all seeing pie in the sky

Point of information – I’m not a subscriber to most conspiracy theories. By this I mean, whilst cynical and suspicious, I maintain a “credibility radar” which helps filter if not entirely dismiss  the most excessive of the tin pot brigade, and in any case, drawing attention to some of the Internet’s more fringe elements (like supporters of the BNP or people who speak Esperanto) can never end well. For the avoidance of doubt, whilst believing that the death of Dr. David Kelly was somewhat convenient narrative-wise, my advancing years has diluted my initial youthful belief that an order to kill him came from somewhere around the corridors of power you hear so much about. There is suspicion and doubt, yes, though not perhaps conspiracy.

On a different perspective, the ‘truth movement’ set up around the 7/7 bombings is, almost to a man, complete rubbish, and in most cases essentially thinly veiled attempts to give racist ranting a fresh new angle. Even if you do find a 7/7 “truther” who doesn’t come across as a lonely old racist commenting on how expendable British Muslims are, you’re usually asked to subscribe to the fact that four out of work actors were paid to hang around Luton train station for a bit, before turning around to drive home whilst pre-laid bombs on tube trains and buses were detonated by…I never get up to that point. G4S, maybe. Though of course, maybe not G4S. They’re incompetent but this isn’t the right time in my life for a legal case to be brought against me. In any  case, you see my point. I happen to believe that it’s somewhat far fetched to subscribe to any theory which hangs on the central premise of Transport For London also dabbling in a bit of rep theatre.

Anyway, on with the main meat of the post. If there’s one tiny part of the Internet where my heart has most definitely been stolen, it’s the 0.05% of YouTube dedicated to Illuminati conspiracy theories. Maybe this says a lot about the kind of women to whom I’m attracted because I’ve not felt to alive in years.

Take the Private Eye cover on this page, published at the height of the London riots. For most people of sound mind reading the speech-bubble punchline, the satire is fairly clear. It’s London, the Olympics are coming, so why not join the two together with a bit of British musn’t grumble attitude (for which, see yesterday’s blog on whether we can/should just enjoy the Olympics). For the Illuminati truth seeker, however, the satire is completely lost, which is why there’s a number of videos in the cover is shown as evidence of a plot (presumably by well known state mole Ian Hislop) to cause/create/sponsor a terrorist attack during the Opening Ceremony. What satire might have been evident in the joke dissolves like so much kettle steam, and with as much mass in the resulting evidence.

Mandeville is another common ‘evidence’ given to prove that the secret lizard people/Freemason cult/whoever-it-is who rules the nation has infiltrated LOGOC. One video uploaded to YouTube which provides this evidence points to the obvious (the single eye being an obvious New World Order trope, the launch of the mascots being paraded on a check pattern floor, that sort of thing.) What makes my heart flutter is a caption written in Papyrus which informs the enthralled reader that “Mandeville” is French for “dead city”, another clue that London is the target for an Illuminati/terrorist attack combo meal.

I don’t speak French (though I do know what happens with iron fililings near a magnet, so that’s the Comprehensive system for you). A quick thumb through a dictionary/Google shows that  “mande” is not the French for “dead”, and even if it were, there’s no joined up dots to show why we suddenly need to be bilingual when pointing out ‘false flag’ terrorist plots on the Internet.

Not satisfied with misunderstanding satire or mistranslating basic conversational French (well, maybe “dead” has to come up in conversation in France, I don’t know, never been. “Are these snails dead, waiter?” perhaps, it’s not important right now), the determined crew at the HMS Cuckoo-Bananas sent me straight to the garage forecourt for roses and cards by way of a video with over 250,000 hits purporting to prove that the London Games have been a state-sponsored terrorist attack in the making for over 100 years.

A radio phone in guest drew the lines in front of me as clearly as though he were sketching a loveheart with our initials in them. The London 2012 logo, he explained, can be rearranged to spell the word “ZION”. Well, I did check this claim, and as you can see, if you squint a bit and use more imagination than you’ve ever used before, the theory is absolutely correct.

Well, he continued, the poem “Jerusalem” written by William Blake mentions “a new Jerusalem” being built in England, and that was back in the early 19th century. As it’s undisputed that our Illuminati/Jewish lizards/whoever-the-Heck rulers have put subtle design quirks in everything from Olympic coins to road signs to prove their worth in a Pinky and the Brain sort of way, clearly Blake was the start of terrorism’s longest, widest story arc? Of course he was. It’s conjecture, but that’s the kind of fact we like round here!

When I say “I’ve fallen in love” with this sort of thing, I genuinely mean it. Clearly, it holds up as much weight as the pastry around a butter pie, and by most peoples measurement, it’s no more credible than those people who claim to been warned off going into Central London/Manchester/Madrid/Bali by a friendly Imam who just happened to be passing by. It’s the worst kind of urban myth gone feral, picked up and perpetuated by the kind of Internet-based obsessive who would have a use sticking torches into filing cabinets were it easier to do so. As I said, my suspicion and cynical side knows no bounds, and as such I’d rather believe that something dodgy is going on rather than ever sign up to the notion that our elected elders know best. I certainly don’t believe that our unelected elders of bankers and World Bank chiefs know best, though by the same measure, I’m not about to agree with the YouTube nutjob consensus that Julia Gillard, the Pope and possibly Prince Harry are all shape-shifting lizards.

Yes, there’s a thrill about the most extreme kind of conspiracy theory, something subversive even. I prefer to look at the funny side too. “Love” is the emotion which carries with it the freedom from remorse, boredom or frustration in a life not necessarily led to the full, which I guess is why the light and blessed relief which comes from watching this tripe has lifted me so highly. Don’t ever stop being suspicious about the people who claim to rule over us – though if you start telling me that the chess-board floor design which happens to be in two of my favourite pubs mean that my pints of Oxford Gold are tainted by New World Order mind serum, I may have to punch you in the nose.  


it’s all going to be just fine

I could rant about (or, more accurately, against) G4S for their strident ability to make checking tickets at train stations into a frustrating, arrogant and self-satisfied assault on the freedom of walking from a ticket office to the 0922 to Blackburn. For reasons I can’t fathom, the rail industry has concluded that private security firms offer better value for money when standing near automatic ticket gates than members of private rail operating companies, resulting in some railway stations now looking how old Bond films used to imagine private nuclear basis, swarming with police officers and security guards. It’s not as though G4S do much of a job while standing around on platforms, for that matter, as they can’t sell tickets (and I know this after a toe-to-toe rant against one of their number whilst waving my bank card in the air asking what on earth he thought I was going to do with it.)

The Internet is full of G4S Olympic farrago stories, making Google searches for the long forgotten prisoner transfer stories from my youth a little difficult. But I remember hearing the jokes on plenty a Radio 4 panel show about the sudden difficulty hitherto unexpected in taking a criminal from point A to point B. “Group 4 Security” became as much of a punchline as, well, “British Rail”, I suppose, in tabloid shorthand for rants against the Government giving up responsibility for things it used to do. (Which is a bit different to the times when tabloids rant against the Government not being able to get a handle on things like Heathrow security desks and school building.)

But even without the colossal cock-up by G4S and its Olympic security mess-up, the mood music around at the moment is what rankles with me more. I appreciate that training and supplying people as security bods around the Olympic park is rather important and they’ve carried out their task with all the professionalism as a packet of instant noodles, but there’s something else about the coverage of the Games in the remaining week to go which has started to bother me. And outside the Opening Ceremony and watching the tinier nations do badly in the early heats of the swimming, I’m not even that much of an Olympics fan.

What bothers me – and I’m the same with politicians who choose to highlight the very worst elements of economic statistics even when the general direction is “up” or “more” or “better” – is the growing negativity and cynicism from the press. Yesterday, on Radio 4’s “PM”, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt found himself up against an onslaught of sly, wry and sarcastic questioning. When he noted that tickets sales for an obscure sport were never expected to sell out, the presenter made a point of apologising to fans of those teams, as though any chance of the same programme ever running a jokey featurette on minority sports and their followers had never crossed the producer’s mind. It dawned on me that the narrative of the interview, and much of the coverage in the press recently, has switched deliberately from “The Games are coming to London, WOW!”, to “The Games are on their way to go TERRIBLY WRONG BECAUSE WE’RE BRITISH AND FAILURE IS THE ONLY OPTION! BOO!”

Now I’m not a flag waving little Englander or UKIP supporter or one of those football hooligans who stomp around provincial towns every Saturday complaining about the burqa whilst covering my own face with a scarf/hat combination. But all the same, I’d rather like the good natured and well meaning jest about Britain not being very good at stuff to be balanced by the good natured and well meaning truth that we can, and do, produce events rather well at times, and by extending this, that sometimes Britain is quite a decent country doing its thing despite its limitations. “Oh God, the Olympics are coming and we’re all going to SUCK” is a narrative I’ve learned to live with over the years, especially during the Winter Olympics, when the tabloids might have a point about Team GB spending/wasting money on teenagers from West Sussex to spend four months of the year living in Norway smoking weed and pretending to ski on one leg or whatever they do. I can even accept that the Beijing-to-London handover was a messy shambles, given as it featured an exploding Routemaster and the worst body-pop/urban dance thing since Hit Man & Her on late night ITV.

All that aside, though, there’s being British (and therefore cynical and supportive all at the same time), and there’s just being prissy for the sake of it (or, “French”). I’m sure the BBC and its august presenting army have their moments of doubt when the minority sports few people like need to be covered (the silly ones, like “horse riding to music” or badminton). That doesn’t mean the entire package should be dismissed as silliness or wasteful. When Michael Platini proposed changing the format of UEFA 2020 into a continental-wide tour, he was rightly sneered off stage. We like big events, and prefer them to take place in one site. Through nostalgia and genuine pride, we herald Olympic memories from Bolero to Eric the Eel with warmth. Maybe it’s just easier to be negative because it’s happening in our backyard, though I don’t remember well enough if either Euro 1996 or Manchester’s Commonwealth Games were treated with similar sneering. Yes, okay, the Olympics of 2012 is an event stuffed with corporate logos and daft rules on chips. And horse riding to music. Though why does this mean that the narrative has to switch from anticipation to antagonism in the week before the opening events?

Maybe I’m being typically liberal in wanting a nice, middle-grown fence sitting position. Let’s celebrate the 204 countries coming here, the opportunity for commentary classics and opportunities to enjoy the handball or the archery or whatever the Hell, and continue to explore what went wrong with G4S, whilst doing so without one unbalancing the other. I’m the first in the queue to criticise that which we’re told to celebrate. It’s just too much cynicism can kill you. G4S deserve to be called out for their shambles – and that’s just for their behaviour around Preston railway station. I’m not sure the Olympics deserve the same vitriol.

Oh, it dawns on me that the tags under this blog technically break the law on using specific words and terms related to the Games. Pity, that, really.

Keep Sunday vaguely notable

Nadine Dorries is the Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, and is the poster girl for the sort of bloke who enjoys Alpha Course meetings as a come down from the BDSM club nights he usually visits. She is an “anti-everything”, often giving statements on the hot topic of the previous day in the most bizarre fashion. You might recall her claim that the expenses scandal had done so  much damage to her colleagues that some of them were “on suicide watch”.

The latest splurge of opinion soup to vomit from Dorries reacts to proposals (released through the pre-Budget leakathon) that the Olympics would be a fine time to relax Sunday Trading Laws. Currently, Britain allows shops to trade on Sundays only if customers can potter around for an hour beforehand fondling the biscuits, flicking through magazines and putting items back in the wrong place having reconsidered buying novelty garden gnomes for a fifth floor apartment.  The basis for restricted trading on Sunday is largely based on religious observance; Sunday is the day of rest, after all, and that means mowing the lawn and listening to Desert Island Discs, not stocking up with BOGOFs at Morrisons.

By restricting trade, shops can offer the same service within constrained hours, often paying staff more for the “novelty” of working on a ‘special day’. This can cause head scratches amongst people for whom Sunday is no more special than any other, who find themselves clock watching before they can set out to buy what they need.

Nadine Dorries’ reaction was typically provocative. “Is the coalition secretly implementing an anti-Christian agenda?” she fumed from her Twitter account, surrounded by the strictly observant religious idyll of Mid-Bedfordshire. (What is “Mid”, anyway? That’s a term used by estate agents and wannabe poets invoking Wordsworth. Apparently it contains a town called “Houghton Conquest”, which sounds like a particularly bad non-league football team).

I’m not sure Dorries is quite in the same….planet, I suppose….with this latest tirade. Relaxing Sunday trading laws will be difficult – there are questions of employment law and employees rights to consider – but that does not mean they  would bring about a destruction of the nation by any measure. Families are not going to split over the right to wander around B&Q, nor will the Church slam the doors on people who choose out of town shopping centres over the pulpit. It is a natural extension of the policy as it currently stands – there is nothing stopping a person buying their weekly shop through the Internet at 3am on a Monday morning or during a lunch break at work. Why ‘bubble wrap’ Sunday trading? If there’s nothing sacred about buying on-line during a lazy Sunday, why keep the High Street within the constraints of a previous generation’s attitude?

Dorries is more often wrong than right, choosing to pick fights in empty venues. Her proposed sex education Bill was a puritan’s wet dream (if such a thing exists, though it would have made a Saint a bit frisky). Otherwise known by the nickname “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children Act”, it would have required schools to drive all their female pupils to one of the Small Isles away from dirty boys and their dirty bits and bobs and desire to hump everything that moves.

There is no compulsion to consume from anyone outside PR companies and advertising agencies and yet Dorries sounds downright scared of what might flow from relaxing the laws, even temporarily. I know there are questions to be asked about consumerism and capitalism generally – they will always be there to consider. Relaxing trading laws would touch the surface of those topics and as is so often the case, Dorries attempts to tackle the subject only to appear completely out of her depth.

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…