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When I was told about it I thought my partner had made it up.

But no, as various newspaper stories and a quick search of Facebook confirm, there is a Facebook page dedicated to the posting of pictures of women eating on the tube.

Not people. Women.

I don’t like watching people eat on trains. I often get the late night ‘vomit comet’ out of Fenchurch Street and there’s little worse than the stench of stale beer, warm wine and Burger King on a hot summer’s night.

But this site is not about people. It is about women.

Funnily enough, according to Sara Nelson on the Huffington Post, the page’s creator, Tony Burke, claims that the aspect of gender is purely a coincidence. The site’s profile text says:

‘WWEOT is observational not judgemental. It doesn’t intimidate nor bully.

Subjects are embraced and cherished. We celebrate and encourage women eating food on tubes, we do not marginalise them. We always look for the story in the picture. We don’t swear.’

Really? That’s clearly not how some of the subjects feel. Perhaps the mere fact of posting the picture might be felt by some to be bullying or intimidating. Or do bullying and intimidation only occur if the perpetrator deems it so? Journalist Sophie Wilkinson posted about her experiences in a post entitled ‘Stranger shaming: how one public meal got me 12,000 online haters’:

‘I’m not exactly fond of necking a mayonnaise-sloshed pasta salad on a bumpy Metropolitan line, but I know I’m never going to eat on the tube again. I don’t even want to wear that outfit again – or read the book that the poster commented I was then ‘tucking into’ – because I’m nervous that people from the Facebook group might recognise me. Every time a man I don’t know – because so many of the commenters are men – so much as glances at me on the tube I wonder if he’s in on the joke.’

And it’s all just a joke, right, and Wilkinson should get a sense of humour? Those of us who don’t like it don’t get it and we should just leave them to their quirky little game?

This exchange – chosen at random on a random photograph – is extremely revealing. It is all men. The one woman who offers a counter view is told to take herself off to North Korea. Depressingly, the commentators repeatedly fail to recognise that bullying and harassment doesn’t have to be sexual. In one comment, one Tom Moore attempts to tackle the issue of why the photographs are of women and not men head on:

Because it wouldn’t be funny if it were all people eating on the tube. That doesn’t mean it necessarily has anything to do with it being women – that’s the point you don’t seem to get. It’s funny because it is obtuse, mundane and totally and utterly trivial. There is no hidden misogyny or unspoken sexism and the the fact that you try and force your preconceived notions upon it is so mystifying and frustrating for everyone who actually gets it. No sexist or sexual comments are harboured and no offensive comments are permitted.

Just because it is ‘obtuse, mundane and totally and utterly trivial’ doesn’t mean there is no ‘unspoken sexism’. And why is it funny to laugh at women but not all people? It is also difficult to claim that there isn’t sexism on a site dedicated solely to the presentation of women in ways that make at least some of the subjects feel ashamed. This isn’t some academic exercise in ‘preconceived notions’ and I am sorry that you find it ‘mystifying and frustrating’ that some of us take offence.

Let’s just go over this again.

A woman is photographed eating on a tube train, all without her knowledge or consent. The location is noted and the time. This is then all posted on the Internet without her knowledge or consent for people to ‘celebrate’ and comment on.

And those of us who find that bloody creepy don’t get it?

If you are still not convinced that the main motivator for this is men mocking women, consider the basic gender demography of the group. According to the website womeninbusiness.com, women in the U.S. using Facebook now outnumber men. I can’t imagine that those statistics are far behind in the UK. However, a cursory look at the front page list of members for the Women Who Eat on Tubes page revealed that of the 96 members shown, 77 were men and just 19 were women.

Clearly, women just don’t get the joke like men do.

In The Telegraph, Burke professes to not knowing why women feel threatened.

Perhaps it is because, as a man, he doesn’t face the intrusion into personal space that so many women experience. Because, as a man, he isn’t objectified, judged and defined by size, dress and appearance in the same way as women (unless, of course, he is pretending that the Daily Mail doesn’t exist). Because Tony Burke feels he is entitled to do whatever he likes, regardless of the offence it causes.

Celia Walden, also writing in The Telegraph, tries to portray those who criticise the group as hypocritical, alluding to an apparent contradiction between modern feminism and the use of social media. Her point appears to be about the selfie, though uses the most extraordinary generalisation to justify her critique:

‘ If any one of those “Women Who Eat On Tubes” has ever posted a “selfie” or Tweeted “I’m about to tuck into a lamb korma”, I’m inclined to believe that they have surrendered a right to the privacy of their own image.’

Really? And what about those countless women pictured who haven’t?

And why does an individual’s choice to post a picture of themselves mean they have surrendered a right to the privacy of their own image? The extension of that argument is that posting a selfie of yourself legitimises you as a target for revenge porn. After all, you have surrendered a right to the privacy of your image.

What Burke and Walden fail to appreciate is that this is not just causing outrage amongst groups that self-identify as feminist. It is offensive to many people who do not appreciate seeing women photographed in a way that many find humiliating.

And it is causing hurt.

If you have been humiliated because of your size, if you have been made to feel ashamed for doing something as basic as eating, if you have been the victim of sexual harassment (or have had to put up with the daily comments and jokes, all gender-based but just ‘a bit of fun’ and never intended to hurt), then you may well recognise this for what it is: bullying. And you may well recognise the clever people with their in-jokes for what they are: sad inadequates (predominantly, though not exclusively, men) who dress up their nastiness in buffoonery as they take pleasure in belittling and mocking women.

As men often do when defending the offensive, Burke resorts to reductio ad absurdum, implying that contesting his decision to post these pictures of women eating somehow equates to state censorship: “They’re in a public place. That’s the risk that you take. Let’s not live in this ridiculous nanny state where nothing’s allowed to exist in case it upsets someone.”

Sorry Tony. Just as it is your right to post your pictures regardless of the offence you cause, it is my right to judge you a misogynistic coward, regardless of how that offends you.

I’ve no interest in the state banning your group. I am, however, quite at liberty to lobby a private social media platform to remove content that I find offensive. I am also quite content to see people exercise their free speech to call you and your sad band of devotees out for being distasteful creeps.

I hope they do.

Further reading:

Nell Frizzell (@NellFrizzell) in the Guardian: ‘Women Who Eat On Tubes Sticks In My Throat’

Radhika Sanghani (@radhikasanghani) in The Telegraph: ‘Why this man takes photos of ‘Women Who Eat On Tubes’. He promises he isn’t a ‘weird deviant”

Celia Walden in The Telegraph: ‘There’s no need to be shy about scoffing on the tube’

The day after LBC hosted its Leaders’ Debate with Clegg v. Farage, the red tops carried the following front pages:

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I fully accept that the complicated love life of two high-profile celebrities is going to be something of interest to the public. But is this front page speculation, at a time when mother, father and children will be coming to terms with the break-up of their family, justifiable in the public interest?

The Association of Accounting Technicians has a very interesting page on the ethics of public interest:

Last year, after runaway teenager Megan Stammers was found in France with her 30 year old teacher, Jeremy Forrest the BBC reported that Sussex police had stated the information which led to the discovery had come from a direct result of media coverage in France. After Miss Stammers and Mr Forrest were found, Mr Forrest’s parents released a statement expressing their thanks for the Sussex and French police as well as the British media for their assistance. On the other hand, however, due to the public intrigue and interest in this case both party’s names and intimate pictures were published and spread over the internet and Megan was forced to close down her twitter account following abuse on the site after her return to the UK. It can therefore be argued either way as to how the interest of the public affected the outcome in this case.

That excerpt alone reveals the complexity of questions of public interest. However, it demonstrates that a case can be made very clearly that there are circumstances for the reporting of people’s private lives, even if we should be alive to the consequences of such reporting.

At the same time, however, today’s front pages say something very depressing about us. They reveal that the tabloids would rather scream about the sad separation of a husband and wife – a story which fulfils none of the criteria of public interest – instead of reporting that, finally, two party leaders have engaged in a public debate on Britain’s future in Europe  – an issue which is of maximum public interest. How ironic is that considering how vocally misleading at least two of these three rags are on European issues on a regular basis? How hypocritical is it when we have seen them allege institutional opacity and use misinformation as a basis for advocating Britain’s ‘conscious uncoupling’ from the European Union?

You would think that the debate would be a perfect hook for shining a light on an issue that they will each argue (rightly) is critical to Britain’s future. But no. Apparently, it is more important that we are treated to pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow kissing another man. Who cares what effect such stories have on Paltrow, Martin or their children? Who cares if we pile on the humiliation in order to satisfy a smug and mawkish hunger for ‘sleb chat’? Who cares if we force Paltrow and Martin, because of their celebrity status, to put strange labels on an ordinary tragedy experienced by many every day?

Some might loftily proclaim that Clegg and Farage are not Miliband and Cameron. Why should they be interested in what they have to say? Perhaps precisely because they are not Miliband and Cameron and the voices of the leaders of Britain’s two largest parties have so far refused to debate Britain’s place in Europe. Whether you wish to cover the debate positively or negatively, on what was said by whom, or who wasn’t there that should have been, it is unarguable that the European debate is in the public interest.

According to one relatively recent report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, engagement with political news in Britain is lower than in the US and in much of Europe. For a country that prides itself on its history of Empire, its fundamental role in bringing peace to Western Europe and its understanding of the complexities of international diplomacy, that is a sobering – and depressing – fact.

So why is it our red tops feed us crap? Because we – the public – buy them when they speculate on whether or not Gwyneth Paltrow is a ‘love cheat’ (which is about as much the business of you or me as whether your neighbour is seeing the Tesco delivery driver). Because we are less excited by attempting to get to the truth of the vital economic links that Britain has with the European Union.

I get that we all like to gawp. We all have a morbid fascination for the car crash as we drive by or the ambulance parked outside the house down the road. But we owe ourselves more than a medieval curiosity at those whose lives have fallen apart.

If we don’t engage with the important debates of the day, then surely the falling apart will happen closer to home. Some – many – of the 3.5 million jobs that depend on Europe could be lost. National law enforcement agencies trying to tackle terrorists and organised crime, such as sex traffickers, could find themselves hamstrung by national red-tape, unable to engage properly with each other. Border-less environmental disasters could be made much worse by lack of a common strategy and protocols.

We – the public – are the people who can decide if things that are of public interest become things that are of interest to the public. We – the public – are the people who can engage with the debates that affect all our lives and ascribe them the importance that they deserve. If we continually put money in the pockets of people who will feed us dross because it serves the purposes of an inflated circulation figure, then we only have ourselves to blame if we sleepwalk into decisions that have calamitous effects on us, whether personally or nationally.

Of course our media is riotous, anarchic, gloriously irreverent. Just as it should be. It is also the preserve of magnates with very personal commercial interests in international political outcomes. We kid ourselves if we present a romantic picture of our noble free press without drawing attention to the corporate small print.

Shame on us if we are hoodwinked.

There was a form of TV show that, from an early age, accompanied my Saturday afternoon escapades chasing criminals through the living room, out into the garden and through into the field. Whether a shoot out in the bank (the chicken run) or defending a village under siege from evil gangsters (the camp we made in the hedge down by the ditch), an afternoon of heroics was not complete without suitable imaginary action music accompanying our antics.

Without further ado, here are my top ten cop/action sound tracks.

10. Juliet Bravo

 

For some, their first police drama was Z-Cars. for others, Dixon of Dock Green. For me it was Juliet Bravo.

9. CHiPs

 

It had motorbikes, cops and California. Oh yeah!

8. T.J. Hooker

 

Even though it had Captain Kirk in it, I wanted to be Adrian Zmed. And my first TV crush (Penelope Pitstop aside): Heather Locklear!

7. Airwolf

 

How the hell we ever pretended to be Archangel, Stringfellow Hawke and Santini without a helicopter I have no idea, but we did…

6. The Professionals

Guns and Mullets Part I. It was rough and tough and British.

5. Knight Rider

This is here in tribute to my cool bro Seth, who had a real thing for KITT. And David Hasselhof.

4. Dempsey and Makepeace

Guns and Mullets Part II. I was absolutely and utterly in love with Glynis Barber. There’s nothing else to add.

3. Cagney and Lacey

Like Juliet Bravo, this was one of those rare things – a cop show to watch with your Mum – and one of the most memorable theme tunes of all.

2. Miami Vice

There had been nothing like this on TV when it appeared, with its glamour, guns, drugs and 80s squealing rock guitar.

1. A-Team

If there is one of these theme tunes that has stood the test of time, it is this one. 27 years after the last episode aired, you still here kids humming this one. And I was Hannibal. Seth, of course, was Face.

Emperor_of_Exmoor_(red_stag)

“It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them.”
Samuel Johnson (1709-84), Anecdotes of Samuel Johnson

In October 2010, reports appeared in UK newspapers proclaiming that the Emperor of Exmoor, a giant stag given his name by photographer Richard Austin, had been shot. The red deer stag is the largest indigenous mammal in the British Isles and at almost nine feet tall, and weighing 300 pounds, the Emperor was a magnificent example of its kind. The Guardian reported that he was shot and killed close to the Tiverton to Barnstaple road at the height of the mating season and quoted Peter Donnelly, an Exmoor-based deer management expert, saying it was a disgrace the animal had been shot during the mating season: “The poor things should be left alone during the rut, not harried from pillar to post. If we care about deer we should maintain a standard and stop all persecution during this important time of the year.” 

I’ve never been an absolutist on hunting. I understand the need for there to be management of herds and for vermin to be controlled. I worry, too, that so many children today have no understanding of where their food comes from. (In one recent study by the British Nutrition Foundation, 18% of primary school children thought fish fingers came from chickens.) However, I have never been able to reconcile myself to the pointless destructiveness of trophy hunting.

It’s more than a vague feeling or an intellectual opinion. It is a very physical and emotional response to the idea that man (and it is usually men, not women) has to prove himself by killing other creatures, for no other reason than the sheer hell of it. I first encountered that response as a child, reading Willard Price’s Safari Adventure, and it has remained with me ever since. To my mind, such testosterone-addled, adrenalised thrill-killing demeans us as human beings.

article-0-1C49273D00000578-824_634x449Fast forward to 15 March 2014 and in today’s Daily Mirror are two stories which reveal that our appetite for momentary glory at the expense of the animal kingdom is as great as ever it was.

First of all, poachers hunting for antlers have killed a New Forest deer known as the Monarch. According to the report, the poachers used a calibre of rifle too low to kill cleanly and instead the deer, badly wounded, drowned as it tried to swim to safety.

Spend a moment imagining the sequence of events. Spend a moment imagining the fear that magnificent creature experienced as the bullet crashed into its flesh. The pain as it tried to get away from violent intruders into its safe space, its fight-or-flight response leading it to crash towards a familiar stretch of water that had been a place of rest and refreshment for sixteen years. Think about its desolate coughing bleat as it limped towards death. And then those last, terrified gasps as it drowned, its exhausted body weakened further by blood loss.

All because greedy, vainglorious men wanted to hang its antlers on a dining room wall.

500-pound-wild-hog-3236934And then, across the Atlantic, the story repeats itself. A different country, yes, a different animal, yes, but once again actions that lead from that same ignorant bravado of inadequate men. Unlike the two deer, the protagonist has been only too happy to be associated with his ‘triumph’. A cretinous redneck who’d not be out of place in a North Carolina remake of Deliverance, Jett Webb is shown posing proudly with his ArmaLite AR-10, resting on his kill – a giant 36-stone wild boar nicknamed ‘Hogzilla’ that had become the stuff of local legend. He shot it in the Indian Woods area of Bertie County, having hid out in the woods at night, but there was no Hemmingway-esque poetic reflection on this particular kill.

Jett’s insightful comment?

“The sweet-tasting corn and a night-hunting light was too much for this oversized heap of pork chops.”

What ignorance. What pointless cruelty.

In the deaths of the Emperor, the Monarch and Hogzilla we have gained nothing and lost much. Gone are the chances for stories that make a place, that lend wonder to those exploring for the first time, the “what if…?” and the “perhaps we might…!”. Gone are the chances for a glimpse of nature’s magnificence made manifest in three animals whose unassuming majesty had the potential to induce wonder in inquisitive young minds.

And, as usual, greed will be excused as endeavour by those that celebrate and justify this pointless pursuit.

Samuel Johnson couldn’t have been more right.

There’s nothing quite like commuting on the London Underground to test the patience of most of us. Those who are more creatively-inclined have found an artistic outlet for their stresses. These are shamelessly lifted from Fotoz Up.

All credit to the mischievous travellers who created them – and those that snapped them with a chuckle as they were held at yet another red signal.

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AS we know, the Polar Vortex brought widespread disruption to North America. We quickly became meteorological experts, even if those of a more pedantic frame of mind attempted in vain to explain that it was a Circumpolar Vortex and that the terminology in the mainstream media was a malign attempt to deceive and spread misinformation (rather than convenient shorthand for a news industry that was already out of its scientific depth).

This post on Scientific American gives a quick run-down of what a Polar Vortex is.

Stunning pictures have emerged from across the US of the consequences of the latest big freeze. The Daily Mail had pictures from Reuters of Niagra freezing over, whilst the Guardian showcased amazing snow scenes from across the US:

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At the same time that America was freezing, parts of Scandinavia were enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures. Which makes what happened in Norway all the more interesting. NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company, carried reports this week of a sudden fall in temperature, combined with freezing winds, that led to the instant freezing of a vast school of herring that were fleeing cormorants.

The pictures are amazing:

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starwarstvtimesIt’s been a long time since I was a Star Wars fanboi, counting down the years (as it was when I were a lad) from when it appeared in the theatres to when it appeared on TV.

I remember my  Dad taking my cousin and me to see Jungle Book and me looking longingly at the queues to see Star Wars as we went inside. That would have been somewhere around 1978, the film having hit UK cinemas on December 27th 1977. I remember being mesmerised by the trailer – and having to wait until I was ten, on Sunday 24th October 1982, to see it on TV for the first time (it aired on ITV from 7.15pm to 9.30pm). That was back before the existence of Channel 4 and you needed two magazines to see what was on three channels!

I was never an aficionado of Star Wars LEGO® or played any of the Star Wars computer games and my Star Wars mania waned as I became hooked on Star Trek and its successors. Still, Star Wars held a quiet affection for me as the original and best space epic, even if my geek tendencies took me away from film and into home computers and gaming.

When the three Star Wars prequels appeared, I saw Phantom Menace, but it didn’t capture me in the way that the original had so many years before.

And then this.

Step forward a global army of Star Wars geeks to take on a challenge that is only really possible in the Internet age and which has reminded me why I loved the original three films so much.

Casey Pugh’s Star Wars Uncut has been around for years and I have no idea how I missed it. If you did, too, then take a look. Fans from all over the world have lovingly recreated the original in 15 second segments. Just about every form of amateur film-making can be found in its two hours. I’ve not watched it all yet, but the bits I have seen reveal that Star Wars retains its appeal to people of all ages.

A long time ago…

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