Saturday, January 28, 2006

A tale of contemporary Britain

Mice are in my flat. It's been months and the estate agent's done F.A. about it. Tracking him down over the phone is being a bit of a task, not made any easier by the fact that a managing company (Curry&Partners), the landlord himself, and a pest-control firm are also involved. Two months and the problem seems to be getting worse. The occasional beast dies of poison in the wall cavities, not very pleasant I tell thee. And yet that doesn't solve the root of the problem.

I no longer wish to live in this place, not for the fat "city-centre living" rate that they ask per month. The contract didn't mention I was gonna have any co-tenants, certainly not of the rodent species. So, sure that it's within my right to cut short my tenancy agreement on the grounds of change of circumstances and -more to the point- health & safety, I trot to that wonderful place of free legal advice for everyone, the Council Tax-funded Citizens Advice Bureau, or CAB.

Friday, 1pm. No opening times in view. No "CLOSED"-sign at the booth, no receptionist either . After some procrastination, those waiting learn that the system operate on numbered tickets, a bit like the clap clinic. Except that there's no ticket machine. Apparently it's the receptionist who hands tickets over to you, except that -yes, you were correct- there was no receptionist. Someone shouts for help over the booth. "I'll be there in a few minutes", is the reposte from an invisible receptionist at the back. A few minutes later, she finally re-emerges: "Can I help you?". Ahead of me, a woman utters: "Yes, I was...". The receptionist cuts it short, very matter-of-fact:"We've stopped seeing people for today, sorry". And off she goes, no explanation, no time wasted on explaining opening times and all that jizz. Vanished. Later I will learn from their website that their opening times are 10am-3pm. A poster looms imposing over the waiting room: "Let us know what you think of our service. Pick up a Citizens' Advice Bureau comment form". Guess what? Those forms must be invisible, cos not a single one is on display.

As I cast off, perplexity takes over: is it Britain i live in, or a third world country? No doubt, if I could afford it, I'd pay a solicitor handsome fees to sort it out for me. Then they say money doesn't make a difference. Jizz off.

The BNP on trial. Or is it freedom of speech?

The BNP and its leader Nick Griffin are on trial at Leeds Crown Court on charges of incitement to racial hatred.

The subject is a very delicate one and I can't help but wonder whether a ban on the BNP or the 'judicial route' are the correct way of dealing with the issue.

Sure enough, the BNP is a vile, old-fashioned, homophobic (or more generally, phobic), far-right organisation. But, like it or not, it expresses views that are not that uncommon across sections of society; views that are not helped by a permanent ban on the media, on the grounds that they are 'racist' or 'unpleasant'.

Honesty would suggest that - at this point in history- if damage on minorities and the Muslim community is being done, part of the blame is also to be shouldered by fundamentalist Islam or the preachings of Imams such as Abu Hamza or Sheikh Mohammed Bakri of Al-Mujaharoun. Meetings legally take place in this country -remember the Al Mujaharoun rally at the Birmingham NIA, just down the road- where appalling things are said about women's liberties, the 'infidels', or wiping the Jews off the map. Victimising the BNP won't solve a single thing.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Your safe night out

Bouncers are likely to provoke violence or cause unnecessary injury in more than 30 per cent of incidents in which they are involved, according to Professor Tim Stockwell, director of the Perth-based National Drug Research Institute. If that’s surprising news to you and you’re vaguely familiar with clubland then no doubt you’re telling a porky. One of the subjects that has always left me in bewilderment is the legal zona franca that club doormen enjoy. And that’s without dwelling on the many occasions when I witnessed well behaved puny little things being manhandled (yes, women too) or beaten the crap out of by power-crazed bouncers (my friends and I used to refer to the bouncers at the Birmingham Academy as “the Gestapo”). They may have been pissed-up punters, but does that justify a full-on beating? Security firms can blabber that “if you show us respect you’ll receive respect”, but apply the same principle in any area of customer service and you’d be guaranteed to collect your P45 before lunch break begins.

The fact is, too many bouncers have made machismo an integral part of their self-image and seen the job as a power trip that can boost their ego and usually low self-esteem. Although many security firms check the background of potential employees, Home Office research has found cases where firms took on people with extensive criminal records, or former convicts who set up their own company. No doubt doormen have to put up with hordes of drunken idiots every nights, and no doubt I have also met some really decent ones (well, not many, but I can think of one perfect gentleman, many years ago in that studenty pit that is Snobs) but that isn’t the point. Ugly and overly tough behaviour on the doormen’s part can only increase provocation and the likeliness of injuries with the risk that, in some cases, it is actually the bouncer who can violently put a damper on a night out.

Only a series of recent episodes urged the law-makers in this country to come up with a new regulatory system based on vetting and licensing. How enforceable that is, and what a difference a badge may do, we’ll have to see. At least they should register that if they let their beastly instinct prevail by decking someone’s brains at the slightest hint of misbehaviour there may be legal repercussions. And more good news come from the setting up of a helpline, “Release”, that provides legal advice to people who have been victims of violent behaviour from security staff in clubs. There’s even a phone number, 02077299904. A year of clubbing I miss and see the surprises. Who would have thought.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Sun shines out of our behinds

Have low have we sunk that we deserve The Sun, out of all people, giving us moral lectures about Mark Oaten?

The latest victim to be ripped apart by the demented UK tabloid brigade is rent-a-chap Mark Oaten, LibDem MP for Winchester, guilty of betraying his family-man credentials by having an affair with a rent boy.

The fact of the matter is that this country’s press has topped the most sickening levels of hypocrisy. Who are they, those tabloids, to preach about family values and a bloke's sexual anguish when they’re first in the queue with the most relentless, lurid, cheapest notion of sex. The very same Sun (and News of The World) that, by commodifying the female body, is responsible for cementing a macho-fuelled notion of beauty that results in generations of teenage girls wondering whether their knockers will ever be “up to the task”.

The same vulgar Sun that preaches about a populistic British grandeur while it forwards the shrewd self-interest business of non-British tycoon Rupert Murdoch, a right-winger who will not go down in history for re-investing his humongous profits back into this country.

But perhaps the problem is deeper. The problem of a rotten country that may not care about Tony Blair’s lies as he sends British soldiers to the deaths on the basis of a counterfeited PhD thesis. A country where certain press are so obsessed with page-3-boobs that, displaying memory-levels worth of a goldfish, they give the same Prime Minister such an easy ride over the connection between Iraq and Islamic terrorism reaching our shores. A press that finds rent-a-chap Oaten more relevant than a widening gap between rich and poor under a Labour government, with fat-cats payouts growing as fast as the £1.3 trillion debt bubble. A country that boasts 2/3 of the entire EU credit card debt, where the economy would collapse without its gurgle of virtual money, shopping centre after shopping centre. Where workers’ rights are at an all-time low and the education system faces another elitist overhaul. A country where Oaten fancying it ‘that way’ has more social relevance than a government holding 65 per cent of the seats based on a 27 per cent share of the vote.

Have low have we sunk that we deserve The Sun, out of all people, giving us moral lectures about Mark Oaten?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Jarhead. A review of Sam Mendes’ latest film

“Every war is different, every war is the same”, sighs Anthony "Swoff" Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Sam Mendes’ new stunning success.

By complaining that it confounds expectations, some reviewers miss the point: Jarhead isn’t a war movie, more a reflection behind rhetoric, propaganda and the sense of anonymity, loneliness and hopelessness of contemporary cannon (or shall we say depleted uranium) fodder.

Hollywood is crowded with illustrious war-films: Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now and the rest, and even the most recent battle-based contributions (think Three Kings or Black Hawk Down) had their mainstay in velocity and the ritualisation of combat in its most tragic sense.

That alone makes Jarhead unique. The sense of boredom, the stifling wait, the intolerable heat are all inexorable factors that little by little, and with exasperating subtlety, drive those marines insane.

Inspired by Swofford’s 2003 book “Jarhead- A Marines’ Chronicle of The Gulf War and Other Battles”, Mendes wisely takes a step back, leaving the viewers alone to make up their mind about the inebriated rhetoric of god-bless-america-let’s-kick-the-aye-raki’s-ass.

The sense of build-up is remarkably rendered, troops growing from 60,000 to 575,000 within four months, gagging for action while the battle never comes and the enemy doesn’t materialise.

All that is left are hideous levels of testosterone bound to rip the marines apart from within with frustration, nerves and unmitigated boredom. And with inertia comes the realisation that their lives back home – indeed is there a home to go back to at all - are none other than trash, the same trailer trash that pushed then into that deceptively glamorous way out, the marines. But glamorous it isn’t, those guys were promised Apocalypse Now and death of inaction is all they’re getting.

When Swofford concludes “ten years on and we’re still in the desert”, one suspects that Jarhead will turn out to be the landmark of a generation, the lapse that helps the US public register the morass they got themselves into, the physiological guilty swing of the pendulum like it happened halfway through Vietnam.

In which case -be proud Kate- Mendes will deservedly step into cinematic history and with an eye on that other rising star, the absolutely superb Jake Gyllenhall. 2006 may have just begun, but Jarhead is on course to be one of the Hollywood highlights of the year.

Friday, January 20, 2006


At which stage in the evolution of mankind did we decide that people like Chantelle or Pete Burns are to be elevated to 'celebrity' status?
Since he doesnt mind it on other creatures, that idiot should be skinned himself.
Yes, i know, hands up, I'm watching it. Ooops. Blame January's skintness.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Those stinky Travel West Midlands buses

In the space of two years a standard bus fare in the West Midlands has gone up to £1.20, a steep 20% rise. The so-called 'daysaver'? Another 20% rise, from £2-50 to £3-00. At this rate it'll be a fiver by the end of the decade. Even worse the 'short hop' ticket, from 55p to 85p an increase of around 50%. Perhaps they charge extra for the eau-de-piss essence you inhale on those Travel West Midlands' double-deckers.

Now look at your wage slip. What a surprise it doesn't swell up anywhere near as fast as those rates. Somehow in the same stretch my wage went up by 2% in total, and I should even concede I've been luckier than some. And let's not get into the mad rise of London Underground fares or railway prices. Train fares could knock you for six unless you know whether you're going to travel 25 months in advance, the exact departing time and your surname begins with M or something. And what a service they offer, but that's another story.

Clearly the taxpayers' zillions poured into Virgin Trains and every cash-strapped private company contracted out to supply public services aren't enough. Do your bit of charity. Get on that bus.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Whores of the world unite

Paying for sex is not what's damaging society. Keeping it underground is.

Its attitude to civil liberties may appear erratic at best, but there's no doubt the Blair's government is making unprecedented inroads in modernising the approach to canons and customs.

Like many other issues (i.e. cannabis, homosexuality), the attitude towards prostitution is more a matter of acknowledging reality than holding on to abstract moral smokescreens. And so the facts speak for themselves: stuck within an illegal regime, prostitutes make easier prey to molesters and criminals.

Of course, there is no quick-fix. Indeed some would actually argue that prostitution isn't a problem as such, given that trying to combat the law of supply and demand is like trying to get water to run uphill. The problems arise when the trade is buried under the sand, making it illegal in the names of pious moralism.

The Government is now looking at the model already in place in Australia and New Zealand where brothels are state-licensed. The UK law is to be changed to allow two prostitutes and a receptionist or maid to work together legally in brothels, whereas currently only lone prostitutes can offer sex from flats or other premises without breaking the law.

The strategy seems on the right track, based on the assumption that working in groups would be safer for women. Hopefully Blair will ditch his proto-christian hang-ups and go all the way to stop criminalising prostitutes. As well as many other benefits, it would make it more difficult for prostitutes to jump in the car with people they don't know, something that is obviously very difficult when there's a crackdown going on.

Religious zealots can talk about "zero-tolerance", but centuries of giving clients and prostitutes criminal records never eradicated the issue.
It is not paying for sex that is damaging society. It's keeping it underground that is none other than contracting it out to criminal organisation.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Feeding intolerance

To declare war on terror doesn't mean having missiles randomly pissing down from the sky. Surely there's enough handsomely paid-up US war strategist who'd gather that.

The 1996 IRA attacks on the Docklands and Manchester’s Arndale centre left us with some devastating scenes. Now imagine this. Without any warning or consultation with the Irish government, a couple of avenging RAF planes would take off and bomb Dublin. 18 dead, streets and buildings raised to the ground. Of course that never happened. It’d be a daft, absurd and misguided piece of revenge.

It happened, instead, on Friday. Only difference, a missile or two was dropped out of the blue by the US Air Force on a Pakistani village. The reason? They were looking, in vain -it turned out- for Al Quaeda number two, Mr Al-Zawahari. The creepy geezer wasn’t there, of course, and I just wonder how many more deprived, ignorant kids, witnessing their huts smashed into pieces and with nothing else to lose, will now join a fundamentalist group as a result. To declare war on terror doesn't mean having missiles randomly pissing down from the sky. Surely there's enough handsomely paid-up US war strategist who'd gather that.

Yet, we haven’t got much to worry, as sure enough our pampering news coverage system will keep us safe in the bubble: Jodie Marsh’s eviction or Sven-Goran Eriksson’s grotesque gossip are our media fodder of preference, forget the Pakistani slaughter. Til the next 7/7 blasts up the crack of our arse.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


The very word -celebrity- was hardly ever used before the noughties, now it'll go down in history as this decade's obsession.

Trite and pathetic the anti-Galloway witch-hunt may be, but it's a simple fact that the Bethnal Green MP has not been doing his job. As well as being virtually absent from debates and parliamentary votes, his attendance record at the Commons is one of the very lowest amongst all MPs.

So one wonders if George Galloway knew what he was doing when he entered "Celebrity Big Brother", jeopardising his political career on the altar of the dullest, most brain-dead programme of all. If he thought he'd use it as a platform to "get across the anti-war message", then what a massive blunder he made. A quick look at the Z-Lists of fallen egomaniacs he's surrounding himself with and his constituents would be more inclined to think that he's there to preen his feathers instead.

But since you cannot judge what you don't know, this year I decided to give it a go. Yes, I did fear I’d develop a soap-style addiction, but in reality all I could stomach was just about an hour. Not only is it boring, it's just painfully unbearable.

The 'platform' is none other than an A&E centre for a dim-witted collection of failed celebrities with absolutely nothing to write home about. Except, so to speak, for constant sexual innuendos and graphic jokes which don't take long to wear thin.

One character is called Chantelle (give it another generation and kids will answer monikers such as Lambrini and Sudoku), a thick Essex idiot who doesn't even know what a gynaecologist is and resorts to model herself after another chief nonentity, Paris Hilton. And what about that Geordie Big Brother voice, "eeeght-thirtee-three-eeh-yem", striving to add a sense of drama, as if there was anybody left out there believing they're in the throes of a social documentary.

The very word -celebrity- was hardly ever used before the noughties, now it'll go down in history as this decade's obsession, the new device to fill empty lives. The saturation with celebrities has become endemic, a cult run by a self-perpetrating industry that makes a mint out of it.

According to USA Today, the number of celebrity mags in Britain has doubled in the past four years and, in spite of being a sixth its size, there's more celebrity weeklies in the UK than there are in the US. One thing I've learnt from watching "Celebrity Big Brother" though is that those egomaniacs are not to be envied. Just look at Jodie Marsh, Michael Barrymore or Pete Burns. So self-absorbed, desperate to impress and to keep their hollow celebrity status, that breaking point is never too far removed from them.


I am addicted to Lost, it's official. Last night's double bill marked the end of series 1 and I'm in trouble! Will Sawyer survive? What's inside the hatch? Who were those neanderthals who abducted Walt? What's going on??? That show is brilliant, the biggest television tease ever, I just hope it doesn't become another endless X-Files type of drama, tangling itself up. Roll on the Spring then...!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

'The spread of diseases'

Statements like those made by the leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, ‘Sir’ Iqbal Sacrani, are the most telling argument about the level of the people knighted in this country.

As he spoke to BBC Radio 4 on January 3rd, Sir Iqbal Sacrani illustrated the long-standing MCB views that deem homosexuality as ‘harmful’, ‘unacceptable’ and linked with the ‘spread of diseases’, the same kind of 14th century crap that you’d expect to read on BNP leaflets.

But then you stop for a second and think: since the atrocities of 7/7, thousand of people in this country have been bending over backwards to point out that the majority of Muslims are in favour of tolerance, harmony and integration. It really makes you wonder when the leader of a self-professed moderate mainstream Muslim organization preaches intolerance like that.

Simply the other day, one of my colleagues, a Muslim guy you’d regard as being ‘fairly liberal’ candidly remarked that he will never allow his kids (third generation) to date, let alone marry, white people. Had a Christian said that we’d be writing about the Ku-Klux Klan being back in town.

I simply quote the respected civil right activist Peter Tatchell: “Tolerance is a two-way street. How can the MCB expect to secure respect for Muslims when it shows such obvious disrespect to other people because of their sexual orientation?”

Monday, January 09, 2006

The assassination of yet another Kennedy

Or how the most successful Lib-Dem leader since 1929 was made to step down

David Cameron’s crafty strategy is increasingly looking like the new Channel4 series Invasion: you watch out for the signs of an offensive only to discover that the invaders are already amongst us. People are falling for it and Cameron’s New Year’s Eve preening that it’s now cool to be a Tory is starting to sound less joke-like. Step forward the first victim, Charles Kennedy. The fictitious ‘Lib-Dems-for-Cameron’ campaign is already reaping the harvest, as insidious as a malware-ridden Trojan horse poking through your PC. Out of the blue, in the country of alcoholics, the same very UK where livers are the size of hand-grenades, street-vomiting as common a sight as pram-pushing 14-years-olds and the government one step short of sanctioning binge-drinking, a confession of past alcoholism turns into the de profundis of a political career.

The ‘Cameronian’ wing of the Lib-Dems didn't waste any time at all and the result is that the party is now irreparably damaged. The norm was that the Lib-Dems, guilty of taking principled stances like opposition to the Iraq war, would be invariably IGNORED by the UK press. Yet the moment Charles Kennedy comes clean, he’s the laughing stock on ALL front pages, ruthlessly smeared to the point of tearing him to pieces. Such an easy prey. Hurdle no.1 for David Cameron has been removed. Keep an eye.