Censor-itivity Readers

Our kids read The Beano. Of course, so do I … a couple of years ago, I noticed that “Fatty“, of Bash Street Kids fame, had been re-named “Freddy“.

And as the Daily Telegraph reports, “Sensitivity Readers” have now been busy bowdlerising Dahl. Among the usual po-faced excisions, the word “fat” has been removed from every book.

But I’m all for fat shaming; it saves lives.

When I put on a couple of stone during a 4 years 150 mile round trip daily pre-covid commute (toxic lifestyle – up at 6 am or earlier, no / minimal breakfast, rubbish coffee “lunch” on the run, 5 hours round trip drive daily, home c 9pm, later dinner, etc), of course no woke young person would mention that my power to weight ratio had gone decidedly backwards.

No such niceties from old family friends, older folk, friends of my late parents:

God! You’re looking prosperous!  Herself feeding you well, I see ho ho!”  etc

And I found it very useful.  As is the way when you gain weight, if you’re a bloke, you don’t realise it.  Blokes tend to have reverse body dysmorphia, in that we see ourselves as being better than we are lol: “Sure, I’m grand.”

But a few friendly OAP insults later, and you think, after the initial disbelief, “hmm, maybe the plain-talking older generation have a point“.

And that kick-starts you into doing something about it.

I’m pretty sure we have a fair few Dahls as it is, but just in case, I’ve just now ordered a new set of 2007 Dahls (illustrated by Q. Blake), full of fat, ugly and nasty people who do horrid things.

Lord save us from the humourless. For the crack, I wonder should I tip them off about Frank Zappa’s lyrics ….

Most flying is un-necessary

In 2023, most business travel is entirely un-necessary.

Much of it is blokes flying abroad to sit in a room and have a PowerPoint read to them by people they already know, and have already met in person.  It made sense to do this. In the 1990s. (Just as it used to make sense to start your car with a starting handle.)

Bored Room

That same PowerPoint had been e-mailed to them several days previously, and the entire thing could have been done over Teams, or Zoom. 

Business travel is largely un-necessary junketing, and it’s driven by middle-class alcoholics who want to get drunk without family scrutiny, or middle-class philanderers who want to bang the admin staff. 

Useful perhaps when meeting a key customer or JV co-venturer or investor for the first time, of course, but most business meetings are routine ones, between people who already know each other.  Colossal waste of time, fuel and money. 

Ditto for mass tourism – lots of xenophobic plebs jetting off to get trolleyed and stay in complexes with people from their own country.  


Build them a big complex with cheap booze and lots of sun-lamps, and they’d be just as happy.   

Introduce individualised flight quotas (for holidays, for business, and for family purposes), and tax anyone who goes over. 

If it means Ryanair goes bust, well that’s only an added bonus. 

Does the GAA have a bias problem?

FYI 1: Irish Gaelic football is divided into county teams and club teams. In any county, there will be lots of club teams. As an amateur organisation, GAA rules require that all players who play for a club or county must actually be from that club or county area – there is no transfer market. As a result, when a local club wins, it genuinely is a 100% home-grown success, and all the more satisfying because of that.

FYI 2: In Gaelic football, you can score either points (over the crossbar), or goals (under the crossbar). A goal is equivalent to 3 points.

FYI 3: A Gaelic football team consists of 15 players. It’s an offence to have 16 or more players on a field of play.

Recently, in the All-Ireland Gaelic football club final, Glen, a rural team from a Northern county (Derry), narrowly lost an All-Ireland club cup final to Kilmacud, a large urban club from a Southern county (Dublin). The losing margin was 2 points (i.e., one goal would have won it for Glen). The concluding phase of the game saw Glen attacking the Kilmacud goal, and a goal chance (which would have won the game for Glen) was successfully defended by Kilmacud, and Kilmacud ran out narrow winners of the hard-fought competition.

So far, so sport – winners and losers, etc.

There is a twist in this tale, however. In the closing minutes, Kilmacud had made a couple of substitutions. (Teams often do this when they’re defending a narrow one-score lead, to run down the clock and to disrupt the chasing team’s momentum.)

However, they did not take off the substituted players. So, when defending the closing phase of the game, Kilmacud had 17 players on the pitch. One illegal additional player did not interfere with play, but the other illegal extra player was actively assisting to defend Kilmacud’s goal-line.

The illegal extra player incident was widely reported on in Irish media – it made front page news in Ireland’s paper of record, The Irish Times, and pictures showing 16 players back defending the final Glen attack were everywhere:

The referee had done nothing about the transgression during the game, and Kilmacud was awarded the trophy.

Given the widespread publicity and photographic evidence of the incident, Glen waited to see what the GAA (the Gaelic Athletic Association, the body which administers the main Gaelic sports of Gaelic football, hurling and handball) would do about such a blatant transgression. The GAA rule book states that any such offence can be dealt with either by retrospectively awarding the game to the innocent team, or by ordering a replay, or by fining the guilty team.

But the GAA did nothing. They weren’t even coy about it:

Very quickly, the narrative was put about that, under its rules, the GAA had no power to intervene in the matter, and that it could only do so if the losing team first lodged an offical complaint.

In Irish culture, there are powerful macho social norms about “not making a fuss” and “moving on“.

In that regard, Ireland is not America. For instance, if we go to a restaurant, and the food and service are poor, we will grumble to each other in private, but we will not publicly complain. In fact, we will lie about it to the maître d’, and assure him or her that everything had been to our satisfaction, or “grand“.

So, even though Glen had been wronged in the matter, because it’s Ireland, Glen would still attract criticism even for highlighting the issue. Even if you were cheated out of something, you must not be seen to be a “poor loser“.

The GAA knew that, and may have been relying on that very Irish embarrassment about standing up for yourself in public.

However, Glen did lodge an official objection. This led to a counter-objection by Kilmacud (I understand that the basis of their counter-objection involved blaming the referee), and rumours that, if a replay was ordered, they wouldn’t even field a team anyway, thereby facing Glen with the prospect of looking like a national laughing stock for “winning” a cup after being awarded a walkover.

With no end to the saga in sight, and no sign of an offer of any replay from Kilmacud, and with some players already being called up for inter-county duty and others going off on holiday, Glen decided to cut their losses and withdrew their objection.

Nonethless, the attacks on Glen continued in the Southern Irish media.

Check out this bitter article in The Irish Independent – I don’t buy that paper, but the bit I can see for free states:

“Having done their best to take the good out of it for the winners, the vanquished scuttled away from the mess they’d created when the penny dropped that they were starting to look like poor losers.

On Friday night Watty Graham’s Glen did a u-turn because they realised they had overplayed their hand and backed themselves into a corner by pursuing Kilmacud Crokes through the committee rooms, having not been good enough to beat them on the field of play ...”

See article.

How about an alternative narrative, Tommy:

“Having won the game by having an illegal extra defender on the goal-line for Glen’s last attack, Kilmacud management (I’m sure the team would have had no issue replaying promptly if they’d been asked to do so) ran away from an opportunity to settle the contest honourably. 

Given that Kilmacud were so obviously intent on retaining the trophy by dragging the issue through the committee rooms instead of being manly about it, the whole saga was set to drag on for ages, and given that lads (on all sides) had made holiday, inter-county and other plans, it was better to draw the saga to a conclusion, given that Crokes’ management were going to need to be dragged kicking and screaming back onto a pitch.”

The mindset of the GAA’s top brass can be discerned from space – “who do they think they are, coming down here expecting to be treated as if they were as important as a big Dublin club!”

And of course Kilmacud, and the GAA top brass know that, given the unpredictable and competitive nature of Ulster club football, there is a fair chance Glen won’t be back competing at a national level any time soon, so no real world motivational advantage will be handed to them any time soon.

(My own county correctly did not even think of objecting when Dublin’s Charlie Redmond failed to leave the pitch in the 1995 All Ireland county final, but that was a very different scenario.  I was at that match, and recall that Charlie, despite being on the pitch illegally, was nowhere near / did not affect any relevant play, so his presence on the pitch was a mere technical infringement and therefore irrelevant to the result.  But it’s a very different story when the extra player is actively involved in defending the chasing team’s last attack!) 

Separately, I’ve seen it repeatedly stated, by pundits and posters seeking to excuse the GAA top brass’ refusal to intervene, that, under the rules, the GAA was “unable to intervene” as the rule book does not afford them such an opportunity. 

In other words, the poor GAA had no choice but to wait and let a team lodge an objection first.

Sounds plausible.

The only problem with that narrative is that it is 100% wrong. 

During the recent socer World Cup, I noted how FIFA clearly did not understand its own rules.

In this case, I’m more inclined to think the GAA knows its own rules perfectly well.

In any event, and despite the widespread public narrative asserting the exact opposite, under the GAA’s own rule book, the GAA top brass does have every right to intervene unilaterally without needing a team to make the first move.  

The GAA Rule Book’s rule 6.44 (b) (i) sets out the offence of “A team exceeding the number of players permitted under Rule 2.1 Rules of Specification, Playing Rules” and confirms, in black and white, in straightforward and unambiguous  language, that the penalties for such an offence are “Award of Game to the Opposing Team, or Replay, or Fine”, and that, crucially, such penalties can be imposed either as the result of “… a proven objectionor as the result of “an Inquiry by the Committee-in-Charge”. See:

There you have it – straightforward stuff – the GAA’s own rules enable one of its committees unilaterally to intervene without waiting for any of the relevant teams to object first. 

I’m sure that the relevant GAA committee is well aware of the content of its own rules.  It’s just that they did not wish to apply them. 

And I don’t imagine that everyone who so confidently asserts that the “GAA couldn’t intervene” can’t read.  It’s just that we’re largely in a post-reading age, and of course, in any event, the narrative suited them.

No anti-Northern bias in the GAA?

Perhaps there isn’t. But I wouldn’t put it any more strongly than that. .

Teamwork is opposed to art

For the artist, who does not deal in surfaces, the rejection of friendship is not only reasonable, but a necessity. Because the only possible spiritual development is in the sense of depth. The artistic tendency is not expansive, but a contraction. And art is the apotheosis of solitude.”

Samuel Beckett.

Years ago, I started a band in London.   It lasted about 6 months.  We wrote a couple of songs, and even got as far as recording a demo in a studio.

The other people I recruited were decent people. Socially, I got on well with them. One of them, the guitarist, was musically very talented, in a technical sense.

But we had no shared musical vision. 

We all loved music, but we all wanted to do different things.

Sure, we could have cooperated, and did something to accommodate everyone.

But I realised that I didn’t want that.

I’m pretty relaxed about most things, but not about art.

For instance, I could not under any circumstances jointly write a book with someone.  Their stale prose would cause me an almost physical pain.  Even their dewy prose would fill me with gloom, anxiety, and hatred. 

At the risk of sounding like a total prick, when it comes to words on a page, it’d have to be my way or the highway. 

And it’s pretty similar with music. 

Unless I had met a few clones of myself, with a very similar vision, it’d have been nothing but compromise or conflict.

One obvious solution is just to hire session musicians as necessary.  They’re usually talented, and can turn their hand to any style.

However, their positives – talent and experience – are also negatives.  They’re good.  They can’t help but sound polished.

And if your oeuvre prioritises rawness, and wishes to dislocate and to unsettle, then proficiency’s comforting effect is a problem. It causes complacency.

Which was why the late Mark E. Smith of The Fall continually hired inexperienced musicians and kicked them onstage with minimal training.  He wanted that rawness, that panic, that sense of imminent breakdown.  As soon as they became too proficient, something primal was lost.  Hence Mark’s infamous attempts to fuck things up, by e.g., starting fist fights with band members, and seeking to unsettle them by messing about with their amps and instruments onstage etc. 

There was a method to the seeming madness.

Smithy had a singular artistic goal, and he’d stop at nothing to achieve it. 

This week, I see that Smith’s family have fallen out with the House of All, a musical collective of Fall survivors.  Some serious Fall stalwarts in it, especially bassist Paul Hanley – seen here to great effect on “2 x 4”:

There’s something nostalgic about the row.  It’s what Smith would have done, expect he’d of course have been a lot less tactful.

Listen, kudos to the ex-members, all of who were responsible for some of the defining sounds of my formative years, and I’ll give it a listen for old time’s sake. 

I don’t doubt for a moment that they’re a great bunch, and a damn sight better company than the frequently appalling Smith. 

But my gut instinct is that, as far as serious art is concerned, something started on such a warm-hearted and inclusive basis is fucked from the start.

Blu Tack

We’re going to get our cat chipped, and I mentioned, casually, to our little ones that it would be a good time to get them chipped as well, so we could keep an eye on them.

Cue massive and sustained uproar from the back seat of the car lol.  I had to confirm that I was “definitely joking” before they calmed down.

But it made me think how much mobile phones curtail your freedom.  Of course, they are handy, but there are no free lunches. 

When I was “scheming school” (local slang for playing truant) as a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, fortunately there were no mobile phones. We had a free annual public bus-pass which you were only supposed to use on your relevant Ulsterbus route, i.e., home village to school and back again, but you could usually get away with trips further afield if you acted natural

So, when checking up on me, the Headmaster could only call my parents on the house landline phone. On most of those phones, you could unscrew the earpiece cover – see the cream coloured one in the middle below:

Inside was the circular aluminium device, with some audio holes in it. The trick was to fill those holes with Blu Tack (an adhesive, re-usable putty), and cover it with Scotch tape. That prevented the Blu Tack from being squeezed out when you replaced the earpiece cover.

The effect (as reported back) was hilarious, as my folks were unable to hear a thing, due to all the ear-piece sound holes being stuffed full of Blu Tack. The caller’s voice was reduced to a faint, inaudible squawk. Yet the caller (e.g., my headmaster) could hear my folks perfectly, and so knew the line was good.

I heard afterwards (from the brother of a teacher in my school) that the Head was always in a foul mood after he rang my parents, as he assumed that they were either deaf as posts, or quite mad, as they just kept saying “WHAT?” and “SPEAK UP, PLEASE” and “EH?” and “WHO IS THIS?” and “THIS PHONE ISN’T WORKING AGAIN“, and never heard a word he had to say.  

That Headmaster, when he nabbed you in some suspected misdemeanour, and you were lying though your teeth to him, invariably would say: “You’ll have to speak up, lad – I can’t hear you“.  He knew well that being asked to repeat a lie more loudly was more stressful, and would test your acting skills more thoroughly, than if he let you away with a mumbled excuse.  So the knowledge that my parents were always turning the tables on him by yelling at him to “speak up” and saying that they “couldn’t hear” him always made me chuckle. 

My folks then would drive to a public phone or neighbour’s house and telephone the phone company (BT), and, next day (service was good in these days before they improved everything), a wee man in a blue van would come out, check the phone and line, and go away scratching his head, having pronounced all to be in perfect working order (again). Which it was, as by then I of course had removed all traces of Blu Tack and Scotch tape. He must have thought that my poor parents were some sort of telephone hypochondriacs … 

You’d never get away with it nowadays.

Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés

Aged 15, in RE class at school, our teacher asked whether we considered the world to be primarily friendly, or unfriendly. The class split roughly into friendly and unfriendly camps. When the teacher asked me what I thought, I remember saying “neither“, and that the world largely was “indifferent“.

I’ve always had that view. As the old pop song puts it:

Don’t tell me your troubles
I got troubles of my own

The mass of people primarily are focussed on themselves. They barely notice you. Even when they do, their attentions are fleeting, shallow, and invariably lightly-informed.

So the vulgar modern urge to take photographs of your own face and post them online, while earnestly banging on about whatever personal issue you may or may not be having, always struck me as illogical, and futile, stemming as it does from both a vast over-estimation of: (i) one’s true significance in most people’s lives; and (ii) the acuity of any advice they might offer.

Essentially, I consider that therapy is a waste of time. Faced with a personal dilemma, go for a walk by yourself, write down your options in private, sleep on it, then act. End of. You sort out your own stuff, and you should seek to bring fun to others, not intractable problems.

This is not a popular attitude nowadays:

I know from my own healing journey that silence has been the least effective remedy,”

– Prince Harry.

There’s no escape, folks. Harry is a product of his insecure and over-sharing times, and he is convinced that, when in doubt, letting it all hang out is always the best policy. Like half the world nowadays, I’m not sure that Harry has any clear concept of privacy.

(And, frankly, if you ever hear of anyone speaking about their “journey“, reach for your gun.)

The contrast with his late grandfather, Philip, is instructive – from a Daily Express article::

That said, I know from someone close to him that he thought Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was ‘madness‘ and ‘no good would come of it’.

What did worry him was the couple’s preoccupation with their own problems and their willingness to talk about them in public.Give TV interviews, by all means,’ he said, ‘but don’t talk about yourself.’

He told me more than once: ‘It’s a big mistake to think about yourself. No one is interested in you in the long run. Don’t court popularity. It doesn’t last. Remember that the attention comes because of the position you are privileged to hold, not because of who you are. If you think it’s all about you, you’ll never be happy.’

As the French say, “pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés“. (To live happily, live hidden.)

Even if you do so in plain sight.

Is Taylor Swift Our Greatest Living Poet?

That, ladies and gentlemen, was the jaw-dropping title of a recent BBC podcast.

There is a species of pop-cultural revisionism, put about by arrogant white millennial women who are very lightly-informed about pop and rock before they were born, that “strong women in pop” started in the 1990s with so-called “girl-power” bands etc.  (Big Mama Thornton, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, now all spinning in their graves.)

Destiny’s Child and the Spice Girls were bands that were selected, validated and directed by blokes.  Destiny’s Child were pushed into stardom by Beyoncé Knowles’ father.  The Spice Girls were created by two dull blokes, Chris and Bob Herbert from Heart Management, who ran the auditions and selected the band members.  “Independence”, my foot. To compare those empty-headed, Thatcher-ite (avowedly, in the case of the Spice Girls) mediocrities with the genuinely-independent women artists of the 1970s and 1980s is a shocking dereliction of critical duty.

And we’re now also meant to believe (unless we’re sexist) that bland, conservative women such as Swift are exceptional artists.  Seriously?

Swift, like Madonna, primarily is talented at selling.  Her music has never even been interesting enough to be offensive.  It’s bland chyme – pleasant, artistically unambitious and completely forgettable.  I lost half an hour of my life trying not to fall asleep, ploughing through this sugary, phoney, dross. Bland country to blander, formulaic pop ballads and formulaic shakers – Swift’s entire career is built on a careful avoidance of anything that might offend the average pop fan. Would Swift sell as much if she wasn’t a white American blonde?  Doubtful.

By contrast, the 1970s and the 1980s were full of great, genuinely-independent women artists; artists who have pride of place in my collection; artists who aren’t good “because they’re women”; rather, artists who are good because they’re good: Poison Ivy, Suzi Quatro, Lydia Lunch, Blondie, Joni Mitchell, Selecter, Siouxsie Sioux, Bjork, Cocteau Twins, Patti Smith, Bananarama, Joan Jett, Go Gos, Slits, Marine Girls, Raincoats, Dolly Mixtures, Girlschool, Xmal Deutschland, Pretenders, Roxette, Eurythmics, X-Ray Spex, Toyah, Lisa Gerrard, Grace Jones, Tracey Thorn, etc.

And here’s another relatively-unsung gem – Rhiannon Giddens. This is her rendition of the old US folk song, Wayfaring Stranger (believed to be a development of an earlier Scottish folk song, The Dowie Dens of Yarrow). I’ve never heard a better version. No woke quotas needed here folks:

I didn’t write these:

Nor did anybody else.

Everything in italics was produced, in a few seconds, by ChatGPT:

Joy Division – overview:

Joy Division was a post-punk band that was formed in Manchester, England in 1976. The band consisted of Ian Curtis (vocals), Bernard Sumner (guitar), Peter Hook (bass), and Stephen Morris (drums).

Joy Division was known for their unique blend of punk and new wave influences, which resulted in a sound that was moody, atmospheric, and introspective. Their music was characterized by its use of unconventional time signatures, unconventional song structures, and the distinctive voice and lyrics of Ian Curtis, who was known for his distinctive singing style and often bleak and introspective lyrics.

The band released two studio albums during their brief career, “Unknown Pleasures” (1979) and “Closer” (1980). Joy Division’s music has had a lasting impact on the post-punk and alternative rock genres and the band has been widely cited as an influence by many other artists. Despite the untimely death of Ian Curtis in 1980, Joy Division’s music continues to be celebrated and enjoyed by fans around the world.

VW Golf GTi Mk. II – overview:

The Volkswagen Golf GTI Mark II is a compact hatchback that was produced by Volkswagen from 1984 to 1992. It was the second generation of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, and it was based on the second-generation Volkswagen Golf (also known as the Golf Mk2).

The Golf GTI Mark II was available in three-door and five-door hatchback body styles, and it was powered by a range of four-cylinder petrol engines. The base engine was a 1.8-liter engine that produced 110 horsepower, but there was also a higher-performance version called the GTI 16v that was equipped with a 1.8-liter engine that produced 128 horsepower.

The Golf GTI Mark II was known for its sporty handling and refined driving experience, and it was popular among enthusiasts and drivers who wanted a practical and fun-to-drive car. It was also praised for its build quality and reliability.

The Golf GTI Mark II was succeeded by the Golf GTI Mark III in 1992.

The Troubles – overview:

The Troubles were a period of sectarian conflict and political violence in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. The conflict was primarily between two main groups: the mainly Protestant unionists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and the mainly Catholic nationalists, who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland.

The Troubles were characterized by sectarian violence, bombings, and shootings, and they resulted in the deaths of over 3,500 people. The conflict was fueled by deep-seated religious and cultural differences, as well as political and economic issues.

The Troubles began in the late 1960s, when civil rights protests by Catholics were met with violence by the Protestant-dominated police force and loyalist paramilitaries. The violence escalated over the following decades, and it was exacerbated by the emergence of paramilitary groups on both sides, such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Efforts to find a resolution to the conflict included the Sunningdale Agreement in 1973, the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006. These agreements established power-sharing arrangements between the two main political parties in Northern Ireland and led to a significant reduction in violence. However, tensions and political divisions have continued to persist in Northern Ireland.

Mark E. Smith – overview:

Mark E. Smith was the lead singer and primary songwriter of the English post-punk band the Fall, which he founded in 1976. Smith was known for his abrasive and confrontational stage presence, as well as his distinctive singing style and lyrics, which often featured unconventional and surrealistic themes.

Smith was also known for his controversial and difficult personality, which often resulted in conflicts with bandmates and others. He had a reputation for being difficult to work with and for making demands of those around him, and he was known for frequently changing the lineup of the Fall. Despite this, Smith was highly influential in the post-punk and indie rock scenes, and the Fall released over 30 studio albums during his lifetime.

Smith passed away in 2018 at the age of 60.

Not bad, albeit this AI script generator chatbot has an obvious American bias (the Golf GTi has more power outside of the US, 112hbp for the 8-valve version, and 139bhp for the 16-valve version), and US spellings dominate. The style is blandly competent, and politically fairly even-handed.

I have mixed feelings about it.

College course-work is fucked, of course, certainly at undergraduate level. Of course, this is easily solved by doing what they used to do “in my day” – assessment 100% by in-person final exams. But whither now for Masters and DPhils?

And if (through inertia), in relation to history, politics, current affairs, economics, etc, smart AI chatbots start to become de facto meta narrative controllers, we really will enter into the electric sheep[1] era. The possibilities for subtle autocracy are legion.

[1] Copyright PKD

Planely biased

Note how there is such an assault on ICE engines in cars, while ICE engines in ‘planes are not subject to any compulsory end date, despite being responsible for way more pollution – even though cars are way more important to most people than ‘planes are.

If I gave you a choice – you can either never fly again or never drive again, most people would choose their car. The vast majority of flights – business meetings that could be done over zoom, going to Malaga to get trolleyed – are simply not necessary. But, for a rural dweller with non-existent public transport, going to the shop to taking your kids to school is necessary.

Yet airlines (owned by billionaires) get a free pass while cars (owned by the hoi polloi) are hammered.

Go figure.