We see evidence of Britain breaking under the strain of under-investment and neglect every evening on our news. However, it’s not just in the NHS, our railways and policing where services are broken. Less visible services are also dysfunctional. For instance, the quest to replace my car log, lost in my recent move, has been an eye-opening reminder of how poor and user unfriendly much of our public service bureaucracy is.
I started where most of us start these days, on the Internet. The government’s website explains that as I have both lost my V5C and changed my address, I cannot apply online or over the phone. I have to fill out a form (V62) and send it in. I decided to phone the DVLA to double-check that I had the procedure correct.
The woman I spoke to was friendly and helpful. She explained my choices are to download and print it out or to collect one from the Post Office and fill it in. Fortunately, I have a printer, though many people do not. There was no procedure to submit the form electronically. She also reminded me I needed to pay £25. I asked how that should be done.
“You can either send in a cheque or a Postal Order.”
I paused, incredulous.
I can’t remember when my bank last issued me with a cheque book. I’ve always thought them a useful way to send money to friends and family, but I have probably cashed less than one a year for the last decade and haven’t written one for almost two. As for Postal Orders, I can’t remember the last time I used them. I mentioned it all felt very 1990s and she laughed, awkwardly. Apparently, they couldn’t accept cash but it was perfectly okay for someone else to write the cheque on my behalf.
Really? You go through all this detailed bureaucracy but will take payment in anyone’s name?
Having printed and filled out V62 in my almost illegible handwriting, and having spent half an hour hunting inside the engine for the chassis number and made a couple of mistakes, I decided I would pick up a form from the local Post Office and copy out the details, hopefully in a neater fashion.
Arriving at the Post Office, the chap at the counter explained they were too small to have forms to do with cars and that I would need to go into the city or out to the next town. Never mind that this Post Office serves thousands of households, most with more than one vehicle. Cursing under my breath, I double-checked they could do Postal Orders and headed back home to print a second version of V62.
Finally, the second form in hand, I went back to the Post Office and ordered the Postal Order. It was a different guy who explained that I would have to pay in cash (!). However, they could do a cash withdrawal on my card (!!) and pay for the Postal Order with that. I needed an envelope and was ready to pay for one – but he said there was no need to pay. It was a Post Office envelope and therefore free. Finally, there was an administrative charge for my Postal Order – just over £3.
Reflecting on the process, there is so much that is broken or that doesn’t make sense, or that could be done so much more effectively.
Why can’t I replace my logbook and change my address online?
Why do I have to print a PDF or collect from the Post Office, instead of complete online?
Why does a government agency only take cheques or Postal Orders and make no facility for online or phone payments?
Why does a Post Office not have critical forms or at least the facility to print them for those with no printer?
Why does it cost £3 to print a Postal Order? (Why are we still using Postal Orders!)
And why are Post Office envelopes free? (You don’t need to lick them either, apparently, which – according to the chap at the counter – saves on spit.)
I’ve always wanted to be in awe of the London Underground, with its complex network of services and its myriad stations that take in incredibly varied landscapes. From the ‘little boxes’ suburbia of Upminster, to the east end of West Ham, with its rejuvenated twin in Stratford, to the eerie Bladerunner majesty of Docklands and Canary Wharf, to the lush countryside of Amersham, the lines of the London Underground go to astonishingly different places.
Frankly, though, the customer experience (I don’t dare suggest we are passengers) is appalling. A single example from a single day:
I made a visit to Amersham to see family on Friday. On the way home, I timed my journey to take a train selected specifically because it was going all the way to Aldgate. No sooner had it departed then the driver announced it would terminate at Harrow on the Hill as there was an issue at Baker Street. We were told we should board the Baker Street train at Harrow and terminate at Baker Street, picking up another train to Aldgate. We duly did so, trooping across the platform to an empty train (of course, that makes more sense than the one we are on continuing its journey). No sooner had that departed then the driver announced it would terminate at Wembley Park. We were advised to cross to the Jubilee Line (fine for those of us who could alter our routes and go south, but what about everyone else?). As we pulled in there was an empty Jubilee Line train waiting on the southbound platform. As soon as the doors open on our terminated Metropolitan Line train, the Jubilee Line train pulled out, before we could board. It left empty.
What kind of Kafka-esque service is this? Or is it run by people who really don’t give a stuff about providing a joined up service to those who pay for it? If that is my story, from a single journey, on a single day, what are the stories like of the tens of millions of other travellers through the year?
For me it was a minor inconvenience. Irritating, but I know my way around London and the Underground. For the old, the infirm, the visitor, this level of service is embarrassing and appalling.
Arbitrary changes of destination mid-journey. Unexplained halts for minutes on end. A lack of air-conditioning on many lines, with travellers becoming ill, hitting emergency buttons and so throwing travel into chaos. Appalling packing of commuters in sweltering conditions. Platform roulette, not knowing which train is leaving first. Bored staff who resent being asked questions about destinations. No help with heavy luggage. Only now a grudging acceptance of running some lines through the night.
In any other business where we are told we are ‘customers’ we wouldn’t stand for it. If we went to the cinema and they made us change screen three times, without explanation, and the third time put us in on a totally different film, part way through, I can’t imagine any of us sitting idly by. We would be – rightly – angry that the film was not what we paid for and not up to scratch and we would seek compensation – often willingly given by cinemas keen to maintain their reputation. Yet when it comes to the tube, we simply take the crap that’s dished out as part and parcel of the package – even though the ticket can cost more than going to the cinema! We buy the tickets in advance of travelling, on the basis that they tell us that we will be able to use certain services at certain times to reach certain destinations. Yet there appears to be no mechanism to hold them to account when it doesn’t work according to the ‘offer’. We are told we are customers, but don’t behave like them – and we aren’t treated like them. Perhaps that is because we know the language is a con and that, deep down, we realise we are still passengers.
Don’t get me wrong. The London Underground is a remarkable feat of engineering. It is still an incredible mover of people. But we shouldn’t let that blind us to its embarrassing deficiencies or make us feel guilty for challenging a level of service which should not be acceptable in a rich, world-leading city like London in the twenty-first century.
I am very excited to be able to say that I have finally published my collected poems in a single volume. Like my blog, it is also called ‘Fragments and Reflections’ and is available in hard copy, under my Lone Crow Publications label, direct from Lulu and also from Amazon. For those of you who prefer an eBook, you can buy Fragments and Reflections from Amazon, Barnes & Noble (nook), iBooks and Kobo. You can download the free sampler here.
What kind of poetry is it? I would describe it as a collection of modern verse for every facet of life and for every emotion. There are poems born out of love, of dreams, of wandering in the countryside, of working in the city and of generally raging against the world. Nature, the city, love, lust, betrayal, war, death, homelessness, spaniels… You will find them all inside.
If you take a peek inside, I hope you find something that speaks to you.
I should know by now that the Daily Mail is basically a cesspit that cynically trades on the base prejudices and curiosities of its readers. The link confirmed exactly that, with the first page a picture of Brigitte Bardot, firstly at the height of her popularity and fame, and secondly today. The caption read: ‘Brigitte Bardot was one of the most beautiful women that ever lived. Now she is crazy, old and looks like she smells of cat urine.’
It will come as no surprise that of the twenty-seven celebrities listed, twenty are women. Of course the likes of Axl Rose and Russell Crowe are included, but the list is largely another example of the casual misogyny that defines rags like the Mail.
It does cause you to wonder if this is what the great British free press is all about. After all, after the outrage about Leveson, particularly from the Mail, you might think they would use their platform to talk about things that really matter. But no – there’s more click-thru cash in promoting sites that mock women in their 80s for not looking as they did in their 20s.
‘Reality doesn’t interest me,’ said Leni Riefenstahl in a piece in Der Spiegel in August 1997 (Leni Riefenstahl über ihre Filme, ihr Schönheitsideal, ihre NS-Verstrickung und Hitlers Wirkung auf die Menschen Spiegel 18.08.1997).
Hitler’s favourite film-maker died in 2003 aged 101 and this quote, usually lifted out of context, did nothing to mitigate her notoriety. Her statement was an answer to the following question: ‘When you photograph a Greek temple and at the side there is a pile of rubbish, would you leave the rubbish out?’ ‘Definitely, I am not interested in reality,’ Riefenstahl replied.
My immediate reaction is ‘But wouldn’t we all leave the rubbish out?’
It is the sort of self-editing that most of us engage in when we are taking holiday photographs. We compose our shots to leave out the construction site that marrs the view of the old town, the unknown family that spoils our white-sanded beach, the cars that intrude into the sense of loneliness we want to capture on a coastal path.
My second reaction is ‘But what is the purpose of those pictures?’
If I am taking holiday snaps to remind me of how a place resonated with me, that allows me to be transported back there when I look at them, I am looking to take pictures that evoke an emotional response. I want to capture scenes that evoke memories of how beautiful a place was, how bleak it was, how peaceful it was. I am not looking to capture the essential truth of the place except in so far as that emotion is concerned.
Of course, there are other photographs I might be wanting to take – ones that document how disingenuous the holiday brochure was, how crowded the beach was, how the traffic crashed in on you at every moment. These may not evoke the same memories or feelings when I look at them, but they are ‘true’ in a way that those I self-edit aren’t. When we look at photographs in a newspaper, or we watch a documentary film, we place some trust in the film-maker that, whatever our emotional response, what we are seeing is ‘true’.
The power of Riefenstahl’s National Socialist propaganda film-making, as seen in the likes of Triumph of the Will, came from creating images and using soundscapes designed to evoke a powerful emotional response, whilst presenting them as documentary truth – even though some of the scenes were rehearsed fifty times, camera shots were distorted to create senses of scale and it allows a sense of party, state and people being a single united entity to emerge as unchallenged fact, exactly as her Nazi paymasters wanted.
Propaganda as a word is Italian in origin, taken from the modern Latin: ‘Congregatio de Propaganda Fide’ or ‘Congregation for Propagation of the Faith’. This was the committee of cardinals charged by Pope Gregory XV in 1622 with overseeing evangelical foreign missions and ensuring uniformity of teaching and interpretation – of ‘truth’. Its modern political interpretation emerged in the early twentieth century, encapsulating Riefenstahl’s style of film-making perfectly.
Yet bending the truth in film is not the preserve of dictators and repressive regimes.
War and lies
The Battle of San Pietro is a documentary film made by acclaimed director John Huston, apparently showing the Battle of San Pietro Infine as it happens, Huston claiming that the cameramen, who were attached to the U.S. Army’s 143rd Regiment of the 6th Division, filmed alongside soldiers as they fought their way up hill towards San Pietro. Later research by Peter Maslowski, in his book Armed With Cameras, demonstrated that this was false. Once again, those watching were led to believe that the events recorded were as they happened. And elements of course were true – the body bags, the distraught Italians coming home. However, crucially, large elements were re-enactment. Or, to put it less generously, made-up.
The viewer doesn’t know where truth ends and fiction begins.
More recently, Canadian Michael Jorgensen made the controversial film Unclaimed, seeking to substantiate the oft-repeated claim (reinforced by various Hollywood blockbusters including Rambo: First Blood Part II), that some troops listed by the U.S. government as MIA were actually POWs held long after the cessation of military action.
Jorgensen’s film seeks to tell the story of former Special Forces Green Beret Master Sgt. John Hartley Robertson, who, shot down over Laos and listed as MIA, but who was allegedly actually imprisoned and tortured by the North Vietnamese. After a year, it is claimed, he was released and married a Vietnamese woman, living in a remote village in south-central Vietnam. Robertson forgot how to speak English and forgot the names of his American children.
It is a powerful piece of film-making, including at-first-sight reunions and was intended as a device to reunite Robertson with his family.
Again, however, its central claim had considerable doubt cast upon it. The Independent newspaper carried an extensive report debunking the claims:
‘According to a memo sent to a UK news organisation yesterday evening, the man claiming to be Sgt Robertson is in fact Dang Tan Ngoc – a 76-year-old Vietnamese citizen of French origin who has a history of pretending to be US army veterans.
The memo, taken from a Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office report in 2009, apparently says Ngoc first came to the attention of the US military in 2006 when he started telling people he was Sgt John Hartley Robertson.
He was apparently questioned about the claims but quickly admitted he had been lying and was in fact Vietnamese.
In 2008 Ngoc apparently began claiming to be Sgt Robertson once again, and he was taken to a US embassy in Cambodia to be fingerprinted. It was quickly established that the fingerprints did not match those of the missing army veteran.’
Later in 2013, a DNA test conducted reluctantly by the family showed that the man who was presented as Robertson was unrelated to Robertson’s nephew.
Of course, questions remain about the story of John Hartley Robertson, and who the man in the jungle is, but the ‘truth’ is certainly not as presented in Jorgensen’s film, just as it may not be as is presented by the Department of Defense (this article explores those questions further).
It is an extraordinarily powerful piece of film-making.
It was Armistice Day. I had recently written about my great, great uncle. Every morning for a month I had disembarked at Fenchurch Street and seen the crowds building to see the incredible poppy installation at the Tower of London. I remember how I felt reading that story against a backdrop of reflections on war, evil and loss. This small victory of tremendous youthful bravery over evil created a sense of defiant hope. I remember thinking that I should find a moment to blog it.
The trouble is, it has emerged that not a single frame of it is true.
The millions of us who viewed that film, that reacted to it, who wondered on the fate of the two children after they escaped the sniper’s bullets, were duped by Lars Klevberg, a 34 year-old film-maker from Norway. In a piece for the BBC he said:
‘If I could make a film and pretend it was real, people would share it and react with hope,’ he said. ‘We shot it in Malta in May this year on a set that was used for other famous movies like Troy and Gladiator,’ Klevberg said. ‘The little boy and girl are professional actors from Malta. The voices in the background are Syrian refugees living in Malta.’
Were they comfortable making a film that potentially deceived millions of people? ‘I was not uncomfortable,’ Klevberg said. ‘By publishing a clip that could appear to be authentic we hoped to take advantage of a tool that’s often used in war; make a video that claims to be real. We wanted to see if the film would get attention and spur debate, first and foremost about children and war. We also wanted to see how the media would respond to such a video.’
Klevberg’s audacity is breath-taking and his intentions, surely, dubious at best. It is possible to generate a debate about war without faking footage and misleading people.
Zero Dark Thirty is a powerful piece of film-making which purports to show the events that lead up to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Director Kathryn Bigelow often uses documentary-style camera shots to create a sense of immediacy and reality, reflecting the sorts of camera shots we see in contemporary news reports. At no point, however, does she claim that the film is documentary truth. The viewer is able to make a judgement as to whether or not the events were as depicted because we know this is a Hollywood film.
Klevberg’s clip is particularly insidious. It plays on the emotions that we have about children, especially children in war. It uses the sorts of footage that we have come to associate with documentary film-making and news reports. It depicts scenes that we imagine and that we have read about. Some of us have friends in Syria who are living this hell day in and day out. Yet Klevberg’s footage is entirely fake.
Who had heard of Lars Klevberg outside his native Norway before this emotionally-manipulative stunt? No-one beyond a small group of aficionados. Now he has trended worldwide on social media. For all of his protestations, it is difficult to see this as anything other than a cynical device for self-promotion, to register with a world hungry for some sense of hope in a conflict whose manifestations of evil affect us on a very primal level.
Deception and destabilisation
I think its effect is more dangerous.
It is a deliberate lie that reinforces our scepticism about everything we see. Many will argue that is a good thing. However, at a time when it hard enough to discern truth in the images we are presented with, when videos of IS terrorists committing murder for worldwide audiences of billions have to be ‘verified’, Klevberg’s actions seem utterly irresponsible, even to this liberal who instinctively distrusts power and questions constantly the evidence he is presented with. Scepticism built on a deliberate lie is as misleadingly useless as blind faith in authority.
Klevberg has done nothing to further confidence in documentary film-making and journalism. At best he has cast aspersions on his profession. At worst he has deliberately sought to manipulate emotion, mislead a worldwide public and construct events in a manner that fundamentally undermines trust. In doing so, he reinforces terrorist claims that what we see on our TV screens is nothing but Western propaganda.
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.
The day after LBC hosted its Leaders’ Debate with Clegg v. Farage, the red tops carried the following front pages:
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
It’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’sStar 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.