Horse sense

This week Channel 4 showed a terrific documentary about Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who hurled herself under the king’s horse 100 years ago.

Wilding was an educated woman, a teacher, but had been driven by the hopelessness of her situation to take terrible risks. She joined the suffrage movement, and used peaceful protest to gain a voice; but the power of the state pushed back hard against the suffrage movement with intimidation, propaganda, violence, and a tsunami of negative media coverage.

Peaceful protest achieved nothing, but the suffragettes knew they had right on their side, and raised the game: they chained themselves to railings in protest, but before being cut free the police beat and sexually assaulted the women. The suffragettes went on hunger strike, and were so brutally force-fed by security officials that many of them suffered digestive and psychological problems for their entire lives.

And eventually they reached the conclusion that you can’t make a moral appeal to those with power, because those with power don’t have morals. So they decided to hit the elite where it hurt: in their pockets. If material things were all that the elite cared for, the suffragettes would strike there. They started a campaign of destruction, and in one year committed arson to the value of £40 million.

Even then the elite gave no ground. In fact, the thing that actually got the vote for women was the First World War, when women had to work in factories and farms to replace the men who died. Women got the vote by gaining economic relevance. Moral pressure built before the war, and the war created an economic imperative. That’s what led us to today, when under the law there is equality for all citizens, regardless gender, race or sexuality.

Or is there?

On the face of it there’s no group we can point to and say “they’re oppressed” in quite the same way. It’s pretty easy to spot and define a woman, and easy to legislate against inequality for a race. But there remains a whole invisible swathe of society which is, every day, disenfranchised and robbed of hope by the engines of power, just as much as women were in 1913.

Emily Davison was driven to an extreme act by a number of things. She was educated, a teacher, but unable to earn a living. She had been arrested, and in that age it meant you could never get a job again. She was powerless in a society which was governed entirely by an elite gentry, with the worst social mobility in Europe. She could never afford a home. She could never afford to marry. She could never break free of the bonds holding her down. And there was a vast, glaringly obvious gulf between the tiny group with money and power, and people like her.

Without a job, without hope, without power, without any means to change her circumstances, she had nothing left to lose.

Honestly: doesn’t she sound like 20 million ordinary people in Britain today?

I don’t believe Emily Davison meant to die. Evidence suggests she was trying to pin a “Votes for Women” banner to the king’s horse and badly misjudged it, killing herself and risking the life of the innocent jockey and horse. By the time she stepped onto the track at Epsom she was, by today’s standards, an extremist. She, along with hundreds of other suffragettes, had crossed the barrier from peaceful protest to something more direct so often that they no longer had any compunction about taking drastic, dangerous, destructive actions.

Don’t assume I’m comparing her to the brutal, horrific, utterly unconscionable murder of Lee Rigby, the soldier murdered on a London street by lunatics with cleavers. I’m not. What I am saying is this: after years of peaceful protest and petitions, suffragettes decided that asking, begging and demanding change wasn’t getting them anywhere. They decided to start striking at property. They committed millions of pounds worth of arson attacks, usually against targets they believed to be representative of (or owned by) the elite that was robbing them of hope.

In the Channel 4 film, Claire Balding suggested that once you’ve taken that step into direct action, it’s increasingly easy to do it. Once you’ve seen a factory burned down in the name of what’s morally just, it’s hard to forget it and return to normal. Emily Davison saw arson many times, and probably committed it too. Having crossed that line so often, she had no problem taking direct action.

I think Balding hit on something there. She’s right. I worry that it’s only a matter of time before somebody decides that The One Percent™ simply aren’t listening to 38 Degrees or or the Government’s own e-petitions website.

It’s only a matter of time before there is direct action by somebody the media can’t label as “them”. Somebody who isn’t “other”. Somebody who isn’t “radicalised” by an outside agent.

It will be somebody like the young white guy who lives next door to you; the guy with £20,000 of university debt, living in his parents’ spare room at the age of 30, with no job, driven into slave-labour by government ideology, ridiculed and reviled by the press, his health auctioned off, his future leased to Monsanto and his town centre hollowed out by Amazon. He protested peacefully against Iraq and was ignored. He’s petitioned against the NHS being sold off, and was ignored. He’s tried doing things the way government wants him to, and has been screwed over, fucked up, reviled and ignored. He’s online and he’s smart and he’s politically aware with a very small p indeed; and knows that corporations are part of the feral capitalism that’s evading tax and ruining his nation’s economy.

So one day he smashes a Starbuck’s window. A small act. But he’s crossed a line.

He knows that his elected representatives are too busy acting like Dave Hartnett, lining their pockets rather than taking care of the public. So the next week he goes out and vandalises a tax office.

Somebody else reads about it on Twitter, and decides that he too will take direct action. And another, and another. A thousand Starbucks windows are smashed. Somebody will go one further, and set fire to the Tesco that gutted his town, took his job, and has not a scintilla of social responsibility.

The media will react as the media does: there will be moral panic and, as a result, there will be mass publicity for direct action, and a week later somebody else will decide that they are also bone-tired of being treated like Untermenschen. They’ll realise Amazon’s HQ contains a hell of a lot of paper, and they’ll burn it to the ground.

And once this line is crossed, we’re in real trouble. Because there won’t be visible protestors chaining themselves to railings in Trafalgar Square, waiting for the riot squad. Instead there will be ten million invisible men and women sat at home making independent decisions to strike back. Yes, there will be arrests. But there were arrests in 1913 too, and it didn’t stop suffragettes from continuing: they had no other outlet, and the line had been crossed.

There will be no “leadership” telling people to destroy, to burn, to strike out at the forces that belittle and impoverish them. Instead there will be educated, debt-burdened, futureless individuals researching tax evasion and inequality and the evisceration of worker’s rights; and then making their own decisions about what to smash.

These people won’t be planning it online, they’ll just be reading the news. No amount of snooping will spot patterns or identify ringleaders, because there won’t be any ringleaders. There won’t be imams radicalising people. They won’t have different coloured skin. They won’t live on council estates. The people who take these actions will be anyone with too much education and too little hope. Completely independently, they’ll see that the world is fucked up, and that now there’s a way to lash out.

I worry. I really do. Because global governments are playing a very dangerous game in their race to the bottom. They’re ignoring the plight of those at the sharp end of neocapitalism, just as the government of Henry Campbell-Bannerman ignored the plight of women. In 1913 the press was tightly controlled, there was no internet, and still there was £40 million of arson attacks. And in 1913 it was comparatively easy defuse the situation with a single law: give women the vote.

But today there is no single piece of legislation that could disarm the ticking time-bomb we’re all sat on. Nobody from the mainstream political establishment is even discussing the crisis growing right under their feet. They’re blind to it because it’s not sticking up and waving signs: it’s 99% of the world’s population quietly seething at home. Anybody with a brain and a laptop can quickly find out how badly they’re being screwed over, and how deaf the elites are to their cries.

It’s genuinely frightening. I worry. I really do.

It seems to me that governments are playing fast and loose with the fabric of society. By protecting the elite and the status quo, governments are endangering the elites and the status quo in ways that are hard to predict, hard to control, and hard to put back in the box.

Hard, that is, unless you know the story of Emily Davison.

Labradors: better than the English Defence League

Why vote for the English Defence League when you can do so much better?

Let’s compare their relative merits on a number of important issues:

Labrador dogsRacism

In this picture we see proof that labradors are less racist than the English Defence League.

Labradors with rubix cubeIntelligence

In this picture we see proof that labradors are more intelligent than the English Defence League.

Labrador balancing treatsBalance

In this picture we see proof that labradors are more balanced than the English Defence League.

Guide dogSocial value

In this picture we see proof that labradors are more socially useful than the English Defence League.

Labrador licking its ballsMasturbation

In this picture we see proof that labradors, while not bigger wankers than the English Defence League, are certainly more flexible and imaginative wankers than the English Defence League.

I think I’ve proved my point. So why not join the Labrador Party today?

The Labrador Party

I remember when all this was fields

Some delicious dead thing

There was a recent Twitter trend #MyMumisaMotherfuckingBadass.

My post on this trend was about how my mum, aged 67, and on a Zimmer frame after 25 years living with Parkinson’s disease, walked 3 miles to see a Radiohead gig in a tent.

And then the next night, she did it again. Badass.

Bear in mind this wasn’t even OK Computer-era Radiohead. I happen to think OK Computer is the best album ever made, but it seemed to send Thom Yorke a little bit insane, and he reacted to its success by deciding to fuck with every music lover on the planet.

It was, it has to be said, a bizarre couple of years for Radiohead fans. Imagine Radiohead are a chef, and they’d just served you the best burger you’d ever eaten. It made you weep, it was so astonishingly good. And not just you: everyone agreed, it was a truly wonderful burger, fit to stand in the pantheon of all-time great burgers. It was rich and satisfying and curious, and it lingered on the taste bugs for months without ever souring or getting old. You just wanted to go back for more and more, and savour the ever-deepening complexity and creativity of this truly wonderous burger.

Then, a year later, Chef Radiohead changed his menu, and we all rushed back to find out what fresh wonders he’d created. But this wasn’t normal food any more. Sure, the Kid A burger could still be described as a burger, of sorts. There were ingredients; some of them recognisable, but many belonged in no burger you’d ever want to eat, such as lemons, a herring, coal and some wire. And try as we might, none of us really wanted wire in our burgers. I chewed and chewed and chewed, convinced I’d find something to like if I stuck with it and my teeth didn’t shatter. But eventually I spat it out and went back to eating the much more satisfying Dark Side-Order of Chips by Chef Pink Floyd.

But none of this stopped my mum, because she’s fucking badass. She walked to see Radiohead on her wobbly old legs, sat in the middle of the confused, nonplussed crowd on a fold-out chair the bouncers found for her, and moved to what Thom Yorke insisted was still, technically, music. Or maybe she was just moving to the Parkinson’s disease. It’s genuinely difficult to tell.

You see, unlike me, she’s never got old. She’s a widow now, and her Parkinson’s is getting to the stage where she’s considering going into a home. But do you know what stops her from doing it: she’d never be allowed to play Green Day at 120dB in the Perry Como Home for the Ancient and Beige.

But I’m getting old. I don’t feel it physically, and I don’t think I look my age. My knees are still working, I have most of my teeth and still far too much hair. Sure, I’ve lost a kidney, but I don’t think I was really using it. And I can’t smell a thing, but I can still hear when my girlfriend shouts at me, which is all a man needs to do.

But I see signs of decrepitude, and the first one is music. I can’t like new music. It’s all terrible.

When I was 14, and still recovering from the terminal horror of being caught losing my virginity by my own mother, I realised the best way to avoid those endless accusatory stares was listening to The Smiths.

Very little could keep my parents out of my bedroom as much as Morrissey mournfully wailing about humdrummery and his issues with William and Newport Pagnell, while I reeled around the end of my empty bed, longing for gladioli and pondering the best way to get my mum to agree to my painting the bedroom black. As soon as I played The Smiths my parents went out into the garden for a conference about “what the hell is wrong with the boy”, and started worrying about paying the phone bill for all the Samaritans I was clearly going to need.

At the very moment I wanted to be alone, The Smiths helped me feel I wasn’t. But now I feel alone again, because apparently I’m the only person on the planet who thinks Daft Punk is boring crap.

The only people in the world I currently hate more than Daft Punk are the bastards who put up the dividing wall between me and my neighbour, who has played Get Lucky to me over a trillion times. A trillion. That’s literally the number.

Sophie Ellis Bextor
Here kitty. I’ve got some cream for you.

I guess if you’re 14 and don’t remember the last century, you may be persuaded that Daft Punk have created a spectacularly innovative noise. But it’s only spectacularly innovative if you didn’t hear exactly the same noise from Groovejet 13 years ago.

The only discernible difference is that Sophie Ellis Bextor looks like an erotic, airbrushed cat with its head stretched over an ironing board, and Daft Punk clearly don’t, or they’d remove those fucking stupid helmets.

(Incidentally, I remember a best of list from 2000 which placed If This Ain’t Love as the 3rd best single of all time, which tells you how useful best of lists are).

Almost anything by Chic sounds fresher, and more original and a whole lot more fun than Get Lucky. The only “lucky” thing about that song is that people buying it aren’t old enough to remember Nile Rogers.

But I guess it was ever thus. As a Smiths fan I never liked Rick Astley, clearly, but he didn’t offend me as much as he offended my mum. When she first heard Astley’s hollow, robotic version of When I Fall In Love my dear, wobbly old mum swore for three straight hours, and never repeated herself. Now that’s creativity, you Daft Punk helmets (and I mean that in the sense of shiny, salty male genitalia).

Maybe it’s my age, and I’m missing something thrilling about modern music. But where is the David Bowie of today? (Other than David Bowie, obviously). Between 1969 and 1982 he released 14 albums of stunningly original material, each one of which pushed back the boundaries of musical experience. And none of them sounded anything like the previous one.

What’s Daft Punk’s style? Copycat Groovejet pop dance with the pretty lady replaced by a pair of French twats in what look like Liberace’s space-suit.

And what’s Bowie’s style? Folk, pop, discord, rock, world, dystopian musical, metal, African, techno, ambient, funk, indie, soul, glam, country, showtune, drum’n’bass, dance, thrash, German neo-classical and freeform jazz. Usually all on one album. You can buy anything he recorded for over a decade and it will be brilliant, challenging, intelligent, original and compelling.

(You can then skip forward to 1992, when he released his only album since Scary Monsters that’s actual genius. OK, he’s not infallible, but he had a pretty good run!)

And it’s not just Bowie, who might be a one-off and possibly an alien. Where are The Smiths of today? Where’s the Talking Heads? Sure, there are hints of it in Arcade Fire, but are they off making edgy New York punk, followed by a joyous funkadelic assault on the senses, followed by a polyrhythmic odyssey around South America? No. They’re ploughing one indie furrow with diminishing returns.

And for The Smiths you might copy/paste Belle and Sebastian, except they seem to have decided to move away from literate, gentle, studenty songwriting genius, and become a feeble Beautiful South tribute band produced by the Buggles of Video Killed The Radio Star fame.

Most music I hear today is the same music I heard in the 80s, washed at a high temperature until it shrinks and hardens and all the texture is removed by technology. Vocoder that, Will.I.Am, you drab, self-obsessed, vacuous hairstyle! Even in the 80s that kind of music was pretty dismal stuff. Other than 14-year-old girls obsessed with blow-dries, who actually liked Duran Duran? Probably the same mums who now like Take That, but it’s not music. It isn’t. Really. It’s posters, chat shows, teeth-whitening, and a row of stools (and I mean that in the sense of a line-up of turds, steaming on a fancy stage).

I’m not saying we’re completely bereft of gems. It’s just that in between we’re being fed a vat of pap, processed to a bland, soggy mess and marketed to within an inch of its life. I’m a veggie, but even I’m starting to ask of modern music: where’s the meat?

So after a few years, I decided to go back and try that undercooked, highly disappointing wire-and-coal burger that Radiohead had served me in 2000. And do you know what? It’s rather delicious. It just took me a while to get hungry enough to want it.

Npower and my broken nose

I’m onosmic.

If you don’t know what that is (few do) it means I’ve got almost no sense of smell. Onosmia is to noses what blindness is to eyes. It’s not much of a problem in everyday life, but sometimes things in the salad tray go pretty stinky, and I don’t know about it until my girlfriend visits and hurls when she opens the fridge door.

Onosmia can be caused by a few things: there’s a genetic cause, or it can be caused by a head injury or a badly broken nose. I haven’t broken my nose badly, but I have broken it regularly. And at the age of about 8 I carefully steered the front-wheel of my bicycle into a grid, where it lodged, and catapulted me over the handlebars into a stone-walled cottage. The residents came out to shout at whoever was kicking a ball against the wall, found me in a heap, and I spent 4 days in hospital being observed. I didn’t find out until 20 years later that I’d broken my skull, but by then it was too late to do my own observations about its effect.

So I don’t know for sure if that cottage killed my sense of smell, or just contributed to something that has got worse over the years. It probably didn’t help that when I boxed, I led with my nose; and when I played rugby, I stopped the opposing team with my nose. And even now I somehow manage to get it broken occasionally: only last month my loving girlfriend lovingly broke it a bit, in something she described as an “accident”, whilst reminding me that I was asking for it.

I was definitely asking for it. I am right now, frankly.

But my nose gets no better. On the whole, I categorise every type of smell as follows:

  1. Absolutely no smell at all (the vast majority of things)
  2. Fruity (some citrus fruits, roasting veg, my girlfriend’s feet after a day walking around at work)
  3. Bullshit

In the “bullshit” category you will find things like this email from npower. The campaigning website, 38 degrees, recently asked me to sign a petition castigating npower for their corporate tax avoidance (they’ve been funneling profits through Malta). 38 degrees also invited me to switch to another supplier, which I gladly did (Ecotricity, since you ask).

The next day I got an email from Npower, hand-crafted by their PR department without reference to any kind of truth, and signed with the rubber stamp of their CEO. My crippled nose limped into action, and after checking I hadn’t been emailed a citrus fruit or a foot, I realised I was smelling purest manure. I had a lot of fun sending a reply…

From: Paul Massara, npower CEO

I’m sorry to hear you want to leave us!

Dear Dick Graceless

Thank you for taking the time to send me a message via 38 Degrees – every one of our customers’ views is important to me.

It’s unfortunate, but if you’ve made a decision to leave us based on what you’ve heard in the news about our tax affairs, then I probably can’t change your mind. That’s a fact of life.
However, after reading this email, I hope you’ll spare a moment to consider that not everything you read in the news is true. The real truth is, npower does not avoid paying tax.

I’ll explain what’s going on.

HMRC reduced our tax bill between 2009 and 2011 for two simple reasons:

  1. Over 6 years, we invested over £3 billion in new power stations that helped create jobs and keep the lights on across the UK. This financial contribution is recognised in that some of that investment can be offset against our tax bill.
  2. And, quite simply, our taxable profits were lower than we expected them to be, which – like any other business in that situation – meant we didn’t have to pay as much corporation tax during that period.

In many ways, I’d like as many people as possible to send me an email and then read this response. You’re entitled to make your decision based on the facts, rather than the distorted information that has been circulating online recently.

With that in mind, I’ve recently asked our team to put some more information about the way we pay tax on our website –

We’re proud of our reputation. We have absolutely nothing to hide.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Paul Massara
npower CEO

From: Dick Graceless, bloke who can still smell bullshit


You must think I was born yesterday. It’s contemptible that your avoidance of fair and reasonable tax steals from the society that feeds you. It is no better than common theft, leaving Britain bereft of funds and immiserating the lives of the very people who provide your huge, endlessly growing profits.

But that, it seems, is not enough for you. Showing no remorse, you compound this blatant, obvious theft with a further lies: Npower, along with most large corporations, are stealing from society, and bleating about how hard they have it.

Your actions are those of a psychopath: lying, manipulating, having absolutely no conscience, and perfectly willing to starve or freeze the people around you to gain your own ends: even more massive profits for a 1% executive class that already owns over 50% of the UK’s assets. And all the time, in the service of lucre, you take more and more environmentally destructive actions that endanger this planet’s ability to support life.

If this email really is for “executive complains”, I hope it reaches that lofty, isolated, coddled executive class. And I hope it makes an impression on the tiny, wizened organ that passes for a heart in the corporate bosom. Your theft and lies disgust me, and millions others. And this mealy-mouthed attempt to evade blame would be laughable if it wasn’t so utterly tragic for the nation and the planet.

Rot in hell, you sociopathic, environment-destroying pack of thieves and vultures.

Very, very sincerely

Dick Graceless