Permission to be ill, please, Miss

All over the country, school years have just ended. The morning roads are suddenly quieter and the 3pm traffic carnage has gone until September. The streets have emptied of school uniforms and the shops have filled up with them, every child’s delight at school closing instantly tempered by the flurry of signs announcing ‘Back to School’ that spring up as soon as July ends.


Along with the mysteriously missing PE kit that’s been replaced twice, stray socks, extra jumpers you didn’t know they had, children will have been arriving home laden down with craft projects, paintings and armfuls of prizes and certificates for all sorts of things they’ve earned over the past year. Many of them may have been for 100% attendance, something schools have been rewarding certainly since my grandparents’ days – I have a book with a commemorative plate in the front to prove it. But why do we do this, when it is something children have no control over, and the children who fail to achieve it do so through no fault of their own?


There have been recent stories about classes giving those children with full attendance treats in front of their classmates, classes competing against each other on a weekly basis to improve their attendance percentages, prizes of gift cards and trips to theme parks for pupils with 100% attendance, but its important to bear in mind what we’re actually looking at here – penalising children for being ill. Parents often end up in a Catch 22 situation; if they keep their child away from school they may well get a phone call about their child’s attendance falling below acceptable levels, if they send their child into school they may get a phone call at work demanding to know why they’ve sent a sick child into class.


The school are caught in a similar trap, of course. They are also being judged by their attendance figures. An absent child obviously counts against them, but an unwell child in school runs the risk of making other children ill and spreading sickness, creating more absences, and so any unwell child must stay away from school for the optimum time. Schools have no control over the health of their pupils, just as children have no control over their own health, so how are schools expected to tackle attendance when things like outbreaks of slapped cheek or chickenpox or simple sickness bugs can happen at any time?


Any schools greatest responsibility is to the health and wellbeing of its pupils, not its attendance percentages. A good school should be sending unwell pupils home and ensuring that they stay home rather than risk the health of other pupils, particularly if there are any pupils present with compromised immune systems or other health conditions. A school that has SEN pupils, for instance, or pupils with health needs or disabilities may well have higher percentages of absences than other schools for this reason. This should not count against it, and those absences are necessary absences, and do not affect the learning or teaching of other pupils in any negative way.


When pupils have medical or dental appointments, social care meetings or other pre-arranged reasons to be away from school, these are entered in the register as authorised absences. This is obvious, as these are necessary and unavoidable reasons for a child to miss a session of the school day. But surely so is a broken arm or a bout of vomiting? And surely so is a child going into hospital for an operation and their time away from school afterwards for recovery, or time spent in hospital for chemotherapy. If the school is happy that a child was genuinely ill, then the school already authorises those absences, so why do we let them count against the child or the school?


If a child is absent, and there is no reason given and no contact from the parent, then, yes that is an unauthorised absence and it should be followed up and flagged as an issue. But that is the ONLY kind of absence to be watched. I cannot believe that this is so obvious, and yet is not policy in every school. (Tho, goodness knows, if it’s Capita that still maintains the SIMS system, then god help us for any sweeping change with how the electronic registers store and list data.) Take all authorised absence data out of the percentages, and let the school have a true picture of the absences schools, parents and pupils have some control over, can improve and work towards raising. But don’t let it be a matter of judgement or pride, even when it comes to unauthorised absences. Don’t publish the percentages at all. Don’t find any reason to single out or other those children. Because whatever the reasons children are missing school, it should never be something to shame or judge them for to even the slightest extent, and doing so is never going to make them more willing to attend school.


There is also a greater, more insidious issue underlying this, however. When we reward children for not being ill all year, or for the last two years, or three or five, we associate good health with hard work. We then, in the process, associate ill health with laziness, with not really trying hard enough. We then carry that message through into adulthood, and a society that looks at those Daily Mail headlines about scroungers on disability allowances, and think, well, you know, they could get jobs if they really wanted to, couldn’t they? They’re just lazy, aren’t they? Or even, they become people who don’t claim because they don’t feel they’re entitled to, because this is the mindset we’ve created since they were five years old – sick people don’t win prizes.

Are YOU a nazi?

There seem to be a lot of people worried that liberals may turn them into actual nazis simply by calling them a ‘nazi’ on the internet.

Now, at first glance, this may seem a little bit daft. My own first thought was, ‘If calling you a nazi makes you into a nazi, you were probably a nazi already.”

However, there are plenty of precedents for people being forced into beliefs they didn’t initially hold by external influences. I think we can safely discount hypnotism and gaslighting, since both require prolonged personal influence, and we’re talking about a few tweets from random lefties. But we could make a loose comparison with the effect of the media on issues like female body image, immigration, cancer scares, etc.

The tabloid media (and the evil that is women’s magazines) are able to convince many women that their body shapes are undesireable or their appearance is in some way unacceptable to society, and more ridiculously, that a size 12 is just not skinny enough. The Murdoch press in particular excel at convincing some people that when immigrants arrive in this country they are simultaneously given well paid jobs AND every benefit available, plus new homes and cars, and spend their free time imposing Sharia Law on every town and city they live in. These papers are also in touch with Princess Diana’s ghost – who is backing Brexit, and regularly have a new ’cause’ of cancer for us all to worry ourselves sick about.

Usefully, I am entirely unconvinced by any of this, even tho size 12 is a very distant memory and my hair is a right-wing-baiting shade of blue, plus I also live in a very multicultural area where most of the jobs are indeed taken by immigrants, or members of families who must have had an immigrant somewhere in their past. Mind you, so must mine…

The fact that all this tabloid bollocks doesn’t affect me is because it only works if there is an element of doubt for it to latch on to. Without that, it’s really simple to just dismiss out of hand. With it, it has something to build on; a teat to feed on and thrive. The only way to then defeat this sort of insidious reprogramming is with facts and data, to prove to yourself what the truth actually is, and restore your view of reality.

So, if you’re worried about people turning you into a nazi by calling you a nazi, you must have doubts that you might already be a nazi.

But, never fear! I have a handy way we can check this for you with facts.

You see, nazism is interestingly black and white, like their logo. You can’t be ‘a little bit nazi’ or ‘a weekend nazi’, which is why it’s ok those idiots are losing their jobs and college places and families.

So, if you do have the slightest doubt, the tiniest inkling that you might be a nazi, then there’s only one answer to this question.

You’re a nazi.

And, as internet history guy Mike Stuchbery might say, in conclusion, get fucked.

Mixed Media

Netflix is excellent for all the reasons you imagine it isn’t.

You can never quite find the thing you’re looking for; there are films like the one you want to see, but they aren’t that like it; there are only the last three seasons of the TV programme you love, never the first two good ones; you only realise your favourite series is there a week before it’s taken down, or your favourite film is there a week after. You’d therefore imagine Netflix to be the ultimate Boulevard of Broken Dreams. But no! Because, in those dead hours, whilst you flick through the bizarre categories it’s come up with for you on the TV interface, and you find out just how many 1980s Arthouse Gay and Lesbian SciFi Movies with a Strong Female Lead there actually are, you can find some absolute gems that you would never, ever see under any other circumstances that didn’t involve time travel back to the actual 1980s and a visit to a very specific video rental shop and its remainder shelf.

This is how I found ‘Rescue Mediums’.

Of course, I was always going to find it. Netflix and I are old friends by now, and it knows what I like. It knows that I have a higher than average tolerance for the worst of US ‘psychic’ ‘reality’ ‘TV’ ‘shows’. (Honestly. Having put one term in inverted commas, what could I do?)

I love paranormal bullshit. I always have. I grew up in the 70s and 80s; prime schlock ghost era. I read all the King, Herbert and Barker I could, and all my dad’s Dennis Wheatley, before getting a bit esoteric and discovering Crowley, Wilson, Lovecraft, Forteana and associated weirdness. The thrill of finding a Pan Book of Horror Stories in a second hand book shop is still a wonderful thing. I yearn for dramas as good as the odder ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, or Nigel Kneale’s ‘Beasts’, and I even have a vague remaining fondness for ‘Rentaghost’. I compare every ghost hunt I see on TV to ‘Ghostwatch’ or ‘This House is Haunted’ and they all come up wanting. Yes, even ‘Haunted Collector’ and his Museum of Evil. Even, EVEN ‘Most Haunted, these days – although once it was glorious, when Derek Acorah was in full, insane swing with his many voices and his utter lack of awareness of his own gullibility*.

There has been an upsurge in cheaply made Most Haunted-lite imports from the US in the darker recesses of the free cable channels, as I’m sure anyone who works shifts, has young children or can’t sleep will realise. Most of them are not even awful enough to be any good. They’re just a bit rubbish, and rarely bother putting enough effort in to try varying the formula. A team of twenty somethings with one syllable names and an important sounding but ultimately meaningless role on the Team, will usually turn up at an impressively large and ominous building.

North America seems to have made up for its lack of actual ancient buildings with a plethora of abandoned asylums, murder hotels, follies built by mad millionaires, entire abandoned towns, forgotten settlements, money pits, plasterboard castles, roadside legends and other places where you’d think if ghosts were anywhere, then surely…?

There’s the ‘background’ to the show, which will often mislead you into making it sound vaguely interesting. A recreation (why??) of a video call comes in to the team from an anguished couple or young family who have made their selections from the haunted bingo card: cold spots, feeling like they are being watched, items being moved from where they were left, mysterious noises in the night, strange feelings, food missing from the fridge, odd sensations, etc, etc. One of the team is sent off to do enough research about the area that they are absolutely bound to get a hit of some kind – god bless the internet and extrapolation! – and the others set up their equipment.

This is where most of them leave me cold. They get their night vision cameras, their EVP recorders, their EMF meters, their whistles, bells and monitors galore. I especially love if they are recording outside, and are surprised that they capture sounds or movement. We get an hour of fuzzy background noise and static, ‘orbs’ (its dust, guys. Dust and insects), electromagnetic signals from the environment and shrieking from the team, with lots of shaky hand held camera work and shots of huge dilated pupiled eyes in night vision mode. All of this is given great import, and tied into the one unsolved murder or disappearance that their research monkey has found. The end.

Sometimes, it’s like they’re not even trying, honestly.

So, I started watching ‘Rescue Mediums’ without much hope of anything new. I’d been pleasantly surprised, and then bewildered, but sadly, ultimately bored by the Weather Channel’s ‘Super/Natural’, shortly before this. I was prepared to be let down again.

My first surprise was that this was no team of dynamic young people in a Mystery Machine full of pseudo-scientific equipment. The series opened not only with two middle aged ladies, but two middle aged ladies from the North of England. Be still my beating heart! And surely it wasn’t just their endearing Northerness that made them seem so familiar. And indeed, Jackie had previously been on the excellent Ch4 programme ‘My Psychic Life’ in 2015, which I encourage you to seek out and marvel at. I would of course remember her from that, having seen it several times. (ahem)

But, back to ‘Rescue Mediums’. On Netflix, we’re starting from series 6, and so I shall assume there are previously established reasons behind the format choices. On each new case, for example, our two intrepid Rescue Mediums turn up in a different (and frequently bizarre) vehicle. Maybe I’ll have to find series one and discover perfectly good story arcs for all these odd quirks.

We open with our two intrepid ladies, off on their travels to their previously undisclosed location. I assume they just drive until the spirits tell them they’re there.

Jackie and Alison chat to each other the entire time, be they on or off camera, as only two people who have been told to constantly explain what they are doing can.

“Do we know where we’re going today, Jackie?”

“I’ve no idea, Alison. Do you?”

“No, me neither, Jackie. I hope we don’t get lost! Wouldn’t that make for a very boring show for the viewers?!”

“It really would, Alison!”

But, before they arrive at their ‘entirely unknown’ location, they always do a bit of precognition work, and some ‘psychic art’.

(I would draw your attention at this stage and throughout the show to the amount of paperwork and general background produced but not referenced. It’s always worth considering with any ‘psychic’ show just how much stuff doesn’t make it to screen. Particularly on shows like those with the execrable John Edwards, James Van Praaaaaagh and their ilk, there are hours of misses for every ‘hit’ you see that makes it to screen. For every ‘Karen’ – which is the name of that lady’s dead daughter, and how could he possibly know?? – he’s gone through Katie, Kylie, Kevin, Keith, Kora, Cathy, Camilla, Clothilda, Caroline, Claude, Chenille, Cosmo, Cumin, Martin, Table… You get the idea. And even so, you will still only remember the bits that are relevant later, not the bits that aren’t. That’s how this stuff works. Sorry. It’s a very similar deal with a private sitting, or reading your palm, or your cards, or even your horoscope.)

Jackie is, amongst her other talents, a Psychic Artist. And, having seen examples of psychic art before, she’s actually not that bad, comparatively. Whether her psychic art looks like who it’s supposed to look like during later revelations is another matter entirely, but when you’ve only got one fuzzy black and white photo to go from, it’s kind of a moot point. So, they write down some key phrases, dates, do some drawings of random stuff and off they go in their Very Random Vehicle to this week’s troubled family.

There’s a quick meet and greet, then they compare their random phrases from their precognition session to the family’s random phrases about their experiences. They are often pretty much the same, oddly enough. Still, these ladies are psychic!

I bet, having been reading this far, you’re feeling pretty psychic too, and can guess the sort of phrases they come up with. To be honest, I bet you could guess some of the dates, too. This is set in the US, after all… But wait! We spotted that this series had a markedly different feel to so many of the other imported US psychic shows, and it took us a couple of episodes to realise that this was because it is actually based in Canada. No wonder everyone is so polite!

But, I digress. Being set in North America, the date range for spooky events and historic figures is usefully limited, research-wise. Anyone can happily play Psychic ‘guess the year’ with US shows, and get a fair to good hit rate, and ‘fair to good’ is enough for anyone with a bit of moxie to make a living at. QED.

Having impressed the troubled family with their precognition and drawings, along with their gentle Northern British accents, (which, according to the opening credit illustrations, make them posh upper class ladies, by the way) the Rescue Mediums proceed to explore the location. They don’t have any fancy electronics, or any strange equipment. They might burn a bit of sage or fetch a crystal out of a pocket if the atmosphere isn’t very nice, but that’s it.

It’s all delightfully friendly. Maybe it’s the combination of Northern British straightforward, nice-cup-of-tea homeliness and Canadian polite practicality.

They wander around in their comfy but stylish, classy catalogue clothes, looking like one of your Auntie’s mates who she sees down the pub on Fridays. You know the one, she works part time as a receptionist, and has her hair done every month, gets lowlights in autumn gold, and actually is a good laugh, and you should have seen her at Julia’s hen night… I think I’m in love with their ordinariness. It’s no surprise that they’ll be on a Psychic Cruise. I can see them on a cruise.

Anyway, they do a bit more chatting about how they’re walking around and how they’re feeling as they’re walking around. Once they find the problem area, they’ll agree they’ve found the problem area, and probably have a bit of a sit down.

Usually, they’ve spotted a spirit by then, too. Sometimes, more than one. To help the audience relate to this, we get a bit of camera trickery, which would seem to be one of the crew in reverse image (to look more spooky?) playing the role of the spirit. It’s usually one of the same three people, anyway; a man, a woman or a smaller person/child as suits the spirit they’ve spotted. Jackie and Alison decide between them what the spirit’s problem is – maybe it’s sad, or confused, or lost – explain things to it, and send it into the light.

If it’s an angry spirit, they put it in a ‘Crystal Cave’, then give it the choice of going into the light, or staying in the crystal cave. The episode I saw with an angry spirit, the spirit chose to go into the light. Again, it’s quite a simple process, and took about as long as it took me to type that. Luckily, spirits aren’t too cunning, and it didn’t say it was going to go into the light, then snuck away at the last minute or anything.

I’m being facetious here, and have no understanding of the complexities involved, I readily admit. Maybe spirits can’t do that, and it is that simple.

But there we go. Job done.

They take a deep cleansing breath, have a little smile and get up and let the family know how they’ve fixed everything. They show them how the history of their house or the area match some of the specifics they noted in their (extensive) precognition papers, everyone hugs, and then the Rescue Mediums go off and have a cheeky drink at a seemingly odd and random location chosen PURELY so that they can end on a very bad pun!

Which I think is simply glorious.

I’ve no idea if the Rescue Mediums are the sort of mediums who genuinely believe in everything they’re doing. Maybe they are. Bless them. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.



*See additional comments from Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe here, too.

Belief in Better

Human beings work on belief. The simplest philosophy that we all understand is Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”. Beyond that lies chaos, and we instinctively fear chaos. We are drawn to order, to control, to knowing what will happen and why, and to good things happening to good people.

We want to be those good people. Nice people, in nice homes, with nice families and nice incomes, and nice things will happen to us and everything will be fine.

Good things happening to good people. British values. Strong borders. People like us. Safe people.

I mean, why should you support asylum seekers who have just arrived here, immigrants put up at our expense, someone who has never bothered getting a job, some teenager living at home, some bloke with anxiety, a woman who’s got a job but has more children than she can feed – has she not heard of condoms? Why should you, indeed? Why not withhold the few quid from your taxes that goes to welfare, and fingers crossed you never need it.

The problem with not wanting to support minorities is that you can actually become one at any time. It’s weird, and doesn’t really bear thinking about, but there are a million ways you can end up as a minority, and several other exciting way in addition that you can suddenly need the support of the state, as well. And, we will generally all one day become old, at the very least.

A party towards the right wing, like the Conservatives (and boy, are they right, right now) are marvellous, when you’re winning, when you’re on their team. Goodness me, they’re excellent for rewarding their good people for doing their good things. But if you slip off message, if you stop being part of the team…

People have died, under this Conservative government. They have died for being poor, for being disabled or ill. The numbers of children being treated for conditions related to malnutrition  have risen sharply, as have adults, too, especially the elderly. Schools are talking about working on four day weeks to stay open, our NHS, our beloved flagship NHS is sinking. Austerity has done nothing but drive people to foodbanks and despair.

And then, in the weeks leading up to this election, terrible things have happened. Awful, senseless things. They were the acts of misguided individuals, and we all mourn the innocent lives lost on those awful nights here in Manchester, and most recently in London, too.

Now, I have quite a partisan point of view, on this. I took issue with Theresa May’s speech, after London. But beyond the clumsy ‘Islamist’ xenophobia of it, the outdated ‘cyberspace’ phrasing, and the wildly inappropriate scare-mongering, there was one point I could not let go of.

“Enough is enough.”

At first, I was just upset that now, two weeks after Manchester, this was enough. London was enough, but Manchester was not.

And after all, she had been Home Secretary for six years, so someone should have just got terrorists to stab people on Tower Bridge ages ago, since that was all she had been waiting for. We could have had this all dealt with ages ago, guys. Fucksake.

But what really, truly rankled was that “Enough is enough!” was the final shriek of the parent who has not bothered to go and check what the hell their children are doing until they smell smoke or there’s a single, horrible thud and then silence; and they know they should have gone up to check hours ago, but, you know, they had an episode of Eastenders to finish and this gin doesn’t drink itself.

Right. Enough is Enough. No more terrorism. At ALL. And no more INTERNET for ANYONE.

And we’ve all been for too tolerant of extremism, apparently. So it’s all our fault. And not hers.

That’s the final part of her speech that got me. For someone that wants us to go back to proper British values, she’s taking down one of the few remaining ones we’ve got left.

Tolerance never drove anyone to harm. Tolerance never caused anyone to murder. Tolerance is one of our strengths, and she can’t take it off us. Tolerating and accommodating all points of view, all races and religions doesn’t stop us calling out extremism if it puts our way of life at risk, either.

And that’s what we need to do, now. We need to stop tolerating Theresa May’s bare-faced fascism. She’s right not to face the public, or even the opposition. She’s right not to answer any direct questions. She’s right not to even try to defend a direct attack on the competence of the Mayor of London from the President of the United States. Because she doesn’t have any answers. She should simply step down now, stop delaying and let the people who think they are voting for her see what they are actually voting for.

Oh yes.

I’ve got a point.

Please, please remember. Whatever your opinion of Theresa May, and whatever your opinion of Jeremy Corbyn, you are NOT voting for them.

You are not voting for a party leader, you are voting for a party.

It’s entirely possible neither of them will lead the country, come Friday. In the case of Theresa May, it’s extremely likely she will not lead the country on Friday, whatever the result. The fact that she’s done less and less press is very telling, never mind this whole damn election farrago and the fact that the Brexit bucket of shit was dumped on her. She’s off, Friday morning. Odds are, if you vote Tory, you could well be voting for Boris.

Yeah. Think about that. Boris, welcoming Trump to Britain. A true meeting of minds.

This is a very real possibility.

But the other side of this coin is that if you’re not voting Labour because you don’t like Corbyn, you’re a dafty. You aren’t voting for him, you’re voting for your MP in your constituency, and beyond that, for the party that best represents your interests with its policies. Leaders change. Become a party member and you can be part of the decision making process.

Now, perhaps you look at your constituency now, and who you actually get to vote for, and it all looks a bit less exciting. I remember being a lot less excited when I first got to vote, that I didn’t get to vote Thatcher out personally. (Yes, I am that old.) Perhaps you live somewhere with a massive Labour majority, or Conservative, or LibDem, or Plaid Cymru, or SNP –  but not UKIP because nobody likes them. In that case, what difference DOES your vote make?

Look at who your next biggest party is. Look at what your individual councillors are offering. Talk to them, even. Heck knows, they’ll be keen to do so. You can also look at strategic voting and vote swapping. Your vote genuinely does make a difference. Every single goddamn vote makes a difference. Even if you draw a massive vag on it.


Our points today:

Your vote matters, use it well.

You are not voting for a leader, you are voting for a party, and principles.

Theresa May is a bad person, but Boris is much worse.

Beware fascists.

Belief is important to all of us. It is an intrinsic part of being human. Belief is what keeps chaos at bay, belief in the good in others, and that things will be alright in the end. A lot of people don’t dare believe that things will be alright, right now, however. A lot of people are afraid of the result of this election, and they have every reason to be. Five more years of Tory government will be a mandate for oppression in the same way that Brexit was a mandate for racism. I want to believe that change can happen, that it’s safe to hope, mostly because I know belief and hope are catching, and they spread, and good god, wouldn’t that be a thing?

I know it’ll be really shitty on Friday if you have hope and actually, nothing changes. But you know what, it’ll be really shitty anyway. It’s better to have loved and lost…

If people have hope, they spread hope, and people with hope, with belief, do amazing things.





You’ll hear me coming before you see me.

That noise, that sound, it travels,

Like the drone of a distant plane on a hot summer’s day.

It’s definitely buzzin’.

But then, there I am, larger than life and twice as unlikely.

Dressed for a party that never ends

In bands of contrast, banded together,

With no care for subtlety.

Those bright stripes of warning,

Black and yellow, like the pillars at Fac51,

They’re telling you danger, I’ll ‘ave you,

Don’t you look at me funny, or I might get all up in your face.

But you know what?

You’d actually have to push me so far, so very fuckin’ far,

That it’d kill me

To sting you.

Turns out, I’m here to pollinate your flowers, mate.

And I’ve brought you honey.





(Artwork via @lauriepink. She’s my wife. She’s brill)


Love From Manchester


Say something about this?


No. I say No.

I say Fuck right off.

I say not in my fucking name. I say not in the name of my city. I say not in the name of fucking love either, you stupid twats.

Do you know what we send when we send love from Manchester? We send bastarding love, you thick cunts. Love.

And it doesn’t matter if this picture was phtoshopped or not, it just matters that it exists. No one at the other end of a bomb gets to read what’s physically written on it, anyway. But I’m pretty sure no one consulted the people of Manchester before writing that, whoever it was.

And whoever it was, they can fuck off. But not fuck off and die. Because you know what? No one else needs to die. No one. Not one single fucking tosspot of a person.

Not even bloody Morrisey.

Grow up, you daft apaths. Why not come and find out what love from Manchester actually is? There’s enough to go around, you know?

Love from Manchester


Voting for Dicks

You have until midnight on Monday 22nd May to register to vote.

Maybe you think you already have, but you’re not sure. It doesn’t matter, you can do it even if you you’re already registered, and check the data that’s publicly searchable on the electoral roll about you whilst you’re there. That’s worth doing, right? Five minutes of your time. You’ve got the option to vote, then, if you choose to use it or not. Choice is important. Don’t lose the option to choose.

Okay. That’s simple. You have to register to vote. There’s no sensible argument against that.

Let’s get on to the important stuff.

Your vote matters.

It matters far more than you imagine.

Maybe you aren’t intending to vote, don’t know who to vote for, hate all the parties, don’t see what difference it makes, feel it’s a waste of time, simply can’t be arsed or just don’t care.

I can understand why you might feel that way, but let me try to explain why you need to get down to the polling station anyway, and why it’s not just important but absolutely vital.

I’m not going to try and tell you who to vote for, or why you should vote for any particular party. That is between you and your conscience, and you’ll make that decision when you stand in the booth with a pencil in your hand. Whatever anyone says to you, whatever you say you’ll do won’t matter until you look at those names and make your mark. Maybe, at that moment, what you’ll actually do is draw a massive, anatomically correct, spurting penis with the word ‘anarchy’ written down its length. Then you’ll fold your slip, walk back to the boxes, post your vote and walk out with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

And you, my friend, will have voted and I will congratulate you on a job well done.

In the last election, more people didn’t vote than voted for any of the major parties. Maybe you were one of those non-voters. Manchester, I’m looking at you.

Because those people didn’t vote at all, they are mostly disregarded as a useful statistic. We don’t actually know who they are, why they didn’t vote, or what kept them away, so there is nothing practical done to reach them because there’s no way to know how to do so. It’s assumed they simply don’t care, so they’re ignored.

Spoiled papers, on the other hand, those are counted. Spoiled votes include penises, anatomical or otherwise, rude words, other comments on the electoral system and anything that isn’t one mark in the box against one candidate’s name.

Do bear this in mind if you aren’t intending to spoil your vote, too.

A high percentage of spoiled votes would be regarded as significant, and would raise questions about electoral reform. You can still make your voice heard, even if you don’t feel there is a party you can vote for. Don’t stay at home on Election Day.

In this country, there is no option for ‘None of the Above’, although there is a push to have one from one group. You may, if you wish, follow that lead and write NONE on your voting slip, but it is likely down to the individual teller if that is counted as anything but simply ‘spoiled’.

But however you choose to spoil it, a spoiled vote is counted, and if it gets people to the polling stations, if it gets people engaged in the political process, then it’s a start.

A start is good.  We need people to vote, for change to happen, and we need change to happen.

Do bear in mind that I will not accept that politics is all bullshit or boring as an excuse for not voting.

Oh, and you don’t get to be some sort of conscientious objector and fight the system by not taking part because they’re all bastards, either. In this election in particular, you can look at a vote not cast as a vote for the Conservative party, so well done you. Vote for a little party that has something close to ethics, vote for a joke party, spoil your paper, but make your voice heard and have some balls behind your rhetoric. Take some action whilst you have an actual opportunity to do so, or shut the fuck up.

And if you don’t care, then we’re going to have to look at exactly why you don’t care.

Not caring is a privilege, a massive, huge privilege. It means that you’ve not yet ended up with the shitty end of the stick. It means that you’ve not been genuinely poor, or out of work with bills to pay, or sick, disabled or old. It means you’ve not had first hand dealings with the justice system, or children who’ve had problems at school. You’ve never had to go to your MP, because you’ve not known who else to turn to. You’ve not marched, because you’ve felt you’ve had to, and shouted until you were hoarse.

It also means you can’t have had anyone you cared about who has had to experience any of those things. Or if you have, you haven’t cared about that, either. If that is the case, you might well be so selfish and self-centred that this is all wasted on you.

I hope that isn’t the case. I hope you think politics is boring simply because fate and fortune mean you’ve been lucky and just didn’t know why it matters so much, until now.

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.

But, if you’ve been lucky to never be troubled by any of those issues I’ve listed above, you could say that you’ve always been strong, and stable. Which is lovely. I imagine there’s probably an ideology that prefers exactly that sort of person. I imagine that ideology really doesn’t like those who aren’t strong, or stable. I imagine that ideology would rather be rid of those people. The vulnerable. The weak. The damaged. The disabled and sick. The poor…

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.

But I am going to tell you that five more years of Tory government will mean that people will die who would not otherwise. People with families, homes, lives. People just like you, but for a turn of fate.

So, vote for whoever you like. Draw a massive cock on your paper if that’s what floats your boat. Just make sure you don’t inadvertently draw it next to the Tory candidate’s name.

Oh, and vote Labour.

Damn. Sorry. It slipped out.

Rummaging in tea chests

you who view

In thinking about making new things, I have been thinking about old things I have made. Lots of stuff (quite luckily, in many cases) has been eaten by entropy, but some hang around, staying nicely where I put them. This is my place to put things, so I shall put some here, as I put new things

here too.

Here are some old things.

I like the random words ones a lot. We had a collection of lovely, typewritten, cut out words sent to us by a friend which gave rise to many lovely little fortuitous poems. Poems in places please me too. There shall be more poems in places.

Trump is a Troll



Trump is a Troll

Donald Trump is a classic internet troll, especially when he’s on the internet. His twitterfeed is a perfect example; you will check that there’s a blue tick and it’s not actually a parody. Everyone does. It’s unbelievable, and ridiculous, and then scary – just like Trump is in real life, and that’s how you know it’s him.

Internet trolls are simple creatures, and easy to spot with a little practice. There’s been an academic study, and several more user-friendly articles on the back of that, too. But these often relate to deliberate trolling in specific types of forums, rather than that annoying person on facebook who shares David Avocado Wolfe posts, angel wishes and calls you a ‘libtard’ for not hating immigrant children – and they’re trolls, too. Try asking them a direct question, especially about something they’ve just said. All you’ll get is another question – often the one you just asked turned around – accusations, or abuse. Post a statement contradicting their point of view, even with all the evidence in the world, and they’ll just say you are lying. Then, obv, more abuse. How dare you bully them like that? You fascist*.

Unlike a lot of internet trolls, however, Trump is also a troll in real life. This is because he’s basically a narcissistic sociopath**. Lots of trolls behave the way they do on the internet because they don’t see the people they are talking to or about as real people; the text barrier allows them to easily dehumanise the people behind the comments. Trump does this to real people, right in front of him. People whose angry, hurt and frightened responses are right there on their faces and in their body language – but he still doesn’t care. It doesn’t change him or what he’s saying in any way. Even when there is direct, well-founded, empirical evidence right in front of him that contradicts everything he says.

This doesn’t stop him contradicting himself, however. But, even when you can show him direct, empirical evidence of what he himself has said, he still just calls you a liar, and moves right on. He simply doesn’t care what you think, or even what you know. For him, you are just an annoying noise on the outskirts of Trumpworld, and what you believe, think or feel is of no importance. You don’t just not matter, you don’t even exist. This isn’t just you, tiny internet nobody. This is Crooked Hillary, The Lying New York Times, senators, political experts, scientists, even those at the shitty end of the stick he carries with him to beat on his rabble-rousing drum.

So, Trump is trolling reality. Ok, we all know the advice – don’t feed the troll. Smart people are advising this as well: don’t RT his tweets, don’t respond, don’t share facebook posts about him, or articles from the press. It only encourages him, he loves the publicity, and most importantly, you’ll not change the minds of his real supporters.

There’s a core of truth, here. Trolls just say that stuff to get a response, so by giving them one, by caring, you give them more power. Trump does speak for a section of the public, and they adore him. Like with him, there is nothing you can say that will change their minds or alter what they believe – you, just by trying to do this, are part of the conspiracy against him, after all.

But, whilst there’s often no point in continuing to feed a troll, there is a point in responding. Just once, just to say, ‘No. That’s not right, and please don’t say such unpleasant things.’ On the internet, in your local facebook group, say, you can see this with clarity. If someone posts blaming the increase in littering on a particular group of immigrants, then to just ignore it and leave it without any response at all might well mean that the person who posted it will eventually get bored and wander off again. That post will scroll down, and many people will probably not even see it.

But during that time, anyone coming into your group will see that post, and see that no one has even said, ‘Well, I’m not sure that’s entirely the whole issue…’ It will seem, to an outsider, that you’re all tacitly agreeing with it. Yes, maybe you don’t want the whole awful fallout popping up on your alerts, but hopefully a group admin will step in before then, or it’ll be reported and be seen to contravene the Community Standards***. Or you’ll just block them if necessary. There are tools there designed to protect you, and to allow you to say, ‘No, thank you. You’re being rude and hurtful, and I don’t appreciate it,’ without fear of reprisals or abuse.

I’m not in any way saying you need to go full on Social Justice Warrior, and take down anything hinting at bigotry wherever you see it. Please don’t, in fact, as it can be a very unpleasant and occasionally dangerous business. What I am saying is that there is a purpose in responding to misleading posts or sharing the truth when you find it; there is a group that you can and will reach – and that group is The Lurkers.

Look at any group or forum on the internet: it’s a good way of seeing how society works in microcosm. Look at how many members there are, then look at how many actually post regularly. The average can be as low as ten percent. So, what are the other ninety percent doing? They’re enjoying the show! Sometimes they’ll sneak out for a moment to like or reshare something, but often they just stay quiet, reading along.

Huge portions of society are lurkers. Entirely passive, they see everything, but they don’t interact beyond that point. What they see therefore, matters. They either don’t have or don’t wish to use critical thinking skills to look beyond what’s in front of them, and so they are particularly easily mislead by propaganda. Our politicians know this, and so are even less afraid of telling outright lies than ever before.

There was a dream that the internet would democratise information; that one day, everything would be there at our fingertips, and no one could ever lie to us again. Instead, we have the opposite – everything is there, in our eyeline, so we don’t need to make any effort to look any further. Brexit happened because a significant number of people believed what they were told, and voted accordingly. No one can blame them for that – at a pinch, you can even not blame the people who voted for Brexit because they ‘didn’t think it would actually happen’.

Let’s not have that happen, with Trump. Let’s address the people who think he’s just ‘a bit of a laugh’, a ‘character’, just saying ‘the stuff that all blokes think’ or not actually going to win, so it’d be funny to vote for him. Let’s address the people who still think he’s a successful businessman, that he always wins court cases, that the scandals around him have no basis, that he’s not a possible rapist and a definite serial abuser of women. Let’s make sure that the people who think he might speak for them hear what he’s actually saying.

Trump is a troll, but we are going to feed him. We’re going to feed him the bitter truth, even if he spits it back in our faces like the spoilt child he is. We can’t stop Trump and his supporters from saying the awful things they’re saying, and neither should we. Instead, what we can do is to shine a light on every contradiction, every lie, every abusive and aggressive post, every call to violence, every belittling, nasty, childish comment and soundbite. Find the truth, check the truth and then share the hell out of it, whenever you get the chance.

And let’s all do it, because we are a global community now, and our words can travel across national and cultural boundaries. Let’s all do it, because we care about each other as human beings, and because those of us who do care are the majority, and will listen to each other.

And because if that isn’t true, we truly are doomed as a society, whoever the next US president is.





*What is it with idiots calling left-wing rhetoric fascist? It happens so often, and it’s really odd.

**I’m not a psychiatrist, and bandying mental health diagnoses around is not a good or smart thing to do, generally. But I make a needful exception in this case.

*** Hahaha. As if…

At Sea


“My father’s house has many rooms…”

Well, mine has few, but they all echo with him,

In an endless cycle of lost expectation.

Everything here is soaked in it;

Every scent, every sound, every speck of dust.

And I, still listening in the dark

for the distant ebb and flow of his breathing,

Lie shipwrecked by the wash of the waves,

Caught in the tides called by the gravity of his loss,

The massive pull of the place where he used to be,

Endlessly empty, endlessly filled with his absence.

Everywhere here is full of him.

Everywhere here is where he used to be.

Everywhere echoes with the lost whispers

Of one last story, before I sleep.