She’s Alive! She’s Alive! On Frankenstein, Monkey Cage and Trying To Avoid the All-Male Panel

Written while my son was distracting me with things he’d built in Minecraft, so expect strange spelling.

Our latest Infinite Monkey Cage podcast is about Frankenstein. It is 200 years since the teenager Mary Godwin (Shelley) imagined the story of a man obsessed with reanimating life. It has become a modern folk tale. It raises deep scientific and philosophical questions. It is one of the most important works in terms of inspiring the horror genre. Shelley is, with Austen, Eliot and the Brontés, one of the pioneer figures of female fiction writers. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, though Shelley would never know her, as she died of puerperal shortly after she was born. With that background, it is perhaps ironic that our panel for the Frankenstein show is the only all-male panel of the series.
It was not meant to be an all-male panel, but unfortunately we had a guest drop out a few days before recording. Brian shares a hair stylist with Noel Fielding and, while sharing tinting advice, he persuaded Noel to join us.

When the show became available, I tweeted a link and went on to tweet that I was sorry this had become an all-male panel. This seemed to affront some readers. Why did I feel it necessary to tweet that? Isn’t the whole thing in danger of being tokenism?

Firstly, if it was tokenism, then it wouldn’t have been an all-male panel, as we would have just found any old woman to take over from our departed guest.

Why did I feel the need to tweet the apology? Well, it wasn’t really an apology, it was just a point of information. Also, I would always prefer that our show was not all men. I know we’re not very manly men, but we are still men, even if some men would probably challenge us on that and ask us to leave the XY group.

Social media is not always a bringer of education, getting tangled up in vivid abuse and misspelt aggression, but from my own experience, I think it really helped highlight a frequent shortfall in the mixture of sexes on panels, whether at conventions or on TV and radio. With live shows, I had been reasonably attentive, this was not out of some empancipatory zeal so much as the fact that I found performers like Josie Long, Joanna Neary, Isy Suttie and Danielle Ward very entertaining.

On Monkey Cage, we had been less observant. In one series, the only female guest was Helen Arney, and she only came on to sing a song at the end. From about that time, we were compelled to be a little less Garrick Club. When I say compelled, I do not mean from a memo sent down from head office, but from a clear sense that we were failing where we didn’t need to.

There was no shortage of female scientists who were adept at expressing their ideas on the radio. As I got further into the scientific world, it became blindingly apparent that we had to strive to battle the cobwebbed cliché that scientists was a male pursuit, preferably males who had escaped from a 1920s Punch cartoon.

We do not always succeed. We also have a problem with the breakdown of sexes by percentage because there are two hosts, both male, and though I think we should strive for equality, that striving abruptly stops if it means me giving up one of my favourite jobs. Yes, I selfishly covert my chair.

I hope we continue to improve. I think we will. Once you start putting the effort in to look, it becomes easier, just like finding the number 23, eh discordians? We have still only had one all female panel, but I think we’ll soon have another. It’s worth pointing out that everyone behind the scenes on Monkey Cage is female including our producer and the show would not exists without her, we see it as a team of three.

We never put someone on just to ensure the end of series quota reaches industry standards, they are always chosen because they will be interesting and/or funny. Similarly, with Robin and Josie’s Book Shambles, since we returned, we have attempted to keep it a 50/50 balance, and it hasn’t been difficult.

It’s not as if any of us have to throw ourselves in front of a horse, it just requires a bit more work and rethinking the stereotypes that solidified in your mind when you were young and a diet of On the Buses may have damaged your cortex.

I don’t know why anyone should get angry about it, but they do. I blame the weakling Y chromosome, it must have made our faltering male brains susceptible to neophobia.

New Horror anthology w/ stories by Josie Long, Stewart Lee, Alice Lowe, James Acaster, Isy Suttie and is available now

Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles is HERE

 

 

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The Troubled Conveyance of Thoughts from Mind to Mouth

I had been drinking, so i decided to go to the bookshop.
This was not a good idea.
This was a good idea.
I had not drunk so much that I had lost all control of the reins that slow my bibliophilic canter, they were just a little looser.

“Forever be accursed the star under which I was born, may no sky protect it, let in crumble in space like dust without honour! And let the traitorous moment that cast me among the creatures be forever erased from the lists of time!”

I had gone to buy a copy of A Short History of Decay by EM Cioran. I had recently read about him and his abrupt pessimism seemed like the right paragraphs for these times. Apparently, his mother told him that had she known how utterly miserable he was going to be, she would not have brought him into the world. A Short History of Decay is a rich book, I began underlining the sentences I savoured and soon realised I had underlined the entirety of the first page.

“The abundance of solutions to the aspects of existence is equaled only by their futility”.

I browsed downwards from the third floor of Waterstones Gower Street until I was in the remainder basement. I had looked at John Updike’s Always Looking: Essays on Art before and wrongly decided that I didn’t need it. I corrected this mistake.

“One does not expect that the Magritte exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be a humanistic revelation of considerable grandeur, but it is”

I wish I could write about art, but I can’t. I can see the ideas in my head, but something chokes and stalls as the thoughts make the journey from my mind to my mouth.
I find it very hard to write about anything that is visually beautiful or fascinating, so I just stare and wonder.
Updike quotes Magritte on why the titles of his work were so elaborate.

‘The titles are chosen in such a way as to prevent my pictures from being situated in the reassuring region to which people’s minds would automatically assign them in order to underestimate their significance. The titles must be an extra protection which will discourage any attempt to reduce pure poetry to a trivial game”.

Words like these are why I buy so many books. I am desperately seeking revelations on how to view the world and change the way I see it. Much of my upper body strength comes from reading big books in the bath. I don’t speed read, but I do run through books with my laces untried, tripping and gasping.

Updike writes of Magritte’s The Lovers, “we are denied a sensation of human presence; rather a human absence is portrayed”. It reminded me of a comedian who was so incredibly dull, so almost invisible in his lack of presence, that it was said that as he left the stage empty, it was as if some had just walked on.
I think I had come to find surrealism dull by the mid nineties, Its images had been so overused in advertising and popular culture that it had become mundane. I found out how preposterously wrong I was when I took the bus the Another World: Dali, Magritte, Miró and the Surrealists exhibition at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh . Once I had become connected to the stories and ambitions of the artist, it all made just the right amount of sense and confusion again.
As Updike walked into the final room of the Magritte exhibition, he heard a spectator exclaim, “these are not dreams; these are the truth! Magritte was a philosopher! He was a good man!”

The final big book of the vaguely inebriated browse was Dreams 1900 – 2000: Science, art and the Unconscious Mind. I am sure there will be handy revelation in there.

Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles is available here – latest broadcast is a horror special with Reece Shearsmith reading from some hilariously grim Grimm’s tales, Josie Long discussing her ghost story, Anna Savoury explaining the curse of Dennis Wheatley’s library, and Rufus Hound reading an HP Lovecraft short story.

I was going to write about the other books I bought over the last seven days, but it is a silly number.

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A Message for the person who nearly ran me over – Those Traveling Faster May See Things Earlier

This is a brief trepanning blog post, just to get my pent up fury out of the way. It’ll be packed with errors. I am writing it for medicinal reasons.

Having dropped off my son at school, I was walking home through the residential streets of my home town with no plans to meet the bumpers or bonnets of any Land Rover Discoveries, sporty or otherwise . About 100 yards from the school, which is in quiet, suburban area of small roads, houses and patches of woodland, there is a little T junction. It’s barely a T junction even, it is just a turning onto a residential street. When looking before crossing, you can’t see much of the road which cars may turn off from. There are trees in the way, plus, as it is just by a school and it was school run time for both drivers and pedestrians, oh and it is not a major road, and it’s near a park,  you wouldn’t speed down it so fast that you’d take the turn into a residential street on the wrong side of the road. You just wouldn’t. That is, unless you drive a car with the registration CS52***.

I admit, I was on the phone talking about Soulwax with Michael Legge, but I did look before I crossed. I saw the ten metres or so of the road that is visible, saw nothing on it, and began to cross, as I did so, I moved the conversation from Soulwax to a prog band called Comedy of Errors.  Just before I got to the other side, I saw a shiny bonnet and heard the sound of a car suddenly stopping very near me. I continued, perturbed at my proximity to death, slightly befuddled by it. In fact, I was cross enough that I thought it best to keep walking as it is a residential area near a school and was pre-watershed, and no one wants to start their Monday listening to a bespectacled man going ballistic with language (but if you do, why not listen to the Vitriola podcast now).  At that point, the person driving decided to shout at me as if it was my fault. Now it might have been, but equally, the driver was on the wrong side of the road and, with the limited vision I had before when starting to cross, the driver was not in view on either of the residential roads near a school.

I did not take well to taking the blame for the failure of her manslaughter.

The driver continued to berate me. A friendly passer-by, also returning from the school, joined in attempting to explain that it was not necessarily this dawdling, prog yapping meat bag’s fault.

I explained that I could not see the car when crossing the road as she was not visible as I stepped out.

The driver said, “but I could see you!”

The driver had obviously forgotten that they were traveling in a car at speed and I was traveling at foot, probably at somewhere between 2 and 3 miles per hour. At the very, very least, the driver was traveling at 10 times my speed. Throughout the rest of their journey post botched assassination, the driver would see things long before me. The driver would see the bakery a good ten minutes before me, and the chemists, and hopefully the old man on a bicycle who delivers the free local newspaper. At this point, I should have said something clever involving Einstein and frames of reference and perception, but I was neither smart enough or calm enough, I am not Professor Brian Cox. If I was Professor Brian Cox, I wouldn’t be walking, I’d be in my gold plated sedan chair).

(And thank you to all who have voiced suspicion that I had priority anyway – “Think Highway Code rule 170 applies – you had priority and she should stop for you.” tweeted Niall Anderson. Here is that part of the Highway Code. In my insanity, I will now be carrying a copy of this about in case I see her car, and if I do, I will be placing it under her wipers for a read. I am not good at letting things go.  I may even have “HIGHWAY CODE RULE 170” with an image of Dave Prowse’s fist tattooed on my forehead, so it’s the last thing a driver like this sees as they smash my bones and guts on their needlessly boxy, shiny death jalopy  )

I suppose the point is, when driving near schools in residential areas in a really big car and taking corners on the wrong side of the road into residential streets, why not drive a bit slower CS52*** and also take account that a marked difference in speed may affect when someone walking perceives being bloodily thrown across the road as you slam into them.

(I have deleted the full number plate, but still pretty cross and will be looking out for them with a beady eye)

 

We have a load of new Book Shambles from Latitude Festival available – currently ones with Shappi Khorsandi, Luke Wright, Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillan, and a panel about David Bowie, art and magic. Coming up, a horror special with Reece Shearsmith…

also new DVD with six hours of stuff and new Dead Funny anthology with stories by Josie Long, Alan Moore, Stewart Lee…

 

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What’s all this about no stand up, eh?

It is getting much harder to leave the house.
After so many years of touring, i find my attic room a cosy place to hide.
It has been a year since my supposed retreat from stand up, and despite what some of my scabrous friends have suggested, it has been quite successful.
I haven’t turned into Howard Hughes, there’s not a single bottle of my own urine on any shelf in the house (I wish I knew whose urine it was bottled all around the house), but I have severely cut down the number of showing off outings per month.
Not that long ago I was out between five and seven nights a week, now it’s nearer two. I would cut that back further, it’s only my difficulty in saying “no” that has stymied my hermit existence.

Despite what I imagined, I am not hungry to perform (though I am quite peckish for a book deal).
The events I have done have mainly been benefit shows or one off events for festivals. I rambled on about horror for Words by The Water and attempted a dissection of what it might take to be a stand up for Cheltenham Science Festival.

Tonight is my last proper stand up show of the year, though you’ll find me at the Nunhead Women’s Institute on Monday and cosmos rambling at Blue Dot the weekend after.
Then, I am chaperoning Brian Cox around the UK and Australia and quizzing him about the particle physics he keeps in his head.

The necessity to perform is not within me at the moment, but I still go on.

My timing was fortunate for misfortune. When I first stopped, I began writing a short story every day. I was trying to learn how to write like an Astounding Stories Pulp writer, train my mind to be a storyteller. Then, my mother got ill, then she died. Nothing to cancel, I had good timing for bad times.

In January, I had a hankering. I returned to Old Rope, one of my favourite clubs. This would be the first time I did a “my mum’s died” joke.

“My mum’s just died. This is predominantly bad news, but on the plus side, I can have my haircut anyway I want now”.

I went to Old Rope every Monday for a few months, but something wasn’t quite right about how my mind and mouth connected. The necessity was not there. I had no tour coming up. No big TV gig.
I could mull over my too many thoughts on my own for now, they did not need to be dripped into the ears of a lab rat audience. I am back with the secret notebooks in the loft again.

For this last foray into solo shows for now, I am doing one of my favourite touring things. I am sitting alone in a Manchester Coffee bar imagining I am in an Edward Hopper painting. I am in the first café where I experience internet paranoia. My skin is thicker and deader now when social media pugilists and irritants decide to try and cut me. Touring with Ricky Gervais a decade or so ago, getting unsolicited hate and venom was a spiteful novelty. Sat in this café in 2005, i wondered if those who had threatened me might be around every corner, hiding near the muffins or behind the metallic news vendor stand. It took a while to shake, maybe I was never quite the same afterwards. The ability to deliver hate to any door can feed the voices in your head.

I walked by a big poster for the Blue Dot festival, and there in might font, it said The Infinite Monkey Cage. Eight years ago, I sat in a front room in Levenshulme and frantically wrote and wrote and wrote, seeking out a title for this new 4 part science show I was doing with the man who would be “the sexy face of the standard model of electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear interactions”, but wasn’t quite yet. Radio 4 had suggested Top Geek, so my mind splurged to find an alternative. In the end, it was The Infinite Monkey Cage that stuck, the other 317 possibilities are now forgotten.

Read…
a little of Why and Why Not by Mark Titchner
about ugliness and between the war stately homes in TLS1

Watched… Brian Blessed on The Wright Stuff

Bought in an Oxfam…
Death’s Dance Floor by Ian Breakwell
Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr
Three Little White Lies (Map to the Stars, Carol and The Rover)

Wrote…
radio column about Roald Dahl for next week’s Big Issue

My new DVD contains three shows, an extra audio recording of another, and some Grace Petrie too.

Current podcasts include Book Shambles with Josie Long and Vitriola with Michael Legge.

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Please Keep Your Hopes to Yourself, they May Interfere with the Designated Reality

It came as a surprise to me when my mind offered up the idea that from now on I should vote Conservative.

I was on a train, journeying to my cruel orthodontist. I am wretched coward when it comes to agony and regularly look to the skies and thank the god of mutation, heredity and natural selection for giving all the pain and pressure of childbirth to women. Each time I see my orthodontist, I try to work out if she resembles anyone my family may have wronged. As she takes her Poe-like revenge on my front teeth, I let out a yelp. I don’t remember yelping before in a dentist chair. Whatever my ancestors did to her ancestors, I imagine it was a gambling scam that destroyed their wealth in late 18th century Dartmoor, I hope her bony forefathers were giggling in their burial plots as I squirmed on Friday. Seeking retail therapy in the Book Exchange a few doors down, pulp paperback curator Kirk remarked from behind the counter that it was pretty stupid for me to get braces at my age as I would be dead before long. I was in full agreement. I soothed my aching roots with a Tate book on Victorian Nudes, Philip K Dick’s Dr Bloodmoney, Ward Churchill’s On The Justice of Roosting Chickens, and a book of Hogarth prints.

Then, I went to the zoo to talk to badger experts, cyberman actor Stewart Lee, and listen to the songs of Helen Arney and Darren Hayman. I also checked on the puppy progress of the African Hunting Dogs.

None of that has anything to do with my Tory moment.
It’s not as if I could really become disenfranchised from Westminster politics, that happened many years ago. Even with the brimming scepticism I have for large scale politics, this last few months has been beyond my presumptions of the hopelessness of them all. It is a resigned apoplexy.

Seeing Trump as an endorsed, major party presidential candidate was another sign that the human experiment is not meant to work on this scale. So many of his announcements are so mad that you can’t even argue against them, because the act of arguing against them means that you seem to be insane as well.

The reaction to Corbyn’s victory, with so many looking haughtily and wide-eyed at those who voted for him, and seeming to make it clear that “this is not how it will be. You are idiots and you have made an error, now go away and think about what you have done”. There seemed to be so little talk about why he might have been chosen, and much talk about why this was most definitely not the done thing. Shortly after he became leader, there was an episode of Have I Got News For You that has stuck in my mind. There were plenty of Corbyn jokes, why wouldn’t there be, he had become news, but every time Richard Osman said anything positive about Corbyn, and the audience showed their approval, Hislop looked at them as if they were quite mad.
The parameters of political possibilities seem even narrower than I imagined.

And then, there was the referendum.
What a fucking mess.
What a can of cowards and egotists.

The Labour party decides this is the best time to implode.
The Tories descend into chaos before hastily reassembling their most trustworthy homophobes and fox-blooded dog chasers.
And dogmatism rules the virtual world that is increasingly making a bid to be declared the real world while the one of physical events and physical laws is demoted to an annoyance that leads to toes stubbed on rocks.

And so I thought, “fuck it. Maybe I should just vote for the party that will be most useful to me personally and stop voting for some Brigadoon of a possible better future for more”.

However much I lower my hopes, they still seem to be too high.
I think I’ll go out less. (I should say that my life is fine, I am just thinking of having my empathy downgraded. I think it is a simple operation with a cocktail stick and the frontal lobe)
You can have your hopes, but please be aware that they are for the purposes of your imagination only and not for any practical purposes beyond your mind.

I’ll try to mainly concentrate on individual actions, things I can do rather than looking to the dreams I may have. I am no longer certain that anything can be done about the political system when it is on this scale, so it will have to be working if I can do anything about separate issues that might catch my eye or stub my toe.

I think I’ll dust off those books of anarchist thoughts recommended to me by my local steampunks.

Damn, this was meant to be my reading diary of the day, but I’ve run out of words.

I read…

Ginger Geezer – The Life of Vivian Stanshall by Lucian Randall and Chris Welch
The David Bowie Story by George Tremlett
Shelley’s Frankenstein Reader’s Guide by Graham Allen
Season of the Witch by Peter Bebergal
Private Eye
Viz
Dark Side Magazine

I watched…
The Wipers Times (BBC2)
Genius by Stephen Hawking – Episode 4 (National Geographic)

And I listened to some DJ Shadow and Hawkwind

I have a new DVD (about 6 hours of shows and some Grace Petrie too) It is here

There are now 19 episodes of Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles – from Stewart Lee to Geoff Dyer via Claudia Hammond and Sara Pascoe here (plus we’ll be doing some specials from the Latitude Festival this weekend)

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In Times of desperation, may I recommend BOOKS

“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
from Valis by Philip K Dick

I am trying to avoid reading about politics, it can’t end well.
What happens if I am more knowledgable about politics?
My anger is better informed fury, my powerlessness remains much the same.
The rage is impotent even if I can explain it better.
Not that I am giving up on all existence and interaction with human beings, I am just trying to increase its usefulness.

Since the United Kingdom became incandescent, lost and depressed, which seemed to be true of the sore losers and sore winners, some seem to have descended into hopelessness.
I see hope.

With so many worrying that an inner cruelty and hate has been highlighted, I see a greater desperation to do acts of kindness. It is the urge to public display that, whichever way you voted, you didn’t choose your vote out of malice, racism or aggression. The streets are filled with babies falling down steps as passers-by argue and fight at station entrances as to who can be kindest to the struggling mother with her pram.

I may even get rid of my Noam Chomsky books. Last time I put up a youtube clip of him I was informed that he was the USA’s David Icke, I tried to argue against that with facts and evidence, but was scorned for such huckster’s tricks.

I am trying to keep a reading, watching and listening diary again. Here is a typed compilation tape of my day so far.

I started with an Arena documentary, not the one with William Burroughs and Jobriath in, or the one about the Ford Cortina. Philip K Dick seems like balm and sorbet for the current climate, so I watched A Day in the Afterlife.

Disturbed by my Twitter feed, I thought it best to decide on the best version of Fill You Heart, most famously covered by David Bowie on Hunky Dory.

But first sung by Biff Rose.

And also manipulated by Tiny Tim, with a voice that prefigures Kenneth’s vocal mannerisms in 30 Rock.

I am reading John Gray again, so my pessimism or realism may be bubbling and popping. I am currently on Soul of the Marionette – A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom, I presume I am hoping that it declares that human freedom is an illusion, then we’ve all got an alibi.

“What sort of God, the gnostic asks himself, could have organised the things the way they are – this munching world of death and dissolution which pretends to have a saviour, and a fountain of good at its base?” John Gray quoting Lawrence Durrell.

I was fortunate to stay in a Lewes’ B&B where the kind owner not only cooked very good scrambled eggs, but also let me take away the copy of Peter Knows What Dick Likes by Jonathan Meades. I read his essays on Borges, which reminded me that I should read more Borges. Maybe I don’t need to, as Meades has told me enough for me to successfully lie through a duplicitous literary conversation.

“He is versatile, he prompts one to believe that he writes from behind a mask, and if the mask should on occasion resemble the death head of Franz Kafka we shouldn’t take it too seriously, for likely as not, next time round it’ll be looking like the fluffy cast of hairy, beary Walt Whitman and contradicting everything he’s just propounded” Borges (1) The Whole World’s There

My main reading project of the day is Peter Bebergal’s Season of the Witch – How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll. Next Friday, I am hosting an event on Bowie, magic and art as shamanism with Daisy Eris, John Constable, Andrew O Neill and Francesca Stavrakopoulu, so this book of Crowley, Baudelaire, Zeppelin and Donovan seemed a good primer. This is how Lester Bangs chose to first listen to Led Zeppelin III.

“You could play it, as I did, while watching a pagan priestess performing the ritual dance of Ka before the flaming sacrificial altar in Fire Maidens from Outer Space with the TV sound turned off.”

This post is a little companion piece to the Josie and Robin Book Shambles. Hopefully Josie will write another reading diary for you. Last week, we interviewed Geoff Dyer, David McAlmont and Sarah Kendall, all of whom talked of further books we were blind to until they opened their mouths.
It was also the second time we talked about the work of James Baldwin. In these paranoid times of worry and confusion, we need more speakers who have the quiet, forceful passion of Baldwin, I recommend watching his speech here (it starts 14 minutes in).

 

The latest Book Shambles is with Geoff Dyer. We have recorded over twenty now, from Stewart Lee to Mark Gatiss via Sara Pascoe and AL Kennedy, they can all be found here

I have new DVD out, it has about 6 hours of stuff on it.

 

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Friday Morning Coming Down – Was It Ever About EU?

It is probably an ill-advised gesture to write about feelings that occurred on Friday morning. I have typed it and hastily reread it, but I am sure there will be errors in grammar and logic. I post it rapidly before I lose faith in it. Hopefully this is clearly not about all campaigners on one side or the other, but with so much read into everything on the referendum, I am sure some will take offence where it is not meant. 

I have woken up cross, bothered, bewildered and worried after elections, but I’ve  never had the same sense of confusion as I had when I woke this Friday after the referendum. I was in the same place where I had fallen asleep, but the territory felt utterly changed.

It was the increasingly pungent stench of snake oil that made the last few weeks of the BREXIT campaigning so dizzying.

Not good dizzying, like a happy child spinning in an orchard, bad dizzying like when you are middle aged and realise that even three full rotations on a dance floor makes you nauseous.

Something wasn’t quite right.
Were we being sold an illusory emancipation?

Maybe the reality will not matter, like the memory of a long removed arnica molecule in an apothecary’s kit bag, some psychosomatic effect will make people happier and lighter around the ankle.

I have never seen a victorious group distance themselves from their propaganda with such haste. They could have at least kept the myths going for a month or so. They didn’t need to reveal that immigration could well be unaffected or that the NHS promise wasn’t really a promise at all.
It seemed like those conmen who set up scams in empty shops, selling mystery boxes that could well contain a state of the art telly or your other electric dreams. The first bidder wins something great (in on the scam obviously), then everyone else thinks, “it could be me, I’ve never seen a TV so flat, like a THX after dinner mint”, and they win a box containing a melted hair dryer and some rawlplugs. Usually, the con would not be revealed the moment the cash was handed over, but like a panicky Ponzi, they blurted it all out.

By the end, the EU referendum barely seemed to be about the EU. The horror for many when they were woken up at 6am by panicked calls about the UK voting out of EU didn’t engender panic or despair because of love for the European Union, it was because over the weeks, the Leave campaign started to stir up something nasty. (Here, I better make it clear that what follows is not about all 51% of leave voters being cruel, vicious or xenophobic, it is that the nature of some of the campaign has given a hand up to those who were waiting to spread hate more loudly. Somewhere amongst the sanctioned stories and spin, permission has been given )

If you wanted to know why you hadn’t got what you wanted, and many people haven’t, you were reminded it was because of people who were not from around here. Both sides resorted to names that made the whole thing sound as fictional as possible, we’re all in a movie or video game now, it was “Project Fear” and “Project Hate”. That’s fine for something you’d by at a Computer Exchange, but not really good enough for political debate, but that’s me and my fuddy duddy twentieth century mind.

On streets, in pubs and on social media, something loveless, destructive and self-obsessed was swelling and pulsing.

Farage’s poster made it clear, “they are coming for you”. I understand those that say Labour shouldn’t fear talking about immigration, to be fair, they even put it on last year’s crockery, but there doesn’t seem to be enough mainstream discussion that understands how much people’s lives are impoverished by immigration and how much by other factors including corporate greed, poor government planning, and the building of investment housing over building affordable housing for people to actually live in.

The murder of Jo Cox will unquestionably remain the most terrible event during this campaign, and yet even then, when you’d hope it was a simple, human act of coming together and mourning this human so full of positive human empathy and compassion, there was a nastiness uncaged.

After the death of Jo Cox, there was a feeling of outrage amongst some that the REMAIN campaign had been give such an unfair advantage in having one of its campaigners brutally murdered by a mentally ill man who may have been pushed to the point of brutality by the drip feed, and occasional gush, of toxic “patriotism” which flourished in some corners of the campaign. (friends who campaigned for REMAIN had abuse shouted at them about Jo Cox, this is not just something I’ve read). Not only were the usual homes of despicably cruel words on social media spitting, but an East Riding councillor offered an “opinion” of such base unpleasantness that it is almost impossible to understand his mind without the correct qualifications. These were the moments that hung in the air, that made some question where this agenda was taking some people.

It wasn’t the leaving of the EU that has upset so many, there are good reasons and good arguments that could have been made, but rarely were, both on the right and left, it was the sense that the campaigning had started to show up a viciousness in people. This is not surprising. As someone who has played hundreds of towns across the UK in the last few years, I’ve been to places where chipboard seems the only industry, and by the time the last shops is boarded up, even that industry will be dead. The economic divisions in the UK get more extreme every year, and many people feel totally unrepresented by Westminster. After the last election, sitting in pubs post gig, I’d talk to older people who’d explain why the Labour party was saying to them about their lives.
Yet the “mavericks” who were campaigning for LEAVE were insiders and architects of government plans that were enhancing this division too.

Oddly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, for campaigns about the necessity of sovereignty, the most trumpeted British values, being able to laugh at ourselves and a sense of decency, were often missing.

The fear, and I hope it is soon proved wrong, is that this last few weeks has vaildated the worst of Britishness, a mean spirit, fear of outsiders, island mentality.

As a British astronaut returned from space, a human who had spent six months on an international escapade, able to look out of his window and see the whole of his home planet in his field of vision, the vision on the ground seemed to be getting narrower.

Are we really freer humans than we were on Thursday, or will we find the owner of the manacles merely changes to other business and financial institutions who will play harder ball as they see loopholes of restrictions to shareholder and CEO profit?

I hope everyone hasn’t been sold a lie. I hope that a post EU country is able to prosper and also work out and solve the problems of why so many people have felt marginalised and bruised.
I worry that it will be like Iain Duncan Smith’s tears at that Glasgow estate some years back, immediate, but once evaporated, it’s back to business as usual.

These are times when we must work hard to combat cruelty, bitterness and hate with compassion, kindness and understanding, not just as words, but as actions. If only kindness was as potent on the podium as vitriol and fear.

I am doing a benefit for Marsden Library at the Marsden Mechanics on 27th June http://www.marsdenmechanics.co.uk/

I am at the Chippenham Comedy Festival at Old Road Tavern this Friday.

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