Archive for November, 2013

Cheap & Nasty TV: BBC3


The recent series of programmes celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who has caused me to tune into a channel I otherwise rarely patronise: BBC3. As it’s a Yoof channel, I’m nowhere near its target demographic as I head all too rapidly into middle age. I find most of its programmes execrable.

While channel hopping recently, I stumbled onto a particularly repellent example. It was a sort of reality TV meets fly-on-the-wall thing, passing itself off as a documentary. Its targets were two STD clinics, one in Yorkshire, the other in Devon. As well as watching the staff, the viewer was treated to a selection of patients. These were all young people, many of whom were serial visitors who seemed to regard attendance at the clinic as a badge of honour. It seems none of them had heard of contraception. I was staggered by this level of ignorance (or is it just plain stupidity?) There was little embarrassment on show at having what used to be called “a dose of the clap” and little awareness or concern over the risk of HIV. The young often complain about how they’re misrepresented, but this programme only reinforced the view that they are a bunch of promiscuous and stupid fools.

Unlike that awful right-winger the late Mary Whitehouse, I exercised my free will and changed the channel. I do have to wonder which manager at the BBC thought it worthwhile to make such a programme, and then to present it in this way. Perhaps the makers didn’t want to be preachy and thought they were presenting a balanced view. If that was their intention, it was a failure. The programme tacitly approved of the youngsters’ behaviour where it could perhaps have suggested that they take precautions as next time they might catch something that can’t be treated.

A part of me has always resented the TV Licence fee. However, if it’s the price of keeping adverts off the BBC, then I will put up with it. However, I would rather the BBC concentrated on making quality programmes and leave this sort of populist lowest common denominator rubbish to ITV.


Empty Hours, Empty Days


One of the problems with being unemployed is how to fill the hours. Looking for another job will take up some time, obviously (and those ignorant fools of politicians think it should take all your time) but you will inevitably be left with many many hours to fill. How to do that and not go insane is a real battle. When I was unemployed after leaving university, I think it was easier (though not easy) as I had known nothing else. Now, I have had to adjust from working full time. And that fall has been all the harder. No money, that’s a given, (though to hear all the crap from media and politicians you would think it’s an easy life. Makes me so mad), and too much time.

So what do you do? Every day is a struggle, a desperate seeking of distraction to help the hours pass until bed time. A series of futile rituals to avoid thinking. Anger and self-pity, a toxic cocktail too easy to imbibe, one you can’t keep up. It will consume you and that’s a very finite fuel supply. And that is one route to madness. At the moment, between rereading various novels I’m working my way through all my surviving audio tapes and transferring them onto computer. A time-consuming process (ideal then) which has led to my rediscovering music and dramas I had all but forgotten. That kills a few hours. Writing things like this, a few minutes or perhaps an hour if I’m lucky.

But thought will always be there, a constant companion you neither want nor need. One that will always find its way around or through any defences. Now, it’s recollections of the period after I left university and how I filled my hours then. (If I hoped to find anything useful there, I’ve been disappointed). The first winter in a house with no central heating, no cavity wall or loft insulation. And it was fucking cold: cue Four Yorkshiremen sketch: “eeh I can remember condensation freezing on t’inside o’t winda”. Thick socks, thermals, mittens. And yet, I rediscovered my default settings: nocturnal. I’d often be up late, listening to Bob Harris on Radio 1 (he then had the midnight to 2am show). Just like now, but without Whispering Bob. Now I have eighties music via YouTube, but the microwaving of a mug of milk for Ovaltine remains a constant. As is some drink (what the Yanks call hard liquor) on those occasions when I think I can justify spending money on it. Sometimes I wonder if that’s too often, others not. But sadly, it’s become necessary.

I can understand thoughts turning backwards, but I doubt if the past has any answers, or if seeking them is the real reason for looking back. It’s another of those attempts at distraction from the empty hours, thinking back to a time when I was happy. And perhaps an even more futile one as all it really does is to sharpen the contrast between then and now. But it’s irresistible. A black hole’s gravity to any passing light beam. Is that what has drawn me to the audio conversions? A lot of them have been compilations of late eighties music, from when I was at university. As I write this, YouTube is playing Jean Michel Jarre’s 1988 concert Destination Docklands which I remember listening to at the time.

Not just irresistible, but seductive too. So seductive, I fall willingly into its arms, craving their warmth and comfort, however brief. If I’m lucky, an hour or two can go by. Longer than any orgasm and more satisfying. And so more time passes. Time and too much of it, money and not enough of it. Twelve words to sum up a life. How sad is that? Ah, solving that question/Brings the priest and the doctor/In their long coats/Running over the fields.



I fought the bottle but I had to do it drunk. Leonard Cohen

Behold the bottle
Behold the glass,
Unscrew, pour some of the one
Into the other
Open gob and tip back…
Soon the softened edges will take hold,
Soon the walls and chairs will be blurred,
Soon even shit won’t smell
And the minute hand will flee
Tailgated by the hour,
Then I’ll fall into bed
Head slow mo-ing into pillow
As the mattress spins at forty rpm.

No thoughts of morning
But I mourn the blurred edges,
The softened chairs and walls,
What happened to them and
The haze of their hour
Where I could shed the heavy clothes
That make me bend triple?
They came and went
Faster than a virgin’s first time.
Come sleep and smother
The Corryvreckan in my head
Until I can seek those spirit friends again,
See if they’ll stay longer this time.


S t a y . . .

S t a y . . . .

Later Than You Think


Late, I listen
To wind and rain, try
Not to think.

Late, I load
A CD, turn up the volume, try
Not to think.

Late, I pour
Tall drinks by the brimful, try
Not to think.

Late, vodka dulled,
I sing along under cans, try
Not to think.

What use is thought,
Dragging yourself along the same
Worn path?

Rain eroded, each drop
A slow dissolve
Of your skull?

Late, always late,
Try not to think
Or think too much,

The old see-saw, I know
Which way it will tip,
Where I’ll fall, stone scraped,

Look, it has drawn blood.
So much for my trying
Not to think,

Red gush, ruby fountain,
Iron-oxide spurt.
Try not thinking now.

More Fool Me


I thought at twenty-seven,
When I finally got a decent job,
That I was sorted.

It had taken a while, so better
Late than never I supposed,
Don’t think me ungrateful.

Now, at forty-five, I’m not sure.
“Did you see me coming?”
The song says, but

I don’t know who the “me” is.
I didn’t see this coming,
Returned to the pre twenty-seven place,

I didn’t see that,
Never wanted that.
Perhaps I need new specs.

This Ain’t The Verse


with apologies to Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your bosses,
They can do whatever they like,
They make your life a misery
But don’t think of going on strike.

So they get fucked up in their turn
By bastards higher up the chain?
That’s no reason to roll shit downhill
And find someone else to blame.

Boss gives out misery to staff,
Throws them deep into ill-health,
Hang onto sanity as best you can
And don’t be a git yourself.

Ignorance As A Virtue: The Problem Of Social Media


One of the problems with social media is that it provides a broad vehicle for the sort of ignorant Daily Mail nonsense that was once the preserve of the pub bore, holding forth over the seventh pint (or fourteenth if you’re William Hague). The only advantage is that you can at least delete it, which is a bit more difficult to do with the bore (unless you’re a Cyberman). I came across an example of this on Facebook recently. As anyone who knows me will realise, I have no time for the prejudice about benefit claimants that passes for truth at the moment. This has nothing to do with the fact that I am currently claiming: I have always held this view. The post was of a picture of Star Trek’s captain Picard looking exasperated with the caption “how can that person afford an iPhone when they’re on benefits?” The conclusion you were meant to draw was obvious. And wrong.

There could be several answers to that question: they may have bought it themselves when they were working, or someone could have given to them as a gift. But the short answer is: none of your fucking business. If you are really so stupid as to make such an ignorant and lazy assumption, then go ahead. I will not get into the gutter with you. Just do everyone a favour: fuck off and don’t come back until you have learned to use your brain. You know, that squishy thing between your ears that you think with. It really isn’t that difficult. All you’re doing by your ignorant pronouncements is spreading lies and prejudice. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

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