Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 17 February 2023

Behind the World’s Biggest Bike Shed

Never having indulged in Facebook (for obvious reasons; as JuliaM puts it with admirable clarity, ‘Facebook and teachers - like matter and anti-matter’), it was something of a surprise to be asked about a recent celebration by someone who had seen me in candid pictures taken and posted by one of the guests, a mutual friend, who had also included a picture taken in front of my house. Not being signed up, I couldn’t be tagged by name, but I was still clearly recognisable to anyone who knows me by sight.

I appreciate that this makes me sound old-fashioned, but this felt like a major invasion of privacy. While I might equally well, in the past, have figured in printed photos shown to friends or colleagues, appearing in digital form online and reliant on someone else’s privacy settings makes me distinctly uncomfortable, particularly given the inclusion of my home (with associated geolocation).

I’ve long been uneasy about putting images in the public domain (so much so that, along with a handful of other die-hards, I refused to obey the Head’s diktat requiring individual portrait photos for the school website - I know how good some teenagers are with photoshop). It seems petty to be annoyed about it - and a snap of bunch of fifty-somethings chatting round a lunch table is hardly going to cause a sensation - but I do feel there is a principle at stake here.

This attitude is presumably incomprehensible to youngsters who, seduced by the lure of social media and the world of the influencer - not to mention numerous attention-seeking celebrities constantly pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in the public domain - are constantly aiming for maximum online exposure. Unfortunately for them, the internet is an unforgiving place; put a picture of your youthful indiscretions online (or have one posted by someone else) and there’s no telling when it may come back to bite you.

There’s a good deal of sense in the words of a wise Headmaster (rare, but they do exist) who advised pupils not to post anything online which they would not be happy to see on the side of a bus driving down the High Street the next day. Sadly, staffroom anecdotal evidence suggests many teenagers take a very different attitude: in the words of one world-weary colleague, “It’s a full-time job trying to stop them putting their tits all over the internet”.

From long professional association with them, I’d argue that teenagers should be equipped with a sign on their foreheads reading ‘Under Construction’ to remind people - themselves included - that there is a great deal of essential rewiring happening inside, not least in the areas governing risk-taking and self-image. Once upon a time, unwary and over-bold adolescents might end up inside a sabre-toothed tiger; these days, they may well find themselves exposed, so to speak, on a global stage.

If Twitter is, in the words of the Tavern’s Wise Woman, ‘ the world’s biggest lavatory wall’, then the world of social media provides the digital equivalent of the school bike sheds as the scene of myriad nefarious activities intended mainly to show off to one’s peers and enjoy the thrill of breaking rules - with the significant difference that what happens there could now be available for all to see.

Time will tell whether this becomes a problem with future employers or partners - and the undiscovered country ahead includes the thorny question of how tomorrow’s children will react to seeing in glorious technicolour what their parents got up to in their salad days - but I, for one, am glad there’s no record out there of my irresponsible youth.

Wednesday 15 February 2023


 Writing in the Telegraph this week, Charles Moore describes how younger employees are holding the whip hand and effectively controlling the output of publishing houses, where their refusal to work on books of which they disapprove is effectively silencing authors whose works do not conform to the current orthodoxy.

Despite their junior status, these staff members are potentially wielding a formidable weapon against their superiors. With the example of JK Rowling looming large, the prospect of falling victim to a mass social media campaign is clearly enough to make those in charge bend to their will and turn down books younger employees deem ‘offensive’. A recent victim was Nigel Biggar’s ‘Colonialism: A Reckoning’: 

The author’s crime had been to attempt a balanced judgement of empire, especially the British Empire. The very idea of such a balance [...] had earlier been denounced by academics worldwide, including 58 from his own university. “OMG. This is serious shit... we need to SHUT THIS DOWN,” the ringleader of his opponents had tweeted.

The same undue influence is being exerted in Britain’s museums, where directors told Moore that their institutions tweeted support for Black Lives Matter because they “could not ignore the opinions of talented young staff”. The ‘talent’ in question. I suspect, has less to do with intrinsic ability than with their prowess with the very same communications technology they are using to censor our heritage and culture - and more:

It is nowadays common for staff groups within the civil service to criticise government policy, publicly and unrebuked, although the job of the civil service is to serve the elected government impartially. If a young employee decides to take offence, that seems to trump other considerations.

As Moore points out, this is getting alarmingly close to Mao’s Red Guard*, putting power in the hands of indoctrinated youngsters too inexperienced and solipsistic to be open to reason, empathy or compassion. By giving power of veto to these junior employees - many of them the product of universities which have effectively become echo chambers for left-wing ideology - the institutions of this country are setting a very dangerous precedent indeed.

*If you haven’t already read it, I thoroughly recommend Jung Chang’s ‘Wild Swans’, which includes chilling descriptions of the vicious Red Guard persecution and abuse of teachers and other ‘intellectuals’.

Monday 13 February 2023

A Mammoth Task

The hiatus since the last post has much to do with the content of this one; in a recent search, I stumbled across something which I think worthy of comment but it’s taken a while to work out exactly how to approach it. The scale of the thing is so horribly daunting that it presents a major challenge to convey its nature in a mere handful of paragraphs.

This is, inevitably, the result of the number of people likely to have been involved in its creation; for anyone who has ever wondered what it is all those dozens of NHS Diversity Officers and Coordinators actually do, Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you...*drumroll*... the NHS Northern Care Alliance Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Calendar 2022.

This document - which runs to 28 pages and is presumably the result of many weeks of work (and numerous meetings-with-biscuits) - 

...‘has been developed as a resource for NHS staff to demonstrate a visible and supportive role which is committed to respecting and celebrating diverse communities, cultures and faiths.’

On the face of it, a calendar giving the main religious festivals of the year including fasts and observances sounds like a useful idea (especially in a medical setting) and I can say from experience that staff booking appointments aren’t always aware of public holidays. However, the compilers of this magnum opus clearly saw this as a mere preamble to the main event, a plethora of obscure celebrations, awareness days and campaigning opportunities ambitiously intended to:

 Promote equality, diversity and inclusion

 Break down barriers and foster an inclusive environment

 Avoid wastage by ensuring appointments are scheduled accordingly

 Ensure key events do not clash with major festivals.

 Encourage wellbeing

All very laudable, I’m sure, but any member of staff hoping for a quick reference guide has to wade through a bewildering cornucopia of colour coding - orange for Buddhist, blue for Christianity, purple for Judaism etc - and irrelevant and inconsequential detail - since when was St Hilary’s Day a major festival? Why did they feel the need to dedicate a third of a page to the benefits of Dry January? And how many patients or staff intend to observe the Summer Solstice or World Humanist Day?

Anxious not to overlook even the slightest opportunity for virtue-signalling, the authors have given explanatory paragraphs for National Hijab Day, Gipsy, Roma and Traveller History Month and the bafflingly named International Day of Happiness (plus, of course, LGBT and Black History Months respectively) along with a bewildering variety of other causes. It is, in fact, so inclusive that any helpful information is completely smothered by a wealth of extraneous (and painfully self-righteous) froth.

And there’s one aspect which may have escaped the compilers completely (or perhaps not). In all my dealings with the NHS, I do not recall ever being asked about my religious affiliations (or lack of them). When the calendar says that out-patient appointments should not be scheduled for Pesach, Nirvana Day or Chinese New Year, do they mean only for those wishing to celebrate? And if so, how do they know?

Far more likely, I’d suggest from bitter experience, that an indifferent desk clerk will look at the calendar and simply avoid making appointments for any day marked with a circle, which, in October, would leave a grand total of six weekdays free from significant events - even though those circles mark, among others, the International Day of Older Persons, World Menopause Day and Halloween.

The overwhelming impression given by this epic work is of a bloated and unwieldy Diversity industry within the NHS intent on proclaiming and justifying its existence. If ever there were a case for the speedy construction of a Golgafrinchan B-Ark, surely this is it!


I’ve often thought it odd that we should have all these weeks or months attached to particular issues, as if they somehow matter less at other times. To quote Tom Lehrer (again):

It’s only for a week, so have no fear; 

Be grateful that it doesn’t last all year!

Wednesday 8 February 2023

‘My, my, my...’

Much virtual ink has been spilled over the past days over the WRFU’s removal of ‘Delilah’ from the official repertoire list. It’s a topic on which a lot of people have had much to say - Longrider and JuliaM and their readers, for instance - but one of the most sensible opinions publicly expressed on the subject came from Feargal Sharkey - former Undertone turned environmental campaigner and clearly an intelligent and reasonable chap - who pointed out that these isles have a long-standing tradition of murder ballads which served both as entertainment and cautionary tales in days gone by.

I’d already raised the historical existence of such songs myself in a comment, but I admit I hadn’t considered the cautionary aspect. As Sharkey implies, the song is neither condoning nor celebrating the murder; inescapable retribution is on its way and the killer, craving forgiveness from his victim, is about to pay the price of his deed. There’s a lot of it about; crimes of passion and their consequences have inspired everything from grand opera to backstreet ballad-sellers, not to mention a large number of folk songs and, in latter days, Country and Western staples. 

That the lyrics are, like any tragic plot line, intended to entertain rather than provide an endorsement of such behaviour or insult to real-life murder victims seems to have been obvious to generations of our predecessors; even the German author Thomas Mann - a stolid heavyweight in literary terms - exercises a certain wry wit in his description of children learning a song about Rudolf ‘who drew a knife, drew a knife, drew a knife and thereby came to a nasty end’ presumably not unconnected with the golden-haired girl of an earlier verse.

If you are resolutely po-faced about something which even Thomas Mann considers a fitting subject for humour, your sense of proportion has surely long since headed for the hills - a condition I like to think of as ‘guardianitis’ or ‘Witch-finder General’s knee’. I suspect that at the root of it lies a desire to obliterate and censor as much of our cultural heritage as possible to make way for their own restrictive values and a joyless society of complacent drones.

That being so, we applaud the fans - and Sir Tom Jones - for the continuing performance of a  cracking tune. There’s only one downside; if my own household is anything to go by, the abundant news coverage has almost certainly instilled an all-encompassing National Earworm on an unprecedented scale and we’ll find ourselves repeatedly humming it for weeks to come - all together now: “My, my, my Delilah...”

SInce a bit of Tom Lehrer never goes amiss, here’s a charming little number on a not entirely unrelated theme;

Monday 6 February 2023

‘Fame... what you get is no tomorrow’

Either my television is playing up or the candidates on BBC 1’s ‘The Apprentice’ - at least the female ones - have undergone some strange facial metamorphosis; there are so many trout-pout lip-fillers and peculiar brow-lines on show that it looks like an advert for the SeaLife centre or an episode of Star Trek.

Other people have taken to social media to suggest that the obvious ‘tweakments’, elaborate personal grooming* and general demeanour of the contestants are more appropriate to ‘Love Island’ than a to process to select Lord Sugar’s next business partner - an impression borne out by the words ‘Reality Entertainment’ which appear on screen at the end of the programme.

The programme was always intended to be entertainment first and foremost - Wikipedia defines it as a ‘talent game show franchise’ - but the wanton cruelty of tasks where the participants are set up to fail (not least by being unnecessarily turfed out of bed at 4am) and made fools of on national television has, by series 20, weeded out all but the most arrogant, delusional or cynically fame-obsessed.

While the winner gets a business investment from the man himself, any candidate who makes it onto the show has the chance to achieve media fame - the Holy Grail of our time. From the Mail’s sidebar of shame to guest spots on TV via Instagram and TikTok, there are a myriad opportunities out there to find followers and monetise your status once you have established yourself in the public eye.

It would be interesting to know how many of these wannabe entrepreneurs have previously applied to appear in other reality shows. In a culture where a significant number of children surveyed say their main ambition is to be famous, as if it were an end in itself, I should not be be at all surprised if they had tried other options before. After all, the stakes are high; it would appear that sponsorship deals and lucrative endorsements beckon on every side once household name status has been achieved.

I wonder if there is a limit, a number of ‘celebrities’ beyond which the whole system overloads and breaks down. At present, it appears that the appetite for celebrity gossip is insatiable and that every new reality show will bring a fresh crop of potential Z listers to the ranks of the famous, but surely it can’t go on for ever - not least because there is surely only so much sponsorship or product placement to go round.

We are closer than ever to Warhol’s prediction of fifteen minutes of fame for everyone. If I were a more cynical and mercenary type and wanted to solicit a business investment from Lord Sugar, it would be for a TV production company, a year or so hence, specialising in ‘Where are they now?’ features on all the hundreds of reality show ‘celebrities’ who, having had their brief mayfly moment in the sun (or The Sun), will have sunk without trace back into obscurity.

*Though we have yet to be treated, as in the last series, to the bizarre spectacle of a sleeping  candidate’s hair extensions neatly laid out on the carpet beside her bed like a docile pet; O tempora, O mores!

(My thanks to Bucko at fuelinjectedmoose, whose comments on the previous post inspired this follow-up ramble.)

Saturday 4 February 2023

Expecting Squid Pro Quo

Some years ago, this blog celebrated the butcher from Orpington who, in keeping with the macabre theme of the occasion, obliged a group of zombie-costumed Halloween trick-or-treaters with genuine animal hearts and other assorted innards, to the outrage of their parents (“I was so angry they had been made to touch raw meat”).

I said at the time that it was a bit like going on the ghost train at the fair and then complaining because the ride was genuinely haunted. The same simile sprang inevitably to mind this week with the numerous tales of woe from contestants who had put themselves forward for the real-life version of ‘Squid Game’.

While the original series was a sharply satirical and well-made depiction of how far a group of people can be driven by desperation and mercenary greed, it takes a special sort of warped mind to contrive a real-world version - albeit without the mass murder element - and recruit contestants from among the general public.

Forty years ago, Clive James encouraged us to laugh at the extremities to which Japanese game show hosts pushed their unhappy victims or the exhaustion of American dance marathon competitors; now celebrities being showered with maggots or ‘Touch the Truck’ endurance contests pass without comment in our own TV schedules.

In such a climate, it seems excessively naive (or disingenuously compensation-hungry) of contestants to be surprised or shocked that filming a show derived from ‘Squid Game’ would involve a degree of discomfort, yet a number of them took to the tabloids to express their anger at being woken at 3.30 to spend a day outdoors in the cold playing Korea’s version of Grandmother's Footsteps. 

A particular grievance seemed to be the time taken to set up a camera shot, as if it had completely escaped them that they were taking part in a television programme. Despite their suffering, however, the $4.56 million prize fund seems to have provided sufficient incentive for most to stay put: 

 “Even if hypothermia kicked in, people were willing to stay for as long as possible because a lot of money was on the line. Too many were determined not to move so they stood there for too long.”

Even though Netflix explained that, as well as making the contestants aware well in advance that they would be playing in cold conditions, they provided them with warming facilities and thermal clothing (oh, to have had such things on winter games afternoons at my Northern school!) and that there had been no serious consequences from the cold, one disgruntled participant compared the scene to a ‘war zone’ and said they were ‘dropping like flies’.

I may be mistaken, but I thought that was the whole idea.