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Attention! If you live outside the UK, love surreal British comedy and haven't heard of Toast of London then you've REALLY been missing out. It's literally the only television programme I have bothered to watch in years. I don't even own a TV! Netflix are now offering Toast internationally. 
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Anonymous woman and child.


I've been so busy with other things that I'd almost forgotten how, for years, I was totally consumed by old photos from flea markets. I would spend hours online collaborating with other enthusiasts to identify places and sometimes even individuals in them. I became so familiar with the vanished townscapes, fashions and social habits they revealed that I began to feel as if I'd visited the minds of those dead people. I have most of them, still, stuffed into a shoebox. Have a look at the Tumblr I made out of them if you fancy.

This one remains a firm favourite. It is the one photo I will never sell. An unnamed mother and child in the 1890s. There is something profound and hopeful in their smudged expressions. Such a vivid image and, because the glass negatives were so large, great detail is revealed under computerised magnification. For some reason I always loved that hat on the grass most of all.

See enlarged sections here.... )
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Three men posing with a tiger skin. India or Burma?

Our Prime Minster's new soundbite 'global Britain' sounds like some utter bollocks generated by one of those humorous online joke slogan generators, but there's more to it than that I fear. 

It is a calculated pandering to the English nationalist myth of oppressed smallness. The subtext is "we are small but brave and clever; just free us from the yoke of the corrupt foreigners and we will show the world just how great we are." Substitute 'foreigner' for 'Jews' or 'immigrants' and see it for what it is.

At the heart of this is the deeply held English nationalist belief that Britain isn't global currently and, more astonishingly, never has been. Yes, history-buffs, you read that correctly. In order to make this seem true the entire British Empire period has been blanked out. This may be difficult for readers outside the UK to believe, but this monumental piece of 19th century world history does not feature at all in our populist nationalist narrative. You have to understand that it never happened. Okay? History started in 1914. Everything before this was merely a series of costumed theme parks. This is precisely how my daughter is taught history at primary school. A bit of the costume stuff, dressing up as Victorians and Tudors, then two whole years studying life in the trenches in WW1, followed by an entire year of WW2. And when I say WW1 and WW2 I mean specifically Britain fighting Germany during those wars, forget Japan or any other participant. The defining feature of our nation's history is that it fought two wars with Germany in western Europe during the 20th century. Nothing else. That's our government-approved state history syllabus for our children, preparing them for the big wide world.

Politicians (and presumably that crucial voting demographic of baby-boomers) in recent decades have been very keen on this 'British history' as they call it. There's no room in it for India or Australia or West and South Africa, let alone colonial America. Ireland isn't in it either. If it didn't happen right here, or nearby, or happen directly to white British passport-holding people, it isn't British history. Possibly the only exception to this in living memory has been the Falklands War, and in order for that to become a national event history had to be re-written, making the Falkland Islanders into British citizens before the conflict (fiction) rather than afterwards (reality). In the same period Britain agreed to hand several million non-white Hong Kong citizens, all holding the same passport as the Falkland Islanders, over to communist China as a kind of human gift. That wasn't British history though, so it didn't matter.

What is at the base of this psychosis? It seems tied to the end of the British empire as a formal entity. Right up until the 1950s (when the baby-boomers were children) British people were fed the most extraordinary fictional racist propaganda concerning the empire. It was the greatest thing that had ever existed. Wonderful, civilised, beloved, and at the core of it was a quintessential English superiority; English exceptionalism. What's painful to the English nationalist is not that the empire ended but that it simply carried on without the English. That it didn't even need the English. The English nationalist cannot tolerate this. The English nationalist does not want to know that hundreds of millions of Indians live in a democracy and speak English. The nationalist does not want to know that vast London-based multinationals are carrying on business as usual in Hong Kong and Singapore. The English nationalist is not even interested that the British government continues to support extractive neo-colonial agendas in the former empire. If he were to know these things then he, personally, would cease to be exceptional and, worse still, the last 200 years of British history would have to be re-written as global and involving billions of non-white non-English overseas British. And that would be too much to bear. 

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The first story in the current Interzone magazine is about a bizarre American apocalypse in which women inexplicably start giving birth to cute little bunny rabbits which then swamp the whole country and end human civilisation. Hmm. 

The second one is about downtrodden people surviving in an authoritarian dystopia in which Orwellian wall screens shout motivational crap at them all time and they are forced to attend futile job interviews. More believable than the rabbit story. 


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Cancelled a shift today in order to travel by a train, which was cancelled, as was the train after it, to a job interview in Hertfordshire which was consequently cancelled. 

I was halfway there too. Have taken the train back to Haywards Heath now and am walking along writing this on my phone and listening to Offenbach operettas. Think I'll go and get a Turkish haircut to make myself feel better. 
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Child appeared at our bedside last night.
 
Child: I can't sleep because I keep thinking about asteroids. 
Me: what about zombies?
Child: I have never seen any films about them, so I don't really think about them. 
 
Long pause.
 
Child: Plus, they move really slowly.
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 A great new miserable documentary from Adam Curtis here. Bang up-to-date in examining Trump and Putin's strategic abandonment of reality, but it's the historical material about Assad senior and Gaddafi that I found most intriguing. The manner in which US and UK politicians continually spun an imaginary narrative of the intellectually limited narcissist Gaddafi as a global terror super-brain while evidence for the Lockerbie bombing pointed directly at Syria. If you like this then watch 'Bitter Lake' too. 
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I have a running thread on my Facebook page. It consists of snippets of funny conversations that I've had with my nine-year-old daughter, such as:

Child: Nobody has head lice at school anymore, apart from the small children in reception class.
Me: Why do the reception kids have lice?
Child: Because they are savage. 

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Loot

19/9/16 13:56
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Benin Loot

This weighty (576 page) tome arrived in the post today from Sweden. It's a gift from the author as thanks for use of this photograph I picked up in a flea market for £1 two years ago, which turned out to be a unique record of these treasures in private hands in England before museums acquired them. I'm amazed at the stories that grow out of this 'junk' I find, all made possible by the internet. 
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Brilliant, solid non-partisan journalism in the current issue of Private Eye magazine. See the full article under the cut.

"The beauty of the revolving door is that it obviates the need for anything so grubby [as corruption]. In place of brown envelopes come quiet, even subconscious, thoughts in a minister's or mandarin's head. The revolving door removes all tension between the state and private sector with which it should deal objectively. Both sectors end up employing the same people and they think in the same way. No part of government now questions the market in public services such as health, for example. Perhaps even more than lobbying and hospitality, the revolving door creates the uniformity of thinking between gamekeeper and poacher, purchaser and provider or even regulator and the regulated, that invariably ends in disasters, up to and including the financial crisis"

I'm afraid this is the sort of complex social structural issue that any real radical left politics in Britain is going to have to address. It's corruption which transcends anything illegal, and which is now so culturally embedded that even its perpetrators often do not understand themselves as morally compromised. To say we want to save the NHS, create cost-efficient public transport, good-value defence procurement and so on is one thing, but to do so simply will not be in the long-term career interests of the very same ambitious and capable individuals (explicitly selected for these qualities) who will be charged with the task of bringing about these changes. If selfless devotion to 'the public good' is not expected or required (e.g. the Hippocratic oath) and, more importantly, not socially rewarded, then it's not going to happen. Raging at a 'parasite elite' may be an understandable left-wing reaction, but it doesn't alter that fact that this is the elite which mainstream society, which largely approves of all legal money-seeking behaviour, has itself created, holds up as a model and aspires to join. 


Full article scanned here..... )
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Huxley

14/8/16 10:54
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I have set about reading some of the untouched second hand books I've been hoarding for years. One was a collection of essays called 'Along the Road' by Aldous Huxley, published in 1925. I had forgotten how amusing Huxley could be.

This is him writing about Italian renaissance church architecture: 

"The psychoanalysts, who trace all interest in art back to an infantile love of excrement, would doubtless offer some simple faecal explanation for the varieties in our aesthetic passions. One man loves masses, another lines: the explanation in terms of coprophily is so obvious that I may be excused from giving it here." 

And how prescient is this for 1925? Huxley 
guessing at what future people might do if they had increased wealth and leisure time:

"there would be an enormous increase in the demand for such time-killers and substitutes for thought as newspapers, films, cheap means of communication and wireless telephones"

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So I just cast my vote in the EU referendum. I could see my wife's name on the electoral roll neatly crossed out. EU citizens are not allowed to vote in the EU referendum. No, but the bewildered Australian I met on the train the other day, who has a UK passport he inherited from his dad, was telling me that he's only been here three months and they sent him a polling card. He found it embarrassing.

 

I am sick of this whole thing. The entire Leave campaign is driven by a racist subtext. Half of my family is disenfranchised even though she is a legal resident, UK tax-payer, UK state employee, mother of a UK citizen and married to a UK citizen. Even in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum EU citizens were allowed to vote. 

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I was joking with an older nurse colleague that there 'should' be thousands of ghosts in the hospital where we work, and that they must be very lazy if we'd never seen a single one. She asked me if I believed in ghosts and I said that I found most supposed ghost stories unconvincing for various reasons, with the exception of one account I heard a few years ago. She mostly felt the same way, but had had one experience which was so vivid that she couldn't explain or dismiss it. This is what happened:

She was driving her car in the middle of a sunny day along the A2300 towards Burgess Hill, here in Sussex. Her little dog was riding in the front seat next to her, as was his habit. Then suddenly the light in the car became inexplicably dappled. She found this very strange. It was the kind of flickering you might experience if you were driving in the shadow of leafy trees, except there were no trees to cast such a shadow. At that same moment her dog vacated the front seat and climbed into the back. She's not sure why, but she found herself saying aloud, half to the dog, half to herself "has someone just joined us?". Then, to her great astonishment, a figure materialised in the seat next to her. It was a very small female, about 4ft tall, wearing an old fashioned blouse and long blue skirt, her head turned away, looking out of the side window. My colleague continued driving, unsure how to react, for about two miles, and then the apparition simply disappeared.
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If you are on Dream Width I have started duplicating this blog there. Just look for benicek. 
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A patient was telling me yesterday how he'd managed to get a phone number that repeated the same three digits twice. He was quite pleased about this because it was easy to remember. Now, whenever he has to give someone his number verbally the conversation goes like this:

Him: Eight three zero eight three zero
Them: Okay, 8-3-0....and then what?
Him: Eight three zero.
Them: Yea, I got that part. What's the second half? 
Him: eight three zero
Them: What?

"I wish I hadn't bothered now" he told me. 

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I am also on Livejournal as benicek



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Going to see Mark Steel this weekend and Yanis Varoufakis in May :)
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