JE SUIS CHARLIE  - 12/1/15


I try to retain an air of mild, anecdotal amusement within the tight cabin-space of a weekly column, but sometimes nothing seems funny. With the events of last week in Paris, it would be impossible to talk about anything else, and with anything other than sadness, compassion for the victims, and rage at the perpetrators.


Amid the rolling reports from Paris, I sat side by side with my daughter. Her look of incomprehension at the events was not mirrored by me, or indeed by anyone delivering the news reports. We had seen this all too often before. We were shocked of course, but not surprised. We have long since grown used to these stories. It troubles us more perhaps that this time, the horror was played out on the streets of a city so near to us, rather than in the more remote and abstract locations of Pakistan, Nigeria or Gaza.  But the reality is, this is our reality. And we have all grown used to it.


Following on from the events in Paris, we listened to the news this morning as it went to Pakistan, to Peshawar, where the school that had seen 150 of it’s pupils and staff slaughtered by terrorists last month, returned for the new term. Again I tried to explain this to my daughter, or at least put it into context. “This would be like half of your school being murdered. “ I said, “Just imagine that.”


But of course my ten-year-old daughter cannot imagine that. Mercifully, it is incomprehensible to her. But introducing that reality to her, it once more returns as a shock to the system.  I tried to explain what had happened, but it is an impossible task. And of course as her inevitable questions of “What is a terrorist?” and “Why would people do those things?” the evil, unfathomable to the innocent and gentle landscape of her mind, once more becomes unfathomable to me.


You can end up apologising in your thoughts, for bringing a child into this world. Sometimes it seems too awful a place to introduce to there unjaded nature.  You remind yourself that this is not the norm. This is an abhorrence of human nature, and most people are of course decent and good.  You remind yourself that most people just want a happy safe contented life for themselves and their family. But as the Paris events also remind us, tragically there is a minority who want exactly the opposite. They want to murder people in order to callously sow the seeds of fear and division.


And sadly one hears reports of this taking effect. You see stories of far-right groups smashing Muslim shops and attacking mosques in ‘revenge.’ You hear Nigel Farrage pathetically using it as a way to justify the curbing of immigration. You read of people blaming normal Muslims for the horror! As if we should also blame all the Irish for the actions of the IRA?


If there is anything at all that is not just awful about the events in Paris, I can only hope that this is a massive own goal for those who seek to disrupt democracy and our way of life. Far from terrifying us back into silence, encouragingly, it did exactly the opposite. The level of support for those at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and for those at the Jewish supermarket, was astonishing. Actually no, not astonishing, perhaps just correct. World leaders descended on Paris to show their support, newspapers, websites and magazines across the world, including the Arabic world have come out in support of, and sympathy for, the cartoonists, and to condemn the actions of the gunmen. Over a million people marched through the streets of Paris.


And perhaps most inspiringly, a publication went out this week from Charlie Hebdo itself, defying the terrorists and printing exactly what they intended to print. And this week it will be read not in it’s thousands, as had been the norm, but in it’s millions. Millions of people will read Charlie Hebdo’s messages and be free to make their own minds up as to what they believe, what they think, and what they feel.  This is what those gunmen achieved.


We must continue to oppose such tactics of terror. We must continue to exercise our freedom of speech. We must continue to speak out against oppression and hypocrisy and barbarism.  And we must continue to support those that write, draw, sing, and make films in that vein on our behalf. And to those people such as the gunmen in Paris, I’d like to state that we are not mocking Muhammad. We are mocking you.


Je suis Charlie.



Happy New Year everybody. I hope the next twelve months bring you great fortune and happiness. What a wonderful opportunity for adventure, self-improvement and all round, colossal, unadulterated fun. Go get ‘em champ.


I am trying to sound sincere and upbeat. Is it working? That might be as much as I can muster….Yep, that’s it.


Full disclosure, I am not the most optimistic human being. I try, honestly I do. But when I’m asked is my cup half full, I can’t help feeling that it is often completely full of some rather unsavory substance that I don’t care to examine too closely. 


I know this is an awful position to pit yourself toward the Universe, however, and so I battle against myself. I really do. And I had such good intentions for 2015. Such high hopes. I was going to cast aside the shackles of disappointment and failure that 2014 heaped upon me, wipe the slate clean, spring out of the blocks into the new me. Paint those New Years resolutions, over my kitchen wall and over my heart and soul. Here I come world, get outta my way.


Not like last year when I was a right misery guts. Just look what I wrote at the end of last year, in my column.


“No, New Year’s Resolutions are not an exercise in self-improvement. They are an exercise in self-loathing. Hope goes, potential fades, resolve atrophies, you remain.”


Blimey! Who was that guy? Who invited that dude to the party? Get him out of here.  He’s bumming me out! That’s not me. That’s old me. This is 2015. This is the new me.


And just as I settled down to enjoy my Christmas mince pies and pull a cracker or two (that isn’t a euphemism for my lascivious intentions. This isn’t the 70’s. I do actually mean pulling a Christmas cracker). Just as I was more than ready and willing to put my feet up, after all the hard graft of the year, and take a well-earned seasonal putting up of feet, I got really ill.


And not just a bit ill. Really flipping ill. I have never been so ill.  And I’ve had a stroke! I spent Christmas day sweating it out in bed, with my tonsils staging something like a re-enactment of the Crimean War, with my throat on the losing side. This, with my sister coming up to my room, Florence Nightingale style, to sympathetically ascertain if there was anything genuinely wrong with me, or was I just trying to avoid our parents?


I enjoyed no yummy food, and imbibed no alcohol until January 3rd!!!! I just lay in my bed, or on my sofa, or on my floor, in my own profound misery, and gurgled. On the plus side, when all around me were expanding their waistlines, I did lose about a stone. And I have now an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the James Bond oeuvre. So, every cloud.


By the way kids, an encyclopedia was a book that humans used to look up things they didn’t know, in about 1823. It’s actually where the phrase wikipe…kids?


And there was clearly a lot of illness about. The doctor’s surgery looked like a workhouse scene from Oliver. Shuffling, suffering, weakened souls queuing for salvation and some small pharmaceutical comfort. When I returned to ask for stronger anti-biotics, I expected my GP to shout “More?.....MORE!!!” But she didn’t. That’s the trouble with the scientific education, they may save lives, but they produce very little flair for the theatrical.


It doesn’t seem quite fair, that when so many of us labored through a tough year, with the nations finances plummeting, along with the temperature, that we were rewarded for our efforts, by a number of anti-biotic resistant seasonal superbugs that could fell a horse. Thanks Universe!


And so I have limped into the New Year. I’m not sure I even did that. I think I shuffled, on my backside, like a truculent toddler. His fury compounded by the fact that he can neither walk, nor speak to articulate his fury at such confinement. All he can do is sit on his fundament and look cheesed off.


“Happy flipping New Year”, I think he’s trying to say. Either that, or ”Stop the world I want to get off”. It’s difficult to tell when he gets like this.






So we found out this week that the Scottish decided they would rather stay within the United Kingdom. There have been the obvious jokes. That Scotland has behaved like a teenage child threatening to run away, with parental England saying, “Go on then.” Or if Alex Salmond had really wanted independence, he should have got the English to vote on it. That sort of thing. Either way, he was defeated.


“It’s not a defeat,” cried the Yes Campaign, after their defeat.

“We have been granted more changes than if we’d won. So actually we did win.” They said, after their defeat.

“It’s not a defeat, Scottish people have become really engaged and interested in Scottish politics.”

Have they? It felt at times like Scottish people had become interested in politics in the way German people in the 1930’s became interested in politics.


Whatever it was, the Scots decided we were better together. Apparently, after all that bluster about how much we English have been screwing them for years, it turns out it wasn’t as bad as all that. Perhaps they were afraid to leave, in the same way a battered wife stands by her man. Perhaps there was some form of Stockholm syndrome? Or maybe, just maybe, the English aren’t as bad as everybody is always very keen to tell us we are?


Maybe the Scots realized that whilst Westminster might well have been screwing them, they’ve been doing the same thing to the majority of England too. It’s easy to get the impression that the rest of Great Britain thinks that everyone in ‘that there London’ and the South-East, all glide along roads paved with gold, in gold-plated Bentleys, from our golden houses, on our way to our six-figure salaried stockbroker jobs.  Well come and take a look around that there London, or indeed parts of Southend for that matter, and witness some of the worst levels of poverty, housing, traffic, and schooling, in the whole country.


I’ve lived in Edinburgh for a month each year for the last 12 years, whilst doing the Festival.  I also went to Edinburgh University.

Despite this, I admit I am largely ignorant of the full historical facts. I accept that once upon a time the English did some bad things to the Scots. I don’t really know what they were, but we do have form at that sort of thing, so I’ll take that. I don’t know much about the West Lothian question, Robert the Bruce, the Campbells and the McDonalds or about Robert Burns. But I doubt whether the average Scot knows that much more about it either. The ones I’ve met are as ignorant of their history as we are of ours. So I don’t really understand why they hate us English so much? It feels like it’s just a little too convenient to despise someone else for one’s own disgruntlements at life.


The amount of times I’ve had to listen to a comedian from Scotland, or for that matter from Ireland, or from the North, bang on about how awful the South and Southerners are, before introducing me onto stage only to get a less than warm welcome from all those salt of the earth, warm-hearted Northerners. It’s SO much friendlier up North! Is it? Is it really?  If only I had a penny for every time I’ve been told that, in a very unfriendly Northern accent, well, I’d be as wealthy as they clearly think we all are.  Interestingly, I can’t remember the same thing ever happening with the Welsh. Perhaps I was too busy trying to extinguish the flames of my burning holiday home?


My Scottish friend, a life long Labour supporter, said he was voting for the Yes campaign because he just wanted change.  Despite the  loss, many changes have indeed been promised. Hopefully these promises will be kept; hopefully there will be change. But I doubt it. Won’t it will just be another set of self-serving, power hungry politicians doing nothing much to help anyone, but themselves, to the cookie jar? In the end, it’s probably just a case of which accent you can stomach whilst you’re being lied to.




I read this week, that satellites are now so powerful that if you opened a tabloid newspaper and laid it on the ground, it could be read from space! And I read that in a tabloid, so it must be true.


To think, there could be alien civilizations studying earth for signs of intelligent life, going,

“Who is that woman they call Denise on page 3? She must be very powerful. She doesn’t even have to wear clothes.”


Not for much longer though. Rupert Murdoch is suggesting that after 44 years, the days of his page 3 are numbered. Progress in one sense, until he then went on to say,

‘Perhaps young women look better with some clothes on’


Some?!!! Yuck! And completely missing the point. The issue is not whether women look good with some clothes on, or no clothes on. Of course they do. The issue is not whether breasts are lovely to look at, of course they are. The issue is whether it’s appropriate to have pictures of them naked in a daily paper.


For the record, I don’t think they should ban page 3. That’ll change nothing. What they should do is move it to The Guardian. That way at least, so many more people would read a decent newspaper. Drawn, like the Sirens of Ulysses.


You‘re skeptical, but think about this.  If you are a woman, or you witnessed a woman, walking passed a building site, with a load of blokes all reading The Guardian, cross-word half done, and rather than the usual sexist nonsense, you heard,

“Oi lady, you read this piece on the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia? My head’s been so full of footie trivia and Mystic Meg that I simply had no idea! “


Come on, wouldn’t life be so much better?


Ok, many women, and many men too, don’t want to see any pictures in any newspaper of naked women. I had the following conversation.

“Page 3 is disgusting.“ they said.

“Is it?” I said, “Why?”

“It promotes an unrealistic view of how women look and act.” They said.

“And women’s magazines never do that?” I said.


“Looking at pictures of women with no clothes on, you should be ashamed of yourself.” they said.


I hope I am respectful toward women. If and when I fail, it is not from want of trying. But should I really feel ashamed for looking at pictures of women with no clothes on? A little embarrassed, sure. It’s hardly edifying. But ashamed? I feel more shame when I see Katie Price’s third novel at no.1 in the bestsellers list. I feel more shame witnessing yet another young female musician parading around in her underwear.


Who actually reads Katie Price’s novels?  Her biography, I might just forgive. I might even let the first novel slide. Maybe, just maybe, on holiday. But three? Who got to the end of the second novel, and declared, “I just can’t get enough of the Katie Price oeuvre!”


This is not meant as an anti women’s literature thing. Of course not. It’s meant as an anti-rubbish literature thing. The same is true of countless lads mags and celebrity novels.


Who am I to say what’s good and bad literature, I hear you cry. It’s all just a matter of taste. No, this is not about taste. These fame-truffling berks aren’t interested enough in writing to even have a taste. It’s just one more piece of self-promotion to get back on the front covers of some trivia infested, self-lobotomizing magazine or tabloid. And the circle of fetid bilge is complete.


There can be only one excuse for reading Katie Price’s novels. If you have read every other book that has ever been written. EVER!

The next time you find yourself with Katie Price’s third novel in one hand, Pride and Prejudice in the other, and you choose the former, go home, and have a good long look at your life.


We’re all guilty of course. We all consume this stuff.  I consume this stuff. I’m not even sure why. I don’t think any of us are. I don’t believe any of us are actually that interested in this kind of bottom feeding. We’re just force-fed to the point of addiction. It’s almost as if they are trying to divert our attentions away from what is really important, pulling focus from what is really going on?


Hmmmm? They wouldn’t be doing that, would they?