Stand Up and be Silenced

I have great difficulty in accepting the need to continue with “Gay Pride” marches, the “equality lobby” equivalent of the English Defence League wanting to keep England sealed in a 1945 or 1966 bubble. If the homosexual rights “community” want to maintain the stereotype of all gay men being Kenny Everett lookalikes listening to high-NRG pop, fine, go ahead. Because “gay rights” and “Gay Pride” don’t tally. One drags down the other. It’s little wonder homophobia exists in every field from politics to sport: I don’t see the Notting Hill Carnival asking black people to only dress as previous generations would have done in the 1950s, why do Pride marches perpetuate outdated images of homosexuality?

Clare Balding, the BBC sports reporter who complained to the Press Complaints Commission over being called ‘a fat dyke on a bike’ and Conservative blogger Iain Dale, prove that the gay equalities agenda has done its work without resorting to outdated or overboard screaming from rooftops. Balding does not feel the need to introduce a report with the words, “Before today’s Challenge Cup Final, remember everyone that I’m a massive lesbian”. Iain Dale did not ask for his recent appearance on Any Questions to be preceded with a Kylie Minogue medley just to ensure everyone realised his homosexuality. They just get on with things, happening to be good in their fields whilst being gay.

It’s not very easy being of liberal mind while also being realistic about the world outside. I struggled to balance similar concerns around the time of Raoul Moat’s rampage. Prejudice based on skin colour or religion is ignorance to the nth degree, moreover the continued existence of such hatred reflects far more on those who spout such rubbish. That’s not to say that a “victim disorder” exists to a degree, nor do local authorities come across very right-on by banning the word “Christmas” ‘just in case’ of offence. Such silliness is in itself ignorant, pushing a racist agenda rather than defeating it.

I don’t find homophobia particularly appealing either, but how easily offended the gay rights lobby seem to become over the slightest hint of prejudice. The word “gay” is changing its meaning again, used to describe incidents or people without a hint of malice (“iPlayer is being well gay” “Lost out on that CD on Ebay, that’s well gay”). I have seen the commetariat rally against this use of the word as though, context or ney, what really is being said is “iPlayer is being well gay, by which I mean, iPlayer is raping goats and urinating in the eyes of toddlers”. Until the gay rights lobby calms down, they’ll never get the equality they crave. Is this illiberal of me? Or realistic? What good comes from continuing whinging about outdated attitudes and language while acting like a petulant teenager?

I understand that homophobia in schools and workplaces needs to be tackled. What causes this prejudice in the first place? A deeply held genetic mistrust? The idea that all gay men are leather-chap wearing permatanned drama queens? Where could people possibly get the idea for this image, I wonder?

The fact of “gay” entering everyday discourse to become as meaningless a word as “damn” should be celebrated. But no, the Pride lobby now feel offended by it, getting what they wished for being somehow not acceptable.

Maybe that’s the point. Pride needs to keep up the pretence that the 1960s legalisation never happened, because the desire to play the victim means attention and spotlights and funding from on high. It’s patronising to the highest order, forever highlighting the differences between gay and straight while simultaneously demanding equality. The two don’t balance. Until enough people realise this, prejudice will flourish. That doesn’t sound like ‘pride’ to me. It sounds like attention seeking. Councils who fund gay equality events may want to look into their budgets to decide if such defeatist self-promotion is really worth council tax payers money.

For Great Justinz

Justin Bieber is the 12/14/18/22 year old starlet beloved by tweens and loathed by the rest of us. His schtik – young tyke discovered on YouTube raised to megastarstatus – smells fishier than Fleetwood Dock, nevertheless he has become one of the most successful young pop stars in modern times. Marketed to the nth degree as the Timberlake for those with channel-hopping attention spans, his legions of fans have an obsessive character which borders on the evangelical. No website is safe from the “Bieberatti”: entire towns could be filled by their number, their on-line enthusiasm blanking out debate on almost every other subject.

Bieber, of course, has very little to do with the music released in his name. Listening to any of his songs is very difficult. Not in a Mogwai or Inuit throat singing difficult, more overdoing the post-production by a year sort of way. Clearly his lyrics are meaningless, and obviously he has no sincerity in singing them. I can’t escape the view from the wilder parts of my brain that, like a washed up end-of-the-pier variety singer, he walks off stage after a gig to light up a cigarette and swear like a garage mechanic.

Created by the Internet, Bieber has his career shaped and ultimately decided by the on-line world. An infamous messageboard tried to send him to North Korea for a special gig, YouTube videos are hacked and replaced by hardcore pornography. His television appearances are rare, like terrorists in Afghan caves he only appears in website form. His autobiography will be the first tangible sign of his existence after his birth certificate, although this could feasibly be a hardcopy print out of a Licence User Agreement.

The ickle pop boy nobody likes has, it now seems, won over another audience without lifting a finger or singing a note – okay, that’s what he already does, what I mean is, through the work of an unknown DJ Shamantis, a reworked version of a Bieber single has become an instant internet phenomenon. Fittingly for Bieber, outside the walls of the world wide web, the new version of his song is totally unknown. He has failed where “Newport State of Mind” succeeded in that field, at least, a rare loss.

The track – which at over 30 minutes long is an average Bieber track multiplied nine fold – can be enjoyed here. Stretched to its absolute slowest using a music manipulation programme – the claim is 800% slower, something causing Doctors of Music Tech and Production some concern – the resulting soundscape is unexpected, immense, a touch pretentious and absolutely mesmerising. It’s SunO))) on ket, whalesong as re imagined by Tiesto, or both muddled up with Sigur Rós and Cocteau Twins.

If this is the only piece of ambient music the “Bieberatti” listen to throughout their entire lives, the experiment would be worth it. Okay, so there are questions to be asked from this – is this any less meaningless than the Hallmark card lyrics of the original and so on – although I lean towards the side of the argument which considers the track a successful reimagining. Think TATU taking on “How Soon Is Now”, for an obvious example.

Like all pop starlets, Beiber will fade. His celebrity is temporary, his songs will not last into the next decade if that. The Internet will create, form, and reject more like him. However, the ‘net can also make unexpected superstars at its own behest and will (I’m looking at you, Rick Astley, and no, I’m not linking to THAT SONG…). This “800% slower” version sound exactly like some of the best tracks of its kind in my collection, and if it’s taken to be superb or nothing more than Enigma for the 21st century, it has got more attention from the ‘fashionable’ side of music than any of the original material. Enjoy it for what it is, Beiber is ultimately musical candyfloss, 30 minutes worth of his stuff in real time would make you very ill…

Takeway Getaway

Thirty minutes from my house, a ‘hybrid’ takeaway sells kebabs, curries, (halal) pizzas and….BUTTER PIES. If that isn’t multiculturalism in action, what is? Okay, so it’s not high-end restaurant eating but it is an indication all the same. Economic migration into the country has signs of positive consequences across the country, none more so than in food and cuisine. If immigrants can continue to adopt and adapt English traditions like the good-old chippy, then all the better…No?

While “Save the Pub” campaigns enchant local newspaper journos and MPs alike, anything done to keep the Chippy seems not to have taken hold across the population at all. Unless I miss my guess, the traditional chippy has a future far less certain than the local pub. Some chippies within easy wandering distance of my flat have made the slow transformation into varied menus – samosas here, spring rolls there – or regenerations into Chinese, Turkish or Indian takeaways.

Who could be blamed for Chippies falling out of favour? Did they stand still while takeaways blossomed, stores such as Subways took over the High Street, or a general shift in food fashion moved away from the Friday fryers? Can the majority of Chip Shop owners be blamed for standing still while developing tastes moved from the rigid menu of fish, chips and pies?

I have a particularly fond taste for the ‘chippy tea’ of legend. Give me the chips and gravy from a Chinese down the road, gravy smelling slightly of red wine with the texture of emulsion paint. It’s not possible to buy such traditional fast food from an old fashioned chippy here unless I fancy an hour walk into the suburbs, or to wait until an “all night” chippy opens at gone midnight opposite a nightclub. No wonder takeaways and Café Nero and Subway and suchlike blossom if the chippy options become less convenient by the month.

Immigration into the country over generations has influenced and dictated our language, fashion and music. Our tastes have become far more varied and mature since the Britons of my father’s generation got their first taste of post-Empire curries. It could be we are living in an era where the totems of Britishness – the boozer, the chip shop – are turning into something different. Younger drinkers, for example, are less likely to meet up down the local for a few jars while the smoking ban is in place and the corner shop can stretch £20 far further than on-tap beers. The pub as a meeting place still exists, only altered, in transition, and so it seems proven with the fast food and snack markets.

In years to come, then, will the chip shop survive only as English options as an aside to the main curry house menu? Interestingly, certain elements of the old-fashioned menus are finding themselves reinvented by the fancier chefs. More evidence of the slow decline of the chip shop?

For too long, the health “agenda” has been far too dictating, too preachy. Making choices like fish and chips or steak pies or battered sausages was seen as almost a crime against the body. Health “chiefs” – who are they? Like the “community leaders” you hear about? – would decry the deep-fried menus; perhaps the message has actually soaked in, if you will?

All this talk of food is making me hungry. I think it may be best if I choose something quick, cheap, and within walking distance…Tesco it is then….

Arise, Australia, free…

Australian Prime Minister, Welsh-born Julia “Moving Forward” Gillard has thrown a prawn of controversy onto the Barbie of news with her republican headline chasing a few days prior to the General Election called for reasons most Australians don’t understand.

With China (now the world’s second largest economy), Japan (formerly the second….), and India on its Asian-Pacific doorstep, Aus tends to look towards economics rather than monarchs for its daily distractions. Only during election times does the subject tend to become a hot-debate, although Gillard has caused some feather ruffling bringing it up at all. Unlike many developed countries, Oz survived the economic downtime without lasting wounds or injuries.

However Australia looks to the outside world, the testy subject of its ultimate Head of State – currently the ruling Monarch of the United Kingdom – means the nation will always have an uncertainty on the inside. Australian politicians are volatile mixes of American chest-beating and English eccentricities. They know never to avoid a subject, unless its absolutely necessary, and like a timed bomb, republicanism is one of those subjects.

Referenda are expensive. It would be foolish and somewhat tasteless to run any pro-republican debate in Australia while Liz is still alive. Notice how Gillard rushed out a blathering tribute to the Queen not long after making her original pledge?

The monarchy debate is very different in the two parts of the world often cited as good examples of the current Commonwealth set-up working without much complaint. In the United Kingdom – incidentally, I am somewhat agnostic towards the Monarchy, although without thinking too much on the subject the idea of a British President makes me want to go outside to stab a kitten through both eyes with a pencil – the monarchy debate has largely disappeared from view. Occasional outbursts from both extreme left and right flicker the debate with all the illumination you’d expect from a broken lightbulb.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, sharing with its Aussie brethren Queen Brenda as its Head of State. As the Vancouver Olympics showed, Canadians share the same gene ingredients, just with a different mix; less nationalistic fervour, more eccentricities. The recent State Visit by Ma’am did not ignite much in the way of a Canadian Republican movement, much to the bemusement of neighbouring Americans, for whom the notion of a Soap Operatic Head of State is one they’ve endured since the nation was born.

Having an unelected Head of State whose position is down, ultimately, to an accident of birth centuries ago is utter bonkers if viewed from afar. Ideally the United Kingdom and all its former outposts and Dominions would be freed from such a constitutional screw-up. Unfortunately, just as the lack of religion in the UK has been replaced by elected officials preaching from beyond the ballot box, I fear losing the Monarch could create Politician Overdose. Dreams of a very British coup are drawn out only in the Morning Star, and even there usually in stubby pencil.

Australia has many reasons to be proud of the nation it has become, even tethered to the motherland by its flag and status. Its identity as an outcrop of Empire is one thing; how it will be viewed amongst its friends and enemies across Asia could ultimately dictate the result of any future monarchy referendum…

Together in Olympiad Dreams

And so, fittingly, David Beckham’s career ended with a throwaway line at the end of a television interview. Fabio Capello, standing awkwardly in the stripped down ITV set of littered lighting rigs and television sets, shrugged his shoulders without perhaps understanding how often that pose would reverberate across the world. “A little too old, I think,” he sighed, and then back to the studio. What do you say, as Johnny Logan would have put it, when words are not enough?

It had all the atmosphere of a Big Brother “surprise eviction”, a suitable end to a man whose football career ran parallel with the explosion in football’s popularity revival; the early dawn of the Premiership, Euro1996 – all came at Beckham’s time, and he followed the celebrity route of ‘Cool Britannia’ for all that it was worth and more.

For Beckham’s greatest hits DVD will inevitably feature images far removed from his days as floppy-haired posterboy for Manchester United; from the his-and-hers thrones on which he and Victoria were married to the endless underwear commercials.

The loss of “late” Beckham’s dead-ball specialities to England may be a gain picked up by another national side, one whose very existence is probably as contentious as some of Golden Balls’ fashion choices. For the man whose very career veered off tangent as precisely as a curled freekick (albeit not perhaps with as much cheer) could well have a role as coach of Great Britain’s Olympic football team.

Due to inane and archaic rules too dull even for me to wander into, Great Britain can only take part in the Olympic football tournament as a team under that name and the Union Flag, although protests from Scotland and Wales leaves the side currently managerless and open to players only from England and Northern Ireland. A side led by Beckham would ensure the press – for whom Olympic football is one of the marginal sports nobody covers, like shooting and swimming and anything outside the athletics track – would give coverage to a side for which Beckham would be too old to captain. And what better send off than the overblown, over-priced, other worldly cuckoo-banana land of the Olympic Games?

History will be kind to Becks – every retrospective will focus on the halfway line goal against Wimbledon and the important Greece goal with more reverence than the Argentina sending off or Hollywood glamour chasing – but ultimately he will be remembered as one of many England youngsters for whom Fate decided would be a flawed talent. Football is littered with them, some never return from desperate introspection and others earn millions as the starman standby, making cameo appearances for the good of sponsors and sports editors. Olympic glory, perhaps the most suitable of all, awaits the man whose football career began and ended with a camera lens trained straight down the eyes…

Devil is in the Ballot Box

As a Liberal Democrat supporter and defender of the Coalition, I was surprised to read the results from a ConservativeHome poll that pointed to a slim majority of Conservative supporters feeling positive about a “non-aggression deal” with LibDems at the 2015 general election.

Those LibDems with long enough memories will shudder at the memory of the Liberal/SDP Alliance and the subsequent trouble with ‘electoral pacts’. Democracy was not served well; loyal activists from both sides felt let down by the agreements from the opposite side.

For the Tories and LibDems to agree standing down in tough marginals would be a gift to Labour. Suddenly Rochdale would never seem like a LibDem target again, ditto both Oldham seats. What would happen in Southwark, where Labour have been denied ‘one of their own’ for decades? How would Wales react – Cardiff has a LibDem MP and both sides of Newport almost did. Would Conservative supporters in, say, Westmorland and Lonsdale [a LibDem stronghold, ex-Tory] really want to vote for Tim Farron? Would LibDems in Harrogate vote Conservative?

One consequence of a ‘pact’ which has been barely mentioned is the sudden rise of UKIP. Despite being trounced from every angle, latest figures from the Electoral Commission point to the UK Independence Party being the only mainstream group to enjoy an increase in membership. Both Tory and Labour voters would merrily troop into the UKIP fold, even with AV, if a dodgy deal is agreed betwixt Coalition partners.

LibDem voters at the last election knew that the introduction of STV (our ultimate goal) would have meant a future of coalition governments and compromises between parties. Lord Mandleston in the brilliant “5 Days That Changed Britain” hinted at his realisation that majority governments of the size enjoyed by Thatcher and Blair are things of the past. Britain doesn’t do mammoth mandates anymore. This Coalition could be the start of something big, even if AV is not introduced.

However, I agree with Nick Clegg’s words from before the election; the LibDems are not to become an annexe of the Conservative Party. Any electoral pact would start laying down the foundations. Clegg should publicly dismiss the idea. There are many LibDems who have tasted such agreements before – we tend not to return to a tree if the fruit tastes sour (and from oak trees grow acorns, and they are awful….)