Thursday, December 30, 2010

Having My Cake

So anyway, H and I sat under the tree on Christmas morning and unwrapped our jumpers. Yes, we bought each other jumpers. "Darling, it's over. We're middle aged." I said, and hugged her tightly for a fearful moment, as we stared together into the oncoming storm. If the experience contained any truth, then the future will be mostly about baubles...

If I say that I hardly left the kitchen all day it will sound like a complaint, but in fact it was highly rewarding - and not just because of the constant supply of port and chocolates. I reduced raveous in-laws to muffled moans for mercy not once, but twice, and once they had been sent packing loaded with my "Nuclear Ginger Cake 2.0", my triumph was universally acknowledged. Domestic godhood is mine.

Meanwhile, the England & Wales Throwing Things at Australians team secured custody of the burned sticks for another spell, and I got to watch the Ospreys spank the Scarlets back west so hard, what was left of them probably washed up on the Wexford coast. As we always say in these parts, it's not really Christmas until you've stuffed the Turks.

It's shaping into a highly satisfying Winterval, and it's not over yet. Middle-age ain't so bad.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Demo 2010: An Open Letter In Both Directions


STOP characterising the demo violence as an organised anarchist assault on public order. The troublemakers are a small minority, and you know it. The same types turn up to any public demonstration against the establishment, they always will, and you can't use them as an excuse to stop peaceful protest. So stop trying.

STOP jumping to knee-jerk defences of transparently excessive police tactics, like the outrageous intimidation tactic of “kettling” in sub-zero temperatures, or the use of mounted baton charges against unarmed kids. Yes, policing these protests is a bloody difficult job, but you do the Met no favours by leaping to their defence quicker than they do. Oh, and Mr. Plod? The next time you're reaching out to topple some kid out of his wheelchair, you might just want to ask yourself; what could I possibly let him get away with that would look worse than this?

STOP calling for draconian punishments for “rioters” from the comfort of your armchairs. You probably still haven't noticed, but this kind of pathetically faux machismo simply drives down the consensus as to the probable size of your penis.


STOP pretending that this is about Tuition Fees, an issue on which the NUS and the Coalition Government are about as ideologically conflicted as Ant & Dec. It's an ideological reaction to the very notion of Conservative government, and its root are far wider. Which is perfectly fine – just so long as you admit it.

STOP fuelling the narrative of “Betrayal” by the Lib Dems, who are unable to enact their policy by virtue of (read this next bit carefully) losing the election. Yes, coalition politics is a bit new, and it may seem counter-intuitive that a party in government may lack both a mandate for its promises, and the responsibility to enact them. Boo Hoo. Get used to it. Anyway, even fewer students voted Lib Dem than in the electorate as a whole; and that was bugger all. Doesn't an election “pledge” kind-of carry with it the implicit notion that those you are pledging to will actually vote for you? So, who “betrayed” whom first?

STOP using the tired Thatcher-era language of class war, as if the last thirteen years never happened. When the Government first launched its attack on “benefit scroungers” while ignoring billions in tax fraud, there was an echoing silence from over there. When the Government first let the banks off the hook while planning swingeing spending cuts..? Hmm, still barely a grumble. The single defining difference between then and now, is that “The Government” are now (mostly) from the blue team. Your embittered, righteous fury is actually pure, cynical political opportunism, and shame on you for it. An illegal foreign war that kills thousands; a crusade against the common liberties of ordinary citizens; collusion in torture for fuck's sake; all these things could be allowed to stand, but a modest re-adjustment of Higher Education finance is the cue to unleash Hell? Bollocks.

Now, both of you – go home, calm down, and grow the fuck up.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Secret Messages

So... WikiLeaks, then.

Like a million other, cleverer observers, I find my responses genuinely conflicted. In saying that, I do not imply some 50:50 fence occupation strategy; I am firmly towards the “Freedom of Information” side of the equation. But that doesn't blind me to some simple, pragmatic realities.

Foremost of which is that no human relationship - whether it be in a marriage, between tennis partners, or between national governments and international organisations – can possibly function in an atmosphere of 100% disclosure. During the relentless assault on western civil liberties that has occurred in the last ten years, Establishment voices have been keen to use variations on the mantra, “If you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear”. Now, the poverty of that argument stares them coldly in the face. EVERYONE has something to hide; it's how we function in societies. If we knew about others all the little things we find shameful in ourselves, we would all retreat to the caves and eat spiders.

So, if we are to engage in international diplomacy – and even the most reclusive regimes have yet to find a way of avoiding that entirely – then of course it must remain just as possible for two high-ranking officials to have a private conversation, as it is for a co-habiting couple to have a quiet word over the cornflakes.

We deplore the instinct to cover-up when battles go badly, or when soldiers behave in reprehensible ways. But it is those same mechanisms of obfuscation that allow terrorist cells to be infiltrated and destroyed, or hostages to be rescued. If we accept that military operations are sometimes necessary, then military secrecy must be an allowable concept.

Julian Assange has some good points to make, though, when he talks about the mechanisms of conspiracy, and his agenda to erode them. He takes pains to differentiate his notion of “conspiracy” – an emergent behaviour arising naturally from power structures – from the “Big C” notion of moustache-twirling super-villains. His position is undoubtedly extreme, but it can be argued (by which I mean, I have) that extremists are sometimes useful where there is imbalance.

I believe it is clear that the balance between diplomatic utility and military security on one side, and public accountability and civic enfranchisement on the other, is severely out of alignment in the western democracies. As such, I'm excited by the possibility of effecting a shift. And in those limited terms, I support what WikiLeaks is doing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clavicle Error

Well, most of that gap can be explained by this;

...which now looks considerably prettier, overlaid with what looks like a mini suspension-bridge. It's been a successful upgrade and Oscar Goldman has expressed satisfaction with my progress towards "better, stronger, faster". Rob 2.0 came out of the sling for good (?) last week and returning to normal now. What can I tell you? Too fast, new brakes, potholes. The law of conservation of momentum. Tarmac. It's an age-old story, to which I have little new to add.

Anyway, recovered enough now to get out on stage again at the weekend, as The Shoeshine continued its sporadic tour of Western Britain in the village of Machen, near Chepstow. A goodly crowd pitched up at the rather well-specced village hall, gave us a fine reception, laughed at some lines even we didn't think were jokes, and rewarded us with some excellent cheese. Don't think that could've gone better? With two or three possible dates lined up for the new year, there's no sign of us stopping soon.

Otherwise, I have some film work lined up for the next few weeks - including a speaking part! -which should provide material for continued bloggage at less geological intervals. That's the plan, anyway...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and... Shoes.

Just about to depart for Bridgnorth, in the depths of Shropshire, where this weekend I shall tread the boards once more as Geoffrey in "The Shoeshine". Also about waist-deep in preparations for SLT's "The Canterbury Tales", enscribulated by my esteemed colleague Brian Willis. In that one, I'm a sex pest, and later a drug dealer... Then there's "Valjean" by Acting On It, which I'll be co-narrating and god knows what else. "The Shoeshine" comes back to Swansea's Dylan Thomas Centre in July.

Got all that?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Sometimes, A Fence Is Just A Cigar. Or Something.

Psychonomy writes about the BCA/Singh affair. As ever, he dons the robes of Devil's Advocate and kicks against the tide in his effort to see the balance in all things. As ever, he's got a point. As ever, I disagree with him. :-)

I think the case is mainly about two things:

  1. Whether I can safely call a spade a spade, and whether I can go on to say that claims of its efficacy at - say - sinking battlecruisers are disingenuous, without worrying about whether I can actually prove that the owner of said garden implement knows it not to be a submarine.
  2. Whether large organisations should continue to get away with stifling criticism by bankrupting critics in the courts of the 14th Century.

The more important point (2) has yet to be decided, of course.

BCA's fault was in "allowing" (ha!) the development of a public impression that chiropractic could cure a rainy day. Singh's fault was in failing to sufficiently fudge an "unproveable" assertion that was, nonetheless, palpably true to any disinterested observer.

Both faults contribute - disproportionately - to public confusion about a serious issue. Only one of them risks public health. Reckless misrepresentation for gain, compounded by cynical misuse of outdated law to destroy dissent - versus (arguably) "sloppy journalism". Does that really call for "a plague on both your houses"?

Yes, it's in some sense admirable to see the balance in any cause célebre. It's a natural instinct against the wisdom of crowds; that 50,000 Twitterrers can't be right. I get that. But you've got to be squinting pretty hard to find the shades of grey in this one.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Oh yes, there was that little trip to San Francisco. Forgot to blog about that. Hardly worth mentioning, was it? [thud] [thud]

We were only there for five days; enough to see all the famous bits but not to go in depth, or to venture out to greater California. The bay itself is as impressive as you'd expect, and yes, there are lots of trams (sorry, streetcars) going up and down lots of hills. But otherwise, the popular image of Fr'isco - as least as I understood it - was fairly absent from what we experienced. Hippy culture? Virtually invisible. Arts scene? Present and correct, but hardly superior to any major western city. Homosexuals? :-) Well, my gaydar might not be the sharpest tool in the box, but I'm sure I've seen gayer-looking villages in the Cotswolds.

Certainly the city's best-kept secret, however, is its homelessness problem. Certain areas of downtown feel like the Third World, and I was certainly more comfortable - and less ashamed of my comfort - on the streets of Havana. Not good.

If there was a theme to my experience of the atmosphere of SF, it was "faded glory" - lovely when chilling in the quiet, architecurally eclectic uphill neighbourhoods, but rather grim when faced with the more prosaic civic decay near the waterfront. She's a sadder, wiser city than the one we know from the clichés. I only wish we'd had more time to get to know her better.

Monday, March 01, 2010


I'd like to know how many people in the UK read this;

as against how many read this;

On second thought, perhaps it's better that I merely imagine the numbers.

It must be conceded that the Daily Express has hit a rich vein of form in its quest for the ultimately disingenuous headline. In that spirit, might I suggest a topic they seem to have missed? Just for fun, of course.


A 95-yr-old man awoke this morning at 7.45am and promptly pronounced himself to be "feeling absolutely marvellous".

In yet another slap in the face for the ageing lobby, Mr. Alan Young, of Runcorn, Cheshire, told The Express "I've never felt better. I feel like I could go on forever!"

Boffins at Runcorn FE College, however, continue to maintain that, whatever evidence to the contrary, people get "older" with the passage of time, gradually losing their physical and mental abilities until they ultimately "die".

"Do I look like I'm dying?" asked Mr. Young today. "I sometimes wish these 'scientists' would come out of their ivory towers and just take a look at the world around them."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shining Again

Yesterday the Shoeshine crew paid our first visit to Bridgnorth's Theatre on the Steps, where we will be performing in May. It's an fascinating little place, very intimate and full of 'character'; which is to say that it desperately needs the refurbishment that will begin almost the moment we leave the stage. It's a radically different space to the Dylan Thomas Centre stage, and we're hoping it will allow us to develop the piece in new ways.

The town itself is lovely, too; built on, and partly into, a cliff face on the banks of the Severn, with lovely views across to the other side. Lots of intriguing nooks and crannies. My camera kit will be accompanying me next time.