Unwanted Thoughts on Jeremy Clarkson

11 Mar

Let us push to one side for the moment ‘the punch’. That is not what I wish to discuss. If Clarkson has broken the law or the BBC rules I would like justice to take its course.

I want to address another issue which for me has a fundamental principle at stake. I tweeted this morning something along the lines that I would rather the oafish Clarkson on my TV than any number of anodyne alternatives. Inevitably people disagreed with me and I ended up deleting this tweet and the subsequent tweets not because I don’t stand by this view but because I tired of being lectured. The last straw was being told my stance was ‘not good enough’, as if I’m some sort of naughty, thoughtless child.

Now, I have to confess that I find Clarkson objectionable and offensive. I don’t watch Top Gear, apart from the occasional special when they drive across a country or something, because I like those. I accept that for many who tweeted me this morning he crosses a line. I know where my line is and he crosses it too. Yes, I think he’s a bad role model (although as I said this morning useful to point at to your children to say “don’t be like that awful man”). Nevertheless, my individual opinion on the man is neither here nor there. And I’m sorry, but your opinions on the man are neither here nor there either. Something much more important than our opinions is at stake.

What I DO NOT want is a BBC where only people who think like me are allowed to make programmes. Not only would this be desperately dull, it is patently absurd (“think like me”?) and ultimately dangerous. The idea that the BBC should only reflect some sort of consensus is rather terrifying. What happens if this only-permissible-bubble-of-consensus shifts in a direction that you or I don’t like, (in my case lurching off to a UKIPPY right)? It’s not inconceivable with our current political climate and the tenuous position of the BBC that this could happen. If the price for Adam Curtis making films is Jeremy Clarkson making TV (and I believe it is), then I am more than willing to pay the price of Clarkson being on the telly.

As far as the punch is concerned, if it had been someone I admire who’d done it (Evan Davies for example) I’m sure I’d feel more lenient about it. I also realise that, despite the fact I loathe him, Clarkson is highly paid because he is worth millions to the BBC. Losing him will cost, but if that’s what happens then so be it. He’s not irreplaceable.

Your opinions on this blog are unwelcome.


Whimsy (from October 2012)

12 Feb

This is an old blog post from October 2012, which I’m reposting as it’s disappeared from the internet. I think it still holds true.

11 October, 2012

Ok, I’m slightly drunk as I write this, but I can’t see any other circumstances under which I might feel moved to write it.

I got in a bit of a disagreement a couple of weeks ago with a follower, accusing me of being too whimsical. Or, to be more precise, of being “a well-educated person burying my head in the sand and fiddling while England burns”*.

The thing that has been bothering me is this notion that fiddling, of being whimsical, is something I should apologise for.

As I write about this I can see that it’s a ridiculous argument, but I completely sympathise with the person’s view that we need to do something about what’s happening in this country. However, I balk at the idea that this is the function of twitter.

Personally, I use Twitter as a creative medium. It’s more for sharing my thoughts with the world than chatting or arguing political points. I’m a bit naïve, politically. Occasionally I take cheap pot shots at obvious targets like George Osborne, and usually it’s to do with something superficial like his face or his privileged background, rather than his economic policies, which I really am ill equipped to comment on. That’s why I don’t tweet about the big, important issues. Because I don’t feel able to argue about them – nor do I want to.

But, back to the point. I use Twitter mostly as a one-way medium to share the word accidents or persistent images that bustle about in my head most of the time. They are often pointless, trivial, senseless, ephemeral. Twitter is, beautifully ephemeral. Everything floats off down the timeline.

Sometimes, I hope, they are beautiful, heartfelt, original, uplifting, surprising. They are an expression of me. I think a lot of you are like this too and that’s what I love about you. Whatever they are, I relish Twitter as a playground for ideas, with all that “playground” implies. Games, joy, shouting, fights, grazed knees, bullying, laughter, stupidity, whatever the fuck else kids do that we still relish or frown on as adults.

I could go on about how serious playing is, about how it forges bonds between like minds, about the support it can give you, about the real friendships forged, about the journeys words have taken me on this year, about what a beautiful place Twitter is most of the time… but I won’t. I will just continue to ply you with my whimsy. Please help yourself.

* these are the exact words slightly altered to fit my sentence. I don’t want to tweet the link because I don’t want to embroil the person in an unnecessary debate and it doesn’t really matter.


8 Feb

Listen. Don’t go just yet. I need to tell you a story.

You don’t know this, but I hate my job. I get paid not enough to spend my days arguing with customers and sitting in a room with people I don’t like and who in all probability don’t like me.

And I come home and I know I’m boring myself so I must be boring the love of my life, but I’m too tired, too far away from myself to work out how to solve it.

And this goes on. And on. I play on my phone and I punch in numbers, I stare at screens and life passes, but I hardly raise my head to watch it go by.

And then one day I notice this bloke. Or at least I notice that I keep seeing him. Through the window of a sandwich shop, walking across a square, queuing in the post office, drinking coffee in a cafe.

And I notice that I notice him, and I like his face. He looks like he could be a friend, he’s got a nice face. There’s something comfortingly familiar about it.

And then I notice that I keep seeing him, more and more. Every day. Which is weird. I mean, there are people you notice, but it’s odd to see someone every day in the city. Sometimes, more than once.

And one day I notice him in the lift at work. I didn’t know he worked in my building. And a couple of days later I see him on the tube. He even gets off at my stop. It’s like our lives are somehow loosely stitched together, but the thread is being drawn in.

We never talk, he never looks at me, we have no contact, yet somehow he’s there. More and more.

I slip out of the flat one evening after one of our rows. It’s the one where we decide we need to get away for a weekend. Try to find some sort of spark.

I drift down to the corner shop to get some fags. He’s there, just across the road, looking in the window of the estate agents.

The next day I seem him on the stairs at work, in a cafe across the road, buying a Big Issue on the way to the station. That evening I look out of the window of the flat. He’s outside, crossing the road, getting into a car.

What’s going on? This is not normal. I start to wonder, is he following me for some reason? He never seems to notice me, but in itself this is weird. I keep seeing him all the time, he must have noticed me.

I start to think up different scenarios about what’s going on. I go so far as to buy a small note book, note the times I see him, looking for patterns, notice his clothes. I start quietly digging around at work, seeing if I can see where he goes, where he works, if anyone knows him. Nothing. He is illusive – yet somehow always there.

And then the weekend comes and we leave, go up to the lakes. We’ve got things to sort out. I am filled with a sense of dread. I feel like I will have to admit it, I’ve run out of ideas. I want to be better for you, but …

In truth I am distracted by him. I should be focussing on us, but when I get a chance I slip the notebook out of my pocket, jot down notes, conjure up elaborate explanations for what’s going on. Nothing seems to make sense.

Finally it gets too much. Everything blows up. I can’t bear to think of the words we said. But I know I have to get out. I know that when I come back you will have packed. You may have left. It depends whether you feel there is anything more to say. I’m empty.

I wander down to the waters edge, past the jetty to the shingle beach. There’s a figure there, skimming stones on the still water. It’s him.

I walk up to him. He picks up another stone, looks up briefly and says “Hi”.

I know him, suddenly. It’s PT.

PT. My childhood friend. The friend who dragged me away from the TV, out into the garden, over the wall, up the trees and into the clouds. The boy who ran by my side as we outsmarted the wolves, flicking fire from his finger tips. PT, who built with me the machines that took us to the earth’s core and sung to me at night.

PT, I said. What are you doing here?

What am I doing here? He asked, and smiled. Exactly. What am I doing here?

You forgot to imagine, my friend.

He skimmed a last stone. We watched it skip across the surface and ripples slowly die away. When I turned he was gone. I raced back to the hotel, rushed up the stairs. There you are, in your coat, waiting for me. You look up, immediately your expression changed, curiosity in your eyes.

I stand panting in the doorway, gathering my breath, strangely full of hope, suddenly. I come towards you, grab your hands.

Listen. Don’t go just yet. I need to tell you a story.


5 Jan

Opposite my house is a lane. In the 8 years I have lived here I have walked it thousands of times, nearly every day in the last year since we got the dog.

It borders a patch of woodland and looks out over fields down across the rooftops of Lympstone to the Exe Estuary and over to the Haldon Hills in the distance.

It is designated by the local authority as a ‘Landscape of Great Value’, which I hope means they’re not going to build on it any time soon.

The only thing that mars these walks is the fact that it’s one of the closest bits of countryside to the town, so people like to come up here to dump their rubbish. Not fly tipping as such, just a handy place to throw your unwanted kebab, your Macdonalds drink carton, beer cans, fast food containers and so on.

For a long time I’ve been telling myself I should do something about it, so recently I bought one of those rubbish picker upper things (there doesn’t seem to be an adequate term to describe them) – a sort of grabby claw on the end of a three foot arm. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been taking the dog out for our usual morning walk equipped with my claw and a bin bag, emptying the hedges and ditches of the litter as a I go along. It’s mildly satisfying, a little bit disgusting and really infuriating.

The unforeseen consequences of my decision is that now I can’t walk down the lane without scouring the hedgerows for cans, peering into the ditch to see if there’s any new rubbish, and on each discovery feeling a sense of despair at the sort of people who think it’s ok just to lob a Gregg’s coffee cup out of their car window when they’ve finished with it. However hard I try, part of my mind is now scanning this beautiful landscape for dirt, searching out that sense of outrage and dismay looking for the latest piece of filth from Katie Hopkins. Sorry – I seem to have inadvertently slipped into a metaphor.

Anyway, the moral of this story is: don’t bother doing good deeds.

Bae Watch

8 Dec

The more I see the word ‘bae’, the more I grow to love it. If you’ve been near the internet at all in the last year or so you’re bound to have come across it. If you don’t know what it means, you’re not alone. Google it. If only because you will then discover that part of its beauty is that it’s ill-defined. It’s etymology is uncertain. It’s only a newborn, but already its parenthood is in question. There are attempts to link it to the Danish word ‘bae’, meaning poo, but I suspect this is as a result of people googling it and finding it already exists, then assuming the one comes from the other.

The reason I love this word is because it is a great example of a very contemporary phenomenon, a word that has been promulgated by the internet, by online communities. There are a few memes around it now, some of which I’ve dabbled in myself on twitter, without really having a grasp of what it means. It doesn’t matter. The important thing, to me, is that it makes people REALLY ANGRY.

Some people seem to despise the word, and I think it’s a fascinating phenomenon. There’s a real ‘Angry of Tunbridge Wells’ element, people who automatically despise new words if they don’t arrive in our language through the ‘proper’ literary channels. This makes me love these words more. They are not sanctioned by the self-appointed guardians of language. They are born, they hang on, they persist, they spread virally. They accrue meaning and cultural value through usage. That is the only means of approval. Those that don’t pass this test are lost.

I wonder at the anger these words engender. I suspect that it is commonplace prejudice, the suspicion that they have arisen from sections of society that are beyond the control of the mainstream. I fear that actually that prejudice is class and race based. I hope not. But I am glad that in loving these words I am on the winning side. Common language always wins. You can’t stop it, try as you might to defend the citadel of correctness.

The important thing is that this is where language lives and breathes. Neologisms are not merely the province of the Shakespeares of the world. In text speak, in internet memes, in online communities – this is where new words are born and nurtured. And despite the fact many of them are shorthand, there is a tendency to brevity where the medium is written rather than spoken, there’s nothing lazy about these coinages. They are often forged in a spirit of playfulness and a love of language and how it can be shaped, bent into new patterns. Just look at the complex world around the word ‘pwn‘ for example. I suspect a good deal of new everyday language is coming to us through online gaming (no doubt there’s plenty of evidence of this, but this isn’t an essay, just a short blog and a love song).

If your response to this is to reply “But what does ‘bae’ actually mean?”, I’m afraid it’s a big old facepalm.

The Theory of Smells

27 Oct

I promised on twitter today that I was going to write a blog about why saying you like something and saying you don’t like something are not simply the opposite of each other. This is it.

Just to steam right in with a qualification, I’m referring primarily to expressing a view on cultural artefacts – songs, bands, films, artists, etc. It seems to me that people think saying “I like this band” is really the same as saying “I don’t like this band”: they are both just opinions, equally valid, one positive, one negative.

But no. They are not the same thing at all. And I refer you now to my 9 year old son Spencer’s Theory of Smells, (which I mentioned in a crafty follow up tweet, hoping that some of my followers might join the dots). His theory is that, however many lovely smells there are, one bad smell will ruin all of them. This is true, isn’t it? It might be a freshly-wrought theory from a young mind, but you can very quickly ascertain from your experience that he’s not wrong.

And it is also true of negative sentiments. If you express a positive opinion it spreads curiosity, feelings of well-being, smiles, hugs, butterflies dancing in the sunlight and sundry lovelinesses. I grant that it may eventually lead to disappointment, “That was rubbish. I don’t like the same doilies as Moose. He has very poor taste in doilies”, but it doesn’t really affect you personally. It just makes you adjust your trust in my taste.

However, if you express a negative sentiment, there is a good chance that someone will feel hurt, bemused, dismayed and personally affronted by it. Dark clouds will gather on the horizon, a shadow will fall over their mood, they will feel immersed in a creeping woe.

Think about every time someone says they don’t like a book that you love, or a song that you cherish, or your favourite darts player. It makes your day a little dimmer doesn’t it? The problem is, as with terrible smells, a negative opinion has a contaminating effect: however lovely the fragrances in your border, a lurking stinkhorn will send you running for fresh air.

Just because you enjoy the smell doesn’t mean others will too.

Twitter and apps and stuff

4 Oct

A dull blog. But necessary for technical reasons. If you’re reading it, it’s very likely that I’ve sent you a link so I don’t have to explain myself on twitter.

Every now and then I like to have a bit of a moan about my beloved twitter website and its apps. Partly because I’m a human man but also because I care about twitter and how it works and also I’ve got nothing better to do.

I recently moaned about the number of promoted tweets (it’s around 1 in 10 for me now) on the native twitter apps. Inevitably I get replies saying “Don’t use it then” or “Try this app instead” etc.

Now, the thing is, I know these are well intentioned and meant to be helpful, so thank you for that. However, what they all seem to miss is that we each use and experience twitter in different ways. I am not going to tell you in detail about the various devices I use twitter on, because that would make a dull blog even more mind-numbing.

But, this: Twitter is completely embedded in my life. I use it as a social network (not as much as I used to, regrettably), but I also use it as a creative medium directly (I write on it), as an outlet for work that I create elsewhere (cartoons on my ipad, vines, etc) and I get all sorts of interesting work related proposals, partnerships, commissions etc. from twitter.

I know it’s not cool to be interested in who your latest follower is, how many RTs you got, who RT’d it, who faved it, etc. but then I am not cool, so that’s fine. It just so happens that I like to keep up with that info for the reasons set out in the preceding paragraph and vanity (because I am a human man).

I like to be able to see and access that info in various working conditions and I use a particular set of apps that I’ve honed over the many years I’ve been on twitter to give me that information in a way that suits me. For example I like to be able to see clearly from my drawing desk to another desk where I have an old imac if I’ve got any new interactions but my eyesight’s not so good so the twitter web app is the best one for that because it’s bright and clear. I hope you will see by now that this is a very specific set of conditions which is most likely nothing like the way you use twitter.

Anyway, as I say, I’ve set all this out so that next time I have a moan (which I will) and people reply “Don’t use it then, try Quackbot!” I will send them the link rather than trying to reply to everybody in an ineffectual manner.

FYI I use Tweetbot, Tweetdeck, Twitter app, Twicca, web twitter, Favstar, Storify, Instagram, Vine, and probably some others.

As you were.


PS I should also add that I am quite colourblind, so many twitter clients are hard to read. So what looks great to you may be unsuitable for someone else.