Iconoclasm II or Lionel says Shalom to Haifa

Lionel is very cross. The number of magpies has increased dramatically and the flat has resounded to the sound of me saying “hello mags” and Lionel “Hmmph-ing”. I’m not superstitious, you understand. I’m just playing the averages. And football has dominated, now the 6 nations is over.

England winning the world cup was the worst thing to happen to English football

A supremely dull and uninspired team eventually triumphed in their home country. None of the players in the final XI played in another country and if you were compiling a team of the 60’s only one, maybe two players might, might get a look-in. Don’t believe me ? Try and sit through the replay of the final. The most gifted English player of his generation, probably most generations, didn’t get a look in. Jimmy Greaves sat out the bulk of the tournament, sacrificed in favour of huffers and puffers. The truth is unpalatable. England only beat Portugal because Nobby Stiles fouled Eusebio out of the game. It needed extra time and a favourable decision from a linesman to beat a mediocre Germany team. Alcoholism and injury had robbed Brazil of Garrincha and injury  robbed them of Pele. There was no-one of significance to beat, and they made heavy work of it. And thereafter the dominant theme of English football has been workrate. Identikit athletes who are mediocre footballers. If Xavi, Iniesta and Messi were English, they’d have been discarded at age 14 as too small.

Maradona does not belong in a list of all time great players

His cocaine addiction started around 1983, and was at it’s height during his spell at Napoli. So we are asked to believe that at 2 successive world cups he never once took a drugs test. Or we are asked to believe that he did and was so committed to his profession that he was clean and had been for at least 6 weeks prior to either tournament. Or maybe he did take a test, failed and FIFA covered it up. Nah, they’d never do that. And I have no knowledge of this. Nah. No sirree, no way Jose. Don’t ask me cos I ain’t saying nothing. No spikka de Inglezzi.

Lionel needs to go out. I have to go and stand by an open door while he decides if he needs to go out right now, or if he can make do with looking out of an open door held open by an obedient hooman.

There’s No Such Thing or Lionel Has New Pyjamas

I have an imaginary cat. His name is Lionel. That’s not what I call him. That’s his name. There are very odd people who think there is something strange or even wrong about someone having a companion who is imaginary. They are the same type of person who go to great lengths to profess their ‘normality’. As if ‘normal’ were a divine state occurring in nature, and not simply the comfort found in the familiar. There is a fear of the unfamiliar, and an expedient desire to use a familiar terminology to pin down the unfamiliar. These are the people who use terms like ‘mad’ or, worse, ‘evil’.

A few years ago, the government  created a campaign to prevent elderly people freezing to death (before we admitted that poverty was the real problem old age brings, shortly before we apparently decided we could not afford to fight poverty) and people were exhorted to “Keep out the cold”. Which indirectly lead to deaths. There is no such force as cold, there is only absence of heat. You can no more keep out cold than you can keep in the faeries. Old people froze to death because they had eliminated drafts to keep out the cold. But had no source of warmth.

There is no such thing as evil. No force, no energy or impulse which is in and of itself evil. There is bad, there is wrong. There is an absence of good. But saying something is evil is like ascribing something to magic. A supernatural box in which to place the unfamiliar. And these are the people currently expending terrific amounts of energy on the terrible and tragic loss of life in the Alps. A truly terrible incident, chilling in the suddenness with which so many lives ended. It is not in the number of loves lost, these same people are not as excercised by Ebola, much less AIDS and that, largely is because disease has the ring of the familiar. And it’s happening somewhere else. To other people leading lives alien to our western experience. But this plane crash, well, everyone flies.

We will never know why a co-pilot apparently refused to re-admit the pilot to the cockpit. Nor will we ever get to know or understand why French prosecutors went to the press so early with a series of statements based on the cockpit voice recordings. They state that the co-pilots breathing remained steady during the descent and that the systems were deliberately set to bring down the plane. Hardly worth continuing with the investigation then, and the collection of evidence by German police seems superfluous, except to confirm that he had mental health issues. But I’ll go out on a limb here, and say that I am certain that whatever happened to him, it wasn’t mental health issues that triggered his alleged actions. Given the statistics on the incidence of mental health issues, and the number of flights taking off daily, then if you (like me) have flown 10 times or more, then you’ve been in the hands of someone with mental health issues. We didn’t crash.

Assuming the alleged torn up sick notes don’t indicate something less troubling to the wisdom of crowds but certain to curtail a career in aviation, such as epilepsy, then exactly why is there an assumption that mental illness creates the mens rea, (guilty thought) ? The press have been quick to isolate the comments of an ex-girlfriend who says he said something about becoming well known. And people nod, and say “well, there you are” ignoring the ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’. But a few days ago he was alleged to be obsessed with the Alps, and who knows what your exes would say about you, especially when the worlds media are regarding your ex as the leading expert on you, and you are the biggest story in the news.

The troubling thing to me about whatever happened in that cockpit, is that it would seem to be entirely opportunistic. In oredr to do this thing, he would have had to wait for the chance to do it. So when did that plan form in his mind ? They were taking off from Barcelona, so flew there. Did the pilot on the flight there leave the cockpit ? Why not then ? Why on the way back ? He couldn;t have known the pilot would leave 20 minutes from the Alps. It’s way more complicated than saying he was gripped by a desire for notoriety, and disengaged from all empathy. In other words, gripped by madness. You may as well say he possessed by demons. Which is what the prosecutors, the media and social media have been religiously repeating since it happened.

Assuming he did this on purpose, based on the partial evidence of a few press conferences and media frenzy then it was a murder suicide. This is a rare occurrence. Rarer still outside a domestic setting. And the incidence of a history of mental health conditions is approximately the same for murder suicide as it is in the general population. Suggesting that correlation is not causation. He did it because he was mad ? He did it because he was evil ? No. If he did it, he did it because for those terrifying minutes, there was a total absence of good. That is not madness. The good is that altruism and empathy that we feel for each other. So what caused the good to leave him ? That is a complicated discussion. Far too complicated for the insatiable and incurably transient public consciousness. I suspect, in a rush to find a familiar label for the terrifyingly sudden and unfamiliar, we will burn the witch.

It’s taken about 4 hours to think through this piece, and more children in Africa have died of Malaria in that time than people died in that crash. In the terrible mathematics of tragedy, that is madness.

The Young Man in a Box or Lionel Digs Assonant Trochaic Tetrameter

I have come into possession of some notes and sketches from my previous existence. I find myself recognising the young man who wrote the stuff. But I don’t think he’d recognise the old fart reading them.


To define reason, draw a square

Extend to a cube for logic

Now build a cube with dry, bleached bones

And bind each face with tanned thin skin

Take one part offal to two parts

Soured wine to fill the void within

Strike bold axes upon a plane

Plot your circumstance against the

Measures of your worth: Now set down

Your rough hewn box upon this point

Strike yet more bold axes from

This predicament and there you will

Glimpse the one, perfect, shining sphere

L’Age D’Or

His lawn invaded by a motley hoard

He took down his sturdy broom to rout

Cursing all of creation now abroad

This is what Canute did when the tide was out

Mops his brow with birthday gift handkerchief

Her last while capacity to give

He curses death, a most ignoble thief

Who spitefully condemns his wife to live

He orchestrates vast burial mounds

And surveys them with brief satisfaction

Then lays his weapon upon the ground

Destructive feet fly by terror’s sanction

The fear of a childlike stranger within

This is what Canute did, when the tide was in

The Death of Romance

Amid the rosary sweat of impotence

And lace garlands of temptation

One hand clutches innocence

While the other seeks variation

Another bout of gymnastic passion

Yet more textbook contortions

Desperate attempts at intimacy

For intercourse of biblical proportions

They’ve tried bestial and christian

Romantic and pornographic

They’ve tried things on prescription

As well as more homeopathic

And in the carnal silence

That sprawls between them in bed

Is the fear of habitual force

On which his desire is sometimes fed

But he resists heroically

They go through love metaphorically

But the couplet doesn’t rhyme

Secrets are whispered rhetorically

A smile breaks like cracked china

Blood races on heavy hooves

A blue vein mined by ardour

The plough blade sinks into its’ groove

Lips part revealing gritted teeth

And oceans roll in close up

A four legged beast writhes and seethes

Drenched by an overflowing cup

Basking like a reptile on a rock

He twitches his toes and snores

She wonders if the backdoor is locked

And of she has unduly open pores

He starts and wakes with cramp

Reaching down he pulls at his foot

Kisses goodnight and turn off the lamp

The plough blade sinks into its’ rut.

It was all so straightforward back then. Hmmm, 30 years ago in fact. I do worry about whether my creativity has atrophied, but then I look at Lionel fast asleep with all four paws in the air, and I don’t think it matters.

The Nature of Art or Lionel does Franz Marc

‘Zwei Katzen’ to be specific. He likes pictures of cats. I think he likes to imagine that someone’s idealised image of a cat looks a little like him. He spends hours looking at a copy of it. But is a cat sat in front of a painting experiencing ‘art’ ? Or resting his eyes while he digests his evening intake of trout biscuits and fur ? I used to write properly about this stuff. So I’m just going to take a brief trip down memory lane.

Art is the condition which arises when a subjective stimulus meets with a subjective response. And, that’s it. Simple. It is not any artifact or arrangement of artifacts, it is what happens when a person (or imaginary cat I suppose) is moved by something put in a place where it can be seen or heard. There’s too much banal hooting and hogwash talked about the extent to which something is ‘realistic’ or technically proficient. That is a hangover from the 19th century when new money wanted to display its wealth and status by imitating the patronage of earlier aristocratic houses. And if you don’t know anything about classicism but want people to know you’ve spent a bob or two, then it had damned well better look like something so that even the most addled observer can say “Gosh, that really is a good picture of a chubby lady in hat and veil with squirrel”.

The single biggest development in art history was the invention of double entry book keeping. Because it allowed artists to take orders. You know how experts can tell a ‘real’ Rembrandt from a forgery? Lips and hands. Because in the majority of cases that’s all he actually painted. The rest was done by staff. It was his signature, if you will. Secular pictorial art is the history of consumerism. And philanthropy. Donations to art galleries demonstrate the simultaneous display of the absolute belief that looking at something can be trans-formative, and that some people have always done a lot for charidee but hate to talk about it. Slowly but surely, the status of those creating the pictures rose and in tandem with the rise of the individual as an entity the idea became prominent that if Charlie is an artist, therefore what he produces is art.

But the flaw here is that if Charlie produces one work for Lord Hessian-Featherstonehough which winds up so popular when his lordship donates it to the municipal gallery, and everyone oohs and aahs over ‘Sheepdog with Antimacasser’ that it is copied on to tea towels and greetings cards, then is the queue for the tea towels a queue to purchase art ? No. It is a queue to purchase tea towels. Art is what happens when you look at the thing, and think “look how real the dog looks, look at the embroidered chaffinch on the antimacasser, you can see every thread which reminds me of my aunty Doris. She liked chaffinches.” That right there is art. When it moves from objective into the personal subjective. It requires the viewer.

And that reminds me of how I met my wife. (True story) She was making crank calls to me in the middle of the night on behalf of a friend who I had betrayed (or elected to stop seeing, depending on your estrogen) when she remembered that I knew a thing or two, apparently. And phoned me outside of her usual 3-5am window, and instead of hanging up asked me if I could help with an essay question. “Is certainty possible? discuss” . She’d got hung up on the apparent contradiction. I suggested a post-modern deconstructivist approach. Western societies use single characters grouped into set types to represent units of communication. (Words) Certainty and possibility are two ideas, and conflicting ideas at that. The act of fixing them by representing them with words codifies them into finite concepts. The positioning of a single character, the question mark, then leads one into attempting to reconcile two competing ideas. The whole, “Is certainty possible ?” is a demonstration of the limitations of language as a means of understanding. And one thing lead to another. 20 years later we still talk about it. But mostly about how the original friend described me (in 1994) as having “piggy eyes”.

I know art, and I know what I like. It’s the feeling you get from something which someone created in order to say, to you and you alone, “check it out” and after that it’s up to you. Lionel is now recreating “Zwei Katzen” and has to go out ‘to play’. And I do not have piggy eyes.

Suspect Classifications or Lionel Passes the Rowan Test

Lionel is prejudiced. He doesn’t like other cats on principle. He isn’t keen on magpies, water, rain, wind, closed doors and yesterdays cat food. He’s not a bad cat, but his dislikes are not rational or based on experience. This doesn’t make him a bad cat. If Lionel had any kind of say over his environment then it would be necessary to ensure that his preferences did not deny magpies or the weather their right to co-exist.

You see I’ve been thinking about impairment. Specifically my impairments. I am massively impaired when it comes to DIY. Some people are good at it, some people are bad at it but think they are good and then there are people like me. We are lousy at it, and know we are. I avoid it. It’s not that I don’t like it. I just can’t do it. Decorating, flat pack furniture or shelving. I know all the principles. I take it nice and slowly, and still it goes horribly wrong. Anyone co-habiting with me would have to understand that there is no secret camp boys are taken to at age 12 where practical matters are explained and practised with their fathers. My father is a conductor and composer. (There is a reflex to say “Oh which bus route ?” but no, musicians) and he is equally appalling. We know what will happen and are prepared to pay other people who are good at it to do it, and budget accordingly.

I have other impairments. The heart is held together by tiny chicken wire, my right hand doesn’t work when it should. I can’t speak sometimes and cover it with stock phrases memorised like song lyrics. (Anyone who knows me will be familiar with “Ahhh, there you are, hmmmmm”.) I can’t see faces. I can see, I can see the individual noses, eyes, lips etc, I just can’t put them all together. I need clues from context and clothing. I have a significant personality disorder due to an apparently especially traumatic and horrific childhood. I say “apparently” because I have only my experience to go by. This means I have no self esteem. Not low, but none at all. If I need to feel confident, I have to copy what I perceive as confident behaviour in others. Which can go wrong with hilarious results. (The hilarity is usually at some point afterwards)

So in order that I can use the unique experience of “me” to the benefit of the economy, the European community issued a directive to member states to enact legislation so that people like me with a “suspect classification” would not be prevented from participating fully in society. They used the language of the United Nations, which has it’s HQ in the USA and used the idiom of North America. Europeans have an issue with the word “suspect” and so decided to change “suspect classification” to “protected characteristics”. Race, sex, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, gender re-assignment, marriage, pregnancy and of course, disability.

The directive which is now enacted in the UK in the Equality Act seeks to ensure that any provision, criteria or practice is adjusted to ensure I don’t suffer detriment in the workplace. And right there is where the flaw in the directive and the act lies. The protection is supposed to be in the workplace, but can only be enforced through the legal system. Which is some months later. If my employer doesn’t see the barrier or detriment, or doesn’t want to then some months and a couple of thousand pounds later, I might, might, enforce the protection. By which time relations have soured, we’ve all lost interest and/or moved on, and the lawyers bank their cheques.

The answer is actually quite straightforward. I make a reasonable adjustment to the garden by keeping Lionel in, so that the magpies can do whatever it is they do (make jam ? weave hats ? I’m not sure) and the weather can just be. Because I understand my cat. In the workplace, there should be compulsory and standard pass/fail training for anyone who accepts money for taking responsibility for others. Once you understand the basic principles, it is quite obvious what needs to be done (if anything) and everyone can get on with contributing. And it is the opportunity to contribute that is the principle.

I know that the CBI for one will screech like peacocks in heat over cost and over-regulation as they do about anything. But when you consider how flimsy employment protection is in this country and how basic health and safety has to be to be legal, it becomes clear what the real problem with the UK economy is. The average business person is an idiot.

Someone can be dismissed in the UK for any reason without protection for the first 2 years. After that, well it is conduct, capability or some other substantial reason. And (redundancy and retirement apart) that’s it. How in [insert deity of choice here] name can you get bamboozled by that ? Imagine telling your utilities provider you’re ending the contract because “You’re pretty shit, but if that isn’t enough, some other reason.” Talk about tortious insult.(Which isn’t “you’re slow and reptilian”) And as for the right wing bias on health and safety, more people died last decade in workplaces than in wars. End of. No. Sorry. End of. It matters and that’s that. We had a meeting. But you weren’t there. Shame.

And yet still “business” claims to be hamstrung by red tape and technicalities. We don’t understand the costs. There’s an apt phrase about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing that springs to mind. And not having the legal and moral awareness of a concussed duckling doesn’t help.

But Lionel cares not a jot. He’s not a bad cat, and doesn’t exist (in so far as he exists) to perpetuate his petty prejudices. He has a right to his own small part of the universe. I’m glad it’s so close to mine, frankly.

Iconoclasm – or Lionel doesn’t do football

Lionel is my imaginary cat. Not, let me stress, invisible. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t dance and he disdains YouTube cuteness. He is my cat. The only difference between a non-imaginary cat and Lionel is about ten minutes interaction a day. So 10 minutes aside, in every respect I have a cat. And he is imaginary. And just knowing he is at the foot of my bed in the middle of the night is enough to keep me from feeling like I’m stranded on a rock hurtling through space surrounded by hairless apes who I don’t understand fully.

But Lionel has no interest in football either. He is uncomprehending in the face of my carefully reasoned arguments. So, for example, when a television commentator says something asinine  and I round on them in pseudo-eloquent fury, Lionel is unmoved. So I feel a need to run through a few.

“And Tottenham are being hemmed in by their Italian opponents.” – In this age of migrant labour it is inapposite to describe a team from, say, Florence, as Italian. A couple of Uruguayans, an Argentinian, 5 guys from west Africa and a couple of Brazilians with Croatian passports do not qualify as Italian. The owners of the club are 3 blokes from Kyrgyzstan who made their money trafficking starling guano and the coach is a guy who used to wash Bobby Robsons socks at PSV Eindhoven. So stop saying “the typical Italian defensive mindset”. I’m all for cultural osmosis, but this is a step too far.

“And of course Pele was the best player in the world” – No. He really wasn’t. He played a significant part in 2 world cups. He was good. He was very good. But he played 14 games in World Cup finals. Which is the only real evidence. Nearly half his appearances and goals came in friendlies for Santos. He never competed in European club football. He never really competed in a national Brazilian championship. Because it didn’t exist. Not his fault. But the wild claims about his relative ability demonstrate everything about the effect of a tiny amount of TV exposure. So every time he talks about Lionel Messi having to do well in a World Cup to be great ? Well, we’ll let the old man talk. But he was never as accomplished as Di Stefano, just looked better for four weeks in 1970. Because he was on telly in colour.

“The referee’s made the wrong decision there. Technology would have got it right.” – Not if rugby, cricket and the NFL are anything to go by. And in any event. The referee makes a decision. It is his decision. And that is the one and only point. You play on. It’s not whether it was factually correct. It was the referees decision. It is part of demonstrating the principles of sport. And life. Broadcasters have generated a phoney debate to boost their own role in the game. Used to be that ex-players would go and become newsagents or landlords when they finished playing. When you hear the lumbering homo-habilis thought processes of the popular punditry, one gets nostalgic for those days.

“This club values the fans” – No. The fans are paying consumers. Being a season ticket holder today is like being a regular in a chain owned pub. If the corporate boys at head office don’t like your demographic and it’s disposable income, they’ll ditch you tomorrow.

“As a professional you don’t like to see that” – Okay. Big one. Football players are not professionals. A characteristic of a profession, as distinct from a trade, is that the professions regulate themselves. The idea of a body of ex-players taking the view that Gabriel Garcia Melquiades dives too often and as such is not fit to practice football and be stripped of his license is ludicrous for all the wrong reasons.  They can have something as nebulous as a ‘disputed goals panel’ but the very idea of an ethics committee ?

Lionel is yawning. He’s heard it all before. He knows I will keep watching, listening, reading and excoriating. I think he takes the view that my short career with Everton is at the core of this obsession. On the other hand, he may just be thinking about trout biscuits.

MeToo-ists or The Art of Complaining Poorly

Dissent is a seductive drug. It starts innocently enough with perhaps a sneaky whiff of a friends invective. And then you succumb to the urge for some of your own. A bus driver here, a club bouncer there. But soon it isn’t enough. You begin to gravitate towards situations and people which will satisfy the urge. The urge to find new and ever more byzantine methods of screaming “WHAT ABOUT ME?” The urge to tilt at large and intractable windmills so that no-one will ever, ever be able to ask “Right, so what do you want ?” Because dissent addiction is about making noise, not articulating something.

Dissent addiction should not be confused with actual dissent. The millions of women and men worldwide who quietly and sometimes publicly go about bringing light where there is darkness. Who know how to manipulate the venal and corrupt ‘meeja’. No apologies there. There is no such thing as objective journalism outside of horse racing results and possibly the cricket scoreboards. Everything else is someone’s prejudice filter at work. Theirs or yours. No-one engages with views which are the dialectical opposite of what we’d like to believe about ourselves. I don’t. I’m too old. And anyway, “they” don’t understand what I understand. “They” don’t understand it the way I do.

Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has

When whoever wrote that, wrote it. (It’s attributed to Margaret Mead but there’s no known source) I’m pretty sure they were referring to committed citizens who have a goal they wish to achieve which can in turn facilitate the thousand tiny shifts that cause the tectonic plates of society to shift.I’m pretty sure that if 50 quid’s worth of reflective film and a couple of PCSOs thwart you, then your dissent addiction has robbed you of your self awareness. You have become a sidestreet sideshow and no amount of reflexive hyperventilating will give you back that first sweet high you got from saying “this is wrong” but meaning “WHAT ABOUT ME?”