Thursday, 25 August 2016

Why I voted for Owen Smith even though I think he's a bit of a dick.

I just voted for Owen Smith in the Labour leadership election despite the fact he strikes me as a bit of dick, despite the fact I think he will never be Prime Minister, and despite the fact he suggested we should have talks with ISIS. That was an idiotic thing to say and Corbyn and his supporters were right to say so. It was also an idiotic thing to say when Corbyn said it in January.

I've voted for Owen Smith because I believe Jeremy Corbyn is the worst thing to have happened to British politics in my lifetime. I say that as a man who was alive when Liz Truss made this speech...

I honestly, perhaps delusionally, think there's a chance Owen Smith could win this election. Probably about a one in four chance, but a chance nonetheless, and that's why I'm writing this post. It's a last ditch attempt to try and persuade some floating voters. Below are a list of the key reasons I think Corbyn has to go for the good of the nation. That might look hyperbolic but I mean it.

Let's start with the big stuff. He supported the IRA, he refused to say whether he'd support a NATO ally if Russia attacked it and he took money from the gay murdering, female prisioner raping Iranian regime to propagandise on their behalf.

None of those statements are smears. They are facts.

Now because this is supposed to be a persuasive blog post, I'll start with a concession - there are arguments in favour of all those things. I, like you, have a Chomsky book on my shelf which I tell people I finished reading. But when we get to an election, a real life general election, how do we think those uncomfortable facts about Corbyn will go down? I would suggest they will contribute to Labour's utter, potentially irreversible annihilation. Last election, the Tories beat Miliband with a picture of him eating a bacon sandwich, in the next one they'll be able to point out that the Shadow Chancellor praised the 'bombs and bullets' of the IRA.

Having conceded that there are arguments in favour of those things, I hope you'll allow me to point out that those arguments are bollocks. Starting with the IRA, as the article I've linked to points out, why didn't Corbyn support those Irish Republican politicians in favour of a peaceful solution and not those in favour of kneecapping? I've seen Corbyn supporters comparing him with Martin Luther King. Which route would MLK have taken? Jeremy is not anti violence. He is anti British violence.

In the link above about NATO, Corbyn says the following... "I don't wish to go to war, I want to achieve a world in which there is no need to go to war". Saying you would protect a NATO ally militarily if Russia attacked is the number one way of preventing such a war from happening. That's all you have to do. Say you'd do it and you near enough guarantee you won't have to. Just say it mate. It's a funny old thing I know, but it works. I believe the vast majority of the voting public understands this. I am aware of only one other major politician in the West who has talked about disbanding NATO recently and he wants to Make America Great Again.

And then there's Iran. I've seen Corbyn supporters suggest he was engaging in diplomacy. If he had gone on Iranian State television and in any way criticised the regime I might have been persuaded this was a useful exercise. He didn't. What he did, in effect, is align himself with a facist, totalitarian state simply because it opposed Israel and America. Shouldn't a left wing, liberal, supposed supporter of human rights be looking to stand up for those in Iran who feel the same rather than supporting their oppressors?

This is getting heavy.

Let's lighten things up with some electability stuff. In the words of Jennifer Aniston in that shampoo advert - 'Now for the science bit - concentrate'. Here is a graph of the Westminster polling averages since June 2015.

A lot of people have been saying that Labour were ahead in the polls before the coup to get rid of Corbyn. This graph from Britain Elects proves that's not really the case. There was a poll not long before the referendum in which Labour were ahead. One poll. When you average out the polls since he came in you get a much clearer picture of what is actually happening. At this stage in the electoral cycle Miliband's Labour was way ahead. Miliband lost. Corbyn's personal ratings are even worse. He literally has the worst poll ratings of any opposition leader since polling began.

There are two arguments against this.

1) Why do you trust the polls? Look at the size of the rallies!

Yes, the polls for the general election got it wrong but they were a LOT closer and as they always seem to do, they overestimated Labour's vote, they didn't underestimate it. As for the rallies, it's been pointed out that the Tories don't hold rallies and yet they somehow won an election. Nate Silver stuck a quote on twitter yesterday which I'm going to steal. It's from Walter Mondale the Democratic candidate for President in 1984...

"There's something going on in this country and the pollsters aren't getting it. Nobody who's been with me for the last few days and has seen these crowds, seen their response, seen their enthusiasm, seen the intensity of their response and how they respond to these issues, no one who's been where I've been, can help but believe that there's something happening in this country"

A week later, in the general election, Ronald Reagan won 49 of the 50 American states. FORTY NINE.

The other argument goes like this...

2) IT'S NOT FAIR!!!!!!

The media has not been supportive of Jeremy Corbyn. I don't think this is because the establishment are scared of him. I think it is because he and his team are BAD AT POLITICS. That traingate scandal is bollocks. It really doesn't matter. But when it was all kicking off, his team gave about eight different excuses and couldn't get through to Jeremy to devise a coherent response because he was making jam. Now, it is possible that that is not true. But be honest, you know deep down in your heart that it probably is. Then there's the way Corbyn responded when asked about it...

Now, you may agree with the way he responded to this and the 'ANGRY' in the video title does overstate it somewhat. He's right. The NHS is far more important.  But imagine Corbyn in the last week of an election campaign, under constant scrutiny.  I think we'd get a lot of this...

Now, that is how a normal person might react under constant pressure. It's also well funny. But is it how someone you can picture being elected Prime Minister would react? Yes, it's not fair but it's just a simple truth that the answer is no.

Is Owen Smith Prime Minister material? Probably not. But I do think he is capable of leading the Labour Party to mere electoral disaster rather than electoral oblivion. And in the aftermath I think he is capable of leading a functional opposition able to make things difficult for the Conservative Party. I also believe he is capable, and this is pretty much the nub of it, of keeping the Labour Party alive as a political force.

I accept that for a lot of people Jeremy Corbyn represents a kind of ideological purity. He represents a good guy against the forces of evil. As you'll have noticed, I don't agree. His record demonstrates that he is, I'm afraid, not that bright. But even if he is the Prep school educated, thirty three year long professional politician, Down To Earth Champion Of The Worker that the memes say he is - please consider whether he stands a chance of ever implementing a single policy.

I went on that Iraq War march in 2003 because I thought the war seemed like a bad idea. It did not occur to me that it would result in the British left abandoning virtually every single capable politician it has in favour of a false messiah.

This has been a long, po-faced blog post. That is because I haven't felt as strongly about something political since that war. Until recently I always did my politics on my own, in a darkened corner of a room. Now I am openly pleading with you to vote for Labour to be a party that has an influence on parliament and not just twitter. Unless you don't have a vote in which case, don't worry, I'm sure everything will be fine.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Was Britpop Shit?

Today there is so much stuff in the news about the 20th anniversary of Oasis's gigs at Knebworth, that twenty years from now people will be asking not 'Were you at Knebworth?' but 'Where were you when you found out it was the twentieth anniversary of Knebworth?'. I was there. On the second night, so 20 years tomorrow, which means my 'Christ, I'm old' hasn't kicked in yet. Being there on the second night meant that I missed out on seeing The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers but did get to see the 7,378th most memorable band of the 90s Dreadzone.

Here's what I remember about Knebworth. Me and my friend took a coach there which took a couple of hours, arrived at about midday and immediately found a spot where we stood for the next eleven hours. I am almost certain that I did not have a piss for the entire day. As someone who now urinates twice in an episode of Gogglebox, I can confirm that if I miss one thing about the 90s it is my bladder. I wish I'd got more done really. If I'd had known just how much of future decades were to be taken up by bodily functions, I might have written a couple of symphonies.

Was Britpop shit? Does anyone listen to Britpop anymore? I mean, does anyone ever stick on a Longpigs album? I fully signed up to Britpop. I bought the NME every week, I listened to Steve Lamaq, I bought that 7inch single which was just a recording of an argument between the Gallagher brothers, in the Blur vs Oasis singles battle I sat on the fence and bought one of each. Britpop just happened to coincide roughly with my pubescent need for a culture to join in with.

It feels to me like the last mono-culture of its sort. By 1996, being a British teenager and not liking either Blur or Oasis was unusual. It started as something vaguely alternative but ended up, until the Spice Girls, being almost entirely dominant. Britpop events like album releases or big gigs were regularly on the news. As a teenager, I felt like I was part of a movement comparable with the 60s. I wasn't was I? It was just some, mainly average guitar bands singing the sort of songs that Robbie Williams would go on to sing. If your mum will let you put a tape on in the car then it's not really an significant musical movement is it? It was safe and I don't mean 'safe' by its 90s meaning - I mean no one's mum was worried about them going to Knebworth because they'd already worked out that we were a generation of pussies.

I'm only really talking about my experience of Britpop really aren't I? I'm sure you were all doing crack with Dreadzone. But I really don't think there's been a British musical movement of its size since, nor one that was more disposable or entirely un-revolutionary ever.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

It's the waiting that kills you.

I'm waiting to hear if I've got a job. As an actor, your online presence is supposed to be all about giving the impression that you are constantly in work - casually posting photos with call sheets in shot, saying things like 'my taxi driver this morning' or moaning that you're struggling to learn lines - "I've just go so many!!!!". But I am not just an actor but also a writer whom people depend on to speak the truth and say what's on his mind - well today what's on my mind is that shouldn't my agent have fucking called by now?

We're often told that the people making the decision know if an actor is right for a role within seconds of them walking into the audition room. Well, I have a suggestion. Why not get rid of the whole facade? For every job, just get every actor in London to queue up, walk into the room for 5 seconds and give them an immediate yes or no? No more small talk, no more working on the script, no more perusing the CV - just an instant decision.

I realise this is unworkable and not just because it would lead to Tom Hiddleston playing every single role there is. I actually quite like auditioning. It gives you the chance to work on a script, get out of the house, sometimes you even get some free water. It's the waiting to find out if you've got the job I can't stand. In most cases, the odds are against you so you know that the chances are the whole pissing charade will end in disappointment. But if, like me, you depend on acting to make a living you know that you damn well need one of these suckers to come in at some point.

I mean, if it really came down to it, I could go and get a real job but who the fuck does that these days? Aren't all 'real jobs' currently done by Poles? The rest of us are waiting to find out if we've got that part in Doctors. It's not Doctors I'm waiting on by the way. I've unsuccessfully auditioned for that show twice I think, making me the last remaining actor in Britain yet to appear in the show. In my last casting for it, I was going for the role of a chef and was asked if I could chop veg really fast. I gave an honest answer of 'no'. Should I have said yes? We didn't do chopping veg at my drama school. We did Brecht, mask work and rapier fighting, none of which I've ever been asked if I can do, but no speed vegetable chopping - Christ, I wish I went to RADA, I imagine they do little else.

Of course, I should be able to train myself to erase potential jobs from my mind once the audition is done. That's what they should teach you at drama school - self hypnosis. 'You've got the part in Doctors!'. 'I've got the part in what?'.

I've just realised I've set myself up for a real fall. Anyone who, having read this blog, sees me in the next fortnight, is going to ask if I 'got that job'. Fuck it.

Fortunately, I do have something exciting other than the impending nuclear apocalypse (Vote Trump!) coming up. You know that book I wrote? Not only is it getting a second edition with a hot shit new cover and some bonus #content but I'm also recording it as an audiobook for Audible. That's good right? I mean, it's going to be a struggle explaining what Audible is to my grandma and deep down I expect she'll still assume that I'm sustaining myself in London through pole dancing, but it's exciting.

Monday, 1 August 2016

My friend Kris

My friend Kris asked me to write a blog post about him. Usually I don't take (or get) requests. 'Mate! Mate! Do you think you could do us a quick 700 words on the Chelsea Flower Show?'. The thing is though, I've got to somehow drag myself off the topic of politics and this request to write about Kristopher Robert Beattie has offered me an opportunity to do so.

You will have already noticed two things about Kris. One: he is the type of person (perhaps the first in history) to ask for someone to write a blog post about him for no discernible reason. Two: he spells his name with a K. That wasn't his choice but his parents'. I like it. It sort of says, "I'm normal but not that normal". It says - "Yes, I work in office supplies but on the weekend I smoke rollies and rock out with my buddies".

I haven't seen Kris in person for about five years. That's because he moved to Wellington, New Zealand with his Kiwi girlfriend and their half-Kiwi son. Since arriving there they have added to the collection, making a half Kiwi daughter meaning that they have, in total, one full Kiwi.

Kris and I became friends in roughly 1995 and, as I remember it, spent pretty much the entirety of the summers of 1996 and 1997 together. He was the first person (other than my brothers) with whom I remember laughing to the point at which I was in danger of vomiting. What we laughed at I do not really remember. There was one incident when Kris had a small squeezy toy frog. It was designed so that when you squeezed it, its tongue would curl out and flick. One night we squeezed it again and again. Sometimes the flick would be hysterically funny and sometimes it wouldn't. I have thought about that frog a lot. There is no way to describe what it was that made some flicks so funny and others not at all. There are hundreds of books written about how to be funny. There are hundreds of people who's job it is to critique comedy. I bet none of these dicksplats could explain what it was that made one of those frog's flicks funnier than another. 'For something to be funny it has to be true' - you obviously didn't spend four hours in Kris Beattie's living room on a Saturday night some time in 1997. Yeah, Saturday night. How old were we? About 16.  For some, their teenage years are about snorting ketamine - not us.

I guess I should try and describe Kris but he doesn't seem to have any photos of himself on Facebook for me to work off so I'm going to have to do it from memory. Kris's skin colour is ever so slightly yellow. He is racially white and, as far as I know, entirely English in heritage and yet he somehow looks foreign. But then, if you were to ask me to name which country he could be from I'd be totally at a loss. I suppose he looks half Greek, half orphan. He has a slim, somewhat elastic physique and is naturally comic in the way moves. He was a strong exponent of the curtains haircut so popular in mid nineties Essex. Despite his slim build, Kris eats a lot and I would take a guess that he is the only one of my friends to have salad cream in his house. Kris knows more than anyone I know about boxing, Olympic sprinters and lower league football. Kris taught me Blackbird on the guitar. Kris once half heartedly mentioned to one of his parents that he thought Bugs Bunny was kind of funny and for the next five Christmases he received Bugs Bunny presents and therefore had a teenage bedroom fully stocked with Bugs Bunny merchandise. Kris is the sort of person who probably knows what the capital of Ecuador is. Kris is probably the only person from Braintree funnier than his dad with honourable mentions going to our school friend Matt LeCount and former Prodigy haircut man Keith Flint. Kris is enormously likeable and yet he is also the sort of person who I could imagine asking me to write a blog about him and then telling me he thought it wasn't actually as good as he'd hoped. Unprompted, Kris once told another friend of mine that that friend was jut jawed. Kris once sang Happy Days to me in German, which I then stole and used in my stand up routine for five years. Kris has a very solid cue action but he sometimes lets himself down on position and is a little over reliant on stun shots. Kris is very good at accents. Most people would describe Kris as happy go lucky in nature but I believe that as he gets older, like me, he is finding himself prone to moments of angst. If I remember correctly, Kris was once the only non Asian person working in an Asian restaurant. Kris is more curious about other people than anyone I have ever met and I reckon is the only person from our year at school who could still name everyone from our year at school. Kris and I's friendship is probably the closest platonic one I've ever had. Kris was once a postman for a while. In 1998, Kris and I murdered a stranger together, buried the body and have never spoken about it since.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Everything that will happen to the Corbyn movement up until roughly the year 2045.

Every time I write about Jeremy Corbyn I get way way more readers. I should monetise it. He'd love that - if I turned my dislike for him into a small business. Capitalism wins! Can't be doing that though can I? I'm already worried that I'm becoming the sort of blinkered obsessive cultist I decry his supporters for being in my ability to go on and on and on about the man. I've only written a couple of blog posts to be fair but you should see the inside of my head. It thinks of nothing else. Maybe I actually love him. I doth protest too much, right? Yep, that's it - hand me a Socialist Workers banner and a bottle of coconut water and bus me to the next Momentum rally.

I've given up thinking I can persuade firm Corbyn supporters. If the fact he earned £20,000 propagandising for Iranian State Television arouses not the slightest bit of concern in you then one more pithy blog isn't going do it. That's not a 'smear' by the way. It's a fact. Having said that, maybe I've earned money from Iranian State Television. Is it possible that one of the £2.87 royalty payments I get from time to time is down to my appearance on Jonathan Creek being broadcast in Iran? Perhaps. Hypocrite!

How are we going to get out of this? There's a group of people who love him, a group who don't and a much much larger group of people who Do. Not. Give. A. Shit. No one's changing their mind are they? Doesn't feel like it.

So here's what I think is going to happen - he wins the leadership election by a smallish margin - 55/45. Jubilation amongst his supporters. A small group of MPs (20?) break away and either join the Lib Dems or, more likely form their own new party. The rest stay to see it out. Many 'disloyal' Labour MPs who didn't support Corbyn are deselected by their Constituency Labour Parties and replaced with Corbyn loyalists. Gradually, anti Corbyn Labour party members like me drift away to either the new party or become disillusioned with politics altogether and take up squash.

There is an election. Both Labour and the new party which has foolishly named itself the Red Tory Party are butchered. Corbyn's enormous fanbase is not deterred - of course Corbyn was going to lose they say, his MPs and the hostile media let him down - and they'd have a bit of a point. Not a great one I'd argue but a point nonetheless.

Meanwhile the enthusiastic socialist movement Corbyn has inspired feels like it's going somewhere. There are enormous anti austerity and anti Brexit marches as big as the anti Iraq War ones. And there is a lot to protest. With a gigantic Tory majority, rhetoric about the privatisation of large portions of the NHS and education system is becoming a reality. But just like the Iraq War protests they don't change policy because protest alone rarely does. I never saw those 'God Hates Fags' placards encourage anyone to cross the street and join the Westboro Baptist Church. And now I've just compared the Corbyn movement to the Westboro Baptist Church and belittled the idea of protest - like I said, I've given up on persuasion.

Still, the polls don't look good at all for Labour and Corbyn is getting old and tired so he retires to his allotment, safe in the knowledge that he will always be loved by many. If he's lucky he may even become a Che Guevara style t-shirt star.

And now Labour has a new leader. A white bloke probably, in another example of how the left has become better at talking about equal opportunities than enacting them. This leader is a little more organised - you don't get the feeling, like you do with Corbyn, that he keeps meaning to check if he has a PPI claim. But the Labour brand is tarnished and the majority of its supporters are still arguing amongst themselves. This leader makes some headway but still loses the next two elections - let's call him Kinnock 2.

Now we're into the 2030s and the last few years have been as been bat shit fucking mental as a turn of the century documentary about Michael Jackson. Many of those who drove the Corbyn movement are hitting their mid 40s. Some have mortgages and 'would it be so bad to send our kids to private school? I mean, we'd still keep their feet on the ground' and 'ooh, wouldn't it be nice to have a little place in Umbria?'. Finally, when confronted with the advantages of an off shore tax savings account, they find themselves easing off on the old radical socialism. So, suddenly, they find themselves voting for and in many cases leading something that looks an awful lot like Blairism. Most of Blair's cabinet were flirting with Communism in the 70s. So that's what we have - a decade or so of a 2030s version of Blairism led by the very people who, at the age of 22, fought to destroy it. This only ends when their children leave private school and decide that mum and dad are evil and the only way to get back at them is to take over the Labour party and turn it into a radical socialist movement.

Decades and decades of the comfortable middle classes fucking around with dog shit ideologies, supposedly in service of the working classes, but then abandoning them when it inflicts on their own lifestyles.

My predictions are usually wrong (I have never won a bet on football) but that was fun.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

More ill judged ranting about Trump, Johnson and Corbyn.

We're now on week four of 'thinking about politics' being not a hobby one can dip in and out of but a relentless high pitched ringing sound dominating every waking hour. This morning's episode of 'Apocalypse: 2016' brings the news that eleven time winner of 'worst man in the world' Donald Trump has officially won the Republican nomination. We knew that was coming though. It's been on its way for ages now, like a root canal we booked in last Autumn.

I've been following Donald Trump on twitter for a good few years now - you could say I discovered him. I used to find him hilarious. Every couple of days he'd sit there for literally two hours, retweeting compliments. Some faulty chromosome would tweet him something like 'You're the best Mr Trump' and he'd let us know, adding a 'thanks'. And then he'd do it again and again and again. It's my theory that these 'I'm so great' tweeting sessions were done whilst he was on the toilet pushing out pound after pound of red meat.

I found it funny that a man, so clearly damaged in some way, could broadcast his narcissism to the world. Who are these freaks who tweet him? I thought. There can't be that many. He must be retweeting every single compliment. Well, it turns out his twitter fans represented a tiny proportion of a much larger group of Americans who were not only prepared to throw praise at a giant sweaty baby but were also willing to campaign for him to be the custodian of the greatest nuclear arsenal the world has ever seen.

Americans eh?! Ha! Aren't they crazy?! The more I think about it, the more I reckon the despair of the last few weeks has not been down to sorrow at leaving the European Union but has been serious grief over the loss of a great British pastime - looking down on Americans. Yesterday saw Boris 'I didn't fuck a pig at Oxford but I'll probably do it on television one day' Johnson's first joint press conference as Foreign Secretary. You've probably seen it. Essentially, a series of American journalists ask him 'Aren't you a bit of a cunt?' and we witness his realisation that the 'mumble, mumble, big word, tousle hair' defence looks silly when you're standing next to a grown up like John Kerry.

Since the Blair/Clinton era we have moaned about slick politicians spouting soundbites. Well, not anymore. A chant... What do we want? Less slick politicians! Who shall we replace them with? Transparently hideous and incompetent people! I give it three months before Rylan is Home Secretary.

A few months ago Trump said that he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose voters. There's someone in Britain who could do that too. There is literally nothing that the cult of Jeremy Corbyn would not forgive him. Corbyn could join ISIS this morning and by lunchtime there'd be 600 memes hailing his diplomacy.

Are you back on Corbyn mate? Yeah, sorry. If 95% of my time these days is spent thinking about news, 95% of that time is spent thinking about Corbyn. In six months time when I eventually die from too much news, Corbyn's beardy face will be the last thing I think of.

Here's reason number 214 I hate the cult of Corbyn - there's this idea that he's returning the Labour Party to its roots, bringing back old Labour, virtuous Labour. Corbyn fucking hated old Labour. Corbyn didn't just vote against Blair and Brown at virtually every opportunity, he hated Kinnock too. Next time someone calls the MPs who started the 'coup' to get rid of him 'disloyal' ask them about when he was part of the leadership challenge to Neil Kinnock in 1988. Plotter! Oh yeah, but Kinnock wasn't TRUE Labour was he? Then who was? Clement Attlee? Well, it was Clement Attlee who introduced the atom bomb to Britain so you can be sure that Corbyn would have been trying to get rid of him. Since Corbyn has been an MP he has consistently voted against every Labour leader. So maybe, just maybe, it is not his 'disloyal' Labour MPs who are in the wrong party - it's him.

I am now the man who brings every conversation onto his pet subject. I'm like your Uncle who doesn't go an hour without mentioning how speed bumps are destroying the country. Look out for a future post in which I question why 2016's socialist workers movement seems to have far more former boarding school pupils than manual workers.

Look at me. You are witnessing an actor destroy his career with a series of unasked for rants about his industry's favourite ever politician.

I need to finish this on some kind of positive note. The other day I caught me self thinking the old 'why would anyone want to bring a child into a world so awful?' thought. But then I thought about what the world was like when I was born in 1980; Britain had just had the 'winter of discontent' and the three day week and was starting a decade of Thatcher, half of Europe was enslaved, Apartheid was in full swing, Pol Pot was still in business, nuclear war seemed inevitable and Jim Davidson was on the TV.  And yet, somehow, my 36 years have been relatively lovely. There's always a thousand reasons why the world is going to shit. But if you are reading this then the chances are that you, like me, live somewhere where the weather is sunny today and if you want to you can, like me, go for a little walk and treat yourself to a 99 ice cream.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Some observations about being an insomniac.

Television in the middle of the night features a frightening amount of adverts for online casinos. I presume they've identified their target market as people watching the Eden channel at 3.30am. Here's how an online casino advert goes... a man (usually a man) alone in a mundane flat opens up his laptop and inexplicably doesn't go to Pornhub. Instead he goes through to Sky Vegas or whatever and suddenly everything is amazing - he's wearing sunglassses, he's dressed like James Bond, he's travelling down the Las Vegas strip in a convertible, he steps into a casino, lights, lights, glamorous flashing lights, an attractive available looking woman in a red low cut dress is standing behind a roulette wheel, a deep voice over says something like 'Do something with your life! Be a man!'. Is there anywhere in advertising in which the lifestyle displayed is so different to the reality? Anyone signing up for a casino website at 3.30am is either pissed or so depressed that their only other option to brighten up their evening is to call into Talksport. How the fuck is this allowed? The only explanation is that those in charge of regulating gambling advertising are all asleep at 3.30am. Sky Vegas have handed the authorities the tape of a responsible commercial but play something monumentally immoral when nobody but the vulnerable is looking.

I know you're not supposed to watch television when you're trying to get to sleep, by the way. The advice seems to be not to do anything that might stimulate you. Well what the tit are you supposed to do then? Stare into the darkness and contemplate your own inadequacies? My entire life is spent avoiding that exact thing. My current method is to watch nature documentaries. I find them relaxing. David Attenborough's voice is the closest I've ever come to finding whatever drug it was that Michael Jackson's doctor was giving him. The problem is it doesn't send me into a deep sleep, just enough that I can't quite keep my eyes open. So I drift in and out of a light slumber and every so often awake to the sound of bison head butting or the sight of an intensely ugly fish.

Here's the main thing about being an insomniac - it's boring. Every week or so I'll go through a night in which I don't even achieve an Attenborough induced flitting in and out of consciousness. Just hours and hours of nothing, of analysing the morality of casino adverts, of returning to and from the bathroom just for something to do. On these nights there's always the belief that sleep may just be round the corner, so best not to ward it off by doing anything interesting. And so you bury yourself alive in tedium, trying not to rerun arguments you had in 2002.

Then you do the following day on no sleep whatsoever. People ask how you are and you reply 'tired'. But it doesn't feel like an earnest kind of tired. You're not tired because you've been taking care of a new born baby or up late working on a vaccine or recently back from LA after some interesting meetings with NBC. You're tired because just before bed it occurred to you that you're not sure if you ever went to a Shed Seven gig or not and now you can't stop thinking about it.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

How can we be sure Peter Mandelson doesn't shoot dogs?

Not many people read this blog. Not traditionally anyway. Until this week, my average post would get 100 readers or so. That was until I started writing about POLITICS. Suddenly, my readership has increased ten fold - seventeen fold to be exact. Who knew?  Lying dormant for all this time has been an audience, the size of an average Barnet FC home gate, who wake up every day thinking 'I wonder what the guy who played David Hasselhoff's manager thinks about the news'.

This leaves me in a quandary. Sure, writing about politics is fun (that's why all the teens are doin' it) but it's also stressful. Putting forth an opinion will inevitably lead to some people disagreeing with you. I found myself in an argument on Facebook about my Corbyn post yesterday. Has anyone ever, in the history of the internet, won an argument? If they have, I've not witnessed it. Once a debate has escalated to a certain level it never ends with 'actually, do you know what @BarbaraG1993? You were right and I was wrong'.

But my people want that sweet sweet politics talk from me. I could write about Chilcot which comes out in a couple of hours. That would be an ambitious topic. Here's a prediction; whatever Chilcot says, it will not change a single person's opinion about anything. Britain is split into three camps - those who think Blair is a war criminal, those who think he isn't and those who watch Geordie Shore. No one will be moving camps today. What you'll get is a lot of people screaming 'Whitewash! Whitewash! This report did not confirm my long held immovable view and therefore it is a Whitewash!'.

Here's a problem which is getting ever worse. For the most part, everyone only reads things they already agree with. Today I guarantee they'll be an article titled 'Why Chilcot is a whitewash and we should be outraged'. The content of the piece will not matter. It'll still get thousands of shares. You could fill it with carrot soup recipes and people would still go 'Well, this looks like it confirms my views - share!'.

Exploiting this culture is a website called The Canary. If you've not noticed it, it's the pro-Corbyn news blog your little sister's new boyfriend keeps posting on his Facebook feed with articles titled things like 'Charlotte Church Reads The Junior Doctors Contract - And It's Not Good!' and 'How Can We Be Sure Peter Mandelson Doesn't Shoot Dogs?'. The Canary's tagline is 'Fresh, Fearless Independent Journalism'. Its twitter bio is 'Free. Fair. Fearless'. These sound awfully like Fox News's tagline - 'Fair and Balanced' and it is essentially a left wing, British, low budget version of that. The Canary constantly complains about bias in the 'mainstream media', using the popular new irritating acronym MSM. Ironically, it has never published an article which didn't support its own particular leftie agenda.

There's nothing wrong with bias of course. The Guardian is heavily inclined in one direction and The Telegraph in another. They do at least have some degree of variety of opinion though. The rise of websites like The Canary and the right wing alternative Breitbart is fucking scary. Is this what we want to do? Pick a side in our early twenties (or at the age of eleven if you're a geek like me) and then block out anything that might not tally with our team's views? Just seek out things that support our argument not challenge it while piss poor websites pick up the clicks?

A few years ago I noticed that my twitter feed was invariably only giving me one side of the argument on most news stories. So I made a conscious effort to, in addition to all the lefty comics and journalists, follow a load of right of centre commentators and politicians. It hasn't radically changed my opinion on much but it has at least given me an insight into the other side of the debate. Now let me just step up onto my self righteous horse for this - I recommend doing as I did.

Perhaps you agree with everything I've said. In fact, maybe you already had all these opinions before reading and this post has just confirmed them for you. In which case, you know what to do - share!

Happy Chilcot Day everyone!

Monday, 4 July 2016

An ill advised post about Jeremy Corbyn.

Note to the reader: I want you to know that throughout the process of writing this post, my inner monologue has been a loud and relentless 'WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!!!!' Right now, I'm still in the bunker of obsessively watching the news and I needed to get some shit off my chest...

After five years or so of writing about absolutely nothing, I'm going to write my second blog post about politics in a week. This may be unwise. I mean, the first time I just wrote down the word 'politics' I spelled it 'polotics', realised that looked wrong and changed it - that would suggest I'm not entirely an expert. Having said that, being an expert is now seen as a disadvantage in the world of politics - we now live in a post-expert Britain. When people spoke of taking power back from the 'elites' it is now becoming ever clearer that a more specific definition of the vague term 'elite' is 'people who know what the fuck they are doing'. Well, thank God we got rid of them.

I don't think I'll bother writing about Boris and Gove and the rest of the cast of - lets see if I can make a comparison no one else has made of late - GAME OF THRONES. Ha ha ha ha ha. Seriously, I do not watch Game of Thrones except when out of the corner of my eye I see some medieval boobs. All I know is that it is now appropriate to say that absolutely everything is 'like Game of Thrones'. 'I missed the last train' - 'Ooh, it's like Game of Thrones'. 'Ham and cheese panini please' - 'Ooh, it's like Game of Thrones'. 'My wife has taken up badminton' - 'Ooh, it's like Game of Thrones'. It seems you could spend the next six months, exclusively saying that sentence and be considered a fascinating wit.

I'm going to talk about Labour. That's the lot that are consuming my thoughts without interruption. The Tories are the Tories. They are not my team. As a Newcastle fan I've never been one to give much of a shit about what Sunderland are up to. It is the drama in the Labour Party that is bothering me in a visceral way - honestly, it's like Game of Thrones.

A confession - I have hated Jeremy Corbyn almost from the moment I had heard of him. I realise that that admission will make the aim of this post - persuading Corbyn fans to give up on him - almost certainly futile. You see, I am from the (slowly moves behind bullet proof glass) Blairite wing of the party. When I say Blairite, I mean it by its new meaning. Blairite used to mean someone who preferred Tony Blair to Gordon Brown. Now it would seem that Blairite means anyone who doesn't think Bargain Hunt is rigged by Zionist plotters.

Damn it. I'm not being persuasive am I? Ok. Here goes... in my new ill advised, self appointed role as political commentator I am going to attempt to debunk each of the pro Corbyn arguments. Coming from a world - the craft beer supping, liberal arts degree having, most left wing opinion in the room always wins the argument world - this makes me a HERO. To be fair, you'd be right to point out that I've waited until Corbyn is as weak as my backhand to put my head above the parapet.

Oddly, I think this is the easiest argument to counter. The purpose of the Labour Party is to be in power and enact policies - not campaign for them. If the party doesn't hold a serious chance of being in government then it is essentially a pressure group. Brian May is a good campaigner for the rights of badgers - he is not a future Prime Minister.

Cos he is mate. But he won four out of four by-elections and increased the Labour majority in three of them! The opposition always win by-elections... always. He did nearly as well as Ed Miliband in the council elections! Ed Miliband went on to lose the general election. The youth! The youth! He's engaging the youth! He is. To a degree. Mainly the bookish, indie, own an acoustic guitar youth - I'd have been a Corbyn fan at 19, I'm sure of it. But the youth don't win you elections. Where were all the youth in the referendum? Sadly, they didn't vote and there are no signs of that changing. The simple fact is that Corbyn has the lowest ratings of any opposition leader in history.

This is the argument I find most irritating. For thirty years Corbyn has voted against every war and every non military cut. That is EASY. Especially when you've got pretty much the safest Labour seat outside of Billy Bragg's living room. War is wrong! Cuts are bad! There are two conclusions any thirteen year old can come to. Corbyn's life is not a demonstration of someone stubbornly sticking to his principles, but an example of someone who has never bothered to think, never bothered to listen to the arguments against his dogma. Of course war is wrong and cuts are bad but are they on every single occasion? If that's the case then we might as well all give up on this politics lark and just go about implementing the utopia.

Yes. There. Was. You know when Corbyn and co got upset about the Tories cutting the Educational Maintenance Grant and working tax credits - those were things that Labour managed to bring about BY BEING IN POWER. This whole 'there's no difference' thing is about to be severely tested by 10/15 years of majority Tory rule.

I accept that a large part of the 'mainstream media' (anyone other than The Canary?) is against him. I would argue that is is for legitimate reasons, because it's the media's job to report but also scrutinise and most of them happen to think he's shit. But let's say that the establishment is against him, 'terrified' of him. It doesn't change the fact that the objective of the Labour Party is to be in power. You're not going to do that with the media so against you. Yes, it's unfair but as my dad used to say when he beat me senseless with a stick for two hours a night - 'life's not fair'. When at the press conference for your party's review into anti-Semitism, a Jewish MP leaves the room crying and you then apologise to the man who abused her - it's fair to say you're not good at handling the media. It also suggests you might not be the 'kind and decent man' we keep hearing about.

That's the hardest argument to counter because it's true. It has to be said though, that many of the people making it have also just signed a petition to overthrow the democratic referendum result. Corbyn does have a large group of passionate, core supporters - but then so do Maroon 5. Corbyn could spend the rest of his life speaking to groups of avid fans who ALREADY AGREE WITH EVERYTHING HE SAYS. The question is, is he persuading people? Is he even bothering to try and persuade people? I would suggest not. The Labour Party is about more than one man. Whatever you think its policies should be - lets get someone who's actually good at, you know, politics.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Making sense of the shit storm.

In the past few days I expect there have been roughly 400,000 blog posts and think pieces about what the fuck is going on in the country soon to be known as the United Kingdom of England, Wales and the Isle of Wight. I'm not sure what adding to the pile will do for the discourse but it was the only thing I could think of doing to give me a break from reading them.

I am obsessive about news and have been since I pretended to have whooping cough so I could watch coverage of the 1992 general election. I am the sort of man who, just the other day, gave himself the morning off to go to the parliament website and watch Sir Philip Green in front of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee. The thing is, and I realise this may sound clinically mental, that was fun. The last time I think I spoke to you about my news addiction was when all the phone hacking shit was kicking off. That was my Glastonbury. It was FUN.

These last few days, I have not found fun. I was not prepared for the result of the referendum and, more significantly, I was not prepared for the way it would make me feel. When my liberal metropolitan elite echo bubble of a facebook page kicked off about the general election results I thought it was stupid. Sorry lads (this refers to all genders), I did.  We lost, ah well, get over it. What do you want? A one party state? Life goes on.

But the 'out' vote gave me the despair that so many others seemed to feel last year. It was as if the news grabbed me by the throat and yelled 'Did you think this was all just for your own entertainment? We're not fucking Gogglesprogs!'

Here, for what it's worth, is my prediction of what's to come. Apologies if it reads like the Book of Revelations. I have not, by the way, read the Book of Revelations. Is it by Dan Brown? My understanding is that is a series of predictions about everything turning to shit.

1. We will either not leave the EU at all or the deal that we get will see no significant changes to our contributions to the EU or immigration - because, you know, when people say that immigrants make a net contribution to the economy - they are not fucking joking.

2. If we do leave the number one objective will be to keep the finance industry in London. And how do you make them stay? Free from the shackles of the nasty EU and their fetish for red tape - deregulation and low low taxes. London will turn into Switzerland with beefeaters. This is Daniel Hannan's dream.

3. Meanwhile, the rest of the country - the bit that voted leave  - will be wondering where the new hospitals are, where all their delicious sovereignty is and why there are still foreigners in their town. You thought there was anger and disenfranchisement now? Wait till 2020 mate. With the Labour Party having turned into the first personality cult in history in which the leader has zero personality, in which the leader is simply a blank canvas for the left to project its hopes onto, those who do not share articles from The Canary will ignore it entirely. So who will step in? Who will speak for those who feel cheated? I'll give you a clue - his first name is Nigel. There is no rule that says that Middlesbrough will vote Labour from now until the end of time and there is certainly no rule that all they've been waiting for is a leader who promises to renationalise the rail service. UKIP will win over a 100 seats. With the left arguing over what to put on their next Socialist Worker banner, the mainstream of British politics will become a battle between a populist right and if we're really really lucky a One Nation Tory party - in other words it will be America with less guns and more Sports Direct mugs.

4. Here's just a few things that might interrupt proceedings - climate change, ISIS, a Trump presidency, the loss of Scotland and Northern Ireland, Virtual Reality games getting good and the World Cup in Russia.

Sorry about this, by the way. I read somewhere that writing is the action of thinking and that's all I'm doing - trying to make sense of things. So what do we do? Personally I'm not a big fan of petitioning for another referendum soon. 52% of the population feel that they haven't been listened to for years - how's that going to help? Yes, maybe, with the markets in free fall, remain could get a narrow win but you'd only enhance the anger of literally half the population. A good outcome might be, in a couple of years, having a referendum on a deal so transparently shit that remain wins by a 30% margin. Possible. Could put this whole shit storm to bed. Wishful thinking?

My hope, my dream, is that the left finds a genuinely charismatic leader out of nowhere. Imagine what a British Obama could do to Michael Gove. If there is one, they're currently in hiding. She ain't no Obama but I like Yvette Cooper. It's a shame that having met Tony Blair seems to mean you're the devil these days.

I feel like it might be the time for folk like me to get active and I don't mean start swimming - although a reduction in my waist line might give me the self esteem to get through the forthcoming armageddon. Step one might be joining a political party. I'm hovering between Labour and the Lib Dems. Lets see how the next week or so goes. In addition - and here comes the virtue signalling - I want to find a way to show support for those for whom the last few days have made them feel unwelcome in Britain. This barrage of overt, brought to you by the letters B, N and P racism, has made it feel as if when Trump got off the plane on Friday, he took with him all of the hatred he's stirred up at home this year. How I will go about this show of support I do not know. Smiling, I think. And being nice. I'm going to try really hard to be nice.

And this brings me on to one final suggestion. Perhaps the only scrap of clarity I have on this sorry mountain of 'fuuuuuuuuck!'... if those of us who voted remain are going get anything resembling the Britain we want, we're going to have to do some persuasion and we're not going to succeed in that if we call those who voted leave cunts. Unless of course they're sending around cards saying No More Polish Vermin - in that case, feel free.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

You won't BELIEVE this blog post about Oslo!

A couple of months ago, I told you about a trip I made to Cape Town to film a Swiss insurance commercial. A week or two ago, I had the pleasure of going to Oslo, tasked with selling insurance (for a different company) to Norwegians. About ten years ago I went to Rotterdam to make a Dutch insurance commercial. So these days, when I lie awake in bed at night one question rattles around my skull, tormenting me into the early hours - 'What is it about my face that makes mainland Western Europeans want to buy insurance?'.

Is it my bloated cheeks that makes them think of their own inevitable deaths and the need to ensure their families are protected? Is it my greasy nose that puts them in mind of the small time criminal who will burgle their house? Is it my enormous forehead that reminds them of the twin towers and that an unthinkable tragedy can strike at any time? Whatever it is, I am happy to exploit my features in exchange for disappointingly low fees and short trips to cities I am yet to visit.  

Oslo! What is the one thing people say to you before travelling to Norway? Do they mention the beauty of the landscape? The Fjords? The utopian Scandi-socialist society? No. They tell you that it costs £8 for a pint. This is the one piece of information all Brits have to hand about virtually every country in the world. Open your window now and shout at the first passerby you see - 'How much does a pint cost in Prague?' and watch them confidently shout back 'somewhere between 90p and £1.20'. Now ask them to name one Czech President, past or present. They've gone haven't they?

£8 though. £8! My technique was to imagine that each time I bought a drink, I was buying a round for me and a tight mate who never returned the favour. Still. £8! For £8.99 you can buy the complete works of Norway's greatest writer Henrik Ibsen. For £8 you can buy a pint  (actually, thanks to the metric system just under a pint) of pilsner and then half an hour later watch that £8 leave your body in the form of piss. I appreciate that if you're not blessed with the right kind of genitals (penis, balls) this is more difficult but it is my understanding that it is possible.

I expect you're hoping for an insight into Oslo that goes beyond alcohol pricing. Filming the commercial took three full days (Norwegians are nothing if not thorough in their insurance advertising) so I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to explore. I can tell you that Oslo is a pretty city that hints at a far greater beauty once you leave it and head into the rest of Norway. It was like winning a competition to meet a One Direction member and getting Niall. Sure, he's attractive, but he's no Zayn.

Oslo has an impressive opera house, a viking museum, some nice parks and for a city of it's size what seems like a surplus of TGI Fridays. Overlooking the city is a giant ski jump. This is what I chose to visit on my day off. It seemed like something one should do in Scandinavia. Holmenkollbakken (and yes, I did open another tab to check the smelling) can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city and has a capacity of 70,000 spectators. This suggests that sometimes over 10% of the population of Oslo are inclined to go and watch people put themselves at the mercy of gravity in the name of sport. And why not?

It being summer, there was no snow and henceforth no ski jumping. There were plenty of visitors though. Many, like me, chose to have a look around the ski museum there. I wonder if, when looking at glass cabinets stacked with skis from 1871, 1895, 1910, 1922, 1927 and 'oh, look! 1931!', any of them had my overwhelming thought - 'I do not give a fuck about any of this'. What I wanted to do was get in the lift and head straight to the top of the ski jump and after an hour of queueing, that's exactly what I did. I'm pleased to report the view did not disappoint. I did the only thing I could think of to do when looking down over a city I would most likely never visit again - stand there for roughly 2 and a half minutes, take a picture and then get back in the lift downwards. 

So, unfortunately the length of my stay means I'm only able to offer you a snapshot of Oslo. Although if you're depending on this blog for all your information on the world's capitols I'd think about looking into some other sources. I've always been curious about what it is about Scandinavian countries that makes them top all the happiness, health and education rankings but I didn't have the time nor intelligence to work it out. The simple answer we're told is democratic socialism but there has to be more to it than that. Surely? Because if that's true then the rest of the world is missing a trick. I have to say the houses looked lovely and the people looked healthy. There has to be something darker beneath the surface. There just has to be. Look at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's face of late. There's a man who's seen some horror in his life. And I mean, seriously, £8 a pint!

Monday, 18 April 2016

Wanky Ode To Reading

When people wax about how much they love reading, I sometime find it a little smug. That being said, this is a blog post about how much I love reading. To proclaim how much you just looooove to read is a none too subtle way of saying 'actually, I'm quite intelligent, actually'. Worst of all are people who say they don't watch television. YES YOU DO. YOU ARE LYING. Just because you don't have a television doesn't mean you are not sat up every night, like the rest of us, watching TELEVISION on your laptop. Have you always not had a television? No. When did you decide that 'actually, you know, I think I can do without a television'? WHEN BROADBAND GOT GOOD.

As a child I used to read a lot. Every day of the summer holidays included a visit to my local library and the bottom of my bed always featured a pile of at least ten books. In my teens this stopped. Instead, my summers were spent driving through the neighbourhood wacking letterboxes with a baseball bat and intimidating four younger boys who were about to go on a life changing adventure - hang on, no, that was Kiefer Sutherland in the movie Stand By Me.

When I was at university and went through the only period of my life without a TV (or computer) I returned to reading. For the first time ever I read grown up books about grown up things. I found that there was something about the medium - the fact that the words are not said aloud but in minds of the writer and then the reader, the one and one relationship that results between the two - that led to honesty. Far more honesty, it seemed to me, than I saw in films or on TV.

Then, after Uni, my reading slowed down. I'm not sure what I did instead. Listen to podcasts? Bang broads? Either way, I wasn't reading much and when I was, my choices were seldom ambitious - Keith Gillespie's autobiography was a low point.

For my New Year's Resolution in 2015, I decided to read more. Good decision. I've been struck again by the honesty that comes out of good books. People get away with saying things in books that they would never dare say on television/radio/Twitter/Facebook/in my house. Say something challenging on Twitter and you can expect an immediate backlash. Hide your darker thoughts 200 pages into a book, that's my advice. Any backlash is likely to reach you a lot slower, if at all.

Here, for my own satisfaction more than anything else, is a list of the books I can remember reading since my 2015 resolution. It's not a mega long list cos I'm not a mega fast reader. I liked them all. Bold means I liked them a lot. Bold and underlined means I liked them a lot a lot.

Saturday - Ian McKewan
The Children Act - Ian McKewan
The Secret History - Donna Tartt - Blew me away. Probably my favourite of the lot.
The Bees - Laline Paull - Very odd - it's a novel about bees for fuck's sake.
Flash Boys - Michael Lewis - I like Michael Lewis a lot. 
Open - Andre Agassi - First half brilliant, second half boring.
The Plot Against America - Phillip Roth
Perfida - James Ellroy - 800 pages long. Do I get a prize?
The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy
My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante - First in a series of four novels. End of this one ensured I will read the next.
This Boy - Alan Johnson
So You've Been Publicly Shamed - Jon Ronson - Everyone else read it, so I did too.
Kill Your Friends - John Niven
One Summer: America, 1927 - Bill Bryson - Ludicrously entertaining. Read about 700 pages in a week.
Australia - Bill Bryson
Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson - By now, I was getting a bit bored of Bryson.
Run, Rabbit Run - John Updike
Freedom - Jonathan Franzen - Damned honest writing, I thought.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Clown comes to Cape Town.

In a direct challenge to my tendency towards self pity I just had what amounted to a free holiday in Cape Town. For an actor at my level - Championship mid table, sometimes threaten the play offs - getting or not getting an advert can make a large difference to our year. Most of all, they offer us our best opportunity to earn a generous amount of cash for pulling a face. If we're lucky, they may even give us the chance to travel. In the past I've got close to jobs that filmed in Barcelona, Bucharest, Croatia, Buenos Aires and Dubai but foreign jaunts have always seemed to pass me by. My last advert was shot in Rickmansworth.

This time round, pulling a face for a Swiss insurance advert took me further than the end of the Metropolitan Line and all the way to South Africa. This was my first time in former Leeds defender Lucas Radebe's home country and, I'll tell you, I liked it. I had some idea that Cape Town might be pretty but wasn't quite prepared for the sheer beauty of it. Its stunning beaches and table reminiscent mountain put me in mind of a Rio De Janeiro without Christ The Redeemer looking down and reminding you that you were born a sinner the entire time.

Before going, any research I did spoke of two things - Cape Town's beauty and the near certainty of me being shot to death if not by one of South Africa's gun wielding drug dealers then in my bathroom by my amputee husband. The stock advice seemed to be - "Cape Town is incredible, but don't leave your hotel room or you will die". This put me a little on edge for the first few days. I'm a big fan of getting a sense of a city by walking around it but wandering alone after sunset or venturing beyond a select few designated areas during daylight didn't seem to be an option.

Despite these restrictions I'm happy to say I managed to do a lot. Staying in town for a few extra days at my own expense (and therefore spending much of my face pulling money) I went up Table Mountain in cable car, took a glorious train ride to see some African Penguins, toured some piss takingly beautiful vineyards and went to an international cricket match at one of the world's most visually pleasing sporting venues - Newlands Stadium.

I have a theory that is almost certainly wrong but this blog post needs to be more than a bragging session so I'm going to go for it. What little I saw of South Africa was spoilt for natural beauty. My home town, London, doesn't offer any real natural beauty* so it's been filled with beautiful things - museums, theatres, monuments, cathedrals, an Mi5 building that doesn't appear on maps. Sure, Hampstead Heath is nice but really it's just a hill that affords us a vantage point from which to view all the lovely things we've built. Cape Town had a lovely little National Gallery but when I went in it there were only about six other people who'd bothered to do the same. The rest were outside bathing themselves in sunshine and marvelling at the view. You don't need the Tate Modern when you've got Table Mountain.

It wasn't all great. I like to put at least one piece of depressing historical research into every one of my holidays and so took a trip to the place where Nelson Mandela and hundreds of other anti Apartheid campaigners were imprisoned - Robben Island. On the boat over I sat in the sun next to a black Namibian family. Whilst applying sun lotion I became jealous of the fact that they didn't have to worry about sun burn. Yes, they come from a race who've suffered centuries of oppression and exploitation but think of the money they save on sun block! It was only as we embarked at Robben Island, an iconic symbol of that oppression that I became embarrassed at my absurd line of thinking.

I only had two short conversations, both of them with black taxi drivers, about South African politics whilst I was there and both of them surprised me. The country, I was told, was in a terrible state and although apartheid had to come to an end its demise had actually made everything worse. The whites still hated the blacks, the blacks still hated the whites, everyone hated the foreigners who were coming in and taking all the jobs and Mandela was a terrorist. This perhaps says more about taxi drivers the world over than it does about South Africa. I'm not qualified to find the truths and bollocks within what they said - even if I have seen the movie Invictus. What it did serve to remind me is that a week as a tourist tells you absolutely nothing about what is really going on in a country.

* in order for this analogy to work I have ignored Richmond Park.

Monday, 22 February 2016

My friend got punched.

Mate. Remember I was doing all those reviews of London's shittest pubs? Well, that came to what was in hindsight a foreseeable conclusion a couple of weeks ago when my friend got punched in the mouth. There are a number of ways in which one can introduce their own face to someone else's fist... having a saucy affair, wearing the wrong football shirt, standing up for civil rights in 1960's Mississippi. My friend chose none of those. I don't think either of us foresaw what would bring about his downfall. What my friend did was make the mistake of calling someone Suggs.

We'd been to a non league football match earlier in the day. One of my gripes with modern football is that you are not allowed to drink alcohol in view of the pitch. You have to wait till half time for a pint, just like children. When will the nanny state learn that we can damn well look after ourselves? At non league football it's different. You can stand and watch the game, pint in hand, like some kind of German. What I hadn't accounted for was that that means by the time the match is over, you will be approaching your government advised weekly unit intake.

Then the pair of us went to a pub to carry on our drinking like we were on an underpopulated stag do. After a few games of pool I think I was under the misapprehension that I was 'drinking myself sober'. When we lost possession of the pool table it occurred to me that I knew another pub nearby with pool facilities. I'd only been there once before, on a Tuesday afternoon, but I saw no reason why it couldn't serve our purposes - drinking, cue sports and a rapidly deteriorating standard of conversation.

The pub in question was The Nag's Head on Camberwell Road. Regular readers may remember my first trip there which is documented here. On that occasion I was a sober man with my wits about me popping in for a quick drink on a Tuesday afternoon with the sole purpose of writing about the place. Now it was a boozy Saturday night and both I and the pub were entirely different beasts.

At first we seemed to assimilate pretty well. Our cue skills were still operational and we quickly got possession of the pool table. A succession of minor characters from The Bill stuck a pound on the table, challenged one of us to a game and came undone. These are nice people, we thought. They may not dress, talk or read Owen Jones like us but when you play them and beat them at their own game then they respect you. I felt like the Raj. But what I hadn't spotted was that at least one of them was planning a rebellion.

On the lead up to the moment that defined the evening I'm unsurprisingly a little hazy. I was sat down while my mate played pool with two girls who looked like they'd been in a scrap or two and a guy who looked like he's been in a scrap or two that very day. I wasn't concerned though, we'd shared in some bantz, we'd earned their respect. Then my senses, however numbed, picked up on a change in atmosphere. I don't think we'd done anything specifically wrong. There was just something about our demeanour which suggested we felt like we belonged and the guy in the group wanted to correct us.

I could see my friend bantering away and although I was sure he was being entirely harmless I felt it was time for us to leave. I hadn't anticipated what the trigger would be for what I feared might happen - in reply to something the guy said, my friend came out without an innocuous ''alright Suggs'.

The red mist hit and bop went his fist onto my friend's mouth. I quickly noticed a couple of things. Firstly, my immediate instinct was to do everything I could to avoid getting hit myself. I didn't do what many men would do, possibly the majority, and pile in in anger at what had befallen my friend. No, my survival instincts told me to stand up and DEESCALATE. The other thing I noticed was that the villain did indeed look like a 25 year old Suggs.

As it happened, by the time I got to my friend who was just a few steps away, the situation was completely under control. Suggs had already been escorted from the building. This was a pub which had seen some fights in it's time and knew exactly how to handle it. We were held in the pub for 15 minutes to avoid any kind of clash with Suggs out on the streets - undoubtedly his domain. My friend was understandably shaken and rather galled. The landlady got him a glass of water and said a sorrowful "well, you won't two won't come back now". "No, of course we will!" we lied.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Positive thinking.

Christ, my farts stink today. Which is a good thing. Each sniff reminds me that I am a living organism who eats, digests and excretes food - it makes me feel alive! That's me trying out positive thinking, one of my New Year's resolutions, and this is me trying out another - writing more.

But when you're trying to think positively what do you write about? How many novels go 'there was a man with a great life who met a woman with a great life and thanks to a lack of obstacles, together, they went on to have exponentially better lives'? My creativity engine has for much of my working life been powered by hatred and misery. Soz.

When I was seventeen I went through the entirely unique experience of suffering teenage heartache. I've always thought it was that heartache that gave me the drive and 'I'll show you' mentality to get myself into a half decent drama school. Then in my early twenties I found myself in a God awful call centre job and living above a kebab shop which made me a) miserable and b) fat. It was a desire to get out of that situation that led me to pour a great deal of effort into a comedy double act and ultimately made me the mid ranking performer I am today. When that double act came to a depressing end the creativity train trundled out of my station again and I achieved some success as a stand up until I ultimately came undone when faced with the 'white middle class guy in comedy glass ceiling' and an inability to write new material. Trapped in my own negative thinking about stand up and my acting career I found the new creative energy to write a book that has an affectionate pop at the acting business. You'll notice that it has stormed its way into the top 500,000 in the Amazon sales ranks.

In each instance it was a sort of anger that drove me. But now, as you can see, that has all gone. Now I'm the sort of man who sees joy in every moment and smells roses in every fart. What will become of this new positive prick? Will I turn into a gormless ball of happiness with nothing to write about? Will I no longer need to define myself by my career, move to Costa Rica and become a contented surfing instructor? Or will this new positive outlook and smiling face open up all the doors that until now have been closed to me, doors which haven't responded to my cynical demeanour and arid sense of humour? Are you in fact reading the words of the next Phillip Schofield? Possibly.

I don't think there's anything wrong with, where possible, trying to see the positive side. It's something as I've got older I've found more and more difficult though. In relative terms I'm someone for whom life has been one long blowjob. That has never stopped me from indulging in a good shoe gazing session. Now my challenge is to continue to write but to do it with a little more joie de fuckin' vivre. Wish me luck.

An afterthought - I've now realised that this puts a lot of pressure on my next post being an account of a my favourite ever trip to a craft fare or day at the seaside.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

There's a London pub actually called London Pub.

It's near Russell Square in a small area which seems to have been left as a historical relic of grey 1960's architecture. There's plenty of hotels here which must specialise in disappointed tourists with poor research skills, easily swayed by the phrase 'central London'.  And what's one of the things everyone tells you to do when visiting London? Go to a 'London pub' of course.

Well here it is. London Pub. Having received a tip off about this place, my assumption was that it's clientele must be foreigners who've misunderstood that piece of advice and thought that it referred to a specific place. The sign above the door encouraged that line of thinking. There's a badly drawn picture featuring Big Ben, a beefeater, a London bus and somewhat unimaginatively the word 'Waterloo'. Walking in, I was surprised to find actual real life Londoners. There they were dropping h's, wearing council work clothes, drinking at 3pm... the real deal!

Here's my overall impression of this pub - it looks as if it is ran by the state. Everything about it creates the impression that it is a functional drinking house funded by a Communist regime's 'Ministry of Pubs'. I felt as if I had walked into HMRC or Birmingham Central Library. Here, for example is the wifi password...

That is the sort of bureaucratic kerfuffle you'd usual only expect to come across when trying to pay a council tax bill.

The beer selection wasn't bad but I suppose, when you've got an entire government department of civil servants working on it that's to be expected. The layout of the place was in keeping with the 1960s buildings in the area. Green banquets, cheap wood paneling, a red carpet of the kind Jennifer Lawrence is never likely to set foot on. 

On the TVs was darts and below one of those was what I decided was a Dutch couple. Going to a 'London pub' had clearly been on their itinerary and this was it. They shared a plate of fish and chips and didn't say a word to each other in the entire half an hour I was there. I assumed they were contemplating their bad choices in where to have their pub trip, where to eat Britain's most famous delicacy and, judging by the silence, who to go on holiday with.

You'll notice from the wifi picture that 'London Pub' is connected to the Royal National Hotel - another suspiciously functional looking name. I wonder how long this place will last. I'm sure the hotel provides a fair amount of ill informed custom but it's a pretty big building in an expensively central location. Surely the fact it hasn't yet been turned into a Wetherspoons is an oversight soon to be corrected.

Would I prefer that? No. Wetherspoons are everywhere. This is something so odd, so unique, that it deserves to stay as an example of what a pub ran by Ken Livingstone would look like.