, but does anyone else notice the deeply utilitarian shades behind such terms? We “recharge” things like phones and mp3 players in the expecation that we’re going to have to use their energy up soon. Things are “unwound” not because we wish to return them into a smooth state, but because we know there’s windy bits coming up, and we have to get all the kinks out so the rubber band can achieve it’s fully windiful potential.

In the vein of such thinkers as Alan Watts, Bob Black and Dr Stuart Brown, I quite like the idea of PLAY. Again, this might stun some people who know me fairly well, and as such know be to someone who isn’t wholly enamoured with the world of rushing around and physical activity. As a child I never did enjoy playing tip, and I can’t say much in the favour of sports. However, those are not the only things defined by the word “play”. Play can also mean things such as creativity, communicative intelligence and pure light-heartedness – in the vein of the people-connecting stuff I was on about above. Again, as with “living life to the full”, we’ve had an entire possible spectrum of things represented by one word reduced to one single and rather odd sphere of things. We’ve been taught that, despite the axiom of it not being the winning that counts but the taking part, play is about exertion and competition. So-and-so is better than the other so-and-so at football, or running – therefore, so-and-so is the winner and the other so-and-so is the loser. This duality is the be-all and end-all of it, and don’t you dare argue!

This was partly the reason why I never enjoyed P.E lessons or school sports day as a child. I’ll admit this doubtlessly stems from my also having been an unathletic and lazy child (traits which continue proudly into my adult life), but these things were infested with the idea of competition; and worse, it was a competition that I couldn’t win. Worse still, I made the mistake made by every child who isn’t good at sports; perhaps I couldn’t run as fast as one person, but I could write better stories than they could. Rather than outright letting go of the poisonous idea of competition, I simply decided to switch things from a losing game to a victorious one.

To me, it seems that this mindset is filtered down into the academic system by the world of work, which has a vested interest that people should be eager to display the abundance of their talents over the lack of someone else’s. No good at filing? You can move boxes. No good at stacking shelves? You can do pricing (ad nauseum). Plus, this works innately well in an economic and employment sphere based on competition – if you do better than someone else, you get to win more job security. You get to beat the other poor bastard, and quietly rejoice in their downfall.

Yes, it looks like work has infected everything else, turning things which aren’t work into a kind of “anti-work”, once more reducing a spectrum to polarisation. If you’re having trouble digesting this idea, try and imagine how ridiculous it would be if someone proposed that all the colours which were not blue were from now on to be thought of as “anti-blue”, rather than red, green, orange, purple, yellow, gray, brown etc. The whole concept of blue still wins through, because we are defining everything else in its relation to blue, rather than considering all colours in their own equal place on the spectrum.

My advice is that rather than viewing life as a battle between “work” and “not-work”, it should instead be viewed as an entire vast range of states and experiences, of which “work” and “not-work” are only two different possibilities. All the way through, keep in mind the possibility, ingenuity and joy of PLAY – be that writing a blog, drinking a fruit cider out on a summery headland, or growing a beard.