One of these days…

… I will get round to writing a new post. And a lot of other crap.

Won’t *entirely* be about a man I will refer to only as Drumpf. He gets far too much attention already. But he will be in there. So will Brexit. And other crap. Would that it were that the world were a nice, easy place where one never needed to comment on awkward stuff. But there it is.

Or maybe I should just stick to the anime reviews and the Jenny Everywhere. (Which I wonder if it does not contain certain awkward stereotypes as is).


In, Out, In, Out, Shake It All About… (On the EU Referendum)

Well, there’s only one day left to go before the dread EU Referendum is upon us Brits, and we decide once and for all whether we want to remain a part of it or not. Some of us will have already done postal votes and for them, the decision has already been made. Others will have already voted at the tradtional polling stations. For me, even with only a few hours to go before the close of polls… well, that’s another story.

To begin with I was definitely on the Leave side, and it’s quite surprising how much of this had to do with the one thing most secularists would be mortally afraid of if you mixed it with politics: my Christian faith. There are actually a few more conservative Christian types who actually think our membership of the EU contravenes the will of God, that when God divided the nations at Babel and later set their borders, this was somehow a good thing in order to prevent some of the worse abuses of power that sinful human nature could produce. This kind of argument I will best leave to one of my former pastors to make- see [1]. On top of this, there were even arguments to the effect that since the Queen had made in her Coronation Oath to do various things including upholding the Christian faith and so on, this was actually a covanent with God and the secularizing tendencies of pan-European institutions were somehow about us breaking that covenant. Even one book I read contained an alleged prophecy stating that we should come out of Europe because it would align itself with the Antichrist before The End. I kid you not.

Now, of course, when I looked into it, there seemed to be plenty of good secular reasoning to back this up. When you looked at, say, the Greek crisis and what the EU has forced (against the declared democratic will of the people) upon it in terms of austerity, to keep the Euro alive, we get one example of why it seems that this kind of power structure is no good- it undermines democracy and national sovereignty. How many referenda have we also had in the past on the EU constitution or other treaty changes, in various countries, where the EU basically said “Wrong! Do it again! Let’s hear the right answer!” And then there’s TTIP- the pending trade deal that might allow corporations to sue governments and force the privatization of the NHS. Not to mention the litany of regulatory blunders as part of things like the Common Fisheries Policy which, in setting quotas to conserve fish stocks, only forced fishermen to throw back perfectly good, and perfectly dead, catches of fish back into the sea. Or the various problems which the Common Agricultural Policy, farm subsidies &c. might likewise cause. (You hear little of butter mountains and wine lakes these days, however. Though that make a good idea for a short story- Jenny Everywhere in Surplusland, maybe?)

All this led to some pretty unpleasant conclusions- like voting for and supporting parties I was somewhat uncomfortable with, i.e. UKIP. The more I heard about it and the actuons of some of its members (everything from bigoted remarks to their voting records for MEPs inside the EU, which seemed counter-productive), the more I grew concerned, but, as I knew the candidate for our area personally, I thought maybe they’re not all that bad, and frankly, some of their manifesto ideas seemed to make sense at the time. Sadly, of course, their attitude to climate chainge (unrelenting skepticism) was not one of them, their economic ideas are unflinchingly neoliberal and this conflicted with some of my inner leftie tendencies which still remained after all this time.

Of course not all my Christian friends were in favour of UKIP and leaving the EU. Most of these being the leftty activisit types whom I knew through SPEAK or those who knew them, who probably had a very different idea of what Christianity was to some of my church friends- much more inclied towards social justice issues and less upon (where it infringed on worldly politics over evangelism at all) personal moral issues and would be religious liberty. Many of these people were astounded I’d even want to consider, at least, supporting UKIP. No matter how much I’d try to say they weren’t that bad really, I had to wonder.

Of course now I left the church (one of whose members is the local UKIP candidate), and with spending more time amongst those of a more radical leftist bent, I had reason to want to reconsider my views on the matter.

Now, when all that’s said and done, there are several things that really get me about this referendum business.

First of all, as has been pointed out in the mainstream media quite constantly, there have been claims of scaremongering from both sides. Typically one side will come out with some claim, and the other side will try and rubbish it or try to point out flaws. The Leave campign seem to provide some of the more egregious examples, like the alleged money we supposedly spend on the EU which when things like the rebate is taken into account and the fact we get some back anyway, and any savings we make from it form a minuscule part of government spending- we will not have all that much more to spend on the NHS. That even assuming the offset in economic losses will make it meaningless anyway.

Worst of all is all is the way in which the immigration issue has been so much of a big deal. The Leave side have been hinting, for example, that Turkey might join the EU and bring millions more immigrants to th UK, using the refugee crisis as leverage (even in spite of the fact that we are not inside the Schengen area and those trying to climb on lorries desparate to reach the UK are hardly going to be deterred by Brexit). Yes, it is true that there is ultimaely so much space to go around, so many houses, so many hospital beds. Perhaps free movement of labour does seek to drive down wages and conditions as immigrants might have a lower level of demands in terms of wages (which are naturally higher than in their home country anyway). But at the same time, immigrants can also pay taxes, start businesses, possibly fill the jobs British people would seek to avoid anyway, and actually be of benefit to our eeconomy instead of a burden. How much of the pressure on our poblic services is not in fact down to austerity? How much of the housing crisis is really down to bad policy or even markets? How much of the business with jobs is down to neoliberal notions of shareholder value trumps everything? Frankly, this is more about scapegoating those less fortunate than us instead of blaming the real people responsible- the rich and powerful. Exploiting xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Then again hte Remain camp isn’t so much better- even suggesting the security of Europe might be threatened if we left, that the economy would take a nosedive- admittedly, hough many economists back that one up. Typical of the tit-for-tat mentality in the debates, the Leave campaign immediately hit back and rubbished these claims, reckoning, for example suggesting that the economists who make such predctions also failed to predict the 2008 financial crisis. And the business interests who favour Europe? They said the same thing about is joining the Euro, didn’t they? And as history has proven, maybe our not joining it turned out not to be such a bad idea after all.

There is also the suggestion that Brexit is all about right-wing values and hate, which it should not be- it is not about personalities, who our awkwards bedfelows might be, but on the issues. Just like I could not care less about all the celebrities and political dinosaurs the campaigns wheel out (why should we care so much partiucularly about what celebritiess have to say any more than anyone else?) nor do I care if Farage, Boris and their ilk are campaigning for Leave. After all, I don’t like Cameron, Osborne or those dinosaurs as Blair (the man who brought us into Iraq), or all the heads of corporations who want us to stay in, but they are all supporting Remain.

One thing I am very skeptical of is the claim that the EU has ben instrumental in securing peace in Europe. Never mind that the institutions which would later develop into the EU were mostly a Western affair, and for the four and a bit decades after WW2 the biggest possible threat to peace was the tension between capitalist Weat and “communist” East, dominated by Russia/the USSR which covered a good chunk of eastern Europe and is satellite states a good chunk more? That, although the EU now encompasses much of Eastern Europe and some parts of the former USSR, there are yet more tensions between it (and the West in general) and Russia, which is not part of the EU? What about Ukraine? What about the former Yougoslavia 20 years ago? So what good has the EU done for peace? Can anybody really tell me if the last 70 years since WW2 has not had a resumption of major conflict on the level of the two world wars, has not been in spite of, rather than because of the EU? I would welcome suggestions.

So, what of the Left case for “Brexit”, sometimes referred to as “Lexit”? Wasn’t the Left traditionally Euroskeptic back in the ’70s? Well, we’ve seen sadly little of it. Despite the fact that there are a few trade unions (RMT?) supporting it, a few within Labour (not Jeremy Corbyn however, who seems to have gone over from his original euroskepticism to support the normal party line). There are of course a few on the fringes- George Galloway of Respect, the Socialist Labour Party (something to do with Arthur Scargill methinks) and the like. The Morning Star newspaper seems to have carried plenty of columns arguing a left case for leaving the EU. But we see little of this in the mainstream media- it’s all Cameron and Osborne on one side and Gove an Boris Johnson on the other. I mean, even UKIP has been complaining that Farage has been sidelined in the debates, but he gets more prominence than any on the left arguing for Brexit. The fact is that, for all the worker’s rights, environmental protections (you know, like those fishing quotas) and whatnot that came from the EU,  it still a neoliberal-oriented organization and no-one on the left who wants to remain in the EU argues for it without hoping for substanitial reforms. The only worry is that with a Tory government in power- and especially if Cameron has to step down- a lot of these may be eroded further. We worry about TTIP, but if we make the much-vaunted trade deals on our own, how do we know they won’t be as bad as if not worse than what we might get out of TTIP- which we cannot influence if we leave, along with our comrades across the Channel. But to suggest the EU is internationalist- well, it actually is a regional trading bloc at odds with some other parts of the world, and actually discriminates against those outside the EU with regards to things like free movement rights. Much hope for world socialism there? Doubt it.

Nevertheless, I came across a film which makes the case for “Lexit”, which might be worth a watch. [2]

And another article (shared through a friend) which suggested that we’re basically screwed either way. [3]

So, I’m out to vote. If you are eligible to vote (and are not an anarchist who doesn’t beleive in voting in principle), I encourage you to do so if you have not already. I doubt I can influence anyone at this stage with an article like this, and frankly don’t want to. I barely know myself. But there you have it. As ever, confused.





I’m ba-ack! Or am I? (In which I drop bombshells, and write about what I might be writing about… maybe.)

Well, this is a short post just to let you know that I am alive, well and hope to start posting more of my thoughts on this here blog. (Oh yes and, people who didn’t know I have a blog, I have a blog. ) WordPress tells me it’s been nearly a year. Of course, you’ll say, we’ve heard THAT one before, haven’t we? Well, true. But there have been certain other reasons besides my usual sheer laziness. One of which is perhaps a year of spending a lot of time worrying about certain faith matters before getting to the point that, all things considered, maybe it would be better off not having that faith at all. That is to say, I have come to the point where if Christianity (at least in the sense I believed it) is going to be worth following, it had better be true: its demands are so great that it had better be worth it, and there had better really be a God out there able to make us into the kind of people who can follow it. But, on closer examination of reality, how much of the evidence seems to point the other way? Just which claims, interpretations of scripture, etc. are true and which are not? Is this God everybody claims is really there and working in their lives, really there, or is it just all coincidence and tricks of the mind? All in all, I concluded, it probably was not. Unfortunately not all of my Christian friends might know about this, and I have also been hesitant to make it public. Partly out of fear it might upset the faith of some, partly as a lot would try to react with surprise, tell me I haven’t really stopped believing or try to bring me back into the fold. Well, I have no objection to you believing what you want, if it is true for you then as long as it harms no-one else, I have no problem with it. But do not expect me to believe any longer. I hope perhaps to address this in more detail in future posts. In the meantime, I have this whole EU election thingy (even if it ends up being last minute again and affects nobody’s opinion or vote) and reflections on certain very nasty murders that have taken place in the last week or so. Not much fun, sadly, but needs comment. In the future, who knows? Maybe I’ll write that big ideal democracy post (my ideas have shifted on that), some stuff about capitalism (short: it has many shortcomings and needs to be replaced, eventually), and maybe more fun stuff like anime reviews, wry observations, silly rants about inane nonsense… oh yeah, and I forgot that Jenny Everywhere story.

Watch this space.

(In memoriam to the victims of the Orlando shootings, Jo Cox MP, and all victims of senseless violence everywhere.)

[Edited for typos, 23/04/2018]

On the first past the post system in the UK- is it fit for purpose? (My thoughts)

(Edited from a post on the Powerswitch forums)

With election time coming up, and with it being a messy one in which many people are hoping or wishing that minor parties might have some chance to influence things in parliament, some people are questioning whether an alternative to the first-past-the-post electoral system (in which people make a single vote for who they want to be the member of Parliament for their local constituency and the person with the most votes wins, then the party which wins the most seats gets to form a government) might have helped those parties do better. UKIP are polling even higher than the Liberal Democrats and yet (perhaps due to a fall in support) are, according to some sources, unlikely to win even some of the seats they were gunning to get, such as Farage’s hopes for South Thanet. As for the Greens, well they’re polling lower, but some want them to have more influence as an alternative to the same old politics which even UKIP isn’t much of an alternative to (if not, in their view, even worse). Perhaps an alternative: AV (rejected by the majority in a referendum as being too confusing), STV or even full-on proportional representation, might help to stop the same old same old ruling the show every time?

But is it really the right way to go?

The reality is that the first past the post system is definitely fit for purpose if we understand how it’s designed to work.

Basically people are so obsessed by the party system they fail to see it’s about voting for the person as well as simply the party. What is really not fit for purpose is that we have no real separation of powers between the legislature and the executive- the latter being made up from whatever sitting MPs lead the party with the most seats or whatever coalition is formed that can gain the confidence of the House (and the Crown). In something more like the American sort of system, where the executive is elected separately from the legislature, only with the difference of having direct election of the head of government rather than the questionable electoral college system that exists Stateside, we would not need to worry about FPTP with respect to electing members of parliament.

Now certainly if we were to maintain this lack of separation of powers, some sort of alternative voting system which still allows us to have a specific local MP who is directly accountable to the electorate in a given locality might be a worthwhile compromise, but a full proportional-representation system would not be something I could support, as it removes that link and does not give us any idea (beyond party leadership) who are the people who will be elected to Parliament.

Thoughts, criticisms, elaborations most welcome.

Is Russia really a threat to the Baltics, or the West?

As apparently NATO are beefing up security therein and the powers that be reckon Putin and the Big Bad Bear actually poses a real risk. And it’s come up on Question Time but need to follow it more closely.

I honestly don’t get it, to be fair. Seems like posturing. I don’t really understand quite what is going on in the Ukraine, whether the so-called “pro-Russian” rebels are being backed by Russia, or actually are a false-flag type operation involving actual Russian military. Or if the current administration in Russia is as “Nazi” as some make out, just because of that Right Sector lot. Or if there was not some skullduggery on even the West’s part in the overturning in the old regime in [Ukraine, presumably].

I am not too sure I can trust our own powers that be any more than I do Putin on the issue. Just because Russia might be involved in the Ukraine, doesn’t mean it will be in the Baltics. I mean, surely Ukraine once was Russia, or at least part of it. The Baltics have passed between various powers over the years.

Yet I can see the real fear those countries may have. Once part of Russia, then gaining their independence, then losing it again to Stalin’s Soviet Union. Russia is right on their doorsteps, Britain is not. My late Estonian grandfather, I am told, couldn’t go back (part of having to do with having fought for the other side- which along with the fact of my other, late German grandfather, causes some mild embarrassment when talking to British war veterans, even if thy are sympathetic) and became a displaced person. It would just have been too dangerous for him. Yet old Blighty took him and others like him, in.

Listen to the pro-Western and pro-Russian commentators, you get two completely different versions of events. Question is, who do you trust? Again, I have no answers. Do any of my readers?

[ERRATUM, 15th March: As noted in the comments below it was presumptuous of me to suggest that “surely Ukraine once was Russia, or at least part of it”. I did have the Kievan Rus in the back of my mind when thinking of this, however, it is of fairly little relevance to the modern nation of Ukraine or its people. After all Estonia and presumably the rest of the Baltics also weren’t really a “proper” nation (independent, self-determining and recognised as such) until recently (i.e. last century or two) and were part of the Russian Empire too for some time, as well as being passed between various European powers. I suspect I may be corrected further on this, though.]

The Genesis of Jenny Everywhere parts 1-2, pre-alpha version

Some people might have heard of a character called Jenny Everywhere, who is supposed to be an “open source” character originally designed to be used anybody could use in any story you want, unlike, one presumes, Superman or Wonder Woman or whoever which you’d have to get rights to legally use (not that such stops a whole host of fan works, but that’s a grey area). She’s supposed to exist in all possible dimensions (implying fictional worlds as well) and has the power to “shift” between them.

You can find out more about her here, though I don’t endorse all the works posted thereon.

A couple of years ago, I started to write a tale based on what I thought one version of this character might have started out as. After all, when Clark Kent was growing up in Smallville he wasn’t quite Superman and was just discovering his powers and Kryptonian heritage.  Bruce Wayne had to go through a lot before he became Batman. Peter Parker wasn’t Spiderman before he got bit by that spider. So how did the Shifter start out?

Lately I’ve been trying to update it, if sadly I’ve been a little too obsessed and letting it get in the way of other stuff, as ever.

For the benefit of those who were requesting it and for the sake of slightly broader publicity, here is a working version of the same. Constructive criticism very welcome, as is any advice on whether I shouldn’t bother wasting my time on such.

There’s also a page on the website TV Tropes for the work, which may be edited by members.


The Genesis of Jenny Everywhere
By Richard […] a.k.a. “The Lyniezian”

[Obligatory notice: The character of Jenny Everywhere is available for use by anyone, with only one condition. This paragraph must be included in any publication involving Jenny Everywhere, in order that others may use this property as they wish. All rights reversed.

‘BBC’, ‘BBC Home Service’ and the Today programme belong to the BBC, and are included for reasons of affectionate parody only.

All other characters, institutions and the story itself belong to the author, and should not be used without permission. Any similarities to real life entities are either coincidental or not intended with offence in mind.]

Author’s note

This isn’t exactly meant to be the absolute origins of Jenny- after all she’s supposed to exist in every possible reality, probably at any point in history as well. Rather, it’s meant to be the story of how one particular Jenny discovers that she is, in fact, a Jenny Everywhere. After all, there must be millions of them, and they have to start somewhere. And her surname isn’t Everywhere to begin with either- it’s sort of a moniker, a general name used to denote the state of being Jenny Everywhere, in this version at least.

And don’t ask where Levendale City is. The real Levendale is a small suburb somewhere in the vicinity of a small town called Yarm. This isn’t it. It’s a lot bigger, for one thing. Like Springfield, it’s everywhere- in fact, just like Jenny. And yet, nowhere.

Part 1

Levendale City, on a September morning

“Wake up, Jenny!” came a shout from below stairs. It was Jenny’s mother, trying hard to get her up for yet another dreary school day. “It’s half past seven, young lady, and if you do not get up now, you’ll be late!”

“Yeah, OK Mum,” moaned Jenny drearily. “I’ll be up shortly.”

“Shortly’s not good enough! Now!”

The last thing Jenny wanted to do was get up, however: she was having far too much fun dreaming, and just wanted to roll over and doze off so she could continue for just five minutes more. When she dreamed, she could be anything she wanted to be, fly off to distant worlds and have all manner of crazy adventures. But her mother would have none of it, not when there were studies to be done and exams to be passed. Battling airship pirates over the Alps, riding your mammoth across the steppe or trekking though the Amazon searching for the treasures of El Dorado wouldn’t help you pass Geography or Further Maths. As for getting up late, why the heck that woman classed half past seven in the morning as late was beyond Jenny’s comprehension. School didn’t even start until nine, and it was only five minutes up the road.

“You’ve got to be early, got to make a good impression!” she would tell Jenny.

When all it would really mean is standing around the yard in the freezing cold whilst the other girls made fun of crazy Jenny with her silly goggles and scarf, always dreaming of adventures that would never happen; when she should be fawning over some boy-band member, arguing over who was going to win the latest reality TV contest or which shade of foundation was right for you. None of which interested Jenny in the least, any more than learning to solve differential equations so you could pass Further Maths or learning about the drought problems of the Democratic Republic of Muganda. School was just one big drag. Mum, though, didn’t seem to realise any of this. It was like talking to a brick wall.

“Hurry up Jenny! Get dressed! I made you some toast, your favourite, and there’s some tea in the pot waiting for you to pour it out! It’s twenty five to eight! You have no alarm clock or something?”

It was no use arguing. Begrudgingly, she dragged herself out of bed.


Part 2

[Warning: contains some slightly strong language and one arguable racial slur. Apologies to the BBC who own the Today programme- this is meant as affectionate parody, I hold no rights to it.]

The faint strains of John Whatshisname roasting another politician for breakfast could be heard coming from the radio downstairs, whilst in the distance the low hum of a zeppelin and the odd whoosh of early morning traffic punctuated the silence, but this would hardly motivate Jenny to do anything other than flop back onto the bed and return to her reverie. As per her usual solution to the problem, she reached up to the shelf and picked out a cartridge at random from the pile, too tired and bleary-eyed to care which one, leaving the rest to clatter to the floor. Loading the cartridge into the player with a satisfying ‘click!’ the noise of a funky beat and slap bass soon drowned out the background. Jenny splashed some water on her face, changed out of her nightdress and threw on a few clothes: off-white blouse, dark blue sweater dark blue slacks, bomber jacket- and of course her trademark aviator goggles and scarf. (Since Mum had insisted the green-and-purple Levendale United one was not to be worn except on match days, a perhaps more appropriate silk scarf had to suffice.) A quick check in the mirror and it was off to face the day. The B**** Squad would probably still be wondering what top matched what skirt or ensuring their eyeliner was applied just so, no doubt, she mused.

Several minutes later, Jenny clumped down the stairs nonchalantly just as Sister Belinda Snodgrass was just summing up her thought for the day and handing over to the weather forecast. Mum had by this point gone outside to hang the washing outside, leaving Dad sat at the table, munching on toast whilst mulling over the copy of the Morning Post spread out of the table in front of him, mumbling something about the “bloody Japs” entering Outer Mongolia, briefly looking up at his daughter and uttering a casual “Morning, Jenny” before returning his gaze to the newspaper. After a few moments, he added that there might be some tea left in the pot and that Jenny could help herself, which sitting down at the table, she did, along with some toast. Having cooled down too much, the toast lacked that warm, just-done feel but still went nicely spread with butter. Mmm. Her thoughts then wandered, and in her mind’s eye she was flying high in the skies above Mongolia, one of the bombers of the Imperial Japanese air force in her sights, fingers at the trigger ready to fire. But before she could her father’s voice brought her crashing back down to earth, not Mongolia but a kitchen table in England.
“So… penny for them young lady?” he inquired. Jenny took a while to collect her thoughts, before replying:
“Oh, erm… I imagined I was fighting the Japanese. Silly really…”
“Well,” he chuckled, “with you at the front I’m sure they’d not even be able to hold Manchuria! But if you want to do something about it, you know, you do have to stop just dreaming and work at it…”
“You’re beginning to sound like her,” exclaimed Jenny, gesturing towards the back window.
“Never mind,”, replied he consolingly. “Friday today, and it’s the big match tomorrow, eh?”
“Yeah,” she replied. (Going to the football with her Dad was probably amongst the other of the few other real-life pleasures she had; the fact that she was a girl made no difference even though he insisted it was very much a “man’s game” and she’d never yet persuaded him to go along with her to one of the women’s matches.) “Cranchester without a chance I’ll bet. Got to be three-nil at least…”
“Don’t bet on it, now they’ve got Jefferson back in-”
At which point Mum had just opened the back door, looking worn out and none too pleased. Looking at Dad with that stare, she scolded him:
“You should be encouraging your daughter in her studies, not talking about silly games!”
“I’ll have you know that football is not some ‘silly game’! It’s the Beautiful Game! And it’s something we take very seriously here, if you don’t mind…”
“Studies are still more important, and Jenny is starting her A-levels, so she needs to focus!”
“Mum…” interjected Jenny.
“Less of that young lady! This is no joke, you know! This is the rest of your life you are talking about, so you need to knuckle down! No more football, and no more silly dreams! Finish your breakfast and get ready! What have you got on today?”
Jenny sighed.
“Double maths, biology, some film about Japanese knotweed…”
“You see,” joked Dad, “even the Jap plants are out to get us. They take over Asia whilst their plants are busy taking over Brit-”
“You stay out of this,” scolded his wife.
It was a pity, thought Jenny, that knotweed wasn’t like a real evil plant, grabbing you by the ankle with its tendrils and dragging you down into the depths like in the movies. Then, at least Biology might be worth staying awake for, rather than drifting off and thinking about riding across the plains on your trusty steed or shooting down Japanese bombers. But alas, it was not to be.
“…beep, beeeeep!” went the radio, signalling the hour. “You’re listening to the Today programme on the BBC Home Service…”
“See?” said Mum. Eight o’clock already! Get a move on! And take those silly goggles off before you go!” Jenny reluctantly wolfed down the rest of her toast, downed the mug of tea, got up, grabbed her books and shoved them into the satchel (along with portable cartridge player and a few tapes from the former pile) before hurrying out of the door, slamming it angrily behind her… still wearing her goggles.

“Hey, Jenny!” called a voice from behind her. “Wait up!”
Jenny turned around to see the source of the voice, a small girl with messy, mid-length blonde hair, pretty but with the lack of personal grooming which would make the Bitch Squad turn their faces in disgust, dressed in a loose T-shirt (yea, even in this weather), jacket and jeans, backpack slung over her shoulder and wheeling a bike beside her.
“Oh… hi Leelee,” she replied. “Bloody heck, not like you to be up this early!”
Leah “Leelee” Jones was probably the closest thing Jenny had to a friend, even though she was still only a fourth-former and could be intensely annoying at times. Not so much of the cling-to-you-like-a-limpet-and-don’t-leave-you-alone kind of annoying as she used to be when she’d first joined secondary school and started hanging around Jenny because she was “really cool”, but still overbearing and silly with a sense of priorities even Jenny felt worrying. Like, for example, she’d be nowhere to be seen for three days and then suddenly she’d show up for school one morning, asking Jenny a ton of questions about what adventures she’d dreamed up this time and begging her to go hang around in the park with her because she didn’t feel like going to school that day. Never mind that there were studies to do and things to be learned, and a mother to give you what-for if you so much as slipped behind an inch. (Not that Leelee’s uncle and sole guardian could care less, despite the concerned and pleading letters from Levendale West Academy that popped onto his doormat on a weekly basis, the most they could do since truancy laws were a thing of the past, a thing even Jenny’s Dad dismissed as “bloody Libertarian nonsense”.) Even when she did go to school, it was usually straggling in two minutes after the bell had called students in for registration, so to see Leelee up at a mere ten past eight was little short of a miracle.
“Well, I dunno, don’t think I could sleep or something, like,” was how she explained it. “Uncle Joe got drunk again and he started snoring like a pig so I thought I’d nip out without him noticing.” She giggled uncontrollably.
“Is that the only reason you’re up?” asked Jenny.
“I think so,” replied Leelee. “Maybe there was something on first period that was interesting, can’t remember…”
The girl was impossible. One minute she couldn’t care less about school, the next raring to get there because something caught her fancy that day? Make your bleeping mind up, lass!
“Hmmm,” remarked Jenny in snarking tone. “’Interesting’ and ‘first period’ aren’t exactly the sort of terms I’d put together. Do enlighten me…”
“What’s ‘enlighten’?”
“I mean, what have you got on that’s so interesting?”
“Dunno, history I think. Sounded interesting yesterday.”
Leelee was clearly bored with this line of conversation, and after a short pause changed the subject.
“So, tell me about your adventures again Jenny! Pleeease?”
“Not now Leelee. I keep telling you I’m not a storyteller. Can’t we just talk about something normal for a change, like how United are going to thrash Cranchester three nil tomorrow…”
“Foot-bore! Foot-bore!” chanted Leelee mockingly.
“You should come to the match tomorrow with me and Dad, you might like it.”
“You know I don’t like football! Come on Jenny, tell me about your adventures…”
Sometimes Jenny wished Leelee might actually start being interested in fashion, pop music and boys like most other girls her age. At least she might stop reverting back to behaving like a six-year-old, not the 14 she actually was. Maybe in one of her better moods, she might make some lad’s ideal Manic Pixie Dream Girl, fun-loving, crazy and demanding as she was. But then again, if she were any different she’d not be the Leelee Jenny actually liked anymore, just another member of the herd, leaving her with nothing but herself and her dreams to shield her from this dreary world.
“Oh, all right then,” she said with a sigh, going on to relate last night’s dream involving shootouts with gangsters in a run-down part of some American city. And charging the Mongol hordes astride a mammoth. And walking on the Moon.

It was about twenty-to-nine by the time the two girls finally reached the imposing gates of Levendale West Academy. (Mum would not have been pleased with such tardiness.) Students could be seen milling around both inside and out, mucking around and being hounded down by the exasperated teacher-on-duty, or chatting about the upcoming weekend.
“Once more unto the breach dear friend, once more…” said Jenny to a puzzled Leelee. “Oh, come on, you are doing Henry V in English this year? You know, Shakespeare?”
“Meh, English is bo-ring,” replied Leelee dismissively. “Who wants to know about some old king talking in thees and thous instead of flying your airship through the mountains, you know like you, Jen? Or maybe riding round the park scaring off the ducks like me?”
And getting wolf-whistled and cat-called by all the perverts on the benches by the fountain, which you wouldn’t even think about would you Leelee? thought Jenny. Anyway, who wouldn’t want to be stirred up to battle by that rousing speech, stiffen up the sinews, summon up the blood and all that? (That speech was one of the few bits that actually made Shakespeare, and English lessons in general worthwhile, in her eyes.)
Never mind that, though, as no sooner had they reached the yard, than Charlotte’s Posse descended upon them, perfectly manicured claws ready to sink in. Charlotte Mitchell was probably Alpha B**** of the worst brigade of the B**** Squad, period.
“Look at them,” she shouted out at them, ostensibly addressing her loyal followers. “Where you off this time, Amy Johnson? Australia? America? Cloud Cuckoo Land? You can take Leelee right back home whilst you’re at it!”
“Go fly a kite, Charlie,” Jenny shouted back. “In fact, go take a long kite-surf off a short pier. At least then you might get some real excitement before the waves take you. Except you can’t, that’d make your mascara run, I’ll bet.”
“Oooh, feisty!” mocked Charlotte. “And did you just call me Charlie? You know that’s Not My Name, don’t you? It’s Charlotte and don’t you forget it…” The Posse gathered round, closing in for the kill. Not before Jenny had one last trick up her sleeve, though:
“Well… that probably because you’re a right one, eh?”
“Give it a rest, Charlotte Mitchell!” shouted a male voice. It belonged to Mr. James, head of Maths and the teacher on duty that morning. “Leave poor Jenny alone for once. I know she’s a bit… odd, but that’s no excuse for you to go around harassing her! Besides, you should be setting an example for the younger students, like our Leah here.” (Jenny grimaced at the teacher’s insinuations, but was secretly relieved at the same time.)
“Sorry sir,” replied Charlotte with mock sincerity. “We didn’t mean to be nasty, did we girls?
“No, Charlotte,” replied the Posse in unison. “How would we do a thing like that?” And so on.
“No excuses girls. Any more of this and you’ll be spending lunchtime in detention. I can still do that, you know. Now get out of my sight!”
Off went the Posse, dejected.
“Thanks, sir,” said Jenny to the teacher begrudgingly.
“Don’t think this is scot-free for you though Miss Bainbridge,” said James, using her actual last name. “We want you solving integrals, not breaking the air speed record in 1934,” he continued, glancing at the strange pair of vintage aviator goggles atop her head. (Jenny sighed.) “And as for you Leah… a good effort for once, but do try to turn up for lessons, not just registration? I don’t want to have to be writing to your uncle yet again, do I?”
“It’s Leelee, and… no sir,” replied Leelee, trying to wriggle out of the situation. Mr. James was not finished, though.
“Good. Now registration is at nine sharp, remember?”
“Yes sir.”
“And class is at two on the dot, don’t be late.”
“…yes.. sir…” she mumbled.
Mr. James’ attention was suddenly distracted by a group of first-form boys attacking each other with spitballs.
“Can’t we go to the park instead Jen?” pleaded Leelee, somewhat put off the whole school lark by the previous events.
“No,” replied Jenny.
“The shopping centre?”
“Up the cycleway to the airport?”
“Pictures? Grenadier Mary and the Great Zombie Massacre of 1987* is on this aft-”
“NO! I don’t care what you uncle says Leelee, but my Mum will kill me if I miss school again!”
“Pfft, suit yourself,” said Leelee, mounting her bike as if to make off back through the gate before Mr. James collared her.
“Oh no you don’t Leah, put it in the shed and lock it away,” he scolded.
Jenny let out a long and exasperated sigh. If only I could disappear from this shithole…
Perhaps, it turned out, she could…

In our next episode, the school day drags on and on, Jenny gains an unwanted admirer of the male sort… and Leelee, watch out for that bus…

* Some people will be able to spot the reference I made there…


Additional notes:

1. Jenny’s dreams are actually a manifestation of her ability to read the thoughts of her other selves in other universes- these portray adventures other Jennies are actually having. Apart from perhaps the fighter pilot one, which is probably just wandering thoughts inspired by her dad’s commenting on the newspaper.

2. Amy Johnson was a real-life aviatrix who set a number of long distance records and was eventually killed in World War 2 whilst serving as an auxiliary pilot.

3. A “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, for those who don’t know, is a kind of romantic fantasy figure, basically a crazy, free-spirited girl who shakes up the boring male protagonist’s life. Whether Leelee would actually make a good one is left to the reader to decide.

4. Lest anyone get any hints from this story that might seem to suggest such, Leelee is not interested in girls either, in any particularly sexual way. Nor is Jenny in either girls or boys in quite that way. This isn’t meant to be a lesbian romance story or a “straight” one either, and I certainly don’t want any “Rule 34” in years to come (remember the characters’ ages). [EDIT: I’m not saying that kind of story is necessarily a bad thing, albeit at the time I first wrote this my religious sensibilities got in the way, plus I worried exactly how creepy it might seem to some for a thirtysomething man to write about potentially underaged teenage lesbians. But, if anyone feels up to writing that kind of story, Jenny is an open source character, so you can of course write your own. Just not using any of my original characters.]

Charlotte is probably interested in boys (as are the members of her Posse), but clearly would not be interested in either Jenny or Leelee.

5. School attendance in this world is intended as  a matter for the parents alone to decide, not the state. Hence the state can legally do nothing about it. Nor can they keep kids for after-school detention, only at lunchtimes (hence what Mr. James says).

6. Levendale is also partly inspired by a certain village called Leven, probably in East Yorkshire, the author visited as a kid. Certain readers may be familiar with it. Also, the River Leven which is a tributary of the Tees.

7. The narrative is very much sympathetic to Jenny’s in-story point of view, and as such may not reflect the author’s actual opinions.

So the UK government are about to bomb IS. So what should I tell my MP exactly?

I get an email in one of my several e-mail accounts (one used largely for this very purpose) from campaign group 38 Degrees, telling me to write to my MP expressing my feelings on the vote Parliament has been suddenly recalled to vote on. Thing is, they don’t have a position, and give out opinions of various members who hold completely opposing views, as well as resources outlining the case for both sides.

Now there can be little doubt that IS are a particularly nasty bunch who are quite willing to murder anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their particularly narrow and extreme view of Islam, and need to be stopped somehow. The question is as to whether, as for example the Stop the War Coalition might put it, intervention of this nature won’t end in disaster, bombs will end up killing ordinary civilians innocent of the crimes of IS, and be subject to mission creep, be it boots on the ground or “accidentally” hitting targets belonging to and servicing al-Assad’s regime– the same Assad who has apparently given his blessing to intervention against IS? The situation on the ground appears to be a total mess, and we intervene at our risk, perhaps. We don’t know how it will end up.

All in all, armed conflict and the morality of engaging in it are very tricky matters. The only thing I know is, sometimes they appear necessary but the wrong people all too often sadly get hurt. So, what shall I be writing to my MP on this particular matter? Nothing, probably, for what can I write that will be meaningful?

“Don’t lie back” part 2: How might the Scots independence decision affect the rest of the UK?

Last night I began with what must seem like a somewhat desperate plea for the Scots to think of the rest of the UK when voting in the referendum today. I promised I would go into more detail about why I believe this is important. As I have left it too late in the day to affect the polls, which have now closed, and given that realistically an obscure blog with a handful of readers, written by an Englishman, is going to do much to change the outcome of the vote anyway, I wonder if it is worth it. But, a promise ought to be honoured; given my poor track record in previous years of posting what I wanted to post, this most definitely needs to change.

I am far from an expert on the situation and this is not an academic blog, rather meant for personal observations on life, the universe and everything so what follows here is only my understanding based on what I have picked up on the news. So, without further ado:


1. The economic uncertainty.

The Yes campaign of course claim they will be able to continue to use the pound in a formal currency union with the Bank of England continuing to be lender of last resort, etc., but as pointed out that will require the approval of the continuing UK. And given the whole debacle with the Eurozone crisis of the past few years, naturally there is some reluctance to enter into that. And given some reports that some of the alleged mainstays like oil reserves, access to ready markets in the EU if Scotland is denied immediate membership and so on (though whether a free trade agreement, like I’d hope for an exiting UK, could at least be negotiated I don’t know) and the fact of probable lack of investment due to all the uncertainty, will Scotland’s economy really be in the right shape to not drag us down?

Of course there is always the possibility that EU membership for an independent Scotland would mean them joining the Euro, and if not, they could use the pound anyway, as Salmond forced Darling to concede in the debates. Or even use the US dollar, or probably even the Turkish Lira or Bitcoin or come to that. There are threats that without the currency union, Scotland might not agree to take its share of the UK’s current national debt, which will further place a burden on the much smaller rump-UK tax base. I doubt we down here would care much for that.

Of course, all the tax revenue that comes from Scotland, and the probably dwindling oil revenue, cannot be passed to the rest of the UK, which is for Scots certainly a good thing, and probably seeing so much of that money going to further enrich the London elite won’t make us in poor old North-East England cry. But, a less than open border might well affect trade too, especially for those businesses close to it.

And all this uncertainty is probably going to deter investment even further, if we find out by tomorrow Scotland has voted Yes.

2. The political spectrum.

This BBC article suggests that without Scotland in the 2010 elections, the Tories would have a majority in the House of Commons, and would not even need to form a coalition in order to force through so many of the unpopular policies the Yes campaign claims to want rid of in Scotland (some of which won’t even affect Scotland anyway, like NHS privatization)

Or take a look at the election map from Wikipedia. Note that in England there are a few chunks of red in a sea of blue. Much more red and yellow in Scotland than the measly little bit of blue you can see. Also note where those chunks of red are-no doubt the old industrial heartlands that have been eroding over the years, and certainly hate the Tories every bit as much as your typical Scot. Yet none of us ae able to become independent.

Of course it is hardly like Labour has had a much better track record with popular policy decisions, and the Lib-Dems are in fact in coalition with the Tories which says enough. But certainly what we will see (if whoever it was that said that it might refocus the efforts of the English left-wing to appeal more strongly to English concerns and head off the current shift to the right) a shift in the near-term political spectrum of Britain which could mean the Tories are more likely to dominate, than it would otherwise have been. Not being firmly either on the left or right, and even being kind of a reluctant UKIP voter (not that I like all their policies and ideas, least of all on climate change, and am in two minds about others- simply on the EU question and one or two of their more social-conservative, if not economic-conservative viewpoints), this might not seem like a bad thing you might think, but I think a change in the corridors of power now and then might be good even if they all are as bad as each other in the long run.

3. Trident.

Of course, many English people I know don’t really want the questionable use of funds to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent we cannot under normal circumstances use and probably would never need to, let alone have terrible destructive potential if we did. But if Scotland becomes independent, then eventually we Sassenachs are probably going to have to go to all the trouble and expense of relocating the base of operations for it. I’d certainly not want to see it in my back yard either, thanks.

4. Effect on the North East of England?

There have been fears, right since suggestions the SNP might lower corporation tax might mean investment that would have gone to my area would instead go to Scotland. Already we have seen, for example in my hometown, a certain major business locating an office in Scotland it might have here. But with the economic uncertainty mentioned above, this might be a bit of a non-starter.  There have also been fears that a new international border might cause problems for businesses and workers on either side of the border.

There are, also on the other hand, moves by local authorities in the region to work more closely with Scotland to forge new links which might be in our economic interest, then perhaps independence might not be such a bad thing.

5. Good old Auntie?

Yes, there are many people who hate the BBC as biased, on both sides of both the border and the political spectrum. Or they hate the way it handled the whole Jimmy Saville thing, or the payouts to its executives, or the fact its current funding model is essentially a TV tax in all but name, irrespective of whether you want to watch the Beeb. But if plans to split off BBC Scotland to form a new Scottish Broadcasting Service, what does this mean for the funding of what is left? If the SBS does exchange programming, will it be forced to stump up the cost (and vice versa) commercially, and will that cover the shortfall?

6. But what about a No vote?

I have heard from certain people I’ve been talking to that as part of a sweetener to tempt undecided Scots to vote “No”, then even more funding could be diverted to Scotland than is currently delivered by the Barnett Formula. I certainly don’t think that will be too popular in the rest of the UK, if taxpayers have to foot the bill. And what of “devo max” type sweeteners, in the absence of a truly federal UK? Hardly think this is fair either but then, perhaps we might get stronger calls for an English Parliament, stronger powers for the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies (unless reunification looks more promising after all), and a reduced Westminster in other words, a truly federal UK? I’d like to hope so, but it remains to be seen.

I leave you with two BBC articles on the issue, which probably will explain it much better than I can. Just to annoy all the anti-Beebists (as distinct from the Auntie Beebists 😉 )

I also invite comments, ideas, constructive criticism and especially corrections.

Scots: in your referendum, don’t lie back, but please think of England… (pt. 1)

…and Wales, and Northern Ireland… but including them in the title wouldn’t have been as funny. No, I am not meaning to be insulting your great nation at all, simply to consider a side of the issue only a few people have bothered to discuss: that of independence, or lack of it, on the rest of the UK.

It has long bothered me that whilst I had thought he Union was a two-way partnership, that only Scots get to decide who breaks it. Apparently (and I am sadly too lazy to read the details, but hopefully will tomorrow) the Act of Union has nothing in it to override what seems to be the overriding principle of self-determination, that Scots get to decide how they are governed (though the rest of us don’t get decide not to be voted by Scots- but given the most obvious recent example of that was Gordon Brown, maybe that’s not so bad a thing). It is certainly true that the Scots Parliament of old was led into union by some conniving and possible arm-twisting (their economy having collapsed following failed colonial adventures in Panama) but it’s hardly like the government of England was anything like what we’d consider a democracy today, with universal suffrage to elect an MP to represent you absent let alone referenda. Now Scots get democracy to decide the fate of the Union, but the English do not, even though, as I will point out, it will affect us in several key areas.

But on the plus side, ignoring the democratic deficit south of the border, northwards we see quite the opposite picture: a predicted 80% turnout, lots of lively debate, people getting engaged in the issues which rarely happens with day-to-day national, local or international politics. More controversially, 16-17 year olds are allowed to vote, which some say might be too young, but it is at least the age when people start to develop the true ability to make their own independent decisions, not simply those they have learned from their elders (thanks to some old Robert Winston documentary for that half-remembered tidbit) and, after all, it’s a potentially irreversible decision which will affect the young.

The fact is that what Scots are voting on will affect both Scotland and the rest of the UK. From the currency union issue, to Trident, to investment here in the north of England (which might be affected by proposed cuts to corporation tax in Scotland, though this may be of little effect in the sea of other economic troubles Scots may face), to the political balance in Westminster. Even good old Auntie Beeb loos set to be affected, with the creation of a separate Scottish Broadcasting Service out of the existing BBC Scotland, no to mention all those licence fees the BBC can’t live off anymore. And the alternative, no plus “devo max” might mean Scots are even more disproportionately funded well by now than the rest of us- not only unfair, but who picks up the tab?

And for all the Yes campaign’s going on about Scotland being free of the distant, Tory-led government in Westminster pushing NHS privatisation, the bedroom tax and a whole host of other policies. Guess what- neither do we. Look at any electoral map, and you’ll find that there are plenty of non-Tory seats in many areas of the North of England, which is also neglected by the powers that be in London in favour of the capital’s wealthy and powerful interests. Many of us don’t want Trident any more than you do. But we don’t get to be separate from all this- yes, we had the regional assembly thing but that had few powers, and it got rejected.

I aim to elaborate on this tomorrow when I’m less tired. And maybe mention the odd possible positive for us south of the border too. But time is short, and I wonder who will read this or be affected by it before they go to the polls tomorrow. Indeed, postal voters will have cast their ballots already. But if any Scot is reading this, remember: it affects both you and us, and please consider this when you do vote. I won’t tell you how, as that is the nature of democracy which I believe pretty strongly in (not in the same way I hope to believe in God, as democracy is not infallible). Indeed, as I said, I am excited that so much lively political activity is indeed taking place. I hope it all works out for the best.

Oooh, Look At Me, I’m Being Controversial! (On showbiz personalities and publicity stunts)

WARNING: I said this was a family-friendly blog, but as the title suggests, controversial stuff follows. I’ll try to avoid too many gory details, but younger readers, those of a more sensitive disposition and all that might want to skip this particular article and get back to all the other brain-melting political/newsy stuff. Heck, it’s not like people being bombed to bits is all that bad, really. But seriously, some people may wish to avoid it, and it’s not like I condone the bilge from the sewers of popular culture that follows. De gustibus non est disputandum, sure, but still…

EDIT: I am also aiming to edit some stuff out further as there is extraneous stuff that doesn’t even belong here (controversial as it is) but we don’t need to read about it.

Now it seems in the nature of popular music that some of it will ultimately end up being controversial, as it has been since time immemorial. And whilst this at times can be a somewhat mixed blessing- for example protest music which challenges genuine injustices and seeks a better world- and at other times isn’t really all that big a deal, there are times when it is plainly silly and serving no other purpose than to get that person or group’s picture in the papers, literally and figuratively. This article is about the latter.

Anyone following the gutter end of the news about a year or so back will probably heard of the somewhat raunchy antics of a certain young lady by the name of Miley Cyrus, who in a desperate attempt to shed her child-star image (in the tradition of many a former child star gone before) has decided to adopt a more “adult” image, generally sexing it up, popularizing a strange new dance craze known as “twerking” (which from what I can tell involves wiggling your behind like a maniac, or some such) and doing unspeakable things with demolition equipment. This was the one thing which prompted me first to begin writing this post*, but of course it’s far from the only thing.

Of course some people invite controversy whilst they’re still child stars- see a certain Britney Spears for example, whose debut hit …Baby One More Time had to have the “Hit Me” part removed in case someone, somewhere, thought… she was wanting her would-be boyfirend to abuse her? She was wanting to do other things with him that 16-year-old girls arguably shouldn’t be doing at their age? Not, of course, a mere figure of speech indicating the restarting of a failed but innocent relationship. But of course even she had to sex it up to shed the otherwise-tame image of pretty much every other song bar one or two, with lows of mock lesbian weddings with Madonna (for probably no other reason than to tease the tabloids) amongst other things. And, after going off the rails (it seems the media pressure got too much), she seems to have spent half the rest of her subsequent songs telling everyone else where to shove themselves, she can do what she likes and everyone wants to seek Amy** regardless. Or she’s telling female canines to put in more effort. Or whatever.

As far as recent examples go, the black icing on the cake has to be Lady Gaga, whose persona matches her name exactly it seems. Be it wearing a dress made out of meat, or saying it’s perfectly alright to be gay, probably, or any number of things in her songs and videos I won’t even discuss here (an earlier version of this article contained one example, but we need not revel in that).

This is nothing new, of course. Be it Eminem dissing everyone, rapping disturbing things about obsessive fans, wielding a chainsaw on stage and all that jazz; to gangsta rap; to depicting the Queen with a safety pin in her nose whilst comparing the monarchy to fascism;  to David Bowie’s gender-bending and (possibly fake) bisexuality, to hippies getting high, to Elvis wiggling his hips around (the masculine, frontal version of twerking, perhaps). And running through it all, the cry of classical music and easy listening lovers everywhere: what the heck is that Bleeping Awful Noise? (Ma, you’re just jealous, it’s the Beastie Boys? Or perhaps not…)

Of course it doesn’t matter whether you personally think it’s an utter outrage, innocuous silliness or even a positive attempt at trying to change social attitudes for the better (as some self-styled progressives might think of one or two of the examples hitherto mentioned). At the end of the day, ninety percent of it is probably deliberately trolling for publicity, certain that it will press the Berserk Button of some Moral Guardian or other***, or attract the hypocritical faux-outrage of the Daily Fail Daily Mail and its equivalents. As the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity, and if it doesn’t get you known, it’ll make people buy your products out of spite for the haters. Either that, or if the star doesn’t like it, the media will be revelling in it and laughing all the way to the bank. Unless their name is Bill Grundy, in which case they might be regretting it.

Let’s be honest, on the one hand there is some stuff which is genuinely morally troublesome, and certainly something we don’t want our kids to see. But all Miley Cyrus’ bottom-wiggling antics can hardly be compared to shooting planes out of the sky or lying about weapons of mass destruction. It’s not as if Eminem was actually trying to hurt anyone with that chainsaw, or actually condone the desperate and murderous acts of the eponymous Stan- rather, in the latter case, trying to make a serious point.

Or, in other words, either laugh about it or just plain old ignore it. Despite what some may tell you, keeping up to date with mainstream popular culture or even having the blindest clue about it is, shock-horror, optional. Like internet trolls, showbiz stupidity will fade away if it isn’t fed it’s regular supply of publicity, which only happens as long as it sells. Whatever you do, The Man(TM) wants your money. Think carefully before giving him any.


*Which, like many posts, was sat lying around unfinished, such that it would be gathering dust if it was on an actual piece of paper and not just a collection of ones and zeros on WordPress’ servers, which it obviously isn’t, so there.

** Seriously, don’t try to find out what that means. At least not if you’re under 18. Don’t think of elephants, either.

*** According to the language of the TV Tropes website, which will ruin your life. Honest.