Newgate News

Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Why I Am Not a Feminist

(Are you sitting comfortably? I fear this is going to be a long post....)

Feminism has been much in the news recently so this is, I suppose, a good time to admit that I have been there, done that and bought the boiler suit.

In the high and far-off times, I talked the talk, walked the walk - still do; I can't shake off a determined stride that is death to heels - and stood shoulder to shoulder with the Sisterhood, Reclaiming the Night, subscribing to Spare Rib and running a university Women's Group (through which I achieved my sole claim to media fame; being (mis)quoted in Private Eye's 'Wimmin' column).

So what happened? Well, for one thing, many of the issues for which we marched have been resolved - in Britain, at least - through legislation, rule changes and the natural wastage of residual misogyny among those in high places, some of whom, back then, had been born before women in their twenties were allowed to vote.

Today's young British women are looking at a world where very few doors are closed against them, and most of those for medical or anatomical reasons, as legal and economic pressure opens their way into such former bastions of masculinity as sporting clubs, the Church of England, public schools and even, potentially, front-line combat.

Like racism, discrimination is apparently a one-way street, making it acceptable - if not desirable - to select all-women shortlists and promote women in preference to men; equality is clearly not a consideration.Thus Gordon Brown could announce in 2010 that  'Under Labour, there are more students at university than ever before and I'm happy to say the majority of them are women'.

With the demise of these time-honoured establishment targets, feminists might have turned their attention to those British women whose freedoms are still curtailed by cultural and religious practices or by their own low expectations and early single motherhood were it not for the small matter of politics.

For left-leaning feminists, the idea of reform from the top down was a pleasing one; criticising potential working-class Labour voters or confronting the less agreeable aspects of the multiculturalism we were told to 'celebrate' was quite another matter. In the same way, many feminists are strangely reticent on the subject of women's status in less enlightened parts of the world.

In any case, liberation is relative: as Robbie Coltrane's character in the TV series 'Cracker' once pointed out, "While you're out lecturing on Women's Studies and career opportunities, some poor cow's got her arm half-way round your U-bend". There are plenty of high-flying self-styled feminists who apparently see nothing incongruous in their household outsourcing the domestic chores to an assortment of low-paid females.

What was needed was a less contentious target, which brings us to the elephant quietly gestating in the corner of the room; as Lynne Featherstone helpfully explained, “One of the main barriers to full equality in the UK is the fact that women still have babies". (Some have even managed to outsource that to other women but surrogacy is, as yet, comparatively rare).

Until we reach Huxley's Brave New World, biology still has the upper hand and modern feminists are really, really annoyed about it. Motherhood is, of course, their right and prerogative, but how dare this helpless infant require their presence when they could be climbing the promotion ladder and hammering on the glass ceiling!

Fortunately childcare, too, can be outsourced, thanks to a host of feminist-approved government policies subsidising nursery places for children and babies as young as six weeks. The doctrine of 'quality time' theoretically allows mothers to return to work with a clear conscience, reassured that two days with the baby at the end of a busy working week is enough.

Imagine the outcry if zoo staff walked into the primate cages on weekday mornings and removed every infant chimpanzee or gorilla from its mother's arms, not returning it until bedtime. While human mothers may not suffer - consciously, at least - in the same way as their ape counterparts, what of the helpless infants consistently deprived of their mothers' presence throughout their waking hours?

Many of the feminists of my day, celebrating centuries-old traditions from a variety of cultures, embraced the idea of motherhood as an equal and alternative assertion of female power and identity; for today's colder, harder activists, it has become a lifestyle choice which must not be allowed to get in the way of advancement, even if the mother herself would prefer to stay with the child.

My brief official involvement with feminism coincided with the last years before Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman unleashed their progressive ideology and overturned the idea of the traditional family in the political arena. While men are viewed with hostility, some of today's feminists reserve their fiercest criticism for well-qualified stay-at-home mothers who have chosen, whatever the financial sacrifice, to take a career break.

I firmly believe that a woman is the intellectual and social equal of a man and should be treated as such - with the proviso that a dependent infant is biologically more important than either man or woman and its needs should come first. With the exception of a few physically demanding jobs, the mind is what matters in the workplace and the hardware that accompanies it should be irrelevant.

But when the term 'feminist' is applied, seemingly without irony, to callipygian celebrities famed for suggestive dance routines or to politicians who seek to separate mothers from their children, and when self-styled feminists celebrate women being promoted over the heads of equally-qualified men, those of us who merely seek an amiable parity and mutual respect need to find another name.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Wild Women of Wonga

You know those scenes in post-apocalyptic films where the survivors of some global catastrophe battle desperately to secure the few remaining resources?

It seems the phenomenon is closer to home than you might think:
Women were seen fighting over Disney 'Frozen' merchandise during the opening of a new Poundworld store in Merthyr Tydfil.
Since there was already a pound shop in town, the managers had to come up with something special to attract bargain-hungry locals and their Disney-themed opening certainly seems to have done the trick .

Hundreds of customers queued in the rain for over an hour before the doors opened on Wednesday and the company expected 'a record 10,000 shoppers' over the opening weekend.

The truly startling statistic, however, is to be found in the company policy for allocating the sought-after Disney merchandise:
Due to high demand the stock was limited to 50 items per customer...
Fifty items? Fifty? Even in a pound shop, that surely represents a substantial outlay by most people's standards, particularly when spent on ephemeral tat.
... and goods including 'Frozen' lip balms, money tins and stationery sold out in less than 40 minutes.
We're often told that hard-pressed customers are driven to pound shops by the high prices of essential items elsewhere; for some, at least, those 'baskets piled high' with film tie-in merchandise tell a different story.

Always assuming the whole article wasn't concocted by Poundworld's PR department to drum up trade (though it's not a great slogan - 'shop here and get into a punch-up!'), I wonder where the money is coming from...

If the title sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because you saw this back in the 1980s...

A bonus helping of Schadenfreude has appeared to brighten the start of the working week in the shape of the souped-up Toyota bemired by a boy racer in the tidal mud of Burnham on Sea.

It has now been recovered,but I don't think its owner is going to be very happy...
Five days after it sank, rescuers pulled it free, shovelling mud from the vehicle's interior and fixing chains to the frame after knocking holes in the windscreen.

Finally, if you haven't already done so, I recommend paying a visit to Caedmon's Cat for a Dark Ages feline perspective on the current industrial action.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Storm in a T-shirt

Oh dear! One piece in praise of a politician might be seen as an unexceptional phenomenon; two is starting to look like a bad habit. Nevertheless, I cannot let David Cameron's apparent refusal to wear a slogan T-shirt pass without comment.

While prepared to give a suitably supportive quote for the campaign, Cameron supposedly stood firm on the issue of wearing the T-shirt even after being asked five times to don the garment - which starts to look a lot like unmannerly pestering on the part of a magazine eager for sensational (and marketable) images.

Naturally this sparked outrage in the expected quarters with all the usual suspects shoehorning in references to the Bullingdon Club and pointing out that 'Nick Clegg did it. Benedict Cumberbatch and Ed Miliband did it too', to which the answer is surely a resounding 'So what? '

Like so many campaigns with a catchy slogan, this one is less simple than its promoters would have us believe, not least because of questions over the exact definition of a feminist. As it happens, I have been reading up on Feminism in the music industry this week so I am in a position to inform you that this is what a feminist looks like...

and this...
and this...

(all pictures from, predictably, the Mail)

If you thought that the revealing selfies or the 'one-rip-and-the-world's-your-gynaecologist' dance routines of today's pop divas were a throwback to the days when scantily-clad females were used to sell a new album or any other commodity, send yourself for immediate re-education! Such displays are, apparently, 21st century woman's way of asserting her independence (though I don't recommend trying it when you clock on at the office next Monday).

Never mind the fact that these women are surrounded by sycophantic hangers-on applauding their egregious sartorial and terpsichorean inventions (and, perhaps more significantly, all the personal protection money can buy); the argument is that they represent feminism in action - the concept of good taste and decorum presumably being regarded as an outdated manifestation of the evils of oppressive patriarchy.

These are powerful women, certainly, but their power is derived primarily from selling an image to fans and the media, and, in order to keep selling, they must continue to provide what a sensation-hungry public wants. However much they talk of 'empowerment' - and they use the word a lot - it is ultimately as shallow and exploitative as the 'Girl Power' that made so many merchandising fortunes in the 1990s.

The T-shirt demand is typical of the kind of media stunt Cameron is quite right to avoid. It was never about equality and freedom for half the world's population; the magazine just wanted an image for its cover - a hostage to fortune that would have put him in the same semantic box as Miley Cyrus and Harriet Harman.

This is far too big an issue for one post so there will be more to come. Meanwhile, however, we are in the unprecedented situation of raising a second glass to the Prime Minister for putting his principles above emotional blackmail.

Update: with a certain depressing inevitability, the hypocrisy continues...
  • Feminist T-shirts worn by politicians are made in'sweatshop' conditions
  • Migrant women in Mauritius are making the £45 tops for 62p an hour
  • They say: 'We don't feel like feminists. We don't feel equal. We feel trapped'
  • Machinists sleep 16 to a room and earn less than average wage on island 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Quote of the Day - Roger Hargreaves, where art thou?

Some time ago, we discussed the (many) shortcomings of Junction 10 of the M40, an intersection which is clearly the brainchild of someone who hates motorists with a passion and must take great pleasure in the daily queues that build up there.

A few miles further on lies Junction 11 on the north side of Banbury, where a planned retail park, industrial development and a vast quantity of new housing are set to cause traffic chaos in a few years' time.

Thinking ahead, a group of concerned residents have started - inevitably - a facebook and twitter group calling for a new junction to be built between 10 and 11.

There is, however, a slight problem, possibly related to the spontaneous late-night genesis of the 'Banbury needs 11A' campaign, as its charmingly aptly-named founder explains:
Mr Muddle added that the group, which was set up in a hurry, is technically calling for junction 10A but, once he realised the mistake, it had too many likes and followers to change the name.
As a bonus, this is, I think you'll agree, an excellent example of the media tail wagging the dog in true 21st-century style.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Of mud and stars

Oh dear; decisions, decisions!

Returning from a few days of bracing (if somewhat muddy) walks in one of the more picturesque parts of the country, I am faced with not one but two irresistible topics.

Firstly there is 2014 UF56, a bus-sized asteroid passing by a mere 158,000 km above our heads just after 9pm tonight - have your glasses filled and ready!

And secondly, to brighten up a dark October evening, there is the boy racer who spent yesterday watching his pride and joy sink slowly into the mud near Burnham on Sea.

We have, of course, reported from the area before;  despite warning signs and publicity, a combination of Britain's biggest tidal range and vehicle access to the beach is clearly too much temptation for some.

Just a few months after a father-and-daughter team discovered the hard way that coastal mud makes a less than ideal driving surface, a 22-year-old from Bristol decided that his Saturday night would not be complete until he had taken his souped-up Celica for a spin on the beach.

Finding himself inextricably embedded in mud over the axles with an incoming tide, he abandoned the vehicle (and his chances of a Darwin Award - this time, at least) and escaped to shore. Recovering the car, however, has proved considerably more problematical, as the pictures show.

And there's more to enjoy in the comments:
It's got a GT-Four boot spoiler on it but DVLA states that it's a 1762cc car, which means it's not actually a GT-Four (they were 2 litre).
So, a Saturday night boy racer and a poser; our cup of Schadenfreude runneth over!

Speaking of which, it's about time for our annual musical comment on Sober October; after a sparse few months, we are entering a reasonable crowded part of the orbit - last Friday produced the undeniable convenient 2014 SC324 - and can look forward to plenty more close approaches in the near future.

The man who drinks cold water pure
And goes to bed quite sober
Falls as the early leaves do fall
So early in October,
But he who drinks just what he likes
Until he's half seas over
Shall live until, until he dies
And then lie down in clover.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Quote of the day - "I'll just need to photocopy the baby..."

Spare a thought - if only a small one - for the problems of law-abiding tattoo artists beset by unreasonable demands.

We've already met the unfortunate chap in Wolverhampton whose attempt to deter would-be customers who don't understand English earned him a slap on the wrist from the authorities, multiculturalism being, apparently, more important than the ability to communicate with the person about to ink a permanent design into your skin.

Now it's the turn of a Birmingham tattooist to attract media attention with a notice in his window:
"I don’t care if it’s your 18th next week. The answer is still no – and your children are not ID. Most of the girls in Northfield have a child by the age of 13."
The last statement is, by his own admission, hyperbole* - though that may not prevent a torrent of abuse heading his way in the near future - but the underlying intention is clear:
“I put up the notice because I kept getting young mums coming into the shop for a tattoo and when I ask them for an ID they try and use the child as a form of ID.
This was, he says, happening on a weekly basis, which offers food for thought when you consider the costs involved; the teenage mothers of Northfield clearly have money to burn.

In any case, the 'House of Pain' tattooing studio hardly seems an appropriate environment for a small child - though opinion on that may differ; regular readers may remember that a mock advert for specialist children's tattoos - 'a gift for life at pocket money prices' - apparently received ten genuine enquiries from parents.

The oddest thing about this story, however, is the suggestion that the child should somehow constitute a valid proof of age. Do the mothers likewise brandish their unfortunate offspring while buying a round in the pub or purchasing age-restricted DVDs or fireworks?

And, more seriously, what is likely to become of children raised by immature mothers whose disregard for the law is matched by their willingness to abuse shop staff when their unreasonable demands are thwarted?

*But not complete fiction; official figures show that over 100 13- and 14-year-olds in the Birmingham area have given birth over the past 5 years.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Blackened toast

Politicians generally get short shrift in the Tavern but we are always prepared to be open-minded; this week, therefore, we are raising a brimming tankard to none other than David Cameron.

The Prime Minister was photographed at a folk festival on Saturday amid a Border Morris side complete with traditional costume trappings including - and here's the rub - black face paint.

Given that, these days, an image can travel halfway round the world while the text is putting on its shoes, this could be seen as a somewhat courageous move, in the time-honoured political sense of the word. In the words of one Canadian academic,
" seems unlikely that North American audiences who encounter Morris [...] would see in blackface dances anything other than a white peoples' representation of black culture."
Sure enough, even on this side of the Pond, knees are apparently jerking in a veritable Riverdance of protest - at least according to those newspapers doing their best to fan the flames. The Independent, for example, merrily relays this charming example of liberal intolerance:
"If you're a Morris dancer and you want to black up, ask yourself if it's really appropriate. If the answer is yes, you're wrong.”
Never mind over four hundred years of documented practice and the stated aim of disguise, for which soot long provided the cheapest and most effective medium; someone has decided to be offended so it has to stop.

Thanks to recent media fuss over the Bacup Coconutters, whose blackened faces adorned, successively, Will Straw's twitter account and the label of a guest beer in a House of Commons bar*, Cameron must have been fully aware of the implications of posing for the photograph.

While it's unlikely to have lost him any votes - it certainly won't be the Tory faithful carping away on Twitter - it shows a certain moral courage to ignore the critics and publicly embrace a tradition that has been so emphatically misinterpreted.

And a Prime Minister prepared to stand up to the offence-seeking mob and their ill-informed revisionist prejudice is a welcome sight to see.

So, just this once, David Cameron, your very good health!

*Regular readers may remember that this was the subject of a longer post back in May, which contains further historical detail and comment.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

One (more) night in Clacton

Dedicated to JuliaM, for inspiring me to resume work on this - an earworm shared is, it turns out, an earworm doubled.

Clacton, Northern Essex setting,
And I think we all know what Westminster's getting;
The delectable sight of Carswell in the
Role of spectre at the Tory dinner.

Time flies, doesn't seem a minute
Since Nigel Farage said he’d help him win it;
All change, don't you know that when you
Piss off the electorate they turn against you?

In Eastleigh, Heywood and Middleton
Or Rochester or, or this place...

One night in Clacton and the world's his oyster;
Carswell got a mandate for the world to see.
He left your ship, now you can watch him hoist a
Purple skull and crossbones there beside the sea;
Cameron, here’s a taste of how it just could be.

One town may yet lead to another;
Are you really sure of those places, Brother?
It's a drag, it's a bore, it's really such a pity
You Tories ignored the world outside the city.
What do you mean
'It's just one unimportant provincial town'?
Get out, walk in any street;
Ask some questions of the people that you meet.
You’ll find they’ll say it’s too late to
Restore the myth your motives are the purest;
No chance - expenses scuppered that line, Sunshine!

One night in Clacton and the Tories humbled;
Media portray despair and ecstasy.
One night in Clacton, now which seat will tumble
To Nigel Farage and his company?
I can feel that Devil walking next to me!

Friday, 10 October 2014

One night in Clacton

A busy week continues to keep me away from the blog but this seems a good time for an updated version of of this post from May 2013...

This song was somehow inevitable, given the quasi-mythical status that the media seem to be attributing to this larger-than-life character.

With apologies to Stan Ridgway...

I was sitting in my local, feeling rather down;
I’d been drinking on my own since half past five.
It was visiting the polling station left me without hope
When I'd seen the parties hanging around outside.
I was looking for the courage to go back and see who'd won
And I sighed as I contemplated Britain’s fate;
Just then a chap in a fedora with a shocking purple tie
Appeared there at my shoulder and said "Wait."

 He offered me a pint and said "Don't worry, son, I'm here;
If Cameron wants to tangle now, he'll have me to dodge."
I said, "Well, thanks a lot!" I told him my name and asked him his
And he said to me "The name’s Nigel Farage".

'Oh, no, no, no!' said Farage;
'The English aren’t as docile as they seem;
Oh, no, no, no!' said Farage;
'Things are going to change now UKIP’s on the scene.'

Well, we talked all night, side by side, while the votes were counted in
And I wondered how the drastic shift began
'Cause now support for UKIP seemed to spring up everywhere
And I wondered if this was all Farage’s plan.
"They called us clowns and fruitcakes, but UKIP have the last laugh," he said,
"Perhaps the government now understand
That Britons may be tolerant but we’ll only take so much
Of the EU wanting to keep the upper hand -
Just let them try..."
And I knew this was somethin' we'd seen in Brussels,  'cause I remember how he was pullin' a metaphor right outta thin air and swattin' von Rompuy with it from here to kingdom come...
When the count was nearly over we shook hands and said goodbye;
He just winked at me from the door and then was gone.
When I got back to my family I told 'em about my night
And about the time I'd spent with Nigel Farage.
When I said his name, the others gulped and then they took my arm
And said to me, “That really can’t be right”,
And they pointed to the television; “There’s Nigel Farage
And he's been right there on News 24 all night!
(Feels like he's been there all week long...)"

 Well I know I must have imagined it – I’d been drinking like a fish –
Though as hallucinations go, it’s pretty large,
But it’s certain UKIP’s won a seat and it looks like they're here to stay,
And we’re all going to see much more of Nigel Farage.

(It's been drawn to my attention that iPads and phones don't always display the embedded videos; if you spent the mid-80s doing more worthwhile things than listening to the top 40 on a Sunday night - "No, honestly, I am doing my homework!" -  you can follow the 'Stan Ridgway' link to Youtube to hear the tune.)

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Holding up the mirror

(LONDON, 1751, about tea-time...)

"'Ere, are you Mr 'Ogarth?"

"Yes, I am. What can I do for you?"

"'S about that picture you got in your window."

"Ah yes, 'Gin Lane'. A satirical portrayal of modern society. I'm rather proud of it, actually; in fact, I'm planning to make a print of it to sell."

"It'll 'ave to go, squire."


"It's a bad influence, see? All that drunkenness and so on; it's offensive, like. The Beadle's on 'is way and 'e wants you to get rid of it; it's all part of 'is new plans for a sober October. Burning's best - it'd go up lovely on the fire!"

"You can't do that - it's a work of art!"

"Don't matter, squire; can't have a picture like that where people might see it and get the idea they wants a strong drink."

"But... but... the whole thing is meant to show the evils of drinking cheap spirits instead of good honest beer. It's satire!"

"Couldn't say anything to that, squire; Beadle's against beer too, he is. In fact, 'e's dead set against all that sort of thing. Now 'and it over before 'e gets 'ere and we'll be on our way. I'm sure you don't want any trouble now. After all, it's 'ardly as if it's a loss to future generations, is it?"

(Inspired, of course, by recent events in Clacton.)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Occupational hazard?

The Labour leader told the BBC he "did not deliberately" drop the passages on the deficit and immigration but his approach was to write a text in advance and use it as the basis for his speech - which meant things were added in and left out on the day. 
Well, he does have form in this area...

From December 2012:
'Labour insisted Mr Miliband ‘stands by’ the omitted section of his speech and had simply forgotten to say it. 
So what happened? Did he really forget about that bit or, looking round at his distinctly multicultural - sorry, vibrant - audience, did he decide that discretion was the better part of valour? "Look, it's great that you're all here, but it was, you know, a bit of a mistake letting you in".
Miliband admits he left out details which appeared in the published versions circulated to the faithful but believes that his 'style' works even at the expense of content:
"There are perils that come with that obviously but what people got a sense of yesterday was a plan to change our country."
That has the authentic ring of 21st-century politics; never mind the quality, feel the pitch. Either he is genuinely so disorganised that he can't follow notes or he is cynical enough to omit a potentially awkward element from a live speech while including it in the printed record.

Whichever is the real reason, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in his abilities as a leader.


Meanwhile, as the Labour conference draws to a close, I always like to remember that the writer of  their final song never meant his words to be set to the solemn and ponderous German tune of 'Tannenbaum', memorably described by George Bernard Shaw as 'a funeral march for a fried eel'.

He intended 'The Red Flag' to be sung to the altogether more sprightly melody of the Jacobite song 'The White Cockade', which, I think you'll agree, would have given a far more festive air to the closing ceremonies.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Independent minds

So it's 'better together'; the people have spoken.

It had been suggested in several quarters that the wording of the ballot incorporated an element of pro-Nationalist bias - it's been shown to be much easier, said the commentators, to campaign with a positive outlook and generate forward-looking enthusiasm when you are asking people to vote "Yes!".

Personally, I'm not so sure. I have a feeling that the theories are based on the emotion-fest that is American politics, where optimistic euphoria is the essential driving force behind electoral success, and may not translate so easily to this side of the Pond.

Scots are, by and large, made of sterner stuff. This is, after all, the country where my my primary school blazer badge bore the words 'Do or Die', a motto which, with hindsight, seems a rather uncompromisingly terminal mission statement for a class of mixed infants.

Scotland has a rich and diverse musical heritage but it is somehow typical that, even before the purpose-built anthem 'Flower of Scotland' made its appearance in 1967, many of the traditional songs harked back to ancient battles and days of glory - or crushing defeat and the need for vengeance.

And, while I doubt many English schoolchildren in the 1960s could have rattled off a marching song from the Napoleonic wars or, once the progressives got at education, even a verse or two of  'The British Grenadiers', their Scottish counterparts were learning 'All the Blue Bonnets are bound for the border' or Burns' oft-misquoted rallying-cry*.
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!
The struggle in question is, naturally, against the English and, although it is as obsolete as the notorious reciprocal line in 'God Save the Queen', the continued popularity of the song serves to illustrate that this is a nation which admires and celebrates defiance:
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!—
Let us do or die!
It's hard to imagine a generation reared on those words succumbing to the Pollyanna Principle and gravitating unthinkingly towards consent. While Salmond & Co may have envisaged a great leap forward on a wave of sentiment, it seems that his compatriots are for the most part, creditably immune to positive bias.

*I am pedantic enough to be deeply irritated by the misuse of the opening words as if they constituted a meaningless, self-contained shout of enthusiasm, usually by the same people who insist on holding hands throughout 'Auld Lang Syne'.