Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Overdrawn - The Autumn Statement

We've all been there.

The bank statement arrives and fills you with dread. You know it's not good, so you can't bring yourself to open it. Spare a thought then for Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.

He's had to stand up today in the House of Commons and not only open the bank statement, but read it out to the entire country. And as you might expect, it's not great news.

Turns out that rather than fixing the roof while the sun was shining, we've actually spent the last six years of austerity living in a tent in the garden during the coldest winter on record.

We used to not have a pot to piss in. We're now so broke we don't even have floorboards to put the pot on. It's no wonder Hammond - who is now second on my list of Hammonds I never want to hear again, between Richard and organ - delivered the news with all the enthusiasm of a lame horse addressing a conference of glue manufacturers.

Tradition in the case of delivering bad economic news is of course to blame the last government, which Hammond did. Or at least, the last Labour government. Would have been awkward otherwise, what with half the last Tory government being sat at the side of him.

Course there's also a new kid on the blame block - Brexit. Turns out that estimating the economic impact of leaving the EU is a bit tricky though, when you don't actually know what Brexit means apart from Brexit. The Office of Budget Responsibility asked the Treasury to do it, and they declined.

Now to me, that means one of two things. Either they genuinely don't know - which is scary enough, given it's their job - or they do know, but the number is so bowel-clenchingly horrific that they don't want to share it.

At least we've "taken back control". The Brexit Bunch have got the Ford Anglia back that the EU stole from them in 1973, albeit the seats have been taken out, the engine doesn't run and it's on fire. Still, they've got their hands back on the steering wheel.

Pity whoever loses the game of rock, paper, scissors at Tory Central Office and ends up having to go defend this shambles on Newsnight. Hammond hasn't so much rearranged the deckchairs on the Titanic as given everyone in steerage a towel and told them not to panic.

It's not so much a statement, as an economic suicide note.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Lord's Prayer (The Sun version)

Our Rupert, who art in hiding

Haggard be thy face

Thy kingdom's Sun

Its work be scum

Online, as it is on newsprint

Give us this day more teenage breasts

And push unto us more hatred

As we hate those who phone hack against us

Lead us not to information

But to ignorance made glory

For thine is the bigotry

The bile and the misogyny

Forever and ever


Monday, March 21, 2016

An Ode To Twitter - for World Poetry Day

Ten years have passed of Twitter
Hope you don't think me bitter
For laughing at poor David Cam
Making sweet love to a ham

Through absurdity and scandals
People with ever changing handles
Accounts who steal your best material
May they get a disease venereal

Let Facebook have get rich quick schemes
Twitter's more for silly memes
Polls with ridiculous votes
And fake inspirational quotes

So be it Bounce or Lanyard, Balustrade
Ron with porn bills he never paid
Boris flattening a helpless child
Or girl with bubbles running wild

Think of all the times you've laughed
At folk on Twitter being daft
Let's do our best to keep it silly
Please don't DM pics of your willy

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Conquering The Cowboys - Keys To A Leeds Victory

The first two games in the 2016 World Club Series have resulted in convincing, chastening defeats for the Super League sides against last year's NRL minor premiers and Grand Final runners-up. So how do an injury hit and evolving Leeds Rhinos stop the rot and restore some pride to the northern hemisphere tonight against the North Queensland Cowboys?

Here are four key points they need to focus on.

Start Fast, Stay In The Game

In both games so far this year, the home side has been almost out of it inside half an hour. Against the well drilled Cowboys defence, Leeds aren't likely to post a bunch of points in a hurry so can't afford to get behind early in the game and be forced to play catch-up.

A good start also helps to keep what is likely to be a vociferous home crowd involved. Langtree Park and the DW Stadium were almost funereal in atmosphere during the second halves on Friday and Saturday. The Kiwi players involved in last October's warm-up game will tell you what a special atmosphere Headingley can generate on big nights under lights, and it's important the Rhinos give their fans something to stay with as they did on that occasion.


If the Rhinos lose the penalty count (and they don't have the greatest of historical relationships with tonight's man in the middle Richard Silverwood), the error count or the missed tackle count, they're not going to win. They need at least an even share of both possession and field position to be in the contest, which means not turning the ball over close to their own line or early in the tackle count. They have shown the ability to get into arm wrestles in big games, grind their way through and come up with the win. Tonight is going to demand that again.

They also can't afford to lose their defensive structure as often as Wigan and Saints did by having players flying out trying to make speculative reads and leaving massive holes. NRL sides structure their attack in such a way that they put a lot of runners at the ball carrier's disposal, and defenders need to remember that the ball is the danger. There's no point haring out to close down a runner if it leaves a big gap on your inside shoulder for someone else to stroll through. 

Doing the simple things well under pressure is what separates the two competitions, and to be successful Leeds will have to match the Cowboys at that both with and without the ball.

Use The Underdog Card

It's not often the Rhinos have gone into a big game as such huge underdogs, in some places as big as 5-1 to win the game. There's a host of good reasons the odds are so long as well - the transition after losing three big players including two massive leaders, the injuries to half a dozen potential starters, the young half-back pairing playing only its second game together at this level. Pulling off a win would rank right up there in the great nights of the club's recent history.

So they need to use the fact that everyone is writing them off to their advantage. There are players coming into this game with points to prove, whether they are established veterans looking to show they can still do it, players who should be at the peak of their careers but have yet to crack it at representative level or youngsters wanting to find out whether they can live with the very best in the world.

So use the fact that many pundits expect you to get a hammering to your advantage, by making it your motivation to run that little bit faster and hit that little bit harder.

Get Thurston

You don't win a Grand Final by being a one man team, in either hemisphere. Having spent so long witnessing at first hand what Kevin Sinfield could do to carry his Leeds Rhinos team to wins in big games though, the home side tonight will know more than most how important it can be to target the opposition's key man.

Thurston makes this Cowboys side tick. He's their leader, both in terms of game management and emotionally. If he's allowed to play the game with a tuxedo on because he's given too much awe and respect, he's a good enough player to carve Leeds to pieces.

I'm not advocating trying to take his head off with the first play of the game, but if he wants to play close to the line don't be afraid to put a shot on him just as he passes the ball. When he kicks, take him to ground afterwards. Don't let him lead the chase and put everyone else onside. This is Thurston's first competitive game of the season, so test how much petrol he has in the tank by having him make twenty tackles in the game as well as pick himself up off the floor continually.

He's very much the battery which powers this North Queensland side, so let's see how he and they respond when those energy levels get low.

Leeds are going to need to produce the performance of an era to win this game in the face of a whole host of reasons why they shouldn't. If they can do these four things though, it will go a long way towards providing what could be a magical night for the club and a shot in the arm for Super League.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

An Open Poem To Kanye West

Kanye, oh Kanye
You said don't text till Monday
But now that Monday's gone we need to talk
You've been tweeting across the ocean
Full of raw emotion
You and me, let's take a little walk

See that woman with her brood
Queueing up for food
They can't afford to buy from a shop
You really think they care
That you're a debt millionaire
Or about your little Twitter strop

Over there's a refugee
Scared and forced to flee
Leaving everyone and thing they had 
So don't be such a clown
Shut the fuck up and sit down
Look at those who really have it bad

So now it turns out that you're broke
And begging from that Facebook bloke
Face your situation with some class
Show deportment, show some carriage
The last thing that your marriage
Needs is another massive ass

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sexuality Sells, And We're All Buying

This morning's Victoria Derbyshire Show on the BBC made quite a big deal over the fact that a British Olympic hopeful had decided to come out to the nation as gay. Such a big deal in fact, that they teased the story on social media, but kept the name of the athlete concerned as an "exclusive" for the show itself.

It turns out that athlete is race walker Tom Bosworth. No, me neither. The fact that a major broadcaster still considered his sexuality a matter of such utmost importance that it needed to not only be revealed to the nation live during the show, but trailed in advance just to whet our salacious appetites raises a couple of questions.

Firstly, is it news? Well, no. Not in the wider definition of the word as something of interest going on in the world that we need to know about. It's probably news to Tom's family, his training partners, teammates and friends - assuming many of them didn't already know - but not particularly news to the rest of us. I suspect the reaction of the nation will have been one of "meh" and get on with your day.

Secondly, why does a major media outlet consider it to be news, if most of us know that it isn't? Well you would have to ask the producers of the show that. Without wishing to answer on their behalf, I suspect they've looked at what seems to be work for daytime TV formats and decided that a story about someone's little sexual secret fits right in with the Jeremy Kyle/Loose Women style that  ITV peddle.

In short, they are using Tom Bosworth's willingness to reveal his sexuality to a widely disinterested nation for a bit of cheap, titillating television. Are we still really at that stage of our social development as a culture? Did Back to the Future just happen and all of a sudden we're in the 1970s again?

"But things like this help other gay people to find the confidence to speak out".

Do they really? Does the fact an athlete who nobody outside those with an interest in race walking has ever heard of has come out really provide that much comfort and security to a young person that they can feel safe about revealing their own sexuality?

I don't think it does. This isn't an age where being gay or lesbian (or anywhere between) is still punishable by prison or something that needs to be kept hidden away in a metaphorical closet. There are high profile, openly gay figures in sport, entertainment and politics who are showing that being honest about your sexuality is no handicap to having a fulfilling and successful life.

More damaging is the approach taken by the media that being anything other than heterosexual is something still to be considered surprising or news-worthy. That doesn't provide any kind of comfort or solace to anyone on the verge of coming out, whether they are in public life or not. It portrays non-heterosexual love as something so out of the ordinary or unusual that a major broadcaster has to devote time to discussing it.

In short the attitude of the media towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people in public life needs to change. It informs and supports prejudice, and creates an atmosphere which prevents people being who they really are. It contributes to potential mental health issues caused by the fear of revealing your sexuality. Enough is, as the song says, enough.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

For National Poetry Day

Writing poems about poets
It really is quite hard
That's why it's sometimes easier
To call Shakespeare "The Bard"

Writing poems about poets
The tantrums and commotion
When you can't think of anything
For Andrew bloody Motion

Writing poems about poets
You're a hero or a villain
Depends on whether you leave out
That nice Ian McMillan

Writing poems about poets
To stick up on your fridge
Even ones with quite long names
Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Writing poems about poets
One of my pet hates
Is when you discover
That Keats doesn't rhyme with Yeats

Writing poems about poets
The travails and the despairs
Have finally convinced me
That I'll never be Pam Ayres

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Binary Life

It must be really nice, to live a binary life
Where everything is one thing or another
You're either left or right, either black or white
No choices to confuse, confound or smother

Run with the hounds or with the foxes, put it all in boxes
Pick a side and never cross the floor
Be messy or be neat, never the twain shall meet
Dig in those heels and stand up proud and sure

Your fact is never fiction, no scope for contradiction
All counter arguments are batted back
If you're short of a retort, as a last resort
There's always the ad hominem attack

To back up your opinions, summon all your minions
By starting all your tweets with a full stop
Make clear your intentions, by clogging up their mentions
Convince yourself that you've come out on top

So listen trolling hordes, you warriors with keyboards
From the chalice of my wisdom take a sup
Don't be a dickhead for your cause, it won't get you applause
Just told to do one, and shut the fuck right up. 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

When sharing isn't caring

Social media has been in something of a schism over the last 24 hours, as a result of the news media's decision to publicise the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean by printing a picture of a dead toddler washed up on a beach.

There are many who, for no doubt what they consider to be the "right" reasons, have taken to sharing this image among their social networks - either by re-tweeting or sharing the picture itself or images of the newspaper front pages on which it features. It's their decision, after all it is their responsibility to decide what they share or don't on their own social media feeds.

So let me tell you why anyone who shares it into mine is going to find themselves swiftly un-followed.

The primary argument for doing so appears to be that it "raises awareness" of the true extent of the humanitarian crisis happening in the area, caused by ongoing civil wars and unrest in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

What I'm not quite sure of is whose awareness it is trying to raise. Those with access to Twitter and Facebook also have a world of electronic news media at their fingertips, in addition to television and radio news as well as the printed press. I find it highly unlikely to the point of flabbergasting that any of them are not already aware of the horrible situation which faces these people (I won't call them refugees from here on in, they deserve better than that). It has been the main focus of the media for the last couple of weeks at least, usually focused on the humanitarian cost in terms of lost lives.

In short, if you didn't know this was already happening, you must have been living in a cave, with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears going "lalalalala".

So no, it's not "raising awareness" as the overwhelming majority of people you are sharing it with are already heart-breakingly aware thank you.

Neither is it helping the plight of the people suffering. Treating their corpses like some sort of merchantable commodity in order to sell newspapers, or attract television news viewers to your channel is an act every bit as inhuman as packing people into overcrowded, unsafe vessels in the first place. It gives these people no dignity, no respect, none of the things they are desperately fleeing in search of. It is simply picking over their corpses like vultures. If you choose to be complicit in that then fair enough, but at least have the decency not to try to drag me down into the cesspit with you.

Let's just posit an alternative reality shall we? Imagine if on 8 July 2005, the British press and news media had been full of lingering shots of the bodies of those killed in the attacks on London's transport network. Not photos of their happy, smiling faces provided by loved ones, but actual shots of their corpses, not covered by sheets on trolleys but lifeless in the streets of the capital. How would the public have reacted to that?

I'd wager they'd have been outraged. They would have regarded it as callous, insensitive acts of barbarism. After all, these people were someone's spouses, siblings, children, parents. Don't they deserve better than to turn on the television or open a newspaper and see the corpse of a loved one who lost their life in an unnecessary act of inhumanity?

So why is it different when it's a small child that nobody in the UK knows or is related to?

If you really, truly want to help reduce the human cost of this situation you're not going to do it by hitting a button and sharing an image. Lobby your MP to change the UK's attitude both to leaving countries unstable after half-arsed military interventions and to how it deals with the humanitarian crisis it leaves behind afterwards.

Give to one of the numerous relief organisations trying to put a sticking plaster over the top of this gaping wound in our humanity because governments are too scared of public opinion to dress it properly. It doesn't need to be financial. Donate food, clothing, anything that can be sold to raise funds rather than sat gathering dust in your spare room. Give your time to help these organisations who are not just "raising awareness" but actually doing something on the ground to help the most helpless.

If you've read all that and still think it's fine to go around using a dead toddler's image as a mark of your humanity go ahead, it's your life. But don't surprised if I and those like me choose to treat you with the same respect you treated that dead Syrian boy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

An Appeal On Behalf Of Victims Of Human Trafficking

As you may have seen on the news recently, there has been a substantial rise in the number of people - particularly young men - being trafficked across borders all over Europe.

Often, these people leave behind well-paid jobs and relatively luxury in order to go in search of a better, more stable life elsewhere. A place where they will no longer feel threatened or unappreciated. Where mobs don't bay for their blood on a weekly basis.

This dreadful human cargo reaches a peak towards the end of August, where the traffickers are at their most active before winter nights start to draw in. It's important that we make a stand at this time of year against this despicable trade.

This is David.

David lives in the north of England. He paid people traffickers 10% of a significant signing on fee to take him to Spain. Only by our operatives disabling a fax machine at the Spanish end of their operation were we able to save him and enable him to return to Manchester, where he has a nice, comfortable bench to sit on.

There are hundreds of young men just like David, being taken from their homelands to be left all alone in a country where they don't speak the language, have no friends and only a pittance of £120k a week to fall back on.

Please help us to stop this cruel trade in human lives by refusing to support those who perpetrate it and televise it for the amusement of their viewers.

Thank you for listening.